The Royals addressed their catching hole today, when they acquired Houston back stop Humberto Quintero and 30 year-old back up outfielder Jason Bourgeois for lefty reliever Kevin Chapman and a Player to be Named Later. You can read more about Kevin Chapman here.
The Royals have been searching for catching depth since catcher Manny Pina went down with a knee injury in the first week of camp. Of course, that search heightened last week when Salvador Perez tore his meniscus while warming up Jonathan Sanchez. In fact, according to Ken Rosenthal, despite their acquisition of Humberto Quintero the Royals are done in their search for a back up catcher.
I'm pretty indifferent to this trade. At first, I was pretty blah to the acquisition of Quintero. Then I was a bit disappointed that the Royals would be parting with a prospect of value. Then I was confused why the Royals insisted on the addition of Jason Bourgeois. Then I was frustrated when I found out that the Player to be Named Later was the key of the deal in the eyes of Astros GM Jeff Luhnow. Then I read a bit about the defensive prowess of Quintero and am back to feeling alright about the exchange.
Let's get this out of the way. Humberto Quintero is atrocious with the bat. He is among a handful of players that have received over 1,000 Major League at bats that would be included in the discussion of worst Major League hitter. His power is going to disappear in Kansas City. His plate approach could benefit from learning a thing or two from Yuniesky Betancourt. But defensively the dude can pick it.
In fact, advanced metrics that attempt to detail catcher's defensive value love Quintero so much that I wonder if his acquisition was driven as much by the analytic side of the Royals' baseball operations department as the scouting side. Based off Mike Fast's study on pitch framing Humberto Quintero is one of the top backup catchers in baseball in the art of framing a pitch. According to Fast Quintero's catching mitt has been worth about 5 runs above average per 120 games over the last five seasons.
But that's not all for Quintero. In fact, he appears to be a bit of a sabermetric defensive darling. According to this study here, conducted by Bojan Koprivica, Quintero is actually the best catcher in baseball in terms of blocking errant pitches. Koprivica calculates that Quintero's skills could be worth 5-6 runs per season. When you consider just these two defensive skills Quintero could save the Royals 10+ runs in 2012. In fact, despite Quintero's offensive short comings he has been worth positive fWAR in five of the past six seasons as a result of his defensive studliness.
I imagine Royals personnel sat around a table discussing their options in the wake of Salvador Perez's injury. The scouts spitting tobacco into empty diet coke bottles professed their desire for a defensive first catcher that could handle the young pitching staff and provide the grit that the Royals lacked. The stat heads, pushing their glass up comfortably on to their noses, feared that once again they would be useless in the player acquisition process.
Until one extra clever stat head, decided that he was going to make sure that if the Royals were to acquire a catcher for defensive purposes he was going to make sure that the Royals acquired a catcher that truly was a defensive stud. Eventually, he made his case for Humberto Quintero, the scouts vehemently agreed and the rest was history.
There's a good chance the Royals could've gotten Quintero or a similar player for next two nothing at some point over the next couple weeks. Instead they identified their man and aggressively pursued him. What struck me as odd, were the comments made by both general managers post trade. Let's start with Dayton Moore, who claimed that without the inclusion of Jason Bourgeois this deal doesn't get done.
Jason Bourgeois is thirty years old. (Have I said that already?) He has 431 plate appearance under his belt and his ceiling is that of a fourth outfielder. So why the insistence on him? He's got a decent skill set for a fourth outfielder, and he has a bit more versatility than Mitch Maier, in that he has logged a decent amount of time at second base.
According to Bob Dutton, the Royals may have acquired Bourgeois, because they believe Jarrod Dyson's ceiling could be as a starter and they are hesitant to stunt his growth by using him exclusively as a defensive replacement and offensive closer for 2012. If this is the reason of the Bourgeois acquisition, that's fine. But the Royals could have opted to include Kevin Kouzmanoff or even Clint Robinson on the bench instead and could have added some late game pop to their roster.
Bourgeois does have an option remaining so maybe he was acquired simply for depth? That doesn't really make sense either because the Royals have Major League ready players in David Lough and Jarrod Dyson already. (Not to mention Mitch Maier.) This leads me to my final thought, the Royals are going to give Jason Bourgeois an opportunity to compete for the starting second base position.
Entering camp the Royals obviously hoped that Johnny Giavotella would grab the spot by the throat. They hoped he would show the bat he displayed in the Minors, while showing improved defense at second. So far neither of those things have happened. Chris Getz, the primary competition for Giavotella, has had a strong Spring. However, he still hasn't shown any power and years worth of data already exists at the Major League level. Odds are we already know what Getz is: a slightly above average fielder, with no pop and not enough on base skills to compensate.
As of a couple of days ago, even Yuniesky Betancourt surfaced in the competition thanks to some Ned Yost comments. None of us want to see Betancourt play everyday, and my guess is the Royals realize that they Betancourt is more valuable to the current roster in a utility role than as the starting second baseman.
I could be totally wrong on Jason Bourgeois' inclusion in this trade, but I can't come up with any other reason that makes sense. The only other option I can imagine is that Bourgeois and Chris Getz will platoon at second base, while Yuniesky Betancourt and Mitch Maier serve as the other two bench players, with Jarrod Dyson playing everyday in Omaha. Bourgeois posted a .925 OPS against left handed pitchers last season and would be an ideal half to a platoon, however, Getz has also been stronger against lefties. The Royals may try it, but I'm not sure it would make a ton of sense.
Finally, I'd like to touch on the other strange post trade comment, when Jeff Luhnow stated that the PTBNL was the key piece for the Astros in the deal. The player to be named could go in one of two ways in my mind. The player to be named could be the Royals submitting a list of out of options players and the reason for the wait is to see, which players don't make the Royals roster. Or the player to be named was drafted last June, and thus not eligible to be traded until this coming June.
I was optimistic that the Royals would be able to fill their catching void without dipping into their own pool of assets. When I found out the Royals had to part with a decent relief prospect I was a bit disappointed, but could see why they made the move. If the Royals wind up parting with two solid prospects, it is hard to be on board with this deal. In the end, I bet that the other player going in Houston's way isn't a game changer. I'm sure Houston feels like the player is a decent addition, but then again we are talking about Houston.
Believe it or not the Royals 2012 contention chances are now stronger than they were this morning. They aren't near the point they were at a week ago, but the Royals have found a catcher that not only passes the eye test defensively, but also has the number to back it up. The Royals have a young pitching staff and the key to success in 2012 will be the performance of the rotation. If Humberto Quintero can make the pitchers even marginally better with his receiving and/or pitch blocking skills, then this deal will be totally worth the cost.