It’s time for the third annual look at the worst possible roster and player usage decisions Dayton Moore and Ned Yost can make. By any estimation, the Royals won’t be good in 2011. But there are decisions Moore and Yost could make which would make them even worse than they would otherwise be. More frighteningly, there are moves they could make which could hurt the Royals future, which is of course much more important.
Let’s start with a look back at the two prior WDP’s (2009 and 2010). The table below shows the number of WDP’s for each year, my prediction for how many would be made, how many were actually made and the Moore/Hillman/Yost WDP failure percentage.
Those WDP percentages are considerably higher than I’m sure any Royals fan would like. Surprisingly, my predictions make me look like a cock-eyed optimist. Anyway, let’s take a look at what 2011 might bring.
1. Jeff Francoeur starts all season? Frenchy hasn’t been any good for quite a while. Marcel projects a .258/.305/.396 line. Other good projection systems don’t disagree much. Defensively, his aggregate over the last three years has been -6, -2 and 1. So I don’t think he’s even an average defensive corner OFer anymore. The only utility Francoeur has for any team is as a platoon partner with someone who can hit RHP’s. And other Royals, like Mitch Maier, project to be better everyday players. Long story short, Francoeur definitely shouldn’t be an everyday player. One could argue that Francoeur is a potential pump-and-dump candidate like Podsednik and Ankiel last year, but Frenchy showed his midseason trade value last year: Joaquin Arias. A couple months after acquiring Arias, he was waived. That’s what Francoeur is worth in a "deadline trade": a player not really worthy of a major league roster spot who has no upside. I don’t value the prospect of playing Frenchy everyday for four months in the hopes that they can get a D prospect for him.
Will they make this mistake? Yes. Dayton Moore clearly loves Francoeur and has coveted him for years. Now he finally has the Grit Machine in his grasp. And, of course, Moore promised him a starting job. I’m sure Moore has made clear to Yost that Francoeur is the everyday RFer. I’m also sure that Yost agrees fully.
2. Melky Cabrera starts in CF at all? Melky hasn’t been good for quite a while, doesn’t project to hit well and doesn’t have particularly good defensive numbers. Sound familiar? In addition to Maier and Gregor Blanco, the Royals have Lorenzo Cain who they hope to be the CFer of the future. Cain has more upside than Melky both with the bat and the glove. And it’s not like Cain is some young kid who could use more seasoning in the minors. He’s 25 years old and has already made it to the majors and didn’t exactly look overmatched, hitting .306/.348/.415. There’s really no reason for Melky to be on the team. Yet again there is the argument that he should play every day so that he can be traded to a contender in July. But contenders looking for a 4th or 5th OFer (and that’s the best Melky can hope for) are usually looking for at least one plus skill (hitting, speed, or defense). Pods had a reputation for speed and defense. Ankiel had a reputation for power hitting. Melky has zero plus skills and I don’t think his reputation is any better than that. I don’t think Melky is even average in any aspect of the game. I don’t see getting anything more than a D prospect or roster filler for him. So why start him in CF at all?
Will they make this mistake? Yes. Moore promised Melky the starting CF job. And apparently DM really thinks that if the Royals don’t fulfill that promise to a $1.25M free agent, then FA’s will turn their back on the Royals for years to come. So Melky’s locked into the Opening Day starting CF job. He’ll keep it for some indeterminate time. It will be too long.
3. Alex Gordon doesn’t start in LF for the entire season? Gordon has talent and still has upside potential. He can draw walks and hit home runs. There’s also potential that he’ll be an average or better defensive LFer. It is important that the Royals use this season to evaluate Gordon. It’s still too early to give up on him. Trading him at this point would be selling very low on him. The Royals would likely get back much less than Gordon’s potential. And given the organization’s thinness in the OF, they can’t afford to give up on his potential. Also, benching him, platooning him or making him a four-corners utility player would minimize his value and give the Royals less of a chance to evaluate him in a meaningful way. He has to be a starter, and all year long. That’s what 90+ loss rebuilding seasons are for.
Will they make this mistake? No. I don’t think Moore or Yost have given up on Gordon. They know the OF is an organizational weakness and they want Gordon to succeed and fill one of the OF holes, hopefully for the next three years. I think he’ll get his shot unless he has a really bad first half. Then things could get crazy.
4. Mike Aviles doesn’t get at least 500 PA’s? Mike Aviles is a pretty good player who can legitimately play 2B, 3B and SS. While not exactly young and developing, he’s shown that he can hit when he’s healthy and play decent defense. Until Mike Moustakas makes it to KC, Aviles should be the third baseman. Pedro Feliz should be an emergency option at best (if he’s even in the organization at all in the regular season) and Wilson Betemit is such a defensive liability that he should only play in the field when absolutely necessary. When Moustakas gets to KC, Aviles should be the everyday second baseman. Chris Getz can’t hit a lick and isn’t sufficiently spectacular defensively to make up for that. So Aviles should be a starter. He can start at 3B, move to 2B and backup SS to give Escobar a rest as needed.
Will they make this mistake? No. The options are so poor that barring injury, I see Aviles at 3B and 2B all season. I know they don’t love his defense, but I believe they like him enough to recognize he’s superior to Feliz, Betemit, Getz and borderline major leaguers like Arias and Zawadzki.
5. Kila Ka’aihue doesn’t get at least 500 PA’s? I don’t how well Kila will perform in 2011 or beyond. It’s really hard to say because he hasn’t been given much of a chance in the majors. Over the last three years, he’s absolutely dominated at the AA and AAA level. But in the majors he hasn’t hit very well, over very limited playing time. But he’s shown stretches of good play, like September 2010. How he’d do this season is anybody’s guess. The projection systems mostly like him, but that’s because they are primarily projecting him based on his minor league numbers. And you never know how well a player will make the jump to the majors. But, this is the kind of season in which a team can give a starting role to a question mark player with talent and a good minor league pedigree. Give him the whole season, sharing 1B/DH with Butler. See if he can figure out how to hit major league pitching. If he fails, then the Royals will realize that they don’t really have a 1B/DH logjam at all and they can forget about Hosmer transitioning to the OF. If, on the other hand, Kila has a good season, then they’ll know that something has to be done for the next season: either a trade or a position change for someone. This is information the Royals really need to collect.
Will they make this mistake? No. I’m not sure, but I think Moore is committed to giving Kila a shot. The only real competition for DH time is Betemit and I don’t think that that will be enough to unseat Kila. The only caveat is that if Ka’aihue gets off to a bad start, Yost and Moore might get a little panicky and bench or platoon him.
6. Jason Kendall catches more than 60 games? Being the grit golem that he is, Kendall is rushing back to "health" and likely MLB playing time sooner than anyone anticipated. (Yay?) Kendall really is awful now. He’s pretty close to a replacement level player and he’s coming off injury. With Brayan Pena and Lucas May in the organization, why rush Kendall back as soon as he possibly can play? And when he comes back, wouldn’t it make sense to take it easy on the old guy and his injury and play him only part-time?
Will they make this mistake? Yes. In the traditional Moore/Yost way of thinking, a grizzled veteran catcher supposedly full of wonderful intangibles is indispensable. Both Hillman and Yost played Kendall about as much as they possibly could last season. They yearn for his irreplaceable leadership on the field. They think it is worth at least 3 runs a game. They’ll play him as early and as often as they can. The only potential bright spot is that rushing him back could lead to re-injury and more DL time. You can cross your fingers or not.
7. Eric Hosmer gets promoted to the majors in 2011? Here’s the deal, if Hosmer is promoted to KC this year and stays in the bigs from then on, the Royals would have control of him through 2017. But if Moore waits until mid-April 2012, then he could be a Royal through 2018. It is much more valuable to the Royals to have him for an extra year (2018) than for him to get playing time in the majors in a lost year (2011). I could have added Moustakas as well, but since he’s already had half a season of play in AAA, I don’t think calling him up in June would be a "worst decision possible." And I understand the desire to toss some red meat to fans who need a little something to be interested in for the 2011 Royals season.
Additionally, I think Hosmer’s age is relevant. This year will be his age 21 season. That means he is called up this year, the Royals would have control of him for ages 21-27. A recent study by Tom Tango looked at peak WAR years in relation to age at which a player is called up. His findings on position players are summarized here:
If you look at each row, we see that the peak age is ages 23-29. Therefore, in order to maximize pre-free agency performance, you want a player from age 23 to 29. The incentive therefore is that even if Bryce Harper has enough talent to be a rookie at age 19, he’s going to get his six year peak at age 23-29 (on average).
Will they make this mistake? No. So far Moore has effectively gamed the service time clocks of Hochevar and Butler (but not Gordon). And Hosmer is quite young and hasn’t had any playing time at the AAA level. I think he’ll give him a full season in AAA and we’ll see him in KC in April 2012.
8. Any of the lefties will be rushed? It’s almost never a good idea to rush a prospect. Sometimes when you’re in a pennant race and you desperately need a talented player a little before he’s major league ready, it makes sense to call him up. But the Royals won’t be in that position in 2011. So top prospects like Montgomery, Duffy and Lamb shouldn’t be rushed to KC despite the fact that the pitching staff and especially the rotation is really going to stink. Also, with regard to age, here is what Tango’s above referenced study had to say about pitchers:
Repeating for pitchers, and the results are similar, but earlier. The peak age is 21-27 or 22-28. Specifically, if you think he’s ready at age 19 or age 20, you bring him up then and there. That’s because the peak period includes, on average, his rookie year.
So the age issue for Hosmer, discussed above, is different for the Royals top pitching prospects. To maximize WAR, you call them up when they are ready. The question then becomes, what is "ready" and what constitutes "rushing" a pitching prospect? I think given the Royals current situation, a top pitching prospect shouldn’t be called up until he’s shown a) a high level of performance at the AAA level, and b) that he doesn’t have something significant that he still needs to work on (like one or more secondary pitches, commanding his fastball, etc.). I also think that it would most benefit the Royals if the player’s "peak period" which might include his rookie season, started in 2012. So if possible, I think holding off calling up any of the lefties until mid-April 2012 at the earliest would be best.
Will they make this mistake? No. So far Moore hasn’t rushed prospects. One could argue that Gordon was rushed, but I think that is an exceptionally weak argument given his prospect status, age and minor league performance when he was called up. The fact that he didn’t become a star doesn’t in my opinion show that he was rushed. This doesn’t mean Moore will never rush prospects. But again, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt.
9. Jeff Francis, Kyle Davies, Bruce Chen, Wilson Betemit, Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera won’t be traded (if at all possible)? Each of those players, with the exception of Melky, is either on a one-year contract or is in his final season of team control this year. They will not be a part of the Royals future, so Moore should trade them for whatever he can get for them. The only caveat is that if a player looks like he’s likely to be a Type A or B free agent, and no good trade offers are made for them, it might make sense to hold onto him and take the draft pick compensation. This, however, is a difficult gamble because the decision would need to be made in July when the player has 1/3 of the season left to possibly tank and drop out of Type B status and then the Royals would get nothing for him. So Dayton, if you get a decent offer for one of these guys, take it.
Will they make this mistake? Yes and No. I think Moore is willing to trade some of these guys, but I think he’s unwilling get rid of all of them because he would see that as stripping the team bare and losing even more games this season than he otherwise would. So I think some of these players who can be traded will not be. But I’ll give Moore partial credit on this one.
10. An old, over the hill player will be acquired? There are always some veteran players on the market who were once good but either aren’t good anymore, or who cost more than they are worth. At the moment, that includes players like Michael Young (not a bad player, but past his peak and expensive even though the Rangers reportedly will kick in part of his contract, but are looking for "top end" prospects) and Luis Castillo (would come cheap, but he’s awful). There will be more opportunities like this as the season progresses. And they are all opportunities for wasted money and/or failure.
Will they make this mistake? No. Moore appears to be mostly committed to rebuilding this season and swallowing the bitter pill of losing 90+ games yet again.
I’ve identified ten big mistakes that Moore and Yost could make this season, but I only predict they’ll make 3 1/2 of them. And that really worries me. Moore and Yost always exceed my expectations for their mis- and malfeasance. So what do you think? Will he make more or fewer of these mistakes? Or were my WDP’s not really mistakes at all, but shrewd moves and I just can’t see the potential wonderfulness in them?