Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
In the next couple of months, the Royals’ roster is going to be undergoing some changes. Dayton Moore will be adding and subtracting players via free agency, trades, waivers, and the like. Over the coming weeks, I’ll periodically be looking at what players currently on the 40 man roster with which the front office may choose to cut ties in order to make room for players who could help the Royals in 2014. At the end of each player review, I’ll tell you if I think the Royals should cut the player (trade, DFA, non-tender, etc.) or keep him.
Francisley Bueno was signed as an amateur free agent by the Braves in 2006, and after playing in that organization for 4 seasons, he was released. Bueno spent the next 2 years in the Mexican League and Korea, where he didn’t see much success, posting a combined ERA of 5.14 between 2010 and 2011. After the 2011 season, the Royals and Moore signed the former Brave (shocking, I know) as a free agent.
Bueno spent most of the 2012 season in Omaha, and he was quite impressive there. His ERA in a very hitter friendly stadium and league was just 2.75 in 55.2 innings. Bueno also struck out 8.73 batters per 9 innings, compared to just 2.43 walks per 9. A big reason for his success was a heavy sinker that allowed him to keep the ball in the ballpark. Bueno also had a few separate stints in Kansas City that year, throwing 17.1 innings for the big league club to the tune of a 1.56 ERA. He was unavailable for 2 games in 2012 due to being suspended by MLB after he was ejected from an earlier game. And by “earlier,” I mean much earlier, as in, 2008. In Bueno’s major league debut with the Braves, he threw over the head of Alfonso Soriano in the 9th inning of a blowout loss and was immediately ejected. Major League Baseball suspended Bueno for 3 games the next day, but the Braves optioned him to their AAA affiliate at the same time. Bueno didn’t appear in another big league game until 2012, so his punishment couldn’t take effect until then. By that time, Bueno had appealed the suspension and gotten it reduced to 2 games.
In 2013, Francisley returned to Omaha and was again very…well, Bueno. (You didn’t think I could get through this whole piece without a pun, did you?) He put up an ERA of 2.66 in 67.2 innings, although Bueno didn’t miss as many bats and also walked a few more hitters (7.45 K/9, 3.19 BB/9). He was still able to induce a lot of groundballs and limit home runs, however. The Royals had a hard time finding a spot for Bueno in the Kansas City bullpen this past season with all the success they had, so Bueno only found his way into 7 games, allowing 0 runs in 8.1 innings, while also striking out 5 and walking 2.
Despite being left-handed, Bueno hasn’t shown a hugely significant platoon split in his career. In his 28 major league innings, opposing right-handed batters are only putting up a .602 OPS, compared to a .561 for lefties. Obviously that’s a tiny sample size, but being a groundball pitcher who doesn’t throw his secondary pitches as frequently, Bueno is able to get batters out from both sides of the plate. In Omaha, Bueno gave up a .652 OPS to righties in 2013 and a .618 OPS to lefties. Again, the split exists, but he’s still effective against right-handed bats. The previous season, Bueno actually had a reverse split, holding righties to a .568 OPS and lefties to a .619 OPS.
While Bueno has been effective, there are some drawbacks. I have some doubts that he will be able to miss enough bats at the big league level to be effective over an entire season. Guys who rely on sinkers can still get opponents out, but Bueno isn’t a pitcher who you want to have on the mound when you’ve got to have a strikeout. He’ll also be 33 years old at the start of the season, and even though relievers don’t necessarily need to be young to get outs, Bueno doesn’t have the upside of many of the other Royals’ relievers. Finally, Bueno does not have any options remaining, meaning if he doesn’t make the major league roster out of spring training, he’d have to be designated for assignment. Because the bullpen is already crowded as it is, it’s highly unlikely Bueno could break camp with the team with all of the other left-handed relievers available.
Final decision on Bueno: Cut him. This decision isn’t an easy one, since Bueno does have some talent. But as I’ve mentioned before, this Royals bullpen is loaded, and it is deep. Tim Collins, Will Smith, Everett Teaford, Donnie Joseph, and Buddy Baumann are just a few of the lefty relievers who I would prefer over Bueno. They all have more potential, and options remaining so they could be kept in Omaha if there isn’t enough room in Kansas City.