Mythbusting the Royals

Sometimes I get frustrated.

I was at lunch this afternoon, waiting on my order to arrive, and became terribly frustrated.

The service was great – this place is just across the street from my work and I’m in often enough that I sometimes don’t have to order, they just ask which of three options I’m in the mood for that day.  The food was on time and delicious.

No, I was frustrated because while waiting, I was bouncing around on my phone, checking Twitter, Facebook, the usual stops.

I’d posted a link to my profile for our #1 Prospect, Eric Hosmer, indicating my thought that he could be one hell of a player some day.  That’s where the frustration came in.

Someone on my friends list said “So your [sic] saying the kids gonna get traded in a year or two then?”

Is it just me, or are you sick of this being a running theme?

I can’t begrudge my friend for the comment.  He, like many of us, have followed the Royals long enough that we’ve seen the Jermaine Dye, Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Zack Greinke eras come to a close after a trade.  The prevailing thought is still “we’ll just get a good player up and trade him once he gets good.”

I think it goes back to the Allard Baird era, just after David Glass became the owner of the team.  Those were the days of $1000 bonuses to fifth round picks.  No farm system investment.  Bad draft choices (due to likely lowered scouting budget and less coverage).  In the timeline of Royals history, they’re the Dark Ages.

I get all that, and a little cynicism is probably warranted for that era.

I’ve tried to take a step back and be less distraught about this lone comment, but it’s difficult to get it out of my head.  I think it comes from a gap between the casual fans out there and those – myself included – who go out of their way to dig up every little nugget they can of Royals news and information.  There’s almost no reason for me to know the strikeout rate for a 19-year-old pitcher from Venezuela who pitched in the AZL last year, but I can pull up that information pretty quickly.  A casual fan isn’t going to care, and more likely, isn’t going to know the pitcher (or the AZL) exists.

Does this make him/her a bad fan?  No.  Does it make me a better fan? No (though, I’ll take the label if someone wants to dish it out to me).  It’s just a difference.

I wanted to take a moment to show why it’s such a frustrating comment to me.

First of all, since hiring Dayton Moore, Glass has opened the wallet more and more, investing both into the major league payroll and buying into “The Process” – a big push to build the franchise through the farm system.  This shift has brought in star prospect after star prospect, and Glass deserves some of the credit for being willing to pay up for some of the bonuses the Royals have offered to first-round talents who slip.  The Facebook comment didn’t mention anything about salaries or being cheap, but it’s definitely implied.

Second, the Royals have started committing to those players they recognize as key components to the future.  In the past, they were unwilling to pay Damon, so they traded him.  They were unwilling to pay Dye, so they traded him.  They were unwilling to pay Beltran, so they traded him.  It was tragic management at the time, but the Royals have learned (or at least it seems that way) the lessons of history.

Joakim Soria showed signs early on that he could become an elite closer in the majors.  The Royals wisely offered him an extension with club options.  Any time I mention something about Soria and someone brings up the “he’ll just get traded” idea, that’s my first example.  They locked him up for a long time, and while it’s club-friendly now, at the time, he’d only spent a season and a half as the closer and while the consensus was that he’d continue his successes, it wasn’t guaranteed.  They saw something they liked and paid up.

This offseason the Royals extended Billy Butler after two consecutive seasons of solid hitting.  Again, they paid up and made a good move with options to keep him under control for years to come.

Zack Greinke may be a counterexample to my idea of the Royals bucking the pattern of the Baird era for the simple fact that he WAS traded.  But they extended him first, and the trade came more because of Greinke’s repeated trade demands and the reality that his contract would expire before the bulk of Royals prospects arrived in the majors and established themselves.  Before the trade, though, they’d tried to negotiate another extension.  The Royals were seated at the table.  Greinke threw away his invitation.

So sure, Greinke got traded.  This is true.  But the move wasn’t based on any need to dump payroll or avoid an extension on the part of the Royals.  It was all Greinke.

Also, over the past few years, the Royals have been rebuilding a broken farm system.  They didn’t have many great players to offer long-term extensions.  Some, like Alex Gordon or Luke Hochevar, are still in arbitration years and haven’t shown anything to push the Royals to extend them.  If Gordon hits .275 and hits 25 homers this year while playing decent defense in left field, you just might hear about how the Royals have signed him to a deal through 2015 with options for 2016 and 2017.

Corey Ettinger from AL Central in Focus set up a chart laying out the Royals estimated payroll year by year and by his figures, the Royals may end up going out of their way to put the “he’ll just get traded” myth to bed.

On the books for 2012, assuming no extensions are signed by the end of the night, and the roster stays as is, the Royals will have a major league payroll of $18.05 million.  Last year, they were at $74 million.  Now, consider an idea put out there by Clint Scoles – get aggressive in signing young players to long-term extensions.  He cites the example of the Rays signing Evan Longoria six days after his major league debut to an extension that pays him a maximum of $11.5 million in option years from 2014-2016.  For a potential MVP like Longoria, that’s fantastic value.

It makes complete sense.  The Royals have all sorts of room at add payroll.  By Ettinger’s estimates, they’ll have just over $12 million on the books in 2015 (of course a lot will change by then).  Now imagine the Royals take that payroll flexibility and lock up Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer and John Lamb and Mike Montgomery and Danny Duffy and Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar.  Even if you set each of them up with $5-8 million a year each in any given year, you’re only going to pay up $56 million on top of the estimated $12 million (and that assumes you pay the maximum to each prospect).  You’re still under the 2010 payroll and you have option years ahead for your (hopefully) All-Star lineup.

Sure, at any point, Joakim Soria could get traded.  So could Butler.  Any of the prospects could get moved.  In the case of the Greinke trade, the return the Royals got on paper is far better than what they got from the Damon/Dye/Beltran trades combined.  I’d say it’s a better deal than a lot of other moves for elite pitchers (I’m looking at you “Dan Haren to the Angels” trade).  Even when they’ve made a trade, the Royals haven’t been selling off pieces for 60 cents on the dollar.

If aggressive extensions are indeed part of “The Process” (and especially if the Royals start winning again), such frustrating comments won’t get under my skin.  Even so, there’s a lot of time between now and when any of these prospects – none of which have made their major league debut – are near free agent eligibility.

We’ll see how that turns out in five years when some of those guys are starting to approach free agency.  Maybe the commenter will be right.

But I doubt it.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Billy Butler Dayton Moore Joakim Soria Kansas City Royals KC MLB Royals Zack Greinke

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