Home > Kansas City Royals, MLB > Youth Movement is Underway for Royals, Pirates

Youth Movement is Underway for Royals, Pirates

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Not one moment too soon, the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates leveraged the MLB trading deadline into a way to kick start a team-wide youth movement that pushes the bill of competition in future seasons.

Kansas City Royals

For the Royals, this was a cataclysmic change in direction from the start of the season, when their offseason signings added more than two years to the average batter’s age from a 2009 team that was far to disappointing for what was spent on it.  The Royals improved, significantly on offense, and they will likely score more than 700 runs this year, as they are just 246 runs shy with 57 games to go (4.3 runs per game average).  Their veteran signings were among their most productive hitters, combining homegrown talent such as Billy Butler and David DeJesus with productive veterans like Scott Podsednik, Wilson Betemit, Alberto Callaspo, and Jose Guillen.  The Royals led all of baseball in batting average up until this weekend (passed by the hated Twins, of all teams).

Batting average, aside from not being sustainable, also hid the fact that the Royals couldn’t hit the ball out of the ballpark (DeJesus and Butler have combined for just 16 HRs, with DeJesus to miss the rest of the season), and don’t walk.  Ever.  They also make more than a fair share of outs on the bases.  It was a nice offense while it lasted, but the very last thing the Royals needed to do was plug away for two more months with their veterans.  More than any other team in baseball (possible exception to the Astros) they need fresh blood.

Which is why it was so exciting that they were able to find takers for mid-level veterans such as Scott Podsednik (Dodgers), Rick Ankiel, and Kyle Farnsworth (Braves).  These players did not belong on the Kansas City Royals roster, and now all three will get an opportunity to join a pennant race instead of blocking younger players with the Royals.  Similarly, the Royals dealt Alberto Callaspo into a pennant race (Angels), but that trade was more of a move for what both teams needed immediately (the Royals needed a pitcher, the Angels REALLY needed to block Brandon Wood), and hardly a deal for the future.

Departures of Podsednik and Ankiel combined with a season-ending DeJesus injury have opened up spots on the roster for Alex Gordon and Kila Ka’aihue.  Since being re-called, Gordon is slugging .429 (with a .270 on-base percentage), which would be a career best if 37 plate appearances were a whole season (they’re not).  Batting average watch: he’s at .212 now, and climbing.  Ka’aihue has one start this year (he went 1-for-4 with a single and a RBI), and figures to get his second tomorrow.  The Royals also acquired OF Gregor Blanco from the Braves, who’s got the standard speed-skill set, except he’s always walked a lot, and so his bat should help the Royals, even though he has no power.

The point is that the Royals have gone through this entire season looking like the poor man’s small market version of a veteran-laden team that doesn’t do the important things to compete.  Now, with this roster, pretty much every player on the team is under contract for next season, with two exceptions: utility man Willie Bloomquist, and OF/DH Jose Guillen, the final two veterans with expiring contracts.  With Gordon and Ka’aihue up, the Royals don’t have a single offensive player on the DL besides DeJesus.  This is the 2010 Royals offense, minus perhaps one free agent pickup in the offseason.  Top prospect Mike Moustakas should be ready for big league action next spring, so the only question remaining will be when the Royals want to start his service clock.  If they make a foray into the veteran market, it’s saying that they are willing to game his service clock by leaving the to be-21 year old in AAA until they get an injury, or obvious candidate to designate for assignment.

The Royals know they have a lot of questions to answer with a pitching staff that is aging quickly, has given up more than 5.0 runs/game this season and has strong questions for next year behind Zack Greinke and Luke Hochevar.  Is Sean O’Sullivan more than just a swingman?  What of the will-he-or-won’t get surgery drama with Gil Meche?  Will he lock down the no. 3 spot in the rotation or is it up for grabs?  Then: Kyle Davies or Brian Bannister, which one can be non-tendered?  Top prospect Mike Montgomery’s arm fatigue in the middle of June took the pitching prospect most likely to reach the majors next year, and set him back a half-season.  Plus, 2009 pick Aaron Crow’s recent demotion has seemingly pulled him out of the running for a 2011 rotation spot.

By 2012, the Royals rotation should be Greinke, Hochevar, and three farm hands (with a surplus to boot), but the Royals have a spot or two to fill, and a one year veteran contract may make some sense.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates made two major deals at the deadline, both opportunistically buying for the future, and selling excess relief depth for prospects.  The smart move was to acquire catcher Chris Snyder for a trio of veterans: DJ Carrasco, Ryan Church, and Bobby Crosby. Those players will do little but help the Diamondbacks field a team for the rest of the year.  Snyder is instantly the largest contract on the Pirates, who with revenue sharing, aren’t exactly cash-strapped.

Snyder improves the Pirates at multiple positions.  CF Andrew McCutchen is a star, but the team’s second best player is Ryan Doumit, a league average hitter who is about as bad as one can be defensively and still be considered a big league catcher.  Snyder gives them a good defensive player behind the plate, a league average hitter to boot, and allows Doumit’s bat to go to first base and corner outfield to improve the Pirates at multiple positions for no cost.

The other important trade took closer Octavio Dotel, as the Pirates were able to lift RHP James McDonald from the Dodgers.  He might project towards the Buc’s rotation next year, though he’s been a valuable part of the bullpen for L.A. this year.  The Pirates would have liked to move LHP Paul Maholm as well, and their failure to do so could be their one blemish on this trade deadline.  The bullpen remains a strength for the Pirates, who have a long way to go in building a competent pitching rotation.

The Pirates also tried the veteran route this year, playing Akinori Iwamura and Crosby at second, but they’ve gotten a heckuva year from their 1st round pick in 2004, 2B Neil Walker, who leads the roster in OPS.  There appears to be no organizational solution at SS right now, where Ronny Cedeno is every bit as horrible as he ever was (.277 OBP), but without a giant offensive hole in the 8th spot, the Bucs are just a corner outfielder away from having a competitive offense in the National League.  More importantly, every player on the offense next year (save the duo of catchers) figures to be both young and cheap.

**** ****

Both the Royals and the Pirates have issues with their rotations to settle in the offseason, but both really showed other clubs how to leverage the trade deadline — and the desperation shown by various competitors — into free prospects and a way to give two months of free playing time with each other, and to give the talent evaluators all the time they need to be prepared to adjust the roster for next year.

It’s the first time in a long while either franchise has been a model for others, but perhaps this is the first step on the road back to respectability.

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