Fire Dayton Moore

Fire Dayton Moore
It's time.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The day after the day

Even during the most forgettable Trade Deadline in recent memory, the Royals managed to be, well, forgettable. The Royals made one minor trade with the Houston Astros. This post will delve into that trade and elaborate on what Dayton Moore should have done if he were serious about competing this season, as well as in years 8-10, which are suddenly and conveniently at the heart of "the plan."

The Trade
Royals receive: OF Justin Maxwell (age 29)
Astros receive: RHP Kyle Smith (age 20)

The Players
Maxwell: In in his fifth Major League season, Maxwell is suiting up for his third team in the Royals. He will be a free agent at the end of the season. Over his career, he's posted a 3.8 WAR and his high year was a 2.0 WAR in 2012 — the only season in which he appeared in more than 67 games. His rookie season was 2007, so if you're wondering why the math doesn't add up with his Major League service time, that's because he didn't make an appearance in 2008 or 2011. Suffice it to say, Maxwell is an "org" guy* with just enough talent to hold his own in the big leagues. Had he not been in the Astros organization in 2012, 67 games would probably still be his career high.

*In the minor leagues, players who aren't expected to reach the Major Leagues are referred to as "org" guys or "org" players because they're basically signed to fill roster spots throughout the organization. While the term mostly pertains to minor leaguers, I think there are certainly big league equivalents, such as Maxwell. Such players can fill the 25th roster spot and not embarrass themselves.

In Maxwell's career 2012 season, he did hit 18 home runs, but offset that with a .229/.304/.460 slash line. The flash of power was somewhat impressive, but has proven to be fluky given his 11 additional home runs in parts of four more seasons. He can play all three outfield spots adequately, but not spectacularly.

The fairest description I can come up with for Maxwell is he's the kind of player that, if he's already in your organization, you're fine with keeping him around until his contract runs out. However, he's not the kind of player you go out of your way to acquire.

Smith: In his second professional season, Smith was drafted in the fourth round out of high school. He began 2013 at High-A Wilmington and remained there up until the trade. In 19 starts, he'd posted a 2.85 ERA and 1.17 WHIP as well as 96 strikeouts in 104 1/3 innings, an 8.3 K/9 rate and a 3.31 K/BB ratio.

The projections for Smith aren't quite as sparkling as the numbers. At 6'0", 170-pounds he certainly doesn't fit the starter prototype (6'2"+, 185-pounds+) and he was not going overly deep into games (averaged fewer than six innings per start). Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks had this to say of Smith:

I know Yahoo's Jeff Passan and ESPN's Keith Law posted similar tweets regarding Smith. One tweet in particular mentioned Smith's fastball ranged from 88-90, which also isn't ideal for a right-hander, whereas left-handers seem to get away with lower velocity stuff. Smith was a fringe Top 10 prospect in the Royals' organization by most noteworthy sources, which of course has something to do with the depth in the system, and I'm sure he'll slide into a similar spot within the Astros' system.

All that being said, I think there is a place for Smith in baseball. To my knowledge he hasn't lost velocity since being drafted, so it's safe to assume he's always had suspect velocity but has still found a way to succeed at every level he's pitched. It's not out of the realm of possibility he develops into a dependable No. 5 starter someday. The Royals might actually be within striking distance of the Tigers if they had a dependable No. 5 starter this season. But even if Smith doesn't make a rotation, he could certainly have value in a middle relief role. This trade deadline showed the value of middle relief in the game right now, so he might even have more value if he's converted into a solid reliever.

The Breakdown
The value Maxwell is supposed to offer the Royals is as a platoon option with David Lough in right field. Maxwell, a right-handed hitter, is hitting .302/.348/.488 against lefties this season, although both of his whopping two home runs have come against righties. For his career, his splits are .253/.370/.455 and 10 home runs against lefties compared to 19 homers against righties. So he's better overall against lefties, but loses some of his pop, which is minimal to begin with.

Looking forward, it's expected that Alex Gordon will continue to man left field, Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson will split center field duties, and Maxwell will platoon with Lough in right. All of that makes some amount of sense and I'm sure Royals fans are giddy that Chris Getz became the odd man out when he was placed on the disabled list to make roster room for Maxwell. However, what part of that outfield screams playoff push? Maybe 1/5 of it. The rest has mediocrity written all over it and it's pretty much the outfield Royals fans have to look forward to at least the next 14 months. And just because Getz is out of the equation doesn't mean the Royals' second base woes are solved. It just means Moore and Ned Yost are sampling from a different bottle of poison.

Meanwhile, the Royals sold early and low on Smith, in my opinion. He obviously had value or the Astros, a well-run organization the Royals could learn from, wouldn't have traded for him. With the numbers he was putting up, it's expected he would have some value. But imagine if next year he were in Double-A putting up those numbers. Suddenly he goes from a C+ prospect to a B prospect. Instead of a throw-in piece in a larger trade, he could be a centerpiece of one. There simply wasn't much reason to trade him unless the Royals were getting a substantial player in return. Maxwell is gone after this season and probably won't produce much before he departs. Even if he does, what are the odds it will come in meaningful games?

The last thing I'll say about Smith is, even if he doesn't have the best stuff, if he's been able to succeed to this point, I think he could have added value to the Royals' system from a leadership standpoint. Maybe he's figured out something to get by with subpar stuff. So imagine how much he could help teammates with better stuff, but less know-how. Just because he's 20 doesn't mean he couldn't add value as a leader in the minor league ranks.

I'll leave the final say on the trade to someone smarter than me:

Even if that scout was being generous to Smith's timeline, I think he was equally kind to Maxwell, who could be in Japan next year.

The Alternatives
Despite the limited player movement before the deadline, a few players changed teams that easily could have helped the Royals this year and beyond.

Ian Kennedy (from Diamondbacks to Padres): It's not so much that I'm a fan of Kennedy as I'm merely anti-Wade Davis and the price for Kennedy was incredibly cheap. The Padres acquired Kennedy from the Diamondbacks for Joe Thatcher (a reliever), a minor leaguer (a future reliever), and a draft pick. The Royals have nothing but relievers and minor league arms to offer. I have to think a Luke Hochevar and Kyle Smith offer would have been comparable, although Thatcher is a southpaw. If that was what the Diamondbacks were looking for, offer Bruce Chen and a little better prospect. Kennedy has Wade Davis-like numbers this year (5.23 ERA, 1.42 WHIP) but based on his past numbers, 2013 feels like an aberration. If he would have come anywhere near his 3.99 career ERA with the Royals, he'd have been more than serviceable as a No. 3-4 starter. He's making more than $4 million dollars this year, but isn't a free agent until 2016. I'd have gladly given up one of the Royals many relievers and a prospect or two and bet on Kennedy bouncing back in 2014 and 2015. Especially if the move put Wade Davis one step closer to the bullpen.

Grant Green (from A's to Angels): I actually mentioned the idea of trading for Green recently. The price proved to be much lower for Green than I anticipated as the A's dealt him for former Royal Alberto Callaspo. Back when Callaspo was traded by Moore to the Angels, I thought he sold low, getting nothing more than Sean O'Sullivan and Will Smith. I think the Angels made out like bandits acquiring Green, who was drafted as a shortstop but has been moved to second base. Now the Angels are free to deal Erick Aybar or Howie Kendrick. As much as I might admire Callaspo, he's not a good second baseman. However, the Royals have nothing but mediocre second basemen. I have to think an offer of Miguel Tejada or Elliot Johnson and a low-level prospect, let's say Kyle Smith, could have caught Billy Beane's attention. The Royals could have then let Green take his lumps the rest of this season and had him ready to go next year for his first full year in the big leagues.

Howie Kendrick (stayed put): Let me get one misconception out of the way first. Earlier in the week it came out that the Royals are on Kendrick's "no-trade" list. However, that doesn't mean the Royals are powerless to trade for him. It doesn't help, but that alone doesn't kill a trade. No-trade clauses are put into contracts as a bargaining chip for players. Some players use them for teams they think they could get traded to, so when that team inquires the player can say, "Sure, I'll accept a trade to your club, but how about a 3-year extension?" In Kendrick's case, he's 30 and signed through 2015. He'll be 32 when that runs out, so a 3-year extension to get him to 35 is probably what he'd reasonably be looking for. It'd be hard for the Royals to make that kind of commitment in a matter of days or hours, especially when Kendrick is already making over $9 million a year, but I just wanted to point that out. Maybe a trade this offseason will develop. I doubt it, but he's the best second baseman available and second base will continue to be the Royals' biggest hole going into next season.

That is, unless you remember a 27-year-old rookie and soon-to-be 30-year-old journeyman are platooning in right field while Wil Myers runs away with Rookie of the Year.

Fire Dayton Moore

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