Greetings from Kansas City, where I’ll be all weekend on my annual pilgrimage to Kauffman Stadium. I planned this trip weeks ago with the trade deadline firmly on my mind – I figured the Royals would be active, and having the time off would mean that I’d be able to respond instanteously to any moves they’d make.
This plan backfired a little, as the Royals traded Scott Podsednik just minutes after my radio show ended last night. With an early flight to catch there was no way for me to write this up last night, and it’s only now that I’m safely in my hotel room that I can put thoughts to keyboard.
In all honesty, my immediate reaction to the haul that Dayton Moore got for Podsednik was a bit of a letdown. For about 10 minutes, we knew that Pods had been traded to the Dodgers for two minor leaguers, and given Ned Colletti’s history of trading premium prospect for distinctly non-premium players (Carlos Santana for Casey Blake, Josh Bell for George Sherrill), I admit that I was dreaming big for those 10 minutes. Dee Gordon, come on down!
Instead, it turned out to be a fair trade for both sides. How very disappointing.
You’ve heard the reports that the Royals got Lucas May and Elisaul Pimentel, but don’t be confused – the Royals actually got Elisaul Pimentel and Lucas May. May gets the headlines because he’s in Triple-A and is almost major-league ready, but he’s clearly the lesser player in the deal. In fact, I’m not entirely convinced that he was worth acquiring at all.
May was in his eighth season with the Dodgers, during which time he had moved from shortstop to the outfield and finally to catcher, which he has been playing since 2007. He still plays like a converted catcher; this season is the first time that has allowed fewer than one passed ball every four games, and he’s thrown out just 19% of basestealers this year. (He did throw out 35% last year.)
Offensively, some people are looking at his .296/.352/.496 line in Triple-A this year and projecting him as a good-hitting catcher; I’ve even read some comments implying that if he can’t catch, he can serve as a DH. This is patently ridiculous. The Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate is in the thin air of Albuquerque, which inflates the numbers of even the most marginal hitters. This year, May is hitting .347/.392/.603 at home; at parks closer to sea level, he’s hitting .252/.318/.403.
Baseball Prospectus does a great job (through their Davenport Translations) of converting the numbers of a minor-league player into his equivalent numbers in the major leagues, in a neutral ballpark. Based on May’s performance this year, if he had spent the year in the majors he could be expected to hit about .227/.278/.386. That’s backup-catcher material at best.
So what do you have, exactly? You have a catcher who can’t really catch, and can’t really hit, and is already 25. It’s always nice to have catching depth, I suppose, but in terms of the long-term future of the franchise May ranks no higher than fifth or sixth on the depth chart. If you want a catcher who can’t hit but can play defense, the Royals already have Manny Pina in Omaha. If you want a catcher who can’t play defense but can hit, Brayan Pena is already in the majors and is a better hitter than May. If you want a catcher who might develop into a two-way threat, the Royals have Salvador Perez in Wilmington. And if you want a catcher who might develop into a superstar, there’s always Wil Myers.
So what, exactly, does Lucas May do? I mean, other than take away at-bats from a younger, better player in Pina? He’s supposed to be a gamer and a leader on the field (he starred for Team USA last summer) and coachable and all that. Those are all great and wonderful things, but it doesn’t change the fact that he isn’t a better player than the guys the Royals already have, and likely never will be.
No, the Royals made this trade to get Pimentel. (At least I hope - what worries me most about this trade is that the Royals will fall in love with May for no good reason and play him over better alternatives.) The Royals have a history of acquiring Pimentels from the Dodgers – four years ago, Moore acquired Julio Pimentel (who had a promising arm before Tommy John surgery) in the Elmer Dessens/Odalis Perez salary dump. This Pimentel, presumably, has a better future.
Pimentel has developed rather slowly, working his way from the Dominican Summer League through two domestic rookie leagues over the past three years. He finally reached full-season ball this year, and has had a breakout season, most notably striking out 97 batters in 90 innings. He had a brilliant line (71 IP, 44 H, 27 BB, 75 K, 1 HR) before getting hammered a bit in last four appearances, although the strikeouts are still there. The fact that his strikeout rate has jumped (his career strikeout rate prior to 2010 was just over 7 per 9 innings before) despite making the jump to full-season ball suggests that his stuff has taken a step forward.
Scouting reports are not as impressive as his numbers – Baseball America reports that he throws 89-93 with an average changeup, but his breaking ball doesn't actually break much. He just turned 22, so he’s not all that young for a guy still in low A-ball. As a prospect, I would tentatively slot him behind Will Smith, who’s left-handed, a year younger, and has far more experience in the higher minor league levels.
Still, there’s something here. Pimentel has worked almost exclusively as a starter, and there’s always the chance his velocity picks up if he ever moves to the bullpen. The fact that the Royals wanted him would at least suggest that they think his stuff will play in the majors. Keep in mind the Royals have a decent track record at acquiring young arms who then pick up velocity; Daniel Cortes gained a few mph on his fastball right after the Royals got him for Mike MacDougal.
If nothing else, Pimentel is another live arm for an organization with a surplus of them already. Even if he turns out to be just a trading chip for the Royals to cash in when they are making a push into contention in a few years, that’s something. If he develops into a guy that can help the Royals directly, that’s just gravy.
Similar to the Alberto Callaspo trade, while I’m a little disappointed in the specifics of the trade, the fact that the trade was made at all means that Dayton Moore is – finally – doing his job. Podsednik has had as good a year as could be expected, hitting .310, stealing 30 bases, playing almost every day. (Meaningless trivia: Podsednik now holds all-time record for career batting average by a Royal with 200 or more plate appearances. Hal Morris held the record at .309.) He still had no future with this organization, and the option to bring him back for another year was more of a threat than a promise.
We all knew that the Royals simply had to trade him, and we were all worried that they wouldn’t. They did, and if the haul was something less than we expected, it’s still better than the alternative.
It’s only fair to ask, was it all worth it? Scott Podsednik gave the Royals nearly 400 at-bats of slightly below-league-average performance in left field, which had the unpleasant side effect of taking away playing time that could have gone to younger players – either Alex Gordon, who in fairness wasn’t an outfielder when Podsednik was signed, or Kila Ka’aihue, who presumably would have DH’ed if Jose Guillen were roaming the outfield instead of Pods. And in the end, the Royals traded Podsednik away for a live arm and a marginal backup catcher. Was it worth the players they got to inhibit the development of Ka’aihue?
I don’t have the answer to that question. But I will grant the Royals this: the Podsednik signing worked out exactly the way they drew it up. The Royals wound up paying Podsednik barely a million dollars, and in exchange they got a player who in 95 games hit .310/.353/.400 with plenty of speed and all the veteran goodness you could want – and then, when his value was at its highest, they cashed Podsednik in for a pair of prospects. For what they paid, Podsednik was an absolute bargain. If Moore always spent his money this wisely, the Royals would be in much better shape than they are now.