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Dayton Moore, apparently just standing around, not signing Edwin Jackson or Roy Oswalt. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE

Revisionist History and the Royals Free Agent Efforts

In a way, I’m surprised that there hasn’t been more said about this, but Dayton Moore made a statement to Bob Dutton about the current starting pitching market.

Moore was forthright in admitting that he may have misjudged the free agent market early on. As he told Dutton:

“I guess if we had known all along that Edwin Jackson or Oswalt were going to take one-year deals maybe we would have done things a little differently or thought things through a little differently. But I don’t think so.”

The reason behind Moore’s skepticism is a desire to keep the path open for the young pitchers in the system to be called up when they’re ready. Danny Duffy is already up and the hope is that Mike Montgomery puts it together in spring or early on in Omaha and earns his promotion as well.

Through it all, Moore has stuck to his guns.

The question has come up though – why didn’t Moore sign Roy Oswalt? Why not Edwin Jackson? Jackson only signed a one year deal with Washington and Oswalt’s rumored deal (when he finally settles on a team) shouldn’t be any bigger than one year and seven million dollars. Outrage! What is this guy doing? Is he openly sabotaging the team’s chances?

It’s clear that the Royals need outside help or vast improvement from the current crew. They traded for Jonathan Sanchez on the hopes that he returns to his 2010 form when he struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings and held batters under seven base hits per nine. At the end of November, they worked out a deal to keep Bruce Chen after a pair of solid seasons in the Royals rotation. Moore cited Chen’s consistency as a reason to hustle to get a deal done.

Now, he’s being ripped for the move because “he should have just signed Oswalt or Jackson”.

Let’s review. The Royals signed Chen at the end of November, coming to the agreement on November 23.

At that time, C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle had yet to sign and were outside of the Royals price range. Oswalt was said to be waiting for those two pitchers to come off the market, thus lowering the number of impact starters out there and hopefully adding value. This was two weeks after the Royals had signed Chen. Since, yes, Oswalt has lowered his demands and went from being open to a one-year deal  (though not until a month after the Royals and Chen agreed to their deal). Now it’s understood by most reporters that all he’ll get is a one year deal, but he’s being patient and picky.

"Yeah, just one year, but I don't know where yet." Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE

Part of the huffing and puffing suggests that the Royals hadn’t even expressed any interest. When a former Cy Young candidate and a pitcher with solid control and good strikeout numbers through the years is on the market, a team that needs a big starter for a potential shot at contention had better go after the guy. A common question out there (by some, not all) is “why didn’t the Royals go after Oswalt?”

Let’s rewind ourselves to November 11th. On that date, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported that the Royals were meeting with Bob Garber in Milwaukee.

So what?

Bob Garber is the agent to one Roy Oswalt.

In other words, two weeks before signing Bruce Chen, the Royals inquired about Oswalt. Now, I don’t know the nature or breadth of those discussions. As Levi Payton suggests, it may have just been due diligence, just on the off chance that Oswalt was ready to go to a smaller market team with a lot of energy and a lot of hope.

At that time, as noted above, Oswalt was waiting out the big money southpaws so maybe the Royals came away with the impression that they’d have to overpay to secure his services. Maybe Oswalt wasn’t ready to sign at all with anybody. Maybe he flatly told the Royals “no”. We don’t know because neither side is telling us, but at that point the Royals shifted to going after Chen. It’s not an outrageous guess that they may have went after Oswalt, were rebuffed and went to their secondary plan.

But wait, why not Edwin Jackson? Why not give him a one year deal before the Chen agreement?

Edwin Jackson cashed in and hopes to next year as well. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

For one, at the time (late November) even the Yankees thought Jackson’s price was too high according to reporting by Jon Heyman. Some figures in early January had Jackson seeking a five year deal for $12 to $15 million a season. It wasn’t until recently that Jackson was reported to be open to a one-year deal, even spurning three year offers from the Orioles and Pirates to sign in Washington. Those deals were said to be around $10 million a season over three years. Washington will pay him $11 million. My hunch is that Jackson saw Washington as a great fit for a) the money b) the goal of a one year deal (which allows him to re-enter the market next year) and c) a chance to fit in with a sleeper contender. Pitching alongside Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman is probably more attractive than being mixed in with Luke Hochevar and Jonathan Sanchez.

The sense I’m getting from some Royals fans on Twitter and Facebook is that the Royals sat on their hands entirely*. However, given the market at the time of the Chen agreement, there’s no indication that the Royals would have been able to sign either Oswalt or Jackson, and waiting may have left them out of the Chen sweepstakes too.

*Then there’s the group that would have complained if the Royals could have signed Oswalt, citing his back and age while bemoaning the fact that he was blocking Montgomery. Moore can’t win no matter what he does, sometimes.

Then there’s the evaluation that 2012 might not quite be the year for the Royals. A lot of things would have to fall right for a one-year deal (if one could have been reached at the time) to impact the team enough to push them past Detroit (who, it should be said, won the division by 15 games in 2011). It’s arguable if any pitcher can make up that big of a difference when other factors are similar. The Tigers have a good set of hitters, a good bullpen and strong starters.

Even if there’s no regression from Alex Gordon or Jeff Francoeur or Eric Hosmer (dread that sophomore slump), is it going to be enough? And could one pitcher – like a 34-year-old with back issues or a 29-year-old who’s bounced around the league his entire career – be enough to overtake the Tigers? Unlikely, though it would improve the odds, and I’d have been in favor of a move.

Add it up and it’s easy to see how Moore’s decision-making led him to pursue Chen and leave Oswalt and Jackson for the rest of the league. At the time, the investment was outside of the Royals range and the pitchers’ availability or willingness to come to Kansas City is questionable as well. Dayton Moore can’t sign a player for the Royals if they don’t want to be a Royal. That leaves him in the position to where he has to make the best move he can at the time under the conditions.

The Royals missed out on Edwin Jackson. The Royals are likely to miss out on Roy Oswalt. Or, more likely, they never had a shot, so did they really “miss out”?

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