Once in a while a team signs a star player to a blockbuster deal and that signing gets fans all worked up. More often a team signs a guy that hasn’t exactly set the world on fire lately and it’s a bit like finding out your next-door neighbor bought a used van — it’s mildly interesting at best.
But sometimes those used van purchases turn out to be huge; if the zombie apocalypse comes to fruition, you might be piling into that van as you and your neighbor make your escape. (And I’ve now officially stretched that metaphor to the breaking point.)
So if your team signs a deal with someone and you think, “Why do we want that guy?” look a little deeper and you might find a very good reason.
Last off-season the Royals signed four pitchers and those signings did not get a lot of attention when they happened. Those four pitchers were insurance policies in case something happened to the guys further up the depth chart. But something did happen to guys further up the depth chart and those four pitchers turned up big in 2015.
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Chris Young won 11 games, Kris Medlen won six, Joe Blanton won two and Ryan Madson won one.
If Dayton Moore had signed a pitcher who won 20 games people would take more notice. But Dayton Moore signed four pitchers who combined to win 20 games and that got a little less attention. Those signings were to stockpile arms in case something went wrong and when it did the Royals had depth.
Another kind of signing is a shot across the bow.
Say you’ve got a player with all the talent in the world, but at times seems to be unmotivated. He misses workouts and shows up at spring training out of shape.
According to Royals baseball guru Rusty Kuntz, if a big-league player looks at the minor leagues and doesn’t see competition for his position he might feel secure and remain unmotivated. This is why you sometimes see a veteran on the downside of his career signed to a minor-league contract; he’s there to remind the big-league player that if he plays poorly enough, the team has options.
A nothing signing of a guy who spends the season in Class AAA might result in an All-Star year by a motivated big-leaguer.
Another type of player is signed for what he’s going to do off the field.
In 2014, the Royals were making a run at the playoffs so they brought in Raul Ibañez. He was a “been-there-done-that” guy and the Royals wanted him in their clubhouse to talk to the younger players. Once Ibañez arrived you could see him doing his job in the dugout: he was constantly in another player’s ear talking about how to handle certain situations.
The Royals were not overly concerned with Ibañez’s numbers; they wanted to see what he could do for the numbers of his teammates, and his teammates made it to Game 7 of the World Series.
Another player might be signed because someone on the coaching staff thinks they know how to make that player better.
When Jeremy Guthrie was pitching for other teams, Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland thought if he could ever work with Guthrie, he might be able to help him.
Eiland thought Guthrie’s pitches were coming out flat and if Guthrie would add a small, inward turn to his delivery, it would delay his lower body’s motion going to the plate and that would allow Guthrie time to get his arm on top and reach the proper release position; that would give downward tilt to his pitches.
That adjustment helped Guthrie become a better pitcher.
So when the Royals sign a player and that player’s numbers are underwhelming, remember that players sometimes get signed for reasons that might not be so obvious.
That player might just own a van.