Monday, December 14, 2009

Kendall, Dayton, and Common Sense.

It looks like I owe all of you an apology.

In my last column, I argued that “I’m okay with” the Royals downgrading from John Buck to Jason Kendall. My argument was predicated on the notion that the Royals wanted Kendall for financial reasons more than performance reasons – that signing Kendall would save money, money that could be spent on signing young talent like Noel Arguelles.

Once again, my naïveté has shown through. Once again, I have given Dayton Moore and the Royals entirely too much credit by assuming they have mastered simple mathematics.

If Kendall had signed a 1-year, $2 million contract, I would have, if not praised the move, at least been indifferent towards it. Kendall is a barely replacement-level catcher and has been for years, but he’s a reasonable one-year stopgap as the Royals continue to evaluate Brayan Pena and look for more permanent options behind the plate.

The Royals gave Kendall a two-year deal, and after being led to believe that the contract was for $2 million a year, we learned that Kendall was actually guaranteed $3 million a year (with incentives!), essentially the same contract Ivan Rodriguez received from the Washington Nationals a few days before.

This is just so wrong, on so many levels, that I don’t know how to sum up my thoughts. I can’t keep writing five-thousand-word screeds every time Moore makes the Royals the laughingstock of baseball, and besides, I’m at the point where I’m repeating myself every time I write about a player acquisition. It’s hard not to repeat myself when the Royals keep repeating themselves.

Still, as a general rule of thumb, any time the Royals make a move that inspires friends to send emails of condolences and #royalsfail to become a trending topic on Twitter, I have to write something.

“The bottom line for me in my career is I want to win.” – Jason Kendall.

Let’s start with the basics. Jason Kendall hit .241/.331/.305 this season. This was not an aberration. He hit .246/.327/.324 last year, .242/.301/.309 the year before that. You have to go back to 2006 to find something remotely approaching a decent season, when Kendall hit .295/.367/.342 for the A’s.

Look at those numbers again. Kendall has not been able to slug .330 for three straight years. Joey Gathright has slugged .330 more recently than Kendall. Kendall has not slugged .350 since 2004, his final year with the Pirates.

The last player to qualify for the batting title while slugging under .330 for three straight seasons is Walt Weiss, who did so between 1993 and 1995. During those three seasons, Weiss’ OBP was .370. Kendall’s OBP the last three years is .320.

Granted, Kendall was an OBP fiend in his younger days. In his nine years with the Pirates he had a .387 OBP, and even now he’s good for a walk every 10 at-bats or so, plus he sweetens his OBP each year with 10 or 15 hit-by-pitches. (He’s just 40 HBPs away from the all-time record.) Kendall drew more walks (46) last season than Miguel Olivo drew (40) in the last three seasons combined.

I spend a lot of time talking about the importance of walks and plate discipline, and with good reason, given that the Royals have been the most impatient team in baseball by a wide margin over the past quarter-century. But as important as walks are, they are not the most important offensive skill, not even close. Power is. And Kendall is as powerless as any everyday player in the majors. As Joe Posnanski tweeted, Olivo hit more homers last year (23) than Kendall has hit in the last EIGHT seasons (20).

Also keep in mind that Kendall’s walk rate is larded with walks of the intentional-unintentional variety. Last year he started 94 games in the 8th spot in the lineup, batting directly ahead of the pitcher, and undoubtedly some of his walks came in situations where the opposing pitcher was willing to nibble and take his chances with his counterpart at the plate if Kendall didn’t bite. In the American League, pitchers are going to go right after him. (I don’t want to overstate this effect. Kendall’s unintentional walk rate when batting eighth the last three seasons is 7.8 BB/100 AB – the same as his overall rate.)

Look, Kendall was a great player once upon a time. Ten years ago he was one of the best catchers, and one of my favorite players, in all of baseball. As a catcher with ideal leadoff skills – a .400 OBP and good speed – he was one of the game’s most unique players. But that player is long, long gone. Kendall doesn’t have a fork sticking out of him – he has an entire cutlery set.

Yuniesky Betancourt had the lowest OBP (.274) of any qualifying major leaguer last season. Jason Kendall had the lowest SLG (.305) of any qualifying major leaguer. The Royals are planning to use both players in everyday roles in 2010. And they’re paying each of them millions for the privilege.

On top of everything else, as the quote above proves, Kendall is clearly delusional.

“He’s still going very strong. He caught 134 games last year.” – Dayton Moore.

If Kendall’s playing time had diminished with his skills, his performance record wouldn’t look all that unusual – formerly great catcher worn down in his early 30s and reduced to backup status. Really, the most interesting thing about Kendall may be the fact that even as he’s been reduced to the worst-hitting regular in baseball, he hasn’t lost a bit of playing time. On the contrary – he’s caught at least 132 games for 10 straight seasons. Last year, he ranked 5th in the majors in games caught. In 2008, he caught 149 games, and started every one. No catcher has started more games in a season since Gary Carter started behind the plate 151 times in 1982.

You can't spell durability without ability, but apparently you can have durability without ability. Kendall is an exceedingly durable catcher – but his performance is so bad that his durability is more a liability than an asset. And not only does his performance discount his durability, but his durability is probably hindering his performance. In 2007, Kendall hit .183/.279/.233 from September 1st on. In 2008, he hit .202/.295/.298; last year, he hit .214/.298/.321.

Catching 130+ games is hard enough on a young catcher – witness Russell Martin’s second-half fades the last few years – but it seems like madness to expect, or even want, a catcher in his mid-30s to play so often. Particularly when he’s not exactly Mike Piazza with the stick.

If there’s one reason to think Kendall could bounce back and hit roughly as well as he did earlier in his career, it would be based on the idea that if Kendall’s workload were cut back to 100-110 games caught, he might be fresher and hit better. Unfortunately, the Royals seem as eager to run Kendall into the ground as his last two teams were. God forbid the Royals should give Brayan Pena an extended chance to show if he can be more than just a backup catcher in the majors.

“There were other offers, but one thing about Dayton and the Royals is they called me the first day I became a free agent. That’s something that kind of speaks for itself.” – Jason Kendall.

Everything I wrote above I could have written a few days ago, when I was ambivalent about signing Kendall. What’s changed are the economics, which are driving me up a wall.

Jason Kendall is going to make $6 million over the next two years. In baseball terms, this isn’t a lot of money. That’s the same amount of money the Royals paid Yasuhiko Yabuta the last two seasons, and as bad as that contract was, it merited hardly a footnote in the disaster that was the 2009 season.

But in terms of what it says about the Royals front office, it speaks volumes. Jason Kendall is the very definition of a replacement-level talent. According to Baseball Prospectus, he was worth 0.5 wins more than the mythical emergency Triple-A player in 2009. For an everyday player, that’s atrocious, and a sign that he really shouldn’t be an everyday player anymore.

That didn’t stop the Royals from contacting Kendall as soon as they were allowed to, pursuing him throughout the winter meetings, and upping their offer from $2 million to $3 million a year once Ivan Rodriguez had signed with the Nationals. (Because you should always allow your contract offers to be influenced by peer pressure. Especially peers who don’t know what they’re doing either.)

Let’s consider the options the Royals had at the catching position in 2010:

1) Pick up Miguel Olivo’s $3.3 million option for 2010. Yes, Olivo might have declined his end of it, but at least you can try.

2) Go to arbitration with John Buck, at an estimated cost of $3.5 million for 2010.

3) Release Buck, then try to re-sign him for less than he would have earned in arbitration.

4) Trade for a stopgap-solution catcher, whether it be someone with upside like Dioner Navarro or a failed prospect like J.R. Towles or a catch-and-throw type like Jeff Mathis.

5) Sign a low-end free-agent catcher (Mike Redmond? Ramon Castro?) to a one-year deal for peanuts.

6) Guarantee $6 million to Jason Kendall.

The Royals, with their usual deadly accuracy, honed in on the worst option of the six.

Over the last three years, here’s the breakdown of Olivo, Buck, and Kendall:

Olivo: .246/.276/.444

Buck: .228/.305/.414

Kendall: .243/.320/.313

Kendall defenders will point out that he has the highest OBP of the trio, and OBP is the most important offensive stat. These are both technically true. But there is a big difference between “most important” and “only”. OBP is more important than slugging average on a point-for-point basis. The general consensus is that one point of OBP is worth about 1.8 points of SLG. On that basis, even though Olivo has a higher OPS than Buck (720 to 719), Buck’s 29-point edge in OBP is worth more than Olivo’s 30-point edge in SLG.

But is Kendall’s 15-point edge in OBP enough to make up for Buck’s 101-point edge in SLG? Not even close. I’ve been preaching the gospel of OBP to the Royals for 20 years, and even I don’t think that Kendall’s going to put as many runs on the scoreboard as Buck.

Defense? Yeah, Buck only threw out 16% of attempted basestealers last season. Kendall threw out 20%. He was much better in 2008, nailing 43% of wannabe thieves, but in 2007 Kendall was down at 15%.

Think Kendall does a better job at preventing wild pitches and blocking the plate? Our own Matt Klaassen compiled the definitive rankings on overall catcher defense for 2009. Using his methods, Olivo was the second-worst catcher (out of 114) in all of baseball last season. Buck was ninth-worst.

Kendall was tenth-worst. He was exactly 0.3 runs – not wins, runs – better than Buck.

Think Kendall is better at calling a game? We’ve been through this before. As Keith Woolner – you know, the guy the Indians hired to be their Manager of Baseball Research and Analysis – proved 10 years ago, “if there is a true game-calling ability, it lies below the threshold of detection.” There’s no evidence that any catcher – let alone Jason Kendall – has the ability to get a better performance from his pitchers than another.

Kendall is 35 years old. Olivo is 31. Buck is 29.

The only reason to prefer Kendall would have been for financial reasons. By signing Kendall for $3 million a year, the Royals either didn’t understand the finances involved, or honestly thought Kendall was the best player of the three.

Now, there’s a line of reasoning I’ve heard expressed – by Sam Mellinger on Twitter, but I heard this from other people at the Winter Meetings – that teams can’t non-tender a player and then expect to re-sign him for less money. Once you release a player, the conventional wisdom states, you’ve made it clear what you think of that player, and he’s likely to sign elsewhere even if the money is the same, in order to get a fresh start. Historically, players that were non-tendered almost never re-signed with their old team.

My reply when I heard this at the Winter Meetings is this: the conventional wisdom also states that Type A free agents don’t accept arbitration – except that Rafael Soriano did, forcing the Braves to trade him to Tampa Bay. The economics of baseball are changing and changing rapidly, and to expect that the rules that applied five years ago will apply today is naïve. Players understand the economics of the game as well the owners do – if the Royals told Buck that “we can’t afford you at $3.5 million, but we can afford you at $2.5 million”, he would understand it’s business, not personal, and evaluate the merits of the offer in that light.

My reply today is much more succinct. Just read this.

What bothers me most is that the Royals didn’t even try to re-sign Buck for less. They kept him on their active roster right up until the deadline to tender contracts, even though they knew they were going to release him. I am utterly baffled why, knowing they were unwilling to pay his arbitration, they didn’t release him before or during the winter meetings. If they had, they would have 1) found out what Buck’s market value was, and if – as I suspected – it was less than the $3.5 million figure, they could have reconsidered signing him; 2) by putting Buck in the talent pool, they would have increased the supply of catchers, possibly lowering the price of all the other catchers on the market.

Instead, the Royals signed Kendall, then released Buck.

Remember Dioner Navarro, who the Rays were rumored to consider non-tendering because he would cost too much in arbitration? Navarro made $2.1 million last year, and this article implies that he was expected to get $2.5 to $3 million in arbitration this year. Before the deadline, using the non-tender threat as leverage, the Rays re-signed Navarro for $2.15 million – less than he would have gotten in arbitration, but more than he might have gotten as a free agent. There is no evidence that the Royals even tried this gambit.

When I started writing this piece, I intended to say that Buck wasn’t going to last long on the market, because a catcher who just slugged .484 is a valuable commodity. As you know, before I could even post this column the Blue Jays swooped in and signed Buck – less than 24 hours after he was released. Buck signed for one year, and $2 millon. (Late add: Toronto just inked Ramon Castro to a one-year deal for $1 million. The Blue Jays just put together a job-sharing arrangement much like the Royals had last year - Castro is sort of like Olivo without the hype - for the same money that the Royals will be paying Kendall alone. Remember, Royals catchers hit 31 homers last season. Next year...not so many.)

Would Buck have signed with Toronto if the Royals offered $2 million? Probably, if he wanted a fresh start with a team that doesn’t lose 95 games every year. Would he have signed with Toronto if the Royals offered $2.5 million? Unless there’s some serious bad blood between him and the team, I doubt it. Money talks; wins just sort of whisper.

So in the end, the Royals guaranteed a 35-year-old catcher who can’t hit three times more money than their 29-year-old incumbent, who is demonstrably a better player, signed for just days later.

It’s the second year on this contract that kills me. I love how the Royals have backloaded it – Kendall gets paid $2.25 million in 2010, $3.75 million in 2011 – in order to fit their budget for next season. It’s reminiscent of the blue-collar worker taking out a payday loan at 140% interest to tide him through until his next paycheck. Sure, Kendall fits into the Royals’ payroll for now. But next year, when $20 million comes off the budget in the form of Guillen, Farnsworth, Cruz, and Bloomquist – well, Moore’s already blown 20% of that flexibility on a replacement-level catcher.

Next year’s free agent market looks much stronger than this year’s, and some teams are already getting ready. Between Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, and Nate Robertson, the Tigers have about $55 million in payroll relief they can look to use next off-season. The Tigers are still looking to further pare down payroll – they traded Curtis Granderson for financial reasons, without significantly hurting their team’s long-term future. The Tigers are like the neighbor that uses its tax rebate to pay down credit-card debt. The Royals are like the neighbor that spends their rebate check in one afternoon of watching QVC.

I’ve learned that if I’m going to continue this blog going forward, I’m going to have to detach myself emotionally from the Royals. I have to think like an analyst first and a fan second. As fan, I hate this move, but as an analyst…well, I still hate this move. Kevin Goldstein hates this move. Keith Law hates this move. Joe Posnanski ha…okay, dislikes this move, because Poz doesn’t hate. Any baseball analyst worth his salt hates this move, because we hate it when teams make dumb moves. This is a dumb move. More than that, it is a move that defies logic.

I write this with as little emotion as possible: Dayton Moore, you’re in over your head. You’d make a fine Scouting Director; your ability to acquire minor league talent is admirable. Whether it’s signing Arguelles or drafting Edgar Osuna in the Rule 5 draft, you continue to do well on that front. (Osuna is a worthwhile gamble – he’s just 22 years old, and as long as the Royals don’t slot him as a LOOGY – his best pitches are a changeup and a curveball, so not surprisingly he actually gets RHB out better than LHB – he’ll be useful in relief, with the upside to start one day.)

But you simply aren’t hacking it as a GM, and you won’t until you stop needlessly provoking the most powerful force in all of sports: Common Sense. (I capitalize it out of respect for its power.) You insist on battling Common Sense every few months, and each time you get plastered like Glass Joe taking on Manny Pacquiao. It doesn’t matter how good you are at player development, or at building the framework of a farm system – if you continue to take shots at Common Sense, it will destroy you. It isn’t something to trifle with.

Common Sense is so powerful that, with little more than it on his side, a Chicago dermatologist with no access to the inside workings of your front office has taken you on half-a-dozen times, and hasn’t been wrong yet. I (and everyone else) was right about Kyle Farnsworth. I (and everyone else) was right about Mike Jacobs. I (and everyone else) was right about Yuniesky Betancourt. (Okay, it’s still early. We can revisit that one later if you want.) I was right about Horacio Ramirez. I was right about Jose Guillen, although I can’t link to anything because you signed him before I started this blog.

Yes, you were right about Gil Meche, at least at first – evidently it emboldened you to take on Common Sense on a regular basis ever since. But I (and everyone else) was right about the insanity of letting Gil Meche throw 121 pitches coming off a tired arm.

I think that’s what so disappointing about this move. It’s not the money. It’s not the fact that nearly four years after Moore took over this team, the Royals have a projected starting lineup for next season which includes Jason Kendall, Yuniesky Betancourt, Mitch Maier, and Jose Guillen, and we’re still told to trust The Process. It’s not the fact that we’re supposed to cut the Royals slack for signing Kendall because after all these years, the Royals still haven’t developed a catcher in their farm system, and we’re also not supposed to notice that the Royals passed on two of the greatest collegiate catchers of all time in Matt Wieters and Buster Posey, either of whom would be starting for the Royals on Opening Day.

It’s the fact that after getting his head handed to him by Common Sense last winter, after every head-scratching move turned out as bad, if not worse, than Moore’s fiercest critics predicted they would – Moore is determined to pick another fight. I’m sure the Royals have all their internal reasons for preferring Kendall over Buck, and I’m sure they’re all valid reasons. They’re just not that important, not nearly as important as Buck’s 100-plus point edge in slugging average.

The Royals always have valid reasons for the ridiculous moves they make – they’re just not important reasons. Yes, Farnsworth was a strikeout pitcher and throws really, really hard – but those facts couldn’t overcome his history of 4-plus ERAs. Yes, Mike Jacobs has light-tower power when he hits the ball just right – but that fact couldn’t overcome his .299 OBP. Yes, Yuniesky Betancourt looks great in a uniform – but that fact couldn’t overcome the fact that he sucks.

And yes, Jason Kendall might be a gamer and gritty and hard-nosed and never begs out of the lineup and gives 110%. But those facts won’t overcome the fact that he’s cooked.

If Moore wants to challenge Common Sense one more time, well, it’s not my job on the line. And maybe after Kendall hits so poorly in 2010 that the Royals have to eat the $3.75 million he’s due in 2011, and after Buck has the best season of his career in 2010 (call it a hunch), Moore will learn his lesson.

Or maybe next winter he’ll just replace Kendall with Jason Varitek. Now there’s a guy who knows how to win.


Barring any more major moves from the Royals this month – we can all hope – this is likely my last post of the year. Please allow me to wish all of you a safe, happy, and altogether wonderful holiday season.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Live From The Winter Meetings.

Hello from Indianapolis. Between the sub-zero temperatures, biting wind, and multiple forms of precipitation we’ve had today, this convention puts the Winter in the Winter Meetings.

It seems like every year we read that this year’s meetings are the slowest yet. Well, since I’ve been down here I’ve heard three different people tell me that this is the slowest…Winter Meetings…ever. We have one massive trade that was just made official (great for Yankees, okay for Tigers, bad for Diamondbacks), and a whole lot of waiting. From the Royals’ perspective, this is almost certainly a good thing.

As the bitter taste of the 2009 season slowly gets washed out, it’s time to face the reality that, miracles aside, the Royals are not going to be a contender in 2010. As such, it’s time to acknowledge that whether the Royals can be deemed to have a successful season next year has next-to-nothing to do with their win-loss record.

This is not an easy thing to accept. After 15+ years of almost ceaseless irrelevance, it’s not easy to swallow the notion that we’ll have to wait at least one more season to dream again. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary. The alternative is to delude ourselves into thinking that adding the right mix of players this winter might be the difference between success and failure in 2010.

The Royals deluded themselves into thinking that two years ago, when they signed Jose Guillen. They deluded themselves last winter when they signed Kyle Farnsworth and Willie Bloomquist and traded for Mike Jacobs and Coco Crisp. (Granted, if they also deluded Zack Greinke, then it was all worth it in the end.)

This winter, there are no illusions. And that’s a blessing if it means that the Royals can get back to doing what they should have been doing exclusively since Dayton Moore was hired: building towards a future that, if you squint, has finally started to move from the distant horizon to a spot on the landscape two or three years away. So the fact that the Royals haven’t made any moves during these meetings is almost certainly good news. As my friend Joe Sheehan put it, this free-agent pool calls to mind WOPR's line from WarGames that "the only winning move is not to play."

Granted, the Royals have had a lot of discussion with the bargain basement of the free agent market, particularly with catchers. They were in hard on Ivan Rodriguez before the Nationals swooped in with their 2-year, $6 million deal, graciously keeping the Royals from re-living the Chuck Knoblauch era. But they’ve been linked to Jason Kendall, Rod Barajas, even Jose Molina, all guys who share two characteristics: 1) they’d all come fairly cheaply, and 2) they’re all worse players than the incumbent they’d be replacing, John Buck.

Now’s the time where I’d ordinarily foam at the mouth about the fact that the Royals want to release Buck, who hit .247/.299/.484 last year (his OPS+ was 103, meaning he was an above-average hitter despite playing a premium defensive position) and is just 29 years old, and replace him with someone like Kendall, who hit .241/.331/.305 in the inferior league last year and is 35. But it’s not that simple.

If the Royals really think Kendall or Barajas will help the Royals in 2010 more than Buck, then we would once again have to seriously question their ability to make even the most basic baseball decisions. But I’ve become increasingly convinced that the desire to replace Buck is rooted in finances more than anything else. Buck made $2.9 million last year, and would probably be due close to $3.5 million in arbitration for next year. The Royals seem to have a cap of about $2 million they’d like to pay to whoever Brayan Pena backs up in 2010.

While the Royals do have some issues with Buck’s defense – deservedly, as he’s thrown out exactly one-sixth (20 of 120) basestealers the last two years – I get the impression that the biggest issue they have with him is simply his price tag. If they could sign him to a $2 million contract, we probably wouldn’t be hearing anything about Kendall et al. But that can’t happen – literally, as a player can not have his salary cut by more than 20% in arbitration.

Having said that, if the Royals are convinced that they can’t afford Buck’s salary in arbitration, I don’t understand why they haven’t released him already. My thinking is that once Buck is a free agent, he has a chance to find out what the market for him is. If it turns out that the market is not that strong, then the Royals might be able to sign him for a better price than he would have earned in arbitration – particularly since the Royals would be able to offer Buck the same carrot they offered Kendall and Ivan Rodriguez, regular playing time, that a lot of other – better – organizations aren’t in a position to offer. The way the Royals are playing this game, they might well sign Kendall for $2 million, release Buck, and then find out that they could have signed Buck at a price similar to what they paid for Kendall.

But I’m working on the assumption that the Royals are going to downgrade behind the plate from Buck to someone like Jason Kendall, and I’m okay with that. Why? Because at the same time that the Royals can’t find enough coins under their cushions to keep Buck, they could find enough money to sign one of the most intriguing Cuban players to defect in recent memory. The Royals have guaranteed $7 million to Noel Arguelles over the next five years – the contract seems to be official pending only things like visas granted and physicals administered. On the one hand, it’s not a lot of money – it’s less money than the Royals guaranteed Farnsworth last winter. On the other hand, it’s the largest amateur contract the Royals have ever handed out, domestically or internationally.

So on the one hand we have a team that can’t afford spending an extra 1-1.5 million dollars for their starting catcher in 2010, and on the other hand we have a team willing to spend $1.4 million a year for the next five years for a player that might not reach Kansas City until 2012. There’s one inescapable conclusion to draw from this: the Royals, finally, have placed a higher priority on amateur talent than on free agent talent. And not just rhetorically, but financially: they're putting their money where their mouth has long been.

This is such a no-brainer for a small-market team that it really shouldn’t even warrant a mention – except that, all around baseball, you’ll find that even small-market teams will spend millions on immediate help at the major league level but then pinch pennies when it comes to signing prospects. To pick another small-market team at random, the Cincinnati Reds – like two dozen other teams – passed over Rick Porcello in the amateur draft in 2007 to save a few million dollars, signing a high school catcher named Devin Mesoraco instead. (Mesoraco looks like a future backup at best.) The following winter, they gave Francisco Cordero a 4-year, $46 million contract to be their closer. The Padres took Matt Bush with the #1 overall pick in 2004 to save money, then turned around and plowed that savings into one year of 38-year-old innings sponge Woody Williams. And so on.

The Royals are certainly guilty of this – just look at the names listed above. But for all the money that Dayton Moore has wasted on bad free agents, that money never came at the expense of the amateur budget. The Royals shied away from Porcello like everyone else, a debatable decision at the time which looks much worse now, but Mike Moustakas was not a signability pick. Eric Hosmer certainly wasn’t – he signed for $6 million up front, a better contract than #1 overall pick Tim Beckham got (Beckham signed for $6.15 million, but spread out over time.) Aaron Crow was drafted because the Royals thought he was the best player available. Tim Melville, Wil Myers, and Chris Dwyer all got seven-figure bonuses after dropping because other teams shied away from their demands. The Royals spent $600,000 on Korean catcher Shin-Jin Ho, and $1.35 million on Nicaraguan third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert.

And now that the purse-strings have been tightened a little, it’s notable that the first budget to get slashed is not the amateur budget, but the professional one. It’s never a good thing when budgets get slashed, but by slashing the free agent budget first, Moore has done an excellent job of mitigating the damage. It's okay if the Royals can’t afford John Buck, as long as they can afford Arguelles, a young (19 or 20 in Cuban years, could be 23 or 24 for all we know) athletic left-hander with a strong build, who throws in the low-to-mid 90s with an excellent changeup and a promising curveball. Arguelles would almost certainly be a first-round pick if he were subject to the amateur draft, with Keith Law describing him as a probable top-ten pick overall. Along with Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, and Chris Dwyer, Arguelles gives the Royals what has to be the strongest collection of left-handed pitchers in any team’s farm system.

The up-to-the-minute buzz is that the Royals might give Jason Kendall a two-year contract to get this thing done. This would be not just dumb but pointless: the point of keeping Kendall over Buck is to save money, but if you give Kendall a two-year deal, you run a very high risk that by Kendall plays so poorly in 2010 that the second year of his contract is dead money that needs to be eaten, and Kendall will probably make more in a two-year deal than Buck would make next season.

But if the worst thing that Moore does this off-season is give Jason Kendall a two-year deal…well, I’ve seen a lot worse than that. And there’s a good chance that will be the case, if for no other reason than the Royals simply don’t have the money to make a more expensive mistake. They might not have 7 million dollars lying around to sign Rich Harden or Mike Cameron or someone who could make a real impact, but they also don’t have 7 million dollars lying around to give to Hank Blalock or Xavier Nady or some other waste of payroll.

But they do have 7 million dollars lying around to give to Noel Arguelles. And for that, I am grateful, and more than a little surprised.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Kevin Appier: A Retrospective.

This article transcends my issues with the Royals. Kevin Appier deserves better than to have his Hall of Fame candidacy ignored because the organization he spent a decade with remains as moribund as the day he left them.

Robert Kevin Appier (like another Royals pitcher of note, Appier goes by his middle name) was the Royals’ first-round pick in 1987. Thanks to their 76-86 record in 1986, the Royals drafted 9th the following year, the highest selection the team had since they selected Clint Hurdle from the same slot in 1975. The Royals drafted Appier out of Antelope Valley Junior College in California. With the pick immediately before Appier, the Dodgers selected a high school pitcher named Dan Opperman. Legend has it that the Royals had scouted Opperman, who was the subject of a lot of pre-draft hype, and then they saw Appier, and even though Appier was just a year older, the Royals’ scouts thought it was the difference between watching a man and a boy throw.

(Opperman was the first in a series of huge first-round flops by the Dodgers. The next year, they took Bill Bene with the 5th overall pick; Bene is one of the most famously wild pro pitchers of my lifetime, up there with Jacob Shumate and Jason Neighborgall – Bene walked 543 batters in 516 pro innings. Two years later, they took high school pitcher Kiki Jones with the 15th pick; the year after that they took Ron Walden, another prep pitcher, with the 9th pick overall. None of the four pitchers made the major leagues.)

Appier was not a phenom in the minors, but he found immediate success. Assigned to Eugene in the Northwest League after signing, he had a 3.04 ERA in 15 starts and struck out 72 batters in 77 innings. The following year, he was promoted to Baseball City in the high-A Florida State League, and in 147 innings he had a 2.75 ERA, walked 39 batters against 112 strikeouts, and notably surrendered just one home run. He was promoted to Double-A Memphis in time to make three starts and had a 1.83 ERA.

That earned Appier a promotion to Omaha in 1989. He pitched well but not that well, going 8-8 with a 3.95 ERA. He allowed 141 hits in 139 innings, but surrendered just 6 homers with a solid K/BB ratio of 109/42. He was called up to make his major league debut on June 4th, and stayed in the rotation for a month before getting demoted with cause. He was awful; he had a 9.14 ERA in 22 innings, allowing 34 hits and 12 walks. In his fourth start he was knocked out in the first inning having allowed 6 runs, and in his next and final start he allowed 6 runs in three innings.

That winter, Baseball America released their first-ever Top 100 Prospects list. Appier was ranked #86, sandwiched between a couple of southpaws named Eric Gunderson and Mike Milchin. It’s safe to say that no one thought that Appier was about to start an eight-year run as one of the best pitchers in the game.

Appier returned to Omaha to start the 1990 season, but was quickly promoted after he had a 1.50 ERA in his first three starts. He was mostly used in middle relief at first, and not all that effectively, as he allowed 28 hits in his first 19 innings. On May 27th he entered the rotation, and pitched quite well, with a 3.12 ERA in his next eight games, though this being the Royals he went just 3-3 in that span.

On July 7th, 1990, I went out to a movie with some friends. The Royals were on TV that night, and just before leaving the house, I saw Appier give up a single to Lou Whitaker leading off the bottom of the first. I came home to learn that Whitaker’s single was the last hit for the Tigers that night, as Appier had thrown a one-hit shutout in the first complete game of his career. (The night before, the Royals were the victims of a one-hit shutout at the hands of Jack Morris*. It was the first time in decades that teams had swapped one-hitters in consecutive games.)

*: I don’t know about you guys, but personally, I don’t hear enough about Morris’ Hall of Fame chances.

From that moment, Appier was one of the best starting pitchers in baseball. He would throw a three-hit shutout against the Red Sox two starts later, a four-hit shutout against the A’s at the end of August, and another four-hit shutout against the Twins in September – except, heralding the chronic lack of run support he would receive with the Royals, the Royals didn’t score against the Twins either, and the Royals lost 1-0 when Jeff Montgomery gave up a walk-off single in the 11th.

From July 7th through the end of the season, Appier was 9-5 with a 2.45 ERA. For the season he was 12-8 with a 2.76 ERA in 186 innings. If that ERA doesn’t impress you, it should: it remains the lowest ERA by an AL rookie who qualified for the ERA title since 1976, when The Bird was The Word: Mark Fidrych led the league with a 2.34 ERA.

For his efforts, Appier finished a distant third in Rookie of the Year voting, behind Sandy Alomar and Kevin Maas. Alomar hit a modest .290/.326/.418, but so bewitched reporters with his intangibles that he won the Rookie of the Year award unanimously. Not to say the award was a joke, but Alomar’s season was worth 2.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to BP’s WARP1 value. Appier was worth 5.5 WARP. It wouldn’t be the last time that Appier finished third for an award he deserved to win easily.

Appier’s sophomore season was a consolidation year; his ERA rose to 3.42 even though his peripherals improved. His walk (2.6 per nine innings) and homer (0.6 per nine) rates were identical, and his strikeout rate actually rose from 6.2 to 6.8 Ks per nine. His statistical profile looked for all the world like that of a pitcher who was about to break out, and somewhere in Baltimore, a 16-year-old Royals fan who was starting a keeper Strat-o-matic league with his college buddies made sure to snag Appier in the inaugural draft.

Liftoff came in 1992, when Appier had a 2.46 ERA, missing the league ERA title by just five points (Roger Clemens led with a 2.41 mark). Appier also finished third in the league in hits per nine innings, fourth in WHIP, fifth in homers per nine, seventh in strikeouts per nine…and thanks to a typically anemic Royals offense, 16th in wins with just 15. Appier ended the season with a bit of a scare, as the Royals shut him down after September 9th with a tired arm as a precaution. This led a 17-year-old Royals fan to yell at pitching coach Guy Hansen before a late-September game at Camden Yards, inquiring about Appier’s health while using some choice words to describe Hal McRae’s handling of his pitch counts. (To his credit, Hansen responded, “his arm is fine.” Even more to his credit, Hansen was right.)

Appier wasn’t the best pitcher in the league, but he was close – he ranked third in the AL in VORP behind Clemens and league-leader Mike Mussina. He didn’t receive a single Cy Young vote. Dennis Eckersley won the Cy Young (and the MVP!) in a sort of delayed reaction to Eck’s 0.61 ERA the year before. Finishing second in the vote, despite a 3.18 ERA, was Jack McDowell. It was a bad omen.

In 1993, there was no debate: Kevin Appier was the best pitcher in the American League. He led the circuit with a 2.56 ERA, a figure made more impressive by the fact that 1993 proved to be the first year of the juiced ball/bat/body era – the league ERA jumped from 3.95 in 1992 to 4.34 in 1993, and has stayed above 4.34 ever since. Appier got stronger as the season went on – from June 19th until the end of the season, he had a 1.94 ERA and allowed just 90 hits in 139 innings. On August 28th, he began a stretch of consecutive scoreless innings that wouldn’t come to an end until September 23rd, 33 innings later, a franchise record that was only broken by Zack Greinke this season (and Greinke’s streak of 38 innings spans two seasons, so Appier’s single-season mark is still the official record.)

Appier led the league in ERA by 38 points over Wilson Alvarez, which to put in perspective, is larger than the margin by which Greinke won this year’s ERA title over Felix Hernandez (33 points). Since 1993, six times has an AL pitcher won the ERA title by more than 38 points, and five times they won the Cy Young (four times unanimously). The only outlier was in 2003, when Pedro Martinez lost the award to Roy Halladay in large part because Martinez threw just 187 innings that year, compared to Halladay’s 266.

But in 1993, Appier received exactly one first-place vote. He finished third in the voting, behind Jack McDowell and Randy Johnson.

Johnson, at least, had the eye-popping strikeout total of 308 on his side, although his 3.24 ERA was a distant fleck in Appier’s rear-view window. McDowell, though, had a 3.37 ERA, and fewer strikeouts (158) than Appier (186). He had only one thing in his favor: he won 22 games, while Appier won only 18.

Mind you, when McDowell started, his team went 23-11, and when Appier started, the Royals also went 23-11. But because of the way baseball’s arcane, century-old scoring rules work, McDowell was credited with four more wins. A trick of accounting seemingly concocted by the wizards at Arthur Andersen gave 28 sportswriters the perception that Jack McDowell was the better pitcher, and gave Appier the shaft. Appier was already used to getting the shaft from his teammates, so it was only fair that their inability to support him offensively would screw him one more time.

The quintessential Appier start came on July 27th that year, when he threw a complete-game one-hitter against the Rangers, the second one-hitter of his career. Unfortunately, that one hit was a home run by Royal-killer Rafael Palmeiro, and meanwhile the Royals were finding a way to scatter nine hits against Kenny Rogers without scoring a run. This remains the only game in the last 25 years in which a starting pitcher threw a nine-inning complete game, allowed just one hit, and took the loss.

(For you game score junkies, Appier took the loss in a game when he had a game score of 91. That is the highest game score by a losing pitcher in a regulation game since Ken Johnson took the loss in his no-hitter in 1964.)

In 1994, Appier’s ERA rose to 3.83, but then the league ERA rose to 4.81, and his ERA+ was still an outstanding 130. Teammate David Cone got the run support that Appier had been asking for, went 16-5 and won the Cy Young Award.

1995 looked like the year Appier would finally get the recognition he deserved. With Cone having been traded to the Blue Jays in a post-strike salary dump, manager Bob Boone elected to use a four-man rotation consisting of Appier, Tom Gordon, Mark Gubicza, and a traveling circus of fourth starters. Taking advantage of off-days, Boone didn’t even use a fourth starter until the eighth game of the season. Gordon and Gubicza were occasionally skipped as the season went on, but Appier pitched every fourth game. He started 12 of the team’s first 43 games, and 17 of the team’s first 63 games, a pace that would have led to 44 starts over a full season.

Appier didn’t respond to this workload by pitching well. He responded by pitching brilliantly. His brilliance was evident on Opening Day, when he threw 6.2 no-hit innings before he was pulled from the game, as the strike which had come to a sudden end at the hands of future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor had necessitated a shortened spring training, and pitchers’ arms were not fully stretched out by the start of the season.

In his first 14 starts – which only took him until June 23rd, despite the late start to the season – Appier was 11-2 with a 2.04 ERA, and for the first time in his career was getting publicity as the best pitcher in the league, if not all of baseball. He was named to the All-Star team for the first time in his career. Boone’s four-man rotation was getting a lot of positive publicity. And then the dark side of Boone’s handling of pitchers became manifest.

From May 13th through June 23rd, here are Appier’s pitch count totals: 132, 127, 112, 123, 124, 109, 122, 141, 133, 98. Even for a veteran pitcher, those numbers were absurdly dangerous, even on four days’ rest – for a pitcher working on three days’ rest for the first time in his career, they were suicidal. On June 28th, Appier surrendered five runs in eight innings – and threw 119 pitches. On July 3rd, he allowed 10 runs in 3.2 innings. After losing his third straight start on July 7th, Boone decided that after the All-Star Break he would revert to a five-man rotation.

It was too late; after three more starts (and 14 runs allowed in 12 innings), Appier went on the DL for the first time in his career. He returned three weeks later, but wasn’t the same, with a 4.24 ERA the rest of the season, and finished 15-10 with a 3.89 ERA. Appier would recover the following season, but the four-man rotation never would. Boone's experiment was actually a qualified success – Mark Gubicza, who hadn’t thrown 140 innings since he tore his rotator cuff in 1990, stayed in the rotation all year in 1995, led the league with 33 starts, and had a 3.75 ERA. But the point that baseball people took away from the Royals’ experiment is that Appier broke down, and the fact that he was throwing a ridiculous number of pitches was lost in the shuffle. No team has made a serious attempt at the four-man rotation since.

Appier remained one of the league’s best starters the next two years; he ranked 5th in the league with a 3.62 ERA in 1996, and struck out a career-high 207 batters, and in 1997 he had a 3.40 ERA, good enough for 7th place. That season his run support went from bad to worse; the Royals scored two runs or fewer in 15 of his 34 starts, and Appier went 9-13 despite an ERA+ of 137. In the last 20 years, the only other pitcher to throw 200 innings with an ERA+ of more than 130, and finish with a record at least four games under .500, was Jim Abbott in 1992, when he famously went 7-15 despite a 2.77 ERA.

From 1990 to 1997, Kevin Appier threw 1644 innings – an average of 205 per season, despite missing time due to the strike – and posted a terrific 3.22 ERA. His ERA+ was 140, a figure which generally puts you in the discussion for the Cy Young Award - that was his average ERA+ for eight years. (Justin Verlander, C.C. Sabathia, and Roy Halladay, who finished 3-4-5 in Cy Young voting this year, had ERA+ values of 133, 127, and 155.)

But Appier had the misfortune to pitch for an organization that was unworthy of his talents, so his record in that span was just 103-74 – an average of 13-9 per season.

Here’s a list of the five best pitchers in baseball from 1990 to 1997, as ranked by ERA+, with a minimum of 1200 innings pitched:

Greg Maddux: 165 ERA+, 139-70

Roger Clemens: 157 ERA+, 118-73

Kevin Appier: 140 ERA+, 103-74

David Cone, 136 ERA+, 109-69

Randy Johnson, 135 ERA+, 114-55

Of the five pitchers, Appier has by far the worst win-loss record – and it’s telling that the pitcher who comes closest, Cone, spent two years with the Royals. The other four pitchers all won a Cy Young Award in that span, while Appier was denied his.

Ask the average hard-core baseball fan who the best starting pitchers of the 1990s were, and you will probably get a list much like the one above. Their list will probably include Pedro Martinez, who had a 140 ERA+ from 1990 to 1997 but not enough innings to qualify. It will likely include Mike Mussina (130 ERA+) and Tom Glavine (128 ERA+).

But it won’t include Kevin Appier. He is the forgotten starter of the 1990s.

Appier’s success, for those of you who are too young to have watched him pitch, was based on four things: 1) a good, hard fastball, generally in the 92-94 mph range; 2) a dive-bombing split-finger fastball that was never a strike, but it was tough to lay off and impossible to hit; 3) a terrific slider with good tilt, which was particularly effective against right-handed batters, leading to a fairly pronounced platoon split (Appier’s career numbers against RHB were .234/.290/.349; against LHB they were .260/.339/.405).

The fourth and most underrated key to Appier’s success was his delivery, which had a herky-jerky motion and ended with Appier falling way off to his left side. It put him in terrible position to field the ball, but it was also invariably distracting for the hitter, and his stuff played up a notch as a result. His delivery was so unconventional that for most of his career, the conventional wisdom was that he was an arm injury waiting to happen. However, when biomechanics experts evaluated his delivery, they came to the conclusion that however unconventional it was, Appier’s delivery was actually quite efficient and did not put him at undue risk for injury.

Appier’s shoulder did come apart after the 1997 season, ending the opening act of his career, but the injury occurred in an off-field incident, reportedly when he slipped and fell of the porch while carrying some of his sister’s wedding presents. (Yeah, I know.) His return in 1998 was further delayed by a bizarre bout with colitis that briefly put him in the hospital. He returned to Kansas City for three starts in September, and it was clear he wasn’t the same pitcher – he had a 7.80 ERA and struck out just nine batters in 15 innings. In 1999, he was fully healthy, but a shell of his former self. At the end of July, he had a 4.87 ERA and had struck out just 78 batters in 140 innings. (Thanks to an offense that was suddenly clicking with guys like Mike Sweeney, Jermaine Dye, Johnny Damon, and Carlos Beltran, Appier was 9-9 despite the high ERA.)

With 1.5 years left on his contract – the ironic upside to Appier being massively underrated was that it allowed the Royals to sign him to a four-year contract extension in 1996 – it was time for Appier to go the way of most every other star player the Royals had developed. The A’s came calling with a package of Blake Stein, Jeff D’Amico, and Brad Rigby, and on July 31st, Appier’s tenure with the Royals came to an end.

None of the three pitchers the Royals got for Appier amounted to much – Blake Stein had his moments – but Appier was a disappointment in Oakland as well. He went 7-5 despite a 5.77 ERA the rest of the 1999 season, and the A’s missed the playoffs by seven games.

The following year, Appier had a 4.52 ERA and led the league with 102 walks, but with a real offense behind him he went 15-11 as the A’s won the AL West. He made his postseason debut as the Game 2 in the ALDS against the Yankees, giving up three runs in 6.1 innings and taking the loss. In the decisive Game 5, he relieved in the second inning after Gil Heredia gave up six runs in the first, and pitched well, allowing just one run in four innings as the A’s pulled to within two runs. But their rally fell short, and they were eliminated.

Whatever bad luck Appier had endured through the 90s was largely mitigated by his good fortune to be a free agent during the craziest baseball market ever, the 2000-01 offseason. In the same winter that Alex Rodriguez got his $252 million contract, where Darren Dreifort signed for 5 years, $55 million, where the Rockies gave Mike Hampton $121 million for 8 years and Denny Neagle $51 million for 5 years, it was only fair that Appier cash in as well. He did, signing a 4-year, $42 million contract with the Mets.

Unlike most free agents signed that winter, Appier earned his money, at least at first. In his first and only season in the NL, Appier’s fastball came back, or at least his strikeout rate did: he whiffed 172 batters in 207 innings and finished with a 3.57 ERA. (His low run support came back as well; he went just 11-10.) The Mets then decided to trade their slightly overpriced player straight-up for a massively overpriced player, sending Appier the following winter to the Angels for Mo Vaughn. Both players had three years left on their contracts, but Vaughn had just missed the entire 2001 season, and was due $46.5 million over the next three years. Vaughn would hit a modest .259/.349/.456 in his first year in New York. The second year, he hit .190/.323/.329 in 27 games, got hurt, and never played in the majors again.

Back in the American League, Appier continued to pitch well, going 14-12 with a 3.92 ERA for an Angels team that won 99 games and the Wild Card. The Angels then stormed their way to a world championship, though no thanks to Appier, who in five playoff starts allowed 15 runs in 22 innings. The Angels won four of his five starts, scoring six runs or more in each of the four. Appier was on pace to be the goat of the World Series when he gave up three runs in the fifth inning of Game 6, but Scott Spiezio’s three-run homer in the seventh sparked a 6-run comeback from 5-0 down, and the Angels would win behind rookie John Lackey the next day.

With a World Champion ring in hand, it seemed like the only thing Appier had left to do was to return home – and amazingly, he did. When 2003 rolled around, Appier looked like the 35-year-old with too many miles and stitches on his arm he was. Halfway through the season, he had a 5.63 ERA and lousy peripherals, his velocity was way down, and after a July in which he had a 10.91 ERA in five starts, the Angels cut him loose even with another year to go on his contract. The stage was set for him to return to Kansas City – to a team that, for the first time since his major league debut 14 years earlier, was actually in a pennant race.

Appier’s return to the Royals came on August 8th in Tampa, and though he pitched well, the Royals welcomed his return the traditional way: they got shut out. But then Appier returned to Kansas City, pitching against the mighty Yankees on a Wednesday night. The Royals entered play that day with a ½ game lead over the White Sox in the division. A crowd of 35,000-plus was in attendance that night, and they were treated to one final night of magic.

The Royals jumped on Jeff Weaver for three runs in the first, a run in the fourth, and two more in the fifth. Appier, meanwhile, had broken out the smoke and mirrors. His fastball barely hit 87 on the gun, his once-biting slider was missing more teeth than an NHL veteran, but the Yankees couldn’t do anything with him. Appier worked around a leadoff walk in the first, and a pair of singles in the second. He retired 11 in a row between the second and the sixth inning, before Derek Jeter punched a one-out single to center.

Jason Giambi batted next. Appier worked the count to 1-2, then Giambi fouled off two pitches. Sitting in front of the TV, I thought to myself at that moment, “the one thing Appier can’t do here – he can’t blow a high fastball by a guy like Giambi anymore.”

The next pitch came in. It was a fastball up in the zone, measured at 87 on the gun. Giambi took a mighty rip at the meatball.

And whiffed.

I’m not going to say that it got a little misty in the Jazayerli household. I will say that I don’t even remember Bernie Williams grounding out on the next pitch, probably because it’s hard to see through tears.

Appier’s night was done, although the Royals would tack on five more runs to render a historically pleasing final score of 11-0. The White Sox lost that night, extending the Royals’ lead in the division to 1.5 games with six weeks to go.

We could not have known at the time that this game would represent the absolute last high point in the Royals history to date. The Royals opened a three-game series against Minnesota that weekend, and with Rob Neyer and I in attendance, they got hammered in the first two games before squeaking out a 5-4 win on Sunday – after which we learned that Runelvys Hernandez had been demoted to Double-A (which finally convinced Hernandez to come clean about his arm pain, which in turn led to a diagnosis of a torn elbow ligament and Tommy John surgery).

Thanks to a White Sox sweep that weekend, the Royals had actually increased their division lead to three games with the Sunday win – but four days later, after a sweep in Yankee Stadium and a loss to the Twins in the Metrodome, the Royals had gone from 3 games up to 1 game back. They would not hold first place to themselves again all season.

But while we could not have known that Appier’s defeat of the Yankees would be one of the last meaningful victories of the decade, it would not have been surprising in the least to know that it was the last victory of his career. Which it was. In his next start, the Yankees got their revenge with six runs in six innings, and Appier didn’t strike out a single batter. On August 24th, Appier allowed one run in two messy innings, and complaining of a sore elbow, he didn’t come out for the third. He was diagnosed with a torn flexor tendon, which was essentially career-ending.

Appier rehabbed hard all winter, and was impressive enough in spring training that he was ready to be activated when the Royals first needed a fifth starter in mid-April. In his first start, he allowed 7 runs in three innings. In his second start, he pulled himself from the game after one inning with renewed elbow pain. Frustrated with the slow pace of his rehab, Appier went home in July, officially retiring so that the Royals would not have to pay him the league minimum the rest of the season (as the Angels were still on the hook for $12 million.) He unretired over the winter, came back for spring training in 2005, had nothing, refused a minor league assignment, and was released. A year later he signed with the Mariners and even made 10 appearances with Tacoma before he was released on June 2nd, and his career was finally over.

For his career, Appier went 169-137 with a 3.74 ERA and a 121 ERA+. He was an All-Star (albeit just once) and has a World Series ring. He is arguably the greatest pitcher in the history of the Kansas City Royals, who just had the misfortune to pitch for the Royals at the beginning of their long, slow, inexorable, and ongoing descent towards oblivion. He deserves to be remembered, and not just by Royals fans, as one of the game’s very best pitchers for most of the 1990s.

I can not, in good faith, make a case that he deserves enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. But I hope that at least one of the several readers of this blog who have a Hall of Fame vote will check the box next to his name anyway. The nature of Hall of Fame voting is inherently broken, as Bill James brilliantly laid out in his opus “The Politics of Glory” (later published under the name “Whatever Happened To The Hall of Fame?”)

The binary, up-or-down nature of Hall of Fame voting allows no room for nuance, and provides no mechanism for voters to distinguish between shades of Hall of Famers. This leads to a situation whereby a player who everyone agrees is just shy of being Hall-worthy gets no votes, whereas a player that has the support of a vocal minority of voters stays on the ballot year after year. This is how Lou Whitaker gets tossed off the ballot after one year, while Jack Morris sticks around year after year, gaining enough momentum each season to make his election a worrisome possibility.

So unfortunately there’s no way for a voter to show support for Appier other than by actually giving him a vote. So those of you who have a ballot – you know who you are – here’s all the justification you need to throw a vote Appier’s way: he is better than several pitchers already in the Hall. Appier’s career WARP1 total, which is a fancy way of calculating his total career value, was 48.4 wins. This is higher than the total of Hall of Famers Jesse Haines (47.5) and Rube Marquard (42.9). If you don’t want to count Haines and Marquard because they were Veterans Committee selections (and widely considered to be mistake picks), consider that Appier was also more valuable than Catfish Hunter (42.6), who was elected by the BBWAA in 1987.

Eight years ago, Jim Deshaies began a tongue-in-cheek campaign to get one Hall of Fame vote, and succeeded, getting a vote from Houston Chronicle writer John Lopez. The world didn’t end, and Lopez wasn’t censured for his vote, even though Deshaies had a lifetime 84-95 record and an ERA+ of 91 (meaning he was a below-average pitcher over the course of his career). If Jim Deshaies can get a vote, Kevin Appier sure as hell better get one too.

This isn’t like giving an undeserving player a vote on an MVP ballot, where a vote for an undeserving player is a vote not given to a deserving one. With a Hall of Fame ballot, in which 10 players can be listed but most voters rank no more than six or seven, a courtesy vote for Appier would have no impact on the voting totals for anyone else. So if you’ve got space at the end of your ballot, I’d sure appreciate it if you give a nod to Kevin Appier.

(And while we’re here, let me also urge the Royals to stop dithering and induct Appier into the team’s Hall of Fame next summer. It’s been four years since a Royals player was inducted – scout Art Stewart was enshrined in 2008. Appier should absolutely, positively be the team’s 2010 inductee.)

Appier might not get a single vote when the results are released next month, or he might receive enough votes to stay on the ballot another year. Neither result will have any impact on his place in my experience as a baseball fan. Kevin Appier was the shining beacon of light in my journey from hard-core baseball fan to insanely obsessive baseball fan to burgeoning baseball writer in the 1990s. He was a reason for me to turn on the TV or the radio or follow the play-by-play on the proto-web every fifth day. He was the inner wall of defense against the rising tide of despair that lapped at the shores of the Royals throughout the 1990s, and it’s no coincidence that the bottom fell out on the organization soon after he got hurt.

I can’t imagine my history as a Royals fan without the eight years I spent watching and rooting for Kevin Appier. No matter whether the Hall of Fame chooses to give him some small measure of remembrance next month, he’ll be remembered by the fans that had the pleasure to watch him pitch for a long time to come.


Quick administrative note: Major League Baseball is holding its winter meetings this week, and instead of holding them in Phoenix or Las Vegas or Orlando or some other warm-weather clime, this time they’re holding them in…Indianapolis. I can’t fathom why, but I also can’t complain, as it’s a four-hour drive from my house. I’ve never been to the winter meetings before, but I’m planning to drive down Tuesday evening and stay through Wednesday night, and thanks to WHB I have my press credentials. So I’m lifting my blog silence while I’m down there; be sure to check in here if the Royals make any big moves at the meeting.

(And they may be starting early, if the rumored five-year, $7 million deal with Noel Arguelles is true. If it is: me like. Me like very much.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This Stove Gets Hot Quickly.

As I wrote last time, “If the Royals make some significant moves over the winter…I might show up here with some brief commentary.” Well, they made a significant move, so here’s some brief commentary. Okay, maybe not brief. If it was brief, you ought to be concerned that an imposter hacked into my blog. It may be while before I post again, so I figured I'd get all my thoughts down at one time.

Dayton Moore likes to get started early. For the second year in a row, Moore made a trade on the first day of the off-season – or at least the trade leaked the day after the World Series. You can’t talk about the particulars of the deal without discussing the rather bizarre way that the trade unfolded.

Bill Madden of the New York Daily News broke the story just hours after the World Series ended. On Thursday morning, Buster Olney reported that trade talks were “not that far along”. An hour later, the Chicago Sun-Times confirmed the deal, even though both Chris Getz and Mark Teahen had denied that they had heard anything about a deal.

Thursday afternoon, Dick Kaegel reported that neither team had confirmed anything, and Teahen tweeted that night that After a long day of rumors & questions, I haven't heard anything official. Heading 2 bed comfortable in knowing I'm a Royal 4 another day.”

Just past noon on Friday, the Royals finally issued a press release confirming the trade as initially reported; the only difference being that the Royals were including “cash considerations” (reported to be around $1 million) in the deal. (Many thanks to for helping with the timeline.)

Now in the grand scheme of things, the fact that a trade that wasn’t confirmed until Friday afternoon leaked Thursday morning isn’t a big deal. What is a big deal is that this continues a very troubling trend for the Royals, which is that despite – or perhaps because – they have instituted an almost-paranoid level of secrecy on all the team’s dealings, their trade talks continue to leak out before all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. Remember, it was just over a year ago when multiple newspapers reported that the Royals and Indians were close to a deal that would send Teahen to Cleveland in exchange for an outfielder, one of Trevor Crowe, Ben Francisco, or Franklin Gutierrez*. Publicly, Dayton Moore denied the rumors vociferously; privately, he went ballistic, going so far as to threaten to obtain cell phone records from employees to discover (and fire) the person responsible for the leak.

*: I don’t like to play what-if scenarios too often…but what if the Royals had traded Teahen for Gutierrez? The Indians wound up trading Gutierrez to Seattle in a 3-team, 11-player deal with the Mets, and Gutierrez hit .283/.339/.425 with 18 homers and 16 steals for the Mariners – and also had the most impressive defensive statistics of any outfielder in baseball. It’s not clear that the Royals were ever close to getting Gutierrez specifically, but if they had, they probably never trade for Coco Crisp, meaning they would have kept Ramon Ramirez, they might not have needed to sign Kyle Farnsworth and/or Juan Cruz…the debacle of last winter might well have been avoided. On the other hand, without Teahen, the Royals would have been caught flat-footed when Alex Gordon went down with his hip injury.

This time, there was fire to go along with the smoke, which led to yet another embarrassing situation for the Royals, as once again one of their players learned he had been traded away from a reporter instead of from the front office.

A few years back I formulated Jazayerli’s Law of Fundamentals, which states that “A team's ability to execute the “fundamentals” is inversely correlated to the time spent discussing the importance of executing them.” In the same vein, here’s a new rule I’ve made – call it Jazayerli’s Law of Public Relations: “The less forthcoming an organization is regarding personnel decisions that are made, the more likely it is that those personnel decisions will come to light in a messy and embarrassing way.”

Information yearns to be free, and it’s madness to think that in today’s 24-hour-news-cycle, mobile-internet, Twitter-and-Facebook world, that you can expect trade negotations to be kept secret indefinitely. The Royals’ attempts to do so of late have been laughably pathetic, but what’s more pathetic is that the Royals actually waste time looking for scapegoats when their private dealings inevitably become public. Moore’s tantrum last winter when the Teahen trade talks leaked is well known. More recently, the Royals berated members of the local media this September for telling prospect Danny Gutierrez that he had been traded to Texas before they had the chance to do so. This was ridiculous on so many levels: 1) it’s not the media’s fault when the Royals drop the ball and let their players hear from someone else that they’ve been traded; 2) Gutierrez had already been tipped off – he had already announced on his Facebook account that he was traded; 3) IT’S THE MEDIA’S JOB TO TALK TO PEOPLE.

The Royals aren’t wasting as much effort try to run down the leak this time, probably because even they can figure out that Bill Madden probably got his information from sources with the White Sox. Regardless, once again they’ve allowed what should be a quick, cut-and-dried trade announcement to turn into a drawn-out, confusing, will-they-or-won’t-they drama. It’s a small thing, but it’s a revealing thing.

Enough about the presentation – let’s talk about the substance of the deal. My initial reaction to the news that the Royals were trading Teahen for Chris Getz and Josh Fields was positive. In blunt terms, the Royals were trading two years of a league-average (and highly-paid) hitter for two players who could be league-average players as soon as 2010, and who are both under contract for five more years. My seven-second reaction was very favorable.

The consensus of the sabermetric community is…well, there is no consensus, really. Keith Law, oftentimes the Royals’ harshest critic, wrote “Love the trade for Kansas City. They will have traded a 45/50, who is close to free agency for two 45's with several more years of control.” (50 being scout-speak for a league-average player.) Over at, Dave Cameron called this “a fantastic deal” for the Royals. On the other hand, Christina Kahrl’s transaction analysis was not nearly as sanguine, as she wrote, It might be more appropriate to wonder what the point was, since this doesn't advance the Royals in any particular direction beyond ‘staffed’”. (If you read Kahrl’s analysis regularly, you know how inadequate any single sentence of hers is in conveying her complete thoughts.) Joe Sheehan’s analysis was even more negative, and much more terse, conveyed in a five-word text message Thursday morning: “Your GM is an idiot.”

I love it when a trade is evaluated objectively by two of the most capable analysts I know and they reach completely different opinions. If nothing else, this means that no matter what conclusion we reach about this trade, it’s important to hold that conclusion with all due humility, realizing that smart people are holding the other end of our position.

In Mark Teahen, the Royals gave up a player with a great attitude, who started at six different positions with the team without complaint – even when moving from third base to right field and back on a daily basis – and who was arguably the funniest Royal of his generation. (Teahen might have been the most consistently funny Royal since Dan Quisenberry.) What they didn’t give up was a great hitter. Teahen hit .271/.325/.408 last year, and his career numbers are an almost identical .269/.331/.419. The memory of his 2006 power surge is a distant one now. He’s a league-average hitter, one who just turned 28, and is more likely to stagnate than to take a big step forward.

While he has tremendous versatility, he’s never shown much proficiency at any specific position. According to UZR, he’s about 10 runs below average per season and third base, and while he’s been an average outfielder over his career, his numbers last year were terrible – he was 5 runs below average in right field despite playing just 32 games out there.

Teahen has value, particularly at third base, where the White Sox have wisely indicated will be his full-time position (with phenom Gordon Beckham moving over to second base). It’s quite possible, even likely, that his glove will improve with an off-season to prepare – remember, Teahen spent most of last spring training working at second base. It’s possible that a new organization and a much more favorable home park will be a tonic to Teahen’s homer numbers. But it’s very clear to me that none of that improvement was likely had the Royals kept him. Last Monday I was on radio with Soren Petro, and when Petro asked me what I thought was the most likely move of the Royals’ off-season, my answer was a Mark Teahen trade. As much as I like Mark, he had considerably less value on the Royals’ roster than he did on the trade market. Credit Moore for realizing that the obvious move is usually the right move – otherwise it wouldn’t be so obvious.

The key player the Royals received in return is supposed to be Chris Getz, who as a rookie second baseman last season hit .261/.324/.347. Those numbers are pretty lousy, but they’re mitigated somewhat by his 25 steals in 27 attempts. Most defensive metrics rated his defense as below-average, but he has a good reputation and no metric is ultra-reliable over a sample size of just one season – let’s call his defense average. In 2008, he hit .302/.366/.448 with 11 homers in Triple-A (he’s hit just eight homers in his other four pro seasons combined), and in 2007 he had a .382 in an injury-marred Double-A campaign. So there is some upside here, but by “upside” I mean he could into, I don’t know, Mickey Morandini or someone like that. A second baseman who makes up for a lack of power by being a tough out, stealing the occasional base, and playing a workman-like second base. The kind of guy who makes the opposing starter work hard out of the #8 spot in the lineup.

Even after giving Getz bonus points for coming out of the University of Michigan (I believe he’s the first Wolverine to suit up for the Royals since Hal Morris in 1998), it’s hard to credit him with being more than a utility player at this point. That has value, but not typically enough value to actually trade for. Which is why I think that Josh Fields is the key to the deal, or at least that the Royals hope he’s the key to the deal.

Fields has a lot of the traits of the perfect buy-low trade candidate. He has an excellent pedigree – he was a first-round pick in 2004 out of Oklahoma State, where he was also the starting quarterback (and still holds the university record for touchdowns thrown). By 2006 he was in Triple-A and hit .305/.379/.515; the following year he hit 23 homers as a rookie for the White Sox in just 100 games, slugging .480. No one would have thought that he’d be reduced to being a throw-in in a relatively minor trade two years later.

Even as a rookie Fields had a .308 OBP, and his career mark is just .302, which makes it easy to label this as just another low-OBP grab by clueless Royals management. I think the reality is a little more complicated. Fields’ problem isn’t that he doesn’t draw walks – he actually has 68 career walks in 664 at-bats, and a ratio of more than one walk per 10 at-bats is pretty good. The reason his OBP is so low is pretty obvious – it’s because his lifetime batting average is .229. And the reason his batting average is just .229 is also pretty obvious – it’s because he’s struck out 226 times in those 664 at-bats.

Fields, basically, is a poor man’s Mark Reynolds. Only one guy in the majors can succeed while striking out 200 times a season, and Fields isn’t him. But if Fields can cut his strikeout rate by 20-25% - which still works out to 150 strikeouts a season – he’s a breakout candidate. That’s a tall order for Kevin Seitzer, but after sticking Seitzer with the likes of Mike Jacobs, Miguel Olivo, and Yuniesky Betancourt over the past year, a project like Fields must feel like a remedial assignment. It’s a lot easier to teach a major league hitter to cut his strikeouts than it is to get him to raise his walks. Fields is a project, but one worth taking on. He’s already shown he can hit lefties – he has a career .285/.356/.580 line against southpaws – so the Royals have a base of success with which to build. I’ll predict right now that Fields, not Getz, proves to be the more successful of the pair with Kansas City. (Even though Getz was a rookie last year, he’s already 26 – he’s just eight months younger than Fields.)

You can’t talk about this deal without touching on the finances of it, and certainly that played a big part in the trade. Even with the $1 million the Royals sent to Chicago, they saved millions, given that Teahen will likely command close to $5 million in arbitration this winter, and that both Getz and Fields are pre-arbitration players who will make just over the league minimum of $400,000. Counting the extra roster spot, the Royals save roughly $3.5 million on the deal.

But I think the financial implications of the deal are less important than the service time implications. Teahen will be a free agent after the 2011 season. Both Getz and Fields have between one and two years of service time – neither would be a free agent until after the 2014 season. Getz won’t even be arbitration-eligible next year. The Royals acquired two players who are ready to contribute right away, but whose free agent horizons are well into the future. As Moore said, Our motivation behind this deal – and any deal that we make this winter – is to acquire as many zero-to-three service-time players as we can. That was certainly what we did here.”

If for no other reason than that quote, this trade makes sense, because in making this trade Moore finally acknowledged something he should have last season: that while the Royals might be ready to contend in the near future, “the near future” does not mean “next year”. The Royals, barring divine intervention, are not going to win anything in 2010. Teams just don’t go from 97 losses one season to the playoffs the next. (Although I’m sure Moore knows all about the 1991 Braves.)

But the Royals can realistically think about contention in 2011, so long as they use 2010 wisely. That means jettisoning league-average guys like Teahen for lottery tickets like Fields, and using 2010 to see which of the new guys can play and which can’t. It might mean a few more losses next year while the Royals sort through their options – but I’d gladly sacrifice a few wins in 2010, when the Royals won’t need them, for a few wins in 2011, when they just might.

Or to put it another way, as Moore said, “The bottom line is it hasn’t worked here. It hasn’t worked. We have to do what we have to do to shake up our team and generate as much competition as we can. We have to put the pressure on (players) to go out and perform.”

It. Hasn’t. Worked. Here.

It. Hasn’t. Worked.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Moore almost sounds contrite. That he’s almost admitting that he’s made mistakes.

So if that’s what this trade is about – admitting that The ProcessTM is in need of refinement, and that the Royals need to rethink how they put together a team – then I’m all in favor of it.

I’m just not sure it’s that simple. Taken in isolation, trading Teahen for Getz and Fields makes sense. But this trade can’t be fully evaluated until we see the other moves it triggers, because as it stands Getz and Fields are both without positions to play. Getz’s primary position is second base, where the Royals have Alberto Callaspo. Fields’s primary position is third base, where they have Alex Gordon. Taking playing time away from Callaspo and/or Gordon for the sake of Getz and/or Fields is so dumb that not even the Royals would consider it. Which means more moves are afoot.

The dilemma with Fields is, to my mind, an easy one to fix. Fields’s defensive reputation at third base is pretty lousy, and he has a fair amount of experience in the corner outfield. I could see him moving directly into the Teahen role, rotating between third base and the corner outfield, but my hope is that the Royals see him, in a best-case scenario, as their future right fielder.

Getz is a trickier problem to solve, because like most second basemen, he doesn’t have the skills to be a utility player – he played a little third base and left field in the minors, but he really should only be moved off the keystone in an emergency situation.

Now, I’ve been advocating for months now that the Royals should seriously explore the possibilities of an Alberto Callaspo trade. His bat ought to make him a highly-prized commodity on the trade market, while his glove is likely to be better-tolerated on a team that doesn’t have defensive liabilities at multiple other positions like the Royals have.

But it’s one thing to trade Callaspo if the right offer comes along, and it’s quite another to trade him simply because you can’t stomach his defense and you’ve finally found a decent replacement in Getz. Getz allows the Royals to trade Callaspo. He does not force the Royals to trade Callaspo, particularly since Getz (unlike Fields) actually has an option left, so he can be sent to Omaha to start the year if a suitor for Callaspo has not materialized.

Ultimately, this trade is going to be judged by the moves that it emboldens the Royals to make. I honestly think that Moore didn’t have any grand plan in mind for how to resolve the logjam of talent at third base and second base when he made this move. I think he made this move precisely because he doesn’t know where this off-season will lead, and so by bringing Fields and Getz into the fold, he puts the Royals in a position where they can pull the trigger if the right deal for someone like Callaspo comes along, but they don’t feel obligated to make a deal just for the sake of making one. At least I hope that’s true. When the Royals have made a deal just for the sake of making one, the casualties have been hard to bear.

If Moore decides to give away Gordon for whatever he can get and install Fields at third base, and then makes room for Getz by moving Callaspo to DH (which would be a waste of his talents), we’ll rue the day that Kenny Williams picked up the phone. But if Fields winds up taking playing time away from Jose Guillen in right field, and if the Royals get a bushel of prospects for Callaspo, this trade may be looked back at as the day the Royals started to rebuild the right way. The trade looks good in isolation. But I want to see the next few dominoes before I pronounce judgment.


We may have gotten a glimpse of the next domino the other day, when Bob Dutton reported ahead of the GM Meetings that “One rumor to watch: A deal sending second baseman Alberto Callaspo to the Los Angeles Dodgers for catcher A.J. Ellis, a 28-year-old rookie who currently projects as a backup to Russell Martin following the anticipated free-agent departure of veteran Brad Ausmus.”

If I were to draw up a list of teams that Moore should be talking to regarding Callaspo, the Dodgers would be very, very high up. The Dodgers are the perfect storm for a potentially lopsided trade:

- Thanks to their scouting director, Logan White, the Dodgers perennially have one of the most bountiful farm systems in baseball. It’s not as strong as it used to be, but there’s still plenty of talent there.

- Thanks to their highly overrated GM, Ned Colletti, the Dodgers have no problem with overpaying in prospects for a player who can help them today.

- As you may have heard, the owners of the Dodgers (Frank and Jamie McCourt) are in the opening stages of a messy, nasty, tabloid-filling divorce. The financial pressures on the team are likely to be as strong as the financial pressures were on the Padres when their owner was getting divorced a few years ago. Given those pressures, an everyday player like Callaspo who makes close to the league minimum (Callaspo figures to miss arbitration by just a few days of service time) ought to be particularly enticing.

Add it all up, and Moore should be putting the full-court press on the Dodgers. Look at some of the talent that LA has given up recently:

- Traded Tony Abreu for one month of Jon Garland

- Traded Josh Bell and Steve Johnson for 2+ years of George Sherrill

- Traded Carlos Santana and Jonathan Meloan for 2 months of Casey Blake (!)

- Traded Willy Aybar and Danys Baez for Wilson Betemit

- Traded Dioner Navarro and other prospects for Toby Hall and Mark Hendrickson

The Santana trade kills me. The Indians turned a mediocre free agent-to-be into Santana, who’s now one of the best catching prospects in baseball. (Say what you want about the Indians, but no team does a better job of trading for prospects. They also turned Eduardo Perez into Asdrubal Cabrera, and Ben Broussard into Shin-Soo Choo. And let’s not even recount the Bartolo Colon trade, or how they turned Einar Diaz into Travis Hafner.)

So absolutely, the Dodgers are a perfect destination for Callaspo. But…A.J. Ellis?

The same A.J. Ellis who slugged .375 last season – in Albuquerque, one of the best hitters’ parks in the game?

The same Ellis who is 28 years old – more than two years older than Callaspo?

I’m sorry, but I can’t take this trade rumor seriously. Maybe Ellis is a throw-in to a larger package of prospects that the Dodgers and Royals are talking about. But there’s no way that even Dayton Moore would consider trading a 26-year-old second baseman who hit .300 with 60 extra-base hits last season, who’s under contract for four more seasons, for a 28-year-old slow, singles-hitting backup catcher wannabe.

There’s no way.

No way.


If the Royals are interested in Ellis at all, it’s because they’ve decided to overhaul their catching corps. The Royals spent 100 grand on a buyout to Miguel Olivo, despite his 23 homers and .490 slugging average, just to keep him from activating the $3.3 million option on his contract. You could make a persuasive case that the Royals should have kept him at that price – and it will be interesting to see if they can work out a deal to offer him arbitration (and for him to decline)* in order to grab a compensation pick, as Olivo qualified as a Type B free agent – but ultimately it was the right move for two reasons. One, he had a .292 OBP in his career season, and two, he’s probably the worst everyday defensive catcher in baseball.

*: It just occurred to me: is it possible the Royals and Olivo have already worked out a handshake agreement for him to decline arbitration? Olivo was widely expected to forgo his player option, because he’s likely to earn more than $3.3 million on the open market. So why would the Royals pay him $100,000 to go away when they didn’t have to? Is it possible that they gave him a free 100 grand with the understanding that when they offer him arbitration, he’ll decline, netting the Royals a compensation pick? Stay tuned. It’s just a conspiracy theory, but everyone loves a good conspiracy theory.

But I don’t think Ellis is the answer, even if he’s just a throw-in in a Callaspo deal. Ellis is the exact opposite of Olivo offensively, in that he has no power but is an on-base machine, with a .438 OBP this season and a .436 OBP last season. On the surface, that sounds great. But I worry that Ellis’ on-base skills won’t translate to the majors for a couple of reasons.

First, he has no power to speak of – he didn’t hit a home run in all of 2009, and just four in 2008. The ability to draw walks at the major league level depends at least in part on the threat of power – one difference between major and minor league pitchers is that major leaguers can throw strikes when they have to, and without the threat of power, Ellis won’t be able to keep pitchers from just pounding him in the zone. Secondly, his high batting averages the past two years (.321 and .314) are almost certainly a ballpark illusion. Right-handed hitters without power are not going to hit .300 in the majors unless they have speed. Ellis doesn’t. It’s almost impossible to maintain a high OBP in the majors as a right-handed hitter with neither speed nor power.

Ellis’ OBP numbers in the minors look like those of a young Jason Kendall. But the young Kendall had a lot of speed and a fair amount of power, and he had a .402 OBP his first five years in the majors. The old Jason Kendall has neither speed nor power, and also has a .336 OBP the last five years. I fear that Ellis’ numbers in the majors will look a lot like Old Jason Kendall, and that’s not worth playing, let alone trading for.

I worry that the Royals, having finally seen up-close what ignoring OBP can do to your offense, have swung the pendulum clear the other way, and are suddenly interested in players whose OBP represents their only true skill. Ellis’ .438 OBP looks beautiful on paper. I just think he won’t come close to replicating that in the majors.

I particularly don’t see the appeal of Ellis since the Royals still have a better option in-house. I speak of John Buck, whose fan club has dwindled down to...(looks around)...just me, I guess. Take a look at these two lines from 2009:

Player A: .249/.292/.490, 103 OPS+

Player B: .247/.299/.484, 103 OPS+

Player A is the aforementioned Olivo. Player B is Buck. At-bat for at-bat, you could not construct two more similar hitters than these two. But because Olivo got more than twice as many at-bats last season, he has the counting numbers (23 homers, 65 RBIs) that impress people, while Buck doesn’t. But frankly, I’d rather have Buck. He’s two years younger, has a better idea of the strike zone, and while he has a much weaker arm, he’s much more sure-handed at blocking pitches in the dirt than Olivo. He makes a perfect complement to Brayan Pena, given that Pena is a switch-hitter and a contact guy, and he’s already on the roster. There may be better catchers than Buck on the market, but why the Royals would want to replace him with Ellis – who, again, is already 28 years old and has all of 10 at-bats in the majors – is beyond me.


Finally, I can’t write about the Royals for the first time in two months without mentioning the fact that they completely turned over their training staff.

I take no particular joy in the fact that three men are out of a job. But as you know, I think this was absolutely the right move to make. I confess to being quite surprised at the news; if anything, I was concerned that the snit I had with the Royals this summer would have discouraged the Royals from making a move even if they wanted to, if only to avoid accusations that they were letting the inmates (i.e. the media) run the asylum. I felt like Professor Zarkov in Flash Gordon, in that by speaking out I had insured that the very thing I warned against would come to pass from Dayton Moore/Emperor Ming. (And you guys thought my “V” references were geeky.)

But the Royals made the right move anyway, and they deserve credit for that. Yes, officially Swartz retired, and for his sake I hope the move was voluntary. At the same time, you know the old adage about issuing bad news on a Friday afternoon? The press release announcing Swartz’ retirement entered my mailbox on a Friday at 5:59 PM.

To replace Swartz, the Royals hired Nick Kenney, who was the assistant head trainer for the Indians. (The Royals then cleaned house by letting assistant trainers Frank Kyte and Jeff Stevenson go, and replacing them with Kyle Turner, who was previously the Royals’ Minor League Medical Coordinator.) The Indians’ training staff has an excellent reputation, and in fact two years ago they won Baseball Prospectus’ Dick Martin Award that is given out to the best training staff in the majors. I have nothing but praise for this decision.


At over 4900 words, this might be my longest column ever. So now that the Royals have a training staff that might be able to keep injury-prone players healthy, I’ll leave you with two final words as the free-agent season gets underway.

Rich Harden.