In a matter of weeks, maybe even days, the concern over promoting prospects to the majors and having them become eligible for arbitration as a Super Two will go away. While the Royals have shown a rather remarkable carefree attitude about early arbitration eligibility when it came to calling up Eric Hosmer and Danny Duffy, one would imagine that not having to worry about Super Two status will be one less impediment to calling up the next wave of promising young players.
That is not to say, however, that on some magical day in the near future (say June 8th) that we will wake up one morning to hear that Mike Moustakas, Mike Montgomery and Lorenzo Cain have all been promoted to Kansas City. If we truly lived in a Rotisserie world, one could do just that, but in real life there are personality, experience and clubhouse issues to be considered as well as the fact that there are actual humans occupying spots in front of these guys.
One of those ‘humans’ is Wilson Betemit, who just happens to be hitting .315/.379/.465 to follow up on his career best 2010 campaign. While Wilson has played everywhere but catcher in his career that does not necessarily imply that he actually ‘can’ play anywhere. That Betemit has played 19 career major league games at second base gets all of us thinking about Moustakas at third, Wilson at second and ‘Man! That’s a salty batting order!’ Except for the fact that supposed defensive difference at second base between Chris Getz and Mike Aviles is likely unnoticeable when compared to the gap between either of them and Wilson Betemit should he wander out to that side of the diamond.
So, what do you do with Mike Moustakas? After a very tough April, Mike has hit .303/.386/.566 in May and has hit both left-handed and right-handed pitching along the way. He has not played particularly outstanding defense, but by all accounts will be passable for now at third. Keep in mind, the Betemit/Aviles combo in the majors has not exactly been defensive fine art this year.
Certainly, Betemit would seem to be a player that might provide value on the trade market, even if trading him would weaken, at least in the short term, any hopes the Royals have for a winning season in 2011. If a decent deal came along, it would make sense to move Betemit, promote Moustakas and have him get his rookie shakedown cruise over with so he is ready to contribute from the start in 2012.
Of course, do you play for 2012? If the answer is yes, then the Royals absolutely need to get Moustakas to the majors sometime in June. Both he and Hosmer could get the ups and downs of their rookie seasons over with and hopefully ready them to be middle of the order impact bats immediately next season.
Is that realistic? Is contending in 2012 a high probability? It better be, because the Royals will have Hosmer, Moustakas, Duffy, virtually everyone in their bullpen and Mike Montgomery all on schedule to become free agents after the 2017 season.
Montgomery is included in the above paragraph, because the Royals cannot enter 2012 with serious contention hopes without both Duffy and Montgomery seasoned and ready to pitch all of that season at or near the top of the team’s starting rotation. They cannot expect that to happen without getting both a good 100 innings in the majors this year.
Given that Sean O’Sullivan has 22 walks versus 16 strikeouts in 45 innings this season, he would hardly seem to be a guy who should be blocking a talent like Montgomery. Sure, Sean has ‘kept the Royals in games’, but contenders are built around pitchers who WIN games, not keep you close. With 49 innings under his belt in AAA already this season and only 93 total innings pitched last year, Montgomery (like Duffy) has a limited number of innings to pitch in 2011. One more turn through the rotation ought to eliminate Super Two considerations and should be more than enough to move forward.
Bottom line, the Royals should either promote both Moustakas and Montgomery by mid-June or wait all the way until late April of nextyear to get them on an entirely different free agency path from that of Hosmer and Duffy. If you go the service time route, then you are really saying that the Royals truly realistic first year to contend (barring flukes or a crappy division – both possibilities) is not 2012, but 2013. The argument can be made that 2013 is truly the right choice.
Would it depend on the 2011 team’s record when it comes to making this decision? I am not sure it does, given that Wilson Betemit is likely to be a greater asset to the ‘win now’ theory in July of 2011 than Mike Moustakas would be. It is also quite possible that Bruce Chen (assuming he makes it back soon) is a better major league pitcher right now than Mike Montgomery will be.
I really think these decisions need to be made based not on what will happen in 2011, but what the Royals perceive will happen in 2012 and/or 2013. That is where it gets tricky. It is relatively easy to make a decision that will impact the nine game road trip that begins on June 10th, but it is harder to discern what impact a decision made now will have on the April 2012 Royals.
Welcome to Dayton Moore’s world.
Side Note: I was going to talk about the Melky Cabrera/Lorenzo Cain situation as part of the column today as well, but decided I had reached a quasi-plausible ending point. Truthfully, I am not exactly sure what the proper call is there, but by Thursday, I hope to have an answer for you.