Fire Dayton Moore

Fire Dayton Moore
It's time.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Making sense of the offseason (thus far)

I must apologize for my hiatus. I've actually just come back up for air after a two-month celebratory bender in honor of the 2013 Kansas City Royals. I mean, is it just me or does it feel like not Boston, but Kansas City is the reigning World Series Champion?!

No. It doesn't.

The last time you heard from me, I'd thrown my hands in the air and decided ridiculing Dayton Moore could wait for another day. Almost everything that happened post All-Star break for the Royals defied reason or explanation. Moore's lucky rabbit's foot or whatever he was using at the time skipped warp speed and went straight to plaid as Justin Maxwell belted five home runs and slashed .268/.351/.505 down the stretch for the Royals, for example.

It was simply Moore's year and, although none of the math added up, even I couldn't argue with the results. When the dust settled, the Royals turned in 86 wins, a third place finish and unpunched tickets to the playoffs — 7 games behind American League Central champ Detroit and 5.5 games out of the wild card. You already know this. I basically predicted it. (I officially predicted a fourth place finish behind the White Sox. Those games I expected the Royals to lose to the White Sox but turned out to be victories nosed Kansas City above .500 while Chicago fell off the face of the planet).

But I'm back. So is Ned. And, more importantly, so is Dayton (of course) through 2016. Assume the position.

Up until today, all I had to rant about was Moore doing what Moore does — sign a mediocre pitcher to an excruciatingly long contract to get a bargain price. Giving Jason Vargas four years and $32 million was such a pathetic attempt to replace Ervin Santana, I couldn't muster the energy to return to the blog just yet and I can't even expend much energy on it right now.

Vargas will be a league average pitcher for the first two years of the deal. The final two years, he will make fans wish Moore had just given him an extra $2 million per to cut the length of the contract in half. And compared to my friend and Mariners fan/blogger, whose blog you should visit here, I'm being optimistic.

Vargas is slotted to be the Royals' No. 3 starter and that makes the Royals most optimistic of all. Then again, Wade Davis is penciled in at No. 5, so what difference does it make? And as much as I still hate the Shields-Myers trade (see below), it is downright frightening to think what the rotation will look like in 2015 (a whole lot of Guthrie, Vargas and Davis if Danny Duffy and his younger cohorts don't figure things out fast), let alone 2014.

(From Jonah Keri's Trade Value piece on Grantland, where Myers rated the 23rd most valuable trade asset and Shields went unmentioned. As did Wade Davis.)

Simply put, Vargas is a back-end arm on a contender and a mid-rotation guy on any team that's simply crossing its fingers and hoping for the best. If Moore had developed any arms internally in seven seasons, the Vargas signing never happens and that $32 million dollars goes to fill another hole. Like taking a chance on a pitcher with upside like Phil Hughes (3-years, $24 million) instead. Or maybe toward signing Mark Ellis, which I would be in favor of. Moving on.

Actually, before today, Moore had annoyed me more by what he hadn't done than what he had done this offseason.

The Athletics traded for a reliever not once, but twice. The Tigers, who desperately need bullpen depth, unloaded Doug Fister for the equivalent of a homeless person's shopping cart. And the Houston Astros acquired Dexter Fowler for a back-end arm and fourth outfielder (if only I knew of another team with a storm shelter full of such assets).

I don't know and I don't care why Billy Beane was suddenly falling over himself for relievers. And I'm also not huge believer in Brett Anderson. But would I have coughed up Louis Coleman and a middling prospect for him? Sure. Regardless, I feel a Brett Anderson trade coming and it won't be that cheap now that the A's bullpen is set.

As for Fister, according to Ken Rosenthal, many GMs were unaware Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski was shopping the lanky stat-head darling. I have no doubt Moore had his head in the sand on the matter and I have quite a bit of doubt Dombrowski would have felt compelled to deal Fister within the division. However, I'd have offered up Greg Holland and Johnny Giavotella without thinking twice about it and that would have been a better return than what the Tigers ultimately received for Fister.

Finally with Fowler, who was traded for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes, would have only added to the Royals stellar defense and could have allowed Lorenzo Cain to shift to right field and maybe stay healthy in 2014. If Moore had been so inclined, he easily could have topped the Astros' offer with Jarrod Dyson and Duffy and, even with the Royals' rotation in its current state, I still would have paid that price. Duffy has potential but has proven nothing. Fowler has more potential and has proven a little bit.

Fowler would have been a "want" acquisition. Fister would have filled a need (and sent Davis to the pen). And it just would have felt nice to feel like Beane got duped, trading any starting pitcher for any reliever. These are the kind of deals I wish Moore were capable of, but I simply don't think he is.

That is, until I woke up this morning. The news that the Royals had acquired Norichika Aoki from the Brewers for Will Smith shook me to my core.

Moore had somehow acquired a leadoff hitter. He'd landed a decent defender capable of playing all three outfield spots. He'd brought in a left-handed bat he shouldn't have to platoon. And, most astonishing of all, he had added an on-base wizard. Norichika Aoki. The first Japanese-born player to play for the Royals since Darrell May.*

*Not true

Aoki has spent two years in the Majors, posting a .355 OBP in 2012 and a .356 in 2013, so there's no reason to expect anything but the same from him hitting in front of Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and (maybe) Billy Butler.

He fits the leadoff prototype after leading MLB with 40 infield singles last year and 140 base hits, which led the National League. Even more impressive, his .339 average against left-handed pitchers was the highest for any left-handed hitter, so David Lough appears to be out of a job and that's OK with me. (Lough served his purpose and Moore would have been foolish to go into 2014 expecting the same production from him, but more on this situation later.)

As someone who hated the way the Royals toyed around with Mark Teahen, I shared similar sentiments with how Gordon was constantly shuffled around the lineup. So I'm pleased he will be able to settle into the middle of the order next year.

And considering how brittle Cain has proven to be, it doesn't hurt to have an everyday player capable of manning center field (sorry Jarrod — although Gordon would probably be capable).

Suffice it to say, Thursday's trade was the most pleasantly surprising move from Moore since he brought in George Kottaras last offseason. Kottaras, of course, posted a .349 OBP last year and added five home runs in just 100 at bats, yet most Royals fans are probably still under the impression he was a bust. Moore didn't completely disagree when he let Kottaras go in November to the Cubs for cash considerations.

The only catch with the Aoki move is his stay in Kansas City, like Kottaras', is almost certain to last just one season. He will be a free agent after the 2014 season. Meanwhile the Brewers will have Smith under team control through 2019.

However, I'm not that concerned about either factor. Shields will also be gone after 2014 so, barring a miracle, the Royals are on a collision course for a rebuild project in 2015. If that doesn't happen, Aoki may become as enthralled with Kansas City as Ervin Santana appeared to be and actually resign with the Royals. As for Smith, I see him as a decent bullpen arm and nothing more. Well, maybe a little more in the National League. Regardless, he wasn't a key building block for the Royals' future (you know, LIKE WIL MYERS!).

I'm actually more concerned with how Aoki might regress in other offensive categories aside from OBP. His doubles dropped from 37 to 20 last year. Overall, his slugging went from .433 to .370 and his OPS went from .787 to .726. His average and OBP stayed essentially the same because his singles increased from 99 to 140 and his walks went from 43 to 55. And even if he hit .339 against lefties in 2013, he slashed .264/.345/.357 against righties, which he faces a majority of the time.** Also his steals decreased from 30 to 20 while he was caught stealing 12 times in 2013 compared to just eight in 2012.

**I don't know what would be more profound: Lough platooning with Aoki even though they both hit left-handed or Maxwell platooning with Aoki, meaning Aoki faces lefties as a left-handed hitter and Maxwell faces righties as a right-handed bat. As crazy as it sounds, Maxwell slashed .262/.335/.462 last year and hit six of his seven homers against righties. Lough slashed .284/.310/.408 with three homers against righties last year.

So his power and speed are both dropping substantially. The speed might stay the same, but we already know Kauffman Stadium is a black hole for power. And, now that I think about it, we can't be too sure Kauffman won't negate Aoki's ability to walk.

But seriously, let's call Aoki what he is: a rental. And he certainly appears to be more serviceable than most of the rentals Moore is known to acquire. Because of the corner Moore painted the Royals into with the Shields trade, a move like this needed to be made to improve the Royals chances in 2014 and Aoki does just that while losing Smith does little to undercut the Royals beyond 2014.

So far this offseason Moore has made one poor move and one decent one. He says the team isn't done yet (which is so sad that he even has to say after adding Jason Vargas and Norichika Aoki), so we should have many more opportunities in the near future to...

Fire Dayton Moore

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