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.