Fixing the Royals


If you read my last post, you know that I have already fired Trey Hillman and have named John Gibbons interim manager of this team. Why should I stop at just the manager? If I were GM of the Royals, and what a wonderful world that would be, this is how I would proceed.

First off I need to revisit the position of manager and the coaching staff. With Trey Hillman out and John Gibbons in his place on an interim basis I need to find a new bench coach. To provide Gibbons with someone he is comfortable with, I make a call to Ernie Whitt who was a coach under Gibbons in Toronto. Ernie is currently managing the Clearwater Threshers who are the Phillies High-A team in the Florida State League. Since we are working through this midseason, Whitt isn’t a realistic option but I contact him anyway, with the Phillies permission of course. Plan B is to pull Omaha Royals manager Mike Jirschele up to majors and install him as the bench coach. With Jirschele in place, my next move is to offer Frank White the Omaha Royals managerial job. Moving Frank to Omaha also gives him a half season audition for me to assess if he is ready to take over the reigns managing the Kansas City Royals in 2010. If either Jirschele or White balks at their new roles in the organization, I make it clear to both of them that they are on my short list of candidates to replace Hillman as Royals manager starting in 2010. Gibbons will also be on my short list based on his performance the second half of the season.

Bob McClure, Kevin Seitzer, Rusty Kuntz, John Mizerock, and Bill Duplissea will all retain the jobs and continue on in their present roles. Third base coach Dave Owen will be shown the door along with Hillman. I coordinate with Gibbons to find a replacement for Owen for the rest of the 2009 season.

With the manager and coaching issues squared away, it is time to move on to fixing the roster. It has become painfully obvious that this team does not fit, and even without the injuries it is clear that this team is not capable of competing. Trade offers for anyone on the roster will be considered. However, I am less inclined to move certain key players who I consider untouchable, unless someone overwhelms me with an offer I can’t refuse.

The Untouchables:
RHP-Zack Greinke: With the contract extension he signed and his performance the last 2 seasons Greinke is an absolute bargain. Even in light of the economic downturn, his contract fits in well for the long and short term. He will make $3.75 million in 2009, then $7.25 million in 2010, $13.5 million in 2010, and $13.5 million in 2011. Greinke is looking like a once in a generation type of talent who has a clean, free, and easy delivery and should be able to avoid major injury. In short, he’s not going anywhere on my watch unless someone offers me a Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson type of package deal for him.

3B-Alex Gordon: I’m listening to offers, but it is unlikely I move him because his value is depressed right now and I still believe he can achieve star status at the ML level. He is arbitration eligible 2010-2012, but thanks to the hip injury and resulting surgery I don’t have to worry about his salary jumping too much next season.

1B/DH-Billy Butler: I’d have to be blown away. He’s just 23 and is hitting .293/.344/.449 with 7 HR and 22 2B. His defensive play has also surpassed my expectations this season. He is still a work in progress at 1B, but he has shown enough for me to believe he can evolve into a league average defensive player. I’m not worried about the “lack” of power. As Joe Mauer is proving this season, that typically comes with time. When Mauer was drafted by the Twins, scouts thought he had the potential to hit 25+ HR a year. Scouts thought even more about Butler’s power potential and I’m not about to disagree with their assessment at this point. He is on pace to hit 15-20 HR this season with 40+ doubles and I can certainly live with that. He will make league minimum again in 2010 and is arbitration eligible 2011-2013.

RHP-Luke Hochevar: He seems to be coming on and putting it all together. I expect many more bumps along the way this season, but unless he gets hurt he is staying in the rotation the rest of the year regardless of results. He needs to log major league innings and that is exactly what he is going to do on my watch. Hoch is in the midst of a 4-year, $5.3 million dollar contract he signed in August of 2006. Like Butler, he will be arbitration eligible 2011-2013.

RHP-Joakim Soria: After Greinke he is the Royals most valuable pitcher. I saw first hand this year what can happen to the bullpen when he’s not closing the games. I have also witnessed the chances of many Royals teams sabotaged because of the lack of a reliable closer. Barring injury, it’s not going to happen again on my watch. He is signed to a bargain-priced 3-year contract for $8.75 million and is under Royals control for another 3 years after that thanks to club options that run from 2012-2014. Soria is set to earn $1 million this year, $3 million in 2010, and $4 million in 2011. His first club option in 2012 is for $6 million with a $750,000 buyout. Even if Soria degrades to just an average ML bullpen arm, he is still signed to a reasonable contract. End result, he’s not going anywhere.

3B/OF-Mark Teahen: Surprised? I recognize that Teahen is the Royal most often linked in trade talks right now, but it would take some big time prospects for me to deal him. He is making $3.575 million this year and is arbitration eligible for 2010 and 2011. He is hitting .285/.344/.449 with 9 HR, is capable defensively at 3B, 1B, LF, RF, and even CF in a pinch. The jury is still out on his ability to play 2B, but at the very least, he could capably fill in. He’d probably be better defensively than Callaspo right now. With as many holes as the team has, being able to plug Teahen’s bat and glove into 5 different positions is a luxury not many teams have. He is also a good clubhouse guy, a team leader, and the Royals union representative. Teahen is the steadying force that will help keep the core together as the ML team continues to improve. He’s just 27, still has some room to improve, and at worst will be a league average player for the next 2.5 years in a Royals uniform. If he maintains his current level of production into 2010, I am looking to sign him to an extension beyond 2011. I am also confident that if he is given a chance to develop at one position, his offense and defense will take another step forward.

Those are the 6 guys I’m not actively shopping. Among these six players, assuming a league minimum of $400,000, I have about $10.45 million tied up in salary this year. I project an arbitration value of around $5 million for Teahen in 2010 putting my financial commitment to this core at $17.375 million.

Fixing the Rest of the Roster:
DH-Mike Jacobs: It was a noble effort dealing for him in the offseason, but it is time for him to move on. The Royals didn’t lose much in the trade for Jacobs, since Leo Nunez is a DL stint waiting to happen. If he somehow manages to stay healthy and pitch several years for the Marlins, then I tip my cap and move on. Butler’s ability to adequately play 1B and Jacobs’ inability to play the position make him expendable. He is a huge liability against left-handed pitching. Despite his shortcomings, Jacobs is a moveable piece and can help a contending AL team as a DH this year. He is making $3.25 million this season and is also arbitration eligible for 2010 and 2011. In return for Jacobs I’m looking to pick up a couple prospects currently playing in A ball or rookie ball. I’m not looking to fleece another team in exchange for Jacobs. He is not part of the 2010 Royals but 25 year old Kila Ka’aihue could be and I need to find out what we have. With Jacobs moved out Kila gets the call up. Both will be in the starting lineup every day and will alternate at 1B and DH. Ka’aihue improves the major league roster immediately providing a likely BA, OBP, and SLG upgrade over Jacobs who has set the bar low at .229/.310/.416. Kila will also provide better defense, be less of a liability against left-handed pitching, and has the potential to equal the HR production of Jacobs. As an added bonus Ka’aihue will cost about $1.4 million less during the second half of the season.

C-John Buck, C-Miguel Olivo, C-Brayan Pena: The Royals have 3 catchers to work with when Buck comes off the DL later this week. Miguel Olivo turns 31 this month and has quietly put together a fine season hitting .262/.285/.524 with 12 HR. His OBP is awful but you can live with that when it is paired up with a .500+ slugging percentage. Olivo is making $2.7 million this season and will be a free agent at the end of the year. 27 year old Brayan Pena is making $405,000 this season and is hitting .325/.349/.475 in just 40 at bats. He is eligible for arbitration in 2010, 2011, and 2012. John Buck is set to turn 29, is recovering from his back injury, and is hitting .226/.313/.452 on the season. Buck also has the largest impact on the payroll with his $2.9 million salary for 2009. Ideally Buck would be the one to be traded, but he will bring almost nothing in return at this point. Olivo will bring the most demand, so he is the one I look to move. As with Jacobs, the return for Olivo will be one, or maybe two, low-level prospects. It seems unlikely that he would come back to the Royals after this season anyway so that may be enough to send him on his way. With the season already down the tubes, the ABs will be split 60% Pena/40% Buck unless Brayan is so bad in extended duty that Buck has to assume the role of starter again. Since Buck will likely come off the DL before Olivo can be dealt, Tony Pena Jr. will be given his outright release to make room for John on the roster. In the offseason. Buck will not be offered arbitration, Pena will stay on as the backup and potential starter depending on the results of his 2009 audition, and a veteran FA catcher will be targeted as well.

2B-Alberto Callaspo: The 2B job will remain his and he figures into my plans for the 2010 Royals when he will again make near league minimum. Callaspo will be arbitration eligible from 2011-2013. He is well below average defensively, but he’s 26 and his bat can definitely play at the position.

SS-Willie Bloomquist and Luis Hernandez: With TPJ released to make room for Buck on the roster, Bloomquist will become the everyday SS and Luis Hernandez will be the late inning defensive replacement and spare part on the roster. When Bloomquist signed a 2 year contract for $3.1 million I thought it was a huge mistake. In hindsight it was an intelligent move and Bloomers has already earned his salary of $1.4 million in 2009. Luis Hernandez will simply be there to help the team get by until the end of the season. Trading for or signing a FA SS is priority number one on my list in the offseason. Since Mike Aviles is done for the 2009 season and at least the early part of 2010 as well, he will have to earn his way back onto the ML roster by playing at Triple-A Omaha. If he can make it back healthy, he will be added to the mix with Callaspo at 2B and will also serve as a backup infielder. Speaking of backup infielders, Tug Hulett will also be sent packing at the end of the season if not before. If a ML ready option at SS can be acquired via trade before the deadline, Hulett will be released.

RF-Jose Guillen: Is owed $12 million for 2009 and another $12 million for 2010. Guillen will be extremely difficult to move because of his contract, his reputation, and the fact that he has not looked like the player he was when the Royals signed him. Being able to move him without eating some of the contract doesn’t look like a realistic possibility unless he is paired in a deal with someone more desirable like Meche or Bannister. To maximize the potential return of any deal involving Jose Guillen I am perfectly willing to absorb the rest of his 2009 salary to clear his 2010 salary from next year’s payroll. With Guillen out of the way, 24 year old Jordan Parraz will get the call up from the NW Arkansas Naturals. In the beginning Parraz will probably be overmatched at the ML level but I am confident he can hold his own if given the opportunity. At double-A Parraz has hit .358/.451/.553 line in 226 with 29 BB and only 25 SO and appears ready for more advanced competition. Teaming Parraz with Ka’aihue will upgrade the OBP of the ML lineup even if they struggle.

LF/CF-David DeJesus: Just like Mark Teahen, DJ will remain with the team since he has more value to the organization than he would bring back in a trade. He is signed to a reasonable contract with a 2009 salary of $3.6 million, a 2010 salary of $4.7 million, and a 2011 club option at $6.0 million with a $500,000 buyout. I’ll definitely listen to offers for DeJesus, but his substandard performance this season and his affordability for the next few seasons make it more likely he remains a member of the Royals. He is a professional ballplayer and solid hitter that will be needed in the reshaped lineup once the deadline passes.

OF-Mitch Maier: Once Alex Gordon returns to the team, Mark Teahen will head out to LF and Maier will stay with the team as the 4th outfielder. Maier hasn’t lit the world on fire in his opportunity this season, but he has kept his head above water and has shown some flashes. Maier will make league minimum this season and next and will then be arbitration eligible from 2011-2013. He will have a chance to retain the 4th OF slot heading into the 2010 season.

CF-Coco Crisp: I will be writing Coco a check for $500,000 and sending him on his way in the offseason. Even if he had been healthy and put up solid numbers, he is not worth $8 million for the 2010 season.

RHP-Gil Meche: I’ll listen to offers but he is just about untouchable. I believe I can build a division winning team in 2011 and to do so I need Gil Meche in the rotation. He is reasonably priced making $11 million this season and $12 million in both 2010 and 2011. I probably would have to deal Meche to get a significant piece of the future back in return, but I won’t do it at the expense of the 2010 or 2011 starting rotations. Just like Mark Teahen and David DeJesus, he is more valuable if he remains on the roster.

RHP-Brian Bannister: Not only am I listening to offers for Bannister, I am actively shopping him. Bannister is 28, doesn’t have the best stuff and is probably pitching better right now that I can reasonably expect from him going forward. He is attractive to other teams because his pitching arm is injury free and he is inexpensive with a 2009 salary of only $1.7 million. He doesn’t factor into my long term plans for the rotation as I fully expect at least one of the slew of young guys; Duffy, Montgomery, Crow, etc. to be pushing for a spot in the rotation behind Greinke, Meche, and Hochevar by opening day of 2011. That said, I’m not going to give him away and with the dearth of quality starting pitching on the market he could bring a decent return in a deal. If Bannister is traded and a ML ready arm isn’t brought back in this deal or another deal, Kyle Davies will get another crack at the rotation. Davies has pitched 14.0 scoreless innings allowing only 8 hits, 3 walks, and has struck out 13 in his 2 starts since being demoted.

The Bullpen: Outside of Robinson Tejeda, I am more than willing to move any of these guys if there is interest. I’m probably stuck with Farnsworth due to his contract and I’m not going to eat any of it to get rid of him because he is a valuable middle reliever if used correctly. Two years $9.25 million with a $5.25 million club option in 2011 is a hefty sum for any team to take on, especially since teams are looking to add guys for a pressure-filled playoff run. John Bale, Bruce Chen, Roman Colon, Jamey Wright, and Ron Mahay can be had reasonably cheap. Mahay probably is the most likely to be moved since he is a lefty and has a decent track record. DL residents Sidney Ponson and Doug Waechter probably won’t have spots on the ML roster when they return. If I can trade a single bullpen pitcher, my immediate reaction will be to call up RHP-Chris “Disco” Hayes. In 56.0 innings between NW Arkansas and Omaha he has a 1.61 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 3.57 K/BB.

Offensively our revamped post-trade deadline roster looks like this (assuming no ML ready pieces are acquired in the trades):
C-Brayan Pena and John Buck
1B/DH-Kila Ka’aihue and Billy Butler
2B-Albero Callaspo
SS-Willie Bloomquist backed up by Luis Hernandez
3B-Alex Gordon
IF-Tug Hulett
LF-Mark Teahen
CF-David DeJesus
RF-Jordan Parraz
OF-Mitch Maier

RHP-Zack Greinke
RHP-Gil Meche
RHP-Luke Hochevar
LHP-Bruce Chen
RHP-Kyle Davies

Stays mostly intact with Chris Hayes stepping in for the departed Mahay or Cruz

Players Released: Tony Pena Jr., Sidney Ponson
Players Traded: Mike Jacobs, Miguel Olivo, Jose Guillen, Brian Bannister, Ron Mahay or Juan Cruz
Players Not Back for 2010: John Buck, Tug Hulett, Coco Crisp, Luis Hernandez

Offseason FA Targets:
1) SS
2) Corner OF, preferably LF with power
3) C
4) SP

With the players traded, released, or not returning for 2010 I will have over $28 million freed up to work with during the offseason without factoring in an increase in payroll. This also does not count the changes in the bullpen or backup players who will make around league minimum since the salaries of the players filling these slots in 2009 will likely be close to the same as the salaries paid out to fill these roster spots in 2010. Mark Teahen will be the only significant player that will have a pay increase via arbitration. Finally, the additional revenue being generated by the stadium renovations should provide an increase of at least $10 million to the overall payroll.

The catcher shouldn’t command more than $3-4 million, and the starting pitcher doesn’t need to be anyone flashy, just a steady reliable number 4 or 5 starter. A majority of the freed up payroll for the 2010 season will have to be spent on SS and LF. No more stopgap signings of Jose Guillen caliber players, the Royals need to add at least on impact bat this offseason. With the money coming off the books, the probable increase in payroll, and the fact the Royals are receiving in excess of $100 million before they even sell a ticket, there is no reason to expect anything less from this team. Honestly I don’t think the Royals are all that far away, especially if Kila or Parraz can break out and solidify one of their respective slots. The 2011 team should be a legitimate contender for a division title and be poised for a deep playoff run with Greinke and Meche fronting the staff.