Without question, the most successful free agent signing of the Dayton Moore era was the five year/$55 million deal given out to Gil Meche. That may sound like an odd statement given that Meche spent the last three months of the 2009 season fighting injuries and has an uncertain status surrounding him for the same reasons as we close in on Opening Day.
However, between his first Kansas City start on Opening Day of 2007 and that fateful 132 pitch shutout on June 16, 2009, Meche started 82 games for the Royals. Over those starts, Gil threw 511 innings (averaging more than six innings per start), struck out 406 batters while walking 166 and posted a 3.74 earned run average. During that stretch, the Royals were 39-43 (.475) in games Meche started and just 134-171 (.439) in games he did not start.
Thirty-five times during that stretch of time, the Royals scored three runs or less. Not once have we heard Gil Meche complain about lack of run support, despite knowing that over forty percent of the time his team gave him virtually none. Meche has been a leader for the starting rotation and, perhaps lost in all the Greinke hoopla, he provided valuable stability at the top of the rotation while Greinke developed into a true ace.
I could make a case that if Gil never pitches again, this contract was still worth the money, but I firmly believe that if Gil posts just one more 200 inning season in the next two years there will be absolutely no debate as to the validity of Moore’s long-term commitment.
Therein, however, lies the problem.
To get Meche to Kansas City, Dayton Moore had to give Gil one more year than other teams were offering. Teams were lined up to give him four years and a little over forty million dollars, but Moore ponied up that fifth year and got the deal done. From that point forward, the ‘extra year’ has been Moore’s calling card in the free agent market. He has used it with regularity and when, frankly, he did not need to.
After the 2007 season, Mike Sweeney was off the roster and his big contract thankfully off the books. Moore was hellbent to sign a slugging outfielder or two. He, like everyone else in the league, got blown out of the water by the Angels’ offer to Torii Hunter and the Royals dodged a bullet when Andruw Jones turned down their offer to sign with the Dodgers. That left Jose Guillen as the ‘next best power bat available’.
While the actual negotiations of a free agent deal are never really known, the widespread belief was that the competition for Guillen was limited. Would the Royals have inked Guillen if they had offered just a one year deal? Probably not, but two years might have gotten the deal done in an environment where the few offers out there were of the single year variety.
Instead, Dayton Moore jumped in with more money per year and MORE YEARS. If Allard Baird had made this signing, I could have chalked it up to an attempt to rectify losing Raul Ibanez in 2004 over offering two years instead of three. In Moore’s case, the third year just seems like bad judgment.
Forget 2008 and 2009, when Guillen was sometimes annoying, sometimes a distraction, often hurt and too commonly awful as a ballplayer. The third year of this deal is what is killing the Royals. Put it another way: how much would having an extra $12 million and a roster spot mean to you right now?
On top of the Guillen signing came two curious multi-year deals the next off-season: Willie Bloomquist and Kyle Farnsworth.
Now, Bloomquist gets his share of criticism on Royals’ sites, including this one, but it really is not his fault that Trey Hillman kept putting his name in the lineup last year. Nor is it Willie’s fault that Dayton Moore gave him two guaranteed years instead of one with an option. Here is where you can offer the ‘you don’t know what the competition was for Bloomquist’ and ‘Willie does not sign with KC unless he gets a two year deal’. To that, I say: ‘so what?’
Scan the spring training notes of other ballclubs or read through a couple of pages of MLBTradeRumors and you can easily compile a pretty long list of ‘Willie Bloomquists’ that are available or could be had for basically nothing. Heck, the Royals have a better Bloomquist in Wilson Betemit than Willie himself. Frankly, if Bloomquist was not around and Betemit not available would long-time farmhand Irving Falu be that much of a drop off? Furthermore, if the Royals had not offered the second year to Bloomquist and he had signed elsewhere, would not Tug Hulett have done a competent job in his place last year?
Truth is, you can always find utility infielders….and middle relievers. Which brings us to Kyle Farnsworth, who is going to collect a cool $4.5 million in this, THE SECOND, year of his contract. The only way that amount and, more specifically, that second year makes sense is if Kyle throws 165 innings as the teams fifth starter this year and that will validate the contract only thanks to simple dumb luck.
Sure, Dayton Moore had no way of knowing that Juan Cruz would still be available for less money two months after he signed Farnsworth (I’m even going to give Dayton a pass on Cruz’s TWO YEAR deal as it sure seemed like a good one at the time) , but no one other than the Royals were knocking down Kyle’s door. A one year flyer on Farnsworth to see if you can catch lightning in a bottle was worth a shot, but two years? Considering that the Royals already had a ‘better Farnsworth’ in Robinson Tejeda already on their roster makes that contract seem even sillier.
We can go back in time and remember that last spring many thought the Royals had a real chance at contention. Dayton Moore certainly did. That said, were Willie Bloomquist and Kyle Farnsworth so key to the Royals’ plan to make a run to the playoffs that they had to commit extra years to deals just to sign those two players?
I am not even going to mention the Yuniesky Betancourt trade or the signing of Brian Anderson (a poor man’s Mitch Maier) this off-season to replace Mitch Maier. I am willing to let the two-year Jason Kendall deal play out and leave Rick Ankiel and Scott Podsednik out for now, too. Let’s just look at Jose Guillen, Willie Bloomquist and Kyle Farnsworth.
Between those three players and because of a superfluous year added to each of their contracts, the Royals had $18.2 million and three roster spots tied up before the first pitch was thrown this spring. Ignore the money for now and focus on those three spots.
Without being tied to Guillen and Bloomquist, the Royals could break camp with Mike Aviles (admittedly not ready to play short full-time, but he could DH or play second) on their active roster. They would have more time to evaluate Mitch Maier to see if that hot spring really is indicative of improved performance in the regular season or at last give Kila Kaaihue a shot.
Without Farnsworth, the team could easily stash Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna in the bullpen. Instead of keeping two out of Josh Rupe, John Parrish, Brad Thompson, Anthony Lerew and Blake Wood, they could keep three. I don’t know if that makes the club any better, but it certainly makes them no worse – not to mention $4.5 million cheaper. (Really don’t want to go with Robinson Tejeda as a starter if Meche can’t go? Bet you can find someone better at starting than Farnsworth for that $4.5 mil)
Adding just one more year got the Royals a good starting pitcher who helped and hopefully will continue to help the team. Sadly, the same strategy has tied Kansas City to three players that it simply does not need in 2010. The next time you hear anyone from the Royals comment on lack of payroll flexibility we should all remember that they only have themselves to blame.