Thursday, March 29, 2007

Berroa and Pena, Jr.: The Royals' new SS experiment

Muneer: In other news, the Royals are finally trying to replace Angel Berroa, something they should have done last season. Right now, there are apparently 20 players the Royals have targeted, none of whom are in the Royals’ camp. The possibilities range from Clint Barmes of the Rockies all the way to Brandon Wood, the Angels’ superprospect. I don’t expect the Royals to get Wood, and I hope they don’t get Barmes. The last time they picked up a light-hitting shortstop from Coors (Neifi Perez), the results were less than satisfactory.

I am very happy that Dayton is finally addressing what has been a problem for too long. With the offensive prowess displayed by some of the other SS’s, there is no reason to keep trotting Berroa out there. Berroa has been a textbook example of a player who not only brings nothing to the table, but actually takes things off of it. Who but the Royals could justify starting a light hitting SS who also happens to be horrible defensively?

Kevin: I think everybody agrees that Berroa is done… I bet he’s actually like 35 and not 28 years old.

Muneer: Well, the weekend has passed, and Berroa is officially out as the Royals’ SS. In his place we have Tony Pena, Jr. Here is what USA Today’s fantasy baseball people had to say about him:

“Pena has a career .253/.285/.335 line in 2,308 minor league at-bats. He did take a step forward last year, batting .282/.312/.359 in 298 at-bats as a 25-year-old in Triple-A, but with no power or patience, that’s the top level of his ability.”

So, we’ve basically gotten an Andres Blanco type at the expense of Cordier, who was deemed good enough to be a second round pick in 2005. This doesn’t look good for Dayton. Pena is a mediocre hitter, has no power, and is not a good basestealer. Given his defense over the last few games, he seems to have trained in the Berroa school of shortstop play. How does he bring anything to the table that Blanco or Alex Gonzalez couldn’t have?

I’d say it’s his worst trade since JP Howell for Gathright. Before you say anything, Gathright is sitting on the bench, while Howell has been better than most of the Royals’ pitchers and is quite likely the new 5th starter in Tampa.

Back to the subject at hand though, why get a guy like Pena when you have Alex Gonzalez in camp? The guy has a .243 lifetime batting average, but at least he compiled those numbers in the majors, as opposed to Pena’s unimpressive minor league stat line. He also has had some decent power numbers, which Pena has not shown at all.

The only thing that makes this trade make any sense to me is that Dayton drafted Pena, and sees something. I sure hope he’s right, because at the moment, this trade has the potential to blow up in the Royals’ faces.

Kevin: We are still the Royals financially, and so I’m not sure what other options they really had in terms of bringing in a new SS and not wasting any more money. I would like to know what it was about Alex Gonzales that they didn’t like – I suspect though that Dayton Moore wanted a more dynamic defensive player and, well, he sounds like he’s of the belief that Pena will hit and will develop more in that area (and from what I understand, Pena actually got a late start in his baseball career). I’m willing to see how it goes, but both sides had to take risk here, and while Cordier might have a higher ceiling if healthy, it seems we really needed to make a move at SS. On the bright side, Pena has walked in each of his first two games with the Royals, so I think that’s a huge improvement over what we had. I feel bad for Anhell … but when he played SS in KC (other than that magical rookie season) it was more like we were “Inhell” as fans.

Muneer: Pena appears to have begun his minor league career at 19, and then resumed it at 21. I don’t know what he was doing for the two years in between.

We did need to make a move at SS, but why not make a move for a guy who will at least be guaranteed to hit better than Berroa. That’s not a sure thing with Pena. He may walk, but there is not a lot of evidence to indicate markedly better plate discipline than Berroa or Gonzalez.

Finally, by bringing Pena in, Berroa’s market value has dropped considerably. Teams know that the Royals have no interest in keeping him, and will not be motivated to offer any real value. I think Dayton has really botched this situation.

What I would have done is platoon Berroa and Gonzalez, try to establish some value for Sanders and Brown, and then trade one of those guys for a SS better than Pena. As it stands, the Royals now have 3 no-hit, mediocre-fielding SS’s. That’s two too many.

Kevin: I think the only conclusion that we can draw from why Pena over Gonzalez is that Pena must have better defensive capabilities, and has a better bat than Blanco, and is somebody who knows how to play the game in the right way (the intangibles). I think if the Royals were ever going to get anything useful in exchange for Berroa it would have happened, at this point, making him a utility player is their only hope. And as for saying Dayton more botched the situation, I couldn’t disagree more – botch is a strong word. Neither of us have seen Pena play yet, and Dayton was obviously VERY familiar with his capabilities being that he came from Atlanta, plus he’s making the major league minimum. Cordier has been hampered by injuries, heck look at the broken road riddled with injured minor league pitchers – they guy won’t even pitch this year. Not to mention, Pena is just keeping the spot warm until Bianchi is ready (which is another IF as he’s been hampered by injuries constantly). Savaging this trade is like writing a movie review without having seen the movie. Lets revisit at the All Star break.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Royals’ Excess OFs and a little pitching talk

Kevin: How bout the royals, still seeing promising signs – we do have to trade Brown and Sanders we have too many other young guys who deserve a chance in our OF…

Muneer: You know, I would actually hold on to Brown and Sanders for now. Butler’s defensive skills still need work, Shane Costa is not an everyday guy, and neither is Gathright. I think that if the team holds on to the vets, it allows Butler and Costa time in the minors to get their games together and keeps Gathright’s atrocious stats on the bench. What do I know though? Given the Royals’ history, they’ll bring Butler up for two weeks to ride the bench and then rush him into the lineup in late April.

Kevin: Costa could play everyday – at least platoon with Gathright. Don’t forget Butler, Maier and Lubanski all in AAA OF as well. Maier is really close I think. We just need to make sure the young guys get a chance to develop.

Muneer: To seize upon your last point, the Royals do need the young guys to develop. That’s exactly why they have to keep Sanders and Brown. We’ve seen in the past what has happened when the Royals allowed players to develop at the major league level. In my view, a player is basically done developing his basic skill set when he gets called up. Once up in the majors, that player should basically be honing that skill set and helping the team. The majors are no place for a young player to continue learning exactly how to play or hit.

Gathright and Costa are both part-timers, and for good reasons. To take the concept of two wrongs, two platoon outfielders don’t make one decent major leaguer. Butler should be up midseason if Dayton has any sense. I fail to believe his defense is THAT bad.

I hadn’t thought about Maier and Lubanski as being ready for the show. I say they’re still at least another year off.

Kevin: Well, the point is you can’t have Costa or Gathright in the minors, their time is now, and Costa projects to a good offensive hitter.. I mean, really, so you send Costa to the minors—what then for Lubanksi, Butler and Maier…and Huber.. see it’s a really crowded situation…

Muneer: You can certainly send Gathright to the minors if needed. It’s not like it’ll stunt any developing he still has left. Gathright is a no-hit, all-speed guy. Those sorts of players are always 4th OFs or pinch runners.

On Lubanski, we’ll have to wait and see. He hit .282 with 15 HRs and 11 SBs last year. Those are good numbers, but they don’t indicate an MLB-ready player. The Texas League is notoriously hitter friendly, and if those stats are all Lubanski could muster, he’s not ready for the show.
No arguments on Butler. He’s more than ready offensively, and I think should be called up midseason at the latest. At that point, the Royals should look into moving Sanders or Brown.
I agree Costa should be up now. But, I think it’s more important to showcase Brown and Sanders so that the Royals can get maximum value. Which puts Costa’s ETA in becoming an everyday player at sometime in June.

Maier is decent, but like Lubanski, he put up only above average stats at Wichita. Based on past performance, I’d say Maier is ahead of Lubanski right now. But, neither belong with the big club just yet. They both need at least another full season at Omaha.

I don’t think Huber even warrants much consideration as part of the Royals’ future. He has put up mediocre numbers at Omaha, and failed miserably each time he’s been up in KC. Granted, the sample size with KC is not that large, but he has not done much to inspire confidence in Royals fans with his Omaha stats.

Kevin: Yes yes yes, but we can’t keep all these guys around – at least two of them must go. Although, isn’t Huber manning 1B rather than OF? Gathright’s been having a very good spring by the way, Gathright deserves one more chance to succeed – he should at least be our 4th OF at this time. You need to check the spring numbers though, you are right on some counts, and wrong on others. Huber talked about his poor performance last year as a result of him trying to generate more power, but once we went back to his normal plate approach he hit very well. Huber should be traded, I agree, but he need to perform in AAA and let us spin off for a pitcher or a Middle IF.
How about pitching? We’ve actually got a nice fight on our hands – Meche has been solid, Perez has been awful (but is a lock for the rotation), Hudson hasn’t done anything to lose his grip… but the last two slots should, at this time, belong to Bannister and Soria.

Muneer: Dude, 1B is an even bigger roadblock for Huber. Shealy’s got that spot locked up unless he becomes like Berroa. As far as the explanations as to why he sucked last year, I need to see him put up numbers like he did at AAA before I can believe any excuses for last year. Plus, if Huber was such a star in the Royals’ eyes, then what was the rationale behind trading for Shealy?

I wholeheartedly agree that Gathright should be a 4th OF. I’m saying that he has no business starting for a decent MLB team.
Before we start crowning Gil Meche as the new ace, we need to be mindful of the fact that he has only pitched 3 innings so far. I’m waiting until later in the spring to see where he really is. Same for Soria. He’s not facing true MLB competition right now. A lot of these batters playing in spring training right now will be in the minors or bagging groceries in a month. I’m reserving all judgement on pitching until about March 25.

But, if I had to set the rotation today, I’d put in de la Rosa as the 5th starter. Soria hasn’t pitched above A ball. He’ll get killed if he’s trotted out there against the AL’s big bats. There’s a huge differences between an A ball hitter and Gary Sheffield.

Kevin: Woah nelly, I’m just saying I may have misspoke in stating that Huber was an OF rather than a 1B. He’s still young and a prospect – the idea obviously is that he produce so well the Royals can spin him off (as I mentioned). One caveat to Gathright, if he can be a high OBP guy and can actually steal 80% of his attempts, I’d say he’s a starter in the Majors – this is the last chance we’ll have to see if he’s that type of guy – if he is, he’s still probably best off being traded at that point.
Who crowned Meche as the new ace – he’s been solid so far in Spring Training (compared to Odalis Perez). Soria started yesterday and as you know, he did face MLB players, as the true MLB talent usually start games and then are benched in favor of young guys, so starting pitchers can tend to give an indication on their ability more so than those who come in later in the game. Also, all indications are that Soria’s work in the Mexican League was AA quality AND it’s a hitters league, so its not completely outrageous for pitchers to be ready to go after AA work. There’s still a lot of pitching left in Spring Training, but as things stand now, Soria has been THE BEST the Royals have thrown out there so far.

Muneer: The reason I lumped Huber in with OF was because he will not beat out Shealy. OF is the only viable option for him, unless he goes back to catching.
Gathright has had several chances with TB and KC to prove he’s a high OBP guy, and he hasn’t done it. He’s had quite a few chances to become an elite basestealer and he hasn’t done it. The Royals need to stop being lured by pure potential and send out the boring guys who will actually produce. He’s simply not going to be a starter in KC, simply because the team has other, more reliable options.

Dude, I can see a hitter coming up here from AA, but how many pitchers make that jump successfully. Just look at the track record of the Royals bringing up guys from AA (Greinke, Jim Pittsley, etc.). It’s not good. The Mexican League may be the equivalent of AA, but it’s still two steps in the chain away from MLB, and Soria has not played an entire season at that level. If the Royals are smart, they’ll either buy him from his old team or stash him away as one out specialist.

Why is Meche the ace? I think there are about 55 million reasons why. If he’s not the ace, then what the hell were the Royals thinking giving him that ridiculous contract?

Kevin: Gathright is only 25 years old, just one year older than Mitch Maier. I think you are being to quick to write him off. I don’t think he’s necessarily better than f 4th OF though, I just still think he can be a valuable player. As for Soria, we’ll have to see, he’ll be with us for a whole season regardless, and he projects as a starter, so perhaps the Royals will use him for that purpose.

Muneer: Soria projects as a starter, but when was the last time a pitcher made the jump from A ball and was successful. I know you brought up the point that he played in the Mexican League, but that is a winter league and they don’t play a full season. Hitters at the MLB level are a lot better than A ball hitters at making adjustments and taking advantage of a pitcher’s faults. If Soria is used in anything but middle relief, we can expect a Lima-esque performance from him.
Gathright is 25, fine. He technically has not entered his prime. I agree that he can be useful, but there is no way I think it’s feasible for the Royals to give 300-400 ABs to a guy who hit only .238 last year. Those ABs would be better given to guys like Maier or Costa. Gathright really isn’t suited for much right now besides pinch running. He can’t hit enough to be a valuable pinch hitter, and is fielding is not good enough to make him a viable defensive replacement. On second thought, maybe he should be in the minors, improving his defense like Billy Butler.

Kevin: If Soria continues to be the absolute best pitcher in Spring Training the rest of the way, he’s earned a spot as a starter. Probably the fifth starter but he deserves that spot. That’s why they play the games, right? There’s still 15 some odd games left in ST and he’ll have a lot more innings and will face higher caliber hitters. Its just not out of the realm of possibilities that he could be slated as a starter if he performs at the level he has been at.

I’m not ready to write Gathright off, but we have players/options who will contribute more to the team overall – but he’s had a very good spring, has hit well and got on base at every level other than the Majors, this is his season to make or break, either way, I think the Royals trade him later – but we all know what speed on the basepaths does to help the hitters – and that’s why I think Gathright is an important player to develop, he’ll not have the power of DeJesus, but if Gathrigh can get an OBP over .360 and lets fact it, improve his steals rate, then I think the Royals have a decision to make. The whole point is 3-4 of our OFs are trade fodder anyway.