RC's conclusion: We're pleased

Allard Baird dished out some dollars on Friday.

Well, Friday was certainly an active day for the Royals. Indeed, after a slow start to the offseason that had many fans nervous, the Royals responded with a series of moves that RC believes has made this team better for 2006 without sacrificing their financial ability to compete in 2007 and beyond -- when they add the next stage of the young core to the roster.

In fact, in Friday's press conference, Allard Baird summarized RC's feelings quite nicely when he pointed out that "to this point, we've added two innings starters, we've added some team speed, we've improved our defense, [and] we've increased our depth in the bullpen."

Indeed. Baird has quietly addressed a good deal of the club's concerns without wildly overspending, and he's added some quality veterans who will give prospects like Justin Huber, Donald Murphy, J.P. Howell, and Andres Blanco more time to properly develop in the minors. Anyhow, here's our take on how Friday's signings will impact and help the club.

  • Mark Grudzielanek (2B) - Height: 6-1 Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 35

    RC is most impressed by Grudzy's signing. Frankly, we didn't give the Royals much of a chance to lure him to the club, since we figured he'd be one of the more sought-after free agent second basemen available. Grudz signed a one-year guaranteed contract at $4 million with a player option that will kick in at $3 million for 2007 if he attains 500 plate appearances. In short, that essentially makes Grudzielanek's contract a two-year deal, since he'll reach that threshold rather easily, provided he stays healthy.

    However, the second year is not troubling whatsoever -- as long as Grudzy doesn't tank in 2006 -- because the $3 million in 2007 is very reasonable and shouldn't be hard to unload if the Royals need some more financial flexibility or determine a young player like Murphy, Blanco, or Jeff Bianchi is ready. Of course, if Grudz has a quality year in which he stays healthy, he'll likely decline that option anyway.

    In the meantime, Grudzielanek offers the Royals a quality defensive second baseman who carries a plus bat at the position. He's not exactly smooth on the more difficult plays -- unlike Blanco -- but he has the arm strength to convert most of those difficult plays to outs. And on double plays, few second basemen are better or more fearless. All told, Grudz gives the Royals a nice net upgrade at second base, and the best part of the whole deal is that they didn't have to break the bank to get him.

  • Doug Mientkiewicz (1B) - Height: 6-2 Weight: 206 Bats: Left Throws: Right Age: 31

    Mientkiewicz is probably the most fascinating signing from Friday, simply because it creates all sorts of question marks about what, precisely, Matt Stairs' role will be in 2006. It would make a lot more sense if Minky hit from the right side, but since he's a lefty and Stairs has been pretty much banished from the outfield, this signing promises to severely limit Stairs' playing time. We believe Mientkiewicz will probably see the majority of time at first base, thus rendering Mike Sweeney a DH most of the time vs. RHP.

    It's no secret that Minky's defense is his calling card. He is a master at digging throws out of the dirt, and the Royals just might see some 3-6-3 double plays this season, which will be a welcome development. In fact, the value of Mientkiewicz's defense will ultimately be hard to quantify, but there is no doubt that his defensive abilities will significantly help Angel Berroa and Mark Teahen, saving them numerous throwing errors over the course of the season.

    As for his bat, it's true that Minky's had a tough run over his last 600 plate appearances. However, he's maintained his plate discipline, and his isolated power last year was a career high .167, signaling that his power may actually be improving (of course, last season also could have been a fluke). On his career, Mientkiewicz has hit lefties just as well as righties, so his presence gives the Royals additional flexibility with their lineups. If Minky can hit around .270 this season (roughly his career BA), he should be a net upgrade at first base, particularly if he continues to hit the ball out of the ballpark as often as he did last year. If not, then he only cost the Royals $1.85 million, and Huber will be ready to take over in 2007. It's a good risk, and a good signing.

  • Scott Elarton (RHP) - Height: 6-8 Weight: 240 Bats: Right Throws: Right Age: 29

    As far as the contracts from Friday go, Elarton's two-year deal at $8 million makes us the most nervous. Of course, in this market, $4 million for a guy who's averaged 30 starts over the past two seasons with a league average ERA outside the altitude of Colorado is probably pretty reasonable. Perhaps his greatest value to the team is that while he's giving us league average starts, our young pitchers like Howell will get more time to develop in the minors. We're not sure if that is worth $4 million, but hey, it's not RC's money!

    As you can see, Elarton is a really big guy, but amazingly this won't be the first team on which he's played that has a player (Andy Sisco) he'll actually have to look up at -- in 1998, he pitched on the same staff as baseball's other 6'-10" lefty, Randy Johnson. Watching him pitch is actually quite entertaining. You'd expect a big guy like Elarton to throw smoke, but he works off a tailing fastball that runs between 88-92 MPH. His other two pitches are a nice tailing changeup, and a big, slow, looping curveball. When they're working, Elarton gets through innings by inducing weak contact, but when they're not, the kids in the outfield stands who brought their gloves to the game get to laugh at their friends who mocked them for doing so. He has a rather unorthodox short-armed throwing motion, but it can be very deceptive to hitters as long as he doesn't leave his pitches up in the strike zone.

    We are somewhat indifferent to Elarton's addition to the ballclub. We agree with Baird's desire to add another "innings starter" to the rotation, and spending $4 million a year on a guy who pitched decently the last two seaons on an AL Central team might not be a bad investment. In addition, if Elarton gets off to a nice start, he'll radically increase his value, and he may be a nice candidate for a trade if all goes well.

    But if he fails, the Royals are stuck with a pretty bad contract in 2007. However, since the Royals have been so fiscally responsible thus far, they probably won't have much trouble eating $4 million in 2007 if Elarton stinks. It's not an ideal situation, but when you look at it that way, you see the risk of this signing is still quite minimal. Or maybe this is the best way to look at Elarton's signing: he can't possibly be any worse than Jose Lima, and he is therefore an upgrade. That might not be the most ringing endorsement for Elarton that you'll read, but it's still not too bad.

  • Paul Bako (C) - Height: 6-2 Weight: 215 Bats: Left Throws: Right Age: 33

    Bako has caught 2,562 innings in the Major Leagues. That's his primary value. RC, like the Royals, would have preferred Todd Pratt, but Pratt backed out of a handshake agreement with the Royals to sign with the Braves after they traded Johnny Estrada. Regardless, backup catcher is pretty much the least significant role on the 25-man roster, so it really doesn't matter what he's done offensively in his career (which is good, because Bako's line of .239/.313/.330 would make a billy goat puke). All that matters is that the Royals believe he can help make John Buck a better catcher, and that's good enough for us.

    All told, Friday was a pretty good day for the Royals. It's clear that Baird wanted to upgrade the defense and add some quality veterans to the ballclub, and he did just that, all without breaking the bank. The contracts are all perfectly reasonable, and they'll allow the Royals to continue unimpeded on their youth movement. With some luck, the Royals may have even made a significant stride toward the 20-game improvement RC wants to see next year. We'll keep our fingers crossed, but in the meantime, we're happy.
  • Friday

    Royals sign four veterans!

    As you've probably heard by now, the Royals this morning signed 2B Mark Grudzielanek, 1B Doug Mientkiewicz, P Scott Elarton, and C Paul Bako. Elarton is reportedly the only one signed to a two-year deal, with the others receiving one-year offers. The Royals will have a press conference at 11 a.m. (CST), at which the new players will be introduced.

    A few things to watch for...We are dying to know the financial terms of these contracts. While we're initially pleased with these additions, we need to know how much money it took to get Grudzy signed to a one-year deal. RC's guess - $4 million. We're also very curious/concerned about Elarton's contract.

    In addition, be sure to watch to see if the new players are presented with jerseys, and if so, will those jerseys be the new 2006 versions?

    Anyhow, RC will be back tonight with all the details, and we'll take an in-depth look at where these signings leave the Royals.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Sorry, RC got sidetracked on Friday night. We promise to have our report up tonight.


    RC opens up the mailbag on a slow day...

    RC is back, and we searched feverishly for something interesting to write about, but sadly, Royals news these days is difficult to find. Therefore, RC has decided to open up the mailbag to take some questions from our loyal readers.

    Q: Pat from New York City asks:
    Hey RC. My name is Pat, and I run a Mets blog called Shea Faithful. I was wondering if you could tell me what went down in the Kris Benson deal from the Royals side, and congrats on the ESPN mention. Thanks.

    A: RC: It sounds like the Mets wanted both Mike MacDougal and Jeremy Affeldt, and the Royals didn't want to give up both. Word has it that the two teams continued their discussions throughout the Winter meetings, but were unable to come to an agreement. The Royals' trade for Mark Redman probably did alot to kill the Benson negotiations, and if they sign another pitcher like Brett Tomko -- who the Royals are reportedly interested in -- that could drive the final nail in the coffin of any Benson deal. RC was upbeat about the potential acquisition of Benson, but there are a lot of pitchers who offer similar things and aren't owed $7.5 million in each of the next two seasons. RC still thinks Benson would be a fine addition to the Royals' rotation, but we won't exactly be heartbroken if the deal never materializes.

    Q: Kevin from Springfield, MO, asks:
    When it comes to the Royals, what makes more sense to you in this free agent market: spending a truckload of money on one elite player, or dividing the available funds among three or four decent players?

    A: RC: This is a good question, and RC is afraid the answer is entirely relative to the specific players you might have in mind. Remember, we are focused upon the Royals' ability to compete in 2007 and beyond, so if it came between signing several decent players to one-year contracts or an elite player to a multi-year deal, we'd go with the elite player every time.

    Of course, this question was asked a few weeks ago, and now most of the "elite" talent has already signed. Therefore, RC would probably choose "none of the above" in your scenario, because we don't believe there are any remaining free agents who could significantly help the Royals' chances beyond 2006. If the Royals are still committed to increasing payroll to $50 million, we'd now prefer those increases come via trade, where several decent options may still remain. Otherwise, we'd like to see the Royals roll with what they've got, giving their young players like Chip Ambres a legitimate opportunity to sink or swim. Additionally, we'd like to see a good portion of that money saved for the 2006 draft, and used to sign young players like David DeJesus and Zack Greinke to long term deals that lock up one or two of their free agency years.

    Q: Ted from Columbia, MO, asks:Hey RC, why would the Royals want to trade Mike MacDougal? He was our best reliever last year!

    A: RC: Ted, there are conflicting reports in the media about whether or not the Royals are actually shopping Mike MacDougal, and we frankly have no idea which is true. However, RC firmly believes that now is the time to shop MacDougal. He's coming off an excellent season, and closers in this market are severely overvalued. It is not hard to imagine that the Royals may secure quite a bounty for Doogie, and if any team bites with a quality offer, the Royals shouldn't hesitate to make a deal. Frankly, RC still has little confidence in MacDougal's long-term effectiveness, and we'd hate to see such a golden opportunity missed. With Ambiorix Burgos in the pen, it's hard to imagine the Royals seeing much (if any) drop off in their closer's performance if MacDougal is traded.

    That being said, if no dynamite deals materialize, then RC is also comfortable holding on to MacDougal, who does make up a key part of what could become one of the best bullpens in baseball. We don't want to trade him just for the sake of trading him, and we're confident that Baird will only make a deal if it makes sense.

    Q: Adam from Kansas City, MO, asks:
    RC, I agree with your assessment of Esteban German. Do you think he’ll replace David DeJesus as the Royals’ leadoff hitter? Will DeJesus then move to 2nd in the order?

    A: RC: Assuming German enters the season as the Royals' 2B, we don't believe he'll immediately replace DeJesus as the Royals' leadoff hitter. However, if his plate discipline does indeed carry over into the Major Leagues, we don't think it will be long before German takes his spot at or near the top of the order.

    Make no mistake...RC loves DeJesus as the leadoff hitter, thanks to his on-base ability and his patience (DDJ took 60.9 percent of the pitches he saw in 2005, good for 7th in the AL). Right now, there is nobody on the roster we'd rather see get the most at bats for KC. But since German does have the base stealing ability that DeJesus doesn't, if he can equal DDJ's OBP, we wouldn't be surprised or disppointed to see him eventually get the nod as the leadoff hitter. DeJesus could be equally valuable to the team batting second, and it would give him the opportunity to drive in some more runs, which is always good.

    Of course, we're getting a little ahead of ourselves. German still has to make the team first.

    Q: Ken from St. Joseph, MO, asks:
    Hey RC, why do the Royals want to sign a veteran backup catcher like Paul Bako? I thought Paul Phillips did a fine job last season.

    A: RC: Well, as we said the other day, Bako certainly isn't anyone to get excited about. His offensive stats are pretty dreadful, but the same is true of almost any veteran backup catcher you can find. RC isn't sure, but we suspect the Royals want a guy like Bako because they believe he can help John Buck with his game-calling. According to some reports we've seen, that is the one area of Buck's game that has the Royals most concerned, and hopefully the presence of a veteran catcher can aid in that effort.

    Paul Phillips did in fact do everything he was asked last season, but he simply doesn't have the Major League service time required to be able to help a young catcher like Buck with a skill that is learned primarily through experience. That's our theory, and we're sticking to it.

    Well, that's it for this edition of RC's mailbag. If you have any burning Royals questions you'd like us to answer, simply send us an e-mail, and we'll do our best.