Jeff Herr, a finalist in the 2011 Big Gig Contest on 610 Sports Radio, was born and raised in Kansas City. Following the Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks all his life has led him to blog about all three extensively at the-jeff-report.blogspot.com. He has also spent time covering the Royals for the blog site kingsofkauffman.com as well as serving for a period as the lead editor of throughthephog.com a blog covering the Kansas Jayhawks. When not writing about the local sports scene, he pays the bills by serving as an accountant.
Jeff Herr: Recent Royals Relevance Does Not Hide Problems
by Jeff Herr,posted Nov 26 2012 2:42PM
The Chiefs are 1-10. They are the first team mathematically eliminated from the NFL playoffs and the “Chiefs in November” has become the new “Royals in May”: seasons over, time to look across the street. For the first time in a quarter century the Royals are legitimately more exciting than the Chiefs, and frankly more relevant.
With one more move the Royals could be a contender in one of the weakest divisions in baseball. The Chiefs are dead in the water, and the lack of response from the front office means that there probably won't be the sweeping changes we hope for, which means there is probably more of this to come.
After eight straight losses the Chiefs have put the media of this town on repeat. The same stories keep cropping up because the Chiefs have the same issues that aren’t getting fixed: namely, ineptitude from the top down.
To break this cycle of repetition regarding the Chiefs I have decided to write about the Royals this week. The major reason for this is that I believe now that the Royals have legitimately become more exciting and more intriguing for the first time in the last quarter century.
First, we have the big news of the Royals signing Jeremy Guthrie last week to a three year, backloaded, $25 million deal. At only $5 million for 2013 the immediate reaction is two-fold. Fantastic to get a league average or above pitcher for that cheap,^ and the cheapness means there is still room to work with.
^ Yes cheap. In the incredibly inefficient and uneven world of baseball free agent pitchers, players like Guthrie go for a bit more than $5M/year.
Depending on who you ask the reports are conflicting about how much the Royals payroll is for 2013 but they typically are in the same area of about $67M-$72M. That includes roughly $4M-$5M for arbitration eligible Luke Hochevar. As its not a stretch to see this organization at $80M in payroll, if they were to drop Hochevar and free up another five million, then the Royals would certainly have room to bring on another pitcher with a possibly front loaded deal.
Going further, if Ervin Santana’s contract comes off the books in 2014 like its scheduled, then that’s an additional $12M the Royals could use for said pitcher. Not to mention, the loss of Santana would be mitigated (hopefully), by the return of Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino from Tommy John surgery. That doesn’t account for the fact that, in all likelihood, 2012 draft pick Kyle Zimmer and fellow TJ recovery candidate John Lamb could be ready for this rotation by opening day 2014.
While it is a quintessential Royals move to look past a season that hasn’t even started yet, it's noteworthy to look at this and see a possible 2014 rotation of [Unnamed Pitcher at $12M-$15M/year], Guthrie at $9M, Danny Duffy on his rookie contract, Kyle Zimmer on his rookie contract, and Jake Odorizzi on his rookie contract. This is not at all far-fetched and sets the Royals up nicely for the future.
Now, coming back to the present, the Guthrie deal has seemingly split the Royals fanbase. Half the people think AAV of $8.33 million for Guthrie is overpaying for a middling pitcher that might only give league average innings. The other half appears to believe that the Royals got a solid-but-not-great deal on a pitcher that the market would open up for. Ultimately, time will tell and even if Guthrie only gives one good year for 2013, helps the Royals stay competitive for the playoffs, and then drops off as reinforcements arrive, it would be worth it.
The second development to make the Royals exciting for the next few weeks it the bevy of trade talks involving all the young talent in this organization. The main names you keep hearing pop up are the usual suspects: uber-prospect Wil Myers, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas. All those players are on the table and depending on who you talk to you either the Royals are shopping all of them or at least listening to offers.
Every one of the aforementioned players has All-Star potential. At their ceiling they even have MVP caliber potential. Nobody would like to see any of those players leave town. Unfortunately, with the Royals self-professed budget constraints it seems likely the only way to get that top-flight pitcher they crave is to trade one of these bright young players.
While that would ease the burden of a top pitcher financially, it would only improve them marginally if they sacrificed some potential offense to bring it here. This situation is a double-edged sword.
Fans have been screaming for starting pitching for a long time now. It’s what wins in baseball and the Royals don’t have any of it. But when trade talks rear their ugly head, nobody wants to get rid of the prized prospects and players in this organization. Unless owner David Glass loosens the purse strings (which he largely won’t), then they will have to make a trade and the Royals biggest underlying issue will be the topic that very few people seem to be talking about.
Think back over the last quarter century of irrelevance for the Royals. They have developed their share of solid hitters during that time with the likes of Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney, Johnny Damon, and others. But think back real hard and see if you can remember any pitcher the Royals have developed.
Zack Greinke and his bumpy road to Cy Young glory jumps to mind, but look past that and give another name. We all remember the dubious ones: Colt Griffen, Dan Reichart, Jeff Austin, Chris George, Jimmy Gobble, Kyle Snyder, Luke Hochevar, etc. The memories of those supposedly promising pitchers gone wrong are burned into our collective memories.
Of all the things the Royals have tried in order to creep back into relevance in the last 25 years, none of it has involved player development. As an organization in a small market, they have to try to win by exploiting other areas that the bigger clubs have enough money to pay to cover their failures. Teams like the Oakland A’s, the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Baltimore Orioles have found ways to exploit this and make runs in the playoffs. The Royals have failed to capitalize on any of these areas or even explore them.
The Winter Meetings are coming up and Dayton Moore loves to make moves either during or shortly after. If there is a trade to be made then expect it within the next couple of weeks. But even if the Royals can net that big time starter, even if they do it without giving up any current major leaguers or Myers, it will only mask their biggest problem. The Royals have shown they can’t keep players for their whole career so if they want to remain relevant for the foreseeable future they need to find a way to develop pitchers that doesn’t involve trading valuable prospects.