In yesterday’s Royals notebook, Bob Dutton touched on the Juan Cruz trade talk.
"The Royals are trying to unload veteran reliever Juan Cruz, according to club sources and those with other teams. The word is they are willing to eat most if not all of his $3.75 million contract through the end of this season."
It may not seem like much and Cruz may not get dealt, but I am encouraged by the fact the team is willing to eat a large chunk of salary to jettison a unproductive player. Ownership of this team really has changed it’s methodology since Dayton Moore replaced Allard Baird. We’re still waiting for the results to materialize, but at least this is something. For what it is worth, Tracy Ringolsby was also tweeting this information yesterday.
Going back to Dutton’s article, he provided us with this statistical gem:
"Cruz has been far more effective throughout his career while pitching in the National League: a 3.77 ERA in 269 games; compared to 6.18 in 78 American League games."
I was well aware of the fact that Cruz had been much better during his time in the NL but I have to admit I was a little surprised his ERA wasn’t even lower over there. A quick look at his Baseball Reference page reminded me of his “off” year with the Cubs back in 2003 when he sported a 6.05 ERA in 61.0 innings. Outside of that year his ERA+ in the National League has always been above average. His struggles in the AL however have not been limited to the Royals. In 2005 he pitched 32.2 innings for the Oakland Athletics and finished that season with a 7.44 ERA and a Ponson-esque 59 ERA+. At the time he only had one season in the AL on his resume and while those 2005 results were awful, 32.2 innings cannot be used to predict future American League struggles. This is especially true since he was coming off a three year run in Arizona (2006-2008) where he was improving. His ERA+ run in that three year stretch was 113, 154, 179.
When the Royals signed Juan Cruz at the end of February last year I don’t recall a lot of (any?) negative reaction to the move. We thought we were getting a reliever that had figured it out and found consistency with the Diamondbacks. A guy who also had good seasons with the Cubs in 2001 and 2002, and an excellent season with the Braves in 2004. With six above average seasons, and four of those being well above average (ERA+ 130 or better), there was little reason to expect that Kansas City would wind up with the 2003 or 2005 versions of Juan Cruz. In fairness the 2009 version of Juan was a little better than either of those versions. Relievers, even the good ones, typically have some schizophrenic tendencies with respect to their performance from year to year and that makes it even tougher to evaluate the peaks and valleys of bullpen performance.
If the organization has soured on Cruz to the extent that they are willing to eat his salary in a trade, isn’t exactly a big step to release him outright and still eat his salary. If I were running a National League team I’d certainly take a chance on Juan, but even with his contract covered I still don’t know if I’d be willing to give up a whole lot of talent to get a deal done. Signing him before the 2009 season was the right move but so is cutting him loose via trade or release at this point in time. Sometimes you can do the right thing and get the wrong results. I think that is the case here. The Juan Cruz signing will probably go down in the “failure column” on Dayton Moore’s resume when all is said and done, but I certainly can’t fault him for making the move at the time.
In the same article, Dutton also points out that Mitch Maier has been taking ground balls at 3B, “as a hedge against the club’s shortened bench.” On the bright side this means the team recognizes that a three player bench is less than ideal. Of course this also means that in typical Royals fashion they are trying to apply a band-aid to a problem instead of actually addressing the situation. It’s really sad because, in this case, the problem is so easily fixed. Add a 4th player to the bench and cut bait with Luis Mendoza, Roman Colon, or Juan Cruz. Instead Mitch will take ground balls at third, preventing him from further honing his craft and his skills as an outfielder, in the event that the team loses both Callaspo and Willie Bloomquist in the same game.
If Trey needs 8 relievers when his starters, as a group, are going pretty well, how many is he going to need when the rotation starts to struggle?
(Wally Fish is the lead writer for Kings of Kauffman, Call to the Pen and is also FanSided’s MLB Director. You can keep up to date with all of his work by following him on Facebook, Twitter or by way of the Kings of Kauffman RSS feed.)