I have ranted. I have ranted some more. And I’m not even emotionally attached to the Kansas City Royals. Hell, I grew up a Cardinals fan, and 1985 still stings. If I’m not apathetic to the Royals from a fan perspective, I’m negative toward them. As I get older and my fan fires die, my love of baseball and the ins and outs of front office machinations and player development grows, overpowering any tribal fan-based loyalties I had in the past. I’m more a fan of players now than I am of teams, regardless which colors they wear. And I have become more a fan of General Managers (Andrew Friedman, Jon Daniels, Jed Hoyer) than I am of players on the team I loved above all else when I was younger. An error in the field by a replacement-level shortstop has ceased to generate an emotional spark in me. However, when General Managers do inefficient, wasteful things, I jeer. When they do smart, efficient things, I cheer. I’m more a fan of smart baseball at this stage in my life than I am of any individual team. I’m not upset that Tim Raines isn’t in the Hall of Fame because I love Tim Raines, I’m upset he’s not in the Hall because of the inability of writers to analyze his career by looking at the value he produced and then simply putting it in the context of his peers and the current Hall.
That’s not to say I’m better or worse than your more traditional, typical fan who supports the home nine no matter what, just that this is how I look at baseball now. And I’m fuming over how poorly Dayton Moore is running the Kansas City Royals.
Two years ago Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus listed the Royals top prospects, naming an almost unheard-of five players as Five-Star prospects, and another three as Four-Star grade. Goldstein summarized the Royals system by saying:
This is not just the best minor-league system in baseball, it’s the best by a wide margin. The more I wrote about these prospects, the more trouble I had figuring out any way for things to go wrong. Another winning record could occur as early as 2012, but more importantly, the team should return to annual playoff contention shortly thereafter.
Hefty praise. Baseball America described the organization as “the deepest farm system in baseball.” Things, we were told, were looking up for Kansas City baseball. In the two seasons since, the team has lost 38 more games than it has won, with a 71-win season in 2011 followed by a not-even-baby-steps 72-win campaign last season.
At the time, the Royals were flush with pitching prospects, but only one (Danny Duffy, shut down this year with Tommy John surgery) has made it to the Major League level and shown signs that he can be successful there. The position players, on the other hand, are developing nicely. The team was far from an offensive juggernaut last year, but it’s important to point out, even though they scored more runs than only two other AL teams last year, just how young this team is. The starting nine next year, with 2013 age and 2012 wOBA, lines up to be:
- C – Sal Perez – 23 – .340
- 1B – Eric Hosmer – 23 – .291
- 2B – Johnny Giavotella – 25 – .254
- 3B – Mike Moustakas – 24 – .305
- SS – Alcides Escobar – 26 – .316
- LF – Alex Gordon – 29 – .357
- CF – Jarrod Dyson/Lorenzo Cain – 28/27 – .291/.318
- RF – Jeff Francoeur – 29
- DH – Billy Butler – 27 – .377 – .285
Billy Buler and Alex Gordon and even Francoeur seem like they should all be 35 by now, but miraculously everyone on that team is under-30 and will be playing 2013 in a year when they, age-wise, should be either in their peak, just barely on the downturn from their peak, or approaching their peak. Hosmer and Perez are just babes. Moustakas and Giavotella aren’t much older. If you asked me today: “Name the AL team most likely to improve it’s run production in 2013” I’d say without hesitation “Kansas City.”
Francoeur is the black hole of suck in there. Forget Giavotella. He was yo-yo-ed from Omaha to Kansas City, and didn’t get comfortable because he never had a role. He was slotted behind Chris Getz, given the back-seat for a while to Irving Falu, and was one emblem of Dayton Moore’s ineptitude. Giavotella has lit every level of the minors on fire, with a career .308/.380/.443 slash line. He should be the second baseman in 2013, with any excuses that he needs to work on his glove in AAA for another couple months tossed out the window.
And forget Hosmer’s 2012. Just forget it. Twenty-two years old and the centerpieces of a marketing campaign to fans from the team declaring now is their time. Enormous expectations placed on his shoulders coming off of a very very good rookie season the year before in which he hit .293/.334/.465. His swing remains the same pretty, level, speedy thing of beauty it was when he was a minor leaguer and a rookie. Hosmer ran into bad luck on balls in play in 2012 (a .255 BABIP), while walking about 50% more often than he did in his rookie year. If his discipline continues and his contact rates remain steady, he’s going to hit.
This is not a team that is in need of hitting. This is a team in need of pitching.
If Francoeur was the black hole of suck in the lineup last year, the starting rotation was basically an entire black hole of suck, save the upstart Luis Mendoza, the few innings provided by Duffy, and a nice last-half from midseason acquisition Jeremy Guthrie. Entering this off-season the Royals had, though, a roster full of back-end-variety number four and number five type starters (Guthrie, Mendoza, Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Felipe Paulino) and was, more than anything else, in need of quality, front-end starting pitching.
So Dayton Moore went out and got himself Ervin Santana. By FIP, the worst qualified starting pitcher in MLB last year. A pitcher who, in a home park that suppressed home runs in 2012, gave up almost two of them every nine innings pitched. A guy whose value turned to the negative because besides getting hammered like crazy, he wasn’t able to work very many innings, entirely due to efficiency issues caused by his newfound ability to throw batting practice. Not even Mike Trout could keep balls from sailing over the wall, and Santana proceeded to post a -0.9 fWAR (-1.6 rWAR, -2.0 WARP.)
To say Santana stunk in 2012 is doing a disservice to guys like Ubaldo Jimenez and Henderson Alvarez. And, facing the need to add good, quality starting pitching, Moore went out and added Santana, for $13 million in 2013. Santana now represents about one-fifth of Kansas City’s projected $70 million payroll, and the team is now, at the close of the Winter Meetings in Nashville, claiming to be in a “payroll pinch.”
The best way to have avoided that payroll pinch, of course, would have been to not trade for Ervin Santana and commit a fifth of your payroll capability to him. That’s just dumb. He stinks, he’s expensive, and Moore was foolish to make that move.
It all points to something far more dysfunctional in Kansas City, and that’s their failure to analyze what they have and what they need, and then go make a move. It also, to my eye, points to an inability to properly assess the talent available.
If Santana is $13 million, and Dan Haren is $13 million, and what you need is a front-end starter, which one is more likely to bounce back in 2013 and give you that? Haren. (Yes, Haren could quite possibly say “Kansas City? No thanks. Rather play with a team that’s a sure-fire contender.” But it’s the ((baseball)) economy, stupid, and if Haren’s value is $13MM, Santana’s is somewhere around a third of that.) Even Santana’s Bill James projection for 2013 (205 IP, 4.50 FIP) points to a ~2.0 fWAR, or him being a #3-4 league-average starter.
Moore has stated reluctance to deal Wil Myers, and writers and fans have chimed in that six years of Myers (6.9 if you play the service time clock properly) is way more valuable than a 1- or 2-year front-line starter. That, taken in a vacuum, is a perfectly reasonable argument. But the Kansas City Royals are not in a vacuum, they’re in their very specific situation. And that situation is, they have lousy pitching and pretty good hitting. They’re far more able to suck up another year of Francoeur in right field and be effective offensively, with growth from all those kids in 2013-2014, than they are to continue staggering along without a pitcher worthy of being a number-two starter, let alone an ace.
This Kansas City team was drafted and developed to win in the 2013-2017 window they will enter when Opening Day rolls around this coming spring. That’s soon. After that window closes, Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, Escobar, Dyson, Perez (even with his extension) and Duffy will be gone.
But more pressingly, Butler and Gordon, their two best players at present, will be gone, respectively, after 2015 and 2016, shrinking that window down from a five year span to the three between 2013-2016 at its widest.
That window can easily lose a year, with a few slumps like the one suffered by Hosmer this year, some bad luck in close and late games, or injuries.
A team that is built on the cheap to win in a certain window has to take full advantage of that window. By running off a few winning seasons Kansas City can make modest incremental increases in ballpark revenue. By making a deep playoff run, they can increase that even further. Winning has a bigger impact on the top-line of a baseball team than anything other than a new ballpark and a new TV deal. If Kansas City can win more now, in that window they’ve planned for, they will have the money to not run into a “payroll pinch” as easily in the future.
To win, however, they need pitching. Holding on to Wil Myers and continuing to trot out sub-replacement-level starters in every position is wasteful. Trading for Ervin Santana is wasteful. Not playing Giavotella ahead of Getz is wasteful. If now is really “Our Time” in Kansas City, the fun marketing campaign must be backed up by solid decisions in the front office. And I sincerely question Dayton Moore’s ability to do that.