On Episode 4 of the Banished to the Bullpen podcast, host Ryan Sullivan asked if I thought the Royals would have been better off investing the money spent in free agency so far on re-signing James Shields, rather than the quartet of Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios, Edinson Volquez, and Kris Medlen. I answered that the offseason acquisitions made sense for two reasons but I was shooting from the hip. Let’s see if they hold up under a bit of scrutiny. (Ed. note: the Royals could conceivably still re-sign Shields, but it’s not very likely to happen

 

Diversified Portfolio

Before discussing the benefits of a signing four above-average players to one erstwhile star, let’s consider the structure of the two investment strategies. The tables below show the Steamer projection for each of the five players available on Fangraphs. Contract values come from Baseball Prospectus, via Cot’s Contracts. Based on reports of contract “offers” Shields has received and the prediction from MLB Trade Rumors, I’ll project a $92 million contract covering four years. I’m also going to assume that the contract is evenly structured.

 

IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WAR 2015 Salary $/WAR Total Contract
Shields 201 7.78 2.2 0.91 3 $23 $7.7 $92
Medlen 112 6.39 2.15 0.96 0.6 $2 $3.3 $8.5
Volquez 163 6.46 3.66 0.98 0.9 $7.5 $8.3 $20

 

PA HR SB wOBA WAR 2015 Salary $/WAR Total Contract
Rios 526 10 17 0.308 0.6 $11 $18.3 $11
Morales 533 17 1 0.328 0.7 $6.5 $9.3 $17

 

 

So how does the value of the signings stack up for 2015? Well, for all four new Royals, Steamer projects an accumulated 2.8 WAR, while Shields is projected for and even 3. Strike one against “The Process“, so to speak. They also spent more per projected win. Strike two. The four Royals will need to exceed their collective projection by more than 25% to even out the dollars spent per win (against this made up contract).

However, what the Royals did is managing risk. By spreading their resources across four free agents, they depend less on the health or production of a single player. Although they committed more money for 2015, they have also filled holes in the roster and by spending less money overall, allowed for increased payroll flexibility in future seasons. If the best prediction of future health is your injury track record, Shields should be just fine having logged more than 200 for the last eight consecutive seasons. I’m just not sure Moore would sleep well at night after betting on the arm of a 33 year-old veteran with more than 2,500 professional innings under his belt.

 

Timing

The typical pattern of the offseason likely played a role in Dayton Moore’s decision to act early. Shields was thought unlikely to come off the free agent board until both Jon Lester and Max Scherzer signed, and at the time there were few signs that the heterochromic hurler would be settling on a team any time soon. By the time the Royals inked Kris Medlen, 33 of the top 50 free agents were off the market. The Royals had two in Rios and Volquez. One way to limit your risk in the free agent market is to avoid being the last one standing when all the chairs are filled by committing dollars early. If they had waited, the players they signed may have still been available, but more than likely they would have gone the way of Colby Rasmus, Ichiro Suzuki, and Brandon Beachy (apparently).

 

Finals thoughts

As I said to Ryan, with a guarantee in place that he would remain healthy, I would take Shields over the four players the Royals brought in. He put up solid numbers on the field and by all accounts was a positive role model for the younger pitchers in the rotation. However, based on his heavy workload, I’m happy to see the Royals purchase the mutual fund.

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