November 20, 2001
Rany On The Royals
Turning the Tables?
It was less than four months ago that Allard Baird stood before the baseball world and announced that he had traded one of the best right fielders in the game for Neifi Perez. In one of the great non sequiturs of all time, Baird claimed that because the Royals could not re-sign Rey Sanchez--Rey Sanchez!--Jermaine Dye had to be sacrificed. He spoke about how he could not stand to see the Royals unsettled at a "premium position."
Baird was right. When it comes to shortstops, the Royals were definitely settling for Neifi Perez.
Baird spoke, and everyone else had convulsions. Rarely has any trade produced such overwhelming, unanimous ridicule. In all four corners of America, in cities completely unaffected by the trade, columnists poked fun at the Royals brass. Less regulated and more mouse-friendly news providers were not nearly so charitable. Even in Kansas City, where the press criticizes the local teams about as often as Pravda criticized the Politburo, the Royals were savaged. Joe Posnanski sees the good in everyone; he's Mr. Rogers with a laptop and a deadline. He ripped the Royals a new orifice.
Perez had his chance to silence all the critics who pointed to his career .248 average and 632 OPS away from Coors Field. Well, he showed them. He didn't hit .248; he hit .241. With a 579 OPS.
Almost from the moment the trade was announced, it seems, Baird has been engaging in damage control. He had so little leverage to trade Sanchez that he threatened to play him at second base in lieu of dealing him. (In the medical field, we call this a "suicidal gesture.") To his credit, he was able to extract fair value from the Braves: Brad Voyles, a reliever of considerable promise, and Alejandro Machado, a teenaged middle infielder with precocious defensive and on-base skills.
By September, the Royals were so eager to get a look at überprospect Angel Berroa that they announced that Perez, who had been playing with an injured thumb since April, could not wait until the season ended to have surgery. The stated reason? The Royals wanted Perez to rehab in time to play winter ball by December. That's right: the Royals claimed they were sacrificing their starting shortstop for two weeks for the greater glory of the Magallanes Navigators.
But if you really want to claim that the Perez trade was the product of temporary insanity, brought on by eating too much ice cream at once or by trying to follow the plot of "Memento," why not go all the way? As first reported by the Los Angeles Times, the Royals are engaged in discussions with the Dodgers to send Perez to Chavez Ravine in exchange for Australian hurler Luke Prokopec. Now, not all trade rumors are based in fact--if they were, the "Transactions" page would just link to Peter Gammons' latest column--but this is one proposal I believe. It's believable because one decent prospect is about all Perez is going to fetch.
Frankly, Prokopec might be the best prospect that Baird can get. The Dodgers are one of the few teams with the abundance of cash to afford Perez and the poverty of intellect to want him. They shouldn't be a tough sell at all; if they could win 86 games starting Alex Cora and his .217 average, think of how many they can with with Perez? (I hope you're writing this down, Allard. And remember to compliment Dan Evans on his keen fashion sense.)
In return, the Royals get Prokopec, who went through some growing pains in his rookie season, saving the Royals the trouble of enduring them. True, he posted a 4.88 ERA in a ballpark large enough to fit Bill O'Reilly's ego. Yes, the rookie gave up some cookies--27 homers in all. But he also walked just 40 batters in 138 innings, or 2.60 batters per game, fewer than any Royal starter has since 1996.
To boot, Prokopec is still just 23; among the Royals' current starters, only Chris George is younger. (Supposed phenom Mike MacDougal is a year older than Cool Hand.) He also comes armed with--don't everyone crowd around at once--an out pitch. He throws a curve ball that would immediately be the envy of every pitcher in an organization that seems to have forgotten how to teach one. (It's no coincidence that the Royal pitcher with the best curve today is Voyles, a Braves product.) The Dodgers might not need him--after all, who needs Luke Prokopec when you can pay Darren Dreifort $11 million?--but he would start the season as the Royals de facto #3 starter, with room to grow.
Do it, Allard. Bite the bullet. Cut your losses. Suck it up. Jermaine Dye, the greatest asset on the auction block in 2001, is history, and no amount of spin is going to erase your mistake. Be man enough to admit your blunder, and be shrewd enough to cash in Perez while you can. You can lop five million dollars off your payroll, freeing up cash for other needs. You can give Tony Muser yet another young starter to squand...er...develop. You can market the single most precious asset in baseball: pitching depth. Teams are looking for a dependable innings-muncher? Step right up and bid on Jeff Suppan! Don't fret if you missed out on him: Paul Byrd is a lovely consolation prize!
You can boldly rework the Royals' roster to make it cheaper, younger, and better with a single stroke. You can open up an opportunity for Angel Berroa, who might be the greatest shortstop prospect the organization has ever produced. Heck, you can even bring back Rey Sanchez to keep the position warm for a year, and don't tell me that doesn't excite you, right?
Best of all, you can make another team the laughingstock for a change.
Rany Jazayerli is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.