Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

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.

Just ahead of the Winter Meetings, I wrote that I believed Zack Greinke was on his way out of town by December 16.  The logic behind that date was it was a full week following the meetings and once Cliff Lee signed his deal (at those meetings I thought) it would take Dayton Moore less than one week to size up the potential trade partners and pull the trigger.

So, I was wrong on the date, but only by a handful of days.  However, I’m now a little uncertain that Greinke is going to be dealt this month.

The reason for that is the Philadelphia Phillies.

The last minute “mystery team” the Phillies can only be described as the surprise winner in the Lee Sweepstakes.  If you’re like me and believe that Greinke will be traded this off season, the Phillies winning bid can only be described as good news for the Royals.  That’s because it keeps the two most likely trade partners – the Rangers and the Yankees – very much in the game.

(I know there’s been much discussion about how Greinke would do in New York.  The discussion has evolved something like this:

The Yankees are interested in Greinke. Greinke would waive his no-trade clause. The Yankees don’t believe Grienke could handle New York. Of course Greinke could handle New York.

It’s been kind of a bizarro on again/off again trade rumor.  Yesterday in the aftermath of the Lee signing, there was a flurry of activity on Twitter that Greinke would do just fine pitching for the Yankees and wouldn’t have any of those old issues.  Can I split the difference?  I think he would do fine, but I don’t think he would necessarily enjoy the experience.)

Now GMDM has a decision to make.  He has to weigh some offers – and much like a player’s agent during the free agent process – he will have to play the angles to get the best deal possible for his star pitcher.  A few weeks ago when I made my prediction on Greinke’s departure, it was with the thought either the Yankees or Rangers would win the Lee Sweepstakes, effectively eliminating that team from the market for Greinke.  Now both those teams are still in the mix.  Add the resurgent Blue Jays and the crazy uncle Washington Nationals (what are they doing?) and you have four potential trade partners.  All four have the pieces to make this deal.  It will come down to who jumps the furthest.

And let’s not discount the beloved mystery team.  Think back to the courtship of Lee and how it was all about the Rangers and the Yankees.  And Yankees and Rangers.  Hell, six months ago it was preordained that the Yankees would land Lee.  The Rangers were in the mix only because they traded for him and had new ownership with extremely deep pockets.  (A sweetheart TV deal certainly helps.)  While the Phillies were one of Lee’s former employers, their payroll and rotation of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels meant they weren’t really on most people’s radar.  And look what happened.

Maybe when we’re handicapping the Greinke trade, we should look at the known suitors and just add one.  If that’s truly the case, GMDM currently has five potential trade partners for his ace.

You couldn’t come up with a better scenario.

With so many teams interested in the services of the Royals ace, the pressure is squarely on the shoulders of GMDM to net a huge return.  With the minor league system set to start churning out some quality for the first time in years, the Greinke deal won’t make or break the franchise.  But it could certainly help or hinder The Process.  Make the right deal and the Royals strong minor league depth just got stronger and deeper.  And it buys GMDM even more time and more goodwill among the fans.  (Obviously the initial reaction to any Greinke deal from the general fanbase will be harsh.  I know.  I’ve visited the Royals Facebook page.) Make the wrong deal and…  I don’t even want to think about that.

If you don’t like trade rumors, this may be the time to hibernate.  For the Royals, the heat just got kicked up a notch on the hot stove.

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 and center field.

First, as usual, we’ll take a look at the players who got the lion’s share of playing time in right field, and how they hit when they played the position.

Prior to his injury, David Dejesus was having a great year at the plate.  He was getting on base at a high clip, but not hitting for a ton of power.  He was a valuable offensive and defensive asset.  Mitch Maier filled in well when his number was called as well.  He was roughly an average offensive right fielder and from what I saw he was a good fielder taboot.  Willie Bloomquist was Willie Bloomquist, subbing in whenever and wherever he was needed and held his own in the amount of time he was given.  Jose Guillen was surviving his final, very expensive season with the Royals in 2010.  Finally, the Royals realized he no longer had the range to play in the outfield regularly and he only got 21 games at the position.

The first thing that jumps out at me is that the American League right fielders are a pretty good hitting group.  A wOBA of .344 would be good for 7th place among left fielders, but it’s 11th for right fielders.  That seems to be a drastic difference.  The Royals right fielders as a unit were in the lower half of  offensive production in the American League, but they were pretty close to being average.  Slugging was a concern, particularly for a corner outfield spot.  Usually, teams like to get some pop from right and left field.

After looking at all of the different fielding positions now, it is clear that the outfield is clearly an area for improvement.  Center field and right field both were below average offensive positions for the Royals in 2010 and were mostly manned by players who likely don’t have a long future with the team.  With that in mind, obtaining an upgrade at one or both positions in free agency is likely a quick way to improve the team.  In fact, that’s exactly what Dayton Moore did at the winter meetings, by acquiring both Jeff Francouer and Melky Cabrera.

Francouer, however is actually an offensive downgrade from what the Royals did in 2010.  His career wOBA is .314 which would only have been better than the Athletics as a team last year.  It seems pretty likely that Francouer will get the bulk of the playing time in right field in 2011, and while he may be a decent glove, he is an offensive downgrade.

Melky Cabrera will likely be put in center field, but he wasn’t signed when I wrote that review so I’ll just comment on him here.  Offensively, center field was very anemic for the Royals in 2010, so nearly any player would be an upgrade at that spot.  The Royals signed Melky Cabrera to fill that role in 2011 and if he is better, it’s marginal.  In 2010 the Royals center fielders put up a .211 wOBA and Cabrera’s career wOBA is .312.  Cabrera has been inconsistent though, putting up wOBAs in excess of .330 twice (2006, 2009) and sub .300 twice (2010, 2008).  If Cabrera is closer to the .330 than the .300 mark, then he could be a real upgrade offensively at center field in 2011.

The outfield is one of the weaker positions in the Royals minor league system, particularly impact corner outfield bats.  The closest to Major League ready is likely David Lough, who could make a September call up or might make the team sooner if there is an injury or other moves.

Given that the Royals’ public relations department has not tweeted about Yuniesky Betancourt since the end of the season, I am not quite sure why this topic ruminated in my mind for most of the weekend.   I do have to say that I have half expected something along the lines of ‘Yuniesky Betancourt is third among active shortstops in scheduled off-season batting cage hours’.   That, of course, would bring the inevitable re-tweet by a radio host who should know better trumpeting ‘See!  I told all you basement dwellers that Yuni’s the real deal!’  

Truthfully, that is only a slight exaggeration of the just plain silliness that surrounded Yunieksy Betancourt last year.     Silly is the operative term, because here is the complete and total list of positives by Betancourt in 2010:

  • He hit 16 home runs (6th among all shortstops)
  • He drove in 78 runs (5th among all shortstops, because ‘real’ baseball men know that RBI is telling stat)
  • He played in 151 games

That’s it – three bullet points.   After that, any support of Betancourt was generally responded to with criticism of other players.    To the best of my recollection, after crowing about Yuni’s 16 home runs, these were the common phrases of support for the Royals’ shortstop: 

  • Mike Aviles doesn’t walk, either (true, but Mike’s on-base percentage was 47 points higher nonetheless – oh, and by the way, Aviles’ slugging percentage actually ended up higher than Betancourt’s as well)
  • The Royals don’t have anyone better (this is actually valid, but no one was really thinking Yuni should be benched.  Instead, we all were simply pointing out that he probably didn’t warrant a tweet and press release every time the ball managed to find his bat)
  • Billy Butler hits into too many double plays
  • Zack Greinke is disinterested
  • Alex Gordon is a bust

Okay, have you noticed it is Monday and I’m a little bit cynical?   It is, after all, 11 degrees here in Huskerland and the soccer moms that drop off their kids at the same time I drop off my middle daughter really annoyed me this morning.

I will go on record right now as being totally understanding of why the Betancourt trade happened.   The Royals were peeved at Mike Aviles for not revealing his injury in the spring of 2009 and, quite logically, were concerned that he might not ever be able to play short again.   Hey, right now, we don’t know if Mike’s arm can hold up to an everyday diet of shortstop.  

At the time of the acquisition, Jeff Bianchi was breaking out….in High A ball.    As it turns out, perhaps the single greatest reason to acquire Yuni, was something no one knew yet:  that Jeff Bianchi would miss all of the 2010 season with Tommy John surgery.    Although you can give Dayton Moore no credit for this, it certainly made me more accepting of the deal after the fact.

If I was Royals’ GM (and you all know that I wish I was), this deal is probably not made.   Given where the team stood on July 1st of 2009, I might have soldiered on with Luis Hernandez and, yes I’m going to say it, Willie Bloomquist.   That said, with Dan Cortes all but stalled out in AA ball and apparently something of a troublemaker/confused kid/assclown, I don’t hate this deal.   Even if Cortes becomes an effective power reliever for the Mariners, the Royals have not been irreparably harmed by the presence of Yuniesky Betancourt.

That said, let’s not fool ourselves:  Betancourt is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

In 2010, Betancourt’s slash line was .259/.288/.405/.692.   He hit 29 doubles and 16 home runs (in case you hadn’t heard) on his way to compiling an OPS+ of just 88 and, according to Fangraphs, a WAR of just 0.6.   Mainly because of the home run total, several of which were admittedly clutch bombs, it led some to believe this was the best season by a Royals shortstop since…well, in a long time.   

That is kind of the classic ‘woe is me, faithful Royals fan’ lament which ignores the fact that there were two far better seasons by shortstops in the last seven years.   Notably, Mike Aviles in 2008 went .325/.354/.480/.833 with an OPS+ of 121.   He smacked 10 home runs in 102 games and 41 extra base hits in total on his way to a WAR of 3.7.

Prior to that, a guy named Angel Berroa in 2003  played in 158 games.   He hit .287/.338/.451 with 28 doubles, 7 triples and 17 home runs (and 73 RBI for those traditionalist out there).   Angel threw in 21 steals and posted an OPS+ of 101 with a WAR of 2.7.

Heck, there is a shockingly small difference between what Yuniesky Betancourt did last season and what Angel Berroa did in 2005, when all of us were ready (understandably) to run him out of town.   In 2005, Berroa had 37 extra base hits, including 11 homers, on his way to a very substandard line of .270/.305/.375/.680.   Betancourt’s 2010 line, once more: .259/.288/.405/.692.

So, can we really just get over this Yuni-love?

Now, Yuniesky Betancourt will be the Royals everyday shortstop to start 2011 and, contrary to the criticism I have leveled above, that is fine with me.   I say this trusting that the Royals are smart enough (I know, that’s a leap of faith) to know that Mike Aviles’ needs to be in the lineup somewhere.   I advocate Betancourt at short because I think it is unlikely that Chris Getz can hit a lick simultaneously with Wilson Betemit hitting like he did last year AND not taking an ax out to play defense.

Maybe at some point this year, the Royals will tire of Betancourt’s well below average defense (use metrics or your eyes, IT IS BELOW AVERAGE) and Tony Pena Jr. like on-base percentage and give Mike Aviles a real chance to show if he is the guy that played short in 2008 or not.   All the while, we can eagerly watch Christian Colon’s second professional season and hope the currently tenuous similarity to Troy Tulowitzki’s career continues to hold true.

Should Colon not be ready by 2012 or not be able to stick at short.   Should Mike Aviles not be able to handle the load defensively and should, as is likely, Jeff Bianchi is also not ready or able.   Well, then we might hear more of the idea of picking of Yuniesky Betancourt’s option for 2012.     That would be an absolute unequivocal mistake.

Yunieksy Betancourt is not that good.   He has been a marginally serviceable stopgap on a couple of bad Royals’ teams.   Let’s let the campaign to make him anything more than that end with final game of last season.   Dayton Moore is currently correct to be looking for middle infield prospects in any trade for Zack Greinke.   Let’s hope, unlike the pr machines that surround the club, that Moore does not fall prey to both his ego and moderately decent home run total during the 2011 season.

Yuni now?  Okay.  

Yuni later?  Stop it.

From 2008 through 2010, these are the worst players ranked by OPS+ who have accumulated at least 1,500 plate appearances:

Pedro Feliz – 72
Jason Kendall – 72
Yunisky Betancourt – 80
Melky Cabrera – 82
Ryan Theriot – 82
Jeff Francoeur – 83

Dayton Moore has done it again.  (He may not be finished.  Feliz bats right-handed and is a free agent.  He will probably have to outbid Jack Z in Seattle.)  Somehow he has added players to replace areas where the Royals were getting below average offensive production (I’m talking the overall outfield here) and made the team worse.

Sure, Francoeur is just 27. He’s in his prime, right?  Well, sometimes players just aren’t good.  Over his last five seasons, he’s hit .265/.307/.414, averaged 31 walks and 17 home runs.  And even those numbers are misleading… His home run average is elevated by a career high 29 in 2006.  He hasn’t topped 20 home runs since.  Maybe part of that is his outright lack of plate discipline.  Only Francoeur and Vladi Guerrero swung at more than 60% of pitches they saw last year.

Bottom line… He’s just not a good ballplayer.  And with over 3,000 plate appearances since 2006, we know exactly where his true talent level lives.  He may be in his prime, but he’s not going to improve.  He’s reached his ceiling.

Cabrera is equally disappointing.  Over the last four seasons, he’s hit just .264/.321/.377, averaging eight home runs and 39 walks a season.  He’s going to be 26 next year, but his career has been in neutral since 2007.  (Of course, this deal isn’t final at the time of my writing.  Still… I have faith in GMDM.)  Last year, his defense was abysmal and his plate discipline was non existent.  He doesn’t get on base, he lacks power and his speed isn’t all that great.  Why would anyone sign him unless he was a final option?

Dayton Moore just signed a pair of out machines.  Both players received the change of scenery, and both failed.  Again.  There’s no reason to think they will thrive or even be average in Kansas City.

Obviously, I don’t like these signings.  I also don’t like some of the justification I’ve seen from some people trying to explain these moves.  A couple of these need to be debunked…

In the grand scheme of things, these moves just don’t matter.

Normally, I would agree with that, but this is a lineup Dayton Moore has acquired for the “grand scheme” either through free agency or trade:

RF – Jose Guillen
1B – Mike Jacobs
DH – Miguel Olivo
SS – Yuniesky Betancourt
C – Jason Kendall
CF – Ryan Freel
3B – Willie Bloomquist
2B – Tony Pena, Jr.

The “grand scheme” does nothing but illuminate how inept GMDM is at acquiring the services of major league talent.  Am I the only one this troubles?  Surely not.  This scares the hell out of me.  The general manager has been so tone deaf as to how to assemble a major league team since day one.  Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it hasn’t mattered because the Royals haven’t been close to third place during this time.  But what happens when the Royals are poised to contend?  We know that successful teams are a blend of home grown players, savvy trades and solid free agent signings to plug a hole or two.  So far, Dayton’s trades haven’t been especially savvy and his free agent signings haven’t plug holes on the roster… They’ve created massive sinkholes.

This is a “lost year” anyway, so what does it matter that the Royals fill their roster with below average players?

To me, this falls to personal preference.  Do you want to watch Mitch Maier do his impersonation of vanilla, or do you want to watch Jeff Francoeur make outs?  My issue here is GMDM has acquired so many boring (and predictable) players over the last couple of years, this is just more of the same.  I’m a fan, first and foremost. I enjoy watching some players more than others… Guys who will take a strike when a pitcher is struggling to locate.  Fielders who glide to the ball.  Heads up base runners.  I love the statistical side of the game, but when I watch the game, I want to see something that entertains and excites me.

The ilk of the Yunigma, Olivo, Kendall and now Francoeur and Melky do neither.

The Royals just parted ways with a player like that… David DeJesus

Frankly, this makes the l’affaire DeJesus look much, much worse.  DeJesus was due $6 million for next season.  Now the Royals have apparently committed close to $4 million for two players who combined won’t provide the production the team would have received from DeJesus.

Fine.  DeJesus wasn’t part of the long-term plan.  He wasn’t going to be around when Project 2012 takes flight.  Here’s the thing… Neither are Francoeur and Cabrera.  These guys aren’t part of any future in Kansas City.

There’s a net savings of $2 million.  And for what?  Wouldn’t it have been preferable to hang on to DeJesus until the trade deadline?  Sure, he got injured last year, squelching any deal GMDM had in the works, but them’s the breaks.  It happens.  Sometimes luck isn’t on your side.  Would the same thing have happened in 2011?  Who knows.  The other option would have been to play out the year with DeJesus, offer him arbitration and collect the draft picks.  He was on the border between Type A and Type B, so with a solid season he would have moved to the positive side.  Would that have been worth the gamble?  I think so.

If there’s one thing GMDM and his scouts have shown they can do, it’s draft.  I’d take the trade of picks over the bounty of Vin Mazarro and Justin Marks.

(Besides, how bad does this trade look right now?  I just feels like GMDM sold low, especially when making the deal prior to the Werth and Crawford signings.  Not that DeJesus is on par with those two… He’s not.  It’s just that the bar creeps higher all the time.  Perhaps by delaying until after some of the top free agents signed, Moore could have upped his return.  Obviously, it’s all speculation… But I can’t help but think that Moore’s continual desire to move at breakneck speed to open the off season has hurt the team.  Again.)

Maybe these guys can be flipped for prospects at the trade deadline.

Of course the best case scenario has Dayton Moore flipping Francoeur and Cabrera at the deadline for a couple of prospects, in the same vein as the Podsednik and Ankiel deals.  Nobody in their right mind (except maybe GMDM) wants the Scare Pair around for an entire season.  That ignores a pair of salient facts.  First, Podsednik, for all his flaws, actually brought some value offensively to the team.  Ankiel wouldn’t have returned a bucket of batting practice balls if it weren’t for Farnsworth, who was packaged with him in the deal.

If Frenchy and Melky perform up to expectations, there won’t be suitors lining up at the deadline.

And finally Dayton Moore has turned his roster math into advance calculus.

You want a low-OBP outfielder, who bats from the right side with no pop, fine.  Get one.  But two?  Why?  Where do they both fit?  Are we going to platoon (give up on) Alex Gordon?  Is Gregor Blanco on the outs?  Mitch Maier doesn’t excite anyone, but he would probably provide more value than either of the new guys at a fraction of the cost.

The Francoeur to Kansas City move was preordained from the day Dayton took the reigns of the franchise.  Then Melky?  Jeez, pick one and go forward.

This is like Dayton’s recent utility infielder waiver claimpalooza where he picked up Joaquin Arias (who incidentally, was traded for Francoeur at the trade deadline last summer) and Lance Zawadzki.  One… It’s not ideal, but fine.  Two?  Overkill.

Or how about last winter when Dayton signed Ankiel, Podsednik and Brian Anderson to contracts.  Again, this made no sense.

The verdict

There just isn’t any reason to think that Dayton Moore can assemble what could be considered a complete 25-man roster.  Any hope we had of that evaporated a couple of years ago.  By signing Francoeur and Cabrera, it just underscores our lost hope.  A reminder of sorts.

Meanwhile, the minor league system is flush with talent.  We had better hope that a high percentage of that talent hits, and hits big.  Because if the Royals are in a position where they have to surround one or two studs with complimentary players, we know how that’s going to go.  Think Greinke.

The Process is multifaceted.  There’s The Process at the minor league and player development level.  And there’s The Process in the major leagues.  At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Baseball’s winter meetings concluded this morning and most of the general managers are likely in the air this afternoon.   Expect a light news cycle for all of you/us who have been clicking on Twitter and MLBTradeRumors eighteen times an hour for the past four days.

The meetings ended without the Royals ‘officially’ signing outfielder Melky Cabrera.   That said, you can pretty much book that contract (1 year/$1.25 million) as discussion of it appears via Royals.com.    Nothing gets on there without something coming out of the organization itself.   Besides, do you really think there is another GM out there who is going to swoop in and steal Melky Cabrera out from under the Royals?

I was actually holding off on this commentary until some corresponding roster moves were made, but then read that the Royals do not have to add the officially signed Jeff Francoeur to the 40 man roster until Monday.   So, even with the Rule 5 drafting of Nathan Adcock, the team is officially just at forty players.   Now, come Monday when Francoeur and, almost certianly, Cabrera are added, Kansas City will have to make room for both of them.

That might be an interesting exercise as the usual group of ‘Victor Marte’ types no longer populate the 40 man roster.   While I am not sure that signing Cabrera and Francoeur necessarily improves the Royals, at least the idea that finding room for them will lead to some semi-hard choices does indicate at least incremental progress.   Sort of..

Anyway, back to Melky Cabrera.    Mention was made by Dick Kaegel that Cabrera (a switch-hitter mind you) ‘could figure as the righthanded half of a platoon with Alex Gordon’.   Let me be among the many to say:  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

For his career, Gordon does have a striking platoon disadvantage (80 OPS+ vs. LHP, 108 OPS+ vs. RHP), but in an admittedly small sample size in 2010 actually posted a 105 OPS+ versus lefties in 2010 (70 at-bats) and only a 77 OPS+ against right handers.   That could just be a fluke or it could be a sign of improvement.   No matter which, not playing Alex Gordon everyday would be a colossal waste of yet another year in ‘finding out’ about the one time phenom once and for all.

Need we even discuss the fact that the switchitting Cabrera actually has a slightly better platoon split vs RIGHT handed pitching as opposed to when he faces southpaws?   No, I didn’t think so.

Here is the bottom line:  Dayton Moore to free agent outfielders is much the same as my wife at Famous Footwear.   Why buy just one when you can get the second pair (or second outfielder) for half off?   Thus, we have Francoeur and Cabrera when probably just one – and I don’t really care which one – would be enough.

While an outfield of Gordon-Cabrera-Francoeur (which is the only alignment that makes sense, unless the Royals really did just pay over one million dollars for Melky to be an fourth outfielder when they already had two cheaper versions on the roster) is probably better than the Gordon-Blanco-Maier alignment they entered the week with, it is not enough better to warrant any delusions of grandeur.   For that matter, it is not enough better to avoid the scorn of all us hated bloggers and commenters.

Truthfully, I can live with Cabrera if the only real price is losing Mitch Maier and blocking Gregor Blanco and Jarrod Dyson.   I cannot live with it, if it means Alex Gordon in a platoon situation.   That maneuever is completely non-sensical for a team that will have to overachieve just to avoid 95 losses.

Now, onto our newest Rule Fiver:  Nathan Adcock.   He’s a big kid, with three pitches – one of which is supposedly a very good curveball.   Throws kind of hard, but not as hard as Elvin Ramirez, taken right behind Adcock, or Aneury Rodriguez who fell to eighth after being projected as a possible first pick overall.  Either of those guys would seem to have a better chance of sticking as the seventh man in the bullpen more than Adcock, who at age twenty-two has yet to throw an inning above A ball.

The above makes me think that the Royals really have no intention of Nathan Adcock sticking on their 25 man roster and either think the Pirates will not want him back when offered or intend to work out some deal next spring to keep him without Rule 5 restrictions.  (You know, like trading Mitch Maier or Gregor Blanco to the Pirates)

All in all, the Rule 5 is a roll of the dice and for all I know Adcock will throw 60 inning of garbage work in the majors next season – there will be, after all, plenty of garbage time to go around.   He has some potential as a back of the rotation starter and it never hurts to have a farm system full of arms, so I do not despise the selection of Adcock, but am simply skeptical of it.    Let’s put it this way, when the first of January comes around and I do my monthly projection of the 2011 Opening Day roster, Nathan Adcock will not be on it.

By the way, that January 1 post:   don’t expect Zack Greinke to be on it, either.

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 and left field.

Let’s take a look at the how the players who got the bulk of the time at center field hit when they manned that position.

There clearly was a lot of shuffling around in center this year.  No single player got even  half of the games at the position.  Mitch Maier was as close to a “regular” at the position as there was in 2010.  Gregor Blanco was acquired via trade, Rick Ankiel was injured and then traded and Jarrod Dyson was a late season call up.    One of the things that jump out at me is the fact that Rick Ankiel only played center for 24 games in 2010.  I complained so much about him, that it sure seemed like he was out there more than he was.  Ankiel, was a somewhat effective hitter in center field though.  His 117 sOPS+ is due mostly to a decent slugging percentage, but still if you can get that out of a center fielder regularly, I’d think you’d take it.  Mitch Maier and Gregor Blanco seem to be guys destined as filler, players who manned the position when there weren’t any other options.  They didn’t embarrass themselves or the club, but they weren’t something special.Defensively, and just judging by what I’ve seen, I think Jarrod Dyson has the most upside, Maier was the best in 2010 and he was followed by Blanco and Ankiel.

Let’s see how the unit stacked up against the rest of the American League.

This isn’t a particularly surprising chart.  The Royals clearly were a sub-par offensive team in center field.  Whether you prefer judging by wOBA or OPS, the rank can move up or down by a couple of slots, but it’s still nothing to get excited about.  One category which the Royals center fielders seemed to excel was in walk rate.  Their 9.1% rate was  third in the American League (hey, it’s something).

2011 will be a very interesting year for the center field position.  I imagine there will be a pretty steady rotation throughout the season with Jarrod Dyson possibly getting the bulk of the time if he can show a decent bat when he does get a chance.  I’m not convinced that the long-term answer to the position will be on the roster in 2011, but Derrick Robinson, who could be a September call-up has the best chance.

TheRoyals’ signing of Jeff Francoeur – so long predicted and, relatively speaking, so long in coming – had become such a long running source of sarcasm and humor on the Internet that it is something of a relief just to have it over with.    Something of a relief, mind you.

There has been and will be (justifiably too) a lot of negativity written in this regard.    It is, after all, another ex-Brave, another big swing and big miss type of guy, another low on-base percentage hitter, another contract with a mutual option at the end (the point of which remains lost on me after all these years).  Given that, I have let this deal simmer in mind some in an attempt to find the positive side of all this.

First and foremost, the biggest upside to the Francoeur signing is currently being trumpeted as his very positive clubhouse presence.  The deeper you get toward the statistical end of the baseball spectrum, the more we have a tendency to discount and make fun of these traits.   A lot of that stems from the fact that the Royals have spent the better part of a decade telling us that classic bench players like Willie Bloomquist and Ross Gload are playing everyday because of their grit and intensity.   It doesn’t help that Kansas City also plays a team 19 times per year that is touted by the organization’s own announcers as ‘playing the game the right way’.    Listen, it is real damn easy to ‘play the game the right way’ when Joe Mauer bats third and Justin Morneau bats fourth!

All that aside, Francoeur’s ‘sixth tool’ (I stole that from Greg Schaum, by the way) should not be discounted.   The Royals spent several years not very long ago without any real veteran leadership and it showed.   Opposing scouts, even umpires, commented on the teams’ lack of professionalism.   One scout was roughly quoted as saying ‘just watching them come out to warm up makes me mad.’

Prior to that time, the Royals’ unchallenged clubhouse leader was Mike Sweeney.    Mike is a tremendous person with a tremendous outlook on life, but I am not sure your team leader should really be a guy who realizes that there are a multitude of things in life more important than winning baseball games.  Truthfully, guys with Mike’s outlook and way of life get too often labeled as soft and the like, but about ten too many ‘that’s baseball’ and ‘you just have to try to do better tomorrow’ after bad losses made me sour on Sweeney’s baseball leadership abilities.   As an aside, where was the Mike Sweeney who challenged anyone who claimed to see Ken Griffey Jr. sleeping during a game to ‘fight him’ when the Royals really could have used something like that in say…May 2004?  But I digress…

It’s nice that Francoeur is a solid clubhouse guy and teammate, just as it was that Jason Kendall, Scott Podsednik and Mike Jacobs were as well.    The problem is, as Terry Pendleton once said, ‘it’s tough to be a leader when you are hitting .213.’   Now, short of Billy Butler and maybe Mike Aviles, it is possible that Francoeur might be hitting about as well as anyone else in the lineup, so…..

Truth is, signing Francoeur for $2.5 million this year is not the end of the world.   While he might be better served as a platoon partner, the Royals would be silly to platoon Alex Gordon or Kila Ka’aihue at this point in their careers.   I think Mitch Maier is a good guy, but if Kansas City wants to play Francoeur everyday in right at the expense of Mitch I won’t lose any sleep at night.  Although I would yield to the guys over at Royals Review who I think would advocate that Maier is the team’s best option in CENTER currently on the roster, but I digress once more…

Nor will I agonize of Francouer blocking David Lough.   It seemed unlikely that the club was going to give Lough a real shot in spring training as it was and, frankly, Lough might need and won’t be harmed by spending another half season in AAA.   After all,  if you are ‘blocked’ by an Francoeur, Gordon, Maier, Blanco and Dyson for more than half a season then….

In the end, given the modest contract, I am not as angst ridden by the signing of Francoeur as I thought I would be.   There is a chance that Jeff is due for some ‘luck’ in the form of BABIP.     In 2005 and 2007, he posted/received a BABIP of .337 and posted a WAR (via Baseball Reference) of 2.5 in his rookie year and 2.1 two years later.     If Franceour’s BABIP is around .270, as it has been in two of the last three seasons, then you have a replacement level player.  

For now, this deal is mostly harmless.   At least until the mutual options are picked up for 2012 because ‘Wil Myers needs more seasoning’.

Two days into the Winter Meetings and it feels to be unfolding pretty much as we expected… Let’s break these down.

A few Zack Greinke rumors – but nothing of substance.

The Rangers remain the front runner for the Royals ace, but the Blue Jays have emerged as a potential dark horse.  Both teams have the prospects and the payroll flexibility to add Greinke, it’s just a matter of bending enough to the Royals demands.  Which are obviously (and deservedly) huge.  Personally, I’m intrigued by what the Blue Jays have to offer in Kyle Drabek and Travis Snider.  So, too, are the Royals.

The big market teams (in other words, the Yankees) seem to have cooled – or where they ever truly interested?  More and more it sounds like the whole “Greinke would waive his no-trade clause for the Yankees” scenario was someone from the Grienke camp just trying to widen the playing field.  Or it could have been someone from the Royals, trying to drive up the market demand.  Hmmm… It’s all so devious.  And awesome.

From the “out of left field category,” apparently the Nationals have kicked the tires.  When not blowing the markets for outfielders or for aging starting catchers way out of proportion, it appears they like to dabble in just some bizarre discussions.  Not unlike their desire for Cliff Lee.  At this point, they just seem like that only active team in that lame fantasy league… They covet everyone and will attach their name to just about every rumor floating out there.  I wish I had an “ignore” button.

Meanwhile I’ve seen comments here and on Twitter about how it would be crazy for the Royals to deal Greinke.  I still disagree.  Always have, always will.  The only way the Royals can’t afford to deal their star pitcher this winter is if they can get together and find out a way to hash out another contract extension.  With a hometown discount.  Obviously, that’s what I’d prefer, but it seems like a longshot.  Still, the guy is a stud and I’d love nothing more than to have him in Royal blue for the prime years of his career.  Which would hopefully coincide with the pending onslaught of young talent and the raising of multiple pennants on the outfield flagpoles.  However, the thought of returning two or three quality prospects for one ace would be almost too good to pass up.  It should be too good.  As Dutton reports, the Royals are looking for an Adrian Gonzalez like return.  And Gonzalez was on the market last winter, but wasn’t traded as the Padres held firm in their asking price.  An MVP calibre season later, and San Diego did quite well.

The latest has the Royals holding firm to their asking price and the vultures potential trade partners are waiting for the price to drop.  Not. Going. To. Happen. Then came word that teams were slowly increasing their bids.  And the Dodgers have entered the mix.  The good news is, the price can only increase this winter.  Especially if GMDM can wait until after the Lee deal gets done.  And the price will elevate especially if Lee scores the rumored seven years.

Probably the best thing for the Royals is if some mystery team nabs Lee and the original Greinke suitors scramble and panic.  That would be a very good thing.  Another interesting potential development is the Royals could be willing to send Greinke to a team within the division.  Again, this is good to hear as it opens the potential market up by four more teams.  (More like three teams as Cleveland won’t be involved.  You can’t have Lebron and you can’t have Greinke.) More competition for the ace, the better the offers will be for the Royals.  Of course, the worst case scenario is Greinke goes to a division rival, signs an extension and torments the Royals during what should be the Great Awakening of 2014.  I’ll worry about that when it happens.

The Francoeur Sweepstakes – Heating Up

I cackled (seriously, cackled) with glee when Jeff Francoeur was mentioned in a rumor as a possibility for Philadelphia.  Do it, Philly.  Then I heard the Royals were seeking a right handed bat for the outfield.

Seriously, this just reeks of inevitability. I think the only thing holding up the deal is Frenchy is just waiting to see if there’s some other team desperate enough to make a play.  The Royals have probably had an offer on the table for weeks (or years?) and GMDM likes the guy enough, so he’s letting him take his time.

However, I really like what GMDM had to say to Dutton on Monday – where he doesn’t want to sign a free agent that quits on the team in June.  Cough… Ankiel… Cough.  The Ankiel comparison is a fair one here though and should be a concern.  If Francoeur spurns a team like Philadelphia for a team like the Royals, he would essentially be going for an everyday role over a chance to win.  That rarely works well… In either case.

Desperately Seeking Right-Handed Bats

So the Royals want somebody who hits from the right side of the plate.  Available names are Matt Diaz, Melky Cabrera, Andruw Jones and Francoeur.  Can we just change the name of the team to the Kansas City Braves, Western Branch?

Of the four, I’d go for Diaz first, but he’s a strict platoon guy.  He just can’t hit right-handed pitching.  He’s a .269/.327/.382 hitter against RHP while he bats .335/.373/.533 in his career against left-handers.  Naturally, the Pirates signed him to a two year deal.  Hmmmm…

For my second choice… There is no second choice.  The remaining three could form Satan’s Outfield for all I know.  If those are the options, we’re better off going all lefties because the money it will take to secure one of those guys (and I’m thinking around $3 million is in the ballpark) you’d be better off just throwing that cash off the roof of O’Dowd’s.

“Next Year Is The Beginning Of The Process.”

I don’t know if Ned Yost realizes how loaded that statement is.  Still, if you want your Spring Training Burst of Sunshine two months early, check out Dutton’s latest dispatch from Disney.  If Yost and the team are talking (and feeling) like this in December, I can’t imagine how it’s going to be in February and March.

Slow day at the meetings.  I’m sure things will pick up over the next couple of days.

The following is a contribution from Kevin Flanagan who is a reader and commenter of the blog.  We’ve spent quite a bit of bandwidth over the last couple of years bemoaning the abysmal Royals defense.  Kevin looked at some of the metrics on a position by position basis and came up with a couple of ways the Royals can improve on the field in 2011.  We can only hope.

By Kevin Flanagan

I picked up the Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2011 the other day and spent the weekend thumbing through it. It has a number of excellent essays on the current state of sabermetric defensive analysis as well as a glimpse into the future as it moves further from an art and more towards a science.

One of the articles that really caught my eye, as a Royals’ fan, was by John Dewan, the man behind Business Information Systems. BIS is the premier data collector of defensive stats. Much of what is collected they protect from the public and sell to their clients, who are MLB teams and player agents, etc.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find that BIS has presented its team defensive stats for 2008-2010 in an article entitled, “The Pitching and Defensive Splits.”

While individual performances were not divulged, BIS summed the individual defenders’ contributions for each position on each team and presented the numbers by position to come up with a team total of Defensive Runs Saved above average*.

*For an exhaustive explanation of their system of evaluating defense, here is a link.

If you followed the Kansas City Royals last year, or just about any year of the last decade, you already know what the numbers will say: the Royals’ defense was abysmal. Now, thanks to BIS, we have some pretty reliable numbers to quantify it.

The Royals defense ranked last in all of baseball with -88 runs saved (or, stated another way, 88 extra runs allowed by their defense) above average.  KC was so bad across the board that only the pitcher position (+1) escaped the carnage. Every non-pitching position posted a negative contribution, led by 3B (-24) and SS (-20).

So, of the 845 total runs allowed last year by the Royals, BIS directly attributes 88 of them to the porous defense, leaving 757 attributable to the pitchers. Stripping out the defensive component for each AL team yields the following Pitching Runs Allowed for 2010:

White Sox       674
Rangers           686
Red Sox          688
Rays                690
Yankees          693
Angels             698
Athletics         700
Twins              725
Mariners         735
Royals            757
Tigers              761
Blue Jays        774
Orioles            783
Indians            802

The salient point here is that while KC allowed the most total runs in the AL last year, their pitching was not entirely to blame.  Instead of having the worst team pitching, now we can see that they were actually 10th out of 14 teams, a modest improvement to be sure, but important to know as the Royals decide how and where to allocate their assets for next season.

Since the Royals offense scored 664 runs last year, one can estimate that if they had played just league average defense in 2010, KC’s record would have been more like 70 or 71 wins instead of 67.

***

Now go one step further, and theoretically substitute the league’s best defensive contribution, the Oakland A’s at +74, for Kansas City’s worst of -88, and you have a swing of 162 runs, or exactly 1 per game. This would have the effect of lowering their runs allowed from a league worst of 845 to 683, which would have been good for fourth best in the AL.  To put this in perspective, if the Royals defense had been as good as Oakland’s, then all of a sudden what looks like the worst pitching staff in the league is suddenly in the top four!  You’d be essentially lopping almost a full run off of every pitcher’s ERA. Greinke still looks like an ace, Bruce Chen looks more like a #2 than 4, Hochevar becomes a solid #3, and even Kyle Davies looks like a solid #4 man.  And Sean O’Sullivan…well, nevermind.

And consequently, KC would have been more like a 79-83 team in 2010 and this offseason we would all be talking about making just a few tweaks here and there in order to be a legitimate contender… and maybe Zack Greinke might be talking about how this team is about to take off and he’d really like to sign on for a few more years.

***

We can now see that these defensive effects, subtle though they may be to the naked eye, can have a huge effect on a team’s winning percentage.  And we can more correctly identify the team’s needs. Here is how KC ranked in 2010:

10th in Runs Scored
10th in Pitching Runs Allowed
14th in Defensive Runs Allowed

While the defense is the worst of the three, conveniently it is the easiest one, potentially, to upgrade.  As previously mentioned, the two worst offenders were 3B (Callaspo and Betemit) and SS (Betancourt).  Mike Moustakas will take over at 3B sometime this year, if not on Opening Day then possibly by early May.  The most pessimistic timetable (barring injury) is early summer.  From what I’ve been able to gather, Moose combines an above average arm with slightly below average range.  He is also a 100% effort kind of player, and from that standpoint alone he will be a huge upgrade over Betemit.  If Moose turns out to be an average defensive 3B overall in the Major Leagues, that would be a difference of 24 runs saved over 2010.

In late October John Dewan offered up this tidbit from his website: Yuniesky Betancourt cost his team more runs, at -21, than any other defensive player in baseball this year.  In an ironic twist of fate for the Royals, the best defensive player in all of baseball, Brendan Ryan of the St Louis Cardinals, not only plays the same position, SS, but is also imminently available right now, and it would appear that the asking price shouldn’t be too high.  St. Louis just traded for Ryan Theriot and has already appointed him as their starting SS for 2011*.  Brendan Ryan won’t hit a whole lot, but substituting his defense (+24) for Yuni’s is a positive swing of 45 runs.  This may be the single most important move the Royals could make this offseason to improve their team.  The difference defensively between Ryan and Yuni is equivalent to the offensive difference between Yuni and Hanley Ramirez… yeah, think about that for a second.  Yet Ryan can probably be had for a middle reliever or a AA prospect, either way its relatively painless.

*With their staff built around the Dave Duncan pitch-to-contact/throw ground balls philosophy, don’t be surprised if there is some serious regression from their pitching this year…  Joe Strauss, beat reporter for the Cards, recently said about Brendan Ryan that he became a ‘clubhouse irritant to his manager and veteran teammates’ last year.  You don’t write this about a guy on the team you cover everyday unless you are pretty sure he won’t be around next year.

Another sore spot for the Royals defensively in 2010 came, surprisingly enough, in RF where they were -13 runs above average.  It would be interesting to know the individual contributors in this case, but evidently David DeJesus had more trouble adjusting to the position than I would have guessed. He played 597 innings in RF (42% of the team’s total) while Mitch Maier accounted for 25%, Jose Guillen 12%, Willie Bloomquist 10%, and Jai Miller 8%.  A projected platoon in 2011 of David Lough with the defensive mined Brett Carroll seems likely to be a considerable improvement.  That doesn’t seem like a very probable event at this point, though, so it will be interesting to see what Dayton Moore does and says the rest of the offseason about a right fielder.

Another outfield position that could see immediate and considerable improvement is CF, where Jarrod Dyson seems poised to take over.  Royals CF last year, comprised mostly of Maier (37%), Blanco (24%) and Rick Ankiel (15%), logged a rating of -4.  Dyson, while only playing in 9% of the team’s innings in CF, wowed both the scouts and the statheads with his defensive play.  His defensive ability appears to be on par with the best in the game, including Seattle’s Franklin Gutierrez, Houston’s Michael Bourne, and Detroit’s rookie Austin Jackson.  Those 3 teams had CF ratings of 17, 15, and 27 runs saved above average.  If he hits enough to make the team and play everyday, Dyson could save his team 20-25 runs above what the Royals got from their 2010 CF’s.

At 2B, Aviles (53%) and Getz (37%) were the prime suspects in a -12 rating, and it appears the two will share the position again in 2011.  However, I think there is a good chance that both players improve if they stay healthy.  Aviles, coming back early from tommy john surgery, looked very tentative for most of the season.  In Aviles only other full MLB season, 2008, he put up very good defensive numbers.  Getz also battled various injuries most of the year.

Left Field was just a minor crisis for the Royals last year at -8 runs above average.  Podsednik played 56% of the innings there while Alex Gordon logged 486 innings, or 34% of the season.  Again, it would be nice to know the individual contributions here, but judging from UZR/150 at Fangraphs, Podsednik probably deserves the lion’s share of the blame for the negative rating.  Gordon, in fact, looked pretty good out there (and from UZR/150) and I think its reasonable to expect he might be league average in LF as soon as this year.

Catcher and 1B both rated as -4 for the Royals in 2010.  A higher percentage of Kaaihue (or Hosmer?) in 2011 should pull that number at least up to average, if not slightly above.  I’m not quite as optimistic at catcher, however.  I am a fan of Bryan Pena and am looking forward to seeing what he can do playing full time but it seems unlikely that his defense will be as good as Kendall’s (not that his was that good).  Interestingly, in 2008 and 2009 John Buck and Miguel Olivo, neither of whom are known for their defensive chops, combined for a -5 rating at the position.  Not significantly worse than what Kendall and Pena showed this year.

In summary, with just one important acquisition, Brendan Ryan, and a couple of natural upgrades at 3B and each of the OF positions and some good health, the Royals could actually improve significantly in the defensive department next year over 2010:

3B (Moose)                 20-25 runs saved
SS (Ryan)                   40-50 runs saved
CF (Dyson)                 20-25 runs saved
RF (Lough/Carroll)    5-15 runs saved
LF (Gordon)               5-10 runs saved
2B (Aviles/Getz)        5+/- runs saved
1B (Kila)                     4+/- runs saved

Altogether this represents a savings of 100-135 defensive runs over 2010, which would put the Royals back around league average to slightly above and would net them 10-14 more wins.  Of course, the big key to this is acquiring Brendan Ryan… Did I mention that replacing Betancourt with Brendan Ryan might be the single most important thing Dayton Moore can do to improve this team this winter?

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