The Monday Rant: Eli’s Coming

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Twenty-twelve was supposed to be the year that things started to fall into place for the Kansas City Royals. The offense was taking shape – albeit on the backs of some career years – and the young pitching was coming around just enough to make even the hardest hearts think there was a chance for something special.

There were still those, though, that didn’t quite believe. There were holes in the offense – poor plate discipline out of key figures; still very little power; terrible base running – and relying on young pitching usually brings more headaches than high fives. No matter the amount of negatives however, the amount of positives coming from both a good September, 2011 record, and a great spring for a number of players, left just enough positive vibes to make fans and columnists anoint this season as the completion of some kind of “mission”.

Except, this is the Royals, and #Royaling is what they do.

It’s fallen apart. A house of cards built on intangibles and indefinable buzzwords like “the right way” and “process” has once again turned back into a pumpkin; back into a bumbling laughing stock worthy of the late night shows. Only this time, because this narrative is too old, too worn, too used, not even the good late night shows will have a run at it.

Before the season began the Royals signed Yuniesky Betancourt. A player that has been so bad throughout his major league career that writers have called him – not the lowly “bloggers” everyone loves to loathe – the worst everyday player in baseball. A player that, just a year ago, the Royals themselves knew just how bad, how below average, how much of a drain he was on their lineup because of his shear tonnage of outs created, the sieve he was on defense with his incredible lack of range in the infield, because he played for them. He played for them, and played poorly enough to amass a mere 0.9 fWAR, while playing in 151 games.

But that didn’t matter. Why? Because when the Royals signed Betancourt before the spring of 2012, they did so with the “intention” that he would be a backup. A backup, for multiple infield positions of which he had either rarely or never played, making $2 million on a team strapped for cash.* He was signed as a guy that could bring some right-handed pop to the lineup out of a backup role, and he was a good fit in the clubhouse. No, seriously, that’s the exact quote.

*We know the Royals are strapped for cash because they never stop telling everyone how strapped for cash they are.

Flash-forward to yesterday and Betancourt is no longer on the team. Designated For Assignment, relieving the fans from having to watch his uninterested, mediocrely-talented demeanor on the field in a Royals uniform again. But for all the good that comes of Betancourt being released comes the same red flags that have been surrounding the organization for the past six seasons, and beyond.

There’s speak of a process, a method of evaluation and determination that would set the Royals apart from all the other small-market-excuses of a mess of the past three decades. But as the Mission comes to an end, there’s seemingly little difference of this season from the last, or the many before it. And if you’re of the opinion that there’s an end in sight, a true end in sight, then the writing on the walls just isn’t the right shade of glowing neon for you to see.

As the goalposts continue to get moved further and further down the line of success, more and more head scratching moves of wasted money and market missteps continue.

Jose Mijares, a talented (at least somewhat), and presumably useful left-handed bullpen piece having a good season on an incredibly affordable contract, was placed on waivers and claimed by the San Francisco Giants. At the time of posting this, the details of the transaction are not fully known, but it appears the Royals gave Mijares away for nothing. There could always (and usually are) things that no one in the general public knows, but for the purpose of the Royals, for the purpose of how things have been both this season and the five before it, what reason would anyone have for giving the Royals the benefit of the doubt this time?

There’s talk of trying to “change the culture”. It’s a nice, cute thing to say. In any normal circumstance, in any other organization, a phrase like that could (and possibly should) be taken seriously. But this is year six of this regime’s run with changing the culture of losing, why is it still around at all?

Eli’s coming. Something is brewing – or at least, that’s how it seems at the moment – with the Royals. And if change is truly coming, some sort of alteration of the culture, then fans may yet have hope that the light actually is somewhere at this end of the tunnel.

But for six years-to-two-decades Royals fans have been promised change and continually get handed pennies in exchange. Let’s hope this time, for once, it’s actually meaningful.

The Good

Since returning from the DL, Lorenzo Cain has hit .325/.372/.506 with 4 stolen bases and played a pretty good defensive outfield at multiple positions. Not too shabby.

Given Cain’s swing and approach at the plate, his overall numbers probably won’t reflect this kind of production over the long term, but at the very least he seems to be the kind of player that can be penned into in the lineup somewhere in the foreseeable future.

Cain’s inclusion into the lineup has shown how much he was missed over the two months he was away. Jeff Francoeur has struggled (even by Jeff Francoeur standards) and being able to give him a day off to save the lineup for his almost certain four outs with Cain’s bat and base running would have been a welcomed addition.

Moving forward the question is, and always will be, if he can stay healthy. Health being one of the hardest player attributes to evaluate and predict we may never know how many games he’ll be able to play in a year without breaking down. But for the time being, Cain looks like an athletic, above-average-to-better defender that’s going to provide the lineup with some much-needed production for next season.

The Bad

This horse was beaten long, long ago. But if there weren’t enough question marks already about Dayton Moore and his ability to put together a 25-man, major league roster, there should be now. And no one should be able to argue otherwise.

Things don’t look to get much better before they get worse, and moves like the Betancourt signing and the trade for Humberto Quintero are at the forefront as why.

Perhaps a trade of one of the team’s better players is what’s needed. Perhaps either Billy Butler or Alex Gordon needs to be shopped in the offseason. Perhaps.

Let’s just not forget that the two best players on the team, those two, are also two that are leftovers from the previous regime that supposedly caused all this losing culture to begin with.

The Upcoming

The Royals hit the road with three games against the White Sox and four against the Orioles. A seven game stretch that, even if the team was playing well, would be tough. At the very least, fans get to see Camden Yards.

Topics: Billy Butler, Jose Mijares, Kansas City Royals, Rant, Sports Night, The Rant, Yuniesky Betancourt

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  • jimfetterolf

    Wonder if Mijares was dumped to clear roster space for one of the new messiahs?

    • Michael Engel

      Even if they dump him, which I don’t have a problem with, GET SOMETHING in return. That’s the most baffling part of this transaction. I know they were shopping him, but at least take some 23 year old guy in High A who might have a good walk rate or something. Anyone. Something. No point otherwise. Every team has that organizational soldier in their system they’d give up if they had to. Royals got Kevin Pucetas for Guillen. They got Hollingsworth for Kila. Get something, and if it doesn’t develop, whatever. If it does, you look like a genius. To not even try…well it just looks like they’re not even paying attention to me.

      • jimfetterolf

        I have no reason to assume that they didn’t even try. I think Eric covered the possibilities well and the fact that they did dump him suggests that they didn’t want Mijares anymore after his last four appearances, and that they did want the 40-man roster spot. And that suggests to me at least the possibility of adding someone interesting to the roster to get the adjustment period done with before next season. I’ld bet on JaKKKe to be the one called up.

  • Eric Akers

    I think Mijares was a salary dump. There are predictions that his salary would be around $2 million next season. That is a bit too much money for a LOOGY. We got more guys in AAA (Donnie Joseph) that can be more than a LOOGY. Considering about 25 teams had to pass on him for the Giants to get him, and for a low salary, you gotta wonder what happened here.

    • Michael Engel

      Here’s the thing on that…they dump off $300,000 this year or close to that. Next year, if they feel he’s going to cost too much for being a LHP in the bullpen DONT OFFER HIM A CONTRACT. He’s under arbitration. They can non-tender him. They’re under ZERO obligation to offer him a contract. The Twins didn’t -that’s why he’s here.

      For a team paying Frenchy more than $9 million from today until the contract is up, for a team paying Chen to stink it up all of July, 300 grand is nothing. Nothing. It’s not even enough to make an impact on a salary dump. $300,000 is less than one half of a percent (0.4%) of the Royals 2012 payroll.

      Also, you know why the trade chips every August still get traded to contenders? Because most teams who aren’t in the race don’t bother to make claims. At the end of the month, come back to me and let me know how many players get claimed by teams not within a position of their division or the wild card and I’ll put the over/under at 1.5 and bet the under.

      That’s a routine part of August – players usually just don’t get claimed, period, and when they do, it’s not a random bottom-dweller making it.

      I’ll have more tomorrow on these things.

      • Michael Engel

        I added an extra 0 in there I think. 4% of payroll. Still…that’s insignificant. Teams take chances on 17 year olds out of high school in the draft with bonuses of that size on a 10% shot they’ll develop.

        • Eric Akers

          I agree that they probably could have dumped him off next year and that $300K amounts to about zero dollars today, especially when you now have to pay the next guy at least league minimum that replaces him. Net savings is probably around $200K or less for this year. If they can just drop him, then it might have been better to hold on to him until the last minute trying to get a return for him. However, if they really have no plans for him in the future, and it looks like there is no interest in him at all, then this move opened a spot to get a look at someone else for last couple months of the season, and that may be worth something too, and might add $200K to the draft and scouting budget.

          I am surprised that no contending team in the AL thought enough of this guy to not make a claim on him. He has performed fairly well this year, with a bit of a slip recently. But he would probably be very good if used just as a LOOGY.

          • Michael Engel

            Well, but the second SF put in a claim for him, there was clear interest in him. at least enough to make the claim on him. I don’t know how they just get nothing for him. Such a weird move. I’m still confused.

          • Eric Akers

            I swear that I thought we could get something for him too, I am just trying to rationalize this. If SF had just enough interest to give us something we did not want or to prevent another team with a better record claiming him, then the two days to work out a deal would tell us that. I don’t know if both days were used to discuss a deal by the way, I am just assuming some time was taken. But the worst case for SF is the Royals pull him off waivers and they prevent the Nats (or somebody else) from claiming him, and best case is they get a cheap player they have to make room for on the 40 man roster, in an area of need.

            If these were the options from SF, then we have multiple options: 1) Let him go for nothing because we don’t see much value in him,
            2) Pull him back and try to trade him during the off season with a couple years of control left, or
            3) trade him for something we don’t want right now

            If these are the options, then I can rationalize the move, while debating the whether to do option number 2 or use the time to look at another player.

  • ArrowFan

    What I can’t understand is they play and pitch Texas very well or insert any first place team. Then get sweepted by Seatle or any last place team. Is it all about their youth?

  • John Lofflin

    Well, Yost’s idea of changing the culture is a good one, except for the fact that he is not the manager to do it. His MO is wet-nurse, and you can see where wet-nurse gets you. I don’t subscribe to this “young player” stuff. Young players should be MORE driven than guys who have already made their money. Tell me this: Who DIDN’T know Yuni could not focus for nine innings let alone 160 games? The point of what’s going on here is pretty clear — I did the research a few days ago for the Henrywiggen blog. The Glass family realized a $28.5 million profit on the Royals in 2011. If you put that $28.5 million into the payroll would it increase it by half? Of course, they didn’t. And, think about it, if you were making $28.5 million on a product, why on earth would you want to spend money to improve it. Royals’ fans will buy this team; why put a better one on the field?

    You are absolutely right in your misgivings about fine words like change the culture or the process or any mention of a mission. None of these words apply to the Royals. Your insights ab out Cain are revealing. I’d be interested in your insights into the pitching scheme this team uses.