The Royals Should Not Sell

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One you reference Joe (the Twins should’ve drafted Mark Prior over Joe Mauer amid dozens of other analytical baseball travesties) Sheehan as the basis for your logic, your foundation is built for collapse. In this SB Nation posting, Rob Neyer suggests the Royals throw the towel in on the season while they’re still within reasonable striking distance of first place by trading Ervin Santana, Greg Holland and Luke Hochevar. Needless to say, I’m not swayed by the Baseball Prospectus playoff percentages that are used as tenets to make these moves and I really don’t care what Sheehan says about anything.

The Royals have disappointed this season. They made a series of deals to try and win now and they’ve been hit or miss. James Shields has been good; Wade Davis inconsistent; Wil Myers, now with the Rays, is looking like the hype was real. The Royals haven’t scored in large part because their approach has been atrocious and Mike Moustakas has played poorly enough that they might want to consider sending him to the minors. But wouldn’t a sell-off of Santana, Holland and Hochevar be giving up on a season when they are still only seven games out of first place behind the somewhat disappointing Tigers? That’s an eight game winning streak away from getting it to three games. They have a large number of games against the White Sox, Mets, Mariners, Twins and Marlins. They have a lot of games left with the Tigers as well. Is it out of the question that they can get to within five games by September 1? If it were a team run by Sheehan or Neyer, would it be justified to give up on the season while still within five games of first place with a month left? Or is the loathing of general manager Dayton Moore so intense that it clouds their judgment to try and get him fired?

It appears that the hardcore stat guys have still not learned the lesson that taking every single player at a certain position and lumping them into a group as what teams “should” do with them based on that position is not analysis. It’s hedging. The lack of consistency in the suggested strategy and examples are conveniently twisted. At the end of the piece, Neyer writes, “We know what the A’s and Rays would do, though” when discussing why closers are disposable. Neyer writes that Holland is “probably worth more now than he’ll ever be worth again.” Yet the Rays, who got the best year of his life out of Fernando Rodney in 2012 and had him under contract at a cheap rate for another year, didn’t trade him when he was in a similar circumstance. The Rays had traded for a big money closer in Rafael Soriano before the 2010 season, much to the consternation of the “pump-and-dump/you can find a closer” wing of stat guys. Which is it? Is there consistency of theory or consistency when it confirms the bias as to what “should” be done?

I also find it laughable when people like Sheehan and Neyer have all the guts in the world to make these decisions while sitting behind a keyboard simultaneously having no responsibility to try and adhere to the various aspects of running a club—doing what the owner wants, attracting fans and keeping the job.

There’s an argument to be made for making deals to get better for the next season if the situation calls for it. If not an outright fire sale, a concession to reality by dealing marketable commodities is the correct move when a team is underachieving. The Blue Jays are an example far more relevant to the concept of giving up in late July than the Royals are. The Blue Jays have a GM, Alex Anthopoulos, who thinks more in line with what the stat people think and is probably more likely to be fired after the season than Moore.

With Neyer, Rany Jazayerli and presumably Bill James (even though he now works for the Red Sox), I can’t tell whether they’re providing objective analysis based on the facts or they’re Royals fans hoping the club comes completely undone because they don’t like Moore and would like someone closer to their line of thinking running the team. If that’s the case there’s nothing wrong with that if one is honest about it, but it’s somewhat untoward and shady to be using stats and out of context examples to “prove” a point.

Regardless of how they’ve played, the Royals are only seven games out of first place. That’s no time to start clearing the decks of players they might need to make a run. And numbers, hatred of the GM and disappointments aside, a run is still possible, like it or not.

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Keys to 2013: Kansas City Royals

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Starting Pitching Key: Wade Davis

The Royals can write down what they’ll get from the majority of their starting pitchers. That goes for the good (James Shields), the bad (Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar), and the sometimes good/sometimes not so good (Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana). The season and the decried trade the Royals made with the Rays in which they surrendered Wil Myers and other young players to get Shields and Davis will go a long way in determining their 2013 fate and the job status of GM Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost.

Davis was a serviceable starter for the Rays in 2010-2011. He was moved to the bullpen in 2012 due to the depth the Rays had in their rotation and now he’s going to start again for the Royals. He has to be more than serviceable. If they can cobble him into a 190-210 inning arm, Davis can be a long-term, inexpensive solution because he’s signed with contract options that make him super cheap through 2017. If he falters, the trade will boil down to getting a top-tier starter in Shields and a swingman in Davis for one of baseball’s best prospects, Myers, and other talented youngsters.

Relief Pitching Key: Greg Holland

Holland takes over as the fulltime closer. He struck out 91 in 67 innings last season and saved 16 games after Jonathan Broxton was traded. He has a mid-90s fastball, a sharp curve and only surrendered 2 homers last season. If he improves his command, Holland can dominate.

Offensive Key: Eric Hosmer

Hosmer endured a sophomore slump in 2012. He failed to adjust to the way pitchers were approaching him and he must lay off the breaking balls in the dirt. As a young hitter who had it come easy to him as a rookie, there’s a resistance to taking advice from anyone. The next logical progression is taking advice from everyone. Neither is wise.

Hosmer can be an offensive force with power and speed. He doesn’t strike out and if he can be just a bit more selective while maintaining his aggressiveness, he’s an MVP candidate.

Defensive Key: Alcides Escobar

The Royals starting rotation is loaded with contact, groundball pitchers. Shields and Davis were reared in the Rays organization where they’re taught to pitch to contact and rely on defensive positioning and heavy slabs of data. The Royals are a more old-school organization in that they put the shortstop at shortstop, the second baseman at second base, etc.

The shortstop is the key to the infield. Mike Moutstakas has good range at third base which will allow Escobar to cheat a bit more toward the middle. If the Royals don’t catch the ball behind their starters, they’re in for a rough time.

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The Rays-Royals Trade Part I—The Truth

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The Rays traded RHP James Shields, RHP Wade Davis and a player to be named later to the Royals for OF Wil Myers, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Mike Montgomery and 3B Patrick Leonard.

Let’s look at the trade from the standpoint of the Rays, the Royals and the players involved.

For the Rays

Trading away name players—specifically pitchers—for packages of minor leaguers has become the template for the Rays under their current regime. They did it with Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, and Edwin Jackson. As much as their GM Andrew Friedman is worshipped for his guts and willingness to make a deal a day too early rather than a day too late, the get-back on those trades has been retrospectively mediocre. In those trades, they got a lot of stuff, the most notable up to now is Matthew Joyce, whom they received for Jackson. Apart from that, they’ve yet to show a big bang from any of those deals and mostly got salary relief.

Friedman stockpiles. There’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s not turn him into Branch Rickey and prepare his bust for the Hall of Fame just yet.

In this trade, the Rays cleared Shields’s $9 million for 2013. He has a club option for $12 million in 2014 with a $1 million buyout. They also got rid of Davis and his $7.6 million guarantee through 2014. (He has club options through 2017.) They received Myers, one of baseball’s top hitting prospects who, ironically, looks like a clone of Evan Longoria at the plate; they received Ororizzi, Montgomery and Leonard. Of those last three, Odorizzi is the only one close to big league ready.

Friedman maximized what he was going to get for Shields and the youngsters will certainly get a chance to play in the big leagues without the pressure and expectations to perform they would’ve been subjected to elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean they’ll become stars.

Considering the Rays’ financial constraints and strategies of bolstering the farm system by trading their veterans, this is a great move for them.

For the Royals

In 2012, the Royals were expected to take the next step (sort of like the Rays did in 2008) and have all their accumulated top draft picks vault them into contention or, at least, respectability. It didn’t work.

At some point a team has to try and win.

The Royals saw what happened when they acquired a scatterarmed and talented lefty, Jonathan Sanchez, before the 2012 season and he was about as bad as a big league pitcher can possibly be before getting hurt. Montgomery’s mechanics are heinous with a stiff front leg and across-his-body delivery; he has a power fastball with zero command and a curveball he’s yet to bridle. The young starting pitchers the Royals had developed have either faltered with inconsistency (Luke Hochevar) or gotten hurt (Danny Duffy).

They also saw a top young prospect Eric Hosmer experience a sophomore slump and exhibit why it’s not as easy as making the gradual progression with massive minor league production translating into big league stardom. The struggles of Hosmer clearly had an affect on how they viewed Myers and when he was going to help them.

With Shields, they get a proven 200+ inning arm that they have for the next two years. With Davis, they’re getting a potential starter who can also give them 200+ innings and he’s signed through 2017. We know what Shields is; Davis was very good as a reliever in 2012 and his overall numbers in two years as a starter have been mediocre. The Royals had a pitcher who’d struggled as a starter, was moved to the bullpen, pitched very well and was shifted back to the rotation. His name was Zack Greinke. Davis doesn’t have Greinke’s stuff, but his bloated ERAs from 2010 and 2011 stemmed more from individual games in which he got blasted. He’s a control pitcher who, if he doesn’t have his location, gets shelled. A pitcher like that can be a useful starter.

These are not rentals and they’re not desperation acquisitions for a GM, Dayton Moore, under fire. We’re already hearing from the armchair experts on social media making references to “cost certainty,” “team control,” and “upside.” They’re words that sound good as a reason to criticize. Most couldn’t tell you whether Myers bats righty or lefty. He’s a name to them. A hot name because he’s put up big numbers, but just a name.

It’s silly to think that the Royals don’t know what they have in their prospects, especially when the same critics make a great show of crediting Moore’s assistant Mike Arbuckle for his shrewd drafting that netted the Phillies Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, and others. But in the interests of furthering the agenda to discredit the trade from the Royals’ standpoint, it suits the argument to suggest Arbuckle doesn’t know how to assess Myers, Odorizzi, Montgomery and Leonard.

Did the Royals make a trade to get better immediately and take the heat off of the GM? Possibly. Or it could be that they’ve seen firsthand the ups and downs of developing and playing their own youngsters, know that there are no guarantees, looked at a winnable AL Central, a weakened AL East and West and extra playoff spots available and decided to go for it.

2013 is Moore’s seventh year on the job. It does him no good to leave all these youngsters for his successor to look “brilliant” similar to the way in which Friedman was assisted by the posse of draft picks the Rays accumulated under Chuck LaMar because they were so terrible for so long. The list of players—B.J. Upton, Jeff Niemann, Davis, Shields, Jake McGee, Carl Crawford and Jeremy Hellickson—were there when Friedman took over as GM. That’s not diminishing the great work Friedman’s done. It’s fact.

Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, and Billy Butler make a solid, young, and controllable foundation to score enough runs to win if they pitch.

And this has nothing to do with Jeff Francoeur. He’s a convenient buzzword designed to invite vitriol and indicate ineptitude.

Now with Shields, Davis, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie, they can pitch.

When Friedman or Billy Beane makes a big trade, it’s “bold,” when Moore does, it’s “desperation.”

I don’t see it that way. The Rays did what they do with a freedom that other clubs don’t have to do it; the Royals made themselves better. It’s not the “heist” that it’s being framed as to credit Friedman while torching Moore. Both clubs get what they needed in the immediate future by making this trade.

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Trading Wil Myers Would Be “Moore” of the Same For the Royals

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Of course I’m referring to Royals GM Dayton Moore who, in his time as their GM and as an assistant with the Braves, has proven himself to be a shrewd drafter and accumulator of young, minor league talent. He has, however, faltered in signing and trading for established big leaguers. Someone with strengths and weaknesses so clearly defined might not be the best choice to run the entire organization. He’s under contract through 2014 and is going to get the opportunity to see things through for better or worse, so the Royals and their fans need to hope that he doesn’t keep doing the same things over and over and expect a different result.

During his tenure, there’s been little bottom line improvement with the Royals’ definable results—i.e. their record—but they have a farm system that is bursting with talent, particularly on offense. Rather than trade away some of that talent, they need to hang onto it and scour the market for pitchers that would be willing to sign with the Royals in a mutually beneficial deal between themselves and the club.

Considering the stagnation of Luke Hochevar (a non-tender candidate); that last season Bruce Chen was their opening day starter; that Danny Duffy needed Tommy John surgery; and that veteran imports Jonathan Sanchez have failed miserably, it’s understandable that they would use their surplus of bats to try and get a legitimate, cost-controlled young starter who could front their rotation. They’ve improved the rotation relatively cheaply and on a short-term basis with Ervin Santana and by keeping Jeremy Guthrie (who people don’t realize how good he’s been). They do need pitching and while it would help them to acquire a frontline starter like James Shields or a young, inexpensive arm such as Jeremy Hellickson, Trevor Bauer, or Jonathon Niese, the Royals would be better served to wait out the falling dominos without doing something drastic like trading Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer, or Billy Butler. Instead of a blockbuster deal of youngsters, perhaps signing a veteran such as Dan Haren who’s looking to revitalize his value and get one last big contract, would be preferable.

The Royals have the makings of a big time offense that’s cheap and productive. Weakening it to repeat the risky maneuvers of the past and hoping that they don’t turn into Sanchez is not the way to go. It would yield a headline and more hot stove stories of the Royals preparing to take the next step, but they’ve been there before multiple times in recent years and have wound up in the same place—70 wins or so. It’s a circular history and they’ve failed to make innocent climb into noticeable improvement, respectability, and finally contention. If any club knows first hand the risks of pitchers, it’s the Royals. The last thing they need to do is double-down on the risk and cost themselves a young bat like Myers or Hosmer before they’ve given them a chance to develop in a Royals uniform. There are pitchers like Haren who wouldn’t cost anything other than money. They think they have a comparable young replacement for Myers/Butler in Bubba Starling and you can find a first baseman, but would being patient hinder them?

If it’s an affordable price, the free agency has better options than trading young bats to get a young arm that might or might not make it and is more likely to repeat the process that has put the Royals in this position where they need pitching because the young pitchers they’ve had haven’t lived up to the hype or gotten hurt. Why do it again?

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The Truth About The Yankees’ Home Runs

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The simple stupidity of the Yankees being criticized for relying on the home run ball speaks for itself. Are they supposed to stop trying to hit home runs to prove they can win without it? What’s the difference how they score their runs? Are they sacrificing other aspects of their game chasing homers?

The answer to the above questions is no.

They have players who hit a lot of home runs. If they lose games in which they haven’t homered, it’s a safe bet that they ran into a pretty good pitcher.

The out-of-context stat argument is more complicated. Picking and choosing a convenient stat to bolster an argument is not the true intent of using statistics to begin with. They’re designed to promote a factual understanding and not to fool readers into seeing things the way the writer wants.

Is it a bad thing that the Yankees score via the home run? No.

Is it indicative that they’ll continue that trend once the playoffs start and do they need to be prepared to find other ways to score runs when they’re in games against better teams with better pitchers? They’ll hit their homers, but it won’t be like it is now.

The truly important factor to examine isn’t whether or not they’re hitting home runs, but who they’re hitting the home runs against.

During the regular season there aren’t the top-tier pitchers they’re going to face in the playoffs. The better the pitcher is, the better his stuff is; the better his command is; the better his control is. He’s not going to make the same mistakes as the mediocre and worse pitchers they’re fattening up their power numbers against.

I looked at all the pitchers the Yankees have homered against this season.

The list follows:

Russell Martin: Clay Buchholz, Justin Verlander, Jose Mijares, Homer Bailey, James Shields, J.P. Howell, Jonathon Niese, Jon Rauch

Mark Teixeira: Anthony Swarzak, Felix Doubront, Matt Albers, Bruce Chen, Luis Ayala, Tyson Ross, Bartolo Colon, Graham Godfrey, Hisanori Takahashi, Alex Cobb, Dillon Gee, Mike Minor

Robinson Cano: Jason Marquis, Luke Hochevar (2), David Price, Bronson Arroyo, Tyson Ross, Bartolo Colon, Ervin Santana, Alex Cobb, Johan Santana (2), Tom Gorzelanny, Anthony Varvaro, Tommy Hanson, Miguel Batista (2)

Alex Rodriguez: Ervin Santana, Clay Buchholz, Derek Holland, Justin Verlander (2) Tommy Hottovy, Will Smith (2), Octavio Dotel, Jonny Venters, Tommy Hanson, Jon Niese

Derek Jeter: Wei-Yin Chen, Hisanori Takahashi, Carl Pavano, Matt Capps, Bruce Chen, Justin Verlander, Tommy Hanson

Raul Ibanez: James Shields (2), Jason Isringhausen, Neftali Feliz, Burke Badenhop, Felix Hernandez, Hector Noesi, Bronson Arroyo, Jonny Cueto, Randall Delgado, Chris Young

Curtis Garnderson: Jake Arrieta, Ervin Santana (2), Carl Pavano, Anthony Swarzak (2), Jeff Gray, Phil Coke, Max Scherzer, Brian Matusz, James Shields, David Price, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Will Smith, Bobby Cassevah, Casey Crosby, Bobby Parnell, Tim Hudson, Tom Gorzelanny, Edwin Jackson

Nick Swisher: Joel Peralta, Kevin Gregg, Clay Buchholz, Vicente Padilla, Drew Smyly, Jose Valverde, Luke Hochevar, Tyson Ross, Johan Santana, Cory Gearrin, R.A. Dickey

Eric Chavez: Clay Buchholz (2), Jason Hammel, Tommy Hanson, Jon Rauch

Andruw Jones: Darren O’Day, Matt Maloney, Collin Balester, Steve Delabar, Tommy Milone, Johan Santana, Jon Niese

There are some names above that the Yankees might be facing in the post-season. Shields, Price, Verlander, Hanson and a few others. But they’re not going to be able to use Hochevar, Pavano or most of the other mediocrities to beat on.

I don’t see the names Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez or Yu Darvish in there.

If the Yankees don’t hit homers, then what?

Understanding the value of their homers is not the brainless bully strategy of, “Me swing hard; me hit home runs; team win.”

What was the score when the home runs were hit? What where the weather conditions? Did the pitcher make a mistake or did the hitter hit a good pitch? Was the game a blowout and the pitcher just trying to get the ball over the plate to get the game over with in either club’s favor?

These questions, among many other things, have to be accounted for.

Those who are complaining about the club needing to “manufacture” runs don’t know any more about baseball than those who are blindly defending the use of the home run without the full story.

Of course it’s a good thing that the Yankees hit a lot of home runs, but those home runs can’t be relied upon as the determinative factor of whether they’re going to win in the post-season because they’ll be facing better pitching and teams that will be able to use the homer-friendly Yankee Stadium themselves mitigating any advantage the Yankees might have. Teams that are more versatile, play good defense, steal bases and run with smart aggression and have strong pitching will be able to deal with the Yankees’ power.

Teams like the Mets are unable to do that.

The Yankees’ home runs are only an issue if they stop hitting them. Then they’ll have to find alternative ways to score when the balls aren’t flying over the fences. This is why it’s not a problem that they don’t have Brett Gardner now. In fact, it seems like the fans and media has forgotten about him. But they’re going to need him in the playoffs because he gives them something they barely have with this current configuration: he can run and wreak havoc on the bases and is an excellent defensive left fielder.

As much as Joe Morgan was savaged for his silly statements blaming the Oakland A’s inability to manufacture runs in their playoff losses during the Moneyball years, he wasn’t fundamentally inaccurate. It wasn’t about squeezing and hitting and running capriciously as Morgan wanted them to do and altering the strategy that got them to the playoffs; but it was about being able to win when not hitting home runs; when not facing a pitching staff that is going to walk you; when a team actually has relievers who can pitch and not a bunch of names they accumulated and found on the scrapheap.

The A’s couldn’t win when they didn’t get solid starting pitching or hit home runs.

Can the Yankees?

That’s going to be the key to their season. Then the true value of their homer-happy offense will come to light.

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Draft Bored

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To punctuate the absurdity of the attention paid to the MLB Draft as if it’s on a level with the NBA/NFL versions in terms of relevance, I thought it’d be interesting—for context purposes only—to look at each team, their best player(s) and the circumstances under which they drafted, signed and acquired by their current clubs.

I can say this stuff because I’m not attached to a corporate entity with advertising dollars as a circular end like ESPN; not beholden to anyone but myself; do not pledge fealty to anything but the truth as I see it.

Let’s take a look. First the teams, then the “best” player(s) as I see them, then a brief background.

Tampa Bay Rays—Evan Longoria

Longoria was the 3rd pick in the 2006 draft after the Stuart Sternberg operation took full control of running the then-Devil Rays. The Royals took Luke Hochevar with the first overall pick; the Rockies took Greg Reynolds next.

Of the top ten that year, the notable names are Brandon Morrow and Tim Lincecum—forever linked because the Mariners bypassed the local product Lincecum in favor of the more aesthetically pleasing Morrow (and I’d have done the same thing). Brad Lincoln went 4th to the Pirates; Clayton Kershaw was taken at 7 by the Dodgers.

New York Yankees—CC Sabathia/Robinson Cano

You can make an argument for either being the Yankees “best” player.

Sabathia was taken with the 20th pick the 1st round by the Indians in 1998. Pat Burrell went 1st overall; Mark Mulder 2nd; J.D. Drew 5th.

The Yankees paid Sabathia a lot of money to sign with them.

Cano was signed as an amateur free agent in 2001; the Yankees had no clue what he was in the minors because if they did, they wouldn’t have offered him as part of the package for Alex Rodriguez; apparently the Rangers didn’t know either.

No one knew.

In fact, none other than that noted baseball expert Mike Francesa, along with then-partner Chris Russo, took joy in ridiculing the Yankees decision to bench Tony Womack in favor of Cano in 2005 when the move was initially made.

Boston Red Sox—Adrian Gonzalez

A couple of other Red Sox players like Kevin Youkilis could be considered the “best”; Youkilis was drafted in the 8th round of the 2001 draft by Dan Duquette’s unfairly criticized regime.

In an under-reported and swept-under-the-rug fact from Moneyball, Youkilis was going to be the compensation for the Athletics letting Billy Beane out of his contract to take over the Red Sox after 2002.

That wouldn’t have gone well.

As for Gonzalez, he was the 1st overall pick of the Marlins in 2000; Chase Utley was taken 15th; Adam Wainwright 29th.

Gonzalez was traded by the Marlins to the Rangers in 2003 for Ugueth Urbina and won a World Series they probably wouldn’t have won without Urbina.

The Rangers made one of the worst trades in major league history dealing Gonzalez and Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka; Rangers GM Jon Daniels has since said that the Rangers had a first baseman in Mark Teixeira and didn’t know how good Gonzalez was.

The Red Sox traded a package of prospects to the Padres for Gonzalez and signed him to a long-term contract for $154 million.

Toronto Blue Jays—Jose Bautista

Bautista is a case study of the ridiculousness of the draft.

He was a 20th round pick of the Pirates in 2000. He went to the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft in 2003; was selected off waivers by the Devil Rays in 2004; was purchased by the Royals three weeks later; was then traded to the Mets for Justin Huber; was spun off immediately back to the Pirates for Kris Benson. This all happened within a few weeks.

He was traded to the Blue Jays for a player to be named later in 2008.

Now he’s a wrecking machine and he didn’t establish himself until he was 29-years-old.

Baltimore Orioles—Adam Jones

Jones was the 37th pick in the 1st round by the Mariners in 2003. He was traded by then-Mariners GM Bill Bavasi to the Orioles in a package for Erik Bedard in what’s turned out to be a horrific trade for the Mariners.

Cleveland Indians—Shin-Soo Choo

If he was 100%, Grady Sizemore might be the Indians “best” player, but he’s not. The Indians took advantage of the fact that Expos GM Omar Minaya was under the impression that there would no longer be an Expos franchise after the 2002 season and got Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Lee Stevens for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew.

As for Choo, he was an undrafted free agent signee by the Mariners in 2000 and was traded to the Indians for Ben Broussard in 2006.

Detroit Tigers—Miguel Cabrera

Cabrera was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Marlins in 1999 out of Venezuela. The Marlins won a World Series with him as a blossoming and fearless young star in 2003, then traded him and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers in a salary dump for a package of youngsters after 2007.

Kansas City Royals—Billy Butler

Butler was taken by the Royals with the 14th pick of the 1st round in 2004. Stephen Drew was taken by the Diamondbacks next; Phil Hughes by the Yankees later.

Chicago White Sox—Paul Konerko

Konerko was a 1st round pick of the Dodgers in 1994. He was a catcher who was traded to the Reds for Jeff Shaw; then to the White Sox for Mike Cameron.

Minnesota Twins—Joe Mauer

In 2001, the Twins were ridiculed for taking the hometown, high school hero Mauer when Mark Prior was poised, polished and nearly big league ready.

It was a pick based on sentiment; it was a mistake.

Or so it was said.

Um. No. It wasn’t a mistake.

Oakland Athletics—Trevor Cahill

Cahill was plucked in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft and he was a dreaded….high school pitcher; the exact type of prospect the Athletics and Billy Beane (according to the twisted fantasies of Michael Lewis) were supposed to avoid.

Yah.

Texas Rangers—Josh Hamilton

I think we all know the story of Josh Hamilton by now as a cautionary tale. The first pick in the 1999 draft by the Devil Rays, addiction nearly destroyed his entire life. Now he’s the reigning AL MVP.

Los Angeles Angels—Jered Weaver

Weaver was taken with the 12th pick of the 1st round in the 2004 draft.

Seattle Mariners—Felix Hernandez

The Venezuelan Hernandez was signed as an amateur free agent in 2002 at the age of 16.

Philadelphia Phillies—Roy Halladay

Those who try to manipulate you by not disclosing full details can use Halladay’s status as a 1st round pick in 1995 of the Blue Jays as an example of the value of 1st round picks.

But Halladay was a failure mentally and physically until coach Mel Queen lit into him, broke down his entire being and rebuilt him into the monster he’s become. The pitcher he is now is not the pitcher whom the Blue Jays drafted, 1st round or no 1st round.

Florida Marlins—Josh Johnson

Johnson was a 4th round pick in 2002 and is now one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.

Atlanta Braves—Jason Heyward

Heyward was drafted in the 1st round by the Braves in 2007 with the 14th pick; he’s an MVP candidate if he can stay healthy.

Washington Nationals—Ryan Zimmerman

Zimmerman was taken in the 1st round of the 2005 draft with the 4th pick.

You can’t quibble with Zimmerman, but that was a very strong draft with Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Clay Buchholz and Andrew McCutchen all taken after Zimmerman.

New York Mets—Jose Reyes

Reyes was signed as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 1999 at age 16.

Cincinnati Reds—Joey Votto

Votto was a 2nd round pick of the Reds in the 2002 draft. Brian McCann was taken later in the 2nd round by the Braves.

St. Louis Cardinals—Albert Pujols

Pretty much the only issue I had with Jonah Keri’s book, The Extra 2% detailing the rise of the Rays, was the chapter that discussed how they missed on Pujols as an example of the Chuck LaMar regime’s cluelessness concerning the draft.

Everyone missed on Pujols.

Nobody thinks a 13th round pick is even going to make it, let alone become this era’s version of Joe DiMaggio, but that’s what Pujols is.

Would Keith Law or Jonathan Mayo even have known who Pujols was had they been focusing on the draft to the degree that they do today?

No chance.

Milwaukee Brewers—Ryan Braun

Braun’s selection was discussed in the bit about Zimmerman.

You could make the argument that Prince Fielder, Zack Greinke or Yovani Gallardo are the Brewers “best” players. Fielder was said in Moneyball to be “too fat” for the A’s to draft in a draft in which they were intent on drafting players who weren’t would-be jeans models.

Fielder turned out pretty well I’d say.

Pittsburgh Pirates—Andrew McCutchen

I’m biased because I think McCutchen is going to be a MEGA-star. He too was in the Braun/Zimmerman draft.

Chicago Cubs—Starlin Castro

The Dominican Castro was signed as an amateur free agent at the age of 16 in 2006.

Houston Astros—Brett Wallace

It’s hard to pinpoint a “best” player on a team like the Astros, but Wallace qualifies I suppose.

Wallace was taken in the 1st round of the 2008 draft by the Cardinals and Ike Davis was taken a few picks later. Wallace was traded by the Cardinals to the A’s for Matt Holliday; traded by the A’s to the Blue Jays for Michael Taylor in the complicated series of deals involving Halladay and Lee; then was traded by the Blue Jays to the Astros for Anthony Gose.

Colorado Rockies—Troy Tulowitzki

Tulowitzki was taken in the 2005 draft detailed earlier.

San Francisco Giants—Tim Lincecum

The 10th pick in the 2006 draft, teams were scared off by his diminutive size (listed at 5’11”—YAH!! RIGHT!!!); his unique motion and training regimen that his stage father demanded not be altered in any way.

Back then, I would’ve drafted Kershaw and Morrow before Lincecum myself.

Los Angeles Dodgers—Matt Kemp

Kemp was taken in the 6th round of the 2003 draft. His attitude has long been a question, but his talent hasn’t.

Arizona Diamondbacks—Justin Upton

Upton was the first pick in the oft-mentioned 2005 draft. You can make a lukewarm argument against him, but he’s an excellent player.

San Diego Padres—Heath Bell

You can argue that Mat Latos is their best player, but right now it’s Bell.

Bell was picked by the Devil Rays in the 69th round of the 1997 draft but didn’t sign; he signed with the Mets as an amateur free agent in 1998. Much has been made of the Mets “failure” to give Bell a real opportunity and his clashes with then-pitching coach Rick Peterson.

Despite his frequent travel time on the Norfolk shuttle between the big leagues and Triple A, Bell did get a chance for the Mets and pitched poorly. The trade the Mets made of Bell and Royce Ring for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson was awful, but I’m sick of Bell complaining about how he was treated by the Mets.

If he’d pitched the way he is now, the Mets wouldn’t have traded him.

Are you starting to get my point?

Watching the draft to the degree that MLB and ESPN are trying to sell it is a waste of time, energy and sometimes money for the observers.

You never know which players are going to make it and from where they’re going to come.

Accept it or not, it’s the truth.

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Developmentally Disoriented

Media, Players, Spring Training

You need only look at Mets camp with Jason Isringhausen or Yankees camp with Mark Prior to see the pitfalls of prospects carting the yoke of hype and expectations encumbering their careers.

Isringhausen was able to overcome his failures as a part of Generation K—the Mets trio of young pitchers that were meant to challenge the Braves in the mid-to-late 1990s—and become an All Star closer. Prior’s trying hang on somehow, some way after injuries tore apart his body and robbed him of his swagger; it’s made him something of a punchline.

There are other examples of failed expectations that were the fault of the organizations that were supposed to nurture said talents; the media that needed “stuff” to write about in the lazy days of spring training; and the players themselves. Joba Chamberlain, Stephen Strasburg, Matt Anderson and Phil Nevin—all recognizable names at one time or another who have been hurt, watered down or bounced from place-to-place trying to make good on their promise.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, himself a Sports Illustrated coverboy, can testify to the landmines of irrational hopes and dreams. His career with the Royals came undone after he was an important part of their 1980 pennant winner and he had to return to the minor leagues to learn to be a utilityman before squeezing a few extra years out of his playing career.

It’s a cycle.

Now all we’re hearing about is the Royals crop of young players who are on the horizon promising of better days for one of the more moribund and hapless franchises in baseball over the past 20 years.

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are two of the Royals prize players who are in spring camp with the big club, but are ticketed for more minor league seasoning. The club’s hopes to emerge from laughingstock to legitimate contender are riding on these players.

The same excitement is evident for the Yankees with Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances. Lusty reports of how impressive they are—in FEBRUARY!!!—are indicative of the same mistakes being made again.

Was it so long ago that Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy were meant to replicate the Red Sox developmental apparatus with Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz?

How’d that work out?

The Royals aren’t exactly state-of-the-art in developing players. Billy Butler is becoming a top-tier basher, but Alex Gordon has stagnated; Luke Hochevar is still finding his way; and GM Dayton Moore, for all the credit he’s receiving for rebuilding the farm system (credit he deserves), doesn’t exactly have a history of being Branch Rickey in his maneuverings at the big league level.

The weak defense regarding Gordon is that Moore didn’t draft him, but Gordon was the 2nd pick in the entire 2005 draft; for a pick that high, Gordon was going to go within the top 10 players either way.

And he didn’t draft Butler either.

Do you trust Moore to make the correct decisions once these young players are deemed “ready” for the big leagues? Considering the lackluster return he got for Zack Greinke in a deal that was totally unnecessary at the time and appeared to be done with needless panic in mind; the signings of Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera with the intention of playing them regularly; and his prior deals since taking over, I have zero faith in him as the head of an organization. He came from the Braves as an assistant to John Schuerholz and was respected for his skills at building a fertile farm system, but has been an abject failure at the big league level with the Royals—there’s no other way to put it.

Hanging one’s hopes on the “future” while indulging in the myth-making is another mistake in development that clubs repeatedly make. Rather than building of a consistent pipeline of productive players, it’s a foundation for failure due to overwhelming expectations that most young players can never reach. The media and fan reactions don’t help, but the fault lies within the club hierarchy for refusing to temper the enthusiasm and sometimes playing into the propaganda for the sake of ticket sales.

They’re responsible because they’re in charge. They can put a stop to it, but don’t.

Is it selfishness? A hard-headed stubbornness? Or are they looking for a reason to keep their jobs?

Perhaps it’s all three.

In the grand scheme, it’s a big mistake.

The Art Of Presumption

Hot Stove

Does a loaded farm system preclude ineptitude at the highest levels?

Can talent overcome history?

What goes into developing a prospect and why do they fail?

These are all questions that have to be answered as young players inch their way into big league duty and they have to be addressed one way or the other before crediting an organization before the fact.

The Kansas City Royals are one such organization.

All I keep hearing—ad nauseam—is how the Royals have the “best” farm system in baseball; that they’re bursting with young players on the way up and will be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.

Whether or not that assertion is accurate remains to be seen—we won’t know until we know—but to automatically anoint a moribund franchise like the Royals as a team to be watched is ignoring the wretched history of both their current management team on and off the field and their poor history of building with young players.

GM Dayton Moore has been nothing short of awful in his time as Royals GM. Amid the muck of horrific maneuvers in both trades and free agent signings in his 4 1/2 years on the job are the egregious signings of Kyle Farnsworth, Willie Bloomquist, Jason Kendall, Horacio Ramirez and Jose Guillen and his trades for Mike Jacobs and Odalis Perez. He also dumped Jorge de la Rosa for essentially nothing.

The product at the big league level has been embarrassing. There’s no other word for it. Moore is on his third manager after the retirement of Buddy Bell and the firing of Trey Hillman; it’s Ned Yost and Moore now, joined at the hip—either they’ll take the step into prominence or go over the cliff like Wile E. Coyote in a puff of smoke…together.

This winter alone, he’s made two decisions that don’t fit into any category other than ridiculous. Signing Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera as anything more than cheap roster filler made no sense; it makes even less sense to sign them and expect them to play regularly.

He traded Zack Greinke for a large haul of the Brewers top prospects and got them to take Yuniesky Betancourt‘s contract off his hands as well. The Greinke trade has the potential to be a win for the Royals.

A few of his other calls have panned out. He acquired Joakim Soria in the 2006 Rule 5 draft and, as alluded to earlier, has built a farm system that is said to be among baseball’s best.Getting Brian Bannister for Ambiorix Burgos worked well enough; Gil Meche—despite criticism for the $55 million contract Moore bestowed upon him—was terrific for the first two years of the contract (record aside) and it was only overwork at the hands of the clueless Hillman that undid Meche and resulted in the pitcher getting injured. This too falls at the feet of Moore for not taking a stronger hand in keeping his player healthy.

But nothing short of a 2008 Rays-like leap into contention can rehabilitate Moore’s floundering reputation as a baseball boss.

Can it happen?

I have my doubts and not only because of Moore’s history. I have my doubts because of the myriad of factors that go into developing a young player into a competent big league contributor.

Having not read any of the “experts” regarding the Royals hot prospects, I can look through their statistics and reasonably determine exactly whom they’re expecting to arrive and immediately lead a renaissance in Kansas City.

Here’s a primer on how to do this if you’re looking to similarly examine any team’s minor league system: First, almost entirely ignore Triple A. Triple A is a moneymaker for their ownership and they want to win as many games as they can with somewhat marketable and recognizable borderline big league players. In general, it’s a mill for veterans who can fill in briefly at the big league level and is packed with players in their late 20s-early 30s—most of whom won’t contribute in the majors unless there’s a fluke or epiphany (or a nicely corked bat or cleverly scuffed ball).

Second, look at the numbers and the ages. For Triple A Omaha, the Royals did have a couple of names that might help them in the coming years—LHP Tim Collins and RHP Louis Coleman are two such prospects. After that, go down the line and look at the numbers of the players with the minor league affiliates from Double A on down. Check the ages first—if they’re in Double A and are 25 years old, it’s a red flag; then look at the numbers. If a hitter can do something like get on base, hit the ball out of the park, walk or steal bases, he may have some use down the line. For pitchers, look at their strikeouts, walks and hits to innings pitched ratios and how many homers they allow. ERA can be misleading, but it’s part of the puzzle.

Based on these aspects, here are the players I’d suspect are among the “hot” prospects the Royals supposedly have: 2B Johnny Giavotella; 1B Eric Hosmer; 3B Mike Moustakas. In the lower minors there are bats William Myers and lefty arms Buddy Baumann and John Lamb.

Talent-wise, the Royals future is bright.

But….

But can the major league staff develop these players? Will they be given a legitimate chance to play? Will Moore do something stupid like trade them for a useless and misjudged veteran player along the lines of Francoeur or Farnsworth?

It takes more than talent to succeed.

Manager Ned Yost‘s history is spotty in terms of developing youngsters. Intense to the point of over-the-edge, Yost was well on the way to steering his young Brewers team into a brick wall late in the 2008 season before he was fired. Had Yost been allowed to stay on the job, I don’t believe they would’ve righted the ship as they did under Dale Sveum and made the playoffs.

How many young and promising prospects did Yost have under his command in his six years as Brewers manager and how many made it? Rickie Weeks was up-and-down under Yost before coming into his own this season with a large amount of nurturing from Brewers former bench coach Willie Randolph. Prince Fielder isn’t the type to let any manager bother him one way or the other. J.J. Hardy was a solid bat and glove for a couple of years. Ryan Braun became a star. And Yovani Gallardo pitched well for Yost.

There weren’t any players for whom it could be said that Yost was a problem. As the 2008 season wound down, it was Yost’s explosiveness under pressure that laid the foundation for his necessary ouster.

The Royals have some top prospects that stagnated under Hillman. Alex Gordon has been injury-prone and, so far, a bust after being the second pick in the 2005 draft by the prior regime. I love Luke Hochevar‘s stuff, but he’s gotten blasted; he did show marked improvement under Yost. Kyle Davies may be one of those pitchers whose talent causes people’s mouths to water, but never puts it all together. Kila Ka’aihue has put up ridiculous numbers in the minors but, for some unfathomable reason, has never gotten a true chance to play every day in the big leagues. When he did get a shot late in 2010, he struggled.

Some prospects can’t be denied regardless of developmental incompetence.

Some can.

There’s no template for teaching youngsters to play in the big leagues, but there has to be a certain amount of inherent maturity. This has been evident in clubs that have had youngsters arrive seemingly from nowhere and take over their respective clubhouses in leading their teams to prominence. The Yankees with Derek Jeter; the Rockies with Troy Tulowitzki; the Rays with Evan Longoria; and the Giants with Tim Lincecum are examples of this.

Can this happen with Hosmer? With Moustakas?

For all the borderline libelous allegations levied against former Athletics manager Art Howe in the ridiculous Moneyball, one thing Howe was never credited for with the Athletics was how he didn’t screw up the young players by scaring the life out of them.

In all of Howe’s managerial stops with the Astros, A’s and Mets, there were young players who made their debuts and went on to have All Star careers and more. Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, David Wright, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Jose Reyes among others all broke in with Howe as their manager.

You know their names.

They weren’t busts.

This is a subtle, notable and unappreciated accomplishment for a manager to have on his resume.

We’ve also seen the stifling of young talent until they’re petrified to make a mistake; to get hurt; to ruin the club’s faith. Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy were supposed to be cornerstones of the Yankees growing their own pitchers rather than flinging money at the free agents.

For all the babying, rules and overprotectiveness, Chamberlain’s stock is non-existent as they’ve ruined what once looked to be the heir apparent to Roger Clemens with the nursemaid routine and jerking him between starting and relieving, pitch counts and special treatment.

Kennedy was traded away because no one in the clubhouse could stand him, he didn’t listen and he was awful.

Can the Royals avoid this?

Is it safe to assume that because they have all that youthful exuberance on the way to the big leagues that they’ll begin to improve and win in the next 3-5 years?

I don’t know.

Judging from the way they’ve run their organization up to now under the current regime, there are more questions than simple ability and opportunity can answer; judging from Moore’s history, I’d be concerned he’s going to do something very, very stupid with the young players.

It’s not as if there’s no basis for this belief.

The evidence is overwhelming and all the talent in the world is no match for rampant stupidity. Will the talent the Royals have accumulated in their minor league system account for the repeated gaffes by their GM?

We’ll see.