In the next couple of months, the Royals’ roster is going to be undergoing some changes. Dayton Moore will be adding and subtracting players via free agency, trades, waivers, and the like. Over the coming weeks, I’ll periodically be looking at what players currently on the 40 man roster with which the front office may choose to cut ties in order to make room for players who could help the Royals in 2014. At the end of each player review, I’ll tell you if I think the Royals should cut the player (trade, DFA, non-tender, etc.) or keep him.
Luis Mendoza (and his immaculate head of hair) was acquired by the Royals in April of 2010, from the Rangers for cash considerations. He spent nearly all of that season at AAA Omaha, throwing 131.2 innings with a 4.10 ERA, which isn’t terrible for the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. His peripherals were less than impressive, collecting just 4.03 strikeouts per 9 innings while also issuing 2.19 walks per 9 innings. It appeared as though Mendoza would never be more than organizational depth.
Then 2011 happened.
In 2011, Mendoza made 18 AAA starts, spanning 144.1 innings, and while he still didn’t blow anyone away with his peripherals (5.05 K/9, 3.37 BB/9), he posted a sparkling ERA of 2.18. Mendoza kept the ball in the ballpark, allowing 0.31 home runs per 9 innings, and used a heavy sinker to get opposing hitters out. By the end of the minor league season, Mendoza had earned a September call-up, where he impressed the Royals even more, allowing only 2 earned runs in 14.2 innings (2 starts). For his season in Omaha, Mendoza was named the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year. The Royals also felt he and his salad had earned a spot on the big league roster for 2012.
Mendoza made 25 starts for Kansas City that season, and posted a respectable 4.23 ERA. Largely due to his 52.1% ground ball rate, Mendoza also had a FIP and xFIP in the same range, which helped him to accumulate 1.7 fWAR in 166 innings. That’s not great, but for a number 5 starter, a team could certainly do worse. The Royals felt that Mendoza could be slotted into the back of the rotation for another season.
Then 2013 happened.
This past season, Mendoza’s strikeouts went down, his walks climbed, and his strand rate came down, resulting in a 5.36 ERA over 94 innings. The Royals had to replace him in the rotation with Bruce Chen, although they said that was the plan all along. As an aside, if you believe their claim was true (I don’t), that is a pretty good sign that the Royals plan was incredibly flawed. Regardless, Mendoza appeared to wear down as the season went on, and now the best case scenario for him on this roster is as a swingman out of the bullpen.
Mendoza is projected to make roughly $1 million in 2014, his first arbitration-eligible season. That isn’t much money, and lots of teams trot out fifth starters with worse numbers than Mendoza. However, if the Royals are as committed to winning in 2014 as they appear to be, they should strive for much better. Moore has built up quite a bit of depth in the bullpen and in the back of the rotation, so there are plenty of options with more upside than Mendoza. Everett Teaford, Will Smith, Chris Dwyer, Felipe Paulino, and Wade Davis are just some of the players who could reasonably be counted on to provide at least Mendoza’s level of production as a long reliever or spot starter. With that many options available, the Royals’ decision should be an easy one.
Final decision on Mendoza: Cut him. The Royals will likely be non-tendering Mendoza prior to the December 2 deadline, at which point he will become a free agent. I do think he’ll catch on with another team, so while I will miss seeing his beautiful flowing mane in Kansas City, I’ll be able to rest comfortably, knowing some other baseball fans will be able to enjoy the Dozer and his lovely locks.