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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Dayton Game | Competitive Rotation Edition

Tyler Drenon


  Dayton Moore has been busy in Kansas City, constantly re-shuffling the deck in his game of rotation solitaire. The recent notion that the Royals were a few starters from serious contention was rather optimistic. The core is still very young and a lot of the future strength in the line up and defense has not coalesced. The bullpen looks promising but every pen is volatile from year to year. Only one spot in the "competitive" rotation will probably be filled by a player that started last season with the team. Moore's attempt at building a rotation that can hang has been tough to watch so far. Adding big dollars and trading cheap assets. One spot is a given…

OPENING DAY STARTER: JAMES SHIELDS
I feel bad for Shields. He has been a stalwart for Tampa. What an awful place for a for such an innovative front office. He's had a positive attitude about coming to The K. And watching him pitch will be a very pleasant change from the soul-shriveling starters of the recent past.
So far, the 2012/13 offseason has seen three major starters call the movers: Zack Greinke, R.A. Dickey, and James Shields. In that regard, it's good that Moore was able to land one of the top three (Josh Johnson excluded due to injuries.) It seems KC's front office can't get anything done without somehow managing to lose the effort. The merits of each pitcher can be debated, but they aren't absolutely legit aces like Verlander, Felix, Kershaw, etc. This group seems to define the #1B starter. The Royals didn't have the money to get Greinke back…if he would've even considered it. They would've had trouble landing any marquee starter no matter their payroll. Why would you choose Ned Yost? Or the club that treated Gil Meche's arm like a medieval catapult? So the Royals turned to the trade market, headlined by Shields and Dickey to date. But what could have been? Did the Mets demand Myers for Dickey? What did Tampa Bay want for Cy Price? And could Moore keep him if he got him?
Many rumors swirled, but it seems David Price could've been had. Who knows what it would've taken…maybe allowing the rumors was Tampa GM Andrew Friedman's way of saying, "Begin preparing your offers." Price is currently under team control until after the 2015 season, but he will outgrow them soon. Assuming he continues throwing neutrons, he will be on the receiving end of some seriously curve-setting salary cases. But at the very least, he would bring the same draft compensation for KC that Shields will when he walks after 2014, or Moore could've moved Price for an infusion of young players before his free agency. AND HE WON THE CY YOUNG. Price reigns as the best pitcher in the AL. Probably in the conversation for the best on the face of the Earth. Much more worthy of being traded for Myers (though he probably would've cost them an additional ML player…) It would've been tough. And Moore must've asked about it. Right?
The Rays probably set the tone early. "You want Shields? Myers or bust." I do feel bad for miniaturizing Big Game James. He's a remarkable pitcher. But R.A. Dickey is in the same category. And he seemingly could've been had without losing Wil Myers, who is an excellent player in his own right. However, the best thing about Myers may be the mercy he would show us all in euthanizing the lineups featuring the current right fielder.  Dickey was willing to sign a two year extension with Toronto. Same value as Shields. AND HE WON THE CY YOUNG. I'm glad the team didn't trade Myers for him, but a trade for the Nerdy Knuckler (without losing the best hitting prospect in baseball) seems like it was a possibility. Maybe not. But he wouldn't have cost them as much as Shields.
The reality is: The Royals did trade Myers for Shields. And it is exciting. This year. This could be the best KC team in a decade, maybe two. And he's the ace. His SIERA has been consistently bottoming out over the course of his career and his K/9 has been rising. He's basically just a sequence of parabolas. And he keeps gradually cutting back on fly balls. He'll easily be the best starter in KC since Greinke, and probably Appier before that squirrelly bastard. 
Maybe Myers will continue to strike out a lot. Maybe he'll do his best Colby Rasmus impression. But I don't think Joe Maddon will run him out of town if Myers' dad hurts his feelings. And Rasmus may still live up to some of the hype. Perhaps if Jake Odorizzi were not included in the deal, it would have been received better by the fan base. But that may have kept them from acquiring…

WADE DAVIS

He has been compared to a more advanced version of Odorizzi. Being advanced certainly takes some of the patience out of equation and it probably helped that he shares Google search criteria with real-life zombie author, E. Wade Davis. I'm sure Moore believes in science-bending voodoo mummies. Maybe Francoeur can play some winter ball in Haiti. 
Davis found a niche in the bullpen last year and really took off. That may be viewed as a back up plan for him if his projected role doesn't pan out. His contract, however, does not support this at all. The team has escalating options for '15 ($7MM,) '16 ($8MM,) and '17 ($10MM.) KC can't afford to pay a reliever that much. It looks like Friedman saw that coming for his club. So as a worst case scenario, Shields and Davis will be gone in 2015 and Myers will be cleaning up for the Rays. 
His career ERA as a starter is 4.22. He benefitted substantially from pitching at the Trop (3.44 ERA vs. 4.59 ERA on the road.) The AL East is tough. Not only because of the ritzy lineups pitchers have to face, but they have to toe the hill in a pastiche of bandboxes and a tumbledown funhouse in Boston. In AL Central parks, Davis has thrown to a 4.80 ERA in 56.1 IP. So did he learn anything from the bullpen? Will he thrive against plankton like Cleveland and Minnesota? 
Well, He will experience a velocity decrescendo, but the Rays were satisfied with him enough to draw up this contract. And God knows they're better at this than Dayton Moore. Though when he struggled as a starter in Tampa, he could seek many accomplished players and coaches for support. Maybe KC's plan is to have Davis lock arms with the lion and the tin man and ask Dave Eiland.

JEREMY GUTHRIE

For 2013, Guthrie is a solid value at $5MM, but Moore signed him to a 3 year deal (!) with $11MM in '14 and $9MM in '15. These are not team options. This is the basic framework of the deal. Guthrie was traded for JONATHAN SANCHEZ last year. He was also designated for assignment by the worst pitching team in baseball. How was the front office sandbagged into this contract? Was Guthrie's agent Marshall Applewhite? The only way he can earn this contract is a return to his 2007-08 form. He will turn 36 before the contract expires. Maybe he channels Woody Williams and finds a meritorious valley in the plane of his career ERA, but the leverage was not there for his camp for such an iron-clad commitment. Just because he has thrown 200 innings doesn't mean deserves the chance. Especially not with a sample size of 14 positive starts for the Royals. 
I don't hate the fact that he was re-signed, but the deal is total spineless garbage. One year $8MM tops. Maybe a team option for '14. It isn't as if he was an ace in Baltimore and simply struggled in the thin air in Denver. He was good in his late 20s (when most players show their stuff) as an innings eater (4.12 ERA 1.27 WHIP in 983.1 IP.) And the deal rewards him as such, but there must have been a better configuration coming off of his Coors bender. He was bad enough that the Rockies (yes, the pitching barren ROCKIES!) tapped out 19 games in. 
He may benefit further from the AL Central's mediocrity continuum. There were some excellent stretches last year, but three years worth? Here's to hopin' for another Midwestern back yard Guthrie revival.

ERVIN SANTANA

Santana is a Band-Aid solution for 2012…but he's a used Band-Aid floating over the shallow end of a public pool. Only he costs $12MM. His salary is actually $13MM, but LA was kind enough to kick in enough money for GEICO to put a deposit down for a new ad agency. 
Starting the offseason out with the acquisition of Santana did not bode well for the mindset Moore had taken in the "competitive rotation" endeavor. He was the most home run prone pitcher in baseball last year. The rate at which he has been lit up puts him in the most exclusive class of punching bags…almost 2 HR per nine innings. Santana's waning fastball retreated to a career low 91.6 MPH near the end of last year. Writers noticed Dan Haren and Tommy Hanson had similar concerns, but they had those same concerns with Felix Hernandez. So its not a death sentence, but it isn't a harbinger of fabulous things to come. The most alarming stat from Santana's god awful 2012 undertaking was his .241 BABIP. His lowest as a pro -- over forty points below his career average. Last year could've been a lot worse to Santana.
Perhaps the bandage will hold, but there were numerous alternatives. Most of them free agents, which is by and large improbable in the present. One cannot blame free agents for spurning KC since the Meche fiasco. And their status as perennial pants-crappers. So, there went the interest of even the most moderate winter headliners (i.e. Haren, Ed Jackson, Kyle Loshe, etc.) On the trade market, Tommy Hanson was had at a similar price. Brandon Sisk may be a LOOGY at best in the majors, but Jordan Walden isn't the kind of asset Hanson would've commanded a year ago. In fact, it probably would've been foolish to ask. The newly haloed righty struggled in 2012. His velocity tailed off, but he also dealt with a BABIP 20 points above his career average. Moore must've had his ear to the ground on this deal, considering his Atlanta heritage. Maybe he has moved on from his roots (unfortunately he has chosen Rockies castoffs instead.) Hanson will make twenty four times less than Santana this season. Then he'll hit arbitration. He is a raffle and he may have cost the Royals Collins or Crow. A risky starter is a risky starter, but Hanson certainly has more upside and wouldn't have inhibited the team's financial flexibility like Santana has for Moore's All In movement. That flexibility may have been put to good use to replace a reliever or fill the final spot in the rotation…

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Someone has to take the ball before the rotation turns over. Despite having 3 guys who be fifth starters or in the bullpen on a legitimate contender, Kansas City will have to choose from a wide variety of sad sacks and flunkies. The list includes two more orphaned Rockies (yes, pitchers from the ROCKIES,) unproven commodities, and projects on the mend. Moore was looking for depth and if that was simply in reference to the number of pitchers that may be forced into action, he's done it. 

BRUCE CHEN

I'm not sure what the worst thing has been about the attention Chen has received over the last few years. Is it being the butt of the laziest Will Ferrell joke ever? That would be pretty bad coming from the guy who co-wrote the meandering Talladega script. Or is it the commentary on his gum chomping (as seen by the jaundiced leather sack sitting next to Ryan Lefebvre?) Or the fascination with his harmonious medley of arm slots that baffled hitters to a 5.07 ERA last year? 
Chen has actually had some recent success and he parlayed it into a $4.5MM salary for 2013. This would seem to give him the inside track to the 5-spot. The Royals simply have more invested in his success. Its no guarantee, though. Especially if he continues to spin his wheels against lefties. He also appeared to have trouble keeping his "fast" ball down against RHB. Which would seem to obliterate the already hallucinatory interest in Chen on the trade market. There may have been a vague curiosity during his 3.77 ERA-campaign in 2011. Last year, the Panamaniac saw his K/9 and BB/9 improve. His opponents BABIP was up, along with his HR/FB%. It seems likely that these numbers return to his career averages, which is congruent with Bill James' regression to the mean prediction (4.25 ERA.) With a little luck Chen may be of some use. 

LUIS MENDOZA

He may be Chen's most realistic competition for the opening in the sequence. The average ERA for MLB starting pitchers was 4.22 in 2012. Mendoza tossed to a 4.23 ERA. He's so vanilla he may simply vanish into thin air, which would make things easier on the coaching staff (not having to choose from the innocuous options of the Chendoza dialectic.) He may be the most deserving based on performance, and it would be interesting to see if he could build on his relative success. Spring will likely be the acid test. 
Mendoza found a groove late last season. This is more than likely the typical September smoke screen, but if he can keep things close, the offense may improve enough to make him useful. His slider found a home down in the zone, helping him induce the grounders that kept him on the mound. Otherwise he'd probably be pitching for the Pirates...the Campeche Pirates...in the Mexican League.

LUKE HOCHEVAR

$4,650,000 would certainly be worth it if Hochevar were pitching to the Royals…but since I'm pretty sure the contract stipulates that he pitches for the team, my first response is: Cut him. Not just from the team. The thought is: Someone should cut his pitching arm OFF. Actually, better make that both arms. Just so he doesn't attempt some kind of Def Leppard/ Jim Abbott comeback hybrid. 
The team could've been rid of him. A simple non-tender and we could all rest easy and pretend like it never really happened. They never drafted him over Kershaw and Lincecum. They didn't stubbornly march him out there to be lambasted year after year because of microscopic windows of positivity. 
This has to be the worst decision of Moore's tenure. Are they simply too proud to let him go? If they really think he is just one more tweak away, that would be much worse than plainly being unable to swallow a bitter pill. I actually hope it is pride, even though that pride would have no basis in reality. I've read he is on a short leash…But the team has made inexplicably mystifying decision concerning him so far. So I hold little hope. 

WILL SMITH

Alberto Callaspo would look good at second base on this team. Instead, Smith and the ghost of Sean O'Sullivan will have a chance to earn the fifth spot. He is still just 22 years old and probably not ready for The Show at this point. Some seasoning as a Storm Chaser seems prudent. One part of his approach that lends itself to a decent future is his SO/BB in the minors. He has never really struggled to get in the zone. If he has continued success he may be suited for a long relief role. Such a role will hopefully be drastically less utilized in 2013 than last year. 

EVERETT TEAFORD

It would be interesting to see if he could provide some value in the rotation. Although it was a subsidized sample size, his 6 starts in Omaha were not unimpressive. It is likely Teaford doesn't provide a long-term presence in the KC rotary, but he hasn't had much of a chance. The Kyle Davies era may have been a good time to find out. In 2012, Teaford lost opportunities because he couldn't get lefties out (21.1 IP 10/9 BB:K .300 BAA.) His role is likely in the pen with the occasional spot start for the guy with the most British name in baseball. He just sounds like a monocled Londoner picking biscuit morsels from a tea saucer.

AARON CROW

Where's that Hochevar hubris with Crow? 
They must be displaying it by keeping him in the bullpen. He has been pretty successful there, which is the most dominant reason he is not moving to the rotation. I mean, he's an All-Star for God's sake. The All-Star portion of his rookie year was actually only a 39 inning excerpt. The rest of his career has been very similar to his more recent ordinariness. And perhaps 2012 was an indication of what to expect: Inconsistency. 
He looks like a set up man at best. And that is only if he can iron out the kinks in his approach and perhaps add a third pitch to his bifurcated repertoire.
A move to the rotation has the potential of being a disaster. His numbers in the minors were an atrocity, but he is still somewhat young, which is what would've made him interesting trade bait. It's been just long enough that people may have forgotten the drop off after his All-Star appearance. And just soon enough that they remember it at all. Could he have supplanted Myers in the Shields trade? No. But he may have been enough (with others) for what would equate to two years of R.A. Dickey. Maybe they tried to dangle him. And maybe Crow's hometown boy appeal kept him from their list of movable assets. 

GUILLERMO MOSCOSO

A pattern has developed in purple and black.
Of his career 1.8 WAR, 1.4 were earned during a relatively splendid 2011 in Oakland. In 2012, Moscoso's HR/FB skyrocketed. Thin air. Hitter's park. Yea. Yea. And polar opposites as far as park effects, but HR/FB is a mercurial stat on its own. Some of his numbers suggest he was actually worse in 2011 than last year, but his career numbers en masse suggest he is marginal at best. Though not a bad gamble for the price. 
Coors is not as hitter-friendly as it used to be. So that can't be the only problem with the Rockies available in Moore and Dan O'Dowd's back-alley game of Go Fish. Thankfully, Moscoso (unlike Paulino and Guthrie) has not been given millions of dollars for briefly resurfacing after residing at ground level in Denver. 

DANNY DUFFY

He looked triumphant at times before the injury (especially his first start of 2012 at the Coliseum.) And you've got to smile at how quickly the team let him scoop up # 23. Don't get me wrong, I loved Greinke…Chipotle, Shawshank, rising from an emotional collapse to win the Cy Young. Actually, his CY campaign was one of the only positive elements of KC baseball in the last decade or so. But he did pull a mini-Dwightmare before he left the team.
Well, now Duffy wears the Jordan digits. And he may see some success in Kansas City, but its not likely to be significant in 2013. There won't be much time for him to make an impact as he is set to return somewhere between late summer and September. It won't be a good sign for Moore if Duffy is asked to pitch a large number of meaningful innings. There may be a few spot starts peppered in with long relief from the pragmatic side of the bullpen, if he is able to contribute at all. 

FELIPE PAULINO

Despite being the answer to the question: What would Oliver Platt look like in a baseball uniform?, Paulino was dominant in parts of 2012. Before he had his UCL bow-tied, he was an ace (over seven starts.) Then his arm gave out and gave way to streaming mediocrity. The injury may have been a sadistic long-term positive. If the Royals were smitten enough to sign Guthrie to a comparatively huge deal after just 14 starts, what would they have given Flip if he had made it through the year? He was twice as impressive in half as many starts (Paulino 1.67 ERA/ Guthrie 3.16 ERA.) Fortunately, 2013 Paulino will make a modest $1.75MM. He has therefore become the Goldilocks of the Colorado castoffs. Not too risky, not safe by any means, but certainly worth a continued interest at a reasonable cost. 
Paulino had almost no leverage in negotiations because of Tommy John surgery, but health alone shouldn't have allowed Guthrie & Co. to wrangle such a auspicious amount from Moore. Paulino may show promise again upon his return (which may not be until late autumn.) But of the two, retaining Paulino seems like the more sensible re-signing…because they don't have to pay him 25 MILLION DOLLARS!
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Moore was looking for depth. Well, he has warm bodies. And while his roster is more prepared to deal with injuries than last year, the quality of that depth could be hard for him to debate. So many possible directions, but these are the pitchers we get. Like a schizophrenic clutter of mismatched jigsaw pieces. Some seem to fit, but at disproportionate costs. Some simply boggle the mind. Looking at you Hochevar. But, of course, building a competitive rotation from scratch couldn't be considered an easy thing to do (especially with Glass at the helm.). Moore did make the team slightly better for 2013, and maybe they can hang in the pedestrian Central. Maybe one of his personified question marks will turn a corner and return to what we may be resigned to call glory. This certainly has the potential to be one of the most exciting seasons in years, but it comes at the expense of the future. There were many techniques Dayton Moore could have used to solve this Rubik's Cube, but he appears to have resorted to tearing the stickers off.  


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