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February 16, 2006

Prospectus Notebook

Reds, Royals

by Baseball Prospectus

CINCINNATI REDS
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New Reds owner Bob Castellini wasted no time in showing Dan O'Brien the door. Four internal candidates and five outsiders got interviews, and both lists included some of the brighter minds in baseball. The job eventually went to Wayne Krivsky, the Twins' Assistant General Manager, who has been involved in baseball operations since 1978, when he was with the Texas Rangers. Krivsky moved to the Twins in 1994 and has had responsibilities in arbitration, rules administration, scouting, and multi-year contract negotiation.

Krivsky's first couple of baseball moves were questionable at best. First, Timo Perez was signed to a minor-league contract and invited to spring training. Perez had an OPS of .562 in 76 games with the White Sox last year, and a .623 OPS in 103 games in 2004. It's hard to imagine any scenario in which Perez has value for the Reds in 2006. Even if he were lights out as a gloveman--which he almost definitely is not--Perez is so devoid of offensive value that there is no way to justify his bat in the lineup. Ryan Freel could cover center field in an emergency if Ken Griffey Jr. went down and Chris Denorfia also looks like he could handle the job.

The other move that made little sense was the signing of first baseman Scott Hatteberg to a one-year, $750,000 deal. Admittedly, the team lacked depth at first base (other than Adam Dunn there isn't a guy on the 25-man roster who has more than a handful of Major League games at first). As with the Perez signing, though, you have to ask yourself a pretty simple question: "do we ever want to get into a position where we're actually asking for plate appearances from this guy?" Hatteberg had a down year in 2005, and you'd be hard-pressed to expect a comeback in 2006.

At his peak he offered on-base percentage and the ability to catch a little (career Rate2 of 86), and he's long past his peak. PECOTA predicts a line of .261/.346/.373 out of Hatteberg in 2006, which would be good for a VORP of 0.0. Admittedly it's late in the off-season, but it's hard to believe that the Reds couldn't teach Freel or Austin Kearns or Javier Valentin or Rich Aurilia enough first base to cover the team in an emergency. Or if you really want an experienced first baseman, do you need to pay $750,000 for Hatteberg? Was there really that much of a market for the guy?

Then Krivsky goes and completely redeems himself with the three-year contract he gave to Adam Dunn. Joe Sheehan lauded the deal yesterday, but we couldn't resist offering a couple more points of praise. First, let's look at the new contract in the context of Dunn's salary history.

2002     $   250,000
2003     $   400,000
2004     $   445,000
2005     $ 4,600,000
----NEW CONTRACT----
2006     $ 7,500,000
2007     $10,500,000
2008     $13,000,000 or $500,000 buyout
A few highlights:
  1. For 2006 the new contract lets both sides avoid the arbitration room. The Reds filed at $7,100,000 and Dunn's agent filed at $8,950,000. The $7,500,000 Dunn will earn in 2006 is substantially below the mid-point of those two arb offers. This makes sense to some extent--the security of a long-term deal is earned by giving up some dollars--but Dunn really isn't getting all that much security here. Only two years are guaranteed.

  2. The option in 2008 is pathetically small. If Dunn is hurt or loses some effectiveness, there is absolutely no reason for the Reds to pick up that option. The point of a buyout on an option year is to charge a premium to the team for the freedom to get out of a major salary obligation. $500,000 just isn't enough pressure.

  3. Dunn is on pace to enter free agency in the 2007/2008 off-season. That's the winter where Dunn will be entering his age-28 season and would have looked to sign a huge multi-year deal worth tens of millions. If Paul Konerko is worth five years and $60,000,000 this off-season, it's not hard to picture Dunn earning quite a bit more than that in his first free agent contract. To put off that payday for another year, Dunn's agents should have charged Krivsky and the Reds a hefty premium. Instead, they've guaranteed themselves a minimum of $500,000, and a maximum of $13,000,000, which is quite likely less than Dunn will make in any single year of his next big contract.
One can certainly understand the idea that a bird in the hand might be better than two in the bush to Dunn, but it's no exaggeration to say that Krivsky signed a sweetheart of a deal here. He gets cost-certainty, savings, flexibility, and the best years of one of the best hitters in baseball with no serious long-term risk. Little mistakes like Timo Perez and Scott Hatteberg don't matter much when you take down the big pots.

--Tom Gorman

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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Most likely, you are under the impression that the Royals are not, at the moment, a very good team. Perhaps it's the team's 56-106 record last season that convinced you, or the fact that last year the Royals lost 100 games for the third time in four years. Maybe it's the combination of a tiny payroll, feckless management, and a bone-dry farm system that has you thinking that the state of Missouri has only one major-league franchise. Hey, whatever floats your boat.

But optimism and good cheer can be found everywhere, even at Kauffman Stadium. True, to see some of them requires visual acuity that would make Ted Williams shed cryogenically frozen tears of envy. But with pitchers and catchers showing up at camps across the land as you read this, what better time of year is there to think happy thoughts and dream the impossible?

So here are some reasons to look forward to the Royals in 2006:

  1. Alex Gordon. The Royals' highest draft pick ever, Gordon was selected 2nd overall last summer and signed in September. His brief AFL performance was nothing to write home about statistically, but from a scouting standpoint, few hitters looked better at the plate. Gordon immediately becomes the best all-around hitting prospect since Carlos Beltran, and if his lofty perch comes by virtue of having his craft honed at the University of Nebraska instead of in the Royals organization, what of it? Without giving away the store, we can tell you that no Royals hitter has ranked as high on our Top 50 Prospects list as Gordon does. Only a curmudgeon would point out that the previous record holder was our #11 prospect in 2000, Dee Brown.

  2. The #1 overall pick. That's right, for the second straight year the Royals will have their highest draft pick ever. Given our recent study which showed that historically, the #1 overall pick has returned far greater value than even the #2 pick, this is something for Royals fans to get excited about. Yes, it required the Royals to finish with the worst record in baseball to earn the pick, but in life you have to give something to get something. Besides, in 2004 the Royals had the worst record in the game, and they still didn't earn the #1 pick, which is why our first item talks about Alex Gordon instead of Justin Upton.

  3. The chance to make history. Thanks to the rule change following the 2003 draft, the draft order no longer alternates by league; all major league teams draft in order of winning percentage. The upshot of this is that if--as PECOTA and most of the civilized world projects--the Royals finish with the game's worst record again, they will become the first team ever to have the #1 overall pick in back-to-back seasons. So that's something.

  4. No more Jose Lima. The owner of both the American and National League records for highest ERA in a season of 30+ starts is now a member of the New York Mets, who are apparently unaware of the information contained in the preceding clause. No team stands to gain as much from a case of addition-by-subtraction as the Royals will by changing their clocks away from Lima Time. (The Nationals might have a case if they released Cristian Guzman.)

  5. They've cornered the market on players at the bottom of the defensive spectrum. The master stroke that was the Doug Mientkiewicz signing--when they were already going to have problems finding Matt Stairs playing time--means that the Royals arguably have more 1B/DH/notional-OF types in the game. Mike Sweeney is best utilized at DH, both because it may keep him healthy and because he is a first baseman in only the most general sense. Justin Huber is following Sweeney's career arc as dutifully in the field as with the bat.

    Billy Butler is one of the game's finest prospects at the plate, but the last player with such a chilling defensive reputation was probably Kevin Reimer. And Emil Brown, while notionally the team's starting left fielder, had arguably the worst defensive statistics of any outfielder in the majors last year. By hoarding all of these positionally-challenged hitters, the Royals will force opposing teams who suddenly find a hole at DH to look elsewhere for help--like giving a chance to a deserving minor league slugger, or rotating their position players through the slot in order to keep them fresh. Fiendishly clever.

  6. Another shot for Jeremy Affeldt to reach his potential. Few pitchers in the game have as much of a disconnect between their stuff and their performance as Affeldt, whose stuff resembles Barry Zito's--at least until it hits the sweet spot of opposing hitters' bats. We figure that one of these years, Affeldt is going to have a breakthrough season. He's been hurt in the past by the lack of a consistent role, as the Royals have jerked him around from middle reliever to starter to closer to middle reliever again. Fortunately, this year the Royals appear committed to keeping him in a defined role as a swingman.

  7. A power bullpen. We thought we'd slip in a real reason for optimism just to confuse you. Between Mike MacDougal, Andy Sisco, and Ambiorix Burgos, the Royals have three young pitchers who all throw in the mid-90s and who all struck out more than a man an inning last season. Sisco and Burgos, in particular, were both rookies last season and have top-tier closer upside--and in Sisco's case, #1 starter potential.

  8. Krispy Kremes. Yes, the sensation that swept Royals Nation in 2003 is back for another year--12 hits by the home team, 12 free donuts at participating stores. You will note that, true to the history of the franchise, the promotion revolves around "hits" instead of "times on base" or "total bases." And you thought the signing of Mark Grudzielanek made no sense.

  9. Fun at the trading deadline. Mix together an influx of mediocre thirtysomethings with a team that's likely to be 20 games out at the end of July, and what do you get? That's right--a bunch of Grade C prospects in return! From the team that gave you trade deadline maneuvers like "Kevin Appier for Blake Stein, Brad Rigby, and the wrong Jeff D'Amico," and "Beltran for Mark Teahen, John Buck, and Mike Wood," (to say nothing of "Rey Sanchez for Brad Voyles and Alejandro Machado," and "Jermaine Dye for Valdemort)," would you expect anything less?

  10. The front office is going to get sacked if they don't turn things around. We saved the happiest sentiment for last: after one of the worst stretches of futility by any team in the last 50 years, and an off-season spending spree that was both reckless and irrelevant, odds are that GM Allard Baird will be asked to leave at some point this summer--and if owner David Glass has any sense, he'll turn out the rest of the front office as well and bring in a fresh set of faces from outside the organization.

It's going to be a fun season, everyone. I can hardly wait for it to end.

--Rany Jazayerli

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