The Kansas City Royals designated Clint Robinson and Vin Mazzaro for assignment on November 20th. Just eight days later, the team has acquired Luis Santos and Luis Rico from the Pirates in exchange for the two DFA’d players.
What They Lost:
Vin Mazzaro and Justin Marks were the bounty from the trade that sent David DeJesus to Oakland on November 10th, 2010. Reactions to that deal were varied at the time but in hindsight it’s hard to be all that upset with the move. Aside from wondering if the A’s offer was truly the best that Dayton Moore would have gotten if he had been a bit more patient.
Vin Mazzaro (26) threw 72.1 innings in the major leagues with the Royals and there’s a strong case to be made that they could have gotten equivalent or better results by giving those innings to any pitcher they called up from Triple-A. After all it’s not hard to replicate the 6.72 ERA, 1.77 WHIP and 1.06 SO/BB Mazzaro contributed during his time in Kansas City. All told he was 1.1 wins below replacement level in the majors and was merely serviceable in 190.2 innings with the Omaha Storm Chasers. On May 16th, 2011 the righty turned in one of the most infamous and god-awful starts in major league history. He faced 21 Cleveland batters in 2.1 innings that day allowing 11 hits, 3 walks and 14 earned runs.
LHP Justin Marks (24), for his part, has pitched fairly well in the minors spending most of 2012 with Northwest Arkansas. Facing Double-A hitters for the first time, he amassed a 3.80 ERA and 1.37 WHIP with a 73-38 SO-to-BB in 85.1 innings. Marks pitched in the Arizona Fall League this year and was named to the AFL’s Top Prospects Team on Monday.
DeJesus, a career 0.289/.360/.427 hitter during 8 seasons in Kansas City has gone on to hit 0.252/.337/.390 in the last two years with the Athletics and Cubs respectively. The good news here is that the Royals got the best years of David’s career and Marks has a chance to contribute to the major league team in some fashion in the coming years. The bad news is that Mazzaro actually cost the team wins over the last two seasons.
1B Clint Robinson (27) has been with the Royals organization since he was a 25th round pick in the 2007 MLB Draft. Prior to the 2012 season he had steadily advanced one level per season making his way from rookie ball after signing in 2007 to Triple-A Omaha in 2011. He returned to the Storm Chasers for the bulk of the 2012 season but did break through and make his major league debut on June 8th. He was used as a pinch-hitter for the Royals in four games during the month of June and wound up 0-4 with two strikeouts in his limited major league action. Overall in six minor league seasons he boasts a 0.308/.382/.520 slash line coupled with excellent plate discipline and patience. Robinson has turned in some monster seasons along the way but the general belief is that his bat and skill set won’t produce at the major league level. Right or wrong, he was never given much of a look with the Royals but it’s hard to fault the organization in this case since they’ve had Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer manning 1B and DH the last two years.
Mazzaro was most likely going to be thrown out with the bath water and released outright so his departure is really immaterial. For what it is worth, I’m somewhat amazed that the Pirates had any interest in him.
While I think the Royals would have gladly offered Robinson an assignment with Omaha to keep him in the system, he would have surely refused and become a free agent with Butler and Hosmer in front of him.
The deal is a boon for the 6’5″ 240 lb first basement as he goes to a new organization with a legitimate chance to make an impression. Not only is he on the Pirates 40-man roster, he has a very good chance to earn an extended look in the majors during the 2013 season.
What They Gained:
Luis Santos (21) is a right-handed pitcher who was signed by the Pirates out of the Dominican Republic on April 18th, 2011. He has yet to pitch in the states having spent both the 2011 and 2012 seasons playing in the Dominican Summer League. In 86.0 innings he has a 2.51 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and a 97-32 SO-to-BB. Those numbers are nice and tidy but we have to consider the context here. He compiled those stats throwing primarily against players 3-4 years his junior and, as any prospect maven will tell you, stats from the complex leagues are largely unimportant. Allowing only 58 hits in 86.0 innings for a guy who has ground ball tendencies is an intriguing stat but we’re going to have to see how he handles pitching in the states before we can get excited. The Pirates did invite him to their fall instructional league this year so his performance this year got their attention at least.
Luis Rico (18) is a left-handed pitcher who was signed out of Venezuela on April 9th, 2011 – just a few days before they also inked Santos. The younger Luis, who turns 19 tomorrow, pitched well in the Venezuelan Summer League as a 17-year old in 2011. In the VSL he had a 3.76 ERA, 1.48 WHIP and 23-11 SO-to-BB in 26.1 innings pitched while facing competition that was primarily the same age or a little older than he was. This past year he pitched in the Dominican Summer League and got knocked around as his control deserted him. In 23.0 innings he finished with a 7.04 ERA, 2.00 WHIP and walked 21 while striking out just 16. The same disclaimers apply here that applied to Santos, but in the case of Rico they work in his favor. First, he was age appropriate relative to his competition and second we can’t put much stock into the statistics generated. Not only because his stats came out of a foreign summer league but also because in Rico’s case he was pitching away from home for the first time in his career. That may not sound like a big deal but for an 18-year old Venezuelan that is a massive transition to make. It is worth noting that the Pirates signed Luis Rico to a $280,000 bonus so there’s something there that caught their eye and as an added bonus he’s a lefty.
The Deal For Both Sides:
For the Pirates, they are taking a flier on a 1B with a fantastic minor league resume that was completely blocked in the Royals organization. Robinson is without a doubt a worthwhile gamble that could provide the team with a cheap and productive bat at 1B if he can prove the projections wrong. He will, however, be 28 years old on Opening Day. Maybe they get a couple years of decent production from him or maybe he spends most of his time at Triple-A Indianapolis. Either way there would have been a number of teams willing to sign him on the open market so the Pirates did well to make a low-risk move in acquiring him.
I don’t anticipate Vin Mazzaro having much value to the Pirates as a reliever or starter in majors but maybe they figure out something in his delivery that makes him a league average arm for a brief bit. That would be quite a feat however as he’s never been league average in any of his four seasons in the majors – though he game close with the A’s in 2010. There are already a number of better options floating around on the open market to hold down a 40-man roster spot and I wouldn’t be surprised if they wind up moving him off their roster and designating him when a more attractive option presents itself.
For the Royals, they basically got a pair of lottery tickets in two young arms that are light years away from the major leagues and are frankly long shots to get there. However they landed both Rico and Santos for players that were not going to be a part of the organization in 2013 so they’re effectively playing with house money.
It’s a win for Dayton Moore and the Royals because they effectively got something for nothing. It’s also a win for the Pirates because they landed Robinson before he was on the market. Mazzaro for his part is a fungible and easily replaceable talent.
The deal, could turn out poorly for the Pirates if either Luis Rico or Luis Santos (or both) winds up having a productive major league career. Sure they gave up two lottery tickets, but sometimes lottery tickets wind up paying off with big return. For the Royals there is zero downside in this transaction.