Heading into the 2014 season, the Pirates had the number one farm system, according to Baseball America. In the last two years, they’ve seen one big prospect make a lasting jump to the majors, and that was Gregory Polanco. And so naturally, there will be people questioning how good the system really was. I’ve already seen some of that this off-season, and you probably have as well.
After the Royals won the World Series, I started thinking back to their top farm system in 2011. More specifically, I thought back to the comments about the Royals heading into the 2014 season. The Pirates were named the top farm system, and the common rebuttal was “Look how that worked for the Royals in 2011.”
Since that point, the Royals have made the World Series twice, and won once. There’s a lot to take away from their success the last two years, but it’s impossible to deny that their top system in 2011 led to these results. Perhaps the biggest lesson we can learn here is that a top farm system doesn’t yield immediate results in the majors, but is more of a long-term thing. To illustrate this, I broke down the 2015 Royals roster to see how they were built, and how many players from that top system in 2011 contributed to the results this year (and last year as well).
In the Majors With Kansas City in 2011
LF – Alex Gordon – Signed 4 year, $37.5 M extension in 2012, with an option for 2016.
RP – Luke Hochevar – Was a struggling starter in 2011, converted to a reliever in 2013, signed to a 2 year, $10 M deal with an option in 2014.
Analysis: The biggest impact here was Gordon, who broke out in 2011, and turned out to be a legit contributor after that, making the extension very valuable. He’s been worth 18.6 fWAR over the previous four years, meaning the Royals paid about $2 M per WAR on his extension.
Prospects in the System in 2011
C – Salvador Perez – 17th
1B – Eric Hosmer – 1st
3B – Mike Moustakas – 3rd
BN – Jarrod Dyson – 20th
BN – Christian Colon – 6th
BN – Paul Orlando – NR
SP – Yordano Ventura – 12th
SP – Danny Duffy – 7th
RP – Greg Holland – NR
RP – Kelvin Herrera – 30th
Analysis: The Royals got a lot of help from that number one ranked system. Moustakas (3.8 fWAR) and Hosmer (3.5 WAR) were their second and third best position players. Dyson (1.8), Perez (1.6), and Orlando (1.0) also finished in the top 10 for position players. The bigger impact was on the pitching side. Ventura (2.7 WAR) was their best starter over the last two seasons. Duffy (1.2) played a big role as a starter for most of 2015, and was the fourth most valuable pitcher. Holland and Herrera helped make up one of the most dominant bullpens in the majors.
SS – Alcides Escobar – And…
CF – Lorenzo Cain – …were acquired for Zack Greinke in the 2010-11 off-season, along with Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. This trade happened after BA’s top 30 came out, but before their top 100 and final farm system rankings were published. Odorizzi ended up being one of the nine players KC had in the top 100 that year. Jeffress was the third best prospect in Milwaukee’s system, while Cain and Escobar had exceeded prospect status. So only the pitchers contributed to the farm system rankings.
RP – Wade Davis – Acquired with James Shields for Wil Myers (2nd ranked prospect in 2011), Mike Montgomery (5th ranked prospect in 2011), Patrick Leonard (5th round in 2011), and Odorizzi. The trade was originally referred to as the Shields/Myers trade, but Davis has provided lasting value as one of the best relievers in baseball (and under team control through 2017).
Analysis: I’m going to break up the trade section into two parts here, because these first two deals were huge. The Royals got massive long-term value in the Greinke trade. Cain was their best player, at 6.6 WAR, and Escobar was worth 1.5 WAR this year. Even with Greinke’s Cy Young-contending season this year, I think you’d take Cain and Escobar. They also got Odorizzi, who helped the Wade Davis trade.
The Shields/Davis trade doesn’t have the same long-term value, although it definitely helped them contend the last two years, and Davis was huge in the playoffs (along with all season, for that matter). Myers hasn’t yet broken out the way everyone thought he would, and was later flipped by Tampa Bay in a three team trade that got them Steven Souza (1.5 WAR in 2015). So the Royals aren’t really missing Myers. As for the other players, Odorizzi has been one of the best starters for the Rays the last two years, worth 2.9 WAR in 2015. That’s more value than Davis, and while I don’t think the Royals would complain, you might wonder if they’d rather have Odorizzi over Davis for the long-term. Combined, this deal doesn’t look as lopsided as it did two years ago, although that’s largely because Myers hasn’t broken out yet, and the Royals went to the World Series two straight seasons and won it all this year. The last part largely changes the view of any move.
BN – Drew Butera – Acquired in May 2015 for Ryan Jackson, who was a waiver claim in 2014.
BN – Ben Zobrist – Acquired at the 2015 deadline for Sean Manaea (34th overall pick in 2013) and Aaron Brooks (9th round in 2011, made it to the majors in 2014-15 as a RP).
SP – Johnny Cueto – Acquired at the 2015 deadline for Brandon Finnegan (17th overall pick in 2014), John Lamb (4th ranked prospect in 2011), and Cody Reed (2nd round pick in 2013).
Analysis: The Royals spent at the deadline, getting Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto for a pair of first round picks and several other talented players. Cueto didn’t play a huge role down the stretch, and had a few rough playoff outings. However, he came up big when it counted, with 8 IP, 2 ER in game five against Houston, and one run in nine innings in game two of the World Series. Zobrist had better results during the season, and his .880 OPS in the playoffs was huge.
In Cueto’s case, the Royals largely paid for those two starts, and possibly wouldn’t have moved on without the game five start against the Astros. This isn’t something that you can always bank on (Example: David Price didn’t yield the same results for Toronto), but when it does work out, it makes you forget about the players you gave up. It’s also a big risk, as we saw again with Toronto, where Alex Anthopolous was reportedly criticized by Mark Shapiro after the season for his short-term moves at the deadline that drained the farm system.
Free Agent Signings
SP – Jeremy Guthrie – 2013 (3 years, $25 M + Option)
2B – Omar Infante – 2014 (4 years, $30.25 M + Option)
RF – Alex Rios – 2015 (1 year, $11 M + Option)
DH – Kendrys Morales – 2015 (2 years, $17 M + Option)
SP – Edinson Volquez – 2015 (2 years, $20 M + Option)
SP – Chris Young – 2015 (1 year, $675,000 + up to 4.325 M in performance bonuses)
RP – Ryan Madson – 2015 (1 year, minor league deal, $850,000 in the majors with up to $150,000 in performance bonuses)
RP – Fraklin Morales – 2015 (1 year, minor league deal, $1.85 M in majors with up to $850,000 in performance bonuses)
RP – Kris Medlen – 2015 (2 years, $8.5 M + Option and up to $4 M in performance bonuses in 2015)
Analysis: The pre-2015 signings didn’t have the best value, although that’s not surprising since non-contending teams don’t often have the best access to free agents. The Royals didn’t make any big splash in 2015, and instead went for a lot of smaller value moves. The additions of Rios, Kendrys Morales, and Volquez looked like the Royals were potentially overpaying in each case before the season. That was true with Rios, who was worth 0.2 WAR. However, Morales was a huge value, with a 2.1 WAR, and Volquez showed that his turnaround in 2014 wasn’t a fluke, posting a 2.6 WAR. So while the Royals committed $37 M for those two players, they got 4.7 WAR in one season, or about $27 M worth at $6 M per WAR. And they’ve got two more years of control of each player. Rios didn’t work, but Morales and Volquez worked out in a big way.
The smaller value moves yielded some nice results on the pitching side. Young and Madson were each worth 0.9 WAR. Medlen was worth 0.5 WAR and Morales was worth 0.4 WAR. I don’t know how much they paid in all of the performance bonuses, but even at the max salaries, getting 2.7 WAR from these four players for a maximum of $14.7 M in 2015 (not counting the 6.5 M owed to Medlen after the 2015 season) is a good deal. Medlen is the worst value of this group, but the overall approach worked out.
Building a World Series Team
As I mentioned above, winning a World Series can change your perspective on a lot of moves. The Royals didn’t do everything perfect. Some of their moves led to results, but at a potential high cost in the long-term. Those moves don’t always work out, and while they helped lead to a World Series for the Royals, similar moves have also led to teams heading towards a rebuild and GMs getting fired or forced out shortly after the failed moves.
The Royals also benefitted from a lot of value moves following their first World Series trip. They didn’t make a big splash last off-season, but instead went after a few mid-level free agents, and several value guys.
The main focus here, though, is that 2011 farm system. It didn’t lead to success in 2011 or 2012. It led to 86 wins and no playoffs in 2013, and then played a big role in the last two seasons. That big role wasn’t just from the guys who stuck around, but also from the guys who were traded away to get immediate help. The Royals aren’t finished getting help from that 2011 system either, and that system provided a base that allowed them to trade away future prospects like Finnegan and Manaea.
I don’t want to say that this means the Pirates (BA’s number one system in 2014) will see their system lead to a World Series in 2018. It doesn’t work that way. But the Pirates are almost in a similar situation as the Royals. They had a top farm system heading into 2014, and two seasons later we’re already hearing about how the farm system has disappointed, mostly because they didn’t have anyone come up in 2015. And it doesn’t work that way either.
Next year the Pirates will see a huge boost from their system, with five of their top ten prospects projected to reach the majors. They’ll probably also see some guys traded away for immediate help, which is something they’ve done in each of the last three seasons. They’ll also see improvements from young players who didn’t break out right away like Gregory Polanco, just like the Royals did with Moustakas and Hosmer.
As I’ve written already this off-season, they’ve got a strong system that will keep their window of contention open for a long time. That top system in 2014 didn’t just disappear, and we’ve yet to scratch the surface of the full impact of that group. The 2016 season will see the biggest MLB invasion from that 2014 group, but even then it will just be in the beginning stages. If there’s one thing we can learn from the Royals, it’s that having a top farm system can lead to long-term results, and shouldn’t be dismissed after a lack of huge results from the system in the short-term.
**An editor’s note: I’ve mentioned many times that I suffer from chronic migraines/tension headaches, typically getting about four per week. I’ve been down since Thursday night with a really bad one, which led to a shortage of content the last five days. I woke up at 3:30 this morning, and the pain in my neck and my headache were finally gone. Hopefully they don’t return, and it figures that this happened right after I booked a doctor’s appointment (which has never led to answers my entire life). I probably don’t need to explain all of this to you, but I felt like you should know the reason why there has been a lack of content lately (although there has still been content, thanks to John Dreker). I’m just glad this is hopefully gone before my AFL trip later this week.
**2015-2016 Off Season Primer. All of the important dates to know for this off-season, along with some key Pirates for each date.
**Reese McGuire and Austin Meadows Selected For AFL Fall-Stars Game. Not a big surprise here, as they’re the best prospects representing the Pirates this year, and two of the best prospects in baseball.
**AFL: Tyler Eppler and Cody Dickson See Action in Glendale Loss. Today’s AFL action, broken down by John Dreker.
**Winter Leagues: Heredia Picks Up First Save, Ramirez Dropped From Roster. John’s breakdown of the winter league results over the weekend.
**Andrew McCutchen Wins Roberto Clemente Award. From the weekend, it’s great to see McCutchen win this award, for obvious Pirates-related reasons.
**2015 Right Field Recap: Is Gregory Polanco Primed For a Breakout in 2016? My breakdown of right field in 2015. My early preview of the 2016 minor league outfields was delayed, and will come out later today.