Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

This is the latest post in this series reviewing the Kansas City Royals offensively, position by position.  You can go back and read the posts on catcher (including a series preview),  first base, second base, third base, shortstop, left field, center field and right field.

First, let’s take a look at how the players who manned the DH position hit when they were in the lineup as a DH.

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Jose Guillen got the bulk of the duty at DH, which frankly is where he should have been for the last two years because of lingering leg injuries.  In the 84 games which Guillen hit in the DH slot, he was pretty average.  It’s not what one would hope for $12 million a season,  however he wasn’t exactly the glaring hole some assumed he was.

The only other players who had more than nominal DH duty were Billy Butler and Kila Ka’aihue, the two players who will most likely get the vast majority of the starts at the position in 2011.  It shouldn’t shock anyone at this point that Billy Butler can hit the ball, and 2010 was no exception.  Kila’s line is instructive. He was pretty close to an average DH offensively, but he does in in an unorthodox manner.  His OBP would have been 6th in the chart below and his slugging percentage would be 8th, however his batting average would have been thirteenth.

As a unit, the Royals designated hitters ranked 7th in the American League.  Once again the Royals find themselves pretty close to the middle offensively.  Doing this exercise opened my eyes to the fact that the offense was not that bad in 2010.  Jose Guillen is the biggest influence on those numbers, and it’s clear by the low walk rate, high strikeout rate and decent slugging.

2011 will be completely different with Jose Guillen gone and Butler and Ka’aihue likely to take the at bats.  2011 will be in many ways a make-or-break year for Kila.  The Royals are beginning to graduate some of their impact corner bats like Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and even Clint Robinson.  Kila is likely to get all of 2011 to showcase his talents to the Royals and the rest of the MLB.  If he can repeat his minor league performance, the Royals will have a very difficult decision to make in regards to their future at first base and designated hitter.

Either way, 2011 will be interesting to watch because they will have a young legitimate hitter at both first and DH.  If they can anchor the middle of the lineup, it’s possible the Royals could improve offensively.  Clearly, they’ll need to to overcome the recent loss of Zack Greinke from the pitching rotation.

Although Dayton Moore has not come out and outright said that Mike Moustakas will start 2011 in the minors, he has all but said it.   There are a lot of good reasons for this plan:

  1. Moustakas has just a half season of AAA experience under his belt (and just one half season of AA experience for that matter) and a little more time in Omaha might be in order.  
  2. The 2011 Royals are going to be borderline awful, if not completely GOD awful.   Remember when Scott Elarton was the Opening Day starter?   That rotation is probably better than what the Royals are going to have in April of next year.   Having Moustakas in the majors in April is not going to keep the Royals from being irrelevant by July.
  3. If Mike Moustakas is all we hope he is, then he is also going to become very valuable (i.e. very expensive) by the time his free agent clock becomes a concern.   Given that noted big market lover Scott Boras is Mike’s agent….well, you do the math.

So, the widely expected 2011 Moustakas plan is to keep him in the minors for a long enough period of time so as to give the Royals at least a partial extra season of control.  

Unlike salary arbitration, options and Rule 5 eligibility, major league free agency is really pretty simple.   After six full years of major league service (either on the 25 man roster or the major league disabled list) a player is a free agent.   A ‘full year’ of service time is considered to be 172 days even though the full major league schedule spans 182 days.

Dayton Moore made a reference in an interview earlier this month as to there being a difference between bringing up a player who is already on the 40 man roster as opposed to bringing a guy up and putting him on the 40 man for the first time and what it means to his service clock.    My usual quick and crappy research was unable to turn up what this difference is, but given that Moustakas is not on the 40 man roster it is certainly a plus with regard to service clock issues.

In the end, the idea that the Royals have to wait for June 1 to buy an extra year before free agency is not correct.  In fact, Kansas City could conceivably call on Moustakas pretty much anytime after April 10th and enjoy his services, not for six years, but for almost a full seven.

Of course, such a blatant use of the service clock rules is not a particularly good way to foster good will between a player his organization and his agent.   I’m not sure if you noticed, but Scott Boras remembers stuff like that.    Given the state of the Royals in 2011, there is not much harm in letting Moustakas get 150 or so at-bats in AAA before making the call and at least try to avoid the look of service clock manipulator.

Now, all of the above ignores the other monetary issue:  salary arbitration.   Here, it gets pretty dicey as to when you call up Mike.   Obviously, three full years and a player is eligible for arbitration, but we also are all familiar with the ‘Super Two’ factor.   Those in the top 17% of players with two plus years experience also become eligible for arbitration.   Which means the Royals, if they are hell bent on saving money, will have to gamble on when they can call up Moustakas and not risk ‘buying’ an extra year of salary arbitration.   Again, if Mike is all we think he might be, arbitration can get really expensive really fast.

This writer’s opinion is that the Royals should be cognizant of the free agency clock with regard to Moustakas.   As stated above, there is no real reason to not hold Mike in AAA for enough days so that he is not eligible for free agency until after 2017 instead of 2016.   That said, keeping him in AAA (assuming he does not struggle in Omaha to start the year) long enough to avoid Mike becoming a super two does not make as much sense to me.

Getting Moustakas acclimated to the majors in advance of the likes of Eric Hosmer and Mike Montgomery and well in advance of Wil Myers and John Lamb might have benefits that exceed the cost savings of avoiding an extra year of salary arbitration.  

By most accounts, Mike is a leader.   It’s worth reading Greg Schaum’s interview with Eric Hosmer and what Moustakas did as far as helping Hosmer acclimate to professional ball and imagine him doing something similar at the major league level.   Having Moustakas get even three months of major league experience in before the next wave of prospects come to Kansas City might be of great worth to the organization in the long run.

Now, I know, the above paragraph dances along the much maligned (rightly so) organizational drivel about grit, clubhouse presence and veteran leadership and all the crap that was dished out over the past five years to justify lesser or older players taking time from guys who needed a look.   That said, there is also validity to needing leaders and good clubhouse guys and such.   Moustakas could be one of those guys and getting him started in front of some of the other prospects is key to him taking on such a role.

Of course, if Mike hits .195 with one home run for Omaha this April, we can just wad up the above column and trash can it.   As the new optimistic me frolics through the off-season, I will go ahead and predict a Moustakas major league debut on April 26th as the Royals take on the Indians in Cleveland.

Love it or hate it, the Greinke trade seems to have generated one common feeling throughout the land of Royals’ blogs:   this, at last, really is The Process.  

For better or worse, after somehow getting older at the major league level over the past few years and getting worse at the same time, the trade of Zack Greinke really, really feels like the beginning.   I should clarify in that The Process has been underway for some time and that is evidenced by the glowing reviews of what is generally perceived as the best farm system in baseball.   However, The Process has not been in evidence at the major league level in any truly perceptible permutations until last week.

While there are learned Royals’ fans who, for very logical reason, are skeptical of the return on the Greinke move, but they are also intrigued to see what happens the next couple of years.   The Process is either working or leading all of us down another dark hallway, but it is now, truly underway.   That’s got to be worth something.

If The Process is in full effect at all levels now, it certainly is an inexpensive little mechanism.   The Royals are likely to have a payroll south of $50 million and be pretty awful.   In 2012, however, they are still likely to have a payroll under or around $50 million and be considerably better.   In theory that means that come 2013 when you might be looking at signing some of the young players to long term deals and maybe add an actual impact veteran free agent (‘actual’ being something different than any free agent signee of the Moore era not named Meche) they should have a stash of cash with which to do so.

However, I have some vague recollection of either David Glass or Dayton Moore mentioning something along the lines that the Royals look at payroll/budget issues on a ‘year to year basis’.   I was unable to find that actual quote, but it is a shame if my memory is right on this topic.  

You cannot have ‘a process’ without a budgetary plan that spans four or five years instead of just one.   It is foolhardy, in fact.   Hopefully, David Glass (who by the way is not an idiot when it comes to money) has told Dayton Moore that he has $400 million to spend on payroll over the next six years or something along those lines.   I just picked those numbers out of the air, but what should be the timeframe and the total dollars amount?

Anyway, the point of all this is that the Royals are going to make some money this year and probably a good deal of money in 2012 and even 2013 if this all works out.   A young roster is a cheap roster and if your young players are as good as we all think/hope/pray they are, then the revenues will be up in the coming years.   If Dayton Moore has ‘The Process’, than Mr. Glass better have ‘A Plan’ when it comes to banking some profit to have some ammunition when it comes time to go the table with Scott Boras.

Okay, now a little fun (or agony for those of you who hate lineup projections).   How will the Royals’ lineup mutate through 2011?

If Opening Day brings us this:

Pena C, Ka’iahue DH, Butler 1B, Getz 2B, Escobar SS, Aviles 3B, Gordon LF, Cabrera CF, Francoeur RF; with a rotation of Hochevar, Mazzaro, Davies, O’Sullivan and somebody.     Then how many of those fourteen guys will be in the everyday lineup on June 1st?  August 1st? September 15th?

Well, you know Jason Kendall will be back at catcher and pretty much can count on Mike Moustakas at third base come June and Lorenzo Cain in the outfield no later than August, so there’s three.   By mid-September is it conceivable that as many as six position players will be different and three starting pitchers?   Is it likely that of those NINE changes, at least eight will be dramatic upgrades?  

2011 might suck record wise.  In fact, it WILL suck record wise, but I think it will be the most interesting season since maybe as far back as 2003.   I know, I know:  it’s just another year of ‘wait until next year’, but it feels different.   Let’s hope it actually turns out to really be different.

Fallout

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The dust has yet to settle on the Greinke deal, but there have been a couple of interesting developments on the side since the trade went down early Sunday.  These are just a few things that caught my eye…

What now for Alex Gordon?

So we now have Lorenzo Cain in center field and a pair of free agent acquisitions in Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur.  The Royals also have Gregor Blanco, acquired in the Farnsworth/Ankiel trade.  Along with Mitch Maier.  And Jarrod Dyson who earned a cup of coffee at the end of the season.  And David Lough waiting in the wings.

Unless the Royals petition the league for an exemption to add an extra defender (Given the lousy state of their defense the last couple of years, why didn’t anyone think of this?  It could be the Beer League Softball Exemption.) they will be forced to choose four – maybe five – of these guys to stay on the roster.  Let’s examine this group, one by one.

Jeff Francoeur – Don’t kid yourself.  He’s a lock.  Your right fielder.  So inevitable, it was predicted by the Mayans. And the Incas.

Lorenzo Cain – When the trade was announced, I figured Cain would slide in as the everyday center fielder.  You don’t trade your ace for a player with big league experience, only to have him riding the buses around the Pacific Coast League.  However… This is the Royals we are talking about.  As the Great Poz pointed out, strange things may be afoot… From Ned Yost via Bob Dutton’s article on the trade.

“We’ll see where (Cain) fits in. I’m not projecting anything right now. We’ve signed Melky Cabrera (to play center field), and Lorenzo Cain only has (147) big-league at-bats.”

So this athletic, defensive stud you just received in exchange for your one-year-removed-Cy-Young-award-winner could be edged out my Melky Freakin’ Cabrera?  The same guy who, with over 2,600 career plate appearances owns a slash line of .267/.328/.379?

Look, it’s early.  I have to figure that sane minds will prevail.

What? Yes, this is the Royals. Crap…

Melky Cabrera – Apparently, he’s our center fielder.  Although he broke in with the Yankees as a left fielder and played more innings in left last year for the Braves than any other outfield position.  So it’s possible he could slide over.  Either way, I just remember seeing him butcher play after play in the outfield last year.  He was fat, slow and played like he just didn’t give a damn.  In other words, he’s a Royal.

Plus, you have to wonder what kind of promises or assurances were made to get Melky to come to Kansas City.  He’s started for most of his career, so I’d have to assume he was told he would be part of the everyday mix.  We know the clubhouse mix is important to the Royals and Dayton Moore.  You don’t want to promise something to a guy and then welch on that deal.

The acquisition of Cabrera is another area where GMDM really jumped the gun.  He wasn’t necessary before he signed here.  And now he’s really unnecessary. At least he can take The Yunigma’s place as my least favorite Royal.

Gregor Blanco – Clearly better than Cabrera.  Clearly. While he lacks Melky’s experience (although Blanco is nine months older) he’s shown the ability to reach base and actually steal the occasional bag.  Blanco is the type of player who immediately springs to mind when we think of guys GMDM covets – speedy, slasher type with limited power.  The one way he doesn’t fit the GMDM mold is his career .358 OBP and 12% walk rate.

I’m not certain he’s an everyday player, but he should certainly be in the mix in this outfield.

Mitch Maier – Our Mitch.  He’s out of options and seemingly out of space on the Royals roster.  Meaning he will hit the waiver wire sometime between now and the beginning of the season.

Maier’s value lies in his versatility – he can play all three outfield positions.  That could save him when it comes time to build the roster, but the front office has always been tone deaf when it comes to assembling a complete 25 man roster.  In my mind, he’s a classic fourth outfielder… Decent defender, average to below average offensively, inexpensive and a guy who won’t kill you if he gets into the lineup a couple of times a week.  Useful on the Royals, but they probably don’t realize that.

Jarrod Dyson – The kid showed some crazy defensive skills in center during his September call-up, but was overmatched at the plate.  He has under 300 plate appearances in his career between Triple-A and the majors combined.  He’s 26, so the clock is definitely ticking, but I wonder if it’s too late.

David Lough – DeJesus 2.0 did well in his debut as a regular in Omaha and is a year younger than Dyson.  Placed on the roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, he was positioned to get some playing time in Kansas City next summer.  Until GMDM went on his acquisition spree.  It’s possible he still has a future in Kansas City, but it will have to wait until the free agent studs clear the deck at the end of the season. (Or take a June hunting trip.)

That brings us to…

Alex Gordon – We all know the story.  Injuries, attitude problems and time spent in Triple-A has seemingly robbed Gordon of coming close to realizing his potential.  As one of the remaining holdovers of the Allard Baird regime, where exactly does he fit when GMDM and his brain trust assembles the 2011 squad.  I thought he played an above average left field when he returned from his Omaha exile.  However, his bat never got on track.  Recalled when DeJesus’ season ended in New York, Gordon hit a meager .218/.311/.360 in 243 plate appearances.  Ouch.

Is he the next guy out of Kansas City? I think so.  Like all of Dayton’s moves this winter, this has an air of inevitability about it.  The Royals are frustrated by Gordon, who has ignored all attempts at salvation by the coaching staff.  His stock is dropping for sure… It’s never been lower and we haven’t reached the floor.

But time and again, I come back to the guy not really having had a chance over the last couple of seasons.  It would behoove the Royals to just turn him loose and see what happens.  He could post a miserable line like he did in the second half of the season.  Or he could be league average.  Tough to say.   I do know he needs to just relax and play his game.  We’re not at the point where the Royals can give up on him.  But we’re pretty damn close.

He remains one of the great mysteries of the Royals.

Ideally, my outfield would be Gordon in left, Cain in center and somebody in right.  (I suppose it has to be Francoeur, but it really pains me to say that.)  I get the feeling by the end of 2011, the majority of the outfield time will be Cabrera in left, Cain in center and Francoeur in right.  That’s criminal.

And if I had to rank the outfielders right now, it would probably look something like this:

Gordon
Cain
Blanco
Maier
Francoeur
Cabrera

While The Process continues to roll… There are still too many failures of evaluation at the major league level.

Billy Butler is emerging as the clubhouse leader.

I don’t think anyone really saw this coming.  But with DeJesus gone (not really leadership material anyway) and now Greinke, Butler is one of the longer tenured Royals on the team.  Plus, he came up through the system.  He really is someone who can help the younger guys out – if he chooses.  And indications are he’s more than willing.

Obviously, there’s “Jeffy Ballgame” as Nick likes to call Francoeur.  I know GMDM and the brain trust think he’ll be a leader.  But guys who aren’t good and are on short-term contracts aren’t the type of players the youngsters will look up to.  No matter if they were on the bench during the playoffs.

Breaking up is hard to do.

So Zack arrived in Milwaukee and declared himself the “happiest he’s been since the draft in 2002.”  Ouch.  Then word slowly comes out of the Royals camp that nobody liked Greinke much anyway.  Double ouch.

I’ve always preferred to separate the personality from the performer.  I know there’s going to be some sniping from both sides… It happens all the time.  And it always seems to happen when a guy signs an extension with a losing team and then is surprised when the team doesn’t immediately start to win.  Still, I’m glad Greinke was a Royal.  As I tweeted on Sunday, “We’ll always have 2009.”  Don’t dispute that his starts were some of the most fun you’ve had watching Royals baseball in the last decade.  Sure, the guy is weird and flaky and was notoriously short with the media.  Who cares?  The guy threw some outstanding ballgames.

Of course the counter argument to that is he quit on his team.  Maybe he did.  Hell, I think he mailed in a start or two even in his Cy Young campaign of 2009.  That’s just the way he is.

It’s just Zack being Zack.  It wouldn’t be an issue if the Royals won ballgames.

Episode #038 – What else are we going to discuss?  Of course we discuss the Zack Greinke trade in detail.  I have Larry Granillo of Wezen-Ball on to discuss the Brewers perspective.  In this star-studded, two-guest podcast, I also have Craig Brown my co-writer at Royals Authority on to break down the trade in detail and how it impacts the team now and into the future.  Nowhere else do you get 2 hours of almost uninterrupted discussion on the Royals and Greinke, so check out this episode of the podcast.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs038.mp3|titles=BBS

Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Follow Larry on Twitter @wezen_ball and check out his blog: Wezen-Ball, and listen to his podcast.

Follow Craig on Twitter @royalsauthority

Music used in this podcast:

The Staple Singers – Who Took The Merry Out of Christmas

Pearl Jam – Unemployable

Captain Beefheart – Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles

Jimmy Smith – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

How to Get the Podcast:

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As Royals’ fans, we are a jaded group.   That has never been so evident as the immediate reactions that were voiced and written as we all got wind of the trade of Zack Greinke to the Brewers.   Primarily, the return was widely disparaged simply because, well, because it was the Royals getting the return.  

With this organization’s track record, over multiple owners and general managers, who can argue with the logic that if the Royals traded an elite player whatever they got back must have been a bad deal.   Going off the top of my head and without getting into a debate over who was ‘elite’ and who was not, here is a partial list of players the royals have received:

Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jefferies, Keith Miller, Chris Stynes, David Sinnes,  Tony Medrano,  Blake Stein, Jeff D’Amico, Brad Rigby, Angel Berroa, A.J. Hinch, Roberto Hernandez (an OLD Roberto mind you), Nefii Perez, John Buck, Mark Teahan, Mike Wood

Given that list, I get the skepticism.   I also understand the concerns that Dayton Moore, like Allard Baird before him, limited the market by insisting on ‘up the middle major league ready talent’.    It might well be that some teams gave up early or never called to inquire on Greinke figuring that they did not have those type of prospects.   How would the above list look if Robinson Cano was there instead of Mark Teahen?

However, Moore was also at times said to be looking for a major league ready pitcher with ‘Greinke-like’ potential as part of any deal.   While I think Jake Odorizzi might some day be very good, no one is expecting him to become an ace.   So, it seems that the Royals at least were willing to entertain offers that were not exactly in line with their supposed demands.    I wonder just how much of the market really was excluded?

We know that the Washington Nationals had an offer out there and that Zack refused to waive his no-trade clause to them.   Talented reliever Drew Storen and shortstop Danny Espinosa were supposedly part of the deal, but it is unclear if Jordan Zimmerman was and who else might have been  involved.   What we do know is the deal that actually took place and the waves of angst that followed.

Ignoring the casual fan, the ones that lamented Jose Guillen being traded, there was still a pretty wide swath of ‘the Royals didn’t get near enough’ pasted across the Internet.   Alcides Escobar can’t hit, Lorenzo Cain has limited upside, Odorizzi is ‘fine for A ball’ and Jeffress likes the happy weed too much.  Given the above few paragraphs, I can understand the immediate swing to the negative, but it sure seems to be getting a little annoyed.   I say that, by the way, fully cognizant that our own site and myself have certainly beat the Royals’ organization over the head more often than not, but then it’s not like those opportunities have been hard to come by the last ten years.

Prior to the 2010 season, Alcides Escobar was the Brewers’ number one prospect (according to Baseball America), while Lorenzo Cain was number eight, Jake Odorizzi was number nine and Jeremy Jeffress was thought to have the best fastball in that organization.   Of course, an entire season has transpired since those rankings were made and one of the worst things a top prospect can do to hurt his reputation is to, you know, play games.

Beyond that, the four players fit the stereotype of so many others brought in by Dayton Moore:  two position players known for their speed and two pitchers who feature a fastball and a curve.   We have heard those traits a lot in the past and been disappointed more often than not.   That said, some guys who can really run, can also really play baseball and some pitchers (a lot actually) have good careers throwing fastballs and curves.

While the full impact, positive or negative, may not be known until Odorizzi makes the majors in a couple of years and Jeffress has hopefully managed to stay clean AND be a power reliever for a period of time, I am going to focus this morning on the two position players.     These are the two guys that are going to be the ones dealing with the Perez/Teahen/Berroa/Buck comparisons and also the two were are going to see the most of the soonest.

Next to Billy Butler batting third, Jeff Francoeur playing right field and Joakim Soria closing, the surest thing about the 2011 roster is that Escobar will be playing shortstop.   Alcides Escobar had, without question, a pretty awful rookie season.    The defensive abilities he showed in the minors surfaced in his rookie season as flashes of brilliance interspersed with bouts of inconsistency.  That said, Escobar’s UZR/150 of 4.7 still ranked eighth out of twenty-one qualified shortstops in the majors.   Defensive metrics over just one season can be wildly inaccurate, so Escobar is something of an unknown quantity in this area, but his minor league career was generally one in which scouts, prospect analysts and the Brewers’ organization wondered if this great defender could hit enough to justify a job.    For now, I feel pretty confident that Escobar either already is or will shortly become the best defensive shortstop to play for the Royals since the turn of the century.

Of course, the days of the defense only shortstop are long since past and there are questions about Escobar’s offense.    He hit just .235/.288/.326 last season for a paltry OPS+ of just 67.   Some of that was due to an unlucky .264 BABIP, but much of Alcides’ problems were an inability to control the strike zone and work the count to his advantage.    Tough rookie year or a guy who cannot hit major league pitching?

It is worth noting, however, that Escobar’s best minor league seasons at the plate occurred as he reached the higher levels of the minors.    After three fairly poor offensive years his first three years in pro ball, Escobar hit .325/.345/.377 in half a season in High A before moving to AA ball, where he struggled some.   However, in AA the next season, Alcides hit a very good .328/.363/.434 and then moved onto AAA the next season where he hit .298/.353/.409.    During his one AAA season, Escobar walked 32 times in 487 plate appearances versus 31 in 110 more plate appearances the year before in AA.   Hey, the guy is not a walk machine, but he improved from AA and AAA.

In the end, Alcides Escobar may never consistently hit to his minor league career line of .293/.333/.377, but I think there is a better than reasonable chance that he will hit better than the frankly awful rookie season numbers of 2010.   Can Escobar ever be an All-Star?   Does he have to be if Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer are? 

Now, Lorenzo Cain does not have the luxury of two of the best hitting prospects in baseball on the horizon to flank him.  While Cain is expected to be a good, if still somewhat raw, defensively (it’s noteworthy that Cain did not play baseball until high school), the Royals need their centerfielder to hit.   Of course, if Alex Gordon hits 35 home runs and Jeff Francoeur reverts to his rookie form, then the pressure is off – but then, this column is optimistic enough – let’s not get carried away.

Cain hit a solid .306/.348/.415 in 47 games for Milwaukee last year, helped considerably by a .370 BABIP.   While that may be cause for alarm, Cain did post a BABIP above .340 in FOUR of six minor league campaigns and one of those off-seasons was in 2009 when most of the season was derailed to an ankle injury.    Frankly, do we have any real reason to think Lorenzo cannot hit close to his minor league numbers of .291/.366/.416 and possibly add some power to those numbers given his 6’2″ 200 pound frame?

While I am certainly being optimistic, what’s the real harm?   As Royals’ fans, knowing that Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain are going to be in your everyday lineup in 2011, why not give them the benefit of the doubt.   Sure, Cain has had an abnormally high BABIP for most of his career, so has Mike Aviles and David DeJesus and a slew of other guys who can basically hit.  

Yes, Escobar was awful as a rookie, just as Omar Vizquel did.    Truth is, Alcides was the Brewers’ number one prospect last season and number freaking twelve in all of baseball.   A bad rookie year suddenly makes this guy a bad player who ‘will never hit’?

Come on, let’s all take a breath on this one.  

Should we get to September and Escobar still isn’t hitting a lick and doing his Angel Berroa impression in the field,  Lorenzo Cain is taking curious routes to fly balls and hitting an empty .275, Jeffress is suspended and Odorizzi getting lit up in High A ball, then you can feel free to write me and say ‘I told you so’.     

For now, however, let’s give these guys a chance before we decide this deal was horrible.   Jurickson Profar may or may not have been offered by the Rangers and while it would be fun to have him in the system, it would also be 2014 before he even sniffed the majors.   By the way, tell me the difference between the minor league numbers of Profar or Danny Espinosa and those of Alcides Escobar.

As Royals’ fans, we have plenty to worry about this season.  Namely, a rotation that starts with Hochevar and ends with ‘gee, I don’t know, somebody’.    I will be the first to lead the charge when Melky Cabrera starts six of the first eight games in leftfield in front of Alex Gordon (or five of seven in front of Lorenzo Cain in center), but I am content to say that the four players the Royals received for Zack Greinke might, just might, be a pretty decent return after all.

Zack Greinke is no longer a Royal.  It’s painful to say, and I’m sad to see my favorite player in a long time move on.  You likely already are aware that he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for  Alcides Escobar (SS), Lorenzo Cain (CF), Jeremy Jeffress (RHP) and Jake Odorizzi (RHP).  I know that everyone really likes to read people’s opinions on which team “won” and which team “lost” any given trade and there’s plenty of that all over the internet and Twitter.  If you must know my feelings, I like the trade.  The Royals had to trade Greinke at some point and they got multiple quality players in return.  At the very least, I don’t think many people could in good faith suggest that this trade is a total bomb.  So instead of trying to sell you on why I like the trade or why you should like the trade, let’s talk about what just got a whole heck of a lot more interesting: the 2011 season.

Like anyone else who roots for the Royals, I want to see more wins on the field, and frankly I don’t care how they accomplish it.  Barring a bunch of extra wins, I’d like to at least watch a team that interests me.  Honestly, the last couple of years have been some of the least interesting and hard to root for Royals teams that I can remember.  They were filled with boring players who had no future with the Royals organization.  It was like watching a bunch of hired guns who couldn’t really shoot all that well.  Going out to see Zack Greinke pitch, Joakim Soria close or Billy Butler hit were the lone reasons to get excited.  The Royals did lose one of those marquee names today, but the team just became much more interesting.

For the past year and a half (it seems so much longer) we’ve been watching Yuniesky Betancourt play sub par defense and hit with a woeful bat.  He’s been a daily reminder of the fact that the Royals gave up Minor League talent in order to get, at best a replacement level shortstop.  For many of us, he was the embodiment of a front office who can’t really identify quality Major League talent and over-values certain aspects of player evaluation.  Now that Betancourt is heading to Milwaukee and the Royals got Alcides Escobar in return, the position just became interesting.  Escobar is known as a very good defender who has the ability to be elite.  He has struggled throughout his career with the bat, but did show some signs of putting it together in the upper Minors.  He’ll never likely hit for any power, but he only needs to be near average offensively for a SS and he becomes very exciting.  Either way, he just turned twenty four and likely represents the Royals shortstop for the next five years.  This season we will get a chance to see him every single day, hopefully making spectacular plays and also developing as a Major League hitter.  I knew what we had in Yuniesky Betancourt, I’m not sure what we have yet in Escobar, but I’m pretty interested in finding out.

The Royals farm system is light on outfield prospects, and very few are close to Major League ready.  So, we’ve gotten used to Dayton Moore acquiring some free agents on one year “show me” contracts who at best can be flipped for prospects at the trade deadline.  These are mercenaries of the highest degree, and usually pretty low-rent mercenaries at that.  There isn’t anything particularly exciting about going to see Scott Podsednik Rick Ankiel, Melky Cabrera or Jeff Francoeur for one season in a Royals uniform.  We can still dream on Alex Gordon some, but he is running out of future projection.  Prior to this move, the most exciting part of the outfield was hoping that speedster Jarrod Dyson would get some playing time and suddenly become a completely different hitter.  Once again, after the trade things have been shaken up.  Lorenzo Cain is thrust into the mix, and he’s a 24 year old speedster who has a good glove but also a track record of being able to hit the ball.  In his first Major League season he hit .306/.348/.415.  Not bad for someone who plays a premium defensive position and can swipe some bases.  He’s young, fast and could take a really positive step developmentally in 2011.  When was the last time we could say that about a Royal center fielder?

The bullpen is always a mish-mash of new and old guys, and in general is only exciting when you don’t want it to be exciting.  Watching Joakim Soria come in and close games is one of the true joys of being a Royals fan, so there always that.  However, there is a good chance that newly acquired pitcher Jeremy Jeffress will be a part of that bullpen in 2011 as well.  He can hit 100 m.p.h. on the radar gun and is compared to Joel Zumaya.  I don’t think that he’s a guy I’d want to rely on to close games just yet, but to have him available in the 7th or 8th inning is pretty cool if you ask me.

Last, but not least, the Royals also got starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi.  While he is almost certainly not going to make the Major League team any more interesting, there’s a chance he’s the best part of this whole trade.  He’s a right handed starter who potentially has four “plus” pitches and would have been the top prospect in the Brewers farm system.  How he pitches this year, and how he progresses through the system, along with guys like Danny Duffy, John Lamb, Aaron Crow and Mike Montgomery will be worth watching.  This farm system just went from being a once in a decade type of system to a once in a generation one.

I know that people will still want to debate whether or not this was good enough return for the 2009 Cy Young winning pitcher.  Honestly, I’ll still do it myself.  However, the deal is done and we have to live with it.  I think it’s time to stop using the franchises past errors and bad luck to judge how things are going to go in the future.  The state of the world as it stands today is that the Royals have more talent than any other franchise in baseball, an owner who has been much more open to spending money, and no real financial obligations in the near future.  In other words, they have talent, financial flexibility and money to spend.  When was the last time they had even one of those?  It really is a wonderful time to be a Royals fan, and 2011 is the start.

You’ve heard by now…

The reports are the Royals have shipped Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt to Milwaukee in exchange for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. There is some confusion as to whether or not Jeffress is in the deal at this time.  There are rumors it may be a PTBNL.

There are also reports the Royals are sending $2 million to the Brewers as part of the deal.  Consider that a penalty for employing the Yunigma for the last couple of seasons.

The move addresses the Royals needs by securing youth up the middle.  Cain is a speedy center fielder and Escobar is a plus defender at short.  Offensively, I have my doubts.  Escobar struggled to get on base last summer (.288 OBP) but Cain did alright in a brief turn in the majors (.340 OBP) and also posted a line of .317/.402/.432 between Double-A and Triple-A last year.

So, it happened… And less than a week after the Cliff Lee deal.  My initial reaction was one of disappointment, as I have been focused on the potential haul from New York, Texas and even Toronto.  Turns out the Brewers were the “Mystery Team.”  I didn’t think they had the prospects to pull this off.  But with Dayton Moore specifically looking for defense up the middle, this move is one that fits.  Although I have to wonder if there’s a bit of Allard Baird Syndrome involved – where the GM becomes so focused on filling a need, he ignores potentially better deals.

Still, as one who has griped (and griped) about the Royals lack of defense over the last several seasons, I’m pleased GMDM is making a move like this.  Plus, as deep as the Royals minor league system is, there aren’t a ton of plus defenders coming through the pipeline. (See Eric Hosmer winning an award as the system’s best defender.)

I posted my initial reaction to the deal on Twitter and got a bunch of replies that this is a very good deal for the Royals.  I’m still sifting through my thoughts and I’m sure Clark and Nick will chime in throughout the day.  In the meantime… What do you think?

Episode #037 – Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus joins me to discuss Royals prospects, Starcraft in Korea, Kane County Cougars and other baseball related issues.  I also touch on the Melky Cabrera and Jeffy Lockerroom signings.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs037.mp3|titles=BBS

Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_goldstein also check out his Up & In podcast and his articles at Baseball Prospectus.  You should also pre-order the Baseball Prospectus 2011book for good measure.

Music used in this podcast:

Real Estate – Beach Comber

Velvet Underground – Sweet Jane

Ahmad Jamal – But Not For Me

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Nick Scott writes about the Royals for Royals Authority, podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and writes about the Chiefs for Chiefs Command. You can follow him on Twitter @brokenbatsingle, on Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

I have spent the last forty-eight hours basically in bed and out of touch.   Not that I expect anyone to care that I was sick, but only to explain that my mind is something of a blur this morning as I try to catch up on the rumor mill and, what was that other thing?  Oh yeah, actual work that pays actual money.

At any rate, I had a dream/hallucination that the Royals signed Seth Smith yesterday.   How tortured are we as Royals’ fans that a ‘dream’ is to sign a serviceable but hardly earth shattering part-time outfielder?   See, I really was sick!

Anyway, the Royals did designate Philip Humber for assignment to make room for the new slim downed Jeff Franceour.   Nothing too earth shattering there.   Humber had some moments late last season, but I can see the organizational logic in letting go of him over some of the other marginal, yet younger, relievers on the current 40 man roster.  

Another roster move is pending to make room for Melky Cabrera.   Although some out there are guessing that it might be Joaquin Arias, my speculation is that it will be another of the rather obvious group of pitchers who Humber was once a part of.   On the other hand, it could be Zack Grienke…

As Craig wrote yesterday, he predicted Greinke would be gone a week after the end of the Winter Meetings.   I have maintained that he will be gone by Christmas.    While the rumors have cooled off the last couple of days, that is sometimes the sign that actual work is being done between teams.   Either that, or the Royals’ asking price has simply been deemed too much for the rest of major league baseball.

Some of the ‘supposed’ interest in Felix Hernandez, Carlos Zambrano and Fausto Carmona might be generated, at least in part, to see how firm the Royals’ stance may be on their expected return for Greinke.  

Truthfully, the Mariners are not about to trade Hernandez.   They have Ichiro and a lot of money invested in Chone Figgins and at least the hope that their ‘process’ has them in contention this year or next.

Carlos Zambrano?   Hey, if the Yankees are concerned about Greinke pitching in New York and not concerned about Zambrano in their dugout, then go right ahead and pursue that avenue at your own risk.

All that said, it may be 2011 before the Royals move Greinke.   As Craig also indicated yesterday, if rumors are not your cup of tea, don’t click on any baseball sites for the next thirty days.

While we are sitting here talking a lot and going nowhere, the one non-rumor, truly intriguing quote of the off-season by Dayton Moore has been that Everett Teaford, Danny Duffy and Aaron Crow will all get a look this spring at possibly breaking camp in the big league rotation.   I think it is a longshot that any of the three lock down the number five spot, but that they are getting a shot at all is something of a positive sign.

I say that because it means that the organization’s long standing ‘we won’t rush anyone, they all need to spend plenty of time at each level’ development plan is not a hard and fast rule.   Sure, you can rush a guy and really hurt him (see Gordon, Alex or even Franceour, Jeff), but you can also push a guy and get great results (see Saberhagen, Bret and Gubicza, Mark or even Greinke, Zack – at least in terms of onfield performance).   I like the idea that not every player is the same and I also like the idea that in adhering to ‘The Process’, Dayton Moore also realizes that good teams are made up of players of different levels of experience.

Having Danny Duffy and Aaron Crow a year or even half a year ahead of Mike Montgomery and John Lamb makes perfect sense.    Just as having Mike Moustakas up four months before Eric Hosmer, who will likely be up four or five months before Wil Myers, does.   It helps from an experience factor and when it comes to future contract considerations.    

Having Moustakas and Duffy arbitration and free agent eligible even just a year apart from Hosmer and Montgomery can make a world of difference in how many of those guys the Royals can keep around.   If The Process is in it for the long term and not just one or two years of glory (i.e. the Marlins’ model), then spacing these prospects out both via experience and financially is smart.

So, in a roundabout way, who would you like to see as the Royals fifth starter in April of 2011? 

  • Everett Teaford – an under the radar guy who might not ever be great, but who has been solid at every level.
  • Danny Duffy – talented, but who quit the game just a year ago.    A guy who has simply dominated at every level, but is shy on overall innings.
  • Aaron Crow – simply had a horrific minor league campaign statistically as he worked on some things, but who may (as doublestix speculated) be ready to take a big leap forward.
  • Player X – probably a veteran innings eater who is on the backside of an average career.   If you can’t name at least five of these guys signed by the Royals over the last six years you’re not trying.

All of those above options are assuming that Zack Greinke gets traded.  If Greinke is the Royals’ Opening Day guy, then I think your rotation, for better or worse, is Greinke, Hochevar, Mazarro, Davies and O’Sullivan.  

Don’t worry, 2012 is just a season away.

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