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The Royals Awaken

I was starting to become impatient with the Royals' (lack of) activity so far this offseason, but Allard Baird cured my impatience with a couple of Thursday trades. One deal -- Benito Santiago going to Pittsburgh -- was anticipated, but the other -- Eli Marrero going to KC -- was a surprise. And a nice one, I might add.

I've talked about the Santiago deal already, so I don't want to go into too much detail there. However, the return for him wasn't just Leo Nunez; the Royals will also receive a player to be named later (presumably one who was drafted in 2004) or cash to complete the trade. Even though the Royals had to chip in a million bucks towards Benito's salary, the trade still looks fine. As of now, Alberto Castillo is probably the favorite to be the backup catcher, but I'd like to see Paul Phillips get an opportunity with Castillo being the emergency catcher at Triple-A.

The Royals' addition of Marrero isn't necessarily a "good" move in the sense that it'll help them win any more games, but I can definitely see the logic behind it. For a short period of time, I was extremely concerned that Allard had given up on trying to acquire Austin Kearns, Kevin Mench, Jason Michaels, or somebody else, and that Marrero was going to end the search for 2005's everyday left fielder. That isn't the case, although Eli's presence will probably make the Reds think twice about being so resistant in trade talks for Kearns.

There's some question as to what role Marrero will fill for the Royals, because the outfield competition is already crowded, and Chris Clapinski is expected to be the team's utility infielder. The Royals say he was acquired because he mashes left-handed pitching (.314/.384/.502 from 2002-2004) and plays good defense at each outfield position. Those traits will make him the perfect platoon partner for Terrence Long, who's a serious liability against southpaws.

Looking deeper into Marrero's stats reveals another interesting line, and that's his hitting splits with nobody on base, runners on base, and runners in scoring position. It's been suggested (and generally accepted by the sabermetric crowd) that hitters as a whole don't hit better with men on base than they do with the bases empty. While I agree with that theory, I think there's undeniable evidence that some individual hitters do turn it up a notch with ducks on the pond. Mike Sweeney's one of the most extreme cases of this I've ever seen, so I'll call it "Sweeney's Law" for lack of a better term. His three-year splits:


ABAVGOBPSLGOPS
Bases Empty703.260.323.444.767
Runners On571.368.458.6011.059
Scoring Position333.375.480.6581.138


The interesting thing is that not only does Sweeney's batting average and power increase as you go down that chart, but his plate discipline improves drastically as well. Marrero's three-year splits are a similar case:

ABAVGOBPSLGOPS
Bases Empty424.257.306.432.738
Runners On330.300.367.497.864
Scoring Position184.326.410.5981.008


There are a couple of possible reasons for this. Pitchers generally lose some command, velocity, and movement when they have to pitch out of the stretch, and probably throw more fastballs, too. That plays into the hands of Marrero, who's a dead-red fastball hitter. I don't think there are too many pitchers who can sneak one past him. I think Marrero was added not only to platoon with T-Long and catch the baseball at all three outfield positions, but also because he's shown a knack for getting base hits when there are runners to drive in.

The ransom for Elieser (and a significant amount of money towards his $3 million salary) was 23-year-old reliever Jorge Vasquez. He saw limited action for the Royals last year, pitching 3 1/3 innings and allowing four earned runs. He's shown outstanding peripheral statistics in the minors, so I think he'll have a career as a power set-up guy or closer. Even so, the Royals are unlikely to regret trading Vasquez, especially if Baird can flip Marrero for an even better prospect come July.
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