Grading Kansas City Royals' Moves so Far This Offseason
The Kansas City Royals have been uncharacteristically active this offseason.
Rumors have circled around the team, and many eyes have been focused on what Kansas City would do on the heels of a winning season. Seeking the opportunity to capitalize and improve, general manager Dayton Moore set his sights on being involved in a big way.
The Royals have reportedly been actively talking to various free agents to fill multiple needs on their club.
They have shown interest in players that could provide an impact bat or a strong arm to the roster but ultimately did not sign those players for various reasons.
Along the way, they have signed a few players, watched a few depart, ventured into the trade waters and attempted to find another diamond in the rough for the mound.
Five of those moves had immediate impact on the major-league roster. Here is the report card for the Royals' moves thus far this offseason.
All transactions are sourced from the KC Royals transaction page unless otherwise noted.
Statistics are sourced from Baseball-Reference.
Contract information is sourced from Cot's Baseball Contracts.
Royals Trade George Kottaras After Signing Francisco Pena
On November 17, the Royals ventured into the free agent pool and surfaced with 24-year-old catcher Francisco Pena. Pena has spent the last seven seasons in the New York Mets' minor league system developing the tools necessary for him to reach the big leagues.
It was four days later, on November 21, that the Royals designated current major-league backup catcher George Kottaras for assignment.
It is easy to speculate that the Royals feel that Pena is ready to take over the role of backup catcher. Kottaras was later traded to the Chicago Cubs for cash considerations.
Pena will not only assume the role of backup to Salvador Perez but will also seemingly look to learn from Perez at the major league level.
Perez, though seven months younger than Pena, has the experience edge in the big leagues. Many view Perez as one of the best catchers in the major leagues, and Pena could blossom while working with him.
Ultimately, the Royals got younger and seemingly more athletic behind the plate. Bench moves can be highly underrated but are quite often a key part of a winning ball club.
The Royals are focused on improving all aspects of the team, including the bench, and showed a calculated risk in gaining the young Pena to help with that. The team deserves credit for at least trying to improve instead of standing pat.
Improving the backup catcher position: B
Jason Vargas Joins the Royals to Bolster Rotation
During the 2013 season, the Royals were able to take a pitcher looking to reinvent himself and benefit from his success along the way.
When it works out, it benefits both the player and the team. For the Royals and Ervin Santana, it worked out very well.
Jason Vargas is a pitcher looking to reestablish himself as a strong part of a rotation.
However, Vargas is also a player that was seeking a longer commitment from a club than just one year. The Royals bit the bullet and offered the 30-year-old lefty a four-year contract worth $32 million.
For $8 million a year, the Royals get a pitcher who has consistently thrown a lot of innings, has maintained a respectable earned run average and has an overall record that shows just slightly more losses than wins (51-58).
Vargas gets the security of knowing where he will be pitching for the next few years and the ability to prove that he is capable of pitching better than his record shows.
With run production and strong defense behind him, there is no reason to believe that Vargas would be anything less than a slightly above average starter in Major League Baseball.
The Royals locking him up for the next four years could be a huge bargain if he continues to pitch well. The value of the contract is well worth the risk involved.
Adding a slight risk to the rotation: B+
Irving Falu and Chris Getz Leave the Team
Baseball people love the term "addition by subtraction".
It simply means that sometimes the best way to improve a franchise is to be willing to let go of some of the players holding it back. The Royals found it best to give up on the project that was Chris Getz and cut ties with veteran Irving Falu.
Getz was one of the earliest arrivals from the great farm system the Royals were putting together.
A young second baseman with an above-average bat, he was often perceived as a precursor to the arrival of highly touted hitting prospect Johnny Giavotella. Defensively, Getz seemed to be quite the liability. That wouldn't be that big of a problem if he was providing offense, but Getz was not the answer there either.
Irving Falu was more of the same.
An above-average hitter but below-average fielder that could help the team bridge the gap to a final answer at second base. The problem became that the Royals had too many of the same type of player on the roster. Getz and Falu lost playing time to Emilio Bonifacio when he arrived on the scene, and their production from the bench did not warrant them having a roster spot over anyone else.
The Royals made a move here by not signing either player, choosing to release Irving Falu and not tendering a contract to Chris Getz. They may be searching for bench replacements in the near future but neither guy is incredibly hard to replace. If anything, it shows that the team is finally ready to cut loose some players to make room for guys that can help the team win now.
Addition by subtraction at second base: B
Royals Land Leadoff Hitter Norichika Aoki
Over the most recent seasons, the Royals have relied heavily on the production of Alex Gordon to provide some spark at the top of the batting order.
Gordon, meanwhile, has shown a veteran presence and left many wondering if he could provide a bigger impact if he hit in a run-producing spot in the lineup.
Also over that time frame, Jeff Francoeur patrolled right field for the Royals, producing some of the worst offensive seasons in all of baseball. The Royals cut ties with Francoeur last season and were willing to look at right field as a potential spot to upgrade during the offseason.
Dayton Moore turned a surplus of pitching into an effective answer at the top of the lineup by trading Will Smith to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for right fielder Norichika Aoki on December 5. Aoki provides the Royals with a true leadoff hitter, while also providing above average defense in right field.
Aoki is speedy outfielder with a solid glove and an impressive on-base percentage.
He provides an immediate upgrade to both the defense and offense, allows Alex Gordon to hit lower in the lineup with more opportunities to drive in runs and came at a cost that was very easy for the Royals to swallow. He becomes arbitration eligible in 2015 and is under team control through 2018. This was a huge move by the Royals.
Aoki changes shades of blue: A
Omar Infante Provides Production from Second Base
The Royals reportedly went head-to-head with the New York Yankees on two free agents this offseason.
Carlos Beltran joined the Bronx Bombers while Omar Infante has reportedly reached a deal with Royals, as first reported by Buster Olney of ESPN.
Beltran would have been a great acquisition and would have provided the Royals with some real firepower for the first time in years.
Infante, however, is the right fit for the team's needs. Beltran would have required subsequent moves to find playing time. Infante answers the question at second base that has plagued the team for the last few years.
As Jeff Sullivan points out over at FanGraphs.com, Infante is a solid investment in known production.
The Royals picked up Emilio Bonifacio last season and he may turn into a fine option on the infield, but Infante is already a fine player. The Royals know exactly what they have in the veteran second baseman. What they have is a substantial upgrade over their current roster.
The contract may be a little too long at four years. The money, reportedly a total of just over $30 million according to the same FanGraphs article mentioned above, is not horrible. Infante can provide substantial production, adequate defense and veteran leadership for this team immediately.
Bringing certainty to second base: B+
The Royals Are a Better Team Going into 2014
The Royals have taken their lumps from the fans and the media over the entire tenure of Dayton Moore.
The team seems to make all the wrong moves at all the wrong times. But over the last few seasons, Moore has quietly built one of the most successful farm systems in baseball. He has brought winning players to the Royals through trades. He has continued to improve the team.
The 2014 season has long been thought of as the season the Royals were aiming for to make a playoff run. 2013 was a nice surprise and showed the rest of baseball that they were on the right track. The moves made during the offseason seem to support that theory.
The Royals have improved this offseason.
They have a much better second baseman and right fielder. They removed some of the unnecessary parts from the bench. They took a reasonably priced gamble on a pitcher. They improved their bench and their backup catching situation with a young, talented player.
Overall, the Royals are seemingly putting together a very successful offseason. Dayton Moore has helped the team be ready to win in 2014.
Overall offseason grade thus far: B+
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