Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Episode #042 – In this episode, I discuss some Royals news like when the televised Spring Training games will be, the Butler signing and the newest invite to camp. I also have some audio from the Royals awards presentation which was held at FanFest which includes Buddy Baumann, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs042.mp3|titles=BBS

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Music used in this podcast:

Curtis Mayfield – Move On Up

Herbie Hancock – Fat Mama

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The excitement level around the Royals has risen considerably this off-season and it has very little to do with what people think the 2011 version of the team will do on the field.   In fact, the level of anticipation has grown despite what the record of this year’s Royals is likely to be.

The trade of the team’s ace pitcher, Zack Greinke, actually increased the level of interest – at least in the blogging corner of Kansas City fandom.   It was seen as a final announcement that The Process is really, finally here.    All of that could be gone if we reach July 15th and Lorenzo Cain is still in Omaha, Alcides Escobar is hitting .221 and Jeremy Jeffress has issued more walks than strikeouts, but for now color us all eager for the season to begin.

The Process will likely be immediately evident in the bullpen where Jeffress, Tim Collins and possibly a Louis Coleman, Blaine Hardy or others might well break camp with the big league team.   It will quickly have an impact on the infield as well with Escobar already at shortstop and Mike Moustakas due to take over third base sooner than later (not to mention the extension of Billy Butler’s contract).   There is also an excellent chance that sometime during 2011 we will see some of the highly valued young arms make their way into the big league rotation.

With the exception of Lorenzo Cain, however, The Process brings little to the table in 2011 when it comes to the outfield.  It is likely the Royals will filter, sift and flat out hope their way through six players who, excepting Cain, might not figure in any of the club’s long-term plan.       

The roster offers a cluttered group of guys who are trying to rebound, trying to prove themselves or simply indistinguishable from the next player.    One can look at an outfield of Gordon, Cabrera and Francouer and hope that maybe they all ‘get it’, but a logical (or even a Facebook level of logic) well remind you that if just one of those guys becomes a solid above average producer the Royals should consider themselves lucky.

Let’s take a look at the players and try to sort it all out.

Jeff Francouer – Age 27, Bats – Right

  • Career Line – .268/.310/.425, OPS+ 91, Total WAR: 8.0 (6 seasons)
  • Best Season – 2005
  • Worst Season – 2008
  • The one thing we know for sure about the 2011 Kansas City Royals’ outfield is that Jeff Francouer will be the everyday rightfielder: Dayton Moore promised him as much when Francouer signed.   One thing you can say about Jeff is that he will play everyday, or at least as often as a manager can stand to write his name on the lineup card.   From 2006 through 2009, Francouer missed a grand total of 12 games.    His slugging percentage has been in decline since his rookie season and it is a little hard to see Kaufmann Stadium helping that.   Perhaps the best case scenario is for Jeff to get some good luck – as he did in his 15 games with Texas last year or his first stint with the Mets – and post good numbers due to an inflated batting average and get traded during the season.   For now, if he can match his career line and play good defense, he won’t be the worst player in the league.    We know that the Royals are going to give him every chance.

Alex Gordon – Age 26, Bats – Left

  • Career line – .244/.328/.405, OPS+ 95, Total WAR: 4.4 (4 seasons)
  • Best Season – 2008
  • Worst Season – 2010
  • There remains this faint thought through the Internet that Gordon will be traded before Opening Day – nothing concrete, but enough to make one wonder if it might happen.   My gut tells me the Royals, while frustrated, are not ‘Angel Berroa frustrated’ yet and that Gordon will get one last chance to prove he belongs.    Depending on what happens with Melky Cabrera, the team might jerk Alex around in some sort of queer platoon arrangement (which would be a mistake), but they might just put him in left and leave him alone.   For his part, Gordon still remains the most likely Royal this side of Billy Butler to post an on-base percentage above .350 and displayed some encouraging signs that he could be a solid to good defender in leftfield.

Melky Cabrera – Age 26, Bats – Both

  • Career line – .267/.328/.379, OPS+ 85, Total War: 2.6 (5 seasons)
  • Best season – 2006
  • Worst season – 2008
  • Yes, Melky actually was worse in 2008 than in 2010 – albeit not by much.   He played a statistically pretty decent centerfield for the Yankees in 2008 and 2009, but a pretty awful defensive centerfield in 2007 and 2010.   Dayton Moore has all but said that had he known that the Royals would be getting Lorenzo Cain in a trade he probably would not have signed Cabrera.   That’s all fine and good, but there are a lot of us who think Moore shouldn’t have been after Cabrera regardless.   Since 2006, Melky has not given anyone any real reason to think he will ever get back to that year’s line of .280/.360/.391.    While I can envision a reality where the Royals catch lightning in a bottle with Francouer, I tend to believe that Melky’s bottle is broken.   That might not keep him from being the club’s everyday centerfielder to start the season.

Lorenzo Cain – Age 25, Bats – Right

  • Career line – .306/.348/.415, OPS+ 107, WAR: 1.2
  • Minor league career line – .291/.366/.416
  • Lorenzo Cain has the inside track on being my new favorite Royal (that’s not necessarily a good thing, mind you).   He brings good speed (124 steals, 35 caught stealing in the minors) and potentially well above average defense in center.   Some scouts label his defense and parts of his entire game as still ‘raw’ as Cain really did not play much baseball before high school.  Others will point to his high BABIP, but Cain has posted supposed ‘lucky’ BABIP numbers with regularity, so we might just have to start believing them.   If not for the presence of Cabrera, I have no doubt that Cain would be the centerfielder on Opening Day and likely batting lead-off.   As it is, I can see him starting off in Omaha or, worse, playing three times a week  in the majors.   Hey, if Ned Yost wants to sit Gordon once a week against a tough lefty and Francouer once a week against a tough righthander and Cain once a week just because, that would seem to be enough playing time for Melky Cabrera, but this is the Royals and that sentence just seemed to make sense, so….

Gregor Blanco – Age 27, Bats – Left

  • Career line – .258/.358/.324, OPS+ 85, Total WAR: 1.9 (2 1/2 seasons)
  • Best season – 2010
  • Worst season – 2009
  • Blanco is solid average in centerfield, with good speed on the bases and some decent on-base skills, but little power.   If Alex Gordon was a star and Jeff Francouer the same guy he was at age twenty-one, Blanco would fit just fine in center and batting 8th or 9th.  As it is, like Mitch Maier, he is a touch above replacement level, but not enough so to get anyone excited about whether he makes the team or not.

Mitch Maier, Age 28, Bats – Left

  • Career line – .256/.330/.347, OPS+ 84, Total WAR: 0.7 (2 1/2 seasons)
  • Best season – 2010
  • Worst season – 2009 
  • Look at Mitch Maier’s numbers and then at those of Melky Cabrera and tell me why the Royals felt it necessary to sign Cabrera (even if it was for a modest amount).   Like Blanco, Maier has some on-base ability, but he addsa a little bit of pop while not offering the speed of his counterpart.   The feeling is that Maier’s days are numbered in the organization.   

Jarrod Dyson, Age 26, Bats – Left

  • Career line – .211/.286/.404, OPS+ 87, WAR: 0.6
  • Minor league career line – .278/.344/.343
  • Dyson IS exciting, but not necessarily for what he might become as an overall ballplayer.   He is blazing fast, with more power than Joey Gathright (I know, tallest midget stuff) and a really good arm.   Dyson had tremendous defensive metrics in centerfield, but in a sample size so small that it probably means nothing.   During his cup of coffee last year, Jarrod was on base seventeen times (he homered once – go figure) and stole nine bases in ten attempts.  He is intriguing mostly for his speed, but Dyson has some abilities beyond just being that ‘speed guy’.    I don’t think he can hit enough in the majors to matter and while I thought it might be worthwhile to give him a shot over Blanco and Maier, I don’t believe he will see time in front of Cabrera nor deserve it in front of Cain.

The Royals are funny when it comes to players.   They do not really believe in Maier or Blanco, but I can quite easily see them make moves this spring to not lose them.    Specifically, starting Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson in Omaha (although I wonder where Dyson plays in Omaha if Cain is there as well).   

Right now, I would say it is a 50-50 proposition as to whether Cain or Cabrera is the starting centerfielder.   While little stock is given to spring training stats, Cain could win the job based on just that or he might win by default if Melky gets on Ned Yost’s bad side (a very real possibility given Cabrera’s rumored past ‘bad influence’ in the clubhouse).  

Barring a somewhat shocking trade of Gordon, you can count on Alex, Francouer and Cabrera to be locks for the roster, with one of Blanco and Maier as well.    Should Lorenzo Cain start off in Omaha, then the odd man out of the Blanco/Maier combination gets to live the major league life for a little longer.

So, here we are, some 1600 words into another column and we are going to end up where we have been so many times before:  The Process could really use a breakout year from Alex Gordon.

It would seem today is Royals Day at ESPN… No fewer than 5 articles are on the main baseball page.  Here’s a quick roundup (with links) of what you’ll find on the internet today in praise of the Royals farm system.

Keith Law may hate our team (and yours and yours and yours and…) but he found it in his heart to rank the Royals as the top minor league organization in the game.  (Subscription required for the link.)  Money quote:

About a month or so after Dayton Moore took over as the Royals’ GM, he told me that he was alarmed to find how little pitching inventory he had in his new farm system and that addressing that vacuum would be a major priority for his front office. The phrase “Mission Accomplished” has acquired an ironic connotation of late, but if anyone could use the phrase earnestly to describe his own efforts, it would be Moore, as the Royals have arms coming out of their ears.

ESPN’s Stats and Info gang take a close look at Billy Butler, touching on his struggles against left-handed pitching last summer.  That’s something that (we hope) should be an outlier, given he’s never had issues against southpaws before.  That’s something I touched on this week on my Fantasy Focus piece about Butler at Baseball Prospectus. (Subscription required… Sorry)  More info of interest from ESPN:

Butler increased his on-base percentage with two strikes from .285 to an outstanding .330 (MLB average was .266). His quality at-bat percentage in close- and late-game situations improved from 34 to 48 percent, while his quality at-bat percentage with runners in scoring position rose from 45 to 54 percent. That indicates that Butler’s drop-off in RBI production was more a result of fewer opportunities than poor performance.

Jerry Crasnick has a feature on Dayton Moore and how he and his scouts have spent the last five years preparing for this moment.  The article mentions how the Royals have accomplished this without a plethora of high draft picks.

Success in Kansas City is a product of several factors. According to Baseball America, the Royals ranked fifth in overall spending on draft bonuses from 2008 through 2010, behind only Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington and Baltimore. With the support of the Glass family, the Royals’ owners, Moore and his scouting team have invested about $24.5 million in draft picks in that span.

This isn’t about the Royals per se, but it is noteworthy as it’s about how teams are building better farm systems.  The quote of interest is what I’m calling “Phase 2″ of The Process… reloading. (I think this article is an Insider one as well. Sorry about all the subscription links… But there’s still plenty of good stuff to read.)

Despite graduating several prospects to the big leagues over the past four years, the Rays continue to boast one of the better farm systems in baseball, and have depth at key positions, another major factor in building a great plantation. As players become expensive, the Rays trade them away for more young talent, just as they have with Garza and Bartlett this winter, and call upon another draftee to take over. For the Rays in 2011, Reid Brignac, who outplayed Bartlett last season, will take over at shortstop, Desmond Jennings is set to take over for Crawford in left, and Hellickson is likely to slide into the rotation spot held by Garza since the 2008 season.

“They’ll just plug in the next guy,” said an AL East scout. “That must be nice. We don’t all have that.”

And finally an article from Rob Neyer about his journey with the Royals and wondering if the talent in the minors will pull him back to the team he grew up with.  I know Rob is a polarizing figure among many Royals fans because of what some may view as a lack of commitment to his team, but his experience isn’t that different among many Royals fans of our generation. We recall the good days and there have been many a night were I find myself wondering what I’m still doing caring about guys like Dan Reichart, Ken Harvey and Terrence Long. (OK… I never liked Terrence Long.)  I suspect if Rob hadn’t left KC and gone “national” he might be a little more invested in this team.  I hope he rediscovers his passion for the Royals.  There’s always room on the bandwagon.

I suppose you might accuse me of being a fair-weather fan, but I was a fan through more than 20 years of foul weather. On the heels of that exciting-for-five-months 2003 campaign, the Royals lost 310 games in three seasons. The managers were lousy. The front office was a mess, celebrating ignorance. Ownership was meddling, occasionally reprehensible. I found myself drifting away, without even thinking about it. I stopped writing about the Royals for fun, because I found unattractive the negativity the Royals’ performance demanded.

Is my love for my Royals gone, or merely dormant? I don’t know. I will be checking the minor-league stats for all those prospects Dayton Moore has assembled. Maybe that means I’m already there.

If Rob follows this team again, he’ll rediscover the excitement of following a team with tons of upside.  It will feel like 1976 all over again.

In case you missed the news, on Tuesday Baseball America announced the Royals have the number one farm system in all the land.  In all the land!

For me, the proclamation had an air of anticlimax.  It would have been news if the Royals had been the number two system.  After a fall and winter where the accolades have been rolling in like a Billy Butler grounder to short, this just seemed inevitable.

This is quite the feather in the cap that is The Process.  Dayton Moore wasn’t going to come to Kansas City unless he received commitments from the Glass family that they would stay the heck out of his way and unleash the funds to scout, draft and develop.  It took about four and a half years, but there’s absolutely no denying the talent that GMDM and his crew have accumulated.

In the grand scheme, having the number one ranked minor league system will look good on the resumes of the guys who built said system, but in order for this to matter, the Royals will need most of these players to have an impact.  That’s step two of The Process.  Of this crop of young talent, not everyone will make it.  Some will fizzle out, some will get hurt and some will just never realize their potential.  Honestly, I’m looking forward to Phase Two.  Just like there will be some players who are currently in the system that aren’t so highly regarded that will become stealth prospects.  Yep… The next phase will be enjoyable to watch.

The really good news is GMDM and his staff are still around to scout and draft the next round of talent.  The first four years have been about restocking the barren system.  The next four years will be about reloading… Replacing the talent that graduates from the minors.  GMDM and his boys have shown their chops… If this organization drops out of the top five, that would be a colossal disappointment.

Anyway, since this is good news for an organization that has been on the losing end of far too many events over the last two-plus decades, the Royals celebrated by issuing a press release.  That’s absolutely the right thing to do.  They have a PR department and being named number one in something is certainly PR worthy.

They also posted the news to their Facebook page.

Then, hilarity broke loose.

I’ve heard about this Royals Facebook page, but I have never ventured to surf that direction.  I’m on Facebook and all that, but it just seems like a colossal time waste.  However, the news filtering my way on Twitters was just too tempting.  Low hanging fruit.

A sample of some of the best comments on Facebook.  These are not edited for spelling or punctuation because that’s part of their charm.

Mathew Calhoon –
What a joke. Number one farm system. 30th best owner and front office don’t make for winning at the big league level.

I understand Mathew doesn’t trust the caretakers of The Process. He also has never heard of Jeffery Loria.

Russell Wenz – So, the farm system for the Royals is #1, which makes the Royals the #1 farm system for the Yankees. OK, got it. Thanks!

Russell, I share your pain.  Why couldn’t we have held onto Jeter, Posada and Riviera?  And Sabathia and A-Rod?  Why?!?

Jeff Rice – Just because the are the best the royals have doesn’t mean there good. We haven’t had more than 2 prospects at any time before moore now look at it some of the have to hit unlike relying on just alex gordan.

I thought typing Jeff’s comment would allow me to better understand what he was trying to say.  I thought wrong.

Kip Ryan –
Yeah, and our major league system is the worst!

Zing!

Dennis Hillers – Team ran like Wal-Mart? No wonder. All these great guys will be traded to the haves of the baseball world after the first time they make the show.

Points for proper use of “The Show.” Negative points for the Wal-Mart reference.  Very 1995.

Steve Martens – Farm system is Not MAJOR LEAGUE, it means nothing.

Exactly, Steve.  That’s why nobody subscribes to Baseball America. Or buys their books.  Or cares about their silly rankings of minor league systems. If they’re not writing about MAJOR LEAGUE, who’s reading?

Todd Peppers –
It should be. You always trade away our best players to make our minor league teams better.

What can I say, Todd?  I enjoy making trades that improve our minor league teams.

Dion Webb – That is because they trade ALL their major league talent for everyone elses prospects.

I hear ya, Dion. When we can’t hold on to the Scott Podsedniks and Rick Ankiels of the baseball world, I want to smash things.

And we’ll end with the best…

Elliott PinkhamCould someone name some of these great prospects? No other team is pursuing them for some reason.  I think the Royals are a fraud.

Some of the prospects include Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer, Elliot Pinkham and Mike Montgomery.  Wait… What?

Actually, I think Elliot is onto something.  Has anyone actually seen Myers?  Has anyone attended a game where Montgomery started?  Are these real people, or are they the figment of Dayton Moore’s imagination?  Elliot can’t see them, so they obviously don’t exist.  Frauds!

Today’s post isn’t much about the current state of the Royals, but rather an invitation and announcement about something were excited to try out. It’s the first live event featuring all three of of the writers here at Royals Authority. The date of the event is scheduled for March 22nd. The location is going to be at The Well, which is located at 7421 Broadway. It’s basically at 75th and Wornall in south Kansas City. We’ve secured the V.I.P. room which will give us some privacy from the rest of the goings on at the bar and our own dedicated televisions.

The Royals play an evening Spring Training game that night against the Angels which begins at 8:05 and we’re hoping it will be broadcast on Fox Sports Kansas City. They’ve always broadcast those games in the past, so I’m pretty sure that it will be on. If not, we’ll just listen to Denny and use our imaginations I guess. Update: I was informed that the Royals and Angels game will NOT be broadcast that night. Never fear, we still plan on having this event and getting together. We have some options we can explore in lieu of watching the game. We could listen on the radio or we could possibly put on a DVD of an old Royals game and enjoy that.

Prior to the game we’ll have a discussion amongst Craig, Clark, myself and possibly some guests which I’m going to try and record as a podcast. There is no cost to attend this event, but space is limited. If you want to go and are pretty certain that you can make it, send an email to me at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com. I understand that sometimes plans change so if you do RSVP and then can’t make it let me know so I can get the spot to someone else.

We’re all excited to bring the Royals Authority community from the internet into the real world so we can get a chance to meet you all in person, talk baseball and hopefully watch the Royals. We’ve never done anything like this before, so I have no idea how fast the spots will go. We will probably get started sometime around 6:00 or 7:00,  record the podcast and have our structured discussion then enjoy some baseball and beverages.

I’ll have more details as we get closer to the date, but I wanted to give you all a heads up and let you start planning and claiming your spots now. Clark is planning on making the trek all the way from Nebraska, so he’s going to be disappointed if it’s just the three of us and my mom. What, you think I’m leaving her basement and not bringing her along?

If you’d like to know more about The Well, you can follow them on TwitterFacebook or go to their website. If you have any questions you can email me or just post them in the comments because it’s pretty likely that other people have the same questions as you do. I look forward to meeting you all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The author (center) and cohorts prepare for the showdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark that question off my list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Nick on Twitter @brokenbatsingle or on Facebook

Music used in this podcast:

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

Talking Heads – Crosseyed and Painless

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

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

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

Have a look at Luke’s 2010 starts:

Luke Hochevar – Good Starts

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

 Luke Hochevar – Not So Good Starts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A couple other notes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

And let’s not forget… Former Brave.

Crap.

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

WHAT?

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

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

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

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