Friday, January 22, 2010

Royals Sign Rick Ankiel To Man Right-Center Field

Having confused softball and baseball rules, Dayton Moore signed Rick Ankiel to man right-center field. Under this new alignment, Jose Guillen will stand five feet from the right field foul line while Ankiel is expected to shift roughly five feet toward center field from where a right fielder would typically be stationed.

This outside-the-box thinking will still leave the Royals wanting in terms of the ground they'll be covering in the outfield, but Moore guesstimates that the Royals "outfielders will get to somewhere between five to eight more fly balls in 2010 than they would have in 2009. That should equate to ten more wins." He then spoke of URZ/150 and assist-to-turnover ratio before espousing the value of trusting processes.

All kidding aside...

As far as Dayton Moore signings are concerned, there have been worse than the reported one-year, $3.25 million deal with a mutual option for a second year at $6 million that the club reached with Rick Ankiel yesterday. What that says about the tenure of Dayton Moore as the designer of the Major League roster for the Kansas City Royals is up to you to decide.

In all, it's not an insane amount of money to commit to Ankiel, who at the very least has a plus arm with decent range for a corner outfielder. And while he certainly has some holes in his swing, he does have prodigious power.

Of course, all of that last sentence could be ascribed to the nightmare that was Mike Jacobs, who we are all unfortunately very familiar with.

Now, since Rick Ankiel's return to the Majors as a retooled position player, he has been hampered by injuries. This does make it nearly impossible to predict what we Royals fans can come to expect from him in 2010. Since I have been playing the part of the pessimist for quite some time, I am going to switch gears for just a moment.

For a good chunk of the 2008 season, Rick Ankiel was healthy. Then following the Cardinals game at Shea on July 26th of 2008, Ankiel was pulled from regular duty with what was at first deemed an abdominal strain. As time passed and his numbers dropped, it became known that it was in fact a sports hernia that had been afflicting Ankiel. The injury was thought to have occurred in the Cards' series with the Brewers just before their trip to Shea, but for our purposes, I'll look at Ankiel's stats up until the point at which his injury began limiting him to pinch-hitting duty for the two weeks that followed.

On July 26, 2008, Rick Ankiel was hitting .282/.347/.543/.890 through 92 games (84 of those were starts). He had collected 22 homers, 21 doubles, two triples, 57 runs, and 59 RBI, with a 33:80 BB:K ratio in roughly half a season. His BABIP was a reasonably sustainable .309, and his ISO was a robust .261.

Obviously, he had been putting together a very nice season in 2008 before everything ran off the tracks. An abdominal strain became a sports hernia, and Ankiel ended up getting shut down for the remainder of the season after the Cardinals played on September 9th. There is the shortcoming here in that the sample size is likely too small to make any substantive extrapolation that could be applied to this season. We are also talking about numbers from the 2008 season in the National League.

Ankiel's 2009 season was largely affected by injuries. He had already made his way to the DL with a shoulder injury on May 7th. Whether it was neck, shoulder, or groin injuries that landed him on the team injury report, it seemed as though Ankiel was dealing with injuries all season.

This propensity toward injury is certainly cause for concern. That being said, a healthy Rick Ankiel is a player I could get behind having on the roster.

Do I think the Royals will end up getting that Rick Ankiel--the one who produced an enticing line while healthy in 2008? Honestly, no.

Do I mind that the Royals spent $3.25 million in 2010 on Ankiel in the hopes of his being able to stay healthy and produce? No.

Now, what this means for the other 87 outfielders the Royals currently have on the 40-man roster is nearly impossible to determine. I have spent the last year trying to make sense of how newly acquired players fit into Dayton Moore's plan for the roster, and each time the logical path that my train of thought took me down was nowhere near where I thought the Royals would end up.

I thought going into Spring Training with three catchers last season meant that Moore would ship either Olivo or Buck off as they broke from Arizona and the 25-man rosters were set, but no such thing happened.

I assumed Ron Mahay would be traded when his value was at an all-time high at the 2008 non-waiver trade deadline, but Moore failed to ship off the then effective left-handed set-up man to a contender, and Mahay tanked from there on out.

I rationalized the Mike Jacobs signing by making the assumption that the Royals would be trading either Billy Butler, Kila Ka'ahuie, or Ryan Shealy to fill one of the other roster holes, but no moves were made regarding any of them.

I figured the signing of the Other Brian Anderson would rule out the acquisition of Scott Podsednik. No such luck.

It is long past the point at which I can reasonably expect to decipher what Moore's plan is regarding the construction of this roster. With the exceptions of Mitch Maier or Brian Anderson, both of whom are unlikely to garner much playing time with the way the roster seems to be shaking out, there is not a center fielder on this team. David DeJesus and Scott Podsednik would both seem to profile as similarly equipped left fielders, leading a rational person to assume that perhaps Moore is planning on shipping off David DeJesus. Unfortunately (and most of all, unfortunately for DeJesus himself), similar thinking struck us all heading into the 2008 and 2009 seasons when DeJesus's club-favorable contract would seem to have yielded the most in terms of returns, but no move was made.

At this point, I would have to say that shift in philosophy leading to the aforementioned four-outfielder alignment with the "rangy" Yuniesky Betancourt manning a simple middle infield spot (shading to the right or left depending on the hitters' tendencies, of course) is just as likely as the sensible DeJesus move being made.

Moreover, any trade of DeJesus then opens up the Royals fanbase to having to welcome in dead weight from either Atlanta, Bavasi's Mariners, or the South Side of Chicago. I, for one, do not want that frosted-tip bastard A.J. Pierzynski anywhere near this club, but with the Kendall signing, adding Pierzynski makes the least sense for the Royals, so that is surely what would happen.

So while I have learned that speculation as to what roster fallout will follow the Rick Ankiel signing is futile, I can for once say that I don't hate a Dayton Moore signing.

Maybe trotting four outfielders out on defense won't be all bad...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dayton Moore Building From Within: A Follow-Up

The anonymous commenter from yesterday's post brings up a valid point:
My point wasn't that the Baseball America claims should be dismissed outright, just that it would be an extremely tough claim to substantiate and that from what I have seen, they made no attempt to do so. Now, if they have reams of data in their super secret basement complex that prove this, then I'd be more than happy to see the results of their analysis and change my mind. Until then, I believe that the saying goes "In God we trust, all others must bring data.". A simple example would be a statistic measuring how many of the pitching prospects drafted by the Braves during that timeframe were traded to bolster the major league team. During most of the period in question, the major league rotation was pretty set at the top 3 which could have affected everything from the level of risk taken during the draft (taking more high risk guys who were less likely to pan out) to when pitching was drafted (i.e. they may have drafted pitching later in the draft because of this which could have led to the low success rate). Basically, all that I am saying is that to make a claim like that, there should be extensive analysis behind it and I would like for them to "show their work" so to speak.
Now, I had begun to respond within the comments section when I realized that the response was getting pretty lengthy. Hence, post.

I agree to an extent about the showing their work. We are talking about almost 15 years in which Dayton Moore was heavily involved in player development. Since we know what has happened since Moore got to Kansas City, it is best to look at what went on while he was in Atlanta.

Going into the players that were signed out of Latin America is simply going to be too difficult for little old me to cull together. I can say that Neftali Feliz looks to be the real deal, and I'd imagine Moore was somewhat involved in his initial signing out of Latin America, but he was traded to the Rangers at the age of 19. He's still not a starter, although one would imagine he will be in the near future. Moore was hired by the Royals in the summer of 2006. Feliz was still in Rookie ball when the Braves traded him the next year. I think his development can safely be attributed to the Rangers.

Of draftees while Moore was still in Atlanta, 2005 is the last draft of theirs we can look at that Dayton Moore was involved with. Then-spelled Tommie Hanson was taken in the 22nd round of that draft. When Moore left for Kansas City, Hanson was sitting in Rookie Ball.

Their first round pick that year was Joey Devine, taken out of NC State, and was in the Majors for a drink of water by the end of that season. He spent the two seasons that followed pitching mostly in Triple-A, with short stints with the club in Atlanta before being shipped off to Oakland. At all stops, he has been a reliever. His stop in Oakland in 2008 was the first time in which Devine was given a chance to play a majority of the season in the Majors, and he pitched quite well, for what it's worth.

Understandably, these are the only two from the 2005 draft who have substantial experience at the Major League level.

From the 2004 draft, there have been no players who have made an impact at the Major League level. It should be noted that they did draft a first baseman named Joey Lieberman.

Matt Harrison--drafted in 2003--was sent off to Texas in the Teixeira deal as well, but does he qualify as a quality ML starter? At the time of the trade, Harrison sat in Double-A. The other pitchers to have made it to the show from that draft were Jo-Jo Reyes and Sean White, neither of whom left their mark at the highest level.

Chuck James and Dan Meyer were both drafted in 2002, but neither qualify could reasonably qualify as quality Major League starters.

Macay McBride, Anthony Lerew, Kyle Davies, and Kevin Barry are the only products of their 2001 draft with any ML experience. We're not still basking in the glow of Kyle Davies's sterling September of 2008, are we?

From their 2000 draft, Adam Wainwright advanced through their system to AA before being traded to the Cardinals. Here we've got our first argument for the Braves system potentially putting out a prospect, but he did end up going to St. Louis, where Dave Duncan is a god. At most, the Braves can be partially credited for his development. After all, he was the 29th pick of the draft that year, so he already had some skills when he entered the organization.

Other drafted pitchers from the 2000 draft who have made it to the Majors? Blaine Boyer, Zach Miner, Trey Hodges, and Kelly Johnson. Well, Johnson made it to the show but as an outfielder/second baseman.

In 1999, the Braves had Andrew Brown, Ben Kozlowski, and John Foster who made it to the Majors and were drafted as pitchers. I'd imagine that the rest of you are as surprised as I am that these three players were Major Leaguers.

1998's draft produced the following Major League pitchers: Matt Belisle, Scott Sobkowiak, John Ennis, Tim Spooneybarger, Mike Perez, and Brad Voyles. Not impressive.

In 1997, the list of draftees logging Major League time who were drafted as pitchers are Joey Nation and Horacio Ramirez. I think I speak for all of us when I say that I'd like to never see the name Horacio Ramirez in print again.

From 1996's draft saw Atlanta draft Jason Marquis, Joe Nelson, and Aaron Taylor as its only draftees that reached the Majors as pitchers.

(All of the above info was culled thanks to the links to the Baseball Cube Braves draft results listed on the Braves Draft History sidebar listed over at the old blogspot location for the Baby Braves blog that at one point moved to MVN but now appears to be defunct.)

Insofar as how many pitchers were drafted in those drafts and the importance the organization put on pitching versus other positions, it is probably easiest to look at how many of their top 10 picks were pitchers in each of those years. It's not a complete picture, but it certainly informs one as to what sort of importance they placed on pitching each year.
  • 1996 - 11 picks in the first 10 rounds - pitchers were taken in the sandwich portion of the first round, fourth, sixth, ninth, and tenth rounds
  • 1997 - 10 picks - second, fifth, ninth, and tenth rounds (the ninth and tenth round picks did not sign)
  • 1998 - 9 picks, no first round pick - second, fourth, seventh, eighth, ninth (eighth rounder not signed)
  • 1999 - 9 picks, no first rounder - second, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and tenth round (eighth rounder not signed)
  • 2000 - 15 picks, four picks in the first, two in the second, two in the fourth - this year, it's easier to say when pitchers weren't taken, two of their first rounders were position players, and their eighth and ninth rounders weren't pitchers, Kelly Johnson was one of the first rounders drafted as a pitcher and converted later on, again Wainwright was their first pick
  • 2001 - 13 picks, three first rounders and two second rounders - their first pick in the first round was a pitcher, J.P. Howell was drafted with their first pick in the second round but was not signed, Davies was taken in the fourth, and then they took inconsequential pitchers in the seventh, ninth and tenth rounds
  • 2002 - 12 picks, extra supplemental picks in each of the first two rounds - their supplemental first round pick was Dan Meyer, followed by pitchers in the third, fourth, seventh, and ninth rounds
  • 2003 - 13 picks, one extra supplemental pick in each of the first three rounds - again, this year, it is easier to look at when they didn't take pitchers: Saltalamacchia was their supplemental first round pick and first baseman Jamie Romak was taken in the fourth round
  • 2004 - 9 picks, no first rounder - fourth, seventh, ninth, tenth
  • 2005 - 12 picks, one extra supplemental pick in the first two rounds - both first rounders, the last second round pick, and the fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth, and tenth rounders were pitchers
Judging by this data, it seems as though pitching at the very least wasn't wholly ignored. If I am reading the drafting correctly, the italicized names on those lists were non-signed players. It should then be noted that there seemed to be an organizational shift in drafting philosophy.

Up until 2001, the Braves had a large chunk of unsigned draftees. After that point, nearly all of their drafted players were signed, indicating to me at least that the Braves shifted their focus to signable players, taking the cheaper, lower-risk route--one that we can all agree is less likely to be getting later top-notch talent than say signing players with signability concerns to contracts grossly out of line with recommended slotting, which is largely why Moore has been able to accumulate the bevy of arms currently populating the lower levels of the Royals minor league system.

Of the players drafted and successfully signed from 1996 until 2005--Moore's last official draft with the Braves--the only legitimate impact arms produced by the Braves were Adam Wainwright and Tommy Hanson. Jason Marquis has been intermittently effective as a starter at the Major League level. Hanson's development took place mostly outside of the purview of Dayton Moore. Wainwright was successful in the Braves minor league system but wasn't a successful pro starter until pitching under the eye and tutelage of Dave Duncan, perhaps the best pitching coach in the Majors.

Again, this research is bound to be incomplete without access to international signings who were then traded, but Neftali Feliz is the only traded international player that springs to mind as a standout pitcher who was traded out of the system, but he's not quite an established starter.

Where does this leave us?

Well, speaking for myself, I'm worried.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Can Dayton Moore Build The Royals From Within?

First things first...

Royalscentricity has been named Best Royals Blog in the 2009 Ray W Awards over at Royals on Radio, Etc. As I stated in the comments section over there,
...thank you for the Ray W Award. As an avid fan of the blogs that Royalscentricity somehow beat out [Rany on the Royals, Royals Review, and Royals Authority], I have to say I'm honored. As weird as this might sound, it might just have been enough positive reinforcement to keep this ball rolling.
If I wasn't positive of the fact that I voted for myself once and only because I wanted to get at least one vote, I'd accuse myself of stuffing the ballot box because I feel like Royalscentricity is woefully inadequate in relation to those other blogs. Regardless, thanks for the honor all you fans. And thank you, Ray, for going to the trouble of putting this together for the second straight year.

Now that I'm done being gracious/self-congratulatory, I'll move on to actual Royals talk...

Kcscoliny posted a bit of dialogue from a Baseball America podcast on the AL Central Top 10 Prospects (streaming it is free, and they start talking about the Royals just past the halfway point--just after their conversation about Aroldis Chapman, if memory serves me correctly) over on Royals Review.

The point is made that the Braves system produced next-to-zero professional pitchers for about a decade while Dayton Moore was in prominent player development and scouting positions. Given that and the fact that there have been exactly zero pitchers who have come up through the Royals system in Moore's time in Kansas City, I'd say John Manuel's assertion raises some red flags that had not occurred to me.

What exactly is it about Dayton Moore's ability to build through player development that has us excited? His big focus has been on pitching as currency and building from within the farm system. He hasn't been at it for long, but the results thus far have been disappointing at best.

The first move he made when he got here (I think) was shipping Mike MacDougal off to the South Side for pitchers Tyler Lumsden and Daniel Cortes. At the time, Lumsden's stock had fallen as a result of some injuries and a less than dominating campaign in Birmingham, but he had been a first round pick. Cortes was young but had flashed potential. As they advanced through the minors with the Royals, Lumsden tanked, and Cortes was deemed too unruly to keep, despite his having been the Royals top pitching prospect heading into 2009.

At the time Cortes was dealt (along with Derrick Saito) for the inimitable Yuniesky Betancourt, he was probably the closest Royals starting pitching prospect to the Majors, but it seemed as though his growth had stunted under the Royals watchful eye and despite early signs of encouragement at lower levels seems to have hit a wall at Double-A.

Shortly after the Cortes deal (Lumsden had been dealt to the Astros for Jordan Parraz the previous offseason), the Royals saw fit to ship off Danny Gutierrez to the Rangers for middling but more advanced prospects Tim Smith and Manuel Pina. While Gutierrez had some issues with John Law in the past, perhaps the more important piece of the Gutierrez puzzle is that he wanted to train with Team Boras in the offseason while the Royals wanted him in camp and on their training program. This butting of heads occurring within the construct of this paranoid and over-sensitive Dayton Moore regime effectively sealed Gutierrez's fate. After all, the Royals had no problems trading for Alberto Callaspo, who had his own legal issues while in the minors with the Diamondbacks. Dissension cannot be tolerated.

It should be noted that Gutierrez was only the fourth-rated pitching prospect left in the Royals system (I'm using Baseball America's 2009 Prospect list, by the way) when he was traded, and he had only advanced as far as High-A ball, but his inclusion here is important for another reason. Upon having been dealt, he posted the following on his facebook page:
Only been with this organization for 1 day and its 10 x's better than KC.*
Of course, there were more than likely some feelings of ill-will towards the Royals on Gutierrez's part, but if memory serves me correctly, Daniel Cortes responded with a post of concurrence on Gutierrez's profile page.

*I know someone out there had a screen cap of this, but I'll be damned if I can find it. If someone else remembers where it was (Fire Dayton? Royals Review fan post?), I will link it up here when said information is relayed back to me in the comments section.

Sure, these two had their behavioral issues, so their indictment carries a little less weight, but it is an indictment nevertheless.

Now, we get word* of the Royals and Mike Montgomery bickering over the long-toss program that he wants to continue working with. If it has gotten Montgomery to this stage in his development, then maybe it works. Given the Royals' (and Dayton Mooore's even longer-standing) inability to develop a Major League starting pitcher from within the system, I don't think that they can unequivocally state their thoughts on the matter as being correct. Moreover, if Manuel's statement that the Royals are trying to have each and every one of their pitching prospects on the same training regimen, then consider me worried. It seems foolhardy to me to try to shoehorn each and every like-positioned athlete in the system into the same program. Body types are different. Athletes are different. It seems logical that regimens should also be different, customized.

*It should be noted that this is the first I've heard of such a rift growing between the front office and their consensus top prospect, and I've not seen anything written anywhere else upon searching for it, but John Manuel has to be better plugged in than me, so I'll have to defer until he is proven wrong.

All of this leaves me very worried about the future of the farm. We are all told that the promise of a brighter future comes from within the organization and is built through the draft. As of yet, there is not a single player that Moore has drafted (unless we're kind and include Kyle Davies...) who has contributed to any of the Royals' nearly non-existent success on the Major League level. Anyone who came up through the system and sits on the Major League roster is a holdover from the Allard Baird regime.

It would seem as though the minors seem to be primed to start churning out talent in 2011 (maybe Aaron Crow or David Lough arrives as soon as this season), but the real concern is will there be any hiccups this year. After all, I think none of us are taking for granted the fact that nearly every top prospect that has come through this system for the past decade has largely disappointed with the exceptions of Billy Butler and Zack Greinke--neither of whom were Dayton Moore draftees.

We can all agree that things in the minors are looking up for Kansas City, but there is also a fair amount of development that needs to take place between where this talent currently sits and where they will need to get to make contributions to a winning effort of the Major League level. It should also be noted that J.J. Cooper, Manuel's co-podcaster, said that if things broke right this year, the Royals would be looking at a top five farm system heading into the 2011 season.

The big question is: Can all of that talent--much of it gathered because the Royals simply paid well above slot in later rounds of the draft--actually coalesce into an ML-ready unit in two years under the inflexible Dayton Moore Royals?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Scott Podsednik, Welcome to the Gutter--er, the Kansas City Royals

You may have noticed that it has been almost a month since my last post here. Suffice it to say, this author is one pretty unhappy Royals fan. My last post (regarding the Jason Kendall signing) felt to me that it was coming from somewhere near my wit's end.

Well, such a hope was short-sighted. Today, the assumption that many of us made last night was realized as a Scott Podsednik signing is about to be finalized. One year? Two years? Who gives a fuck?

The equation describing how Dayton Moore is going to fill each perceived roster hole is as follows: Determine where you are weakest, find the player with highest intangibles who lacks any upside/utility whatsoever, give that man a contract at least a year too long and a couple million dollars too much, and watch your fanbase grow increasingly exacerbated.

This is yet another day in the past year that I wonder why I am a Royals fan.

Matt Klaassen (devil_fingers for you Royals Review and Minor League Ball frequenters) has written this reaction to the signing at FanGraphs. In short, he asserts is absolutely no reason that the Royals should be signing Scott Podsednik to play left field, as the money spent for a player worth a 0.5 WAR (generously) is kind of pointless when you are one of the worst teams in the American League. Of course, there is the fact that Podsednik is apparently going to plug the hole in center--filling that all-important role of speedy centerfielder--despite the fact that Scotty Po hasn't played centerfield since 2004. Oh, and he's not good enough in left to be considered anything other than average, so a shift to center will surely work...

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Dayton Moore needs to be fired at this point. He is woefully inept in the role of General Manager. Any hope for his ability to learn on the job is futile. The longer the Royals continue on with Moore at the helm the harder it is going to be to climb from this canyon that he is digging the Royals into. There is nothing that he does discernibly above average in comparison to his GM-counterparts. Any hits that he gets in the draft past the first round are the result of paying grotesquely over slot for players like Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery, and Tim Melville, who had signability concerns for too many other teams. His first round draft picks have yet to prove themselves on any remotely encouraging front. His trades have been by-and-large unmitigated disasters. His free agent signings draw the ridicule of the masses. If given the budget that Omar Minaya gets to work with, is there any doubt that Moore would put together an even more catastrophic roster than last year's Mets?

In the great scheme of things, a Scott Podsednik signing is not going to spark a nuclear holocaust and wipe out all of mankind. Hell, it doesn't even cripple this team--well, unless Moore gave him Matt Holliday money, but without unlimited payroll flexibility at his disposal we can probably assume that he didn't coax Glass into giving Podsednik more money...

Moreover, we are all kind of assuming that this is a one-year deal, but did we really think that Kendall was going to get 2 and $6 million? It is a self-evident truth that Moore does not think rationally when doling out contracts to free agents. After all, we'll get to watch The Other Brian Anderson all year with his guaranteed contract, and he cannot have had another Major League contract offer. Is Podsednik better than Anderson? Offensively, probably, but this is the fucking discussion we are now reduced to as Royals fans.

Moore's inability to separate himself from performances five years in the past, combing the 2005 campaign for reclamation projects in their 30s today, is going to perpetuate the Royals futility.

Luckily we get to stand helplessly by as this happens.