The Royals announced on Monday that Jeremy Guthrie would be returning to Kansas City on a three year $25 million deal. The deal is structured in a manner in which Guthrie will be paid $5 million in 2013, $11 million in 2014, and $9 million in 2015.
Naturally among the Royals' Twitterverse, this deal has received everything from praise to an incredible amount of criticism. One thing I think that most everyone can agree on is that a three year commitment is one year too much. However, I'd like to welcome those individuals to 2013, a time when most view inflation on the horizon.
This is not to say that the Royals are necessarily overpaying for Jeremy Guthrie. In fact, I think this contract is pretty well right in line with what Guthrie's value likely is. In fact, it has been noted by several that over the last three seasons Guthrie has been worth $23.8 million. Haters would respond to this by pointing out that Guthrie is on the downhill slope of the aging curve and that it isn't a good assumption to project Guthrie to continue his past performance moving forward.
Typically, I would agree that based on his age regression should be expected. In this instance, I feel differently. I've talked about this a lot in recent weeks, I think Guthrie fits the mold of what kind of pitcher can be excel in Kauffman Stadium. While it was a small sample size (fourteen starts), Guthrie's performance with the Royals evidenced this fact.
Guthrie has always been a fly ball pitcher. As a result of this he has been able to find consistent success in limiting the batting average on balls in play of opposing hitters. Ground balls result in a higher percentage of hits than fly balls. Of course, it goes without being said that fly balls result in a higher percentage of home runs than ground balls. Fortunately, for the first time in Guthrie's career he was able to play in a park that has historically suppressed home runs.
The other two parks that Guthrie has called home were both poor fits as far as Guthrie's pitching style goes. Camden Yards is a bandbox. Coors Field is a mile above sea level. Guthrie of course was a disaster in Coors, but somehow he was able to amass 11.1 fWAR while pitching for the Baltimore Orioles. That is good for 2.2 fWAR per season. If he can continue that for Kansas City, he'll be worth the contract.
Throughout his career, Jeremy Guthrie has been around 5.5 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and 40% GB%. In Kansas City, Guthrie was able to drop his BB/9 under 2, while maintaining his K/9. There is a reason to expect this improvement to be reality and not sample size induced, due to a change in mechanics that the Royals coaching staff implemented following his arrival in Kansas City.
Interestingly in some research I came across another starter who posted similar peripherals in 2012. This starter recorded 5.9 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 with a 40% GB. This starter was able to pitch all of his home games in a fly ball pitcher's parks. The pitcher's name is Brandon McCarthy and he had a 3.24 ERA in 18 starts while compiling 1.8 fWAR.
Kauffman Stadium isn't the pitcher's park that the Coliseum is, but there's reason to believe that if Guthrie can keep his walk rate under two, it isn't hard to imagine him posting an ERA around 3.50, while logging 200+ innings annually with a fWAR around 3. If Guthrie can do this, it would be silly to complain about paying him $8 million annually.
***On a side note can we stop lumping contracts together and saying things like instead of player X, Y, and Z we could be paying for player A? Just because the Royals screwed up with one contract doesn't mean that every other contract is a bad one. Surely, the Royals blogosphere is smarter.
As I stated earlier, I wish Kansas City could have been brought back on a two year deal. With that being said, I think the timing of the Guthrie deal is important to note. By locking up Guthrie now and acquiring Ervin Santana, they have the necessary security to cut ties with Chris Volstad and Luke Hochevar. The former of these two tasks has already been completed, and I fully expect Hochevar to be non-tendered by the November 30, deadline.
If the Royals wouldn't have completed the deal with Jeremy Guthrie prior to the end of the month, they would have likely felt it necessary to tender Hochevar a contract. Instead, they can now non-tender Hochevar, adding about $5 million to their budget. If they can apply this budget elsewhere that's great, if not the addition of Guthrie gives the Royals enough options entering 2013, should the worst case scenario occur and the Royals not find any other starters between now and Opening Day.
Cutting Hochevar also would allow the Royals some additional financial flexibility. The structure of the Guthrie deal makes a couple of points apparent for me. First, the Royals don't have as much budget room available for 2013, as most of us believe that they should. Second, By back loading the Guthrie deal, the Royals provide themselves with some additional wiggle room to add a third rotation piece.
Another interesting point, is that while the deal is back loaded, it is also structured in a way in which Guthrie will be paid the highest percentage of his earnings in the second year of his contract. This also appears to be a smart approach as with the Royals youth, ideally the young players will continue to get more expensive through arbitration as time goes by. If nothing else, it at least shows a bit of creativity on the part of Dayton Moore and the front office.
Overall, I'm not in love with the Guthrie deal. I feel as though the contract is fair value. It is close enough to where I truly believe it can be argued one way or another if it was a good deal for the club. Personally, I think it is a good deal. People are making a fuss about the Royals pursuit of mediocrity, but yet those individuals aren't proposing any solutions to the problem. I believe that Guthrie is an improvement and I expect him to be solid over the next three years with some small upside due to Kauffman's park factors.
Oh and Jeremy Guthrie, I saw that you were tweeting Brandon McCarthy the other day. Why don't you try to convince him to join you in Kansas City? Talk about how well you two fit into the ballpark and if that statistical stuff falls short, you could always invite him hunting with you and Frenchy.