It's been a busy couple of weeks in Royals land. The 2011 starting rotation seems set now, with the addition of Jeff Francis and the re-signing of Bruce Chen. And then of course, the rather surprising retirement of Gil Meche opened up a bullpen spot, as well as gave the Royals a sudden surplus of cash.
I really like the Francis signing. It's only a one-year contract, and it's only $2 million (plus $2 million in incentives). Despite some nice seasons for the Rockies, Francis comes cheap because he has had shoulder issues. But he is entering his second year since his surgery, so there is hope that those issues are behind him. Even if they aren't, the Royals wisely invested little time and relatively little cash in him.
This is exactly the tack the Royals should be taking this offseason and in the next few. Look for low-cost players who have shown ability in the recent past but are available due to injury or underperformance. It is inevitable that even with the depth of talent in the farm system, there will be holes that need to be filled. The best example of this kind of gamble working out is Tampa Bay's signing of Carlos Pena in 2007. Pena had been on four teams in six seasons, and the Rays signed him to a one-year, $800,000 contract. A minor-league contract, even. Forty-six homers later, the Rays had the good sense to sign him to an extension. The next year, they were in the World Series.
I'm also glad the Royals brought back Chen, especially since they only signed him for one year and $2 million, plus $1.5 million in incentives. Chen was decent last year and even had the best ERA+ of any starting pitcher (his 101 was just above Zack Greinke's 100). He was a bit lucky last year, but even if he is ineffective as a starter, he has experience as a reliever and can contribute there. And if he can't contribute in either capacity, the Royals can get rid of him without much of a sunk cost in terms of dollars or time. And again, they are not blocking a spot for the long-term.
In sadder news, I was absolutely stunned to hear Meche was retiring with one year left on his contract. I don't think it's too cynical to suggest most players would go through the motions for one more year to get $12 million--it would be very tempting. I have a lot of respect for Meche, and I wish him the best. I certainly wish the Royals had been more careful with him, but let's hope they at least learned something from the experience.
Meche's departure opens up another spot in the bullpen, probably for one of the many young pitchers who are knocking on the major league door. So that's a nice benefit. Furthermore, the Royals now have an extra $12 million (what Meche was owed this year). After an Opening Day payroll of $75 million last year, the Royals will likely start this season with a payroll around half that. I couldn't believe the complaining I heard on local sports talk radio on the way home from work today. I don't see how the Royals are in a bad situation here. They are young, and likely to get younger over the next few seasons as more and more prospects reach the majors. We know they are willing and able to spend roughly $40 million more than they will this year to fill whatever needs they have. In the meantime, they can use some of that surplus to further their scouting or Latin America signing budgets. This is good news.
On a totally unrelated note, I'm so glad the Royals are acknowledging their online community. For being such a crappy franchise for so long, the Royals certainly have a great base of bloggers, and they are finally recognizing that with their Digital Digest setup at this week's Fan Fest. I must confess, I was disappointed not to be chosen to participate. But I am happy for the ones who were picked and have no problem with any of the selections. I'm really looking forward to reading about their experiences.
I'm grateful that I can be a small part of such a strong blogging community. I do this mainly as a lark--I always enjoyed writing about sports for my college newspaper, and when I started this blog it was in large part because I missed the writing process. And I always love discussing the Royals and baseball in general. Personally, I would never expect (or want) to get a press credential or sit in the press box, but I am hopeful that someday soon, the really good, quality bloggers who cover the Royals (and other teams) will be included in that if they want to be. This is not to slight the traditional media outlets that normally do a good job covering the team, but more to include the talented non-traditional outlets that are also excellent sources of info and analysis.