Monday, December 15, 2008

Rany's Royal Ramblings.

Bill Simmons calls it The Ramblings. Joe Sheehan calls it Bullet Point Friday, or sometimes Short Attention Span Theatre. I call it The Column You Write When Your Brain Is So Fried By The Chiefs That You Can’t Focus On Any Topic For More Than A Hundred Words.

- My Spanish literacy is very limited, so I’m grateful to the Royals for their recent efforts to educate me. I mean, who knew that “Jairo Cuevas” is Spanish for “Tim Pugh”? (And how many of you even get that reference?)

- I lumped Doug Waechter in with Kyle Farnsworth in my last post, as the news had just come across the wire before I hit “publish”. Now that we know the details of his contract, it’s clear that was unfair of me. Waechter signed a one-year deal for $640,000, and there’s just no way you can describe a $640,000 deal to anyone as a bad deal. Waechter will be making about 14% of what Farnsworth will make in 2009, and even that understates the difference, because the league minimum is about $400,000 (it’s now indexed for inflation, so I’m not sure the exact figure). Waechter is making just $240,000 in marginal salary over some career minor leaguer – in terms of marginal salary, he’ll earn just 6% of Farnsworth’s income.

I don’t know much about Waechter except that he was once a crappy starting pitcher for the Devil Rays – back when that was sort of a requirement for his job – then blew out his shoulder and was re-invented as a useful reliever for the Marlins last year. The major difference between 2008 and the rest of his career was his performance against RHB. His line against LHB (.303/.358/.486) was along the lines of his career numbers (.289/.351/.521), but his numbers against RHB improved dramatically (.216/.281/.338 vs .267/.322/.432). It’s hard to compare Waechter the post-injury reliever to Waechter the pre-injury starter, but he did appear to be a fundamentally better pitcher last season; his strikeout rate (6.54 per nine) was easily his career best. At worst, he’s a useful ROOGY, a pale but still useful simulacrum of Ramon Ramirez.

- It’s been a week, and the Kyle Farnsworth signing continues to baffle me. I appreciate that Dayton Moore probably does not have time in his busy day to read my blog, but after I defended the Coco Crisp trade in large part by detailing how Moore has built a high-end bullpen almost entirely on the cheap, it just amazes me that he would suddenly rip a page out of the Allard Baird playbook by trying to spackle the holes in his bullpen with hundred-dollar bills. We’ve seen this play run before. It didn’t work with Roberto Hernandez. It didn’t work with Ricky Bottalico. It didn’t work with Doug Henry. I see no reason to think it’s going to work with Kyle Farnsworth.

- Here’s a friendly wager for Moore. Here’s a list of a number of players that are or were available for around the league minimum: Waechter, Eduardo Morlan (Rule 5 pick by the Brewers from Tampa Bay), Jesus Colome (non-tendered by Washington), Joe Nelson (non-tendered by the Marlins), and Muntader Al-Zaidi (just signed by the Yankees.)

Using whatever metric you prefer – ERA, ARP, WXRL, whatever – I’m willing to bet that including Farnsworth and the first four pitchers on that list (I’m not sure the shoeicide bomber is ready for prime time), Captain Tightpants will rank no higher than third among these five pitchers at the end of 2009. Unless the metric you prefer is “salary”.

- On the other hand, this almost made the Farnsworth signing worthwhile.

- When he’s not signing pitchers with big fastballs and big ERAs to big contracts, Moore continues to do good work on the margins. A few weeks ago the Royals designated Tyler Lumsden, once considered the key to the Mike MacDougal trade, for assignment. That gave them 10 days to trade him or let him go on waivers – when a player is DFA’ed, typically he’ll get traded for scraps or some spare change, as the alternative is that some other team will pick him up on waivers anyway. Lumsden had a 7.21 and 5.88 ERA in Triple-A the last two years; the wonder is that anyone would want him at all. Well, the Astros did, because the Astros’ farm system looks like the landscape to “Fallout 3”. So the Royals traded Lumsden to Houston for the ubiquitous PTBNL, a player whose name typically winds up being “Cash”, and I don’t mean Kevin. (I have this sinking sensation that I’ve used that line before.)

So I was dumbfounded when, immediately after the Rule 5 draft (i.e. as soon as the player was guaranteed not to be selected by another organization), the Astros completed the deal by sending the Royals Jordan Parraz. Parraz isn’t a great prospect, but he’s a prospect, the sort of prospect teams never get when they’re clearing their rosters of the Tyler Lumsdens of the world. Parraz was a sixth-round pick of the Phillies in 2003 as a high school pitcher; after a year of community college, he was a third-round pick of the Astros as an outfielder.

He’s a very good athlete, and has hit pretty well throughout his career, but for some reason has been promoted very slowly through the system – he’s now 24 and has yet to play in the high minors. But he has speed (54 steals the last two years) and plate discipline (lifetime .372 OBP, and .399 last season), and has shown flashes of power. If he were two years younger he’d be a great prospect; even as old as he is, I love athletes who have shown secondary skills even if they haven’t exactly learned how to hit yet. I would have traded Lumsden for him straight up even if Lumsden wasn’t on the 40-man roster and didn’t have to be DFA’ed.

This summer the Royals traded Horacio Ramirez to the White Sox for Paulo Orlando, a trade I heartily endorsed. I asked Kevin Goldstein who he liked better, and with the caveat that neither one is a great prospect, he preferred Parraz to Orlando. If it was shrewd to trade Ramirez, having a decent year as a middle reliever at the time, for Orlando, trading Lumsden for Parraz is larceny. Petty larceny, maybe, but still a criminal offense.

- Unfortunately, relaying this story just reminds me that Moore just paid Ramirez $1.8 million (plus $1.1 million in incentives!) for a return engagement. Let’s review, class, since some of you weren’t paying attention:

1) Signing a failed major league starter to a minor league contract, and trying him in relief: smart.

2) Signing the same pitcher, who was moderately successful as a reliever, to a seven-figure contract while attempting to move him back to the rotation: dumb.

- To clear payroll, the Royals axed John Bale and Joey Gathright. Bale might still re-sign, for less money than he would have earned in arbitration (a minimum of $1.6 million). If he can be resigned for less, I’d say he’s worth it; if you eliminate the three starts in his ill-fated trial in the rotation, over the last two years Bale has a 3.16 ERA in relief. Like Ron Mahay, he doesn’t have a big platoon split, so he can be used both ways, allowing the Royals to save Jimmy Gobble for LOOGY situations only. There’s some untapped potential here.

Few players have more untapped potential than Gathright, but cutting him was the right move for this team. Gathright doesn’t do anything that Coco Crisp can’t do; Gathright is faster, but he has yet to show he can translate that speed into game impact yet. Cutting Gathright is painful, given that Moore gave up J.P. Howell to get him, but it’s precisely because it was painful that I like this move. Howell is a sunk cost, and holding on to Gathright in the hopes that he might redeem that trade would have just thrown a bunch of money at a player who isn’t going to get enough playing time to justify his salary anyway.

On the other hand, this clears a path on the roster for Ross Gload. Speaking of sunk costs…

- The Royals are still doggedly in pursuit of Rafael Furcal, and while it doesn’t appear they can afford him, I can’t help but believe that Moore is going to find a way to shake down David Glass for the extra cash. If he can’t, he has no one to blame but himself. I’m not even talking about the Jose Guillen contract, though I certainly could spend 5000 words re-visiting the stupidity of that move.

I’m talking about the fact that Moore will be paying somewhere between $6.5 million and $8 million in 2009 for the services of Farnsworth and Ramirez – roughly 70% of the money needed for Furcal’s contract was wasted on two pitchers who are barely worth a roster spot. Furcal appears to have a 4-year, $40 million contract offer from Oakland (and let’s be honest: doesn’t the fact that Billy Beane is in the running to sign Furcal elevate Furcal’s standing in your eyes?) I think a 4/$44 contract will get it done, and in a world where A.J. Burnett is getting 5/$82.5, 4/$44 for one of the top 10 shortstops in baseball looks like a bargain.

So get it done, Dayton. Unless you want your next press conference to lead off with a question from an Iraqi journalist.

- This is just so sad on so many levels. In 2003, Rob Neyer and I met up in Kansas City for a weekend of baseball, and the first place we met on Friday morning was at the Negro Leagues Museum. Rob had some business to attend to – he was interviewing Buck O’Neil for one of his books, or maybe for his column. I would have had a chance to meet Buck as well, but I had never toured the museum before, and I lingered inside so long that by the time I finished Buck had came and went (immaculately dressed in a white suit, I was told.) I didn’t regret taking my time – the museum was that powerful. Afterwards I did get the opportunity to meet Bob Kendrick briefly, and was moved by the level of enthusiasm and passion that he had for the museum, Buck, and the greater cause that both were serving.

I don’t live in Kansas City and can’t speak to the specifics on this case. But when Joe Posnanski and Jason Whitlock agree on something this passionately, I defer to their judgment. I’m glad I’ve been through the museum already, so I’m not conflicted about not seeing it again. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend going once, because you’re just hurting yourself if you don’t. But if you have, well, if Poz ain’t going back, I ain’t going back.

- I wondered how long it would take for someone to make fun of my crush on Connor Barth after yesterday’s game. Looks like it took reader Dave about 3 minutes.

I could respond by saying that until yesterday’s game, not only had Barth converted all of his kicks, he would have made all his kicks if the uprights had been squeezed together by five feet on each side. I could respond by saying that both of his misses yesterday were by just a foot or two, and that I don’t know a Chiefs fan alive who thought there was any chance, given all that had just transpired, that Barth was going to nail his 50-yard attempt at the buzzer. Even KC Wolf was shaking his head before the kick. (I have no response for missing a 34-yarder. Yeah, that was pretty inexcusable – almost, dare I say it, Tynes-esque.)

But instead, I’ll just respond by saying that if Barth had squeezed his final kick through the uprights, this would not have happened. I said Connor Barth was The One…I just didn’t say that he was The One Who Will Get King Carl Fired. Hey, I told you he was money.