The San Francisco Giants May Be the Best Club for the Royals to Emulate to Sustain Success
This World Series may seem like a David and Goliath type story, with Kansas City clearly the little boy with a sling. But it wasn’t all that long ago that the same could have been said of the Giants. Going into the 2010 season, the Giants were hardly the favorites to win it all (granted, the ones that are usually favored don’t seem to ever win, let alone make it to the WS). But after taking the best of 5 series against the Braves in 4 (with the help of Brooks Conrad) and then taking down a heavily favored Phillies team in 6 games, the Giants found themselves on the biggest stage in baseball.
Fast forward four seasons later, and the Royals have streaked themselves into the same situation. They took down favored team after favored team to earn a World Series appearance that was 29 years in the making. And they did it by strongly outperforming their payroll, just like the Giants did in 2010.
When I claim that they outperformed their payroll, I’m basing this off of their team’s value calculated by WAR of all player’s that were on the big league roster against what they spent on payroll. For instance, Kansas City compiled 41.4 WAR this season; with 1 WAR currently being worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $5.5M, going by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus, this Royals team would be worth $227.7M. That’s a pretty high figure for a team that only spent $91.2M on its payroll this season. The differential between what the front office spent and what they were able to field was a figure of $136.5M. That’s a clear indicator that the Royals payroll has to go up if they’re hoping for sustained success, what with their cost controlled talent demanding bigger pay days in the very near future.
As I previously mentioned, the Giants were in a similar state as KC is now in terms of low payroll versus high value. While sporting a $97M payroll in ’10, they fielded a club worth $179M. That’s a differential of $82M, which is actually quite a bit lower than Kansas City’s 2014 ball club.
But that a team is able to break into the postseason for the first time after a rebuild sporting an incredibly talented team at a low cost is nothing new. Generally, that’s the formula that a lot of clubs attempt. You only need to look back to that very same 2010 season and look at the Texas Rangers, who despite only spending $58.5M(!) that year, they fielded a team worth $168.4M, good for a differential of $109.9M. Of course, having a roster consisting of players in their prime years before they hit free agency is generally what every GM not named Rubén Amaro Jr. tries to do. Ideally your differential is always going to be high; it means that you won more negations with player’s agents than you lost.
What the Rangers and Giants did after that season differed slightly philosophically, but both have continued to sustain success by increasing payroll. I don’t see the Royals taking the Rangers route after their AL Championship (and possible WS) winning season by becoming big players in the free agent market; KC will probably continue playing their “small market card” and look to be a lean and efficiently run club. I can, however, see them attempting to emulate what the Giants did they ended their World Series drought. Lock up the core that got them there and continue to use a deep farm system to acquire impact players at the Major League level.
Lock up the Core
The Giants front office has locked up just about every key player in their World Series run’s (and in some cases, to a fault), which has allowed them to continuously make runs into the postseason. Locking up Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Madison Bumgarner, and to a much lesser extent, Angel Pagan, has set them up at many key positions in the future. Of course, Kansas City has already done much of the same with some of their key cogs by guaranteeing Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, and Alcides Escobar all play together on modest salaries through at least 2016. They’ll need to evaluate where Hosmer, Cain, Ventura, and others fit in soon if they hope to keep a relatively cheap core together. Generally speaking though, this has been something that GM Dayton Moore has excelled at since his time in Kansas City, and is probably already better at than Sabean.
Acquire High Impact Players on the Trade Front
|Hunter Pence, the Giant's Big '12 Trade Acquisition|
The Giants have acquired a big piece at the deadline every year except ’13 since their first World Series title in the Bay. In ’11 it was Carlos Beltran, who was on fire in the 44 games that he played with SF. In 2012, Sabean brought over Hunter Pence, and despite his initial struggles, still promised another year of play before hitting free agency. This year, Sabean traded for Jake Peavy, and since coming over to the Bay Peavy has excelled. It’s a tactic that Dayton Moore has already proved the Royals can pull off when they acquired James Shields and Wade Davis leading up to the 2013 season. For a team that will probably continue to be reluctant to spend big free agent money, this could figure to be the best way to get high impact players for a team with such a deep farm system.
Make Good Mid-Tier Free Agent Signings
The Giants signed Aubrey Huff to a $3M deal going into the 2010 season and it paid off wonderfully. Their signing of Tim Hudson to a 2 yrs/$23M deal has so far looked to be pretty good as well. Those are the types of signings that Dayton Moore will need to look for if he hopes to keep his team continuously in contention. The 4 yrs/$32M deal that he signed Jason Vargas to indicates at least a willingness to go after the players that the Royals feel are a good fit, and that’s a trend that needs to continue with short term veteran players.
The biggest knock against Brian Sabean for me is that he succumbs to sentimentality a lot. You need look no further than the Marco Scutaro extension at 3 yrs/$20M (his age 37-39 seasons) or the two year deal he inked Tim Lincecum to for $35M. And that was after two abysmal seasons. If the Royals win the World Series (heck, even if they don’t), Moore will need to be careful not to give too large of paydays to the guys that got them there. Specifically the ones with their best days behind them, as is probably the case with James Shields. The annual salary for Shields is money that the Royals could probably use on 2-3 different solid pieces.
The Royals seem to be on the precipice of a large window of contention. If they want to increase payroll, of course.
Photo's Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons: Rob Shenk (Pence)