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.