The currency of baseball

“Pitching is the currency of the game”

Those words were said by Dayton Moore shortly after he was introduced as the Royals’ general manager in June of 2006.

When Moore is looking to swing a deal, he certainly believes his words to be true. Since taking over, Moore has pulled the trigger on 20 trades—and 19 of them have involved pitchers. In those 19 deals, the Royals traded away a relief pitcher as the “key” player in 12.

The trend that continues. Since the end of the season, Moore has sent Leo Nunez to the Marlins for Mike Jacobs and this week traded Ramon Ramirez to the Red Sox for Coco Crisp.

Is there a method to Moore’s madness? Here is a review of some trades he has made involving pitchers from his bullpen. Just for fun, I’ll supply a verdict at the end of each review to proclaim a “winner” where possible. Keep in mind that these trades are relatively fresh, so a team that is a “winner” today could be a “loser” at this time next year. Since many of these players reviewed within fall into the “journeyman” category and have moved on to yet another team, the Win Shares listed are the ones each accumulated while with his “new” club.

July 24, 2006
The Royals send RP Mike MacDougal to the Chicago White Sox for SP Tyler Lumsden and SP Daniel Cortes.

This was Moore’s third trade after less than two months on the job, but the first that involved moving a piece of his bullpen.

The wiry (he’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds) MacDougal was chosen by the Royals in the first round of the 1999 draft. In his first full big league season in 2003, he was the Royals’ closer and picked up 27 saves with a 4.08 ERA, and was named to the AL All-Star team. He battled elbow issues in 2004 but was healthy enough to reclaim the closer role in 2005, when he posted a 3.33 ERA and 21 saves in 25 opportunites. It was his best season to date.

MacDougal’s slight frame and violent delivery caused many to speculate on his durability and the injury bug struck again: He missed the first three months of the 2006 season with shoulder soreness. He was able to reclaim the closer role upon his return in July. However, he appeared in just four games, throwing four innings of scoreless ball, before Moore shipped him to Chicago for a pair of prospects.

After the trade, MacDougal pitched well, with a 1.80 ERA with 19 strikeouts and six walks in 25 innings for the White Sox as a setup man for Bobby Jenks, earning a three-year deal with Chicago for $6.45 million. However, in the two seasons since then, he’s again been hampered by shoulder issues that have rendered him ineffective. While he’s managed to appear in 70 games, he’s thrown 59.1 innings with a strikeout rate of 7.7 per nine innings and a walk rate that tickles the stratosphere at 6.8 per nine, along with a 5.46 ERA.

Last week he was outrighted to Triple-A and removed from Chicago’s 40-man roster.

At the time, Lumsden was thought to be the key to the deal for the Royals, but injury issues and poor performance have held him back. Last summer in Triple-A Omaha, he posted a 7.21 ERA in 107 innings with 62 walks and 44 strikeouts. He’s been passed in the prospect pecking order by Cortes, who is now regarded as the top pitching prospect in the Royals system. Last year he had a 3.78 ERA with 55 walks and 109 strikeouts in 116 innings in Double-A Northwest Arkansas.

Total Win Shares
MacDougal: 6

Advantage: Push. It’s difficult to call this one in Chicago’s favor after the Sox awarded MacDougal a three-year contract and pulled him off the roster before that deal expired. He hasn’t been a contributor since 2006 and his days in Chicago appear to be over. Lumsden was projected to be a fourth starter, but at this point it seems unlikely he will ever set foot in a major league clubhouse. This deal could shift to the Royals’ favor if Cortes continues to advance.

July 24, 2006
The Royals send pitcher Elmer Dessens to the Los Angeles Dodgers for SP Odalis Perez, SP Blake Johnson and SP Julio Pimental.

That’s an interesting haul for a lone middle reliever. Besides, Moore convinced the Dodgers to pay almost half of the $16 million Perez was due at the time of the trade, which made the deal even more interesting.

Perez wanted out of LA and the Dodgers were happy to oblige. In his career, Perez had had two good years (2002 and 2004), with the remainder spent as a below-average starter. At the time of the deal, he was languishing in the Dodger bullpen with a 6.83 ERA. The Royals moved him back to the rotation and he made 12 starts with a 5.64 ERA. He made 26 starts the following year for KC and wasn’t much better, with a 5.57 ERA and 64 strikeouts and 50 walks in 137 innings. It was an easy decision when the Royals declined his option year and let him hit the free agent market following 2007.

Johnson and Pimental remain in the Royals organization, where both are considered fringe prospects after a rough year in Double-A.

Ten days after the trade, Dessens landed on the DL with a sprained ankle. He finished the year appearing in 19 games for the Dodgers with a 4.70 ERA and 16 strikeouts and nine walks in 23 innings. He was traded that offseason to the Brewers for Brady Clark.

Total Win Shares
Dessens: 1
Perez: 4

Advantage: Perez was a reclamation project who wasn’t worth reclaiming, but this goes to the Royals by default. It looks like the prospects they received aren’t going to amount to much, either.

July 31, 2006
The Royals send RP Jeremy Affeldt and SP Denny Bautista to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for 1B Ryan Shealy and RP Scott Dohmann.

Affeldt never had a defined role on the Royals and battled blister problems for almost his entire career in Kansas City. He would be in the rotation, get a blister, hit the DL, return as a set-up man, move to closer and then back to the rotation. Lather, rinse, repeat. After four and a half years and a career 4.77 ERA compiled over 42 starts and 142 relief appearances, he was the key player shipped to the Rockies.

Affeldt struggled for the rest of 2006, with a 6.91 ERA over 27.1 innings in Colorado. However, he turned things around and had the best season of his career (to that point) in ’07 as the set-up man with a 3.51 ERA and 1.4 K/BB ratio. He moved to Cincinnati as a free agent in ’08 and was even better with a 3.33 ERA and 3.2 K/BB ratio for the Reds. He recently signed a two-year, $8 million deal with the San Francisco Giants.

The Royals had used Bautista primarily as a starter without much success. In 20 appearances (19 starts), he had a 5.95 ERA with 45 walks and 63 strikeouts. He was toiling in Triple-A at the time of the trade and was a September call-up for the Rockies. After he appeared in 13 games (two starts) with a 9.39 ERA, Colorado traded him to Detroit last December. The Tigers, in turn, shipped him to Pittsburgh in June.

On the Royals’ side of the ledger, Dohmann quickly washed out with a 7.99 ERA in 23 innings and wasn’t offered a contract for the following year. The key to the deal from the Royals’ perspective was Shealy, who had shown promise in the minors, but was blocked by Todd Helton. The Rockies tried playing Shealy in right field, but that experiment was abandoned quickly.

Shealy hit .280/.338/.451 with seven home runs in just more than 200 plate appearances for the Royals immediately following the trade. He opened the 2007 season as the Royals’ starting first baseman, but hit just .113/.186/.208 in his first 17 games before landing on the DL with a strained hamstring. He returned a couple of weeks later, but he never found his power, hitting just .269/.331/.353 before his hamstring flared up in June and he was shut down for the rest of the year.

Since then, he’s inexplicably fallen out of favor with an organization that is starved for power at the corners. While Shealy was hitting .283/.376/.503 this year in Triple-A, the Royals were playing Ross Gload at first. Shealy earned a September call-up and was named the Royals player of the month after he hit .301/.354/.603 with seven home runs in 79 plate appearances.

He enters 2009 out of options and battling for a position on the 25-man roster.

Total Win Shares
Affeldt: 6
Bautista: 0
Shealy: 11
Dohmann: 0

Advantage: Rockies. Affeldt was the only one of the four who did much of anything with his new team and his Win Shares came in one season, while Shealy’s have been spread out over parts of three years. Like the MacDougal deal, this one could swing into the Royals’ favor if they give Shealy some at-bats.

Dec. 6, 2006
The Royals send RP Ambiorix Burgos to the New York Mets for SP Brian Bannister.

Bannister delivered a surprisingly good 2007 season for the Royals, posting a 3.87 ERA, but followed that up with a stinker in ’08 with a 5.76 ERA. He’s neither as good as he was two summers ago or as bad as his numbers would indicate from last year. His xFIP over those two years is around 5.00, which gives us an idea of where he is talent-wise.

Burgos, meanwhile, has been a disaster for the Mets. He appeared in 17 games (with a stint in Triple-A) for New York before he was shut down with an elbow strain and eventually had Tommy John surgery. He missed all of last year, but had made some rehab appearances in the minors before he found himself in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. First, in September, he was arrested for allegedly abusing his girlfriend. Then, in October, he was arrested in the Dominican Republic after a hit-and-run accident killed two women. He is currently out on bail.

Total Win Shares
Bannister: 13
Burgos: 3

Advantage:
A clear win for the Royals.

Dec. 16, 2006
The Royals send RP Andrew Sisco to the Chicago White Sox for 1B Ross Gload.

The Royals plucked Sisco from the Cubs organization in the Rule 5 draft following the 2004 season. For a pitcher who had yet to throw a single inning above high-A ball, he did remarkably well in his rookie campaign in Kansas City. A tall lefty (think Randy Johnson, because that’s what the Royals were hoping they’d drafted) he threw 75 innings with a 3.11 ERA and 142 ERA+, and was part of a successful trio that included MacDougal and Burgos in the back of the Royals’ 2005 bullpen.

But he struggled the next season and the Royals sent him to Omaha with a 7.14 ERA in 44 games shortly after Moore took the reins as GM.

That winter, the Royals dealt him to the White Sox for the light-hitting Gload. Used in Chicago primarily as a spot starter and late-inning defensive replacement, Gload found himself as the Royals’ semi-regular first baseman while Shealy has been injured or in Triple-A. Gload has hit .280/.317/.390 in just more than 700 at bats in two seasons in KC. With the Royals’ acquisition of Mike Jacobs, he will likely see his playing time decrease.

Sisco opened 2007 in the White Sox bullpen, but after allowing 11 walks in 14 innings with a 8.36 ERA, he was sent to Triple-A Charlotte where he continued to struggle. He underwent Tommy John surgery last April.

Total Win Shares
Gload: 12 Win Shares
Sisco: 0 Win Shares

Advantage: Considering their dislike for the amount of playing time given to Gload, Royals fans are probably gathering their pitchforks to come after me. But considering what they gave up, the Royals clearly got the best of this deal.

July 31, 2007
The Royals send RP Octavio Dotel to the Atlanta Braves for SP Kyle Davies.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2005 and a disasterous stint with the Yankees in 2006, Dotel was signed by the Royals as a free agent to a one-year, $4 million deal that winter. It was the classic, low risk/high reward signing, in which the Royals were hoping Dotel could harness the formula that made him successful in Oakland and Houston, allowing KC to flip him at the trade deadline to a contender.

Dotel missed the start of the season with a strained oblique, but after he posted a 3.91 ERA and 11 saves in 24 appearances, the Royals found a taker in the Braves. The plan was for the Braves to use Dotel as a setup man to closer Bob Wickman. However, Dotel appeared in only five games before hitting the DL with a triceps strain. He returned in September, but threw only 7.2 innings for the Braves before signing with the White Sox as a free agent.

Davies has been inconsistent since moving to Kansas City, which doesn’t surprise those who have followed his career. In 32 starts for the Royals in the year and a half since the trade, Davies allowed 20 home runs in 163 innings and has posted a 4.86 ERA.

But a strong finish—a 2.27 ERA and 4:1 K/BB ratio over his final five starts—has the Royals hoping he can contribute meaningful innings as a No. 4 starter next year.

Total Win Shares
Dotel: 0
Davies: 8

Advantage: The Royals still have their guy and he is penciled in for the back of their rotation in 2009.

March 26, 2008
The Royals send RP Jorge de la Rosa, as the player to be named later, to acquire RP Ramon Ramirez.

The Royals added de la Rosa in a deadline deal in ’06 that sent Tony Graffanino to the Milwaukee Brewers. Control (lack of it, to be precise) had always been an issue, but early in 2007 he seemed to find a groove and had a 3.59 ERA and just 12 walks in his first 57 innings. Then he stumbled and over his final 72 innings (sandwiched around a stint on the DL with a strained elbow) his walk rate ballooned to 5.1 BB/9 which helped him to a 7.59 ERA over that stretch.

Out of options and a longshot to make an overhauled pitching staff in 2008, he was sent to Colorado to complete the deal that brought Ramirez to the Royals.

Just as in KC, de la Rosa moved between the rotation and the bullpen. At times showed promise while other times he was incredibly frustrating. With a walk rate of 4.3 BB/9, free passes continue to be an issue.

Meanwhile, Ramirez became a key cog in the Royals bullpen, allowing just two home runs in 71 innings with a 2.64 ERA and strikeout rate of 8.8 per nine innings. His success would allow Moore to facilitate his latest deal, for Coco Crisp.

Total Win Shares
De la Rosa: 5 Win Shares
Ramirez: 9 Win Shares

Advantage: The Royals clearly got better production out of Ramirez and have turned him into a starting center fielder.

Conclusion

The moral of this story: If you’re a reliever employed by the Kansas City Royals, don’t get too used to your surroundings and be on friendly terms with a moving company. Moore has shown a willingness to move his middle relievers frequently, resulting in a couple of useful players.

For the Royals’ GM, trading middle relievers has been largely a low-risk/low-reward proposition. To this point, all the relievers (except Affeldt) he sent packing have been unable to move their careers forward. The players he has received have been mostly role players themselves. While a couple of inexpensive, back-of-the-rotation starters or a late-inning defensive replacement certainly have some value, these aren’t moves that are going to define him as a general manager.

These trades also have been good for the Royals because they have been able to fill the holes they have created in the bullpen. Waiver wire pickups like Robinson Tejeda and Horacio Ramirez and free agent signings like David Riske and Ron Mahay have given the Royals some solid bullpen innings the past two years. Moore is using his relief corps as a revolving door of arms, a springboard to talent to plug other holes on his club. And because he’s proven adept at stocking his bullpen with some decent arms, his trades haven’t hurt or put undue stress on his team. (Some who have watched Gload hit the last couple of years may disagree.)

He’s upped the ante the last two weeks with the acquisitions of Jacobs and Crisp. For the first time, he’s adding some salary while moving players who figure to make much less money. While most of those who follow the game roundly panned the Jacobs deal, the reaction to the Crisp acquisition has been lukewarm.

The most interesting thing to come from those deals isn’t how the new Royals will perform. Rather, it’s how Moore will replace those innings out of his bullpen.

Final note
I didn’t cover all the trades Moore has made involving relievers, just the “key” deals. You may be thinking that I omitted the J.P. Howell for Joey Gathright deal that was Moore’s first trade as a GM. While Howell’s performance clearly puts that trade in the “win” column for Tampa Bay, Howell was never a reliever in the Royals’ organization. Aside from two appearances out of the bullpen in Rookie ball, he had been a starter until this season.

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