Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Kila Ka’aihue

I have to be honest, settling on a topic for this morning’s column apparently became an impossible task for this lowly writer.   The reasons are many:  it is Monday, it is August or, gasp, even a lack of talent.   At any rate, some bullet points from the past weekend for lack of a better idea.

  • Excluding Saturday night’s home run derby, the Royals held the Yankees to just eight runs in the other three games of the series.    Even including Saturday, the sixteen runs allowed by Royal pitching was really pretty impressive considering Zack Greinke did not start any of the four games.
  • A lot has been written about Bryan Bullington finally securing his first major league win (and looking very good doing so).   Without question, Bullington deserves more starts down the stretch and frankly I do not care at whose expense those starts come.   Just a cautionary tale, however, Bobby Keppel in his first two starts as a Kansas City Royal allowed just 3 runs in 14.2 innings – the same number as Bullington’s first two Royal starts – and Bobby was gone a month later.
  • Kila Ka’aihue went 3 for 10 with 2 walks in the first three games (that’s a .416 OBP by the by)  of the series and was out of the lineup on Sunday.   As an aside, last Thursday I compared the start of Kila’s career to Travis Hafner.   Rany did the same in his column yesterday.   Now, if we can two more bloggers to do the same and then all click our heels together at the same time, it will come true.
  • Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer were a combined seven for ten yesterday in the minors.   I have cooled on the idea of bringing Moustakas up in September this year, given his struggles in Omaha – particularly his walk to strikeout ratio.  Given the state of the starting rotation, even with some recent solid performances, it is hard to see any reason to rush Moustakas at this point.   A mid-June debut should work out about right.
  • A few weeks back, one of our commentors noted that Blaine Hardy was starting in Omaha.   At the time, I theorized that it was just a way to get Hardy more innings of experience and that his future still was as a reliever.  Now, it appears that the Royals are intending to convert Hardy to a starting role.   In his last two starts, Blaine has gone six innings in each and allowed just two earned runs in both.   Although he struck out a batter per inning in both rookie and A ball, Hardy’s strikeouts have declined in AA and AAA.   Still, he remains effective.   Anyone adverse to seeing a couple of September starts out of him this year?
  • Wilson Betemit’s name was mentioned, however minorly, in a blurb on MLBTradeRumors regarding the Cardinals’ search for a third baseman.   If the Royals received an offer for Betemit, likely no more than a 20-25 ranked prospect in the low minors, would you take it?  Or does it make more sense to continue to give Betemit regular duty and see if he can be a classic late bloomer?
  • The new over/under on number of starts by Luke Hochevar before the end of the season has now been officially set at ONE.

Finally and just for fun, here is my projection for the Royals’ starting rotation on July 1, 2011:

  1. Zack Greinke
  2. Luke Hochevar
  3. Mike Montgomery
  4. Blaine Hardy
  5. Sean O’Sullivan

I’m not saying that’s necessarily good, just what I think it might be.

While it has been and likely will remain tough to watch, I am delighted that the Royals are giving a number of players – you know, guys who might actually be around when this team is ready to contend – a chance to prove themselves the remainder of this season.   It begs the question, with 48 games remaining to go:  is this enough of a sample size to determine who can play and who cannot?

Given the almost certain intrusion of Willie Bloomquist into the lineup on a semi-regular basis,  we can probably expect to see somewhere around 175 more plate appearances this season for Alex Gordon, Kila Ka’aihue, Mike Aviles, Chris Getz, Mitch Maier, Gregor Blanco and Wilson Betemit.   Will that be enough to make decisions on these players that will not only effect 2011, but the seasons beyong that as well?

We can go way back in time and find examples of players that struggled early and became great.   George Brett posted an anemic .646 OPS (82 OPS+) through his first 527 major league plate appearances before beginning his run to the Hall of Fame with a .308/.353/.456 1975 season.      Through his first 483 plate appearances, Mike Schmidt had a dreadful career line of .197/.324/.367 before slugging .546 in 1974.   However, those guys were Hall of Famers for godssake and comparisons to that type of talent is not only unfair, but probably not all that relevant, either.

Taking a step back, the career of Raul Ibanez was a five year – 581 plate appearance journey between Seattle, the bench and AAA, during which he posted an OPS+ of just 73.   As we are all keenly aware, Ibanez came to Kansas City in 2001 at age twenty-nine, received regular playing time and has posted an OPS+ of 110 or above in nine of the last ten seasons.

Billy Butler took a little longer to get his footing in the majors.   At age 21, he posted a nice partial season in 2007 (OPS+ 108), fell back in 2008 (.275/.324/.400, OPS+ 93) and was an uncertain commodity with 838 major league plate appearances entering last season.  Of course, Billy was terrific in 2009 and actually has a better OPS+ this season. 

A couple of other guys did not take so long to emerge as legitimate hitters.   Paul Konerko had 247 pretty awful plate appearances (OPS+ 60) spread over two seasons at the start of his career.   After a trade to Chicago, Konerko hit 24 home runs in 1999 and has been a fixture at first base for the Sox ever since.    

Travis Hafner did not get his first major league at-bat until he was 25 and in 70 plate appearances that season posted an unimpressive line .242/.329/.387.   The following year, he got off to an even worse start, posting a .195/.267/.378 line in his first 90 plate appearances.   So, what would you have thought of Hafner after 160 plate appearances?   Well, he came back in July of that second season and took off.    The very next year, his first full major league season, Hafner led the league in OPS+.

We could spend all day pouring through Baseball Reference and analyzing who many plate appearances it took for guys who really have made it in the majors to show what kind of player they would become.   There are other variables, too:  time in the minors, drafted out of high school or college, where they hit in the order, how good the teams were that they played on…..   Shockingly, the raw numbers do not tell the entire story!    At any rate, using the very rudimentary research above, let’s look at this group of current Royals.

ALEX GORDON – The Royals have always seemed to be in hurry when it comes to Alex.   They rushed him to the majors in 2007 after just one minor league season, they rushed him back into the lineup in 2009 after hip surgery and then shoved him down to the minors over service time/performance issues.   They rushed him back from a broken thumb this year and then were in a hurry to decide that he couldn’t hit AND needed to change positions.   All that said, how many remember/realize that in 2008, Gordon posted an OPS+ of 109 – enough above average to be considered ‘above average’?  

Given that Gordon, despite an injury plagued-demotion riddled- position changing season and half since 2008, still boasts a career OPS+ of 97 (basically average) and will end this season with around 1,600 plate appearances, I will be inclined to believe that what the Royals see out of Alex these final forty-eight games is likely to be a true indicator of what they can expect in the future.  

Wilson Betemit – Doesn’t it seem like Betemit is 35 years old or something?   In reality, he will not turn 29 until November and will end this season with roughly the same amount of plate appearances as Gordon.   Right now, Wilson is a dead average 100 OPS+ for his career.    Betemit played in 143 games (for 2 teams) in 2006, which was his only real shot at an everyday job and posted, not surprisingly, an almost dead average 101 OPS+.   Early on, he has hit a ton for the Royals, but is slowing cooling down.    There is a touch of the ‘Ibanez factor’ in Wilson’s career to date, so a good 48 games down the stretch might make me lean towards seeing if the Royals could catch lightning, or more accurately Ibanez 2.0, in a bottle in 2011.

Mike Aviles – If a player’s first 400 or so plate appearances is not the true indicator of a player’s future, then Mike still has plenty to prove.   He was in the discussion for Rookie of the Year in 2008 when he posted an OPS+ of 121 and the highest WAR of any Royal since Beltran over 441 plate appearances.   2009 was lost to injury and Mike has not been the same player in 2010 with an OPS+ of just 89.   Depending on how much Ned Yost decides to play him, Aviles will end the year with around 1,000 plate appearances.    Although they did it at different ages and are far different players, Aviles first 900 plate appearances compare somewhat to Billy Butler’s.    He is a tough one to figure at this point as to whether we will reach October and know what to think of Mike Aviles.

Chris Getz – I was all for the Teahen-Getz trade, so seeing him in the lineup virtually everyday is okay from here on out.   By the end of the year, Chris will have close to 800 plate appearances and currently sports a career OPS+ of 69.   The big difference between the 800 plate appearances of Getz and the 800 of Butler and Aviles is that Chris really has not had a good stretch of performance in there – it has really been a pretty consistent run (his July numbers were identical to that posted last season).   If he starts hitting and getting on-base, I would be inclined to believe in Getz.  If he doesn’t, I might believe that, too.

Mitch Maier – Mitch has a career OPS+ of 84, but a 2010 mark of 98, which doesn’t surprise me.   He is an average player, when given a chance to perform everyday, but has not shown much to make me think he will ever be more than that.   Maier will end 2010 with 900 or so plate appearances and, right or wrong, will likely be judged by what he does between now and the end of the season.   Again, he does not have that magical season on his resume like Aviles or the giant minor league resume that Butler came to the majors with, so his rope is shorter.  

Gregor Blanco – I loved Willie Wilson back in the day and apparently so did Dayton Moore.  He has traded for virtually every player who is fast and plays centerfield and drafted about ten more.   Blanco is another in that mold.   Like many of the other players in our discussion, he will end the year somewhere between 800 and 900 career plate appearances.    He got an everyday shot with Atlanta in 2008 and posted a .251/.366/.309 line, but has tread water ever since.  I’m not sure that the Royals will have a great read on Blanco by the end of the year and they probably don’t need to have one, either.   He will be cheap and under team control and blocking no one in centerfield.    Heck, if Gordon can hit and DeJesus returns healthy, there would be worse outfields than Gordon-Blanco/Maier-DeJesus.

Kila Ka’aihue – Next to Alex Gordon, here’s the guy you really wanted to talk about, right?  Right now, Kila is struggling mightily, but then so did Konerko and Hafner (you didn’t think I pulled those two guys out of coincidence, did you?).   Currently 54 plate appearances into his career – roughly the same point at which the Royals gave up on Matt Diaz once upon a time – Kila will end up with right at 200 by the end of the season.   To be honest, I have thought all along that a couple months of regular duty was enough to tell what you had in a player, but in writing this column my mind has changed some. 

Certainly it is a stretch to call Ka’aihue the next Konerko or Hafner, but would you want to be the teams that gave up on those guys after a similar stretch of time?   Let’s make this a little more timely and note that Jose Guillen’s OPS+ after 1,953 plate appearances was jsut 82.   It was only at age 27, that Jose went on to be post well above average numbers in four of his next five seasons.   Sadly, that string ended when he signed his three year deal with the Royals, but we don’t need to discuss that again, do we?

So, in the end, I am not sure we have proven anything this morning, other than deciding at what point in time you have ‘seen enough’ of a given player is hardly an exact science.    Do you believe what you see in the next 48 games is what you will get in the future?

The trades made by Dayton Moore this weekend pointed out the wide disparity of opinions that one fan base can have.   While the majority of us blogging about the team and those who read what we spew out were in favor of moving veterans like Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel, it was interesting to read or hear the reactions of many other fans (casual or serious) who hated the moves.  

While finding a united opinion amongst a fan base might be impossible, I would wager that if you went back in time to early 2007, we Royals’ fans had visions of lots of series like this:

  • Friday night – a walkoff home run by Alex Gordon
  • Saturday night – a two run go ahead homer by Billy Butler in the 8th
  • Sunday afternoon – a run scoring double in the first from Butler and a home run from Gordon in the fourth

Never mind that the games were against the Orioles and never mind that the sweep only got the Royals within 15 games of .500:  THIS is what we thought/hoped would be the norm by now.   Maybe it was just a good weekend against a bad team, but maybe, just maybe, it is the start of something good.

At any rate, for most of us, this was a fun weekend to be a fan of the Kansas City Royals.   In addition to the Gordon-Butler heroics, we saw the organization, for maybe the first time, really embrace the future as opposed to paying it just lip service.

Alberto Callaspo and Scott Podsednik were both good enough players that the Royals could have kept them, ran out the ‘not enough value coming back to trade’ line and ground out a couple of more wins between now and October, but instead they shipped them out for four younger players.   One of those younger players is Sean O’Sullivan, who 11 innings into his Royals’ career, I am already more confident in than Brian Bannister or Kyle Davies.

What the above two moves really did, however, was solidify an everyday spot in the lineup for Alex Gordon’s next last chance and opened up third base for Mike Moustakas whenever he is ready to take on major league pitching (the over under is May 22, 2011, who’s in?).

Dayton Moore followed up those two deals by doing what all the old crusty columnists say cannot be done:  trade garbage for value.   Nothing personally against, Ankiel and Farnsworth, but they have enough warts on their professional baseball resumes that trading them seemed pretty illogical.   Instead, Moore went to the Braves’ well once more and pulled out an unconventional reliever with real upside (Tim Collins) and a serviceable centerfielder (Gregor Blanco), plus another reliever.   Return aside, the upside of that deal is that it clears out one more veteran who was just going to take at-bats from players who need them (Maier, for example) and another who was in the way of letting the Royals have a look at the crop of young relievers coming up in the system.

After all that, the Royals still found themselves with one Jose Guillen too many, but that did not deter them from recalling Kila Kaa’ihue from Omaha.   The long awaited and much deserved promotion was welcome news, even if the plan to get him at-bats was less than pleasing.   

This will be a test of what Ned Yost is about as, fresh off signing a two year deal to manage the Royals, he should be ready to find at-bats for Kaa’ihue at the expense of Jose Guillen and, to a smaller extent, Willie Bloomquist (which means Guillen in right field, but who doesn’t need to see that a couple times a week?!).    With the trade of Podsednik, it’s easy to put Gordon in left and ‘find out’, but it’s going to take a little intestinal fortitude to right Kaa’ihue in the lineup everyday with Jose Guillen glaring at you from across the locker room.

Of course, the idea of trading Guillen in August is very much alive.   With all the activity over the weekend, there are teams out there who woke up Sunday morning and wondered if they could have/should have done more.   Guillen will clear waivers and hence tradable all the way through August to whomever might be in panic mode.   The key for Yost and Moore is to not wait for Guillen to be moved before installing Kaa’ihue in the everyday lineup.    

Hey, no one said being general manager or manager of a major league team is all sunshine and roses (although it has to be pretty sweet gig).   Sometimes you have to get called an SOB by an angry veteran for the good of the team’s future.    You got the new contract Ned – now go out there and write down the lineup that will help you win meaningful games in 2011 and 2012 and not meaningless games this August.

Here are the Royals top five contributors this season as ranked by WAR:

David DeJesus – 2.9
Billy Butler – 2.6
Jose Guillen – 1.4
Scott Podsednik – 1.3
Alberto Callaspo – 1.2

You don’t need me to tell you, but three of those guys aren’t playing for this team anymore.

As such, we need to adjust our expectations.  With those guys, the Royals were a fourth place team.  Without them, the Royals are a fifth place team.

(The Royals were probably a fifth place team even with those guys.  Check their run differential.  They’re at -113.  Granted, they weren’t that low before their epic string of beatdowns this week.  Still…)

For those of you who concern yourself with the standings (which, if you truly are a Royals fan is so 1988… get over it.) this is a huge loss.  Those of you who follow The Process and prefer to look at the big picture, this isn’t a big deal.  While I don’t fully buy into The Process (I remain unconvinced GMDM can construct a 25-man roster – we’re on version 3.0 of the eight man bullpen.) I subscribe to the latter.  Yes, the Royals are going to lose a lot of games over the final two months, but this is an opportunity.  It’s an opportunity to look forward.

(By the way, I know Clark linked to Minda’s post sampling Facebook reaction to the Podsednik trade, but I’m going to serve it up again.  Not only is it hilarious, it serves as a  reminder those of us in the blogosphere are serving a niche of a niche.  The majority of fans see Scotty Pods’ .310 batting average and 30 steals and wonder why the guy isn’t talked about as a candidate for MVP.  It’s true.)

Going forward, here’s what I’d like to see from The Process for the rest of 2010:

— The release (because a trade seems unlikely) of Jose Guillen.
He serves no purpose.  He’s not part of the future.  He’s a sunk cost in that if the Royals were to deal him away, they’d have to pick up a chunk of his salary.

The Royals should put him on waivers after the deadline and hope that one team is dumb desperate enough to claim him.  In the likely event he goes unclaimed, cut him.

— Alex Gordon has to play in left field every day the rest of the way.
He can have one day off – August 11 when the Royals finish up a nine game west coast road trip with a day game against Los Angeles.  The way the rest of the schedule sets up over the final two months, that’s all he’ll need for rest.

— Willie Bloomquist needs to be traded or kept in a utility role where his appearances are limited.
Credit to Yost for taking this long before falling for Wee Willie’s obvious charms.  If he gets 100 plate appearances between now and the end of the season, it will come at the expense of Maier and Gordon.  This cannot happen.

And batting him leadoff is inexcusable. I don’t care we don’t have a “true” leadoff man now that Podsednik is gone. (Pods wasn’t a “true” leadoff man either, but now that he’s gone that’s the Dodgers problem.)

– Play Chris Getz everyday. While I’m pretty sure I know what the Royals have in Getz (not much), I’d still like to see him for the final two months.  Move Aviles over to short – his arm has to be able to handle it by now – and let Getz play out the season at second.  If anything, you would improve the defense up the middle.

– No clue what to do about the pitching. The Royals hands are kind of tied there.  This has to be the end of the line for Kyle Davies who surrendered four walks in five innings to the team who takes the fewest walks in the AL.  It’s gotten to the point where if he’s pitching, I’m watching something else.  I would probably be fine just pitching Farnsworth, Tejeda and Soria out of the pen for the rest of the season if only because I don’t want to watch Wood groove fastballs anymore.

– Free Kila. ‘Nuff said.

Can you imagine what the Royals’ corner of the Internet would be like if the team actually turns into a contender one of these years?   Where else could the trade of a nice (not to be confused with a ‘good’) player on a one year deal getting traded generate this level of interest?

Greg Schaum broke down the prospects shortly after the trade of Scott Podsednik went down and Matt Klaasen over at FanGraphs  gave us his analysis of the trade not much later.  Minda Haas had a great post on the musings of the casual fan and it’s always fun to read the comment strings over at Royals Review.    Plus, we had Nick’s podcast up (see below) as well and all of that is really just the tip of the iceberg.

Having newly integrated myself into the Twitter lifestyle (cfosroyalsauth by the way), I spent enough time following the feed last night on my phone that my wife was certain I had a couple of girlfriends.  (Doesn’t she know I have an entirely different phone for them?!!!)   At any rate, I cannot offer much more insight than more astute writers already have to what I am considering a ‘good trade’.

Very quickly, the Royals gave up a decent player in Podsednik having a decent year (.310/.353/.400), but his 12 caught stealing and 3 pick-offs (none of which, I believe, were the result of botched hit and runs or missed signs on a sacrifice bunt) mitigate that batting average down to .270 with a .316 on-base percentage.   Now, that ‘mitigation’ is the result of some pretty rudimentary statistical analysis, but just let it go, Pods is gone.

In return the Royals acquired a AAA catcher of marginal prospect status with some pop.   Now, like everyone else, Luke May has no doubt benefited from playing in Albuquerque (.296/.352/.496), but he also hit .306/.390/.468 in Chattanooga last year.   He is still learning the game behind the plate, having converted from shortstop in 2008, but he gives the Royals another high minor catcher to pair with Manny Pina.   Frankly, both guys have another full year of watching Jason Kendall play every day in the majors to refine their games.

Dayton Moore also added another young arm in Elisaul Pimentel, who has raised his strikeout rate in each of his last three stops in the minors.   I view Pimentel as another guy to put into the ‘second wave of pitchers’ behind the almost unbelievable AA rotation of Montgomery, Duffy, Crow, Dwyer and Lamb.   Pimentel fits in with Melville, Sample and recently acquired Will Smith.    Hey, you really cannot have enough young arms.

Heck, on this feel good Thursday, I have even reconciled myself to the Royals’ apparent move to a 13 man pitching staff in the short term.   While the promotion of Bryan Bullington was at best uninspired and at worst unimaginative, all signs are pointing towards the promotion of reliever Greg Holland (an ACTUAL PROSPECT) to Kansas City.     Holland is a power arm who, after getting a rude welcome to AAA, has been lights out since then.     He was going to have to be protected from the Rule 5 draft this winter, so Holland needed a 40 man roster spot sooner and later.  Plus, as I have been advocating recently, the Royals need to spread out the experience factor of the trio of quality relievers they had in Omaha (Holland, Hardy and Coleman).   Chances are that this 13 man staff is a temporary deal, as the Royals continue to market Kyle Farnsworth and might well have seen about all the need to out of Blake Wood and/or Dusty Hughes.

Further helping the mood today, are the statements in the Kansas City Star and on WHB radio this morning of Dayton Moore indicating that Kila Kaa’ihue’s long awaited promition to and installation in the Royals’ everyday lineup ‘can be expected to happen shortly’.   Hopefully Giants’ GM Brian Sabean will panic that the Dodgers added Podsednik and offer something, anything, for Jose Guillen.   Really, Brian, ANYTHING will do, just offer.

At any rate, it at last just feels like the organization is positioning this team with an eye towards the future.    Another look at Alex Gordon, a first look at Greg Holland and a chance for Kila Kaa’ihue are all a start.  

Now, Mr. Moore, let’s keep the ball rolling.

Episode #027 – Nick reacts to the Podsednik trade, discusses Meche’s surgery, weighs the criticisms and praises of Dayton Moore and says FREE KILA.

:http://www.livekc.com/podcasts/bbs027.mp3|titles=BBS

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Most years, about this time, I write a column where I wake up one July morning and find myself General Manager of the Kansas City Royals.  To be totally candid, I wake up most mornings thinking I am in that position, but that’s a whole separate physiatric session.    The basic premise of this scenario is that one wakes up on July 22nd to find themselves as the GM, inheriting the situation ‘as-is’ with all the perceived constraints of ownership, money and at least some basis of reality. 

This exercise lost any semblance of fun last summer with the  Yuniesky Betancourt deal and hence I did not bother.  The July, however,  before I donned the GM hat and traded Ron Mahay for Chris Carter (then with the  Red Sox), Kyle Davies for Nelson Cruz (at the time toiling in AAA) and Blake Johnson (plus someone else) for Joaquin Arias.   All in all, that would not have been a horrible summer simply based upon acquiring Cruz.    Let’s see how I do this July.

The first day of my reign at the top begins with the inheritance of a team that has won two of its last three games, but lost seven of its last nine.   The Royals are closer to last than to first and have done so with a roster that really is not that young.   My predecessor has left a farm system that is much stronger than what he inherited.   Frankly, dare we say it, ‘the process’ was starting to work – just not in 2010 and probably not for a fair portion of 2011.  

As a general manager, I find myself faced with two options (three, actually, if you are willing to stay drunk and high for three months and believe the Royals can contend this season).   So, two options:

  1. Stay the course and wait for Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers to become everyday regulars, while Mike Montgomery, Chris Dwyer, John Lamb, Danny Duffy and Aaron Crow move into my starting rotation.
  2. Try to accelerate ‘the process’ and, at the same time, buy a little insurance in case some of the highly touted prospects do not develop into major leaguers.

Pretty obviously, the answer is yes to both options:  stay the course, but push it along at a quicker pace if you can do so without jeopardizing the future.  Easier said that done, even for a blogger.

Prior to departing, Dayton Moore may have been presented with a couple of trade offers.   The first would have sent Alberto Callaspo to the Angels for Sean O’Sullivan and a ‘fringe’ prospect.   The second was David DeJesus to the Braves for Kris Medlen and a AAA reliever.   Neither offer quite rings my bell.

O’Sullivan was the Angels’ number five rated prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2009 season, but lacks a true out pitch and has struggled against better hitting.    While he did have a nice start upon his recent recall (6IP, 2ER) and I am faced with the looming spectre of Bryan Bullington starting on Sunday, the 23 year old O’Sullivan just doesn’t seem to offer enough potential for my tastes.    However, the Angels are truly interested in Callaspo and while he is a good hitter having a somewhat down year, I just don’t see Alberto as a building block for a contending team.

I counter the Angels’ offer by asking for pitcher Trevor Bell, their 10th rated prospect prior to this season who has been obliterated in brief appearances in the majors, and a ‘fringe prospect’.   Bell comes with a good fastball and good control and, if not an upgrade over Bannister and Davies, he is at least younger than both (23) and is almost certainly a better option than Bryan Bullington or Anthony Lerew.  

The discussion turns to the ‘fringe prospect’ and begins to bog down.   Every name I produce is not ‘fringy’ enough to the Angels and the line ‘well, if you want him, then you have to take O’Sullivan instead of Bell’ comes up often.   In the end, I remind myself that I am trading a third baseman with a .308 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage barely over .400.

The deal is made:  Callaspo to the Angels for Bell and a player to be named later.   When the dust settles, the PTBNL ends up being catcher Brian Walker.    Bell, for now, takes his place as the Royals number five starter, while Wilson Betemit and Mike Aviles take up the bulk of the innings at third base.   This gives us a chance to see some more Chris Getz at second without taking Aviles’ bat out of the lineup.   Can Getz play or not, who knows?   This gives us a chance to find out.

Now, while I like Kris Medlen, I like David DeJesus a lot better.  Truthfully, any hopes/prayers of being competitive in 2011 probably include having DeJesus in the Royals’ outfield.    His option is affordable for next year and the compensation picks, while nice, would still be a player or players that are at least two years away from contributing in the majors.   Plus, DeJesus is still likely to be an effective everyday player for the next three or four years and seems like a guy that the Royals could resign after the 2011 season.   Heck, I might even entertain extension talks after the season to lock him down through the 2013 campaign.

Given that, we will continue to market DeJesus just in case someone gets really desperate and really silly, but the organizational thought will be to keep David, exercise the option and know that we have at least one major league outfielder set for 2011.

Although there has been interest in Joakim Soria, moving a closer of his effectiveness with what may be the best contract in baseball right now does not excite me at all.   Frankly, any hope of catching lightning in a bottle and contending in 2011 instead of 2012 includes having Joakim in the Royals’ pen.   Again, we’ll be happy to listen, but if the Yankees or whoever really want Soria, they will have to overpay by a factor of two to even make me answer the phone.

Of course, the real problem I have inherited is that Jose Guillen is blocking Kila Kaa’ihue, Scott Podsednik is blocking Alex Gordon and Rick Ankiel is healthy.   It would actually be so much easier if Guillen was limping along with a sub-.300 on-base percentage and not much power or Podsednik was hitting .270 instead of .300.   One could simply release the older players and ‘find out’ about younger players yet this year.    As it stands right now, however, both Podsednik (especially) and Guillen (to some extent) have some value to the Royals and have played just well enough to make even me think they ought to have some trade value as well.

I don’t dislike Podsednik: he is what he is on the field and is a good veteran guy in the clubhouse.   I’ll let his name float around as July 31st approaches.   In the case of Guillen, he would almost certainly pass through waivers and be tradeable in August, but the urgency is in getting Kila Kaa’ihue to the majors so I can find out if he can hit.     Yet, I have an owner who is not going to just release a player with 15 home runs and $5 million still coming.

I look once more to the evil empire because they have a gigantic hole at designated hitter, even with Jorge Posada spending most of the time there recently, – big enough to make Guillen’s .278/.339/.461 look appealing – and a clubhouse that could certainly contain any of Jose’s ‘quirks’.    What’s Jose going to do when he is not in the lineup for three days?   Spout off to Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera?

After cornering David Glass in an elevator, I wear him down with the logic of giving up some money to move Guillen and open a spot for Kaa’ihue.   It helps that it was 105 degrees in the elevator and Glass  had to go the bathroom.   He agrees to pay $4 million of Jose’s remaining salary.

The deal is Jose Guillen to the Yankees for minor league outfielder Ray Kruml, a 24 year old still toiling in A ball.  Kila Kaa’ihue is promoted immediately and bats fifth on Sunday afternoon in Yankee Stadium.   Sure, he goes zero for four and Trevor Bell gives up five runs in four innings that day, but I still feel better.

The Royals return home on July 26th and I continue to work the phones.   The Reds are looking for bullpen help to ease the workload on their relievers.  Obviously, Kyle Farnsworth is the name I shop to them.  He has been much better this season and the last time he pitched in the National League (Braves-2005), Kyle fashioned a 1.98 earned run average in 27 innings of work.   Despite having signed Russ Springer and the ghost of Jason Isringhausen, the Reds are still interested.

Who I want in return is currently injured outfielder Chris Dickerson.  Now twenty-eight years old and nursing a bad wrist, some of the luster has worn off Dickerson, but not enough to net him straight up for Farnsworth.   The Reds, however, are in a pennant race and, for all his faults, Willie Bloomquist is a guy that would certainly have a spot on a National League team.   Bloomquist’s skill set also gloves nicely with the Reds’ other utility player, Miguel Cairo.

The deal gets done:  Farnsworth and Bloomquist to the Reds for Chris Dickerson.   While Dickerson’s injury pretty much means he will be in rehab mode for a while, he adds another player to the outfield mix for 2011.   Maybe it all comes together for Chris, maybe not, but the Royals have given up two free agents to be and the Reds have gotten a couple of veteran guys to help them in their pursuit of St. Louis without really damaging their future.

Veteran minor-leaguer Ed Lucas gets the call to replace Bloomquist and Blaine Hardy gets a shot to replace Farnsworth in the bullpen.   At the same time, Victor Marte is sent down in favor of Louis Coleman.   Getting a good look at Hardy and Coleman this year will go a long way in determining how much of the Royals’ precious resources will have to be devoted to the bullpen in the off-season.  The hope, obviously, would be ‘none’.

Now, the trade deadline is right in front of us and Boston, while still after every outfielder available has not been able to make a deal.   Sure, they would ‘love to take DeJesus’ off our hands, but the return is not enough.  My asking price starts with Casey Kelley and that generally grinds the conversation to a stop right there.  

The Red Sox have been decimated by injuries and currently bat Darnell McDonald in the lead-off spot and are playing Bill Hall (.735 OPS) at second base.   While McDonald has been decent and Daniel Nava a revelation, is Theo Epstein really ready to make a run at the playoffs with them?   You see, I’ve got a guy with a World Series ring who happens to play leftfield and bat lead-off that just might be of interest to him.

By now, we are deep into the morning of July 31st and the Red Sox have pretty much stood pat as they tried to make ‘the big deal’.  It has become obvious that the asking prices for top shelf outfielders are exorbitant and so we begin to discuss Podsednik.  The match-ups don’t seem to be working out until we begin to include middle infielders in the discussion. 

I snicker when I offer Yuniesky Betancourt and Epstein flat out laughs and calls me an unprintable name.  However, the real name in the discussion is Mike Aviles.   I love Aviles, love his story and think he is likely to gravitate towards a performance line somewhere in between his fabulous rookie season and what he is doing for the Royals right now.   He can fill in at second until Dustin Pedroia is healthy and help out at shortstop where the Sox have turned to rookie Jed Lowrie.

What’s Podsednik AND Aviles worth to you, I ask?   Not Jose Iglesias is the first answer.

However, how about pitcher Kyle Weiland?  Now, that’s a start.

The name of AA outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin comes up at my prompting.   He is a cut below the prime outfield prospects in the Sox system (Westmoreland, Kalish and Fuentes), but is 21 year old in AA who has as many walks as strikeouts.  

There is some hemming and hawing on the other end as the clock ticks closer to the deadline.  Finally, the deal is done:  Podsednik and Aviles for Che-Hsuan Lin and Weiland.   With that, the trade deadline comes to a close.

When the dust has settled, the Royals have an August 1st roster of:

C – Kendall, Pena

1b – Butler, Kaaihue

2b – Getz

ss – Betancourt

3b – Betemit (as we await the September call-up of Mike Moustakas)

Util – Ed Lucas

OF – DeJesus, Maier, Ankiel (sorry), Gordon (to replace Podsednik) and hopefully Dickerson in short order.

SP – Greinke, Chen, Bannister, Davies, Bell (with Hochevar & Meche hopefully soon to follow)

RP – Soria, Tejeda, Wood, Hardy, Coleman, Hughes, Texeira

The minor leagues have been strengthened with the addition of Weiland and Lin, plus some organizational depth in Kruml and Walker.

Perhaps most importantly, it gives us two full months to gauge whether Kaa’ihue, Gordon, Hardy, Coleman and even Dickerson can be projected as regulars on a major league roster building to contend.   Simply knowing those answers will allow me, as general manager, to have a pretty accurate guide as to what needs to be fixed in the off-season.  

Now, it’s your turn, tell me if this makes sense or not?   Are the Royals in better shape after these moves or just ‘more of the same’?

As Royals fans, we worry a lot and tend to lose perspective in odd ways.   That happens when a one-time model franchise turns into one of baseball’s sinkholes.     It makes us say things like:

  • Yunieksy Betancourt isn’t really that bad.   Well, yes he is.   His on-base percentage is below .300 and he is, at best, a flashy but inconsistent defender.   Really what Betancourt has done is be not quite as awful as last year, better than Tony Pena Jr. and a one-armed Mike Aviles.
  • Scott Podsednik has been outstanding this year and I’m not worried about the occasional out on the bases.   Pods has been caught stealing 11 times and picked off 3 other times.    You wonder why a team that leads the league in batting average is only in the middle of pack in runs scored?   There’s part of your answer right there.
  • How can a team struggling to score runs trade away Jose Guillen.   C’mon, just stop it.

The burdens of being bad and basically made fun of since 1994, also makes us worry about things like:

  • Mike Aviles hitting an ‘empty’ .305.   Considering Aviles had the best WAR by any player since Carlos Beltran in 2008, was injured in 2009 and rushed himself back in 2010, let’s relax on that until sometime in 2011.
  • Jason Kendall bats second.   Playing Kendall every game is ludicrous and as much as we (and I’m in that ‘we’) are annoyed by that, I cannot really come up with anything that would be much different.  
  • David DeJesus smiles too much and is ‘really just a 4th outfielder on a contending team’.   That’s just the beaten dog syndrome there:  we’re bad, all our players are bad, cats and dogs are sleeping together, the world is ending.

I am sure the above two lists could be added to extensively:   a fully expect one of the first five comments to this column to be ‘bloggers will be negative about everything blue or something of that nature’.   However, you really want to worry about something?   Let’s worry about Rick Ankiel.

By worry, I am referring to what the Royals might do when Ankiel is healthy enough to return from his rehab assignment.

On Monday, I wrote about the value of trading or simply shedding Jose Guillen so that the Royals can get a good look at Kila Kaa’ihue.   However, if Guillen was traded tomorrow, who do you think would take his spot on the roster?   Almost has to be Ankiel doesn’t it?

With a $3.5 million salary and a zesty batting line of .210/.275/.419, Ankiel is likely the most untradeable commodity on the roster.    Given the organization’s apparent master plan for 2010 of ‘playing aging veterans who will not figure into the club’s long-term plans at the expense of younger players’, you know they will not only activate Ankiel sooner rather than later, but also play him on regular basis.

I worry about this simply because I do not trust Dayton Moore and Ned Yost to make the right choices here.   Barring not one, but two trades, Ankiel is just another guy getting in the way and another reason that Kila Kaa’ihue will not get a real shot in the majors and keeps Mitch Maier (who has the exact same OPS) on the bench.   While I do not have the love affair with Maier that some do, I would rather see him play everyday than Ankiel.

 I will yield and give some credit to Podsednik and Kendall for providing some veteran leadership and serving some purpose as bridges to the future, but Ankiel and Guillen really do not.     

Rick Ankiel is coming back sometime this month and he is going to get in the way.  Is there anyone that doubts we will see a lineup at some point with Ankiel, Podsednik and Guillen in the outfield with Bloomquist at second and Betemit at third?   Now, THERE’S something to worry about.

 

The Royals did not have an enjoyable weekend in Chicago and probably tempered some of the talk of contention that was swirling about the club for much of the week.   That was to be expected given that Kansas City has not one, but three teams in front of them to begin with, and a fair amount of history working against them as well.  

Simply put, the list of teams who approached the All-Star Break with records like the Royals and who were as far back as this team was and then actually did end up playing in the post-season is very, very short.   Without doing any research whatsoever, I am pretty confident the few teams that did manage the feat did not have to accomplish the act without their numbers one, two and three starting pitchers.

That said, had the Royals swept Chicago this weekend instead of being obliterated, I would have still written this column. 

You see, I can make a case for nottrading every player on this team, save one.   It is easy to make a case to keep David DeJesus.   It is plausible to make an argument to stick with Scott Podsednik and, if one tries hard enough, you can even come up with reasons to hang onto Kyle Farnsworth.      The one player for whom I cannot generate an argument to keep is Jose Guillen.

In Guillen, the Royals have a 34 year old with a history of injuries and tempestuous behavior who will be a free agent at season’s end.   While Jose is hitting a solid .279/.340/.467, which is actually a cut above his career line of .272/.323/.442.    You could make a case that a team desperate for power should hang onto the one guy on the team on pace to hit almost thirty home runs, this year.    Despite the home runs, however, Guillen’s slugging percentage is just .007 higher than that of David DeJesus, a player widely condemned for ‘not having any pop’, and is sixteen points behind Billy Butler.

Certainly, the value of the home run goes beyond just pure slugging percentage and without a doubt, Guillen currently is the player on the roster most likely to hit one.     It is noteworthy, however, that seven of Jose’s homers came in the month of April.   That is a big month and Guillen is known to have big months now and then.    More precisely, he has one big month per year.

In June of 2008, Guillen also hit seven home runs.   He never topped four dingers in any other month that season.   During the 2007 season, Jose hit six homers in May, but no more than four any other month.   In 2006, like his injury plagued 2009 campaign, Guillen did not have the ‘big’ month.    Back in 2005, however, Guillen did hit six home runs in April and five more in both June and August, while in 2004 he hit six or more homers in a month three times.

Unless you are willing to believe that Guillen has reverted to the form he exhibited when he was 28 years old, then the odds are against Jose hitting more than four home runs in any of the remaining months of this season.   One other home run tidbit:  Guillen has not hit more than three home runs in September since 2003.

No matter what you think of Jose Guillen and what he brings to the Kansas City Royals, I have one simple question.    If Omaha was the AAA affiliate of some other organization and that organization offered you Kila Kaa’ihue for Jose Guillen, would you make that deal?

If you cannot get past the Royals’ front office constant harping on Kaa’ihue’s supposed ‘slider bat speed’ comments, then would you trade Jose Guillen for a guy who:

  • Owns a .278/.421/.510 line in 239 AAA games (with 46 home runs)
  • Despite a dismal first six seasons in the minors, still owns a career .390 on-base percentage
  • Posted batting lines of .314/.456/.628 in 2008, .252/.392/.433 in 2009 and .306/.463/.584 thus far in 2010?

Of course, no team is going to offer one of the better hitters in AAA baseball (even if he is twenty-six years old) for a three month rental of Jose Guillen.    They won’t do it even if the Royals pay most, if not all of Guillen’s remaining salary.   The thing is, they don’t have to offer such a player for the trade to make sense for Kansas City.

One way or another, the money due Guillen is out the door and whether the Royals are paying him to play in KC or somewhere else is pretty irrelevant.   What is relevant is how Kila Kaa’ihue figures into the club’s future.

The Royals are not going to contend with Jose Guillen or Kila Kaa’ihue at designated hitter in 2010, but they might (with some breaks) contend with Kaa’ihue in the lineup in 2011…..maybe.    Right now, none of us, not Dayton Moore, not Ned Yost, not me, not my kids and not even Kila Kaa’ihue know if he can be a big league hitter.

Should the Royals be so desperate to win 76 games instead of 72 that they stick with Jose Guillen in August and September?  Or should they get Kaa’ihue 250 to 300 at-bats from here on out to discover if he can be an on-base machine with decent power in the majors?  (I envision a Nick Johns0n type minus the constant injuries, by the way).

Best case scenario is that Kila hits in the majors as he has the last three years in the minors.   Worst case, he falls flat and the Royals have the entire off-season to find someone to man the designated hitter position in 2011.     Better to have Kila hit .185/.250/.310 in August and September of 2010 for a club that might threaten to reach 80 wins than to have him do it in April and May of 2011 for a team that has a shot at contending for the A.L. Central.

Given Guillen’s recent ‘minor’ injury, whatever market there was for him has faded considerably and almost certainly has taken most National League clubs out of the picture.   That said, the Royals don’t have to trade Jose Guillen for a good AAA hitter, they just have to trade him.     What they get in return is really just a bonus to getting Kila Kaa’ihue on the big league roster and in the everyday lineup.

So again I ask the question:  would you trade Jose Guillen for Kila Kaa’ihue?

A few quick thoughts as we head out the door for a long holiday weekend…

Apparently, the Missouri Department of Transportation destroyed a tree along I-70 that was planted to honor Dan Quisenberry.  This, as these things do, has created quite an uproar.  First, we need a little clarification.

— Quisenberry had a tree planted to honor his memory?  Seriously?  When did this happen?  Am I the only person in Kansas City – other than MODOT employees – who did not know this?

— There are just a ton of green spaces in Kansas City.  Why would they plant a tree like this along an interstate right-of-way?  Were all the trees in the parking lot at the Independence Center claimed?

Quiz loved gardening.  He kept plants and assorted green things in the bullpen.  I think he grew tomatoes or something out there. I guess that’s why he has had a tree.  It’s a nice thing for someone to do, but why wouldn’t they have planted the thing on the grounds of the stadium?

—  Obviously, now is the ideal time for the Royals to step up and do something nice to honor Quiz.  I’m not talking about a statue or retiring his number… Instead, maybe they could plant a tree in the space between the fountains and the stairs in right field.  Maybe at the top.  That way, they could have a plaque (you know, so it won’t get bulldozed in the next round of stadium renovations in 2030) and it would be where everyone in the stadium could see it.

Sounds good to me.

— The Royals head to the West Coast and will make an appearance on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.  That’s a rare event, but I don’t need to tell you.

Although I do love how the game is on July 4.  This has to be the lowest rated Sunday Night game of the year, regardless of the teams.

—  Now that almost everyone with access to the internet has weighed in on Jose Guillen’s comments (or should it be outburst?  Or rant?) let me throw out my two cents and say I agree with Clark.

There.

Otherwise, I should probably add I’m glad Guillen decided to shoot his mouth off.  It’s been a relatively quiet 18 months.

However at this point, Guillen carries a lame duck status.  He has three months left here – hopefully less.  Anything he says carries little or no weight.

Move along… There’s nothing to see.

— Alex Gordon and Kila Ka’aihue were named to the PCL All-Star team.  I have no clue who those guys are.

— Kyle Davies last start where he gave up fewer than four runs came on May 22.  Over his last 30 innings, covering six starts he has an 8.70 ERA and batters are hitting .306/.400/.508 against him.  That includes a start against the Astros, for crying out loud.  Oh, I should probably add that during this time he has struck out 15 while allowing 19 walks.

I like to see how many swinging strikes a pitcher gets as a percentage of all strikes thrown.  The best pitchers miss the most bats, generally speaking.  Since his start at the end of May, Davies has gotten a swing and a miss in just 7% of all strikes.  That’s abysmal.  Even more alarming, only 16% of his strikes have been called.

In other words, hitters are just making a ton of contact against Davies.  He’s fooling no one.

Except maybe management.

— Have a great – and safe – holiday.

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