Thirty-nine homeruns allowed in 178 innings. An ERA of 5.16; a FIP of 5.63; an xFIP of 4.48. A pitcher entering his age 30 season with declining velocity, declining strikeout rate, and coming off a year in which he was the worst starting pitcher in all of baseball (according to fWAR). And the Royals just agreed to pay him $12 million.
Too often bloggers and commentators that follow the Kansas City Royals get put into the box of being critical without ever examining the other side of the equation. Too often bloggers and commentators that follow the Kansas City Royals are labeled as negative, or a troll, without ever asking the most important questions on the subject about the validity and competence of an organization that cannot get out of it’s own way. And too often bloggers and commentators that follow the Kansas City Royals can get caught up in their own fandom, their own emotions, and their own desires to finally to cheer and write for a winner.
After the Royals acquired a pitcher for whom there is little compelling argument that he is definitively better than any arm currently on the staff, I was overcome with my own subjective likes of Ervin Santana’s stuff, delivery, reputation and past to see it for what it really was. No doubt, the Royals were in the same boat, otherwise the trade of a minor league arm and the committing to a percentage of the payroll a team should never commit to Ervin Santana, wouldn’t have happened.
At first glance the trade seemed to be a win. The Royals acquired a pitcher that would have been sought after (to what extent is arguable) in the free agent market, and there is a glaring need in at least four of the five starting rotation spots. But the concern before any of the offseason musical chairs started, was that Dayton Moore would enter the market too soon, overpay for a talent that would have been readily available for less, and not really find anyone that would make that much of a difference anyway.
Sadly, that is exactly what happened.
Over the past four seasons there is no discernable difference between Santana, Luke Hochevar, and Bruce Chen. Sure there’s the occasional peak in strikeout numbers, but other than 2008 when Santana had the best year of his career, he’s gotten steadily worse and bottomed out in 2012 with a -0.9 fWAR.
Say what you will about Hochevar, and fans will, he’s been remarkably consistent (just barely over average) throughout his career, and he was better than Santana last year. Oh, and he’s a year younger.
So when it comes to justifying the acquisition, fans should take what they know and what they think of Luke Hochevar, and then ask themselves if they would approve of giving him $12 million next season. Changes things a little, doesn’t it?
But this is to be expected. The history of Dayton Moore as general manager of the Royals lends itself to predicting these kinds of scenarios; boxing himself into a corner of perceived need, only to come out swinging with large sums of dollars given to Willie Bloomquist, Horacio Ramirez, and Jeff Francoeur.
Sure there’s the idea that players don’t want to play in Kansas City (because they’re perennially a loser, and who’s to blame for that?) and they’ll have to overpay for lesser players on the open market, but that argument is a cop-out, an easy excuse for why role players and bad players are handed more money than anyone else in baseball would do.
This is also where the flaw in The Process rears its ugly head. Not everything can be built entirely from within, and while small market teams that struggle to get out of the bottom of the standings will spend their time telling you that free agency is a bad route to go when building a team, they ignore the fact that it is a necessary one.
The idea that teams “cannot be built through free agency” is a laughable cause continually trumpeted by organizations that show ineptness in how to use it correctly. And the organizations that routinely use that phrase as the answer to a question that wasn’t asked, like the Royals, are also ones that are so afraid, so petrified of spending their available dollars poorly, that they back into situations to do just that by convincing themselves that there is no other way.
It’s what happens when you draft Luke Hochevar No.1 overall (think whatever you like about that subject) and fail to develop him. It’s what happens when your top two organizational draft picks, whom you’ve touted as sure-fire stars, both put up on-base percentages lower than .310 in their sophomore seasons. It’s what happens when, entering year seven of a regime, the entire starting rotation could be swapped out for five new names, and no one would bat an eye.
Ervin Santana being acquired isn’t the problem, solely. He’s a sign. He’s yet anther worrisome acquisition that shows where the Royals current administration is lacking, and how far behind the rest of the league it puts them.
Trading for and picking up the option on Santana wouldn’t be that much of a head scratching move if we didn’t know what we already know. Dayton Moore is the one that talks more than most about the payroll limitations laid upon him as general manager of a small market team. And he’s also the one that just agreed to pay 12 million dollars next year to a pitcher that was statistically worse than all the starting pitchers in the Royals rotation. And he did so before the rest of baseball showed him if he should.