As the July 31 trade deadline draws ever closer, there are stories swirling about virtually every team and whether those clubs will be “buying” or “selling” at the deadline this year. Major League Baseball has muddied up the waters for us a bit by adding the second Wild Card to their postseason format and while that has made for far more intrigue and drama into late September, it’s also made for some team executives getting confused about what kind of club they really have.
This week, Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore, whose team begins the second half six games under .500 and eight games out of first place in the AL Central, was quoted as saying “”Our philosophy isn’t going to change just because we’re six games under,we’re not going to back off.”
“I don’t like the term ‘sellers.’ If and whatever we do (in terms of trades), it will be done with the interest of winning more games now. We’re going to keep pushing in all areas to make us a better overall team and ultimately to compete better now.”
Meanwhile, fresh off a very successful week of hosting the All-Star festivities, the New York Mets, nine games under .500 and 11 games out of first, are drawing interest in outfielder Marlon Byrd, who has had a surprisingly good season at age 35.
Byrd was signed to a minor league deal in the off-season and he’s making basically a league minimum salary this year. He’s also produced 15 home runs and 51 RBI for the Mets, giving them production no one expected. It’s the ideal time to trade him, so naturally, Mets GM Sandy Alderson has said that the Mets would need to be blown away to deal Byrd, because “it’s still very important for us to try to be competitive.”
Both the Royals and the Mets have been moving in the right direction over the past couple of years and both, you assume, have an ultimate goal of getting to, and winning, the World Series. Why, then, are both putting so much emphasis of playing “competitive” ball this season, when neither is a World Series contender?
It would be far wiser to speed the rebuilding process by dealing aging, overachieving players who don’t figure into your long-term plans. Move them this month, guys like Byrd, or Ervin Santana for the Royals, to bring back younger talent. Are either one of those guys going to bring in an “A” prospect? Well, probably not, but you have to consider the kind of production you’re likely to get even if you retain the potential free agents who will be looking to cash in on big years. Signing a mid-30s outfielder and rewarding him with a hefty contract coming off a season that was an anomaly for his undistinguished career is a foolish move for even the most affluent ball clubs. For a sub-.500 team looking to move into contender status, it’s franchise suicide.
Sandy Alderson is a smart guy and surely he recognizes that Byrd is very likely to regress and do so in a hurry. But the perception that the fans will be somehow satisfied with a “competitive” season where they hover around .500 all year is misguided at best. You know whose fans would be thrilled with a .500 season? Pirates fans. But only so they don’t have to heard about how they haven’t had a winning season since 1992. That satisfaction would last all of about 25 seconds, because it isn’t about being competitive, it’s about winning. And if you aren’t going to win this year, you should be putting yourself in a better position to win next year. It’s that simple.
The Royals decided to option second baseman Johnny Giavotella to Triple-A as the second half opens. They did so while bringing veteran Chris Getz back to the big leagues. Giavotella was sent out after 38 plate appearances. Sure, they were unimpressive, but there were 38 of them. That’s hardly enough time to make any kind of decisions about anything. Giavotella is a former second round pick. He’s now 24 years old, and he has a minor league track record that shows he can hit, and hit well. He hasn’t shown it at the big league level as of yet, and he may never show it, but it would be wise for the Royals, who aren’t going to the playoffs this year anyway, to see what they have in him.
Instead, they are going back to Getz, and there is no doubt what they have in him. Getz is a career .252 hitter (hitting .214 this year) who doesn’t get on base and has no power. He has never been even a league-average hitter – not even close. He has good speed, but with a career OBP of .310 (.276 this year), that does him no good.
So why would the Royals make this move? Because Getz was hitting .313 in Omaha (nevermind the .313 OBP, I guess), and the perception is that, as a younger player, Giavotella isn’t doing enough to help them win now.
There is little doubt in my mind that the future is bright for both franchises. The Mets have a hoard of young, power arms to build around and the Royals have one of the most talented groups of young hitters that could be found anywhere. But the window to win isn’t 2013 for either team, in fact, it never was. Kansas City made moves in the Winter designed to help them win this year, but 2014 was always the year that nearly everyone outside of the Royals front office had pegged for a real Royals uprising. The Mets won’t be contenders again until Zach Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard both reach the big leagues and can establish themselves as members of the rotation.
It has been proven time and again that you don’t have to crawl before you can walk in this game. History is filled with worst-to-first scenarios and you get no ribbons for finishing 81-81. By Trying to win now, but the Mets and the Royals are making it more difficult to win next year, when it might have actually mattered.