The Royals, George Kottaras, and Cash

Back in March, I wrote about the alleged spring training positional battle story for the Royals’ backup catcher spot between George Kottaras. For all of Kottaras’ defensive liabilities, it was pretty clear he was going to be the choice to be Salvador Perez‘ caddy in 2013 since he had a clearly superior bat to Hayes that overcame his defensive issues. As a left-handed hitter, Kottaras also provided a useful platoon player so that Perez’ off days could be scheduled versus a right-handed starter. Kottaras was a useful bench bat in general. Finally, since the Royals went out of their way to claim Kottaras off of waivers from Oakland, they clearly wanted him around.

Kottaras was indeed the Royals’ primary backup catcher in 2013, but Hayes (or perhaps Francisco Pena) seems to have gotten the last laugh. Kottaras was designated for assignment a few days ago by the Royals, and yesterday was traded to the Cubs for cash. It is essentially a minor transaction, and in itself does not make a huge difference. It might, however, help us raise questions about the Royals’ off-season strategy.

In 2013 there is little need to point out that Kottaras .180 batting average this past season should not be a concern. Most readers understand 126 plate appearances as a backup say very little about a player’s true talent in general, especially when it comes to batting average. Moreover, despite the low batting average (due to a combination of Kottaras’ almost always-low BABIP and a high strikeout rate even for him), his power and walks still allowed him to be a slightly above-average hitter with a 102 wRC+ (.180/.349/.370). Kottaras will be 31 in May, but while the strikeout rates are eye-popping and stabilize relatively quickly, the sample is still pretty small. Kottaras’ Steamer projection will probably change from what it is on the player page once the depth charts update his projected playing time. At this point, he is projected to be a roughly league average hitter again, which is more than good enough for a catcher. A catcher with league average offense and average defense is an above-average player.

If Kottaras had anything like average defensive ability, he would probably be starting somewhere. Kottaras might be decent at blocking pitches, but he is easy to run on and most evidence points to him not being much of a pitch framer. This is confirmed both by different metrics and Kottaras being relegated to part-time duty on all of his previous teams, who clearly did not want his glove out there every game.

Brett Hayes is currently the Royals’ in-house replacement for Kottaras. He is just a year younger than Kottaras, so it is not as if he has a bunch of upside. If Kottaras’s career is pretty much one of a backup catcher, Hayes’ career is the picture of the backup’s backup during his. It is hard to say what Hayes’ defense is like given the paucity of major league playing time. It is probably fair to assume that is better than Kottaras. While Kottaras has a career 98 wRC+ due to walks and some pop, Hayes has a career 67 wRC+, strikes out even more than Kottaras, walks less than half as often, and features less power. Steamer projects Hayes for a 79 wRC+ next season (with the usual caveats about playing time adjustments), but even that might be generous given how much it relies on minor league translations. Hayes might be a better defensive catcher than Kottaras, but he would need to be elite to make up the difference between their bats.

There is no need to belabor the point: Hayes is basically a replacement level catcher. Kottaras, despite his defensive limitations, has enough pop and platoon value to be worth about a win even in part-time play as a catcher, bench bat, and occasional DH. The Royals were willing to pay Kottaras $1 million in 2013, and he was not likely to get much more in 2014. As of this writing, I have not seen any reports on what sort of money Kansas City is getting back from Chicago, but it probably is not much. The Royals are saving some money here, but the question is whether it is worth it.

Some may be tired of dollars to wins calculations, but they are still important and relevant (if difficult to establish). Just measured on that scale, in isolation this looks like a bad decision for the Royals, even if it is minor. Kottaras is no great shakes, but he had a definite role on the team. Hayes is just a placeholder (and if he was really a defensive wizard, he likely would have played in more than 148 games spread over five major league seasons).

Nevertheless, moves like this cannot just be examined in isolation. Yes, the Cubs are still rebuilding, but they also have money. Spending a little over a million dollars is not a big deal for them to get a platoon-appropriate backup for Wellington Castillo. Their end of this is not quite as interesting as the Royals’. The Royals, of course, do not have the money the Cubs have. Unlike the Cubs, though, the Royals are trying to contend, or at least should be given their moves during the last off-season (most notably the James Shields/Wil Myers, or, if you like, the Elliot Johnson/Mike Montgomery trade, also the Jeremy Guthrie contract) and this one so far (the Jason Vargas signing). Whatever one thinks of those various moves for the Royals, they are clearly the moves of a team trying to contend.

Kottaras versus Hayes is not likely to make a big difference. Perhaps the Royals will take the money saved and put it towards a backup catcher better than Kottaras, but that seems unlikely since a catcher substantially better than Kottaras would probably be close to being a starter and would want more money and need more playing time than the Royals could give this hypothetical player.

Just because the Royals could afford Kottaras last year does not mean they can afford him this season. Sure, Ervin Santana is (very likely) gone, but they Royals have a number of players due for raises in arbitration. Some they probably will not bring back, but it is safe to say that, for example, Eric Hosmer and Greg Holland, just two players who made the minimum last year, will be 2014 Royals and will be getting significant raises.

Every little bit saved helps, but it will be worth watching which of the other arbitration-eligible players the Royals keep around, e.g., Luke Hochevar or Emilio Bonifacio. Hochevar looks like he will be a useful reliever, but will he be worth paying $5 million in 2014 if the team cannot afford to pay a decent backup catcher (who might help them almost as much) a bit over $1 million? One can go down the list this way. And if the Royals cannot afford either, the question one might ask is whether they should have been “going for it” at all by taking on salary while trading away cost-controlled players).

Trading away George Kottaras only hurts the Royals a bit on the field if Hayes is his replacement. On the other hand, the money they are saving is just a drop in the bucket. By itself, it is minor move. Perhaps the Royals’ larger plan will make more sense of it. If the Royals do have money to, trading away Kottaras does not make tons of sense. If they do not have much money, then trading him away might make sense, but many of their other, bigger moves this off-season and last seem less justifiable. Kottaras himself is not the issue. The Royals’ willingness to make themselves a bit worse for small amount of money during a period in which they are trying to contend is. It makes watching the Royals’ arbitration moves and other budgetary issues more intriguing than usual as ciphers into their thinking.



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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


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Brandon Firstname
Member
2 years 8 months ago

It probably comes down to the fact that the Royals front office still uses batting average as a metric. The Royals front office have continually made a pretty good case that they don’t know what they’re doing.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
2 years 8 months ago

That was my thought exactly. Probably has low RBI numbers and not enough grit too or something.

.
Guest
.
2 years 8 months ago

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Chris
Guest
Chris
2 years 8 months ago

I came here to say basically the same thing, but I think the problem is in the dugout and not the front office.

A good tactical manager could get twice as much value as the Royals got from Kottaras last year. Especially if he had a lineup with as many holes as the 2013 Royals had. Ned is not a good tactical manager, and he seemed to view Kottaras as a liability rather than an asset.

Simply put, he is more valueable to another team. The transaction does not surprise me.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
2 years 8 months ago

I think it’s an organization-wide fault. Ned sucks but so does DM. DM can build a highly rated farm but that’s it.

readujt619
Member
readujt619
2 years 7 months ago

my AuntySamantha just got a nearly new green Toyota Tacoma by working part-time online… hop over to this website……. Buzz16. com

Thanksgiving Turkey
Guest
Thanksgiving Turkey
2 years 8 months ago

Catching it for ya — first sentence should finish “between George Kottaras and Brett Hayes.”

Cisnero's stupid leg
Guest
Cisnero's stupid leg
2 years 8 months ago

No, the battle is between George Kottaras and HIMSELF.

maguro
Guest
maguro
2 years 8 months ago

Deep.

Spit Ball
Guest
Spit Ball
2 years 8 months ago

Greek philosophy has always been deep.

Pokkit
Member
Pokkit
2 years 8 months ago

As a Royals fan, this is dumb. The Royals traded away a cost-controlled player with good offensive skills when the Royals need offense. They seem to have a plan with pitching, but they continue to show that they have no idea how to evaluate offense.

Cidron
Member
Cidron
2 years 8 months ago

to quote GMDM… “Whats this ‘Eeee-Vaal-yoo-ate’ you speak of? “

IDontThinkSo...
Guest
IDontThinkSo...
2 years 7 months ago

How do you figure they have a plan on Pitching?

I would have thought the Vargas signing to fill the open #2 spot, to go with current #3 Guthrie, dispelled any such doubts…

Gabriel
Guest
Gabriel
2 years 8 months ago

The entire article assumes that this is a money-based decision. For the small amount of money and skill this move represents, it’s probably something else, like personality conflicts. Or, it could even be that the player wanted to move on and management obliged.

I guess I think that there are plenty of reasons to say negative things about Royals’ management, but that something like this is probably not indicative of much that we can see.

Pokkit
Member
Pokkit
2 years 8 months ago

According to Bob Dutton, now former Royals beat writer for the KC Star, the decision was made because of money. It saves less than $1M, so I don’t know what they are thinking. They also got rid of a player who could take a walk and hit home runs. That’s not good for a team that lacks both those traits.

ValueArb
Guest
2 years 8 months ago

Just another hangover effect from Shields/Meyers trade. KC added $28M in payroll over 2013-2014 in the deal, and it appears they have to toss some chairs off the deck to free up any spending. You would think contending in the late season increased revenues enough to give them more options, but this decision says no.

jim fetterolf
Guest
jim fetterolf
2 years 7 months ago

Bob Dutton made that claim based on an unnamed Royals’ executive rubbing his thumb and two fingers together. From what I’ve read that is the singular foundation for the move being based on money.

Cidron
Member
Cidron
2 years 8 months ago

Yeah, I would think that ‘plenty of reasons’ (to say negative things about Royals management) would include pretty much everything from the second half of the 1980’s right up to this ‘transaction’.

Bob
Guest
Bob
2 years 8 months ago

As a Royals fan…I don’t really care about our backup catcher. The real question is why does Chris Getz still have a place on the 40 man roster?

Cidron
Member
Cidron
2 years 8 months ago

Yes, he does. He is the new Jeff Franceour

pinch
Guest
pinch
2 years 7 months ago

“As a Royals fan”, as if that explains why you wouldn’t care about your team’s success

Tim
Guest
Tim
2 years 7 months ago

Have you ever met a Royals fan?

Just Saying'
Guest
Just Saying'
2 years 8 months ago

I’m trying to imagine the set of events that would have to happen that would make the downgrade from Kottaras to Hayes in any way relevant to anyone other than close friends and relations of Hayes… and I’ve got nothing.

John
Guest
John
2 years 8 months ago

You’re right, Just Saying. It’s evidently time at FanGraphs for:

…another article in the series “The Royals are so dumb that …”

Slow news day for the MLB.

The Royals, George Kottaras and cash walk into a bar...
Guest
The Royals, George Kottaras and cash walk into a bar...
2 years 8 months ago

`

ColKiner
Guest
ColKiner
2 years 8 months ago

I think we are making a big deal out of nothing…your are missing the point the Royals obviously know…if Sal Perez gets hurt they are sunk regardless of who the back up is. George Kottaras was the last player to make an appearance in a game in 2013 from all players active on Opening Day. That is the piece of Royals strategy to focus on…they are counting on Perez to play 150+ games. If he does, it doesn’t really matter who gets those 25 AB’s out of the catcher spot in the big picture, and if Perez gets hurt you can’t adequately replace Perez anyway.

Brandon Firstname
Member
2 years 8 months ago

Well this is a rather silly view of things.

Vince
Guest
Vince
2 years 8 months ago

If this is how you view the process, I look forward to the earliest possible opportunity to play you at any game of skill for money. Lots of money.

AP
Guest
AP
2 years 8 months ago

Poker is a game of luck, right? You should play that.

Mike D
Guest
sportsczar
Member
sportsczar
2 years 7 months ago

Ummmmmm…Mike, I’m pretty sure that was sarcasm, buddy. Turn up your sarcasm detector or maybe ask for a new one for the Holidays.

triple_r
Member
2 years 8 months ago

Not entirely germane, but the thing on Kottaras being an above-average hitter got me thinking–has anyone researched the lowest batting averages ever for an above-average player? Kottaras wouldn’t count, since he didn’t have enough plate appearances, but it seems like an interesting endeavor; if it hasn’t been done already, I’d be happy to volunteer, as I have nothing better to do over this Thanksgiving break.

Krog
Guest
Krog
2 years 8 months ago

My first guess would be Adam Dunn. In 2012 he batted .204 with 115 wRC+.

TheAlbinoKid
Guest
TheAlbinoKid
2 years 8 months ago

2010 Carlos Pena batted .196 with 105 wRC+

Marsupial Jones
Guest
Marsupial Jones
2 years 8 months ago

The first name that jumped to mind for me was Rob Deer. He had a back to back seasons of .209 and .210.avgs with 104 and 108 wRC+. He then posted a .179 avg and 96 wRC+ the next year.

Mr. Tapeworm
Guest
Mr. Tapeworm
2 years 8 months ago

Dave Kingman, 1973: .203/.300/.479, 110 OPS+

tz
Guest
tz
2 years 8 months ago

Frank Fernandez, Yankees backup catcher, had a 130 RC+ and 1.9 WAR despite hitting only .170 in 1968.

For his career, Fernandez had a WAR of 7.0 in about 2 full seasons worth of plate appearances, with a 118 wRC+…….and a career .199 batting average.

nada
Guest
nada
2 years 8 months ago

that’s amazing. 3.5 WAR per season for a catcher is quite good… I wonder if he couldn’t have at least had a productive career, perhaps solid enough for the Hall of Very Good, if his skills were valued properly in that era.

Ian R.
Guest
2 years 8 months ago

All hail the Year of the Pitcher!

triple_r
Member
2 years 8 months ago

This is all good, but I was inquiring as to if there was a specific article on the subject. If there isn’t, I could write one–it seems to be right up my alley.

Marsupial Jones
Guest
Marsupial Jones
2 years 8 months ago

I agree that it is a bit of an odd move but I have a hard time getting too worked up over a move that will only have such a mariginal effect.

Brendan J.
Guest
Brendan J.
2 years 8 months ago

I wish the Cubs had money.

Ruki Motomiya
Guest
Ruki Motomiya
2 years 8 months ago

Maybe they need the 1 mil to get a specific player they’re targetting or are getting actually decent cash value from the Cubs? I doubt the Cubs are giving much, though.

As long as the money goes back into the club, I don’t mind the deal. Hochevar could be worth trading or not taking either way: While he is now a reliever and not a starter, his career numbers ARE pretty poor and he had a .214 BABIP last year. It could be better to trade him or use the 5 mil on another player (Or to help add to signing a big player) and replace him with a high upside, low cash reliever or someone from the farm (Do the Royals have any good relievers coming up?).

LillieSmith0
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LillieSmith0
2 years 7 months ago

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