Monday, November 28, 2005

Spend It or Save It?

The Royals have $25 million to spend this offseason. I will be very surprised if the Royals' payroll is $50 million next year. More likely, it will be something close to last year's payroll at $35-40 million. Overall, this is a very poor free agent market (especially when you consider that Tony Graffanino is a Type "A" free agent and is seeking a 3-year contract).

Esteban Loaiza is off the free agent market, signing a 3-year, $21 million deal with the A's. That leaves Matt Morris, Paul Byrd, and Kenny Rogers as the possible targets for the Royals. Of those three, I'd prefer Morris or Rogers. Rogers has been solid over the past 4 seasons. He had a 3.46 ERA last year in a hitter's park behind a terrible defense up the middle. Rogers might not be the best clubhouse guy, but he can still pitch. As noted in the previous post, there are some trends that indicate that Morris is on the decline. He'd also have to adjust to a new league. But, he's still a pretty good pitcher. All of these pitchers have significant risks, and probably aren't worth a 3-year deal at $21 million. But, that might be what it takes to get them to come to Kansas City.

The Royals best bet might be to offer Byrd and Rogers very generous 1-year deals or 2-year deals. The Royals have good flexibility in the short-term and next year's free agent market is much better. Here's a list of starters who will be free agents next year from Rotoworld:

"Barry Zito (Athletics), Mark Buehrle (White Sox)*, Mark Mulder (Cardinals), Jason Schmidt (Giants), John Smoltz (Braves)*, Jon Garland (White Sox), Mike Mussina (Yankees)*, Kerry Wood (Cubs)*, Andy Pettitte (Astros), Adam Eaton (Padres), Kelvim Escobar (Angels), Jason Marquis (Cardinals), Brad Radke (Twins), Kip Wells (Pirates), Greg Maddux (Cubs), Tom Glavine (Mets), John Thomson (Braves), Ted Lilly (Blue Jays), Jeff Suppan (Cardinals), Randy Wolf (Phillies), Wade Miller (Red Sox), Vicente Padilla (Phillies), Tim Wakefield (Red Sox)*, Steve Trachsel (Mets), Cory Lidle (Phillies), Jaret Wright (Yankees)*, Gil Meche (Mariners), Mark Redman (Pirates), Orlando Hernandez (White Sox), David Wells (Red Sox), Woody Williams (Padres), Bruce Chen (Orioles), Paul Wilson (Reds)*, Chan Ho Park (Padres)"

Wood, Mussina and Wright are good bets to be free agents. Overall, that market has enough good starters to make the market reasonable and give the Royals a much better chance at signing a couple of good starters. Signing Byrd, Morris, or Rogers to a two-year deal with money (with money loaded on the first-year) would give the Royals the ability to sign a solid starters or two next year.

So, let's say the Royals sign Kenny Rogers to a 1-year, $6 million deal and Dessens to a 2-year, $4 million deal. That still leaves $17 million to spend. I've been contemplating one idea for a while:

Sign two corner outfielders: Reggie Sanders and Jeromy Burnitz. Sign Sanders to a two-year deal and Burnitz to a one-year deal. Both hit 20+ HRs last year and are solid defenders. Sanders adds some speed to the team (14 stolen bases in 15 attempts). With Sanders in left and Burnitz in right, the Royals' outfield defense would be much improved. The added offense would make having Andres Blanco at second or shortstop a tolerable solution (since it's what the Royals have their heart set on now). With Berroa at second and Blanco at short, the Royals' infield defense would be a lot better. With Blanco at 2nd and Berroa at short, the Royals' infield defense might be slightly improved. This also allows Butler, Lubanski and Gordon develop as outfielders until 2007, when they'll be ready.

These offseason is crucial for the Royals. Doing nothing to improve the team could lead to another 100-loss season and really hurt the Royals' fan base. The Royals, at the very least, must succeed in making this team respectable and show that the organization is heading in the right direction. A lineup with Sweeney, Sanders, Burnitz, Brown/Stairs, and DeJesus, with a few ABs from Huber, Gordon, and Butler, would be an improved offense. The improvements to the defense would help the pitching out.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Whither Matt Morris?

I've been an advocate of the Royals making a big push to sign Matt Morris, but in the wake of reading several negative commentaries on Morris, I've decided to take a closer look at his pitching trends over the past 4 years. On the surface he looks fairly consistent, but when you dig a bit deeper there are some worries:

Year H/9 K/9 K/BB HR/9 VORP

2002 9.0 7.3 2.7 0.7 42.6
2003 8.6 6.3 3.1 1.0 33.1
2004 9.1 5.8 2.3 1.6 13.4
2005 9.7 5.5 3.2 1.0 18.9

The first thing you notice, of course, are his plummeting strikeout rates. Morris has gone from something of a power pitcher a few years ago to something quite less than that over the past two years. He was also more hittable in 2005 than he has ever been, giving up slightly more than a hit per inning. On the other hand, his 2005 K/BB rate was his best ever, walking a career-low 37 batters, and he brought his home run back under control after a terrible home runs allowed string in 2004. He has reasonably decent tendencies as groundball pitcher (1.6 G/F in 2005) which do not appear to be in decline.

My general impression is that Morris spent the better part of 2004 and 2005 both rehabbing from shoulder surgery and reinventing himself as a finesse pitcher, hitting his nadir in 2004 but finding himself a bit again in 2005 (though he faded down the stretch).

There are two ways to go with this:

1) If his improved (and superb) control rate is for real and he's remaking himself into a precision control pitcher in the mold of guy who's entering the second year of a 2 year, $18 million contract:

201.2 IP, 214H, 33HR, 23BB, 117K, 1.18 WHIP, 5.3 K/9, 5.1 BB/K, 1.1 G/F

If Matt Morris can achieve a similar type of control rate as Brad Radke, then I'd feel much better about his chances of success in the hitter-heavy American League.

2) If his 2005 walk rates were an aberration, however, and he reverts to his historical norms, then I'm afraid he'd be in for a rude awakening pitching in front of the abominable Royals' defense (which is going to be a problem either way for a pitcher who is going to be overly reliant upon his defense to record outs).

I've been hearing Morris contracts in the range of 3 years, $15 to $18 million, which is far higher than the 3 year, $29 million contract I estimated a couple of months ago. Given the woeful state of the Royals' staff, I'd still be willing to take my chances on any 3 year contract worth $20 million or less. This team needs a veteran anchor who is named something other than Jose Lima in the worst possible way. Someone is going to overpay for A.J. Burnett, someone is going to overpay for Jarrod Washburn, so the Royals may as well overpay for Morris, but at least at a slightly lower rate.

But I'm taking the $29 million off the table.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Free Agency Redux

I've read and listened to some rumblings that all of this emphasis on signing free agents this offseason is misplaced, because all it is going to accomplish is push the Royals from 56 to 66 wins.

But I don't look at it that way, for a couple of reasons.

-- First, the idea that the payroll is being "increased" is an inappropriate label. As a result of expiring contracts, without any changes to the roster the Royals would enter 2006 with a payroll of about $28 million, which is far less than what should be a minimally acceptable standard for any major league baseball team. In 2006, every team should have a payroll north of $45 million at the very least. This doesn't qualify as a spending spree; it just brings the Royals into the higher end of the bottom tier.

-- When it comes to major league payroll, the Royals are in a tough position from a public relations standpoint. Although I have yet to see a convincing functional argument that making bad free agent signings now will be detrimental to the Royals' development in future years, I don't think the Royals can afford to suffer through another series of high profile free agent failures. Combine the Royals' limited resources with a relatively weak free agent class, and the conditions are ripe for the Royals to acquire some major free agent busts. If the Royals spend $20 to $25 million on free agents and still lose 100 games next year, there's a chance they might lose a significant portion of their fan base forever, not to mention damage public support for financing a renovated Kauffman or new downtown stadium.

On the other hand, in the wake of 3 100-loss seasons in the past 4 years, the team simply must signal to their casual fan base that they are making a committment to avoid being a complete embarrassment to themselves and the city. David Glass has already made a public commitment in this vein, and its the right thing to do regardless of the risk of failure. The conventional wisdom suggests that losing is always losing, whether a team finishes 72-90 or 56-106. In baseball terms, no doubt, but in public relations and fan base terms, I don't think so. There is vast difference between a 106-loss team and a 90-win team in the eyes of the casual (or even hardcore) fan. The progression of a team from embarrassing to competitive, and from unwatchable to occasionally fun to watch, gives the impression of progress, which is important. Losing 100+ games every season is complete public relations disaster; losing 90 to 95 games is less of a disaster and gives fans much needed hope, which is sorely lacking these days.

Anyone who follows the Royals understands that until the basic economic structure of the game changes, the Royals' future is going to be completely dependent upon drafting and developing their own quality major league players. Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, and perhaps Andrew Miller next year are 3 steps in that direction. But until the day comes when the minor system is overflowing with talent, polished young players, the Royals can't afford to sit back and count on losing 100 games every season without fail. They have to try to compete, even if there's a risk they'll fail in the process.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Royals' offseason dealings commence

The Royals are in on everyone, at least according to Allard. As long as that excludes Jose Lima, that's great news. Unlike last year, the Royals are frequently mentioned in rumors other than the Sweeney-to-the-Angels deal. Today's Kansas City Star Article basically said that the Royals have already been rejected by top free agents Rafael Furcal, Kevin Millwood, Jarrod Washburn and Kenny Rogers. Not really surprising.

Here's who Baird has met with already: Bret Boone, Jeromy Burnitz, Elmer Dessens, Brian Giles and Mark Grudzelanik

Other players the Royals have shown interest in: Jacque Jones, Reggie Sanders, Paul Byrd, Tony Graffanino

Here's the latest on some free agents the Royals are or might be targeting:


Estaben Loaiza: Negotiations with the Nationals aren't going well, so he's probably going to be on the open market. He's reportedly asking for $21 million over 3 years. The Royals have been mentioned as one of the teams interested in Loaiza.

Matt Morris: Seattle and Colorado have expressed interest in Morris. No indication that the Royals are interested.

Paul Byrd: Byrd sounds like he wants to resign with the Angels and would do so for less money. The Royals have some interest here, but would probably have to make an outlandish offer to get him.

Ted Lilly: Lilly is flying under the radar so far. Even with a 5.56 ERA last year, Lilly was still better than most of the Royals' rotation. That was Lilly's worst performace in 5 years. In 2003 and 2004, Lilly averaged a 4.18 ERA with 158 K's per year.

Jason Johnson/Byung-Hyun Kim/Jose Lima: I'll be a bit surprised if one of these starters isn't in our rotation next year.

Corner Outfielders:

Brian Giles: Lots of teams interested and will probably push bidding out of the Royals' range.

Jeremy Burnitz: Probably not one of the favorites for most fans, but Burnitz is probably the most likely to sign a one-year deal. He put up pretty good numbers last year (31 doubles, 24 HRs) and is still an above-average defender in RF (7 FRAA) and a huge improvement over Brown. He lets the Royals move Brown to left and gives the Royals flexibility for the future. Giving long-term deals to Giles or Jones just doesn't make sense with Butler and Gordon not far away.

Second Basemen:

The middle infielder market is pretty poor, with Furcal at the top followed by nothing. After Furcal, the best second base options are Grudzelanik and Graffanino. There are several non-tender possibilities and the Royals are seeking second basemen through trade avenues as well.

This offseason is very important to the future of the Royals. If the Royals spend $25 million on long-term contracts that turn out badly, then the Royals ability to improve the team down the road is severely hindered.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

AFL Content on Royals Corner

If you haven't already, head over to Royals Corner and check out the Arizona Fall League coverage. Dave has some excellent photo and video of Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Matt Tupman and the rest of the crew. It's truly premium, original content that he's giving away for free.

Hat's off, Dave, for all the good stuff you're providing to Royals fans everywhere.

Alex Gordon's excellent AFL performance (great discipline, contact and power) is something to behold.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Rebuilding the Royals

After a 106-loss season, the Royals clearly have some rebuilding to do. The Royals have some talent that could be a start to building a contender. But, how well the Royals develop and use that talent will determine whether or not this team becomes a contender. Here's what the Royals must do to rebuild their franchise:

1. Find a quality GM and support staff: Barring a miracle (.500 season), Baird will probably not be retained after this season, according to Mr. Glass. Whether or not Baird is capable of handling the following to-do list is probably a moot point. He was given the task of rebuilding the franchise 5 years ago and has made little progress. The Royals need to implement a system that can develop starting pitching, produce above-average drafts, and make good moves to improve the team.

2. Fix the pitching woes: The Royals have some pitching talent on the big league roster. The Royals had 5 pitchers in the pen who could throw 95+ mph. Burgos, Sisco, Nunez, MacDougal, Greinke, and Bautista give the Royals six very good arms that they control for the next 3-6 years. The Royals could have an outstanding bullpen, but only if they can get consistent production from their relievers. That has been a problem with the Royals' last round of bullpen talent (Affeldt and MacDougal).

The Royals biggest problem is the starting rotation. Even if the Royals listen to the fans' wishes and sign Morris and Loaiza, the best we can hope for is that they pitch like No. 2 and 3 starters for the next 2 or 3 years. However, most of the FA starters are past their prime and probably won't continue to perform at their current levels. The Royals must develop their own starting pitching. The Royals' inability to develop starting pitching has been a problem for 10 years and there are no signs of any progress, unless you count Zack Greinke's team-leading 5.80 ERA (from The Royals must fix this problem, otherwise a .500 team becomes a best-case scenario.

3. Make the most of this offseason: The Royals have $25 million to spend this offseason. That's enough money to get some quality help and improve the team's weaknesses. But, it's also enough money to impede the progress of the franchise if the Royals spend the money poorly.

4. Two more Mike Sweeneys: Out of Justin Huber, Alex Gordon, and Billy Butler, the Royals need 2 more Mike Sweeney-type bats to solidify the middle of the order. The Royals have enough depth and talent in the farm system to fill the rest of the lineup with solid players, but the Royals need a couple of bats to put them over the top.

5. Get more pitching out of the drafts: The Royals have done a good job of drafting position players. But, the Royals need to get more pitching talent into the farm system, which has one good pitching prospect at the moment. With the first-pick overall next year, the Royals should have their choice of top college starters.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Welcome, Friend

Baseball Insights, a blog in existence for all of 6 days, is setup as a clearinghouse for all kinds of stories on teams throughout the league and baseball in general. Seems to me this kind of service is pretty labor intensive (read: I'd get sick of doing this eventually), but if Mike A. can keep it up he'll be providing a valuable service to people who like to follow the goings on with other teams but don't want to chase stories from every damn local newspaper. I like what I see thus far, and I appreciate the link.

As always, godspeed.