On Thursday, 28-year old RHP-Merkin Valdez was designated for assignment by the San Francisco Giants to make room for Aubrey Huff. Now that he is fresh on the market, does he fit into the present or future of the Kansas City Royals? Let’s take a look to find out.
Merkin Valdez was signed by the Atlanta Braves* out of the Dominican Republic on November 18th, 1999. He was traded to the Giants, along with LHP-Damian Moss on December 17th, 2002. The Atlanta Braves received RHP-Russ Ortiz who went 21-7 with a 3.81 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and 112 ERA+ during the 2003 season. Ortiz did lead the NL in walks that year however.
*What are the odds that 3 players DFA’d on three consecutive days would have spent time in the Atlanta Braves organization? It’s as if the baseball gods are tempting Dayton Moore.
Valdez was a fixure in the Giants top-30 prospect rankings* from the time he was acquired through the 2008. In six seasons in the minors he has accumulated a 3.14 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 2.78 SO/BB in 464.1 IP. Merkin made his major league debut in 2004 but threw just 1.2 innings that resulted in a 27.00 ERA and 4.20 WHIP. It was in 2008 that he got his first taste of success in the big leauges. That season, coming off Tommy John Surgery which cost him all of 2007, he made the opening day roster and had a 1.69 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and 1.86 SO/BB in 16.0 IP. His strong season came to a premature end on May 12th when pain in his pitching elbow again landed him on the DL. Merkin was back in action for the 2009 season and compiled a 5.66 ERA, 1.72 WHIP, and 1.36 SO/BB in 49.1 IP.
*Baseball America ranked him as the Giants #5 prospect in 2006, #18 in 2007, and #24 in 2008.
If he’s on, and healthy, he is capable of throwing serious high-90s heat that can touch 99 mph. He also has flashed an effective slider in the past though the elbow injuries may have reduced the viability of that pitch. His fastball, slider combination helped to keep him in the Giants prospect rankings for system for 6 years, but San Francisco has clearly grown tired of waiting. At this point in his career, the arm and talent are still there, but the lack of consistency and injury history have to be of great concern to any team looking to take a chance on him.
After getting a full season under his belt last year, he could be poised to regain some of his control and return to the promising form that he flashed at the beginning of the 2008 season. Worst case, Valdez turns in another season with a 77 ERA+ like he did in 2009. Keep in mind that Bruce Chen, John Bale, and Juan Cruz shared that ERA+ last season. Unlike those three, Merkin still has potential and upside.
Valdez strikes me as a superior and slightly younger version of Roman Colon. If Merkin’s elbow is sound, the Royals should try to add him to the organizational depth chart by way of a minor league contract. A major league contract would not be completely insane if it was absolutely necessary, but the team needs to be 100% confident in the health of Merkin’s pitching arm to go that route.