Friday, January 23, 2009


…Amira Rayanne Jazayerli, who was born on Sunday, January 18th, at 6:50 am. Despite being born a few weeks early, she weighed in at a healthy 7 pounds, 6 ounces, and she and her mother are doing very well, thank God – they left the hospital yesterday. Grandmothers are in town to help with the baby and – equally importantly – with her older sisters, allowing me to go back to my usual routine of goofing off on the internet all evening.

Things are slowly returning to normal, although I fear that my standards for what constitute “normal” will once again slip a little bit. But between the baby, my first experience with sciatica (mild, thankfully – I can’t imagine how bad a severe case would be) courtesy of an 11-year-old snowboarder who plowed into my back while I was sitting on the snow adjusting my board, and a computer crash which necessitated a complete reformatting of my hard drive – there’s been a lot of distractions going on around here. I appreciate your patience.

I’ll try to return to my Time Capsule on the 1995-96 Royals shortly, and I’m excited about the first RotR player interview, which hopefully will be ready soon. The interview has gone so well that we might run it over at Baseball Prospectus; if it does, it should be a non-premium article so that everyone can read it.

In the meantime, I owe you guys some Royals stuff to chew on…let’s talk about the arbitration cases, some that have settled, some that haven’t. Among the ones that did, there’s Jimmy Gobble, who will make almost exactly what he made last year ($1.35 million) in the hopes that he won’t pitch like he did in 2008 (8.81 ERA). Even in his worst season, Gobble held lefties to a line of .200/.246/.323; his one disastrous ten-run outing raised his ERA about two-and-a-half points. Between Ron Mahay, John Bale, and possibly Horacio Ramirez, the Royals have neither reason nor temptation to use Gobble except in the strictest of LOOGY roles. I’d argue that such a role isn’t a valuable use of a roster spot, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that Gobble can be effective enough in that role to justify his salary.

Joel Peralta got $640,000. As a general rule, if you’re eligible for arbitration and settle for a six-figure salary, it’s tantamount to admitting that you’re lucky you’re still on the roster in the first place. Peralta’s salary is barely over the league minimum; a greater concern for the Royals is that he’s a good bet to be left off the roster completely, and I believe he’s out of options. Arbitration salaries are only one-sixth guaranteed, so while I’d advocate the Royals do the merciful thing and put Peralta out of his misery now, it’s hard to get worked up over 100 grand.

John Buck got $2.9 million, which just makes him and Miguel Olivo ($2.7 million) that much more indistinguishable. Every day I wait for Dayton Moore to realize how superfluous it is to have two low-OBP, moderate-power right-handed catchers in their late 20s on the roster, let alone to pay each of them close to $3 million, especially when you have a switch-hitting contact-oriented catcher in Brayan Pena who’s ready for a backup role (and out of options) and will get paid around the league minimum. So far, a trade is not forthcoming. I’m sure there is a plan here, but like a lot of Moore’s decisions this winter, I haven’t been able to pierce the shroud that covers it.

Four players have exchanged figures with the Royals. Three of them – Mark Teahen ($3.85/$3.05), Mike Jacobs ($3.8/$2.75), and Brian Bannister ($2.025/$1.45) are relatively inconsequential. The disparities in dollars are not enormous, none of the numbers appear out of whack, and there’s no reason for the Royals to sign any of the three to a long-term deal at this point. The Royals have not gone to an arbitration hearing with any player in the Moore era, and I don’t see that changing with these three guys – expect all three to settle near the midpoint.

The fourth player is Zack Greinke, who is asking for $4.4 million, and whom the Royals offered $3.4 million. Granted that I’m not any kind of expert in the arbitration process, but I must say that I found both of these numbers kind of low. I mean, Prince Fielder just signed a two-year deal with Milwaukee, but before signing he had submitted an arbitration figure of $8 million and the Brewers had countered with $6 million. Yes, Fielder has certainly had a better 2007-08 than Greinke did, but then, he’s just a three-year player, whereas Grienke is a four-year player.

I don’t mean to suggest that either side made a mistake. I’m just saying that the arbitration process does not assess the future value of a player so much as his past value, and in Greinke’s case – largely because he was not a full-time starter until 2008 – this has the effect of depressing his earning potential. Which, of course, helps the Royals.

But that help is likely to be fleeting if Moore doesn’t use this as an opening to get a long-term deal done. Greinke is going to make $4 million in 2009, more or less; if he has another season in 2009 as he did in 2008, I imagine his arbitration award in 2010 would be in the 8-10 million range. So let’s say $13 million over the next two years. I have previously advocated that the Royals offer Greinke a 4-year, $44 million deal – if anything, that might be generous, as it would be pegging his value in 2011-2012 at $31 million over two years. If Greinke continues to pitch like an ace, $15.5 million a year might well prove to be a bargain; on the other hand, in this economy that might prove to be his upside. More importantly, the cost certainty of having that contract in hand today instead of two years from now is worth a discount.

Cole Hamels just signed a 3-year, $20.5 million deal. Hamels, like Greinke and Scott Kazmir, is a product of the 2002 draft (nice first round for high school pitchers there), but is a super-two player who’s eligible for arbitration for the first time, so his salary is not exactly comparable. But keep in mind that his track record is significantly better than Greinke’s as well.

When you look at all the contract precedents out there, you can’t help but conclude that the Royals should be able to get a deal done for 4/44, or maybe even 4/40. (Or, better still, 4/40 with an option year or two in the $12-16 million range.) The Royals can absolutely afford such a contract, particularly since the contract can easily be backloaded – just transfer the money that Jose Guillen is stealing from the team to Greinke once JoGui’s contract is up.

I know I can’t go more than a few weeks without bringing up Greinke’s contract status and suggesting some new contract permutation that will work for both sides. But this is important, dammit. Everything else this winter is just window dressing. If Moore wants my support back, there’s no quicker way to get it.

Call me the incorrigible optimist that I am, but I think this could still happen. Greinke’s recent comments to Sam Mellinger left the door open to a long-term deal. There’s nothing in these arbitration numbers that send up a red flag. And while all the motion this winter hasn’t produced a lot of movement, it has at least produced the perception of movement in the minds of a lot of people – and people who happen to play for the Kansas City Royals are likely to perceive the acquisitions of established major league players a lot more positively than you or I. I’m not sure the Royals are any better than they were at the end of last season, but if they look better to Zack Greinke, and that factors into his decision to sign a long-term deal, then suddenly you have to look at the acquisitions of Jacobs, Farnsworth, Bloomquist et al in a much different light.

There’s a good chance that on Opening Day, for the second straight year, the Royals will not have any rookies on their roster. (Technically, Yasuhiko Yabuta was last year, but you get the idea.) That’s not ordinarily the sign of a young and improving team, but of course the Royals have tons of second- and third-year players. The difference is that jobs are not simply being handed to minor leaguers; they have to earn them. It’s very easy to take that philosophy too far and deprive deserving minor leaguers of a chance to perform in the majors – but the alternative, as we saw in the Allard Baird years, is that a team promotes every Tom, Ambiorix, and Leo who has a few hot weeks in Double-A. That philosophy didn’t simply stunt the development of some talented players – it also fed the perception that the Royals were a Mickey Mouse operation, that they weren’t a creditable major league organization. It’s no wonder that Greinke said, in his imitable way:

“The main way I look at it,” he says, “four years ago, when they asked me to accept the pitcher’s award, I was like, ‘Do I really have to? Do I have to go and say a bunch of stuff I don’t really mean? Whatever.’

“But now, when you look at how the team’s run, the team’s looking better, everything’s going in the right direction instead of at a standstill, you’re proud to do it. I don’t mind doing it. If it helps the team, I’ll be more than happy to do it.”

I don’t agree that everything is going in the right direction. But I can’t deny that if Greinke thinks that, well, perception drives reality. If Moore gets Greinke signed to a long-term deal between now and Opening Day, we’ll have to give him credit for being craftier than we thought.

That’s a big if. And the clock is ticking.