Monday, November 29, 2010

The Zack Greinke Conundrum

Royalscentricity Note:  It is my intent this until Spring Training kicks off to have an entry per week, and that it will be up on Monday.  Last week's was delayed by a day because I fell asleep while writing it Sunday night.  But until Spring Training kicks off and there is more to write about, I will be writing here once a week on Monday.  That is, of course, unless the subject of this entry is traded, at which point there will be something both time-sensitive and serious to write about.  

As always, I'll be posting the updates on the Royalscentricity Facebook Group which also feeds to the Old Man Duggan Twitter account, so if you need a reminder feel free to follow either or both of these feeds.

Is that a smile forming, Zack? (photo originally found here)
It should go without saying that there is one movement and one movement only that we Royals fans find ourselves preoccupied with this off-season.  Until Zack Greinke is dealt or signed to another extension, we are left to agonize over what may or may not happen. 

There is an obvious duality to this whole situation:  Having Zack makes the Royals better, and trading Zack could make the Royals better.

Now one of those statements is incontrovertible.  Zack Greinke is a season removed from being the closest thing to Pedro Martinez in his prime since Pedro was in his prime.  He didn't just win a Cy Young.  A season like his 2009 comes around once, maybe twice a decade, and he did it in a Royals uniform.  With Greinke, though, it wasn't just 2009.  Since rejoining the rotation on August 24th of 2007, Greinke has been pretty damn good, maintaining a 3.18 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8.36 K/9, 2.26 BB/9, and 3.70 K/BB.  This is clearly the stat line of a front-of-the-rotation starter, and his value is very real.

Moreover, he puts butts in the seats every fifth day.  In 2009, every Greinke start was an event, and you could tell this was the case by looking at the stands.  He appeals to a dwindling fan base because, quite frankly, he is the only superstar the Royals have had since they traded away Carlos Beltran, and even Beltran wasn't as universally appreciated as Zack Greinke has been since his otherworldly campaign two years ago.

Unfortunately, Zack Greinke plays for an incredibly shitty team.  The Royals had the worst record in baseball in the Aughts, despite the fact that they actually had a winning record in one of those seasons, unlike the Pittsburgh Pirates, who haven't seen a record above .500 since 1992.  In his past 105 starts, the Royals have held a 50 - 55 record, and Zack has a 41 - 34 record to show for his efforts.  The false hope that had grown within him when he signed his contract extension coming out of the 2008 season came crashing down during the 2009 season, and his frustration surfaced very publicly when he began to vent about how he didn't want to wait around to experience his third rebuilding phase in Kansas City.  If we Royals fans are frustrated with the state of affairs at One Kauffman Way, imagine how it must feel to be dragged down by a dismal team around us.

Now here's where it gets tricky.  Even with Zack Greinke's past mental obstacles, we have a pretty good idea as to what his value is in the present and going forward.  At worst, he is a 5.0 WAR starting pitcher with no injury history who turned 27 in October.  According to FanGraphs' valuation system, his performances over the past three seasons have been worth $22.3 in 2008, $42.5 in 2009, and $21.0 million in 2010.  That 2009 season had him more valuable than everyone else in baseball.  Everyone.  You have to go back to Randy Johnson in 2001 to find any player whose season was worth more than Zack Greinke's 2009 would have been on the free agent market.

What the Royals are faced with now is a player who has publicly voiced his discouragement at the state of the Royals Major League roster.  A player whose contract is up after the 2012 season when 2013 is realistically the first year that a good chunk of what is now nearly universally thought of to be the best minor league system in all of baseball should be contributing at the Major League level.  Two seasons is a long time to be on a team day in and day out waiting for a sunnier day.     

The only issue with that last sentence is that it may not actually be that long.  In 2011, the Royals will finally start to see their farm system graduate some of its multitudinous talent to the Majors.  Dayton Moore will wait just long enough to delay Mike Moustakas's arbitration clock a year.  Tim Collins may break camp on the Opening Day roster.  At least one of the Royals young lefties should find themselves getting the call as the season progresses.  Hell, if things broke right for the Royals, they may find themselves with Danny Duffy, Chris Dwyer, and Mike Montgomery toeing the rubber at the K.  And if there was one key bat in the minors who could conceivably make the jump to the Majors come August, it would probably be that of Eric Hosmer.

Moose respects his wood (originally here)
Now all of that is pretty optimistic.  Moustakas almost surely will get called up in June, and Eric Hosmer seems to be exactly one year behind Mike Moustakas as far as when he has been advanced to the next level.  To expect the Royals not to try to push back the start of his arbitration clock would be foolish unless Hosmer were to unexpectedly start the season in Omaha and then show that he had nothing left to prove.  Now nothing has been done to give us cause to expect the Royals to deviate from what seems to be a pattern of somewhat conservative advancement of their prospects through the minors, but if his run in the Texas League playoffs showed us anything, it is that Hosmer doesn't really have anything left to prove in Double-A.  While it is likely that he will begin 2011 in Springdale, starting the season in Omaha isn't entirely out of the question.  If Zack Greinke were still in Kansas City, perhaps seeing not only Moose but also Hosmer joining the team and contributing to the club in a substantive way in 2011 could persuade him to look at the future in a much more positive light.  The rotation is likely to be bolstered as well with the addition of Duffy, Dwyer, and/or Montgomery at some point in the season.

No, the Royals will not be competing in 2011, but 2012, while not likely, is still a possibility.  As Ken Rosenthal has posited, maybe Zack will be singing a different tune come spring training when he actually gets to take a look at what the Royals have waiting in the wings.  After all, how many of us at this time last year thought that the minor league system would be looking like it does now?  So, yes, 2011 is already lost.  2012 might not be.

Obviously, the timing of the expiration of Zack Greinke's current contract is not likely to be concurrent with when we all hope the Royals to be contending.  Barring a major miracle, Zack Greinke will be a free agent the offseason before the Royals could conceivably contending for the AL Central Divisional Title.  If there were a single player who would be likely to re-sign with the Royals, it would be Zack Greinke, though, even taking his comments in August into account.  After all, his no-trade clause only serves to solidify the notion that he would not want to bolt for the bright lights of New York or Boston.  He simply wants to play for a winner. While the Royals are not there yet, they are not far off. 

Unfortunately, to re-sign him if he were still with the team would likely cost upwards of $20 million a season, which is more than likely quite a bit more money than a team like the Royals should be committing to a single player.  The fan in me really doesn't want to see him go.  The pragmatist in me sees that he could yield quite the return on the trade market, and that return is likely to be at its peak value the instant Cliff Lee signs his name to a dotted line. 

The Devil Incarnate
As Royals fans, I think we are all a little gun-shy when the necessity of trading off our hot commodities for prospects presents itself.  Carlos Beltran?  Johnny DamonJermaine Dye?  After dealing their trio of outstanding outfielders, the Royals had Mark Teahen, John Buck, Mike Wood, Angel Berroa, A.J. Hinch, Roberto Hernandez, and Neifi Perez to show for their stars.  Even Bill James said recently that
[I]f it's me, I don't trade Zack Greinke unless I can get two Zack Greinke's in return.
Having to stomach another ultimately disastrous trade, would be more than most of us could take.  Yes, it is a different regime, but I think most of us are still leery of Dayton Moore's eye for Major League talent.  He is the man responsible for trading two prospects for Yuniesky Betancourt mere weeks before he was likely to be designated for assignment.  He did hand out a three-year, $36 million contract to Jose Guillen.  He chose to trade a quality middle reliever for Mike Jacobs.  He saw fit to sign Jason Fucking Kendall to a two-year, $6 million contract.

Yes, the minor league system seems to have been overhauled entirely.  If the Royals can somehow manage to not fuck this all up, the credit likely has to go to Moore, but the fact remains that he has been below average when it comes to constructing a Major League roster.  He has also had only one of his draftees advance to the Majors, and that was Greg Holland, so we are operating from a hypothesis based on theoretical projections when we look to the future with optimism.  The overhaul of the minors seems to point towards Moore having a good idea as to what he is doing on the farm, and that is where Royals fans have to be looking when we begin to think about the probable departure of Zack Greinke in the coming months.

The most likely destination seems to be Texas, who are not in the AL Central, and are thought to be playing with the shorter stack of chips in the Cliff Lee poker game with the Yankees and possibly the Nationals.  Even if the Rangers were to sign Cliff Lee, they would certainly have the prospects to trade for Greinke if they really wanted to make another run in 2011.  With the key to a deal with the Rangers likely hinging on Jurickson Profar being included in the deal (who Greg Schaum covered in detail with info from the Newberg Report here), the Royals could also get an additional combination of players from the pool of Derek Holland, Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez, Engel Beltre, Craig Gentry, Leury Garcia, and Julio Borbon, all of whom have been kicked around in rumors everywhere from The Newberg Report to USA Today.  Given Schaum's knowledge of how the Royals operate, I'll defer to his notion that the Royals would more or less demand Jurickson Profar, which essentially rules out Engel Beltre, as it seems like a deal would be either/or for the bats of the non-throw-ins (read: Julio Borbon, Craig Gentry, and Leury Garcia, of whom the Royals would likely get one, possibly because they threw in Gregor Blanco).  So I think from the Royals standpoint, it would probably take Holland, Perez, Profar, and either Gentry or Borbon to wrest Greinke (and Blanco) from their grip.  That is probably the best deal they can get this off-season for Greinke, and most smoke is coming from camps believing that Texas is the best fit right now.

The next one that makes sense from the Royals' standpoint would be a three-team deal involving Arizona and a team like the Braves or Rangers in which the Royals got back Justin Upton.  I'll not spend a lot of time on this as this seems less likely considering that the Royals are on Justin Upton's no-trade list.  Maybe he would waive the clause, but it is an extra hurdle.  With Upton signed through 2015, he would step in and be the cornerstone of the Royals offense at the ripe age of 23 and they'd have him until his walk year at 28 years old.  The Royals would likely have to give up another prospect in a three-way deal, with the Braves/Rangers having to throw in three top-tier prospects, but the Royals would get All-Star level help immediately in this deal.

The next team that makes some sense, unless you are holding onto the notion that teams should not trade top talent within the division, an arcane notion that Moore & Co. could certainly be operating under, is the Twins.  It would seem like the Twins likely have a pair of top prospects to build a deal around.  Kyle Gibson and either Aaron Hicks or Ben Revere (Moore would hopefully demand Hicks over Revere, who has yet to develop anything resembling power) would likely be central to a trade getting done.  There would also need to be a Major League-ready arm in the deal.  Kevin Slowey's name has been included in some of the rumblings that I've but a fair amount of them have been utterly off-base and not at all in line with what Dayton Moore is generally accepted as having be his standard for pulling off a trade--two ML-ready players and two top prospects.  It would likely take a Slowey type (I doubt they'd want to take on Nick Blackburn given his contract status) plus Gibson, Hicks or Revere, and a fringe Major Leaguer who addresses a positional weakness from the standpoint of organization depth.

Lastly, teams like the Braves and the Blue Jays make at least a bit of sense.

The Braves obviously have the talent in their farm system to pull off a deal, and Dayton Moore clearly feels comfortable trading with his old organization.  A deal in which they got a pitching prospect like Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, or Arodys Vizcaino.  While Mike Minor is a lefty, something the Royals don't exactly need right now, he also made his ML-debut this past season, so he is ready.  Teheran seems like he would be off-limits in trade talks, so personally, Delgado seems like the closest righty to the Majors of the bunch.  Unfortunately, the Braves are a little weak in the positional prospect arena.  Freddie Freeman is a great prospect but plays first base, which isn't exactly a point of weakness with Eric Hosmer waiting in the wings.  It would also seem like the Royals would try to get stronger up the middle.  Maybe Matt Lipka or Andrelton Simmons would help get a deal done, but it would be less enticing than adding Freeman's bat.  Sure, Hosmer or Freeman could be moved to a corner outfield slot, but the prospects don't seem to line up quite as well as they do in either the Twins or Rangers scenarios, and they're not getting a five-tool 23-year-old All-Star back like they would in an Upton deal.

Shaun "Guns" Marcum representing
As for the Blue Jays, not only would Zack Greinke be a good fit for a prospect-heavy team, but positionally their strengths fit well with what Dayton Moore is looking for.  They have also expressed interest in Alex Gordon.  It would seem like a package that consisted of one of their trade-able righties (Kyle Drabek or Zach Stewart), one of their bevy of catchers (J.P. Arencibia, Carlos Perez, or Travis D'Arnaud), a starter like Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, or Brett Cecil, and Travis Snider for Alex Gordon and Zack Greinke.

Now, obviously, all of these deals share one thing in common:  the Royals would be getting a shitload of talent back.  Clearly, Dayton Moore does not need to trade Zack Greinke.  There is even still a slim chance that the Royals could sign him to an extension if that is both Moore and Zack's prerogative when the time comes.  As Moore has stated, the Royals will only trade Greinke if the right offer comes around.  For this one time, they seem to be in the driver's seat and can command what they get in return for their ace.

Given the asking price, which seems pretty in line with what has been laid out here, it is improbable that the Royals deal Greinke.  With the time frame Moore is working with, I actually, for once, have confidence that Moore will get a substantial haul for Greinke.  I have been leery of most of his trades thus far, but Greinke's value seems pretty easy to me to ascertain.

As a subjective fan, I want to see Zack Greinke on the mound sporting a Royals uniform every fifth day.  Objectively, I know that a deal that nets what that Rangers deal or that Blue Jays deal would bring back makes the Royals better in the long run.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Royals Hot Stove in Review: Second Movement

Getting a little more caught up here, Dayton Moore shipped off the mainstay in the Royals lineup for most of the last decade, David DeJesus.  Immensely likable and fairly reliable, it isn't without a healthy amount of sorrow that we fans have to say goodbye to him.  Sure, he was the face of the franchise* during an especially dark time--our Don Mattingly, if you will--but like Donnie Baseball none of the Royals' struggles could be blamed on him.

*It could certainly be well argued that Zack Greinke has been the face of the franchise for most of this time, but Zack did walk away from the game, was a middle reliever for the greater part of a season, and had that rough 2005.  DeJesus was at the fore from 2004 on.  Yes, Zack won a Cy Young, but if anything that makes him un-Royal-like.

He'll be taking his wistful glances to Oakland
DDJ was solid to be sure, but it would seem that Dayton Moore missed his optimal trade window on DeJesus by about three or four years.  DeJesus's name had been talked of in Royals trade rumors for years, especially when the perception that he was able to man center was still alive and well.  His 2006 campaign was a solid one defensively.  While he took a step back in 2007 (if we're to pay total heed to his UZR/150 regression from 17.4 to -0.6 from '06 to '07), many still thought that he could still hold down center field heading into the 2008 season.  Rumors swirled around primarily involving (predictably) the Braves, whose need for a center fielder after the departure of Andruw Jones was great enough that the Royals probably could have maxed out their return for DDJ then, but there were rumblings regarding a handful of other teams as well, especially after spring training had begun.

At every trade deadline since that point, David DeJesus's name seemed to be the primary name involved in most of the trade ruminations.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, given GMDM's general inability to evaluate talent at the Major League level), Moore never pulled the trigger on a deal, and this year Moore found himself with an injured DDJ at the deadline.

So DeJesus got dealt two Wednesdays ago after the Royals picked up his $6 million option.

What they got in return is roughly the equivalent to what they got for Alberto Callaspo in July.

It's called a 'razor,' Mr. Mazzaro...
Vin Mazzaro is about a year older than Sean O'Sullivan.  Mazzaro's stuff is probably a little bit better than O'Sullivan's and he has fourth pitch, but at this moment in time they are both borderline fifth-starters.  Of course, on today's Royals that puts each of them in the running for Number Three Starter status.  To be fair to each pitcher, they are both fairly young.  Either one could certainly become decent pitchers, but they both have a long way to go.  On a real Major League team (read: not these Royals), it would be reasonable to suggest that Mazzaro might edge out O'Sullivan in the contest for which pitcher of Euro-Catholic descent would win the role of fifth starter, so he probably has just a little more value than O'Sullivan, at least today.

As far as the minor league lefty arms Moore netted in each trade, it would seem to me (and I'd be the first to admit that I'm no scout) that Will Smith is the better bet between him and Justin Marks, who was the second part of the DeJesus deal.  Nevermind that the Angels foolishly decided to move Will Smith all the way up to AAA - Salt Lake City this past season, Will Smith (6'5", 235 lbs) at 20 in High-A ball was solid especially at Wilmington, where he kept his K/9 at 8.4 while maintaining a 12.75 K/BB over 54.2 IP.  If you only look at what Smith did in the levels that he should have been in* (not AA or AAA as 20-year-old), he has been an 8.13 K/9, 5.38 K/BB, 1.118 WHIP pitcher over 280 IP.

*Yes, this is certainly cherry-picking, but in this case it is probably warranted, unlike his two-level promotion.

As far as Marks is concerned, the A's drafted him out of college at Louisville in the third round of the 2009 draft.  Upon signing, he logged one abysmal start in the Arizona Rookie League, and well that was his 2009 professional season.  Heading into the 2010 season, John Sickels had Will Smith ranked 21st in the A's organization with a C+ grade and the following to say about him:
I liked him a lot coming out of college at Louisville, advanced feel for pitching with decent stuff, but we need to see some innings.
At least he looks like he's throwing it hard
Baseball America had the 6'3", 170 lb. southpaw ranked 27th in the A's farm heading into this past season.  A year-and-a-half older than Smith, Marks compiled 9.5 K/9, 2.78 K/BB, and a 1.353 WHIP in 129.1 IP between Low-A and High-A this year.  Apparently, he struggled a bit with a groin injury in 2010, but it still seems to me that optimistically he ends up being Vin Mazzaro.  If comparing him to Smith, which I apparently feel compelled to continue to do, his much poorer K/BB at an older age at the same levels would certainly lead me to believe Smith may have the brighter future.

So Mazzaro and Marks are what the Royals got back from Oakland in exchange for a 32-year-old David DeJesus's services in left at a $6 million price tag for one year.  Using FanGraphs' WAR-based player-valuation, DeJesus's performance has exceeded that price tag in worth on the free agent market in every year since 2005.  His on-field performance has been worth $11.5, $14.8, and $10.3 million in the past three years.  Even given his age, it can be expected that he will give the A's more than what he is getting paid.

This haul is roughly equivalent to what the Royals got back for three-and-a-half years of Alberto Callaspo.  With his price tag about to go up due to arbitration, the value of Bert's performance has been $5.4, $10.5, and $5.5 million over that same stretch of time.  In DeJesus's career, he hasn't played a full season in which
his value was as low as Callaspo's in 2008 and 2010 since he was a rookie in 2004.  DDJ's average worth since 2005 has been $11.65 million.  Over the course of his career he has been a 18.3 WAR player.  With his two negative WAR partial seasons, Callaspo has been a 4.0 WAR player since first breaking in as a part-time player in 2006.

At the very least, betting on DeJesus to produce for one year is a much better bet than Callaspo.  Sure, Callaspo is owed less money and could be declined an arbitration offer in any of the next few offseasons, but it does seem like Dayton Moore could conceivably have gotten more for David DeJesus than virtually an identical package that he got for Alberto Callaspo.  Moreover, I'd imagine that if he had chosen a trade partner not named Billy Beane, he could have gotten more in return.  Maybe the Royals player development can turn these lemons into lemonade.

Obviously Moore has been taking offers for DeJesus for a while now.  Perhaps, this is the most he could have gotten for DeJesus.  What I can't imagine is that if he had traded DeJesus when his value was much higher--say three years ago--that Moore could have gotten a lot more in return for DeJesus, and some of that talent could be producing in Kansas City at a higher level than we all expect Vin Mazzaro to yield at the back end of the Royals rotation this year, and let's not even begin to assume that Marks will produce at all in a substantive way at the Major League level. 

Oh, well...

(And, no, despite my affinity for both the Royals and Journey, I did not make that video)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Royals Hot Stove in Review: The First Movement(s)

As has been his modus operandi in his tenure at One Royal Way, Dayton Moore has wasted little time in heating up the stove.  As we Royals fans have become accustomed to, the moves that Dayton Moore* has made thus far have been met with a tepid response from the fan base, and by 'fan base' I mean bloggers.

*When typing 'Moore,' I inadvertently plunked out 'Moron.'  While not intentional, I felt it was funny enough to make note of here. 

Moore & Co. kicked off this 2010-'11 off-season with the claiming of Joaquin Arias* off of waivers.  Whether or not this was an effort to breathe life into what should have been a dead Contest, the claiming of this Mets castoff addressed what clearly had to be Dayton Moore's top off-season priority...

*Leading to other announcers surely butchering his name, as they have Joakim Soria despite his All-Star status.  This also will only confuse the legions of casual hipster Royals fans who already thought that this was the Royals closer:

Praying to the Gods of Utilitarian Cutlery
Replacing the dearly departed* Willie Bloomquist.

*Pennant race or not, being shipped to Cincinnati may as well be wishing death upon someone. 

In Joaquin Arias, the Royals have basically acquired a 26-year-old version of Willie Bloomquist.  Having garnered very little playing time at the Major League level, making too much out of a utility infielder's 275 plate appearances spread out over four seasons probably isn't very useful.  His triple-slash in the Majors has been .276/.314/.362, which is actually pretty comparable to his minor league line of .285/.317/.378.  If a sub-.700 OPS leaves you wanting, you're not alone.  That minor league triple-slash is not dissimilar the one Bloomquist posted (mostly before the age of 25) of .281/.336/.375. 

Over the course of nearly 3,400 plate appearances in just under 800 minor league games played, Arias has stolen 138 bases and been caught 51 times, good for a rather pedestrian 69.3% success rate.  Like Bloomquist, Arias has spent most of his young career manning either second or short.  His strike-out rate in the minors is just below 10% (9.9%), which is solid enough, but his walk-rate in the minors has been a paltry 4.3%.  To put this into perspective, Miguel Olivo's career walk rate in the Majors is 4.1%.
As long as he continues to hate the Tigers, I'll cope

The difference with Olivo, of course, is that he has extra-base power.  A 4.0% walk-rate, although never exactly palatable, is damn near worthless when in the form of an only moderately speedy slap-hitter whose likelihood of hitting a home run in an at-bat was a Bloomquistian 0.88% (for comparison, Willie's was 0.81% in the minors, and we all know how he turned out).

Now if you thought that the acquisition of Willie Bloomquist 2.0 would have sated Moore's hunger for cast-off utility infielders, you couldn't have been more wrong.

Enter Lance Zawadzki. 

To be fair, Zawadzki had been a borderline top ten prospect in the Padres organization heading into the 2010 season, but he lost a bit of his luster after a 2010 campaign that saw him hit a meager .225/.291/.316 between Double-A and Triple-A.  It is hard to look at those numbers, especially his stint with the same Double-A affiliate that he ended 2009--managing to see his triple-slash drop from .289/.372/.416 in 92 games to .216/.280/.345 in 35 games with San Antonio this year--without wondering whether or not he was playing hurt this year.

Unofficially courtesy of AP...  (Thanks?)
While he does turn 26 this coming May, it is still conceivable that the once somewhat highly regarded prospect could improve on his .268/.344/.401 career minor league triple-slash.  Clearly, there is more upside to his bat than there is to Arias's.  Zawadzki is also reported to have a solid glove and a very good arm and, like Arias, can play second (and third, for that matter), although he has primarily played shortstop in the minors.

With a far more respectable 10.0 BB%, his 20.2% K-rate and .495 BB/K ratio are such that he may be able to play semi-regularly without being a black hole in the batting order.  He has also enjoyed an 84% success rate in stealing bases.  As his slugging percentage would indicate, Zawadzki looks to be a better waiver claim than Arias, but given his woeful 2009, it is hard to get excited about him in anything more than a pipe-dream kind of way.  Unfortunately, for either one of these guys to be anything more than slightly cheaper Sporks, too much would have to break the Royals' way.

This just goes to show that you can take the Bloomquist out of KC, but two more just pop up in his place.

In the next installment: DeJesus is dealt, but for what?