I have to start by apologizing for this post. The following is basically going to be me thinking out loud and typing it up. It will be an exercise full of speculation and entirely premature analysis. But I think the topic is interesting nonetheless. Other than seeing how some prospects perform, the Royals 2011 season isn’t going to be very fun or compelling. So my mind keeps turning to 2012. There have been some recent discussions on this site about when an organization should spend, how much and where. While I don’t think 2011 was a good year to spend a lot of money on the FA market, it looks like some significant spending will have to be done in 2012.
As it stands now, counting everyone that will likely be on the 25-man roster, the Royals 2011 payroll will be about $39 million. Next year, if the Royals decline Francoeur’s mutual option, but keep everyone else, and fill in any holes with league minimum players, the payroll would be $37 million. Wal*Mart jokes aside, I don’t think David Glass wants to be the Jeffrey Loria of the American League. The ultra-low 2011 payroll was not by design. And I think Glass is going to be itching to spend in 2012. And there will be a lot of pressure on him from the fanbase and to some extent from MLB to build up a reasonable payroll more in line with team’s revenues.
And in 2012, I think the Royals will be nearing the end of their rebuilding phase. While I don’t think Moore should go all-in on a "Win Now!" strategy, I do think it would make sense to spend some money to improve the team, start winning and add some pieces which will help the Royals for multiple years. While a stopgap might make sense here or there, I think Moore should be looking to add quality players who should augment a core of good young prospects beyond just 2012. So I agree that more money should be spent on the MLB payroll. The only questions are how much and where.
Therefore, I wanted to look at where the Royals have holes and needs in the medium term, and where they are already set. As I said above, the following is just speculation. How players and prospects perform during the 2011 season will give us important information about them and may change much of what follows. While I will touch on free agent options, this is mostly not about "I think we should target this FA." I’m hoping to initiate a discussion on where we think the Royals have needs at the MLB level and where it might make sense to fill a need with someone from outside the organization.
With regard to free agent spending, I think Moore needs to follow two simple rules: 1) Don’t sign anyone that blocks a top prospect. 2) Don’t sign any huge, very risky albatross contracts that could hamstring the organization for years. If we’re going to make any high money deals for multiple years, the player has to be worth it. No big stretches for only so-so players.
With any luck, this will be Jason Kendall’s final season with the Royals. That would leave Brayan Pena and Lucas May. Neither of these guys are current or future stars. But I like Pena’s bat and I think he handles himself sufficiently well behind the plate. And they both come cheap. I wouldn’t mind having that tandem as a short-term option at catcher for at least 2012. But I wouldn’t mind an affordable upgrade.
FA Options – There isn’t a great crop of FA catchers for 2012. Yadier Molina might be on the market, but he has a team option that I think will get picked up. I kind of like the idea of Chris Snyder. Not a good hitter, but decent for a catcher. He’s ok defensively and he shouldn’t be too expensive or require many years. Ivan Rodriguez is my real fear here. I think Dayton Moore is going to want a seasoned, gritty veteran who can handle, calm and mentor the Royals young pitchers. I can easily see him overpaying I-Rod for two years, Kendall-style.
First Base/Designated Hitter
Logjam! With Billy Butler, Kila Ka’aihue and eventually Eric Hosmer, I think the Royals are set here. Now, Kila might fall on his face in 2011. But even if that is true, Hosmer should be making it to KC at least at some point in 2012. I don’t think it would make sense for the Royals to go out and get a free agent first baseman. Even a failed Kila or maybe Clint Robinson would work as a 2012 stopgap until Hosmer arrived.
FA Options – Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Albert Pujols. It would be nice to have any one of them, but I don’t want the Royals to get into a bidding war for any of these guys and eventually have to overpay and spend 40% of the budget for the forseeable future on one player.
Assuming Moustakas will be in KC and playing third base, the Royals will have Mike Aviles and Chris Getz for second base. I’m a big Aviles fan and while he’s no world beater, he’s got a good bat for a middle infielder and his defensive skills are more than sufficient for the position. Getz isn’t worth much, but I don’t necessarily mind him as a defensive backup. But while sufficient, I don’t think either of these guys should block a real upgrade if that is doable. And then there are Christian Colon and Johnny Giavotella coming up. I doubt they’ll be in the majors in 2012, but if not they won’t be far away. Should the Royals keep a position free for them? In my opinion, only if Colon has a really good 2011 season. Otherwise I’d be willing to acquire a good FA second baseman on a multi-year deal.
FA Options – If Kelly Johnson has a more human and less superstarish 2011 season, he might be a good, affordable option for the Royals. He has a plus bat with a little below average defense. But in 2012 he’ll be 30, so I wouldn’t want there to be too many years on the contract. The real jewel in the 2012 FA class for second base is Rickie Weeks. He’s an ultra-talented player who is an excellent hitter and an average defender at the position. This one would really cost both in terms of dollars and years. I’d like for the Royals to be in on the bidding, but if things get crazy, I wouldn’t want Moore to stay in too long.
Certainly by 2012 Mike Moustakas should be holding down this position for the Royals. Some questions about his defense remain, but I think he should be given every effort to stick at third, including the entire 2012 season.
FA Options – none very appealing. Forget about it. Stick with Moustakas.
I’m bullish on Alcides Escobar as at least a league average player. Even if he has a poor 2011 season, I think the Royals should stick with him at short for all of 2012. Christian Colon remains a viable backup plan for the medium term future.
FA Options – There’s Jason Bartlett, J.J. Hardy, and Jose Reyes. Bartlett and Hardy are ok, but they don’t interest me much. I’d rather stick with Escobar and continue to see what’s there. Reyes is going to be crazy expensive, even moreso than Weeks, I believe. I don’t think I’m interested.
Alex Gordon remains a talented but underperforming player. Hopefully the latter portion of that sentence will change in 2011. But even if it doesn’t the Royals are so thin organization-wide in the OF that I can’t see him not being a full-time outfielder for the Royals in 2012. Who is there to unseat him? David Lough? Derrick Robinson? One of the other speedy center fielders? I don’t think so, especially not in 2012.
FA Options – I’ll deal with those when I get to Right Field.
The Royals will still have control of Melky Cabrera in 2012, but I really don’t think that’s a good thing. If Melky has a good 2011 season, I hope he gets traded by the deadline. If he doesn’t, I hope Moore has the good sense to non-tender him. Lorenzo Cain might be the center fielder of the future and hopefully he’ll get a good deal of playing time in KC in 2011 to prove it. Other in-organization CF options include Mitch Maier (if still in the organization), Gregor Blanco, Jarrod Dyson and Derrick Robinson. I still like D-Rob as a prospect, but he still has some things to prove in the minors. Dyson looks speedy but that’s about it, but who knows. I kind of like Maier and Blanco but they both look like below average MLB players and pretty good 4th/5th outfielders.
FA Options – Have any interest in a 35-year-old Carlos Beltran? I don’t think he’ll be completely done as a player, but I really don’t think I’m interested. Grady Sizemore has a team option for $8.25M for 2012. I think the Indians will likely exercise it. But if he doesn’t have a pretty good bounce back season in 2011, maybe they wouldn’t. If so, I think he’d be a good buy low candidate, although he still wouldn’t come very cheap. But I think he’d be affordable and he’s a risk I’d be willing to take.
Jeff Francoeur won’t be back? Right? The mutual option was just a throw-in, right? Please, Dayton. See the light. Give up on your mancrush. If I can give up on Banny, you can give up on Frenchy. Now that we have that out of the way, this position is a real area of need for the Royals. The cupboard is bare. The optimistic Royals team of the future has Wil Myers in right field. But when might he be ready for the majors? I think his ETA is 2013 and probably not for the full season. So the Royals have a corner OF hole to fill. If they bring someone in for a long-term deal, I don’t think that person would block Myers if he continues to look like a top prospect. Gordon is only under team control through 2013. So I think there’s room in the outfield for an addition, both for the short-term and the long-term.
FA Options – There are a lot of corner outfield options but nobody that really bowls me over. Remember David DeJesus? Unless Beane extends him, he’ll be a free agent. I might be willing to sign him for the right price, but most of his value comes from defense, and those skills tend to deteriorate over time, especially at his age. How do you feel about a 36-year-old J.D. Drew? I’d be worried as I think he’d be very expensive and require a bunch of years. Whoever acquires him would likely be acquiring a lot of decline. Not that he’d be awful, but what are the odds that he’ll actually earn the money he’s going to get paid? How about Ryan Ludwick? He’ll be 33 and I’m not sure how well his bat would translate to the American League and Kauffman Stadium. And his value is in his bat, as his defense is merely above average, and might not even be that by 2012. The Yankees have a $10.25M option on Nick Swisher for 2012. I think they’ll likely exercise it, but if they want to go in a different direction, I’d be interested in Swisher. He’s got a great bat and his defense is only a little below average. He’ll be in his early 30’s, but I think his hitting skills will age well. I still wouldn’t want to do a crazy long contract though.
Unless the Royals extend someone’s contract, they’ll only have Luke Hochevar, Vin Mazzaro and Sean O’Sullivan under team control for 2012. I like Hochevar as at least a mid-rotation starter. Mazzaro is more likely a #4 or #5. O’Sullivan is a borderline #5 in my opinion. But I don’t think Mazzaro or O’Sullivan are good enough to block any prospect or prevent any free agent signing. So I think the Royals will need at least three starters added to that group. Will more than one of Danny Duffy, Mike Montgomery, John Lamb and Chris Dwyer be ready in 2012? By some point in the season, probably at least two. Very possibly more than that. What about Aaron Crow or Everett Teaford? They seem like more of a longshot to be either ready or good enough. And the rest of the good starting pitching prospects seem like they’re further away. I wouldn’t want to clog up the rotation with a bunch of free agents, blocking top prospects, but I would like to add one genuinely good FA starting pitcher if possible.
FA Options – the cream of the crop are Edwin Jackson, Wandy Rodriguez and C.J. Wilson. They are going to draw large offers for multiple years from many teams. I’d love to have any of them. But there’s a real opportunity here for Moore to go crazy and offer too much money over too many years.
I kind of like the Royals young core of relievers, including Joakim Soria, Robinson Tejeda, Jeremy Jeffress, Tim Collins, Louis Coleman and maybe Blake Wood and Greg Holland. They could use a lefty and if one or two of the above crap out, the Royals could add a reasonably priced decent free agent. But I’d really like Moore to avoid the 2/$8M and 2/$10M deals for middle relievers which have become popular in recent years. The Royals have a decent or perhaps even good pool of young, cheap pitchers from which they can put together a pretty good bullpen. Dumping millions of dollars into the bullpen would, in my opinion, be wasting it. It can be better spent elsewhere.
So what does this long, rambling dissertation mean? I’m not sure. It seems like the have decent options at second base and catcher, but could definitely use the right free agent upgrade. And there are big holes in right field and in the rotation that could be filled via free agency. I don't think the Royals should try to fill all of the above needs via free agency. But there are clearly some good players to pursue, and no matter what the Royals do, they'll lose out on some, probably most, of them. But I think they are worthy targets.
My strongest opinion is that the Royals really do need to significantly increase payroll for 2012. It’s going to happen. How much? I don’t know what Moore or Glass are planning, but I would think they should increase it by at least $10M and maybe as much as $25M. Maybe. I certainly don’t want them to force themselves up to something like a $70M payroll, leaving little room to make significant additions for 2013 and beyond, when I think the Royals might have a legitimate shot at contending.
Just to make sure this post has something of substance, I'll include a picture of my daughter Katie. It is from several months ago, but it's one of my favorites, so you have to look at it.
What do you mean Brian Bannister is gone?