This post could easily be three words long, but I assume that the premise of the “What the X Should Do” series is to assume the place of the front office, so… I know it’s hard to believe, but the Royals are out of 2010 contention this season. They need to look to the future, but it is difficult to figure out when that “future” might actually begin, and thus what current players might and might not be part of it.
Buy or Sell
Clearly, the Royals should sell, but whom? The Royals aren’t young: the only player under 26 among the regulars and starting pitchers is Billy Butler. As will be discussed below, there’s no significant help coming from the farm system (other than from players who should already be up like Alex Gordon and Kila Ka’aihue — both 26) this season or next. The most optimistic possibility for significant help from the minors is 2012, and while that seems unrealistic to me, it at least gives us a place to start: the Royals should be looking to get value for any player on their roster that is not likely to have value for them in 2012.
The Royals have plenty of players that will not be helpful in 2012 or after, but a sizable chunk of them are useless (or close to it) now. Scott Podsednik is Juan Pierre without the glove. Jose Guillen has hit decently this season, but once you narrow his options to AL teams (he can only DH, despite recent appearances in RF), then narrow that to contenders… and after that, well, there’s still his massive salary (prorated portion of $12 million dollars remaining this season). Both were hot to start the season, and if they can’t get a C- prospect for either of them with the Royals picking up their entire salaries now, they never will. Both are currently sucking up playing time better given to others, and should simply be released. Well, if Podsednik can’t be traded he might be useful off the bench “just in case” fellow ill-fated outfield acquisition Rick Ankiel doesn’t return to full health soon. The Royals might as well keep Ankiel around to up his numbers a bit in case of a waiver trade (he has no value at the moment), although he should not be allowed to block Alex Gordon or even Mitch Maier. Gil Meche is a slightly different case, and is on the DL at the moment, but even if he wasn’t, his 2009 and 2010 performance, as well as his contract, gives him little or no value on the market without the Royals picking up a significant portion of his salary. Some other Royals might have a bit of value, but not enough to be helpful to the Royals other than as a salary dump: Kyle Farnsworth, Willie Bloomquist, and Captain 92%.
The Royals do have some players that they should move in expectation of getting something helpful back. Brian Bannister is 29, his recent performances don’t inspire confidence, and by the time 2012 comes around he won’t be worth his likely arbitration award, but he’s still under team control, and might be a useful #4 starter somewhere else. David DeJesus, one of the more underrated players in baseball, has significantly more value. He plays good defense on the outfield corners, can probably still play passably in center, and is having the best offensive season of his career. He has a very club-friendly contract ($4.7 million in 2010, with a $6 million club option for 2011, a bargain for a 3-win player). While he can help a team now, and the Royals don’t need to be (re-)signing any 30+ players for their next contender. He won’t bring back a future star, but he could bring back another (young and cost-controlled) David DeJesus-type: an above-average regular. The longer they wait, the less they will get back.
One intriguing piece is closer Joakim Soria, who has a club-friendly contract through 2011 with club options for 2012-2014. It is a good deal for the team, but relievers are rarely worth more than two wins a season, and the Royals should be at least check if they can get more value for him on the market for the 2012-and-after seasons.
There is something special on the roster. As I wrote above, the “2012” scenario is exceedingly optimistic, but it remains in the minds of many fans because it is the last season of Zack Greinke‘s current contract. Greinke has been up and down this season, but his 5-win 2008 and 9-win 2009 are still relevant. Unless the Royals can realistically contend in 2012, the club needs to be open to trading Greinke. They have time to be picky (and don’t have to trade him this season), but the sooner they move him, the more they can get for him. Even if one thinks he is “only” a five-win pitcher, he’s being paid like a sub-3 win pitcher for the remainder of his contract, and that value could bring back an impressive haul.
Now, if even 2013 seems unrealistic for contention, then all bets are off. If that is the case, the Royals don’t have to trade the following players, but the team should be open to seeing what value they can bring back: Alberto Callaspo (for sure), Chris Iannet– I mean Alex Gordon (still potentially good, despite the organization’s efforts to scapegoat, bury, and devalue him), and Billy Butler (unless they can extend him to an Adam Lind-type contract).
On the Farm
Prior to the season, Beyond the Box Score’s aggregate farm system rankings had the Royals at #6, and since then Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer have actually started to live up to their draft status, and the pitching continues to impress. That being said, it must be kept in mind that other than raking 26-year-old “prospects” Alex Gordon and (maybe) Kila Ka’aihue in AAA (being blocked by all that super talent on the big club), none of the impact prospects are above AA, which is why the 2012 scenario is so unlikely.
Say what you want about Dayton Moore (and I have), but along with putting together a good farm system, he has also done well in convincing ownership to increase the budget significantly (which is the main reason the farm system has improved). The Royals’ major league payroll is currently around $75 million dollars and probably won’t go much higher in the near future. While Guillen, Ankiel, Willie Bloomquist, and Kyle Farnsworth will be coming off the books after the season, the Royals have a number of players due for arbitration raises such as Gordon, Butler, Callaspo, Bannister, as well as contractual raises for players like Greinke and Soria, so there won’t be much money as one might think for Dayton Moore to make his typically shrewd free agent signings.*
* Props to Dan Szymborski.