Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Auld Lang Syne.

This is the most frustrating time of year for baseball fans. The year is almost out and the nation is shutting down for the holidays – which would be well and good if baseball shut down as well, affording all of us two weeks to detox from the Hot Stove League and re-introduce ourselves to our families and all that.

The problem is that while baseball almost shuts down, there’s always the possibility of some news, a trade, a free agent signing, so you can’t help but refresh on MLBTradeRumors.com (hi Tim, and thanks for the links) or your sports portal of choice. As soon as you think nothing’s going to happen while you’re on vacation between Christmas and New Year’s, bam! Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley are traded to San Diego for Derek Bell and Phil Plantier in a 12-player deal on December 28th. So you have to stay plugged in, even though 99% of the time you’ll be watching the paint dry. (Yankees fans are exempt from this.)*

*: You could argue that the Royals – or at least David Glass – should be happy that Mark Teixeira signed with the Yankees. After all, the Yankees are always over the luxury tax threshold, so adding Teixeira means more luxury tax means more money in Glass’s pockets. The details are still coming in, but Tex’s contract looks to be about for $22 million a year. Multiply that by the 40% luxury tax rate = $8.8 million. Divide that by 29 other teams, and you get about $300,000. That’s 300 grand a year in David Glass’s pocket, and the actual number is probably higher than that, as (I believe) luxury tax revenue is apportioned to teams at least partly based on their own revenues, so a low-revenue team like the Royals will get more. So let’s say 500 or 600 grand a year. The Yankees get Mark Teixeira, and in return the Royals get a month of Kyle Farnsworth. Or, if they’re smart, a quality amateur signing out of Latin America.

If you’re desperate for any Royal rumors, Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Royals would like to sign Jerry Hairston, but don’t have the payroll flexibility to afford him. If that’s true, that’s unbelievably sad and criminally negligent on the part of Dayton Moore. It’s one thing to not afford Furcal, but Jerry Hairston? And with Furcal off the board, Hairston isn’t a bad fit for the team – he’s a decent hitter, knows how to draw a walk, and can play shortstop well enough that he’s a reasonable fill-in option, but not so well as to tempt the Royals into moving Mike Aviles off the position.

But the Royals can’t afford him, because they just spent $4.6 million a year on Farnsworth; $3 million (approximately) on Mike Jacobs; $2.7 million on Miguel Olivo; and $1.8 million on Horacio Ramirez. That’s $12.1 million for 2009; subtract out the league minimum for the four roster spots those guys will hold, and that’s $10.5 million spent on four players who do not materially improve the Royals next season (especially since you’d still have Leo Nunez.) That’s enough money to sign Rafael Furcal. Instead the Royals don’t have enough money to sign Jerry Hairston.

The Royals would have enough money to sign Furcal and Hairston if Dayton Moore hadn’t spent $12 million a year on Jose Guillen last winter. I don’t want to beat a dead horse into the ground, but I just have to point out that the Angels just signed Juan Rivera to a three-year deal for $12.75 million. Not $12.75 million a year - $12.75 million for all three years.

This is amazing and more than a little galling if you’re a Royals fan, because Juan Rivera and Jose Guillen are pretty much the same player. Guillen’s career line is .273/.323/.446, with a career OPS+ of exactly 100. Rivera’s line is .284/.331/.468 with a 106 OPS+. Rivera is 30 years old – Guillen was 31 when he signed with the Royals. Granted, when Guillen signed he had the better recent numbers, whereas Rivera missed almost all of 2007 and hit poorly in part-time play in 2008 (but mashed the ball - .310/.362/.525 – in 2006).

Baseball analysts (I dislike the term “sabermetricians”, because of the stereotypical images that it conjures up more than anything else) are constantly accused of caring about the numbers. The reality, though, is that we couldn’t care less about the numbers – we care about what the numbers mean. I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head what Jose Guillen’s batting average was last year – but I can tell you that his overall mix of baseball skills is highly overrated and barely merits an everyday job, let alone $12 million a year. I don’t particularly care whether Jose Guillen or Juan Rivera is 1% better than the other. What I care about is that the established record suggests that Guillen and Rivera are pretty much the same player – highly-aggressive right-handed hitters with good power and questionable defensive value in a corner outfield spot. That one player is making three times the other is 10% a reflection of the economy, and 90% a reflection of the way these two players are perceived, a perception that does not jibe with reality at all.

There are many skills that are required of a general manager, and defining a GM as “good” or “bad” is terribly simplistic. Dayton Moore does many things well, and he still has my support as the man who could lead the Royals to the playoffs once again. But after three off-seasons to prove himself on the free-agent market, with one notable exception (Gil Meche), all he has proven is that he is prone to wildly overspending for highly replaceable talent. For all he does well – and really, Moore has done almost everything else well – the Royals are unlikely to make the playoffs unless and until he learns to ration his disposable dollars with more care.

We’ll probably be going dark here at RotR for the next week or so. Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas per se, but we certainly honor the spirit of the holiday. It is written in the Qu’ran (19:33) that when Jesus spoke from the cradle, he said, “So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)!” We unfortunately don’t know what day he was born, but December 25th works for me.

So if you’re celebrating Christmas on Thursday, then let me wish you a Merry Christmas. If you’re celebrating Hanukkah, then let me wish you a Happy Hanukkah. If you’re celebrating Kwanzaa or Festivus or any other holiday that I fail to mention – we Muslims just celebrated our Eid two weeks ago – I hope it is a happy and safe one. And I hope to see you all next year.

In the meantime, if any of you want to suggest ideas for what I ought to write about between now and Spring Training, please feel free to comment, with the caveat that I may feel free to ignore your idea. I do have at least one project I plan to write about in January – call it the Royals Time Capsule if you will. But that’s a project for another day.