August 24, 2005

Royal Pain
Peter Gammons noted recently that both Allaird Baird and Buddy Bell were relieved that the Royals losing streak ended because now they could get back to giving their young players much needed experience.  While that may sound admirable, the problem with it is that they weren't playing players with upside then, and still aren't.  They continue to play Matt Stairs, Terrence Long and Emil Brown whose average age is 32 years old.  Stairs is a useful hitter so he actually has some value in playing.  They may have an excuse for playing Long because they are still on the hook for $4 million plus in salary.  Still, if they were interested in the future, it's not like young players are learning how to win from a guy who'd be a 4th or 5th outfielder on any other team in the majors. 

But allowing Emil Brown to continue getting regular at bats is just silly.  He's 30 years old making major league minimum and, with the exception of his batting average this season, hasn't showed significant improvement in any other aspect of his game.  Meanwhile in AAA they have Matt Diaz hitting .370 (1.057 OPS) and Aaron Guiel popping 30 homers (.914 OPS).  Granted, neither of those guys are prospects, but both are younger than Brown and Long and at least have an outside chance of becoming major league regulars.  Not a good chance mind you, but there is a chance.  That can't be said of Long and Brown, at least not without giggling.

They've also taken to giving Denny Hocking at bats... Denny Hocking for Pete's sake!!!!  He's 35 years old and only three times in his career has he amassed more than 300 at bats in a season.  Only once in his 13-year career did he produce an OPS in excess of  .700 and has a career OPS of .654.  That, folks, is lousy.  But they're finding ways to give him at bats at the expense of Ruben Gotay and/or Donnie Murphy.  Meanwhile Diaz, Guiel and Justin Huber (850 OPS in AAA) are stuck in Omaha while the outfield equivalents of Hocking are racking up regular ABs in Kansas City. 

And that is why the Royals will continue to stink forever... or at least until they get a new GM and a new owner.  They have demonstrated quite ably over the last 5 years that they have absolutely no clue as to how to value player production.  The only regular player who has a chance to be better than major league average that they got in return for Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye is Angel Berroa.  When they acquired Mark Teahen last year they announced that they thought he could become a Joe Randa-type player.  The problem is that they can only hope that he will become Joe Randa.  That's Teahen's upper limit of potential.  The reality is probably much lower.  When your aspiration for the key prospect in a deal when you are surrendering an star impact player like Beltran is that he will develop into a role player, then you simply don't belong in a position with the power to make those kind of decisions. 

Allaird Baird gets points from a lot of sportswriters because he's friendly and accessible, but that doesn't hide the fact that he's just not competent as a GM.  If I was a free agent, the Royals would have to pay me twice as much as I could get anywhere else to come there because they have no hope of ever contending as long as Allaird Baird is GM and David Glass is owner.

"The Clear" Sox
It's interesting the reaction Frank Robinson's comments regarding steroid users has gotten.  If you're not familiar with them, Frank suggested that anyone who is caught using should be erased from the record books.  It doesn't matter when a player was using, whether he used for his whole career or just for one day.  If he is caught with steroids in his system, everything he has done should be removed from the record book.  Most sportswriters recoiled at the notion of possibly expurgating the careers of guys like Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi and Rafael Palmeiro in part because it would be so difficult to determine a) when they were using and b) how many other players were using but hadn't achieved the same historic results. 

But isn't that exactly what Kenesaw Mountain Landis did when he was hired to bring integrity to baseball after the Black Sox scandal?  He banned for life all eight players who were implicated even though they were found not guilty of conspiracy to defraud in their trial.  One of the players, Buck Weaver, didn't participate in the fix yet was also banned because he knew about it and didn't say anything.  And it's not like the players Landis banned were scrubs.  The two primary instigators of the fix - Chick Gandhil and Swede Risberg - were barely league average, so they had nothing to lose.  But the teammates they took down with them lost plenty. 

Shoeless Joe Jackson was a no doubt Hall of Famer.  His story is well-chronicled but just to highlight how great a player he actually was, his career adjusted OPS is 170 good for 7th best ever.  That's better than Ty Cobb, Jimmie Foxx, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Robinson and Mike Schmidt.  The only players who were better according to this metric which measures a player's offensive production relative to his peers are Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Barry Bonds (uh oh), Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Mickey Mantle and 19th century star Dan Brouthers.  Before Bonds' offensive (and possibly steroid-augmented) onslaught that began in 2000, his career OPS + was 164. 

Eddie Cicotte, who was also a key player in the fix, was a borderline Hall of Famer although probably wouldn't have ever made it.  He nearly won 30 games in two different seasons, including 1919 when he won 29 before being benched the final few weeks of the season, an order according to legend that came from White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey so that Cicotte wouldn't meet a contract incentive.  Lefty Williams was just 27 years old and had won 23 and 22 games in the two years before being banned.  Happy Flesch had just entered his prime years and posted a 143 adjusted OPS (meaning he was 43% better than league average) in what turned out to be his final season.  According to his defensive range statistics, he was the equivalent of Torii Hunter in center field.  Essentially, he was becoming Ken Griffey Jr. in his prime.  Buck Weaver was a slightly better player than Joe Randa is: a little better than league average as a hitter, slightly better than average with the glove.  I bet you are wondering how I was going to tie this with the Royals; there ya' go.  But Weaver was still young enough that he could have become a good, perhaps even a star player.

As Milan Kundera suggested in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, obviously times have changed.  We live in a world where integrity isn't valued as it once was, where shameful behavior is a career choice and where right and wrong aren't so much moral imperatives as they are a matter of perspective.  I'm certainly not suggesting that what we need in the commissioner's office is an avowed racist like Landis, who was one of the primary reasons why it took so long for baseball to re-integrate.  I'm merely suggesting that if Landis were commissioner or had the steroid scandal taken place 80 years ago, the response from baseball would have been quite different and Frank Robinson's suggestion wouldn't seem so draconian.