Royals are Foolishly Thinking about Lackey and Miller

Social media is fun a tool to use. It makes following the news a lot easier. You can find hundreds of stories within a matter of minutes on Twitter. I was scrolling through my twitter feed when I found this cute little rumor:

This is just rumor, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Royals are in  hot pursuit for those two arms, but  it is a rumor worth exploring.

Dayton Moore wants his team to win this year, and that’s not completely unreasonable. After all, Moore gets paid to build competitive teams, and if he consistently put lousy products on the field he wouldn’t hold onto his job very long. However, the Royals situation isn’t as competitive as Moore would like to think.

Tigers 57 45 .559 0.0 91.2 70.8 .570 89.1 % 4.9 % 94.0 % 91.4 % 53.3 % 27.4 % 15.7 %
Royals 53 51 .510 5.0 81.8 80.2 .496 4.7 % 10.0 % 14.7 % 8.9 % 3.8 % 1.5 % 0.7 %

The problem appears to be that the Tigers have the AL Central locked up with nearly a 90% chance of winning the division. That would leave the Royals in the midst of a wild-card race. A wild-card berth is not as valuable as it used to be because it results in a one-game toss up. This year, that one-game toss-up would be a difficult one for a team like the Royals to win because they’re likely to face one of the two of the best teams in baseball: the Angels and the Athletics.

In a hypothetical situation where the Royals somehow secure a wild card, they get to face either the Angels’ dynamic offense — including Mike Trout — as well as a fortified bullpen, or they could face the all-around, well-built Oakland A’s. While it’s extremely hard to predict the result of one game, and I don’t possess a magical crystal ball, the odds that the Royals advance to the ALDS don’t look very promising. Given the likelihood that the Royals a) don’t make the playoffs and b) if they do it would most likely be through a wild card matchup that they’re unlikely to win, they should probably not be looking to acquire the services of John Lackey and Andrew Miller.

Based on the work that Jeff Sullivan did a couple of weeks ago, we know that a team that acquires an ace like David Price would roughly increase their playoff odds by about 10%. This is a rough estimate, but that’s the upside of adding someone like Price. I doubt that Lackey would increase playoff odds by 10%, but ZiPs/Steamer projects Lackey to have between 0.9 and 1.1 WAR for the rest of the season. For context, Shields is projected have a WAR of 1.3 for the rest of the season, and Price is projected to have a WAR of 1.5 for the rest of the season.

The difference between Price and Shields is marginal for the rest of the season. However, the difference between Lackey and Price is somewhat significant, so just to be a little more accurate, we have to scale back those increased playoff odds — for Lackey — from 10% to 8%.  I have done no calculations; we’re just simply guesstimating here.

Say that the Royals decide to add a guy like Lackey, and they get the upside of a 8% increased chance of making the playoffs. That still only puts them at roughly a 22.7% chance of making the playoffs. That’s assuming that Lackey performs the way the projections expect him to perform. There’s still a chance that they make a run for a wild-card spot, but the other thing to take into consideration is the price of Lackey and Miller.

Relievers are considered extremely valuable assets if you’re going to the playoffs — so the price on Miller is going to be high — especially if you plan on being in wild-card games, as the strategy in those one-game matchups is to empty the bullpen.

Boston controls a large part of the market, because as the Rays have started winning they’re probably having second thoughts on moving Price. Boston has many arms, and as we’ve seen this week with the Peavy trade, they’ve committed to being sellers at the deadline. They have two of the best available pitchers on their roster: Lester and Lackey.

Therefore, since they have two of the better pitchers on the market the asking price is probably going to be high even on Lackey, given that the next best pitchers available are Bartolo Colon and A.J. Burnett. Rumors have been circling that the Red Sox want at least an average major-league starter in return for a package of Lackey and Miller. There would probably have to be some sort of prospect thrown in, as well. Selling the farm to increase your odds of making the playoffs that aren’t that high to begin with isn’t the best use of the Royals’ resources.

You could make the argument that trading for Lackey is justifiable because he has 2015 club options for a team-friendly $0.5 million, and if the Royals are building for 2015, then they would be bolstering their rotation. The problem is that Lackey’s contract is done after one year — at which point he would be 36 years old — and his skills would be declining. Trading a young player that you could control for multiple years for an aging veteran that you control for one year doesn’t sound like a very good deal.

The Royals simply are not in the position to upgrade with the present in mind. They should probably think about selling rather than buying, but they still want to be relevant in 2014. If the Royals are set on hanging around for a wild card, they should follow the model that the Yankees have set of acquiring low-cost/high reward upgrades; a guy that you hope to squeeze two months of good baseball out of. Otherwise, paying a premium for a pitcher when your team is unlikely to make a run at the playoffs is not the best move that the Royals could be making right now.

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matt w
matt w

“if he consistently put lousy products on the field he wouldn’t hold onto his job very long”

Assumes facts not in evidence.


A Steamer/ZiPS combination projects Lackey to have a 3.8 WAR season this year. Let’s call his remaining value 1.0 WAR, which has a market value of $6.5 million (I know, I know, oversimplification). If the Sox eat his contract for this season, and Lackey regresses by 0.5 WAR next season, and $/WAR is still at $6.5 million, he generates $21 million in surplus value, giving his contract a net surplus value of $27.5 million. That’s hella valuable. Maybe not to the Royals, but to another team. Definitely worth trading a top-30 prospect for.