First, they are going to have a ton of key guys hit arbitration at the same time. They aren’t going to sign all of their roster to these kind of deals, but by locking in some of the soon to be arbitration eligible players, they can focus on those future budgets. A huge deal for a team with resources like the Royals. Map out the future with low risk, high reward contracts and then shift the focus to the ultra key guys. If they sign, great. If not, the team still has the payroll flexibility to absorb the arbitration raises.
Second, they are targeting the easier guys to sign. Again, smart move. Escobar, like Sal Perez before him, were international free agents who signed for small bonuses. They lack the fiscal stability a guy like Eric Hosmer has, who banked $6 million before the ink was dry on his contract. The long term deals protect those players for the future. They have the motivation to sign. It makes all kinds of sense: Get the players under contract who benefit the most from inking long term deals, project a sense of commitment to the future and then bring on board everyone else.
Back to The Shortstop Jesus: We know that Escobar has some work to do offensively. In his two seasons as a regular, he has yet to post a wOBA greater than last summer’s .282. Yikes. Remember back to his player profile where I illustrated that Escobar’s approach at the plate changed on an almost weekly basis. If he’s going to improve with the bat, he’s going to need to figure out what works best for him and stick with it. He has to understand there are going to be streaks in his offensive game. Stay on track and the length of those streaks should shorten and we will see a more consistent hitter. We’re not asking for magic. If he could somehow post a .310 OBP and .300 wOBA, I’d be thrilled. Thrilled.
Yet, for all the issues with the bat, it’s the glove that got Escobar this contract. Last year, he had a 2.2 fWAR, built entirely on the strength of his defense. It’s his exceptional defense which is played at an exceptionally important position. And remember, anything above a 2.0 fWAR can be considered a solid everyday player. On the open market, Fangraphs values that kind of shortstop at around $10 million. Here’s how the Royals are breaking down his contract:
2012 – $1 million
2013 – $3 million
2014 – $3 million
2015 – $3 million
Escobar would have been eligible for arbitration beginning in 2013, so they’re committing $9 million to his arbitration years. By comparison, they’re paying Perez $7.5 million for his arbitration years. The team holds the options for 2016 and 2017, which are the first two years of his free agency time. If exercised, he’ll earn $5.25 million in ’16 and $6.5 million in ’17.
The SS Jesus can save runs. That’s what the Royals are paying for over the next several years. If his bat can come around, the rest is just gravy. Hopefully, Perez’s knee injury isn’t severe and he can make a complete recovery. With Perez and Escobar anchoring the defense up the middle for the next four to six years, the Royals have a solid foundation of glove work. That’s how winning teams are built.
Other notes from Surprise:
— With all the bad karma hovering over Surprise this week, I thought it would be prudent to point out a positive: Jonathan Broxton’s outing on Wednesday. In his first game action of the spring, Broxton was scintillating, throwing nine pitches, eight of them for strikes. And the ball he threw was in the dirt on an 0-2 pitch – clearly fishing for the punchout.
Even better than the control, was the fastball. Broxton was living around 94 mph with his fastball and on his strikeout pitch of Casper Wells, he tickled 96 mph on the stadium gun. Impressive velocity for a guy with his injury history. And even better than the velocity (yeah, it gets even better) was the fact that 96 mph pitch was a rising fastball that freaking exploded. Maybe my judgement is clouded (it was my first live baseball action of the spring) but that pitch just looked filthy. Wells had no chance.
From the Brooks Baseball player cards, this is a look at Broxton’s declining velocity the last couple of years. After his surgery, if he can throw like he did on Wednesday, that could be the bullpen bargain of the year.
The only question we’ll have is how will Broxton recover. It was only nine pitches, but he’ll need to be able to bounce back and hit the mound again. Since it’s spring, the Royals obviously have the luxury of taking it slow, but at some point they’ll need to test his power of recovery.
— Kelvin Herrera is having a solid spring with another strong outing on Thursday. He struck out four Dodgers in two innings and now has nine whiffs in six innings of work. Late arrival Jose Mijares had a typical inning of work… Three batters faced and three flyball outs. The good news with Mijares is he has yet to walk a batter in just under five innings of work. Last year, if you remember, his SO/BB ratio was an even 1.
— According to Bob Dutton, the Royals are looking at adding some catching depth. While it’s possible the Royals jump soon, I’d be surprised if they acted this weekend. They need to wait until Perez has his surgery on Friday and maybe even get a post-op report or two. If you bring in a guy like Ivan Rodriguez, you sign him for the full year. There’s no need to commit those kinds of resources to a veteran if Perez can make it back before June. Besides, this team isn’t built for 2012… The focus is on 2013. If the Royals didn’t go out and deal for another starting pitcher this winter, there’s no reason to think they’ll jump the gun for a temporary backstop.
Still, the Brayan Pena/Max Ramirez tandem does not exactly inspire confidence. I’m not sure either one of those guys actually owns a catcher’s mitt.