Rounding Up Righties


It’s be pretty well established that the Royals are in the market for a right-handed hitting outfielder.  With a crew of Alex Gordon, Gregor Blanco, Jarrod Dyson, Mitch Maier and even David Lough in Omaha all left-handed batting outfielder and Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Kila Ka’aihue as other left-handed lineup centerpieces, I would say that yes, a right-handed hitter would probably be a good idea to break it up a bit.

Instantly, as a Royals fan, my mind goes to Jeff Francoeur.  For a moment, I’m afraid.

The Royals reported courtship of Francoeur reminds me of Jack Torrance in the Shining. You know the story. Alcoholic writer takes his family up into the mountains of Colorado to be offseason caretaker of the Overlook Hotel and slowly succumbs to the demons inside of both himself and the hotel. At one point, he’s in the restroom just off the ballroom floor when the specter of Delbert Grady appears as an attendant. They have a discussion and he informs Torrance that he knows he’s the caretaker.

He’s always been the caretaker.

From the day Dayton Moore came to Kansas City, he’s been Delbert Grady and Francoeur has always been the caretaker. He’s always been a Royal – he just hasn’t signed yet.

Gage gave a compelling argument as to why Francoeur’s signing with the Royals may not be an immense catastrophe and while there’s a lot of to do about Francoeur, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he could be brought in on an affordable deal.

Think back a couple of years when the Royals signed Kyle Farnsworth to a two year contract.  So far in this memory, there’s not really a big issue here.  Farnsworth was a capable bullpen arm and with the Royals, despite some adventures in blown saves, he actually did quite well.  Well enough to snag Tim Collins from the Braves, at least.  The contract, though, paid him nearly nine million dollars over those two years, which is just too much for a might-be-a-tick-above-average reliever.  For context’s sake, Joaquin Benoit held opposing batters to an on base percentage of .189 in 2010 and his new contract with the Tigers is good for five million a year for three years.

Then there’s the Jose Guillen case, when the Royals essentially outbid themselves.  At the time, hardly anyone was talking about more than nine million a year for the ne’er-do-well outfielder and the Royals offered him $12 million a year.  Of course he was going to sign that deal.  At eight or nine million he’s not AS bad, but the Royals overpaid and sorely.

That’s why, in this case, it’s important to not just toss money at Francoeur to play right field.  This being the holiday season, how about some comparison shopping.  Bargain hunting.  The Royals want to keep payroll down from last season’s and matching Francoeur’s five million from 2010 shouldn’t happen, especially after he posted a mere .249/.300/.383/.683 line.

I have two other candidates I want to toss into the right-handed outfielder sweepstakes:

Tale of the Tape

Lastings MilledgeMatt DiazJeff Francoeur
RC ’10483046
RC Career180213392
F +/- ’10-9+11-6
RS ’10-157
BR ’10-14-3+1
L/R OPS.798/690.907/.710.824/.699
L/R OPS ’10.916/.602.830/.633.805/.635
’10 Salary$452K$2.55 Million$5 Million

Unless otherwise indicated above, the stats shown are career numbers.  I borrowed some from the Bill James Handbook for 2011 – Runs Created (RC), Fielding +/- (how many plays above or below average a fielder made that they should have), Runs Saved, and Baserunning numbers which look at additional bases taken on hits.

As far as the makeup of the outfield, Alex Gordon is in left field.  Period.  He’ll be there no matter what (unless he gets hurt – again).  He was a solid fielder in his limited time at the major league level in left field and pretty disastrous in right.  I think he could play in right field, but if he can stay in left, that’d be ideal.

Matt Diaz, the former Royal who was turned into an internet darling after a couple of .300 seasons in part-time duty with the Braves, plays left field exclusively and does it well.  Milledge has played both corner positions, and Francoeur is a right fielder.  The least disruptive move would be to sign Francoeur to keep Gordon in left field and take advantage of Francoeur’s still strong arm in right.  Milledge could play right field but might be fit more into a 65/35 split with say, Mitch Maier.  Diaz would probably have a similar split but play in left, with perhaps Gordon moving into right field when he’s in.

Thankfully, for the purposes of comparison, Diaz and Milledge have nearly the same amount of at bats, and Francoeur has just a bit more than double their at bats.

None of the three walk at an above average rate.  None of them show much more than high-teens power (though Francoeur did have 29 homers in his first full year).  None are particularly strong baserunners.  Milledge has the most speed but is thrown out trying to steal a third of the time.

What they all do well is hit left-handed pitching.  All three would be reasonable options in a true platoon.  So the question, with the three being fairly equal skill-wise, is which is most affordable and which will be most fitting for the Royals plan?

In my gut, I really want to pick up Matt Diaz.  He had an off year in 2010, but he’s a batter who makes good contact and has some pop.  He’ll be 33 on opening day and his limited flexibility makes it tough to bring him in without shuffling other positions.  I don’t think that’s best for the team.  He’d be an expensive option to only get 250-350 plate appearances, though his weak 2010 could keep his salary fairly low.  But that age doesn’t lend itself to a rebuilding movement in which he’ll be sharply falling off in performance just when the young hitters are starting to hit the big leagues.  Diaz is out.  Sorry Royals revisionists – we shouldn’t have gotten rid of him but now’s not the time to remedy that.

Milledge has bounced around the majors since coming up with the Mets.  He’s always been a talent with decent speed and power and he makes enough contact to create runs.  He’s not particularly good at any one thing, but he’s also going to be 26 on opening day and that’s not a bad player to take a chance on.  He’ll be the most affordable for the Royals, after making just over the minimum in 2010 and having a few years of team control left.  Still, his baserunning and fielding numbers from Bill James seem to indicate a player who just isn’t high on baseball savvy, and I can imagine some misplays, bad jumps and poor pitch selection frustrating Royals fans down the line.  He might not be worth the trouble.

Francoeur has at least done it in the past.  It was years ago and while still a young 27 years old, he’s a long way from the third place Rookie of the Year finish, the 2007 Gold Glove and the 29 homer season.  For his career, he has an OPS+ of 91, so he’s below average overall.  His biggest problem will continue to be an inability or outright refusal to try to walk and strikeouts.  He’d be the biggest drain on payroll, too, as he can take a bit of a discount from his 2010 salary, but not by much.  He’s still young.  If he recaptures the magic, he’d be a steal and could still be producing at a high level while Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer start driving the ball all around Kauffman Stadium.

Or he could be a sub-.300 OBP sinkhole in the lineup.  We already have Yuniesky Betancourt for that.

So I’m stumped.  In little ways, I wouldn’t mind any of these three.  In other ways, I don’t want any part of them.  With no true option in Omaha to bring up, though, the Royals will have to do something and I have a feeling it’s going to be one of these three that ends up in powder blue when the Royals open the year against the Angels.

That being said, I don’t expect Dayton Moore to ignore the demons inside.  He knows who the caretaker is.  He’s always known.

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