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Friday, December 16, 2005

Baird's big day

I suppose it was bound to happen. You give a guy money to spend, I guess he's going to find a way to spend it. The damage is done. No use crying about what should or shouldn't have been done. Contracts have been signed and they're legally binding and there are no two ways about it.

The worst move is yet to come. Jacque Jones hasn't signed yet, but sounds like he will and his three-year, $15 million deal will be an albatross, the exact kind of move the Royals can't afford to make. Not when you've got better options already in house and even better options coming down the pipe.

Anyway, to recap (with projections from my PROFITS system):

[2005 ROYALS STARTERS: 33-73, 6.00 ERA]

* Mark Redman (9-11 wins, 190 IP, ERA 4.59 - 5.02, 105-115K, 18-23 HR, 58-68 BB, 1.25 GB:FB)
* Scott Elarton (8-10 wins, 180 IP, ERA 5.10 - 6.00, 90-100K, 30-35 HR, 50-60BB, 0.60 GB:FB)

Both of these guys will be around for the next two seasons. Neither will strike out many batters and the Royals have virtually guaranteed that their starters will again finish at the bottom of the league in K's.

Redman has always nominally been a flyball pitcher but posted an excellent 1.65 GB:FB for the Pirates last season. A continuation of that trend would be great. There are no such hopes for Elarton who is an extreme flyball pitcher. He moves from a stingier run-scoring environment in Cleveland so his already-shaky numbers will likely take a hit.

The ERA range for all of the pitchers is predicated on the Royals' DER. A .690 DER would generate the low end of those projections. A .670 figure yields the high end. An extreme bump (say to .700 or .705) would move the pitchers into the neighborhood of league average. But don't hold your breath.

Both pitchers should be an improvement over the stock 6.00 ERA the Royals were getting from starting pitchers in 2005. But they might not be, either. The hope is that they hold steady in the midrange of those projections (4.90 ERA for Redman, 5.50 for Elarton), which would be good enough to keep them in the rotation for 30-35 starts apiece.

That would allow the Royals, and the rest of us, to pin our hopes for pitching improvement to come from:

1. a maturing Zack Greinke
2. a healthier Runelvys Hernandez
3. a more consistent Jeremy Affeldt
4. a potentially dynamite bullpen

In other words, Redman and Elarton can hopefully stop the merry-go-round of replacement-level fodder (and worse) that annually fills out 2/5 - 3/5 of the Royals' rotation. Will that be worth the combined $10 million the two are likely to make each of the next two seasons? What happens if Denny Bautista and J.P. Howell are ready to stick in The Show?

Best case scenario: Redman & Elarton overachieve the first half of next season. Bautista & Howell progress in the minors. Redman and Elarton are flipped at the trade deadline, leaving the Royals with a 2007 rotation of Greinke, Hernandez, Affeldt, Bautista & Howell.

Worst case scenario: Redman and Elarton make us long for the days of Brian Anderson and Jose Lima. Midway through the 2007 season, both are released with the Royals eating considerable dollars. Meanwhile, none of the five young starter aforementioned fulfill their potential.

* Elmer Dessens (3-5 wins, 60-70 IP, 4.40 - 4.95 ERA, 30-40 K, 4-8 HR, 10-15 BB. 1.65 GB:FB)
- Elmer has exceptional command and a sterling groundball ratio. He can go 2-3 innings and his finesse style will be a different look from the BBs fired by Sisco, Burgos, Nunez, et al. But what does he do that is any different than Mike Wood? How many of those guys do you need on your staff? Wood has higher upside. Dessens might work out just fine but it's money that could have been better spent elsewhere. Or, better yet, not spent at all.

[2005 ROYALS SECOND BASEMEN: (.235/.293/.334, 9 HR, 55 RBI, 66 R, 4 SB, .786 ZR]

* Mark Grudzielanek (.299/.342/.412, 7 HR, 50 RBI, 69 R, 6 SB; .856 ZR)

I've changed my tune on Grudz. He's a middle infielder who will turn 36 next season but his indicators were solid last season. (CAUTION: middle infielders, when they drop off, do it steeply. See Boone, Bret; Alomar, Roberto) The Royals are only on the hook for him for one year, minimizing the risk.

It will be virtually impossible for a healthy Grudz to not improve the position, both at the plate and in the field. Look at that difference in zone rating. That alone could bump the Royals' DER 5-10 points.

If the Royals could unload Berroa and hand shortstop over to Andres Blanco AND if Mark Teahen plays as he did at the end of last season AND Doug Meintkiewicz hits well enough to hold down the first-base position, then you're looking at a pretty solid infield defense. With the improvement of the young starters the single most important problem facing the Royals, improving the defense to above league average is crucial. They may be on the path to accomplish that.

The other upshot is that during the one-year of Grudz' package, Ruben Gotay and Donnie Murphy will be subject to another much-needed year of development and evaluation. If they don't pan out, then you can pick up Grudz' option for 2007 and hope that Jeff Bianchi is ready beyond that.

* Doug Mientkiewicz (.270/.350/.460, 15 HR, 70 RBI, 60 R, 0 SB; .890 ZR)

Not since the days of Wally Joyner have the Royals seen a capable glove at first base. Well, I guess Jeff King was here but he was mailing it in by the time he was through here. Anyway, I like this move as a stopgap solution if D.M. matches that projection. That's a big, fat if, however.

Last season, he showed surprising pop for the Mets but his batting average was down for the second-straight season. But D.M.'s contact rate and walk percentages have remained steady. Was he unlucky with the average? I can't answer that for sure but his line-drive rate was a good 5 percent below the National League average. That's a sign of slowed bat speed.

But, as I say, the risk is minimal. Sure, he's blocking Justin Huber but Huber could use more Class AAA seasoning anyway. If D.M. can't hit at all anymore, then Huber is always just a phone call away. D.M. would then just be an expensive defensive replacement.

* Paul Bako (Sal Fasano, Tim Spehr, Jorge Fabregas, Hector Ortiz, A.J. Hinch, Mike DiFelice, Alberto Castillo, Kelly Stinnett - does it really matter?)

[2005 ROYALS LF: .276/.324/.396, 13 HR, 68 RBI, 81 R, 5 SB, .873 ZR from right fielders]
* Jacque Jones (.257/.321/.442, 25 HR, 84 RBI, 82 R, 15 SB; .875 ZR)

I used left field hitting stats here because Jones will be replacing Emil Brown in right, who will move to left. While the zone-rating improvment projects to be nominal, the ZR for that position is flaky and Jones will be a defensive upgrade.

Jones projects to be a slight upgrade at the plate over the Royals' paltry LF production from last season, which came primarily from Terrence Long. But will it be better than what the Royals could get from a platoon of Matt Stairs & Chip Ambres? Was it worth it to designate Matt Diaz for assignment?

Those questions pertain to this season but what about beyond that? Billy Butler? Alex Gordon? Hello? Remember, folks, the Royals' offer to Jones is three years, $15 million. Perhaps it won't happen but if (or when) it does, it'll be a terrible acquisition.

Overall, the Royals have acquired a group of players that, in the aggregate, is mediocre or slightly worse. That, sad to say, does improve the ballclub over the short term. Other than Jones, none of these players are likely to be blocking a younger player who ought to be playing in a regular big-league role in 2006.

I give tepid thumbs-up to signings of Mientkiewicz and Redman, a solid thumbs-up to Grudzielanek, a moderate thumbs-down to Dessens and Elarton, a who-cares to Bako and a resounding thumbs-down to Jacque Jones.

The unasked question here is whether it would have been better for the Royals to take it on the chin for another year, save these funds for the next off-season, and hope their not-ready-for-prime-time crew develops at the big-league level. That was my preference at the beginning and after Baird's spending frenzy of the last two days, that preference hasn't changed.


Blogger Dave said...

Bradford, there's not a whole lot you can do when your owner essentially publicly demands that payroll be raised to $50 million, and no big name free agents are willing to talk to you.

And as for your Stairs/Ambres platoon idea, I believe Stairs' days in the the outfield are over. I remember the Royals saying that last season, and Stairs didn't play a single game in the OF for the last few months.

The good thing about all this is that Baird hasn't hamstrung us with a bevy of bad contracts. Even Jones -- if signed to that three year deal -- is perfectly manageable, as there is always a team willing to take on a capable defender with decent power. The Royals might have to eat some salary in that case, but it's hardly the albatross you describe.

Anyway, while I agree that there really isn't anything that happened today to be incredibly jubilant about, it's nothing to piss all over either.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Bradford said...

Dave, I disagree with you to a degree regarding the contracts. To me, a contract is bad if you're paying above minimum salary to a player who isn't a significant upgrade to what you already have in the system. Sure, after this season, the bulk of these dollars can come off the books. But, to me, any money squandered now is money you could use later.

That's not to say that all of this money has been squandered. The Jones deal, if it happens, is the only one I'd really be down about.

If Stairs doesn't play the outfield, it's really a waste of a roster spot. How many lefty 1B do you need? Anyway, my platoon suggestion hold true for Guiel/Ambres as well.

It wasn't really my intention to piss on these moves. But when you break them down one-by-one, it doesn't paint a pretty picture.

All this said, I do think the team got better today - in the short term.

3:14 PM  
Blogger neal said...

Hey...we've lost 100 games the last two years. We have to do something. If Jacque Jones signs and doesn't pan out who cares. We have to sign somebody in the short term somewhere for some significant money or other free agents are never going to come to KC. At least we're not spending 6-10 million on some pitcher. The only way to really improve this team is to get someone with bat.

5:04 PM  
Blogger Bradford said...

I don't disagree, Neal. But that someone isn't Jones.

6:12 PM  

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