Trading from a position of strength can often lead to nothing but weaknesses. In the case of the Kansas City Royals, talk has swirled about the possibilities of trading one of the young offensive commodities in hopes of acquiring starting pitching, a position of obvious weakness.
However with the Royals as we look ahead to 2013, there should be more questions asked about whether or not the offense can sustain any subtractions to its future, instead of just assuming that an acquisition of any pitcher will make this team better. Chances are, with subtractions from the offense (here’s looking at you, Wil Myers trade rumors), the Royals would have traded from one part of the team to another, and not amounted to much overall gain.
Somewhere during the last two months of the 2012 season and into the offseason, fans and pundits have decided the Royals offense was fixed and/or headed in the right direction. Some, you would think, have decided that it’s already arrived, thus resulting in a surplus of talent that needs to be traded in an effort to fix a starting rotation that has been laughably underdeveloped during the six years of Dayton Moore’s regime.
What’s so wrong about that? The offense isn’t good either.
In 2012 the Royals ranked 10th in the American League in wOBA, and 9th in OBP. If you want to be one of those people that say advanced stats are meaningless, then fine, the Royals finished 12th in runs scored. Couple the Royals well documented inabilities (or blatant unwillingness to evolve with the rest of the industry) to take walks or show even average plate-discipline, along with their bad base running and questionable offensive game management, you get a team that struggles to score runs. Trading offensive talent – especially the talent that has more cost-controlled years available than any other piece of the “core” – may result in a zero sum. The type of impact pitcher needed to make a difference would cost too much of the current offensive roster (in terms of value to the organization) plus payroll dollars, not allowing those gaps created to be fixed.
Of course, at the center of all of this is the right field situation, where the incumbent was one of the worst every day players in baseball a season ago, and is blocking a better talent that happens to be center of trade speculation. In most other situations the idea of a blocked prospect used as trade bait to strengthen another unit of the team would be looked upon as good news, but in the case of Myers v Jeff Francoeur, the term “blocked” is more of an honorary term and not one of practicality.
Jeff Francoeur at this point in his career, with all we know of him as a player, should not be looked upon as an answer to any positional question, and serious discussions should be had over whether trading for any starting pitcher matters as long as Francoeur is still the every day right fielder. Because not only does his level of bad take away from whatever level of good the Royals would receive in a trade in terms of pure value from performance, there should also be very real concerns from within the organization about what it says when a well-known GM favorite continues to get a free pass when he continues to play so poorly.
The argument against trading Myers – or a few other Royals offensive pieces – isn’t just an argument that the difference between Myers and Francoeur would be greater than the difference between Pitcher Currently On Roster and Pitcher To Be Acquired, but that the Royals are operating as if they’re a team that has a surplus of talent. They don’t.
What they do have for 2013 – or at least what they did have before they spent $17MM for two back-of-the-rotation starters – was a surplus of money.
If the Royals were truly looking to make a “splash” this offseason by acquiring starting pitchers to make a run at the divisional title in 2013, then their window to do so was to spend in free agency on a front-loaded contract for a difference maker. Take advantage of the young, cheap talent while they could, while still also making an effort to compete.
What they did instead was trade for, and pick up a $12MM portion of an option on a lottery ticket that’s been getting worse for three years in Ervin Santana, and re-sign a 34-year contact reliant right-hander to three years guaranteed, in Jeremy Guthrie. It’s one thing to have the restraints of the market back you into a corner; it’s another to willingly back yourself into that corner by spending money recklessly. That corner, seemingly, is named Trade Wil Myers.
The case for keeping Wil Myers isn’t simply that it would keep from having to watch Francoeur swing a bat for another full season (though that would be compelling enough), it’s that a trade of an impact potential bat with six full years of cost-control left needs to be countered by real impact in return. With offensive holes in right field (if he’s traded), centerfield, second base, and legitimate question marks at first base and third base still left unanswered, the “window” for the Royals would close a little more by trading a piece that could help to answer some of those questions, than it would open by acquiring a single starting pitcher.