(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.