Archive for Thursday, August 5, 2004

Kansas City’s baseball trading troubles a Royal pain for fans

August 5, 2004

Kansas City Royals General Manager Allard Baird is considered by many to be one of the best young GMs in the majors.
He has been handcuffed by small-market burdens and one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. This is where Baird's talents have been truly tested. His inability to re-sign star outfielders such as Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye has -- and will --define his tenure.
In 2000, ESPN baseball analyst Peter Gammons proclaimed the Beltran-Damon-Dye outfield "the best young outfield in baseball." Four years later, they're all gone. And money was clearly the motive.
In 2001, following a career year, the Royals sent Damon to Oakland in a three-team deal that brought closer Roberto Hernandez, catcher A.J. Hinch and shortstop Angel Berroa.
The deal was designed to address the Royals' three greatest needs. Hernandez provided the club with a closer a year after they led the league in blown saves. The veteran right-hander is one of baseball's all-time saves leaders. But his brief two-year run in Kansas City didn't fulfill his projection to push the Royals over the top.
Hinch came in to provide the Royals with a talented young catcher -- the emphasis on young. For years, the club has relied on veteran signal callers on the downside of their careers. Hinch was once a top prospect in the Oakland system. However, after a few mediocre years in Kansas City, Hinch was let go.
Berroa was an ultra-talented but raw shortstop with Oakland's A-ball team. While Hernandez and Hinch provided more immediate needs, Berroa provided a shortstop of the future. And when the Royals traded Rey Sanchez a year later, it was officially the future. Berroa, of course, went on to win the American League Rookie-of-the-Year Award.
Official trade grade: B-. Baird addressed three pressing needs with legitimate players. But Hernandez was a year too late, Hinch proved why Oakland found him expendable, and Berroa is even better than Baird thought.
Later in 2001, again following a career year, the Royals sent Dye packing -- also in a three-team deal and again involving Oakland. In return Kansas City received Neifi Perez, a former Gold Glove-winning shortstop from Colorado.
But Perez never hit in Kansas City, and the fans let him hear about it. Baird had traded away an All-Star starter in Dye for a light-hitting shortstop. It just didn't make sense -- especially considering that the Royals already had a solid shortstop in Sanchez and had just traded for a shortstop of the future.
Official trade grade: F. The player didn't work out, but beyond that the trade just didn't make sense.
The recent Beltran deal has been well-documented by every media outlet in America, including this one. So, I'll spare the additional breakdown. The final grade would be an incomplete anyway.
The successes and failures of these blockbusters are debatable. But Baird's success rate in the "trades no one talks about" is quite high. This is where I think Baird excels and separates himself as one of the game's best.
Such as this season's trade of veteran reliever Jason Grimsley to Baltimore. Grimsley has a career ERA near 5.00 and has blown 26 of 30 save opportunities in that career. And he recently announced his intentions to retire after next year. For Grimsley the Royals received young right-hander Denny Bautista. Since joining AA Wichita, Bautista has dominated going 2-1 with a 2.38 ERA and 38 strikeouts in just 34 innings.
Why the struggling Orioles would trade away a top prospect for an aging veteran reliever is simply baffling.
Last week Baird pulled the trigger on another obscure deal, sending third baseman Jose Bautista to the Mets for catcher Justin Huber.
Bautista was ruled expendable with Teahen's acquisition and Randa's return from the disabled list. With Buck already on board Huber, a six-foot-five-inch 22-year-old, will likely be converted into a corner outfielder or first baseman. He is a young highly touted slugger with big upside.
And then just last week Baird did it again, bringing in outfielder Abraham Nunez for 31-year-old veteran reliever Rudy Saenez. Nunez has been lost in the Florida Marlins system. But the 27-year-old has some real potential. He has 87 home runs in the minors. And he set a Marlins spring training record with eight homers earlier this year.
Nunez just hasn't had the opportunity to prove himself in the big leagues. He's going to get that shot now though. The Royals have declared him an immediate full-time starter. And he's already paid dividends -- the day after the deal he posted two hits and two RBIs.
Analyze Baird's blockbusters but revel in his uncanny talent at finding young talent.

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