Where Have You Gone Ruben Gotay

Today the St. Louis Cardinals signed 3B/2B-Ruben Gotay to a minor league contract and a spring training invite.  He will turn just 27 years old on Christmas Day and the fact that he just signed with the Cardinals reopens some wounds for me.

If you don’t remember Ruben Gotay, you’ve come to the right place!  Come we with me as we take a stroll along the Gotay timeline.

The Royals spent their pick in the 31st round of the 2000 draft to select the 17 year old.  Though he was born in Puerto Rico, he was enrolled at Indian Hills CC in Centerville, Iowa at the time he was drafted.  It took almost a year for him to sign with the team.  On May 28th of 2001, he was officially a member of the Royals organization.

He played for the rookie ball Royals in the Gulf Coast League after signing and hit 0.315/.398/.457 with 26 BB and 22 SO in 184 AB.  It was a stellar beginning to a professional career and the organization took notice.  When the 2002 season rolled around, Gotay found himself playing for the Low-A Burlington Royals in the Midwest League.  Unfazed, despite the fact he was 19, he excelled and, over the course of 509 at bats, hit 0.285/.377/.456 with 73 BB and 110 SO.  The 2003 season saw him bumped up to the High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks.  His stats took a slight dip but he managed to hold his own in a very tough offensive environment.  At 20 years old he hit 0.261/.343/.384 with 60 BB, and 97 SO in 502 AB.

2004 was a big year for Ruben.  He opened the season in Double-A with the Witchita Wranglers and his numbers bounced back to the tune of 0.289/373/.440 with 9 HR, 9 SB, 51 BB, and 60 SO in 405 AB.  The Royals had seen enough and on August 3rd he made his ML debut in Kauffman Stadium against the Chicago White Sox.  The Royals lost the game 12-4, but Gotay collected his 1st ML hit, run, and RBI.  He finished the day 1-3.  He remained with the Royals for the rest of the year, and in the process, hit 0.270/.315/.375 with 9 BB and 36 SO in 152 AB.  It was a solid first season in the majors and it seemed safe to assume that better seasons were in his future.  His OBP figured to spike in the following seasons as he worked his SO to BB rate back in line with his minor league track record.

The 2005 season rolled around and Ruben Gotay, now just 22 years old, was the starting 2B for Kansas City on Opening Day.  Unlike 2004, it proved to be a rough year.  He struggled in the majors and hit just 0.227/.288/.344 with 22 BB and 51 SO in 282 AB.  His SO and BB numbers were starting to improve, but he struggled to make solid contact.  August 4th was his last game in the majors for the Royals and he was sent back down to Wichita to finish the season.  Back in Double-A he continued to scuffle, hitting just 0.245/.320/.400, but he did draw 12 BB to only 13 SO in 110 AB.

Gotay did not make the ML team in 2006 and was sent to Triple-A Omaha.  With the O-Royals he hit 0.264/.322/.404 with 26 BB and 67 SO in 337 AB.  Along the way, Allard Baird was fired as the Royals GM on May 31st.  Baird’s firing also meant the end of Gotay’s run in the organization.  Dayton Moore took over as the team’s GM later that summer.  Ruben Gotay, still just 23 years old, was traded by the new regime to the New York Mets on July 19th.  The Royals got 26 year old 2B-Jeff Keppinger back in return.  In limited duty (60 at bats) for the Royals, Keppinger hit 0.267/.323/.400.  At the time it was a bizarre trade.  Keppinger was three years older, had less pop, and less speed than Gotay did.  That is saying something since Ruben himself had, at best, average power and average speed.

Then pushing the bizarre envelope even further, Moore proceeded to trade Keppinger to the Cincinnati Reds, for 22 year old RHP-Russ Haltiwanger, on January 10th, 2007.  Keppinger, who is still playing in the majors now, has a career line of 0.279/.333/.390 with 92 BB and 82 SO in 1,181 AB.  Haltiwanger, for his part, got as far as High-A in 2007.  He repeated the level in 2008 and did not pitch in 2009.

After being traded, Ruben Gotay spent the rest of the 2006 season in Triple-A for the Mets.  He would also spend some time there in 2007, but also got 190 AB in the bigs.  He did well for himself in his opportunity and hit 0.295/.351/.421.  It wasn’t enough to convince the Mets and he was placed on waivers in March of 2008.  He was claimed off waivers by the Braves on March 28th.  He got another 102 ML at bats while with Atlanta and hit 0.235/.322/.343.  At the end of the 2008 season Gotay was granted free agency.  He was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks and spent the entire 2009 season playing for the Triple-A Reno Aces in the PCL.  He displayed astounding plate discipline that had been just below the surface in his time with the Royals and he proceeded to hit 0.272/.429/.450 with 102 BB and 69 SO.

Looking back at things today, the organization’s trade of Gotay could be viewed as the first signal that the new regime didn’t believe in all their talk of valuing guys who get on-base and have good strike zone judgment.  Sure they traded him for a guy with similar skills in those areas, but failed to recognize that he was older and had less to offer in other areas.  Then, inexplicably, they flipped Keppinger for a minor league pitcher with a very underwhelming statistical resume while pitching in the lower level of the minors.

Gotay, as is the story with a lot of guys, has never been given a real shot to succeed at the ML level.  At 27, his chances of getting that chance seem very remote but I have little doubt that he can, at least, find success as a bench player in the big leagues.  He’s not a good defensive player as his career -7.7 UZR/150 at 2B and -9.5 UZR/150 at 3B can attest to, but despite all the bumps in the road he has been a shade over a replacement level player.  He has a career WAR of 0.3 with a high of 0.7 with the Mets in 2007, and a low of -0.7 with the Royals in 2005.

I won’t be shocked if he contributes as a member of the Cardinals at some point during the 2010 season, and when it happens this Royals fan will wonder “what if” even more than I already do.  What if they hadn’t rushed Gotay and skipped him over AAA in 2004?  What if they had stuck with him a little longer in 2005?  What if Dayton Moore had let him finish the 2006 season in AA before trading him off?  A part of me had been holding out hope that the Royals would give him another look and sign him to a minor league deal.  Thanks to the news of his signing with St. Louis today, that’s not going to happen and part of me is sad because of it.

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Tags: AL Central Arizona Diamondbacks Atlanta Braves Baseball Cincinnati Reds Jeff Keppinger Kansas City Royals KC MLB New York Mets Russ Haltiwanger St. Louis Cardinals

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