Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

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Reports emerged last night (from the indefatigable Bob Dutton… who else?) that the Royals and Alex Gordon are close to an agreement on a one year deal.

Naturally, I had a couple of reactions.

The Good: This prevents the unnecessary step of meeting before an arbiter to decide Gordon’s 2012 salary. Gordon is asking for $5.45 million while the Royals offered $4.15 million. It’s a pretty wide spread, but it’s not something that the two sides can’t hash out and meet somewhere in the middle.

The Bad: What happened to the extension everyone’s been discussing?

According to Dutton, the two sides are focused on reaching a deal for 2012 before moving onto talks for an extension. Exhale. One thing is certain… Dayton Moore thinks of his ballclub as a family. And family members (good one’s, at least) don’t drag other family members into court. This contract will never, ever end up in front of an arbiter. The two sides will most definitely reach a one year agreement before the scheduled hearing on February 16.

What to watch for: The key will be the amount agreed upon in this one year deal. Remember Butler’s contract extension from last year. After the two sides exchanged numbers, his camp settled on a compromise less than halfway in return for more cash in the future. It’s a fair trade… Less money today for guaranteed salary for the next three or four years.

I think that if Gordon takes less than $5 million, that indicates that the two sides are very close to getting something done.

(By the way, is this the lamest off season in Royals history, or what? Four months of no baseball and what do we have to show for it? Bruce Chen getting what’s basically a two-year extension? The Melk-Man trade? The Yunigma returning to haunt my summer? Seriously, this winter has been excruciatingly boring. Not unlike Moneyball.)

Then last night, I saw this Tweet from WHB’s Nate Bukaty.

Saw the report that Royals are offering Gordon 4 yrs, 30 million. I’ve been told Gordon’s camp wants 6 yrs, 80 mil. Seems like a big gap.

Uhhh… yeah.

Now, if anyone is plugged into the Royals, it’s Nate. But I don’t know where he’s getting those numbers. That’s insanity, both in total years and in cash. If Gordon is truly asking for that kind of security and scratch, and I was GMDM, I’d wish him luck, buy him some luggage for the move from KC and call the Boras Corp and try to lock up Eric Hosmer.

As Nate pointed out in a later Tweet, Gordon has basically had one good season. Although his second half of 2008 was supposed to be his “breakout” before injuries, a position change and demotions derailed his career for the better part of two seasons. The dude has had a hell of a career packed into five seasons and I’m not sure how you can hold his performance in 2009 and 2010 against him. They happened, so you can’t ignore them… but at the same time, there were mitigating circumstances that conspired from keeping him from what we could have expected as his best performance.

Still, if the Gordon camp is truly angling for a six year, $80 million contract, they are insane. Like have-a-crush-on-Jodie-Foster insane. Maybe if he plays out his final two seasons in KC and builds upon his most excellent 2011 season, he could be looking at that kind of payday when he hits the open market at the end of 2013. But not now. Good grief, not now.

The good news is, there’s simply no way GMDM goes for something like that. Not with talent bubbling in the cauldron we call The Process. No way does he commit a record contract (for the Royals) to a corner outfielder who would be on the wrong side of 30 for half of the deal. Uh-uh.

So what happens to the two sides? I’ve gone on the record with the Royals and Gordon agreeing to a four year deal valued around $35 million. I’m going to bump my estimate by a cool million. Here’s how I would break down the deal:

2012 – $5 million
2013 – $7 million
2014 – $12 million
2015 – $12 million

Gordon was a Super Two, so he won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season. Thus, he makes $7 million in his final year of arbitration and the Royals buy out his first two years of free agency for a total of $24 million. The contract takes him through his age 31 season and keeps him in Kansas City for when the Royals are supposed to contend in the AL Central.

Gordon could play Contract Roulette and gamble he can stay healthy and continue to abuse opposing pitchers, but this is a fair deal for someone at this point in their career with the limited amount of success he’s had. This seems like a win all the way around.

Hopefully, both sides can reach an agreement.

Don’t panic! It’s going to be OK.

Here’s some kind of late breaking, instant analysis of what Prince Fielder signing with Detroit means for the Royals… You’ll feel better after you read this. Guaranteed, or your money back.

Delusional Defense
Miguel Cabrera isn’t a good defensive first baseman. Once upon a time, he played third and some in the outfield. Kind of difficult to imagine these days. With that kind of versatility, you’d think he was decent with the leather. Not so. He’s been pretty much awful at whatever defensive position he’s played. First base was his best spot if only because you can hide a poor glove there. Now, he moves to third – a position he hasn’t played regularly since 2007.

Now you have Fielder, who is a worse defender than Cabrera at first. Less agile and slower, it’s not surprising that he landed in the AL because he has “Future DH” stamped on his mitt. It’s surprising that a team signed him to weaken two positions in the process.

And the Tigers also have Jhonny Peralta at short. The only shortstop worse than Peralta would be Yuni.

Last year, Detroit was around the middle of the pack in Defensive Effiency. They are now an absolute lock to finish in the bottom five.

We’ve been down this road before.
Remember when the tigers were going to shatter the AL record for runs scored? Think back to 2008 when they stole Cabrera from the Marlins. One thousand runs was the prediction. Sky’s the limit.

Yeah.

Except they scored 821 runs. Fourth best in the AL.

The Tigers aren’t going to be hurting for runs. This isn’t the Mariners or Astros. But still… Baseball has a funny way of taking our expectations and smashing them to pieces.

They’re better… But not that much better
The Tigers grabbed Fielder because they lost Victor Martinez to injury. Just estimating, but I think VMart would be worth around 3 WAR. Prince will be worth around 5 WAR. Sure, the lineup is better when you replace Martinez with Fielder. But what lineup wouldn’t benefit from Fielder? At least in 2013.

Fine. The Tigers are improved. But some of the gains they realize offensively will be returned when they take the field. They haven’t improved enough that we can say they are a stone cold lock for the Central.

Be glad it’s not the Royals
These are the kinds of contracts that hamstring a franchise. Nine years? If you believe the Tigers weren’t even involved in the Fielder sweepstakes prior to the Martinez injury, this is just a staggering overplay by the Tigers. It kind of reminds me of 1993 when Ewing Kauffman opened his checkbook to bring David Cone back to Kansas City. Kauffman knew his time was limited and he desperately wanted to bring a winner back to KC. Cone was the guy and Mr. K personally got involved and ponied up the cash. From what I understand, the Tigers owner Mike Illich is doing the same thing. He’s getting along in years and his team has two studs on the roster in their primes, so if the Tigers are going to win, now is the time. He’s going for it. Brass ones.

But there were better gambles out there… Fielder could be out of baseball before his contract is over. Odds are strong his decline will be sudden… And steep.

Although the Angels will probably trade for him in four years.

The Royals are done shopping this winter.
The Tigers were the favorites before the Fielder deal, so nothing changes on this front. Short-term, the Tigers are the team to beat. Meanwhile, the Royals have always focused on the long term. While it’s possible GMDM could have been tempted to add a free agent arm like Edwin Jackson or Roy Oswalt in an effort to make a run at the title, he will now be content to throw this group on the field to see how they stack up the Beasts of the Central. If they’re in the hunt this summer, he’ll make a move. Otherwise, he’ll stand pat.

Don’t lose focus.
If you thought the Royals were going to contend this year, consider this signing a gift. And a reality check. Because the Royals were going to need several things break their way for them to win the Central in 2012. Don’t get that confused with me being a pessimist, or me thinking they’re not improving. I’m not and they are. But if you’re being rational, you understand you’re looking for a 15 to 20 win improvement for the Royals to be contenders. And that’s without addressing the rotation.

Short term, it makes it difficult for the Royals to contend. That’s fine. But this is why they play the games. We have no clue what’s going to happen in 2012, or the year after or the year after. Fielder could break down, Verlander could demand a trade, Cabrera could be in jail… Meanwhile, the Royals could have added three quality starting pitchers, signed Hosmer to an extention following his MVP year and seen a zero failure rate in the next wave of The Process.

To quote my favorite mental case, Joaquin Andjuar: “Baseball can be summed up in one word: Youneverknow.”

With the arbitration filing deadline just past, it seems like a great time to take stock of where the Royals are this winter with contract commitments for the upcoming season.

That’s 14 players for a total outlay of just north of $46 million. The Royals will fill out their roster with 10 players who will make close to the major league minimum. Yeah, Hosmer’s awesome, but like everyone else, he has to put in his service time before he can get paid. The minimum salary in 2012 will be $480,000. To keep things nice and tidy, let’s just assume Hosmer, Moustakas, Duffy, et al will make $500k apiece. That adds another $5 million to the payroll, pushing the total to almost $52 million.

Wait!

That list is missing Alex Gordon. After the year he had, A1 is due a tidy raise. Because the Royals and Gordon didn’t come to an agreement on a contract before noon, central time on Tuesday, his agent Casey Close and the team exchanged one-year contract figures. Reports are Gordon asked for $5.45 million and the Royals offered $4.15 million. It’s a big gap, but this is just another step on the road to arbitration. Also, it’s worth remembering that since Dayton Moore took over as the General Manager, no Royals player has gone to see the judge. Moore doesn’t want to present a case before an arbiter. It’s an unpleasant process, so it’s understandable the GM who preaches clubhouse chemistry does his level best to avoid the messiness of arbitration.

While there have been a number of players who have filed for arbitration as a procedural during Moore’s tenure, very few of them have actually exchanged numbers. Like this year, there’s always a flurry of activity just ahead of the deadline. Here’s a list of those recent instances where the Royals and one of their players have swapped valuations along with the final compromise:

Two things of note:

1 – Nearly every time the Royals and a player submitted dollar amounts, they reached an accord close to the midway point. The art of the compromise is strong.

2 – Dayton Moore has signed three young players to long-term contracts: Joakim Soria, Zack Greinke and Billy Butler. Soria was never eligible for arbitration, but in the instances of Greinke and Butler, both sides submitted offers for a one-year deal while a multi-year contract was being negotiated. And both times the multi-year agreement was reached within days of the deadline to submit numbers.

Gordon and the Royals have been talking contract extension. However, like most of these negotiations, there’s been little incentive (meaning deadline) to get a deal done. Think of it as similar to the process we’ve gone through with guys like Bubba Starling after the draft. Without a deadline, nothing happens. Now we have reached a place where both sides have to show their hand (for a one year deal at least) expect the talks to gather a little steam.

So here’s my bold prediction: Alex Gordon signs a contract extension by this time next week. I’ll guess four years at $35 million with an option year for the club. Let’s also figure A1 will pocket just under $5 million for 2012. (Butler and Greinke both took a number just below the mid point for the start of their multi-year deals.) That puts the Royals payroll for the upcoming season in the neighborhood of close to $58 million.

The Royals topped $70 million on their Opening Day payroll in both 2009 and 2010. I have to think the money is available for GMDM to add another starter to the payroll. The flexibility extends to the future, so if he desires, Moore can look beyond the one year rentals. There are plenty of options available to GMDM. I hope he’s bold enough to take one.

After he inks Gordon to a multi-year deal.

Another GMDM stealth move came today where the Royals signed third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff to a minor league contract. The deal will pay Kouzmanoff $1 million if he makes the major league team with an opportunity to earn an extra $300,000 in incentives. The deal also includes an opt-out in that he can leave the organization if he’s not on the major league roster by May 1.

The opt out says this isn’t a move to stock the minors with organizational filler. This is the Royals accumulating players to provide options as they move toward Opening Day. The Royals signed Yuniesky Betancourt to be their utility infielder, but they’re only kidding themselves if they think he can play third. (I’ll buy him as a second baseman – barely. But there’s no way he can play the hot corner.) Kouzmanoff provides cover at third.

I suppose if Mike Moustakas struggles in the spring, he could be shipped to Omaha to start the season. It’s also likely a slow April could see him exiled back to Triple-A. I don’t see that as a real possibility. Moose struggled last season, but the Royals showed great patience and they were rewarded when he made the proper adjustments and finished the season strong. Not to say there shouldn’t be any competition, but unless Moose has just a catastrophic spring, there’s no way he shouldn’t be the teams third baseman.

Kouzmanoff has a career .300 OBP and a 4.6% walk rate. He has some power, but has played the majority of his career in San Diego and Oakland, two places that are death to hitting. He’s 30 and has almost 2,800 career major league plate appearances, so it’s not like his approach is going to change. But I don’t expect to see him in Kansas City. I suppose he could stick as a right handed bat off the bench, but since the Royals will need a fifth starter early in the season and we know that Yost loves the eight man bullpen, there won’t be room for him. You have Our Mitch as the backup outfielder, the Yunigma on the infield and Pena as a backup catcher. Kouzmanoff is insurance. Break glass in case of emergency. That’s all.

And for the financial outlay, that’s not a bad thing.

The curtain rises to reveal a conference room. There is a large table with papers, file folders, pizza boxes, coffee cups and other items that suggest the men around the table have been there for a long time. In one corner of the room is a small table that doesn’t match the larger table that dominates the room. It’s as if this small table was added as an afterthought. On this table is an older model computer and a monitor. The walls of the conference room are decorated with blown up photographs of past Royal greats… George Brett, Bret Saberhagen, Kevin Appier. There is a spot on the wall where it is obvious a photo was recently removed. Probably Frank White.

The men gathered around the table are engaged in debate. They are scouts and baseball operation people. General Manager Dayton Moore is in the middle. There is a lone man in the corner with the computer. He is not part of the group. He is a sabermetrician.

Dayton Moore: Gentlemen, we are not leaving this room until we decide on a suitable target for our utility infielder.

Baseball Op Man #1: The Cardinals non-tendered Ryan Theriot. Thoughts?

Scout #1: Good clubhouse presence. And he has a ring, so he’s a proven winner.

Baseball Op Man #2: Yeah, but he was a Cub.

Laughter.

Scout #2: Average glove. He’s played mostly up the middle, but has played a few innings at third and could fill in in the outfield in a pinch.

Sabermetrician: Could I say something? I’ve done some research on this…

Scout #1: (Interrupting) You guys hear anything?

Laughter.

Dayton Moore: Solid guy. Good character. But doesn’t excite me. I need a name that Royals fans know and can get behind. We have a good young nucleus and we need to show the fans and the players that we are committed to winning.

Scout #2: What about Jack Wilson? Good glove, but no power. Low RBI totals.

Baseball Op Man #1: Last season he played 21 innings at third and 340 innings at second. We could use that versatility.

Scout #1: And, he’s a right handed batter.

Polite applause.

Dayton Moore: He played 17 games for the Braves last year. That intrigues me.

Sabermetrician: I’ve run some numbers on Wilson…

Scout #2: (Interrupting) Moving on!

The room falls silent.

Dayton Moore: I’ve been wondering… What do you guys think about bringing Yuniesky Betancourt back? I thought he did a great job with us. He did everything we asked.

Scout #1: You know, I’ve always said he has plus hands.

Dayton Moore: All I know is the coaches loved him. I almost didn’t do the Greinke trade because Milwaukee insisted he was part of the package. A character guy like that is tough to give up. But I hated that son of a gun Greinke so much I had to do it. Guy was a cancer.

Sabermetrician: You’re aware in two and a half seasons with us, Yuni walked 34 times and posted a .282 on base percentage. And he was even worse with Milwaukee with a .271 OBP.

Scout #2: This guy and his OBP. How many shortstops had 68 RBIs last year? Huh?

Baseball Op Man #1: He had a boatload of Polk Points, too.

Baseball Op Man #2: You. Geek. Send one of those electronic message things to Jon Heyman and get an idea of what the journos think.

The sabermetrician sighs and turns to his computer.

Sabermetrician: When are you guys going to upgrade my system like you promised? This 386 is on it’s last legs.

Dayton Moore: I’m really intrigued by bringing back Yuni. Solid clubhouse guy. Good citizen. You know, my biggest regret was not being able to pull off that Billy Butler for Betancourt trade. We could have had him for an extra season. That would have accelerated the process.

Computer: You’ve got mail!

Scout #1: I love that the computer tells you when you have a message.

Sabermetrician: Heyman says if we offered Betancourt $2 million, that would be considered a bargain. But we have to act quickly. There are other teams interested. (Turning to his computer) Other teams? What the hell?

Baseball Op Man #1: Don’t forget, Yuni led our team in home runs and RBIs a couple of years ago. That’s amazing offensive production from a shortstop. A right handed hitting infielder with power…

Sabermetrician: Yeah, but Betancourt is an offensive liability. He made 436 outs in just 588 plate appearances. Billy Butler made 11 more outs, but that was in 90 more plate appearances. Yuni is an out machine.

The entire room turns to look at the sabermetrician.

All: Nerd! Nerd! Nerd!

Scout #1: Love the power. Love the plus hands even more. The guy is a rock.

Baseball Op Man #1: He hasn’t played any at third, though. And he hasn’t played at second since 2005.

Dayton Moore: But he’s versatile, right?

Baseball Op Man #2: Sure… I guess so.

Sabermetrician: No! We should discuss this Mr. Moore. You preach the need for versatility, but Betancourt hasn’t played anywhere but short for the last six years. And he’s an awful defensive shortstop. His bat is a liability. He’s a horrible option for this role.

Dayton Moore: (Slams palm on the table) So it’s settled. We’re bringing back Yuni. A power hitting utility infielder. This is a great day for the Royals. We’re going to have the best depth in the Central.

The men get up from the table, shaking hands and slapping each other on the back. The sabermetrician walks out of the room.

Dayton Moore: Next we need to address the catcher situation. What do you guys think about bringing back Miguel Olivo?

SCENE

The Royals’ big move of the winter meetings thus far has turned out to be trading Yamaico Navarro to the Pirates for two low minors prospects:  Brooks Pounders and Deigo Goris.  Both players have some intrigue to them and both are years away from the majors.  The haul was very similar to that extracted from Detroit in the Wilson Betemit deal last summer.

The interesting thing about this trade is that is was made primarily to clear space for a possible Rule 5 draft pick.   There is speculation that this pick might be used on a utility middle infielder:  you know, someone kind of like a Yamaico Navarro.   The Royals are also thinking that they might well lose Rey Navarro, another infielder, in this morning’s draft. 

It seems like maybe Kansas City could have just kept Yam Navarro, but there is talk they did not care for his defense.  It also seems that if they were going to trade one Navarro and concerned about losing the other Navarro (Rey), then one could have moved Navarro, Rey not Yam, onto the 40 man roster.   Especially considering they lost a non-Navarro middle infielder in Jeff Bianchi to the waiver process a few weeks prior.

Now, Yamaico Navarro had defensive concerns and Rey Navarro, who has shown the ability to hit for all of about 60 days of his minor league career, was probably  not worthy of a 40 man spot (and frankly, I don’t think he gets taken in the Rule 5 anyway), so nothing earth shattering has happened here.    I have to believe the Royals were aware enough to know that Bianchi probably would not make it through the open market (everyone on Twitter was certain he wasn’t so one would hope Dayton Moore was cognizant of that probability as well).  That tells me that the organization has at least a passing interest in entertaining Chris Getz as a utility player, that they are serious about signing a veteran infielder (Renteria is the current popular rumor), or there is someone in the Rule 5 they like better than either Navarro. 

We have heard names like Ryan Flaherty, Cole Gillaspie and Beamer Weems, among otheres, bandied about and that means, as someone else has already pointed out, that Dayton Moore will draft a pitcher or a centerfielder or no one.   It is very possible, that the trade of Navarro was simply to give Moore some flexibility to explore Rule 5 opportunities, while opening up a roster spot for signing his veteran infielder.

It might be an interesting morning.    Here’s the truly great thing about where the Royals are right now:  for maybe the first time in ten years, one of the real considerations of picking a Rule 5 guy is whether Kansas City has room on its roster for such a player.   This team may not be a contender in 2012, but they have certainly moved to the point where wasting a roster spot in hopes of future gain is no longer a viable option.

xxx

 

 

Rumors, news and notes from the Winter Meetings in Dallas…

— Ned Yost says the Royals will, “Play much better than .500.

And I’d like to be an astronaut.

What Yost just said is, he thinks the Royals are going to be contenders. Because “much better than .500” in the Central, means you’re in the hunt. As much as I like the idea of Project 2012, I think the smart money is on using this year (again) as a developmental year and targeting 2013. I’d be more optimistic if the starting rotation wasn’t so unsettled.

Yes, I think the 2012 team is going to be better than the 2011 version, but 10 games better? I don’t think so. Not yet anyway. I’m good with Hochevar and Chen is fine. I’m not a fan of Sanchez and I’m a little surprised at the talk that Paulino has to “earn” his spot. Right now I see three middle of the road starters, a back of the rotation guy in Sanchez and a wild card for the last spot.

Besides, it’s a little early to be placing markers on win totals. Talk to me in March when there is some clarity to the pitching situation. Right now, I’d peg the 2012 Royals at 76-80 wins.

— Jayson Stark says the Royals are listening on Joakim Soria, but want a young, controllable, front line starter.

Given how the market for closers has unfolded, that doesn’t seem unreasonable. It would be better if Soria hadn’t struggled with his mechanics (according to Yost) for a good part of the season. Teams will use that to try to drive down the Royals asking price, but the Royals are so infatuated with their closer (and his team-friendly contract, that is about to become a little less friendly) that they will hold on.

I’ll bet that Soria opens the year with the Royals.

— Within the same Tweet, Stark said the Royals were balking at the idea of moving Wil Myers.

Good.

If you trade Myers now, you would be selling at near his low value as a prospect. His performance in the Arizona Fall League helps a little, but like with Soria, his last season was a disappointment. Yes, a number of factors worked against him, but the numbers are what teams will point to when trying to drive down the price.

— Billy Beane reportedly shot down the Gio Gonzalez to Royals rumors.

Good. Earlier in the day we saw the A’s were asking for either Myers, Mike Moustakas or Eric Hosmer. Uh… What? Sorry, but I see Gonzalez as overrated. The walk rate is too high, and he trends to the fly ball. He’s benefitted from playing in a home park where foul territory is so expansive, it comes with mile markers. I just don’t see more than a number three starter.

Yeah, I know there’s upside. He’s 26 and has 89 career starts under his belt. He’s also gained velocity each season he’s appeared in the big leagues. There’s a lot to like, but that’s why he’s overvalued, in my opinion. He’s shown no indication he can tame the control issues and that’s going to hold him back. Too many base runners, plus a HR/FB rate that will regress to the mean… That doesn’t hold my interest.

I’m more interested in his teammate, who was mentioned in rumors, Trevor Cahill. Huge ground ball rate and he can throw in the strike zone. Plus, he’s signed for four years with two club options. If the options are picked up, the deal totals around $55 million. And at the end of the contract, he’ll be 30.

Now does that warrant a “top” prospect. Given the contract, yes it does. I’d try like hell to avoid trading Myers, but this one is tempting.

If we’ve learned anything from all this there are two things teams overvalue: Prospects and pitching. That makes a deal awfully difficult.

— The Royals were linked to Carlos Guillen.

Once upon a time, I was a huge Guillen fan. Each year from 2000 to 2006 he improved his batting average. I thought that was kind of cool. (Kind of big if you’re playing fantasy baseball.) Reportedly, five teams are in the hunt and view him as a utility-type of player. He will come on the cheap because his performance has been declining since 2006 and because he hasn’t played in more than 81 games at any point over the last three seasons. But he is a switch hitter who has played all the infield positions at some point in his career. Those pesky injuries though have really cut down on his range.

I’m not against this signing (for only a year and for minimal salary) but I’d rather the Royals stay in house (i.e. cheap) on this. The infield is set and hopefully the only reason you’d need a utility guy is to have the bat off the bench and to give the infield guys an occasional day off.

I definitely wouldn’t get pulled into a bidding war for Guillen.

We talk about The Process – hell, we joke a lot about The Process – but today let’s talk about The Plan.

We don’t really know what Dayton Moore and the Royals have planned for the Winter Meetings, but we can make some pretty educated guesses.  One good guess would be that The Plan is to do nothing at all and just sit back and watch the Marlins sign everyone.   As I wrote several weeks back, that particular plan has some appeal to this writer.   There seems to be too much rumbling to make me think this is actual what will happen, however.

The other end of the spectrum would be The Big Splash.  This would be an out of nowhere signing of C.J. Wilson or a blockbuster trade of prospects for Gio Gonzalez or James Shields or ‘insert your favorite not-very-plausible-but-yet-kind-of-not-impossible pitching target here’.    Almost every discussion would begin with an opposing GM saying the name Wil Myers, quickly followed by Dayton Moore hanging up, so I doubt that we will see something of that nature this week.

That leaves us with something in the middle. 

While it might not all come together this week in Dallas (in fact, it won’t), I think The Plan includes procuring a veteran middle infielder, probably a back-up catcher and one additional starting pitcher. 

All things being equal, I would personally not be concerned with the veteran utility player and prefer to go in-house to fill this position or, at the least, one of the non-roster players about to be or already invited to spring training.   Of all the people who are optimistic about the Royals’ chances in 2012, however, Dayton Moore has to be near the top of the optimism wave and hence I think he wants a veteran bat with some defensive skills to spell Giavotella and, to a lessor extent, Escobar and Moustakas. 

Now, from a payroll point of view, the Royals have money to burn this year and next.   After that, you start to get into Hosmer’s arbitration years, Gordon’s free agency and, frankly, pretty much everyone on the roster starts to cost real baseball money.  Unless you think David Glass is putting money that was budgeted for payroll but not used into some sort of money market account for future payrolls (I don’t think he is) then there is not a huge harm in Moore getting his veteran bench guy for two or three million this year.

The risk with Moore is that it won’t be Jamey Carroll (just throwing out a name there – please, God, NOT Jamey Carroll!) for one year/three million, but instead will be for two years/9 million and an option year.  That, coupled with Ned Yost’s affinity for grit, could suddenly put the Royals into the ‘Bloomquist scenario’ where a long time veteran bench player sets career marks for plate appearances and we find ourselves halfway through 2013 and still don’t know if Johnny Giavotella can play or Mike Moustakas can hit tough left-handers.

Anyway….

So, Dayton Moore goes after his veteran utility player, whomever that might be.  The second part of The Plan is likely to kick the tires on some type of veteran backup catcher.   They are out there, lots of them – particularly if you don’t much care about offense – and the Royals will have to decide if they want this year’s Matt Treanor to back-up Sal Perez or are content to go with the defensively limited Brayan Pena or the offensively inept Manny Pina.

Again, a veteran guy to help mentor Perez is not a bad idea at one year and a million bucks.  Heck, it might even be cheaper than that:  backup catchers will call pitches for food come mid-March.   I believe the club is fully behind Perez as a guy, but a young kid playing catcher probably should not be asked to catch 145 games in his rookie season.  If one million dollars gets you a good defender and, I can’t believe I’m saying this, a good clubhouse guy who can catch 42 games in 2012 before riding off into the sunset, then Dayton Moore should go get him.

Now, the water keeps deep from here.  Dayton Moore could botch both of the above acquisitions and probably not cost the Royals more than ten million dollars and some aggravation over the next two years, but should he make a misstep with regard to the starting rotation, he could really tangle up the overall development of this club.  

My gut tells me that Moore has made his ‘big moves’ such that they were in trading for Jonathan Sanchez and signing Bruce Chen and Jonathan Broxton.   He has been fairly public about wanting to add another arm to the rotation competition, but I doubt it will be someone that is assured of a roster spot.  Somebody along the lines of a Chris Volstad comes to mind in this scenario.

Of course, I expect Moore to check in on the Wandy Rodriguez situation (it would take a real fire sale, but it is possible) and he would not be doing his job if he didn’t explore, however casually, trading for the tier of starter just below Shields-Gonzalez-Garza.   There is talk – okay, rumored speculation – that the Angels might be looking to clear some payroll space by dangling Ervin Santana.  I would not hate that deal if the price was right.    Would you trade Christian Colon and Tim Melville or Jason Adam?   Not sure that gets a deal done, but it is a starting point.

The final piece of The Plan is the Rule 5 draft on Thursday.  I am not sure the Royals make a pick this year.   They are a young team across the board with absolute boatloads of young pitchers.    Whether you believe the Royals will be contenders in 2012 or not, this roster does not really have room to carry a player or pitcher you don’t really want to play very much.   

All the national guys believe this is going to be one of the most active Winter Meetings in recent history.   They are probably right, but your Kansas City Royals might not get much press this week and that’s not a bad thing at all.

xxx

 

 

The annual Winter Meetings open next week in Dallas. Normally, this is when the free agent field starts to thin out. And with all of the top free agents still on the market, this looks to be an especially active session.

So the question is, will the Royals be active? We know the lineup is basically set. The bullpen has been (hopefully) strengthened with the signing of Broxton. So that leaves the rotation. Currently, there are seven or eight candidates for a starting job in Kansas City, and none of them inspire much – if any – confidence.

Supposedly, the Royals don’t want to go the free agent route. I understand that. They want to keep their fingers crossed and hope their pitching prospects develop for the long term good of the franchise, while the guys in the mix this year routinely give them six strong innings per game. But the Royals could really make a splash if they found a decent starting pitcher on the open market to slot into their rotation. In a weak AL Central, this could be the tipping point between being competitive and making this another year of development.

Usually, the top names are the first ones to sign. The second tier is happy to let the big guys go and grab tons of cash because then it establishes a market for their services. No one wants to leave money on the table.

With that in mind, here’s a quick list of the available free agent starting pitchers, in the order of what I believe to be their demand.

C.J. Wilson
Mark Buehrle
Roy Oswalt
Edwin Jackson
Javier Vazquez

Wow. Not difficult to see why Dayton Moore is shying away from the market. Wilson is the supposed front-runner and will set the pace. Sorry, I’m not a big believer. Whomever dishes him a big contract is going to have buyers remorse. Jackson is underwhelming and it’s shocking that Vazquez – after all his ups and downs – could land on a short list such as this. Oswalt is a gamble – and an expensive one. Buehrle is the only consistent guy out there.

These five will be interesting to watch. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Royals were linked to two or three of the guys listed above. I also wouldn’t be surprised if GMDM went stealth again and grabbed Buehrle or Oswalt on a three year deal.

— Word circulated around Twitter last night that Frank White was out as one of the broadcasters of the games. I’m going to withhold comment for now because I want to see how the Royals handle this. As of this writing, neither Frank, Fox Sports Kansas City or the Royals have said anything.

After the PR nightmare that went along with canceling FanFest, I’ll be watching this very closely.

More soon…

After the flurry of Colby Rasmus rumors the night before, we should have known something was up. Smoke screen style.

Because really, who saw the Jonathan Broxton signing?

No one, that’s who.

My initial reaction to the trade was this is exactly the kind of thing Dayton Moore has done over the last couple of years… Kick the tires on a relatively low cost guy with a bit of upside. Most recently, he did the trick with Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur. With the Melk-Man, it netted the Royals a starting pitcher. With The Frenchman it bought us two more years of the French Quarter in right field.

Hopefully, the Royals will get fair value for their efforts here.

Yet there’s considerable risk involved. The guy hasn’t pitched since last May 3. And that was the feather in a whole cap of ugly that stretched back to the end of June in 2010. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Last May, when Broxton exited the Dodgers game against the Cubs in early May he had been brought in to hold a 1-1 tie, retired the first batter, but was pulled after missing the strike zone with eight consecutive balls. Following the game, Dodger manager Don Mattingly affirmed Broxton was still his closer, but he hit the DL the following day, with fluid buildup in his elbow. He also revealed that in 2010 he had an MRI that revealed a bone spur.

Ah… 2010. Now, back to the Dodger game on June 27, 2010. In that game, LA held a lead against the Yankees 6-2 in the top of the ninth when Broxton made his appearance. Strange that he would pitch in this game, since it wasn’t a save situation. Stranger still given the fact that Broxton had thrown 19 pitches over 1.1 innings in a 9-4 Dodger blowout the night before. You probably know the story of the June 27 game by now. Broxton retired the first batter before allowing the next five to reach as the Yankees tied the game.

Especially notable was how then manager Joe Torre sat on his hands and allowed Broxton to pile up 48 pitches in that appearance. Combine that with his 19 the day before and you see that Torre allowed his closer to throw 67 pitches in about 24 hours.

And as the story goes, Broxton hasn’t been the same since.

The numbers certainly bear this out.

Before Injury – 2.73 ERA, 12.0 SO/9, 3.4 BB/9
After Injury – 6.31 ERA, 7.4 SO/9, 6.5 BB/9

The numbers are so polar that you would think there had to be signs of an impending collapse. Except there weren’t any signs. From 2005 to 2009, Broxton had been as consistent as you would hope from a relief pitcher. Entering the pitch count game in 2010, Broxton had a 0.83 ERA, a 13.2 SO/9 and a 1.4 BB/9. He was enjoying the best season of his career. Then it all changed.

So did the high pitch count damage Broxton? Impossible to say, but like Gil Meche, I’d bet there were problems lurking underneath the surface before the extended (and unnecessary) outings. The bone spur was evidence that something structurally was wrong. And they apparently were present in the elbow around this time.

In an article from September in the LA Times, Broxton’s agent, BB Abbott speculated that Broxton and the Dodgers were a tad too optimistic when he reported to a rehab assignment in July. His agent also revealed he had elbow soreness after his first rehab appearance and chose to keep it under wraps.

(This is so damn typical. Pitch through the pain. Somehow this never works. It also raises the question about his earlier health. Did Broxton have pain back in 2010 and try to work through it? This seems increasingly possible.)

Abbott’s take on his client is somewhat… Strange.

“The days of Jonathan Broxton throwing 99 and 100 [mph] might be over,” Abbott said. “But I think he can reinvent himself. He’s still going to be 93-97. He’s relied on one thing and that’s power. … He’s going to have to be a chameleon. It might be a power slider or a power cutter. He’s going to have to transition.”

I’m not too sure I’ve heard an agent so candid about one of his players. “Transition” and “reinvent” aren’t words those guys throw around. Mainly because they aren’t exactly the things GMs like to hear when they’re considering their client.

Enough about Broxton. How does the affect the Royals? (Everything from here on out assumes Broxton will be healthy.) What GMDM did for the Royals on Tuesday was, in one large stroke, create a ton of flexibility for his team. The Royals were already going to try Aaron Crow and Everett Teaford in the rotation, and now they have cover if either one of these guys makes the move. If not, then the Royals strongest part of the team just got a little stronger. Imagine a healthy Joakim Soria in the ninth, preceded by Broxton in the eighth, who was preceded by Greg Holland in the seventh. That is a nasty, nasty bullpen.

And if everything works out, then the Royals can either contend (Yessssss!) or they can flip Broxton to a lucky contender at the deadline and pick up a prospect in return.

I saw a bunch of Tweets following the Broxton announcement speculating that Soria could move to the rotation. (From the national media, naturally.) There is absolutely no way that will happen. Zero. Chance. For a number of reasons. One, he’s never, ever been remotely stretched out in the majors. Two, his injury history makes him a risk to break down under a heavier workload. Three, his pitch selection has become limited in the closer role and prone to breakdown under repeated viewing. And four, the Royals love him as the closer.

There’s also speculation that this means the Royals could move Soria. Again, this deal has no impact on Soria’s future. As I pointed out, Broxton is far from a sure thing. If the Royals are trying to contend in the Central, they’d be gambling on their closer in a big way if they dealt Soria. No way this happens. Besides, after Soria’s struggles and ailments last summer, trading him now would be selling at his ultimate low point. Uh-uh. Not going to happen.

I know GMDM said this wasn’t a precursor to another deal, but if not, it’s difficult to understand why the Royals would chose to throw money at what was one of the stronger parts of their team last year. Especially when that part is the bullpen, which is always in flux as far as performance goes. There were reportedly five to six teams interested in Broxton, and since he’s coming here as a setup guy to reestablish his value, it’s safe to say the Royals offered the most cash. Probably by a lot. Bob Dutton tweeted that the Royals strategy seems to build the best bullpen they can because that’s more affordable that picking up a starting pitcher. The theory is good, I guess. But we’ve seen how investing in a bullpen can be a fiscal gamble. Plus, your bullpen doesn’t mean a thing if your starting pitchers can’t stake you to a lead. GMDM bought himself some flexibility. Now he needs to leverage that to his advantage. Something he hasn’t usually been able to do.

And the Royals still need a quality starting pitcher if we’re thinking about contention in 2012.

Given the money involved, this isn’t a bad deal for the Royals. But it’s a strange one. GMDM is a bit of a gambler, whose bets paid off in 2011. We’ll see if he still has the touch in 2012.

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