Sunday, November 30, 2008

J. R. House?

Apparently, the Royals have signed J.R. House, the 29-year-old once-lauded catching prospect of the Pirates organization.

They signed him to a split minor league/major league contract. I'm not entirely sure what that means, or how it affects the 40-man roster, but to say it may complicate the catching situation and solidify John Buck's presumed status as soon-to-be-former-Royal may in fact be the case.

According to Tim Dierkes, House put up a respectable line of .306/.378/.480 with 18 home runs in 454 at-bats at AAA-Round Rock, and I can corroborate that he played for Round Rock. His line compares well with Brayan Pena's line in Omaha of .303/.376/.472 and could presumably open up competition for back-up catcher if indeed John Buck is leaving town.

Neither Pena (who will be 27 upon the season's start) nor House are the catcher of the future for the Royals, but they are clearly preferable alternatives to the Jason Larues of the world.

My Buddy and me

It would appear that Kyle Davies attributes much of his late season success to Buddy Biancalana. Honestly, it is not news that is particularly important to the Royals' future, but it is pretty damn sweet to be able to type the words Buddy Biancalana and have them be somewhat relevant to today.

As for Davies, he was a whipping boy for many Royals fans following his less than dominating performance in 2007. He was obtained in a deal that sent Octavio Dotel to the Braves, where Dotel racked up a whole 7 2/3 innings before going down with a predicable injury and bolting to the White Sox the following offseason.

Anyone who watched Davies pitch in 2007 saw a kid who was not at home on the mound. In eleven starts in his inaugural two months in a Royals uniform, he lasted a whopping 50 innings, while allowing a particularly Satanic 6.66 ERA and an even more offensive 1.78 WHIP. He showed little ability to strike batters out and walked a batter every other inning, which gave Royals fans all over the interweb cause to cry foul.

What the most vehement Davies haters were neglecting to allow for was that the kid turned 24 in September of 2007. While never really being unhittable at the Major League level, his BABIP was .338 in 2007, indicating a degree of bad luck that when combined with his high walk rates, low strikeout rates, and HR/9 sitting at a distasteful 1.8, a solid partial season with the Royals was simply not in the cards.

That being said, giving up on Kyle Davies who is only a four days older than Luke Hochevar and had luck working against him would have been reckless for a team like the Royals. Unlike a player like Tyler Lumsden, who kept getting worse at AAA-Omaha, Davies logged his first significant time in the bigs as a 21 year old. He also showed an ability--at least every once in a while--to locate his pitches and work through a lineup effectively. Those flashes were encouraging enough to at least hope that he could become a league average pitcher and a viable option for a back of the rotation starter.

2008 saw Davies start the season in Triple-A, while the Royals trotted out such dregs as John Bale (in their perceived need to force a left handed pitcher into the rotation) and Brett Tomko in the fifth starting slot. Davies got his bearings in Omaha over the course of 57 2/3 innings, keeping his ERA at an encouraging 2.03 and maintaining a low 1.18 WHIP. These numbers were not going to translate to any Major League pitching time, as his BABIP was an absolutely unsustainable .257 while not featuring any dominating ball with drastic downward movement. But mirage or not, Davies was promoted back to the Major League club and made his first start on May 31st.

In the initial four starts, he allowed an earned run per outing, leading everyone card-carrying Royals fan to wonder the inevitable question as to when the other shoe would drop. We all know the world did not stop spinning on its axis, and for a time the rail was being greased to send Davies out of town, but the rocky July and August subsided, and (apparently with the help of Buddy Biancalana) Davies rebounded with a September that saw his ERA drop from 4.76 to 4.06 and kept his WHIP on the month below 1.00 (0.96).

Clearly, Kyle Davies is not going to be the 2.27 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 3.43 K:BB ratio pitcher with an .800 winning percentage that he was in September. In fact, his ERA will more than likely regress to the other side of 4.50. But if we're looking at a fifth starter with a sub-5.00 ERA, things are looking up for we Royals fans.

Since 1998, the following seasons have been marred by a team leader in ERA residing above 4.00:
1998 - Tim Belcher, 4.27
2000 - Mac Suzuki, 4.34
2001 - Jeff Suppan, 4.37
2004 - Darrell May, 5.61
2005 - Zack Greinke, 5.80
2006 - Mark Redman, 5.71

That's six of the past eleven seasons with team leaders in ERA recording worse ERAs than Kyle Davies this past season. If we are lucky enough to go into next season with pitchers at the back end of the rotation performing at that level, things are looking up.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lums-done

First off, thanks to The Tao at In Dayton We Trust for the linkage. I got a fair amount of hits as a result. Hopefully there's content here to warrant the hits' continuance...

On to Royals stuff.

The arm that was once thought to be the key get in the Mike MacDougal to the White Sox deal in July of 2006--Tyler Lumsden, who turns 26 in May--is now in the Astros organization.

Lumsden had already been designated for assignment, removing him from the 40-man roster to make room for Class-A flamethrower--2.81 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 78 Ks, and 24 walks in 57.1 IP--Henry Barrera, who celebrated his 23rd birthday yesterday.

Lumsden had been largely disappointing since he came over from the White Sox, and within a year of that deal it became clear that the real value that the Royals got was in Daniel Cortes, who was largely seen as the organization's top pitching prospect coming out of last season after his impressive 2007 campaign at Class-A Wilmington (a 120:45 K:BB in 123.0 IP with a .226 BAA and a 3.07 ERA). Meanwhile, Lumsden spent his first full year in the organization getting lit up in Omaha. He showed little power (74 Ks) and less control (59 walks) in 119.1 IP while compiling a less than inspiring 5.88 ERA and a shockingly bad 1.68 WHIP while allowing a .306 BAA. It only got worse from there in his second season at Omaha. Opposing hitters teed off on Lumsden to the tune of a .322 average and 15 homers, while he managed to get much worse in the ERA and WHIP departments--7.21 and 1.86, respectively--which was pretty unimaginable. He also figured out a way to strike out fewer while walking even more batters, struggling to an unfathomably bad 44:62 K:BB ratio.

When Moore acquired Lumsden, he had posted a rather lucky 2.69 ERA at the White Sox Double-A affiliate in Birmingham. His WHIP of 1.24 when combined with 72:40 K:BB in 124 innings were signifiers that his ERA was perhaps misleading, but none of those numbers were necessarily alarming. He did miss the entire 2005 season after having left elbow surgery, but his numbers in 2006 were certainly encouraging enough to think that the 34th overall pick (out of Clemson) of the 2004 draft was healthy when Moore traded for him.

Honestly, his numbers were so atrocious these past two years that it seemed as though a miracle would have been necessary to salvage a Major League pitcher out of the train wreck of a Royals minor league career that he had.

Generally, I would advocate patience in these situations, but there is a certain point at which you need to cut-and-run and having Lumsden taking up starts in Triple-A for a third year could very well slow the development of pitchers who can actually help the team in the Bigs in the near future.

Needless to say, Lumsden's departure does not sadden me, and money or a player to be named later is a preferable alternative to having a guy get lit up in Omaha for a third straight year. Hopefully, his former top-tier prospect status yields a gainful return in the end.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

News!

Where there was once no news, there is now apparently a wealth of it. As soon as I wax ecstatic about the potential of Felix Pie and the merits of trading Mark Teahen for him, the Royals go out and trade Ramon Ramirez for Coco Crisp.

First, it would seem to me that this trade negates any need for Felix Pie. And while Rany seems to think that Dutton was saying that the Cubs would be willing to give up Pie and Cedeno/Fontenot, it did not appear that way to me.

Personally, if I had to choose between Pie and Crisp, I would prefer that the Royals take the chance and roll the dice on the greater upside. That lies with Felix Pie in my eyes.

Maybe I am misreading what Bob Dutton was reporting. If the Royals can trade Mark Teahen and get both Felix Pie and a middle infielder, then I am all for that. I would take any of the guys in the Cubs conversation over the last four or five guys on the Royals 40 man roster.

Wishing aside, this deal does make the Royals better in my opinion. The Royals are flush with fly-ball pitchers, and at the very least a left two-thirds of the outfield consisting of David DeJesus and Coco Crisp is a formidable defensive pairing. A Coco Crisp patrolled centerfield is one in which few fly balls will come into contact with grass.

As far as his bat is concerned, his years in Boston were a letdown for Sawx Nation, but looking back to his low-pressure seasons in Cleveland, he was pretty solid posting a .297/.344/.446 line in 2004 and a .300/.345/.465 line in 2005. Granted, he had three seasons in Boston since then, and those seasons were a less impressive than his Cleveland campaigns, but his worst OBP in Boston was .317 in 2006. He followed that up with much more respectable .330 and .344 OBPs the past two years--and if there's one thing we Royals fans are preoccupied with of late, it is that cursed OBP.

While offensive performance somewhere above his output in Boston would not be outrageous, to expect that it would come to where it was at Jacobs Field is not realistic either. Realistically, he could recreate his 2008 ratios in a lower pressure situation but less hitter-friendly park, and one would imagine with a certain degree of safety that his counting stats will jump up considerably with him presumably seeing a lot of playing time. Whether he ever reaches the levels of power at the K that he flashed in Cleveland in his last two seasons there (15 and 16 home runs) is unlikely, but somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-12 home runs is possible if he reaches the realm of 550 plate appearances.

As for Ramon Ramirez, the Royals got him for a player to be named later--eventually that guy was Jorge de la Rosa, who had gone long past running his course with Kansas City. Ramirez was very solid last year, but essentially cost the Royals very little to acquire and then was turned around for a centerfielder who makes it so that David DeJesus (if he remains a Royal) can move to left without forcing Joey Gathright's bat into the lineup.

Ramon's ERA was a respectable 2.64, and his stuff was overpowering enough to bring him an 8.79 K/9. These numbers were the numbers that jumped out at Royals fans as the reassurances that K.C. had found an option at closer that would enable Joakim Soria to the rotation. What those numbers fail to show is that his WHIP was a solid but not outstanding 1.23 and his HR/FB% was 3.0%. Even in the K, that HR/FB% was bound to come back up next season, as a continuation at that standard would probably have been unsustainable.

Even if Ramon Ramirez could repeat his 2008 campaign for the Royals, I do not see that as being more valuable than what the addition of Coco Crisp enables the Royals to do--even if that means that the Royals do not obtain the services of Felix Pie.

At the very least, Coco Crisp is a better add than Mike Jacobs was, as there are clear benefits to this addition that need little defense. So today, it is bravo, Dayton Moore. Bravo.

Felix Pie Revisited

While I was writing the last post, a friend arrived which led to an unfortunate truncation.

For those not really aware of who Felix Pie is, he was widely regarded as the top prospect in the Chicago Cubs organization from the midway point of 2005 until at least the beginning of the 2007 season. As a 20-year-old playing at Double-A West Tennessee, Pie broke onto the scene with a 304/349/554 campaign and impressing with 11 HR and 17 doubles in 262 plate appearances. This output garnered a place on Jonathan Mayo's top 50 prospects at MiLB.com, debuting at 22.

Starting at Triple-A the next season, Mayo had Pie ranked 21st, which is where he peaked on the list. The greater part of his next three seasons were spent at Triple-A Iowa, where he went .283/.341/.451, .362/.410/.563, and .287/.336/.466 in 623, 250, and 368 plate appearances, respectively.

As young players tend to do, Pie struck out a lot, especially in his season in High A Ball and his first season in Triple-A. For his minor league career, he amassed 532 strikeouts to 206 walks, but the disparity between the two shrunk much closer to a 2:1 ratio in his past two minor league seasons. Also somewhat concerning is his shabby 63% stolen base success rate in the minors, but from all accounts his speed is there, and his glove is solid.

Now as recently as March of this year, John Sickels at minorleagueball.com was saying that Felix Pie would break out, but not until 2009. It should also be said that it was widely thought that Pie would be coming up to join the big league club full-time in 2006, but the Cubs acquired Alfonso Soriano and Pie's spot on the big league roster was no longer existent. Then the Cubs signed Kosuke Fukudome going into last year, and it seems as though any consistency that Pie could have gotten by getting consistent playing time in the Bigs was shot again by the organization.

In the limited big league action he has seen, he has not been impressive, but he will only be 24 heading into next year. He has already proven able to improve his defense, and his plate discipline can hopefully follow.

It seems to me that he would be the ideal risk/reward candidate that the Royals could pounce upon, having seen the Cubs actively seek to arrest his development twice with the acquisition of big name free agents to take the position that Pie was to step up into. If all they need to do is give up Mark Teahen, who has had plenty of time to recreate the glory of his late 2005 season, then I do not see what the hold up would be.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

News?...

All right. For starters, I'd like to emphasize that this is nothing more than there having been reported interest in a player, but this is certainly better than nothing, which is what Royals fans have been watch happen for the past few weeks.

Apparently, the Cubs are interested in adding a left-handed bat, and that search has them searching for cheaper alternatives than free agent Raul Ibanez. As such, they have put out feelers in regards to Mark Teahen. Bob Dutton reports that such a deal would return one of the following: Felix Pie, Ronny Cedeno, or Mike Fontenot. If those first two names ring a bell, that is because both Pie and Cedeno were rumored to be involved in the potential David DeJesus deal earlier this year. While the Cubs have been longing for the one who is of Jesus for quite some time, they are apparently willing to lower their standards and accept Mark Teahen into the fold.

Now I know that the Royals have a yearning to move Aviles to second (for what reason, I do not know as his defensive metrics bore out that he was more than serviceable at short), but if I can get 23-year-old Felix Pie, who is not far removed from being a very highly touted prospect and whose presence would allow the Royals to keep David DeJesus--assuming he is not dealt as well--in left, I pull the trigger in a heartbeat. The upside with Pie is that he becomes the player everyone thought he would. The downside is a good defensive left side of the outfield and a little more speed on the basepaths. Seems like a win-win to me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

No News

While other teams are in the throes of Hot Stove, we Royals fans get to sit around and wait, on edge in feared anticipation of a dreaded trade for Jeff Francoeur or an overpaying for an injury prone shortstop (read: Rafael Furcal). The bidding on Furcal is apparently at 3 years, $39 million, so our concerns in that department (if you're not concerned about that signing--with the injuries, lack of plate discipline, Braves association, and aging middle infielder strikes against him--I'm worried for your sanity) are probably alleviated.

I guess in light of the much maligned signing of Mike Jacobs, no news is good news. Unfortunately, this lack of action (and lack of, oh, money) means my pipe dream of Adam Dunn (OBP!) occupying a corner outfield slot with his mammoth bat will surely not happen. Horrifying defense aside, wouldn't it be glorious, and dare I say regal, to have Adam Dunn's bat in the cleanup spot?

In mostly unrelated news, congratulations to pseudo-Kansas-City boy Albert Pujols, much deserved winner of the NL MVP. Sure, I'm a tainted subject on the matter (I have owned him for five years in a keeper league, and he is my favorite player), but to say he deserved it is an understatement. If only he were doing it in blue...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stasis: The New Offseason Movement

Following a trade that has been largely derided, Royals fans have been treated to, well, nothing. Bob Dutton is reporting that Greinke will probably hold off on signing a long-term contract until he can see what direction the team is heading in. Maybe he, too, is scared by the Mike Jacobs trade*.

*Just so I have been totally clear: I am not overly enthusiastic about Jacobs but am not going to over-react in a Chicken Little manner. I will wait until the team has taken shape for this coming season before getting too worked up. The offseason is simply too long to get infuriated about the acquisition of another no-glove first basemen (who also is averse to taking walks, the article does not inspire faith in Jacobs ). Rany did seem to come down off the ledge just a little bit, and the usage scenario he lays out at the end of the entry could actually work.

But in Royalsdom, that's about all she wrote for now. Brandon Duckworth was re-signed and then optioned to AAA-Omaha... Miguel Olivo is your starting catcher...

And to add insult to injury, baseball writers chose to only give Mike Aviles enough votes to garner a fourth place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting. Three of these writers also voted for an ineligible candidate in the NL voting. Obviously, I can understand how Evan Longoria won, but I really don't see any discernible difference between Alexei Ramirez and Mike Aviles. Aviles has a considerable advantage across the board in every hitting ratio. If the voters deemed Alexei more valuable than Ellsbury, then how does Aviles finish behind him. If it were reversed and the voters decided that Ellsbury's steals were simply too impressive to overlook and voted him second, I could at least understand that reasoning, despite my disagreement with that rationale. But this? This is preposterous. I guess Aviles was simply wearing the wrong uniform.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Rumor Mill Be A-Churnin'

Well the GM's are meeting, meaning it is the time of year that we hear a lot of chatter, much of which isn't even remotely substantive.

Regardless, Bob Dutton has filed his first substantive report from Dana Point, in which rumors of Jeff Francoeur in powder blue fly, trades with Seattle for Yuniesky Betancourt are bandied about, and that Teahen "lie" involving a Cleveland corner outfielder is given CPR.

The Francoeur deal--which in all fairness is being reported (I think somewhere at ESPN, but now I cannot remember where I saw it) as not having been talked about at all--would apparently involve Luke Hochevar, Mark Teahen, or Daniel Cortes. Any involvement of Greinke (who they are trying to sign long-term per Keith Law) seems unlikely, apparently. If anything like this were to happen, it would seem like Dayton Moore absolutely hates On-Base Percentage. In fact, he would have to hate it so much that he wants to trick it by saying that they need to fix their team On-Base Percentage, hiring a hitting coach who loves On-Base Percentage, and then going out and getting as many players as he can who put their finger in the eye of OBP. I will say that I can't imagine Francoeur is as bad as he was this last year any time in the near future. At least, he's better defensively than Mike Jacobs...

The Yuniesky Betancourt deal would appear to involve Billy Butler (again). I really hope that is just an instance of laziness breeding that formulation because Betancourt has a career OBP of, wait for it... wait for it... .305. Goddammit.

As for the Cleveland outfielders:
Franklin Gutierrez - career OBP of .308
Ben Francisco - career OBP of .329
Trevor Crowe - minor league career OBP of .362, K:BB of 248:196, but virtually zero power
Now if Moore could find some way to turn Mark Teahen (along with someone else, I'd imagine) into one of Cleveland's middle infielders, I'd hop on board immediately, but those three outfielders are not exactly jumping off the page (and Gutierrez is even worse than Jacobs in the OBP department for his career).

I've got to hope that this is all talk because if it isn't we Royals fans are in for a lot of short innings next season.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Fall-out?

So in light of the questionable Jacobs trade, conventional wisdom is that Billy Butler may likely be traded. It's no secret that Dayton Moore seems to have grown displeased with 22-year-old Billy Butler. Butler was sent down this past season to figure things out midseason--and while he did seem to correct things to a certain extent, it does not appear to have satisfied Dayton Moore, who also sees Butler as lazy.

Obviously, I am not privy to the inner workings of the Royals organization. Maybe Butler does have a bad attitude. The laziness argument may bear some truth--as would possibly be explained by his general lack of attentiveness on the basepaths or inability to learn a defensive position--but the fact remains that he is 22 years old.

There is the issue of needing to acquire more talent in the offseason, and to do so some pieces of value will need to be moved. A player that Royals fans probably do not want to see go is going to need to go to garner anything of value. Much of the talk towards the end of this season centered around Zack Greinke and/or Joakim Soria being the two pieces that the Royals could trade to get close-to-Major-League-ready talent. Despite his short and somewhat disappointing Major League résumé, the upside on Butler may be high enough to get another GM to bite on the boundless potential of his bat.

If the returns a Butler trade can yield are great enough (like Matt Cain, if Billy's packaged with someone like Carlos Rosa), maybe it's worth a year or two of Jacobs at DH. Mike Jacobs on the field full-time, however, may be too much to stomach.