Depth is a good thing for a team to have for any sports team at any position. Unlike in, say, music, where the orchestra's piccolo player is unlikely to pull an ACL or suffer a concussion whilst playing Tchaikovsky, injuries are a necessary evil of sports. The human body is (un)fortunately not Gumby, and sometimes there is no preventing injury.
As such, having depth at a position is generally a good thing. If your star catcher goes down and you have random backups, like the 2012 Royals, things don't generally turn out well. Maybe you have an extra, young utility infielder in the minors that can be called up and fill in for a few months and prove his mettle once the second baseman sprains his ankle, or maybe you have a versatile 4th outfielder shift to center field if the starter pulls a hamstring. Depth is always good--right?
Well, no, not always. Say you have 10 Alex Gordons (work with me here). At a point, you reach diminishing returns; only one can play left field, and then maybe you put two in the other outfield spots, put one each at first and third base, and keep one in reserve, but then you're just wasting four Alex Gordons and under-utilizing another three. With those last four Alex Gordons you could trade them for, say, two Zack Greinkes and an unlimited supply of Chipotle for the team and be better off. Regardless of your depth, every once in a while injuries laugh at your face--like what happened to the 2008 Denver Broncos, where six starting running backs went on injured reserve and were out for the rest of the year. Depth is only good to a certain point, and then afterwards nothing can help if everything goes wrong.
Such is the current shape of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 2015 Dodgers will employ Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig, and Matt Kemp, whom they owe a combined $66 million next year. They employ all four through 2017 and three through 2018. Furthermore, they have Scott Van Slyke under team control through 2019 and high-profile outfield prospects Joc Pederson and Scott Schebler have yet to burn their rookie season.
That's seven outfielders for four spots. Though Van Slyke, Pederson, and Schebler will be cost-effective for a few years, burning $20 million more in salaries than the entire 2014 Miami Marlins payroll on a quartet of players isn't good use of money. With Andrew Friedman at the helm, who propelled the Tampa Bay Rays to the World Series with a pittance of a payroll to work with, I would expect some cost-cutting measures as well as streamlining of the team.
So, who could the Royals get? Should they get someone? Let's take a look.
- 2014 WAR/Career WAR: 5.1/9.1
- 2014 wRC+/Career wRC+: 147/152
- Career RF UZR/150/DRS: 4.9/12
- 2015 Steamer Projection: .294/.372/.490, 23 HR, 145 wRC+, 5.2 WAR
- 2015 Contract/Overall Contract: $6.25 million/$31 million through 2018
- 2015 Age: 24
Wouldn't it be nice to have Puig? A 5 WAR player under an extremely reasonable contract for the next four seasons? Yeah, Friedman thinks so too. Puig stays.
- 2014 WAR/Career WAR: 2.5/41.2
- 2014 wRC+/Career wRC+: 119/106
- Career RF UZR/150/DRS: N/A
- 2015 Steamer Projection:.274/.317/.412, 13 HR, 107 wRC+, 2.3 WAR
- 2015 Contract/Overall Contract: $20.5 million/$42.25 million through 2017
- 2015 Age:33
After signing a giant contract with the Red Sox in 2011, Crawford immediately pulled off the two worst seasons of his career. The Dodgers, eager to improve and with apparently limitless money to spend, took him on in 2013. Since then, Crawford has been pretty productive, putting up 5.4 WAR. There are three problems about acquiring Crawford: age, handedness, and fielding history. Crawford is not Benjamin Button and will (most likely, you never know) age normally, which is to say for a baseball player entering his mid 30s, not well. Furthermore, he's a lefty who has never played right field in the major leagues. The Royals already have two lefties in the outfield, and getting someone with some experience in right is probably a focus for them. Crawford's out.
- 2014 WAR/Career WAR: 0.7/20.6
- 2014 wRC+/Career wRC+: 98/121
- Career RF UZR/150/DRS: -5.9/-20
- 2015 Steamer Projection: ..261/.336/.400, 4 HR, 109 wRC+, 0.0 WAR
- 2015 Contract/Overall Contract: $18 million/$53.5 million (plus a $17.5M vesting option for 2018) through 2017
- 2015 Age: 33
Ethier is a player who's earned his keep from his above average hitting, which is now in decline. He's getting paid a lot of money to do so. Steamer projects him at exactly 0.0 WAR, though where it has him playing in the field I don't know. Ethier played mostly center field this year, which was bad as you might expect, but wouldn't play center under any circumstances with the Royals if they were to acquire him.
Here's where salary comes into play. Part of the reason to trade an outfielder like Ethier is to do so for salary relief, but he's under contract for so much that the Dodgers would have to eat some of the salary. Ethier could probably be acquired cheaply in terms of prospects, and would be a decent veteran acquisition should he be on the free agent market. If the Dodgers kick in at least $10 million a year, the Royals could consider Ethier.
- 2014 WAR/Career WAR: 1.8/22.1
- 2014 wRC+/Career wRC+: 140/128
- Career RF UZR/150/DRS: -6.7/-1
- 2015 Steamer Projection: .272/.339/.470, 26 HR, 128 wRC+, 2.5 WAR
- 2015 Contract/Overall Contract: $21 million/$107 million through 2019
- 2015 Age: 30
Here's where things are really interesting. Matt Kemp sounds like a big name, yes, but Kemp is probably one of the most overrated players in baseball. In 2011, he put up 8.4 WAR, smashing 39 home runs and hitting 68% above league average in the process. In his other eight seasons, he's never put up more than 5 WAR; in fact, over half of his career value has come from 2009 and 2011. Alex Gordon is a significantly better outfielder than Matt Kemp is, and it's not really close.
However, Kemp is being paid like he's putting up 2011 numbers, which is unfortunate for the Dodgers, because he's been injured and/or awful in the three years since. He's a horror to watch in center, but his best position is right field where he's merely not good--Defensive Runs Saved from the Fielding Bible even basically has him as an average defender there for his career. He's definitely a defensive liability going forward, but his bat more than makes up for it.
If the Dodgers kicked in enough so that a trade would mean 5 years and $50 million commitment, the Royals should listen. With the value of the win rising and his contract locked in and even each year, and considering a healthy Kemp is worth between 2 and 3 WAR, I think the Royals would seriously think about it. If the Royals were on the hook for 5 years and $40 million, I think it would be even more attractive.
Scott Van Slyke
- 2014 WAR/Career WAR: 2.8/0.8
- 2014 wRC+/Career wRC+: 160/134
- Career RF UZR/150/DRS: 12.4/1
- 2015 Steamer Projection: .239/.324/.406, 7 HR, 110 wRC+, 0.8 WAR
- 2015 Contract/Overall Contract: League minimum/Arb eligible in 2016
- 2015 Age:28
Van Slyke is also an interesting option. A career minor leaguer who has spent 9 seasons in the MiLB, Van Slyke debuted with the Dodgers in 2012 and has gained more playing time each year since. He had an amazing offensive season in 2014, but it was fueled by a huge .394 BABIP, and he's not particularly fast or powerful so that number should be considered an outlier. Even with a BABIP in the range of mortals, Steamer projects good offense from him, although with some iffy defense.
He's not flashy nor a big name, and there's probably no upside left for a 28 year old, but Van Slyke is a good acquisition for the Royals. He's making the league minimum for another year, and will reach modest arbitration salaries starting in 2016. For a guy who's probably somewhere around league average, and for a team whose own young players are getting paid in arbitration, Van Slyke is an acceptable, dare I say 'cromulent,' option for right field a la Aoki.
Joc Pederson, Scott Schebler
It's worth mentioning these players, for they are truly the reason for the Outfield Scramble. Pederson put up an OPS of over 1 in AAA in 2014, continuing his trend of destroying every baseball possible in the minor leagues. Schebler hasn't been quite as good, but has posted an OPS of safely over .900 for two straight years (in A+ and AA, respectively) and is a legitimate prospect who will be 24 next year. The Royals probably won't move to acquire either, as they are searching for veterans and not prospects at this juncture. But they are a duo to watch, for sure.
The more that I think about it, the more I like trying to pry Kemp from the Dodgers for as little as possible. Kemp is still reasonably young at 30. Furthermore, Kemp could be utilized as a DH some days in 2015 and might eventually shift there part or full time as he enters his mid 30s.
After that, I think I would like Van Slyke over Ethier. I'm wary of Ethier's aging and offensive decline, and while Van Slyke isn't exciting, he's also extremely functional and available.
Regardless, the Dodgers are a possible trade partner for the Royals. Keep an eye on the Dodgers--they're going to trade with someone, but only Friedman knows what he's looking to do.