Why was the 2019 MLB Trade Deadline so different from the past?

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Cashman pic

The 2019 MLB Trade Deadline was radically different from how it was in the past.

There are several factors that factored in with this peculiar turn of events. Certain teams illustrated this more than others.

Yankees

General manager Brian Cashman is getting scorched for his failure to act. At his press conference, he made reasonable sense as to why he didn’t trade for a prominent starter or reliever. Still, “reasonable sense” is not what made the Yankees so alluring to fans around the world. They won a lot and that will certainly draw attention; but there was always action going on. Now, instead of getting the biggest available names who fit their blatant needs and surrendering the prospects necessary to do so, Cashman again cuddled his prospects, many of whom are quietly being described as overrated.

Ignoring whether this is a wise course of action or not, the fundamental reality is that the Yankees of the Steinbrenner offspring are not the same as the Yankees of the Steinbrenner patriarch. George Steinbrenner would not have wanted to hear about Deivi Garcia if he was all that was standing in the way of getting the caliber of starting pitcher that would have made his team the favorites to win the World Series. This, more than any baseball operations philosophy, is why the Yankees have become so passive to the point of appearing impotent.

Arguing that their injured list with Luis Severino and Dellin Betances rehabbing provides them with two “acquisitions” is theoretically sensible, but it’s also Met-like – one that rarely yields the result the team expects. By now, it is wise not to expect anything from either and the Yankees know that.

The current Steinbrenner ownership does not have the unquenchable thirst to win and dominate that George Steinbrenner did. It wants to win, sure. But it’s not fanatical and desperate. Their desire to win is folded in with advancing the brand. Instead of a World Series-or-bust attitude, they’re content to be contenders, have a chanceto win a championship while understanding the vagaries that go into that result, and do not overreact when it is unsuccessful.

The Boss might have understood all this in a rational sense (or he might not have), but his rage inevitably took over and he reacted by firing people, signing free agents, trading for stars and doing something. That is not to imply that capricious brutality is preferable to wise conservatism, but there needs to be nuance. There wasn’t and these Yankees did nothing.

Having cost control with a respectable farm system and flexibility is great, but it is not the Yankee way. It’s the way of the game itself in 2019 and the Yankees in their years of dominance never adhered to what everyone else was doing. They were trendsetters and everyone wanted to play for them. If other teams couldn’t keep up? Too bad.

While shunning Bryce Harper and Manny Machado made financial sense, it might have had a hidden cost in that players are no longer looking toward the Yankees as their ideal destination. If they’re going to treat it as a cruel business, so are we. In retrospect, the Yankees were right to avoid both on the field, but it could have had a radical aftereffect in the greater context.

Hal Steinbrenner has been conscious of payroll and Cashman was a willing cohort as both got what they wanted. Steinbrenner has the immediately recognizable and financially lucrative brand; Cashman gets to show the baseball bona fides that eluded him when he inherited the late 1990s dynasty and bought his way to maintaining contending status. He rebuilt the team and is now perceived in a category with Theo Epstein, Billy Beane, Andrew Friedman and Jeff Lunhow as an architect. Yet the last championship in 2009 came after a half-billion-dollar spending spree.

Every team ownership in New York has been hammered for its faults. The Yankees have largely been shielded from that. However, Steinbrenner expressed his willingness to go beyond the luxury tax and in trading prospects to get what the Yankees needed.

And they didn’t do it.

Was this Cashman? Did Steinbrenner leave it to the baseball people to decide on cost effectiveness? Or was there a wink and nod with Steinbrenner knowing Cashman would “do the right thing” while they made statements to quell rising fan apprehension?

Put it this way: George Steinbrenner would have told Cashman to get pitching and he didn’t care what it cost. Hal Steinbrenner didn’t.

Padres

General manager AJ Preller has been there for five years and they have achieved absolutely nothing concrete. It’s all about ephemeral prospect rankings and lusty gazes regarding his “outside the box” thinking, aggressiveness, lack of interest in making friends and, in some cases, indifference for adhering to moral and ethical standards.

The latest was acquiring another top prospect, Taylor Trammell in a three-team trade with the Indians and Reds.

Most prognosticators love Trammell and he adds to the Padres’ already strong farm system. But when does the transition from rebuild to trying to win take place? There’s a difference between being happy to win and trying to win. There’s no middle ground with Preller. It’s one end of the spectrum with a ridiculous buying spree like in 2014-2015 or the rebuild where he burned the organization to the ground not with a controlled demolition, but arson. There’s the signing of Eric Hosmer; there’s the trading of Brad Hand; there’s the signing of Manny Machado; there’s the trading of Franmil Reyes; there’s the pursuit of Noah Syndergaard.

Which is it? When does this reach its conclusion? Or is this the conclusion?

Maybe “What is he doing?” is the strategy. Always maintain a plausible deniability that he’s failing. This is year five of the rebuild and they’re 20 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West and in “if we have a hot streak” contention for the Wild Card.

The spin from Preller’s first offseason as Padres GM in which he gutted the system he inherited and traded for and signed name players and then pivoted to an ongoing full-blown rebuild happened within his first year on the job. While his system has received laudatory and even beatific praise since then, he is still doing the zigzag of willingness to trade anyone and everyone while simultaneously adding the likes of Hosmer and Machado on big money contracts.

There seems to be a total disregard for actual results, replaced by a reliance on prospect rankings that, one must remember, are completely exterior from baseball front offices!If that obnoxious, arrogant buffoon Keith Law ranks a prospect number 10 in baseball, that does not mean he’s judged the same way by those who are making the actual decisions. It’s a moneymaker. It’s clickbait. Just as there is no award for winning the winter championship, there’s no tangible award for having the best farm system as ranked by some guy.

There is a benefit, though. If and when Preller’s bosses say enough’s enough and ask when the team will start show success on the field, he can point to the praise and prospect rankings and promote it as progress when it is contextually meaningless. When does the plan come to fruition? Year seven? Year nine?

It’s beginning to take the tone of a flimflam man with a modicum of competence who has tricked a wide swath of people and inspired a Manson-like loyalty sans criticism for fear of inundation from his indoctrinated loyalists.

Astros

GM Jeff Luhnow spots vulnerability and compounds that with a willingness to act. Comparing owner Jim Crane to George Steinbrenner is unfair in terms of temperament and overreaction, but not in terms of the hunger to win.

The Astros had several irons in the fire to acquire starting pitching, but would not surrender what the Mets were asking for to get either Zack Wheeler or Syndergaard – namely Kyle Tucker. Then they spun around, gave up a big haul of prospects to the Diamondbacks to get Zack Greinke (not including Tucker or Forrest Whitley) and suddenly the Yankees were KO’d with a shot they did not see coming.

Contrary to the immediate overreaction, this does not mean the Astros are guaranteed a World Series win. In a short series, anything can and usually does happen. But Luhnow’s willingness to deal while still retaining his untouchable prospects is unique. Other teams – like the Padres with Preller – are not simply looking to improve, they’re looking to screw you while they do it. Luhnow will give up value for value. And if it doesn’t make sense, he doesn’t do it.

Once this window of contention begins to close, he won’t patch it with duct tape. He’ll clean house before anyone expects or advocates it and start all over again. That’s why the Astros are where they are.

Mets

Finally, the Mets were caught in the middle of “what are they doing?” with “why are they doing it?”

It’s unlikely that GM Brodie Van Wagenen thinks the Mets are legitimate contenders in 2019. But they’re not at the point where it makes sense to clean out the entire house either. Edwin Diaz and Syndergaard were bandied about in trade talks. Wheeler, a pending free agent, was all but guaranteed to go. Yet they stayed.

With Syndergaard, there was zero point in trading him unless the Mets got exactly what they wanted. For Wheeler, the cost-benefit hinged on comparing the acquisition of prospects to what they will get with the draft pick compensation after making the qualifying offer following this season, re-signing Wheeler or in the unlikely event he accepts the QO.

It’s important to remember that Van Wagenen manipulated the entire MLB Draft to get Matthew Allan – a consensus top-20 talent who fell because he was expected to attend college – at the approximate spot where they’ll get the compensatory pick if Wheeler rejects the QO.

With their recent hot streak that has gotten them within striking distance of a Wild Card and that they added Marcus Stroman to the rotation giving them a devastating starting five of Jacob deGrom, Syndergaard, Stroman, Wheeler and Steven Matz, and there was no urgency to trade anyone. This rotation is tantamount to the “big five” the Mets had long touted as their future with Matt Harvey replacing Stroman, but the Mets only cycled that group once and it was for sentimental “what might have been?” reasons as Harvey was immediately jettisoned after it happened.

As for adding to the bullpen, trading Diaz and adding a few names would have been shuffling the same cards. There’s no guarantee the relievers they acquired would handle New York any better than Diaz; would adjust to the set-up role as Jeurys Familia has not. Rather than change for its own sake, it was better to get Stroman, retain what they had and hope the mediocrity of the National League and improved performances from their own players worked for the rest of 2019 and they could retool for 2020.

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Teams are no longer passively letting Trevor Bauer and Stroman get traded to obvious contenders, deferring to those whose need is more pronounced and holding their chips – and the good will with their peers – for when they need the help.

The new rule that prevents trades after July 31 had a greater impact than expected. Teams were aware they could not wait out the likes of Justin Verlander and other star players whose contracts likely precluded an August waiver claim meaning they would be eligible to be traded after the “deadline” that was not a hard deadline. Now, it is a hard deadline. Now, the decision as to whether a team was a legitimate contender, a nominal contender, a non-contender or “wait ‘til next year (or, in the case of the Padres, the next-next year; or the next-next-next year), or a team that has surrendered and is adhering to a “plan” is harder to make with any certainty.

There was still a flurry of activity, but much of it was surprising in that the usual suspects who are aggressive in filling holes – the Yankees, Dodgers, Cardinals and Red Sox – were quiet. Teams that are not close enough to first place to warrant a buying spree to go for it still made moves that were in part for 2019, but were largely done for 2020. “Sellers” were few and far between as most clubs have shunned the gutting rebuild and tanking, preferring to lean toward a moderate attempt at respectability and maybe even a lightning strike playoff run. Even teams that were willing to sell big pieces added similarly big pieces before deciding to stand pat. This is better for the game, not worse.

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Keys to 2013: Cleveland Indians

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Starting Pitching Key: Ubaldo Jimenez

Usually when there’s a big trade of youth for an established veteran the trade can be judged within a year-and-a-half. Sometimes that judgment is floating and interchangeable. The problem with most deals is that there’s an immediate reaction of a “winner” and a “loser” before any of the players even get their uniforms on.

For the Rockies and Indians, who completed a big trade in the summer of 2011 with Jimenez going to the Indians for a package of youngsters including Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Matt McBride and Joe Gardner, there has yet to be a payoff for either side.

For the Rockies, if Pomeranz doesn’t develop, the trade will be a disaster. I think he will, but he hasn’t yet. White was traded to the Astros; McBride is about to turn 28 and has the looks of a 4-A player. Gardner’s mechanics make him an arm injury waiting to happen; if he doesn’t get hurt, he’s a reliever.

It can be seen as the Indians didn’t give up much of anything for a former All-Star and third place finisher in the Cy Young Award voting, but now that they’re looking to contend, they need the Jimenez from 2010 or, at worst, 2009. He’s been awful from 2011 onward with an attitude to match and his ERA has risen by over 3 ½  runs since the end of June 2010 while his velocity has declined by 4-5 mph. Nobody’s expecting him to keep up an ERA under two, but over five? 92-94 is plenty enough fastball to be effective. He has a club option for 2014 at $8 million that he can void himself since he was traded mid-contract. If he’s as bad as he was over the past two seasons, the Indians will trade him at mid-season or sever ties after the season.

Relief Pitching Key: Chris Perez

Perez’s complaints about the Indians fans not caring and the front office not spending any money were assuaged this past winter, but he has to hold his end of the bargain up by getting the job done in the ninth inning. The Indians are better than they were, but they’re not good enough to afford blowing games in the late innings. To make matters more precarious, Perez’s status for opening day is in question because of a shoulder strain. He could also be traded if the Indians are underperforming and Vinnie Pestano indicates he can handle the job.

Offensive Key: Carlos Santana

For all the talk of Santana being an offensive force and the Dodgers making a huge mistake by trading him to get Casey Blake, he’s been something of a disappointment. Santana’s productive, but not the unstoppable masher he was supposed to be. If he’s able to be a competent defensive catcher then his current offensive numbers are fine; if he has to be shifted to first base, he’s a guy you can find on the market.

Defensive Key: Santana

Whether or not the Indians have the depth to contend is not known yet. I don’t think they do. Regardless with the new manager and the money they’ve spent, they have to be competent and that hinges on the pitching. The starting rotation behind Justin Masterson and Brett Myers are temperamental (Jimenez); young, difficult and have already yapped their way out of one venue (Trevor Bauer); and are scrapheap reclamation projects (Daisuke Matsuzaka and Scott Kazmir). Manager Terry Francona might look at Santana’s defense and realize he can’t win with him behind the plate. Santana at first base would make everyone else move to a different position and force a far weaker offensive catcher into the lineup in Santana’s place.

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Trevor Bauer Listens To Trevor Bauer…Rapping!!!

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The off-season moves made by the Diamondbacks involved importing “gritty” players to fit the desired style of play of manager Kirk Gibson, but given the continuing verbal volleys going back and forth between Diamondbacks’ catcher Miguel Montero and Indians’ pitcher Trevor Bauer, perhaps it’s not grit they wanted to bring in, but weeding out of difficult personalities to excise players who didn’t fit into the preferred clubhouse dynamic.

Recently the discord between pitcher and catcher reentered the storyline as Bauer’s rap lyrics (really) were interpreted as alluding to his relationship with Montero—Yahoo Story. You can hear the rap below. He’s certainly not the Beastie Boys unless you consider his pitching for the Diamondbacks last season, which were beastly enough to get him demoted. Bauer should stick to pitching.

Bauer says that the lyrics were directed at people on Twitter, but who knows? Earlier this spring Montero made damning indictments against Bauer in a matter of fact fashion. The statements were overt in comparison to what Montero said as he was trying to create a working relationship with Bauer last summer. Judging from their decision to trade him so quickly, Montero was clearly speaking for the Diamondbacks and their concerns.

Bauer’s reputation as opinionated, loud and immature isn’t new. It goes back to his days at UCLA when, in certain circles, he was ludicrously compared to Tim Lincecum and behaved in a manner that was certain to draw the ire of big league veterans if he continued it when he entered pro ball. Unsurprisingly he continued it into pro ball, irritated big league veterans, and was traded away a year-and-a-half after he was drafted 3rd overall.

There’s still a pecking order in a major league clubhouse and hazing from some veterans where a rookie, regardless of his draft status and known talent level, should be seen and not heard. Bauer was seen and the Diamondbacks saw him pitching terribly; he was heard and what they heard was arrogance and obnoxiousness. This is a bad combination to engendering positivity with one’s teammates.

The view of teammates and clubhouse chemistry can be overrated, but not dismissed. Last season, as Mets’ first baseman Ike Davis was batting well under .200 into the summer, there was discussion of demoting him to Triple A. David Wright and others stood up for Davis. The front office and manager Terry Collins, realizing the damage that could be done by sending Davis down when his teammates liked and believed in him, gave him the chance to battle through his struggles and he did. Would anyone have stood up for Bauer? Or would they have advocated getting him out of the clubhouse before the place exploded or Gibson attacked him?

The mentioning of Lincecum is key. Yes, Lincecum was allowed to do his own thing in terms of stretching exercises and mechanics designed by his father. Yes, he was unconventional in his dress and personality. But the difference between Bauer and Lincecum is that Lincecum didn’t arrive in the big leagues and automatically start loudly challenging conventional orthodoxy or disrespecting veterans. And Lincecum did something Bauer didn’t do when he first arrived on the scene: he pitched well.

Lincecum, passed over and questioned because of his diminutive stature and stage father, exhibited a quiet determination to prove the critics wrong; Bauer is strutting around and informing the world of his greatness and uniqueness while posting an ERA over six with 13 walks in 16 innings and getting sent to the minors after four starts.

In a sense, even Lincecum is learning that his quirks are tolerated as long as he pitches well. He was mostly terrible in 2012 and his style and preparation are under scrutiny. Lincecum has two Cy Young Awards. Bauer doesn’t have any big league accomplishments other than annoying people to the point where he got himself traded.

Iconoclasm in baseball is fine…as long as the player performs. Had Bauer arrived and pitched brilliantly, the Diamondbacks and Montero would’ve gritted their teeth and swallowed his attitude and behavior as a concession for the greater good. He didn’t. Some catchers like to bully their pitchers to establish dominance and get the pitcher to do what the catcher wants. Montero didn’t do that. He was trying to reach a consensus with Bauer and was genuinely stunned at the rookie’s complete lack of interest in working cohesively and appearance of being more interested in doing things his way than succeeding.

If life were a moralistic TV show, Bauer would keep getting batted around until he learned humility and the value of working with others. It’s not. Since he’s so talented, he might bull his way through and succeed in spite of his selfish attitude. What’s he’s not seeing, though, is that the strutting and snarling is accepted because of his ability and draft status. If Lincecum had posted an ERA over 6, how long before the Giants took the rules and regulations that accompanied his drafting and tossed them out the window to try and recoup something on their investment? How long would David Wells have lasted in the majors had he simply been a guy trying to imitate Babe Ruth while pitching as Bauer did in his brief 2012 audition? As Mark Prior has proven, it can all be gone in an instant.

Players don’t have to be friends and in many cases, they’re not. They do have to communicate. So far, Bauer has been interested in communicating with the the man in the mirror and the media. And rapping. Don’t forget the rapping. Unless he performs, his teammates won’t want to hear about his college exploits and draft status and they definitely won’t want to hear his awful rapping.

Reputation matters and, as of now, Bauer’s reputation is not good and he’s doing absolutely nothing to change the perceptions that will follow him around until he pitches well or disappears, wondering what happened to the All-Star career he was supposed to have.

Aspiring rappers are generally not advised to follow the lead of Vanilla Ice, but in this case maybe Bauer should stop, collaborate and listen because the failure to do that has soiled his image and gotten him traded once. Unfortunately the music from the Diamondbacks and Bauer is going on and on with no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

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Kyle Lohse’s Recruiting Violation

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I wrote about the mistake the Major League Baseball Players Association made in allowing draft pick compensation to infiltrate big league free agency here, but in a more human sense, it’s unfair to the players like Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse that the situation has reached the point it has.

Neither Bourn nor Lohse are prototypical “star” players. This is part of the problem with the draft pick compensation being so steep in that it costs a club drafting between numbers 11 and 30 the pick to sign one of these players. Teams are willing to surrender draft picks to sign Josh Hamilton, but rarely with Bourn or Lohse. The middle class is getting squeezed and that’s not the idea of free agency.

The Indians signed Bourn two days ago and have been on a spending spree of sorts (for them) in getting a big name manager (Terry Francona), and a bat (Nick Swisher), after making a bold trade of Shin-Soo Choo to get Trevor Bauer. But the Indians were so bad last season that they’re picking 5th overall and the top 10 picks are protected. They have to give up later round picks, but that’s not as costly as a top 5 pick.

There’s also been talk that the money the clubs surrender in the draft when they sign a free agent is a deterrent. I don’t see it as prohibitive as others do. The slot money has limited the bonuses drafted players can receive, so if the team doesn’t have the draft pick, then what do they need the extra bonus money for other than to pay extra (and have agents of draftees knowing they can pay extra) for later round picks? It’s like having $50 in your pocket and no credit card. You can’t spend any more than that, so it is what it is and you can buy goods for up to $50 and no more.

What’s truly wrong with this situation is what it’s doing to a pitcher like Lohse, who had his career year in 2012. In years past without the deterrent of compensation and punitive damages to an interested team, Lohse would have gotten a 3-year deal from someone. While that’s short of what Scott Boras would prefer, it would be lucrative along the lines of what an inferior pitcher like Jeremy Guthrie and a similar performer Ryan Dempster received. And he’d have a place to go in spring training rather than sitting around, waiting and lamenting his fate.

The current circumstances are worthy of scrutiny. Perhaps it would be fairer to the players if the qualifying offer remained on the table until they signed elsewhere so if this situation arises again, they can just accept it and go back to their former team, perhaps to be traded but at least paid for one year. This would discourage teams from making the offer to the middling players.

Lohse, having just had the best year of his career, shouldn’t have to be scrounging for work especially in the same off-season in which Melky Cabrera—suspended for PED use and having taken part in an elaborate scheme to get away with it—received $16 million from the Blue Jays. This is not what Marvin Miller had in mind when he fought for the players’ collective freedoms to go where they want to go based on their performance and the market, not to preserve the right to draft some kid coming out of high school 15th overall who might never make it past A ball.

No solution helps Lohse now. He’s on the sidelines not because his demands are too steep, but because teams wouldn’t want to trade the pick and the contract money for Lohse even if he was coming at a discount for one year. Lohse isn’t a great pitcher and there’s every chance that he was a creation of Dave Duncan and will revert to the mediocre and worse pitcher he was in every prior stop before getting to the Cardinals, but he doesn’t deserve to receive the prototypical “death penalty” as if he was a football coach and committed an NCAA recruiting violation.

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The Bourn Signing From All The Angles

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For Michael Bourn

A 4-year, $48 million contract with an option for 2017 making it possibly worth $60 million over five years isn’t what Bourn and agent Scott Boras had in mind when the asking price was around $15 million annually. Considering the market, the late date and that Bourn was costing a draft pick and the loss of money to spend in the draft, it’s a good contract for him.

The Indians are a relatively low-pressure atmosphere in spite of the spending and Terry Francona is an easy manager to play for. Bourn shows up to work every day and does his job. He’s durable, will steal 50 bases and play excellent defense in center field.

For the Indians

The concerns about Bourn’s age (30) and that he’s a “speed” player are overblown. For the life of the contract, he’ll be able to play his game and can hit independent of his speed. The Indians are being aggressive in a way they haven’t in years. Their rebuild had stagnated with the players they acquired in the CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee trades contributing very little. With Nick Swisher, Bourn and Mark Reynolds added to the lineup, they’ll score more runs and be better defensively. Their starting pitching is the key. Unless Ubaldo Jimenez reverts to what he was in 2010 with the Rockies, Trevor Bauer develops quickly and they squeeze whatever remains in Scott Kazmir and/or Daisuke Matsuzaka, they’re around a .500 team. Francona’s not a miracle worker and short of the Indians turning around and hiring Dave Duncan, they can’t manufacture pitchers out of nothing.

For Scott Boras

It’s naïve to think that Boras, when asking for the $75 million for Bourn, hadn’t calculated the factor of draft pick compensation and that the number of teams willing to spend that kind of money on Bourn was limited. Compared to what he publicly suggested as Bourn’s asking price to what he got, it’s a loss. But Boras is smart enough to know and to have conveyed to his client that the numbers might have to come down to get a long-term deal done and he’d have to sign with an unexpected entrant into the sweepstakes like the Indians.

For the Mets

If they’d gotten him, Bourn represented an upgrade in center field and signaled that the Mets weren’t sitting on the sidelines and yessing their fans to death with no intention of sealing the deal. I wrote about the positives and negatives for the Mets with Bourn and risking the 11th pick in the upcoming draft to sign him. If Sandy Alderson and the Mets were telling Bourn to hold off on signing a contract to see if they could get the compensation pick waived, they’re at best arrogant and at worst delusional. Had Bourn stalled the Indians, they might’ve told him to take a hike knowing that he was waiting out the Mets. Bourn took the deal in hand and was wise to do so.

The Mets weren’t pulling any sleight of hand to trick their fans and the media to think they were serious when they really weren’t, but it’s easy to see how some can view it that way. In the end, it’s Michael Bourn. He’s a useful player who would’ve helped the Mets, but not someone to get into a frenzy over either way.

For Francona and other managers

Imagine what Manny Acta is thinking right as he watches this. In his first managerial job, he was saddled with the woeful Nationals, had the difficult personalities Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes and Scott Olsen in his clubhouse, and got fired from a team that wouldn’t have won with Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre, Casey Stengel or any other managerial luminary overseeing it. In 2013, they’ve got the talent to win 100 games and have the veteran Davey Johnson at the helm.

Then Acta went to the Indians, overachieved in 2011 with limited talent and was fired when the team played up to their potential with 90+ losses in two of his three seasons.

Acta has no power to dictate terms. The above-mentioned names did. Francona does. None of those name managers would take that kind of job once they’ve established themselves as “winners” who can be sold as such to the fanbase. This has happened before. Lou Piniella was hired by the Devil Rays and promised that they were going to spend money. They didn’t and all he did was lose. He left and was absolved of blame for what happened in Tampa due to his reputation and previous work with the Mariners, Reds and Yankees. Hired by the Cubs, they spent big on free agents and were in the playoffs in his first season.

That’s how it works before the fact. Sometimes spending on a name manager and expensive players fails in practice as we saw with the 2012 Marlins and Ozzie Guillen. Guillen, a manager with a championship and successful run with the White Sox, will have trouble getting another job after that one disastrous year with the Marlins.

This is life for managers when they’re trying to gain footing or replenish a reputation. Fleeting and subjective, a manager is judged on perception and results. Acta is a good tactical manager and the players like him, but he’s been stuck with bad teams. Whether he gets another shot remains to be seen. He probably will and, as is customary, success hinges on the players the front office gives him.

Francona wasn’t immune to it either. He too had to fend off the somewhat accurate belief that he got the Red Sox job because of Curt Schilling, and that he’d work cheap while taking orders from the front office. It’s partially true. Francona won two World Series titles and he’s able to dictate that he’ll be paid handsomely and his team will spend money on “name” players. Francona did his time in the minors and managing a horrible Phillies team, now he’s reaping the benefits of his work with the Red Sox as the Indians are giving him players that Acta never had. He, unlike Acta, will be expected to win. If he doesn’t, he’ll suffer the same fate as Acta, only it will be pricier in terms of money and the future with the bartered draft picks, not to mention Francona’s reputation.

The Indians have put forth the image of “trying.” Now, they have to “do.”

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The Diamondbacks Grind Justin Upton Out Of Arizona

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The Diamondbacks sought offers from Justin Upton almost immediately upon Kevin Towers taking over as GM and in all that time—two-and-a-half years—they never gave a legitimate reason as to why. Few could formulate an obvious justification to place a 25-year-old outfielder with speed, solid defensive skills and power on the trade block so publicly.

Now that Upton has been traded to the Braves, it’s being said that the Diamondbacks wanted more “grinders,” and that Upton wasn’t that type of player. This would be fine if they were exchanging an easily replaceable player who didn’t fit into the clubhouse dynamic they were trying to create, but Upton isn’t a journeyman player. He’s not even a potential All-Star if all breaks right. He’s an MVP candidate in his mid-20s, signed to a reasonable long-term contract worth $38.5 million through 2015.

The pat excuses—lack of money; clubhouse malcontent; rebuilding—didn’t fit with the desperation to trade Upton, so it appeared as if they were trading him just for the sake of it. This all goes back to the hiring of Towers and the 2011 division title. I doubt that when Towers was hired he expected a few bullpen moves and the pieces that were already in place would result in a stunning NL West title. There was no rebuilding project to undertake because they won immediately with the remnants of what former GMs Josh Byrnes and his interim replacement Jerry Dipoto had left for Towers and manager Kirk Gibson to work with.

That division title might have hypnotized the Diamondbacks into thinking they were better than they actually were; into believing that the edited, simplistic version of Towers’s resume and the four playoff appearances and one pennant he won as GM of the Padres were accurate as a final determinative factor of his quality of work. In reality, the NL West was a weak division that the Padres won in back to back seasons in 2005 and 2006 because they were the best of a rotten bunch. Somehow, Towers garnered a reputation that he never truly earned. He’s a competent executive to be sure, but as for someone whose every word should be adhered to because he has a “track record of success,” it’s highly presumptuous. Towers’s executive accomplishments may be true, but they’re not 100% accurate.

All the speculation that there might have been off-field issues with Upton (because there was no other possible explanation for this obsession to trade him) were rendered moot when it was strategically leaked that he wasn’t intense enough to suit Towers and Gibson. As a response to search for reasons to the publicly inexplicable solicitation of offers for Upton, the Diamondbacks found one that can’t be quantified, therefore not disputed as anything other than an opinion.

Because Gibson was a run through the wall, football-mentality type doesn’t mean that’s what every player has to be in order to be successful. I’m not of the mind that the manager is a faceless, nameless functionary installed to implement front office edicts, but I’m also not of the mind to bend over backwards to adjust the roster to fit what the manager wants to do, especially when it involves trading a player who has the ability to win the MVP. The recent death of Earl Weaver and the accompanying tributes and obituaries discussed his love for the 3-run homer, defense and pitching, but Weaver was also able to adapt when he didn’t have the personnel to play that way. Gibson is not Weaver and sounds as if he’s distancing himself from the implication that he wanted tougher players than Upton.

Here’s the impression I get from the way this entire mess played itself out: Towers arrived as Diamondbacks GM, looked at the prospective 2011 roster and felt there were too many holes to fill through making small trades and affordable free agent signings. He sent feelers out regarding Upton hoping for a massive haul to rebuild the team and contend in perhaps 2012-2013. No massive offer came and they held onto Upton. Things went perfectly in 2011, they won the division with Upton finishing fourth in the MVP voting and they were suddenly viable contenders for the immediate future. After trading for Trevor Cahill and making a bizarre signing in Jason Kubel, they were going for it all in 2012. But they didn’t win it all. The pitching had injuries and the rotation and bullpen weren’t as good in 2012 as they were in 2011. They wound up at .500.

Who was to blame? Judging by what they just did it was Upton and his lack of fire. 2012 and the ongoing saga notwithstanding, the damage was done in late 2010 when Towers tossed Upton out there as a negotiable entity. Upton seemed perplexed and hurt by the trade talk but was great in 2011. In 2012, he played through injuries and his numbers suffered. This didn’t stop Diamondbacks’ Managing General Partner Ken Kendrick from calling out Upton and Stephen Drew for substandard play. Never mind that it’s been revealed that Upton had an injured thumb or that Drew was returning from a ghastly ankle injury, they weren’t playing up to Kendrick’s standards and he tore into them.

The Diamondbacks still had Upton on the table at mid-season 2012 and made their intentions clear when they signed Cody Ross for three-years and a whopping $26 million. There was nowhere for Upton to play. Towers traded for Heath Bell, whose main skill at grinding is grinding on the nerves of teammates, coaches, managers and front office people.

Clamoring for a shortstop, Towers traded his own former top draft pick Trevor Bauer to the Indians in a three-team trade that brought them Didi Gregorius from the Reds. Towers immediately compared to Gregorius to Derek Jeter. Then he agreed upon a trade of Upton to the Mariners knowing that the Mariners were one of the teams on Upton’s no-trade list and having been told beforehand that Upton was not going to okay the move under any circumstances. Like an undaunted explorer, Towers was formulating new ways to venture to the point of no return.

In the trade with the Braves, he sent Upton and Chris Johnson to Atlanta and acquired another shortstop Nick Ahmed along with Martin Prado, Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill.

He’s got the young Jeter in Gregorius, I’m waiting for him to compare Ahmed to Nomar Garciaparra to have his very own late-1990s, inter-organizational war as to who’s better, Nomar or Derek.

The Diamondbacks finished off their Upton gaffe and obviously didn’t learn the error of their ways when, with Prado, they announced that they planned to sign him to a long-term contract to prevent his free agency after 2013. How about talking to his agent first and seeing what he wants before boxing oneself and making Prado’s contract extension a necessity rather than a desire?

Then it became public that they were going to try and trade for Rick Porcello of the Tigers. The Diamondbacks are a club that operates under the pretext of going beyond full disclosure to overexposure without understanding what kind of damage they’re doing to their plans (if they have any).

There’s been no acknowledgement of what got them in this situation in the first place: The Upton rumors that started when Towers first took the job. If there’s no accepting and admitting of the problem, then the problem can’t be solved. Towers wanted a shortstop in exchange for Upton and was trying to get Jurickson Profar from the Rangers. When the Rangers said no, he turned his attention to minor leaguers like the ones listed above. His current big league shortstops are Cliff Pennington, Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald—none of whom are any good.

Are they rebuilding? Are they trying to win now? Is Towers undoing what was there when he arrived and trying to tailor a club to fit his manager even though the manager is the first one to go when things come undone?

The Diamondbacks put themselves in this position and rather than climb out of the hole they’ve dug, they’re continuing to dig hoping that digging deeper yields an escape route. Logic dictates that it won’t and they’ll keep making things worse until it won’t matter what kind of team they want because the players they have aren’t good enough.

Upton was good enough. He’ll be showing that with the Braves in 2013 and beyond as the Diamondbacks grind themselves into the ground.

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Why Are the Diamondbacks So Desperate to Deal Justin Upton?

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The proposed trade of Justin Upton to the Mariners was rejected by Upton because the Mariners are one of four clubs on his no-trade list. With a heavy return consisting of a situational lefty (Charlie Furbush), a young middle infield prospect (Nick Franklin), a young righty reliever with closer potential (Stephen Pryor), and one of the following young starters: Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen or James Paxton, in theory the trade made sense for the Diamondbacks. Given their overflow of outfielders, someone (or two) has to go.

It has seemed at times that Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers is collecting outfielders just for the sake of it. Apart from the Upton trade talks a year ago, there was no reason for him to pay $16 million last winter to sign Jason Kubel when Kubel was replacing Gerardo Parra who had a career year offensively and defensively—winning a Gold Glove—in 2011. He signed Kubel anyway. Kubel had a hot start to the season making the signing look like the work of a genius, but once the National League figured out Kubel’s weaknesses (he has a slow bat and doesn’t hit lefties), he had a dreadful second half.

This winter, Towers replicated the Kubel signing more expensively from the opposite side of the plate by signing Cody Ross to a 3-year, $26 million contract. Ross can hit both lefties and righties and can crush a fastball, so he’s more of an everyday player than Kubel, but there’s a glaring redundancy of the flawed outfielders that Towers insists on signing to fill holes that didn’t exist.

Compounded by the trade of Chris Young to the Athletics for a no-hit shortstop Cliff Pennington, the Diamondbacks now have three no-hit shortstops with Pennington, Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald. In addition, they traded their top young pitching prospect Trevor Bauer in a three-way trade to bring in a young shortstop, Didi Gregorius, who Towers ridiculously compared to Derek Jeter. Bauer had made no friends in the organization with his mouth and unwillingness to listen to suggestions from anyone and didn’t hesitate to make that known publicly. But Towers drafted Bauer. Shouldn’t he have been aware of his personality before the fact?

Interestingly, one of the reasons the Diamondbacks—under former GM Josh Byrnes—were able to acquire Ian Kennedy was because the Yankees had tired of his mouth and he didn’t listen.

Like the line from the film The Town, “You need a Venn diagram for these people.”

When Towers was hired, the Diamondbacks were an organization in apparent disarray. In the midst of a 2010 season in which they’d lose 97 games, they fired their longtime GM Byrnes at mid-season along with his hand-picked, inexperienced manager A.J. Hinch and replaced them with Jerry Dipoto and Kirk Gibson. Dipoto made several housecleaning trades that set the stage for the club’s stunning division title in 2011. Towers rebuilt the bullpen. The one thing Towers is good at is building a bullpen. Apart from that, his history has been one of haphazard, lateral maneuvers and a significant amount of luck.

No one has come up with an acceptable reason that Upton is on the block to begin with.

Is it attitude? There’s never been a report of Upton causing problems and he’s certainly got a better reputation than his brother B.J. Upton. The same B.J. Upton to whom the notoriously prickly and behavior-oriented Braves just gave $75 million. Any off-field problems and desire for “good guys” is counteracted by the Diamondbacks trading for Heath Bell. When compiling a list of players with bad reputations, Bell will be in everyone’s top 10.

Playing ability? Upton was the first overall pick in the 2005 MLB Draft, is a power hitter with speed and is a good defensive right fielder.

Age? He’ll be 26 in August.

Money? He’s signed at a comparatively cheap $38.5 million through 2015.

A better replacement? They don’t have a better replacement.

I suppose you can make the argument that he’s their biggest asset and would yield the largest return, but the team is trying to win. Doesn’t Upton help them in that goal better than replacing him with some conglomeration of a Furbush, Ross, Kubel and a mass of young players that may or may not make it?

In looking for a “why?” of Towers’s frantic attempts to trade Upton that seemingly were in place immediately upon getting the job, his accompanying decisions have made clear that there may not be a reason and if there is, the public doesn’t know about it. But we can only judge by what’s known and via that metric, combined with the other things Towers has done in his time on the job, Upton’s availability not as a “we’ll listen,” but as a “we have to get this guy outta here,” simply doesn’t pass the smell test.

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Can Kazmir Take The Abuse?

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The Indians are in the middle of a rapid/deliberate rebuild with a new manager (Terry Francona), a new right fielder (Nick Swisher), and a new top prospect (Trevor Bauer). Amid this flurry of moves, they also decided to take a shot on a former phenom who once had a similarly bright future to Bauer, Scott Kazmir.

Kazmir has had a star-crossed career from top draft pick of the Mets in 2002; to being traded by the Mets; to becoming the ace of the Tampa Bay Rays and receiving a long term contract; to being traded to the Angels and flaming out completely with injuries and ineffectiveness.

Seemingly changed from the swaggering, fastball-heaving lefty he was, Kazmir was out of baseball and trying out for big league clubs without an offer being made. He went to the Independent League Sugar Land Skeeters (the same team for whom Roger Clemens pitched last year), and posted a 3-6 record with 74 hits allowed in 64 innings and poor across-the-board numbers. If he still had a lot left in the tank as the same pitcher he was, he should’ve done far better than that for an Independent League team.

If Kazmir is willing to change to accommodate his limited stuff, hopeful comparisons will inevitably be made to another lefty pitcher who reinvented himself to win a lot of games, make himself a lot of money, and earn widespread respect for his determination and willingness to become something different than what he was to succeed—Jamie Moyer.

But there are significant differences between Moyer and Kazmir as pitchers and people. Moyer never threw that hard to begin with. When he began the long journey from released pitcher at age 29, he was offered a coaching job by the Cubs and turned it down choosing to keep trying to make it as a pitcher. He didn’t have much of a backup plan nor a lot of money in the bank. He wasn’t a bonus baby as a 6th round pick in 1984 and by the time his career as a big league player appeared over in 1992, he’d made slightly more than $1 million.

It took Moyer another year-plus in the minors and three years in the big leagues bouncing between the Orioles, Red Sox and Mariners before baseball people looked up and realized that perhaps Moyer had figured something out. He’d never had any substantial success in the big leagues before his reinvention.

Kazmir is not in that position. He was an All-Star, the ace of a pennant winner and made over $30 million as a player. Unless he’s been idiotically wasteful, he never has to work another day in his life. He’s willing to swallow his pride to take a minor league deal and get a chance with the Indians, but will he go to the minors and stay there, altering the way he’s pitched all his life with power and dominance? Will he bounce to another team if the Indians tell him they’re sorry, but they don’t think he can help?

What makes it more difficult for Kazmir is the personality that so grated on veterans with the Mets and was a large part of his mound presence. He might have the same personality, but there won’t be the goods to back it up if he’s no longer blowing people away. The comments he’s going to hear in spring training if he’s popping maximum 84-88 instead of 93 are difficult to take for someone of his former stature and attitude. It will get worse if he decides to go down to the minors. Someone like Moyer could take hearing such clever witticisms as, “Hey, I’ve never seen a butterfly land on the ball in mid-flight!” Or, “Now pitching: Eephus Pus!!” Or “They’re clocking your velocity with a sundial!!” Or when he gives up a tape-measure homer, “Did they serve dinner on that flight? Buy a first class ticket and see, big shot!”

It’s embarrassing and tough to swallow. Is Kazmir humbled enough after his crash and eventual release by the Angels and determined enough to take that abuse without saying, “The hell with this,” and leaving?

I’m not so sure.

What Moyer did is unlikely to happen again anytime soon. Moyer could take it and give it back. Why did he do it? Possibly it’s because of money; possibly it’s because of not knowing what else to do with himself; possibly it’s because he didn’t want to give up; and possibly it’s because he was too hard-headed to listen when everyone—everyone—was telling him to move on.

Moyer realized that he wasn’t going to suddenly develop a 95-mph fastball, so he began to transform himself into a craftsman who could still get a fastball in the low-to-mid-80s past a hitter using control, intelligence and by changing speeds. It’s not as easy as “pitch like this.” It takes work.

Is Kazmir prepared to sacrifice his energy, time and pride to put in that level of effort and make it back as Moyer did? It takes a deep commitment and given what Kazmir was and what he is now, his career trajectory has replicated another lefty who was a high draft pick and had a brief career as a top tier starter with a power fastball. He lost the fastball and bounced from team to team, altering his delivery, having surgeries and trying to get it back—Steve Avery. He never did get it back and was done at 33.

Will Kazmir be a Moyer? Or will he be an Avery?

It all depends on him, what he’s willing to do and how much he’ll take to get it.

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Reds, Indians and Diamondbacks 3-Way Trade Hinges on Bauer and Gregorius

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The Reds, Indians and Diamondbacks completed a three team trade that broke down in the following way:

Let’s look at this from the perspectives of all three.

For the Reds:

The 29-year-old Choo was back to his normal self in 2012 after a terrible 2011 season that included an injury to his oblique and a DUI arrest. He hits for power, steals bases with a high rate of success, walks, and hits for average. He does strike out a lot, his defense is statistically on the decline, and he’s a free agent at the end of the 2012 season. The Reds have said they’re going to play him in center field but it’s a ridiculous idea. Reds’ right fielder Jay Bruce has experience in center and Choo has played 10 career games at the position in the majors.

Choo is going to want a lot of money on the market next winter, will be in demand and is represented by Scott Boras. The Reds aren’t expecting him to sign a long-term extension, so he’s a one-year rental and a good one. He makes the team better offensively than they were with the free-swinging strikeout machine Stubbs, and as long as Bruce can play an adequate center, the defensive downgrade is negligible—Stubbs wasn’t exactly Paul Blair out there.

Donald is a versatile backup infielder replacing former utilityman Todd Frazier who will take over as the everyday third baseman.

Gregorius was blocked by Zack Cozart at shortstop and the Reds did very well considering they only gave up Stubbs and a minor league shortstop they really didn’t need.

For the Indians:

For better or worse, new Indians manager Terry Francona is having his voice heard by the front office and they’re looking toward the long-term by acquiring a potential frontline starter in Bauer. Albers is known to Francona from their days with the Red Sox. Also known by Francona is Anderson, for whom he had no use with the Red Sox and couldn’t wait to be rid of from the Indians.

Stubbs is a decent journeyman outfielder with pop. He’s going to strike out over 200 times a year and combining him with Mark Reynolds in the Indians lineup will create enough wind power to benefit both the Indians and the Reds by reducing energy costs for the entire state if they choose to use their baseball detriments for a statewide positive.

For the Diamondbacks:

Apparently Bauer’s “attitude” issues were a problem in spite of the Diamondbacks repeatedly saying they weren’t. If a rookie is arriving in the big leagues with a unique motion, a big mouth and he won’t listen to anyone, there’s going to be tension especially when the manager is an old-school type in Kirk Gibson and the pitching coach is a former big league All-Star in Charles Nagy. Teams love a youngster with attitude and feistiness until they need to bridle him and that attitude and feistiness circles back on them and he’s ignoring them. That appears to be what happened with Bauer. In general, very few players—especially high draft choices in whom clubs have invested a lot of money—aren’t going to change until they decide to do so or if they repeatedly fail at the big league level and find themselves trapped in the minors. With Bauer, the “this or that” was about three years away, if it happened at all, so they cut their losses.

There are a couple of ways to look at this: first you can credit the Diamondbacks for accepting that the player they selected 3rd overall in 2011 isn’t a fit for their organization and they moved him before concerns turned into a full-blown disaster. Or they can be criticized because they drafted him and should’ve known all of these things beforehand, calculating the negatives with the positives and perhaps shying away from him for another player.

That they got Gregorius as the centerpiece with the useful lefty reliever Sipp (he can get out both lefties and righties), and Anderson is a very limited return on a former top three pick who, to our knowledge, isn’t hurt.

No one should be surprised considering the warning flags on Bauer. I wrote about it before he was drafted here when he was absurdly compared to Tim Lincecum, and it was discussed in this Yahoo piece. Those same warning flags were basically screaming to stay away from him. I wouldn’t have touched Bauer, but the Diamondbacks drafted him based on talent and it took a year-and-a-half for them to see that that iconoclasm was either not going to change or the package they unwrapped wasn’t worth the time and aggravation it was going to cost to get him to change.

The Indians are banking on that talent, got him for relatively little, and didn’t have to pay the $3.4 million signing bonus Bauer received from the Diamondbacks. Perhaps Francona can get through to him or they’ll just let him be in a way the Diamondbacks wouldn’t. Francona’s far more laid back than the hair-trigger Gibson.

He’s an iffy prospect at this point and it’s clear GM Kevin Towers‘s decision to trade him is an admission that they shouldn’t have drafted him in the first place; they realized that and dumped him before it truly spiraled. What makes the decision to select Bauer even worse is that Towers is often lauded for his player-like sensibilities. He’s not a highly educated outsider who decided to enter a baseball front office. He played in the minors and knows players and the clubhouse dynamic, yet still chose to draft Bauer and look past the obvious.

Towers is a mediocre GM. The Bauer drafting and subsequent trade is a blot on his resume right up there with his ridiculous waiver claim on Randy Myers in 1998 while GM of the Padres—a decision that almost got him fired. With the Diamondbacks, he benefited greatly from a lot of luck and pieces that were in place prior to his hiring and the club won the NL West in 2011 before falling back closer in line to their talent level with a .500 finish in 2012.

Towers compared Gregorius to a “young Derek Jeter.” Having watched video clips of him, Gregorius looks more like a lefty swinging Hanley Ramirez. At first glance (there’s a video clip below), he’s impressive and fills a need at shortstop for the club. If he evolves into that (sans the Ramirez-style attitude that got Bauer shipped out), then it will be a great deal for the Diamondbacks. If not, it was costly on a multitude of levels for Towers, whose rose, as expected, is losing its bloom in the Arizona desert.

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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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