Today, news broke that the Royals signed a left-handed pitcher. This pitcher has posted a 4.32 ERA and 1.34 WHIP since 2009. This pitcher has produced 6.6 WAR since 2009. He did this over the course of 670.1 innings, going back and forth between a starting and long relief role. And the Royals signed this pitcher for $3.25 million in 2014 with a $1 million buyout for 2015, so $4.25 million, in all.
In November, the Royals signed a left-handed pitcher, too. That pitcher has posted a 4.07 ERA and 1.28 WHIP since 2009. That pitcher produced 7.5 WAR since 2009. He accomplished this over the course of 852.2 innings, exclusively as a starter — although two times pitching 150 innings or fewer in a season. The Royals gave this pitcher a four-year, $32 million contract — $8 million per season.
Odds are you already know who these pitchers are. If you don't, Pitcher A is 36-year-old Bruce Chen and Pitcher B is Jason Vargas, who turns 31 on Sunday. In the grand scheme, Vargas is by no means expensive and being five years younger than someone like Bruce Chen does translate into more money and more years. However, what doesn't add up is that Dayton Moore signed both pitchers over the course of the same offseason.
They're the same pitcher! And now the Royals have to burn two roster spots on redundancy. On a roster, might I remind you, that doesn't have a whole lot of wiggle room.
A Royals team that already includes James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Danny Duffy and Wade Davis in it's rotation, Luke Hochevar on the fringes and prospects like Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer on the horizon, does not need Jason Vargas AND Bruce Chen.
And on a Royals team that already has Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera, Louis Coleman, Francisley Bueno, Donnie Joseph, Chris Dwyer, the aforementioned Hochevar, AND just DFA'd Everett Teaford to make room on the 40-man for Carlos Peguero, where exactly does a swing man like Chen come in?
Going into this offseason, the Royals had three glaring needs and X amount of dollars to spend. The money aspect of that equation isn't privy to me or anyone reading this (unless...Hi Dayton! Thanks for reading!) but even the most casual fan could point out Kansas City's needs. Right field. Second base. Starting pitching. And if you wanted to get picky, a backup option at third base could also come in handy.
Enter Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante. Two holes filled at reasonable prices, even if Aoki only fills the RF hole for one season. Then Dayton Moore traded a surplus in David Lough for Danny Valencia, a terrific platoon option for Mike Moustakas, should the Royals choose to go that route. Here's where things get foggy.
Moore came out of the offseason gates signing Jason Vargas. Starting rotation fixed? It wouldn't have been my solution, but money-wise and numbers-wise, there didn't seem to be room for another outside option.
Then Moore trades for Carlos Peguero, because I guess five outfielders aren't enough, and has to DFA Teaford, signaling that the bullpen doesn't need any more help — especially in the lefty department. If it doesn't have a use for Teaford, who's posted a 4.25 ERA and 1.32 WHIP with 63 strikeouts to 35 walks in parts of three seasons for the Royals, then surely the last thing Dayton Moore would go out and spend more money on is a lefty reliever. Right?
Wrong! Then Moore burns $4.25 million on Chen on Thursday.
For an organization that seem to fret over every $1 million it spends, it sure has a knack for throwing away millions of dollars on bit players, rather than using a lump sum of that money on a useful piece.
For example, while Dayton Moore was busy getting his ducks in a row for meaningless Peguero and Chen moves, the Brewers swooped in and signed Matt Garza to a team-friendly four-year, $50 million deal ($12.5 million per with millions in deferred money and multiple performance bonuses and a vesting option for a fifth year). Add up the $8 million Vargas is making this year and the $4.25 million Moore just guaranteed Chen and the Royals could have almost paid the first year of Garza's salary. And the team still has $24 million committed to Vargas after this year — a price tag Vargas will struggle to live up to. That would have paid more than half of the rest of Garza's deal.
With Garza, yes, there is injury risk involved, thus all the performance bonuses written into his deal with the Brewers. However, looking at the Royals rotation, wouldn't he be an ideal No. 2 behind Shields with small-market, No. 1 upside after Shields walks? Yes, he would and yes he does. Because Guthrie isn't a No. 2, not even in a small market. And he sure as hell isn't a No. 1 as we look toward 2015. As an added bonus, Garza wouldn't have cost the Royals a first round draft pick either.
I shouldn't be surprised. I knew this was coming. I knew Vargas wouldn't be the only head-scratcher acquisition this offseason and Moore didn't disappoint. Not only did he add Vargas, but he went on to acquire his doppelganger. Now the Royals must fit the following players onto their 25-man.
Pitchers: Bruce Chen, Louis Coleman, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Wade Davis, Danny Duffy, Chris Dwyer, Jeremy Guthrie, Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar, Greg Holland, Donnie Joseph, James Shields, Jason Vargas. Catchers: Brett Hayes, Francisco Pena, Salvador Perez. Infielders: Emilio Bonifacio, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, Omar Infante, Mike Moustakas, Danny Valencia. Outfielders: Norichika Aoki, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Alex Gordon, Justin Maxwell, Carlos Peguero. DH: Billy Butler.
That's 30 names. Cutting one of the catchers out of the mix is the most obvious move, but that still leaves four more names to cut out. And I didn't even list Pedro Ciriaco or Johnny Giavotella. Dayton Moore has nickel and dimed his way into having too many bit players and too few horses in what is a make-or-break year.
With the benefit of hindsight, what would have been so difficult about approaching the offseason like this: Sign Bruce Chen right off the bat. Moore has his backend starter who can move to the bullpen when Yordano Ventura or Kyle Zimmer are ready. Done. Move on. Trade for Norichika Aoki. Sign Omar Infante. Trade for Danny Valencia. What is this? Oh my gosh, it's January and the market has stalled on Matt Garza/Ervin Santana/Ubaldo Jimenez? No way! Well I've got all this money I saved by not signing a fringe starting pitcher long-term. Oh, what the hell. Hey Garza/Santana/Jimenez, here's a four-year, $50 million offer. First one to say 'Yes' gets it!
Worst case scenario, Garza/Santana/Jimenez all pass and Moore still feels the need to sign a pitcher. Vargas or a pitcher of his caliber is still out there and might even take less money or fewer years out of desperation. There are always pitchers of Vargas' caliber available. Or Moore decides he doesn't need to sign another pitcher, saves that money, and trusts Ventura to round out the rotation, which he's more than capable of doing.
Look, Dayton Moore has made some good moves this offseason and not just by his standards. I have no complaints with the Aoki and Infante deals. I would like the Valencia deal more if I thought Ned Yost would take advantage of it. Chen isn't even a bad signing, but it wasn't necessary with Vargas already in place and a bullpen overflowing with arms.
The Peguero trade was useless, but maybe Moore owed the Mariners a favor and Teaford probably wasn't going to be much of a factor in 2014 regardless. But the Vargas deal still sticks out as a foolish move to rush out to make in November. And next November after the Royals fail to make the playoffs again while Matt Garza resurrects his career as a Brewer, maybe then Royals fans will rally to...
-Fire Dayton Moore