Archive for Thursday, January 10, 2008

The fly route

January 10, 2008

Did Joey Gathright recently develop the ability to steal bases? Did Kyle Davies prove himself anything more a potential No. 5 starter? Did Gil Meche find a proven way to avoid another late-season swoon?

Oh, no? Then there really is no explaining the free pass Royals general manager Dayton Moore has gotten in his first 18 months on the job.

Sure those are all cheap shots, and I don't come to attack Moore's still-short term - not his scattershot collection of poor, average and good trades nor his acquisitions and cuts. I still like Moore. I like what he's doing and I like how he's doing it. He is getting a free pass, however, and some of his moves this offseason are at least deserving of a good, close inspection.

His recent fondness for geriatric pitchers, for instance, is at least worthy of a chuckle. The Royals have added or are reportedly pursuing two formerly great pitchers already in 2008. They inked the once-dependable Hideo Nomo to a minor-league deal, offering the Japanese veteran an invitation to spring training.

Kansas City also was reported to be after former-Cleveland Indian and Los Angeles Angel Bartolo Colon and former-Philadelphia Philly and New York Yankee Jon Lieber.

There's nothing wrong with any of those moves. Colon has the most upside as he was an effective pitcher as recently as 2005, a season in which he won the Cy Young Award. He pitched only 56 innings in 2006, however, and about 100 more last season. He always has had a high earned run average - it was 3.48 his Cy Young year and 6.34 in 2007 - but still can strike people out, getting 76 in 18 starts last year.

That's not bad. If the deal gets done, he'd serve as a fairly cheap innings-eater with a lot more upside than Odalis Perez, who held down a similar role last season.

Perez threw 137 innings with a 5.57 ERA, basically what I would consider the low end of Colon's potential range. I wouldn't even be offended if Kansas City offered Perez a two-year deal.

Lieber might prove a more realistic replacement for Perez - not that Perez was a man dearly in need of replacement.

Lieber kept his ERA under 5.0 through an injury-plagued last three years, which isn't bad. It isn't too exciting, however.

Nomo, on the other hand, is almost without an upside. He was last effective in 2003. He was awfully effective then, logging a 3.09 ERA in 218 innings, but he fell off the cliff in the biggest of ways. Two years later, he was pitching in baseball's graveyard, Tampa Bay.

Unless the player in question is an awesome young outfielder or a pitcher named Scott Kazmir, Tampa Bay should serve as a warning sign. It is to a baseball resume what "Hillary Clinton personality coach" is to a political resume - something that mostly just causes one to crinkle the nose.

Nomo undoubtedly owes his latest chance in America to new Royals manager Trey Hillman. Nomo could be invaluable when it comes to incorporating new reliever Yasuhiko Yabuta into the American game.

There are plenty of good reasons for both signings. There are plenty of bad, as well. First, every dollar spent today is one not going toward the development of Latin American programs. The franchise is far better off if it can find the next Francisco Rodriguez or Miguel Tejada as a 17-year old than if it can squeeze 300 innings over two years out of Colon or a few extra comfortable nights for Yabuta out of Nomo.

Second, every dollar spent today is one that won't be available to lock up Billy Butler, Alex Gordon and Zack Greinke in the next five years. Owner David Glass has been much better about opening the purse in the last two years, but the team needs to find a way to keep all three of those players. That should be a priority over taking chances on injury-prone pitchers and has-been imports.

I said it at the top, and I'll say it again: I don't want to attack Dayton Moore and I don't want him to stop doing business the way he has through the last 18 months. There's a perception around the region that everything he's touched has turned to gold, however, and that's not exactly accurate.

Meche was good, but not nearly as brilliant in August as he was in April. Gathright had a nice season once he was brought up in 2007, but has yet to develop as either a full-time outfielder or a base-stealing threat - basically, he hasn't proven to be a better gamble than the young pitcher (the at-time abysmal, at-time encouraging J.P. Howell) traded away for him.

Octavio Dotel, traded away for Davies last season, immediately broke down, making the deal look genius. Davies was lackluster, however, and it's still hard to shake the feeling he wasn't enough for a then-smokin' Dotel.

I hope this offseason's deals work out better. Heck, even if things continue to split between positive and negative at the same rate the Royals will be better.

That Moore is currently being celebrated by the fans for every even rumored trade is only a product of the team's pervious ineptitude, not an irrefutable brilliance.


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