Deadline Worries, Royals Delusions, and Tunnel Vision


With less than a week before the (non-waiver) trade deadline, the Royals have pieces to move.

They’ve made it apparent that Jeff Francoeur, Yuniesky Betancourt, Jose Mijares and Jonathan Broxton are the key names available.

Now it’s a matter of turning those names into something of value. That’s the goal, right? Trade the veterans for other players, usually younger, and continue loading up during this rebuilding stretch.

But here’s where I’m worried. The Royals as an organization have shown that they can scout players and identify solid draft picks. They’ve loaded the farm system with talent and potential. They aren’t always good at evaluating the problems with players they currently have on the roster and I think it’s going to cloud their minds during the deadline.

Jeff Francoeur is a great guy. He’s active within the community, takes rookies out to dinner, shows them how to conduct themselves after the game and he’s almost always got a smile on his face. Unfortunately, those kinds of things aren’t so important that they add anything to the score during the game. Leadership only goes so far until it has to be supported by performance. Last year, he might have hacked at some bad pitches but he was hitting the ball. Sometimes they were choppers but often, those hits turned into doubles. Bad habits can be overlooked when a player is going good. And in 2011, Francoeur was going good.

But players don’t change their ways usually and performance leaks catch up. In Francoeur’s case, he looks lost at the plate, swinging at bad pitches, taking good ones, and hasn’t produced much of anything.

That hurts his trade value severely. He already carries a stigma that his leadership can’t overcome and his contract is a burden as well.

Now the Royals have to try to get something for him.

Betancourt has the same kind of issues. The Royals will talk about how he has right-handed pop, but even in the last two years when he’s reached double digit homers, his slugging percentage was barely around .400. Combine that with a reputation for bad defense and the same poor pitch selection as Francoeur and there’s a player who’s tough to trade off for a prospect.

The Royals say both are on the trade block, but both could just as easily be on the waiver wire this time next month with their lack of performance. What teams are going to give up value for that? There’s little point to trading anything of significance for players who could end up on the scrap heap in a few weeks. Either they’ll be essentially free or they won’t be of use to a contending team.

Where the Royals are most deluding themselves, though, is with their pursuit of a return for Jonathan Broxton.

Yes, he has 23 saves in 26 attempts this year, but teams aren’t blind.

While Broxton used to be the behemoth setup man and closer for the Dodgers, regular overuse by Joe Torre led to injury and he hasn’t been good since 2009. Now and then he can hit the upper 90s with his fastball, but he’s not the dominant force he used to be. His strikeout rate is nearly half of his career rate and it wasn’t much better last season. He’s always walked around 3.5 batters per nine innings, but he’s also much more hittable since his struggles in LA.

The Royals tell teams they want a young starting pitcher who’s ready to be in the big leagues for him.

Newsflash: Every team wants that player. Dayton Moore knows of this principle. In January 2011, bloggers at the Digital Digest asked him how he can claim to look for on base percentage players but how he doesn’t end up signing players who have that scouting profile. His answer was that the market created that challenge – that other teams wanted those kinds of players and you had to “take what you can get“.

Now, nobody can blame Moore for trying to see if a team will give up a pitcher who’s close to becoming a mainstay in the rotation, so if it’s a calculated approach to snag a bit more value, great. If they can pull it off. At a point, though, they’ll have to take what they can get, and if that’s a diamond in the rough, so be it.

It smacks of the same kind of tunnel vision Allard Baird had when trying to trade Carlos Beltran. He made it clear to everyone that he wanted a third baseman and a catcher. Nevermind if there might have been a solid outfielder who could have turned into a star. It didn’t fit the positions he was fixated on. There are rumors that Robinson Cano could have been had for Beltran, but he wasn’t a third baseman, so no dice.

In this case, Moore has to approach it as if it’s a draft. In the draft, you don’t draft for need unless you know the player is going to produce immediately. That’s a rare occurrence. Draft the best talent and you’re better off. In this case, if there’s any talent and it’s not the stated requirement of “MLB-ready young starter” then the Royals need to jump on it.

Betancourt and Broxton are on one-year deals. The Royals get nothing if they ride them out for the rest of the year. Betancourt isn’t going to return much at all but he’ll get something, some fringe minor leaguer who might turn into something. That’s enough. Francoeur’s contract would have to be absorbed to move him and again he might not get much, but they have to do it. Broxton’s most likely to move, but not if the Royals hold out for that pitcher. They’ll either end up with something subpar, like a Vin Mazzaro, or they’ll end up with nothing.

They’re treating Broxton as if his 23/26 saves mean something. It’s not often that pitchers with a 1.402 WHIP are treated as hot commodities. Teams know the numbers. They’ve seen how often he puts a runner on to lead off the inning (40% of the time). They know he’s put the tying or lead run on base 16 different games in 31 games where he’d entered with the lead. Would any other GM want that for their closer? Nevermind that most of the contending teams have a closer already or options who are in the same class as Broxton.

Sooner or later, Broxton’s tendency to let runners on will catch up to him and teams don’t want it to be during a meaningful game. If they have to settle on some A-ball prospect, they have to make the trade.

Moving Francoeur and Betancourt have the added benefit that whatever you get for them almost doesn’t match the benefit of simply taking their combined .277 on base percentage out of the lineup (which is just the same as saying they make an out in 72.3% of their plate appearances) and injecting Wil Myers and Irving Falu or Johnny Giavotella (who’s hitting .402 this month and has a 21 game hitting streak for Omaha) into the lineup.

It’s time to recognize that some dead weight needs to be cut and some pieces need to be moved for whatever’s out there. The Royals have the bullpen reinforcements to absorb Mijares or Broxton leaving and Myers can’t be much worse than Francoeur at this point. I’d take the opportunity to go with a full youth movement and bring up Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery just to get what you can out of them. See what they can do. Let them learn at this level and see who rises to the challenge. Heck, start them in the bullpen even. Manage their appearances as best you can to build them up slowly the rest of the year. Try something a bit different – the current way isn’t working.

But that won’t happen. Dayton will sit on Broxton and say later that the right match didn’t materialize, when he was focused on what he had to have and not what he could have. Frenchy’s leadership will be valued over his performance and Betancourt – well I really don’t understand Moore’s obsession with Betancourt. Moore has acquired him twice – on purpose – and nobody’s going to confuse Betancourt for a good baseball player. There’s still time for Falu or Giavotella to learn to become one.

It’s a tough game, and only one team is happy at the end of the year, but the Royals have to position themselves better just to avoid being the most miserable. It’s time to make some moves. Maybe it’s just being impatient, maybe it’s frustration. Yeah, the pitching is a problem and the Royals have to address it this offseason (and get something at the deadline if they can), but that doesn’t mean they can’t fix the other problems on the roster and in their approach to building it.