Monday, November 15, 2010

The Perfect Pickup: Kansas City Royals

The Royals are a team that, despite their last-place finish, may not be far from contending. They are widely considered to have the best minor league system in baseball, so as long as they hold on to their strong prospects, they will have a shot to climb out of the cellar.

However, in 2010, their pitching was absolutely brutal. Their 11.7 pitcher WAR was 6th worst in baseball, and they allowed the second most runs of any team. To make matters worse, this is a club populated by below-average defenders, especially in the infield. Yuniensky Betancourt saw 1331 innings at short while putting up a –9.5 UZR, while Wilson Betemit had a –10.4 at the hot corner in just 455 frames. Mike Aviles was also below average as the regular second baseman, and Billy Butler was a –3.0 in 1102 first base innings (although Kila Ka’aihue performed admirably after taking over first-base duties near the end of the year). Their outfield isn’t great either, especially with David DeJesus now in Oakland.

They have already added Vin Mazzaro in the DeJesus trade, but should consider more pitching, as their rotation still essentially boils down to Zack Greinke and a bunch of pretty pedestrian starters. Luke Hochevar, their second starter, put up only 1.8 WAR this year. In fact, Greinke put up a better WAR (5.2) than the rest of the starting staff combined (4.6).

So the Royals need pitching. Preferably, they’d get a guy who has a history of racking up the K’s to avoid exposing their poor gloves as much as possible. For me, the best option for this low-budget team in a somewhat top-heavy pitching market is to bring Jorge de la Rosa back to Kansas City.

De la Rosa was a 0.9 WAR player with the Royals in 2007, but has since blossomed, putting up 2.4 WAR in 2008 and an impressive 3.7 with the Rockies in ‘09. He dipped to a 1.7 last season, but de la Rosa still has several productive years left, as he’s only 30. They’ll be able to compete for him, as Jose Guillen’s departure will free up 12 million dollars and other players, including DeJesus and Kyle Farnsworth, knock even more off the payroll. De la Rosa put up a K/9 of 8.36 last season, making him one of the best strikeout pitchers in this free agent class. He does get a lot of groundballs, but as was discussed earlier, that may not be the best thing for a Royals pitcher.

De la Rosa may command close to eight figures annually and several years, but for a pitching-starved team like KC, he could be a huge bargain. He may force the Royals to pay a premium in order to come to a non-contending team, but de la Rosa has been pretty damn good over the past three years, and I believe he can provide return on such a contract for the Royals. For that reason, he’s the Royals Perfect Pickup.

If they’re looking to go really wild card, Pedro Martinez is said to be contemplating a return after skipping the 2010 season. Martinez may be a big risk, but if he can return to form somewhat, he’s a strikeout machine. If the price is reasonable, the Royals could take a calculated risk by taking a flyer on Pedro.

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