Winter report card: Kansas City Royals
With less than a month before pitchers and catchers report, we’re checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there’s still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2012, and I’ll revisit and adjust their grades to account for late-winter deals as spring training begins.
Kansas City Royals
2012 Results: 72-90, 4th place in AL Central. (Hot Stove Preview)
Key departures: RHP Jeremy Jeffress, RHP Vin Mazzaro, OF Wil Myers, RHP Jake Odorizzi, C Brayan Pena, RHP Joakim Soria, RHP Blake Wood
Key arrivals: OF Endy Chavez, RHP Wade Davis, C Brett Hayes, RHP Guillermo Moscoso, OF Xavier Nady, RHP Ervin Santana, RHP James Shields, IF Miguel Tejada, RHP Dan Wheeler, IF Brandon Wood
Back in December, the Royals made one of the winter’s most controversial deals when they traded four prospects including Wil Myers, Baseball America‘s Minor League Player of the Year, to the Rays in exchange for James Shields and Wade Davis. While the deal certainly upgrades Kansas City’s pitching staff, I’ve argued before that it represents a fundamental misreading of the team’s current station. Coming off a 72-90 campaign, their 17th losing season in the past 18 years, the Royals simply weren’t a front-of-the-rotation starter away from contending, even in the weak AL Central. Punting Myers, who would have taken over rightfield for the execrable Jeff Francouer (.235/.287/.378 in 2012) was bad enough; forgoing his six years of club control in a desperate attempt to win now is even worse. What’s more, the moves general manager Dayton Moore has made in the five weeks since then have done nothing to further enhance the team’s chances.
To recap, the 31-year-old Shields is a durable starter with excellent control who falls short of being a true ace; he has averaged 222 innings with a 3.80 ERA over the past six seasons while pitching half his games in pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field, good for a 108 ERA+, but hardly ace caliber. His 2012 campaign was representative of his established level: a 3.52 ERA (108 ERA+) in 227 2/3 innings (third in the league) with 8.8 strikeouts per nine (seventh) and a 3.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio (sixth). After adjusting for ballpark and defense, his performance was worth only 2.2 Wins Above Replacement, using Baseball-Reference’s version; he has averaged a modest 2.6 WAR for those six seasons. With salaries of $10.25 million for 2013 and $13.5 million for 2014, he’s affordable, but hardly a bargain.
The problem isn’t just Shields being a bit shy of an ace, it’s that the rest of the rotation may not even be average despite a considerable payroll investment. Ervin Santana, 30, was terrible (5.16 ERA and a major league-worst 2.0 homers per nine) with the Angels last year. He’s done better work in the past, but his career 4.33 ERA boils down to a 97 ERA+, three percent worse than league average. Worse, he’s no bargain; he was acquired in exchange for 26-year-old minor league reliever Brandon Sisk and $1 million cash, meaning that the Royals are on the hook for the other $12 million of his salary. The team retained 33-year-old free agent Jeremy Guthrie via a three-year, $25 million deal after an uneven season split between Colorado and Kansas City which produced a 4.76 ERA, his highest since 2009. His career ERA+ is 103, but he’s been below 100 in three of the past four seasons, and he doesn’t miss many bats (5.0 strikeouts per nine last year).
That trio will be joined by two pitchers from among the group of newcomer Davis and holdovers Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar. Davis, 27, spent last year pitching well out of the Rays’ bullpen (2.43 ERA, 11.1 strikeouts per nine), but he’s had less success as a starter (4.22 ERA, 92 ERA+, 5.9 K/9) in 64 starts from 2009-2011. At least he’s a bargain, guaranteed $7.6 million over the next two years, with three club options totaling $25 million for the three years after that. Meanwhile, Chen (-0.2 WAR and 5.07 ERA in 2012, 4.60 in his career) and Hochevar (-1.7 WAR and 5.73 ERA in 2012, 5.39 ERA for his career) will combine to make more than $9 million in 2013, exorbitant spending on submediocrity for a penny-pinching team. Odorizzi, a well-regarded 22-year-old prospect who was traded in the Shields deal after putting up a 3.03 ERA and 8.4 strikeouts per nine in 145 1/3 innings across two levels, almost certainly could have given Kansas City more for less, not only in 2013 but in his six seasons of club control.
Among the remaining additions are few players of consequence, though to be fair most of them were brought in on minor league deals. Moscoso, 29, put up a 6.12 ERA in 50 innings for Colorado, a terrible match for his flyball-oriented approach. Wheeler, 35, made it through just 12 1/3 big league innings with the Indians, spending most of the season at Triple-A. Chavez, who turns 35 in February, hit only .203/.236/.278 in 169 plate appearances for the Orioles. Hayes (.202/.229/.254 in 118 PA with the Marlins) doesn’t exactly look like an upgrade on the departed Pena (.236/.262/.321 in 226 PA). Nady “hit” .184/.253/.316 in 166 PA split between the Nationals and Giants. Wood, 27, is a former top prospect whose washout at the major league level is legendary; he spent all of last season with the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs and hit just .259/.313/.409 with 10 homers in 438 PA in that favorable environment. Tejada, 38, flatlined at Triple-A as well, hitting .259/.325/.296 in 151 PA for the Orioles’ Norfolk affiliate before drawing his release in late June. He last played in the majors in 2011, hitting .239/.270/.326 in 343 PA for the Giants, a performance that has “washed up” written all over it.
Unfinished business: Second thoughts The Royals’ lineup has youth on its side, with all of their starters under 30 and most of them still offering significant upside even if their 2012 showings disappointed, as is the case for Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. The exception, besides the aforementioned Francouer — who to be fair had a career year with the Royals in 2011 — is at second base, where the Royals received a combined .256/.289/.359 performance accompanied by defense that was 15 runs below average according to Defensive Runs Saved. Yuniesky Betancourt, who made 43 starts at the keystone, is thankfully gone, but the likely starter appears to be 29-year-old incumbent Chris Getz, who hit just .275/.312/.360 in 210 plate appearances last year. It could be argued that he overachieved in doing so, considering his career slugging percentage is just .316, and that he hasn’t homered since 2009.
Twenty-five-year-old Johnny Giavotella, who hit just .238/.270/.304 in 189 PA himself, is the top alternative, but the Royals clearly aren’t very high on him because of his subpar defense. He was sent back to Triple-A to start the 2012 season after a so-so big league showing in late 2011, and if form holds, the same will be true to start 2013. Irving Falu, 29, is an organizational player whose hot showing in 85 PA (.341/.371/.435) isn’t likely to be repeated. An addition from outside beyond the DOA Tejada is called for, even if it’s a low-cost gamble on a free agent needing a rebound such as Kelly Johnson or Freddy Sanchez.
Preliminary grade: D. The Royals haven’t done enough to make themselves contenders, and what they’ve done may do more to set them back than to advance their cause.
CORRECTION: This post has been updated to reflect that the Royals have not signed veteran major league infielder Chad Tracy.