Thursday, May 3, 2007

This offseason, Dayton Moore demonstrated philosophy of acquiring depth in pitching. But was it enough?Even aside from the expectedly controversial hoopla surrounding the signing of Gil Meche to an "unprecedented" five-year, $55 million contract in December, this off-season was particularly active for the Royals. While the Royals certainly didn't overpay for Meche's services, many true Royals fans questioned the move because of Meche's history of elbow injuries, the fact that he had never thrown more than 200 innings in one season, or the fact that he had never posted an ERA over 4.48 or WHIP above 1.34 in his entire career with the Seattle Mariners. While that contract's "weight" dominated the mainstream sports media, and the Kansas City sports media to an extent, Dayton Moore might have obtained at least one dozen more starting pitchers capable (but in many cases, not likely) of posting better-than-average Major League numbers.

Despite the fact that the Royals gave Gil Meche more money than any free agent signing in the team's history, he is one of at least a dozen acquisitions who could prove worthy in K.C. in 2007.

Among the additions this offseason were the additions of former Major Leaguers Wayne Franklin, Leo Estrella, Dewon Brazelton, Zach Day, Mark Woodyard, Jason Shiell, and Jason Standridge. Although none of these pitchers will likely see time at the big-league level in 2007, each hurler has obtained enough service time at the Big League level to give credibility to our Minor League system, and hold back our more prized prospects like Luke Hochevar, Tyler Lumsden, Carlos Rosa, and Billy Buckner. Moore added to the Big-League level by trading away pitchers former G.M. Allard Baird heralded, such as Runelvys Hernandez, Andrew Sisco, and Ambiorix Burgos (as well as trading Jeremy Affeldt and Denny Bautista) for more proven Big-League talent. What Moore knew about the Royals was that the Minor League system under Allard Baird was suffering badly. Whether luck or simple lack of development was to blame, injuries occurred regularly, and many of "Baird's" pitchers simply couldn't maintain success and confidence at the Big-League level. Ineffectiveness, and in many cases, bad attitudes, surfaced among many of Baird's boys. Dayton Moore observed this, and brought in his own men. Except, unlike Allard Baird, Moore signed a quantity of men - Ken Ray, Joakim Soria, David Riske, John Bale, Daniel Christensen, Brian Bannister, and Octavio Dotel each had legitimate chances of breaking camp with the Royals in Spring Training.
However, in Spring Training 2007, injuries and ineffectiveness are already beginning to occur. Jorge De La Rosa has surrendered 11 runs and 15 hits in 11 1/3 innings. His control, as it was many times last year, has been spotty, although he has walked a rather unalarming 5 batters. Brian Bannister has performed even worse - compiling a 10.03 ERA in 11 2/3 spring innings. Minor League signings Dewon Brazelton and Wayne Franklin likely won't provide any help with the parent club anytime soon, as they have struggled as well. Brandon Duckworth has been successful in Surprise, yet his Big League success has been extremely limited. Even more alarming? He is 31. Scouts are skeptical about Todd Wellemeyer - his control has regressed further from the end of last year. His mechanics are unsound. His 2006 ERA, which was a mere 3.63, has all the signs of a fluke, because his strikeout-to-walk ratio was exactly 1:1.
Among the Royals' pitching "casualties" of this spring, Leo Nunez, Joe Nelson, and Luke Hudson will likely be placed on the 15-Day DL to begin the season. Odalis Perez has experienced ineffectiveness mixed with blister problems which limited his final Spring Training start to three (3!) innings. Gil Meche has struggled with ineffectiveness, surrendering 13 runs and 22 hits in 16 innings. The only consistently good starting pitcher has been Zack Greinke, who has arguably been the best pitcher this spring - posting a 21:2 K:BB ratio.
With all the injuries and ineffectiveness among the experienced - but unproven - pitchers this spring, one must beg the question. With all the starting pitchers still available after he signed Gil Meche, did Dayton Moore do enough? Did Dayton Moore sign enough starting pitchers to give us, the fans, confidence that this pitching staff will allow significantly fewer runs than the ungodly 971 allowed in 2006?
The Royals appeared to be frontrunners for signing Miguel Batista and Tony Armas.
Here is a list of starting pitchers available as of January 4. Listed alongside are which teams they signed with.
> Tony Armas (Signed 1-year contract with PIT)
> Bruce Chen (Signed MiLB contract with TEX)
> Ryan Franklin (Signed 1-year contract with STL)
> Tomo Ohka (Signed 1-year contract with TOR)
> Ramon Ortiz (Signed 1-year contract with MIN)
> Chan Ho Park (Signed 1-year contract with NYM)
> Mark Redman (Signed MiLB contract with ATL)
> John Thomson (Signed 1-year contract with TOR)
> Steve Trachsel (Signed MiLB contract with NYM)
> David Wells (Signed 1-year contract with SD)
> Paul Wilson (Re-Signed to MiLB with Cincinnati)
Should the Royals have attempted to re-sign Mark Redman for an inexpensive and, perhaps, incentive-laden contract? It couldn't hurt, considering the Royals had guaranteed a rotation slot to the less successful (5.88 career ERA, career 114:108 K:BB ratio) Jorge De La Rosa before he even threw an inning in a Spring Training game? At the very least, it would have allowed the Royals to bump Jorge down to the fifth slot or even release him outright if he did, in fact, struggle. Re-signing our '06 All-Star would have not been difficult, and, although I have no evidence to prove this, I can assure you that the Royals could easily convince Redman to return to the city - for less than, say, $1 million - which in the preceeding year guaranteed him the #2 slot in the rotation before Spring, all the rope in the world for posting far-below-average results and earning a trip to Pittsburgh in mid-summer. If Redman wouldn't re-sign, dozens of more capable pitchers than De La Rosa were available.
I attribute to the tried-and-true baseball slogan: You can never have enough pitching. And signing one or two of these pitchers would have been a smart idea for Dayton Moore. Now it appears the Royals will have to trade Emil Brown, Reggie Sanders, or perhaps a young prospect for an inexpensive, short-term pitcher to add depth - and experience - at the Major League level.
Some Royals fans "pooh-pooh-ed" the idea of signing a pitcher because, while the pitcher would be guaranteed a Major League spot out of camp, they could block the development of young pitchers like Greinke and Bannister. However, these fans didn't account that young pitchers would actually struggle. Also, we don't exactly have a plethora of young pitchers to begin with - at least rookies or prospects - ready to pitch at the Big-League level. Other than Greinke, we have no pitcher who is under 25. De La Rosa and Hudson are in their late-twenties, and have accumulated Major League playing time in at least three different seasons before 2007.
No, you can never have enough pitching. Now, with the inconsistencies, struggles, and injuries among many of our pitchers this spring, was Dayton Moore's choice to pass up more pitching a wise idea? Or simply a painful reversion to the inadaquacies of the Allard Baird Era (R.I.P.)?

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