3.17.2011

Exhibit 1.2.18

Royals Preview

Look. This is happening. I'm sorry.

So, in summary, here's what the Royals did this off-season: traded away their best player for a package of prospects somewhere between underwhelming and whelming, mostly stayed away from the free agent market except for one smart signing, and fully committed to the youth movement they'd only been sort of casually seeing for the last half decade. Basically, the Royals are that guy who suddenly realized they're middle aged and living in a terrible town and that the options available to them aren't as grand as they might have been the day after their high school graduation. So he finally sold his expensive but aging Corvette, stopped spending his paychecks on electric guitars he could only use to play "Enter Sandman" on, and used the saved money to replace his beleaguered girlfriend's promise ring with a diamond engagement ring.

These are good things. These are always good things.

That it should have happened a decade ago is beside the point. Here's what matters: the Royals, like this guy, finally get it. They don't have all the options, and, even better to know, they might finally realize that nobody does. That fallacy destroys teams--and people--by making them think their job is to find the correct choice rather than the best choice. There is no correct choice and, at least in the Royals case, if there is one, somebody else is going to get there first. So the Royals, needing an outfield bat, would make their offer to Torii Hunter or whomever, get rejected, and then spend $36 million dollars on Jose Guillen because he was next on the list (it's also probably important to note here the Royals suck at making lists). They sought the correct thing rather than the best thing--which in this case would have really been anything other than giving that much money to a washed up, HGH using headcase--and they did it because they cared to much about perceptions. Without a plan (or confidence or the ability to, you know, win baseball games) the Royals could only win media battles. This seemed like the correct thing, to be able to say, "Well, sure, we overpaid, but now you guys can't say we're not serious about competing."

It took 10 years for someone to finally realize that a team serious about competing would, well, compete, that the Royals don't have all the choices, they only have theirs, that of the choices they do have some are better than others but none can be called correct unless they lead to the World Series, that being called correct doesn't matter anyway, that only wins matter.

This last bit--the seeking of approval from outside sources who are at best disinterested and at worst openly hostile to a small, incompetent team--still worries me a little. You see, the Royals have the best farm system in baseball. They may have the best farm system since people started keeping track of these things. Everyone thinks so and rightfully the Royals are proud of this fact, a little too proud maybe. A smart organization wouldn't care or would only care insomuch as they make it their goal to be #1 year after year. The Royals...well...we'll see.

To see the danger here, one need only look at the Royals epic Gil Meche signing. Let's chart the conventional wisdom here:

2006 - The signing - "The Royals are stupid."
2007 - Meche is good - "The Royals are okay."
2008 - Meche is better - "The Royals are brilliant."
2009 - Meche's arm falls off - "The Royals are unlucky."
2010 - Meche's arm fails to reattach - "The Royals are stupid again."
2011 - Meche shockingly retires - "The Royals are lucky."

And here's the thing: it's all true yet none of it matters. The Meche contract was both brilliant (they really did "fix" him and turn him into the player they paid for) and stupid (he was never going to single-handedly put them into contention). It was, in the end, a big waste of time and money and attention yet the Royals chose to ride this wave of perception rather than simply focus on winning games. They were defensive then geniuses then, I guess, they were just Odysseus getting blown around the Mediterranean by fate. They wanted to be seen as having made the correct decision when really they should have made a decision, lived with the consequences, and then tried to continuing making decisions in service of a coherent plan.

Now these prospects again have the Royals feeling like geniuses and taking thinly veiled shots at anyone who ever doubted "the Process." But prospects fail or get injured or maybe, even with the abundance of talent in the system, there's still just not enough there to turn the franchise into a winner. Who knows what will happen. I also know this: at least at the moment, the Royals are doing it right. The question now is if they keep doing it right or if they again find themselves competing over perceptions when they should be competing on the field.

Can they do it? I don't know. It's so easy for a team to get fixated on what they should do or would do or are supposed to do rather than what they can do. Nothing has likely changed about their reliance on old timey baseball wisdom that might as well chalk everything up to magic (or "grit") and I wish they'd go about their business with a little more of a yeoman's humility rather than a scared child's tendency to plead for attention then lash out when it's negative. Still, despite some considerable apprehensions, it's a wonderful time to be a Royals fan.


The Prospects

Just a quick top 10 done with no scouting knowledge at all.

1. Eric Hosmer - Not even my favorite player, really, but do guys like this ever miss?
2. Mike Moustakas - I do worry about the strikeouts and the (lack of) walks.
3. Wil Myers - Part of me still wishes they would have kept him at catcher.
4. Mike Montgomery - If he's healthy, he's nearly unstoppable.
5. Danny Duffy - Threw a 59 MPH curve in a game the other day.
6. John Lamb - O, why not. Great stuff, great makeup.
7. Christian Colon - Everyone says he'll be solid like it's a bad thing.
8. Jake Odorizzi - Curious about how slowly he's moved though.
9. Brett Eibner - Could be a poor man's Sizemore. Or he could never hit.
10. Cheslor Cuthbert - A lifetime away but sounds great.


The Roster

C - The less said about this position the better. You always hate to root against a guy getting healthy, but at my darkest moments I do wish Jason Kendall's surgery would have been performed at the Cleveland Institute for Staph Infections.

1B/DH - Kila Ka'aihue and Billy Butler will switch off between the two. Nothing may be more indicative of the Royals finally getting it than the fact that Kila is not only in their plans, but that they seem set on giving him a full year. The old Royals would have fed him to the Sarlacc after his first 0-4 then started the Sarlacc for the rest of the year even though everyone knows Sarlacci can't hit lefties and never walk. Or something.

O, and Billy Butler is good. I see 30 HR this year. I do.

2B - Chris Getz. I really just don't care about him at all. He's sort of like that student who I forget is in my class until I have to give his paper a D. Here's a sign the Royals don't get it: Getz's name is sometimes mentioned as a possible leadoff bat because he's vaguely fast. Let me save you the trouble of looking it up: his career OBP is .315.

SS - Alcides Escobar. I can't help it, I like this guy even though he hasn't played a game for the Royals yet. I'm a sucker for toolsy prospects and if we'd gotten this guy for Greinke a year ago, everyone would have been thrilled. Plus, his name sounds like he borrowed it from Scarface. I'm on board.

3B - Mike Aviles. He's good. Wilson Betemit is a nice bat of the bench, too. Yeah, this will work out just fine. Plus, look for Mike Moustakas to step up at some point and move Aviles over to 2B after Alcides "White Knife" Escobar takes Chris Getz for a walk in the Everglades.

LF - Alex Gordon. God, I have thoughts. Here's what I've been saying about Gordon recently: he's either going to shock people or fall apart completely. And this is the season. I don't think he's going to be just average. There's too much talent and too much that says his problems are mental. I think he either becomes a .280/.370/.500 guy or is somewhere in Nebraska hanging out with Eric Crouch next year. And, frankly, I still think he's going to put it together. Yes, I know this is stupid, but I don't care. He's the one player on the Royals who knows how to take a walk, the power is real, and those two things usually lead to success.

CF - Lorenzo Cain! He's my new favorite Royal. I don't even know if he's good, but between him and Alcides "Blow Back" Escobar, the Royals won the name side of the Greinke trade. And, yeah, I think he's a little good, too. Another toolsy player with some important skills (defense, speed, solid onbase), I think he's going to be a key part of the Royals future. Unfortunately, that future likely starts in July after Melky Cabrera eats his way to the bench.

RF - Sigh.

SP #1 - Luke Hochevar is best known for looking vaguely like my Royals buddy Anders, but occasionally he's a solid pitcher. It's not Luke's fault--I think he'll have a good year--but every time I think this Royals team might be better than people are talking about, I remember that he's going to be the opening day starter. No offense to this rotation, but, um, there are holes. Luke is a fine #4 and I think he'll turn into a solid #3. If he's your opening day starter, however, it means your #5 is going to be some donut like Sean O'Sullivan.

SP #2 - Jeff Francis. This is the smart free agent signing. Really no downside here and, in fact, a whole lot of upside. It does make me wonder why the Royals weren't making signings like this before. Or was Brett Tomko this signing and we're all just pretending otherwise? Best to move on, probably.

SP #3 - Bruce Chen. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Bruce Chen is the best Chinese-Panamanian pitcher in the game.

SP #4 - Vin Mazzaro. Hey, any time you can deal your 2nd best position player for a guy who can't beat out noted donut Sean O'Sullivan for a roster spot, you've got to do it. Seriously, there's a strange silence in Royalsland over the David DeJesus trade. Yeah, they had to trade him. It made sense. But this trade? Making less sense by the day as it becomes clear Vin Mazzaro isn't very good and no one ever thought he was. You can sign guys like this everywhere. Why trade for one? Seriously, it's like the Royals answered a Craigslist ad from someone who wanted a new car stereo and offered to trade next Tuesday. Enjoy driving around blaring OMG, Billy!

Royalsland, incidentally, is Scandinavia's worst country though features a strangely compelling ride at Epcot.

SP #5 - I did some looking into this, and the Royals aren't going to need a fifth starter until mid-April 2013.

Fine, if you must know, it's (Hiram) Kyle Davies or proto-cruller Sean O'Sullivan.

The best part about detailing out the rotation is that at various points I realized I was probably getting the numbers wrong, but it honestly doesn't matter. It'll go Hoch, Francis, and then the next three spots can be filled in any order by any of those pitchers. And don't worry, that will happen. It's like a game of musical chairs at the vertigo ward.

(How are my similes doing today? Feeling a little off).

Bullpen - Here we go. I like the bullpen this year no matter how it shakes out. Say what you will about the rest of the Royals prospects, but they've got a wealth of young, cheap, and intriguing arms for the bullpen. Sure, it's the least important place to have prospects, but it does make it fun. In particular, I'm excited to see Tim Collins who is shorter than your sister but throws in the mid to upper 90s as a lefty. Your sister can't do that.

One bit of sadness here: Joakim Soria no longer wants to be called the Mexicutioner due to the ongoing drug violence in Mexico. I completely understand this, of course, but it's the end of a glorious era.

(Brief aside on people who want to trade Soria: I get it. Maybe they should. Hell, if they did it for that Montero package, I might even be excited about it. But keep in mind the correct vs. best choice thing again. Stats give us the illusion of thinking we know the correct choice, but it doesn't excuse the reality of the situation which is that of the limited options available to the Royals, the best one likely involves some continuity. The Royals can build a winner by trading Soria, sure. They can build one without trading him, too. There's not one correct way, and, in this particular case, I'm unconvinced trading Soria makes winning easier).


The Division

1. Minnesota - The window is closing, I think, but they can win it one more year.
2. Detroit - Miguel Cabrera can do all that drunk?
3. Chicago - Because someone has to be third.
4. Kansas City - Despite that rotation, I think there's some talent on this team and quite a bit of flexibility to either move parts and/or bring up prospects after the All-Star break.
5. Cleveland - Or they could end up 4th or cease to be. It doesn't really matter.


The Season

So here's how I see it playing out: a middling first couple of months and a lot of games where the starters don't make it to the 6th inning. Still, a sense of optimism as the minors continue to produce (though not at last year's level) and Moustakas eventually joins the major league club. Already well out of contention by the break, a few other guys (Crow and Duffy?) get looks before September and maybe a few more guys come up around the trade deadline as the few remaining veterans get shipped out.

Breakout performers: Butler, Gordon
Beats expectations: "No Pablo" Escobar, Hoch, and, sigh, Francouer (granted, expectations are so low they are currently recording an album of graceful indie rock songs)
Regresses: Betemit, Chen
Gets traded: Melky, Francouer, Francis
Comes back way too early: Jason Kendall
Proves to be bad: Getz, O'Sullivan, Mazzaro, Kendall
Remains a mystery: Davies, Kila and, to a degree, Aviles
Never gets a chance: Maier, Dyson, Blanco

And there we have it, 2.5k words on the Royals. Really, all you need to know is that the real test will be whether or not General Manager Dayton Moore can avoid screwing the roster (or the payroll) up, whether Ned Yost can prove worthy of managing into the team's rosy future, and whether the kids continue to climb the organizational ladder toward the majors. Sooner or later decisions are going to have to be made about which prospects to keep or trade and how to build the roster around them, but for now, at least, Royals fans are drowning in hope rather than tears.

Seriously though, Lorenzo Cain! He sounds like a guy who beat up a train!

Record: 75-87

5 comments:

Anders Peterson said...

i like your brand of rose-colored glasses, amigo. speaking of look-a-likes, 'been enjoying your doppleganger on party down: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_ZVkb0M61jmc/THaozwNrGCI/AAAAAAAABKE/BpyBr-Qahl8/s640/Adam+SCott+2.jpg

Amanda said...

Tim and I have been enjoying your doppleganger on Parks and Rec; it's really uncanny. Especially when I found out you also were an 18-year-old mayor who bankrupted a town with Firetown - an amusement park in flames.

Ted W said...

I agree with your assessment of the season, except I doubt Billy hits 30 homers. He reminds me so much of pre-steroid era Edgar Martinez. That is, a 20-homer, 50-double guy with lots of contact and lots of double plays. And no defense, of course. There’s still a lot of value there, but he’s always going to look bad doing it.

Hosmer is probably going to be that guy. Word from spring training is that he already looks like the Royals best hitter, so I doubt Kila is going to actually get a full year to prove himself. It’s going to be hard to keep a talent like Hosmer’s in Papillion all summer.

To me, the most interesting part of the year will be how the team reacts if a few of the prospects start off really poorly in April and May. There's been so much hope and hype put on the young players, it almost seems like the major-league team would suffer psychologically if the AA team struggled. Strange. I can't think of another example of a fan base caring so little about their major league team as this year. It's all about the minor leaguers.

There's a bunch of depth in the minors, though, which would help soften the blow, but there has to be some sort of regression to the mean this year for the Royal's prospects.

One quick note on Moustakas. I saw him play in Omaha six or seven times last year and was impressed with his bat. The K/BB splits are troubling, but his ability to square up on the ball is really impressive, as is his bat speed. In some ways he reminds me of Aviles--not in ability--in how neither of them really look like they should be good at baseball. They're too short, too stocky. They swing at everything and look kind of ditzy most of the time. But both of them have an innate ability to square up on the ball no matter where they're pitched, and that makes up for a lot. Moose has the elite bat speed that puts him on another power level, and I think he's going to hit, just as I thought Aviles would hit too.

Anyway. The Royals.

It's been a long time since I've been this excited about the organization. Too bad they'll still be a shitty team this year.

A. Peterson said...

Hey, Ted, I didn't know you were a Royals fan (of course, we don't really know each other). Still, I'm stoked. Next AWP, I'm going to make Dave pull you over to The Cupboard table so we can talk for hours about Yordano Ventura.

Yeah, you're right on everything though. Martinez is an obvious Butler comp in all ways except age which I think is key consideration. I just don't think Billy has maxed out (except defensively). Butler should--should--hit 30 one of these years. In the next five years, it's more likely to happen than not, I think. In a smaller park it'd be a given.

I like the Moustakas/Aviles comparison and, actually, that sounds a bit like how they used to talk about Butler's bat. Now that I look at it on B-R, actually, their AA-AAA stats aren't really that different.

Billy struck out 67 times as a 20yo in AA in 535 PA. Moustakas struck out an identical number of times with one fewer PA split between AA and AAA as a 21yo. Billy walked 41, Moose 34. Of course, Billy hit 15 HR and Moose hit 36.

Probably meaningless given the ages, different levels (Moose's numbers are inflated by AA and, at least for Ks and BBs, deflated by AAA), and different parks but still interesting. Neither is really a walks machine, but if Moose can even stay in Billy's ballpark, he'll be great.

As for this year's team, I find myself with a strange affinity for it (though yesterday's game shook my resolve, I'll admit). The rotation is dreadful, the bullpen exciting, and at least half the lineup just depressing, but if I squint I can pretend it's 2013 and Francoeur is Wil Myers, etc.

Ted said...

Sounds like a plan for AWP Chicago. Spring training will be just around the corner then!

The Billy/Moose comp is a good one too. They might actually end up with similar body types sometime in the future too. The comp makes me even happier that Moustakas is headed back to AAA to start this year, as repeating the level really helped out Billy. Although he did have significant time in the majors by the time he returned to Omaha. Hopefully we can avoid some of the growing pains we saw by rushing Butler, Gordon, and Teahen to the majors before they proved they could handle veteran pitchers.

I'm liking this team a lot more after this weekend. They proved they have some fight in them, and that a good bullpen can make a big difference. (Or, in the Angels' case, a bad bullpen can suck the life out of team.) I still don't think this is a .500 team over the course of a season, but they should be able to put together a few long stretches of good baseball.