Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

By now I imagine all of you have heard that the Royals signed Billy Butler to a new contract:  $3 million this season, $8 million for 2012, 2013 and 2014 and a team option for 2015 ($12.5 million).    For giving up three years of arbitration and two years of free agency, Billy gets a $2 million signing bonus as well. 

On the surface, a good deal for the Royals as they get some cost certainty on their best  hitter and a couple of extra years of service and a good deal for Butler.   After all, at age twenty-four, locking in $30 million guaranteed is a solid deal.   What’s the downside for Billy?  He becomes a true monster at the plate and plays in 2015 for $12.5 million instead of $18.5?   Somehow, I think he’ll be able to feed the family.

Many across the internet have already analyzed the deal.    Royals Review breaks in down by WAR and dollars.   Royally Speaking brings some interesting comps to Butler to our attention.  Royalscentricity chimes in and 14 for 77 is happy with the contract.   Frankly, few seem unhappy with the deal and there is really no reason not to be.

For the casual fan, here is your Kansas City Royals signing a good player to a long-term deal.   For the more engaged Royals’ follower, you have a young player who has already proven he can hit, signed to a deal that eliminates the nasty overtones and uncertainty of arbitration for the next three years, keeps him in the fold well into the time period when you assume the Royals will be contenders and, if all else fails, makes him a favorable trading chip.

Currently, his age 24 comp at Baseball Reference is Jon Olerud.    As I discussed some time back, that name may not send you into dances of joy, but going back and looking at his career it would be hard to be mad about Billy Butler duplicating Olerud’s numbers.   If we reach the end of 2015 and Butler’s line for the life of this contract is an Olerudish .295/.398/.465, the deal would have to be considered a tremendous success.   The truth is, Billy might well put up numbers greater than those.

Of course, the primary criticism (other than the obsession with Butler’s 32 grounding into double plays last year that somehow became tremendously more horrible than Yuniesky Betacourt’s sub-.300 on-base percentage) with Billy is that he likely is well down the path of becoming a full-time designated hitter.   With thirty-six home runs over the past two years, he is not the Thome-like masher we generally equate with that position.

As Nick pointed out in his positional reviews, however, designated hitter is not the productive jackpot we think it is or should be.   In 2010, American League designated hitters posted a combined line of .252/.332/.426/.758 with an average of 30 doubles and 22 home runs.    Butler’s .857 OPS in 2010, had it been used entirely at DH would have put the Royals’ production from that position at third in the league.   According to Fangraphs, Butler’s 2010 WAR of 3.4 would have ranked him as the most productive full-time DH – just edging David Ortiz.

While Butler may not be the prototypcial designated hitter, he is certainly very good.   He is very good even in a world where hitting 21 home runs in 2009 and 15 home runs in 2010 (not to mention 96 doubles Billy hit in those two seasons) somehow makes you a ‘slow singles hitter’.   Let’s face it, at age twenty-four, if Butler never touches a glove again and never advances his power beyond the 15 to 20 home run range, this will still be an excellent contract and Billy will still be valuable piece of the Royals’ batting order.

One of the few concerns I read about this contract extension was the ‘logjam at first base and designated hitter’.   Readers of this site well know by belief that Kila Ka’aihue can hit (or at least deserves a chance to prove it), but he has yet to provehe can hit.   Eric Hosmer, for all his potential, has the exact same number of major league hits as I do.   Clint Robinson obliterated the Texas League last year and is another of my favorites, but then Justin Huber once upon a time obliterated the Texas League as well.

When and if Kila, Hosmer, Robinson and Wil Myers (moving to the outfield by the way) all come to the majors and hit, then we’ll worry about a logjam.   If that point is ever reached, then Butler’s contract will likely be an asset instead of a liability. 

It is quite possible, even if Butler just makes incremental improvements in his offense, that this contract extension might well be one of Dayton Moore’s best moves in his general manager career.

Sitting face to face with a controversial General Manager; it’s what bloggers dream of. Why did you make that move, why would you sign that guy, are you crazy? Just some of the passing thoughts that fans and writers would love to pose to the GM, if only they could get a few minutes to do so. Those minutes were provided to me last night at the Royals FanFest.  I was selected to be a part of the Digital Digest, where select bloggers and social media users were given a behind the scenes tour of FanFest and an opportunity to interview Dayton Moore, Ned Yost, Billy Butler and Jeff Francoeur.

Never in a million years did I think that posting baseball articles on the internet would eventually put me in the same room with Dayton Moore and I’d be told I could ask him whatever I wanted. I spent days refining questions in an attempt to find a way around his finely tuned GM speak. I put together a list of questions which were ones I’d wished the traditional media had asked, but in a way that wasn’t too combative. I didn’t want to murder the guy; I just wanted some new information, a different look inside what the front office was doing. I wanted to do right by the internet and blog communities and try and get some clarification on the myriad of questions that we have.

The author (center) and cohorts prepare for the showdown

The day had finally come and we were ushered into a large conference room with a lone table and eight chairs. After some discussion with the Royals P.R. department they brought in Dayton Moore. He entered the room in a nice, but seemingly poorly tailored jacket.  He shook everyone’s hand and used that very useful sales technique of repeating someones name and looking them in the face so you can associate the two and not forget later.  People really like it when you call them by their name. He took his seat at the table, spit his gum out into Mike Swanson’s cup and asked seven nervous and excited internet writers to ask away.

Which question was I going to ask first?  Should I hit with the hard one or should I begin with something to warm him up? Should I ask the first question here or not?  Oh, ok, Brian McGannon is getting his in first.  I’ll get mine next.

Brian McGannon: How would you describe the franchise when you took it over?

Dayton Moore: You know Brian, it’s uh, I knew there was a going to be a lot of work to do.  I knew it was going to be a tremendous challenge. One of the things that attracts us about athletics is the competition and the challenge aspect of it and the Royals were my boyhood team…..

Ok, did he answer there, wait what was the question again? No worries.  I’m going to ask him that OBP question as soon as he stops answering this question.

Dayton Moore: (1 minute later)…we all know that through the draft it’s difficult, the amazing thing of what our people have been able to do is, there are 26 teams in baseball that have more picks than us in the first one hundred…(1:15 later)..Its harder to live that. It’s easy to say let’s go do it, but when you get here it’s harder to live it for sure.

Ok, he finally stopped answering that question. I’m jumping….

Clint Scoles: You’re lowest Major League payroll was in ’08 and that was the same year you spent the most on the amateur draft, now with Gil’s deal will you be able to eclipse that.

Mark that question off my list.

Dayton Moore: You know, we never ever want to overpay for a player in the draft.  We want to pay for a player that we think is a legit talent. If you’re gonna overpay for talent, you need to do it at the Major League level because you’re getting a return right now.  You can argue that we overpaid for Gil Meche to get him, and we were the highest bidder in years we gave him an extra year, that’s how we got him. you don’t want to do that in the draft when over 50% of the first rounders do not make it to the Major Leagues…Do we have flexibility, absolutely…

Crap, were almost 5 minutes into this fifteen minute session and there are only 2 questions answered.  Is he still defending the Gil Meche signing? I need to get in next or I’m going to miss out completely. I’m barely able to pay attention to this rambling, I’ll listen to it on tape later. Oh, he stopped.

Nick Scott (me): In the past you said that you do place a high value on players with a good OBP, but your Major League acquisitions haven’t really fit that mold, whats the reason?

Yeah, got that one in there for you internet. You can’t say you like OBP and then get Yuniesky Betancourt, Mike Jacobs and Jeff Franoeur, right?

Dayton Moore: You get the players that you can.  The way I look at it is simply this, if player x is better than player y as an upgrade , then you move forward as long as it doesn’t restrict the players that you have coming through your system…(1 minute later)…you want on base at the top…(1 minute later) …the reason I’ll take any question, every question that I’ve been asked, trust me, I’ve asked to our scouts and development people…(30 seconds later)…we’re not golfers…(15 seconds later)…we want on base guys.Jeff Francoeur, not an on base guy, we know what we’re getting….

Should I be happy that my question is leading to this long of an answer? My god, we’re 8 minutes into the allotted 15 and the third question isn’t even finished being answered. Mark off that question about arbitration.

It went on like this, with a total of 5 questions being asked, one of which was technically after the bell. I knew the room felt the way I did. What the hell just happened there? Did we really only get 5 questions as a group? We’ve failed the internet.

Together we all came to the same conclusion: damn that guy is good at these things. He was politician good, no he was presidential good. In each answer he said just enough for it to be related to the question, but then used it as a launching pad to espouse his philosophy on  management, talent acquisition, lineup construction, the draft and whatever else he could fit in there. On a third and fourth listen to the interview, he said some interesting things.  However, he said what he wanted to say, not what we were hoping to get him to say.

It’s not a knock on Dayton Moore, having slick skills with the media is one of the reasons he has the job he has. I give him credit for even taking time to speak with us. I respected Dayton Moore as a person, manager and as a professional before I entered that room, and all of that was reinforced.  What I’ve never been able to know for certain is if I feel I can respect his abilities to construct a Major League roster, I’m still not certain. I don’t think that fifteen minutes with him in that kind of arena would ever get that issue solved. To get to the bottom of that, we’ll have to watch his actions.

You can follow Nick Scott on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle [at] gmail [dot] com

Episode #041 – In this hastily put together podcast, I have all of the audio from the interviews I was a part of at the FanFest digital digest.  Dayton Moore, Ned Yost, Billy Butler and Jeff Francoeur all make appearances and I briefly discuss the event.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs041.mp3|titles=BBS

Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Music used in this podcast:

Super Furry Animals – It’s Not The End Of The World?

Talking Heads – Crosseyed and Painless

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With the acquisition of Jeff Francis, there is some doubt as to whether Luke Hochevar will be the Royals’ Opening Day starter.   My opinion is that the time is now for the Royals to push the former overall number one pick and see what happens.   Chances are, Hochevar is who he is:  a number three or four starter with some trouble staying healthy.   There is a chance, however slim, that thrusting Luke into the high pressure-high profile role (even if it is only by default) of the number one starter might just elevate his game.

What would be the ceiling for Hochevar?   Well, probably not a legitimate ace pitcher and likely not even a true number two starter, either.   Luke could, however, stake claim to being a solid middle of the rotation guy if he can become more consistent and avoid nagging injuries that have caused him to miss starts in two of this three major league seasons.  Frankly, if Kansas City’s system produces like many hope, then having Hochevar be just a middle of the rotation starter is all the Royals need.

Those thoughts are for seasons to come and we enter 2011 with Luke Hochevar as the number one or number two starter in an already much maligned Royals rotation.  At times, he has produced outings that make one think that he can at least hold his own in that role.   Other starts, however, are all too frequent reminders of a number one pick that could have been used on someone else.

Have a look at Luke’s 2010 starts:

Luke Hochevar – Good Starts

Date IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP BF Pit Str GB FB LD
7-Apr 7.2 5 0 0 1 2 0 0 27 89 57 16 8 3
4-May 6 3 1 0 4 3 0 0 23 92 48 6 10 3
13-Sep 5 2 2 0 3 2 0 0 20 78 39 9 6 2
5-Jun 7 6 1 1 2 10 1 0 28 109 74 6 10 4
26-May 8 6 2 2 0 4 0 0 30 99 67 12 14 7
18-Apr 6 6 3 2 5 4 0 0 28 104 53 10 9 2
29-Sep 6 7 2 2 3 4 0 0 28 97 61 6 15 7
20-May 9 4 3 3 2 7 1 0 33 107 75 10 14 1
19-Sep 6 8 3 3 1 5 1 0 25 101 67 10 9 2
24-Apr 6.2 8 5 4 1 7 0 0 30 100 67 12 10 6

 Luke Hochevar – Not So Good Starts

Date IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP BF Pit Str GB FB LD
12-Apr 5 6 5 4 3 5 1 1 24 98 59 4 11 4
24-Sep 5 8 4 4 1 5 1 0 24 94 59 11 7 2
11-Jun 4 6 4 4 0 3 1 0 18 68 39 7 8 3
9-May 2.2 3 4 4 4 1 0 1 15 71 43 5 4 2
31-May 7 9 5 5 2 7 2 0 32 106 65 8 15 5
15-May 6.1 7 5 5 2 3 0 1 29 103 68 12 11 4
29-Apr 2.2 11 9 9 2 1 0 0 20 73 41 7 10 7

What we see here is a frustrating mix of 10 good starts and 8 poor ones.   Equally as frustrating is the mix of dates in the above charts.   Inconsistent – the catch phrase that has surrounded Luke Hochevar since he came to the majors.

Still, 2010 was an improvement over 2009 when Luke’s ‘Good Start Chart’ would have contained 10 games and his ‘Not So Good Start Chart’ would list 15 contests.   In fact, as has been pointed out by others, in the four starts prior to the four inning outing on June 11th that led to Hochevar’s stint three month stint on the disabled list, he had thrown 31 innings, allowed just 25 hits, 11 runs and walked just six batters while striking out 28.    Was that just a good stretch that happened to be interrupted by injury or a sign of Hochevar really turning a corner?

When Hochevar returned in September, he was okay, but not up to the level he had attained immediately prior to his injury.   Coming back from three months off and doing so in September for a team that was pretty awful makes any analysis of those starts problematical.

Also problematical is trying to determine if the jump in Hochevar’s average fastball speed from 91.8 in 2009 to 93.5 in 2010 was real or mostly the result of a hot radar gun at Kaufmann Stadium.   Fangraphs does tell us that Hochevar used a cutter and his changeup much more frequently in 2010 in place of a slider and curve.   The results was a FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 3.93 in 2010 versus 4.84 in 2009.    With improved defense at short, center (hopefully) and probably at three of the four corner positions, we can hope that Hochevar’s actual earned run average gets closer to his FIP and that it (the FIP) actually improves as well.

Over time, I have gotten over the angst of what could have been in that 2006 Draft (after all, I thought the Hochevar pick was a good one at the time) and taken Luke Hochevar at face value.   He will never live up to what we think a overall number one pick should be, but there are signs that Hochevar could be a solid major league starter.   Bascially, he won’t be Zack Greinke, but he might be Gil Meche – the Gil of 2007 through half of 2009 – and for the Royals that might be enough over the next three or four years.

For 2011, would you be satisfied with a 2008 Meche-like performance?   Thirty-two starts and an ERA just under four?  Such a season would not make the Royals contenders in 2011, but it would go a long way towards laying the groundwork for contention in 2012.

Gil Meche won’t say it because he has too much class, but Trey Hillman is responsible for the end of his career.  Fact.

The Royals will be fortunate should Luke Hochevar and Kyle Davies suffer from no lingering after effects from pitching in Hillman’s Starting Rotation Chainsaw Massacre.

Unfortunately, Dayton Moore can’t fire Hillman again.  I suppose that would be some kind of managerial double jeopardy.  Too bad. I wonder if those tears GMDM shed at the postmortem press conference was for SABR Trey or for realizing he acted too late and cost his team a decent starting pitcher.

Hillman had no business being in a major league dugout – especially as a manager.  He had no clue how to handle players on a day to day basis, had bizarre ideas about management in general and was absolutely lost making in-game decisions.  The Meche Mistake falls under the latter.  We’ve been over this before, but it’s the manager’s job to take the ball from his pitcher.  We’ve come so far when it comes to handling a pitching staff, that to let a starter who has thrown over 120 pitches dictate how long he should stay in the game is absolutely, unequivocally criminal.  It never should have happened.

Meche had a history of arm and shoulder troubles before he signed with the Royals.  Because of that, a five year contract was a risky proposition for the club.  Hillman managed Meche like he had no clue about his medical past.  How else can he explain why he left his starter in to throw a 132 pitch complete game?  Or how he allowed him to top 120 pitches just two days after throwing a bullpen session to test a dead arm?  The warning signs were there.  Everyone saw them.  How could you not?  Turns out everyone saw them but Trey Hillman.

It’s all water under the bridge as Meche walks away from over $12 million guaranteed because he’s too much of a standup guy to take that kind of money and struggle in the bullpen or to go ahead and have surgery and miss the year rehabbing.  I talked to Meche a couple of times while he was with the team and he always struck me as a thoughtful, conscientious kind of guy.  Not a brainiac like Brian Bannister and not quirky like Zack Greinke… Just smart.  But not too smart.  A normal guy.

I enjoyed watching Meche pitch because when he was healthy, he gave the Royals a great chance to win.  We scoff at the term, but he really was a “gamer.”  He always went out and gave it his best.  I suppose that’s ultimately why he’s walking away.  He’s not at his best anymore and he realizes this.  He may not have the most talent, but he was all about maximizing what he had.  I respect that.

I hope that Meche eventually gets the surgery because it’s no fun not being 100 percent… Even if you’re no longer competing at the highest level.  Maybe he can find a job in baseball as a pitching coach.  He seems like an ideal candidate to work with young pitchers.  And he can tell them first hand why starters need to take care of themselves.

In the meantime, Hillman has moved on to LA.  The Trey and Donnie Baseball show should be sitcom worthy.  Since I started writing about the Royals, they’ve had four managers.  Who would have thought my favorite at this point would be Buddy Bell?

A couple other notes…

— Bob Dutton Tweeted that Billy Butler is seeking $4.3 million while the Royals have countered with $3.4 million.  Dayton Moore has never been to arbitration and he’s not about to start.  I bet they’ll split the difference.

— There was some noise on Tuesday that the Meche retirement would free up the Royals ability to ink Butler to a long term deal.  While that sounds great, these are two completely separate issues.

For starters, if the Royals and Butler do sign a long-term deal, it would be one with escalating salaries to take care of his three arbitration seasons.  Something along the lines of $4 million in ’11, $6 million in ’12 and $8 million in ’13.  (Those are rough numbers, but you get my point.)  The Royals had already budgeted a certain amount for Butler for ’11 and Meche and his situation have nothing to do with how they will treat Butler.

Second, Meche’s salary was coming off the books following this season.  GMDM has made this point several times recently that the team has virtually no money committed to contracts beyond this season.  The payroll flexibility was already there.  Meche leaving doesn’t give the Royals any extra room to manuever.

And finally, I know there’s some ambivalence about giving Butler an extension with the imminent arrival of Eric Hosmer and Kila Ka’aihue already on the roster.  I get that… But Hosmer isn’t a sure thing and we have yet to see Ka’aihue for a full season.  We know what we’re getting in Butler.  I think you need to lock him in to a contract… Basically live for today.  If it turns out there’s a logjam at DH, then the Royals can deal him.   As long as his contract is done right.

— What the Meche retirement does now is it gives GMDM some money to spend.  This scares me.  Anyone think he’ll make a charge at Kevin Millwood?  Supposedly, Millwood is a leader-type of player… Exactly the kind GMDM covets.  Then there’s the fact he can overpay to bring him to KC.  Or how about the Royals signed two starting pitchers last week and seemingly have their rotation candidates fairly set for 2011.  GMDM has always failed at roster construction.  Now seems like an ideal time to overpay to create a logjam on a team that’s not expected to contend.

And let’s not forget… Former Brave.

Crap.

— Speaking of arbitration, Kyle Davies avoids arbitration and gets a raise to $3.2 million.

WHAT?

Seriously, how the hell did the Royals come to the conclusion that Davies should get a raise?  I know that everyone always gets more money, but Hochevar signed for the same amount he made in ’10.  And there’s no way you can tell me Davies is the better pitcher.

In fact, there’s a ton of evidence that Davies doesn’t belong in the majors.  Few pitchers have been as futile for as long as Davies.

Enjoy it, Kyle.  That’s a helluva reward.

Gil Meche decided to retire with a year remaining on his five year fifty five million dollar contract.  He was slated to make twelve million six hundred thousand for the 2011 season. According to reports, Meche will not be getting any of the remaining money due to him. In his words:

“As a competitor my entire life this is the hardest decision that I’ve ever faced, but it’s not fair to me, my family or the Kansas City Royals that I attempt to pitch anymore. I came into this game as a starting pitcher and unfortunately my health, more accurately, my shoulder, has deteriorated to the point where surgery would be the only option and at this stage of my life I would prefer to call it a career rather than to attempt to pitch in relief for the final year of my contract.”

The common response I’ve heard from people regarding this turn of events is that Gil is “doing the right thing” or “classy” or “a great guy”.  Now, I don’t know Gil Meche and I’ve never met him.  I’ve never really heard anything bad about him and I’ve heard plenty of good things.  He seems like a competitor who says and does the right things.  What I’m not sure I understand is why it’s considered the right thing to do to turn down money which is contractually promised to him.

Baseball contracts are guaranteed.  Everybody knows this.  The players know it.  The General Managers know it.  So when a five year contract is signed by both parties, they know the risks.  If Gil Meche gets hurt, he still gets paid.  The odds of a pitcher at Meche’s age not getting hurt at some point in five years are pretty low.  I’m pretty sure that both sides were absolutely aware that there was a good chance that at some point in the contract Gil Meche would be getting paid lots of money to be on the disabled list.

Gil had pitched out of the bullpen in 2010 and was actually effective in the role. It was generally assumed that he would be back in the bullpen to start 2011 and try and contribute whatever he could in the final year of his contract.  It wasn’t going to be worth $12.6m, but it would be likely worth something.

If what Gil did is considered to be the “right” thing, then doesn’t that presuppose that had he come back and pitched out of the bullpen, it would have been the “wrong” thing? Would he have been the target of fans vitriol for going out there on a broken arm trying to live up to the contract he signed? It’s possible he’d have heard that from some fans, but the vast majority likely doesn’t blame him for his arm troubles.

Why is it that we place moral qualities onto athletes when they turn down money?  Is turning down money somehow a noble deed in and of itself? If I told my boss that I didn’t want the bonus because I didn’t think I’d earned it, would that be noble or classy?  I guess it’s possible in some world where everyone gets the exact money they earn all the time, but that’s not the world we live in.  If Gil Meche had become a four time Cy Young winner with the Royals and pitched well above the money he was making, would they have given him extra money beyond his contract? Should they?

Are we as fans projecting our discomfort with the amount of money they earn, when we see them give some of it back? Even though by all measures, professional athletes are worth what they are paid, it does seem slightly illogical that what they do is of that much actual value. Very few baseball fans earn anywhere near what the athletes they root for get paid, and through that lens they seem vastly overpaid. Is it seen as a small victory for the fans when a baseball player forfeits that money? It’s possible that it can be seen as an admission by the player himself that he’s earning too much money. That admission, even if inferred is something that fans can latch onto and then issue moral praise.

Personally, I don’t think that what Gil Meche did is inherently good or bad.  Whether he collected the millions he was owed, or he walked away it was merely a life decision of his.  He likely decided he’d rather spend time with his family than on the road with the baseball team this year.  He probably didn’t want to go through the pain he went through last year.  He also likely didn’t want to have to hear the possible jeers he’d receive at being an over-paid reliever.

Making that choice isn’t a right or wrong thing, it’s just what Gil Meche wanted to do. I think assessing value judgments on people based on whether or not they chose to accept the money owed to them on a contract seems to be a slippery slope.  This would require us to think poorly of the moral character of every single athlete who has a bad season or a major injury and keeps getting his paychecks.

I’m glad that Meche is doing what he wants with his life, and frankly I’m glad that it is financially beneficial to the Royals organization. I’ll leave the right and wrong to someone else.

You can follow Nick Scott on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle [at] gmail [dot] com

As you may or may not have heard, I’ve been selected as one of eight participants in what the Royals are describing as Digital Digest.  According to the people I’ve spoken with from the Royals, we’ll be given a behind the scenes look at the upcoming Royals FanFest and an opportunity to interview Dayton Moore, Ned Yost, Billy Butler, Jeff Francoeur and possibly others.

A week ago, Craig posted a very thought provoking post on the subject regarding media, bloggers and access.  For the most part, I agree with him, however I think that our purpose here is to provide you with a different take than you’ll get from other media outlets.  Part of that comes from the fact that we are constantly writing about the Royals, all year long.  We don’t take a break to write about the Chiefs or whatever else is going on.  During the offseason: Royals.  When the team is hovering near .500: Royals.  Late summer and the team is 24 games out of first: Royals.  However, when the team is offering the opportunity to ask questions of the General Manager that aren’t normally asked by the mainstream meadia, I’m taking that.  I’m doing it because it’ll will be pretty cool, and because I believe there is a desire for people to have different questions asked.

I’m already a little impressed with the way the Royals are handling the Digital Digest.  It came with the words “you can ask whatever you want”.  Which is what the nice woman who called me from the Royals said after she told me who I was going to be interviewing.  It’s been echoing around my brain now for the past week.  Now that I can ask whatever I want of Dayton Moore, what exactly is it that I want to ask?  It’s one of the reasons I’ve reached out to readers via Twitter and Facebook and now here at Royals Authority.  I want to make sure that I’ve gathered the entirety of the unanswered questions so that I can parse them into a few, hopefully thought provoking questions.  I clearly already have a lot of thoughts of my own, but I want to make sure I’m not glossing over anything.  So go ahead and post your thoughts in the comments. My goal when interviewing the General Manager and players will be to ask questions that don’t get asked in typical interviews and to attempt to elicit different responses than you hear typically.

Beyond the interviews, I’ll be getting a behind-the-scenes look at FanFest.  I’m actually pretty excited about that part as well, because I really like going to FanFest.  Ever since the Royals have started to do it, it’s been one of my off-season highlights.  I’m not completely sure why, either.  I’m not a big autograph guy, so I don’t get in line for those.  I think it’s just being in a place that’s completely dedicated to Royal fandom in all of it’s different incarnations.  I’ll be there on Thursday for sure and probably there at some points on both Friday and Saturday.  I’d like to meet some readers and podcast listeners as well.  At this point, I’m not sure if there will be some meetup or anything, so stay tuned to my Twitter, Facebook and this site for any potential details.

FanFest Dates and Times:

Map of Event

Thursday (season ticket holders only) – 5 p.m. ton 9 p.m.
Friday – 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday – 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

With the signings of Jeff Francis and Bruce Chen this past weekend, the Royals have to make a couple of moves to free up space on the forty man roster for those two.   While this seems like a fairly easy process (for those of us who don’t have to call a guy and say, ‘Hey, how’s your winter going?  By the way, you’re being designated for assignment.  Take care.’), I have almost never guessed correctly which players Dayton Moore decides to remove.

A quick glance at the current roster probably would lead almost all us to think the decision comes down to a quartet of relievers:   Henry Barrera, Jesse Chavez, Dusty Hughes and Kanekoa Texeira.     Looking at pitching makes sense given that the two guys the Royals just signed are pitchers.    Taking a chance on losing relievers is logical given that Bruce Chen can pitch out of relief and also because the first wave of the actual Process that is going to reach the majors is predominately relievers.

It is very possible the Royals break camp this spring with Tim Collins in the bullpen.   Certainly, Blake Wood, now that he has learned it is okay to strike guys out, will be part of the twenty-five that go north.   They might well be joined by Louis Coleman and/or Greg Holland, with Blaine Hardy not far behind.   Those names are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to good bullpen arms in the organization.

Digressing just a moment, perhaps the impending arrival of a number of rookies (or near rookies in the case of Wood and Holland) in the bullpen is as good a reason as any for the Royals to sign Bruce Chen and Jeff Francis.   Signing those two veterans, even if they turn out to be Scott Elarton and Mark Redman revisited, buys time for the young starters we are all counting on.   Heck, it buys time for Sean O’Sullivan for that matter.  It also buys time for the young relievers.

Let’s say Danny Duffy makes his major league debut on August 1st.   He allows two runs through five plus innings, but gets into trouble in the sixth.   It makes a lot more sense to have Louis Coleman, with nearly a full season of experience under his belt, come in with two on and one out in the sixth than if he was also just weeks into his major league career.   Tim Collins, also with four months in the majors on his resume, would come in to pitch the seventh and Blake Wood, now with over a year of experience, would polish off the eighth.

That is a whimsical little scenario, of course, but what I am trying to illustrate is that the Royals have a chance to pair a very young 2012 starting rotation with a young, but experienced, bullpen corps.   I think there is genuine value in having that mix and doing so without spending four million on veteran relievers next winter.

Anyway, back to our 40 man roster dilemma – if you can call it that.  

Of the four pitchers mentioned above, Henry Barrera does one thing the others to not:  strike guys out (10.3/9 over his career).   Health has been an issue for him and with less than half a season above A ball, Henry is the only one of the four who has virtually no shot at being on the early season 2011 roster.   That said, I hang on to Barrera.

After that, designating either Hughes, Chavez or Texeira for assignment will not cause me to lose any sleep.   First off, there is a real chance that those guys do not get claimed by another team and end up right back in the organization just as Joaquin Arias and Lance Zawadski did.   If not, does it matter in the long-term?   Does it even really matter in the short-term?

In the end, I would probably cut loose Texeira and Chavez simply because Dusty Hughes did manage to throw over 50 innings of marginally passable major league work in 2010.   If the Royals want to give Coleman, et.al. a month or so in AAA, then Hughes is the stop-gap guy they can turn to.      Left-handers who have pitched in the majors are also less likely to make it through waivers than right-handers who have yet to, you know, get anyone out.

While the long-term success of the Royals is hardly going to be effected by this decision, it is a roster decision that will give us an idea as to the make-up of the early 2011 bullpen.

On Friday, it was announced that the Royals had signed free agent pitcher Jeff Francis to a one year contract reported to be worth $2m in guaranteed money and another $2m in incentives. Earlier in his career, the lefty was looked at as a potential ace for the Colorado Rockies. Major shoulder trouble and subsequent surgery caused him to miss the entire 2009 season. He was linked to seven different teams this offseason, however reports on his recovery and the fact he stumbled later in the 2010 season probably pushed teams away.

After trading Zack Greinke to the Milwaukee Brewers, there was at least one opening in the starting rotation.  That, combined with the unlikelihood of the Royals competing for a Divison title in 2011 allowed them to offer something that other teams likely couldn’t: a chance to start every fifth day, as long as he’s healthy.  Francis joins Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur as former top prospects who are joining the Royals on one year contracts to prove to the league that they are worth signing to a longer contract. If one or more of these “show me” contract guys actually produces  in 2011, then the Royals can also flip them at the deadline for prospects, much like they did with a number of players at the end of 2010. There’s potential value for both sides in these kinds of deals.

Francis will be moving from one of the most hitter friendly parks in Coors Field to one of the more pitcher friendly parks at Kauffman.  He’s primarily a ground ball pitcher who has a low walk rate and a moderate strike out rate.  If he’d have been on the Royals last year, his walk rate would’ve been second only to Grienke among starting pitchers.  At $2m guaranteed, there is really no risk for the Royals here and potentially some real upside.  There really isn’t much to dislike about this deal.  Francis will also be reunited with his old pitching coach Bob McClure who was a worked for the Colorado Rockies organization from 1999-2005, four of which were with the AAA Colorado Springs team which Francis pitched for in 2004.

This sort of free agent signing is becoming part of Dayton Moore’s modus operandi as of late.  He likes former big time prospects who’ve fallen on tough times or struggled and are looking for one last chance to make it.  He gives them a one year deal with incentives or options and gives them an opportunity to play. From what I’ve been able to glean from quotes and from his actions, Dayton is a believer in tools. He wants guys that are athletic if unproven.  I’d guess that he believes that his instructors can teach baseball skills, but they can’t teach athleticism.  I agree with him.  However with athletic toolsy players, you run the risk that they’ll never figure out the baseball part of the equation and will eventually flame out.

Polished baseball guys who may be less toolsy but can play the game of baseball (think Willie Bloomquist) are usually more steady and predictable.  However, their upside is almost always limited.  Guys with off the charts athleticism (Jason Heyward, Rick Ankiel, etc) can be potential stars if (and it’s a big if) they can figure out the baseball part.  With that kind of potential risk, a team can’t just bank on a couple of toolsy guys to bust out, instead you have to have a bunch that you can throw against the wall to see who will stick.  Again, that’s what Dayton has been doing lately.

At the Major League level he’s brought in Francouer, Cabrera, Betemit, Cain, Francoeur, Jeffress and Francis.  All of them have been highly thought of prospects who are in general freakish atheletes.  Likely a couple of these guys will pan out, and will contribute to the team or be fodder for another trade.  It’s a risk well worth taking at this point where the Royals are.  What baffles me is why it’s taken this long to start doing this.

The bottom line is I like the acquisition of Jeff Francis by itself, but I like that it’s another piece of evidence which points to Dayton Moore making better decisions at the Major League level.

You can follow Nick Scott on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle [at] gmail [dot] com

UPDATE: The Royals have reportedly agreed to terms with Jeff Francis to a one-year deal, pending a physical.  I mention Francis later in this post in regards to the team’s payroll. It will be interesting to see how much he will be making next year, but as you’ll see… It really doesn’t matter.  Read on…

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The Royals and Luke Hochevar agreed to terms on Wednesday, avoiding arbitration.  According to reports, he’s set to make $1.76 million next season.  While that’s hardly chump change, according to Cot’s that is the exact same amount he made in 2010. Hochevar is represented by Scott Boras, so I found it kind of interesting that they reached this sort of an agreement.  Even though he was hurt and missed a large chunk of the season, Hochevar did improve on his overall performance.  Trust me… You have to look closely, but he did.

Hochevar has added seven pounds of muscle (one of the first “Best Shape of his Life” stories of 2011… Spring Training is close.) in an attempt to avoid further injury.  I’m always ambivalent about these reports.  Will more muscle result in better performance, or will it take something away?  I guess we’ll know about a year from now when the story is either “Hochevar Trims Down” or “Hochevar named Mr. Universe.”

With Hochevar under contract, that leaves Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Robinson Tejeda and Kyle Davies as the Royals remaining arbitration-eligible players.  Given Dayton Moore’s track record – he’s never gone to arbitration in his tenure in KC – I’d bet all four reach agreements before the team reports to Surprise.

So let’s take a look at the Royals current payroll.  Here are the names and the numbers we know.  These are all the Royals under contract for 2011.  All numbers are in millions.

That is a lean total for a baseball payroll about a month from the opening of camp.

Now, let’s look at the guys who haven’t been locked in for 2011.

Butler will get a nice raise to avoid arbitration.  I’m thinking somewhere in the $3 million neighborhood.  Gordon will probably be in line with last season’s $1.15 million.  There is no way Davies should make more money than Hochevar, but he was at $1.8 last year, so let’s pencil him in for that again.  And Tejeda will probably double his salary from last year and make around $2 million.  These numbers are just off the top of my head.  I’m confident about the Gordon and Davies guesses, less so about Butler and Tejeda.  Still, let’s figure an additional $8 million for the remaining arbitration guys.  That pushes the total payroll to about $35 million.

Then there are the guys with less that three years of service time.  The club can (and will) automatically renew their contracts for either the minimum ($414,000) or slightly above.  On the Royals, that includes the following players:

Nathan Adcock
Jesse Chavez
Greg Holland
Jeremy Jeffries
Vin Mazzaro
Sean O’Sullivan
Lucas May
Mike Aviles
Alcides Escobar
Chris Getz
Kila Ka’aihue
Gregor Blanco
Lorenzo Cain

OK… I’ve left out some players who could be on the 25 man roster Opening Day.  That’s not the point.  Because if one of these 13 guys isn’t on the team at the start of April, he will be replaced by someone with a similar level of experience.

Since not everyone listed above will make the bare minimum, let’s just round up and assign everyone a contract of $425,000.  That adds an extra $5.525 million to the payroll.

That brings our rough estimate of the Royals Opening Day payroll to $40.525 million.  Throw in the $1 million they owe The Yunigma and that edges the team payroll to just over $41 million.

Wow.

Quite the reduction from the $70 million plus payrolls the Royals opened the year with in 2010 and 2009.

I know there will be a focus on the team payroll and most of it will be negative.  Ignore that noise.  A payroll this low means that while GMDM doesn’t totally get it, he’s learning.  He’s learning that you don’t need to throw mega-millions at a broken down outfielder or a reliever in order to finish in fourth or fifth place.  This is a good thing.  With The Process in full swing, there’s no need to bloat the payroll today.  The eyes are on the future.

On the other hand, I’m worried that the money is smoldering in GMDM’s pocket.  Obviously the Royals need pitching and Kevin Millwood seems like the kind of guy he would overpay, just to bring him to KC.  How GMDM approaches this need in the next month will speak loudly about exactly how much he has learned.

However, it’s all a slippery slope.  Don’t spend money and you’re cheap and running the team on a Wal-Mart budget.  Spend money on guys like Millwood and you’re basically throwing cash away.  Still, there’s not a much (really, any) quality remaining on the free agent market.  All that’s left are injury risks (Chris Young, Jeff Francis) and guys who… aren’t very good. (Jeff Suppan, Nate Robertson)

Myself, I’d rather GMDM resist the temptation to throw the cash just because he has it.  I know that a million saved in 2011 doesn’t mean anything in 2012.  Still, just once I’d like Moore to do the prudent thing.

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