Thursday, October 3, 2013
Royals punished by CBA; LDS picks
By Keith Law
The Royals get punished by the new CBA for being good but not making the playoffs.
By the standards of their own recent history, the Royals had a very successful season. The team won 86 games, their best record since 1989, and they outscored their opponents on a season for the first time since 1991. Their two biggest offseason acquisitions, Ervin Santana (in a dump trade with the Angels) and James Shields (in the Wil Myers trade with Tampa Bay), both pitched very well for the big club, helping the Royals allow the fewest runs of any team in the American League, 23 fewer than the division-winning Tigers. Some young players took strides: Eric Hosmer hit .317/.365/.492 after the team fired hitting coach Jack Maloof; catcher Salvador Perez had his first full, healthy season in the majors and performed well.
There were plenty of positives for the Royals, but because the season went well, some of the structural reasons that helped the team get to this point will now work against the team.
The problem for teams like the Royals and other low-revenue teams under the new CBA is that there's a strong disincentive to win unless you make the playoffs. The Rays, Pirates and Cleveland will all suffer in the amateur market next year, but at least get a revenue boost from making the postseason -- revenues that they can't spend freely to acquire talent in the draft or among international free agents, of course, but at least revenues that help the major league team retain talent. The Royals, on the other hand, will likely see a small revenue boost from having a winning record this year, but not the larger bump that comes from making the playoffs, yet they will also see a lower draft bonus cap, a lower first-round pick (which is no longer protected), and a lower international bonus cap, all as a “reward” for doing what low-revenue teams should be doing: building from within.
Ervin Santana's price has gone up.
The Royals didn't help themselves for 2014 when they decided to bring back Ned Yost for two more years, although I'll be mildly surprised if he's still employed by the team at the end of that extension. Yost is among the game's worst tactical managers, showing it this September in what Dave Schoenfield called the worst inning of the season, and again in a game in which he forgot he had a bullpen at his disposal. He's obsessed with batting middle infielders who can't hit at the top of the lineup, only changing course when the front office more or less told him to knock it off. And he appears to have been a driving force behind the firing of Kevin Seitzer last year, which led to this spring's hitting coach disaster that saw this very promising young lineup get off to a start so bad the team couldn't overcome it to reach the playoffs.
That mistake aside, the Royals ended 2013 in the worst possible position for a low-revenue team: barely on the outside of the playoffs. They get the 19th overall pick in the first round, a pick they will lose if they sign a free agent who received a qualifying offer from his former club, and the difference in assigned bonus values between that 19th pick and their first pick in 2012, eighth overall, is just $1.08 million. They'll also take a substantial cut to their international bonus spending cap, an area where the Royals have been especially productive in recent years, signing Yordano Ventura and Raul Mondesi Jr., among others. Reducing their ability to continue to add talent means their window of success is shorter, and they'll also have less young talent in the system for potential trades -- something that would be mitigated if they could at least trade one or two of their high draft picks.
These issues were less critical under the previous CBA, when there were no spending caps in place in the draft or in the international free-agent market, so teams that wanted to funnel more of their revenues into the amateur side could do so. It worked for Pittsburgh, and it worked for Kansas City as well, but neither team can follow the same approach under the new system. Combine this unanticipated consequence with the potential for teams to "tank" late in the season to improve their draft standing and increase their bonus pools and you have good cause to rethink the current system in the next CBA negotiation.
Detroit over Oakland in 4: I'm not quite sure why the Pirates are getting all the underdog love while the A's, on a small payroll with a team full of castoffs and throw-ins, get none. Maybe it's because the Pirates play in the majors' most gorgeous stadium, while the A's play in a Superfund site. Anyway, this feels like the most lopsided series of all, with a low-strikeout, mostly low-power pitching staff facing the Tigers' potent, patient offense, although three of the potential five games take place in Oakland's homer-suppressing hovel.
Tampa Bay over Boston in 5. If you told me I had to bet on three of the four division series, this would be the one I'd skip. Boston is in better position here, with four days' rest and home-field advantage, not to mention the better performance over the regular season, mostly due to the league's best offense. Tampa Bay was my preseason pick to win the division and the pennant, and their manager and coaching staff give them a significant edge, but they've used their two best starters this week and will lose a little value there. However, if anyone can neutralize Boston's offense, it's the Rays' pitching staff, and I'm not even that certain that they can do it.
St. Louis over Pittsburgh in 4: I've argued since April that the Cardinals are the best team in the National League, and now that they face a Pirates club that only gets to throw its ace, Francisco Liriano, once in the series rather than twice, their advantage over Cinderella (who had the second-worst run differential of any playoff qualifier this year) is even a little wider. Can Pittsburgh's defensive wizardry overcome the Cardinals' offense's major league-best line drive rate?
LA Dodgers over Atlanta in 5: Both teams come in at less than full strength, but the Dodgers might be in better shape where it seems to count most, in their rotation. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke form the best 1-2 punch in the league, and they tend to work deep into games, minimizing the chance for Don Mattingly to screw things up with subpar bullpen management. Atlanta had one of the league's most productive offenses this year, leading the NL in home runs, but they also had the league's highest strikeout rate and are going up against a rotation that misses a lot of bats.