Monday, September 26, 2005

Spendin' Spree

With David Glass pledging to spend at least $50 million on player salaries next season, the Royals should be in line to make several key acquisitions and a decent possibility of adding a frontline starter, provided they overpay somewhat in terms of years or average annual salary. If the Royals want to stay in the $50 to $60 million window for the next few years, they're actually better off paying more money upfront, since their young players will start to become arbitration eligible in droves beginning in 2007. But let's focus on next season for now.

The Royals have the following obligations for 6 roster slots in 2006:

Mike Sweeney - $11 million
Angel Berroa - $2 million
Matt Stairs - $1.35 million
Jeremy Affeldt (arbitration) ~ $1.2 million
Runelvys Hernandez (arbitration) ~ $1 million
Emil Brown (arbitration?) ~ $1 million

I think there's a decent chance that Sweeney gets traded this offseason, but I'm counting him as being on the roster for the time being. I'm also estimating that another 13 roster spots will be filled by pre-arbitration eligible players at an average salary of about $350,000 each, for a total of $4.55 million. Scott Sullivan is also due a roster buyout of $300,000. That's a total of 19 roster spots @ a cost of $22.4 million, leaving $27.6 million for 6 open roster spots.

Contrary to the belief of some cynics, I have no reason to believe David Glass will not spend the money. It makes no sense whatsoever to publicly commit yourself to a specific dollar figure and subsequently not do it. If Glass was not committed to spending that much on payroll, then he could have easily equivocated by remaining vague about the payroll. But he didn't - he gave us a real dollar figure for 2006. David Glass might be a lot of things, but I don't think he's a baldface liar.

Frankly, I don't see how he couldn't have done this following two consecutive seasons with less than 60 wins. Serious Royals analysts might not care much about how the Royals spend money on free agents because they understand that in the end the Royals are not going to find glory through free agency; au contraire, the Royals' future success is almost entirely dependent upon drafting and developing solid major league baseball. But to the much larger casual fan base, Glass has to send a message that he's not going to tolerate being the cesspool of the league. That's probably going to mean spending $30 million to make this a 90-loss team instead of a 105-loss team, but its the act of progress that is more important to most fans than the absolute result.

The other concern that many fans have about this spending bonanza is that the man responsible for choosing how to spend it, Allard Baird, has a, er, sketchy track record in this regard. Baird has made some highly questionable moves, but he's also been snakebitten with moves that were considered good at the time of the signing but turned out to be complete disasters. He also has more money to spend this time so he doesn't necessarily need to avoid the higher dollar free agents that not only have more talent but also have a lower risk of collapse.

What does a 56-win team need? Oh, lots of things: a starting pitcher, another starting pitcher, one more starting pitcher, a veteran reliever and a corner outfielder. The 2006 free agent crop is quite uninspiring, actually, but here are some thoughts:

1) Matt Morris for 3 years, $29 million. Morris is a pitcher the Royals need to target and be prepared to overpay if necessary. He's a model of consistency - over his 8 major league seasons, his WHIP has never been lower than 1.18 nor higher than 1.30. His K-to-BB ratio is 3:1 practically every season. He's not an ace on a contending team, but he'd add desperately needed stability and experience to the front end of this staff. And he's played on winning teams for most of his career, so he understands what it means to experience both individual and team success, a commodity that is far too rare on these Royals.

Chances are Morris will re-sign with the Cardinals, but perhaps he could be lured with the prospect of helping to lead a once-great franchise back to prosperity - and tons of cash.

2) Ted Lilly for 3 years, $16.5 million. This would be a bit of risky move for the Royals, as Lilly is coming off a disappointing walk year performance, and I believe he's been working back slowly following a shoulder injury. But Lilly's 2003 and 2004 performances were solid, showing high strikeout rates coupled with less-than-stellar walk rates. He's still maturing as a pitcher and would nicely into the #2/#3 role with the Royals. I think he could also be had at a reasonable price given his poor 2005 performance.

3) Esteban Loaiza for 2 years, $8 million. Loaiza is already 35 years old and was a tantalizing flake of a talent until his career-year breakthrough in 2003. He predictably fell back to earth in 2004, but he really wasn't all that bad for the White Sox that season (though he did stink with the Yankees). He's been solid for the Nationals this season, benefiting from playing in a canyon but still posting solid fielding independent statistics (168K:54BB). In short, he's ranged from pretty effective to outstanding for 2.5 of the past 3 years and throws extremely hard with good movement. He'll be a fine #2/3 starter for the Royals and will allow Greinke to do his thing as a #3 instead of having to be The Man at age 22.

4) Scott Elarton for 2 years, $5 million. I like Elarton's upside as a #3/4 starter. He's still quite young at 28 and has bounced back well with Cleveland the past two seasons and struggling with injuries since 2001. He's never going to be great, but I believe Elarton has a much better chance to solidify the backend of the rotation than practically all of the other candidates the Royals have in or close to the majors now.

5) Braden Looper for 2 years, $4 million. I've come to this choice for a veteran bullpen arm by process of elimination rather than a strong preference either way. My first choice would probably be to add Tom Gordon in this spot, but I'm afraid that he's going to be far too expensive and the Royals really don't have any business spending a lot of money on free agent middle relievers. My second choice, and pardon me for this, is Kyle Farnsworth, who probably has the best stuff in the bunch and is still relatively young. I'm sure Jeremy Affeldt wouldn't want him as a teammate, but I can't worry much about Jeremy's feelings right now. Again, though, I'm sure there will be heavy bidding for Farnsworth's services. My other choice probably would have been Ryan Dempster, but I don't consider him to be much better than Looper. The difference is that Dempster is coming off a 30-save season which "establishes" his credentials as a closer (and inflates his salary), while Looper is coming off a relatively poor season so his demand will be depressed.

6) Jose Cruz Jr. 2 years, $8 million. The Royals need a starting left fielder. I don't love Cruz, but he's league average with good defensive skills.


At 7:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 10:10 AM, Blogger DL said...

Weatherman, I think this guy wants your credit card number.

At 11:26 AM, Blogger SoonerRoyal said...

Fortunately, I'm not a sucker for credit card scams. But, I am a sucker for "youth movements".

At 5:41 PM, Anonymous Huskers5rings said...

I like your way of thinkng but don't know what would motivate any top free agents to join the royals. We are a team with a losing mentality and even the most optimistic fan could project us as the 4th best team in the division for the next 5 years.

The spanks are going to bid up the FA pitchers this year to unheard of levels and they have a commitment to winning. There is no way a quality player will come here!

At 5:47 PM, Blogger SoonerRoyal said...

I think Washburn, Millwood, and Weaver could get Derek Lowe like contracts (4 years, $36 million). All 3 are Boras clients and the free agent market doesn't offer much, so the price will be steep. The Royals will have to overpay beyond this. I hope I'm wrong, but I think the Royals will only be able to sign Byrd, Loaiza, Elarton types. I don't think Glass will commit to a 3 or 4 year deal for that type of money.

At 10:10 AM, Blogger DL said...

I'm at a loss for how the Royals are going to spend $25 million in the offseason without making at least one 3 or 4 year deal. Do they plan to sign 7 mediocre players to 1-year contracts?

I think David Glass has at least one long term deal in him for the right player. That player is Matt Morris. Yes, the Royals will have to overpay. They can do it, even if they don't trade Sweeney. If they do (and they'll try), then it'll be that much easier.

The Royals will simply have to pony up if they want to play at the big boy table. That's all it really comes down to.

At 10:50 AM, Blogger Dave said...

I didn't realize Millwood was a Boras client. I heard the speculation in KC is that the Royals are planning to make a big push to land Millwood in the offseason.

I now doubt the truth of those rumors. I just can't see the Royals ever trying to do business with Boras again.

As for your Matt Morris plan, I'm willing to jump aboard that bandwagon.

At 1:17 PM, Blogger COroyal said...

Good post unfortunate Sooner fan (know you know what my Huskers have gone through the last couple of years). I think almost everybody is on the pitching wagon - we need some, period. I think Jose Cruz is a horrible idea though & I hope we steer clear of that. DeJesus, Brown & whoever else steps up will be perfectly capable of holding down the fort until 2007 when Butler/Lubanski is/are ready. If we get an OF in a trade, Guiel/Brown in one corner spot would do nicely.

At 4:09 PM, Blogger DL said...

Lubanski just finished a season at high A ball - at age 19. By any sane promotions standard, he wouldn't sniff Kansas City until September 2007 and compete for a roster spot in 2008 at the ripe age of 22. Butler is moving more rapidly, but he doesn't have any reason to be in KC until midseason 2007 at the earliest either. I also still there's a chance Butler will end up at 1B anyway. So signing Cruz or any other FA outfielder doesn't interfere with that at all.

I'm fine with DeJesus in center and Brown in right, but the Royals still have a huge void in LF which Cruz could fill for two years. Ambres, Guiel and Diaz can fight it out for the two backup spots.

At 5:57 PM, Blogger SoonerRoyal said...

The Royals have no intention of adhering to sane standards. Ready or not, Butler will be here by midseason. The Royals promote players by need, much like Burgos and Nunez's premature promotions. We're in a youth movement. We have to rush our players to the big leagues to bring them up in unison. That way, they can all struggle together and become productive about the time they hit arbitration.

I wouldn't mind signing Cruz or another FA outfielder. They wouldn't require more than a one or two year deal, which we'll have some money leftover, even if we sign Morris and Loaiza. Can't hurt to have an extra bat, especially if it lets us develop the young players.

At 6:00 PM, Blogger COroyal said...

Sorry DL, didn't catch that that was your post. You're probably right about Cruz not interfering with/taking a spot away from Lubanski or Butler. I'm not sold on Lubanski yet either, but it sure was exciting to see him finish out the way he did. I just think Cruz sucks. I would rather any money thrown at him be used on pitching instead, and let Guiel, Ambres, Diaz, Costa (if ready), and anybody picked up in a trade battle for the corners.


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