Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged WIlson Betemit

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

The All-Star Break means it’s time to hand out the annual Royals Authority first half report cards.

There are no exams or assignments… Grading is subjective and based on a soft curve. Players are listed in a positional order from Baseball Reference with their slash stats and Fangraphs WAR.

Matt Treanor
.220/.354/.308
0.9 WAR

Key Stat: Treanor leads the team with a 15% walk rate.

Coach T has been everything the Royals could have hoped when they acquired him from Texas prior to the start of the season. He calls a good game, throws out runners (he’s thrown out 29% of would be base stealers) and is currently third on the team in OBP. Remember, the Royals picked up Coach T only when they came to the realization that Jason Kendall isn’t the most awesomest catcher in the whole wide baseball world, and would have to miss the start of the season. Now that Kendall is down for the year, Coach T will, at the age of 35, post a career high for plate appearances sometime next month.

Grade: B+

Eric Hosmer
.268/.317/.431
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: He’s hitting a home run once every 29.9 at bats, second best rate on the team.

How do you give a grade to a player like this when expectations where so sky-high. Hosmer has yet to live up to the hype, but that’s OK, because he’s going to have a long career ahead of him.

If there’s one thing about Hosmer that’s bothered me in the early stages of his career, it’s his defense. I’ve seen him do some strange things in the field. Take Saturday’s game, when he ole’d a ground ball that really should have been fielded. Sure it was a hard hit ball, but it went right between his body and his glove. The kind of play the Royals minor league defensive player of the year should be making. While I’m on the negative, let’s add the dude needs to lay off the high strike a little more frequently.

Still, he’s 21 years old and holding his own in the big leagues. There’s something to be said for that. This grade is a reflection there is still plenty of work to be done.

Grade: B-

Chris Getz
.259/.320/.291
0.8 WAR

Key stat: He’s scored a run 43% of the time he’s reached base, tops among regulars.

Sigh… Every team has a Chris Getz. He doesn’t do anything notable, except he Plays The Game The Right Way. So managers and front office guys love him. He’s not that good, yet he’s somehow overrated. How exactly does this work?

Don’t pay a word to the Royals when they talk about his defense. Fact is, he’s average to below average with the glove. He has a slow first step and has difficulty moving to his right. His ability to turn the double play is below average as well… He’s converted just 47% of all double play chances this year.

Offensively, Yost has thrown him into the leadoff spot, where he’s horribly miscast. As the leadoff hitter, Getz is managing a line of .183/.266/.220. True, this team doesn’t have a guy who fits the traditional mold of a leadoff man, but we have enough evidence to know that it isn’t Getz. But he has 17 steals, so I suppose we have that going for us.

Aviles would provide more value over an entire 162 game season.

Grade: C-

Alcides Escobar
.250/.290/.328
1.4 WAR

Key stat: Hitting .343/.393/.509 since June 7.

Sometime early in the season, I sent out a Tweet proclaiming Escobar The Shortstop Jesus. I figured it was fitting because he was saving all those runs. (Get it?) (And yes, I realize I’ve ripped off Bill Simmons who refers to Larry Bird as The Basketball Jesus. I’m a polytheist.) His defense has been mouthwatering for much of the 2011 season. It’s been so good, I can’t even remember the name of that stiff who used concrete on his hands and feet at shortstop the last couple of seasons.

Now, about the bat… As cold as Escobar was early in the season, (he was hitting .203/.237/.241 on June 6) he’s been scorching hot ever since. It’s a remarkable turnaround. If he can push his OBP another 30 points higher, we’ll really have something. That might be asking a bit much. Last year in Milwaukee, he hovered around the .300 mark until a September swoon dropped him to his final resting place of .288. But after digging that deep hole early in the season, to get back to a .300 OBP would be a heck of an accomplishment.

I still think it’s hilarious Zack Greinke forced his way out of Kansas City and ended up with the Yunigma as his shortstop as those of us actually loyal to the Royals now have a defensive human highlight reel at short. That gets him a couple points right there…

Grade: B-

Wilson Betemit
.285/.345/.415
0.5 WAR

Key Stat: Hitting .301/.360/.466 vs RHP and .241/.305/.278 against LHP.

Are the Royals a better team with Betemit in the lineup? Right now… Probably. But that’s exactly the kind of short-sighted mess that’s plagued this franchise for 25 years. Once the Royals decided it was time for Mike Moustakas, Betemit had to grab some pine.

Of course, this torpedoed any trade value Betemit may have had, but that value was going to be limited for the key stat listed above. He’s probably best suited as a platoon guy or left-handed bat off the bench. (I know he’s a switch hitter… But if I was a manager, I’d never use him against left handed pitching unless absolutely necessary.)

For some reason, his power is way down this year. He has a 4.3% HR/FB rate compared to last year’s 12.1% HR/FB. As a result, he’s homered once every 66 at bats this year. Last summer, he parked one once every 21 at bats.

Grade: C

Alex Gordon
.299/.367/.483
3.4 WAR

Key Stat: As long as he stays healthy, he will post career highs in every offensive category you can imagine.

He’s dominating… And I love it. Should have been an All-Star, but he can take solace in his grade…

Grade: A

Melky Cabrera
.293/.332/.455
3.0 WAR

Key Stat: Cabrera is walking in just 5.4% of all plate appearances.

The Melk-Man is having the kind of season GMDM dreamed about when he signed him. Just a year ago, he finished at .255.317/.354 and a -1.0 WAR and was cut loose by the Braves. The Royals took a chance that he would be motivated and would rebound, and he certainly has.

The downside of this is he is blocking Lorenzo Cain in Omaha who is hitting .313/.379/.529 for the Storm Chasers. And, Cabrera is a third year arbitration eligible, meaning if he plays a full season in KC, the Royals retain his rights for 2012. Fans may be looking at Cabrera as trade bait, but I’m not so certain the Royals will be offered what they consider “fair value.”

The Royals face an interesting decision on the Melk-Man.

Grade: A-

Jeff Francoeur
.265/.308/.443
1.8 WAR

Key Stat: 37% of all his base hits have gone for extra bases.

The Frenchman has done what we all expected and reverted to his career norm following a hot start where it seemed like he was in the middle of every late game rally for the Royals. Check the numbers… In his career, Francoeur is a .268/.310/.427 hitter. There will probably be a couple of warm streaks from here to the end of the year and a couple of cool stretches as well. He is who he is.

Obviously, he’s playing great defense in right. I have no idea why other teams think it’s a good idea to run on the Royals outfield.

Overall, he’s been a decent enough player for the Royals. His WAR is the 3rd best on the team and for you stolen base perverts, he’s already swiped a career-best 15 bases.

There’s a mutual option for 2012, and the early smart money is that if The Frenchman isn’t dealt, that option will be exercised by both parties. We’ll see…

Grade: B-

Billy Butler
.294/.390/.415
1.1 WAR

Key Stat: Butler’s .352 wOBA is the second best on the team.

Butler is having another Billy Butler season. In other words, he’s doing a damn fine job with the bat.

One thing that’s hampering Butler this season is the fact he’s batting more ground balls. For his career, he has a 1.43 GB/FB ratio, but this year he’s at 1.66 GB/FB. That’s effected his power numbers, as his ISO has cratered to .121. It also hasn’t helped that opposing pitchers are pitching around Butler. His 10 intentional walks are tops on the team. After hitting in the 3rd spot for most of last year, he’s been in the cleanup or fifth spot with no protection behind him in the lineup.

The average DH makes $9 million this year. Butler is earning $3 million. His production is pretty much in the middle of the pack among the nine regular DHs. While the power isn’t there, he’s ripping a line drive 24% of the time he puts a ball in play. Sure, a few more home runs would be nice, but the guy is having another solid season with the bat.

He’s still not a power hitter and probably will never hit for the power fans crave. Get over it. He’s good.

Grade: A-

Jarrod Dyson
.172/.294/.172
0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Running 43% of the time there is an open base ahead of him.

Dyson is an electric player, but so was Joey Gathright. They’re the same guy. Except, as far as I know, Dyson hasn’t jumped over a car.

He doesn’t belong on this team. He doesn’t belong on any major league team, although you could make the case to have him on a roster if he could pinch run for a hacking designated hitter type… A guy like Mike Jacobs. Where if you inserted Dyson in a tie game and that spot came up in the lineup with the game on the line in extras, you wouldn’t be kicking yourself for taking out a good hitter and letting weak sauce swing the stick.

And he really doesn’t belong on a team with fourth place aspirations.

Grade as a hitter: F
Grade as a runner: A

Kila Ka’aihue
.195/.295/.317
-0.1 WAR

Key Stat: Brought home only four base runners out of a total of 72. That’s a 6% conversion rate. That’s awful.

RIP Kila Monster.

Grade: F

Mitch Maier
.294/.410/.412
0.4 WAR

Key Stat: Maier has a .405 BABIP.

It was clear from the start that Maier would have a difficult time cracking the lineup… Especially after Melky and The Frenchman were promised playing time prior to inking their respective contracts. Not that Maier would be an upgrade, but given the fact he’s rarely moved his butt off the bench, he’s done quite well.

Grade: B

Mike Aviles
.213/.257/.391
0.0 WAR

Key Stat: Aviles’ has a .178 ISO, which for a full season, would be the highest rate of his career.

In a little over two months, Aviles had three streaks: Sadly, only one of those could have been classified as “hot.” That landed him back in Omaha once the Royals decided to launch the Moose era in Kansas City. I’m convinced he’ll be back at some point, but it will most likely take a trade to Betemit to have this happen.

As it is, he’s the ultimate Replacement Player for 2011.

Grade: D-

Mike Moustakas
.228/.294/.283
-0.2 WAR

Key Stat: Moose has brought home just three of 72 base runners.

Moose has struggled since he was called up from Omaha. I don’t think there was anyone surprised by this development. He doesn’t have the natural ability that pushed Hosmer to the head of the Royals prospect class, but he’ll be fine once he sorts things out at this level.

Think of this as part of the learning curve.

Grade: Incomplete

Pitchers on Friday… Class dismissed.

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

Thursday’s game wasn’t on TV, but listening to the radio and following on Twitter, one thing was obvious: Mike Aviles is lost. Poor plate appearances, bad base running, questionable defense… Aviles has it all.

Still, the news was surprising. After the game, the Royals sent Aviles to Omaha and called up Mike Moustakas.

Viva Le Process!

After a slow start, Moustakas is on the rise for the Storm Chasers. Overall, he’s hitting .287/.347/.498 in 250 plate appearances. Like Eric Hosmer prior, Moose has earned his call to The Show.

Several thoughts immediately spring to mind.

– First, by optioning Aviles, the Royals have destroyed the trade value of Wilson Betemit. Seriously, where does he play? You don’t call up one of the top prospects in the game to platoon or to play a few times a week. I know the Royals are trying to sell Betemit as Alcides Escobar’s backup at short, but I’m not buying. Betemit has played 407 innings of shortstop in his career, but hasn’t appeared there in a game since he played 57 innings for the Yankees in 2008. He’s played even less at second, which is now the sole territory of Chris Getz.

Betemit is a good hitter… One of the best on this team. Currently at .290/.350/.409 he certainly would have drawn interest at the trade deadline. Honestly, he probably would have been difficult to move for value given that everyone in the baseball universe knew he was blocking Moustakas and the Royals would be desperate to make a deal. Moving him to the bench scotches that value completely.

– Second, we will never, ever see a pinch hitter for the Shortstop Jesus, Alcides Escobar. As I said, I don’t buy the “Betemit at shortstop” meme the Royals are trotting out. We know Yost places a premium on Escobar’s glove – although he completely oversells the defensive contribution of Escobar to justify his bat. He wouldn’t play Aviles there and that was his best defensive position. You think he’s going to remove Escobar from the game in the late innings and have to replace his glove with Betemit’s? No way that happens. No. Way.

It all comes down again to roster math. Which Dayton Moore fails on a regular basis. As Moustakas warmed up for the Storm Chasers, I thought GMDM would need to move Betemit before he could bring up the prospect. There wasn’t a rush… It’s not like the Royals are contenders, so I figured Betemit would be a goner sometime around the All-Star Game with Moose up after the break. Of course, that makes too much sense.

Aviles can play three infield positions… None of them well. But he’s competent enough to sub from time to time. Now that flexibility has vanished. And the Royals are going to seriously try to win games with a double play tandem of Escobar and Getz playing the full nine innings.

– Third, I question the timing. Why now? I wonder if it’s because the Royals are heading to Anaheim, just down the road from Chatsworth, where Moustakas grew up. Would they call-up a prospect just to give him an opportunity to make his debut in his hometown? Seems kind of… strange. As I said, there’s really no hurry to bring him up right now. Moose has certainly earned the call, but there’s no harm at all in keeping him on the farm until the roster situation gets settled.

Super-two status isn’t an issue here. We’re well past the cutoff date.

– Fourth, the Royals will have to make a move on the 40-man roster to make room for Moustakas. Who gets the chop? Kevin Pucetas has struggled in Omaha, but I wonder if the Royals will expose a starting pitcher. Manny Pina has struggled to hit in Omaha and doesn’t figure in the future anyway. Jesse Chavez kind of stinks. Any one of those guys is expendable and I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of them removed.

– Finally, what are expectations for Moustakas? He is a slow starter when he moves levels, which isn’t unheard of. I’m thinking he plays the rest of the season at a level in the neighborhood of .270/.325/.450.

Keep this in mind, the third base position in the AL is horrible from an offensive standpoint this year. The average AL third baseman is hitting .234/.305/.369. Their .674 OPS is the second worst when ranked by position, ahead of only left fielders. That’s right, AL third basemen are offensively worse than both catchers and shortstops this year. If (and when) Moustakas struggles, we’ll need to maintain a healthy dose of perspective.

Overall, I’m pleased Moustakas is up and The Process continues to roll. It’s the little things that have me worried. And they will continue to have me worried about the future of this franchise.

Calling up a hot prospect is easy. Managing a roster is difficult.

Is it possible that the most polished major league hitter in the Royals’ lineup is a 21 year old rookie who has played in just 24 career games?   Is that a plus for Eric Hosmer or an indictment of the rest of the Kansas City batting order?

I am in a glass half full sort of mood this morning.   The Royals have righted the ship by taking two straight from the Angels, Billy Butler hit a home run, Alex Gordon has rebounded, Alcides Escobar continues to make play after play…heck, even Chris Getz has not annoyed me for three or four days!    As such, I tend to believe that Hosmer is simply that good.

At last, perhaps, after suffering through the debuts of Kila Ka’aihue and Alex Gordon, to name just a couple, maybe the vision of a prospect coming up and, you know, actually hitting is so unique that it really, really stands out.   Enough so that I decided to see what some past homegrown Royals did in their first 25 games:

  • Eric Hosmer – .291/.327/.515/.842, 6 doubles, 5 homers, 17 RBI
  • Alex Gordon – .167/.314/.286/.599, 4 doubles, 2 homers, 5 RBI
  • Billy Butler – .286/.315/.452/.767, 5 doubles, 3 homers, 14 RBI
  • Carlos Beltran – .300/.325/.455/.779, 6 doubles, 3 homers, 16 RBI
  • Johnny Damon – .330/.391/.534/.925, 7 doubles, 2 homers, 15 RBI
  • Mike Sweeney – .250/.369/.353/.722, 4 doubles, 1 homer, 10 RBI
  • Bo Jackson – .207/.286/.329/.615, 2 doubles, 2 homers, 9 RBI
  • George Brett – .216/.244/.338/.581, 6 doubles, 1 homer, 9 RBI

I took some liberties with the above; ignoring the sporadic playing time of the September call-ups of Beltran, Sweeney and Brett in their actual major league debuts, but using Bo’s September as he played basically everyday in the fall of 1986.    Also worth noting is that Johnny Damon also smacked 4 triples in his first 25 games – not sure if you remember, but Damon could really play.

I thought about pulling up the numbers of some of the once ‘sure-things’ that parlayed a good start or even a good rookie season into dismal failure.   However, looking back at Bob Hamelin, Mark Quinn and Angel Berroa runs counter to the ‘glass half full’ frame of mind we are using today.

Twenty-five games does not a career or, even a season make.   That said, Eric Hosmer is off to a better start than most of the other big Royals’ prospects of the past.  Yes, Mike Sweeney was not a big prospect when he came up, but I thought it was relevant to include him.

Some other quick notes:

Felipe Paulino has been fantastic for the Royals in his first two outings (9.1 IP, 0 runs, 0 walks).  Keep in mind, for those of you who think Bob McClure may have made some magical tweak, that Paulino had a stretch of 36 innings where he allowed just 7 runs just one year ago.   Obviously, you have to like what you have seen thus far out of the newly acquired pitcher, but the jury is still out on whether the can maintain it.

Baseball America is projecting the Royals will pick UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole with the number five pick on Monday.   I think that would be a great pick should he fall that far, with the theory being that Cole could make the majors as early as 2013.   While Bubba Starling would be a pick popular with the locals, he is three to four years away from the majors, the smart money would be to take the best college arm available…or Dylan Bundy.    Bundy is the high school pitcher from Oklahoma, who is more advanced than your usual high school arm.   Chances are that he will not even be there when the Royals’ turn comes, but he would also be fantastic pick.

In addition to a Homser coming up and having early success, something else new and unusual is happening for the Royals:  they have a prospect close to major league ready who is legitimatelyblocked by a player at the major league level.     We are all anticipating the arrival of Mike Moustakas, but what do you do with Wilson Betemit?  You know, the Betemit that is hitting .306/.370/.438.   The very same one who in 127 games with the Royals has a line of .300/.375/.484.    That is a nice problem to have and one that is unique in the recent history of Kansas City.

In a matter of weeks, maybe even days, the concern over promoting prospects to the majors and having them become eligible for arbitration as a Super Two will go away.   While the Royals have shown a rather remarkable carefree attitude about early arbitration eligibility  when it came to calling up Eric Hosmer and Danny Duffy, one would imagine that not having to worry about Super Two status will be one less impediment to calling up the next wave of promising young players.

That is not to say, however, that on some magical day in the near future (say June 8th) that we will wake up one morning to hear that Mike Moustakas, Mike Montgomery and Lorenzo Cain have all been promoted to Kansas City.   If we truly lived in a Rotisserie world, one could do just that, but in real life there are personality, experience and clubhouse issues to be considered as well as the fact that there are actual humans occupying spots in front of these guys.

One of those ‘humans’ is Wilson Betemit, who just happens to be hitting .315/.379/.465 to follow up on his career best 2010 campaign.   While Wilson has played everywhere but catcher in his career that does not necessarily imply that he actually ‘can’ play anywhere.  That Betemit has played 19 career major league games at second base gets all of us thinking about Moustakas at third, Wilson at second and ‘Man! That’s a salty batting order!’     Except for the fact that supposed defensive difference at second base between Chris Getz and Mike Aviles is likely unnoticeable when compared to the gap between either of them and Wilson Betemit should he wander out to that side of the diamond.

So, what do you do with Mike Moustakas?   After a very tough April, Mike has hit .303/.386/.566 in May and has hit both left-handed and right-handed pitching along the way.   He has not played particularly outstanding defense, but by all accounts will be passable for now at third.   Keep in mind, the Betemit/Aviles combo in the majors has not exactly been defensive fine art this year.

Certainly, Betemit would seem to be a player that might provide value on the trade market, even if trading him would weaken, at least in the short term, any hopes the Royals have for a winning season in 2011.   If a decent deal came along, it would make sense to move Betemit, promote Moustakas and have him get his rookie shakedown cruise over with so he is ready to contribute from the start in 2012.

Of course, do you play for 2012?   If the answer is yes, then the Royals absolutely need to get Moustakas to the majors sometime in June.   Both he and Hosmer could get the ups and downs of their rookie seasons over with and hopefully ready them to be middle of the order impact bats immediately next season.   

Is that realistic?  Is contending in 2012 a high probability?   It better be, because the Royals will have Hosmer, Moustakas, Duffy, virtually everyone in their bullpen and Mike Montgomery all on schedule to become free agents after the 2017 season.

Montgomery is included in the above paragraph, because the Royals cannot enter 2012 with serious contention hopes without both Duffy and Montgomery seasoned and ready to pitch all of that season at or near the top of the team’s starting rotation.   They cannot expect that to happen without getting both a good 100 innings in the majors this year.     

Given that Sean O’Sullivan has 22 walks versus 16 strikeouts in 45 innings this season, he would hardly seem to be a guy who should be blocking a talent like Montgomery.  Sure, Sean has ‘kept the Royals in games’, but contenders are built around pitchers who WIN games, not keep you close.      With 49 innings under his belt in AAA already this season and only 93 total innings pitched last year, Montgomery (like Duffy) has a limited number of innings to pitch in 2011.   One more turn through the rotation ought to eliminate Super Two considerations and should be more than enough to move forward.

Bottom line, the Royals should either promote both Moustakas and Montgomery by mid-June or wait all the way until late April of nextyear to get them on an entirely different free agency path from that of Hosmer and Duffy.  If you go the service time route, then you are really saying that the Royals truly realistic first year to contend (barring flukes or a crappy division – both possibilities) is not 2012, but 2013.   The argument can be made that 2013 is truly the right choice.

Would it depend on the 2011 team’s record when it comes to making this decision?  I am not sure it does, given that Wilson Betemit is likely to be a greater asset to the ‘win now’ theory in July of 2011 than Mike Moustakas would be.   It is also quite possible that Bruce Chen (assuming he makes it back soon) is a better major league pitcher right now than Mike Montgomery will be.

I really think these decisions need to be made based not on what will happen in 2011, but what the Royals perceive will happen in 2012 and/or 2013.  That is where it gets tricky.   It is relatively easy to make a decision that will impact the nine game road trip that begins on June 10th, but it is harder to discern what impact a decision made now will have on the April 2012 Royals.  

Welcome to Dayton Moore’s world.

Side Note:  I was going to talk about the Melky Cabrera/Lorenzo Cain situation as part of the column today as well, but decided I had reached a quasi-plausible ending point.   Truthfully, I am not exactly sure what the proper call is there, but by Thursday, I hope to have an answer for you.

While is is cliche to say an off-day came at a good time, this Monday break in the schedule came at  a good time for the Royals.    Fresh off a sweep at the hands of the Rangers, who were playing without Josh Hamilton and Neftali Feliz, and losers of six of their last eight games, this young Kansas City team needs to check itself before it wrecks itself.

More than anything, I am hoping this off-day allows the team to truly take a breath and realize it still has a chance to be much better than virtually all of us thought they could be.    Certainly, the Royals are not going to win ten of every fifteen games as they did to start the season, but they should not perceive themselves as a team that is going to lose six of eight, either.

In those six losses, only one was a true beat down (the 11-6 loss to open the Texas series).    In every other game, even yesterday, Kansas City was a key hit or a key hold away from tying or winning.   That is not the sign of a team with no hope.   It is, however, a sign of a team with five rookies in the bullpen and whose best player this year was widely regarded as bust last year.    There is not a whole lot that the organization can do about those facts, other than keep playing and get enough good fortune for the team to continue to believe.

I know, belief is one of those touchy feelly things that we tend to discount, but there is some merit to the simple fact that a player thinks something is going to happen to help his team win as opposed to thinking something is going to happen to make his team lose.    We have been on the losing side of that equation with a number of Royals teams this century.   Thus far, and it is early, the 2011 Royals seem to be avoiding the ‘loser mentality’.   Doing so, warranted or not, going forward will certainly not hinder this organization’s drive back to respectability.

You wonder if Ned Yost is going to spend a considerable amount of his off-day time thinking about his lineup after seeing Mike Aviles go three for five yesterday with two home runs and a steal.    Aviles, who is ninth on the team in plate appearances has gone 10 for 27 after starting the year 3 for 28 and currently has a slugging percentage greater than everyone on the team not named Francouer.

The snag is that the two guys in direct competition with Aviles for playing team, Wilson Betemit and Chris Getz, each had two hits yesterday.   Getz, who was in a 3 for 31 stretch prior to yesterday, would seem to be playing his way out of the lineup….if we applied the same principals to his performance as the Royals applied to that of Aviles to start the year.

Quite obviously, you cannot take Wilson Betemit (.364/.424/.509) out of the lineup anytime soon and the organization is going to give Kila Ka’aihue more at-bats whether you like it or not, so the equation comes down to this:

  • Aviles – .236/.271/.527 with 4 steals and 9 extra base hits
  • Getz – .240/.330/.280 with 5 steals and 2 extra base hits

You make the call on this one, but I go with Aviles based on the above and the fact that he has two seasons worth of hitting decently well on his resume.

Speaking of Betemit (sort of), there has been discussion around whether he should be hitting fifth instead of Jeff Francouer.  My gut reaction when Yost moved Ka’aihue down in the order was that he should, but it is a very minor issue at this point given how Jeff Francouer is hitting.   Currently on a .325/.370/.566 run, I don’t think you do anything to mess with Frenchy right now.

Now, Francouer has had streaks similar to this before.   After being traded to the Mets in 2009, Jeff hit .311/.338/.498 over a 75 game run.   Those numbers are not at all dissimilar to those of his rookie season, albeit with a less power.   While this is likely just another hot streak in a notorious hackers career, I will point out that with 7 walks in 21 games, Francouer is on pace to walk over 50 times this year:  well above his career high.   Right now, Jeff’s early numbers in a very small sample size bear a distinct resemblance to his 2007 season.   I would take that year’s result of .293/.338/.444 with 40 doubles and 19 home runs, wouldn’t you?

The off-day has also allowed or caused Ned Yost to skip Sean O’Sullivan in the starting rotation this time around.  Normally, that would all make perfect sense to me, but O’Sullivan is coming off two good starts.   In addition, is it wise to go out of your way to get an extra start for Luke Hochevar, who has never pitched more than 143 major league innings in one season, and Jeff Francis, who admittedly wore down last year?

Finally, if you would rather think about baseball instead of work on this Monday, check the Royals’ schedule through the end of May and give us a guess on what their record will be over the next thirty-three games.   Also, if you happen to see any series in there that we might consider ‘a break’, please let me know.   From my perspective, this team is about to embark a pretty rugged stretch of games.

Episode #051 – In which Nick discusses the callup of Louis Coleman, reviews the Rangers series, previews the Indians series and takes a look at who’s doing well for the Storm Chasers in Omaha.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs051.mp3|titles=BBS

Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Music in this podcast:

Son Volt – Flow

Charles Mingus – Fables Of Faubus

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The Royals sailed through the weekend taking three of four games from the Mariners and find themselves having won two-thirds of the games they have played at basically the one-tenth mark of the 2011 season.  Somewhere there is a column or comment that will certainly detail that 15 baseball games is the equivalent of a game and one-half of an NFL season, ‘x’ amount of an NBA season, roughly equal to the beginning of the Battle of Britain of World War II and somewhere between the first and second plastic surgeries for Pamela Anderson.   Hey, we all know it’s early and we all know that baseball is long season.

That said, Dayton Moore and the Royals could have some interesting situations to ponder as this season moves forward.   If this team had come out of the gate at a much more expected pace of 5-10 instead of 10-5, the when and where of a variety of roster moves would be a pretty simple equation.   Winning, however, makes the scenarios much more complex.

On the one hand, Moore does not want to sacrifice 2013 and beyond by forcing the issue in 2011.   Conversely, he also does not want to lose a chance at a playoff run in 2011 (however unlikely) by playing only for the future.   You know, the old ‘bird in the hand’ principal.

So, for some Monday morning brain work, let’s take a look at several potential issues and scenarios and get your opinion on when to believe and when to pull the trigger.

  • When are the Royals for real?

The 2009 team stood at 18-11 on May 7th and was still tied for first place as late as May 15th, but still lost 97 games that year.    So, right there, is a cautionary tale for all of us to remember.   The Royals play seven of their next ten games against Cleveland, sandwiched around a three game set at Texas.   That stretch if followed by a nine game homestand with Minnesota, Baltimore and Oakland.   If the Royals are 20-14 after all that, go to New York and Detroit and split the six game road trip, would you consider them a contender?   

My gut reaction is yes, except it is still just May 15th when that is all done.   Surely, a team with a starting rotation like the Royals have would have to play winning baseball into at least some point in June to be considered a contender, right? 

Maybe the better way to approach this question is to look at it as ‘when to you consider the Royals a contender AND start making moves because of it?’.    Now, I will be watching the standings and the out of town scoreboard well in advance of June 9th (heck, we’re all watching them now), but somewhere in that time-frame, should Kansas City be in first or within three or four games of first, I think Dayton Moore has to consider making moves to win now.   Not ‘mortgage the future type move’, but move that make the 2011 team stronger.

Why June 9th?  That will be the end of an eleven game homestand against the Angels, Minnesota and Toronto, 64 games into the season, and right in front of a nine game road trip to LA, Oakland and St. Louis.  

  • How long do you stick with Kila Ka’aihue

I think it is funny how there is this ‘anti-Kila’ group of fans that are apparently irritated by the long standing call for Kila to get a shot in the majors.   I mean, isn’t that the point of having a farm system?   Have guys perform at a high level and then give them a shot?

Anyway, after going one for three with a walk on Sunday, Ka’aihue’s line stands at .174/.304/.283.   He is second on the team in walks with 9 (good), but leads the team in strikeouts with 15 (bad).   Thirteen games played in 2011 and a whopping total of 286 major league plate appearances is certainly not a big enough sample to know if Ka’aihue can hit or not, but there will come a time when the Royals will have to make a decision.

Again, if this team had stumbled out of the gate, there would be no harm in simply sticking Kila in the five hole and giving  him 600 plate appearances this year.   Should they keep playing well, the Royals will reach a point in time when they cannot afford to have a .200 hitter batting behind Billy Butler…or batting at all.  

Now, I might offer that it is unlikely that the Royals are going to be over .500 in early June without Ka’aihue giving them something at the plate.  In a way, the situation might solve itself.     With Eric Hosmer and Clint Robinson both off to hot starts in Omaha and Billy Butler reliably banging away, Dayton Moore can afford to have a quicker hook on at this spot than at other positions.   Basically, we’re not going to care if Kila goes somewhere else and hits 30 home runs if Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer are All-Stars.

While I have been and remain a big proponent of giving Ka’aihue a pretty large chunk of at-bats to once and for all see what he can do, I would be thinking about possibly sitting him against left-handers if the situation does not improve over the next two weeks or so.   After that, I think you are looking right at that mid-June date again.   Should the Royals be near the top of the standings and Kila is still flailing at the Mendoza line it is going to be really hard to not call up Eric Hosmer.   If not Hosmer, maybe Mike Moustakas if he recovers from a slow start with Wilson Betemit sliding into the DH role full-time.

  • Seriously, Kyle Davies?

Jeff Francis, Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen have allowed 26 runs over 73 innings to start the season.    That is a pace they likely won’t maintain, but is seems to point that those three could be competent starters.    The fifth starter spot, as it is with most teams, will be a rather inconsistent event with Sean O’Sullivan and Vin Mazarro, but the real sticking point is Mr. Davies.

While the organization remains hopeful, citing Jorge de la Rosa as their prime example, the rest of us have become tired of Kyle.   In the past, Davies has strung together enough decent six inning outings to be useful and Kansas City could certainly use a solid month from him now.   Assuming that Kyle does not produce a string of good starts, how long does the organization wait before promoting Danny Duffy or Mike Montgomery.

Again, should Kansas City lose nine of the next twelve, then there is no point in rushing any of the young pitchers, but if they don’t?   I know that my trigger on Davies is considerably quicker than that of Dayton Moore’s, but making a move to hopefully bolster the rotation  as early as mid-May would be my timetable.  

  • There’s good defense and then there is great defense

Through fifteen games, Alcides Escobar has played some of the best defense I have ever seen at shortstop.   He needs to hit more than .233/.270/.267, but not a lot more.   Something along the lines of .250/.305/.340 might be enough given just how truly great Alcides appears to be in the field.   

That, however, is not really the question.   Contention or non-contention, Alcides Escobar is going to play shortstop the entire 2011 season.  The question is, after going 1 for his last 14, how long do you stick Chris Getz at second base.   With Mike Aviles showing signs of life (5 for his last 12) and Wilson Betemit simply smacking the ball, there will be some point where Getz is going to have to hit.

As the topic heading indicates, Escobar has thus far been a GREAT defender.   In my opinion, Getz is a GOOD defender and a slightly less critical defensive position.   His current line of .269/.333/.288 is not enough to justify keeping a good, not great, glove in the field at second.   Again, small sample sizes and no rush….yet, but this is a place that you could amp up the offense by inserting Aviles everyday (theoretically anyway) and providing the pitching with a little more run cushion with which to work.

  • What if it really, really gets real?

Okay, it is the second week of July and your Kansas City Royals lead the Central Division by one game.   Regardless of what the team has done with Kila, Kyle and Chris, this team is in contention.   How aggressive should Dayton Moore get?

Do you offer one of the big four pitching prospects (Montgomery, Duffy, Lamb or Dwyer) or one of the big four hitting prospects (Hosmer – no, by the way – Moustakas, Myers or Colon) for a player that can provide the 2011 team a real boost.   Basically, you are trading a potential 2013/2014 star for a 2011 good, but probably not star type player.

Obviously, there are a lot of variables to that equation:  who’s available, what’s their contract situation to start.   Still, if you believe this organization’s farm system is THAT GOOD, could you sacrifice one or two of your top ten prospects for a player(s) that can put the Royals over the top in 2011?   I might, or at least I would seriously consider it.

There are just a few of what could be many decisions to be made over the next three months.   While the questions are not easy, it would certainly be fun if we really had to answer them.

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