Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Without question, the most successful free agent signing of the Dayton Moore era was the five year/$55 million deal given out to Gil Meche.   That may sound like an odd statement given that Meche spent the last three months of the 2009 season fighting injuries and has an uncertain status surrounding him for the same reasons as we close in on Opening Day.

However, between his first Kansas City start on Opening Day of 2007 and that fateful 132 pitch shutout on June 16, 2009, Meche started 82 games for the Royals.   Over those starts, Gil threw 511 innings (averaging more than six innings per start), struck out 406 batters while walking 166 and posted a 3.74 earned run average.   During that stretch, the Royals were 39-43 (.475) in games Meche started and just 134-171 (.439) in games he did not start.  

Thirty-five times during that stretch of time, the Royals scored three runs or less.   Not once have we heard Gil Meche complain about lack of run support, despite knowing that over forty percent of the time his team gave him virtually none.   Meche has been a leader for the starting rotation and, perhaps lost in all the Greinke hoopla, he provided valuable stability at the top of the rotation while Greinke developed into a true ace.

I could make a case that if Gil never pitches again, this contract was still worth the money, but I firmly believe that if Gil posts just one more 200 inning season in the next two years there will be absolutely no debate as to the validity of Moore’s long-term commitment.

Therein, however, lies the problem.

To get Meche to Kansas City, Dayton Moore had to give Gil one more year than other teams were offering.   Teams were lined up to give him four years and a little over forty million dollars, but Moore ponied up that fifth year and got the deal done.    From that point forward, the ‘extra year’ has been Moore’s calling card in the free agent market.   He has used it with regularity and when, frankly, he did not need to.

After the 2007 season, Mike Sweeney was off the roster and his big contract thankfully off the books.  Moore was hellbent to sign a slugging outfielder or two.   He, like everyone else in the league, got blown out of the water by the Angels’ offer to Torii Hunter and the Royals dodged a bullet when Andruw Jones turned down their offer to sign with the Dodgers.   That left Jose Guillen as the ‘next best power bat available’.  

While the actual negotiations of a free agent deal are never really known, the widespread belief was that the competition for Guillen was limited.     Would the Royals have inked Guillen if they had offered just a one year deal?  Probably not, but two years might have gotten the deal done in an environment where the few offers out there were of the single year variety. 

Instead, Dayton Moore jumped in with more money per year and MORE YEARS.   If Allard Baird had made this signing, I could have chalked it up to an attempt to rectify losing Raul Ibanez in 2004 over offering two years instead of three.   In Moore’s case, the third year just seems like bad judgment. 

Forget 2008 and 2009, when Guillen was sometimes annoying, sometimes a distraction, often hurt and too commonly awful as a ballplayer.   The third year of this deal is what is killing the Royals.   Put it another way:  how much would having an extra $12 million and a roster spot mean to you right now?

On top of the Guillen signing came two curious multi-year deals the next off-season:  Willie Bloomquist and Kyle Farnsworth.

Now, Bloomquist gets his share of criticism on Royals’ sites, including this one, but it really is not his fault that Trey Hillman kept putting his name in the lineup last year.   Nor is it Willie’s fault that Dayton Moore gave him two guaranteed years instead of one with an option.   Here is where you can offer the ‘you don’t know what the competition was for Bloomquist’ and ‘Willie does not sign with KC unless he gets a two year deal’.   To that, I say: ‘so what?’

Scan the spring training notes of other ballclubs or read through a couple of pages of MLBTradeRumors and you can easily compile a pretty long list of ‘Willie Bloomquists’ that are available or could be had for basically nothing.   Heck, the Royals have a better Bloomquist in Wilson Betemit than Willie himself.   Frankly, if Bloomquist was not around and Betemit not available would long-time farmhand Irving Falu be that much of a drop off?   Furthermore, if the Royals had not offered the second year to Bloomquist and he had signed elsewhere, would not Tug Hulett have done a competent job in his place last year?

Truth is, you can always find utility infielders….and middle relievers.   Which brings us to Kyle Farnsworth, who is going to collect a cool $4.5 million in this, THE SECOND, year of his contract.   The only way that amount and, more specifically, that second year makes sense is if Kyle throws 165 innings as the teams fifth starter this year and that will validate the contract only thanks to simple dumb luck.

Sure, Dayton Moore had no way of knowing that Juan Cruz would still be available for less money two months after he signed Farnsworth (I’m even going to give Dayton a pass on Cruz’s TWO YEAR deal as it sure seemed like a good one at the time) , but no one other than the Royals were knocking down Kyle’s door.   A one year flyer on Farnsworth to see if you can catch lightning in a bottle was worth a shot, but two years?   Considering that the Royals already had a ‘better Farnsworth’ in Robinson Tejeda already on their roster makes that contract seem even sillier.

We can go back in time and remember that last spring many thought the Royals had a real chance at contention.  Dayton Moore certainly did.   That said, were Willie Bloomquist and Kyle Farnsworth so key to the Royals’ plan to make a run to the playoffs that they had to commit extra years to deals just to sign those two players?

I am not even going to mention the Yuniesky Betancourt trade or the signing of Brian Anderson (a poor man’s Mitch Maier) this off-season to replace Mitch Maier.   I am willing to let the two-year Jason Kendall deal play out and leave Rick Ankiel and Scott Podsednik out for now, too.   Let’s just look at Jose Guillen, Willie Bloomquist and Kyle Farnsworth.

Between those three players and because of a superfluous year added to each of their contracts, the Royals had $18.2 million and three roster spots tied up before the first pitch was thrown this spring.  Ignore the money for now and focus on those three spots.

Without being tied to Guillen and Bloomquist, the Royals could break camp with Mike Aviles (admittedly not ready to play short full-time, but he could DH or play second) on their active roster.   They would have more time to evaluate Mitch Maier to see if that hot spring really is indicative of improved performance in the regular season or at last give Kila Kaaihue a shot.  

Without Farnsworth, the team could easily stash Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna in the bullpen.   Instead of keeping two out of Josh Rupe, John Parrish, Brad Thompson, Anthony Lerew and Blake Wood, they could keep three.  I don’t know if that makes the club any better, but it certainly makes them no worse – not to mention $4.5 million cheaper.    (Really don’t want to go with Robinson Tejeda as a starter if Meche can’t go?  Bet you can find someone better at starting than Farnsworth for that $4.5 mil)

Adding just one more year got the Royals a good starting pitcher who helped and hopefully will continue to help the team.   Sadly, the same strategy has tied Kansas City to three players that it simply does not need in 2010.   The next time you hear anyone from the Royals comment on lack of payroll flexibility we should all remember that they only have themselves to blame.

You probably noticed some downtime here at Royals Authority over the weekend.  This was caused by our move from Bloguin over to our new platform, which is the precursor to some even more interesting news that we will be ready to announce in the next week or two.

For now, we are still something of a work in progress as we (and be ‘we’, I mean mostly Craig) continue the process of moving our archived posts over to this new platform and tweak the look and feel of the site.   It appears that your comments from the previous platform will not make the migration over to this one:  it’s a technical issue, not a case of us being jerks.  

As always, Craig, Nick and myself appreciate all our readers and the time you spend here and hope you will continue to visit Royals Authority in the coming days and years.

In the bottom of the first this afternoon, Chris Getz was hit by a pitch, stole second and was bunted over to third by Jason Kendall.  I expect the announcement that  Getz is the new lead-off hitter, Kendall will bat second and David DeJesus will bat 7th to be forthcoming.  

I kid because….well, because there’s no crying in baseball.

Anyway, I thought I would chime in with a few random notes and thoughts this afternoon, if only because it is better than working.

From the ‘try again, only this time do it right’ section:

The Royals announced yesterday, to no one’s surprise, that Alex Gordon would open the season on the disabled list.   Alex likely will not really be able to handle all the tasks of playing a baseball game in the modern era until at or shortly before April 5th and will certainly need extended spring training.   Unlike last year’s hip injury that the Royals seemed to rush Gordon back from with dire results, they have a chance here to keep Alex on the disabled list for the majority of April, making sure he is both healthy and prepared to play.   The organization could then run Gordon through a twenty-day rehab assignment in Omaha, where he might be able to build some confidence and momentum .  

At this point, I cannot imagine that Gordon is anything but a mentally fragile ballplayer who would benefit from every day the Royals can bleed out of the rules before being inserted back into the everyday major league lineup.

From the ‘hindsight is 20-20′ department:

Alex Romero remains an available free agent signee.   Click on his name and eyeball the minor league numbers the outfielder has piled up.   Doesn’t he seem like someone more valuable than Brian Anderson?   Of course, the organization could have been content with Mitch Maier as their fourth outfielder, but that ship has sailed.

This has been hashed over a number of times, but with names like Fred Lewis and Jason Repko now becoming available for probably not a whole lot in return, not to mention Romero, you have to wonder if Dayton Moore’s outfielder shopping extravaganza of Podsednik, Anderson and Ankiel might have been a worse miscalculation than overpaying for Jason Kendall.    Kendall, by the way, may turn out to be of value behind the plate and in the clubhouse, but probably, with some patience, would have eventually signed for a couple of million less.

From the ‘don’t read anything into it’ section:

Mike Aviles is starting for the second straight day at shortstop this afternoon.   While that gets all of us a little excited at the prospect of the Royals actually being savvy enough to realize Aviles (if healthy) is a far better option than Yuniesky Betancourt, keep in mind that Yuni is away from camp for the next three days working out some ‘citizenship issues’.

I think a more likely scenario is that the Royals trade Willie Bloomquist in the next two weeks and break camp with Betancourt, Aviles and Chris Getz on the roster.   How likely that is, I’m not sure, but it is more plausible than Dayton Moore and Trey Hillman benching Betancourt.

We are now into the fourth inning in Arizona, where Edgar Osuna gave up four runs in three innings:  all with two outs.   A guy named Mike Sweeney has homered, Blake Wood has balked and Alberto Callaspo and Billy Butler have done exactly what three and four hitters are supposed to do:  drive in runs.   I kind of forgot what that looked like over the years.

It was not exactly a stellar day for the Royals yesterday.   There was a split-squad day-night sweep at the hands of the Angels and Giants, but actually seemed secondary to what transpired earlier in the day.

Of course, I am referring to the sudden announcement that pitching prospect Danny Duffy had essentially quit baseball.    Greg Schaum tells you all you need, or at least all there is, to know.   The young left-hander was in every-one’s Top 10 of Royals’ prospects, with a real chance at competing for a big league rotation spot as soon as next spring.  

While that damages the club’s long-term rotation plans, the recurring shoulder stiffness of Gil Meche might well devastate the current rotation plans.   Yesterday, as I sat in the Arby’s drive thru lane, I heard Soren Petro and Frank Boal on WHB radio discussing the Meche situation.   Both intimated that there was at least one school of thought during the off-season that Meche should have had surgery, but that Gil himself refused and intended just to ‘pitch through it’.  Let’s just say that bit of knowledge, coupled with the news that Meche’s next trip to the mound will be in a ‘controlled simulation’ this weekend.   Last time I checked, healthy pitchers don’t take their turn in the rotation on a back mound somewhere pitching in a controlled environment.  

That brings us back to the state of rotation right now, with or without a healthy Meche, and specifically the fifth starter spot.  

We have watched Kyle Davies, Robinson Tejeda, Kyle Farnsworth and now Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna all compete for this position, with none of them really doing anything to actually win the job.   The state of this competition is such that Kyle Davies is considered the front-runner based upon having ONE good outing this spring.  Given the situation, it begs the obvious question:  How often do the Royals really need a fifth starter?

Below, you will see that I have run the schedule, pitching the first four starters on normal rest and skipping the fifth starter where I could.  

***Table removed***

In April, all of the first four starters make five starts a piece, but the fifth starter only makes three.    In May, the schedule tightens up some.

***Table Removed***

 Even with just two off-days between April 23rd and the end of May, the Royals could still be in a position to use Zack Grienke 7 times in May, Gil Meche (please be healthy, please be healthy)and Luke Hochevar for six starts, Brian Bannister for five and the fifth starter for five more.  

In all, my May 31st, Greinke could have 12 starts under his belt compared to just 8 by whoever the fifth starter turns out to be.  Now, you can run the numbers using just a straight five man rotation and discover that Greinke would get 11 starts by the end of May without any juggling of the rotation at all.  The fifth starter, however, would start 10 times instead of just 8.   I do not think we even need to look up any stats to decide that more Greinke and less Davies is good for the team.

All of the above, of course, assumes that Gil Meche is healthy.   I would offer that if Meche is more injured than the club is letting on, then juggling the rotation to avoid the fifth spot is even more critical.   Keep in mind, an injured Meche means that the fifth starter is the runner-up in the current competition.

Danny Duffy, the Royals number eight ranked prospect, according to Baseball America, has decided to quit baseball to “reassess his life priorities” according to assistant GM JJ Picollo.

Duffy had a 2.98 ERA in Wilmington last summer and was slated to open 2010 in Double-A.

I’m going to put this at the top because I want to make sure everyone reads this…  To start, if you haven’t bought the Royals Authority 2010 Annual, I hope you consider picking it up.  Right now, Lulu (our publisher) is printing as the orders roll in and shipping pretty much the same day.  That means if you order this week, you’ll have the book in your hands in time for Opening Day.

Here’s the link to order.

Second, we’ve been hinting around at a big announcement for the last couple of months and expect to be able to make said announcement sometime next week.  In conjunction, we’re going to be tinkering with the website which could result in some down time.  Hopefully, all of this will take place on the weekend, but you never know… Just a heads up that if you visit and we’re not online.

And we’re really excited about what we’re doing.  Stay tuned…

On with today’s post…

So SABR Trey is getting closer and closer to figuring out his “ideal” lineup.  It looks something like this:


This is different from what Hillman has been doing for the first three weeks of spring training.  And it’s different from what he’s been talking about ever since the new guys were signed during the off season.

Here’s the good news:  Given the talent available, this is a pretty good lineup.

DeJesus absolutely belongs at the top of the order.  Forget about having speed (and steals) at the top of the order.  Those are nice qualities, but they’re not as important as getting on base.  And DeJesus will get on base more often than Podsednik.  DeJesus has a career OBP of .358 and a walk rate of 8.2%.  The walk rate is low for a leadoff hitter (ideally, it would be closer to 12%) but again… You work with what your GM gives you.  Podsednik has a career OBP of .340 and a walk rate of 8.1%.  Podsednik is 34.  DeJesus is 30.  Neither is thought of as a good base runner (I’m not talking about steals) and both make far too many outs on the bases.  Still, in my mind it’s fairly clear that the OBP (and age) edge belong to DeJesus.

It turns out SABR Trey has been thinking quite a bit about where DeJesus and Podsednik will hit.  He’s whittled his choices for both:  DeJesus will either hit first or third and Podsednik will appear as the leadoff man or will bat second.  I’m not going to argue against DeJesus hitting third, if only because the current lineup has him leading off, which as I said was a good choice.  I don’t care what Hillman’s thought process is, as long as he reaches a decent solution.

Although his thought process leads to Today’s Hillmanism:

“I really want to try to stay away from guys getting mental.  Quite frankly, reporters write about it (DeJesus’ struggles as the number two hitter) and these guys hear about it.  If these guys hear about it, they’re going to get more mental with it.  So honestly, I don’t want to put David in the number two slot.  I think he would slot there just fine, but he doesn’t have a history there, and he’s going to read about it, he’s going to hear about it, and I don’t think that’s a good combination.”

A couple of things to take away from this Hillmanism…

First, SABR Trey reads Royals Authority!  I mean, that’s the only conclusion I can draw after reading that quote.  I’ve been fairly vocal about keeping DeJesus out of the second spot.

Second, Trey is just priceless.  Seriously, his players are going to read the papers and devour the splits and decide they don’t belong in a particular spot?  Lame.  If this is the case, Hillman had better make sure Yuni isn’t translating this site into Spanish.  He won’t be able to get out of bed.

On to the rest of the order…

You have two quality hitters in this lineup: Alberto Callaspo and Billy Butler.  That’s it.  One of those guys has to hit third.  Historically, the argument against Callaspo hitting in the top third has been something along the line of him not being comfortable hitting higher in the order.  Which is total bunk if you ask me.  Although his splits give some validity to the argument, but of his nearly 1,100 career plate appearances, only 200 or so have come in the top third.  In other words, we’re dealing with small sample sizes and the fact that no one has really given him an extended look.

I say, go for it.  He showed impressive power (or as SABR Trey calls it, “Slug”) and his new found extra base hit ability will play just fine at number three.  I will give Hillman credit for realizing he needs to get Callaspo as many at bats as possible.  That’s a good thing.

Further down the order, Guillen and Ankiel are going to give you the same value… which is not much.  Blah.  Although we can hope that when Gordon comes back from the broken thumb he can take Guillen’s spot in the order.

(Quick aside – I think we all agree Ankiel is the least suited of the outfield contenders to play center.  And now he has a sore ankle.  I know the Royals promised him the opportunity to play center, but this sure feels like a good time to break that stupid and ill advised promise.  Of course, no one in the organization has probably considered this.)

The bottom third of the proposed lineup is unspecified.  Betancourt, Kendall and Getz… If I’m at the game and I need a beer or a bathroom break, I’m targeting the inning when these guys are up.  There really no reason to watch at this point.  However, like Clark, I hold out hope that Getz’s high contact rate (89% last year) will eventually translate into more base hits.

So of all of SABR Trey’s lineups this spring (with most of them having Kendall at number two) this one is the best one I’ve seen.  Again, when I say it’s the best, keep in mind I’m thinking of the talent he currently has on his roster.

It’s a start.

Gil Meche took the mound yesterday against the White Sox in his fourth start of Spring Training. He was pulled after four innings after giving up three runs on four hits while walking one and striking out one. After the game he said that he was having shoulder stiffness:

“I just kinda have some shoulder stiffness, you know. It’s nothing serious, through all the tests, checked me out, shoulder is strong but the tightness is there. I don’t feel real loose when I’m pitching.”

It is important to note that Meche missed the final 29 games of the 2009 season with shoulder trouble, so this is a little bit more concerning than merely some of the usual spring tightness that plenty of pitchers go through.  I wanted to see if Meche’s shoulder tightness had any effect on his fastball speeds. So I looked at every pitch which he threw that was classified as a fastball by and charted the speeds over his four spring training starts. The left axis of the graph is speed in MPH and the bottom axis is the pitch count for the spring. The red vertical lines separate each outing.

There has been a noticeable decrease in his fastball speeds over time, and particularly in his last two starts. Part of that could be the fact that he knew he would be throwing more pitches, so he needed to pace himself. However in his post game comments when asked if he had felt the tightness previously he responded by saying:

“It’s been there a little bit.”

When he was asked if he was concerned he said:

“There’s no pain going on or anything, so I’m not worried about it.”

Ok, no big deal right? He isn’t feeling pain, he isn’t worried. It is just typical tightness and the team is being cautious with their #2 starter.

Let’s take a trip back in time. It’s April 4th 2009, Opening Day. Arizona Diamondbacks ace Brandon Webb takes the hill and after four innings leaves the game with tightness in his right shoulder. The headline on the next day was:

Webb not worried by shoulder stiffness

To contrast, here is the headline on today:

Meche stiff after outing, but not worried

After throwing a bullpen session a few days later, Webb reported no pain. Sound familiar? Those four innings were the only innings Webb threw all season. I am not a doctor and I have no idea if what Meche has is anything close to what Webb had, but the point is that this is certainly something to worry about. Whether or not Meche is feeling any pain is irrelevant, whether he is personally worried or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is what is going on in his shoulder and inside those muscles and ligaments. That is what will have a profound effect on the Royals this season.

The biggest strength of the Royals team this year is likely to be the starting pitching. It is the part of the ball club which can keep them competitive. If anyone harbors any ideas that this team has a shot at contention, it is completely based upon the starting pitching being excellent. Zack Greinke is unquestionably the ace of the staff, but he can only go out every five days. Gil is supposed to be the guy who can go out in the wake of Greinke and put together a solid outing. Without him, the Royals will be forced to pick two guys from the group of Davies, Tejeda, Farnsworth and Osuna to be in the rotation rather than just one. That isn’t a particularly pleasing thought.

Nick hosts a podcast about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and welcomes feedback via Twitter (@brokenbatsingle) and e-mail (brokenbatsingle [AT] gmail [DOT] com)

Kyle Davies finally had a decent spring outing on Saturday and, in a weird way, somewhat clarified the bullpen situation for the Royals. Bob Dutton, who is always on the case, touches on this subject as well in his Sunday article in the Kansas City Star.

When you read the club’s comments on Davies, you can clearly see how desperately the Royals want Kyle to have the fifth starter spot. He has teased the Royals for two years: sprinkling a good start, sometimes even a good month, in amongst a collection of pretty painful outings. After three basically awful appearances to start the spring, Davies came up with a nice one on Saturday and is suddenly the ‘clear frontrunner’ for the job.

We can discuss this calamity another day (my personal over/under on the number of pitchers who will occupy the 5th starter spot this season is 4), for now though we are talking bullpen.

Given the Royals’ predisposition to lean towards Davies, the fact that he is out of options and my own personal horror of seeing a player with Kyle’s control problems and propensity to mentally implode come out of the bullpen, let’s assume that he will be given the fifth starter role to start the season.

That pushes Robinson Tejeda, who is also out of options, into the pen as well as Kyle Farnsworth, who is too expensive to just drop. The Royals have to keep Tejeda, if only because Davies will eventually pitch his way out of the rotation, and because Robinson goes through stretches where he is pretty dominant. As for Farnsworth, the idea of ‘Bradeen Loopering him’ is intriguing, plus someone has to pitch in blowouts.

Also given a courtesy look at the number five spot was Rule 5 draftee Edgar Osuna. He has not been spectacular this spring, but he has not been horrible, either. Considering his Rule 5 status, the fact that he is only twenty-two and left-handed, Osuna is an almost certain lock to make the team. All things being equal, it certainly makes more sense to keep a young lefty who might help you in the future as opposed to an aging righty (or lefty) who might help you a little now.

While on the subject of virtual locks, we can add Ramon Colon to that list. Whether it is organization hype, spring training skewed optimism or really the result of finally being healthy, Colon is on the verge of locking down a primary set-up role. He is throwing harder than last season and has a new and improved slider that has thus far eluded spring training bats. Those of you longing for ‘good character guys’ won’t enjoy it, but I could really care less as long as he gets people out while simultaneously staying out of jail.

So, at this point, here is the bullpen:

  • Closer: Joakim Soria
  • Setup 1: Ramon Colon
  • Setup 2:
  • Middle 1: Robinson Tejeda
  • Middle 2:
  • Middle/Long: Kyle Farnsworth
  • Long: Edgar Osuna

Barring a trade and there have been rumors of such, Juan Cruz gets one of the two remaining spots. In Cruz and Farnsworth, the Royals are obligated to pay over six million this year, which is another topic for another day. For the purposes of this discussion, all that means is both their names will be on the 25 man roster come April 5th.

As for the trade rumors, I would be delighted if the Royals could move Cruz for a minor league position player, even if it meant picking up all of his salary. The money’s gone, let’s get someone that might help the team down the road or, at least, be around down the road. Given that Dayton Moore and David Glass do not seem to think that way, I doubt a deal gets done as the Royals will be looking for payroll relief more than anything else.

Frankly, despite his dismal 2009, has a far better track record out of the pen than anyone else on the roster not named Soria, so keeping him around is no big deal.The best case might be having Cruz excel as a setup man in the first half of the season and flipping him for a prospect in July.

The brings us down to one final opening in the bullpen with the following realistic contenders:

  • Blake Wood- The former third round pick is kind of the sexy choice for this last spot right now and has had an excellent spring to date. Wood throws hard and there has long been rumblings of his eventual destination being the back of the bullpen, despite having started 68 of 73 minor league games. That said, Wood has never pitched above AA and has struggled at that level more than succeeded. While there is certainly some allure to having Wood break camp with the Royals, the wiser course of action would be to give him a couple of months in AAA to get some more seasoning as a reliever.
  • Dusty Hughes- With 606 minor league innings under his belt, there is little left for Dusty Hughes to prove in the minors. Last year, the southpaw got a September look with the Royals: doing okay, but missing time with an injury, too. In AAA last year, Hughes held left-handed hitters to just a .208 average, but over his career Dusty has not had such a dramatic lefty/righty split. Trey Hillman has professed a need for a lefty specialist in the pen, which is laughable considering he had one in Jimmy Gobble two years ago and not a clue as to how to use him properly.
  • John Parrish- Another lefty, Parrish is 32 years old with a 174 major league games under his belt and three season ending injuries over the last eight years. He can post some strikeout numbers (7.3K/9 over his career), but also struggles with control (6.1BB/9). Another pitcher who has had a nice spring, the Royals are a little concerned about Parrish’s ability to pitch on back to back days.
  • Josh Rupe- The 27 year old right hander posted a 6.67 ERA in AAA for the Rangers last year, although it is noteworthy that his FIP was just 4.12. When he is keeping the ball down and inducing ground balls, as he did when Josh was a legitimate prospect back in 2004-2005, Rupe can be pretty effective. When he is not, opponents beat him up. Prior to a tough outing this weekend, Rupe had been lights out in spring. Like Parrish, he is another guy with a skepticism inducing K/BB career ratio of just 1.17. Unlike Parrish, this pitcher is not a strikeout artist by any means.
  • Brad Thompson- Resume wise, this 28 year old right hander brings the most to the table with 185 career major league appearances that include 32 starts with the Cardinals. Thompson averages just over four strikeouts per nine innings, but counters that by allowing only two walks per nine innings and inducing twice as many ground balls as fly balls. You have to like his versatility and experience, but you wonder how much Thompson will suffer going from the NL to the AL and pitching in front of the Royals’ infield defense as opposed to that of the Cardinals.

Roster-wise, there is no problem with any of these guys. Hughes and Wood are both on the 40 man roster and both have options. While Parrish, Rupe and Thompson are non-roster invitees, the Royals have a 40 man spot in their pocket as all they have to do is put Jeff Bianchi on the 60 day disabled list to free up a spot.

Of course, there are some other guys floating around camp with an outside shot, too. Notably Anthony Lerew and Gaby Hernandez, each of whom is out of options. I get the sense, however, that the real competition is between the five we detailed above.

As is often the case, the last spot in the bullpen is traditionally the last spot secured when a team breaks camp. I do not envision the Royals doing much to even thin the competition before the first week of April, so we have a couple more weeks to analyze this battle a little further.

While some may find this spot mostly irrelevant the battle mostly boring, I might remind you that Jamey Wright was probably the ‘last guy in’ in 2009 and ended up effecting the outcomes of a lot of games during the regular season.

With yesterday’s off day it feels like we’re at the midway point of the Spring Training schedule. I have no idea if this is factually correct, but I don’t really want to spend the time counting exhibition games.

Anyway, now seems as good a time as any to see where some of the guys are as far as their performance. I don’t place any value in spring performances… small sample sizes and pitchers and hitters working on their approach and all that. Still, there have been some interesting developments this spring.

Let’s recap:

Stock Up: Alberto Callaspo

I’ve said it all along, any Royals lineup that doesn’t include Callaspo is a bad lineup. The Alex Gordon injury has simplified SABR Trey’s job in a manner of speaking in that it opened a position for Callaspo. A slash line of .448/.469/.586 in 29 at bats is sparkling – even if it is spring training.

Stock Way Down: Kyle Davies

There’s not a ton of competition for the back end of the rotation, but Davies is doing his level best to pitch himself out of a job. He can’t get anyone out – in his last appearance ten of the 18 batters he faced reach. That was seven hits (including four doubles) and three walks. This has become a dysfunctional relationship where It’s best that both parties go their separate ways before someone has to call the cops. Let him abuse another fan base.

Stock Up: Mitch Maier

He’s just reminding Dayton Moore that he’s younger and less expensive than the free agent retreads the Royals signed this winter. Like the Gordon injury opening the door for regular Callaspo time, the Rick Ankiel injury has presented Maier with an opportunity he wasn’t otherwise likely to have this spring. He’s responded by hitting .455/.478/.818 in 22 at bats.

I figured with the off season outfield shopping spree, Maier would be the odd man out. Now, I’m thinking Ankiel is a new version of Jose Guillen (i.e. On the downward side of a career where the injuries are going to pile up.) and will miss plenty of time this year, giving Maier some at bats.

I’m glad, because I root for Maier.

Stock Down: Josh Fields

I had hope that he could recapture his power stroke from a couple years ago, but now I’m not so sure. When you’re swinging a slow bat in spring training, that’s just not a good sign. Plus, he’s just leaving a ton of runners on base. A ton. And striking out. And not hitting for the power he was supposed to possess. He has potential to be Mike Jacobs, Version 2.0. That’s not a compliment.

Stock Up: Mike Aviles

He hasn’t seen a lot of action, but he does have seven hits in his 14 at bats. Encouraging progress for someone who wasn’t expected to be ready for Opening Day. The Royals could still keep him in extended spring training to open the year, but he’s close. That’s good news because we’re going to be calling for him by mid-April after watching a couple weeks of Betancourt.

Stock Up: Aaron Crow

It’s official: I’m excited to see this kid in Kansas City.

That said, I hope the Royals do the prudent thing and keep him in the minors all year. No need to rush him, and after setting out all of last year, he needs to get some low pressure innings on his arm. Double-A is absolutely the best place for him to open the year. If he tears it up in the first half, promote him to Omaha. If he tears it up in the second half, give him a courtesy call in September.

Let’s focus on him for 2011. It will be worth the wait.

Stock Down: Rick Ankiel

I know we have a new training staff, but didn’t you have a little deja vu when he was pulled from a game on Friday, said he felt better on Saturday and was shut down for a week on Sunday? Speaking of which…

Today’s Hillmanism is on Ankiel:

He just needs to have some consistency offensively. Occasionally, you’re going to see him swing out of the zone. Hopefully, he gets his discipline tamed a little bit before we get into the season.

This gets nominated for understatement of the spring. Last year, Ankiel offered at pitches out of the strike zone over 34% of the time. Of the 252 players who accumulated over 350 plate appearances, he had the 17th worst discipline. For his career, he’s swung at 33% of all pitches he’s seen out of the strike zone.

If I were a betting man, I’d bet against Ankiel discovering the magic of discipline.

While there may not have been a consensus last spring, I think it is safe to say that there was at least a majority opinion that the position player who was likely the key to a successful 2009 was shortstop Mike Aviles. After all, Aviles had been in the running for rookie of the year in 2008 and had done so at arguably the weakest position both depth and prospect wise in the Royals’ system.

Of course we all know what happened. Aviles was injured in spring training, tried to play through it and didn’t tell the team that he was hurt.It was a horrific year that ended mercifully in May when Mike went under the knife. The lack of options within the organization were once again exposed and seemingly panicked Dayton Moore into trading two minor league pitchers (including former top prospect Dan Cortes) for Yuniesky Betancourt.

Just how good was Mike Aviles in 2008? Well, let’s use Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement Level, which incorporates offense and defense, as our measuring stick and look back at the Royals’ position player leaders in this category over the last six years.

Wins Above Replacement Level

2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004
David DeJesus 3.3 Mike Aviles 4.4 David DeJesus 2.6 David DeJesus 3.9 David DeJesus 4.2 Joe Randa 3.1
Alberto Callaspo 2.8 David DeJesus 2.6 Mark Grudzielanek 2.5 Mark Teahen 3.2 Mike Sweeney 2.1 Carlos Beltran 2.6
Billy Butler 2.5 Alex Gordon 2.4 Mark Teahen 2.1 Emil Brown 3.1 Emil Brown 1.6 David DeJesus 1.1

That’s right, Mike Aviles was arguably the Royals best position player in the LAST SIX YEARS. You have to go back to 2003 and Carlos Beltran (6.1 WAR) to find a position player with a better ranking than Aviles posted in 2008. That brings up several questions.

First, was Aviles really that good? Or did he benefit from a high balls in play batting average and a fair amount of rookie luck? Well, yes and no.

No player will consistently post a .357 BABIP year after year, so Aviles almost certainly would have to regress some. That said, this is a guy who popped 41 extra base hits in just over 100 games. There were certainly a few ‘Texas Leaguers’ in those doubles, but by and large it is hard to hit that many extra base hits and chalk it all up to just good fortune.

Additionally, Aviles as a rookie got his hacks in and walked sparingly. While there is nothing in Mike’s long minor league track record to make one believe he is suddenly going to walk 100 times per year, it would seem to make sense that he would walk more than he did in his rookie year. Which, in some part, would make up for not being as lucky with his BABIP. Look at the chart above once more:Mike Aviles could regress at the plate and likely still be one of the team’s better offensive weapons.

The big question at this point, of course, is can Aviles play shortstop again? To date, Mike has only played or even practiced as far as I know on the right side of the diamond.The Royals traded for Chris Getz (who I like) and already had Alberto Callaspo, a fine hitter in his own right, and could find themselves in the position of having three guys who play the same position being among the best nine hitters they possess.

Everything looks a whole lot better if Mike Aviles can still make the throws from shortstop. His value defensively is obviously higher at short than at second (although he might be the best defensive second baseman of the bunch right now) and his bat is so much better than anyone who has played shortstop since…well…Freddie Patek.

Keep in mind, this is a team that in Yuniesky Betancourt, Tony Pena Jr and Angel Berroa has trotted out a string of shortstops that have had NEGATIVE value to their team. Not only that, with Jeff Bianchi going down with arm woes this spring, the void to the next possible shortstop candidate in the system is huge.

The Royals are not contenders in 2010 with a healthy Mike Aviles playing shortstop, but they are certainly in a better position with him than without him. You want 2010 to be at least interesting? Then Mike Aviles, as he was last spring, is the key to that happening.

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