The other day, in a conversation about why the Pirates would have to overpay for certain types of free agents, Vlad wrote:
[Kansas City] has a comparable amount of trouble in attracting FAs, and generally has to overpay for even second-tier talent. Just look at the [Jose] Guillen signing – should we be making moves like that one?
This is a good question. Recently, a number of fans have argued that the Pirates ought to drop a bunch of money on free agents so that the Pirates can contend sooner. Whenever I hear this argument, I think of the Royals.
Leaving out minor-league contracts and situations where the Royals picked up a guy who'd been cut and paid him the minimum, here are Dayton Moore's veteran acquisitions since the 2006-2007 offseason. I'm defining "veteran" as anyone older than 26 or so. Let me know if I left anyone out, because this was not an easy list to make.
November 2006: Acquired Jason LaRue and about $2 million of his contract from Cincinnati for $1. (Yes, seriously.)
December 2006: Signed John Bale to a two-year, $4 million deal.
December 2006: Signed Octavio Dotel to a two-year, $10 million deal.
December 2006: Traded Andrew Sisco to the White Sox for Ross Gload, who the Royals later re-signed to a two-year, $3.2 million deal.
December 2006: Signed David RIske to a one-year, $2.25 million deal.
December 2006: Signed Gil Meche to a five-year, $55 million deal.
November 2007: Signed Yasuhiko Yabuta to a two-year, $6 million deal.
December 2007: Signed Jose Guillen to a three-year, $36 million deal.
December 2007: Signed Ron Mahay to a two-year, $8 million deal.
December 2007: SIgned Miguel Olivo to a one-year, $2.05 million deal with a $2.7 million option for 2009, which was later exercised.
January 2008: Signed Brett Tomko to a one year, $3 million deal.
October 2008: Traded Leo Nunez to the Marlins for Mike Jacobs. Jacobs is eligible for arbitration.
November 2008: Traded Ramon Ramirez to the Red Sox for Coco Crisp. Crisp has one year and $5.75 million remaining on his contract, plus an $8 million option or $500,000 buyout for 2010.
December 2008: Signed Kyle Farnsworth to a two-year, $9.25 million contract.
December 2008: Signed Doug Waechter to a one-year, $640,000 deal.
December 2008: SIgned Horacio Ramirez to a one-year, $1.9 million option.
January 2009: Signed Willie Bloomquist to a two-year, $3.1 million deal.
My point is not that all these signings were unnecessary or bad. Meche in particular was a great signing; Riske was good. Bale and Mahay have been harmless. Dotel actually brought back Kyle Davies, who stands some theoretical chance of being useful. (I say "actually" because these sorts of free-agent-for-prospect trades are very rare.) It's also true that acquiring this many major league veterans made more sense for the Royals than it would for the Pirates, since Moore inherited a number of gaping holes and Neal Huntington didn't.
Speaking more broadly, though: is this what we want our team to look like? The Royals have acquired so many veterans it's exhausting to catalog them all. The reason they've had to acquire so many is that most of them have been terrible. LaRue? A bad joke. Gload? Olivo? Not good. Yabuta? A non-factor. Guillen? Horrible. Tomko? Yuck. And just wait until Royals fans get another look at Horacio Ramirez and a first look at Jacobs and Bloomquist.
As long as these guys aren't blocking anyone, I suppose that, on some level, you have to give them credit for trying, at least. (In the case of someone like Jacobs, who is blocking better players, well, forget it.)
However: I know fans generally aren't too sympathetic to arguments from the perspective of the team, and they shouldn't be, but look: in 2009, the Royals are going to pay north of $50 million for players on the list above. And what they'll probably get for their $50 million is 200 solid innings from Meche, maybe a few decent innings from Bale, Mahay and Farnsworth, some decent defense from Crisp, and tons and tons of replacement-level or sub-replacement-level performance. As a fan, you could say that the 500 godawful at-bats from Guillen are worth it because of how good Meche is, but you're not the one who has to spend the $50 million. If Huntington spent $50 million the way the Royals are about to spend $50 million this season, there would be serious questions about his judgment, probably many of them from the same fans who are now blasting him for not spending more.
Now, you might say that the Royals aren't a good example of what would happen if the Pirates dropped a bunch of money on free agents, because the Royals spent their money badly. To an extent, that's true, and the Royals really need to have their heads checked for the Ramirez, Bloomquist and Jacobs moves in particular.
But often, the Royals were just responding to the market. Even a mid-tier free agent like Jose Guillen will not come to Kansas City unless he is overpaid. The same goes for Meche, who hadn't done much of anything before signing with the Royals. A lot of the other guys the Royals signed just did what free agents signed to one-year and two-year deals tend to do, which is stink.
Personally, I'd rather wait until the Pirates develop the sort of core that would make Pittsburgh an attractive destination for a free agent. I'm not sure one Gil Meche is really worth the rest of the mess the Royals have made, and I can't blame the Pirates for failing to drop $50 million just for the equivalent of just one good player.