Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Absence.

Joakim Soria may have thrown his last pitch in a Royals uniform.

That was not the worst injury news the Royals received last week.

Oh, and they also made a silly trade, giving up legitimate prospects at least in part to acquire a player who creates a roster crunch without being notably better than what the Royals already have on hand.

Other than that, it’s been a fantastic week.

Let’s start at the beginning, when Salvador Perez reached for a Jonathan Sanchez pitch during warm-ups, caught his spike in the ground awkwardly, and limped off the field. The roller-coaster of emotions began – maybe it’s nothing, oh my God maybe he tore his ACL (out for the year!), oh the MRI shows it’s just a torn meniscus (4-6 weeks!), oh he’s come out of surgery and they’re saying…12-14 weeks?!

I don’t know about you, but I enjoyed the previous drama surrounding Salvador Perez a lot more.

While it was a meniscal tear, my understanding is that the tear was on the lateral (outside) part of his knee, and that the tear went all the way through the meniscus, both things which lengthen the recovery time. I’m also under the impression that 12-14 weeks is a conservative recovery time; I’m hopeful that with the training staff the Royals have in place these days, that Perez will be back towards the lower end of that estimate. (Speaking of which, Perez’s injury will be the first major test case for the quality of Nick Kenney, Kyle Turner, et al. Last year they did such a fantastic job of keeping guys healthy that we didn’t get a chance to see how effective they could be at nursing a player back to health.)

Still, given the timeframe here, it’s unlikely Perez will be on the field again for the Royals until mid-June. Furthermore, the Royals have already made it clear that even upon his return, he’s likely to catch no more than 3-4 times a week the rest of the season. Do the math, and the over/under on the number of games Perez plays this season is 65, maybe 70 tops.

By comparison, Perez started 39 games for the Royals last year. On the list of reasons why the Royals could be substantially improved from last year, “a full season of Salvador Perez” was near the top. That won’t be happening now.

While this sucks for 2012, my understanding is that if rehabbed appropriately, this injury should have a minimal impact on Perez’s career going forward. The key is “if rehabbed appropriately”, which is why, as painful as it is in the short term, limiting him to 65-70 starts is absolutely worth it if allows him to return to full-time duty in 2013. Perez is the first Royal in a quarter-century to be under club-control for eight seasons; if ever there was a player where long-term health takes precedence over short-term performance, it’s him.

The injury is unfortunate, and it only reinforces why a player like Perez might sign a long-term deal that could cost him millions of dollars over going year to year. But it’s still a great deal for the Royals, and if they had the option to re-consider the deal, they would (and should) still do it. Dayton Moore made a reasonable point after the injury, stating that because Perez had the security of a long-term deal, he would be less inclined to try to rush back onto the field before he was ready. Many a player has jeopardized his long-term future by downplaying or flat-out lying about his pain symptoms. There’s no guarantee Perez won’t still do that, but you have to hope that the security of a long-term deal, as well as the responsibility of a long-term deal, will keep him from doing that.

The Sandy Alomar comparisons have followed Perez around for at least the past year. We can only hope that the comparisons don’t extend to his fragility – after playing 132 games as a rookie in 1990, Alomar wouldn’t play in even 90 games again until 1996.

Perez, unfortunately, was perhaps the single player the Royals could least afford to lose to injury. I mean, even an injury to Eric Hosmer – perish the thought – would only open up an opportunity for Clint Robinson to play, and maybe even establish some trade value in the process. The dropoff from, say, Alex Gordon to Mitch Maier or Jarrod Dyson would be substantial, but at least the Royals have someone available to replace him.

In the case of Perez, it’s not just that the difference between him and Brayan Pena is significant – it’s that you have to carry two catchers, and it just so happens that the Royals’ third catcher, Manuel Pina, suffered the exact same injury a few weeks before Perez. The next two guys on the depth chart, Max Ramirez and Cody Clark, are not guys you want to go to war with on Opening Day.

So the Royals went shopping for short-term options, even kicking the tires on Ivan Rodriguez, a reasonable short-term option given that Pudge can still throw with the best of them (he nailed 13 of 25 runners last year). But from the beginning, the Royals appeared to be focusing on Humberto Quintero, who has been with the Astros for seven years and has worked his way up to playing about half the time.

I like Quintero, and thought he was a good guy to be focusing on – particularly since he looked like he was out of a job in Houston. Jason Castro, the Astros’ first-round pick in 2008, missed all of last season with a torn ACL but is back this year; between him and backup Chris Snyder, who was signed as a free agent this winter, there wasn’t a place for Quintero.

I like Quintero because, sort of like Brayan Pena, he’s not quite starter material but a step up from your typical backup catcher. In Pena’s case, his bat is a notch better than most backups; in Quintero’s case, he hits like a backup catcher but his defensive skills are near-elite. He’s thrown out 28% of attempted base-stealers in his career, which is about average, but as Jeff Sullivan summarizes here, the numbers suggest he is terrific at both framing and blocking pitches. The numbers agree with the scouts, who have long been high on his defense.

Quintero almost replaces Perez with the glove, which is a good thing, because his offensive skills are almost comical. He’s a career .234/.268/.321 hitter. (As Craig Brown points out, only one player this century – the immortal Jeff Mathis – has a lower OBP than Quintero in 1000 plate appearances or more.)

In 1075 at-bats, he’s walked 37 times. It’s actually worse than that, because eight of those 37 walks were intentional. And it’s actually worse than that, because about 80% of his career plate appearances have come in the #8 hole, in front of the pitcher, so no doubt many of his unintentional walks were not completely unintentional. (In 194 plate appearances outside the #8 spot in the lineup, Quintero has walked six times.) Quintero figures to be one of the least patient hitters in the recent history of the Royals, and that’s saying something.

Oh, and his power, modest as it is, is mostly a creation of Minute Maid Park. Ten of his 15 career homers were hit at home; his career slugging average on the road is .299.

Still, Quintero fills an obvious need, he’s only getting paid $1 million this year, and he seems to be a real impact-maker on defense. The Rays – who kinda know what they’re doing – signed Jose Molina to a $1.5 million contract this winter because of his defensive skills, even though his career line is .241/.286/.344 and he’s 37 years old. Given the Royals’ predicament, Quintero isn’t a bad acquisition. I expect him and Pena to share the job about 50-50 until Perez comes back, and at that point, well, Pena better hope he justifies my belief in his bat, or Quintero won’t be the one looking for gainful employment elsewhere.

It’s the second player in the trade that makes no sense. The Royals also acquired 30-year-old outfielder Jason Bourgeois, who hit .294/.323/.357 for the Astros last year, and also stole 31 bases in 37 attempts, despite playing in just 93 games.

I don’t get it.

Bourgeois had nice numbers for a fourth outfielder last season, but his performance was out of character for him. In 2010, he hit .220/.294/.268 in 123 at-bats. That was his rookie season, when he was 28 years old. That alone should tell you something.

Bourgeois’ career line in the majors is .262/.307/.324. His career line in Triple-A is .296/.348/.405.

By comparison, Mitch Maier’s career line in the majors is .253/.332/.346. His Triple-A line is .295/.342/.447.

Maier is also five months younger than Bourgeois. He also bats left-handed. Consider the makeup of the Royals’ bench. Yuniesky Betancourt bats right-handed. Quintero bats right-handed; when he starts, Brayan Pena is a switch-hitter. If Bourgeois takes Maier’s place on the roster, then the Royals essentially have no pinch-hitting options for Alcides Escobar against right-handed relievers in the late innings. The lineup already tilts to the right side – the only left-handers in the lineup are Hosmer, Gordon, and Moustakas. The first two aren’t being pinch-hit for in any circumstances; if the Royals want to sit Moose in a tight spot, that’s what they got Yuni for.

So the Royals have to have a legitimate left-handed hitting option on the bench. It’s hard to see how Bourgeois could take Maier’s spot.

That leaves the final bench spot, tentatively being given to Jarrod Dyson. In some respects, Bourgeois is a hybrid between Maier and Dyson; he doesn’t hit as well as Maier or run as well as Dyson, but he does a little of both. But it seems to me that you’d rather have a player with Dyson’s skill set on the bench, because Dyson is the rare player with speed that can truly be game-changing, as we saw last year. He’s also an elite defender, something Bourgeois – despite some pretty fielding numbers from one of the defensive metrics last year – isn’t.

Bourgeois did start a game at second base for the Astros last year (his only start at second base in the majors) and it was his primary position in the minors – up until 2007 or so, when he became a full-time outfielder. It’s nice to have a guy with some experience at the position in a pinch, but you don’t design your roster around what might happen in the 17th inning of a game. Or at least you shouldn’t.

So I don’t get what Bourgeois does. He does have an option, so maybe he just goes to Omaha and is injury insurance – but then why bother to acquire him in the first place? You already have David Lough for that anyway. Or maybe the Royals truly think that Dyson still has the ability to be an everyday outfielder, and want him playing every day in Omaha. That’s about the only explanation I can come up with for why they wanted Bourgeois in the deal. (For what it’s worth, Bob Dutton is suggesting that this is the likely outcome – Dyson returns to Omaha to make way for Bourgeois.)

In exchange, the Royals gave up left-handed reliever Kevin Chapman, who Baseball America ranked as the 18th-best prospect in the system. Chapman was drafted in the fourth round in 2010 as a college product who ought to move through the system quickly, and while there have been some bumps along the way, he’s done mostly that. Lefties who throw 94 don’t grow on trees; even though his command is iffy and his slider is only average, he could be a seventh-inning guy in the majors.

Ignore his 4.94 ERA last year; in 62 innings, he struck out 90 batters – nearly one-third of those he faced – which is an impressive ratio. He finished his first full season in the minors in Double-A. He’s sort of the left-handed version of Louis Coleman, who was drafted in the fifth round the year before. While I don’t think he’ll be as good as Coleman was last year, I do think he could be a part of a major-league bullpen for several years. In the Astros’ system, he might be a Top-10 prospect.

Having said that, Chapman alone is not a terrible price to pay. The Royals have Tim Collins and Everett Teaford, and they signed Jose Mijares cheap, and Tommy Hottovy is trying to remake himself as a sidearm specialist, and they still have Blaine Hardy, and they picked up Ryan Verdugo and Antonio Cruz in trades…they have options. Unless Chapman develops into a true impact reliever, they won’t miss him.

It's a shame they have to give up a guy like Chapman, because while he might not have earned a spot with the Royals, and while he wasn't going to bring back big talent in a trade on his own, he's the perfect third or fourth guy to throw in a trade when the Royals are ready to cash in their prospects for an elite player, and they need one more guy to get the deal done. Think Jeremy Jeffress in the Zack Greinke trade, or Brad Boxberger from the Reds in the Mat Latos deal. A strong-armed reliever isn't worth much on his own, but he makes for a nice clincher. Chapman won't serve that role for the Royals going forward, which is a shame. But you have to give something to get something, and Chapman was something.

The problem is that Chapman’s not all they gave up. There’s also a Player To Be Named Later, and in a deal like this, that PTBNL could be anything from a courtesy throw-in to a legitimate prospect. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow was quoted after the deal as saying that the PTBNL was a “key component” of the trade.

I have no idea what that means. He’s obviously not going to say that the player is a nobody. On the other hand, there’s no incentive for him to pump up the player if it’s some kid in Idaho Falls that no one’s heard of. And then there’s the question of why the player’s a PTBNL in the first place.

My guess - perhaps I should say hope - is that it might be a player who is out of options, but the Royals want to see how their roster shakes out first. Would Sean O’Sullivan or Vinny Mazzaro qualify as a “key component” of the trade? They might, simply in the sense that they’d go right to the Astros’ major league roster and maybe even into their rotation. (It’s the Astros, people. Look at their team. No, really: go look at it. It’s like looking into a Royals time capsule from 2005.)

If it’s someone along those lines, someone the Royals probably would have lost on waivers in the first place, I can live with the trade. If it’s an actual prospect, then you have to ask why the Royals would give up so much talent for a backup catcher who was going to struggle to make his team’s roster, and a 30-year-old fourth outfielder who doesn’t bring any skills that the Royals’ two backup outfielders don’t already have.

Ten days ago, the Royals were rolling, Danny Duffy was dealing, and some of us (okay, me) were thinking ambitious thoughts. One injury later, the Royals have lost probably two wins in 2012, there’s at least a small chance that their prized young catcher may be injury-prone going forward, and they’ve given up at least one and maybe two fine prospects for a catcher they need for only half a season and an outfielder they didn’t need at all. Suddenly, that Grantland article I wanted to write about how the Royals could be this year's miracle team doesn't seem like such a smart idea.

And that was just one injury. I’ll talk about the other injury next time.

17 comments:

David W. Lowe said...

First!

Great analysis. I totally agree that the trade for Q and B doesn't make much sense. Feeling pretty bad for Maier and Dyson and Lough.

I also agree that the Perez injury is a much bigger deal than the Soria injury. Soria's injury (a) gets a guy off the roster who was struggling, and (b) opens up a roster spot likely for Kelvin Herrera.

This is a good result for the Royals, but of course a terrible result for Soria. The Royals may win more games as a result of fewer blown saves and poor performance by Soria. I think our pen sets up nicely with Broxton, Holland, Crow, Coleman, and Herrera from the right side and Mijares and Collins from the left side. Of course Teaford also has a chance to make the pen.

KHAZAD said...

I actually like Quintero, he is an excellent fielding catcher-exactly the type that will still be around 6 years from now having never been a starter. I agree that Bourgeois is kind of superflous though, and it was probably his inclusion that made Chapman part of the deal.

A fond farewell to Soria and his 160 saves and 2.40 career ERA. Even if he somehow rebuilds his arm, he will probably never pitch here again, as his option will be declined if he has to have TJ again.

For those of us who suffered through the terrible bullpens in the years preceding Soria, I will always remember how good it felt to finally have a guy you could count on in the 9th.

It is a shame he never got to pitch in a pennant race, for he was practically unhittable throughout his career in September. He gave up 2 runs in 49 innings, (a 0.37 ERA)with 24 hits and 13 walks (0.755 WHIP) and had a streak of 40.2 scoreless innings in September, since he gave up his last run in 2007. Hitters triple slash against him in September: .142/.207/.148. Yes, he only gave up one extra base hit in September, a double in 2007 that led to his last September run.

Tampa Mike said...

"The Royals may win more games as a result of fewer blown saves and poor performance by Soria"

Maybe his recent poor performance is because of this injury. He has had unexplained arm problems for a while, so it makes sense. He was lights out before that. Perez is a bigger deal, just not for the reasons you give.

The Professor said...

Well, I'll talk about why this injury stack, while not good, is maybe not really all that bad.

1. Perez's injury. If the injury was a result of the wear-and-tear of catching over time, and it gets fixed, it's sure better to have it happen this year than next or 2014.

2. Picking up Quintero. Gotta agree with Rany and KHAZAD. He should at the very least help the development of the pitching staff. It seems like he's really good at the catching part of his job description. Another plus is Moore is following along with the "cool kid" GM's who are really focuing on catcher D. At the end of the day, we're left with a really good backup catcher, nothing wrong with that.

3. Yuni's role. With a true defense-first catcher, we really NEED Yuni on the bench to pinch hit and be a, for want of a better term, "super-sub". Gio should start so Yuni will be available to fill in. Let's push this idea all over the blogosphere and hope it somehow magically influences the Royals. Finally, Yuni's got a little pop, and I need a backup shortstop in my deep AL-only league, so maybe I can pick up some cheap homers (silver linings, people).

4. Soria's injury. Although his contract was great and team-friendly, I think front offices are starting to realize that you just don't need to pay for a closer. With Soria's option in all likelihood off the table, and plenty of cheap in-house options, that's a big chunk of change less to worry about when considering an extention for Gordon. Plus with all this bad news, wouldn't a Gordon extension be just the thing to make the fans happy (Mr. Moore?)

5. Bourgeois. I got nothing.

bbxpert said...

I'm not sure there is anything wrong with this trade. Chapman is 24 years old and has an ERA of over 5 in the minors. What exactly are we losing? We get Quintero who is just a stopgap although he might push Brayan Pena out of a job when Perez comes back. I like Dyson, but he is a pretty one-dimensional player. Bourgeois gives you more flexibility.

First Baptist Church, Stephens said...

I moved from KC to Houston when I was a little kid, so my whole life I've been a Royals/Astros fan.

I have never liked Quintero. It's surprising to me, though, that he rates out so well defensively. Maybe I was underrating him.

The Astros don't need O'Sullivan or Mazzaro. I know they wouldn't go into their rotation. I really can't see them making the team. They've got Wandy, Bud Norris, Livan, JA Happ, and either Jordan Lyles, Kyle Weiland, or Henry Sosa at the back end. There's no way, especially with the spring Weiland is having, that they make room for the Royals' schlock. The Astros' rotation isn't much worse than the Royals. It might be better.

So that is to say that the PTBNL is probably not someone like O'Sullivan or Mazzaro. If you want to go that route on that type of player, Chris Getz or another position player is a better possibility.

In fact, if the Astros think Getz can back up SS, that's a good possibility.

ChaimMKeller said...

Isn't it obvious why the Royals wanted Bourgeois?

They intend to oppress the proletariat.

Rick Kingcade said...

ChaimMKeller - that's the comment of the day!

Mark said...

I think the PTBNL will be someone the R's drafted this year.

amr said...

While you hope Perez would be less inclined to rush back to catching because it's the responsible thing to do given his long-term contract, that's the same thing that Joe Mauer's gotten blasted for by every baseball scribe in the Twin Cities. And in a lost season for the team, at that.

John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

A Royals' time capsule from 2005? Does that mean Emil Brown is in the Astros' camp this spring?

Jayboid said...

My belief is this season hinges on a couple of bits of luck.

1. Cleveland helps the Royals by at least going 500 against Detroit.

2. Quintero catches Royal fever and plays above his head for a couple of months. Not offensively, but in calling great games, and blocking pitches.

kc-at-the-bat.com said...

Appreciate the analysis, as always. However, if Nathan is the best comp, doesn't that support a slower approach to rehab (his surgery was March 2010 and he wasn't right until June 2011)? And given that 2012 is Nathan's 2nd year back, shouldn't the Royals wait until at least May to see if Nathan really is recovered before offering any two year contract to Soria?

Pogue009 said...

Soria is interesting for a couple of reasons and while he was as amazing and dominant as a reliever can be he may have hurt the Royals more than any single player ever has.

From 2008-2010 Soria pitched in 173 games he had a 1.84 ERA was 6-7 with 115 saves and he arguably cast the Royals Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and a chance at 4 of the best pitching prospects in years in Cole, Bundy, Hultzen and Bauer.

None of that was his fault of course but if the Royals had with Strasburg on the horizon been willing to move Soria for value, or more realistically moved Soria pre-2009 they could have named their price.

Sergio Santos who is 5 years older than Soria was post 2008 just returned Nestor Molina, one season of Matt Capps returned Wilson Ramos, 1/2 a season of Dotel got James Macdonald none of those pitchers was the most dominant closer in the game coming off a 1.6 ERA.
Hopefully GMDM learns from this experience and from his pen's performance last year that selling high on relievers from a losing team is a winning bet, something that I had hoped he already knew after the Farnsworth trade.

ChaimMKeller said...

Rany, any chance that last season's report cards will be totally done before the new season begins?

I understand if the new baby requires some time-management adjustments.

Rusty said...

Why no respect for Max Ramirez?

He's a career .295/.389/.478 hitter in the minors, and is now healthy after a wrist injury two years ago.

He hit .344/.432/.750 this spring, a higher OPS than anyone but Cain,
after hitting .318/.388/.608 in August and September for Fresno.

And the only thing you say about him is that he's a guy you wouldn't want to go to war with?

Why?