Saturday, August 6, 2011

Felipe and Ubaldo.

Last night, Felipe Paulino took the mound for the 12th time as a member of the Kansas City Royals, the 11th time as a starting pitcher. After allowing back-to-back triples to start the game, Paulino bore down; he worked into the seventh, and aside from a solo homer in the fifth inning, kept the Tigers off the board the rest of the way. For the fifth time in his last seven starts, he struck out at least seven batters. For his seventh start in a row, he walked no more than two batters. He pitched at least six innings for the seventh time in eight games.

And after watching Paulino once again make a quality start, and once again show glimpses of domination, the strangest question entered my head:

Who would you rather have right now: Felipe Paulino or Ubaldo Jimenez?

On the surface, this question is insane, and you’d have to suspect the same of anyone who poses it. Ten weeks ago, Paulino was waived by the Colorado Rockies with a 5.93 career ERA. Last year, Jimenez went 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA and finished 3rd in the Cy Young vote.

But this year, Jimenez is struggling a little – he allowed five runs in his Indians debut last night, raising his ERA in 2011 to 4.64. Since joining the Royals, Paulino has a 3.56 ERA.

Jimenez has pitched better than his ERA would suggest this year – in 128 innings, he has 125 strikeouts and walked just 49 batters unintentionally. He’s only allowed 11 homers, and that’s actually an uncharacteristically high number for him. (His career high is just 13, which is absolutely astonishing – he averaged 213 innings a year from 2008 to 2010 and pitched in Coors Field.) His xFIP this season is only 3.55.

Of course, Paulino has also pitched better than his ERA this year, as he has throughout his career. Since joining the Royals, he has 70 strikeouts and just 17 unintentional walks in 73 innings. He’s allowed just five home runs. While Jimenez has a history of being an extreme groundball pitcher, this year the two are indistinguishable: Jimenez has a 46.7% groundball percentage, Paulino is at 46.6%. Paulino’s xFIP this year – including 15 lousy innings with the Rockies – is 3.42. He hasn’t been lucky with the Royals – he simply hasn’t been extraordinarily unlucky like he was with the Astros. He’s also cut his walks and homers almost in half. The improvement in his home run rate is probably a little lucky, although it also has a lot to do with the ballpark. The improvement in his control looks like it’s for real.

Jimenez turns 28 in January. Paulino turns 28 in October.

Jimenez’s average fastball this year is 93.4 mph; one of the reasons to be concerned about him is that his velocity is down from years past, as his fastball averaged 96.1 mph in both 2010 and 2009. Paulino’s average fastball this year is 95.0 mph.

Jimenez’s slider averages 83.4, his curveball 76.7, his changeup 86.4. Paulino’s slider is 87.3, his curveball 78.2, his changeup 86.5. Both guys throw their curve about 8% of the time. Jimenez throws his fastball a little more and his changeup a lot more; Paulino relies much more heavily on his slider.

In addition to his effectiveness, one of the things that makes Jimenez so valuable is his durability – he has made at least 33 starts in each of the last three years, and has thrown 199, 218, and 222 innings. Paulino, of course, has no such record of durability. But break down his performance record more closely, and all the signs are there that, left to his own devices, he can be a durable starter.

Start with the fact that he’s thrown at least 104 pitches in seven straight starts, and threw at least 113 pitchers in the first four starts in that run, without any loss in effectiveness.

Then there’s the fact that he seems to be the rare pitcher who might actually be more effective as a starting pitcher than as a reliever. In his career he’s made 32 relief appearances and thrown only 39 innings in relief, but his ERA in that role is 9.15. (Throw out his first appearance with the Royals, when he stepped off a plane and retired 13 of 14 batters, and his relief ERA is 10.29.) In 45 career starts, his ERA is 4.76.

The reason Paulino pitches better in the rotation is twofold: 1) he tends to struggle early in his outings, and 2) he maintains his stuff deep into games. Consider that with the Royals this year, he has a 5.67 ERA in the first three innings of the game. From the fourth inning on, he’s allowed 8 runs in 40 innings – a 1.80 ERA.

While he hasn’t shown that extreme a pattern throughout his career, consider his career numbers when facing a batter for the first, second, and third times in a game:

First time through the lineup: .292/.357/.482
Second time through the lineup: .306/.359/.493
Third/fourth time through the lineup: .274/.371/.380

These numbers are a little misleading, in that a pitcher might not get to stick around long enough to face the lineup a third time if he isn’t pitching well – but even so, most pitchers do worse the third time through the lineup. (You don’t even want to know what Luke Hochevar’s splits are.) Paulino has not shown that tendency; if anything, he only get stronger.

Taking everything into consideration, the two pitchers are surprisingly even. The only area where Jimenez has a decided advantage is that he’s been doing it for four years instead of ten weeks.

That is, of course, an enormous advantage. But in Paulino’s corner is this: while Jimenez is only under contract through 2013, Paulino won’t be a free agent until after the 2015 season – four more years after this one. Jimenez is already signed to a ridiculously cheap contract – I believe the Indians owe him about $11 million between now and the end of the contract. Paulino is not signed; he will be eligible for arbitration for the second time this winter. Last winter, as a Super Two, he signed for $790,000. Even as well as he’s pitched this year, it’s unlikely he’ll make more than $1.5 million or so for 2012.

One thing that will keep his salary down is that, while Paulino has a fine ERA since joining the Royals, he’s only 1-4. (In Paulino’s 11 starts, the Royals have scored more than 3 runs just three times, and never more than 5.) He somehow lost four games in his short time with the Rockies, and last season he was 1-8 for the Astros. While win-loss records are almost meaningless, they probably have some impact in arbitration – and Paulino is 2-17 over the last two years. In 2009, he was 3-11. For his career, he’s 7-29. Right now, Paulino is tied with a pitcher named Ken Reynolds for the worst career winning percentage in major-league history for a pitcher with 35 or more decisions. I doubt that’s going to hold up, but in the meantime, that’s a hell of a stat to drop at an arbitration hearing.

If Paulino continues to pitch well in 2012, I could see him in line for a $5 million award in 2013 and escalating salaries after that. But better a pitcher with an escalating salary than a pitcher who’s a free agent.

So I ask you: after everything I’ve presented, if you’re the Royals, would you trade Felipe Paulino for Ubaldo Jimenez straight up? Do you trade a pitcher you picked up on waivers ten weeks ago, but who has pitched like a #2 starter since, for an established #2 starter who has shown flashes of being an ace? You gain security, predictability, and upside. But you also gain the concerns about Jimenez’s diminished velocity and the mystery of why the Rockies were so eager to trade him. And you lose club control of your pitcher in 2014 and 2015.

Who do you want: Felipe Paulino or Ubaldo Jimenez? This isn’t a loaded question. I honestly don’t know myself. But the mere fact that I can propose this question and not get completely laughed out of the room – well, my room, for all I know you’re ROTFLMAO right now – says something, doesn’t it?

The Cleveland Indians gave up their two best pitching prospects, a pair of Top-15 picks in Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, along with two lesser prospects, for the rights to Jimenez. And (at least in my opinion) they got the better end of the deal.

The Royals, meanwhile, picked up Felipe Paulino for the price of a waiver claim.

Eventually I’ll stop pimping Paulino. Eventually he’ll turn back into a pumpkin (although I don’t think he will), or I’ll get tired of singing his praises (doubtful), or people will wake up and recognize what the Royals have (bingo!)

But until that last thing happens, I’ll continue to say it: Felipe Paulino is not your typical free-talent find. The Royals, a team with a promising core of offense and a deep bullpen but utterly bereft of starting pitching, picked up a guy on waivers at the end of May, and at the beginning of August I’m undecided whether I’d trade that guy for Ubaldo Jimenez. He’s not simply one of the better moves of the Dayton Moore era.  The decision to sign Paulino might go down as one of the best moves in the history of the franchise.

Update: As a commenter astutely pointed out, Paulino is a free agent after 2014, not 2015; my apologies for the error. Given that Paulino is under club control for only one more season than Jimenez, the decision swings more clearly towards Jimenez. My general point stands, though.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Putting The "Dead" In The Deadline.

Well, that was kind of a dud.

In the week leading up to the trade deadline, no fewer than 26 trades were made, ranging from the irrelevant (Juan Rivera for a PTBNL) to the blockbuster (Ubaldo Jimenez for four Indians prospects) to the baffling (the three-way Edwin Jackson/Colby Rasmus trade). Somehow, the Royals were involved in only one of them, and the player involved was Mike Aviles. What happened?

The knee-jerk response is to blame Dayton Moore, to say that he erred by not trading any of his veterans, whether it was hitters Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur or starting pitchers Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen. Even if the offers were insulting, better to get something for a guy like Francis than let him walk as a free agent. And in the case of Cabrera and Francoeur, trading one of them would open up an everyday job for Lorenzo Cain, which by itself would justify trading them, even for a less-than-ideal offer.

The knee-jerk response may be the right one. But let’s try to dig through what happened here, and what the Royals’ options might have been, before we dispense blame.

To review, here are the four Royals who were (presumably) on the market:

Melky Cabrera: 26 years old, hitting .304/.340/.466 (124 OPS+). Career OPS+ of 91. Below-average defender in CF; average-plus in a corner spot. Salary of $1.25 million. Under contract for 2012.

Jeff Francoeur: 27 years old, hitting .272/.326/.464 (120 OPS+). Career OPS+ of 94. Average range but outstanding arm in RF. Salary of $2.5 million. Mutual option for $4 million in 2012.

Jeff Francis: 30 years old, 4.38 ERA, 136 IP, 154 H, 24 UIBB, 70 K, 12 HR. Salary of $2 million plus incentives. Free agent after the season.

Bruce Chen: 34 years old, 4.29 ERA, 78 IP, 86 H, 25 UIBB, 47 K, 12 HR. Salary of $2 million plus incentives. Free agent after the season.

Cabrera clearly stands out from the other three players in terms of value, both because of his contract status (he’s the cheapest, and the only one under club control for next year) and in terms of performance. He’s the only one of the four that I gave better than even odds would be traded in my deadline preview.

And if the trade deadline had played out differently, he probably would have been traded. There were three contending teams that had made the acquisition of an outfielder a priority – San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. There was only one high-quality outfielder that was clearly on the market – the Mets’ Carlos Beltran. Cabrera was sort of Carlos Beltran Lite on the market – like Beltran, he’s a switch-hitter with power and speed, and the ability to fake center field or play either corner spot. So if the two runners-up for Beltran took a liking to Cabrera, there was a trade waiting to be made.

The problem was that one of the three teams – the Braves – would not have traded for Cabrera under any but the most dire circumstances, simply because 1) he sucked for them in 2010 and 2) they cut him after the season, only to see him revive his career with the Royals. For Frank Wren to have re-acquired Cabrera at the deadline would not only have been a PR nightmare – Cabrera was a piƱata for Braves fans given his play and the fact that he was overweight and out-of-shape in Atlanta – but it would have been a tacit admission by Wren that he screwed up by letting Cabrera go in the first place. So that was out.

If the Braves had traded for Beltran – and they were certainly in the running – Lorenzo Cain might be our starting centerfielder today. But the Giants won the sweepstakes when they were willing to part with Zach Wheeler*, one of the top 25 prospects in baseball today, for Beltran.

*: This brings up an interesting question: did the Mets get more for Beltran, who is 34 years old and can no longer run or play centerfield, than the Royals got for Beltran when he was 27 years old and could do everything? The Royals got Mark Teahen, John Buck, and Mike Wood – the first two were borderline Top 100 prospects, but neither was a blue-chipper like Wheeler is. You could make the case either way, but when you consider that Beltran isn’t the player he used to be, and the fact that per his contract the Giants can’t offer him arbitration (so they won’t get any draft picks when he leaves), and either the Giants overpaid for him, or the Royals got jobbed. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine which.

With the Giants out of play, that left Philadelphia as a possible destination for Cabrera. The Phillies had already indicated a preference for a right-handed hitting outfielder (which is why there were some rumors that they might be interested in Francoeur), and they decided to go that route, giving up a nice package of prospects for Hunter Pence.

We can argue whether they overpaid for Pence, or whether Pence is really a difference-maker worth trading four prospects for. Just compare the two:

Pence was hitting .308/.356/.471 – in a good hitter’s park in the NL.
Cabrera is hitting .304/.340/.466 – in a neutral park in the AL.
Pence is 28 years old; Cabrera turns 27 next week.
Pence is making $6.9 million this year; Cabrera is making $1.25 million.
Pence is under contract for two more years; Cabrera for one.

Pence is a slightly better player, and he has a much more consistent track record. But he’s also far more expensive, and while he’s under contract for one additional season, he might make eight figures in arbitration next season, while Cabrera will be lucky to make $5 million.

Ultimately it’s a moot point – the Phillies wanted Pence, and they were willing to pay for him. And at that point, there was no obvious destination for Cabrera to go. (Not that it mattered, but Atlanta solved their outfield problem brilliantly, getting Michael Bourn – who on the whole is probably a slightly better player than Pence – without giving up a single top prospect.)

As disappointed as I am that Cabrera wasn’t traded, I don’t see a trade opportunity that Dayton Moore missed. The only other outfielders to be traded to a contender were Ryan Ludwick (for a player to be named later) and Kosuke Fukudome, who was traded for a pair of marginal prospects named Abner Abreu and Carlton Smith. (You know they’re marginal because their names are “Abner” and “Carlton”.)

As outsiders, we can never fully analyze a GM’s decision-making, because we’ll never know the trade offers that were or weren’t made. But as best as I can tell, Moore didn’t make a mistake by holding on to Melky. The mistake would have been trading him for a marginal return. Cabrera is under contract for next season, he’ll be relatively inexpensive, and he’ll be 27 years old, and while it’s possible that his performance this year is a fluke, he’s young enough that it’s entirely possible it’s for real.

If you believe, as I do, that the Royals should go into 2012 looking to contend, and if you believe, as I do, that Melky Cabrera is clearly the second-best outfielder the Royals have under contact for 2012, then it would be stupid to move him just to move him. Standing pat wasn’t the sexy move here, but it was probably the right one.

With respect to Francoeur, there are two issues which I think are being confused:

1) Should the Royals have traded him?
2) Having decided not to trade him, will the Royals now give him a long-term deal?

Francoeur has the industry reputation of being a valuable role player, someone who can play defense and hit left-handed pitching, but not an everyday guy. As such, it’s likely that the market for him – if there was one at all – was comparable to what the Padres got for Ludwick (a PTBNL) or the Cubs got for Fukudome (a couple borderline guys). Remember, Francoeur was traded to a contender last year, and all the Rangers gave up to get him was Joaquin Arias – the same Arias that the Royals signed as a minor-league free agent after the Mets released him barely two months later.

The meager return that Francoeur was likely to bring was reason enough not to trade him. But on top of that, I think it’s time to admit that Jeff Francoeur isn’t the player he was as recently as last year. He’s a legitimate everyday rightfielder.

Look at his monthly splits:

April: .314/.357/.569
May: .233/.287/.388
June: .235/.280/.367
July: .306/.377/.531

Francoeur got off to a hot start (as he has with all three of his previous teams), then regressed back into being Jeff Francoeur for two months, inviting the usual snark from the usual places. Only with his hot July, he’s not only destroyed the narrative of “Jeff Francoeur: terrible ballplayer, except in his first month with a new team!”, he also has four months of evidence that he’s an improved ballplayer.

His overall line of .272/.326/.464 is easily his best since his half-season as a rookie in 2005. Remember, this isn’t the Home Run Era anymore. In 2007, Francoeur hit .293/.338/.444, roughly the same split line, but his OPS+ was just 102 – this year, it’s 120.

Maybe it’s a fluke, but if you want to make that case, there isn’t a whole lot of statistical evidence to back you up. Normally, fluky seasons are driven by a high batting average on balls in play, but Francoeur’s BABIP (.293) is actually lower than his career mark of .298. He is showing improved plate discipline – he’s on pace for a career high in walks, and his strikeout-to-unintentional-walk ratio is 2.61. That’s not very good, but for Francoeur it represents dramatic improvement – his previous career best is 3.26.

But the most stunning aspect of Francoeur’s season is that he has 18 steals; he had 23 career steals in six seasons before 2011. He also had been caught 18 times (56% success rate) before this season, but he’s been thrown out just five times this year (78% success rate).

However you break it down, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Francoeur has made real improvements on offense. Defensively, he remains a rightfielder with average range, but with a tremendous arm – both in terms of strength and accuracy. He’s thrown out 11 runners this season, the seventh year in a row he’s done that.

He’s still only 27 years old. Do I want to sign him to a long-term deal? Hell no. Would I be willing to bring him back on a one-year deal? Absolutely.

He’s got a mutual option for next season. That doesn’t guarantee that he’ll be back, and it doesn’t prevent the Royals from doing something dumb like giving him a four-year deal after the season. But there is a chance he’ll be back next season at a reasonable salary, and that possibility is a lot more valuable than cashing him in for another Joaquin Arias.

Last week, on the Border Patrol’s show on 810 WHB, Buster Olney said he was “99% sure” that the Rays would trade B.J. Upton. Upton did not, in fact, get traded. Upton, like Cabrera, is under contract for one more season, and the Rays are probably out of the race this year, and like the Royals they have a prospect waiting to take over the spot (Desmond Jennings, who’s currently playing left field.) I think the Rays, more than almost any team in baseball, have earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to trades: if they didn’t trade a player, it’s probably because the offer wasn’t there. If the offer wasn’t there for Upton, I think the burden of proof lies with those who accuse the Royals of turning down a good offer for Cabrera and Francoeur.

I absolutely recognize that there is a danger that, with Francoeur still on the team, that Dayton Moore will finally succumb to his most primal urges and give Francoeur a long-term deal. But even if that happens, the mistake lies with the long-term deal, not with the decision to hold on to him right now. At this point, the Royals should finish the season with Francoeur, and then make a decision as to whether or not to bring him back on a one-year deal, whether it’s in the form of his mutual option or a similar contract.

If not, and Francoeur walks, there’s a good chance they’ll get a draft pick in return. MLB Trade Rumors put up their latest Elias Rankings yesterday, and if the season had ended then, Francoeur would be the highest-ranked outfielder not to achieve a Type B ranking. A strong finish by Francoeur might make him harder to retain, but it also makes it more likely that the Royals will get a draft pick when he does leave.

In the end, the clamoring from fans to move Cabrera and Francoeur has very little to do with their performance this year, or even the sustainability of that performance. It has almost everything to do with Lorenzo Cain. As I write this, the Painkiller is hitting .318/.389/.522 in Omaha, with a career-high 13 home runs. He continues to get good marks for his defensive ability, and would certainly be an upgrade over Cabrera in centerfield.

Granted, as Royals fans we don’t have much experience with this particular phenomenon, so it’s understandable if we don’t know how to react. But when a team has a player in Triple-A who is clearly ready for the majors, and his position is capably filled at the major-league level, sometimes you just have to wait. This isn’t Kila Ka’aihue being blocked by Mike Jacobs.

I had this discussion with Joe Sheehan on my radio show last Thursday, and he made some strong points:

1) Cain is going to be a capable centerfielder in the majors, but not a particularly good one. His .318/.389/.522 line against minor-league pitchers in a good hitter’s environment is not that much better than Cabrera’s .304/.340/.466 line for the Royals.

2) Cain is only 20 months younger than Cabrera. This isn’t a 22-year-old phenom we’re talking about here.

Based on that, if you’re the Royals, don’t you have to at least explore what Cain’s trade value is? He still has a prospecty sheen to him, and he hit over .300 in the majors last year, and he’s under club control for six seasons. If you can’t get a #3 starter in exchange for Cabrera or Francoeur, shouldn’t you find out if you can get one for Cain? We’ve reached the point in baseball’s economics where prospects are overvalued – just look at what the Indians gave up to get Ubaldo Jimenez* – and since Cain doesn’t project to be an impact player, the odds that the Royals would get burned badly by dealing him are small.

*: I’m surprised that the general reaction to the Jimenez trade is that the Rockies did well. Am I missing something? Jimenez almost won the Cy Young Award last season pitching in Coors Field. He has a 4.48 ERA this year, but 1) it’s the worst ERA of his career; 2) his peripherals suggest that his ERA should be much better; 3) he’s STILL an above-average starting pitcher. In exchange, the Indians gave up Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, and two nobodies. Pomeranz and White are both fine prospects – but if the Rockies are lucky, one of them will be as good as Jimenez one day. Meanwhile the Indians have Jimenez now, and for the next two years, at a ridiculously low salary. Pomeranz and White are comparable to Mike Montgomery and Aaron Crow. I love Montgomery and Crow, but if I could trade them for a guaranteed above-average starter with ace potential through 2013? I’d strongly consider that.

These things have a way of sorting themselves out. Maybe Francoeur opts out of his contract, or maybe the Royals find a buyer for Cabrera over the winter. But if not, trading Cain has to be considered as a fallback position.

As for Francis and Chen…they’re both serviceable starters, but “serviceable” isn’t going to get you much on the trade market. The same change in offensive levels that makes Francoeur better than he looks also makes Francis and Chen less impressive than you might think – an ERA in the low 4s just isn’t that special anymore. It doesn’t help that neither pitcher strikes out even 6 batters per 9 innings.

Aside from Jimenez, just three starting pitchers were acquired by a contender at the deadline. Doug Fister is a command-and-control pitcher who benefits from his ballpark and defense, sort of the right-handed version of Francis. But in addition to sporting a 3.33 ERA, he’s also under club control through 2014; this wasn’t a short-term rental by the Tigers. (And even then, I think they gave up too much.) Jason Marquis, as a 32-year-old in the final year of his contract, is more directly comparable to Francis and Chen. But his ERA and peripherals both point to him being a slightly better option. In exchange, the Diamondbacks traded Zach Walters, their ninth-round pick last season, and who’s having a pretty good season as a middle infielder in the Midwest League. He has maybe a 10% chance of turning into Mark Ellis or something.

The third guy is Erik Bedard, who the Red Sox got in a complicated three-way deal at the deadline. Bedard is an entirely different kettle of fish; going back to 2006, he has a 3.41 ERA and has struck out over a man an inning. The issue is that 2006 is also the last year in which he threw a pitch in September; the dude just can’t stay healthy. But for the Red Sox, they’d rather have a potential #2 starter than a guaranteed #4 starter; they already have a bunch of those.

And that’s it. No other contender made a trade for a starting pitcher. The Reds, who I thought might be a landing spot for Francis, had a terrible week going into the trading deadline and weren’t buyers at all. If you’re frustrated that the Royals didn’t move Chen and Francis, what about the fact that the Padres, with every incentive to move Heath Bell, couldn’t find a suitable market for him? If the offers aren’t there for a player, even one who is an impending free agent, it’s counterproductive to trade a guy just to say you did.

So as much as I’d like to muster up some outrage that Chen and Francis are still around, I really can’t. I didn’t see much of a market for them when I wrote my deadline preview two weeks ago, and the way the deadline went down doesn’t change my opinion any. If a contender develops a sudden need for a starting pitcher this month, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if either Francis or Chen still get traded after clearing waivers. But otherwise, I expect they’ll finish the season in Kansas City.

(It’s also worth pointing out that, amazing as this may sound, according to MLB Trade Rumors yesterday Bruce Chen would actually qualify as a Type B free agent – even after his 10-run debacle last week, he was the last Type B pitcher on the list. He’ll need to pitch well down the stretch, and he would need to sign a major-league contract with another team this off-season to prevent another Mark Grudzielanek situation, but the possibility of a draft pick is reason enough to turn down insulting offers for him.)

I should take the opportunity to break down the one trade the Royals did make. Just a week after recalling Mike Aviles from Triple-A, the Royals were able to spin him into Yamaico Navarro and Kendal Volz.

Navarro is a 23-year-old player who could be the guy that they wanted Mike Aviles to be – a true utility infielder capable of playing shortstop, second base, and third base well. Most utility infielders have the rough offensive profile of someone like Alcides Escobar – capable of hitting .250 but with nothing in the way of secondary skills like power or plate discipline. That’s not Navarro.

Twice he’s hit 11 homers in a minor-league season, and Baseball America wrote this offseason that he has “uncommon power for a middle infielder and the potential for 15-20 homers annually.” He also knows how to take a pitch – over the past two seasons, in 138 minor-league games (all in Double-A or Triple-A), he’s drawn 64 walks. Navarro hit .275/.356/.437 in the minors last season, and .258/.362/.469 this season. The Red Sox know how to develop middle infielders with secondary skills – look at Dustin Pedroia and Jed Lowrie – and while Navarro isn’t in their class, he’s not a punch-and-judy guy either. Along with Rey, Yamaico gives the Royals two Navarros who profile as excellent utility players in the majors at the very least.

By himself, Navarro – who was the #12 prospect in the Red Sox system before the season – would have justified the trade. Volz is a worthwhile gamble as well; he was the Sox’ ninth-round pick two years ago, but was a potential first-rounder before a disappointing junior season and got $550,000 to sign. In his first pro season last year, he was hittable but walked just 14 guys in 118 innings. Moved to the bullpen this year, he’s got 56 strikeouts and 12 walks in 51 innings. He’s probably a seventh-inning reliever in the end, but he’s more than just an organizational guy.

Last year, the Royals traded Scott Podsednik, Jose Guillen, Kyle Farnsworth, and Rick Ankiel for six players. Aside from Tim Collins, Navarro and Volz are both better than any of those guys. For Mike Aviles, that’s a nice haul.

Granted, Aviles ought to have some real value – he’s under club control for three more years after this one. But he’s already 30 years old; the fact that he’s under club control when he’s 33 probably isn’t worth all that much. Aviles has value on the bench, but his defense the last couple of years has been decidedly sub-par, and he has a .295 OBP since his rookie season. The Royals have moved on from him, and I fully expected them to release him this off-season if they couldn’t find a taker. Getting two legitimate prospects for him allows Moore to bring the Mike Aviles Era in for an easy landing.

Over the last year or so, I have developed a bit of a reputation as a Dayton Moore apologist, which I find hysterical – apparently it’s not good form to acknowledge that Moore has done some things well, or to acknowledge that Cabrera and Francoeur, two player acquisitions that were mocked mercilessly over the winter, have turned out to be two of the best free-agent signing any team made last off-season.

Actually, my reputation as an apologist might have started when I complimented Moore on the Cabrera signing at the time. I also refused to join in the whistles and catcalls when Francoeur was signed; while I was ambivalent about the deal, that was less because of Francoeur than because the fact that his 2012 option was a mutual one limited the Royals’ upside. (I think that observation has born out – if the Royals had a club option for $4 million next year, they would almost certainly exercise it, and that would obviate the need for a long-term deal.)

I’m sure my breakdown of the trade deadline will not change that perception. Am I disappointed by the lack of trades? Most certainly. But I’m disappointed at the market, not at the Royals’ decision-making.

The lack of movement at the deadline allows the Royals to kick the can down the road. Moore still has some decisions to make, and he still has the opportunity to screw things up badly – whether it’s signing Francoeur to a long-term deal, or failing to resolve the Lorenzo Cain situation. If and when that happens, I’ll voice my displeasure then. But criticizing Moore because his lack of moves opens up the possibility that he might screw up in the future – that strikes me as putting the cart before the horse. If that makes me an apologist, so be it.

P.S. For those of you who aren’t faithful listeners, “The Baseball Show With Rany & Joe” covered the trade deadline in two parts this weekend. So if you want my take on all the trades made around the game, please download the show from iTunes, or you can listen online with Part 1 here and Part 2 here.