Sunday, October 6, 2013

Looking Internally

According to GM Dayton Moore’s comments  regarding the team's offseason needs, “We’re going to look internally first. Then we’re going to look for trades, and then we’ll focus on the free-agent market.”

This seems like a sensible priority of sources for a small-market franchise, and to his credit, GMDM has made a few impressive offseason moves during his seven-year tenure, though this December's GM meetings will be unlike any the Royals have had in some time. Next season the playoffs are the goal, which means that this offseason GMDM is on an extremely tight rope.

The Royals have 2 glaring holes:  a 2B with enough pop to prevent Chris Getz from finding 237 PA, and a #2 SP who isn’t pale in comparison to Ervin Santana. Using GMDM's order of priorities, we will examine the internal candidates. 

The internal candidates at 2B are as follows:
  • Emilio Bonifacio – Career .285/.352/.348 hitter in 2,999 PA. However, the strong majority of his career was spent in the NL. Boasts a serviceable glove with 1.0 dWAR. Also, the first 60% of ’13 hit .218/.258./321 in Toronto. If Bonifacio starts ’14 the same way he did this season, it could cost the Royals the postseason.
  • Chris Getz – .220/.288/.273 in 237 PA in ’13. Notice his OBP is astoundingly 15 points higher than his SLG. He had all of 8 XBH, which is on par with the chubby high school athletes who are featured on Average Joes. He had a meh .275/.312/.360 in ’12, which seems heroic for him.
  • Johnny Giavotella – .220/.333./.293 in 48 PA in ’13. Since his debut, he has been .240/.378./.335 in 424 PA with -0.4 dWAR. He may or may not have some incriminating video footage of Dayton Moore based on the brevity of his ML stays.
  • Pedro Ciriaco – Had 11 PA with the Royals after being a mid-season waiver claim. 171 PA in Omaha rendered .310/.363/.672. He actually hit .293/.315/.390 in 272 PA with Boston in ‘12, though that came with 47 Ks. It’s even money whether or not Ciriaco’s closest fans could tell him apart from Yamaico Navarro.
  • Christian Colon – After being drafted 4th overall, ahead of such no-names as Matt Harvey and Chris Sale in the ’10 MLB Draft, Colon completed the Omaha season with .273/.335/.379 in 577 PA. By way of comparison, Getz crushed .310/.318/.429 line in 88 PA in ‘13. FWIW, Colon will only be 25 by May next season.
  • Irving Falu – A .256/.320/.329 line in Omaha didn’t do him any favors after he turned a head in ’12. Possible PTBNL in exchange for Jamey Carroll or Emilio Bonifacio. (For the Bonifacio transaction it was either a PTBNL or $.) 

Coincidentally, Emilio’s brother, Jorge, performed well at 2B, but he did it split among Rookie Ball/High-A/Double-A (where he closed out .301/.371/.441 in 105 PA). He will turn 21 in early June next season, and it’s a mistake to rely on him for ’14, despite the promising projections.
Granted, Colon could suddenly blossom, or Emilio Bonifacio could be just serviceable enough so that he doesn’t cost the Royals big. With postseason expectations, do you feel confident in a Bonifacio/Getz tandem?

The lack of quality is indicative of the struggles the Royals have had at 2B. They’ve truly reached a chronic level. The output has become so dreadful that the Royals have a legitimate claim that they are under the curse of Frank WhiteTM. Since ex-2B Frank White’s resignation in January 2011 (a poorly-handled affair that led to the farewell of one of Kansas City’s finest players) the Royals’ second basemen have accomplished this:

2013: .243/.296/.304
2012: .256/.289/.359
2011: .254/.301/.355

Prior to White’s resignation, the Royals’ second basemen accomplished this:

2010: .282/.325/.387
2009: .293/.352/.445
2008: .303/.347/.409
2007: .296/.349/.409
2006: .293/.340/.403
(The noticeable disparity in offense says nothing about Grudzielanek’s incredible Gold Glove defense.)

Of course, labeling the last 3 seasons at 2B as a curse is an overreaction. To put it more accurately, it’s the natural result of starting Grudzielanek, Mike Aviles, and Alberto Callaspo over Getz and Yuniesky Betancourt. Then again, there’s no stronger evidence in my mind that a franchise is cursed than re-signing Betancourt. Come back to us, Frank. End our pain.

On the pitching side, the Royals have several SP in-house options, but they all come with enough question marks that none of them project to be a #2 SP. Granted, Danny Duffy might harness his curveball or changeup into a real weapon, or Felipe Paulino might return from the DL with a vengeance, but can they duplicate what Santana did last season? The Royals can’t count on it.

These are the internal candidates at 2B and the #2 slot in the rotation. With the internal options examined, we can now turn an eye toward GMDM’s second method of acquisition. So, onto the trade market...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Potential Free Agent Candidate: Phillip Hughes

The Kansas City Royals’ 2013 starting rotation amassed an impressive 94 quality stars, good enough for 4th in the MLB. The 2013 rotation has and will receive a lot of credit, and it has been well-earned. Looking forward, who will appear in the 2014 starting rotation? Here’s how things shape:

#1 SP James Shields – Has a club option for $12 MM
#2 SP Ervin Santana – FA
#3 SP Jeremy Guthrie – Under contract for $11 MM
#4 SP Bruce Chen – FA
#5 SP ?

It's highly probable the #5 slot will be supplied by one of many potential in-house candidates: Danny Duffy, Luis Mendoza, Felipe Paulino, Will Smith, Luke Hochevar, Yordano Ventura, John Lamb, Everett Teaford, etc. It's possible the Royals attempt to fill the #4 slot with an in-house candidate as well. While the rotational depth is reassuring, the blatant gaps remain. Put another way, Shields and Guthrie are the only two certainties for the 2014 rotation. 

During the offseason, the Royals need to sign at least 2 SPs, preferably a #2 arm and a #4 thrower. (A third SP might be nice. Shields, Santana, Guthrie, and Chen (when starting) logged a combined 3.55 ERA. Perhaps even more impressive than the foursome’s statistical success is that they spent 0 days on the DL after a combined 772.1 IP. Is it realistic to expect the same combination of dominance and good health for 2014’s rotation? Not very.)

With that, let’s turn an eye toward the free agent market. Who’s available this offseason? (From

Bronson Arroyo (37)
Scott Baker (32)
Erik Bedard (35)
A.J. Burnett (37)
Chris Capuano (35) - $8MM mutual option with a $1MM buyout
Chris Carpenter (39)
Bruce Chen (37)
Bartolo Colon (41)
Jorge De La Rosa (33) - $11MM club option
Scott Feldman (30)
Gavin Floyd (31)
Jeff Francis (33)
Freddy Garcia (37)
Jon Garland (34)
Matt Garza (30)
Chad Gaudin (31)
Roy Halladay (37)
Jason Hammel (31)
Aaron Harang (36) - $7MM+ mutual option with a $2MM buyout
Dan Haren (33)
Roberto Hernandez (33)
Tim Hudson (38)
Phil Hughes (28)
Ubaldo Jimenez (30) - may void $8MM option for 2014
Josh Johnson (30)
Jeff Karstens (31)
Scott Kazmir (30)
Hiroki Kuroda (39)
Jon Lester (30) - $13MM club option with a $250K buyout
Colby Lewis (34)
Ted Lilly (38)
Tim Lincecum (30)
Paul Maholm (32)
Shaun Marcum (32)
Jason Marquis (35)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (33)
Randy Messenger (32)
Ricky Nolasco (31)
Roy Oswalt (35)
Mike Pelfrey (30)
Wandy Rodriguez (35) - $13MM player option with a $2.5MM buyout
Ervin Santana (31)
Johan Santana (34) - $25MM club option with a $5.5MM buyout
Joe Saunders (33) - mutual option
Jason Vargas (31) 
Ryan Vogelsong (36) - $6.5MM club option with a $300K buyout
Edinson Volquez (30)
Tsuyoshi Wada (33) - $5MM club option
Jake Westbrook (36) -- $9.5MM mutual option with a $1MM buyout
Chien-Ming Wang (34)
Barry Zito (36) - $18MM club option with a $7MM buyout

Surprisingly, 52 names are on the market this offseason. I understand some are much more "on  the market" than others. Still, in a sea of possibilities, one interesting investment is soon-to-be-ex-Yankees righty Phil Hughes.

The Case against Hughes
  • In 2013 Hughes went 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA and 1.5HR/9, the result of his dangerous career 0.53 GB/FB ratio. Additionally, his -0.7 WAR, was a career worst.
  • He has an injury history that includes issues with his hamstring, ankle, as well as tendinitis and shoulder troubles. This year he started on the DL because of a bulging disc.
  • His career best 2.6 WAR was in 2009 as a member of the Yankees bullpen. It’s a mistake to equate  him to Chen, Mendoza, Hochevar, or Davis, but is another pitcher in this mold the best option?
  • Only 2 of his 5 postseason starts have been quality starts. He has a career postseason ERA of 4.66 as a SP. Nice that the Royals have to actually be aware of this sort of thing now.
  • This season, in his 3rd year of arbitration eligibility, he received a 1 yr / $7.15 MM deal. It’s pure conjecture as to what he will go for on the open market. Knowing GMDM, it will be 5 yr / $55 MM.
The Case for Hughes
  • Hughes has seen mild success as a SP. As recently as ’12, he posted a 1.9 WAR throwing 191.1 IP. In ’10 he had a 2.0 WAR in 176.1 IP. That season he was an all-star with a 3.64 ERA in the first half. Look at this compared to Wade Davis’ 5.89 ERA for the first half of ‘13.
  • He has upside. Hughes was a first-round pick in the 2004 MLB draft. In 2007 Baseball America wrote that he is, “arguably the best pitching prospect in the minors.” He throws a 4-seamer that peaks at 97 MPH, spiked curveball, slider, cutter, and Vulcan changeup. Plus, he’s 27 years old.
  • His best days were under Dave Eiland. It was Eiland who served as his pitching coach at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels before working with him in the majors from ’08-’10.
  • Presumably, he is due for a moderate bounce back, and when he moves out of Yankee Stadium last year’s 1.5 HR/9 should lower. Imagine if he has Gordon, Cain, and Dyson as his outfield defense. Then imagine he isn’t pitching against an AL East team each start.  
  • Intangibles: He’s a man of strong faith and character. I understand what this amounts to for most folks. Most folks aren’t GMDM.
Smart money has GMDM making a qualifying offer of 1 yr. / $14 MM at Santana. It seems a strong possibility that he would also make Chen a 1 yr deal for roughly what he makes now at $4.5 MM. At present, no official statements have been made beyond the usual platitudes.

After studying this free agent list, the Royals need to take a hard look at their finances and ask: Do Santana and Chen provide maximal value for the #2 and #4 SP slots?