Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Royals Today: 1/11/2011.

There’s not much substantial going on during the winter doldrums of the off-season, but I have plenty of experience in writing thousands of words on insubstantial subjects, so let’s press on.

- The biggest piece of news from the last two weeks concerning the Royals has nothing to do with the Royals. When the Tampa Bay Rays traded Matt Garza to the Cubs for five prospects, it led to unavoidable comparisons with the haul that the Royals got for Zack Greinke.

If we ignore the throw-ins on both sides of the deal (Fernando Perez and Zach Rosscup from the Rays, Sam Fuld from the Cubs), the Rays got four prospects for Garza: right-hander Chris Archer, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee, outfielder Brandon Guyer, and catcher Robinson Chirinos.

At least two analysts, Keith Law and Jim Callis, have weighed in that the Rays’ haul of talent for Garza was more valuable than the package the Royals got for Greinke. (Although Callis called it “close”.) Take my opinion for what it’s worth, given my inherent biases, but I’m not sure that I agree.

Archer was the Cubs’ #1 prospect at the time of the trade, a pitcher who blossomed after Cubs’ GM Jim Hendry cannily acquired him from the Indians as part of the Mark DeRosa trade. The problem is that no one’s entirely sure whether he’s a starter or a reliever in the end. He’s been described as “either a #2 starter or a closer”, but those two entities have very different values.

A comparison to Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi is instructive. As a #2 starter, Archer represents Odorizzi’s best-case upside, only Archer is closer to the majors and is a much safer bet to reach his potential. As a closer, though, I’m not sure that Archer is any more valuable than Jeffress is going to be. For now, I’d rank Archer ahead of Jeffress and Odorizzi as a prospect, but he’s not that far ahead.

Hak-Ju Lee, as a shortstop prospect, is directly comparable to Alcides Escobar. This, I think, is where my opinion diverges from those of Law and Callis. Lee, as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League, hit .282/.354/.351 and got rave reviews for his defense. But there’s no way I’d trade Escobar for him. I speak from painful experience as a Royals fan - there is tremendous risk in projecting a player from low-A ball all the way to the majors. I mean, if Lee avoids any pitfalls in his development path, he’ll be an above-average defensive shortstop in the majors, hit for a good average, steal some bases, and draw some walks. He’s unlikely to ever hit for power. In other words, his upside – while still all the way in the Midwest League – is only slightly better than what Escobar was expected to do in 2010 in the majors.

Escobar didn’t do what he was expected to do in 2010, which is why the Royals were able to acquire him. But Escobar is, if nothing else, already a plus defensive shortstop with above-average speed. A year ago he was one of the 20 best prospects in baseball. His stock has fallen, but not nearly so far that you’d prefer Lee, who was ranked by Baseball America as the #4 prospect in a not-particularly-strong Cubs system, over him. The odds that Lee craps out in the minors and never plays regularly in the majors is at least as high as the odds that he develops into a better player than Escobar.

So at the very least, Archer and Lee combined are no more valuable than Escobar and Odorizzi. Then there’s Guyer, who had a statistically beautiful season in Double-A in 2010, hitting .344/.398/.588 and stealing 30 bases in 33 attempts. The problem – other than the fact that Guyer was 24 years old – was that in 2009, he hit .190/.236/.291 in 57 games in Double-A. Last season represented the peak of his performance, and at that he projects as a slightly above-average corner outfielder.

Lorenzo Cain, who is a few months younger than Guyer, hit .317/.402/.432 last season between both Double-A and Triple-A, hit well in his major league debut, plays plus defense in centerfield, and has the tools to improve more than Guyer is likely to. Guyer’s an interesting player, but there’s no doubt which of the two I’d rather have.

Chirinos is an even more fascinating player. On the one hand, he hit .326/.416/.583 in minors last year, and made a stunningly successful position switch, catching in every game after being a utility infielder two years ago. (As an aside, while the Cubs are far from the best-run organization in baseball, they’re as good as any organization in baseball when it comes to converting players at other positions to catcher.) The problem is that Chirinos has yet to play in the majors, and he turns 27 in June.

Chirinos’ performance doesn’t appear to be a fluke; he has steadily improved as a hitter since 2007. His OPS over the last four years reads 715, 834, 915, and 999. At the very least, he projects as an excellent sidekick in a platoon with John Jaso, and may well be an above-average starter in the majors for a few years.

If I were certain that Chirinos could be an everyday catcher, or that Archer was a future starter, I might rank the Rays’ haul over the Royals. But I’m not, and so from my perspective I’d rather have the four players the Royals got. I can certainly understand the other perspective, though.

The question, though, is whether it should really matter if the Rays got more for Garza than the Royals got for Greinke. Yes, Matt Garza is not the pitcher that Greinke is, but on the other hand, the Cubs got three years of Garza, while the Brewers got only two of Greinke. Greinke will be paid about $27 million over the next two years; unless Garza pitches at a Greinkesque level over the next two years and earns an arbitration fortune in 2013, he’ll probably make in the neighborhood of $30 million over the remainder of his tenure. So the Cubs are getting an additional year of Garza at a minimal additional cost.

And the difference between Garza and Greinke may be overstated a little. Over the past three seasons, Greinke has made 98 starts with a 3.25 ERA; Garza has made 94 starts with a 3.86 ERA, plus five postseason starts with a 3.48 ERA. But I’m sympathetic to the argument that Garza is a better pitcher than he appears because of the competition he has to face.

As analysts, we have done a very good job over the last 15-20 years in getting people to adjust a player’s performance for his ballpark, for the offensive context of his era, and even to take into account in recent years that the AL has a higher difficulty factor than the NL. But we have not, I think, put enough emphasis on the fact that the strength of competition can vary from one player to another, even if they’re in the same league. This is a long way of saying that the fact that the Rays are in the same division as the Red Sox and Yankees is a mark in Garza’s favor.

As Christina Kahrl pointed out, in 2010 Garza threw 204 innings, exactly one-quarter of them (51) against Boston and New York. In those 51 innings he had a 6.10 ERA; against all other opponents he combined for a 3.18 ERA. I don’t want to make too much of this – between 2008 and 2009, Garza’s ERA against the Twin Towers of the AL East was actually a little lower than his overall ERA. But after throwing 51 innings against them in 2010, and 69 (!) innings against them in 2009, I think it’s fair to wonder what Garza will do in 2011 when he doesn’t have to face the Red Sox or Yankees at all.

All that aside, there’s no doubt that the Rays got a better deal for their pitcher than the Royals got for theirs. If both teams got roughly the same amount of talent, and Greinke is more valuable than Garza, then the Rays made a better trade, QED. But if there’s a loser here, it’s not the Royals; it’s the Cubs. The Cubs gave up a ton of talent for a pitcher who, good as he is, seems unlikely to deliver a 75-win team in 2010 into the playoffs in 2011. Jim Hendry is a bundle of contradictions as a general manager; he’s widely considered to be an excellent judge of amateur talent (and his acquisition of Chris Archer in the first place was a steal), and yet he keeps trying to put together a winning team by overpaying for free agents.

Perhaps it’s the curse of working for a franchise that has both money and expectations in abundance, but Hendry is trying to build a team with a method that runs counter to his own core competencies. He’s great at player development, but is unwilling or unable to build his roster that way. Say what you want about Dayton Moore, but he understands that if your strength is drafting and developing players, you’re better off using those players to build a winning team. After some initial missteps in his first few years on the job – when the Royals, to be frank, didn’t have any prospects that the likes of Jose Guillen and Gil Meche were blocking – Moore has dialed back on the veterans over time, particularly this winter. Moore is finally playing to his strengths, something Hendry would be wise to do. Assuming the Cubs’ ownership would ever let him.

The Rays made a great trade when they moved Garza. That doesn’t change the fact that the Royals made a good trade when they moved Greinke.

- The other thing to keep in mind is that the Rays could trade Garza to anyone they wanted; the Royals couldn’t do the same with Greinke. In particular, after looking at the players in a little more detail, I think that – if Derek Norris was the fourth guy in the deal, as I think he was – I’d take the Nationals’ package over what the Brewers gave us.

The Nationals reportedly offered Jordan Zimmermann, Drew Storen, and Danny Espinosa in addition to Norris. Zimmermann is a potential #2 starter – not in 2013, but right now. He had a sterling track record in the minors, had an excellent debut season with the Nats in 2009, and after blowing out his elbow made a successful return from Tommy John surgery last August. In 122 career major league innings, he has 119 strikeouts and just 39 walks. Odorizzi can only hope he’ll have that track record in two or three years.

Storen doesn’t have Jeffress’ stuff, but he’s a very good set-up man who’s already proven he can pitch in the majors. My initial concern with Espinosa was that he didn’t have the defensive chops to play shortstop, and the Royals already have a ton of second basemen. But researching the issue a little has convinced me that Espinosa, while he’ll likely play second base for the Nationals because they also have Ian Desmond, has the tools to be a solid-average defender at shortstop – and could hit 20-25 homers in the majors.

And that leaves Norris, who might be the best prospect of the four. Norris, who’s a native of Goddard, Kansas, suffered through an injury-plagued 2010 season, with a wrist problem that didn’t really allow him to hit for power until the Arizona Fall League, where he mashed. Even so, he hit .235/.419/.419 as a 21-year-old in high-A ball. And despite getting mixed reviews about his defense behind the plate, he threw out 51% of baserunners who attempted to steal.

It’s not a consensus that he can remain behind the plate, but the consensus is a lot stronger that he can that it is for Wil Myers, or for Jesus Montero for that matter. If he can, Norris could be this generation’s version of Mickey Tettleton. He’ll probably be a .270 hitter at best, but he could hit 25 homers and walk 80 or 90 times a year. That’s a player.

So yeah, that probably beats the Brewers offer. Espinosa counters Escobar’s superior glove with a better bat, Zimmermann is better than Odorizzi, and Norris – while farther from the majors – is better than Cain. Storen has less upside than Jeffress, but also less risk. That would have been a better trade, maybe substantially better.

And it doesn’t matter, because Greinke vetoed it. He refused to waive his no-trade clause to Washington; Jon Heyman reported that the Nationals even tried to sweeten the deal by extending him a long-term contract. No dice. Greinke wants to play for a winner, and – not unreasonably, I might add – determined that the Nationals’ shot at winning in the NL East the next few years isn’t much better than the Royals’ chances in the AL Central.

So with only a few teams willing to meet the Royals’ price, and fewer teams that Greinke was willing to go to, and with rumors now floating that Greinke was so dissatisfied with his situation that he was considering being a no-show to spring training – Dayton Moore had to make a trade with one hand tied behind his back. Maybe it wasn’t a great trade, but I’m still convinced that it was the best trade that he could make.

I’ve got a half-dozen other topic ideas I wanted to get to, but I’m over 2200 words already, so let’s just call this Part 3 of the Greinke Trade Analysis Epic, and I’ll try to be back soon to hit on some of the other points.


dfrench23 said...

Great post. My thoughts exactly.

28 years and counting said...

My vote for the next article would be a 2500 word min. post about the options for our 5th starter - ignoring all FA signing rumors - with odds and predictions on who it could be.

Mark said...

Trade Betemit now. He's a disaster at third and we do not need him at GH. Someone can use his bat, and he's just taking up a roster spot. What can we get for him?

As for a fifth starter, I'd like to see it play out among our budding stars--I'd bet on Montgomery or Duffy. But we'll re-sign Chen (and could do a lot worse).

John said...

If Greinke hadn't been traded and decided to no-show in February, then I hope the Royals would have made an example out of him. They could just let him sit out 2011, and then he would have one year left on his deal and could be traded anywhere. Then you send him to the Pittsburgh Pirates for his walk year.

sedated ape said...

If Grienke decided to not honor his contract and just stay home I think his career would have been over, especially after what he pulled in spring training a few years back. Not to mention that he's only played up to his potential one season out of seven.

He has a ton of talent when he's not pouting, but he's a spoiled brat. I don't know what he's like in person, but in his interviews he seem like an idiot savant with a gift for throwing a baseball. If he wasn't a baseball player people would think he's retarded.

Maybe Rube Waddell could get away with that, but that was 100 years ago.

Karte said...

Lay off Greinke! He has played enough for a loser - let him go try to win for a change.

kstatejed said...

Rany, how valid do you think the rumors of Zack not coming to Spring Training are/were?

kcghost said...

I guess this comes down to faith. How much faith do you have that GMDM did as much as he reasonably could under the circumstances?? Being a non-buyer of the stuff he has been trying to sell us in the past I am not buying now.

And it is not helping his case that the leaks from Royals HQ about Cain having to go to Omaha to work on his defense are not helping. First, in defense of the Greinke trade, we are told the guy is a plus defender and now to explain the Melky signing we hear that he needs to go work on his routes.

BobDD said...

re: veterans not blocking young talent

Cabrera blocking the new kid Cain, just traded for

Anonymous said...

Greinke wanted to play for a winner. He did what he felt like he could and played the cards he could in order to make that happen.

I do not blame him.

Sure he's a prima donna, and he may have over played his cards in threatening not to show up for spring training, but I don't fault him.

Moore got what he could. I think he hit a solid single up the middle on this one. Not great, not crappy, but a good job.

If he can hit enough singles with the prospects, and have a chance at a couple of home runs, we will all be happy.

Having said that, if Cain is not starting in center on opening day I will be pissed. Trade or cut Cabrera now, but put Cain in center. I know he is one of Dayton's projects and Dayton feels like he can trade him in July and get prospects, but it is time for the prospects to play. NO MORE PROJECTS.

Great work as always Rany, but please write more, not less in this dreary winter.

Kyle said...

Cain should be the starting CF on opening day, but I can see one valid point in letting him setup in AAA til June. The Royals would control him for an extra year. Bring Cain, Moustakas, Hosmer, and Duffy up around June 1, and take control of the AL Central. HAHA!!

I don't agree with the way baseball works, but this is how it works. So you play the game. Cabrera could shift to the 4th outfielder or platoon with Gordon and Francoeur. Play Cabrera in LF against Lefties and in RF against Righties.

I have a feeling the Royals will sign one of Millwood, Young, Bonderman, or Chen. Most likely Chen on a one year deal with a 2nd year option. We do need a 5th starter, and I don't see Teaford or Duffy being ready.

Michael said...

I agree that Cain SHOULD be the starting center fielder, but there is some logic to starting him in AAA and letting Cabrera play.

Cabrera is here on a one year deal, and he's cheap. If he plays a good first half of the season, maybe Dayton can flip him for a prospect or two. Heck, he was able to find takers for Scotty P. and Ankiel last year, and Ankiel was injured almost the entire first half!!

Then, after Cabrera is gone, bring Cain up for the second half.

The other side to this is what if Cabrera sucks and Dayton can't flip him? Well, like I said, he's cheap, so you either cut him or make him the fourth outfielder for the second half. It's not like we're going to compete next year either way.

Sean said...

Great post and what is done is done. What sad is that this trade would even be in the same conversation as the Garza deal. It's not like the Rays moved Longoria or Price. Greinke was our best major league asset by far and all the reports are that the haul was average to above average. Sure Greinke made it hard etc but man, when are we going to catch a break? In the last 15+ years, KC has never won a trade, never signed a coveted big time free agent, hell, never signed a bad player no one wanted for less then 2 years (see Gload, Bloomquist, Farns). We are left hoping this crop of minor league prospects all blossom into stars or we will rebuild yet again. Granted, this is the best we have seen but Dayton is going to have to do way more than he ever has to field a competitve team around the young future stars. Who knows if he's capable.

Don said...

I am skeptical of the notion that the return for Garza was far superior to the return for Grienke, or vice versa. Timing, however, was to Tampa's advantage -- they had a leverage over Garza suitors after Greinke was traded because there are so few quality starters available and Garza was the cream of the remaining crop. While that begs the question of whether Dayton should have waited on trading Greinke, what's done is done.

I also think some of the praise for Tampa's return is based on the widely held, and well-deserved, perception that Tampa is one of the best run organizations in baseball. If Royals fans woke up to find that Greinke was traded to the Cubs for the exact same package that the Rays got for Garza, I think people would have trashed the Royals. It's one high ceiling, near term prospect (Archer), one high ceiling but long term prospect (Lee), 2 inventory prospects in their mid-20's (Guyer and Chirinos), and an MLB 4th or 5th OF (Fuld). Doesn't feel like the return people would have expected for Greinke. But since it was Tampa, this is lauded as a great trade. We'll see.

Speaking of Tampa, they just signed Kyle Farnsworth (per mlbtraderumors.com). 1-year deal with an option, rather than a 2-year deal, true, but still the same guy. Again, I am not expecting a tsunami of "Friedman is an idiot" comments.

Can't defend Dayton for the product he has put on the field at the major league level for the past 5 years, but I don't think he is the complete imbecile that many make him out to be. The current farm system supports that he may know what he is doing. At least that's what I hope.

Antonio. said...

I'd say there is no logic in thinking Melky might play well enough to be tradebait.

John said...

"If Grienke decided to not honor his contract and just stay home I think his career would have been over"

There's ALWAYS a job in the major leagues for a talented player, no matter how big a horse's posterior they are, or how much they underachieve.

If you don't believe me, see "Bradley, Milton."

Kenneth said...

Is there ever a time you are more bullish on another teams prospects versus the Royals prospects ? As I have watched your prospect articles this year you always seems to say the Royals players have great updside. I have noticed you are very hesistant to same the same thing about other teams prospects even if they are younger or six months older ?

Do you think this is because you know the Royals prospects better, because you follow them and think you have a good idea of how they will progress ? Or is it because you are hopeless romantic who is in love with the Royals and desperately wants to believe we are not marching down the road to mediocrity ?

Anonymous said...

Awesome stuff.

Regarding Garza/Greinke, I'd add that their defenses have been drastically different the past few years.

Tom B said...

Rany, are you going to FanFest?

JamesB said...

Garza vs AL East in 2010: 99.0 IP, 107 H, 58 R, 53 ER, 19 HR, 36 BB, 67 SO, 4.82 ERA, 1.44 WHIP

Garza vs everyone else in 2010: 105.2 IP, 86 H, 36 R, 36 ER, 9 HR, 27 BB, 83 SO, 3.07 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

Greinke vs AL Central in 2010: 80.0 IP, 99 H, 56 R, 52 ER, 4 HR, 26 BB, 65 SO, 5.85 ERA, 1.56 WHIP

Greinke vs everyone else in 2010: 140.0 IP, 120 H, 58 R, 50 ER, 14 HR, 29 BB, 116 SO, 3.21 ERA, 1.06 WHIP

Looks like both guys might be glad to get away from some division opponents that may have figured out what was coming.

Michael said...

Kenneth, lets not forget that mediocrity is a definite upgrade from what we've been getting!

And Antonio-I don't hold out much hope on Melky providing much, but neither did Ankiel, and we were still able to trade him before the deadline. Give him April and May. If he's not providing much, bench him for Cain then. Honestly, does it hurt much to give Melky the chance?? Is it the difference between contending or not?? No, it's not. It might be the difference between 65 or 68 wins.

Antonio. said...

1. Cabrera brings nothing to the game. Defense is faltering. No power. Weak eye. Doesn't even offer empty batting average. Or stolen bases.

2. That trade was much more about Farnsworth than Ankiel, but bat least Rick offers power.

3. Win total be damned, why give the job to what is almost assuredly the lesser player.

4. Most of my bias of putting Cain in a position of at least a genuine shot at the starting job comes with his age. Unfortunately, the Brew Crew only gave him 28 games in Triple-A.

I still hold my belief.

George said...

Who cares about Greinke?! We just signed Jeff Francis!

In all seriousness, this is a great move by the Royals. It's a one-year deal (not sure on the $). I know he's coming off shoulder surgery, but he's been pretty decent in the past and has WS experience. This is not to say he's an ace by any means, but he certainly buys us some time until Montgomery, Lamb, Duffy, Dwyer, et al, are ready. Would still like to see the Royals land another starting option (Chen?) before Spring Training. If history is any indication, we'll need about 15 such guys...

Steve N said...

I think that folks are underestimating Escobar. Down the road he looks to have at least average, probably better, on base skill and plus defense. Not bad.

Signing Francis has to be good. He had a couple good seasons in Colorade of all places. Not sure what kind of surgery he had but a year off to recover should mean he has a chance to be all the way back.

Kyle said...

Francis was a great pick up for 2 mil + 2 mil in incentives. He actually came back and pitched most of 2010. He was out all of 2009, so at least we know he was able to pitch after his surgery. I think he will be a great additon, and push the kids back so they can have some time in AAA. They still need to get Chen eith for long relief/Swingman or possibly mid rotation. SOS could use a year in AAA, but I doubt he gets it. He is only 23 years old.

Anonymous said...

Rany, I'm confused by your effort to suggest the Grienke and Garza were approximately of equal value when traded. Over the past three seasons, Garza posted fWAR of 2.9, 3.2, and 1.8 for a total of 7.9. Grienke posted fWAR of 4.9, 9.4, and 5.2, a total of 19.5. That's just a huge, huge difference. Put this another way, if Tampa had offered KC a challenge trade, Garza for Grienke, would you have recommended KC take it? I suspect not. Even if the prospects each team got for their pitcher were roughly equivalent, the Rays gave up much, much less to get that package. Maybe the Royals didn't have any choice, but this post raises sugar coating to outright self-deception.

James said...

Depends on which Garza the Cubs are getting. The one that put up great numbers when he didn't have to face tough teams and now won't have to face the designated hitter... or the Garza who might not pitch great going from a great defense to a mediocre defense and a pitcher's park to a hitter's park.

If it's a wash, I'd take the Greinke deal.

sedated ape said...

The best part is that you can tell Jeff Francis gets really REALLY excited about pitching in KC


Kenneth said...

Michael you are right. I guess I just haven't been a Royals fan long enough to not be mad about letting Greinke go. A keepable superstar. I'm not sure if we all appreciate how rare that is among young athletes these days.

Everyone knew Beltran was going because his agent was Scott Boras. Now to hear Ranny say Hosmer & Moustakas are represented by the same guy makes me sad because if they become the hitters Dayton Moore hopes they will, then they will never resign with the Royals no matter what.

Does anyone remember what team Betemit started with ? The Yankees. Does anyone see the possibility Melky has a Betemit-like season with the Royals ? I actually think that is possible. Think about it this way, how many Royals would make the Yankees starting lineup ? Doesn't it stand to reason that some of their bench/platoon players could be really good players ? And why would you be suprised Dayton Moore would keep Cain in the minors just to extend his clock ? That is S.O.P. for GMDM. Just ask Kila