Under the Radar: Kansas City Royals Sign Chin-Hui Tsao

Brandon HeikoopSenior Analyst IJanuary 1, 2008

One of my favorite happenings of baseball during the Hot Stove league are under the radar moves.

Oftentimes I will hear of a move and think, "Now there was a steal," or something to that effect. Having this blog, I will be able to document moments when such instances occur and reflect on them after all is said and done—which may prove to be more painful then enjoyable and limit my credibility.

To avoid some of this pain, check out an interesting show with Michael Cera.

My first entry of 2008 will also be my first entry in what I hope is an interesting series, one that I can one day add to my resume in addition to the long list of successful video game franchises, fantasy leagues, etc., in an attempt at capturing a job in an MLB front office.

This is also my second entry that will involve a one Dayton Moore, whom I am going on record and officially naming the Most Underrated GM in Baseball.

I am by no means a Kansas City Royals fan, I just have to say that the guy has made some very strong trades recently.

The Kansas City Royals sign Chin-Hui Tsao to a minor league deal.

Admittedly, on the surface this acquisition is quite marginal. Tsao is not going to be a player who makes or break's a teams season. However, we are talking about a pitcher who dominated in the minor leagues (2.75 ERA, 10.53 K/9 in 67 starts).

That said, there has been one problem with the pitcher throughout his career, a problem that would make Mark Prior look like Cal Ripken Jr.

Let me give a little background information on Tsao. As recently as 2004, BaseballProspectus.com ranked Tsao as the 38th ranked prospect in baseball (subscription required). In fact, during a round-table discussion, the writers for Baseball Prospectus seemed unanimous that despite the ballpark and some injuries, Tsao was undoubtedly a top 20 prospect.

In 2001, John Sickels ranked Tsao as the 16th best prospect in baseball. This A- grade is an enormous compliment, considering that some of his contemporaries at the time were Albert Pujols, Roy Oswalt, CC Sabathia and Vernon Wells to name a few.

Tsao also ranked as the Rockies top prospect in 2001, 2002 and 2004.

This is what BaseballAmerica.com wrote about Tsao in December of 2003:

"Tsao has a devastating slider, though he has been limited in how he can use it since his elbow surgery. The Rockies don’t want him to overextend himself with the slider, which has given him more opportunity to refine his changeup. He has an exploding fastball that can run up to 96 mph and usually sits in the low 90s. He can add and subtract from his heater, depending on what the situation calls for. Just as important as his stuff, Tsao has command of the strike zone."


To me, this is as good of a scouting report as one can get. Baseball America does point out some flaws, but nothing seemed to point to what would happen to the kid after this point. Tsao went on to pitch in only 88 1/3 innings with a various array of injuries, most of which dealt with his shoulder. Interestingly, Baseball America did pick up on this when commenting on his slider; however, they felt only that a lack of stamina and dedication would keep him from being the ace of the Rockies staff.

In the same year, John Sickels wrote the following for ESPN.com:

"If you programmed a sentient supercomputer (such as Skynet, Colossus, or Landru) to design a pitching prospect, Tsao would be one possible output. Although he pitches comfortably at 90 mph, Tsao can bring it up to 95-97 mph when needed. His fastball isn't straight; it has "hop" to it, yet he is also able to paint corners. Such a combination of movement and precision can be devastating. Tsao also has an above-average slider. His third pitch, a changeup, is a capable major league offering as well. Tsao has solid command, and is mature for his age. His pitching instincts are strong, and with plenty of experience against good international competition, he doesn't rattle easily. Physically and mentally, he has what it takes to develop into an excellent pitcher."

Talk about ringing up the gold stars. I can't imagine that if Tsao were a stock, that people wouldn't have bid through the roof on him—which leads me to thinking, I wonder if Protrade is going to keep a historical record of that kind of stuff.

In January of 2007, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Tsao and as a reliever began the season with a bang, allowing one hit in his first 10 2/3 inning pitched. Then, as the story has so often gone, his shoulder flared up once again, placing him on the disabled list for the second time in the season.

However, keep in mind that this was the first time Tsao had pitched since 2005, and that he was coming off of his second major shoulder surgery. The article mentions that the Dodgers staff was confident they had found the problem early this time, giving me reason to believe that Tsao, as a minor league invite, should provide some strength to the Royals bullpen.

Unfortunately it appears as thought Tsao's career as a big league starter has come to an end. This once top 10 prospect (BaseballProspectus.com July 2003—by the way, get a subscription to this) appears to be not much more then a reliever.

But let's think about that for a moment. Relief pitching is indeed integral to a major league team's success. Many relievers have incredible stuff, but not the stamina, durability, or the arsenal to be starters. Tsao presumably can still throw (6 K, 1 H in 8 IP April 07), and if the 2007 season was any indication of what he has left, outside of two performances (May 6 @ Atl and July 14 @ SF) in which he allowed 75 percent of his runs, 28 percent of his hits, and 38 percent of his walks in a mere 6 percent of his innings pitched, Dayton Moore, in my opinion, looks to have made an excellent "Under the Radar" move.

I anticipate Tsao to slot in as the Royals third or fourth bullpen arm, grabbing a couple of saves and holds but being limited due to his inability to pitch for long periods of time, as well as on back-to-back days.

He will undoubtedly perform above the league average, providing the Royals with three or four WSAB, meaning he will be the 2007 equivalent of a Justin Speier.

Considering Moore only had to lock Tsao up for a single season and at around $250K, compared to Speier at four years and $18M, I can't see any reason not to like this deal.