Kansas City Royals Rumors
We'll keep tabs on the day's minor moves here:
- The Royals announced a series of minor league signings, including for third baseman Brandon Laird, outfielder Paulo Orlando and right-hander Wilking Rodriguez. Laird, 26, is the younger brother of Gerald Laird and joins the Royals from the Astros, where he received major league playing time in 2013. Orlando, 28, is re-upping with the Royals after six seasons in the organization. The 23-year-old Rodriguez will transition to the Royals after seven seasons in the Rays' farm system. He has a career 3.90 ERA, mostly as a starter, but has never reached Double-A.
- Matt Eddy of Baseball America has updates on a number of clubs' minor league signings. Among those with MLB experience (with links to Twitter): The Rockies will return Bobby Cassevah and Matt McBride, and have added righty Greg Burke. Headed to the Tigers is righty Jhan Marinez, while Gorkys Hernandez and Edinson Rincon will stick with the Royals organization. The Phillies have brought back shortstop Andres Blanco. And the Dodgers inked utility infielder Brendan Harris. Other clubs with new signings include the Orioles, Reds, Marlins, White Sox, and Athletics.
- The Cubs have signed outfielder Casper Wells, according to a tweet from Eddy. The team also added righties Paolo Espino and Carlos Pimentel, along with shortstop Jeudy Valdez. Wells got 102 plate appearances with three different clubs last year, posting a meager .126/.186/.147 line that is perhaps understandable given his constant movement and scant playing time. In 2012, over 316 plate appearances with the Mariners, Wells was good for a .228/.302/.396 slash.
- In addition to bringing back righty Benino Pruneda and catcher Jose Yepez on minor league deals, the Braves have added former Phillies backstop Steven Lerud, tweets Eddy. Lerud appeared in nine games for the Phils between 2012-13. At Triple-A last year, he had an interesting .217/.353/.311 line over 219 plate appearances, as he drew nearly as many walks (35) as he had hits (39).
- Cutting ties with a major international acquisition, the Nationals have released righty Yunesky Maya, Eddy tweets. Washington saw little return on its $6MM investment in Maya, who had been outrighted off of the club's major league roster early in the 2013 season. After struggling in two brief call-ups in 2011-12, Maya's last stint with the Nats was even more regrettable. In his only MLB appearance of the 2013 season, Maya retired one batter in the bottom of the tenth before surrendering a walk-off home run to Pablo Sandoval.
- The Cubs have released outfielder Dave Sappelt, tweets Eddy. As Eddy notes, Sappelt was one of the pieces -- along with lefty Travis Wood and second baseman Ronald Torreyes -- picked up by Chicago in the deal that sent Sean Marshall to Cincinnati. The 26-year-old Sappelt has a .251/.301/.343 slash line in 274 plate appearances spread over the 2011-13 seasons. He has spent most of his time in Triple-A over that time frame, and posted a sub-.700 OPS in each of his two years at Iowa.
In a lengthy and thorough breakdown of the Jason Vargas signing for the Royals, Rany on the Royals argues that the deal misses the point: as he puts it, Kansas City should have been pursuing upside, not roughly average innings. Noting that Bruce Chen could have filled the same role for a shorter term and less dollars, Rany says that GM Dayton Moore would have been best served outbidding the Giants for Tim Hudson or even taking a chance on someone like Phil Hughes. Here's more from KC and its counterparts in the American League Central:
- Late last night, we noted some potential landing spots for free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran in the AL Central, including Kansas City, Cleveland, and Detroit. As noted in that piece, the Royals appear already to be pressing up on their target payroll for 2014, according to a report from Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star.
- Clearing the salary of Prince Fielder, and thus opening more space for a big extension of Max Scherzer, does not necessarily resolve the Tigers' starting pitching questions, writes MLB.com's Jason Beck. Scherzer is set to hit the open market next year, but right on his heels are fellow rotation men Rick Porcello and Doug Fister, who will qualify for free agency before the 2016 season. And the cash infusion does not make it easy to just throw money at all of them -- or even just Scherzer -- to keep them from hitting the open market.
- Beck is correct to note that near-term savings may be gobbled up by arbitration raises, that the club will not spend a huge amount less on an annual basis before 2018, and that the $30MM going with Fielder to Texas will limit the benefit. All that being said, though, I think he may be underselling somewhat the impact on the Tigers' future commitments. As reflected in my breakdown of the broader impact of the trade, the real impact was on Detroit's distant payroll. The club cleared an enormous amount of future obligations from its long-term ledger: $13MM in 2018 and $18MM in both 2019 and 2020. In essence, instead of being on the hook for Fielder and Justin Verlander over that period, the club now has just one super long-term deal on the books. Even better, it no longer has to worry about spending that money on an aging player who is no longer worth his annual salary. While it is hardly a guarantee that Scherzer will be inked to a massive extension, there is no question that the departure of Fielder clears a major obstacle to that possibility. Of course, as Beck notes, that still does not address the fact that Porcello and Fister will also need to be addressed.
- While some seemingly unsubstantiated rumors hit the waves yesterday about Robinson Cano meeting with the Tigers, Dombrowski told Chris Iott of MLive.com that the club plans on using Ian Kinsler as its second baseman in 2014. From my perspective, while anything is possible with a player of Cano's caliber, it would seem that the Tigers have more to gain by upgrading an area that is not currently occupied by a player that has put up 29.1 fWAR over the 2006-13 period. Kinsler -- who is just four months older than Cano -- put up only seven wins less than did Cano during that same time frame.
- A former White Sox scout has received an eight month prison sentence for his role in a Latin American player signing kickback scandal, reports the Associated Press (via ESPNChicago.com). Victor Mateo becomes the second implicated club official to get jail time, joining David Wilder in the pen.
As I just noted, today's acquisition of Peter Bourjos may make the Cardinals an even greater longshot to bring back star right fielder Carlos Beltran. Here are the latest rumblings on one of the game's all-time great post-season performers, who will turn 37 early next season:
- Officials from two teams say that Beltran's representatives at MVP Sports Group have not asked for four years in early talks with prospective new employers, tweets Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News. In his profile of Beltran, MLBTR's Steve Adams pegged his value at $30MM on a two-year deal.
- Many clubs are interested in Beltran, according to a report from Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, and the Royals could be a realistic landing spot. Beltran made his name in Kansas City, and Heyman suggests that the club could have added motivation given Beltran's history with the club. Indeed, he even raises the point that a Hall of Fame push at career's end could land Beltran in Cooperstown donning a KC cap. Having given four years to Jason Vargas, Heyman wonders whether the club would be willing to go past two seasons for its old star.
- One major obstacle to that possibility could be payroll, as the Kansas City Star's Bob Dutton questions whether GM Dayton Moore has already burned through the club's 2014 payroll allocation after promising Vargas $32MM. As Dutton explains, the decision to designate catcher George Kottaras for assignment could be an indication that money is tight. Kottaras seemed to be the club's best backup option, says Dutton. When he asked why he was chosen to be set loose, a "top club official responded by rubbing his thumb over the tips of his first two fingers," indicating that money was the issue. Kottaras is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn a modest $1.2MM in his second go at arbitration, and Dutton notes that Moore has pegged current payroll projections at $87MM despite previously saying that the club would not go much past its 2013 tab of $85MM.
- While Dutton tweets that the Royals are indeed interested in Beltran, he says that the slugger would need to spend some time at designated hitter for it to make sense. That, presumably in combination with his likely-sizeable salary, would mean that current DH Billy Butler would probably be put on the market in such a scenario.
- Turning back to Heyman's report, he does not include St. Louis among the likely suitors at present. The Mariners and Rangers are in the mix, says Heyman, and the Indians may be as well. Meanwhile, the Yankees and Red Sox definitely have interest but seem unwilling to go past two years.
- Yet another team that could make sense as a landing spot for Beltran is the Tigers, who Jamie Samuelsen of the Detroit Free Press says is the best target for a Detroit outfield upgrade. Certainly, a play by GM Dave Dombrowski for Beltran's services would be a boon to the outfielder's free agent prospects.
Here are today's minor moves from around the league...
- The Astros have signed righty Peter Moylan to a minor league contract with a Spring Training invite, tweets Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca. After an injury-plagued 2013, Moylan recently elected to become a free agent rather than accepting an outright assignment from the Dodgers.
- Hansel Robles has cleared waivers and will remain under the Mets' control despite being removed from the 40-man roster, reports Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com (via Twitter). The 23-year-old has never appeared above the High-A level; throwing there last year, he put up a 3.72 ERA in 84 2/3 innings, posting 7.0 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9. Robles tossed 18 innings in the Arizona Fall League, striking out 19 batters and registering a 4.00 ERA in that span.
- The Athletics have outrighted second baseman/third baseman Scott Sizemore, according to the team's transactions page. The 28-year-old received crushing news when he was diagnosed with a torn ACL this Spring -- the second straight season in which that exact injury has shelved him for the whole year. Formerly a promising prospect in the Tigers organization, Sizemore is a career .238/.328/.381 with 14 homers in 160 career games.
- Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reports that the Royals have signed right-hander Cory Wade to a minor league deal (Twitter link). The 30-year-old split the 2013 campaign between the Rays, Cubs and Mets Triple-A affiliates, totaling a 3.86 ERA in 67 2/3 innings.
- Cotillo also tweets that right-hander Josh Judy has signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers. Judy, 27, posted a 6.75 ERA between the Angels' Double-A and Triple-A affiliates in 2013 but has respectable minor league numbers in his career (3.83 ERA, 9.8 K/9, 3.5 BB/9). Judy's deal does not contain an invite to Spring Training.
Jeff Todd contributed to this post.
FRIDAY: ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reports (via Twitter) that Vargas will receive $7MM in 2014, $8.5MM in 2015-16 and $8MM in 2017.
THURSDAY: Looking to fill a void in the rotation, the Royals announced that they have signed left-hander Jason Vargas to a four-year contract that will reportedly pay the southpaw $32MM. Vargas is represented by Nez Balelo of CAA Sports.
Vargas, 31 in February, pitched to a 4.02 ERA with 6.5 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and 40.2 percent ground-ball rate in 150 innings. A blood clot shelved Vargas for nearly six weeks, but he made all of his starts upon returning. Vargas proved his health by finishing strong and hurling a shutout against the A's on Sept. 24. Aside from the blood clot, Vargas has been a highly durable arm, averaging 190 innings per season dating back to 2010. In that time, Vargas has a 3.97 ERA with 5.9 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 761 innings. Though he averaged just 87.7 mph on his fastball in 2013, he posted a swinging-strike rate of 8.6 percent that wasn't too far off from the league average of 9.3 percent.
Vargas has always been a fly-ball pitcher, so moving to an environment like Kansas City should be a natural transition. Kauffman Stadium was one of the least homer-friendly stadiums in the league in 2013, per ESPN's Park Factors, which should help to maximize Vargas' effectiveness. While he was fairly stingy with homers in 2011 and 2013, he did average 1.4 homers per nine innings in 2012, so he has a propensity to get homer-happy at times.
The Angels originally acquired Vargas last offseason in a one-for-one swap that sent Kendrys Morales to the Mariners. Anaheim declined to make Vargas a qualifying offer at season's end, meaning Royals GM Dayton Moore will not have to sacrifice a draft pick in order to make this signing. In my free agent profile for Vargas, I predicted that he would sign for three years and $28.5MM, so while the total years is a bit surprising, the overall commitment is in line with the expectations at the time of that post.
The Royals had a clear need in the rotation with Ervin Santana and Bruce Chen both hitting free agency, and Wade Davis flopping in his initial attempt to reprise his role as a starting pitcher. Vargas will join ace James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie and presumably youngsters Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura in Kansas City's 2014 rotation.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
In Jason Vargas, the Royals added an innings-eating, low-upside arm for $8MM per season yesterday. While news of Vargas' four-year deal initially elicited some shock, the contract actually looks reasonable in terms of Vargas' average annual value.
The first thing to do is accept this fact: free agency is an environment in which few players are able to be secured at a bargain rate. Unless a player is coming off an injury or a terrible season, the odds are against him signing for anything other than a premium in terms of years, dollars or both. In Vargas' case, the Royals paid a premium in years in order to avoid doing so in terms of dollars.
Vargas is a slightly below-league-average starter overall in terms of ERA+ (96 over the past four seasons) that has shown flashes of being a slightly above-average starter (104 ERA+ in 2010). He's likely to deliver a season of roughly league-average work in any given year -- sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less.
What Vargas provides is innings, and save for a freak blood clot that isn't likely to cause any recurring issues, he's been a durable source of those roughly league-average innings since 2010. Vargas averaged 204 innings from 2010-12 and has averaged 194 frames per season from 2010-13, even when accounting for the lost time due to this year's fluke DL stint. Durability pays on the free agent market, and Vargas hasn't had arm-related troubles since 2007 when he had minor surgery to remove bone spurs from his elbow. Consistently delivering innings and consistently delivering similar performances (his ERA has sat between 3.78 and 4.25 over the past four seasons) gives teams peace of mind. The Royals paid for that peace of mind and consistency.
Some detractors will point to Vargas' somewhat incriminating xFIP over that same stretch and say that he has the skill set of a 4.50-ish ERA pitcher, but xFIP assumes a league-average homer-to-flyball ratio. Flyball pitchers like Vargas tend to see a lower percentage of their flyballs leave the yard, so it's reasonable to assume that Vargas can continue to post HR/FB marks around nine percent and keep his ERA in the low 4.00 range.
Aiding Vargas' case is that he and his flyball tendencies will be calling the spacious Kauffman Stadium home -- a park that suppressed home runs better than all but eight stadiums in 2013 (including Angel Stadium and Safeco Field). He'll also have a solid outfield defense on his side, as Alex Gordon will man left field with some combination of Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, David Lough and Justin Maxwell patrolling the other two spots (barring another outfield addition). Cain, Lough and Dyson each carry a sterling defensive reputation, per UZR and The Fielding Bible's Defensive Runs Saved metric.
When it comes down to it, the AAV is the key to this contract for the Royals. Paying a mid-rotation or back-end starter $8MM annually seems alarming to some, but consider the following comparison of two pichers, if you will:
|Games Started||Innings Pitched||K/9||BB/9||GB%||ERA||FIP||xFIP||SIERA|
The two aren't that far apart, so we can reasonably expect that they'd sign similar contracts. While one might think that's the case, Pitcher A is Mark Buehrle from 2008-11, who signed a four-year, $58MM contract following that four-year stretch. Pitcher B, of course, is Vargas, from 2010-13. While Vargas doesn't come with as lengthy a track record, the past four years indicate that we can reasonably predict his output, at least for the next few seasons. Is Buehrle worth $6.5MM more than Vargas on an annual basis? Here's that pair's 2010-13 campaigns side-by-side:
|Games Started||Innings Pitched||K/9||BB/9||GB%||ERA||FIP||xFIP||SIERA|
Vargas probably isn't as good as Buehrle, but he has age on his side and fits a similar profile. Looking at other four-year deals, Edwin Jackson signed for $13MM annually just last offseason. While his peripheral stats are superior to those of Vargas, is he worth $20MM more over the life of a four-year deal? The market simply doesn't create opportunities to sign pitchers of Vargas' ilk for $8MM per year anymore. That level of AAV lands players like Joe Saunders and Joe Blanton or serious injury reclamation projects like Brandon McCarthy.
Sticker shock reigned supreme when Vargas' agreement was announced, but it's my feeling that most focused on the wrong of the two relevant numbers. Rather than looking at the four-year term, which admittedly feels like an overpay, the $8MM AAV is far more important. When I wrote my free agent profile on Vargas, I projected him to sign for three years and $28.5MM -- an AAV of $9.5MM. I wound up being pretty close in terms of his total guarantee, but the Royals were able to secure that fourth year just a few million more.
There isn't a ton of room for upside in this deal, but 190-210 innings of league-average baseball has value, and the Royals secured that value at a relatively low annual rate by making the decision to pay a premium in terms of years. Had the two concepts been reversed and Vargas signed for two years and $22MM, would the contract have elicited such backlash? I lean toward no, since we're conditioned to expect that type of overpay. Overpaying in terms of years isn't something we're as accustomed to, but it could work out better for the Royals than doing so in terms of dollars. I certainly don't love this deal, but it's a defensible contract given the landscape of today's free agent market.
Kottaras, 30, hit .180/.349/.370 in 126 plate appearances for the Royals in 2013. Kansas City recently signed catcher Francisco Pena to a big-league deal, adding him to the 40-man roster. That gave them four catchers on their 40-man: Kottaras, Pena, Salvador Perez and Brett Hayes. Kottaras had a projected 2014 salary of $1.2MM and was a non-tender candidate.
- Four years for Vargas is too many, ESPN's Keith Law argues (Insider-only). Vargas is already a below-average starter, Law argues, and it's optimistic to think Vargas' finesse style will hold up for four years, particularly given that his results so far have partly been a creation of favorable home parks in Seattle and Anaheim.
- The Angels were evidently in agreement that four years was too many. They would not give Vargas a fourth year, and instead offered him three years and $24MM, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times writes (Twitter links).
- Focusing on the number of years in the contract misses the point, writes Dave Cameron of FanGraphs. Vargas' deal only costs $8MM per year. He only needs to produce about 5 WAR over the course of the contract to justify the deal, and that seems possible, even if he isn't that likely to pitch well in the final season of the contract.
The Royals' signing of Jason Vargas will draw more headlines, but the team also inked right-hander P.J. Walters to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training today. The pitcher himself announced the signing on Twitter, and MLBTR's Tim Dierkes has confirmed that it's a minor league deal. Walters is represented by Aspire Sports Management.
The 28-year-old Walters pitched 39 1/3 innings for the Twins in 2013, posting a 5.95 ERA, 5.5 K/9, 4.1 BB/9 and 39.7 percent ground-ball rate in eight starts. He made a dozen starts for Minnesota the year prior but encountered similar struggles. Walters is a decent depth signing for the Royals, as his 4.50 ERA, 8.1 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 in 645 career Triple-A innings are serviceable numbers.
Baseball America's Matt Eddy provided a breakdown of the minor trade that went down earlier in the week that saw the Twins ship Duke Welker back to the Pirates in exchange for Kris Johnson. Johnson has an above-average two- and four-seam fastball that sits in the low 90s, but his breaking pitches are average at best, says Eddy. One bonus for the Twins is that Johnson has three minor league options remaining, while Welker has just one. Here's more on the Twins and the rest of the AL Central...
- The Twins were interested in free agent/reclamation project Grady Sizemore at one point, but they've moved on from Sizemore, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (Twitter link).
- ESPN's Buster Olney tweets that the Royals have had internal discussions about acquiring Brett Anderson from the Athletics. An Anderson acquisition would be a somewhat similar move to GM Dayton Moore's decision to buy low on Ervin Santana in a trade last October. Unlike Santana, however, the Royals could control Anderson for two years, as his contract contains a $12MM option for 2015.
- White Sox southpaw Hector Santiago told the Chicago Tribune's Colleen Kane that the summer trades of Jake Peavy and Matt Thornton taught him that any player can get traded. Santiago said he tries not to worry about hearing his name in rumors. He added that he hopes Chicago's decision to shut him down after 130 innings is an indication that they're protecting his arm so he can throw 200 innings in 2014.
- The Indians will listen to offers on Asdrubal Cabrera this winter, writes Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer in his latest mailbag. Hoynes adds that any trading the team does will likely prioritize getting pitching in return, and the team would like to add a free agent starting pitcher. Hoynes lists Bartolo Colon and Jake Westbrook as speculative possibilities.