KC Royals Deal SS Jose Martinez For Catcher Tony Cruz


The KC Royals dealt 19-year-old shortstop prospect Jose Martinez for St. Louis Cardinals backup catcher Tony Cruz on Wednesday, apparently anticipating non-tendering catcher Drew Butera. The Kansas City Royals designated AAA catcher Francisco Pena for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster, according to MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan.

Wednesday, December 2 at 11 pm is the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. Apparently, the Kansas City Royals will not be issuing the $1.1 million tender offer to retain control over Butera, which will make him a free agent.

Letting Drew Butera walk continues the recent backup catcher merry-go-round the last few seasons in Kansas City. The 29-year-old Tony Cruz now replaces Drew Butera, who replaced Erik Kratz in May. Kratz took over the backup job from Brett Hayes in the middle of the 2014 season, after the KC Royals dispatched 2013 reserve backstop George Kottaras.

I guess when you have a 25-year-old, three-time Gold Glove winner in Salvador Perez, backup catcher is something of an afterthought.

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As for dealing Jose Martinez, he’s not that Jose Martinez—the 27-year-old independent league find that set a modern Pacific Coast League record by winning the batting title with a .384 average. That guy is an outfielder.

The Jose Martinez the Kansas City Royals sent to St. Louis is a 19-year-old shortstop that has not progressed beyond rookie league Idaho Falls. In 665 minor league at bats, Martinez has posted a meager .247/.305/.316 line. Jose Martinez the shortstop is nowhere to be seen on the KC Royals top 30 prospect list at MLB.com.

In the end, this Cruz/Martinez swap is a deal of minor pieces between cross-state rivals Cardinals and Royals.  The only real curiosity of the deal is swapping Jose Martinez, which initially surprised me because I thought the KC Royals had dealt the heavy hitting AAA outfielder. The other main takeaway is general manager Dayton Moore’s continued search for a Salvador Perez backup.

Former Grantland.com and current ESPN writer Jonah Keri’s take on Tony Cruz’s pitch framing skills is about the only other notable fact from the trade:

[Note: thanks to Royals Review’s Max Rieper for posting this gem in his piece on the Cruz/Martinez trade]

One consistent trend in the KC Royals parade of backup catchers has been that the team’s analytics staff apparently gives little to no weight to pitch framing statistics. Tony Cruz is yet another Kansas City pitch framing disaster with a -2.6 Runs Above Average (RAA), according to the metrics at StatCorner.com. He follows Erik Kratz (-0.6 RAA) and Drew Butera  (-3.2 RAA) in Kansas City.

Meanwhile, starting catcher Salvador Perez has won three consecutive American League Gold Gloves despite consistently bad pitch framing stats (-9.1 RAA in 2015).

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Who knows. maybe Dayton Moore will finally make manager Ned Yost happy at backup catcher if he keeps churning through marginal backstops. Or maybe, the 61-year-old Ned Yost really wishes he could take the job himself.