Monday, July 27, 2009

Royals Have Little To Offer, Less To Gain As The Trade Deadline Nears

In light of the personnel moves of the past year, the trade deadline that is approaching is doing so ominously.

Since the end of the 2008 season, Dayton Moore has dealt the keys to what had been a solid bullpen and previously highly touted prospects and has Mike Jacobs, Yuniesky Betancourt, and an out-for-the-year Coco Crisp to show for it.

To exacerbate the trade inequities (all of whom were making entirely too much money to boot), the Royals also went out and signed Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz to fairly sizable contracts in the hopes of replacing the arms they shipped off. Of course, both of these players have struggled mightily when it mattered.

If you want to cast the net of blame further into the past, the Royals are paying the worst everyday player in baseball according to FanGraphs WAR formula $12 million this season and next. According to FanGraphs, he is worth negative $7.3 million, making for a nearly $20 million net loss. This is, of course, Jose Guillen, who is doing the Royals more good on the DL than he was on the field.

So, if the trade deadline is approaching, the astute Royals fan is looking at the Royals prospects with a generous helping of trepidation.

In addition to the trust issues that fans are having with the Kansas City front office, there is also the issue of there being few desirable pieces currently donning the Royals uniform.

Obviously, there are two stars on this team who any team in baseball would love to have, but the Royals' future hinges upon the success of Zack Greinke and Joakim Soria. Moreover, they are under club-favorable contracts.

To trade either player given the current state of the Royals would be short-sighted and detrimental to the franchise barring a complete and utter fleecing on Dayton Moore's part.

Given the Cy Young season that Greinke is having or Soria's 1.98 career ERA in two-plus seasons, there may not be a return in either case that could qualify as such.

So, assuming that Zack Greinke and Joakim Soria are untouchable, that leaves very little in the way of desirable Royals to be had from this sub-.400 team.

On offense, the most desirable trade-bait would probably have to be the following three players: Billy Butler, Alberto Callaspo, and Mark Teahen.

The only one of those players who the Royals should be even remotely hesitant to deal is the 23-year-old Butler. His ability to hit and occasional flashes of power should serve as encouragement enough for the Royals to hold onto him unless an interested party is willing to overpay for what his current value is. Seeing as though he is finally starting come into his own, it would seem that the returns probably will not be able to exceed what the Royals could get from Butler if he stayed in house.

As far as Callaspo is concerned, he has proven this season that he is more than capable with the lumber. His 116 OPS+ leads the team. So does his .356 OBP.

His major shortcoming is that he is the worst defensive second baseman in the American League. On a team as defensively inept as the Royals, a change is almost necessary. While the issue could certainly be addressed by a position change, he could also be dealt and is one of the very few Royals who could actually net a decent return.

The other offensive player who may net something of worth is Mark Teahen. Often included in trade rumors swirling around the Royals, the return of Alex Gordon from hip surgery makes Teahen's ability to play third base is of less value to the Royals. With a handful of contenders having issues at third and Teahen's respectable OPS+ of 112, the interest in Teahen could actually be there come Friday.

As for issues concerning Gordon's current playing time limitations, the acquisition of Ryan Freel gives the Royals three active players capable of filling in at third not counting Brayan Peña. This should effectively enable the Royals to move Mark Teahen if the price is right.

In addition to these three offensive players that are actually worth something to the Royals and may garner interest this week, the Royals also have a redundancy in starting catchers. Regardless of their shortcomings, there almost always seems to be a demand for catchers, and the standards for serviceability hovers just above mediocrity.

Both John Buck and Miguel Olivo fit that description. As far as most Royals fans are concerned, both can be shipped off to whoever will have them.

Then there is David DeJesus. If we are being honest, he should have been shipped off before the 2008 season began. His value in the eyes of other clubs was never higher than it was at that point.

Of course, he wasn't dealt.

The past few months have seen him raise him correct some of the early season issues he had, but the fact remains that his abysmal April and May have lowered his value enough that it would probably not be advantageous for the Royals to move him at this point.

On the pitching front, Gil Meche and his $11 million contract are likely going to be in Kansas City through 2011, especially since he is currently on the DL.

Luke Hochevar finally looks to showing signs of life and an ability to dominate legitimate lineups. It is far too early to ship him off considering the fact that they invested their first pick overall in 2006 to get him.

Brian Bannister could be conceivably be dealt, as he has rebounded nicely from an awful 2008 campaign and could yield decent returns from teams in need of a back-of-the-rotation starter at a reasonable price tag.

The problem with dealing Bannister, however, is that any hope they have for 2010 almost has to be tied to their starting rotation. With Bannister as the Royals fourth starter, they could be all right.

If the Royals are unable to get another quality starter who isn't at least doing well in Triple-A via one trade or another, they may not be able to afford to lose Bannister for next year. With all of the money they have tied up in dead weight like Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Guillen and then the players who are arbitration eligible, Dayton Moore is going to be unable to free up much payroll.

Since almost all of the help in the minors is going to be in the minors until at least 2011, an issue such as the back end of the rotation likely cannot be addressed amenably via free agency.

This leaves the bullpen.

Who would want any part of these guys?

Well, apparently the Braves may want Ron Mahay (thanks MLB Trade Rumors). They can have him. For a player to be named later. They can have the entire bullpen short of Joakim Soria.

The obvious problem with all of the trade bait mentioned above is that they will yield very little in terms of returns.

Obviously, it would be great if the Royals could cut ties with players like Mike Jacobs, Yuniesky Betancourt (and it's been two weeks), Kyle Farnsworth, Jose Guillen, etc., but what team would be dumb enough to take any of them on? Bill Bavasi is no longer running the show in Seattle. Jim Bowden isn't in Washington.

The Royals have too many problems to mention succinctly in one column, and all of the help that is in the minors is years away. They have very little in terms of players of worth and need to get players in Triple-A or higher to have any hope at being competitive as early as next year since they are dealing with a roster full of holes.

Teams simply aren't going to be throwing strong defensive players who get on base and quality pitching at the Royals for what they have available.

If Moore can get something for the players listed above, then the criticism that has been growing louder and louder over the past few months will start to subside ever so slightly.

Most Royals fans would be shocked if such a thing were to happen.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Trey Hillman: Visionary

For what is now a third straight day, Royals fans are dealing with the crushing blow of an eighth-inning lead having been blown.

Each game has seen the Royals' bullpen, whose ineptitude I detailed just a day ago, collectively snatch defeat from the grips of victory.

Each game has seen Trey Hillman stubbornly refuse to put a well-rested Joakim Soria in to take care of a few hitters in the eighth.

This, of course, is the same Joakim Soria who has not pitched since July 12th.

The same Joakim Soria who was the Royals lone All-Star representative last season.

The same Joakim Soria who is the only Royals reliever this season with an ERA below 4.24.

The same Joakim Soria who has struck out 20 in 15.1 innings of work since coming off the DL.

The same Joakim Soria who has allowed five earned runs all season.

But Trey Hillman refused for three straight games to turn the ball over to the only competent reliever the Royals have on staff, favoring a game of Russian roulette with the Royals' reliever corps.

Or maybe there should be an 'e' added to the end of 'corps'.

After the game, Royals fans (or perhaps at this point it would be more appropriate to pare that word down to its singular form) were greeted by this article on the Kansas City Star's website. In that article, it was stated that not only would Royals fans be driven away in droves by Trey Hillman's inept bullpen management this year, but that he would be back for another year of alienating and abusing the fan base in 2010.

There was a time not too long ago that Royals fans possessed hope for this current regime.

This parasitic relationship in which a vampiric front office feeds on the hopes and dreams of the fan base has taken a turn for the worse, as promises of being brought over to the realm of sports fans who have enjoyed the fruits of their teams' successes have been exposed as being outright lies.

Now all that the remaining masochists have is a floundering team that can't hold the few leads it gets because its manager (who "has the chance to be one of the very best baseball men in a generation," according to this article that only further damns the current administration's vision) is averse to using even a shred of common sense.

God dammit.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

FUUUUCKKKK!!!

Way to manage the bullpen, Trey. Pull your fucking head out of your ass and stop fucking trotting bullshit pitchers like John Bale out there when one of the best closers in the game is feeling good and hasn't thrown in a fucking week.

FUCK!

Royals' Bullpen Woes Lead to Second Straight Loss

After a second straight night in which Juan Cruz blew an eighth inning lead, it would seem like perhaps the time is now to examine what has gone wrong in the Royals bullpen.

A year after the Royals were able to pride themselves on having one of the better bullpens in baseball, Dayton Moore's 2009 creation has run off the tracks.

Gone are Leo Núñez and Ramón Ramírez, the arms that carried the Royals through the seventh and eighth innings of 2008. Núñez had an ERA+ of 143 in 45 appearances for KC last season. Ramírez sported a 162 ERA+ in 71 games last year.

Adding insult to injury, Núñez's ERA+ is 116 this season while Ramírez's is 201. The players acquired in the trades that sent the setup men from 2008 packing have put up an OPS+ of 88 (Mike Jacobs) and 90 (Coco Crisp) and the latter played in a mere 49 games before being shut down for the year.

With the departures of the men Trey Hillman turned to 116 times last season, Dayton Moore brought in Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Cruz, Jamey Wright, and Doug Waechter.

In their own ways, each has failed to deliver for the man who brought them in.

Kyle Farnsworth has pitched well when pitching with nothing on the line. Give him a high-leverage situation, though, and the results have been disastrous. Just ask Michael Young or Jim Thome (who he never should have been pitching to anyway, but that is a point in another discussion). Unfortunately, there have been enough attempts at protecting a lead from Farnsworth to still possess a 4.24 ERA. Tragically, that ERA is the best of anyone Royals relief pitcher not named Joakim Soria.

Farnsworth does at least possess an ERA+ of 102 thus far this season, which doesn't justify the two-year, $9.25 million contract Moore handed him early in this past offseason hot on the heels of a 16 game stint in Detroit in which he earned a 66 ERA+. Adding to his worth is the fact that he currently finds himself on the DL with a groin strain.

When Juan Cruz was signed this offseason, there were not many people who were saying anything but laudatory things about the signing. Cruz's performance in 2008 earned him the Type A free agent classification. In his each of his three seasons in Arizona, his ERA+ climbed, starting at 113 and working its way up to 176 by last year. For each of the years of 2003 through 2008, Cruz struck out opposing hitters at a minimum of a 8.4 K/9 clip, averaging 10.0 K/9 over that time.

Of course, Cruz has been horribly disappointing. For the second straight night, Cruz was brought in to protect a lead in the eighth only to surrender that lead as soon as the opportunity presented itself. After peaking on May 17th with an ERA of 1.45, Cruz pitched a brutal 12 outing stretch in which he put up the following line: 10.95 ERA, 2.11 WHIP, 9:8 K:BB, and a .360/.458/.640/1.098 line against in 12.1 IP. By the end of that run, his ERA had ballooned to 5.23.

Some of his struggles may be linked to the issue explored here. After Friday's game, Juan Cruz possessed a shockingly low GB/FB of 0.26. When combining that with the plummeting K/9 (6.69 through July 17th) and the increased reliance upon his changeup (touched upon in the Juan Cruz write-up here), the picture may be becoming clearer.

That changeup, which Cruz has been falling back on 13.4% of the time (up from 4.1% in 2008), is the same pitch that Cruz left up against Evan Longoria on Friday. This after giving Longoria fits with his fastball. Longoria promptly deposited that ball into deep left field.

His ERA of 4.91 is good for eighth-best amongst Royals relievers this season.

Horacio Ramirez, who pitched so poorly he was cut despite his $1.8 million dollar salary, had an ERA of 4.42 in relief.

Jamey Wright, who had surpassed the 100 mark in ERA+ only once since 2005 (the 2007 season in Texas), has pitched predictably underwhelmingly. If FanGraphs' Pitch Type information on Wright is correct, then Wright has also puzzlingly abandoned the slider this year in favor of the cutter. Regardless, his early season success has long since been left by the wayside, as his ERA now sits at 4.57. His FIP of 5.34 would suggest that perhaps even that ERA was reached with a certain degree of luck.

Doug Waechter, the other free agent brought in to brace the Royals for the loss of their two star set-up men, made three appearances before going to the DL.

Now in my talks of the Royals' 2008 bullpen, I did neglect to mention another arm that they relied upon heavily. On July 30th of last year, Ron Mahay had pitched in 47 games for the Royals. In those 47 games, the then-37-year-old Mahay was the proud owner of a 1.75 ERA. Opposing hitters were hitting .221/.290/.289/.579 against him. He had a 42:22 K:BB in 56.2 IP.

You will note that all of those stats were through July 30th of last year.

Any contending team in baseball could have used a left-handed relief pitcher sporting those numbers at the trade deadline.

After the deadline passed last year, Mahay's ERA was 15.75 while hitters laced everything he threw to the tune of a .421/.511/.789/1.300 line in 10 games.

This year, Mahay's line is as follows: 29 GP, 30.2 IP, 1 W, 0 L, 4.40 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 28 K, 12 BB. It isn't an awful line.

It also isn't nearly as good as the line he had heading into the trade deadline in 2008.

Obviously, it isn't entirely fair to play Armchair GM with the gift of hindsight and state that someone should have been traded, but it was widely thought that Mahay would be the piece that Moore would deal at the deadline. His inability to get something in return for Mahay when his value was conveniently at its peak is regrettable to say the least.

When compounding the lack of well-timed opportunism with the fact that absolutely none of Dayton Moore's expensive offseason bullpen acquisitions have panned out, you have found the recipe for late-inning meltdowns.

When an offense is as unable to score runs as this incarnation of the Royals offense is, that is simply untenable.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Welcome Respite from Real Baseball: Greinke with a Defense Behind Him

Royals fans all breathed a sigh of relief when Zack Greinke took the mound in the All-Star Game.

That sigh of relief was rooted in the fact that the worst defense in baseball (one that only got worse with the addition of Yuniesky Betancourt this past weekend) wouldn't be backing him up.

Even the worst defense wouldn't have really affected Greinke's performance tonight.

He threw ten pitches, eight of which were strikes. He induced a weak pop fly in foul territory near third off the bat of Raul Ibanez. After disposing of Ibanez with ease, he sent David Wright down looking - painting the outside corner for strike three - and embarrassed Shane Victorino with his killer slider in the dirt.

Now granted, Wright's been slumping hard, but getting to see Greinke own a perennial MVP candidate and a Hawaiian endowed with the gift of flight on a national stage was comforting.

While things may have taken a drastic turn for the worse since the Royals sat atop the AL Central at 18-11, at least it would appear that the days of Ken Harvey or Mark Redman being the Royals sole All-Star representative are in the past.

There is still a hefty degree of embarrassment that is attached to being a Royals fan, but Zack Greinke has begun to ease the pain of that embarrassment.

Royals Links:

Speaking of embarrassment, here are two articles that draw attention to a certain statement regarding defensive metrics that Dayton Moore made on 810 WHB:

Upon Further Review (Kansas City Star blog) - Explaining the defensive stats to Dayton Moore

FanGraphs - Dayton Moore and Defense

There isn't a lot to say that wasn't covered in those articles. The complete aversion to statistical analysis that is apparent in the current Royals front office is disturbing to say the least.

Speaking of FanGraphs, Royals fans were lucky enough to get a positive article regarding the pitchers of the (distant) future here. One cannot help but wonder where Daniel Cortes would have fit in to this piece...

And, it's a couple of days old, but John Sickels (who named Zack Greinke one of his top five favorite players in baseball) did a scouting report on the Burlington Bees this past week. There are some encouraging things going on in the low minors with these Royals.

Now if only Selig would go ahead an approve those contracts sitting on his desk for Wil Myers and especially Chris Dwyer, so that they can be welcomed into the fold. Dwyer could maybe even get a little bit of work in...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Royals At The Break(ing Point)

After de-internetting myself for the past two weeks, I get to come back to this. Any Royals fan knows what "this" is. I don't need to link to anyone's blogs. The fallout is widespread.

There isn't much that can be said about the acquisition of Yuniesky Betancourt. Or at least there isn't much that can be said to positively speak about the newest Royal. He is one of the worst everyday players in the Majors. Moreover, Daniel Cortes was one of the pieces dealt to get him.

There has been talk that perhaps Cortes's departure was related to a pair of misdemeanor charges filed against him related to drunken public urination. If the Royals front office was trying to send a message, the only one they sent was to the fans. That message is that the front office has no idea what they're doing.

In the offseason, I was willing to give Dayton Moore the benefit of the doubt when it came to the deals he had made. I believed that he could rebuild the bullpen with ease. I was willing to see how these pieces came together. I was of the "wait and see" camp, not wanting to eviscerate the front office for moves that could actually pan out.

Well, Ramon Ramirez is tearing it up for Boston (ERA+ of 200) while Coco Crisp is out for the year after playing with a messed up shoulder for what almost had to have been the entire season. His OPS+ on the season was 91 when he went down. Leo Nunez has played well for Florida (ERA+ of 108) while Mike Jacobs is unplayable in the field and has posted a .218/.294/.401/.695 split while posting an OPS+ of 83. Signings like Horacio Ramirez, Sidney Ponson, and Kyle Farnsworth have proven to be terrible. Even Juan Cruz, who was a universally praised signing, can only be qualified as a bust. The only offseason acquisition that comes to mind as being even remotely solid is Willie Bloomquist, and that is largely because expectations were so low for Bloomquist in the first place.

Now there have certainly been a slew of injuries to key players on this Royals team. Alex Gordon is just now set to make his return to the team after playing poorly in seven games to start the season. Joakim Soria was injured for a month. Coco Crisp is now out for the season. Pieces of the bullpen John Bale, Doug Waechter, and Robinson Tejeda have both missed extensive time calling for the Hillman to rely too heavily upon sketchy arms in ill-fitting situations*.

*Of course, Trey Hillman would have found a way to mismanage his bullpen even with all of the tools at his disposal.

But all of that is beside the point.

Dayton Moore just traded legitimate prospects, one who was very recently rated the top arm in the organization and the other a lefty (and we all know about their yearning for lefties), for a terrible fucking player. A lazy player who does absolutely nothing well past goldbricking.

I took on the task of devoting myself to writing a blog solely dedicated to the Kansas City Royals this past year. I thought things were looking up.

Now we find ourselves rooting for a team in the midst of a soul-crushing spiral. Not even a Cy Young-caliber first half from Zack Greinke has been able to save this team. The front office is looking increasingly clueless as the offense is in its third straight year of regression, and they just traded away prospects who could have reasonably yielded a legitimate Major Leaguer but instead netted Yuniesky Fucking Betancourt.

After ten-plus years of getting increasingly upset with the Chiefs front office, the appearance of the Royals moving in the right direction for the past three years was one we Kansas City fans needed to cling to.

I can no longer delude myself into believing that the Royals are moving in the right direction.