Two overriding factors surfaced Friday in explaining the Royals’ decision to send third baseman/outfielder Mark Teahen to division-rival Chicago with cash for second baseman Chris Getz and third baseman/outfielder Josh Fields.
Increasing inventory while gaining financial flexibility.
“Our motivation behind this deal -- and any deal that we make this winter,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore acknowledged, “is to acquire as many zero-to-three service-time players as we can. That was certainly what we did here.”
Players with less than three years of service time, with a handful of exceptions, are not eligible for arbitration. That generally limits their salary, again with a few exceptions, to less than $500,000.
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And money matters for the Royals -- despite plans to maintain a payroll that set a club record last season in surpassing $70 million.
“We’re in a time in baseball where the economics are very important,” Moore admitted. “I would not discount that as a part of the equation.”
Even with the Royals sending about $1 million to the White Sox to offset the anticipated difference in salaries, they still figure to net some $3 million.
Industry estimates suggest Teahen’s salary should rise from $3.575 million to roughly $5 million through arbitration after batting .271 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs in 144 games.
Fields and Getz, each 26, should each make less than $500,000. Getz could make a lot less if he fails to crack the big-league roster; he has options remaining and can be sent to the minors. Fields is out of options.
That points to the deal’s other interesting aspect from the Royals’ perspective: Neither Fields nor Getz project as starting players as the club’s roster is currently constituted.
Getz is blocked at second base by switch-hitter Alberto Callaspo, who emerged last season as one of the club’s top offensive performers in batting .300 with 11 homers and 73 RBIs in 155 games.
Contrast that with Getz, who batted .261 with two homers and 31 RBIs in 107 games before a sports hernia limited his time over the final two months. Getz would offer a major upgrade in speed, after stealing 25 bases in 27 attempts, and a minor upgrade in defense.
“Hopefully, it works itself out,” he said. “I’ve got some versatility, and I know he’s got some versatility. If it’s a competition, I’ll go out there and do what I can do.”
Fields hit 23 homers as a rookie in 2007 and is delighted to escape Chicago after seeing his playing time limited the last two seasons by veteran Joe Crede and rookie Gordon Beckham.
“I’m looking at it as a fresh start,” said Fields, who batted .222 last season with seven homers and 30 RBIs in 79 games. “I’ve played against the Royals for a while. So they know what I can and can’t do.
“As far as where I’m going to (play), that hasn’t been discussed. It’s a little early in the day for stuff like that.”
That might be a diplomatic way for Fields to wonder whether he is coming to a better situation. He is a third baseman who can also play first base and left field, but the Royals seem set at those three positions with Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and David DeJesus.
“Right now, where I am in my career,” Fields said, “I’m willing to learn whatever position they ask me to play. I don’t know if I have a favorite or not. I’m just excited for a new opportunity.”
Those opportunities could surface in the three-plus months before the Royals convene for spring training in Surprise, Ariz. Moore indicated Friday’s deal is only the start to what he anticipates as a busy winter after last season’s disappointing slip to 65-97.
“The bottom line,” he said, “is it hasn’t worked here. It hasn’t worked. We have to do what we have to do to shake up our team and generate as much competition as we can. We have to put the pressure on (players) to go out and perform.”
Moore said Friday’s deal puts the club in position to be “more creative” as the off-season unfolds. It certainly creates the depth to explore trades for Callaspo and DeJesus, whose salary jumps next season to $4.7 million.
“It does not limit our team or hinder our team in any way,” Moore said, “to have as many quality players as we possibly can. It gives us options to work our roster in a way to make it stronger.”
Teahen, 28, expressed mixed emotions at leaving the Royals after arriving from Oakland in the 2004 blockbuster three-team trade that sent outfielder Carlos Beltran to Houston.
“This is one of those things that, as a player, you want to be really excited about,” Teahen said. “And in a lot of ways, I am. But at the same time, there’s the emotion of leaving a place that’s become my second home.”
Teahen has one advantage over Fields and Getz: He already knows where he fits with his new club. The White Sox quickly announced plans to return him to third base, a position he surrendered with the Royals to accommodate Gordon’s arrival in 2007.
The increased chance of playing for a winner also brightened Teahen’s outlook. The White Sox won the World Series in 2005 and returned to postseason in 2008 as the American League Central Division champions.
“As a player,” he said, “that’s why you play the game. You want to be in those big games. You want to be playing for a championship. But it’s tough because I was (in Kansas City) for some really down years, and I wanted to be there when it turned around.”
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