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Throwing good money after bad baseball

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I was gambling in Havana. I took a little risk.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

With the Royals season now just past the halfway point and the recent roster movement that resulted in Brad Boxberger being jettisoned off the Royals 40-man, it seems like a good time to revisit some of Dayton Moore’s free agent spending from last winter.

Witness:

Billy Hamilton - $4.25 million + $1 million buyout on option

Chris Owings - $3 million

Martin Maldonado - $2.5 million

Wily Peralta - re-worked extension. $2.25 million + $1 million buyout on option

Jake Diekman - $2.25 million + $.5 million buyout on option

Brad Boxberger - $2.2 million

Lucas Duda - minor league contract - $1.25 million

Terrance Gore - $.65 million

A couple of housekeeping notes before we proceed. Peralta signed his initial contract with the Royals in December of 2017 and that included a club option for $3 million for 2019. The two parties re-worked the deal last October to pick up the option at $2.25 million for this season and tacked on a mutual option for $7 million with a $1 million buyout. In other words, they agreed to give Peralta an extra quarter million if he would defer three-quarters of a million until after this season. All of these contract machinations came after he finished with a 9.2 SO/9, a 6.0 BB/9 and a -0.2 fWAR in 37 games last year. But he did save 14 games!

Included in Peralta’s new contract are performance bonuses based on a point system. He receives two points per relief appearance of two innings or more and one point per relief appearance of less than two innings. So far, he’s accumulated 37 points which has earned him one bonus of $250,000.

The Royals held the option on Peralta for 2019 and it would have cost them a mere $50,000 to walk away. Since they picked that up, (never mind the needless restructuring) Peralta is treated here as a free agent signing.

Diekman has added $75,000 via a performance bonus by pitching in 35 games. Currently having appeared in 39 games this season, he will cash another $75,000 bonus when he next comes out of the bullpen.

Duda signed a minor league contract in March that guarantees him $1.25 million in the majors. Obviously, triggered when he was added to the roster prior to Opening Day.

Gore signed a split contract last December that would pay him $350,000 if in the minors. Like Duda, he’s been in the majors all year. Homer Bailey signed a minor league deal that, once called up in early April, featured a pro-rated amount of the major league minimum with the Dodgers on the hook for the rest of his contract.

According to Cot’s, among this group Gore, Boxberger and Maldonado have unspecified performance bonuses added to their contracts. It’s probably safe to assume Gore and Boxberger will not be collecting any extra cash. Maldonado, who has appeared in 65 of the Royals 85 games seems a good bet to hit a couple of his bonuses for games caught.

Overall, counting current known bonuses and upcoming buyouts, the Royals committed $21,175,000 to the free agent market last winter. Hardly a notable sum given some of the spending by the larger market teams. In fact, according to Spotrac, the Royals free agent spending ranked them 19th out of 30 teams. (Again, their methodology differs from mine so our final mileage may vary. But it gives us a decent enough picture to put the Royals in the top half of the lower third in spending.)

Of that $21 million, the Royals have already ditched $5.25 million in releasing Owings and now Boxberger. Free agency is, and will always be, an imperfect process. Teams will reach, players will underperform, injuries will occur... Things happen. But for the Royals to ditch a pair of signings that ate up 25 percent of their outlay by the season’s halfway point almost renders this post moot. Who needs to revisit these signings when even the team seems to admit they’ve made a couple of costly (relative to spending) mistakes?

Yet we carry on. You have to imagine Duda is next on the chopping block should the Royals decide they need to add another player to their 40-man roster. Or perhaps it would be Gore who, while providing 0.4 fWAR through his speed and defense, is a luxury on a team pacing for well over 100 losses. Both were in the organization at this time last year. Both were dealt for cash. What have they done this year that would make anyone think the return would be any different this time around?

Diekman was the Royals pitcher of the month for May, allowing just three runs in 12 innings with a 16.5 SO/9 and 3.75 BB/9. In June, he almost immediately lost the plot and struggled to an 8.1 BB/9 while allowing 10 runs in 10 innings on the back of three home runs. He still had a fine strikeout rate at 14.4 SO/9, but clearly something was off last month. Overall, he has been worth 0.5 fWAR. Recent struggles aside, he’s the most likely Royal to get flipped at this month’s trade deadline.

After losing Salvador Perez to Tommy John surgery in the spring, Maldonado became a necessity. They needed someone to grind the innings behind the plate. His performance has been as you would have expected. His offense is right in line with his career numbers—actually a little better. The defense has been as advertised. Overall, he’s provided 0.6 fWAR. It’s possible a contender will look to fill a backup role with Maldonado. If the potential return is negligible, it’s not difficult to see the Royals riding out the season with Maldonado.

The drumbeat among the Twittering classes has been building around Hamilton that he could be next in the DFA line. I find that surprising since, like Maldonado, Hamilton has produced as advertised. Underwhelming? Yes. But there was literally nothing in his major league pedigree that would suggest he would do otherwise. His speed and defense provide all his value and he’s been worth 0.5 fWAR so far. It’s mildly interesting that his power (yes, his power) has been lagging. He’s hit some home runs in the past, but this year, he has yet to round the bases. And he’s hit fewer triples. Overall his slugging percentage is down about 50 points from his career number, which has been a drag on his overall offensive production. Again, it wasn’t supposed to be anything to get excited about in the first place.

With the Royals already cutting loose a quarter of their free agent spending, it’s difficult to see a scenario where they would just dump Hamilton. That would have to be an uncomfortable meeting between Moore and ownership to explain how nearly 50 percent of their free agent spending just wasn’t good enough to remain on the roster of a 100 loss team.

In this portion of The Process 2.0, these free agent signings don’t represent much. None of the players signed last winter will be around when the Royals figure they are positioned for contention. All of the players above were signed with the intent of filling a very specific niche or as a stopgap option. But we can only judge a general manager on his decisions. For example, it’s difficult to fault Moore on the Boxberger signing. The Royals needed bullpen arms and paid the market rate for a marginal reliever. But with Peralta on the roster, why make that move? Choose one. Whiffing on these signings, while disappointing, are not altering the course of the franchise.

Shopping at this end of the free agent market is not unlike visiting a used CD store in the late 1990’s. There are plenty of copies of the latest Wallflowers disc available, but why would you buy one? Let alone several? Yet you need some music to fill the slots in your CD changer. The options just aren’t that appealing.

In the end, these moves go on Moore’s General Manager CV, just like the trades, drafts and signings that brought the franchise back to back AL pennants. But perspective remains important. When the time comes to push The Process 2.0 forward at the major league level these moves will be critical, with little margin for error.