September 22, 2011
Transaction Analysis Blog
An All-Missouri Edition
Kansas City Royals
Little has changed since the last time Ka’aihue was involved in a transaction. That occurred back in early May, when the Royals decided to demote the Hawaii native in favor of Eric Hosmer. In the four months since, Ka’aihue hit Pacific Coast League pitchers about as well as Hosmer hit major league pitchers despite the differences in age (Ka’aihue is 27, Hosmer turns 22 in October), hitting environment, and competition level. Yet, Ka’aihue is likely to retain his status as a sabermetrics cause célèbre because his amount of failure in the major leagues is limited to less than a season’s worth of plate appearances. The next stop for Ka’aihue is the waiver wire. Even with the murmurs about his status as a Quad-A player, there are factors in his favor that could draw a claim, including low opportunity and transaction costs.
The reason for Ka’aihue’s dismissal from the 40-man roster is Herrera. At 5-foot-10, Herrera is a diminutive righty who turns 22 on New Year’s Eve, yet shot through the system with some vigor this season. He started in High-A (where he dominated) then moved up to Double-A for a time (where he dominated), and ended the minor league season in Triple-A (where he dominated). Don’t sour too much based on Herrera’s rough debut, as there is plenty of reason for optimism between his impressive minor league numbers (better than a strikeout per inning pitched across three levels) and Jason Parks’ glowing scouting report concerning his fastball:
As for Cain, whoever had him spending almost the entire season in Triple-A despite being healthy and hitting .312/.380/.497 because of Melky Cabrera’s emergence should win a prize or a straitjacket. Give the Royals credit for not promoting him and wasting service time as he sat on the bench. Ostensibly, Cain will be a starting center fielder next season, whether it comes in Kansas City (presumably after the Royals move Cabrera) or in another city (should the Royals move Cain in a package for a veteran starter) is the question.
Meanwhile, O’Sullivan and Mazarro are up in order to stimulate the run environment.
I know Cardinals fans must be tired of reading about Albert Pujols’ free agency situation in every article about their team, so I ask for your forgiveness ahead of time and assure you that I only bring it up in order to demonstrate the ingenuity of re-signing Berkman.
Let’s start with the happy scenario for the Cardinals, which is re-signing Pujols. Should that get done, then Berkman can remain in the corner outfield. If the not-so-happy scenario plays out instead, then the Cardinals do not have to troll the waters for a new first baseman. Berkman figures to provide value either way, and it’s not like the Cardinals are going to hook a comparable player for the same terms (one year, $12 million) during the winter. An added bonus is the possibility of chipping away some, if only a morsel, of leverage from Pujols in negotiations.
The terms are the beautiful part of the extension, as a one-year agreement alleviates a considerable amount of risk associated with Berkman’s skill set. Berkman’s value is tied up almost entirely into how well he can hit as he provides negative defensive value. If his offensive value is average, then it’s hard to justify playing him in right field. The good news, then, is that it takes a pessimist to peg Berkman as just a league-average hitter in 2012 despite his 36th birthday coming in February.
Berkman has hit .275/.394/.496 since the start of the 2009 season, and his 2011 season is one of the more impressive bounce back campaigns in recent memory. He isn’t likely to replicate this season again, but there is a wide range of possibilities between the 2011 season and league-average. PECOTA, for its part, has Berkman hitting .265/.379/.466 next season.
Perhaps the only head-scratching part of this agreement is Berkman’s decision to go along with it since he seemingly undersold himself. It doesn’t take a vivid imagination to think a team with a weakness at first base or designated hitter would have given Berkman multiple years in order to fill the gap for a season or two, and yet he didn’t even hit the open market before agreeing to return to St. Louis. Maybe he loves the fan base or the aura of the franchise influenced him in a way that no amount of money or contract length can, but whatever the motive, the Cardinals have to be giddy with the results.