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November 23, 2005

Prospectus Notebook

Royals, Mariners

by Baseball Prospectus

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Team Audit | Team DT Cards | Team Articles | Team Statistics

Burning a Hole in My Pocket: We've got good news and we've got bad news. The good news is, Royals owner David Glass has publicly stated that he wants to increase payroll for the club to $50 million for the 2006 season. Given that Kansas City had the second-lowest payroll in baseball in 2005--in the neighborhood of $37 million, according to USA Today--and the fact that some money is coming off the books in the form of Brian Anderson ($3.5 million), Scott Sullivan ($2.6 million), and Jose Lima ($2.5 million), the Royals stand to be able to spend a non-trivial chunk of change on the free-agent market this winter, maybe as much as $20 million.

The bad news is the names that are being bandied about as the Royals look to spend their newfound dough, most of which are decidedly uninspiring. With a gaping hole at second base, the Royals are reportedly looking at Mark Grudzielanek (23.1 VORP, Age 35) or even a return performance (by popular demand only!) by Tony Graffanino (25.8, 33). The club needs power, so Reggie Sanders (27.4, 37) gets to fly to Missouri, for a getting-to-know-you tour.

We weren't even going to bring up the bullpen, but here's two words for you: Elmer Dessens (10.5, 33).

This is how you spend $20 million? It sounds like so much money, until you realize that tossing around three million here or there to six or seven mediocre role players will eat up that money in short order. And to what effect? Will Sanders, or Dessens, or even the amazing Grudz still be in the league by the time the Royals are contenders again? By the time they're ready to play .500 ball?

Of course, there is some value to the franchise to announcing an increase in payroll--particularly in November, when the team has season tickets to sell. But that's a particularly short-term view of things. If all that that $20 million buys you is a 14-win increase to 70 victories, has the franchise profited from the gesture?

So what else to do, now that Glass has put $50 million out there in the public? Well, inviting a young, big-ticket free agent to town is one option, although it's doubtful that an A.J. Burnett or a Rafael Furcal would take a market-level offer from the Royals. Another option may be foregoing what many commentators see as a weak free-agent field this winter, and instead focus on using their payroll flexibility on the trade market.

Perhaps a better approach would be to tell the fans, "We're going to play it cheap this winter, but in 2007, we're going to spend some real money--$70 or $80 million--and try to buy ourselves a pennant. So it's going to be a depressing summer, but be sure to pick up your season tickets anyway; that way you'll have priority for playoff seats in '07."

We can dream, can't we?

Fun with Numbers: Meanwhile, in the world of big-ticket free agents, the New York Times reports that former Royal Johnny Damon is marketing himself with a book of statistical analyses featuring chapter headings such as "Better than Future Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson," to make his case for a seven year mega-deal. So we decided to offer some gratis help to the Royals free agents for their promotional brochures. Here are a few excerpts:

COMPARABLE TO PETE ROSE AND TONY PHILLIPS

When we think of great versatile leadoff hitters in major-league history, two names instantly spring to mind: Pete Rose and Tony Phillips. Rose, the premier versatile hitter of the '60s and '70s, played six different positions--including five in his amazing 14 All-Star appearances. Phillips was one of the best leadoff hitters of the early 1990s, and part of the Oakland Athletics' World Series victory in 1989.

But when it comes to versatility, Denny Hocking has them both beat! Like Phillips, Hocking has played all seven non-catcher positions, and like Rose, Hocking is comfortable both leading off and batting second in the lineup. Indeed, the high productivity that both Rose and Phillips enjoyed after their age 35 seasons--Rose hit .325 at age 40, and Phillips scored 76 runs in just 106 games at the same age--all point to signing Hocking to a long-term contract to be your leadoff hitter.

So remember, when you think of Denny Hocking, think Pete Rose and Tony Phillips--just without the inconvenient drug and gambling problems.

PROVEN PLAYOFF PERFORMER

Aside from being one of the grittiest players available (see Chapter 7: Joe McEwing Has the Heart of a Lion!) and one of the most marketable (see Chapter 5: Leads League in High-Energy Nicknames) McEwing is also one of the foremost playoff performers on the market, with a career .500 playoff batting average, an OPS of 1000, and more runs scored than at-bats.

WELL RESTED AND DURABLE: DESERVES A FOUR-YEAR CONTRACT

From 1998 to 2001, Scott Sullivan posted back-to-back 100-inning seasons without the benefit of a single year off. Now, after two seasons of decreased workload (less than 70 innings each year in 2003 and 2004) and an entire year off dedicated to wellness, rest and relaxation, Sullivan is ready to sign a long-term contract as a workhorse reliever with your organization!

BETTER THAN HALL OF FAMER CATFISH HUNTER

A careful look at the statistical record shows the elite company that Jose Lima keeps. He has allowed fewer career hits (1758 to 2958) and walks (383 to 954) than Catfish Hunter. His total hits allowed are similar to one of the most unhittable pitchers of all time--Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax--in the same number of major-league seasons. Lima has more career strikeouts (968) than Satchel Paige, Addie Joss John Ward and Clark Griffith. Each of those men is in Cooperstown.

In short, your investment in Jose Lima is not simply an investment in quality pitching, colorful personality and extremely attractive relatives, but as a possible investment in immortality.

HASN'T GIVEN UP 35 HOME RUNS IN FIVE YEARS

While Brian Anderson has an ill-earned reputation as being prone to the home run, he has made immense strides in keeping the ball in the park. Indeed, Brian Anderson has never allowed as many as 35 home runs while pitching in the American League, and he established an incredible 78% reduction in home runs surrendered between the 2004 and 2005 seasons--a trend we expect to continue.

--Derek Jacques

SEATTLE MARINERS
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In 2005, the Seattle Mariners had just two problems: they had no offense and they had no starting pitching. In short, a lot of things need to change for the Mariners to be competitive in 2006. The first thing that should help is a full season of Felix Hernandez, but then that is countered by the fact that the Mariners are losing their other good starting pitcher from a year ago, Jamie Moyer.

The second good thing came when they signed Japanese import Kenji Johjima to a free agent contract.

To put Johjima's signing in perspective, it is instructive to start with a synopsis of the competitiveness of the Japanese league. Thankfully, BP's own Clay Davenport wrote a two-part synopsis on the Japanese League a couple of years ago, and those articles can be found here and here.

Below is a look at Johjima's translated performances the last six years, also courtesy of Clay:


Johjima 2000-2005 Translated Statistics with Fukuoka

YEAR    AB   HR    SB%    BA/OBP/SLG    EqA   EQR
2000   311    6   83.3   293/351/428   .272    43
2001   551   13   75.0   256/288/361   .226    50
2002   438   12   72.7   286/351/411   .265    57
2003   561   13   72.7   296/367/430   .277    80
2004   436   15   71.4   300/381/459   .289    69
2005   424   11   42.9   290/350/439   .272    59
Considering that the average AL catcher hit .257/.313/.393 in 2005, Johjima's numbers are fairly impressive. Add in Johjima's stellar defensive reputation, and the Mariners may have a 6-7 WARP player on their hands. This would make Johjima as valuable as guys like Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek and Joe Mauer. For the price the M's paid, that's not too shabby. At the very least, it should stop the turnstile that was behind home plate at Safeco Field last year. As a bonus, the M's may even be able to salvage what is left of Yorvit Torrealba's reputation and swap him out for someone more useful.

So what does this do for the Mariners lineup overall? Let's take a look at the projected starters:


2006 Mariners with 2005 stats (min. 100 outs)

POS   Player     EqA   Pos Rnk
C     Johjima   .272        12
1B    Sexson    .317         8
3B    Beltre    .259        27
CF    Reed      .249        31
RF    Suziki    .289        12
DH    Ibanez    .288         6
This still leaves 2B, SS, and LF. Will Shin-Soo Choo, Mike Morse and Jose Lopez get the starting nods at these positions? They will be 23, 24 and 22 respectively next year, and all have decent futures ahead of them--Lopez in particular. Plugging in these three players may not give the Mariners the defense they need, especially in the infield, but how important is that at this juncture? The Mariners had the eighth-best Defensive Efficiency in 2005, but the team still managed to lose 93 games.

There are two other ancillary benefits to plugging in the three youngsters. First, the Mariners minor-league strength lies in their middle infielders. In addition to Lopez and Morse, the M's have Yuniesky Betancourt and Adam Jones--recently shifted to the outfield--knocking on the door, with Asdrubal Cabrera, Matt Tuiasosopo and Luis Valbuena further down in the system. Lopez and Morse should be given the opportunity to play at the major-league level for a full season to see if they stick before the other players in their system force their way to Seattle. The second benefit is that the M's could focus the rest of their free-agent dollars and/or creative trade schemes on acquiring better pitching to support the King and their merry band of barnstormers. The Kenji Johjima era should be an interesting and no doubt worthwhile one, but the Mariners still remain a few pieces short of solving the puzzle.

--Paul Swydan

Related Content:  Jose Lima,  Tony Phillips,  Jose Lopez

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