Sometimes, the Royals’ emphasis on keeping a tight lid on rumors can be annoying.
This was not one of those times.
As the minutes ticked off towards 3 o’clock, there was not a hint that the Royals had anything brewing. Twitter was buzzing with what turned out to be the busiest trade deadline in recent memory, but the news about the Royals was so light that I implored people in the know to make up a rumor just to make me feel better.
A little before 3, the clubhouse opened up, and we wandered in there as much to see whether we could get a sign of an impending trade – maybe someone was getting a hug – as to talk to the players themselves. Nothing doing. Three o’clock came and past. I wandered over to introduce myself to Brian Bannister, who waved me to have a seat, and was as gracious and engaging as you’d expect. We spoke about sabermetrics and Pitch F/X and the adjustments he was trying to make this season (fewer cutters, trying to change speeds more often) for about 15 minutes.
And then he stopped suddenly and looked up at the screen showing the MLB Network. I turned around and read along the bottom crawl, “KANSAS CITY ROYALS TRADE OF RICK ANKIEL AND RHP KYLE FARNSWORTH TO ATLANTA BRAVES.” We looked around. In opposite corners of the room, Ankiel and Farnsworth were both getting a hug.
Yeah, that was a little surreal.
At that point, knowing nothing of the return, I was psyched about the trade. When I wrote about the Royals’ trade options a few weeks ago, I said I would have been happy if the Royals moved three guys off their major-league roster; with this trade, they moved four. Dayton Moore had backed up his words with actions; he had made moves to clear a little payroll and a lot of roster space. The talent he got in return was almost beside the point.
And then I found out who the Royals got in return.
Jesse Chavez is just an arm, and not a particularly good arm. In 119 career innings he’s got a 4.92 ERA, and I suspect that’s going to go up pitching in the American League. He has 92 strikeouts and just 35 unintentional walks, which isn’t the problem; it’s the 19 homers he’s given up that are the problem.
The Braves acquired him this off-season after Rafael Soriano surprised them by accepting their offer of arbitration. Without the budget to pay him, they immediately pawned him off on whatever team was willing to take his contract, which turned out to be the Rays. That Chavez was the token player the Rays gave up to acquire Soriano gives you an idea of where he fits in the pecking order of relievers.
The Royals think they can tweak a few things with him, and there’s no harm in giving him two months to see if he can improve upon Victor Marte’s legendary performance. He turns 27 in a couple of weeks; I’m not expecting much here.
Gregor Blanco, like Chavez, was a rookie two years ago, and was a nifty little player. He only hit .251 with a single homer in 144 games – he slugged .309, which is positively Kendallesque. But he drew 74 walks and had a .366 OBP, and ran well and played all three outfield positions – he certainly had some value. He’s spent more time in the minors than in the majors since; he has just 101 at-bats in the majors the last two years. In the minors he’s been exactly the same sort of player – despite absolutely no power, he’s been able to coax enough walks for a lifetime .368 OBP.
Just looking at his statistical record, I thought he was very reminiscent of Mitch Maier – a really good fourth outfielder, a guy who can play all three positions and work a walk, but not hit for a lot of power. So I was pleased when Moore made the exact same comparison during his press conference. There are subtle differences; Maier at least has some power, whereas Blanco’s is almost non-existent – but Blanco is a faster runner and possibly a better outfielder. I expect we’ll see him play center field with Maier shunted off to a corner when he does play.
Blanco’s 26, so he is what he is. But what he is is a useful fourth outfielder that’s under contract through 2014. If the Royals didn’t already have Maier, Blanco would be a nice addition. Instead, he’s sort of superfluous. The danger is that the Royals will spend money on a “true” centerfielder this winter, forcing them to throw Blanco or Maier overboard. If the Royals are smart, they’ll save their pennies and give Maier the starting job, with Blanco backing up all three positions, until someone like Derrick Robinson or Paulo Orlando is ready.
Chavez and Blanco alone would have made this a tolerable trade. The addition of Tim Collins makes it an exciting one. All you need to know about Collins is that my friend Kevin Goldstein has, for a while now, referred to Collins as “my favorite prospect in baseball. Not the best, but my favorite.”
Why would a lefty reliever be his favorite prospect in baseball? Maybe because Collins is listed at 5’7” – which is only true if he’s standing on a phone book – and 15 pounds – which is only true if he’s wearing ankle weights. (I’ve been told he’s closer to 5’5”, 140.) And yet he throws a legitimate 92-93, with a hammer curveball and the natural deception that comes from launching pitches from such an unusual angle.
Collins’ story is one of the best in the minors. He went undrafted out of high school – probably because he was, you know, 5’5” and 140 – but had the good fortune to hail from the same New Hampshire town as Blue Jays’ GM J.P. Ricciardi. If I remember the story correctly, Ricciardi only heard about Collins because his own father told him about the local kid who looked like the batboy but threw bullets. Ricciardi saw Collins dominate for his American Legion team that summer when he came home for a visit, and signed Collins, then just 17, to a pro contract.
Three years later, Collins has thrown 203 innings as a pro, and has struck out 308 batters. That is not a misprint. His control isn’t quite there yet – he’s walked 88 batters – but he’s allowed just 132 hits and 11 homers.
Now, the minor leagues are filled with guys who put up pretty numbers, even ridiculous numbers, but who scouts feel have no real shot at the majors because they rely on slop and changing speeds. And most of the time the scouts are right. (No Disco jokes, please.) But Tim Collins isn’t one of those guys. The scouts love him almost as much as the numbers do. As Goldstein told us on our Trade Deadline show today, one scout told him that “if Collins were 6’3”, we’d be comparing him to Norm Charlton.”
The jump from A-ball to Double-A is the biggest jump in the minors, and most of the pseudo-prospects who dominate in the low minors get a rude awakening in Double-A. Collins has spent all of this season in Double-A, and he hasn’t pitched as well as he did in A-ball. He’s pitched better. His strikeout rate, which was a ridiculous 13.2 Ks per 9 innings in the low minors, is 15.4 strikeouts per 9 innings this year. Seriously. He has 87 strikeouts in 51 innings. And his command has improved; he had walked 4.0 batters per 9 innings prior to this season, but just 3.4 per 9 this year.
Did I mention he’s just 20?
I don’t want to oversell Collins here; he’s not a future closer. But he’s not simply a lefty specialist either. With his excellent curveball and fringe-average changeup, he has the weapons to get right-handed hitters out as well, and he’s actually been more effective against RHB this season. The Royals have Dusty Hughes in the majors, and guys like Blaine Hardy and Brandon Sisk in the minors, but they simply didn’t have a lefty reliever with Collins’ stuff in their system. Few teams do. If I were to slot him into my Top 25 Prospects list, I’d probably slide him in right behind Noel Arguelles. He’s pretty clearly the best relief prospect – lefty or righty – in the organization.
Once I saw how substantial the Royals’ haul was, I figured that they had to be paying most of the money on Ankiel’s and Farnsworth’s contacts, because there’s no way they would have gotten the players they did otherwise. And they are; the Braves are on the hook for only $1 million between the two, which I believe is the cost of their buyouts for next season.
The Royals deserve all kinds of credit for this, because in essence, they just bought Tim Collins. Dayton Moore convinced David Glass to eat the money, and by doing so he was able to make a deal with the Braves, who are going all-in for the chance to send Bobby Cox into the sunset a winner. The Braves were under a lot of financial pressures and could not take on a lot of money, and the Royals took advantage of that by taking on a good prospect in lieu of cash. In a sense, the Royals did to the Braves what we thought they would do to the Dodgers in the Podsednik deal.
And unlike the Podsednik and Callaspo trades, which I endorsed more for the thought process behind them than for the actual return, I can endorse this deal without reservations. The Royals opened up a pair of roster spots (granted, they will be taken by Blanco and Chavez, at least for now), they saved a little money, they moved a pair of guys that had no future in the organization, and they got a player who could be a key piece of a contender in 2 or 3 years. What’s not to love?
Just one thing – still no Kila. I’m not going to be too hard on Dayton at the moment, because I’m taking at face value his words – repeated emphatically at the press conference today – that he absolutely understands that Ka’aihue needs to be called up, and that he absolutely intends to do so “very soon”. For now, I’m taking “very soon” to be “as soon as we realize we don’t need 8 relievers on the roster”, which is to say Ka’aihue ought to be on the roster when the Royals head out on a road trip on Monday. If he’s not, well, feel free to unleash the hounds then.
In the meantime, let’s enjoy the moment a little. In the last 24 hours, the Royals have won a game on a walk-off homer by Alex Gordon, won another game on an 8th-inning homer by Billy Butler, and made a great trade. Oh, and almost as an afterthought, our manager signed a 2-year contract extension. I don’t want to analyze it too much because I thought it was inevitable, but I also endorse this move, for all the reasons delineated here.
It was a good day. Maybe even a very good day.