Friday, December 29, 2006

Did the Royals really overpay Meche?

Barry Zito signed a 7-year, $126 million deal with the Giants yesterday, continuing the trend of overpriced starting pitching. The two top starters in the free agent market pulled over $15 million a year. But, they are clearly the two best starters available and will fill the ace role nicely for any team willing to spend the money.

Here's a list of the contracts given to the top free agent starters this offseason. The dashed line separates the two tiers of starters.

Ranked in terms of cost:
1. Barry Zito, 28 (7 years at $18 million/yr, total: $126 million)
2. Jason Schmidt, 33 (3 years at $15.7 million/yr, total $47 million)
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3. Gil Meche, 28 (5 years at $11 million/yr, total: $55 million)
4. Jeff Suppan, 31 (4 years at $10.5 million/yr, total: $42 million)
5. Ted Lilly, 30 (4 years at $10 million/yr, total: $40 million)
6. Miguel Bautista, 35 (3 years at $8.33 million/yr, total: $25 million)
7. Adam Eaton, 29 (3 years at $8.17 million/yr, total $24.5 million)

Meche was the most expensive pitcher out of the second-tier of starters in terms of contract length and cost per year. Was this justified by his market value or did the Royals overpay?

Justified:

Meche is the youngest of the free agent starters listed above. That certainly increases his market value. Meche also has the most upside of the second-tier starters, although Eaton is close. Eaton had a poor year which hurt his market value considerably. Suppan and Bautista are considerably older and are league-average starters, so there's no upside there. In terms of upside, age, and recent performance, Meche is the best available pitcher.

Overpaid:

The main downside to Meche is his past injury problems. Giving a 5-year contract to an injury prone player is certainly risky business. Meche also struggled in 2004 and 2005, most likely because of injury problems. He had a good season last year, with a 4.48 ERA and a 1.86 K/BB. Will his success continue or was it just an anomaly?

Conclusion: The Royals signed Meche for a deal that was reasonable for the market.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Daily Lancer Discussion: Offseason Moves

Now that we have Darren's thoughts on the offseason moves thus far, georgiaroyal and I decided to have a discussion about the Royals' offseason moves:

georgiaroyal: I suppose we've got to begin with the job that Moore is doing in his first offseason as the Royals GM. What I really appreciate, as a fan, is action on his part. Some may quibble about the money that's been spent and so on, but staying with what we had just wasn't a viable option.

soonerroyal: I certainly agree with that. Although the Meche deal seems well to be extremely expensive, he is immediately better than anyone on the staff for the past several years. He's also made some major changes to the bullpen. It seems as though Dayton Moore is moving away from the young power arms and relying on veteran relievers.

georgiaroyal: Meche is getting $7 million in '07 and then it jumps to $11 million in '08-'09 and then $12 million in '10 and '11. Sweeney's contract coming off of the books after this season helps us afford him, and I'd rather have money wrapped up in a pitcher than a position player, anyway. I like what's being done in the pen. We need guys that can come in and throw strikes. How frustrating has it been to watch a guy trot in from the pen and struggle with the zone?

soonerroyal: That's a very good point. And it seems like the Royals are gravitating toward strike throwers and getting rid of the guys who have no clue where the strikezone is (Burgos, Sisco). However, it still hurts to see great young arms leave the team, especially when they cost so little. But, this team needs a change. The major league team is getting the overhaul it needs to become a functional unit again. Allard's teams placed the burden mainly on the youngsters. But, it looks like Dayton is going to place the burden on veterans and once the young players are ready to contribute, then everything should come together.

georgiaroyal: That is very much the way it has worked for the Braves over the past 15 years. Now, instead of being forced to put guys like Greinke in the rotation, we can leave them in the minors until they are absolutely ready. Dayton's money is being spent on different types of players than Baird when he had a little to play with. I'm less concerned signing guys like Meche, Dotel, Bale, and Riske than when Baird brought in Santiago and Juan Gonzalez. The reward is much more likely than with those types of guys.

soonerroyal: I really like the potential reward from the Meche deal. He's entering the prime of his career and he's coming off a strong season when he was healthy for the first time. Dotel is a very good closer if he's healthy and is only 33. Those are certainly good gambles. Gonzalez and Santiago, as you mentioned, were well past their prime and had more risk than reward.

soonerroyal: Moving on to the Royals’ recent trades, the Sisco for Gload trade still strikes me as rather odd. The Royals gave up a very talented lefty for a reserve first basemen/outfielder. I'm still having trouble justifying this deal, although Gload will be a useful player certainly. He gets on base at a decent clip and has modest power. But, giving up a young power arm seems pretty risky. It's the type of move a contender would make to complete their team, but not a team that needs to build a core of talented players.
georgiaroyal: At the risk of sounding like a Moore-lover (maybe I am...a little), I do like the acqusition of Gload. He gives Shealy a backup at 1B as well as a guy that can play a corner OF position. This makes Sanders and Brown even more expendible than they already are. Our list of guys that can play the outfield in KC next year is: Teahen, DeJesus, Gathright, Brown, Sanders, Costa, Gload, and possibly Maier, Huber, and Butler. Wow. That sure is a long list, but the primary reason for getting him was to have competition for Shealy. He'll be a good guy to have around for that. I agree about giving up Sisco, though. It is risky, but I don't think that one will come back to bite us. I really don't. The league adjusted to him and he had nothing else to go to.

georgiaroyal: Sisco averaged 5.02 BB/9 innings in his rookie year (his good year). Last year, that number jumped to 6.17 BB/9 innings. That isn't what you want coming out of the pen.

soonerroyal: Sisco certainly has a lot of development left. He's going to have to learn another pitch and improve his command. If he does (probably a big IF), he could be a top setup man or closer. But, Gload will ensure Sweeney never takes the field and give the Royals options at the outfield spots. I just think that with all of the outfield options the Royals have, signing someone like Mientkiewicz could have accomplished the same thing without giving up a young arm. But, it's not a terrible move. What are your thoughts on the Jason LaRue acquistion?

georgiaroyal: That's true. It's not terrible, but it would have been nice to send Sisco to the minors for a year or so and see what happens with him.

Getting LaRue was a deal that I didn't pay that much attention to. The Reds are paying half the '07 salary. He's a low average hitter with some pop in his bat. That sounds like a certain someone we know, doesn't it? Buck just hasn't put it together, yet, so getting LaRue will either push Buck to produce or it will prove him to be a solid part time/backup catcher. John isn't a young Buck (pun intended). I'm still holding out hope that he will have a breakout year and approach 18-20 HR and a .260 batting average. I think he's capable of those type of numbers. Hopefully, hearing LaRue's footsteps will inspire him to reach those numbers.

soonerroyal: Buck and LaRue are very similar. Their offensive numbers are very similar, their SB/CS ratio is very similar. He's basically an older version of Buck. So, hopefully the Royals just acquired him to bring in some competition in case Buck struggles. LaRue isn't a guy you want as your starting catcher. I think Buck has some upside as well. He's shown pretty good power at times, so maybe his bat is just taking a while to develop.

georgiaroyal: Buck will be turning 27 this season. He's approaching his prime, and I do expect him to put up some better offensive numbers in 2007.

georgiaroyal: Before the season starts, I'd still like to see some moves made, and I expect to see some action with all of our outfielders. Maybe we can use Brown/Sanders (or both) to acquire some more pitching depth or maybe a shortstop of the future to push Berroa. We are set at all of our infield positions. We are definitely set in the outfield, and catcher. If the Royals have some money and want to acquire another veteran starter, I don't think I'd have a problem with it. We don't have a lot of young guys knocking the door down, so let them continue to develop.

georgiaroyal: I'll admit that I'm always high on the number of wins I predict, but right now, this looks like a team that could win between 75-80 games.

soonerroyal: That pretty much echoes my sentiments. The Royals are pretty well set overall, but the more reliable veteran starters the team can get, the better. I'm certainly looking forward to the season and being able to watch a stable rotation for once. Hopefully it will put an end to all the random waiver wire starters the Royals have used over the past few seasons. I'm not quite as optimistic, but I think 70-75 games is pretty reasonable. If Butler and Gordon get up here quickly and make an impact right away, I could certainly see 75-80 games. On our next post, we'll have a discussion about any new Royals' moves as well as our thoughts about the Royals’ depth chart, particularly at the top.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Recent Moves

I had been meaning to run down the Royals other recent acquisitions-and then the Sisco-Gload trade goes does this afternoon. So I will get to that after I cover the other moves.

Burgos for Bannister

I really didn’t like this trade at first but I’ve warmed up to it a little but overall it is still not a move I would have made. Burgos was mishandled but still has got great stuff and very intriguing potential for any team patient enough to keep him in the minors for another year or so to let him learn to pitch.

Bannister is a decent pitcher. He’s rather old for a prospect. I’ve had an infatuation with Scott Baker for a long time and the more I looked at their numbers, the more I saw them as similar. Too much has been made over Bannister’s 38 ip last year. Some of his advocates point to his decent ERA in that time, his detractors point to his bad BB/K ratio. Historically his BB/K ratio has been good, his WHIP and ERA are also pretty good. Of course, his stuff is not stellar so it will be his ability to change speeds and hit his spots that will determine if he can be a reasonable back of the rotation starter. I think he will be given every opportunity to start this year and would expect an ERA of about 5.00 with the big club.

Octavio Dotel

We have our proven closer. Dotel for $5 million + another $2 in incentives. A smart move—Dotel has been a strikeout machine in the past and if he is healthy could be one of the better closers in the AL. He could also be a very valuable trading chip come July (assuming the Royals are not on some miraculous run). One note for concern is that Dotel’s numbers have for the past few years looked a lot better than his actual ERA. Regardless, it’s a good move and the only way the Royals could screw it up is to get a few good months of Dotel and then sign him to a lucrative extension. Hopefully, he’s just keeping the seat warm until someone like Ryan Braun or Leo Nunez are ready.

John Bale

Who? Was my first thought, but the guy had very good stats in Japan. 2 yrs @ $2 million per. I like this gamble, again this guy has got some good stuff and might be more than just a lefty specialist. The Royals scouting may have paid off with this little diamond in the rough.

Joakim Soria

Our Rule V pick has gotten a lot of press due to his perfect game last week in the Mexican League. There is a lot to like here. Translating numbers from the Mexican League is tricky, but it considered most of the time about AAA. Also considered an extreme hitters league. Soriah is 9-0, with a 1.77ERA, 71.1ip, 46h, 8hr, 19w 73k. Those are very impressive numbers. I think this guy could actually contribute this year. He’s got 3 pitches and should be a long relief guy and perhaps get a spot start.

Sisco for Gload

I don’t get it. I really don’t. Perhaps it has something to do with a report by Rany at Baseball Prospectus that reported that Sisco was in the food court getting a taco during a recent game. Sisco was dismissed from the team. I certainly think Sisco chances of becoming an abover average pitcher are not above 50%. I don’t mind trading Sisco, but was Ross Gload the best we could do? He’s not a bad player, just not exactly what we need. He's a left handed hitter who can play OF and 1st. (perhaps those rumors about us trying to get Ryan Church were not so off base--would Jim Bowden really not take Sisco for Church? That would have been a much happier move for me). Of course, the obvious is that this is the precursor of what could be several moves involving: Emil Brown, Justin Huber, Reggie Sanders, and less likely Mike Sweeney or Ryan Shealy. The only way this trade is redeemed is if the follow up is a good deal and not a “dump”. I must say I’m scared to death that we are going to get not very good value for Justin Huber.

So, we've dumped Affelt, Bautista, Howell, MacDougal, Burgos, and now Sisco. Some of those trades look good to me (Shealy) others leave me with big questions (Burgos and Sisco). I don't quite get Dayton's M.O.. He dumps crafty left hander (Howell) but picks up crafty righthander (Bannister). He dumps underachieving power arms (Bautista, Sisco) and picks up another (De La Rosa). It will be interesting to see what comes of these moves and what is in store. One thing you cannot do is complain about this offseason being boring.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Gil Meche to the Royals

5 years/$55 million. Let's get this out of the way: the Royals way overpaid. No if's, and's or but's. But this is our "statement". Would I have chosen this? No. But here we are. I'm actually excited. It's December: we can look at Meche and see what we want to see. Let's look at the good and bad of this move:

The Bad:
Let's start with the negative:

Meche has had major shoulder problems

In the 4 years since his shoulder surgery, he's never had an OPS+ of over 100 (average)

He had a 5.14 ERA and 1.60 WHIP on the road last year

He's never pitched more than 200 innings

The Royals gave more money to Meche than Jason Schmidt got. Almost as much as Chris Carpenter got.

The Good:

Meche is only 28--pretty young for a FA pitcher.

Meche's raw stuff is very good.

Meche's innings pitched have increased each of the past 3 years as he's gotten stronger from his shoulder problems

His strikeout rate spiked last year and he K'ed over 7/9ip-a promising sign for future results.

Meche had a bad 5 game stretch at the end of July/beginning of August. Take out that stretch and his numbers are:
170ip 151h 64w 139k 3.76 ERA 1.26 WHIP.
3 of those starts were on the road (including a horrific start in Texas where he only pitched 1 inning). He skipped a start after that stretch and pitched better the rest of the season. There are probably a lot of average pitchers who could take a 5 game stretch and look a lot better.

Dayton Moore knows all this stuff. He was willing to pony up David Glass's money anyway. Perhaps he believes that with the right coaching Meche will turn into a sub 4.00 ERA pitcher. We will have to way 4 months to find out.

I think we may very well look back at this move as the defining moment of Dayton's era. It could be the day we rue as when we trapped ourself into an awful contract because we were desperate. Or it could be the bold stroke that pushes the Royals out of being known as a punching bag in baseball--the day the Royals became winners again. Today we are left to wonder and hope. And right now hope seems worth $55 million.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Winter Meetings Preview

Next week are the winter meetings. The Royals will, no doubt, try to pick up more pitchers. I had advocated looking at Adam Eaton and/or Randy Wolf. Both those guys are gone now. Guys like Padilla and Lilly are looking for 4 yr/$40 mil contracts. Gil Meche will get a little less than that. I am among many Royals fans who increasingly willing to have the Royals sit this one out when it comes to really expensive league average starters. Save the money for something else. The best route is to look for free agent bargains and trades. Of course, if the Royals spend big bucks on a starter, I'll probably talk myself into thinking its a good move.

Trading Chips (in order of how I value them): Esteban German, Emil Brown, Justin Huber, Joey Gathright, Reggie Sanders.

I don't want to trade German but I have a feeling he's on the block.

Bruce Chen--really like the idea of signing him to a 1-year/$4 mil deal with some incentives and perhaps an option for a second year.

Miguel Batista--he could be a bargain. But I've already read an article calling him a bargain, so he probably is now expensive. But if we could get him for 1 yr/$6 million with an vesting option I think he could be a guy that could pitch 200ip of 4.75 ERA.

Yusmeir Petit--Joey Gathright for Petit? Not great stuff, but good control. Marlins have pitching out their ears and he would be good to have start the year in Omaha.

Scott Baker--Maybe I'm obsessed with him , but I think he will bounce back and be a good pitcher. Would either Emil Brown or Justin Huber be enough to get it done.

I've also long advocated a new SS. And while I still would love that, if the Royals can't find someone that interests them, perhaps the best thing to do is hope that Berroa improves his fielding and can post a 675-700 OPS.

I think the Royals will have made a few moves a week from now. They might have even made some huge (by Royals standards) moves. It should be exciting and should give us our first offseason glimspe of how Dayton plans to build this team.