Noel Arguelles: Dayton's $7M Gamble

Rick Scuteri-US PRESSWIRE

One of several disappoints under Dayton Moore.

When the Royals signed 19-year-old Cuban defector Noel Arguelles to a 5 year, $6.9M contract in 2010, it seemed like a worthwhile gamble. With the price of free agents on the rise and if the Royals could get a couple of wins (WAR) out of him, the money spent would have been well worth it. Three years later, it looks like Arguelles will be lucky to get any major league action while with the Royals. Even though the Royals didn't get any production out him, they probably made the right move.

At the time of the signing, Dayton was gushing love all over the place for Arguelles.

"He's 6-4, 225 and very athletic, very competitive ... He's got an above-average fastball and changeup, a curveball and slider. He's certainly a top pick if he was in the Draft this year...We feel he'll be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher at some point in his career...He's pitched well in international competition ... We'll move slow with him and go from there ... You'll love him. He's got a great heart and a great face. He's very competent and very respectful. He's a wonderful kid."

The issue with Arguelles was hinted at early in the article by Moore:

"He's been throwing basically for 17 months straight. So he needs some time off. We don't want him picking up a ball for at least another month so that's going to put him behind in Spring Training."

Well, Noel didn't need to worry about picking up a baseball for a while. He quickly developed shoulder pain and didn't pitch until 2011 after having shoulder surgery.

In 2011, he went 4-5 in 21 games started with a 5.5 K/9 and a 2.1 BB/9. After his "stellar" 2011 season, he promoted up to Northwest Arkansas where he struggled. He was 4-14 with 4.4 K/9 and 5.0 BB/9 to go with a 6.41 ERA. News flash, those aren't the numbers of a "top-of-the-rotation" pitcher.

Unless he really begins to turn around his career, he will likely not produce any positive value at the major league level. Looking back, could of the nearly $7M spent on him be used more resourcefully? Probably not.
Back in 2010, 6.9M would have probably bought between 1-2 Wins/WAR in the free agent market. If the Royals could get an average season out him, as a starter or reliever, it would be worth it for them at the price they paid.

To get an idea of the production excepted from him, I looked at Cuban born pitchers who pitched in the majors around the same time. While not an ideal subset of players, not much data is available for players defecting from Cuba. Some of the Cuban born pitchers didn't even make it to the majors, so when looking at this data the numbers will be skewed to make the Cuban pitchers look better.

When the Royals made the decision to sign Arguelles, fifteen Cuban born pitchers had debuted in the majors since 1988.

Name Debut Final Season Total MLB Season fWAR IP ERA Record
Tony Fossas 1988 1999 12 3.1 413 3.92 17-24
Israel Sanchez 1988 1990 2 0.3 44 5.47 3-2
Tony Menendez 1992 1994 3 -0.4 28 5.09 3-1
Rene Arocha 1993 1997 4 3.0 330 4.11 18-17
Ariel Prieto 1995 2001 6 4.0 351 4.88 15-24
Livan Hernandez 1996 2012 17 35.4 3186 4.44 178-177
Osvaldo Fernandez 1996 2001 4 3.6 386 4.95 19-26
Orlando Hernandez 1998 2007 9 18.8 1312 4.14 90-65
Rolando Arrojo 1998 2002 5 10.8 699 4.56 40-42
Vladimir Nunez 1998 2009 9 1.3 439 4.86 21-34
Michael Tejera 1999 2005 5 1.0 237 5.16 11-13
Danys Baez 2001 2011 10 4.9 694 4.27 40-57
Adrian Hernandez 2001 2004 3 -0.6 44 6.55 0-6
Eddie Oropesa 2001 2004 4 -0.7 91 7.39 8-4
Hansel Izquierdo 2002 2002 1 -0.2 29 4.62 2-0
Total

94 84.3 8284 4.49 465-492

Before these pitchers signed, the last Cuban born players to debut in the majors was Oscar Zamora in 1974 and Luis Tiant was the last to pitch in 1982.

The 15 pitchers being looked at pitched 94 total seasons for 84 total WAR which is just less than 1 WAR per season. Remember these are are the best Cuban pitchers signed by major league teams, but still the bar isn't set very high. Royals just needed a season or two of below average production to break even. It seemed like a reasonable chance to take at the time.

Noel Arguelles may seem like a failure of Dayton Moore's tenure, but it was a decent gamble considering the money involved. It looks likes the deal won't work out for the Royals, but at the time of signing there was a decent chance the Royals would at least break even. Also, he may still turn around his career and the Royals could get some production from him over the next 2 seasons.

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