The biggest move the Kansas City Royals made this off season may actually be the one they didn’t make. Since acquiring James Shields and Wade Davis in the second week of December, the Royals have been relatively quiet. Aside from a few minor league contracts, there has little news from Kaufman Stadium.
Yesterday, the Cleveland Indians announced they had signed Michael Bourn to a 4-year, $48 million contract with a possible 5th year at an additional $12 million. The addition gives the Indians four outfielders, three of which are very speedy. Bourn, Michael Brantley, and Drew Stubbs can cover a lot of ground. This move adds even more depth and flexibility to Cleveland’s roster because the Indians also have Nick Swisher, who can be penciled in right field, first base, and DH. Cleveland also has Carlos Santana, who can catch, play first, and DH, and Mark Reynolds, who plays first, third, and DH. This terrific signing has made the Indians significantly better offensively and defensively and may just thrust Cleveland past the Royals as the top candidate to challenge the Detroit Tigers this season.
I have not been as critical as most concerning the Royals’ Hot Stove pitching acquisitions. These moves constituted necessary steps for the Royals to improve their level of competitiveness. Even considering that owner David Glass allowed General Manager Dayton Moore to spend more money than originally allotted to bring in better starting pitchers, the Royals needed to take one more bold step. The Kansas City Royals should have signed Michael Bourn. While there is no doubt the Royals truly want to compete in 2013 and Kansas City should win more games than in 2012, adding Bourn would have made plenty of sense.
Michael Bourn is a well above average player who is still in the prime years of his career, having just turned 30 years old. In the last four years, he has racked up a WAR of 19, with the low of 3 coming in 2011 and the high of 6 coming last season. He has a career slash line of .272/.339/.365. These numbers are solid but not spectacular. They are pulled down somewhat by his outlying poor year in 2008. Bourn gets on base, steals a lot of bases, has decent power, and plays terrific defense. He was on the market so long, not because of his skill set, but because it cost a draft pick to sign him.
Why should the Royals have tried harder to sign him? If asked, the Royals would probably point out the three obvious things – not enough money, the cost of a draft pick, and the KC outfield is already full. The appropriate reactions to those three reasons should be “Whatever.”, “So what?”, and “Really?”. Let’s examine these reasons for a moment.
The first is there isn’t enough money. This seems debatable but for the moment, let’s accept it as fact that the Royals are already operating over budget. In the grand scheme of things, $12 million in 2013 doesn’t seem that daunting of a number. If the Royals are playing well and in the thick of the AL Central race, attendance will rise significantly, erasing a little of that deficit. Next year, the contracts of Francoeur, Santana, and Chen come off the books. That’s approximately $25 million coming off the books. Even with raises due to the present roster, Bourn’s $12 million should be covered. That doesn’t even count the expected influx on television dollars.
The second reason is that signing Bourn would have cost the Royals a first round draft pick. Small market teams have to be conscious of these picks if they hope to maintain a viable pipeline of young, affordable talent to restock the major league club. As true as this is, a proven, productive veteran, still in his prime, who can help push a team over the top, should be more immediately valuable than a hit-or-miss draft pick. For the Royals of 2009, keeping the pick would have been the right thing to do. Now, with this team on the verge of turning things around, signing Bourn could have been a defining moment for this regime – proof they were laying everything on the line . Instead, another team in the Royals’ division signed him at an affordable price.
Thirdly, the outfield is only full because of Moore’s love affair with Jeff Francoeur. If nothing else, compare Bourn’s WAR of 19 over the past four years to Frenchy’s .3 over the last five seasons. Yes, .3. Francoeur has barely been a replacement level player for 5 years. The Royals should have just admitted Francoer’s contract was stupid, moved Lorenzo Cain to right, and signed Bourn to play center. Suddenly, the outfield in Kansas City would have become one of the best in baseball. The Royals should just have made Frenchy the 4th outfielder and pinch hitter for 2013, and moved on. Add in the fact Kansas City does not have anyone poised to take over in right next season, signing Bourn would have made even more sense. The Royals are going to have to sign someone else, probably at an inflated price for 2014. Signing Bourn would have frayed the cost of trading Wil Myers for Shields and Davis, at least on the field of play.
One last point is that many will argue that Bourn’s salary was too high. Well, his 2012 WAR of 6 would disagree. Doing the math, that’s only $2 million a win. In this day and age, that is pretty good. If Bourn matched number in WAR over the next fours years, it would still average out to about $2.5 million per win. In the last years of his contract, Bourn may not be as productive but it is almost assured that salary inflation will rise with the ever increasing TV revenue pouring in. At worst, Bourn will be 34 when his contract ends, including the option year, which is based on him getting 550 plate appearances in 2016. There is still a good chance he will be productive at that age.
So, the Royals did nothing. They were satisfied with their earlier moves and seem convinced Francoeur will be better than a replacement level player despite all evidence otherwise. The Cleveland Indians saw an opportunity and vaulted past the Royals in one big move, capping off a very productive off season. Now, the Indians have to be considered the top contender to unseat the Tigers. Adding Bourn would have gone a long way toward getting the Royals on a more even plane with Detroit. The Royals let the opportunity pass without a fight. The Indians grabbed that opportunity and improved their ball club. The cost of doing nothing may prove very expensive for the Kansas City Royals.