Royals Add Jonathan Broxton, Flexibility

The Royals can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. The upcoming season may not be the first one since 1985 to see a Kansas City club make the playoffs, but 2011 showed there is exciting talent on hand. The offense scored 730 runs last season and posted a 102 wRC+ despite relying largely on young players. But the pitching… let’s not talk about the pitching.

Dayton Moore has already brought in Jonathan Sanchez as the first piece to a rebuilt Royals pitching staff. Today, he made his second move, bringing in another former NL West Jonathan, signing former Dodger Jonathan Broxton to a one-year deal worth $4 million and another $1 million possible via incentives.

At first glance, it seems like the Royals should be addressing their rotation issues first. It rarely matters how good your bullpen is if your starting rotation can’t get you to the seventh inning, or at least to the sixth. With Sanchez as the assumed opening day starter and Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy behind him, the fifth inning may be a question mark on more than a few days.

Although the addition of Broxton doesn’t directly address these issues, it does give the Royals some flexibility with the talent currently residing in their bullpen. It appears the Royals will be moving 25-year-old Aaron Crow out of the pen and into the rotation for the 2012 season. There is some debate as to whether Crow is the best option for transition into a starter — Joakim Soria is another option — but that will be covered in a later post.

But mostly, this just isn’t a favorable market for the Royals to invest in starting pitching. C.J. Wilson, Roy Oswalt and Mark Buehrle are too old and too expensive to be targets for a young, building team in a small market. Instead, Kansas City would likely be stuck with a Jeff Francis type again — useful in the short run, but hardly a gamechanger.

Broxton, if healthy, can be a major asset even in just 60 innings or so out of the bullpen. If he doesn’t return to form, the risk is minimal — he takes his $4 million dollars and both sides move on with next season’s budget intact. If we see the Broxton of 2006-2010 — the Broxton which compiled 9.5 WAR in five seasons out of the bullpen — the Royals either have an excellent trade chip for the deadline or the backbone of one of baseball’s best bullpens.

The idea of the super-bullpen — much like the one which nearly led the 2010 Padres to a playoff appearance despite a dearth of hitting talent — has already occurred to the Royals brass. With Broxton in tow, the Royals have a back end of Greg Holland, Broxton, and Joakim Soria, one that stacks up as well as any in the league in terms of potential.

Holland posted a 1.80 ERA and a 2.21 FIP in his first major stint as a Royal last season. If Broxton and Soria both return to form, that bullpen will be one of the American League’s best — role players like Everett Teaford, Tim Collins, and Jeremy Jeffress could fill out the front end nicely.

This strategy is, of course, heavily built on the idea of potential. The reality may be that Broxton or Soria or even both are simply shells of their former selves, the bullpen crashes and burns, and the Royals sputter to another 70-win season. But for this year’s Royals to have even a chance of knocking the Detroit Tigers off their perch as AL Central champions, they need everything and more to break their way.

The kind of high-variance, low-risk strategy we see with a “killer bullpen” is one way the Royals can find these breaks. With both Broxton and Soria as potential trade bait should the team fail, and Broxton representing only a short-term investment, there is little to lose for Kansas City. With a little luck and more improvement from the offense, the Royals can try to compete while keeping an eye towards the future as well.

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16 Responses to “Royals Add Jonathan Broxton, Flexibility”

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  1. Yirmiyahu says:

    Not sure that it makes a ton of sense for the Royals in particular, but $4M for Broxton is a great low-risk high-reward move for any team. Especially in this reliever market. Jonathan Papelbon got $50M. Joe Nathan is arguably just as much a risk as Broxton, and he got $14.5M. And Javier Lopez somehow got $8.5M.

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  2. Bodhizefa says:

    If by flexibility, you mean they add a guy to their rotation who shouldn’t be starting in the big leagues (and who should have been getting reps down on the farm last year instead), then yes, Aaron Crow is all kinds of flexible.

    Broxton has looked like toast for the better part of the last 18 months. The Royals will be lucky to get a C-minus prospect for him come the deadline, in my opinion.

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  3. This guy says:

    Don’t forget about Louis Coleman.

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  4. Greg says:

    I don’t agree with using the 2010 Padres as a model. The Padres bullpen in 2010 was virtually identical to the pen in 2009. Bell, Adams (after coming back from shoulder surgery), Gregerson, Thatcher, and Mujica were all very effective in 2009 too. In fact, the Padres had a good bullpen in 2009 and 2011 when they won just 75 and 71 games respectively.

    If the 2010 Padres can be a model for anything, it’s this: If you play 81 games in a stadium that depresses runs, you may get very lucky one year and prevent a lot more runs than your pitching and defense should prevent.

    I don’t see the Royals competing next year unless their starting rotation is blessed with a ton of good luck.

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  5. Al says:

    $4M is a substantial risk considering Broxton had elbow troubles. You can get a solid middle reliever or maybe even two for that. I think the Royals are still in “we have to overpay” mode. Spend $4M twice, and you could have had a decent SP and solved the real problem.

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  6. Pants says:

    Forgive me if I’m wrong, but isn’t a win usually worth about $5 million?

    Broxton is 27, and has only had one season of below one war, it just happened that it was last year. If it doesn’t pan out, it’s not really that much money, and if it does, he’s a huge trade chip at the deadline.

    As an o’s fan, I wish we did more like this. The closest I can think of is George Sherrill. He wasn’t as young, but was coming off a so-so year, outperformed his contract and netted some good prospects.

    Look at Papelbon, too. Last year at this time, he was essentially a valueless player, and a year later, he’s worth $50 million.

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  7. Paul says:

    Few things:

    Broxton was signed because they believe they can compete next year.

    As mentioned, it give them the flexibility to move Crow to the rotation since Duffy’s command is just not adequate right now. On the other hand, I’d bet that Teaford or Luis Mendoza wins the fifth job and Crow is back in the pen.

    Please do not have somebody embarrass themselves by writing the Joakim Soria-to-the-rotation article. He has a hard time staying healthy out of the bullpen. If ever there was a time to move him to the rotation, wasn’t it last year, when Luke Hochevar was the “ace” by default? Joakim Soria will not ever start a game as long as he is in a Royals uniform.

    I love this move, and with the news that the White Sox are dangling Matt Thornton, I’d double down. Louis Coleman and Tim Collins are essentially trick pitchers who the league adjusted to. Crow back to the pen, a healthy Broxton, and Thornton, along with Soria and Holland, would be pretty solid.

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  8. Jonny5 says:

    Broxton and flexible are rarely said in the same breath. With that said he can be a very effective relief pitcher. But he seems to implode in high anxiety situations, which should be far and few between in KC. So I expect him to perform better than last season and become trade bait before the deadline.

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  9. Jeff Zimmerman says:

    Hitler’s take on the trade:

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  10. mike says:

    Have the Royals learned nothing from the Rays success? I don’t see how it makes any sense for a small market team like the Royals to invest $4 million in a relief pitcher, especially when it already has a proven closer. The Royals should be either (1) investing this money in starting pitching, or (2) saving it to invest in prospects and starting pitching later. Having a lock down bullpen is great and important for a team contending for the pennant, but it doesn’t mean anything unless your team is wining after 7. With the Royals starting rotation, I don’t see that happening for them a whole lot this season. More likely the Royals now have an expensive bullpen that will be watching a lot of 7-4 losses.

    If the Royals for some reason felt they needed to spend this money, why not try to send it and a hitting prospect to the Rays for one of the 7 starters in the Rays organization that is better than anyone the Royals have. The Royals are never going to have the money to buy big name starting pitchers on the free agent market, so if they want to compete they will need to try something else. But spending a lot of money on a bullpen when you don’t have solid starting pitching, IMO, is not going to work.

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    • Paul says:

      Other than an extra 1m, how is this different than the Farnsworth deal last year, or picking up his extension? Cheap backend reliever, i.e., the Rays model. This is not to mention that two years ago the Rays picked up Soriano from the Braves in what was essentially a salary dump because he accepted arb., and paid $7m for that season.

      So you want them to save money for starting pitching while acknowledging that they will never be able to play in that sandbox. They are developing their own pitching, but trying to hold any org. to the standard of hitting on guys like Hellickson in the fourth round, or Moore in round 7 is really not realistic, is it?

      They do invest in prospects. Last year alone they gave the second highest international signing bonus to a five tool CFer a month before they gave a five tool CFer their highest draft bonus ever. They also signed Raul Mondesi’s son to a huge international bonus, and went way overslot on two guys after the 20th round.

      I would love to see the Royals trade Butler to the Rays for pitching, but outside of big upside guys the Rays have nothing for offensive prospects. We know that Moore isn’t going anywhere. So what, you want them to send a guy like Butler on a team-friendly 4 year deal, oh and cash, to the Rays for Davis or Niemann? Cobb and B- pitching prospects which the Royals already have a bunch of?

      Their fifth starter candidates are essentially the same guys as what the Rays would be willing to deal. Plus, the Royals have the money. And unlikely the Rays, whose payroll is not increasing despite magical playoff runs, the Royals have a really good fanbase despite all the losing forever. This deal is just a no-brainer.

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      • mike says:

        The Rays didn’t spend money on relief pitchers until they had a great starting rotation in place and were ready to compete for a championship. When they knew they weren’t quite ready to compete, in 2007, they spent no money on the pen (and had one of the all time worst bullpens in history as a result). They did this intentionally to save money for when they were actually close. It wasn’t until they had a front three of Kazmir, Shields and Garza (and EJax at 4 and Price pretty much ready to step in) that they started spending money on relief arms. They still spend very little on relief pitchers, and primarily limit relief pitchers to one year deals with team options.

        The Royals are simply not going to compete for a championship next year with the rotation they currently have. If they want to compete, they absolutely must get better starting pitching and until they do it won’t matter if they have the best bullpen in the world. The Royals have enough hitting prospects to get Shields, or maybe even Price, if they really wanted to do so, and they would still have enough offensive talent coming up to compete if their pitching prospects pan out. You put either Shields or Price at the front of a rotation with Crow, Montgomery, and Ordorizzi and 2013 could be the Royals year.

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      • BX says:

        Jonathan Broxton could very well be flipped for prospects mid season— so this could turn out being an investment in prospects.

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  11. BX says:

    Other point:

    The Royals’ young guys are cheap. Like, league min cheap. The Royals will have a low payroll because there’s no point in them bringing in impact FAs until they see what their young guys can do.

    If Broxton is good and the Royals aren’t competing, that’s when you flip him at the deadline and help the farm. If he’s bad, well, its 4MM that they probably wouldn’t have spent anyway.

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