Monday, July 20, 2015

In the Cross Hairs: Brandon Phillips

The Reds are said to be open for business and on their team there are several intriguing options that could fit for the Kansas City Royals. We've heard a lot about the Royals interest in Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake. Perhaps, there is another name that could catch the Royals' eyes. I'm speaking of the flashy Brandon Phillips.

When talking about the Cincinnati second baseman, the first thing we need to recognize is that he is not the offensive force that he once was. In fact, since the start of the 2013 season, the former 2nd Round pick has played in 352 games and hit just .267/.310/.381, which is good for an OPS+ of 91. A below average line, but still much better than the .245/.278/.326 line that Omar Infante boasts as a Royal.

What Phillips does bring to the table is excellent defense. This season, Fangraphs credits him as having been worth 4 defensive runs saved, and being worth 2.5 UZR/150. Both of which are above average tallies. In fact, since the start of the 2013 season, Phillips ranks 3rd among qualified second basemen in converting "Remote" (1-10%) plays into outs at 9.8%. He ranks 1st in "Unlikely" (11-40%) plays at 51.5%. He ranks 7th in "Even" (41-60%) plays and 3rd in "Likely" (61-90%). Quite simply his glove is one of the best (and most fun to watch) in baseball.

So what would it take to land Phillips should the Royals decide to pursue this route?

Here's how Phillips contract breaks down moving forward:

  • 2015 - $12 million (roughly $5.2 remaining)
  • 2016 - $13 million
  • 2017 - $14 million
Phillips is currently worth 1.1 fWAR in 2015 and ZIPs projects him to garner 0.9 over the remainder of the season. If Phillips can continue to be worth about 4 WAR for the remainder of his deal. By valuing a win at the current Fangraphs valuation of $7.6 million, then Phillips would be worth -$1.7 million in excessive value. If we go with a more conservative $5.5 million valuation of wins, then Phillips drops to -$10.2 million. 

So let's say the Royals could work out a Infante plus a prospect swap for Phillips. Before we know what kind of prospect that we'd be talking about we first need to evaluate Infante in the same way that we have Phillips. ZIPs currently projects Infante to be worth about 0.3 WAR over the remainder of 2016. If we project Infante to then be worth 0 WAR in 2016 & 17, then his excessive value would be -$15.6 million at the Fangraphs rate and -$16.2 million at the more conservative rate. 

What we see here is that the difference in excess value between Phillips and Infante comes in somewhere between $6.2 and $13.9 million. Thanks to the work of The Point of Pittsburgh on prospect valuation, We can see that sort of valuation would be reflective of a borderline top 100 prospect, or even a pitching prospect ranked somewhere in the 51-100 range in a top 100. Prospects that could work in this range would be guys like Jorge Bonifcaio, Bubba Starling, Miguel Almonte, Brandon Finnegan, Sean Manaea, and maybe guys like Foster Griffin, or Scott Blewett.

So Royals fans, how would you feel about an Omar Infate plus one of the aforementioned players for Brandon Phillips? Would sacrificing a prospect of that quality be worth the upgrade? Is the upgrade worth having Brandon Phillips less than stellar personality in Kansas City?

Tell me @Landon_Adams

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

In the Cross Hairs: Cameron Maybin

Over the next couple of weeks, I hope to take a look at several different players that the Royals could/should target via trade. As I highlighted here, I believe that the Royals should pursue an outfielder at this year's trade deadline. Also, according to Jon Heyman the Royals are actively searching the trade market for outfield help.
For these reasons, I'll probably focus my efforts on examining outfielders. Let's start with Atlanta Braves center fielder Cameron Maybin.

A former first round pick and top prospect, Maybin has for the most part failed to live up to the hype as a Major League player. However, the Asheville, North Carolina native has produced 9.3 fWAR over 641 career games, which translates to about 2.4 fWAR per 162. For comparison's sake, Alcides Escobar has been worth 2.1 fWAR per 162 throughout his career.

For his career, Maybin has hit .252/.317/.372. However, in 2015, Maybin has boosted that line to .289/.356/.418. Clearly, teams need to be wary of acquiring players when they are at peak performance and in this case, Maybin is having the best offensive season of his career (117 RC+). The question becomes is this luck driven or change driven?

In this particular circumstance, I believe there is a strong case that Maybin has turned a corner offensively. Although, I don't believe it do be quite as pronounced as the stats seem to indicate. To double check on this, I ran Maybin's contact rates through a xBABIP calculator to see what we should expect his line to be thus far this season.
  • Actual: .289/.356/.418 with 8 HR
  • xBABIP Adjusted: .303/.368/.433 with 8 HR
Now let's look at how his numbers change if we change his HR/FB% to league average of 10.5%:
  •  .295/.361/.396 with 5 HR
Finally, how would the numbers look with Maybin's career HR/FB% instead of the 16% that he has blasted out in 2015.
  • .293/.359/.386 with 4 HR
My personal conclusion is that as a 28 year old with regular playing time for the first time since 2012, Maybin has improved at the plate. He is posting a career high 9.3% walk rate and he is squaring the ball up more frequently than he has at any other point in his Major League career. What I don't buy is the sudden increase in power. However, even if you accept the final line that uses Maybin's career HR/FB% a .293/.359/.386 line would represent an enormous improvement of Alex Rios's .238/.266/.288. 

Of course when talking about Maybin the offense is only a portion of what intrigues me. Despite a career year at the plate, the numbers indicate that Maybin has struggled defensively in 2015. Defensive Runs Saved believes that Maybin has cost the Braves 14 runs this season. UZR has him at -7.2 runs through the first half. 

These numbers come as a bit of a surprise considering that through Maybin's first 8 seasons, he was worth on average about 3 runs saved per year. Nothing special, but a slightly above average defensive center fielder carries value and typically translates into an above average corner outfielder. Fortunately, for the Royals that is exactly where Maybin would wind up. 

While it isn't a slam dunk, my guess is that if Maybin were to move to a corner at Kauffman Stadium, his defense would play up in a tremendous way. The Royals have finally begun to realize that the uniqueness of Kauffman's spacious outfield can be an enormous competitive advantage. Essentially, by fielding 2 or 3 center fielders, there is enough space that the individual's fielding territories don't overlap which allows for maximum defensive effect. 

Maybin is currently owed about $3.5 million for the remainder of the 2015 season. He is under control at a very affordable $8 million for 2016 and has a $9 million team option for 2017 that includes a $1 million buyout. Overall, if the Royals were to acquire the Braves outfielder, the team would owe him a approximately $12.5 million guaranteed. Not only would that buy the Royals a fill in during Alex Gordon's time on the disabled list, but it would also check off a box on this winter's shopping list.

Another aspect that draws me to Maybin is the fact that he is right handed. I've made no secret that I believe Jarrod Dyson should be playing more often. If the Royals were to acquire Maybin they could put Dyson and Rios into a platoon at the other corner. Then when Gordon comes back, Maybin could take Rios's place with Dyson occasionally spelling him against right handed pitching. (Of course, my dream would be to DFA Rios and start both Maybin and Dyson everyday until Gordon returns. Sight.) If the Royals can manage to bring back Gordon for the 2016 season, I believe that it'd make more sense to acquire a right handed hitter than a lefty for the reason above. 

So would the Braves trade Maybin? What would it take? The answer to the first question is not obvious, but I believe the answer to be yes. The Braves are clearly in a rebuild mode. Despite their best efforts to keep things interesting in 2015, the team is now 7 games behind the Nationals in the NL East and 6 behind the Cubs for the second wild card.

EDIT: According to Bill Shanks the Braves are open for business and wouldn't refuse a strong trade offer for Maybin. Shanks believes the Braves could reasonably demand a prospect in a team's 5-10 range. For the Royals that zone preseason included: Hunter Dozier, Miguel Almonte, Foster Griffin, Scott Blewett, Jorge Bonifacio, and Christian Colon.

What would it take to acquire Maybin is a more difficult question to answer. Let's say we are optimistic and project Maybin to be worth 1 fWAR for the rest of 2015, 2.5 fWAR for 2016, and 2.5 fWAR. Let's say we don't discount future value and we value 1 fWAR at $8 million, which seems high. If we do all of these things, we find that Maybin is worth about $27 million in surplus value. (Considering the way we reached this figure, I believe this to be on the high end.)

Based on the work from The Point of Pittsburgh, this is roughly the equivalent of a pitching prospect in the #26-50 range and a pitching prospect in the #51-75 range. 

If we take a more pessimistic approach in how we value Maybin, we could reach the conclusion that he is worth more like $6-10 million in surplus value. This would make Maybin worth a border line top 100 prospect. 

Based off all of this, I could see the Braves and Royals coming together somewhere in between. Perhaps, one of the Royals top pitching prospects, plus another guy ranking in the 20-45 ranges of the Royals top prospects. This aligns well with what resident Braves fan Nick Allen guessed at on Twitter. He discussed the Braves desire to add arms and catching depth and throughout a Maybin for Brandon Finnegan and Zane Evans swap. 

It has been said before, but if the Royals do move a top prospect, it seems like Finnegan is the most likely to go. Finnegan was a beast last October, but the Royals approach to his development this season has at times been baffling. At this point, I think it is likely that the Royals view him as a reliever long term and with that being the case, his value could be higher as a trade commodity than as a building block for future teams. I also recall that from his MLB Network days that John Hart, President of Operations for the Atlanta Braves was a huge Miguel Almonte fan.

What do you think Royals fans? Would you trade either Brandon Finnegan or Miguel Almonte plus another low level prospect for Maybin? Let me know!

Follow me on Twitter @Landon_Adams!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The State of the Royals Outfield

As Royals nation collectively awaits the official results of the MRI on Alex Gordon's left leg, we are left to ponder what this means for the team moving forward. If the early indications are true that it is a grade 3 groin strain, then (based off a limited amount of research) Gordon could be sidelined between 6 and 12+ weeks. So let's look at how that breaks down on the calendar:

6 weeks - August 19 
7 weeks - August 26
8 weeks - September 2
9 weeks  - September 9
10 weeks  - September 16
11 weeks  - September 23
12 weeks - September 30

Obviously, that's not a good situation. Another note is that the final game of the 2014 Minor League season on September 16. The importance of this is that if Gordon winds up being out 9+ weeks, then it is extremely unlikely that the Royals would have the ability to send their All-Star left fielder on rehab assignment. If Gordon winds up being out 9+ weeks, the Royals would have to reacclimate him through batting practice and a careful increase in playing time at the Major League level. 

It is not impossible to get a guy back to speed without a rehab assignment, but it does make it a bit more difficult. Not to mention the possibility that the Royals could be playing in extremely important games over the last several weeks of the season. 

Here is how I see it. If Gordon takes 9 weeks or less to return, the Royals are able to send him on rehab to the Minors and have the best chance of reintegrating him into the lineup in an effective manner. If Gordon takes between 9 and 11 weeks to return to game shape, the Royals have a shot of getting him back for October. If Gordon takes 12 or more weeks before he is ready for game action, the Royals will find themselves in an incredibly difficult spot of whether or not he should be included on a postseason roster when he has hardly played for two and a half months. 

Long story short, if the news comes back that Gordon has sustained a grade 3 groin strain, then the team must approach this as though they will not see Gordon again this season. Prior to the injury, I had enough faith in Jarrod Dyson that I didn't believe the Royals needed to acquire a corner outfielder to replace the lackadaisical Alex Rios. Now, I believe it is quite certain that the Royals should seek out replacement opportunities. 

I view this situation in two parts. First, there is the 2015 problem. Rios is terrible and now Gordon is hurt. The Royals need to fill two outfield spots and they have a solution for one (Dyson). The second part of this is 2016. While the injury will increase the likelihood that Alex Gordon returns to Kansas City for the 2016 season, there is still a very good chance that he departs. If this is the case then the Royals return just Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, and Paulo Orlando. Even if Dyson proves that he can play everyday in 2016, the Royals still need another starting outfielder. 

If you find an outfielder now, you get the benefit of improving the roster for the remainder of 2015 by pushing aside Rios, while also getting a step ahead in setting the 2016 roster. If by chance the Royals are able to bring back Gordon for 2016, then they again can push Dyson into a rotation role as the fourth outfielder and will be even stronger a unit for the 2016 campaign.

It is my opinion that the outfielder the Royals need will come via trade. Some would argue that there are capable internal replacements and here is how I would counter on each of those options.

Paulo Orlando - Fourth Outfielder

Brett Eibner - The former second round pick has some promise. He is 26, extremely streaky at the plate, plays good defense, and has a good arm. He is also hitting .292/.349/491 in Omaha. There is a part of me that believes he could grab and handle an everyday job. However, I also know that Werner Park heavily favors right handed power and as a 26 year old, he needs to prove it in the Majors. The scenario that I prefer is that the Royals acquire a starting RF and Eibner gets called up in replace of Orlando or as a 5th outfielder. Given his power from the right side, I think he complements the roster better than Orlando. There is already a ton of speed, but a power bat off the bench would be a bonus and Eibner could even wind up in the small side of a platoon with Dyson.

Whit Merrifield - Based on reports it sounds like Merrifield could be the guy to replace Gordon on the roster. The former 9th round pick is an easy player to root for, but he is 26 and is currently slugging .392 in a hitter friendly league. He gets bonus points for being able to play both outfield and second base, but I don't see the South Carolina product as an answer.

Moises Sierra/Reymond Fuentes/Jose Martinez - All of these guys have done enough to get a chance to fill a void on the roster for a little bit. However, the Royals aren't filling this hole with any of these retreads.

Lane Adams - At 25 years old, the toolsy outfielder is barely hanging on to the prospect label. He's excellent defensively, can steal bases, and shows flashes at the plate. He received a cup of coffee last September and the organization loves his athleticism. Similar to Eibner, I think he is a guy who could complement Dyson well in a platoon role for left field. However, he isn't going to ever be an everyday outfielder.

Jorge Bonifacio/Bubba Starling - I've lumped these two 22 year olds together because I think at this point they have similar trajectories. Both could be in a position at some point in 2016 to deserve a look as an everyday guy. At this point, it is clear that both need more minor league seasoning. Unless the Royals decide to go the Salvador Perez route  in their developmental approach, neither of these prospects will be slam dunks to deserve a Major League spot at the beginning of 2016.

All of this brings us back to my initial conclusion. The Royals need to add a corner outfielder to the roster sometime in the next few weeks. It will be an enormous boost to the team for 2015, and will also better position the team for success in 2016. 

I've been wanting to get going on here for awhile, but have been considering who other options. It is good to be back and I'll try to break down some specific trade targets over the next few weeks. 

Follow me on Twitter @Landon_Adams