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December 13, 2012

On the Beat

Moore Problems

by John Perrotto

The way one rival major-league general manager sees it, Dayton Moore just can't win.

"The media jumps on everything the man does," he said of the Royals' GM. "I know they haven't won in Kansas City in forever and it's easy to criticize the Royals, but it's become piling on now. Regardless of what he does, people are going to criticize Dayton. He could trade Jarrod Dyson to the Angels tomorrow for Mike Trout straight up, and there is a segment of the media and fans that would jump down his throat just because he is Dayton Moore."

The Royals have been criticized in many circles for last Sunday's trade in which they sent outfielder Wil Myers—the consensus minor-league player of the year—pitching prospects Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery, and third baseman Patrick Leonard to the Rays for right-handers James Shields and Wade Davis. Critics believe the Royals gave up way too much.

However, those inside the game don't necessarily feel the same way. Of a random sampling of five front-office types and scouts, only one thought the Royals got the short end of the bargain. The rest thought it was a good trade for both teams.

"All of a sudden, everyone is acting like James Shields is an overrated pitcher," said one scout. "He's one of the most reliable pitchers in the game, and he's been pretty darn good, too, for a long time. He always goes to the post, he keeps you in the game, and he almost always gives you a very good chance to win. You don't find a lot of guys like him available without having to trade a valuable piece off your major-league roster. I thought Dayton did well to get him and Davis, too. Davis is sort of the forgotten man because he wound up in the bullpen in Tampa Bay last season, but he has the stuff to be a major-league starting pitcher, and the Royals can control him at a fixed salary for five more years."

The Royals now have a starting rotation, in some order, of Shields, Davis, Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, and either Bruce Chen or Luke Hochevar. Some members of the Royals' brain trust believe Hochevar is better suited for short relief and could be dominant in an already-good bullpen that includes Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow, Louis Coleman, and left-hander Tim Collins.

"It's a helluva lot better pitching staff than what they've had in Kansas City for a long time," the rival GM said. "The Royals are going to score runs with their lineup. Offense isn't the problem. That they could upgrade their pitching without damaging the offense was big."

Some would disagree with the assessment that the Royals did not damage their hitting attack by trading Myers and opting to play Jeff Francoeur again in right field in 2013. However, the Royals are looking for an upgrade in right field, and they did not regard Myers as highly internally as many teams outside the organization. They fear major-league pitchers will exploit his lack of plate discipline.

One scout, though, believes Myers will quickly make an impact with the Rays.

"He's been ready to play in the major leagues since the middle of the last season," the scout said. "The Rays need offense in the worst way, and Myers makes them better. He's going to be a very good player, but the Royals could afford to let him go because they have guys like Butler and Moustakas and Hosmer in the middle of their lineup. It's a trade that helps both teams. Everyone is so damn fixated these days on how one team has to win a trade. What's wrong with both teams being helped? That's the whole point of trading, not to fleece the other guy."

---

Speaking of the Royals, when I tweeted last month that their former ace, Zack Greinke, was seeking a six-year, $150-million contract in free agency, a lot of people scoffed. Well, Greinke got six years and $147 million from the Dodgers, and he even got a clause that allows him to opt out after three years.

That contract would have seemingly been justified following the 2009 season, when Greinke won the American League Cy Young Award with the Royals and registered 7.2 WARP. In the past three seasons, he has contributed 9.3 WARP, meaning the Dodgers are paying an average annual value of $24.5 million for a three-win pitcher.

"Greinke is a good pitcher, don't get me wrong, and I think all 30 teams would love to have him," said one major-league executive. "But he's a classic example of being in the right place at the right time. He's not one of the five best pitchers in the game, but he's going to get paid like one. He couldn't have timed his free agency any better, coinciding it with the Dodgers opening a mint in the basement of Dodger Stadium."

---

We're into the 12 days of Christmas—you do start counting them before the holiday and not after, right? I've never been sure—and Josh Hamilton remains a free agent. Not only has the slugging and slightly quirky outfielder not signed, but nobody seems to have a clue about what he is thinking.

Hamilton successfully avoided the media at last week's Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., though that is not as great of a feat as you might think, since the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Resort has nearly as much square footage as Rhode Island. Furthermore, Hamilton's agent, Michael Moye, has a strict policy of never talking with the media about contract negotiations. Hamilton has also asked teams who are negotiating with him not to leak any details.

Thus, we are left to read the tea leaves in an attempt to get a handle on Hamilton's situation. Baseball people suspect the Mariners have made the biggest offer so far—the general consensus is four years and $100 million—while the Phillies and Rangers are waiting for the outfielder’s asking price to go down. Moreover, because Hamilton hasn't signed with the Mariners yet, it is perceived that he would prefer not to play in Seattle and is hoping to stay in his comfort zone in Texas.

Where it winds up going is anyone's guess, but the continued talk that the Yankees are going to jump into the bidding is way off the mark. Few people to seem to believe it, but the Yankees are dead set against committing big dollars to any free agents beyond next season because they plan to get under the $189-million luxury tax threshold in 2014.

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Another AL Central GM who has taken a certain amount of heat, especially in his home market, is the Indians' Chris Antonetti. The Indians spent more days in first place than any other team in the division over the last two seasons yet faded badly in the second half both years.

However, the Indians and Antonetti are getting serious. They pulled off one of the coups of the offseason by hiring Terry Francona as manager, then followed that on Monday night by turning right fielder Shin-Soo Choo—who was not going to re-sign as a free agent after this season—into Trevor Bauer, Drew Stubbs, and Bryan Shaw in a three-way trade with the Diamondbacks and Reds. That deal came a day after the Indians took a reasonable gamble—one year and $6 million—on free-agent first baseman Mark Reynolds.

The Indians aren't done, either. They are still open to trading shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, and they have a good chance of bringing former Ohio State star Nick Swisher back to the state as a free agent, which would be pretty neat in the same year when the Buckeyes went 12-0 in football under Urban Meyer, another returning Ohioan. It also isn't totally out of the question that the Indians will at least dip their toes into the Hamilton sweepstakes as they try to rebuild their fan base.

"Right now, I'd say Chris and (the Blue Jays') Alex Anthopoulos are the co-GMs of the winter," a fellow GM said. "I really, really like what the Indians are doing."

---

Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey was apparently celebrating Festivus at the Mets' children's charitable Christmas party at Citi Field this week. He certainly followed the Festivus tradition of airing his grievances to the Mets' beat writers.

Dickey is upset that he and the Mets have yet to work out a contract extension. It is understandable, too, because he's had a long journey to put himself in position to cash in after winning the National League Cy Young Award this year as a 37-year-old.

However, those around the Mets are becoming more convinced by the day that Dickey will be traded before spring training. As one Mets person said, "Let's be frank. We're probably not going to be able to contend for a couple of years." Thus, New York is wondering why it should keep Dickey to lead losing teams when they could cash him in on the trade market for some prospects?

---

The Phillies and Yankees have new third basemen. The Phillies acquired Michael Young in a trade from the Rangers, and the Yankees signed Kevin Youkilis as a free agent. One scout who regularly covers the AL isn't too optimistic about how either move will work out.

"There is absolutely no way Michael Young can handle third base on a daily basis anymore," the scout said. "His range is gone, and so are his reflexes. Balls zoom right by him when he plays third base."

And as far as Youkilis?

"He's not the player he once was but he can still play," the scout said. "I just wonder how he is going to assimilate into that culture with the Yankees. I don't mean this in a bad way, but he kind of marches to the beat of his own drummer, and I can't see him being happy in that button-downed atmosphere."

--

Outfielder Andruw Jones has likely ended his major-league career after 17 years now that he has signed as a free agent with the Rakuten Eagles of Japan's Pacific League. That brings about the question of whether Jones is a Hall of Famer. He once appeared to be a lock for Cooperstown. But while Jones' 10 Gold Gloves and 454 homers are eye-catching, the fact that his career went off the cliff after he left the Braves in 2007 as a 31-year-old—though certainly not the fiscal cliff because he signed a two-year, $24-millon contract with the Dodgers—causes him to come up short of Hall-worthy in my eyes.

---

Pirates reliever Jason Grilli, one of the game's truly good guys, showed that loyalty still has a place in baseball Wednesday when he re-signed as a free agent for two years and $6.75 million. Grilli had a more lucrative two-year offer from the Blue Jays but decided to stay with the Pirates because they gave him a chance to return to the major leagues two years ago when he was pitching for the Phillies' Triple-A Lehigh Valley farm club after missing the 2010 season because of a torn quadriceps. It's a nice story in an era where everyone—not just in baseball—always seems to looking for every last dollar.

And a tip of the hat to agent Gary Sheffield for landing a solid deal for Grilli, his first free agent client. Considering Sheffield made $168 million in his 22-year playing career, he has a little knowledge about extracting some money from ownership.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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