Last September, the Royals elected not to bring up a prospect who hit .252/.392/.433 in Triple-A, and a certain writer blew his top and took a sabbatical. This September, the Royals have chosen not to promote Mike Moustakas to the majors, even though Moustakas has hit .324/.372/.638 for the season; if you like old-school stats, he has 36 homers and 123 RBIs. (He has 123 RBIs, and it’s not Labor Day yet, and he missed the first two weeks of the season with an oblique strain. Moustakas has 123 RBIs in 115 games*, which speaks as much to the quality of his teammates as to his own production.)
*: In the last 50 years, only 7 major-leaguers have had more RBIs than games played in a season. Six of the 7 played in the heart of the steroid era, from 1994 to 2000. The seventh player was George Brett, who in 1980 drove in 118 runs in 117 games.
And yet this same sportswriter agrees wholeheartedly with the decision to leave Moustakas in the minors, not to mention every other top prospect in what is arguably the game’s deepest farm system. What’s changed?
There are the obvious reasons – Ka’aihue was 25 and had spent two full seasons in the high minors, while Moustakas is just 21 and was in A-ball last year. Also, the Royals left Ka’aihue in Triple-A so they could play Mike Jacobs, whereas Moustakas would take playing time away from the far more intriguing Wilson Betemit (and the at-least-somewhat-worth-following Josh Fields.)
But the biggest reason is simple math. There are only 40 spots on a 40-man roster, and the Royals already have more than 40 players fighting for space.
In fact, the Royals currently have (as you can see here) 42 players on their 40-man roster. They can do this because players on the 60-day DL do not count against the limit. Gil Meche and Fields, both of whom were on the 60-day DL, were just activated, but the Royals asked David DeJesus and Luke Hochevar to take their place. (Jeff Bianchi has been out for the year, but if I understand things correctly, the rules allow teams to option a player to the minors even if they’re injured, so long as they didn’t play in the majors the previous year. Otherwise, Bianchi would be earning major-league service time. But I believe the Royals would have to promote him to the majors – accruing both salary and service time – in order to put him on the 60-day DL.)
Jason Kendall’s season-ending shoulder injury saved the Royals from having to release anyone to make room for Hochevar when Luke was activated yesterday.
(No injury is reason to celebrate, and I won’t. I will simply point out that while Kendall might have been a warrior to play through it, he also hit .200/.241/.225 in August. I love players who are warriors; I love players who don’t hurt their team because they’re too selfish to admit they can’t perform even more. Kendall's injury probably saved Brayan Pena’s career in Kansas City, and makes the acquisition of Lucas May far more significant than I ever thought it would be.)
So it’s no surprise that on September 1st, aside from Meche and Fields, the only player the Royals called up was May, who’s already on the 40-man roster. Even after the minor league season ends next week, I doubt we’ll see anyone called up who’s not already on the 40-man. The Royals have hinted at calling up a third catcher now that Kendall’s out, and conveniently Manny Pina is on the roster (although he’s with Northwest Arkansas, who will probably be playing in the Texas League playoffs until the middle of the month.) I suspect that the Royals will want to scratch their Jarrod Dyson itch, to use him as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement if nothing else. But I won’t be surprised if they are the only two additions to the active roster the rest of the month.
The only other player on the roster who’s a candidate for the 60-day DL would be Kanekoa Texeira. Which means that the Royals have, at most, one roster spot to play with before they start cutting guys. I’m not averse to cutting some of the guys on the 40-man roster – Gaby Hernandez and Victor Marte, I’m looking at you – but it complicates things.
What really complicates things, though, is that the Royals have to add a whole slew of guys to the 40-man roster between now and the Rule 5 Draft. In past years, the Royals looked at the Rule 5 Draft as a potential source of new talent, because they always had a high draft pick, and because they had so little talent themselves that they were rarely at risk of having one of their own players picked.
Here’s a list of all the players the Royals drafted in the last decade (not counting guys who were drafted only to be traded for cash to another team immediately afterwards.)
2009: Edgar Osuna (4th)
2006: Joakim Soria (2nd)
2005: Fabio Castro (1st) – immediately traded to Texas for Esteban German
2004: Andrew Sisco (2nd)
2003: Jason Szuminski (10th) – immediately traded to San Diego for Rich Thompson
2002: D.J. Carrasco (6th)
2001: Miguel Asencio (3rd)
2000: Endy Chavez (5th)
Some of these guys are busts, but when you consider how low the batting average on Rule 5 picks – even high picks – is, the Royals have actually done awfully well. Soria by himself justifies a decade of Rule 5 picks, but snagging Esteban German at the winter meetings in 2005 was one of Allard Baird’s last good moves for the Royals. Sisco gave the Royals one good year in relief, and was later traded for Ross Gload. Carrasco was a key part of the bullpen in the miracle 2003 season; he spent three years with the Royals, and his ERAs read 4.82, 4.84, and 4.79.
Asencio is most notable for what might have been. In 2002, as a 21-year-old rookie, he had perhaps the worst major league debut of all time – 16 pitches, 16 balls – but recovered to post a respectable 5.11 ERA. In 2003, he was a big part of that 17-4 start; he worked as the team’s #3 starter behind Runelvys Hernandez and Jeremy Affeldt, and the Royals won his first 6 starts, the last a masterful 114-pitch complete game. That start might have ruined him; he struggled in two more starts, then required Tommy John surgery. Even worse, he was one of the few pitchers who failed the surgery and required a second operation – aside from 8 innings with Colorado in 2006, he never pitched in the majors again.
The Royals kept Endy Chavez on the roster all season, then waived him over the winter – he eventually landed in Montreal and had a nice sophomore season on his way to a nine-year (and counting) major league career.
That list would look even better if the Royals had found a way to hold on to another player – in 2002, the Royals actually drafted twice, and their second pick was Ronny Paulino. Paulino would be sent back to Pittsburgh the following spring, and he clearly wasn’t ready – but 3 years later, as a rookie catcher for the Pirates, he would hit .310, and he’s still catching most days for the Marlins.
The point is that the Royals have found a fair amount of talent in the draft, while losing almost none. Here’s a – much shorter – list of the players that were drafted from the Royals over the last 10 years:
2008: Gilbert de la Vera
2006: Adam Donachie
2005: Seth Etherton
2001: Corey Thurman and Ryan Baerlocher
Neither Baerlocher nor de la Vera made their new team’s roster – de la Vera was a bizarre pick, a pitcher with neither good numbers nor a good scouting report, and it’s never been entirely clear what the Astros saw in him. Etherton had just signed with the Royals as a minor-league free agent two weeks before the Padres drafted him; he didn’t make the Padres roster, and the Royals actually bought him back the following May. Donachie was drafted after a season when he hit .212/.310/.299 as a catcher in Double-A. You will not be surprised to learn that he didn’t make the Orioles’ major-league roster either.
That leaves only one player who made an appearance with his new team – Corey Thurman, who gave the Blue Jays a respectable rookie season (68 IP, 4.37 ERA) in 2002. I can only blame myself for his loss. You see, prior to that draft, in an early iteration of “Rany on the Royals” for Baseball Prospectus, I wrote about the upcoming Rule 5 draft and the risk that the Royals might lose some players. In particular, I wrote that “The Royals' decision to leave Corey Thurman off the 40-man roster, though, is much more dangerous, and nearly inexplicable.”
What I did not know – could not have known – was that at the very same winter meetings, my colleague Keith Law was engaged in discussions with the Toronto Blue Jays, discussions that would soon lead to a job in their front office. Keith would later tell me (after he was officially hired a few weeks later) that he had shared my column with J.P. Ricciardi before the draft. By highlighting a player I thought the Royals might lose, I inadvertently helped them lose him.
Anyway, Thurman would only pitch 15 more innings in the majors after his rookie season.
One of the big concessions the MLBPA made to the owners in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement was to give teams an additional year before drafted players would be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft – it used to be that players under the age of 19 were eligible to be drafted after their fourth season, while players 19 and older were eligible after their third. This was expected to weaken the impact of the draft, and it has.
Ironically, the first draft after the CBA changed yielded two impact players – the Royals took Joakim Soria 2nd, and with the next pick the Cubs drafted Josh Hamilton (who was traded to the Reds in a pre-arranged deal.) And Jesus Flores, drafted 5th, has shown a lot of promise for the Nationals as a catcher, though he's missed all of 2010 with shoulder surgery. But since then, the draft has been kind of pointless.
It’s easy to laugh at the Royals for drafting Edgar Osuna with their pick last year, given that the Braves thought so little of his talents that they declined to take him back for the bargain price of $25,000 at the end of spring training. But of the three players taken before Osuna, two (Jamie Hoffman and Ben Snyder) didn’t make their new team’s roster out of spring training, and the other (John Raynor) got two hits with the Pirates before they tired of carrying him and offered him back to the Marlins in early May.
Of the 17 guys who were selected in last December’s draft, only 3 have survived into September without being cut: Hector Ambriz, who has generally sucked out of the Indians’ bullpen all season; David Herndon, who has quietly pitched garbage relief for the Phillies; and Carlos Monasterios, the best of the lot, who has a 4.02 ERA for the Dodgers and has even made 11 starts this year.
The only other pick of note is Kanekoa Texeira, who was waived by the Mariners in June, but who pitched reasonably well for the Royals before his elbow started barking.
So anyway, the Rule 5 Draft has been declawed, and while that may have kept the Royals from finding some premium talent the last few years, it will almost certainly be a blessing now that the Royals are burgeoning with young talent.
As it is, the following players will have to be added to the roster after the season to keep them from being exposed in this December’s draft:
- Ed Lucas. He’s already 28, but he’s hitting .308/.396/.487 and over the last two seasons has played every position but pitcher and catcher. Scouts seem to think he can be at least a utility guy in the majors, sort of a cheaper, slightly better, Ivy League-educated version of Willie Bloomquist. Need to protect: moderate.
- David Lough. Drafted as a fairly raw college athlete – he played on a football scholarship, I believe – he has been slowly converting his tools into skills. He suddenly learned the strike zone halfway through the season, and since the Triple-A All-Star Break he’s hit .314/.401/.462. Need to protect: high.
- Clint Robinson. Yeah, he’s 25. He’s also hitting .332/.409/.625. Since June 1st, he’s batting .380 and slugging .746. Need to protect: insane.
- Derrick Robinson. He’s cooled off to a .283/.344/.375 line, but he might be the fastest player in the division (50 steals), and he’s still just 22. Need to protect: off the charts.
- Paulo Orlando. Hitting .308/.370/.470, with 24 steals, and excellent defense. Still just 24. And as a bonus, when he makes the majors, millions of young Brazilian boys will throw away their soccer balls and beg their parents to buy them a Royals hat. Need to protect: high.
- Everett Teaford. I don’t know what to make of this guy. The scouting report says he’s your standard-issue soft-tossing lefty. But his character is off the charts – in 2009 he won the inaugural Mike Sweeney Award, “which recognizes a player who best represents the organization on and off the field.” More importantly, after striking out 91 batters in 145 innings in 2009, he’s whiffed 117 batters in 104 innings in 2010. Need to protect: low to moderate.
- Nicholas Francis. I really don’t know what to make of this guy. Francis was suspended by the team and missed the entire 2007 season; the reasons were never divulged, but his co-conspirator Jason Taylor was later suspended by MLB for marijuana usage. He’s behind the development curve, but Francis is hitting .282/.328/.509 for Wilmington, and – you know this is coming – he’s hitting .300/.362/.582 on the road. (If his suspension year doesn’t count for purposes of Rule 5 eligibility, which I find unlikely, then he would not need to be protected.) Need to protect: low to moderate.
- Bryan Paukovits. Pitched great for Burlington, not so well for Wilmington, and he’s 23. Need to protect: low.
- Chris Hayes. Oh, wait…
And I’m not even entertaining the possibility of protecting guys like Tim Smith or Jamie Romak or a million mid-level relievers who might get picked but aren’t worth losing sleep over.
Conservatively, that’s at least five and maybe six guys who need to be added to the roster. I count only two pending free agents on the roster in Bruce Chen and Willie Bloomquist. That means that the Royals will have to DFA at least 3 or 4 guys after the season. That’s not necessarily a difficult point of order – in addition to the minor league guys like Hernandez and Marte, I can think of at least a few guys in the majors (Jesse Chavez, come on down!) who deserve the boot.
But every additional player the Royals add to the 40-man roster will require them to cut deeper, and eventually they’re going to run out of fat and start cutting into muscle. And keep in mind the Royals will probably want to keep at least a spot or two on the roster open for potential free agents to sign. The Royals might wind up promoting one of the guys I listed above this month, figuring that if they're going to be added to the roster anyway, there's no harm in getting a look at them now. But I will be stunned if they add anyone else. If Moustakas hasn't earned a look, no one has.
Be thankful it’s not worse. Under the old rules, where prospects gained their Rule 5 eligibility a year earlier, the Royals would have to protect their 2007 high school picks (Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy), their 2008 college picks (Johnny Giavotella), and their young Latin American catcher (Salvador Perez) for starters. That would have been a potential bloodbath on the level of the 2003 Pittsburgh Pirates, who – in what has to be one of the most humiliating moments in major league history – had five of their players selected in the first six picks. Other teams were openly laughing in the draft room. (The last of those five players? Jose Bautista.)
So it’s okay to be upset that we won’t get a look at Moustakas this month, and that we probably won’t see Seabiscuit (Tim Collins) launch low-90s fastballs from his batboy frame, and that Louis Coleman won’t get the look-see that he certainly deserves.
Just understand that there’s a very good reason why. It’s the best of reasons, actually.