Sunday, September 8, 2013

A P(Esky) Problem.

I have a column in today’s Kansas City Star, on what the Royals need to do in 2014 to take the next step and reach the playoffs. If you haven’t already, feel free to read it here.

Not much more to say, except that the Royals really need to figure out what to do with Alcides Escobar. Last year, he hit .293; this year, he’s hitting .233. Last year, he had 42 extra-base hits; this year, with three weeks left in the season he has 24 extra-base hits. Last year, he walked 27 times; this year, he’s walked 18 times.

Last year, he was an above-average hitter for a shortstop; his overall line of .293/.331/.390 compared to the AL average of .255/.306/.368. This year, his .233/.259/.296 is the worst of any regular in baseball – he has the lowest OPS of any qualifying player.

Last year, he was worth 3.5 WAR. This year, he’s at 0.0 – he’s the definition of a replacement player. As I write this, the Royals are 3.5 games behind the Rays for the second wild card. So…you do the math.

And here’s the thing: Alcides Escobar is 26 years old. He should be improving as a hitter. At the very least, he should be peaking. He shouldn’t be collapsing, shouldn’t be having his worst offensive season ever, even worse than his rookie year in Milwaukee, which dropped his stock so far after being a top-15 prospect in all of baseball the year before that the Royals were able to get him as just a part of the Zack Greinke trade.

This conundrum – a player at a key defensive position who was one of the team’s most valuable players just a year ago, in his mid-20s, who has nonetheless been useless this year – makes what to do at the shortstop position probably the most difficult decision of the winter. I mean, second base is a disaster, but it’s an easy decision to make – you need to acquire someone who can play the position. (And, I guess, you need to not fall into the trap of letting Emilio Bonifacio’s solid six weeks trick you into giving him the everyday job. Bonifacio would make for an excellent utility player. Letting him have the second base job without competition is risking disaster if you get the 2012 player – or even the 2013 player before he arrived in Kansas City.)

The Royals have to replace one, and maybe two, guys in the rotation – and I’m sure they will aggressively do so. I am hopeful they will find an upgrade in right field, but a David Lough/Justin Maxwell platoon wouldn’t be a disaster if they ended up focusing their efforts elsewhere.

But at shortstop…hope is not a strategy. Well, it is a strategy, one employed by many, many Royals teams over the years, but it’s not a good strategy. And if the Royals’ solution at shortstop is to just bring Escobar back and hope that he’s better, that’s a hope-based strategy.

The obvious, cheap, and straightforward solution would be to re-hire Kevin Seitzer as the team’s hitting coach. I have already written about the impact he’s made on the team, and I’ve already made the case that his part in forcing Seitzer out of the job is enough to justify letting Yost go. If Yost were to consent to letting Seitzer reclaim his job and let him do his job without interference, my main objection to Yost’s continued employment would be eliminated. I don’t think that’s ever going to happen, and if I had to choose between Yost as manager and Seitzer as hitting coach, I know who I’d choose.

But the odds of Seitzer getting his old job back, with or without Yost, are none and slim. In which case, what do you do?

Complicating things slightly – but only slightly – is that Escobar has a long-term contract that guarantees him $3 million in 2014 and 2015. While that looks like dead money at this point, I would argue that Escobar is an example of precisely why long-term deals for pre-arbitration-eligible players is so good. Even with Escobar’s complete collapse this year, the Royals are on the hook for what, $6 million over the next two years? They gave Noel Arguelles more guaranteed money as an amateur signing. And it’s not like Escobar has no value – he’s going to get another chance to start every day next season, whether it’s for the Royals or someone else. If the Royals have the opportunity to acquire an upgrade at the position, the money they owe Escobar should in no way discourage them from doing so.

But if you want to replace him, it’s not like there’s a huge inventory of quality shortstops available on the trade market. In my column I suggested J.J. Hardy, who’s not without his flaws (he hit .238/.282/.389 last year, although he’s bounced back to .261/.306/.447 this year), and who may be hard to pry from the Orioles given that they fancy themselves contenders, but is probably the best fit for a short-term fix at the position. Hardy will only make $7 million next year, and the Orioles can simply accelerate the timetable to moving Manny Machado back to his natural position. Hardy is also an excellent defender – probably better than Escobar right now – which is an important consideration given how important defense has been to this team.

If you can’t get Hardy, then who? Troy Tulowitzki’s too good, Elvis Andrus is too expensive (and Jurickson Profar is too top-prospecty). You want to gamble on Starlin Castro? The Cubs might be willing to talk, but with his long-term deal, he’s going to cost you a ton of prospects, and I was worried about Castro before he suffered a collapse of his own this year. Plus, he’s not a good defender – he’ll probably have to move off shortstop eventually – and I don’t think I’d mess with that if I’m the Royals.

Jimmy Rollins might be done, and knowing Ruben Amaro, he’ll probably want Hosmer and Moustakas in a trade anyway. The Nationals ain’t moving Ian Desmond. The Indians are getting tired of Asdrubal Cabrera, but aren’t trading him in the division.

Jhonny Peralta will be available, but again, the defensive downgrade would be pretty huge.

So the best remaining options would probably be:

- throw a ton of money at Stephen Drew, and hope he doesn’t break down;

- sign Yunel Escobar to a one-year deal and hope he doesn’t piss off everyone in the clubhouse before his time is up;

- buy low on Ruben Tejada and hope he rebounds;

- trade for Erick Aybar in a package deal with Howie Kendrick.

They all make varying degrees of sense, but they all carry substantial amounts of risk.

I wish I had an obvious answer for you, but I don’t. The only thing that’s obvious is that they have to get more production at shortstop next year. Hope isn’t a strategy. I’m just not certain where a better one is hiding.


Brentford T. McGriff said...

Sounds like a lot of hope no matter what option we go with...

Fast Eddie said...

Batting 2nd....And what to do the rest of this season? Only 3.5 out, you have to act like you still have a chance, because you do. With Bonafacio playing well but having to man 2nd, and being the only backup ss, the only other option is to play Getz or Giovatella at 2nd and move Bonafacio. I wonder if Escobar has gotten tired. He's played all but 2 games this year, after seasons of 158 & 155 games.

Thomas said...

Why not platoon the coaching position? Adding Seitz for the guys who performed well for him seems like an easy solution. Not sure why teams don't do that anyway. Coaching talent is cheap compared to player talent. If you can get 3.5 wins by hiring a second batting coach for a couple hundred thousand, well, those are the cheapest wins you'll find.

BobDD said...
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BobDD said...

While I did not think that beginning this year with Francoeur and Getz as starters was worthwhile, I would be OK with starting next year with Escobar again and give him until the trade deadline. But I admit that is an impulse buyer using guesswork.

And as said more than once before, part of the problem is not trusting Moore to make good trades. I just do not expect him to improve the team from this year to the next. And that is with the expectation that Hoz and Moose will likely break out and Butler and Gordon will rebound respectably.

Kenneth said...

Surprised with 3.5 games out I did not find a more ipositive article. Escobar is your biggest concern at this point in the season? I have defended you to many people who I feel misinterpret your views. I have friends and family who feel you are nothing but a naysayer. They feel your analysis is always critical and you never have anything positive to say about the Royals. I explain you are a fan and using analysis to think about decisions. I tell them you a really a homer at heart and all your research is looking at a different way for the team to improve.

After reading this article it will be difficult to disagree with anyone who says all you see is the negative in the Royals. I have read some pretty positive posts on this board before with a lot less to be positive about. Is your focus on 2014 sapping your ability to enjoy 2013?

I wish success and happiness for you in your writing. I was really hoping these last posts of the year would reflect the optimism for the future and the happiness of improvement.

BobDD said...

But Kenneth, isn't it true that we have big holes to fill at RF and 2B? And that while there have been a few bright spots at SS and 3B, they are so far below average hitters?

So we are told to get over the Myers trade, which was 6 yrs of cost-controlled play by reigning minor league player of the year vs 2 yrs of very good pitching for over $20M. The reason Shields/Myers is still a current part of team evaluation is because any discussion of the RF/2B holes starts with the qualifier of the current bare cupboard downline, which sounds to me near the cry of someone seeking mercy for being an orphan after shooting the parents. The trade made us better for this year but handicaps us for future years.

Our hitting could easily improve next year just by the maturing of Hoz and Moose, and the expected rebounds of Gordon and Butler, maybe better from Escobar (I agree with Rany that is iffy and should be said so).

Because of Santana the pitching will be difficult to match but not at all impossible because of the "possibility/potential" of Duffy and Paulino at least. But then Shields will be gone because either he is still as good and priced beyond us or he is no longer good and therefore undesireable.

This is exactly what Rany predicted before the start of this year: we would be better but not enough for post-season. Sure we're happy about a better year, but at whatever point we talk about the future any of us must discriminate between who/what to build upon (keep) and where/who to improve upon. I want a RF and 2B. I want the 3B and SS to reach their minor league hitting levels; they aren't this year.

There have been and will be articles about how good this year was, but this one was about what needs improving - we need both. Personally I am pessimistic about a future that hinges on the ability of Dayton Moore to make the right trade or free agent signing. He has more misses than hits on those fronts.

Adam said...
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Adam said...

For the 2nd base issue, it seem slike the Royals have ruled out Giavotella, but have you? Has he actually gotten any consistent or statistically valuable playing time?

Huskergut said...

Given the options, they're far better off riding Escobar and spending their (limited) resources elsewhere. Every dollar you spend on Esky's replacement is a dollar you can't spend on a starting pitcher, second baseman or right fielder. And those are areas of greater need.

If you put solid bats at 2b and RF, you can live (and win) with Esky as your SS. He's got gold glove caliber ability as a defender and, while he's been horrible on offense I don't think he's really this bad. 2012 was probably an aberration for him, but 2013 probably has been as well. My guess is his true ability lies somewhere in the middle. For $3 million, I'd take his defense plus .275/.310/.360.

twm said...

I'm not convinced that our window closes in 2015, but if that is true, is it now the most damning criticism of the Dayton Moore era? A one-year is that possible?

Unknown said...

The one-year playoff window is a total Rany's not really true..

twm said...

Maybe. I have heard other people suggest the same.

MoreHRsAndLesNorman said...

Seitz - Is it really fair/respectable to fire Grifol? It seems like your superstar kind of likes him, and you undermine the legitimacy of the position when you fire a guy every 6 months.

Esky - Stuck with him in 2014, and I'm okay with it. I'd rather bet on his .263 BABIP bouncing back than investing our limited resources in any of the alternatives you're suggesting. If this is Esky's downside, he's still been worth 0.8 fWAR and $4M on fangraphs. The contract is too valuable to not give it until Memorial Day to pay off.

If defense is Dayton's "Moneyball," then don't discount what Esky is worth to this team as the QB of the defense.

KHAZAD said...

You can get by with an Escobar at SS, but not with complete holes at 2nd base and right field, (for what seems like an eternity now)and not with a manager who routinely puts that 9th hitter type guy in the #1 and #2 spots. (57.4% of Escobar's PA's have come in those lineup slots)

With the Royal's budget, they need to concentrate on filling the two gaping holes mentioned above, filling out the starting rotation, hiring a manager who will pencil Esky into the # 9 spot and leave him there. Then you hope that he has a year closer to 2012 than 2013.

I do agree that Bonifacio would make an excellent utility guy and pinch runner, but I am worried that the Royals will see him as the 2014 second base answer. That would overexpose him.

Anonymous said...

Serious question: Doesn't regression to the mean work both ways? You (well, Joe mostly) spent 20 minutes on your podcast the other week talking about how the Royals' pitching can't possibly be as good next year as it is this year. Wouldn't the same logic apply in the other direction to Escobar?

Pogue009 said...

Yunel Escobar 3.7fWAR has two 5mil club options he is a Ray for a while