It was hard to put Sheets here. I saw him pitch as a reliever when he first reached Milwaukee and saw several of his games throughout the years. I truly like the guy. But, as a pitcher, he is bad news. In the five years before his elbow surgery in 2008, Sheets’ ERA never rose above 4.00 and he allowed just 1 HR per 9 IP. He was a great strikeout pitcher and once knocked out 18 in a game, which is three more than any Royal has ever achieved. However, he’s only thrown more than 24 games once since 2005, and his injury issues have just made things worse over time. At this point, given his production with Oakland last season and the fact that he’s on the wrong side of 30, it’s likely that he’ll never have a solid season as a starter again. That’s reason to pass.
This one was just slightly harder to rank than Sheets. I saw Webb pitch in Washington a couple years back and was more impressed than I ever was seeing him on TV. He has similar stats to Sheets, never once compiling an ERA above 3.59 over his career. He is a workhorse, throwing 226 innings per season on average, and won the Cy Young in 2006. However, like Sheets, Webb had a debilitating injury and coming back from that is pretty difficult. Given a cheap one- or two-year contract, I would definitely take a flyer on Webb. With the other guys available this offseason, though, he falls by the wayside. Just hard to see how he’ll be useful in two-three years.
Ranking Jeff Francis, who has never had an ERA below 4.16, above both Sheets and Webb may seem bizarre. To me, Francis is a much stronger flyer candidate than Sheets or Webb. He also is a post-injury guy and it’s unknown how he’ll recover. I have a few reasons why I chose him over Sheets and Webb. First, his career BABIP is a .314, so he’s been statistically unlucky. Secondly, his career FIP (4.46) is lower than his ERA (4.77), though I realize that’s not much of a difference. Third, since 2006 his GB/FB has been at least 1.19 and was 1.46 in 2010. Finally, he just seems to me like a breakout candidate. I only say that based on a gut feeling, but Francis strikes me as a guy that can help your club from the 4-5 spot and provide good support. At this point, even after his arthroscopic surgery, I would rather take a two- to three-year flyer on Francis than Webb or Sheets. Call me crazy if you want.
For the record, I also like Jayson Werth. He’s an interesting guy. He’s had an interesting 8-year career with a one-year hiatus in 2006 due to a wrist injury. He was up-and-down during his first four years in Toronto and Los Angeles, but his time in Philly has seen him breakout to the tune of a .282/.380/.506 line in four years. Sounds great, right? In 2010, Werth was arguably the Phillies’ best player, which I previously described as a season approximately on par with Billy Butler’s. How can I turn down such a player? Well, Werth is now 31. He’s entering the downslope of his career and is currently an average outfielder based on metrics alone. Now, he did hit his peak this year and finished 8th in MVP voting, but for a player like Werth, it can only get worse. At a time when his stock is at an all-time high, overpaying for what will likely be less-than-optimal results in a few years wouldn’t be a smart idea. It doesn’t make sense to me at this point, so that’s why I left him at 4.
This one kills me a little mostly because having a solid-batting catcher would be great. I am so afraid of Dayton Moore signing Bengie Molina or another guy like him that signing Victor Martinez would be an epic victory. Martinez hits well for a catcher, batting .300 over his 9-year career, and maintained a respectable OBP of .369 over that time. His slugging percentage is strong enough that his OPS has only dropped below .844 once since 2004. I can’t say much about him defensively, but as far as I know he’s no eyesore and is fairly consistent. And with his whole career in the AL, there can be no debates about “weak competition” that one might face with an NL player. Having a great catcher would really help the team at a time when catching isn’t exactly the Royals’ strong suit. I had to rank someone at third, though, and since I don’t have much against the Royals signing Martinez, that’s difficult. With the strengths of the next two guys, though, I have to live with that.
Cliff Lee is amazing. End of story. He has some incredible stuff and can pitch unlike almost any pitcher I’ve ever seen (late-’90s Pedro Martinez will always be my favorite). At 32, he’s not too old, though he is on the downside of his baseball career. Lee nabbed the Cy Young in 2008 and had a great 5.00 K/BB ratio. Last season, however, he blew that away with a 10.28 K/BB, including a 14.83 in 13 games with Seattle. He truly is amazing and will likely be great for several more years.
When I realized that Crawford would go on the market this offseason, he was the one I wanted the Royals to sign (in a perfect world). That mentality hasn’t changed. Crawford is the all-around solid hitter and defender that the Royals’ outfield has lacked for years. Without many outfield prospects immediately available in the coming years, Crawford would be a fixture at center or left depending on the Royals’ intentions with Dyson, Blanco, et al. He would give the lineup a quick, capable bat for the top spot and would get a guy on base for Billy Butler (and eventually Moustakas and Hosmer).