Monday, December 20, 2010

The Past Don't Control You

...But the future's like a roulette wheel spinning.
Deep down inside, you know you need a whole new beginning.
(From "Ye Shall Be Changed," The Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3)

And with that, Dayton Moore's transformation of the Royals major-league roster is complete. "That," of course, is Sunday's Zack Greinke trade. Moore took over the Royals in the middle of the 2006 season. Now the only player currently on the roster who played for the Royals in 2006 is outfielder Mitch Maier, and he only had 15 plate appearances that season.

Unfortunately, the major league results from 2006 and 2011 are likely to be similar. However, it looks more and more like the major league results from 2012 and beyond will be much better. The Greinke trade is one more building block for that future.

I think the Royals made a good trade. Not a great one, but a good one. First off, replacing Yuni Betancourt with Alcides Escobar has to be a positive. True, Escobar doesn't have the occasional power Yuni has shown. But they both posted a .288 OBP last year. While that is terrible, I'd rather have an above-average defender whose offense should improve than have, well, Yuni.

Escobar did not have a good rookie season in 2010. But he was a highly-touted prospect and is likely to improve. The good news is, if his defense is as good as advertised, he won't need to be an adept offensive player to have a positive impact. He won't be a free agent until after the 2015 season. If the Royals' scouting is correct, they have found their shortstop for the long-term. This is a good thing.

Then there's Lorenzo Cain. This is an intriguing addition to the now-crowded outfield situation. Cain hasn't shown a lot of power in the minors, but he has shown an ability to take a walk, steal some bases and play good defense in centerfield. Like Escobar, he could be a long-term solution.

I know little about the pitchers the Royals received (Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi) except that Jeffress throws hard and both were considered among the Brewers' best prospects. In the pitching-heavy Royals system, it will be interesting to see where they both rank. It is nice that both are righties, as the Royals are as stocked as can be with lefties, it seems.

Meanwhile, life without Zack will not be fun, at least probably not for a year or two. The Royals' projected rotation for 2011 is not especially promising. And let's be honest, watching Zack pitch when he was dialed in was a lot of fun. Of course, getting Zack dialed in was sometimes a problem.

I know there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth over this trade. There were a lot of comparisons to the Carlos Beltran trade in 2004. But to me, the most important thing to remember is that Greinke didn't want to play here anymore. Also, the Royals' farm system is light years ahead of what it was in 2004. Back then, the Royals should have taken the most talent they could get. Now, they can afford to be a little choosy. So they were. They traded a guy who didn't want to be here anymore and a guy no one wanted to be here anymore for two potential solutions at important defensive positions, a possible closer candidate someday (Jeffress) and a possible mid-rotation starter someday (Odorizzi). To me, that's a good trade for the long term. Now, I believe someday soon it will be the Royals' turn to trade prospects for an established player or two.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

But Me, I Expected It To Happen

(From "Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again," Blonde On Blonde)

Of course, everyone expected it to happen. People have expected the Royals to sign Jeff Francoeur pretty much from the day Dayton Moore took over as general manager. So the fact Moore returned from the winter meetings with Francoeur and Melky Cabrera as his big offseason acquisitions was certainly no surprise.

What does surprise me is that, after years of dreading the sight of Frenchy in Royal blue, the actual news didn't bother me that much. Look, Francoeur is not a good player. He probably won't even be an average player. For his career, he's put up a 91 OPS+, and that's been almost entirely in the weaker National League. He is famous for his lack of plate discipline, which is the last thing the Royals' offense needed.

On the other hand, here we have a player who will turn 27 in January, so he is theoretically in his prime. Here we have a player who has won a Gold Glove (admittedly, Gold Gloves are not always the best measuring stick for defensive ability; on the other hand, you normally have to have some defensive skill to win one). Here we have a player who hit 29 homers one season and 19 in another one. So he does have some ability. And he is a right-handed hitter, something the Royals did need (all the other outfielders on the roster are lefties or switch-hitters).

The question is, will Francoeur be able to reclaim those abilities? I would guess no, but there is a chance. Let's face it, being a Georgia native, having a tremendous rookie year, being on the cover of Sports Illustrated--there had to be a lot of pressure on Francoeur when he was a Brave. From there, he went to the Mets, which has to be a different sort of pressure. Perhaps he can relax a bit and just play as a Royal. And really, the Royals invested very little in finding out--a one-year, $2.5 million contract. I'm not worried about the $4 million mutual option for 2012; if Francoeur is somehow good in 2011, he'll likely decline the option and be a free agent, but if he is, well, Jeff Francoeur, the Royals will likely cut bait. Heck, if he is good in 2011, he might very well be traded in July, and if Moore can match some of those good-looking trades he made this past season, Francoeur might be worth the money.

Also, the Royals' paramount concern this offseason had to be clearing the way for the promising minor-leaguers they have. On a one-year contract, Francouer is not likely to block any prospects (in fact, corner outfield might be the system's biggest weakness at the moment). Basically, he's a placeholder.

Many of these arguments can also be applied to the Royals' other free-agent addition, Melky Cabrera. He obviously has ability--you don't get to start for the Yankees at age 21 if you aren't good. He hasn't blossomed into the player he looked like he could be back then, but he just turned 26. And the Royals invested even less in him than they did Francoeur--just $1.25 million for 2011.

I don't expect either Cabrera or Francoeur to make a major impact on the 2011 Royals. It's highly unlikely these two will lead KC to an AL Central title. Really, the best-case scenario is that both play relatively well and are traded in July for more prospects. And perhaps now Dayton Moore has gotten the Francoeur bug out of his system.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Money Doesn't Talk, It Swears

(from "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," Bringing It All Back Home)

In my last post, I deduced that the Royals would not have a lot of wriggle room in the payroll to make any free-agent signings this offseason. With three moves yesterday, they freed up a good $7 or $8 million. Shows what I know.

The first two moves were releasing Brian Bannister and Brian Anderson. Like any good Royals blogger, I'm quite fond of Banny. But it certainly made sense to cut ties with him. Part of Bannister's appeal was always the sense that he didn't really have outstanding talent (for a major leaguer, of course), but tried to use his intellect to maximize his performance. Unfortunately, he just wasn't able to sustain that and his lack of "extra" ability caught up to him. I'm sure most of us will miss Banny off the field, but we won't miss that 6.34 ERA he put up in 2010. Here's hoping he can catch on with an NL team in a good pitcher's park and have some success.

The Royals then traded David DeJesus to Oakland for pitcher Vin Mazzaro and minor-league pitcher Justin Marks.

I'm so underwhelmed by this trade. It was obvious there was a chance DeJesus would be dealt this winter; he's in the last year of his contract, turning 31 next month, and owed $6 million. Plus, he has been a solid, above-average player for the Royals and was really one of the few trading chips the Royals had at the major league level. Or so I thought.

This trade looks like the Royals basically were trying to cut salary. Mazzaro and Marks both project as middle-of-the-rotation guys. In a telling point about the Royals' 2011 rotation, Mazzaro might be the Number 2 guy, but that's more by default than anything he's done to deserve it. While he's still young and can improve, the facts are he has put up a 4.72 ERA in his career, which is a little more than a season's worth of games over two seasons. He doesn't strike out a lot of hitters and probably walks too many (138 Ks, 89 BBs in his career). So he's likely heavily dependent on his defense, which is a bad idea for any Royals pitcher.

So, yeah. Two guys who might be better than Kyle Davies. Very exciting. I understand the thought process behind this trade, although I still don't like it. My dislike is not so much about the guys the Royals got (although I would have expected a little more in return), but more about the next move the Royals will make...

I think we all know it's coming. Jeff Francoeur, Opening Day 2011 rightfielder. And 2012. And 2013. And we thought Jose Guillen was frustrating. I can't wait to get that .735 lifetime OPS in Royal blue! That's just what this lineup needs, another guy who's OBP barely cracks .300.

Of course, that's a worry for another day. It hasn't happened. Yet.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Gazin' To The Future

...riding on the Jack of Hearts.
(From "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts," Blood On The Tracks)

I didn't intend to go so long between posts, but sometimes things happen that way. However, in a way I'm glad I waited until now to write something, because the last two months of this season were a good opportunity to scout some of the Royals who may play key roles next year. Now that the season is over and I've had time to reflect a bit on 2010, I think the Royals are really at an organizational crossroad heading into 2011.

I think we're all familar with (and sick of) the Royals' annual parade of crappy veterans signed to one- or two-year contracts for a few million dollars. But now, with the farm system seemingly bursting with talent, the Royals have to carefully consider whether a potential addition will actually block a promising youngster. As far as I'm concerned, this is a good position to be in, certainly a better position than they've been in since probably 1999 or so. That was the wave of talent that brought Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, Joe Randa and Mike Sweeney to the majors. Of course, the problem there was that none of the pitchers who came up with those hitters amounted to anything in a Royals uniform. This time around, it at least looks like the Royals have good hitters and pitchers almost ready for the majors at the same time.

As such, I almost hope the Royals ignore the free-agent market this winter. There are so many players they need to evaluate in real games that I don't think they can afford to "promise" some 34-year-old has-been playing time.

Look around the diamond for proof. At first base, the Royals need to figure out if Kila Ka'aihue's minor league hitting numbers will translate to the bigs. Meanwhile, they need to figure out if they can live with Billy Butler's glove, and if Butler's doubles power (96 over the last two seasons) will develop into home run power. And they need to do this before Eric Hosmer is thrown into the mix. At second base, they need to see if Chris Getz offers anything positive, or if Mike Aviles' strong September means his 2008 bat might come back. At shortstop, they need to figure out if Yuniesky Betancourt's career year (with a sterling 88 OPS+!!!) signals the start of the most amazing career turnaround in baseball history (spoiler alert: no). At third base, they need to figure out whether Josh Fields or Wilson Betemit are worth keeping after Mike Moustakas makes his debut (probably sometime next year).

And then there are questions in center field, at catcher, and in the bullpen and starting rotation. I think the only starting jobs that are assured for everyday players on Opening Day 2011 are David DeJesus in right field and Alex Gordon in left field. And Yuni, of course.

Of course, the Royals might be hamstrung this offseason by payroll concerns. Assuming the Royals want to keep their payroll in the $70-75 million range it was at for each of the last two seasons, there is little wiggle room. Even taking Jose Guillen's $12 million off the ledger doesn't help, because Zack Greinke gets a big raise ($7.25 million to $13.5 million), plus various other raises and arbitration cases figure to eat up the rest of that surplus.

Here are the players the Royals have under contract for 2011 and their salaries:
  • Greinke, $13.5 million
  • Gil Meche, $12.4 million
  • DeJesus, $6 million
  • Betancourt, $4.375 million ($1.375 to be paid by Seattle)
  • Joakim Soria, $4 million
  • Jason Kendall, $3.75 million
  • Noel Arguelles, $1.38 million
  • Aaron Crow, $1 million
  • Juan Cruz, $500,000

That's $45 million right there. Awesomely, thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness, the Royals will probably get very little production from the last four names on that list. (Kendall probably won't play until after the All-Star Break, and probably won't be useful anyways; Arguelles missed the entire 2010 season after shoulder surgery and I have a hard time imagining him in the majors before September; Crow was not good this year and was demoted to Class A Wilmington; Cruz was released back in April.) Then there's Meche, who apparently will be a relief pitcher next year. The Royals are going to be paying him $12.4 million to pitch 70 innings or so next year. Let's hope this will teach the Royals a lesson about overworking pitchers. While Meche looked good as a reliever at the end of this season, and will probably help the bullpen next year, you just can't sink that much cash into a setup man when you're the Royals.

Then there are the arbitration-eligible players. The Royals haven't actually had an arbitration case in years--it seems to be an organizational policy to avoid them. This is probably a good idea, since those hearings can't be a lot of fun for player or team. The Royals have eight eligible players: Brian Bannister, Billy Butler, Kyle Davies, Josh Fields, Alex Gordon, Luke Hochevar, Brayan Pena and Robinson Tejeda. Sadly, I don't think Banny will be back. Butler is entering arbitration for the first time; I expect him to get a large raise from the $470,000 he made this season. Davies will probably make around $2.3 million. Fields and Pena are also eligible for the first time; they'll probably combine for around $1.25 million or so. Gordon and Hochevar will probably crack $2 million each, and Tejeda will probably be around $1.5 million. So that's about $12 million for seven players, or maybe $15 million if they do keep Bannister.

The rest of the roster will likely be players making around the league minimum. That's 12 or 13 spots, so maybe $6 million or so. All told, that's about $66 million for the complete roster. And that's not including free agent-to-be Bruce Chen, who I would like to see brought back if he can be signed inexpensively.

Here's what I would guess the 2011 roster will look like on Opening Day:

Starting pitchers: Greinke, Hochevar, Chen, Davies, Sean O'Sullivan
Relief pitchers: Soria, Meche, Tejeda, Blake Wood, Dusty Hughes, Tim Collins, Kanekoa Texeira
Infielders: Butler, Ka'aihue, Getz, Aviles, Betancourt, Fields, Betemit
Outfielders: Gordon, DeJesus, Gregor Blanco, Mitch Maier
Catchers: Pena, Lucas May

This gives me a lineup of:
Blanco CF
Getz/Aviles 2B
DeJesus RF
Butler 1B/DH
Ka'aihue 1B/DH
Betemit/Fields 3B
Gordon LF
Betancourt SS
Pena C

This team is not terrible, in my opinion. The starting pitching isn't very good, but I think the bullpen would be better than the 2010 version. This should at least be a more interesting team to watch, without a bunch of crappy veterans to annoy us. It will be interesting to see if the Royals even try the free agent market, or if they begin looking for trade possibilities for the future.

In the meantime, I'll be around to comment on any moves the Royals make in the offseason, and I have some ideas for different features to get us through the winter.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Exchanging All Kinds Of Precious Gifts And Things

(From "Like A Rolling Stone," Highway 61 Revisited)

We may look back on July 2010 as one of the pivotal moments in Royals history. Many observers (myself included) were baffled when the Royals signed pitcher Kyle Farnsworth before the 2009 season and outfielders Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel prior to this season. And many observers (myself included) were taken aback by the Royals' early-season decision to move Alex Gordon off third base and hand the position to Alberto Callaspo while Gordon was sent to Omaha to become an outfielder. But, in a 10-day period, general manager Dayton Moore turned those two over-30 outfielders, that over-30 relief pitcher, and a 27-year-old infielder who was going to qualify for arbitration (and the big raise that goes with it) after the season into four pitchers, one catcher and one outfielder. Also, the Royals made it official that Ned Yost would be managing the team through 2012 at the least. These four moves have made it clear that the Royals are finally starting to bank on the coming wave of prospects for future success.

Let's look at these moves individually.

July 22: Callaspo is traded to the Angels for right-handed pitcher Sean O'Sullivan and left-handed pitcher Will Smith. O'Sullivan joined the major-league rotation immediately and Smith was sent to Class A Wilmington. While O'Sullivan has not exactly been 2009 Zack Greinke in his two starts, he must have done something right to be in the Angels' rotation at age 22. Meanwhile, Smith was rather oddly bounced around the Angels' system, spending time at all three levels. Smith is only 21.

In essentially two seasons worth with the Royals, Callaspo showed himself to be a decent hitter and third baseman (but a below-average second baseman). But nothing more. He was probably going to go from making $460,000 to north of $2 million next year. And oh yeah, that Moustakas kid is already in Omaha and will almost certainly be given every opportunity to win the third-base job next year.

Remember, when the Royals were shopping Callaspo in the offseason, the strongest rumor out there was that he would net a minor catching prospect in return. Now, after he put up worse offensive numbers than he did last year, he netted not one, but two young pitchers. Pitchers who may or may not ever develop into useful major leaguers, but have the chance to do so.

July 28: Podsednik is traded to the Dodgers for pitcher Elisaul Pimentel and catcher Lucas May. Pimentel was assigned to Class A Burlington while May was sent to Omaha.

Podsednik was having a good season. But he was likely going to be a free agent after the year (his contract had an option for 2011, but it could be voided with 525 plate appearances) and who knows what would have happened then. Given that, it is amazing that the Royals were able to trade him for not one, but two prospects.

Pimentel just turned 22 and has been impressive in A ball (97 Ks in 90 innings with only 35 walks, for example). Meanwhile, May put up impressive offensive numbers at the high altitude of Albuquerque. May might not be more than a backup catcher at the major league level, but the Royals' farm system, despite its' excellent 2010 season, probably still needed some more depth at the position. Plus, this is only May's fourth season as a catcher after moving from shortstop, so there is always the chance his development may take off, although he is 25.

Once again, the Royals turned one piece (and one who had basically no chance of being part of a good Royals team) into two potentially useful major leaguers.

July 31: Ankiel and Farnsworth are traded to the Braves for Gregor Blanco, Jesse Chavez and Tim Collins. Ankiel and Farnsworth had even less chance of being part of a good Royals team than Podsednik did. Farnsworth will be a free agent after the season and the mutual option on Ankiel's contract for next year probably would have been dropped by one of the parties.

Blanco is a 26-year-old outfielder who will join the major-league club. After a decent rookie season in 2008, he has struggled a bit in part-time play. Still, looking at his numbers, he looks like a player who is willing to take a walk, play a decent outfield at all three spots, and put up a decent batting average with little power. He's probably a fourth outfielder, but that's OK.

Chavez is also 26 and has struggled this year after a serviceable 2009 with Pittsburgh. It's unlikely he will make a major impact for the Royals, but he has shown ability before.

Make no mistake, though, Collins is the centerpiece of this trade for the Royals. Although he's only 5-7 and 155 pounds, Collins apparently has a powerful left arm. In 41 games (all relief appearances) at Class AA this season, he has 87 strikeouts in 51 innings.

Let me emphasize that: 87. Strikeouts. In. 51. Innings. And only 19 walks. And he's only 20.

The Royals are assigning Collins to Omaha for now. It will be interesting to watch how his strikeout rate fares at a higher level of competition. It will also be interesting to watch how soon he gets a chance with the major league team.

July 31: Royals announce two-year contract extension with Ned Yost.

I like Yost. Sure, like any manager, he does things that drive me crazy (batting Jason Kendall second seems to be the leader in this category). But overall, I think Yost is at least an average manager, and he does seem to be a good fit for a team that intends to break in lots of young, talented players at the same time. It's a little strange to me that the extension is only through 2012--that would seem to be the first year the Royals could reasonably expect to show real improvement. I presume that if there is evidence of real improvement, there will be another extension soon.

The only way the Royals could have had a better two weeks as a franchise would be if they had found a way to trade Jose Guillen. Moore has publicly stated his intention to bring Kila Ka'aihue up and get him real playing time this time, but it will be tough to do that until Guillen is gone. However, Guillen should easily clear waivers and could still be traded soon. And really, anything they get for him is a bonus. The real benefit is getting playing time for Kila.

Once that is done, I believe that will signal the end of the first rebuilding phase. It looks like the Royals are finally set on giving promising young players a real chance to play. It's about time.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

2012: Who Will Represent The Royals?

As you surely know by now, Kansas City will be hosting the 2012 All-Star Game. Sure, there are ill-informed people bashing the choice, but I'm excited. I'm confident KC will put on a good show and all those east coast elitists will be...well, they probably wouldn't admit being impressed, but at least satisfied. I doubt they'll die of boredom out here in flyover country, anyway.

OK, enough good old-fashioned Kansas City inferiority complex. There is too much to be excited about...2012 figures to be an interesting year for Royals fans. We should be beginning to see all that talent at Northwest Arkansas reach the majors and hopefully start to contribute. Meanwhile, with the big contracts of Jose Guillen and Gil Meche off the books, there is a chance for the Royals to add an important free-agent piece, as well. Throw in the fact that 2012 is the last season of Zack Greinke's current contract, and suddenly it looms as a very important year for the franchise.

So, who will represent the Royals in the 2012 All-Star Game? That player (or players) will be seen as the face of a franchise that (we can only hope) will be seen as on the rise. Here are my candidates, with what I think are the odds they will be selected. Please note, I am not a gambler, so these odds should be taken with an entire salt shaker.

Zack Greinke: Probably the best-known Royal to baseball fans across the country. An actual star after his Cy Young Award last year. And you can never have too many pitchers on the All-Star teams in case the game goes 20 innings. Possible complication: that pesky business about his contract being up after 2012. Will he still be a Royal in July 2012? Or will they feel the need to trade him? Odds: 2-1.

Joakim Soria: As I said, you can never have too many pitchers in this game. And it's nice to have some relief pitchers on the staff. If Zack is still getting the run support in 2012 he's received this year, Soria might end up being the choice. Odds: 3-1.

Billy Butler: First base is a loaded position, especially in the American League. Billy has a chance at an All-Star nod this year, so that might help him be on the radar in two years. But he has to overcome Miguel Cabrera, Paul Konerko and Justin Morneau, and that's just in his own division. Odds: 5-1.

Alex Gordon: I'm not hopping off this bandwagon. This is a rant for another day, but I seriously cannot believe Gordon is being allowed to put up a 1.100 OPS in Omaha while Scott Podsednik puts up a .689 in the majors. For comparison purposes, Miguel Cabrera leads the AL with a 1.056 OPS. I'd be willing to live with the occasional error as Gordon "learns to play left field" (seriously, is it that difficult?) in the majors to get that bat in the lineup. Anyway, the average AL left fielder this year has a .759 OPS. Alex put up a .735 in his rookie year and a .783 in 2008. He still figures to improve offensively, as he's only 26. Odds: 10-1.

Kila Ka'aihue: Currently putting up a 1.105 OPS in Omaha. Yep, even better than Alex Gordon. Kila has to overcome the same group of first basemen that Butler has to, plus Kila has to overcome Billy Butler. And the Royals' bizarre reluctance to give him a chance. Odds: 25-1.

Luke Hochevar: It looked like the light was starting to come on before his last start, which we now know was cut short by elbow soreness. With the old Royals' training staff, I would have expected the "sprained elbow" to become Tommy John surgery within months, but I think we're in better hands now. Anyway, if the Royals can improve their infield defense before the 2012 season, this ground-ball pitcher might have a chance. Odds: 40-1.

Mike Moustakas: Hey, Evan Longoria did it in his rookie season! Odds: 50-1.

Mike Aviles: The Royals will keep looking for middle infielders to replace this guy until they find one who can hit over .210. Age is working against him, though--he will be 31 when the 2012 season starts. Odds: 60-1.

David DeJesus: Probably won't even be a Royal in 2012, although he seems like he would be willing to re-sign with the team after his contract is up in 2011. But he might be too expensive, especially for a guy who will turn 32 after that 2011 season. Too bad, he's a fan favorite who would have ESPN on his jock if he played for the Yankees or Red Sox. Oh wait, I was going to stop the inferiority complex. Sorry about that. Odds: 75-1.

Yuniesky Betancourt: No.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

I'm Just Sittin' On The Shelf

(From "All Over You")

Are the Royals using their bench enough?

I think the notion of a "set lineup" is not very realistic. Most players need a day of rest here and there, plus injuries--even if they are minor--are almost inevitable over 6 months of baseball. And normally catchers do not play day games after night games. So, while there are certainly regulars and a batting order that gets used the most, it is unlikely that a team will run the same order out there more than 20-25 times in a season. This is probably even truer in the American League, where a team can give that slugging outfielder or first baseman a game at DH and "rest" him that way.

But the Royals, with one-third of the season gone, seem intent on turning that conventional wisdom on its head. Maybe they've decided using the same nine players every day is the new market inefficiency.

This isn't a sermon on which batting order the Royals should use. Lots of studies by smarter people than me have decided that lineup order doesn't greatly effect a team's offensive output. The Royals could probably help themselves there by hitting David DeJesus first and Mike Aviles second.

No, this is more about the Royals basically ignoring Brayan Pena this season. Or about Mitch Maier needing Rick Ankiel's injury to get a chance. Or a mindset that keeps Kila Ka'aihue in Omaha.

In 56 games this season before Saturday, the Royals have used a batting order of Podsednik, Aviles, DeJesus, Butler, Guillen, Callaspo, Maier, Betancourt, Kendall a total of 10 times. I could say in 21 games this season, since Ned Yost went with that order in his first four games as manager, and he has been responsible for all 10 of those uses. You have to go back to 1989 to find an order the Royals used more frequently in one season (and that order was used 14 times).

I should add that I don't have major objections to that lineup. I would move Aviles to shortstop and put Chris Getz in at second base, but it's obvious the Royals love them some Yuniesky Betancourt. And hey, Yuni hasn't been a complete train wreck on offense so far this season. He even has managed to get his Ultimate Zone Rating up to 0.0 instead of last year's horrific -11.4. The problem is, this is probably about the best we can ever expect from Betancourt, and it's essentially a league-average shortstop.

Anyway, not only do the Royals use the same batting order every night, it seems like they are intent on having a team full of Cal Ripkens--playing every inning of every game. The Royals have six of the top 50 AL players in innings played. No one else has that many. Jason Kendall leads all AL catchers in innings played by a wide margin (65). He has been in there for 92.2% of all innings the Royals have played. That seems odd for a 36-year-old catcher. As a result of this, we still don't know if Brayan Pena can be a useful major league catcher. Sure, he hasn't played particularly well when he's been in there, but it might be tough to find a groove when you play 39 innings in two months.

To be fair, Kendall has been decent. He has no power, but he's done a decent job of getting on base. Defensively, he has at least helped the Royals cut down significantly on the wild pitches and passed balls that were such problems last year. The team has gone from 89 and 14 in 2009 to 17 and 2 this season, respectively. And he is throwing at basestealers at the same rate (25%) as Royals catchers did last year. I would just like to see Pena get more of a shot.

All over the field, there are Royals who have played practically every out this season. Alberto Callaspo has played 97.8% of the team's innings; he would be third in the AL at third base if he hadn't played 99 innings at second base. Billy Butler has played 97.4% of the innings; he is third in the league for first basemen. Scott Podsednik (91.8%, second in the league in left field), Betancourt (91.6%, 6th in the league at shortstop) and David DeJesus (91.2%, fifth in the league in right field) are all in the top 50 overall in innings. Even Jose Guillen has gotten in the act, starting 55 of the 56 games and pinch-hitting (and playing right field) in the other one.

Part of the problem is the Royals' insistence on carrying eight relief pitchers, which they have done for a good chunk of this season. Even now, with a more normal seven relievers, they don't have a true backup at first base, nor do they have anyone on the bench who you would want to give Guillen a day off at DH. This is where Ka'aihue could help. Like most Royals fans, I want to see Kila get a shot, a real shot, at the major league level. Although if the Royals are going to keep using their current philosophy of lineup management, perhaps he is better served getting regular playing time at Omaha. Still, as a left-handed hitter, he would be a nice option to have on the bench.

My main worry is that these guys will crash sometime in August if they don't get a day off here and there. I'm not calling for Willie Bloomquist or Wilson Betemit to get more playing time; in fact, I think the Royals are doing a better job this year of not overusing Bloomquist. It just seems to me that a bench of Kila, Bloomquist, Pena, Getz/Betancourt and an outfielder from Omaha (either David Lough or Jordan Parraz; the Royals have said they want to keep Alex Gordon there to keep working on being an outfielder, and I'm inclined to agree with that idea) would give Yost the ability to give everyone a little rest, plus some lineup and strategic flexibility.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue

Well, that was sudden.

I think we all knew Trey Hillman would not be the Royals' manager for long, it was just a question of how long he would last. I admit I was surprised when Hillman was fired Thursday afternoon (or to be technical, when it was announced Thursday afternoon)--I figured he would last for a few more weeks, and there was even a good chance he'd finish out the year and his contract, then not brought back next year.

I don't take joy in anyone losing their job, but Hillman needed to go. When the Royals hired him, I really thought he had a chance to be a success. But I was wrong; I greatly underestimated the need for a manager to have spent some time in the majors as a player or coach before taking over a major league team. That sort of experience doesn't guarantee success, but it now seems obvious it helps give even a rookie manager some credibility. Looking back, it is apparent Hillman lost most of his team almost before his tenure even started, and I believe ultimately that doomed him as a manager. And then there were the odd strategic decisions, the irrational desire to use sacrifice bunts, and the inability to stand up to veteran players (letting Gil Meche talk him into leaving Meche in games, letting Jason Kendall play everyday, etc.), among Hillman's other failings.

I am OK with the Royals hiring Ned Yost as Hillman's replacement. Yost will probably never be confused with John McGraw, but he has played, coached and managed in the majors, and has even had some success (let's discuss that in a minute).

Ultimately, however, a manager is only as good as the players he's given. I do believe the Royals have more talent than their current 13-23 record shows, but not a lot more. Even if Hillman had managed every game perfectly this year (by which I mean, chosen the best option when he picked a relief pitcher or pinch hitter, or picked the right time to steal or bunt or whatever), how many more wins would that be worth? Three? Four? Whatever it would be, I'm sure it wouldn't be enough to vault the Royals into contention. For example, look at the May 6 game in Texas--Hillman brings in his best reliever (Joakim Soria) to hold a 1-run lead in the 8th inning. I suppose you could argue that Hillman should have let Robinson Tejeda, who had looked good getting the first two out in the inning, finish the job. But I think every Royals fan probably felt good about Soria coming in with a 1-run lead. Two homers later, the Royals had another loss.

That said, I believe one area where a manager can make a difference is in setting the atmosphere and mood of the team. At any level of baseball, it is impossible to play well if you are pressing too much or trying too hard. So I can only imagine what it's like for players at the highest level of the sport when they find themselves in a pennant race in September. And this is an area where Yost apparently failed in his previous managerial stint--the Brewers fired him with 12 games left in the 2008 season, as they desperately tried to hold on to a playoff spot. That Brewers team started September with the second-best record in the NL, 4.5 games behind the division-leading Cubs and with a 5.5 game lead in the wild-card race. They proceeded to go 3-11 over the next two weeks and blow the entire wild-card lead. That's when the Brewers replaced Yost, and they were able to capture the wild-card spot.

I suppose the bright side here is that the Royals are a long ways away from any sort of playoff contention. And to be fair, I think Yost deserves some credit for leading the Brewers' young talent from a 106-loss season the year before he took over to the brink of a playoff spot. It just looks to me that, based on history, if Yost helps the Royals get to playoff contention, they may need to find someone else to finish the job. For now, though, the emphasis should remain the same: getting young, talented players to the majors ready to play, and then put them in position to succeed. Yost is supposed to be good at this part of the job. We will see.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Never Bein’ Able To Separate The Good From The Bad

(From “Dead Man, Dead Man,” Shot of Love)

I find it funny (funny strange not funny ha-ha) sometimes that, in most aspects of life, I tend to be a pessimist. Yet, when it comes to the Kansas City Royals, an organization that has spent 20-some years screwing up the most basic decisions, a franchise that invariably chooses the worst option possible, I tend to be an optimist. I don’t know why this is, although I suspect it’s partially human nature and partially a coping mechanism.

I started writing this post on Tuesday, and was going to write about how that optimism may have finally met its match in the last week. I was ready to blast the Royals for trading Omaha relief pitcher Carlos Rosa to Arizona for shortstop prospect Rey Navarro, because I felt Rosa had a chance to help the Royals’ bullpen in the short-term. Meanwhile, Navarro will start his journey up the Royals’ ladder at Class A Wilmington. Also, while I admit I’m no expert on the minor leagues, the people who seem to be experts don’t seem to have a consensus on Navarro’s future, except he’s not much of a hitter. Then again, he’s only 20. While I know the Royals are not contenders this year, it would be nice to win as many games as possible, and I’d rather have found out if Rosa could help the bullpen than see the Royals waste money on another “big name” relief pitcher, like Kyle Farnsworth.

I also was going to blast the Royals for their handling of Alex Gordon. After giving him 12 whole games this year to prove himself, the #2 overall pick in the 2005 draft was sent to Omaha (bright spot: Mike Aviles finally gets called up and, hopefully, given an actual chance to play this time). Then came the real bombshell: the announcement that Gordon would be learning to play left field and first base at Omaha.

I don’t understand why the Royals seem to have it in for Gordon. I’m afraid they are going to start jerking him around much like they did with Mark Teahen, giving him a new position to learn every year, then wondering why he never hits like they think he should. I don’t know that there is a correlation between changing defensive positions and subpar offense, but I don’t think it helps a player concentrate on offense when he is constantly learning a new defensive position. It’s true that Gordon will probably never be a superstar like we all hoped, but he can still be a valuable major league third baseman (assuming he can stay healthy, which has certainly been a problem). Let’s not forget, he posted a 109 OPS+ when he was 24.

But here comes that stupid optimism again. My mind begins to entertain the possibilities…if Gordon can work himself into an acceptable defender in left field, I think he will hit well enough to be a contributor (for comparison, David DeJesus had a .781 OPS and 106 OPS+ as a left fielder last year, and in Gordon’s last full season, he had a .783 OPS and that 109 OPS+). Now you’re looking at a 2011 outfield of Gordon, Rick Ankiel (or Mitch Maier, if the Royals decline to bring Ankiel back), and DeJesus. Not too shabby.

And then, even more optimism. Have the Royals decided to give Mike Aviles a real shot at reclaiming his shortstop position? When he started the season on the major league roster, he got two token appearances. This time around, he waits one day, then gets a start (a productive one, with three hits and a homer). Miracle of miracles, he gets another start the next day. I think we all know that a healthy Aviles is going to hit much better than Yuniesky Betancourt, and probably field better too. The question now is, will the Royals let him prove that? An infield of Billy Butler, Chris Getz, Aviles and Alberto Callaspo is also not too shabby. And that doesn’t include Mike Moustakas, who has been tearing up the Texas League in Class AA and could conceivably be ready for his major league debut next year.

Finally, the cherry on top of this optimism sundae: after Ankiel went on the disabled list, the Royals actually called up Kila Ka’aihue for something more than a September appearance. I don’t know that he will play regularly, or even that the Royals will keep him in the majors after Ankiel comes off the DL. But I take this as a sign that he has finally made an impression on the Royals—after all, they could have easily called up an outfielder (or another relief pitcher). It would be nice to find out for sure if Kila can hit in the majors, as he could be a very affordable replacement for Jose Guillen next season.

Sigh. Perhaps one of these days I will finally get the optimism out of my system and join reality. Until then, though, I guess I will keep hoping for the best.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Did I Hear Someone Tell A Lie?

...did I hear someone's distant cry?
(from "Love Sick," Time Out Of Mind)

“I feel like if you start mixing and matching too early it sends a bad message"--Trey Hillman, on changes to the lineup, as quoted in Saturday's Kansas City Star.

Five games into the season, and I'm already questioning Trey Hillman's player usage. While his quote above may not technically be a lie, I do think it's a questionable statement, based on Hillman's past tendencies. I also think it's a huge disservice to the Royals' offense, which everyone knew coming into the season would be a problem. While five games is certainly a small sample size, the Royals as a team are hitting .265/.324/.392 and have scored only 17 runs.

Meanwhile, we're still waiting for the Royals' two best hitters in spring training, Mike Aviles and Mitch Maier, to make their first starts of the season. In fact, the two of them have only combined for one plate appearance--Aviles pinch-hit in the 9th inning Saturday night. It's true that spring training stats usually don't mean much, but Aviles hit .471 in 51 spring at-bats and Maier hit .475 in 59 at-bats. More importantly, each seemed to be hitting every ball hard, which is really all you can ask of a batter. As the Royals headed north to start the season, it looked like they had two somewhat surprising offensive leaders.

Now, here we are, almost a week into the season, and these two (as well as backup catcher Brayan Pena, who hit .302 in spring training) haven't started one game. Maier and Pena haven't even been in a game yet, which is especially odd in Pena's case, since 36-year-old catcher Jason Kendall was allowed to start a day game after a night game. Aviles hasn't had more than one at-bat in a game since April 1. Obviously Aviles and Maier won't hit for those averages over a full season, but one has to wonder what the lack of playing time will do to their timing at the plate. Hillman may have already torpedoed these three players' offensive seasons by not getting them involved before now.

In Maier's case, it's a little easier to see why he hasn't played yet. Even with his great spring, Maier was likely going to be a fourth outfielder. And Rick Ankiel has been the Royals' best offensive weapon so far, while Scott Podsednik and David DeJesus have both been at least solid hitters. However, Jose Guillen has started off slowly as the DH, so perhaps Maier could have helped a little more there.

As for Aviles, it's true he is still getting his arm strength back after Tommy John surgery last year. But his spring training effort certainly made it look like 2008 Mike Aviles was back. You might remember that guy--he put up a .325/.354/.480 line after finally forcing his way into the lineup in early June. A Royals team that had been 23-37 before that day went 52-50 the rest of the season. You'd think Hillman would remember that, since he was the guy who rather begrudgingly put Aviles in the lineup to begin with. That was only after Tony Pena Jr. had finally proven to everyone (the Royals of course being the last ones to realize it) that he could not hit. Then Esteban German was given a few starts at shortstop--when he didn't hit right away, it was finally Aviles' chance.

Now Aviles is sitting behind Yuniesky Betancourt, who has proven to everyone (except, of course, the Royals) that he can't hit, his Opening Day homer notwithstanding. If the Royals don't want to play him because they think he can't throw from shortstop, then he really should be in Omaha getting regular duty. If they want him on the major league roster, they need to find a place to play him. Chris Getz and Alberto Callaspo have both hit pretty well, but Aviles needs to be playing.

It would be nice to see Pena get a shot, too. Kendall has hit .313 so far, but he has little power. We saw last year that Pena can hit for power, and this lineup could certainly use it. I know the Royals don't think much of Pena's defense and love Kendall for his, but right now this offense needs some help. And why is a 36-year-old allowed to catch a day game after a night game, even in the first week of the season?

Last year, Hillman waited two whole games before shuffling up his lineup. In 2008, he changed things up in the 5th game. In two 162-game seasons as manager, Hillman has used 134 lineups (in 2008) and 141 (in 2009). And suddenly he's a spokesman for lineup consistency? I don't get it. I just don't get it.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Talking To Myself In A Monologue

(from "Highlands," Time Out Of Mind)

Here we are, less than 48 hours from the beginning of the 2010 season. I don't know quite why, but after a winter's worth of doubt about the direction of the entire Royals organization, in the last week or so I've had a growing sense of...well, maybe not optimism, but encouragement. This is despite the fact my previous post quite obviously jinxed at least two of the players (Robinson Tejeda and Alex Gordon) I was hoping would make big contributions to the Royals this season. And I should add right up front that I harbor no illusions that this Royals team will contend for a division title. So maybe "cautious encouragement" would be a better term. Besides, everyone ought to have a little optimism before the season starts.

Having said that, I know there's a very good chance that, sometime in June maybe, I'll be wondering how I ever allowed myself to have any optimism about this team. So, for posterity's sake, here's how I talked myself into being cautiously encouraged about the state of Royals baseball in 2010...

First, start with the lineup. It's true that the Royals hardly look like an offensive juggernaut heading into the season. There are still not enough high-OBP guys on the roster, and there aren't enough power hitters, either. But this spring did see two players who contributed little last year look like they could be helpful this year: Mike Aviles and Mitch Maier. Aviles is still recovering from the Tommy John surgery he had last year, so he may not play regularly until his throwing arm is strong enough for everyday duty at shortstop. But it certainly looks like his bat is back where it was in 2008. If he really is going to hit that well again, it would help the Royals immensely. Not only would they have a productive bat at shortstop, they would be removing perhaps their worst offensive player (Yuniesky Betancourt) from the lineup.

In Maier's case, this could be the continuation of his minor league career pattern, where he makes a substantial improvement in his second year at each level. Maier probably won't be starter, but he can certainly contribute as a fourth outfielder. If I were managing the team, it would be very tempting to stick him in Scott Podsednik's starting spot and see how he responds. Get Alex Gordon back healthy, stick Alberto Callaspo at DH (or, if you think you can live with his defense, put him at 2B), and suddenly you have a respectable-looking lineup, maybe something like this:

DeJesus LF
Aviles SS
Callaspo DH
Butler 1B
Ankiel CF
Gordon 3B
Maier RF
Kendall C
Getz 2B

Of course, this brings up the question of what to do with Jose Guillen. In my perfect world, the Royals would eat his salary, trade him for whatever they can get, and call up Kila Ka'aihue from Omaha to provide better production for much less money. However, in reality the Royals are probably stuck with Guillen for this season. We'll all have to hope that the last year of his contract provides some sort of extra motivation, although I admit I'm worried that if he does have a good season, the Royals will be interested in re-signing him.

Anyway, if you stick Guillen at DH and move Callaspo to second, now you just have one real dead spot in the lineup--catcher, which can be filled by Brayan Pena if you can live with his defensive shortcomings. If you just have to have Kendall in there, well, at least most teams in baseball wish they had more offense at that spot.

As for the pitching staff, I think it's the one area where Royals fans don't need much convincing to be optimistic. Obviously, there are question marks there, too, but I think most people would say the starting pitching is the strength of this team. Get a couple of relievers to step up and suddenly the bullpen looks decent in front of Joakim Soria.

Of course, much of this cautious optimism is based on players staying healthy. But even if they don't, I think the AAA Omaha roster is in much better shape to provide short-term help than it was last year.

In this spring training, the Royals had young players who had good showings, but still did not make the major league roster. Guys like outfielder Jordan Parraz and relief pitcher Blake Wood. Because the Royals have players like that in Omaha, ready to replace the inevitable injured or poor-performing major leaguer, they should not have to sign a Ryan Freel off the street. A Parraz or David Lough or Jarrod Dyson may never be a star, but they can at least be an inexpensive fill-in who can contribute a little bit offensively. Frankly, I wouldn't be too upset if the Royals simply cut some of the overpriced, underperforming vets from the big league club and used some of these players instead. We already know what Kyle Farnsworth can do in the majors. Why not find out what Blake Wood can do? But that's a rant for another day.

Along those lines, I do feel like the Royals are moving ahead slowly as an organization. The first wave of "Dayton Moore prospects" are finally reaching the AA level. Even with Danny Duffy walking away from baseball, the Royals do seem to have quite a bit of pitching talent in the minors. And while there will certainly be disappointments in that group of prospects, there is also the opportunity to trade some of that surplus for needs elsewhere. I'm excited to see how it shakes out over the next few years.

So, feeling the cautious optimism yet? Look, I'm not going to predict a division title here, or even in the next few years. I don't foresee a winning record this year and probably not next year, either, unless the Royals do something drastic in the next 12 months. However, I do think that we Royals fans have (justifiably) become a very pessismistic fanbase. For some reason, I tend to be a sports optimist. Or maybe I'm just a contrarian. Either way, I though I would throw these thoughts out there for argument's sake, if nothing else.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Skies Are Gray

...I'm looking for anything that will bring a happy glow
(From "Can't Wait," Time Out Of Mind)

Oh look, it's snowing again outside the Tangled Up HQ here in Overland Park. This winter seems like it's lasted forever and may never end. And I doubt any Royals fan out there really believes, deep down, that this team can contend for a division title in 2010.

But pitchers and catchers report to Surprise, Arizona for the beginning of spring training on Wednesday. Some guys (notably Zack Greinke and Joakim Soria) are already there. Spring really is on the way. So now, let's try a little optimism. There will be plenty of time for pessimism once the season starts. Please note, I don't believe all of this will happen this season. In a six-month season, no team ever has everything go right, even a loaded team like the Red Sox or Yankees. Also note, I'm ignoring for now the Royals' three most promising players for this season--for the purposes of this discussion, I'm going to presume Greinke will be dominant again, Soria will be in top form, and Billy Butler will continue to be one of baseball's best young hitters.

With those caveats in mind, here are four players whom I feel could greatly exceed expectations this year. And if they do, this Royals team could be much better than anyone thinks.

1. Alex Gordon. It sure feels like we've been waiting forever for him to become George Brett 2.0. I do agree that it's highly unlikely he will ever reach that plateau, but he could certainly become an asset to the Royals' offense. Gordon's 2009 season was torpedoed by injury almost from the get-go. Still, in the 49 games he did get to play in, he did post a .324 OBP. That's not great, but it was much better than his .232 BA. If Gordon had put up, say, a .260 BA, his OBP would have climbed to .350 or so. And don't forget, that .324 OBP was better than several guys the Royals gave many more plate appearances to: Miguel Olivo, Yuniesky Betancourt, Willie Bloomquist and two guys the Royals gave a pile of money to solely for their hitting ability, Jose Guillen and Mike Jacobs.

If Gordon had walked at the same rate he did last year for as many plate appearances as Butler had, he would have led the team in walks (by a wide margin) with 75. My hope is that Gordon is really beginning to master the strike zone at the MLB level, and that increased power numbers will follow. As it is, when he was healthy for most of the season in 2008, he did post a 109 OPS+ and a .783 OPS. Gordon just turned 26 a few days ago, so he should be entering the prime of his career. If he's ever going to make the sort of leap Butler made last year, now is the time.

2. Luke Hochevar. Here's the other Royals' top draft pick whose stardom we've seemingly been waiting on forever. Like Gordon, Hochevar may never reach the level we hoped for when he was drafted, or the level you would expect from his lofty draft slot. But if he could become a solid #3 or even #2 starter, the Royals would have a rotation that any AL Central team would envy.

Oddly, nearly all of Hochevar's numbers trended downward from his rookie season in 2008 to 2009. Yet, he showed real flashes of brilliance last season. There was the 80-pitch complete game win over Cincinnati, the 13-strikeout game against Texas, and the complete-game shutout of the Chicago White Sox. Obviously, no pitcher is going to throw like that every time out. But there was some evidence that Hochevar has the ability to be an above-average major league pitcher.

For one thing, Hochevar's BB/9 and K/9 ratios both improved from 2008 to 2009. While we only have two seasons' worth of data, it would seem that Hochevar is also figuring out the strike zone at the MLB level. This is possibly more important for him than any other Royals starter, because Hochevar is a sinkerball pitcher, and therefore more dependent on the infield defense behind him to make plays. The more strikeouts he can get reduces the number of batted balls in play, and the number of those that get through the infield for hits.

Which brings us to another reason to hope Hochevar can break out in 2010--the hope that the Royals' infield defense will be better. Although they need to find a place for his bat, the Royals are best served by finding Alberto Callaspo a defensive spot far away from the middle of the infield now that they have Chris Getz to play second. And if Mike Aviles can come back from his injury and reclaim the shortstop job from Betancourt, suddenly the Royals might be at least passable defensively. It seems simple, but just having decent infielders who can catch ground balls would go a long ways towards helping Hochevar reach his potential.

3. Robinson Tejeda. After the Royals ran Gil Meche and Brian Bannister into the ground last season, they basically made Tejeda a starter out of desperation. And in six September starts, he vaulted himself into contention for a rotation spot in 2010. In those starts, five of which came against teams that finished with a winning record, went 3-1 with a 2.84 ERA. Now, we've seen this kind of sparkling September before, only to be extremely disappointed the following season--here's looking at you, Kyle Davies--so Tejeda's promising month should be taken with a grain or two of salt. But even if Tejeda does not make the starting rotation, perhaps he will be given a more important role in the bullpen, which was a major problem for KC last year.

4. Juan Cruz. Speaking of major bullpen problems, here's a guy who was in the middle of many of them in 2009. It's funny (funny strange, not funny ha-ha), because the signing of Cruz was the one move the Royals made last offseason that was well-received by practically every Royal fan. Cruz was coming off two exceptional years in Arizona as a reliever, and was expected to be a primary setup man for Soria. Instead, he was probably the Royals' worst bullpen member not named Kyle Farnsworth. The most amazing thing about Cruz last year was his inability to get strikeouts. He went from K/9 rates over 12 in 2007-08 to 6.8 last year with no apparent reason before he finally went on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation in August. If he is healthy this season, and can return to the form the Royals expected when they signed him, it would go a long way towards solidifying the bullpen in front of Soria. The Royals figure to be offensively challenged again this year, so the times the starting pitchers leave the game with a lead, the bullpen must be able to finish out the game.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

If There's An Original Thought Out There

...I could use it right now.
(From "Brownsville Girl," Knocked Out Loaded)

Another outfielder. With the addition of Rick Ankiel, the Royals have now signed or traded for three new outfielders this offseason, and a fourth if you think Josh Fields will end up playing more outfield than infield.

By itself, the Ankiel move seems OK, as well as intriguing. Ankiel's numbers fell off last year, but that may have been due to a horrific crash into an outfield wall he suffered in early May. Giving him $3.25 million for only one year seems like an acceptable gamble--not much money to see if he can return to his 2008 form. The mutual option for 2011 means either side can walk away--if Ankiel doesn't produce, he probably won't be a Royal in 2011. If he does, it's likely he'll exercise his option and be a free agent again. So the contract doesn't seem to be a problem for either side, and I don't mind the Royals taking a small gamble like that.

It's true that Ankiel is now 30, and theoretically in the decline phase of his career. However, his famous switch from pitcher to outfielder means he's only had two full big-league season's worth of everyday hitting. Those factors probably don't offset each other, but I suppose the possibility exists that Ankiel's career arc could be different from a "normal" player.

However, given the other moves the Royals have made this offseason, I cannot figure out what the overall plan is. The Royals now have Ankiel, Brian Anderson, David DeJesus, Jose Guillen, Mitch Maier, and Scott Podsednik as outfield candidates. And that doesn't include Fields or, possibly, Alberto Callaspo, who apparently has been supplanted at second base by Chris Getz but is one of the few Royals who can hit.

Of course, this is a pattern for the Royals, and it's a disturbing one. There doesn't seem to be a master plan for the major league level--if there were one, why would they ever sign Podsednik only to sign Ankiel two weeks later? This follows last offseason, when it seemed like the goal was to sign any available relief pitcher. I guess the hope is that quantity will somehow equal quality.

Also, this seems like an indictment of the farm system. Dayton Moore has had almost four years to provide the franchise with some quality minor-league options to fill holes at the major-league level. Yes, the cupboard was pretty bare when Moore took over. But it seems like the Royals are trying to patch up both AAA Omaha and the big-league club now, while all the hot prospects are still in AA or A ball. This is rather depressing.

Well, at the risk of repeating myself, it will be interesting to see if another move or two (trade-wise) springs out of this signing. The outfield situation may not sort itself out until the end of spring training. For now, though, this is another head-scratcher, even though, as I said, I don't think this move by itself is bad.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


A couple of quick announcements...

First, I finally put up a poll for most disappointing Royals season. It's over there on the right side of the page. You can refresh your memory as to what I wrote about each of those seasons here.

Second, I decided it was time to join 2009. Yes, I now have a Twitter account. If you're so inclined, you may follow it here.

Now, go enjoy the Golden Globes or the premiere of 24. Or whatever you're up to tonight. As always, thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

I Keep Recycling The Same Old Thoughts

(from "Someday Baby," Modern Times)

The Royals have added Scott Podsednik to the team, giving him a one-year contract for $1.75 million, plus a club option for 2011. I'd like to offer you some trenchant analysis of this signing and how it will make the Royals better, but I can't work up the enthusiasm. And besides, I think we all (unless Dayton Moore is reading this) know it probably won't make the Royals better.

Sure, there's a chance Podsednik could make the Royals better in 2010. If he were to duplicate his .353 OBP from 2009, he would likely be among the team leaders in that category. That number would have ranked third on the Royals last season, behind Billy Butler and Alberto Callaspo. Combined, Royals center fielders (I'm assuming the Royals will play Podsednik in center and not left field) put up a .319 OBP last season; Podsednik's career number is .340. So from that perspective, yes, he probably will be an upgrade from 2009.

See, there's nothing wrong with this signing from that standpoint. On the other hand, I don't think you'll find many people, even optimistic Royals fans, who expect the team to contend for a division title this year. With that in mind, would there really be any harm in letting Mitch Maier play a full season to see what the Royals have there? Maier is younger and cheaper than Podsednik. While he wasn't great last year, he wasn't horrible. Why not see if he might be part of the long-term solution?

Look, the Royals are just marking time until this season is over and the ridiculously bloated contracts of Jose Guillen and Kyle Farnsworth come off the books and give the team some payroll flexibility. Furthermore, they're really just waiting until prospects like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer are ready to make an impact at the major league level. I think most Royals fans understand that and are willing to wait a couple more years for the team to really be on the cusp of something good (we've waited 25 years, what's a couple more?). Scott Podsednik is a decent player and has had a solid career. But he'll turn 34 during spring training. He's not going to be here when the Royals' long-term plan reaches fruition (assuming, of course, it does reach some sort of fruition). Why not give someone who might be here when that happens a chance to play?

Instead, the Royals have made yet another move that looks OK in the short term but probably blocks a younger player from playing full-time. It's a move that doesn't make much sense to me. But that sort of move is quickly becoming a Dayton Moore specialty, and I think it's the sort of move the Royals need to stop making if they are ever truly going to change their losing ways.