Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

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?

You can catch both Nick and myself on BlogTalkRadio talking Royals with Gage Matthews of Kings of Kaufman at 10:35 tonight.   It will be replayed again at 5:00 on Tuesday as well.  

A direct link to the broadcast can be found here

Take a listen as we talk Greinke, Aviles the outfield and more.

The last time the Royals had a truly elite level player out on the open market, it was Carlos Beltran.  They traded him, after all the dust settled, for Chris Getz.

Okay, that is truly funky analysis, I know.   In between Mark Teahen being traded for Getz and Josh Fields (and Fields subsequently being non-tendered), the Royals did get 90 home runs and 700 games out of John Buck.   They also got basically league average OPS+ for another 750 games from Teahen and, heck, even Mike Wood gave the club some adequate moments here and there.   Still, when you trade an elite player, you would like his long term impact on your organization to be something more than an unproven 27 year old second baseman.

So, as the Winter Meetings open today, and the Zack Greinke trade speculation really kicks into high gear, Dayton Moore finds himself with an elite level pitcher in a market basically devoid of said type.   Whether directly or indirectly or, for that matter, whether accurate or not, the public perception is that Greinke would like to be traded.   He was also a guy who, quite frankly, spent a portion of the 2010 season in a disinterested state of mind (who among us can say otherwise?!).

Saddled with those negatives, Moore can point to a load of positives as he heads into the treacherous trade waters.   First off, Greinke is young and just one season removed from one of the more dominating pitching seasons of the last fifteen years.   His talent is undeniable and Greinke’s contract is team friendly through the 2012 season.  Truthfully, if you put Zack Greinke on a contending team, it would be a surprise if he was anything but focuses and ultra-competitive.  

In a market where Jayson Werth gets seven years and $126 million, what sort of value does Greinke hold?   I will guarantee you it is well above the $27 million is he scheduled to earn over the next two seasons.

So, if you are Dayton Moore, what is the realistic return for Zack Greinke?   In the past several years, we have seen the likes of Johan Santana, C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee all traded – Lee three time actually, so the return on an ace pitcher is not exactly a mystery.     On the Royals’ side, they have the advantage of having Greinke under contract for longer and a younger age than any of the other aces that were moved.   Sabathia was basically the same age when Cleveland traded him to Milwaukee, but had just half a season left on his deal.

I have done a couple of columns on some of the ‘ace’ trades before and you can easily get the details on each by heading over to Baseball Reference and pulling up the individual player pages and draw your own conclusions.   That said, here is a rough idea of what would be a realistic return on a Greinke trade:

  • This Offseason – Three Top Five prospects (one of which is major league ready now) and one high risk/high ceiling secondary prospect.   It is very possible that the ‘one major league ready’ prospect could actually be an actual major league player and still get two additional Top Five prospects plus the secondary guy.  I think that scenario demands some sort of contract extension being worked out with Zack as part of the trade.
  • July, 2011 – In my mind, losing half a season of control over Greinke is equal to losing one prospect, but maybe just the high risk/high reward type player.   Probably you still get three Top Five types.
  • Off-Season 2011 – This is problematical.   If the Royals are horrible in 2011, the idea that they have to trade Greinke will be rampant throughout baseball.   The club also runs the risk of Zack having another ‘okay, but not great’ season.   Of course, the Royals could have a strong second half with some of their young guys up and playing well and realistically talk about keeping Greinke for 2012 and maybe beyond.   I would say the haul is likely to be three Top Ten prospects at this point.
  • July 2012 – Are the Royals any good at this point or not?   Are they close enough to being good to convince Greinke to sign a new contract?   Which Zack is pitching at this point, version 2009 or version 2010?    Those questions point out the gamble of waiting on Greinke.

It is possible that Zack Greinke is worth more in the future than he is right now, but it is equally possible he could be worth less.  Truth is the Royals will emerge from this week’s meetings knowing exactly what Zack is worth right now.   If that ‘worth’ is enough to the pull the trigger, then avoiding the risk of holding onto Greinke and dealing with all the variables that might present themselves in the future is the safest bet.

Now, back to the Beltran deal.   If the Royals trade Zack this winter, the absolutely must parlay that return into the type of return that will have a positive impact on the organization for years.   At minimum, the club needs the following out of the Greinke package:

  • A pitcher that will be a legitimate top three member of the starting rotation.  Plus, an ace must emerge from either this pitcher, or someone from the group of  Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Danny Duffy, Chris Dwyer and Aaron Crow.   Further, another member of this group of five plus the ‘new guy’, also has to be a top three type pitcher.    Basically, I’m saying that from the five pitchers already in the organization plus the top end prospect gained from the trade, must account for the top three spots in the Royals’ rotation by 2013 and occupy those top three spots legitimately (i.e. be top three pitchers on pretty much any staff, not just Kansas City’s).
  • One of the positional prospects acquired has to become a good, maybe even great, everyday player.     I am looking for the ‘Grady Sizemore’ guy in the Bartolo Colon trade. 
  • Another prospect has to become a ‘above league average’ everyday player.

Frankly, as you look at the Colon trade back in 2002, the Royals almost have to get a Cliff Lee, a Grady Sizemore and a Brandon Phillips for it to ‘feel’ like a win.   That is asking a lot from a GM who has not always had the greatest of luck in the trade market.   Truthfully, I am not sure there has ever been quite a prospect for pitcher trade as great as the Colon move and it is probably unwise to hold whatever the Royals do with Greinke to that standard.

Still, the Royals need to aim high, but not stupid high at the Winter Meetings.   There is a lot of risk and uncertainty going forward with Greinke and taking a chance on hitting a Colon-type lottery is probably Dayton Moore’s best move.   It might not be popular and it might completely blow up in the organization’s face, but there might not be a better market for Greinke than there is right now.

Hold on everyone, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Each month since the end of the 2010 season, I have tried to make a realistic projection of what twenty-five players the Royals will take north next spring.   In doing so, I have predominately avoided any speculation or theory and instead focused the roster ‘as is’.   In November, the roster looked like this and and was almost immediately rendered obsolete by the trade of David DeJesus to Oakland.

Today, I will take another foray into the future.   Unlike past months, however, I will take a few speculative liberties with regard to what I perceive to be impending moves.   If you have been on Twitter, MLBTradeRumors or read Craig’s column yesterday, you can guess what one of those moves is.

Anyway….

  • CATCHER – Brayan Pena and Veteran Free Agent

Yes, I almost typed in Jesus Montero next to Pena, but that is simply TOO much speculation.   Truthfully, I think Cliff Lee signs with New York and the Rangers trade for Zack Greinke (although a tiny part of me wonders of the Yankees aren’t intrigued by a rotation featuring C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee AND Zack Greinke).   What I have always believed and continue to believe is that the Royals simply will not commit to Brayan Pena as an everyday catcher and that their rather traditional baseball sensibilities will demand someone older and more experienced than Lucas May to pair with Pena until Jason Kendall returns and plays every inning no matter what.

  • First Base/Designated Hitter – Billy Butler, Kila Ka’aihue

Next to Yuniesky Betancourt and Joakim Soria, these two guys might be the biggest roster locks of the group.

  • Second Base – Chris Getz

I think the Royals are committed to giving Getz the job and seeing what happens.  No, I don’t think it will last and Getz will be pushed out by Mike Aviles as soon as Mike Moustakas is called up around D-Day.

  • Shortstop – Yuniesky Betancourt

No comment.

  • Third Base – Mike Aviles

There are two positions that I would play Aviles at everyday before third base, but the Royals have a curious habit of ignoring my suggestions.   As it is, at least he is in the lineup somewhere, which is a good thing.

  • Left Field – Alex Gordon

A trade of The Big Enigma would not surprise me, but I seriously doubt it.   Given where the Royals are heading into 2011, selling low on the former first rounder is not my first choice.   Truth is, if Gordon can muster .245/.340/.450 for the season, he might well be the Royals’ best offensive outfielder.

  • Centerfield – Jarrod Dyson or Gregor Blanco

My opinion here has not changed since last month.  If Dyson wins/gets the job this spring he will play mostly everyday, if he does not get an everyday gig, Jarrod will be back in the minors.   Blanco will make the team as either the everyday guy at this position or as the fourth outfielder.

  • Rightfield – Someone not here yet

There is the spectre of the ex-Brave/ex-Met/ex-Ranger who swings hard and doesn’t get on base, which I think is still likely to come true, but I am thinking Robinson Tejeda is parlayed into a player who will at least partially fill this spot.    It is also a possibility that the Royals put Alex Gordon in right and look to live with Wilson Betemit and this unknown someone to play left.

  • Bench – Wilson Betemit, Mitch Maier and Joaquin Arias

The trade of DeJesus may have secured a roster spot for Maier.   There’s nothing wrong with having Mitch Maier on your team, unless you trot him out as your everyday rightfielder and bat him second on Opening Day.  Betemit’s defense was bad enough last year to stand out on a bad defensive team, so it will be interesting to see how the Royals get his bat in the lineup.   Arias?   Well, somebody has to be Willie Bloomquist.

  • Rotation – Luke Hochevar, Vin Mazzaro, Kyle Davies, Sean O’Sullivan and Kevin Millwood

What would the off-season be without a free agent signee for more money than necessary that excites no one?   Hence, Millwood.    The real story here, obviously, is no Zack Greinke.   I think he’s gone folks, I really do.   I also think it is a very real possibility that no one that the Royals get in return for Zack is on the 2011 Opening Day roster.   Certainly one, probably two, players that are part of the Greinke package are in the bigs early in 2011, but maybe not in April.   

My guess is that the idea of Luke Hochevar as your number one starter made a lot of you throw up in your mouth a little bit, but if living with that disaster means Jesus Montero behind the plate in June or Derek Holland and Martin Perez in the rotation by mid-summer, then maybe it is just something we will have to live with.

  • Bullpen – Joakim Soria, Gil Meche, Blake Wood, Dusty Hughes, Tim Collins, Louis Coleman and Kanekoa Texeira or Jesse Chavez

The Royals agonize over some really strange things and the angst they will endure at the thought of losing either Texeira or Chavez will likely be immense.  Hopefully, it will not be enough to keep them from breaking camp with both Collins and Coleman in the pen.

As I indicated above, I think Tejeda is traded for an outfielder.  I really have no grand theories as to who that might be or expectations that the ‘whomever’ is going to be anyone all that exciting – Nate Schierholtz and Ryan Spilborghs types come to mind – but I think it will happen.

I know, the above group probably does not get you excited at all.   It is another Royals’ roster that ends with ‘yeah, but just wait until next year’.   We can hope, that 2011 is the last season in which that statement applies to this exercise.

You know the saying…

Specifically, I’m referring to all the rumors currently swirling around Zack Greinke.  New wrinkles keep popping up all the time.  The latest is from Yahoo Sports and Kansas City-based writer Jeff Passan who revealed this in his latest missive:

Though Greinke has a no-trade clause in his contract that includes the Yankees and other big-market teams, a source close to the right-hander suggested he would happily pitch anywhere that would provide a winning team.

“I wouldn’t put it past him to go to New York,” the source said. “I don’t think he’d rule out anybody. He says he likes New York. Especially because they’re winners. He wants to go to a team that wins.

Obviously, there are two camps of Royals fans.  On one side, you have a group of fans who think .500 baseball is a realistic possibility in 2011, followed by the AL Central title in 2012.  These are the fans who consider Greinke an integral part of The Process and are not willing to part with the ace no matter the return.

On the other side you have those who buy into Mellinger’s Project 2012.  The theory that the pipeline of minor league talent will begin filtering into Kansas City with an eye further down the road for contention.  Young players take time to acclimate and mature into big league players.  Success isn’t immediate and by the time the young nucleus is ready to win, Greinke will be a distant memory so it makes sense to deal him now and add to what is shaping up as the inevitable Royal Baby Boom.

Frequent visitors of this site know where my feelings lay.

And I think it’s a good thing the Greinke camp is talking about ignoring the no-trade.  When you’re shopping a talent like Greinke, you want as many bidders as possible.  Simple economics: More interest equals a higher return.

While the no-trade clause can be used to prevent a top player from being dumped into the lap of a losing team, it’s just as often used as a bargaining chip.  Leverage, as it were.  In Greinke’s case, it’s an extremely shrewd piece of a contract which was negotiated by his agent John Courtright at SFX.   Obviously, at the time the player and agent (and the team) can’t see into the future, so the no-trade clause is the best way to hedge their bets on the future of the young ace.  If the Royals are a competitive team while Greinke is a member, everyone wins.  Greinke pitches important games, the Royals are in a pennant race and Greinke marries a model.  (OK, so one of those three things happened.)  If the Royals aren’t competitive, the market most certainly would dictate that the Royals would shop Greinke.  Armed with the no-trade clause, Greinke holds all of the power.  If the Royals wish to trade him to a team currently on his “list” Greinke could either:

A) Realize the Royals are years away from contention and waive his no-trade clause so the Royals could continue to build for the future.
B) Decline the deal no matter what.
C) Agree to remove the clause if his new team comes up with a suitable number for a contract extension.

Uhhh… It’s pretty clear what happens in this situation.

Greinke will be 28 at the end of his current contract.  If he pitches anywhere close to his potential over the next two years, he’ll be set for a ginormous payday.  Epic.  He can remove that whole shopping for a new team angle by negotiating a long-term deal with a perennial contender who can afford what it will cost to get the 2009 Cy Young award winner under contract.

No doubt about it, Greinke holds all the power.  All of it.

This brings us to the “source close to the right-hander” quoted in Passan’s article.  Passan is good at what he does and because of his Kansas City ties, undoubtedly has an inside track on all things Zack.  But the cynic in me says this wasn’t some source Passan has used before.  Or it wasn’t someone Passan called out of the blue for a quote.  It was likely someone sent from the Greinke camp with the purpose to pressure the Royals into making a deal.  It could have been anyone… His father, his wife, his agent… But let’s be clear about this.  It was someone speaking with Greinke’s blessing.  This was an orchestrated quote, all but announcing Greinke’s intentions.  If New York is in play, everyone is in play.

That means Greinke is done in Kansas City.

Plus, in reference to the title of this post, there simply wouldn’t be this many rumors floating around if there wasn’t something to them.  My partner in crime, Clark, tweeted that the latest development makes him think there’s a 95% chance Greinke is out of town by Christmas.  Those are some steep odds.  However, I’ll go one better than Clark.  I think there’s now a 95% chance that Greinke is gone by December 16.

Why December 16?  Because I figure the Cliff Lee Sweepstakes will be settled sometime during the Winter Meetings in Orlando next week.  The Lee free agency is what is holding up any impending Greinke deal.  Lee will cost a ton, but he won’t cost prospects, and all we hear about is how teams are really valuing their prospects these days.  That makes the Ranger starter option number one in this market.  Beyond Lee, the rest of the class of free agent starting pitchers is thin.  Extremely thin.  That makes Greinke option number one A.  Greinke can’t be moved until Lee makes his decision.  And we all know how Dayton Moore likes to act quickly.  He’s like one of the McGuire twins at an all you can eat buffet:  He wants it all and he wants it NOW!  December 16 is one week after the close of the meetings.

Now it’s time to look forward and determine what kind of return Greinke could bring.

According to Ken Davidoff of Newsday an official from an NL club speculated it would take a package of Jesus Montero, Slade Heathcott and Dellin Bettances if the Yankees were to lose out on the Lee Sweepstakes and settle for Greinke.  That’s a strong group of prospects.  Let’s look at the players:

Montero is the number one prospect in the Yankee system according to Baseball America and my be the best all around hitter in the minors.  He got off to a slow start in AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last summer, but wound up hitting .289/.353/.517 with 34 doubles and 21 home runs.  The best part?  He’s a catcher.  Yes, please.  That means stud prospect Wil Meyers can move to the outfield and it also means we can put Jason Kendall out to pasture.  While scouts rave about his bat, they’re far less complimentary about his defensive skills.  He allows more than his share of passed balls and has trouble with his transfer on throws to second.  Also, Montero is a big guy and conditioning will be key in any future improvement.  Still, acquiring a guy like Montero is a must in any kind of deal for Greinke.

— Bettances is the Yankees number three prospect. (Just behind Gary Sanchez, another catcher.  Three of the Yankees top six prospects are catchers.)  He stands 6-8 and has an electric fastball with a power curve.  He had surgery to reinforce a ligament in his right elbow in 2009 and threw only 85 innings last year between High A and Double-A.  He struck out 108 and walked just 22.  Baseball America projects him as a front line starter as soon as 2012, and if he falters they figure he could be on the shortlist to replace Mariano Rivera.

— Heathcott is the Yankees number nine prospect and top ranked outfielder.  At just 20 years old, he received his first taste of pro ball last summer and hit .258/.359/.352 in A ball.  Baseball America describes him as a high-energy player with excellent speed and range in center.  Like most first time pros, his power is still developing and his pitch recognition isn’t there just yet.  He had surgery on his left (throwing) shoulder this winter and will possibly start 2011 on the sidelines, but there aren’t any long-term concerns.  Still, as the youngest of the three he’s the furthest from the majors.

I think this is exactly the kind of deal the Royals take for Greinke.  Three prospects, none with the major league service clock ticking.  One who is as close to a sure thing (and at a premium position) you’ll ever find, another who is a year away from contributing and a third who has some upside.  If you hit on two of those three, that’s a successful deal.

What do you think?  Is that a fair deal for the ace?  Or do you want more?  Or do you want to hold on to Greinke at all costs?

Either way, I think it’s time to start thinking about Zack Greinke as a former Royal.

Maybe we can work out a sign and trade with this guy.

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