Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Better Day.

(As usual with the Royals, when it rains, it pours. So let’s just pretend, for the sake of the column title, that Zack Greinke didn’t make any statements to the press today – I’ll address what he said soon enough.)

I’ll be honest: I didn’t think Dayton Moore had the balls to do it.

Sure, it was the right thing to do. Jose Guillen was a mistake from the moment he signed his 3-year, $36 million contract. This isn’t revisionist history. When Guillen signed, Rob Neyer wrote, “It’s Kevin McReynolds all over again.” Joe Posnanski ran with that comparison as well. It was a good comparison: like McReynolds, Guillen was a right-handed-hitting outfielder who the Royals acquired at the age of 32, an age where non-star hitters tend to decline rapidly.

With the book now closed on Guillen, here’s the final tally:

Kevin McReynolds as a Royal: .246/.338/.421, 105 OPS+

Jose Guillen as a Royal: .256/.308/.420, 94 OPS+

Score one for the statheads.

Really, it’s not fair to McReynolds to compare him to Guillen. For one, he wasn’t given the highest annual salary in Royals’ history, like Guillen was. In McReynolds’ case, the Royals were able to find a trading partner before the final year of his contract, shipping him to the Mets for Vince Coleman (admittedly not a prize pickup himself). And most importantly, while McReynolds got all the headlines as the big acquisition for Bret Saberhagen, the reality was that Gregg Jefferies was the key to that deal. Saberhagen-for-Jefferies was a ballsy trade that the Royals won – or they might have, had Herk Robinson not inexplicably traded Gregg Jefferies for Felix Jose the following year, perhaps the most unrecognized bad trade in Royals history.

I digress. Jose Guillen’s tenure in Kansas City got off on the wrong foot, and never found the right one. He said inflammatory things about his teammates and management. He intimidated Trey Hillman into letting him do whatever he wanted. He cursed out the fans to the media. He loafed on the bases and in the field. He played some of the worst outfield defense anyone had ever seen. He pulled out his own freaking toenail.

The only thing he didn’t do, with a few brief exceptions, was hit. From May 7 to June 23, 2008, Guillen had a remarkable 44-game stretch when he hit .380, slugged .659, hit 20 doubles and 10 homers, and drove in 45 runs. (He walked just twice.) And this season, after being written off as through after an injury-filled 2009 season, he shocked everyone with 6 doubles and 7 homers in the season’s first 18 games, batting .351 and slugging .716. (He walked just twice.) Aside from those two stretches, Guillen hit and fielded like a replacement-level catcher who was playing the outfield for the first time. Except with a worse attitude.

Since April 26th, Guillen has hit .233/.301/.363 for the Royals – and has started all but three games.

I know a lot of Royals fans were angry at the way the front office kept running him out there, day after day, in the desperate hope that their patience would one day be rewarded and they might actually get something for him. Honestly, my reaction was just a dash of anger in a large bowl of pity. It was less maddening than it was pathetic to watch Guillen play, day after day, knowing that even the Royals didn’t really want him in the lineup.

Let’s remember that, based on the way Guillen ended last season, I don’t think the Royals expected him to be physically able to play regularly this season. While I think Guillen might have been exaggerating slightly when he said that he almost died from blood clots in his legs over the off-season, there’s no question that as late as February, the Royals weren’t sure he’d be able to play at all. I have to think that all their stockpiling of outfielders, from Scott Podsednik to Rick Ankiel to Brian Anderson (remember him?) was based in part on the expectation that they’d have to replace Guillen.

And I have to think they were more surprised than anyone when Guillen looked fine in spring training, and then when he was the team’s best hitter in April. In retrospect, of course – and some Royals fans were wise enough to point this out at the time – Guillen’s hot April was the worst thing that could have happened to the Royals. Because once he proved in April that he was healthy and able, there was simply no way they could justify taking him out of the lineup.

So instead we were treated to a long, sad, joyless farewell tour, the result of an unholy alliance between a team desperate to get something for their player and a player desperate to get the hell out of town. Guillen’s April performance was just enough to get him back on the trade radar of a few teams, and if he had managed to hit at all over the ensuing three months he probably would have found a new home. But he didn’t. The Royals, proving they learned nothing from the Gil Meche debacle, were either too scared or too disinterested to give Guillen the occasional day off.

By early June, it was clear that no American League team was interested in acquiring him to DH. You’d think that was a cue to give up – but the Royals simply couldn’t give up the ghost, and in a desperate attempt to revive his value to a National League team, they gave him his glove back. Starting on June 9th, Guillen started 17 of his next 23 games in the field. Maybe they figured that Guillen would inevitably injure himself and solve their dilemma. If they did, it almost worked – Guillen pulled up lame “running” out a ground ball in early July, and looked like he’d be out for a while. He missed two games.

Meanwhile, Kila Ka’aihue was forced to turn the Pacific Coast League into his personal playground for four months.

Until the very end, the Royals held out hope. They offered to pick up almost his entire salary; they offered to trade him for a token player. When no team would bite at the trading deadline, they sent him through waivers. Forty-eight hours later, he went unclaimed. The game was over. The jig was up.

And Dayton Moore waved the white flag.

If he deserves criticism for sticking with Guillen as long as he did, Moore at least deserves credit for finally acknowledging reality. I mean, it’s easy to say that Jose Guillen was a sunk cost, and the Royals should do what other teams do – cut their losses and release the player. But it’s not that simple. Teams eat contracts all the time when the players they’re attached to have ceased to play at a major-league level. But Guillen, for all his warts, is worthy of his roster spot, at least in the abstract.

For the season, he’s hitting .255/.314/.429, and if that doesn’t sound great, keep in mind that his numbers are good for a 101 OPS+. Which is to say, he’s been a tiny bit better than a league-average player this season. Yes, most of that damage was done in April, and yes, you’d like better-than-average performances from your DH. But at the moment, the Royals rank a respectable 7th among the 14 AL teams in OPS from their DH spot. Their DHs rank above the Yankees (!), White Sox, Rays, and Angels, all of whom are in contention.

And yet they released him anyway. I’ve seen teams release expensive players who suck before, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team release an expensive player who was still a league-average player.

It was absolutely the right move to make, of course. There’s a reason why the Royals couldn’t trade Guillen for even a few magic beans despite his performance – teams are understandably reluctant to take on his personality, particularly since nothing seems to irk Guillen more than being out of the lineup. There are a number of contenders who would love to have a man of Guillen’s talents on their bench. But there isn’t a single contender who thinks that Guillen himself would be happy with such an arrangement.

In the end, this move shouldn’t be too surprising. In the clubhouse after last Friday’s game, when Guillen hit the 300th double of his career (his final hit as a Royal, as it turned out), my friend Nate Bukaty asked him what he planned to do with the baseball. Guillen was almost disgusted by the notion that the ball had any value. Three times he told Nate to take the ball. Nate politely declined, and when it was gently suggested to Guillen that he give the ball to the Royals’ Hall of Fame, he sneered, “Now why would I want to do that?”

The following day, as the trading deadline passed and every other member of the team was in uniform in preparation for the game, Guillen alone sat at his locker with his jeans still on, and only after it was clear that he hadn’t been traded did he grudgingly decide to get dressed.

You don’t have to be Einstein to understand the implication.

In retrospect, sure, the Royals should have let him go months ago and gotten an early start on the Kila Ka’aihue era. I imagine they’d say the same thing themselves. But I understand why they let things play out the way that they did. I’m not a big believer in the unwritten rules of baseball, but one of the unwritten rules of sports is so obvious that it doesn’t need to be written: you don’t release a player who’s playing well. If the Royals had released Guillen in May, when he was still slugging over .500, the hit they would have taken to their reputation would have been far greater than the damage they did by letting Guillen overstay his welcome.

If you want to blame Dayton Moore for signing Jose Guillen in the first place, go right ahead; I know I do. But once Guillen came out of the chute on fire this season, Moore’s hands were tied. Only now, after Guillen proved both untradeable and unwaivable, could Moore simply release him in good faith. To his credit, Moore did so at the earliest opportunity, on a day (an off-day on the road) where Guillen’s departure was likely to cause the least amount of clubhouse discord.

It’s sad that it had to come to this. But it would have been sadder still if it hadn’t come to this, and Guillen continued to hog playing time until his contract ran out. The Ka’aihue Era can begin in earnest now. It’s starting late, but better late than in 2011. We fans have been on board with this youth movement for a long time now. With this one move, Dayton Moore proves that he’s starting to come on board too.

Moore has told us to Trust the Process. In releasing a still-viable veteran player, and eating $4 million to let an unproven but promising youngster play every day, Moore is showing us that he might – just might – finally be ready to Trust the Process himself.


blairjjohnson said...

I'll never forget that you tweeted the Ren & Stimpy song on the day Guillen was D'dFA.

Scott said...

I checked your blog a couple of hours after I heard that Guillen had been designated for assignment and saw the headline from your previous post: "A Good Day." I thought to myself that it was a shame had already used that headline, because it described the Guillen news perfectly. Of course, you found "A Better Headline" for this post.

Dan (Lawrence) said...

Awesome. Can't wait to go to a game and see the future. I haven't been since opening day.

Michael said...

Now that the trash has been taken out, what about possibly non-tendering guys like Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies?

kcghost said...

Rany's comments were far nicer than most Royals' fans in their view of Guillen. Even in April we would have traded him for a bucket of used baseballs. Sure the geniuses at ESPN would have savaged us, but their attention span is incredibly short.

But, on with the Kila Trials. We can finally find out if he is part of the puzzle or not. Due to his age I am a little skeptical, but let's face it, most minor leaguers when promoted to the majors fail. I'd rather promote a guy and give him a real chance and he fails than sign a no-upside veteran who at best is league average.

Mark said...

I don't usually argue with your math but I was absolutely stunned with how productive the Royals' DH position has been. Man it seemed worse. You would think it wouldn't be that difficult to find a poor mans David Ortiz somewhere to plug into the DH role. At least over pay for a poor fielder and plug him into the DH role. I do think your being disengenuous when you talk about Guillen's age without mentioning PEDS. Any animus out there could be related to doubts about the cleanliness of his numbers before he became Royalty. Anyway, I wish Jose the best. A clean break for both sides will be good.

Kyle said...

I definitely won't miss Guillen, but I am still a little skeptical about how Kila will play as well. It is much better to find out now, than to wait until spring training. After just one game of him at first base, I love his defense. But thats b/c we have had to deal with Butler for the last 2 years there.

What can we do with the log jam we will have at first base in a couple of years? Butler, Kila, Hosmer, and maybe C. Robinson, and Meija pan out. I see Butler as a DH, and if Kila can hit keep him at first, can Hosmer play RF?

Anonymous said...

I love Grieke. I own more Grienke memoriablia than a healthy man should own of another man.

I also don't think he is that off with his comments. I think the Royals would love to extend him but i'm not sure they'll be able to.

And if 2012/2013 is shaping up the way it looks like, would it be such a bad thing to move him this winter and get some guys for that era?

Even if we do keep him past his contract it will likely be for two years of good, followed by 2 years of average and 2 years of unmoveable contract.


Roy in Omaha said...

Kila will outperform Guillen in every conceivable way and Guillen will never be missed. At this point, the next thing that needs to happen is for Billy Butler to throw away his glove because he isn't even half the first baseman that Kila is. Number 1, Kila can actually bend over since he isn't a tubbo. And, Kila isn't going to clog up the bases like slower-than-molasses Butler, which is a good thing since he's going to be on base more than any other player on this team. It won't even be a contest in that regard. Know what those numbers are--.456, .392, & .463? Those are Kila's OBP over the last three seasons! His career on base percentage is .391!!! Are you kidding me??? If you are a naysayer about Kila then you are sniffing glue (and, remarkably, there are some glue sniffers) since these numbers translate into an All Star caliber player at the big league level. I've seen this guy play for a quite awhile now, living here in Omaha as I do, and, I am here to tell you, this guy is the real deal and why he wasn't in Kansas City on opening day LAST season is completely beyond me. Any sane, rational person, or, a sabermetrician, looking at his career minor league line would say to him or herself "What in the hell is THIS guy doing in the minor leagues?". He has the best minor league numbers pedigree, top to bottom, of perhaps any player to EVER come out of the Royals farm system. Plus, he didn't just do this in Rookie Ball or Double AA or something, he's gotten BETTER with ever promotion he's received. I believe that Kila is going to be SO good that it will embarrass the Royals even further since people are going to be mad (like I already am) that he was not on the scene much sooner. We've wasted almost 2 years of his major league career already. A good side benefit to all this is that listening to him on Omaha Royals post game shows (where he is a frequent guest for obvious reasons since he's having the best year of any minor league baseball player at any level) and he really didn't sound very happy about being in Omaha to me in a subtle sort of way. Good for him. I hope he is so pissed he kicks ass and takes names although I think it may take a couple games for him to rid himself of the rust.

As I posted on the Star's story about Guillen's DFA yesterday: "I just gave all my employees the rest of the day off and told them that drinks are on me at the bar down the street."

Jacob G. said...

I think we could eventually see the logjam (if it ever develops) broken up by trading one or more of those guys. Perhaps it would be trading Kila after he does well at the MLB level. Maybe it would be trading one of the prospects.
We're bound to have a hole somewhere on the diamond or mound in 2012 that needs filling.

Kyle said...

Roy in Omaha, I love your enthusiasm! Those are pretty crazy numbers, and I hope they transfer to the big leagues. It has been a long time coming for Kila, and for the Royals to have an OBP machine. I just hope we aren't getting too far ahead of ourselves. The guy just got called up, and he is going to be the savior of this offense?

Go out and pick up a #2 starter and a power hitting RF, and we have ourselves a ball team.

John said...

The only reason people are concerned about Kila Ka'aihue's age is because the Royals let him rot in the minor leagues for two years after he should have been promoted to K.C.

Not saying he's going to be quite as good, but it's the same story as Edgar Martinez as a young player. He hit something like .350 three years in a row in AAA before it dawned on the Mariners that he might be good. By then, he was 27.

At worst, Ka'aihue is Jack Cust, and even if he's just Jack Cust, he's going to help you. For all we know, he might be Adam Dunn, only you don't have to pay him $10 million.

Anonymous said...

Dear Zack:

Take this with a grain of salt, as I am one of the ones you talked about in that I have been dealing with this for a lot longer than you.

I sincerely believe that we are not nearly as far away as we have been in the recent past. I feel that with the right additions, and minor additions at that, that this team can compete next year. And by compete, I mean compete for a playoff spot.

One of the reasons I can say that is because no one is all that dominant in the AL Central. Whether that continues to be true or not, I believe this team has much more than any of the previous teams has had.

For one we have you. You are a major part of us contending and a major piece that not many teams have. You can really take the heat off of the rest of the staff, and provide confidence that we will never ever have more than a four game losing streak. That's pretty important.

Second we have many more legitimate pitchers than we have in some time, and some pretty big stud pitchers on the way. Like you said, it often takes hitters several years to develop, but the same isn't necessarily true for pitchers. The good thing about the pitching on the way is the depth of it. We don't have to have everything fall perfectly for it to work out. A few guys might not make it because of injury or other factors, but we have so much talent that a few are bound to make it. That looks pretty promising.

The defense that we have employed is steadily and progressively moving forward. It is not perfect, and there are areas to improve upon, but if we put DeJesus in center, our outfield actually looks pretty stable defensively. I like Getz at second defensively. If we get Billy to DH that in and of itself improves the infield defense by leaps and bounds. Like I said it is not perfect but it is much better than it has been in the recent past, and looks to continue to get better.

Offensively, I think this is where most of your heartache is, and understandably so. You have had much more than your fair share of exceptionally pitched games only to get a loss.

I know I am asking for a lot here, but if you could, hang on and have some faith. DeJesus should lead off next year. He can finally settle in and be very good at what his abilities allow him and not be expected to be our best offensive weapon. Billy is developing very nicely even if his power is a bit suspect. You have to believe that Mr. Gordon will progress. He is not a prospect and we know what we have with him. If we can plug him in the lineup at the sixth or seventh spot we can have a very productive hitter at that spot.

If we can add a power hitting right fielder, maybe Jayson Werth, that would be huge.

I don't necessarily like Kendall or Betancourt, and I hope that we might have the ability to do something with those guys, but they can be a part of a solid team, if they are the bit players.

Look at this lineup. Again, I am the optimist, but I think this is much better than anything that has been on the field in some time.

?? Werth ??

Trust me Zack, I get your frustration. You are entitled. But hang in there.

I know I am a small part, but I have not been a believer in a long time. I am believing now. I am still skeptical and I know it isn't easy to believe, but I can't help but say that we are much closer than we have been in a very, very long time.

Fast Eddie said...

Forget Werth.

What's wrong with taking your own toenail out? It saved me some money. Of course, Jose Guillen doesn't have to worry about money.

To his credit, Jose did some good things in the community, like buying $67,000 worth of tickets for kids, etc.

Michael said...

Yeah, the idea that somehow the Royals end up with Jayson Werth is almost laughable. We can't get those kind of free agents guys. The closest we came was Torii Hunter a few years ago, and the main reason he went to LA instead of here was the chance to win. Until we start doing that here, no major free agents are going to want to come here unless we blow them out of the water like we did with Meche and Guillen.

Anonymous said...

Forget Werth for a dozen reasons. The book on Werth is that he is a non-star turning 32 whose HR numbers have declined (though his OPS+ is up), and he is apparently something of a jerk. The trickiest part...he is out of the Royals' league in the FA market. I wouldn't dislike the move if he wasn't going to get a fat contract, but he will, and with a good team. RF is a hole in the future (assuming neither Hosmer or Myers switch there), so a free agent isn't out of the question, but Werth probably is.

While we are forgetting Werth, let's please forget Betancourt, too. We can't, in good faith, say the defense is getting better, but pick up Yuni for another season. I think it is a $2MM buyout, but that is better than $6MM for terrible defense and hope for a decent bat. Put Aviles at SS, Getz at 2nd, bring up Lucas to back them up, and you're set. The bang for the buck is much better.

I don't think the Royals will look too sharp until 2012.

Anonymous said...

I like the general excitement about Moustakas, but he shouldn't be up to start next year. He has 1 walk in 102 ABs. Perhaps you didn't hear me because I'm not typing loud enough.

ONE WALK!!!! Seasoning will do him good. Maybe he will be ready mid-2011. I would say "probably," but I won't jinx it.

Anonymous said...

Kila did not start until facing two leftys in a row.

Anonymous said...

Guillen reminds me of the type of guy at the office who makes one feel ill at ease. Just kinda creepy.

As a Royal fan of course had to watch, but never felt comfortable. Like the Nate B. experience with Hose, kinda creepy really.

Intensive Care at St. Lukes for weeks........pleazeeee. My wife is an R.N. and tells me nobody of his fame with life threatening problems could spend more than a couple of days anonymously. Kinda creepy really.

Those lectures we all received from of all people, Guillen. Kinda creepy.

Now, I will state it....Zach Grienke Kinda creepy too.

I do like GMDM and could very very very easily understand a trade during the off season.

Anonymous said...

Forget werth, if we are going to dream we got to get Crawford. That guy is an animal. Overpay if we have to, but he would look good in royal blue...

Jackie Ballgame said...

I have to admit I'm a pretty angry right now with Greinke. Maybe it was just bad timing for him to throw a stinker against the Mariners, but he did it immediately after complaining about the rebuild. I can't help but wonder if it's not so much a SUB-conscious drop in performance due to pitching for a bad team, but a CONSCIOUS drop in performance. An intentional I-don't-give-a-shit performance. I know that's a harsh assessment, but he pitched a TERRIBLE game against one of the worst hitting teams in the league one day after making those comments.

Sorry for all the capitals.