Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts in Trades

We all knew it was coming and yesterday afternoon it finally happened:  the end of the Wilson Betemit era.

On Monday, I discussed the historical return netted by teams trading Betemit-like players and proposed a couple of options based around the supposed interest of the Milwaukee Brewers.   If you think my analysis of that was in the ballpark as far as realism, then you likely are happy with what Dayton Moore extracted from Detroit.

Sure, neither Julio Rodriguez nor Antonio Cruz are considered ‘prospects’, but they are both very young with some upside.   They are lottery tickets, but they are young lottery tickets.

Rodriguez, who according to Baseball Reference will turn 22 on August 3rd but is reported as being just 20 in the Kansas City Star, is an excellent defensive catcher with suspect hitting.   Most of the concerns seem to be with his approach at the plate, so the possibility exists that he could rectify those issues over time.  Julio’s career line is just .255/.302/.334, but he was hitting .283/.325/.354 in High A this season.     With his defensive skills, it is not a huge stretch to imagine Rodriguez as a back-up major league catcher a couple of years down the road.

All sources agree that left-hander Antonio Cruz is 19 years old (turning 20 in October).    He pitched part of last season, his first professional tour in America, in the Midwest League, so Cruz was thrown right into the fire by the Tigers.   Used as a reliever in 2010, Cruz has started 10 games this season and pitched pretty well:  75 innings, 68 hits, 28 walks and 58 strikeouts.

The guys over at Pine Tar Press have a more detailed write-up of both of these prospects.    They speculate that Cruz had potential to be a future lefty specialist.   

You can condemn the Royals for how they handled the Betemit/Moustakas situation leading up to this trade and I might not disagree with you, but given where they actually were, I think this is a decent return.

Speaking of return, the Twitter world got hopped up last night as Melky Cabrera was pulled mid-game.   As it turned out, Melky had a bit of a stomach ailment and was not traded.     No word, by the way, on where or what Cabrera had for lunch. 

Rumors, however, did have the Royals and Phillies discussing a deal, with Dayton Moore’s asking price being two ‘good’ starting pitching prospects in return for Cabrera.   That is a big price tag and one that is unlikely to be accomodated by anyone, but it is a starting point. 

Jon Morosi of Fox stated this morning on WHB that Melky was seen as the back-up plan for teams that are interested in but cannot acquire Carlos Beltran.   All things considered, I am not sure Cabrera is not a better option for a lot of teams than Beltran, particularly when you consider that any team will get another year of Melky and not just a half-season rental.

If Moore is asking for two ‘good’ starting prospects, does that mean he will settle for one ‘good’ prospect and one ‘live arm’?   That would be my guess and, keep in mind, ‘good’ does not mean ‘great’.   I have grown to like the Melkman and actually would prefer keeping him over Francouer, but if the market can get you say Jesse Biddle and someone else from the Phillies, I think you pull the trigger.

Did Bruce Chen jump up the trade interest ladder with his fine eight inning-one run performance last night?  I don’t know and I am not sure I want him to.   Here is another guy who I thought was a waste of time this off-season and now look at him.    Bruce is low cost and a good guy who would probably fits nicely into next year’s rotation.    More importantly is the simple fact that there is way more buzz around Jeff Francis than Chen.

Arizona is viewed as a possible Francis destination and you wonder, with Stephen Drew going down with injury, if a Francis/Aviles package might actually net a real prospect.    It won’t get you Jarrod Parker or Tyler Skaggs, but maybe someone out of the next tier of Diamondback pitching prospects.

The common theme of this entire column, you might have noted, is that the Royals want pitching.   Nothing new about that as Dayton Moore has traded for pitching in the vast majority of his moves.   His comments on 610 Sports Radio yesterday that it takes 10 to 20 pitching prospects to net 2 to 4 good major league pitchers (or 1 out of every 5 for those of you doing math at home) and his corresponding stance on what he wants in trade tells us that Moore doesn’t think he has enough prospects to meet his rotational needs.

Real quick and without any thought, the top ten pitching prospects in the organization are:

  • Danny Duffy
  • Mike Montgomery
  • Aaron Crow
  • John Lamb
  • Chris Dwyer
  • Jake Odorizzi
  • Jason Adam
  • Tim Melville
  • Will Smith
  • Noel Arguelles

My guess is that you might substitute in several other names instead or could pretty easily come up with at least five more, if not ten.   Dayton Moore is telling you that is not enough.   Given what we have seen in the minors this year, it is hard to argue.   That said, we have to hope that Moore’s demands for pitching will not take him down the path of taking lesser pitching prospects at the expense of acquiring a more talented position player should the offer arise.

Welcome to the trade deadline, Royals’ fans.   We should all be familiar with it by now.   My guess is that Melky Cabrera is traded this month, along with either Jeff Francis or Bruce Chen (but not both).   I would not completely rule out a bullpen arm moving as well, but almost certainly not Soria.

The return for any of those players will be interesting and important.   What Dayton Moore got for Betemit, while decent, does nothing to make the 2012 Royals any better and likely has not impact on the 2013 team, either.   My opinion is that Moore needs to net some pieces that will help both those future squads with the rest of his trade chips this Jul

We are now entering the heart of trading season in major league baseball and virtually everyone who follows the Royals is certain that Wilson Betemit will be traded.   Count me among that group.

Since Mike Moustakas was called up, Betemit has appeared in just nine games – three of those being against NL teams where he was used as a pinch hitter.   We joke about Mitch Maier never playing, but even he has seen more action since June 10th than Wilson.

The lack of playing time has eliminated any hope that Betemit will qualify for any free agent compensation at year’s end.     While that same lack of action has certainly reduced, maybe even decimated, Wilson’s trade value, the Royals would still be wise to move Betemit for a lottery ticket simply because he will be a free agent at the end of 2011.

Being a switch-hitter with some power, the ability to play both corners of the infield and at least passing familiarity with shortstop and second base, Betemit versatile enough and has a decent enough track record to warrant something from somebody.  It is one thing to want it to be worth your while when trading one of your regulars (Cabrera/Francouer), but it is another thing to hold onto an asset you don’t need, plan on wanting or use at all.

Moving Betemit, whatever the bounty or lack thereof, is the correct thing to do, but what can the Royals expect in return?   Well, when reviewing players somewhat similar to Betemit who have been traded in recent history, it appears the return is exactly what the Royals do not need:  middle relievers.

In 2007, Ty Wigginton was traded for 28 year old reliever Dan Wheeler.    Jeff Baker was traded in 2009 for Al Alburquerque, a then 23 year old reliever in A Ball.   Heck, Wilson Betemit himself was traded in 2007 for a 30 year old Scott Proctor.   I will take Greg Holland and Louis Coleman over Wheeler, Proctor or whomever is the 2011 equivalent of those guys.

Another somewhat comparable trade was Pittsburgh’s move of a 31 year old Eric Hinske – a player with almost exactly the same career numbers as Betemit – to the Yankees for two non-prospect A ballers.   The Pirates got a 23 year old pitcher named Casey Erickson and a 23 year old catcher named Eric Fryer.   Both were former 10th round picks, neither had much buzz, but Fryer actually has made it to the majors with the catching starved Pirates this season.

The best Dayton Moore can probably do with a Betemit trade is to gamble on a non-prospect or a former prospect with issues.   Jeremy Jeffress is a guy that comes to mind, but the Royals already got him from Milwaukee, who has become the rumored trade partner in this deal.    Frankly, Betemit is more likely to garner the High-A (pun intended) version of Jeffress or the position player equivalent, but again this is kind of like you putting that socket set you got for Christmas five years ago and forgot you had out on the garage sale:  whatever you get is gravy.

When trolling the Milwaukee farm system, is someone like Zelous Wheeler  a player to take a flyer on?   How about former Braves’ prospect Brandon Jones?  Or 27 year old AAA pitcher Frankie de la Cruz?   These are just names to throw out that are not going to excite anyone, but would seem to be players that might be offered in exchange for Betemit.

Exciting is not the word that is going to surround the almost certain dealing of Mr. Betemit, but that does not mean it is a bad deal.   Betemit does not have a role in the future with the Royals, he doesn’t have a role right now

A guy in my fantasy baseball league sent me three e-mails last night, wanting to make some big trades to shake up the league.   He sent me a long list of position players and pitchers he was willing to trade and a similar list of players on my team he had interest in.    

If only it was so easy in real life.

A couple of texts back and forth and Dayton Moore could have Wilson Betemit shipped off for a promising AA arm.   Want some insurance up the middle next year?  Bam!  Three more texts and Mike Aviles and Bruce Chen are sent over in exchange for a, well, younger version of Mike Aviles with better defense.   Another text and Jeff Francouer is traded to a contender for a AAA starting pitcher just a tweak away from a major league rotation.  

Easy, right?

Well, we all know it is not that easy.   Even when we try to play general manager in a realistic fashion (which I do fairly often), it is hard to be truly realistic.  

Foremost, while major league baseball players are commodities, they are also people.   Guys that teams like and dislike, whose teammates like and dislike.  While winning games in 2011 may not be a big priority, especially to many of us waiting for The Process to mature, you can bet that the Royals who have to trudge out on the field everyday are more interested in winning that building for the future.     As a GM, are you sending a potentially damaging message by trading well-liked veterans like Chen and Francouer?   Money, personalties, relationships and perceptions have as much to do with making a major league baseball trade as the actual exchange of on-field talent.

That said, July is trading season or, as we have become accostumed to in Royals territory:  selling season.   While I am still working on what plan of action makes sense for Kansas City, let’s run down the list of players likely to get mentioned/rumored/theorized as tradeable commodities this month.

Joakim Soria – I think we are getting back to the point where we can refer to Soria as an elite closer, and one with an very team friendly contract.   A lot of teams would like to have Soria, but not many are willing to pay the price to acquire him.   Ever since Boston fleeced Seattle in the Heathcliff Slocumb trade, established closers have not brought back a tremendous booty in trades.   I ran an analysis on this the spring before last, came up with a reasonable three player package the Phillies might give up for Soria based upon trades of other closers (and there are not many) and was immediately shot down by Royals’ fans as not getting enought and by Phillies’ fans as asking for too much.   I have a hard time believing that actual GM conversations about Soria – if there are any – go much differently.   Besides, the thought of Montgomery-Duffy-Odorizzi handing off to Collins-Holland-Coleman-Crow handing off to Soria by the middle of 2012 still sounds pretty good to me.

Billy Butler – Yes, Billy is slow and yes, he doesn’t hit for enough power and yes, he is maybe marginally acceptable at first base, but he still can hit.   If Butler is not outright sulking about not playing the field, he is at least grumpy about the situation.   I am not sure if that helps his trade value (a team might believe that Butler will get hot at the plate if they live with him at first everyday) or hurts it (the old ‘bad attitude’ stamp).   No matter which, I don’t think the Royals have any intention of trading Butler.  

I doubt the organization has any more faith in Clint Robinson than they did in Kila Ka’aihue, Butler just signed a four year extension and, grumpy or not, still has an on-base percentage of .395.    Frankly, if Eric Hosmer is going to hit for power and Alex Gordon is going to be a near All-Star, isn’t it okay for Butler to hit .300 with 45 doubles and 15 home runs?

Perhaps the better question for Royals’ fans advocating a Butler trade.   If you see his faults, don’t you think other GM’s do, too?   Assuming that, what would YOU give up for Billy Butler.  My guess is that answer, once you put your Royals’ hat back on, keeps Billy in a Kansas City uniform this year.

Wilson Betemit – Pretty much forgot he existed, haven’t you?   Sadly, most major league GMs probably have as well.    Betemit has pop, is a swith-hitter and won’t turn 30 until this November.   In a pinch, you could play him at short, second or the outfield, which makes him somewhat attractive in the NL where you could live with him playing second for a couple of innings after using him to pinch hit.  

I think Betemit gets traded as the Royals basically don’t play him, he will be a free agent at the end of the season and Mike Aviles can easily take his spot on the bench next to Mitch Maier.   I don’t think the team gets much in return:  probably someone’s version of Sean O’Sullivan or Vin Mazarro who the Royals hope can emerge as the next Bruce Chen instead of the next O’Sullivan or Mazarro.

Mike Aviles – When left alone in one position, Aviles has shown he will hit major league pitching (see 2008 and 2010).   When bounced around the lineup and the infield, Aviles has shown bad defense and less offense (see 2011).   While he can play short, third and second, Mike does not appear to take well to the play here, play there, maybe not play at all role of a utility man.    Given that KC demoted him to Omaha to play Chris Getz everyday and is set on the left side with Moustakas and Escobar, a rival general manager is unlikely to offer much, if anything in return.

Melky Cabrera – You know, if we are all so certain that Alex Gordon turned the corner at age 27, why is it they we are less likely to believe so with 26 year old Melky?  As I have pointed out before, Cabrera is a lot more at-bats into his career, but he seems to be getting better as the year goes on as opposed to worse.   He might well fit better in the Royals’ 2012 outfield (in right, not center) than in any other team’s outfield.

Besides, there were rumblings of Cabrera being a bad influence on Robinson Cano in New York and the perception that he pretty much didn’t care in Atlanta last year.   True or not, those things will come up when trying to get a decent return for Cabrera.

Jeff Francouer – Jeff is right on his career numbers this season, but carries the reputation of being a great clubhouse guy and always playing hard.   A very good defender who could fit in a contender’s lineup against left-handed pitching and would certainly not disrupt the clubhouse, Francouer is the kind of guy who teams look for at the trade deadline.   What a contender is willing to give up, however, is a bigger question.   

In the past, Francouer has been traded for Ryan Church and Joaquin Arias.  

Bruce Chen – Ned Yost will likely quit if Dayton Moore trades Chen, so that might be the end of the discussion right there.   Seriously though, Chen has been Kansas City’s best pitcher this year, might have been last year and still had to sign a minor league deal back with KC to get a paying job this spring.   Good guy, who has reinvented himself into a legitimate major league starter, but for whom no rival GM is probably salivating over.

Jeff Francis – He has a track record of being a top line starter on a good baseball team, so a trade partner will view Francis as a guy with pennant run experience.   Currently, Jeff leads the league in hits allowed, which is not going to win you any Top 10 prospects in a trade, but he has some value as a relatively young (30) option who might get better the farther he gets away from injury.  

So, go ahead and put your gene

This is a post I’ve been hanging onto for a day that now will never come. I was originally going to post it on the day that Jordan Parraz made his Major League debut with the Royals, but since he was recently picked up on waivers by the Red Sox it’s not likely to happen.

I’m getting ahead of myself. This story begins on December 7th, 1992. It’s not quite a day that will live in infamy, rather it’s the day the Royals drafted pitcher Billy Brewer from the Montreal Expos in the Rule 5 draft. Brewer was a left-handed relief pitcher who had put together three very good seasons in low A to high A baseball. He had pitched in 23.1 unspectacular innings in 1992 at the AA level, but the Royals drafted him anyway and placed him on the roster.

Brewer pitched well in the bullpen for the Royals in 1993 and 1994, putting up a 3.01 ERA in 77.2 innings pitched. However, in 1995 he struggled. He posted a 5.56 ERA and that off-season he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Jose Offerman. Brewer never actually ended up pitching for the Dodgers. For the rest of his career he pitched 55.2 innings for the Yankees, A’s and Phillies and his ERA was 6.63.

In Jose Offerman, the Royals got a 27 year old shortstop coming off of a career year. In 1995 he hit .303/.389/.375.  He didn’t hit for a whole lot of power, but played an up-the-middle defensive position and got on base at a very high rate. Offerman was a very productive player for the Royals from 1996-1998. He hit .306/.385/.419 and led the league in triples with 13 in 1998.

The Royals got an absolute steal in the Brewer trade and Offerman’s success made him a Type A free agent in the off-season following the 1998 season. The Boston Red Sox ended up signing him and due to the the rules of free agency, they forfeited their 25th overall draft selection to the Royals. Offerman had three more seasons of production that were roughly the same as what he put up as a Royal, but after that his numbers plummeted.

In the 1999 draft, the Royals selected pitcher Mike MacDougal out of Wake Forrest with the Red Sox 25th pick. He spent a few years in the minors and made his debut as a starter in 2001. Not one month later, he was struck in the head by a bat that flew out of the hands of Carlos Beltran and fractured his skull. The lingering effect from that incident was a loss of sensation in his fingers. He eventually learned to pitch with it and came back to the Majors as a relief pitcher. He saved 27 games as the Royals’ closer in 2003, lost that job to Jeremy Affeldt in 2004 and regained it in 2005. In July of 2006 he was traded to the Chicago White Sox. In four years with the White Sox, MacdDougal posted a 4.77 ERA in 88.2 innings pitched.

In return for MacDougal, the Royals received Minor League pitchers Tyler Lumsden and Dan Cortes. Neither of them reached the Majors with the Royals and were dealt in separate deals. Cortes was traded with Derrick Saito to the Seattle Mariners for Yuniesky Betancourt, who was then packaged with Zack Greinke to obtain Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi, Lorenzo Cain and Jeremy Jeffress from the Brewers. Lumsden was traded to the Astros for outfield prospect Jordan Parraz who was released this off-season by the Royals.

So we’ve come full circle and back to Jordan Parraz. It’s a long, strange tale of baseball moves, however there seems to be a very interesting point in all of that. If you’ll notice, the moves which are fully realized and the players have all gone on to either finish or nearly finish their careers are ones which the Royals did very well. Below is a chart which shows the series of moves.

Every move that a team makes can have lasting ramifications, either positive or negative. Drafting and then trading Billy Brewer was a shrewd move by General Manager Herk Robinson. The Royals clearly maximized the value of Brewer. The team also cleverly didn’t sign Jose Offerman as a free agent, which gave them one of the three first round picks they’d have in the 1999 draft. That pick yielded prospects in a trade, and those prospects yeilded more prospects and Yuniesky Betancourt, natch.

The point remains that those smart moves by the 1992-1995 Royals front office continue to yield net value to the team in 2011. One good move can help a team for decades, one bad one can do the opposite. This is illustrative of why there is so much importance placed on the small things that the Royals need to do.

It’s not necessarily doing the “little things” on the field that matters as much as doing the “little things” in player acquisition. From gettting talented Rule 5 players, to recognizing when someone has over-achieved or reached their peak. Now that the Royals have built up an incredible farm system, it’s these types of moves which will define Dayton Moore and lead to a renewal of success or continued failure.

There have been plenty of articles written about the Zack Greinke trade.  There were plenty of great opinions both positive and negative.  Personally, I like the trade quite a bit, but that’s not what today’s post is about.  Anyone who watched the Royals for the past four years knows how great Zack Greinke was.  He was an interesting character and a fascinating pitcher.  He seemed like he could do anything he wanted on the mound.  Opposing batters never seemed to know what was going to happen next, and I’m not sure Zack did either.  I will certainly miss that little twinge of excitement when I looked at the pitching matchup and Greinke was on the slate.  Not only did the Royals have a good chance of winning, but there was a pretty good chance that I was going to see something spectacular.

The bottom line is that Greinke was one of the best pitchers to ever put on a Royals uniform.  At his peak, he might have been the best, but he won’t have the longevity to be a part of the Royals Hall of Fame.  To honor Greinke and what he did in Royal blue, I thought I’d take a look at where he will end up ranked (barring a return) amongst the Royals Greats in some statistical categories.

I used the Baseball-Reference method of 500 IP or 50 decisions to be on the rate stat leader board.  Stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com

Innings Pitched


Player IP
1. Paul Splittorff 2554.7
2. Mark Gubicza 2218.7
3. Dennis Leonard 2187.0
4. Kevin Appier 1843.7
5. Larry Gura 1701.3
6. Bret Saberhagen 1660.3
7. Charlie Leibrandt 1257.0
8. Tom Gordon 1149.7
9. Dick Drago 1134.0
10. Zack Greinke 1108.0

I was certainly a little surprised to find that Grienke was 10th in innings pitched as a Kansas City Royal, and if he’d pitched another year he’d have likely made it to 7th.

ERA


Player ERA IP
1. Dan Quisenberry 2.55 920.3
2. Steve Farr 3.05 511.0
3. Jeff Montgomery 3.20 849.3
4. Bret Saberhagen 3.21 1660.3
5. Al Fitzmorris 3.46 1098.0
6. Marty Pattin 3.48 825.7
7. Kevin Appier 3.49 1843.7
8. Dick Drago 3.52 1134.0
9. Doug Bird 3.56 714.7
10. Charlie Leibrandt 3.60 1257.0
11. Danny Jackson 3.69 712.7
12. Dennis Leonard 3.70 2187.0
13. Steve Busby 3.72 1060.7
14. Larry Gura 3.72 1701.3
15. Buddy Black 3.73 977.7
16. Bruce Dal Canton 3.76 555.0
17. Paul Splittorff 3.81 2554.7
18. Zack Greinke 3.82 1108.0

This stat is sort of misleading considering Greinke played in an era where there were a lot more runs scored on average, but it is a testament to a franchise that has had some pretty good pitchers in it’s history.

Strikeouts


Player SO IP
1. Kevin Appier 1458 1843.7
2. Mark Gubicza 1366 2218.7
3. Dennis Leonard 1323 2187.0
4. Bret Saberhagen 1093 1660.3
5. Paul Splittorff 1057 2554.7
6. Tom Gordon 999 1149.7
7. Zack Greinke 931 1108.0
8. Jeff Montgomery 720 849.3
9. Steve Busby 659 1060.7
10. Larry Gura 633 1701.3

Zack could always strike guys out and it was awesome to watch.  I hoped he’d join the 1,000 strikeout club and possibly be the first member of the 2,000 club, but we don’t always get what we hope for.

Wins

Rank Player Wins IP
1. Paul Splittorff 166 2554.7
2. Dennis Leonard 144 2187.0
3. Mark Gubicza 132 2218.7
4. Kevin Appier 115 1843.7
5. Larry Gura 111 1701.3
6. Bret Saberhagen 110 1660.3
7. Tom Gordon 79 1149.7
8. Charlie Leibrandt 76 1257.0
9. Steve Busby 70 1060.7
Al Fitzmorris 70 1098.0
11. Dick Drago 61 1134.0
12. Zack Greinke 60 1108.0

We all know that the win statistic is the most over-rated one in existence and it doesn’t tell you a whole lot about the pitcher.  However, it’s pretty amazing that Zack compiled the 12th most wins in team history while playing for some of the worst teams to wear the KC on their hats.

Hit By Pitch

Rank Player Hit By Pitch IP
1. Mark Gubicza 58 2218.7
2. Dennis Leonard 52 2187.0
3. Larry Gura 40 1701.3
4. Kevin Appier 39 1843.7
Zack Greinke 39 1108.0
6. Paul Splittorff 34 2554.7
7. Dick Drago 31 1134.0
8. Buddy Black 29 977.7
Jeff Suppan 29 864.7
10. Hipolito Pichardo 27 669.7
Bret Saberhagen 27 1660.3

Zack could certainly be wild at times, and he wasn’t afraid of anyone.  His arsenal of pitches, velocity and command combined with just that rough edge where you weren’t sure whether he was throwing at you on purpose or on accident was always fun to watch.

Strikeouts per 9 IP

Player K/9 IP
1. Tom Gordon 7.821 1149.7
2. Jeff Montgomery 7.630 849.3
3. Zack Greinke 7.562 1108.0
4. Steve Farr 7.556 511.0
5. Kevin Appier 7.117 1843.7
6. Gil Meche 6.929 617.0
7. Jose Rosado 6.047 720.3
8. Bret Saberhagen 5.925 1660.3
9. Doug Bird 5.843 714.7
10. Darrell May 5.632 527.3

We already discussed strikeouts, but this list was too interesting to ignore.  Greinke ranks highest amongst starters in Royals history in strikeouts per nine innings.  Who would have guessed that Gil Meche would be higher than Saberhagen on this list?  Ah, Jose Rosado, I’ll always remember what could have been.

Just a sampling of some of the Royals all-time pitching leaders.  Zack wasn’t the best to wear the uniform, but his 2009 season was probably the best single season pitching performance.  His contributions to the team won’t be replicated in the near future, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have been traded.

I don’t really like how his exit from the team has gone so far.  There has been some mud slinging and some media and former teammates have taken some pot shots at Greinke.  The kid is gone from the team, that can’t be changed now.  As fans, we watched him grow and mature.  We told fans of other teams how great he was, and we celebrated his Cy Young as if it partly belonged to us.  His stats with the Royals will always be there, and we’ll always have 2009.

Episode #038 – What else are we going to discuss?  Of course we discuss the Zack Greinke trade in detail.  I have Larry Granillo of Wezen-Ball on to discuss the Brewers perspective.  In this star-studded, two-guest podcast, I also have Craig Brown my co-writer at Royals Authority on to break down the trade in detail and how it impacts the team now and into the future.  Nowhere else do you get 2 hours of almost uninterrupted discussion on the Royals and Greinke, so check out this episode of the podcast.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs038.mp3|titles=BBS

Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Follow Larry on Twitter @wezen_ball and check out his blog: Wezen-Ball, and listen to his podcast.

Follow Craig on Twitter @royalsauthority

Music used in this podcast:

The Staple Singers – Who Took The Merry Out of Christmas

Pearl Jam – Unemployable

Captain Beefheart – Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles

Jimmy Smith – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

How to Get the Podcast:

Click here to be taken to the site to download directly.

Subscribe via iTunes

Subscribe via Zune

Subscribe via any other feedreader.

As Royals’ fans, we are a jaded group.   That has never been so evident as the immediate reactions that were voiced and written as we all got wind of the trade of Zack Greinke to the Brewers.   Primarily, the return was widely disparaged simply because, well, because it was the Royals getting the return.  

With this organization’s track record, over multiple owners and general managers, who can argue with the logic that if the Royals traded an elite player whatever they got back must have been a bad deal.   Going off the top of my head and without getting into a debate over who was ‘elite’ and who was not, here is a partial list of players the royals have received:

Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jefferies, Keith Miller, Chris Stynes, David Sinnes,  Tony Medrano,  Blake Stein, Jeff D’Amico, Brad Rigby, Angel Berroa, A.J. Hinch, Roberto Hernandez (an OLD Roberto mind you), Nefii Perez, John Buck, Mark Teahan, Mike Wood

Given that list, I get the skepticism.   I also understand the concerns that Dayton Moore, like Allard Baird before him, limited the market by insisting on ‘up the middle major league ready talent’.    It might well be that some teams gave up early or never called to inquire on Greinke figuring that they did not have those type of prospects.   How would the above list look if Robinson Cano was there instead of Mark Teahen?

However, Moore was also at times said to be looking for a major league ready pitcher with ‘Greinke-like’ potential as part of any deal.   While I think Jake Odorizzi might some day be very good, no one is expecting him to become an ace.   So, it seems that the Royals at least were willing to entertain offers that were not exactly in line with their supposed demands.    I wonder just how much of the market really was excluded?

We know that the Washington Nationals had an offer out there and that Zack refused to waive his no-trade clause to them.   Talented reliever Drew Storen and shortstop Danny Espinosa were supposedly part of the deal, but it is unclear if Jordan Zimmerman was and who else might have been  involved.   What we do know is the deal that actually took place and the waves of angst that followed.

Ignoring the casual fan, the ones that lamented Jose Guillen being traded, there was still a pretty wide swath of ‘the Royals didn’t get near enough’ pasted across the Internet.   Alcides Escobar can’t hit, Lorenzo Cain has limited upside, Odorizzi is ‘fine for A ball’ and Jeffress likes the happy weed too much.  Given the above few paragraphs, I can understand the immediate swing to the negative, but it sure seems to be getting a little annoyed.   I say that, by the way, fully cognizant that our own site and myself have certainly beat the Royals’ organization over the head more often than not, but then it’s not like those opportunities have been hard to come by the last ten years.

Prior to the 2010 season, Alcides Escobar was the Brewers’ number one prospect (according to Baseball America), while Lorenzo Cain was number eight, Jake Odorizzi was number nine and Jeremy Jeffress was thought to have the best fastball in that organization.   Of course, an entire season has transpired since those rankings were made and one of the worst things a top prospect can do to hurt his reputation is to, you know, play games.

Beyond that, the four players fit the stereotype of so many others brought in by Dayton Moore:  two position players known for their speed and two pitchers who feature a fastball and a curve.   We have heard those traits a lot in the past and been disappointed more often than not.   That said, some guys who can really run, can also really play baseball and some pitchers (a lot actually) have good careers throwing fastballs and curves.

While the full impact, positive or negative, may not be known until Odorizzi makes the majors in a couple of years and Jeffress has hopefully managed to stay clean AND be a power reliever for a period of time, I am going to focus this morning on the two position players.     These are the two guys that are going to be the ones dealing with the Perez/Teahen/Berroa/Buck comparisons and also the two were are going to see the most of the soonest.

Next to Billy Butler batting third, Jeff Francoeur playing right field and Joakim Soria closing, the surest thing about the 2011 roster is that Escobar will be playing shortstop.   Alcides Escobar had, without question, a pretty awful rookie season.    The defensive abilities he showed in the minors surfaced in his rookie season as flashes of brilliance interspersed with bouts of inconsistency.  That said, Escobar’s UZR/150 of 4.7 still ranked eighth out of twenty-one qualified shortstops in the majors.   Defensive metrics over just one season can be wildly inaccurate, so Escobar is something of an unknown quantity in this area, but his minor league career was generally one in which scouts, prospect analysts and the Brewers’ organization wondered if this great defender could hit enough to justify a job.    For now, I feel pretty confident that Escobar either already is or will shortly become the best defensive shortstop to play for the Royals since the turn of the century.

Of course, the days of the defense only shortstop are long since past and there are questions about Escobar’s offense.    He hit just .235/.288/.326 last season for a paltry OPS+ of just 67.   Some of that was due to an unlucky .264 BABIP, but much of Alcides’ problems were an inability to control the strike zone and work the count to his advantage.    Tough rookie year or a guy who cannot hit major league pitching?

It is worth noting, however, that Escobar’s best minor league seasons at the plate occurred as he reached the higher levels of the minors.    After three fairly poor offensive years his first three years in pro ball, Escobar hit .325/.345/.377 in half a season in High A before moving to AA ball, where he struggled some.   However, in AA the next season, Alcides hit a very good .328/.363/.434 and then moved onto AAA the next season where he hit .298/.353/.409.    During his one AAA season, Escobar walked 32 times in 487 plate appearances versus 31 in 110 more plate appearances the year before in AA.   Hey, the guy is not a walk machine, but he improved from AA and AAA.

In the end, Alcides Escobar may never consistently hit to his minor league career line of .293/.333/.377, but I think there is a better than reasonable chance that he will hit better than the frankly awful rookie season numbers of 2010.   Can Escobar ever be an All-Star?   Does he have to be if Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer are? 

Now, Lorenzo Cain does not have the luxury of two of the best hitting prospects in baseball on the horizon to flank him.  While Cain is expected to be a good, if still somewhat raw, defensively (it’s noteworthy that Cain did not play baseball until high school), the Royals need their centerfielder to hit.   Of course, if Alex Gordon hits 35 home runs and Jeff Francoeur reverts to his rookie form, then the pressure is off – but then, this column is optimistic enough – let’s not get carried away.

Cain hit a solid .306/.348/.415 in 47 games for Milwaukee last year, helped considerably by a .370 BABIP.   While that may be cause for alarm, Cain did post a BABIP above .340 in FOUR of six minor league campaigns and one of those off-seasons was in 2009 when most of the season was derailed to an ankle injury.    Frankly, do we have any real reason to think Lorenzo cannot hit close to his minor league numbers of .291/.366/.416 and possibly add some power to those numbers given his 6’2″ 200 pound frame?

While I am certainly being optimistic, what’s the real harm?   As Royals’ fans, knowing that Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain are going to be in your everyday lineup in 2011, why not give them the benefit of the doubt.   Sure, Cain has had an abnormally high BABIP for most of his career, so has Mike Aviles and David DeJesus and a slew of other guys who can basically hit.  

Yes, Escobar was awful as a rookie, just as Omar Vizquel did.    Truth is, Alcides was the Brewers’ number one prospect last season and number freaking twelve in all of baseball.   A bad rookie year suddenly makes this guy a bad player who ‘will never hit’?

Come on, let’s all take a breath on this one.  

Should we get to September and Escobar still isn’t hitting a lick and doing his Angel Berroa impression in the field,  Lorenzo Cain is taking curious routes to fly balls and hitting an empty .275, Jeffress is suspended and Odorizzi getting lit up in High A ball, then you can feel free to write me and say ‘I told you so’.     

For now, however, let’s give these guys a chance before we decide this deal was horrible.   Jurickson Profar may or may not have been offered by the Rangers and while it would be fun to have him in the system, it would also be 2014 before he even sniffed the majors.   By the way, tell me the difference between the minor league numbers of Profar or Danny Espinosa and those of Alcides Escobar.

As Royals’ fans, we have plenty to worry about this season.  Namely, a rotation that starts with Hochevar and ends with ‘gee, I don’t know, somebody’.    I will be the first to lead the charge when Melky Cabrera starts six of the first eight games in leftfield in front of Alex Gordon (or five of seven in front of Lorenzo Cain in center), but I am content to say that the four players the Royals received for Zack Greinke might, just might, be a pretty decent return after all.

Zack Greinke is no longer a Royal.  It’s painful to say, and I’m sad to see my favorite player in a long time move on.  You likely already are aware that he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for  Alcides Escobar (SS), Lorenzo Cain (CF), Jeremy Jeffress (RHP) and Jake Odorizzi (RHP).  I know that everyone really likes to read people’s opinions on which team “won” and which team “lost” any given trade and there’s plenty of that all over the internet and Twitter.  If you must know my feelings, I like the trade.  The Royals had to trade Greinke at some point and they got multiple quality players in return.  At the very least, I don’t think many people could in good faith suggest that this trade is a total bomb.  So instead of trying to sell you on why I like the trade or why you should like the trade, let’s talk about what just got a whole heck of a lot more interesting: the 2011 season.

Like anyone else who roots for the Royals, I want to see more wins on the field, and frankly I don’t care how they accomplish it.  Barring a bunch of extra wins, I’d like to at least watch a team that interests me.  Honestly, the last couple of years have been some of the least interesting and hard to root for Royals teams that I can remember.  They were filled with boring players who had no future with the Royals organization.  It was like watching a bunch of hired guns who couldn’t really shoot all that well.  Going out to see Zack Greinke pitch, Joakim Soria close or Billy Butler hit were the lone reasons to get excited.  The Royals did lose one of those marquee names today, but the team just became much more interesting.

For the past year and a half (it seems so much longer) we’ve been watching Yuniesky Betancourt play sub par defense and hit with a woeful bat.  He’s been a daily reminder of the fact that the Royals gave up Minor League talent in order to get, at best a replacement level shortstop.  For many of us, he was the embodiment of a front office who can’t really identify quality Major League talent and over-values certain aspects of player evaluation.  Now that Betancourt is heading to Milwaukee and the Royals got Alcides Escobar in return, the position just became interesting.  Escobar is known as a very good defender who has the ability to be elite.  He has struggled throughout his career with the bat, but did show some signs of putting it together in the upper Minors.  He’ll never likely hit for any power, but he only needs to be near average offensively for a SS and he becomes very exciting.  Either way, he just turned twenty four and likely represents the Royals shortstop for the next five years.  This season we will get a chance to see him every single day, hopefully making spectacular plays and also developing as a Major League hitter.  I knew what we had in Yuniesky Betancourt, I’m not sure what we have yet in Escobar, but I’m pretty interested in finding out.

The Royals farm system is light on outfield prospects, and very few are close to Major League ready.  So, we’ve gotten used to Dayton Moore acquiring some free agents on one year “show me” contracts who at best can be flipped for prospects at the trade deadline.  These are mercenaries of the highest degree, and usually pretty low-rent mercenaries at that.  There isn’t anything particularly exciting about going to see Scott Podsednik Rick Ankiel, Melky Cabrera or Jeff Francoeur for one season in a Royals uniform.  We can still dream on Alex Gordon some, but he is running out of future projection.  Prior to this move, the most exciting part of the outfield was hoping that speedster Jarrod Dyson would get some playing time and suddenly become a completely different hitter.  Once again, after the trade things have been shaken up.  Lorenzo Cain is thrust into the mix, and he’s a 24 year old speedster who has a good glove but also a track record of being able to hit the ball.  In his first Major League season he hit .306/.348/.415.  Not bad for someone who plays a premium defensive position and can swipe some bases.  He’s young, fast and could take a really positive step developmentally in 2011.  When was the last time we could say that about a Royal center fielder?

The bullpen is always a mish-mash of new and old guys, and in general is only exciting when you don’t want it to be exciting.  Watching Joakim Soria come in and close games is one of the true joys of being a Royals fan, so there always that.  However, there is a good chance that newly acquired pitcher Jeremy Jeffress will be a part of that bullpen in 2011 as well.  He can hit 100 m.p.h. on the radar gun and is compared to Joel Zumaya.  I don’t think that he’s a guy I’d want to rely on to close games just yet, but to have him available in the 7th or 8th inning is pretty cool if you ask me.

Last, but not least, the Royals also got starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi.  While he is almost certainly not going to make the Major League team any more interesting, there’s a chance he’s the best part of this whole trade.  He’s a right handed starter who potentially has four “plus” pitches and would have been the top prospect in the Brewers farm system.  How he pitches this year, and how he progresses through the system, along with guys like Danny Duffy, John Lamb, Aaron Crow and Mike Montgomery will be worth watching.  This farm system just went from being a once in a decade type of system to a once in a generation one.

I know that people will still want to debate whether or not this was good enough return for the 2009 Cy Young winning pitcher.  Honestly, I’ll still do it myself.  However, the deal is done and we have to live with it.  I think it’s time to stop using the franchises past errors and bad luck to judge how things are going to go in the future.  The state of the world as it stands today is that the Royals have more talent than any other franchise in baseball, an owner who has been much more open to spending money, and no real financial obligations in the near future.  In other words, they have talent, financial flexibility and money to spend.  When was the last time they had even one of those?  It really is a wonderful time to be a Royals fan, and 2011 is the start.

You’ve heard by now…

The reports are the Royals have shipped Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt to Milwaukee in exchange for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. There is some confusion as to whether or not Jeffress is in the deal at this time.  There are rumors it may be a PTBNL.

There are also reports the Royals are sending $2 million to the Brewers as part of the deal.  Consider that a penalty for employing the Yunigma for the last couple of seasons.

The move addresses the Royals needs by securing youth up the middle.  Cain is a speedy center fielder and Escobar is a plus defender at short.  Offensively, I have my doubts.  Escobar struggled to get on base last summer (.288 OBP) but Cain did alright in a brief turn in the majors (.340 OBP) and also posted a line of .317/.402/.432 between Double-A and Triple-A last year.

So, it happened… And less than a week after the Cliff Lee deal.  My initial reaction was one of disappointment, as I have been focused on the potential haul from New York, Texas and even Toronto.  Turns out the Brewers were the “Mystery Team.”  I didn’t think they had the prospects to pull this off.  But with Dayton Moore specifically looking for defense up the middle, this move is one that fits.  Although I have to wonder if there’s a bit of Allard Baird Syndrome involved – where the GM becomes so focused on filling a need, he ignores potentially better deals.

Still, as one who has griped (and griped) about the Royals lack of defense over the last several seasons, I’m pleased GMDM is making a move like this.  Plus, as deep as the Royals minor league system is, there aren’t a ton of plus defenders coming through the pipeline. (See Eric Hosmer winning an award as the system’s best defender.)

I posted my initial reaction to the deal on Twitter and got a bunch of replies that this is a very good deal for the Royals.  I’m still sifting through my thoughts and I’m sure Clark and Nick will chime in throughout the day.  In the meantime… What do you think?

The last time the Royals had a truly elite level player out on the open market, it was Carlos Beltran.  They traded him, after all the dust settled, for Chris Getz.

Okay, that is truly funky analysis, I know.   In between Mark Teahen being traded for Getz and Josh Fields (and Fields subsequently being non-tendered), the Royals did get 90 home runs and 700 games out of John Buck.   They also got basically league average OPS+ for another 750 games from Teahen and, heck, even Mike Wood gave the club some adequate moments here and there.   Still, when you trade an elite player, you would like his long term impact on your organization to be something more than an unproven 27 year old second baseman.

So, as the Winter Meetings open today, and the Zack Greinke trade speculation really kicks into high gear, Dayton Moore finds himself with an elite level pitcher in a market basically devoid of said type.   Whether directly or indirectly or, for that matter, whether accurate or not, the public perception is that Greinke would like to be traded.   He was also a guy who, quite frankly, spent a portion of the 2010 season in a disinterested state of mind (who among us can say otherwise?!).

Saddled with those negatives, Moore can point to a load of positives as he heads into the treacherous trade waters.   First off, Greinke is young and just one season removed from one of the more dominating pitching seasons of the last fifteen years.   His talent is undeniable and Greinke’s contract is team friendly through the 2012 season.  Truthfully, if you put Zack Greinke on a contending team, it would be a surprise if he was anything but focuses and ultra-competitive.  

In a market where Jayson Werth gets seven years and $126 million, what sort of value does Greinke hold?   I will guarantee you it is well above the $27 million is he scheduled to earn over the next two seasons.

So, if you are Dayton Moore, what is the realistic return for Zack Greinke?   In the past several years, we have seen the likes of Johan Santana, C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee all traded – Lee three time actually, so the return on an ace pitcher is not exactly a mystery.     On the Royals’ side, they have the advantage of having Greinke under contract for longer and a younger age than any of the other aces that were moved.   Sabathia was basically the same age when Cleveland traded him to Milwaukee, but had just half a season left on his deal.

I have done a couple of columns on some of the ‘ace’ trades before and you can easily get the details on each by heading over to Baseball Reference and pulling up the individual player pages and draw your own conclusions.   That said, here is a rough idea of what would be a realistic return on a Greinke trade:

  • This Offseason – Three Top Five prospects (one of which is major league ready now) and one high risk/high ceiling secondary prospect.   It is very possible that the ‘one major league ready’ prospect could actually be an actual major league player and still get two additional Top Five prospects plus the secondary guy.  I think that scenario demands some sort of contract extension being worked out with Zack as part of the trade.
  • July, 2011 – In my mind, losing half a season of control over Greinke is equal to losing one prospect, but maybe just the high risk/high reward type player.   Probably you still get three Top Five types.
  • Off-Season 2011 – This is problematical.   If the Royals are horrible in 2011, the idea that they have to trade Greinke will be rampant throughout baseball.   The club also runs the risk of Zack having another ‘okay, but not great’ season.   Of course, the Royals could have a strong second half with some of their young guys up and playing well and realistically talk about keeping Greinke for 2012 and maybe beyond.   I would say the haul is likely to be three Top Ten prospects at this point.
  • July 2012 – Are the Royals any good at this point or not?   Are they close enough to being good to convince Greinke to sign a new contract?   Which Zack is pitching at this point, version 2009 or version 2010?    Those questions point out the gamble of waiting on Greinke.

It is possible that Zack Greinke is worth more in the future than he is right now, but it is equally possible he could be worth less.  Truth is the Royals will emerge from this week’s meetings knowing exactly what Zack is worth right now.   If that ‘worth’ is enough to the pull the trigger, then avoiding the risk of holding onto Greinke and dealing with all the variables that might present themselves in the future is the safest bet.

Now, back to the Beltran deal.   If the Royals trade Zack this winter, the absolutely must parlay that return into the type of return that will have a positive impact on the organization for years.   At minimum, the club needs the following out of the Greinke package:

  • A pitcher that will be a legitimate top three member of the starting rotation.  Plus, an ace must emerge from either this pitcher, or someone from the group of  Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Danny Duffy, Chris Dwyer and Aaron Crow.   Further, another member of this group of five plus the ‘new guy’, also has to be a top three type pitcher.    Basically, I’m saying that from the five pitchers already in the organization plus the top end prospect gained from the trade, must account for the top three spots in the Royals’ rotation by 2013 and occupy those top three spots legitimately (i.e. be top three pitchers on pretty much any staff, not just Kansas City’s).
  • One of the positional prospects acquired has to become a good, maybe even great, everyday player.     I am looking for the ‘Grady Sizemore’ guy in the Bartolo Colon trade. 
  • Another prospect has to become a ‘above league average’ everyday player.

Frankly, as you look at the Colon trade back in 2002, the Royals almost have to get a Cliff Lee, a Grady Sizemore and a Brandon Phillips for it to ‘feel’ like a win.   That is asking a lot from a GM who has not always had the greatest of luck in the trade market.   Truthfully, I am not sure there has ever been quite a prospect for pitcher trade as great as the Colon move and it is probably unwise to hold whatever the Royals do with Greinke to that standard.

Still, the Royals need to aim high, but not stupid high at the Winter Meetings.   There is a lot of risk and uncertainty going forward with Greinke and taking a chance on hitting a Colon-type lottery is probably Dayton Moore’s best move.   It might not be popular and it might completely blow up in the organization’s face, but there might not be a better market for Greinke than there is right now.

Hold on everyone, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

%d bloggers like this: