Since the regular season ended, I have explored the potential acquisitions of Mat Gamel, Felix Pie, and Jeremy Hermida in an attempt to improve the present and future roster of the Kansas City Royals. In my opinion all three players could be acquired at a reasonable price and fit into the plans of the team. My 4th proposal centers around Tampa Bay Rays SS-Reid Brignac.
Now I assume a majority of you are already hopping off the bandwagon of this move. Not necessarily because you think it is a bad idea, or because Dayton Moore couldn’t get the deal done, but because you believe that he won’t address the position. There is an overriding belief that Dayton is married to Yuniesky Betancourt for the next several seasons, and that he considers the position to be addressed. I’m not going to disagree with the belief, but looking objectively at things I can see a scenario where the team brings in another option.
There are three reasons why I think something might happen at the position this offseason. First, while Yunie was better than TPJ, Luis Hernandez, or an injured Mike Aviles, he still only hit 0.240/.269/.370 with an OPS+ of 68 in 246 at bats. His defense was awful to the tune of a -21.1 UZR/150. At the plate he was an upgrade, but in the field he was a liability compared to the others. If you are curious about all of their numbers, here you go, and as an added bonus I threw in Wille Bloomquist’s numbers while playing SS:
Yuniesky Betancourt: 68 OPS+, -21.1 UZR/150, -1.4 WAR
Luis Hernandez: 29 OPS+, 7.9 UZR/150, -0.3 WAR
Mike Aviles: 22 OPS+, -7.1 UZR/150, -1.0 WAR
Tony Pena Jr: -32 OPS+, -10.8 UZR/150, -0.8 WAR
Willie Bloomquist: 93 OPS+, -12.7 UZR/150, 0.0 WAR
Go ahead and digest those numbers before we move on. In a nutshell, the Royals cast five different players into the role of SS during last season and the best any of them could do was play at exactly replacement level. Dayton may not fully appreciate statistics as a way to evaluate players, but their performance on the field told a similar story on all five of these guys. Try as they might deny or avoid it, the Royals are acutely aware of their lack of production at the position.
On to my second reason, which is pretty simple. Whatever you or I may think of Dan Cortes and Derrick Saito, Dayton Moore clearly didn’t think that much of them. I, myself, don’t think Cortes had a future as a ML pitcher with the Royals and in addition, I would be stunned if he ever has success at the ML level for any other franchise. Throw in the fact that he had off the field problems, and I have no problem with the fact that Cortes was part of the trade. There are many reasons why the deal for Betancourt was a bad move, but in my opinion, Cortes and Saito were not a big loss. You can argue about what they got in return, but they didn’t give up that much to get it.
The third reason is money. A lot of people look at Betancourt’s contract and think that it automatically makes him the team’s starting SS for the next several years. Yunie is set to make $3 million in 2010, $4 million in 2011, and $6 million club option in 2012. If the team declines the option, they will have to pay him a buyout of $2 million. The Mariners will be picking up $1 million of his 2010 salary, which means his impact on the payroll is a meager $2 million. His contract isn’t a burden and certainly doesn’t prevent the team from looking to upgrade the position. Yasuhiko Yabuta made $3 million in 2009 alone and the team was more than willing to let him spend most of the season in Omaha.
So why Reid Brignac?
Brignac turns 24 in January, and entered the 2009 season ranked as the Rays’ #4 prospect by Baseball America. That is 4th in one of the deepest and highly rated minor organizations in all of baseball. He has spent the last 2 seasons at AAA waiting for a real shot to play for the Rays. In the end, all he was given was 10 at bats in 2008. It doesn’t look like a spot is going to open up in Tampa anytime soon. Jason Bartlett hit 0.320/.389/.490 with 14 HR, 30 SB, an OPS+ of 127 , a -6.2 UZR/150, and a 4.8 WAR. The Rays also appear to have 2B set with the emergence of Ben Zobrist. Also working against Brignac is 2008 1st round pick and #2 prospect SS-Tim Beckham. While he is several levels away, Beckham did handle himself pretty well for a 19 year old in low-A this past season.
So what would Brignac bring to the Royals?
One of the premier glovemen in Triple-A, he has a solid arm and good quickness. He also has shown plus power for a middle infielder and the ability to use the entire field. A good athlete, he possesses above average speed and an excellent feel for the game.
The above was an excerpt from Baseball America’s 2009 Prospect Handbook and sums up the exact type of player the Royals need at SS. “Premier gloveman” and “excellent feel for the game” are two phrases not often applied to any of the current KC players outside of Zack Greinke. Brignac spent 2009 playing for Triple-A Durham and hit 0.282/.327/.417 with 8 HR, 5 SB, 27 BB, and 69 SO in 415 AB. Even if his ML numbers resembled Yunie’s at the plate, his play in the field would provide a vast improvement over any of their current options and give them a complete player at the position.
His acquisition would allow the team to slide Mike Aviles over to 2B (if he is fully recovered to start the season) and pencil in Alberto Callaspo at DH. By simply trading for Brignac, the Royals could get better at two positions in the field and improve their offensive production at three spots.
The elephant in the room remains. What would it take to acquire the Rays young and talented #4 prospect? Considering he is blocked at SS by Bartlett, blocked at 2B by Zobrist, and likely to be passed in a season or two by Beckham, he has greater value to other teams than the Rays. Tampa Bay is aware of this and they are a well-run franchise, meaning the Royals would likely have to overpay to acquire him. Further muddying the trade waters, the Royals assets don’t match up very well with the Rays current needs. To pull the deal off, Dayton would probably have to dip into the valued prospect pool of arms that includes Melville, Montgomery, Lamb, and Duffy among others. I personally would not be willing to part with any of those guys, but if a package of Ka’aihue and Giavotella would get the job done, I’d seriously consider it. Kila and Johnny G. probably aren’t enough to get the Rays to agree to a deal, but a mix of prospects could surely be worked out.
Reid Brignac fits my offseason plan, but he is by far the least likely of my four proposals to come to fruition at this point in time. In addition to the cost in talent to make the trade, Dayton would also have to admit that trading for Yuniesky was a mistake. I think he is closer to the latter than most people believe, but I don’t know if he is willing to do that and trade prospects for an untested talent like Brignac. I’d do it, but sadly, I’m not the GM of the team.