Around this time last year, I wrote about some of the worst possible roster and player usage decisions that Dayton Moore and Trey Hillman could make for the 2009 team. Of the five I listed, the Royals ended up making two of them. This year I've come up with 10 bad decisions the Royals could make. Can the Royals do better than 40% this year? Let's see.
1. Jason Kendall catches 100 games? Dayton Moore and Trey Hillman like Jason Kendall a lot. They like his defense, his intangibles, his game calling and, in general, the cut of his jib. They also love that he’s an ironman who can catch a lot of games. Unfortunately his ironman reputation is just more bad news about Kendall. CHONE projects him to hit .245/.315/.306 with below average defense. The clearly grit-deficient Brayan Pena is projected to hit .282/.326/.415 with slightly worse defense. Statistically Pena is the superior catcher, but Moore and Hillman signed Kendall to be the starter.
Will they make this mistake? Yes. Clearly Moore and Hillman see Kendall’s value not in his hitting but in his leadership/mentoring/game-calling/grit/etc. While the numbers will be bad, I predict Hillman will love Kendall’s desire to play and the fact that he’s a "real ballplayer." Unless he gets hit by a bus, I expect Kendall to catch 130+ games. Yikes.
2. Alberto Callaspo isn’t the starting second baseman or doesn’t get 500 PA’s? Despite the fact that Alberto Callaspo was one of the Royals best position players in 2009, Dayton Moore acquired Chris Getz, a young second baseman in the offseason and Hillman has put the new guy at the top of the depth chart. Callaspo projects to be a plus hitter with poor defense and Getz projects to be a plus defender with poor hitting. More specifically, CHONE projects Callaspo’s offense to be +4 runs over 150 games and his defense to be -5 runs (net -1). Getz’s projection is -8 runs on offense and +3 runs on defense (net -5). So Callaspo certainly looks better. But some say Getz has more upside (even though they are the same age) so maybe giving him a shot isn’t entirely stupid. But Callaspo really is one of the team’s best overall position players, so they need to get him his PA’s somewhere, even if that means he’s a super-utility player all over the infield and logging some time at DH as well.
Will they make this mistake? Maybe, but probably not. Barring injury, I really think Getz is going to start at second base. But I don’t think he’s going to start 150 games at that or any other position. The position will likely be shared to some extent (with Aviles and Bloomquist probably getting some playing time there as well). And Callaspo can back up Gordon at third base. Gordon will rest from time to time, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Gordon played some first base with Butler at DH. It’s a close call, but I think his quality hitting will lead to 500+ PA’s for Callaspo.
3. Alex Gordon isn’t the starting third baseman? While Callaspo deserves playing time, it definitely shouldn’t come at the expense of Alex Gordon. In short, Gordon is one of the most talented players on the team and projects to be one of the team’s best hitters. As long as he’s healthy, he should play 150+ games at third base. This is a no-brainer.
Will they make this mistake? No. I think Moore and Hillman still like Gordon’s tools, athleticism and upside. They want as much as they can get out of him. But they also want to motivate him, so they are acting like he has to earn his starting position. I don’t know if that is the best use of sports psychology, but I really think that’s all they’re doing. Gordon is still the man.
4. Yuniesky Betancourt starts at shortstop all season? At this point, I really don’t need to explain that Yuniesky Betancourt is an exceptionally poor baseball player. He is. He projects to be a slightly above replacement level shortstop in 2010. Unfortunately, as the season starts, he’ll likely be the only Royals shortstop at 100%. But as Yuni fails and Mike Aviles’s arm gets back into shape, Aviles needs to get his job back. Aviles is much better than Betancourt. It’s just that simple.
Will they make this mistake? Yes. I think Moore and Hillman still see Betancourt as having star potential, or at least the potential to be very good. They see Aviles as someone who doesn’t look like a shortstop. To their eyes, he doesn’t have the right body and he doesn’t look like he’s got the kind of movement to cover a lot of ground. Yuni has the tools. So I think they’ll give him all season and probably some of next season to see if he can blossom into what they want him to be. All the while, a genuinely talented baseball player will spend time on the bench and occasionally play some second base.
5. The starting outfield does not include David DeJesus, Rick Ankiel and Mitch Maier? DeJesus goes without saying. Brian Anderson projects to be a worse hitter and fielder than Maier, so he’s out of the discussion. That leaves Maier, Ankiel and Podsednik. Ankiel projects to be a decent, below average corner OFer. Podsednik is a no-hit, pretty good defense corner OFer who can no longer play CF. In CF, his defense is very poor. Maier, on the other hand, is a plus defender, even in CF. So the best OF the Royals could put out there is Maier in CF and DeJesus and Ankiel on the corners.
Will they make this mistake? Yes. Apparently Ankiel was lured to Kansas City with the promise that he’d play centerfield. And both Moore and Hillman have basically said he’s the Royals centerfielder. And clearly with the three outfielder acquisitions, Moore doesn’t think very highly of Maier who might not even make the 25-man roster. And Podsednik is currently at the top of the depth chart in left field. So the Royals could have an ok but unimpressive DeJesus-Maier-Ankiel outfield but instead it looks like they are going to have a genuinely shitty Podsednik-Ankiel-DeJesus outfield. Adding one bad player to that outfield, and moving one decent player to his worst position really changes things. Hillman sure knows how to take limited talent and get the least out of it.
6. Jose Guillen gets playing time? Jose Guillen isn’t good at anything anymore. In the outfield, he’s a nightmare. Even Dayton Moore has publicly stated that Guillen’s outfield days are behind him. So that leaves DH. The problem is that anymore Guillen hits like shortstop. Alberto Callaspo, Josh Fields,Kila Ka’aihue, and Shane Costa all project to hit better than Guillen. And Guillen is much worse on the basepaths than pretty much every other player on the team. Is there any reason to play Jose Guillen? The miniscule chance that Guillen hits well enough for some team to make a deadline trade for him just isn’t reason enough for me. I don’t think he’ll hit well at all, and I don’t think any team will be interested in a slow, DH-only pinch hitter even if the Royals pay all of his remaining salary.
Will they make this mistake? Yes. Guillen has the big contract and I guess Moore and Hillman still think he’s a power hitter, despite all evidence. He’ll be the DH and probably most of the time. The only thing that will keep him from 500 PA’s is injuries, which thankfully are a virtual certainty.
7. Carlos Rosa and/or Kila Ka’aihue languish in Omaha? The projection systems say that Kila Ka’aihue would be a decent hitter for the Royals in 2010. CHONE projects him to have a .353 OBP. That would be huge on this team. Now maybe he wouldn’t hit that well. Or maybe he would, and with power too. Wouldn’t it be nice to find out, rather than experience the joy of Jose Guillen playing out the string of his career in Royal blue? Carlos Rosa projects to be one of the Royals best relievers. But he has options remaining and sub-mediocre pitchers like Roman Colon and Anthony Lerew do not. Unfortunately in situations where it’s a numbers game and the Royals need to get down to 25, Moore and Hillman tend to leave out some talented youngsters. It happened to Rosa last year.
Will they make this mistake? Ka’aihue – Yes, Rosa – No. For whatever reason, it looks to me like Datyon Moore has no interest in Kila Ka’aihue and doesn’t think he has a future with the Royals. He has ignored easy opportunities to promote him to the Royals and he never mentions Kila as part of the Royals bright future. Kila may never get his chance with the Royals at all. Rosa on the other hand got an extended look last season in the Royals bullpen. And Moore didn’t go out and get a bunch of relievers this offseason, so I think there is room in the Royals 7-man bullpen for Rosa.
8. Luke Hochevar goes to the bullpen? Zack Greinke, Gil Meche and Brian Bannister are locks for the Royals rotation. Luke Hochevar should be too. While he hasn’t had a good ERA, better metrics show that Hochevar hasn’t been much below average for a MLB starting pitcher. He’s young, he’s talented and his groundballs are worth a lot, even to a team without a particularly good infield defense. And he still has the potential to be good, or at least above average. The Royals shouldn’t give up on that potential by demoting him to the bullpen. Some might argue that moving him to the pen would help him develop into a better starting pitcher, as it arguably did for Greinke a few years ago. But I don’t think Hochevar needs to learn to trust his fastball (which is merely average) as Greinke did. Moving him to the bullpen would lead to him using his secondary pitches less often, thus stunting his development. This would be a move backwards for Hochevar and the Royals.
Will they make this mistake? No. I think Moore still believes in Hochevar. And since he’s out of options, they can’t game his service time anymore, so he should be in the rotation from day one.
9. Kyle Farnsworth in the rotation? With Hochevar in the rotation, that leaves one open spot. Robinson Tejeda is probably the top candidate. Kyle Davies is in the running. Jorge Campillo has an outside shot. And there a few others on the long list. Somehow Kyle Farnsworth has gotten onto that list. Farnsworth has had a lot of trouble in recent years being effective as a reliever. I don’t see how he’s likely to suddenly be effective as a starter. Even with the addition of an effective cutter, his stuff isn’t that good. And moving to the rotation would take a couple mph off of his fastball which hasn’t been an effective pitch for him since 2006. This would be a really stupid mistake, only mitigated by the fact that it would be such a failure that the experiment probably wouldn’t last very long.
Will they make this mistake? No. There are multiple superior options already in Surprise. While Moore and Hillman are prone to mistakes, I can’t see them making this one. (crosses fingers and toes)
10. Acquiring a veteran starting pitcher and putting him into the rotation. In 2008 it was Brett Tomko. In 2009 it was Sidney Ponson. Dayton Moore has a habit of filling out his rotation with the late offseason acquisition of a veteran starting pitcher who is several years past his prime. And Trey Hillman immediately slots the guy into the rotation. This hasn’t worked very well. There’s no reason for them to try it this year. The Royals actually have some decent starting pitching depth, and certainly more than enough names to come up with a pitcher who should perform much better than the average fifth starter.
Will they make this mistake? It wouldn’t shock me, but my gut says no. Tejeda, Davies and Campillo provide quality depth for a fifth starter spot. I doubt Moore thinks he needs one of his geezers this year. I hope I’m right.
Well, for what it’s worth, out of these ten bad possible moves, I think the Royals will make four and a half of them. But of course the potential is always there for more. And then there’s the bad decisions that I haven’t even envisioned…