While everyone reflects on the ALCS and NLCS victories of the Rangers and Giants, respectively (Is it sad that I forgot what the "CS" in "ALCS" was for like three minutes? My first guess, "Conference Series", was shot down pretty quickly by myself), let's take a look at Kansas City's arbitration eligible class. I was hoping to get this up earlier but, you know, life gets in the way sometimes. At least we've been treated to some good baseball so far this autumn.
For those of you who missed earlier installments or simply need a refresher, here are some quick explanations of the arbitration system, non-tenders, service time, and "Super Twos" for those who aren't totally familiar, courtesy of MLBTR.
Because we're diving into another team that's loaded with arbitration eligible players, I'm going to divvy up this post like I did with Florida and Houston - instead of doing each player ordered by their 2010 salary, the players have been divided up into sections. Many of these players are key cogs of the current Royals team and will be obvious tenders, but we'll touch on them like we've been doing.
THEY'LL DEFINITELY BE BACK...
RHP Luke Hochevar - 1st season of arbitration (Super Two) - Tender, raise from $1.76M
LF Alex Gordon - 2nd season of arbitration (Super Two) - Tender, raise from $1.15M
RHP Robinson Tejeda - 2nd season of arbitration - Tender, raise from $0.95M
3B Wilson Betemit - 4th season of arbitration (Super Two) - Tender, raise from 2009 peak salary of $1.3M
1B Billy Butler - 1st season of arbitration - Tender, raise from $0.47M
These guys are all obvious tenders for next season given their 2010 performance and/or their general potential, although their roles respective roles in Kansas City's future are pretty unclear.
The 27-year-old Hochevar is an obvious tender, although his 19-32 record and 5.60 ERA would seem to strongly indicate otherwise. But he's put up roughly a 4.30 xFIP in 246 innings over the past two seasons, and he saw his velocity tick up in 2010- his fastball averaged 93.5 MPH, the same mark as teammate and Royals ace Zack Greinke. He's always been a groundball pitcher, and over the past couple years he's shown an improving ability to miss bats at the major league level. He might not be more than a decent mid-rotation pitcher, which is somewhat disappointing from a No. 1 overall pick, but he should be a somewhat stabilizing force in their rotation if he's healthy.
Tejeda has been a model of consistency as far as xFIP is concerned over the past three seasons, but his ERA and FIP marks have consistently been lower. He's an extreme flyball pitcher and his command has been shaky once in a while, but his stuff isn't easy to hit. He routinely has put up very strong whiff and strikeout rates, and his ability to induce infield flies has been integral to surviving with such high flyball rates. He shouldn't be that expensive, so it's a solid investment for a reliever with a good deal of upside.
Butler, Betemit and Gordon are all obvious tenders, but for different reasons. Butler is a cornerstone of the team and is coming off a strong 2010, Betemit signed a minor league contract before 2010 but ended up with some monster numbers, and Gordon was once viewed as a cornerstone and cutting bait now would seem to be premature. Butler became one of just six players in MLB history to hit 20 homers and 50 doubles in a season at age 23 or younger in 2009, and followed that up in 2010 by adding 26 points to his OBP at the expense of some power. He's not a good defensive first baseman and he's a liability on the basepaths, but he's a quality bat regardless. Betemit might be a below-average defender at third base with one useful season since 2007, but it's hard to non-tender someone who just batted .297/.378/.511 in 84 games. With Gordon, even after two ugly seasons at the MLB level, you still can't deny his potential, and it helps that he absolutely destroyed Triple-A for 68 games this year, too. It's worth giving him one more shot in 2011.
THEY MIGHT BE BACK...
RHP Brian Bannister - 3rd season of arbitration - Non-tender
RHP Kyle Davies - 3rd season of arbitration - Tender, raise from $1.8M
C Brayan Pena - 1st season of arbitration - Non-tender
Basically, the Royals probably need to retain either Bannister or Davies, because they need some relatively cheap guys to fill out the rotation behind Greinke, Hochevar and hopefully a healthy Gil Meche. After the year that Bannister had, though, it's hard to tender him and his $2.7M salary. He experienced a rebirth last season after making the cutter a core part of his repertoire, but he moved away from that this season with disastrous results. With more fastballs and less cutters, he saw his greatly improved groundball rate (the key catalyst of his improvement) regress, and the change didn't benefit his walk or strikeout rates, either. When Bannister is putting up 127 innings of replacement level pitching while Davies put up 2 WAR, it's not easy to lean towards Banny, regardless of how likable a character he is. The 27-year-old Davies has yet to really thrive despite making 131 starts in the majors to date, but he's flashed the ability of a solid and durable back-of-the-rotation starter.
As for Pena, you could argue that he's worth bringing back simply to discourage the Royals from using Jason Kendall so much. But Pena's been pretty bad himself outside of a solid 2009, so it's hard to imagine him emerging as a solid everyday option for the Royals. Tendering Pena wouldn't be an awful thing to do, but I'm pretty curious to see what Lucas May could do with some consistent playing time.
THEY WON'T BE BACK...
IF Josh Fields - 1st season of arbitration - Non-tender
RHP Brian Anderson - 2nd season of arbitration - Non-tender
As a Chicagoan, I'm pretty familiar with these guys. Neither one played that much in 2010; Fields battled injuries most of the year and Anderson adjusted to becoming a relief pitcher after spending years in the majors as a center fielder. Both of them actually played pretty well when they could get on the field- Fields batted .306 with 3 homers in a short 50 PA stint with the Royals, and Anderson put up a 2.08 ERA with 17 strikeouts in 17 innings over three minor league levels.
But realistically, it's hard to see either of these guys making a worthwhile impact at the MLB level in 2011. They're both intriguing, but I think it'd make more sense to see if these guys can be brought back on minor league deals. Fields' power has never been the problem, but the lack of a defensive home, poor contact skills and shaky plate discipline have prevented him from taking advantage. After an ugly 2009 and an injury-marred 2010, Fields is a pretty obvious non-tender for me.
As for Anderson, I actually can see more reasons to tender him. He'd make more than Fields given that he made more in 2010, but the fact of the matter is that we've seen effective relievers emerge from pretty odd places. The former center fielder was a reliever in college, still has a low-90's fastball, and apparently looked pretty solid in his short stints on the mound in 2010. This one is really all about how the Royals feel about Anderson's stuff and makeup- if they think that he can be a good MLB reliever in 2011, then I can understand tendering him. I'm just not ready to make that claim yet. I wouldn't be surprised if he's non-tendered and re-signed.