With eyes on contention for 2013, the Royals announced the signing three Minor League free agents on Wednesday afternoon. Obviously, for any team that is giving any sort of thought on truly contending depth is critical. A 162 game season is a grind and you can't take any chances in losing ground simply because of an injury to a bullpen piece or fourth outfielder.
Today the Royals added relievers Dan Wheeler and George Sherrill, as well as speedy outfielder Wily Taveras. All three of these players have achieved some form of Major League success and it wouldn't be a huge stretch to envision any of them providing some small contributions at the Major League level in 2013. Here's a brief rundown on each of the three players.
Wheeler spent most of the 2012 season in Triple-A Columbus for the Cleveland Indians. In 36 appearances he went 3-3 with 5 saves and a 2.32 ERA. Dan Wheeler is probably best remembered for a three year stint in Tampa during which he averaged roughly 67 appearances a season and recorded a 3.24 ERA.
In the two season since that time, Wheeler has thrown 61.2 innings between Boston and Cleveland to an ERA of 5.25. Interestingly, Wheeler's drop in performance directly coincided with the shelving of his slider in favor of a cutter. The cutter was likely a big factor in Wheeler's rising ground ball percentage, but he has sacrificed one of his best weapons in favor of it. Hopefully, Wheeler can find his slider and become the effective pitcher that he once was in Tampa Bay and before that Houston.
Entering the 2012 season, I thought George Sherrill was an attractive option as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen. Despite Sherrill missing the entire 2012 season due to Tommy John (he likely won't be healthy until May), I still think he is a good option in this capacity. For his career, Sherrill has absolutely dominated left handed hitters, allowing a triple slash of .186/.245/.285.
Quite simply, a Minor League contract for George Sherrill provides the Royals with a solid bullpen piece that will require no 40-man roster spot until the time he is needed at the Major League level. All Sherrill really needs to do to be a valuable Major League piece is get healthy. At this point in time the Royals really don't have a loogy on the roster that has near the track record of Sherrill.
It must be hard to be the first outfielder acquired by an organization that just traded away their top prospect who happened to be an outfielder. As Royal Revival contributor Dan Ware stated, this signing feels like deja vu. In fact, given the Royals bizarre affliction with speedy outfielders, it is almost surprising that it took this long for the Royals to get their hands on Taveras. (Although, I do recall rumors of their interest in him in the past.)
For an interesting read on Taveras's incredible ability to get on base via infield hits, check out this post by Fangraphs writer Jeff Sullivan. According to the post, Taveras is a career .500+ hitter on bunts and out of any player with 500+ plate appearances between 2002-2012, he has more infield hits and bunt hits per plate appearance than any other player. Jeff's conclusion? Dude needs to bunt more.
Taveras is a good depth piece to have in the Minor Leagues. His skill set screams fourth outfielder and while he can't hit a lick, he's the kind of guy who could provide a critical stolen base on a cool September night. What we shouldn't do is pretend like the Taveras addition is a warning signal to Jarrod Dyson or Lorenzo Cain who are both, without a doubt, and without question better players than Willy Taveras.
These are good additions by the Kansas City front office. These types of signings go without praise and notice in many instances, but in every Major League playoff chase there will be players that come up with timely hits or key strikeouts that weren't in the picture on Opening Day. Creating depth is a good thing and while the Royals may have strong bullpen depth or a quality fourth outfielder already there is no opportunity cost for stashing away these types of players in Omaha.
If the Royals truly plan on contending in 2013, depth will be key. It won't be as key as the James Shields acquisition. However, the Royals need to continue to find ways to marginally improve. Hypothetically, if they are an 85 win team right now, they need to push themselves to become an 86, then an 87, then an 88 win team. There likely aren't many more big moves that the club can make, so depth, good in-game managing, quality roster shuffling, and incremental gains in value will go a long way in pushing Kansas City over the top. Good work today.