Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Royals DFA George Kottaras (And His OBP)

In order to make room on the 40 man roster so they could add newly acquired Jason Vargas, the Royals have designated catcher George Kottaras for assignment. If Kottaras clears waivers, he could elect to become a free agent or accept a minor league assignment.

Kottaras was coming off a season in which he posted a line of .180/.349/.370, good enough for a wRC+ of 102. One may look at Kottaras’ sub-Mendoza Line batting average and think he was not a productive hitter. However, thanks to a BB% of 19 and an ISO of .190, there were only 5 Royals’ hitters with more than 100 plate appearances who put up a higher wRC+. Defensively, Kottaras was not exactly a Gold Glove-type player. He allowed 3 passed balls in 39 games, and opposing basestealers were successful 74% of the time. Despite his defensive shortcomings, however, Kottaras was worth 0.7 fWAR while playing in about 1/4 of the season. For a backup catcher playing behind Salvador Perez, that is certainly acceptable in my opinion. Apparently the Royals disagreed.

Normally I wouldn’t bemoan the loss of a backup catcher with limited overall upside, and I fully understand the move itself doesn’t hold that much weight in regards to the future of the Royals. I’m also aware that either Kottaras or Brett Hayes would have had to be let go before the start of the season, since neither player had any options, and the Royals wouldn’t want to carry three catchers on the big league roster. With the addition of Francisco Pena, one of the potential backups would find himself out of Kansas City eventually.

But why did it have to be Kottaras, and why did it have to happen now?

Kottaras isn’t a great catcher. However, he’s still under team control for a pretty affordable cost, and I would argue he’s a better option for Perez’s backup than Hayes. Kottaras has something that is incredibly rare on the Royals’ roster: the ability to get on base. Kottaras’ .349 OBP was the 5th highest among Royals with at least 100 plate appearances and the team OBP was just .315. The fact that the organization would get rid of a player with on-base skills speaks to the Royals’ philosophy of where they believe offense comes from. They don’t value the ability to get on base, despite all evidence pointing to it being far more important than something like batting average.

A team’s offensive goal should always be to get on base. A run cannot score unless a player is on base. This is a fact. It’s in books and everything.

Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals just don’t seem to care.

Again, I don’t want to sound like I see this decision as the end of the world. I like Hayes as a catcher. He’s probably a tad bit better defensively than Kottaras, still offers a little pop with the bat, and more than likely won’t bring negative value to the Royals in the 40 games he plays in 2014. He just doesn’t offer as much as Kottaras does offensively, so I disagree with the move. Kottaras’ skillset has been (predictably) underappreciated by this team.

Both Kottaras and Hayes could fit in on several rosters throughout the league, so I found it kind of odd for the Royals to get rid of a player who may have some trade value. Neither player would bring a huge haul, but a competent backup catcher certainly has some value. There are other players occupying a roster spot who almost assuredly have no future with the team who could have – and should have – been released prior to settling on one of the catchers.

Most notably, Chris Getz.

I won’t rehash the mountain of evidence showing Getz to be a below average major league player, and to a certain extent, I kind of expected Dayton Moore to hold onto his deflated balloon until the non-tender deadline in December. And yet, I still found myself struggling to find an explanation for Getz being kept on the roster while a player who actually brought positive value was designated for assignment. Getz is set to make roughly $1.3 million in arbitration this season, which is more than a player of his ability should be making, so it would be silly for the Royals to tender him a contract. With the deadline just a couple of weeks away, why would the Royals choose to keep him now, knowing they have other plans for their second base position in 2014? Getz’s trade value is incredibly low, and would only be included as a throw-in for any trade the Royals make. It just makes no sense to keep him on the roster while letting go of Kottaras.

As long as Perez stays healthy, any backup catcher isn’t going to be able to contribute all that much on the whole. However, a team like the Royals must maximize their bench potential, and I think there is a dropoff from Kottaras to Hayes. I believe there were better options for the Royals to release, and the strategy in getting rid of an on-base guy like Kottaras is a flawed one. All that being said, I must reiterate that I know that losing Kottaras isn’t going to have more than about a half-win impact on the Royals’ 2014 record, and I’m still excited to see what moves the front office makes next to boost the team’s playoff chances for the upcoming season.

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  • jimfetterolf

    I thought Getz and Giavotella the two most likely releases. Second base is way crowded now, but Royals also had four catchers. I did like what Kottaras brought from the left-side, a three outcome player. Reminded me of Matt Treanor.

  • Ed Connealy

    Releasing a back up catcher would normally not tick me off, but this is a crappy omen. You nailed it…this articulates the lack of respect and understanding the royals have for getting on base. This off season is off to a horrible start…more on that soon.

    • jimfetterolf

      Not all OBP is created equal.

  • DownUnderFan

    Kottaras went because he did not fit Ned Yost’s free swinging home run hitting mold. The best move Dayton Moore could make this year is order Ned Yost to stay clear of the hitting philosophy and leave that to Grifol. Until then, no amount of power hitter acquisitions is going to change the last 4 years trend of declining offense under Ned Yost.

    • moretrouble

      We must have been watching different teams, DUF. What I saw was a lot of bunting, sacrificing, moving the runners and stealing. I would argue that KC played more like an NL team last year. That’s doesn’t fit your description of a team, according to you, that has a “free swinging home run hitting mold.”

      Yost, in his one statement nearly a year ago, merely pointed out a deficiency that is well known – the Royals were last in the AL in home runs during the 2012 season. So, what are they looking for next season – someone with a little more power to add offense, and rightly so.

      Managers use their personnel to it’s greatest effect. Yost played a lot of small ball last year because that’s the kind of team he had. Would he liked to have more power – sure, who wouldn’t. And, I certainly hope next year’s team will have more.

      • DownUnderFan

        So all the Moose pop ups, Esky pulled grounders and Butler pounded ground balls had nothing to do with Yost telling his players they need to hit more Home Runs. Yes, we watched the same team. And the team in 2013 hit less doubles and triples as well as home runs. But they also hit more pop flies and pounded ground balls (which happens when you swing for the fences by the way.

        Check the stats. KC got even worse in quality at bats than 2012 which was bad enough. They took less pitches and swung at more 3-0 and 3-1 counts.

        Yes, there was bunting and stealing but that seemed more because they were letting Getz, Dyson and others hit when should have been PH (something else Ned does not believe in). And the small ball did not really start until mid-season when Ned was about 1 game from losing his job.

        Bottom line, we saw the same team, but saw how the offense was managed in different ways. You have your opinion on why the offense has been so poor the last 4 years under Yost, and I have mine. So let’s leave it at that.

  • moretrouble

    Nothing makes an organization look worse than trading away a player who goes on to greater success somewhere else. One might think I’m talking about Wil Myers, and that would be a good example, but I’m referring to Brayan Pena (.297/.315/.397/.713 in 229 AB’s) who played very well last year for the Tigers in place of Avila.

    Apparently, KC just did it again with Kottaras. George was one of the few players who could give the team a very good AB in the late innings off the bench. And, those who say his defense wasn’t very good need to remember that passed balls are in the judgment of the official scorer. Regarding steals, Kottaras played in several close games where a steal is as much the fault of the pitcher as the catcher. He wasn’t Salvy back there, but just like Pena, Kottaras was good enough. And, like the author says, Kottaras gets on base.

    I’m sorry to see him go. I rarely criticize the Royals’ administration, but this time, I think they made a bad move.

    • DownUnderFan

      On this one we agree, trouble. There was always going to be a problem at catcher next spring with the signing of F Pena. But to let Kottaras go over Getz now is just not cricket as they say here in Australia.

  • jimfetterolf

    Pretty good off-season if the drama is about one of three back-up catchers. I liked Kottaras, but don’t have the info that the team does and didn’t really care for his defense.

    Those upset about Kottaras seem to think OBP the only parameter in judging a player. Kottaras had that, much like the earlier Matt Treanor, both who would strike out most often, walk a decent amount of time putting a slow man on base, and hit about their weights the rest of the time. OBP is nice for Dyson and Escobar, Lough or Bonifacio, but less meaningful for Butler or Kottaras.

    Figured one of the catchers would go with the recent signing of Pena, so no surprise. There will be more moves on the fringes.

    • DownUnderFan

      What George did bring to the table was quality at bats. If he had been used far more often as a late inning pinch hitter, think the Royals might have squeezed out at least a couple more wins.

      Problem is Ned does not believe in pinch hitting. And when he did, he often used David Lough, who is not a good pinch hitter. Sorry, David, I think you are a solid player who can help the team, but PH was not your strength.

      In the grand scheme of things, cutting George Kottaras is not a major factor in the success or failure of 2014. But it is an indicator that NedBall still reigns. And my fear is that no FA or trade that brings in a power hitter will change the anemic offense the Royals have seen in the last 4 years under Mr. Yost.

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