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Royals Hope

Just finished a long piece about former All-Star Frank White and the Royals and how things go wrong … it should run soon. Originally I had a section in there about the Royals’ already odd offseason. It didn’t quite fit, so I took it out. And I’ll put it here.

The Royals — as every Kansas City baseball fan knows — have been trying for a quarter century to find a way to break through and be a legitimate baseball contender. This has led them down many different paths, all of them foiled by incompetence or flawed thinking or bad luck or lack of money or some cruel combination of the lot.

This absolutely amazed me. Since 2000, the Royals have acquired: Luis Alicea, Willie Bloomquist, Bruce Chen, Elmer Dessens, Kyle Farnsworth, Ryan Freel, Juan Gonzalez, Ross Gload, Tony Graffanino, Mark Grudzielanek, Jose Guillen, Doug Henry, Denny Hocking, Jason Kendall, Chuck Knoblauch, Jason LaRue, Curt Leskanic, Al Levine, Jose Lima (twice!), Ron Mahay, Super Joe McEwing, Hideo Nomo (at 39), Sidney Ponson, Mark Redman, Kerry Robinson*, Reggie Sanders, Benito Santiago, Scott Sullivan, Brett tomko, Michael Tucker …

… this is an effort to actually win games …

… What would that list look like if the Royals were trying to LOSE games?

*Robinson was most famous for climbing the wall on a deep fly ball, only the watch the ball land on the warning track and bounce over his head.

That list, by the way, only includes players 32 and older. The Royals made plenty of bad choices for players younger than 32 too … but these choices were particularly specious because the players not just suspect, they were also old. It’s one thing to sign a 26-year-old Jeff Francoeur and hope for the best. It’s not necessarily smart to do that, but it’s one thing.

But it’s an altogether different thing to sign players nobody else particularly wants AND have them be undeniably past their prime ages. I would say this particular Royals strategy — among the myriad failed strategies the Royals have employed — has been the most depressing. Because it was the most hopeless.

This off-season, the Royals have made two bold moves. One, they traded for 30-year-old Ervin Santana, who is coming off a season in which he just might have been the worst starting pitcher in the American League (though Luke Hochevar fought hard for that honor; the Royals already have Hochevar secured). They will pay Santana roughly $11 million of the $12 million he has left on his deal, assuming his $13 million option in 2013 isn’t picked up.

Two, they gave the soon-to-be-34-year-old Jeremy Guthrie a three-year, $25 million deal. Guthrie has allowed more runs than any pitcher in baseball since 2009.

Now, if you do not follow the Royals, you might ask: Why would they do such a thing? That just seems illogical, gosh darn it.

But if you do follow the Royals, you already know why.

1. The Royals have no starting pitching whatsoever. This is a team that has given Hochevar 128 starts despite his career 5.39 ERA — and, best I can tell, he’s already locked into next year’s rotation. This is a team that, earlier, gave 99 starts to Kyle Davies (career 5.59 ERA) because he had a good September once. When you don’t have options, you will try almost anything. And convince yourself it might work.

2. The Royals cannot sign actual, valuable free agents because those players won’t come to Kansas City and/or the Royals’ payroll is half or one-third or one-fourth the size of free-agent contenders like Philadelphia and New York and Detroit and so on.

3. The Royals, in the almost 20 years I have studied them, have never shown the proper respect for what the years do to ballplayers.

And so, they end up repeating themselves again and again. Is it possible that Ervin Santana will rebound with a good year in Kansas City? Possible? Sure. Is it possible that Jeremy Guthrie, who pitched well for Kansas City the last two months of the year, will settle into a nice middle-of-the-rotation rhythm? Possible? Sure.

But possible is just about as high as you will want to go with your aspirations. Are either of these things likely? No. Reasonable? No. Plausible? Um, depending on your definition of plausible … no. When the Royals hired Buddy Bell in 2007 — this even though Buddy Bell (a good man and a good baseball man) had played or managed for 24 seasons and had never reached the playoffs — I wrote that the Royals were like a guy playing blackjack in a casino who hits on 20. The ace might come up. It almost certainly won’t. And even on the rare occasions that it does — it is a dumb play that screws up the future because it reinforces bad thinking.

I desperately want the Royals to be good again. I want it for Kansas City. No baseball town has been dragged through so much the last 25 years. The Royals are the only team to not reach the postseason since 1985. The fans have endured four 100-loss season and four more 95-loss seasons and four more 90-loss seasons just since the 1994 strike. They have endured seven different managers over that time. They have watched their great players run off to sign with other teams, and the not-so-great retained year after year.

Now, they have a young team that could be very exciting — Salvy Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, these are really good players. Billy Butler can hit. Alcides Escobar can field. Wil Myers is one of the best hitting prospects in the game. The bullpen is filled with promising  and powerful young arms which is both great (it’s great to be able to throw young strikeout pitchers like Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins, Greg Holland and Aaron Crow at teams) and depressing (how could NONE OF THEM be prospective starters?).

And the rotation? A nightmare. An absolute nightmare. The rotation at this moment is one more year of the Hochevar Experiment, the sinker-slider stylings of soon-to-be 36-year-old-Bruce Chen*, the hope-springs-eternal comeback of Ervin Santana, the “I hope the last two months were relevant” reality tour of Jeremy Guthrie and a mystery pitcher that, at this point, could come from anywhere.

*Remember the poem for Spahn and Sain and pray for rain?

(The whole poem actually goes like this).

I thought the Royals rotation last year should have used this poem:

First there’ll be lightning
Then there’ll be rain
Then an off day
Followed by Chen
Maybe a blackout
And lightning again
Perhaps a freak snowstorm
And then pray for Chen 

It’s hard to watch. Someday, I suspect, the stars will align and the Royals will win (or at least sort of win) despite themselves. That’s what happened for a while in 2003. The team had an energetic young manager, an in-his-prime superstar in Carlos Beltran, a few hitters in the pretty good to very good range (Angel Berroa, Joe Randa, Mike Sweeney), and a handful of nice surprises (Angel Berroa and Aaron Guiel on the hitting side; Darrell May, Jose Lima and Runelvys Hernandez on the pitching side) and they were able to contend in a lousy division for five months.

That — at least — will happen again someday, maybe even as soon as this year. Alex Gordon is one of the best players in baseball, even if few people know it. He could have an MVP-type breakout year. Hosmer struggled in his second year, but don’t be surprised if he breaks out. Salvador Perez might be the best defensive catcher in the league right now, and he’s going to hit. With some bullpen work, a little luck in the rotation, a couple of surprises, hey, it could happen.

But that’s almost always true. Lighting could strike. The ace could come up. The thing Royals fans keep waiting for is a sense that the team will actually become good someday without needing to hope for Ervin Santana to find 2011 or Jeremy Guthrie to repeat a relatively hot two months. And, no, they’re not there yet.

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33 Responses to Royals Hope

  1. kctiger says:

    Thanks for the cold dose of reality, Joe. This Royals fan will now go back to being depressed about the Chiefs.

  2. Captain Hook says:

    Joe – good thoughts … BUT Aaron Crow could absolutely be a good starter for the Royals – he was an excellent starter in college and has the arm and pitches to start …. if they don’t screw up and send him to the bullpen … Again

  3. CoolHead says:

    I follow a mediocre team, (the Blue Jays), and, until this year, late July has usually brought out the difficult questions. To follow a bad team, for even more years, and to ask the difficult questions in mid-June? My heart breaks for all of the Royals faithful, and for their clueless, brainless management.

  4. Pat Dunn says:

    My favorite refrain last year “yeah, but they’re fun to watch” seems kind of pitiful upon reflection. Maybe they should secede from the majors.

  5. Pat Dunn says:

    My favorite refrain last year “yeah, but they’re fun to watch” seems kind of pitiful upon reflection. Maybe they should secede from the majors.

  6. Betting on Jeremy Guthrie, and taking a flyer on a one year contract for Santana are not bad moves… if you have an ace pitcher and a solid #2 ALREADY ON YOUR STAFF. It seems to me DMGM is smart enough to know this… which leads us to ownership… ugh.

  7. Agree on all counts.

    I’m a long time fan of the Royals and close observer of the team since 1988 or so and I truly feel everything you’re saying here.

    Decidedly *not* in a spirit of defending Moore and company, I still have the following question: If you aren’t going to break the bank to sign to sign a young, good FA SP this year – which the Royals shouldn’t (8 year contract for Anibal Sanchez anyone?) – and you don’t have bats to trade – which the Royals don’t (they finished twelfth in the AL in offense last year and they MUST replace Francoeur and Myers is their only way of doing that this year) – then what exactly do you do?

    I know, I know, you get creative. You could trade Bubba Starling and Yordano Ventura and Mondesi’s kid in return for a bona fide SP. Let’s say you offer that specific package, which are essentially the Royals three best prospects not named Myers. What SP, realistically, could you get with that package? Hellickson? (not enough of a return and not someone who fixes the Royals’ rotation). Tommy Hanson? (injury concerns). Jon Lester? (he’s coming off of a 90 ERA+ season and is a risky guy to trade all of that talent for).

    Point is, I’m hearing a whole lot of criticism for what the Royals are doing this offseason, and in the context of the last twenty years it is deserved, but I’m not hearing a whole lot of solutions. Joe, I don’t think you could come up with one if you were GM of the Royals.

    I’m thinking this might be Joe’s counter argument: “I’m not paid to be a GM. I expect a lot out of my GM’s. Dave Dombrowski could come up with something if he were piloting the Royals right now.”

    Be that as it may, I like my criticism with a healthy dose of constructive suggestions. I used to participate in these writing groups where we would workshop each others writing. And the guys who took pot shots at my work without giving specific suggestions for improvement always bugged me a little. Joe, you’re clearly a fantastic writer, have always loved your work, but I’m just not clear on what you would have the Royals do here.

    My suggestion? Sign a guy like Guthrie to hold the fort while you continue to amass as much amateur talent as humanly possible, which the Royals have been doing. I think Duffy has the stuff to be a top tier pitcher. I think Paulino is very interesting. I think Odorizzi has a chance to be solid. I think Zimmer is a very intriguing arm that could be quick to the majors.

    • Kansas City says:

      This is exactly right. As I read Joe’s piece, I asked myself what does he say the Royals should do. He did no answer that question. I think Guthrie is a good move. I don’t know about Santana, but is seems worth the gamble. They get two starters fo $16 million next year.

  8. Mark Dittmer says:

    Would Billy Beane have made either of these deals in a million years? Maybe that’s a question Dayton Moore needs to ask himself every time he makes one of his own. I mean, I know we’re all unique and original and we’re better off trying to “be ourselves” rather than trying to imitate others. But … look, the A’s just won 94 games with a rotation that … during the last week of the season, it was an all-rookie rotation. And that was the team’s greatest strength!

    In other words, at the start of the season, you could have said the A’s had no starting rotation to speak of. And they wound up with one of the best rotations in the majors–for dirt cheap salaries!

    In other words, how could you be a GM in this league without having learned what … well, what you already said, Joe–that you don’t invest a lot of money and/or a lot of years in past-their-prime players! Especially with your pitching staff, where every season you’re rolling the dice a bit with every pitcher. Sheesh.

    • Unknown says:

      Totally different story in Oakland. The A’s rookie starters were mostly highly regarded prospects. No one was really worried about the rotation.

      Oakland’s problem was offense. For a while, the entire outfield consisted of Ryan Sweeney. A dizzying array of good fortune on offense led to the A’s 2012 title. Cespedes was everything advertised and more. Chris Carter broke out. Brandon Moss broke out (out of nowhere). Reddick was a stud. Coco Crisp saved the lead-off role after Jemile Weeks flamed out. The offense was a patchwork jumble of awesome.

      That’s what the Royals need. The same shrewdness/dumb luck with gambles on less-than-perfect ballplayers.

  9. Joe,

    One thing I’ve always been curious about: Have you ever heard of a player admitting he signed with a bad team with the idea of getting flipped at the deadline to a contender in mind? I’m sure at some point plenty of guys have said to themselves, “Well, no one good is calling offering guaranteed playing time. Might as well sign with the Royals, hope I have a good year, and get to finish out the season with the Yankees or the Cardinals and maybe snag a ring.” It sounds like the kind of thing no one not named Melky would admit to, though.

  10. Paul White says:

    It’s certainly perfectly fair for you to catalog the Royals’ personnel failures of the past. It’s their record, they have to own it. But in this case you seem to be firing away at a pair of moves that actually were somewhat encouraging, for a couple of reasons.

    First, in both cases, it demonstrates a willingness for the Royals to spend money, which has not always been the case. They just laid out market-value contracts (or in Santana’s case, agreed to take one on) to a pair of pitchers. Take Guthrie. Absent his 41 hideous innings in Coors Field last year, the guy has been a slightly above-average starting pitcher in some pretty tough pitching environments his entire career. His ERA+ outside of Colorado is roughly 105. Glancing through some other 30+ aged starters with similar career marks and you’ll find Guthrie may actually be a bit underpaid. James Shields (31-years old in a couple of weeks, career ERA+ of 107) makes $9 million in 2013 and $12 million in 2014. Ted Lilly (almost 37, 107 career ERA+) has averaged $11 million the last 4 years and will make $13 million next year. John Lackey (34-years old, career ERA+ of 107) is averaging $16 million per year on his current deal (which is admittedly a horrible contract). Wandy Rodriguez (soon to be 34, 102 career ERA+) made $10 million last year and will get $13 million in both 2013 and 2014. Aaron Harang, despite going into his age-35 season, having a career ERA+ of 101 and a horrible injury history, is still going to make $7 million in 2013 and 2014. This is the market for pitching, and the Royals are simply conforming to it.

    Second, acquiring starting pitching for nothing but dollars instead of real talent is precisely what the Royals should be doing. It’s the team’s one clear weakness. The bullpen is solid. The offense, while just 12th in the league in runs, shows signs of improving as their young players mature, they replace Francoeur with Myers, and a couple of players have healthy seasons. It’s the rotation that sucks, and they know it and are trying to address it. I don’t see how it’s fair to drop this criticism on them right now. In the past they’ve certainly earned it, but these two moves fall far more into the encouraging category than anything else.

  11. nightfly says:

    The Royals might actually be better off turning loose their army of relievers in a more-successful version of last season’s Rockies experiment – nobody goes more than three or four innings. Surely ten good three-inning guys is better than four average-to-horrible six-inning ones. Fine, use all ten of them. Maybe older guys like Guthrie and Santana can go deep on their good days, give you a traditional start here and there to rest the horde; if they run into trouble, first sign, get them out. Get one or two good trips through the order out of them, rather than two good trips and one disaster.

    It’s almost like the article you wrote about using Tebow in a different fashion, Pos. The Royals have that “nothing to lose at all” status, the only place something like this could be attempted. If it fails, well, the alternative wasn’t working to begin with, no worse harm done. If it succeeds, though? Why not?

  12. Unknown says:

    Myers to the Rays for either Shields or Hellickson!!

  13. Kansas City says:

    I just read Passan’s story about how the Royals are highly motivated to find a top player and are shopping Myers. STOP. DON’T DO IT.

    1. I can just sense DM is about to be fleeced.

    2. Even putting to one side reason 1, isn’t a star every day player worth more than a starting pitcher? I assume stat guys can asnwer this, but a stud playing 160 games seems more likely to influence games than a guy starting 32 games. Am I wrong?

    I am influenced by the Angels winning only 7 of Grienke’s 13 starts. The Royals won 10 of Guthrie’s 14 starts.

    • Timothy says:

      Per your #2:

      First, lets look at this simply. A player playing 150 games has more chances to both positively and negatively influence games. This causes their contribution to even out over time. In addition, pitchers have a much much greater amount of influence in their 32 games than 1 batter does in his 150. Look at it this way, a batter might influence 7 total at bats(4 AB’s for him and 3 defensive plays) A pitcher who pitches 7 innings probably influences 25-30 at bats. More if the pitcher has to hit as well. So the pitcher has roughly 4 times more influence per game. Extrapolate that and the pitcher ends up influencing about 130 “batter” games. A minimal difference really.

      It depends.
      Lets look at the three examples people have been throwing out a lot. WE’ll assume a straight player A for player B trade to simplify.
      1. James Shields. Shields is relatively consistant, and consistantly good. There’s no reason he can’t continue the last 2 years of performance and post 4.5 WAR per year. But he’s only under contract for 2 years(both option years) and that’s at 9 and 12 million respectively. At $5 million per win, Shields will give us 9 total wins, but cost 4 wins, giving us 5 wins of surplus value. Is that worth 6 years of Myers? especially when 3 of them are basically free? Even if we assume Myers makes a ludicrous amount in arbitration and makes $30 million over his last 3 years, he’d just have to provide less than 2 WAR per year to be technically more valuable.

      2. Hellickson: Concerns abound about this youngster, but lets assume he manages to continue to beat the odds, a bizarro Luke Hochevar if you will. It wouldn’t be out of the question for Hellickson to provide 3-4 WAR per year for the next 4 years. We’ll give him a total of 14 and split the difference. However he has just one more cost controlled year and should be well paid in arbitration. Let’s say $25 million over his 3 arbitration years. This sets the bar a little higher for Myers. He’d need to provide just under 3 WAR per year to match Hellickson.

      3. Hultzen(or any rookie/prospect): Myers is more valuable. It doesn’t really matter who it is, the higher chances of busting, getting injured or underperforming are higher for pitchers. Given two equal prospects, one hitter, one pitcher, always take the hitter. Even if you’d sell your soul for a #2.

      So the question then is where do you think Myers ends up?
      If its 2 WAR or more, he’s probably better long term than Shields (for comparison Garrett Jones had 1.9 WAR last year)
      If its 3 WAR or more, he’d probably better long term than Hellickson(For comparison Norichika Aoki had 2.9 WAR)

    • Kansas City says:

      Great answer. Thank you very much.

      It is in part the eye versus the stats. For example, I saw Alex Gordon coming up so often last year in key situations and also making many nice plays. He had almost a 6 WAR so I assume he is so good that you would trade him for few, if any, pitchers. But beyond his quality, he was up all the time in crucial situations with the ability to influence a game.

      I can understand how Royals might look short term rather than long term, which I suppose cuts against my horror at trading Myers. I just would not let him go. We, apparently, have a stud. Lets go with him and not some pitcher who goes out every 5 days and could blow out his arm.

    • Kansas City says:

      Another thought is that isn’t a stud in the 3 hole going to have as significant potential role in every close game? Whereas, a pitcher would only be determinative in maybe at most half his starts? I realize I may be wrong in the eyes of a top stat guy, but I see the three hole hitter as having much more significance than a startign pitcher. I’m really influenced by the Angels winning only 7 or Greinke’s 13 starts. Looked at it that way (realize small sample size and other factors), he was hardly worth anything to the Angels.

  14. ethegolfman says:

    I read it one time in one of your columns (I believe quoting Bill James):

    You can hope Jeremy Guthrie works out. You can hope Ervin Santana works out. You can hope Bruce Chen spins out another year of averageishness with underwhelming stuff. But in the end. . . .

    . . . .hope is not a plan.

  15. Rob Smith says:

    It always cracks me up that the Royals take on the Braves castoffs. Guys the Braves have flat out given up on. Francoeur, Chen, Bryan Pena, Melky, Farnsworth (granted the Braves tried to sign him until the Yankees offered stupid money), Davies, Betemit, Mahay, Horacio Ramirez… I’m probably missing someone. When you have a pipeline of castoffs from a team that is well run, you have to wonder what the thought process might be. The Braves were WRONG? And KC just knows they are going to be good players? Or, here’s someone mediocre who can play a little for cheap (except for Francoeur) until we find something better? Either way, that’s a terrible strategy.

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  19. han yu says:

    I can understand how Royals might look short term rather than long term, which I suppose cuts against my horror at trading Myers. I just would not let him go. We, apparently, have a stud. Lets go with him and not some pitcher who goes out every 5 days and could blow out his arm.swtor gold
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  22. somnus11258 says:

    That list, by the way, only includes players 32 and older. The Royals made plenty of bad choices for players younger than 32 too … but these choices were particularly specious because the players not just suspect, You can learn more: China tour packages | China travel packages | China Travel Agency

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