In mid December the Royals traded OF David Lough to the Baltimore Orioles for 3B Danny Valencia. On the surface this trade looks like two teams swapping two role players with no role. Lough played well after finally getting his shot at the major league level but when the Royals acquired Justin Maxwell during the season and Norichika Aoki in December, moving an OF’er became almost mandatory. Lough was the odd man out. For him personally he’s in a much better situation as he will get a chance to play in Baltimore and contribute. As for Valencia, he will initially provide much needed insurance and a possible platoon in the event Mike Moustakas duplicates his anemic 2013 offensive output. As the Royals roster solidifies, 3B looks to be the key to an offensive improvement over last season.
Of course Moustakas cannot have a repeat of last season if the offense looks to improve greatly. No matter how you look at it Moustakas’ 2013 season was ugly. Dayton Moore (whose night classes on general managing seem to really be paying off) recognized 3B as a pivotal position on the club and made the trade for Valencia. As we move into the 2014 season I think we will look back on this as the most important transaction Dayton Moore will make this offseason. Reason being, I don’t see Mike Moustakas improving much in 2014.
Whether you believe the rumors about Moustakas disregarding suggestions of mechanical changes by coaches or not, Moustakas has mechanical flaws. Flaws or not though it’s doubtful he starts hitting LH pitching at even an acceptable rate. His .222/275/332 (79 OPS+) career line against LH pitching doesn’t exactly instill confidence that he will get it turned around even if it is in a small sample size of 395 PA. He did manage a .690 OPS in 27 PA over the winter in Venezuela if that makes you feel any better. Moustakas has had a modicum of success against RH pitching posting a .707 OPS (108 tOPS+). That is where Valencia comes in.
Valencia 29, comes to the Royals 4 years older than Moustakas but with roughly 230 less PA’s. Having his only true full season with the Twins in 2011 while posting a .677 OPS. He’s played sparingly since then with only 315 PA’s in 2 seasons. It’s the 170 PA’s last year (SSS alert!) and .888 OPS that makes me hopeful Valencia can provide solid platoon production with Moose. Valencia’s career .879 OPS against LH’ers suggests it’s an idea worth trying. In a platoon I don’t think it’s a stretch to expect a combined .750 OPS from the duo. In the event Moustakas is injured or regresses to the point he has to be replaced entirely I believe Valencia can step in and give competent offensive production. Steamer predicts Valencia to be at .251/296/413 overall in 2014 while CAIRO is a bit more bullish at 255/296/433.
Though a platoon would seem the way to approach the 3B issue having Valencia take over full time wouldn’t be the end of the world and in fact should increase production from 3B over last year. I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that Valencia is the answer long term but in the unfortunate event Moustakas doesn’t fulfill his potential the Royals have obtained quality depth at the position which could turn out to be the difference in a playoff berth next October. That’s something this longtime Royals fan has longed to see.
Cost efficiency is a difficult thing to understand let alone obtain in modern day sports. In baseball, there are certain metrics that allow us to at least get a rough estimate of a players worth. Fangraphs uses fWAR (for a definition of fWAR and rWAR go here- http://www.fangraphs.com/library/index.php/misc/war/) to determine a players overall value to his team. Placing a monetary value to a certain WAR value can give you an idea of a players worth that season.
Sal Perez just signed a 5 year $7 mil extension with the Royals. That contract includes 3 one year club options for an additional $14.75 million. There is also $5 mil in incentives he could earn as well.
Here is the breakdown:
Year 1: $0.75M
Year 2: $1M
Year 3: $1.5M
Year 4: $1.75M
Year 5: $2M
Year 6: $3.75M – option
Year 7: $5M – option
Year 8: $6M – option
$5M in incentives
Last year Sal put up a .331/.361/.473 line in 158 PA’s. No he won’t duplicate those numbers again but if he simply posts a .270/.320/.410 and plays solid defense behind the plate the Royals will come out so far ahead it will make the $12.4 mil Gil Meche gave back look like a small donation. Sal’s rWAR last year – 1.1. Sal’s value last year – $6.7 mil. The catcher position in MLB is so thin, always has been, that the value of 158 PA’s is enormous. It’s no secret Ned Yost feels Perez is the most talented catching prospect he has ever seen. May be one of the best catchers he has coached period.
This could work out extremely well for the Royals with so little risk it’s hard to find any fault with it. Barring a major injury or chronic knee and back problems Perez will be a well above average catcher for every year of his contract. Hell, if the guy stopped playing right now the Royals would only be on the hook for the $7 mil over the next 5 years. That’s pocket change even for the Royals. Great job Dayton Moore!
Ned Yost surely has a plan on which direction he wants to go with the rotation, though as we said before, there are two spots that are up for debate. No doubt his lineup is set with 2B being the only possible question mark. The bullpen and bench will be no different. Unless there is a major injury or two the names that will be posted on the 25 man roster are pretty much the names most of us are familiar with. The one thing that might make a couple of spots in the bullpen a revolving door of sorts is if the starters maintain their status quo for raking up high pitch counts early in games. You could then see guys like Kelvin Herrera among others get call ups for short periods throughout the season. Another question will be whether or not Dayton and Ned decide to use a typical 7 man pen or go with the extra guy. Hopefully the rotation will make it unnecessary to carry an 8th.
Joakim Soria- The only question with Soria in my mind is how much will he bounce back after junking the cutter early last season. I think coming in to Spring Training this year and going through his normal routine will help him start out the season as solid as he has in the past. While not quite as sharp as he has shown to be in previous seasons, Soria posted a 2.39 ERA in his last 37 appearances last year after deciding to be Mariano Rivera’s clone wasn’t such a good idea. I think we all are looking for Soria to put up something resembling his usual numbers – 2.25 ERA – 42 SV – 70 IP
Jonathan Broxton – I don’t see Broxton coming back as strong as he was before he was given the relievers equivalent of the “Gil Meche” treatment but he could prove to be a decent bridge to Holland. If his fastball comes back (at least hitting 96-98) he would certainly prove to be a valuable piece to the bullpen but I think his days of upper 90’s-100 are over. I feel he will live in the 94-96 range which, for his 4 seam, may prove to be too hittable. I hope I’m wrong. 2012- 3.89 ERA – 2 SV – 52 IP
Greg Holland – It will be hard for Holland to duplicate let alone improve on his 2011 season. Anything even close to resembling his numbers from last year and he will prove to be the most valuable arm in the pen. I see no reason why that won’t be the case. 2012 – 1.90 ERA – 5 SV – 68 IP
Louis Coleman – Writing about the bullpen after closers and setup men is like writing about local politicians. You really just hope they do their job well and that you don’t notice them most of the time. Coleman provided 59.2 IP with 64 K’s while only giving up 44 hits and 26 BB’s. Louis has the stuff to duplicate last year’s success. Like ERA, it is not uncommon for a top reliever to have a low BABIP (around .265 or so). He did benefit from .246 BABIP last year but with his ability to get strike outs I don’t see an issue if Coleman’s BABIP goes up some this year, especially if he continues to limit his walks. 2.40 ERA 70 K’s 65 IP
Blake Wood/Aaron Crow-RHLR
Tim Collins/Everett Teaford-LHLR
Jose Mijares-LOOGY – These guys round out the bullpen. Collins or Teaford should make the Pen as the LH long reliever along with Blake Wood as the righty if Aaron Crow gets sent down or makes the rotation out of spring. Mijares will be the LOOGY by default, Visa issues be damned.
Mitch Maier- The outfield spot on the bench will most likely be occupied by either Mitch Maier or Jarrod Dyson. I’m not nearly as big a fan of Dyson as a lot of fellow bloggers are mostly because I don’t like players who only have one skill (I’m not big on Dyson’s defense as others either). That’s not to say I would be all that heartbroken if Dyson made the team I just think the team is stronger with Maier or Derrick Lough coming off the bench.
Brayan Pena- With the injury to Pina this put Pena as the near lock to take the backup catchers spot. Unless Yost feels compelled to sign a veteran (all glove no stick) to backup Sal Perez, Pena is it. I’m fine with Brayan back there. His defense is much improved and he still swings the bat well. Last year he played so sporadically that Pena never had a chance to do much at the plate. He won’t get much chance this year short of a team deflating injury to Perez.
Yuniesky Betancourt will be the utility IF unless Johnny Giavotella completely implodes and Betancourt is handed 2B. Otherwise the Yunibomber will be playing about 3 times a week, rotating between 2B,SS and 3B.
Jarrod Dyson- See above.
David Lough- Possible addition if Maier and Dyson prove unworthy.
Chris Ge…… never mind.
So we went over the position starters yesterday and now I will go over the rotation as it stands right now. As we all know the rotation was/is going to be the biggest hole on the roster. If there was one group that will be the downfall of this team it is the rotation. There will be 3 or 4 wild cards on this team, that if they make the 25 man roster out of ST, or get called up early enough and perform, they could make this team a contender for the AL Central.
I wanted to add that defensively this should be the best Royals team since the late ’70s and early ’80s without a doubt. They are solid at every position as well as the bench. This wasn’t the case to begin last season. The pitching staff will benefit greatly from the range, sure hands and strong arms of all the position players. Defensively, this is the best team in the AL Central and one of the top 5 in the entire AL.
I also wanted to post the lineup as Ned Yost laid it out yesterday:
LF – Gordon
2B – Giavotella
1B – Hosmer
DH – Butler
3B – Moustakas
RF – Francoeur
C – Perez
CF – Cain
SS – Escobar
Luke Hochevar will almost certainly be the opening day starter as well as be looked upon to anchor the rotation. That alone should tell you how much Dayton Moore and the Royals need to do to make the rotation playoff worthy. Let’s displace with all the talk that Hoch may have “found” it in the 87 innings he pitched after the All Star break. Even if a 3.53 ERA in the new offense deprived MLB for those 87 innings meant that he did “find” something, he would still be at best a decent #2. But I will take 480 or so innings with over a 5 ERA that tells me his is what he is, a #4 pitcher with a #3 ceiling that he could reach the next few years. He’s 28 and will be entering his 5th full season. I do see Luke improving on his 2011 season but only marginally. Look for something around a 4.10 ERA with 135K’s in 195 IP. Like I said, a decent #3.
Jonathan Sanchez is wild card #1, not only for this rotation but for this team. The offense will be there, the defense will be there, the pen should be solid but again, the rotation could be a sinkhole. Sanchez could provide a spark to this rotation that would solidify it. He certainly has the ability to miss bats, 9.4 K’s per 9 which ranks near the top of current starters in MLB. It’s his 4.8 BB per 9 that wipes that big ole smile right off your face. There is also the fact he’s coming off an elbow injury that could hamper his production. It’s been debated whether or not Sanchez get’s K’s because of his “stuff” or because of his lack of command. I would like to think it’s the way he throws the ball. A lot of two seamers, which is cause for his high walk rate as well. If Dave Eiland can get Sanchez to command not only the fastball but the off speed stuff as well, the Royals will have found a GIANT piece to their playoff puzzle. If not, they will continue to look up at the Tigers. If Sanchez stays healthy I think Sanchez falls somewhere in between great and awful- 4.45 ERA 175 K’s 85 BB’s 185 IP.
Dayton Moore felt it was necessary to bring back Bruce Chen. Ok, it’s easy to look at his tidy little 3.77 ERA, which he posted a year after putting up a 4.17 ERA in 2010, and think that he has figured it out. And maybe he has but the problem is I don’t think it will produce a lot of wins for the Royals. Chen has spent time on the DL the last two years while throwing 140 and 155 IP the last two seasons. Chen’s 6.8 K’s per 9 means he will have limit hits and walks greatly to be effective. It will help having a solid defense behind him but I’m not sure it will help enough. I see Chen regressing somewhat this season due to his inability to get K’s and his BABIP coming back to the mean. Hey, if Chen is your #5, or even your #4 you probably have a solid rotation but when he is coming in as your number #3 with Hochevar and Sanchez being the arms in front of him, well it’s not a good situation to be in. Chen in 2012 – 4.20 ERA 95 K’s 150 IP.
Felipe Paulino is wild card #2. He is the one pitcher in this rotation that has true top of the rotation stuff. Problem is until his 124.2 IP last year for the Royals he really hadn’t shown what level of pitcher he could be. Of course he really hadn’t had much opportunity either. He had 187 IP over 2 seasons in Houston at age 25-26 with a mid 5 ERA. He pitched 14 innings getting hit around in Colorado before they released him and the Royals picked him up. He then proceeded to throw 124.2 innings with a 4.11 ERA. His 8.6 K’s per 9 and 3.5 BB’s per 9 are certainly numbers that if repeated, would make Paulino a difference maker. Someone who could make the Royals 3-4 wins better and stabilize the whole rotation. If he’s great, the Royals have a legitimate shot at the AL Central, if not, well we can all groan about Dayton not getting that top of the rotation starter. Honestly though I don’t think anyone has a good idea of what Paulino will give the Royals. Gun to my head I say his ERA is around what it was last year, but he could certainly post a season like – 3.50 175 K’s 190 IP and I could also see 5.15 125 140.
Danny Duffy will be the favorite to win the #5 spot entering ST. Some people are split on Duffy remaining in the rotation and starting in Omaha. I will say I think the idea that more time in the minors is COMPLETELY over stated. I want Duffy to be in the rotation to start the season. One reason is I believe that he is the one true top of the rotation starter that has a legit shot at the rotation. I believe Duffy is a true #2 talent. I also think we will see improvement from him this season across the board. If it’s enough improvement, this could be a fun summer. Of course the “Phil Humber” disease has stricken Dayton Moore and he is so afraid of losing Luis Mendoza (yes he of the 7.36 lifetime ERA) due to the fact he is out of options, that Duffy may have to start in Omaha just to let Mendoza throw his 87mph fastball against real ML hitters. Hopefully fate is not so cruel as to let Mendoza sabotage this season from the beginning. Duffy in 2012 – 3.90 155 175IP
Mike Montgomery is wild card #3. He will be the only pitcher in all of ML camp with true #1 ability. In fact I think he’s really the only guy in the entire organization with #1 stuff. I don’t think Montgomery has much of a chance to make the team out of ST but I would not be surprised to see him up in late May or early June. It could be sooner if an injury is coupled with sever under performance. Bruce Chen or Jonathan Sanchez getting hurt and Felipe Paulino under performing, or any combination of the three would probably get Montgomery a quicker call up if he is in fact performing in Omaha himself. If he rebounds from a poor year in AAA and starts to fulfill his promise at the ML level, the Royals dire need for a top of the rotation starter will get a whole lot less.
Luis Mendoza, Sean O’Sullivan, Vin Mazzaro, Chris Dwyer etc. Unless Mendoza has a great ST making Moore and Yost’s decision more difficult I can’t see any pitcher not named above throwing many innings at the ML level. Dwyer will probably start in Omaha to gauge how he fits in future plans. Same with Will Smith. They are both young and have a shot at rounding out a rotation, cheaply I might add.
I think for this Royals team experience the level of success that they and all of us envision will require Dayton Moore and David/Dan Glass to spend some money on the rotation. They could even trade a couple of top prospects and throw in a top reliever to get a top quality starter in return. On so many levels it would be important that the Royals are in contention at the trade deadline. Not only could they possibly acquire a top starter for the remainder of this season but they may get one that would be here for 2-3 more season. If it works out right, DM can trade for a starter at the deadline, hopefully propelling the Royals to a strong finish and sign another one in the off season. Unfortunately I think that’s what it will take to make this rotation good enough for multiple playoff appearances. With this lineup anything less will be more than disappointing.