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May 6, 2011

Expanded Horizons

Get it While it's Hot

by Tommy Bennett

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By now, you should know that the Kansas City Royals have exactly eleventy-million prospects capable of making scouts drool. If you watched any Royals spring training games this year, you probably already know that they got a lot more interesting after about the fifth or sixth inning. That’s when the ringers from Omaha and Northwest Arkansas would come in and knock the ball around a bit. You may also know that the Royals have an astonishingly low $11.73 million committed to next year’s payroll. (Even the relatively cheap Indians owe Travis Hafner $13 million; at least KC’s money is going mostly to Billy Butler.) And, finally, you may have heard that the Royals made the decision to call up Eric Hosmer, the prospect with the most compelling legend—all indications are that he will make his major-league debut tonight at home. Heck, the call-up was the lead story on Royals.com last night.

The expectation for this Royals season was that it would be something like sitting on a hard plastic chair at the DMV until your number—impossibly far from the one flashing red above the bank of windows but incrementing ever closer—was finally called. The wait would be slow and extended, but the payoff would be an enormous, almost Tantric, relief.

The aging veterans and the one-year stopgaps would give way to the dynamic youngsters in the minors. There was a near-perfect symmetry in the way the prospects lined up, so that nearly every position was covered. Sure, if Myers didn’t stick at the dish they’d have to find a catcher, and maybe they’d need one more guy up the middle (especially if Jeff Bianchi couldn’t hack it at shortstop). Still, it seemed that the Royals had a whole baseball team stalking the American plains, waiting to make the major-league minimum salary. The only obstacles standing in their way were Melky Cabrera and Bruce Chen, Jeff Francoeur and Wilson Betemit—and a number-three starter, Kyle Davies, who ranked among the worst of all time. Eventually, the weak resistance offered by the major-league roster would give way to the groundswell brewing beneath.

The only problem with that story is that those mediocre stopgaps had a winning month. In fact, the Royals are now 17–14 and in second place in the AL Central. They have the second-best adjusted Hit List factor among teams in their division. Even Jeff Francoeur is hitting well! Never mind regression: those 17 wins are in the bank, and the rest is as yet unwritten. So you’ll have to forgive the Royals and their fans their optimism. If this was supposed to be a year where only the second half would interesting—and not because there would be any chance of obtaining a playoff berth, but because it would be a sneak peek at the shape of things to come—then entering mid-May with only the Indians above them on the ladder is all lagniappe.

Even good problems invite solutions, and the Royals have responded to theirs by jumping the Super Two deadline by a couple of weeks with Hosmer. No one would argue, based on his world-beating .439/.525/.582 line in Triple-A, that he wasn’t ready for big-league pitching. If the front office didn’t believe during spring training that Hosmer was quite ready, even after he put up an outstanding season in Double-A last year, it surely has been convinced otherwise after he collected 43 hits in 26 Triple-A games. But what gain is there in failing to wait two weeks? What kind of sense does this middle-ground madness —not opening day, but not Super Two deadline either—make?

The argument has to go something like this: Despite PECOTA’s wildest dreams for Kila Ka’aihue (.263/.387/.472 weighted mean), he has been lousy. In 326 career major-league plate appearances, Ka’aihue has hit .216/.309/.375. He’s 27 now and not getting any younger. Meanwhile, there’s a kid down in Triple-A who can finally see straight and can flat-out hit. The standings are just about exactly upside-down, and here’s a chance to improve the club. All that would appear to add up to something like “Let’s give it the old college try.” What’s wrong with that?

For starters, the Royals are very unlikely bets to make the playoffs. In the American League, only the Blue Jays and Mariners have worse chances. Because it is so unlikely that the AL wild card will come out of the Central, there are four teams better than the Royals vying for a single playoff spot. (The Indians, who now lead the division in playoff odds, are 29 times more likely to win the division than the wild card.) That makes for an uphill battle.

Then there’s the fact that Kila Ka’aihue is probably a better hitter than his early performance would suggest. PECOTA may make mistakes, and it may not be deadly accurate about everyone, but its principles are sound. Ka’aihue put up a .364 TAv in Triple-A last year and a .298 mark the year before. There definitely exist guys who exist in the netherworld between Triple-A and the majors, but every once in a while those guys turn into superstars just when we’re ready to write them off. So the relevant comparison is what we can expect Eric Hosmer, a 21-year-old rookie with zero major-league at-bats, to produce over and above what Kila Ka’aihue can—minus the long-term costs associated with calling up Hosmer two weeks early.

This straightforward ledger-based approach is relatively familiar to savvy denizens of this website. But is that all there is? Maybe there’s an expressive logic to this move. Call it a “get it while it’s hot” theory. No team with Bruce Chen as the stopper is going to last long above .500, but why not start calling people’s numbers while you’re still on the plus side of the ledger? Is anyone really concerned about the long-term financial status of a team that just three years ago gave Jose Guillen $36 million?

If you think the Royals will be saved by going after the extra two percent, I’ve got my own two cents to offer. On April 29, the first day the Royals came back after a six-game road losing streak, they sold 31,407 tickets at home. Granted, not all the games have been selling that well, but fans in Kansas City are smart enough to know that this year’s farm system isn’t like those of years passed. They’re ready to show up and enjoy it, however long it lasts.

This weekend, the Royals play a home series against the Athletics. They’ve got two night games and a Sunday matinee, and Eric Hosmer’s name will be in lights. In two weeks, when the Super Two deadline passes, maybe Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery can join him. Get it while it’s hot.

Related Content:  Royals Prospects,  Royals,  The Who,  The Call-up

26 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

kdringg

At some point, BP needs to just say that Kila is the new Calvin Pickering and move on.

May 06, 2011 06:51 AM
rating: 4
 
roarke

Maybe you're right - I'm excited to see what Hosmer can do in the big leagues - but if a change was necessary because Kila has sucked, why not give Clint Robinson a two week shot? Like Kila, he's a little old to be a top prospect, but he tore the cover off the ball in AA last year and is off to a pretty solid start in AAA himself.

Sure, it's quite possible that the Royals will no longer be over .500 in two weeks, but I doubt that fans in KC will be any less excited to see Hosmer than they are now.

May 06, 2011 06:51 AM
rating: 1
 
SaberTJ

I don't think two weeks is nearly long enough to give any player a shot at the majors

May 06, 2011 07:58 AM
rating: 0
 
roarke

Well, yeah, but that's not really my point. The point is that the Royals could be costing themselves multiple millions of dollars down the road by bringing Hosmer up now when they have another alternative in AAA if they really wanted to replace Kila in the lineup. Give Robinson two weeks or give him a month to see if he has anything to offer. Whatever - the point is really Hosmer's major league service time.

May 06, 2011 09:24 AM
rating: 1
 
LoyalRoyal

I agree. Would have made more sense to give Robinson a shot for a few weeks. But, that being said it is an exciting message being sent to fans, and, more importantly, the organization and players that 'we are playing to win right now'. Royals bashing, as seen, below is about to be a bad memory Edwincnelson.

PS: lagniappe? How long have you been waiting to drop that in??? ;). Go Royals!

May 06, 2011 09:46 AM
rating: 1
 
Edwincnelson

OK I shouldn't say the Royals suck because I actually really like the Royals. How about "The Royals' management often makes curious decisions."

I can understand sending a message that the Royals want to win. However, the whole point of this year was that the Royals were going to be patient and not make knee jerk reactions based on small samples. Build a strong foundation, assess your players, and assemble a team. WIll the new CBA have a Super 2 and will they buy out Hosmer's arb years? Who knows but for now you have to assume the answer is no. If he's a true A plus super star this could be a 5-10 million dollar mistake.

May 07, 2011 15:31 PM
rating: 0
 
jrmayne

I liked the article, but I think you've made two errors here in trusting BP's metrics:

1. The Playoff Odds Report does not currently change the expected win rate based on past performance. Estimating the Royals as exactly the same quality as was estimated at the start of the season seems misguided.

2. PECOTA was and is just wrong on Kila. The projection was broken from the start, and there's a specific reason: The way comps are done is especially problematic for older minor leaguers. (Kila and John Bowker were the clearest versions of this.) Apart from that, level-repeaters are known to need adjustments. The current iteration of PECOTA has principles for older minor leaguers which are known to be quite unsound.

--JRM

May 06, 2011 07:10 AM
rating: 3
 
timber

"... capable of making scouts droll"?

While that is certainly possible, did you mean "drool?"

May 06, 2011 08:25 AM
rating: 0
 
SC

Nope, most prospects make scouts droll. But the good ones....

May 06, 2011 09:34 AM
rating: 1
 
jhardman

In the words of the great Fred Flintstone, "Drool Barney. Very drool."

Happens. Every. Day.

May 06, 2011 08:46 AM
rating: 1
 
Edwincnelson

This is why the Royals stink. They're wasting literally millions of dollars on bringing up Hosmer early in a season where they have practically zero chance of winning a championship. Has Kila stunk? Sure but it's worth mentioning that Mike Schmidt hit .196 in his first full season (at age 23 though) and countless other have required more time to make adjustments.

To compound the damage you have destroyed any chance you have of trading Kila for anything of value by sending him back to AAA now. In September last year he had an OPS over .900. That kind of little run would be the time to trade him not now.

May 06, 2011 09:04 AM
rating: 0
 
Peter7899

If you think this kid will ever get to arbitration, let alone for a 4th time, you're crazy. I'd bet a million bucks he signs a Ryan Braun or Evan Longoria type contract here in the very near future.

May 06, 2011 11:27 AM
rating: 3
 
abcjr2

88 wins might lead the division. If Hosmer tears it up, and some other breaks go their way, who is to say the Royals could not sneak in? And if they regress, what would keep them from sending Hosmer back down for a few weeks later to stop the service clock?

I think there's some value in letting all the players know that the best player starts, regardless of side considerations of CBA rules and money 3 or 6 years from now.

May 06, 2011 09:36 AM
rating: 3
 
sportspopery

I'm not so sure that the worry is about the Royals' future financial soundness as much as the fact that David Glass owns the Royals; and that Dayton Moore--for all his obvious talent in building an amateur scouting network and cultivating young players--has an abysmal track record in spending what money he's had to spend on free agents.

KC's been an underrated baseball town for a while now, and it's great to see the fans back in Kaufmann (the best of the cookie cutters). Tommy (and fellow readers of the bearded one): what do you think about the Royals' chances to build a decent rotation in two seasons time? I'm not optimistic, but I hope I'm wrong.

May 06, 2011 09:52 AM
rating: 1
 
Dave Holgado

I enjoyed the article very much, Tommy. But remember that the Super 2 rule will likely be eliminated, or at the very least, altered, in the next CBA, as neither side is completely happy with the current rule. How that affects this callup is unknown, and as yet unknowable. Plus, by waiting until June, you're likely only talking about a savings of between $2 and 4 million (the difference between the major league minimum and Hosmer's first arbitration award, assuming he doesn't put up two MVP-level years right out of the box a la Tim Lincecum). Not chump change, of course, but perhaps it will be somewhat offset by increased gate and merch sales (I'm a Yankee fan and even *I* want a Hosmer jersey) during May/June, during a time when there is still hope in K.C. for contention (sic transit gloria, after all... a month from now, they could be at the bottom of the division again). Also, maybe with the fountain of prospects coming up, the Royals brass have decided they need to choose their battles. E.g., they're still keeping Moustakas and Montgomery down until they're safely not Super 2's this year, and they may do the same with Lamb and Myers next year. In addition, they may plan to shuffle Ka'aihue and Hosmer back and forth depending on the hot hand over the next few months, and this could at least conceivably result in *both* of them avoiding Super 2 status (this assumes that Ka'aihue is still in the club's future plans, which I think you've rightly pointed out he should be).

Finally, I have to quibble with you on your DMV analogy, as I've never left the DMV in a "tantric" (euphoric?) state of relief. Instead, almost always a demoralized one in which I've lost just that much more faith in humanity. YMMV.

May 06, 2011 09:52 AM
rating: 3
 
benekelly

I say good for the Royals. Keeping Hosmer down was blantantly gaming his service time, and why not send a message to their beleagured fan base that these 'new' Royals are committed to winning, not pinching pennies like the Royals of 'yore.

I do wish that the move didn't come at the expense of Kila, who should be given a longer opportunity to prove/establish himself as a major league hitter. I'm not sure I agree with with comment above, however, that ML GM's will signifcantly alter their valuation of him for trade purposes just because the Royals sent him down, however.

May 06, 2011 10:27 AM
rating: 2
 
hennethannun

why is it bad to suggest that a baseball team should take advantage of the tools at its disposal?

"Gaming the service time" of young players save money for small market teams and lets them control players during more of their peak years.

Shouldn't fans applaud their team's decision to maximize their assets? Yankees and red sox fans don't complain when their teams spend all the extra money they have to contend every single season.

In this particular case, there was literally no cost to keeping hosmer down 6 more weeks UNLESS one thinks the royals can contend this season. Otherwise, they have just given away Hosmer's age 27 season. And it's not like the boras client is likely to sign a longoria style deal (or even a j-upton/hanley type deal). So Dayton Moore has made a pretty big bet that he can squeak into the playoffs with 88-90 wins if everything breaks right.

(note: I suppose Moore might also be betting that the super-2 system is going to be scrapped in the new CBA)

May 06, 2011 11:26 AM
rating: 2
 
Peter7899

How many tickets do the Royals have to sell to make up the money it will cost them with a 4th year of arbitration?

May 06, 2011 11:21 AM
rating: 0
 
Tommy Bennett

Hard to predict the number exactly, but they sold 9,835 tickets on Friday after the call-up was announced. Total Friday attendance was 30,690.

May 07, 2011 10:55 AM
rating: 0
 
Patrick M

I actually see something in that .439/.525/.582 batting line that would make me pause before promoting Hosmer: an isolated power of 0.143. In other words, nice, but not world-beating.

Hosmer is a very special prospect, but I'd like to see him flash a little more power before he gets promoted. Combine that with the potential benefits of not running up his MLB service time too early, and I think you have a solid case.

May 06, 2011 12:41 PM
rating: 0
 
dianagram

and now, the Braves just announced that Julio Teheran will be their starting pitcher tomorrow .... exciting times for hot prospects!

May 06, 2011 13:03 PM
rating: 1
 
jj0501

It's all projection and perfection until the first curve ball buckles the knees. The new car has no dings until it leaves the lot. Etc, etc. Actually, it is exciting to see the new guy get his chance and I'd love for KC to achieve
success this way. Somewhere, there is a spot for K-K in MLB.
I would think Oakland, Seattle, and TB are possibilities.

May 06, 2011 13:21 PM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

hennethannun: that's just how I see it. (rating and Post Reply doesn't work from my computer) Others have made good points, too, e.g. Super 2 being something the Royals likely will not even have to worry about.

May 06, 2011 13:44 PM
rating: -1
 
saigonsam

How different is the situation with the Royals than the Giants from last year. I don't recall a lot of people saying the Giants would win the World Series, and so they made a decision to keep Posey in the minors until the Super 2 deadline. If the Padres could have pulled out one more win, the Giant's decision could have cost them their first championship in SF.

May 07, 2011 18:39 PM
rating: 1
 
pmls990

Bruce Chen & co. ≠ Lincecum, Cain, etc.

May 08, 2011 00:18 AM
rating: 0
 
Edwincnelson

Bruce Chen and Kyle Davies anchor the Royals staff. We can compare them to the Lincecum and Cain combo in SF? Really? Just because a team has a good one month run in a weak division is not a reason to talk championship. Seriously, this is a horrible staff top to bottom.

May 07, 2011 21:37 PM
rating: 0
 
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