First Omar Daal and now Albie Lopez, former 19-game losers are very much in demand in the free agent market. Lopez signed a one-year, $1.5 M contract with the Royals. Meanwhile, future Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux and All-Star Jose Hernandez couldn't get anyone to return their phone calls.
ESPN quote the inimitable Allard Baird thusly on the subject:
Royals general manager Allard Baird said Lopez would be given an opportunity to start, but ''what we like about him is his ability to bridge the gap between the young starters and the back of the bullpen.''
First, it should be pointed out that the Royals' rotation currently has one man with more than one year of major league experience, one man with more than three wins in the majors in 2002, and one man with more than six wins over his career-all Darrell May, not bad for a former Cub outfielder. That said, Albie Lopez is probably the last man you would want to toss into the mix.
Don't get me wrong Lopez pitched well in the excellent Braves' bullpen last year (2.95 in 26 games and Baseball Prospectus gave him 5.4 Adjusted Runs Prevented).
But he began the season as a starter, only switching to the bullpen as the last refuge of a scoundrel or a failed starter. As a starter Lopez is 0-6 in his last 10 starts going back to August 22, 2001. In 2002 he was 0-4 with a 7.11 ERA and a .372 opponents' batting average. Luckily for the Braves youngsters Damian Moss and Jason Marquis were fully integrated into the rotation by mid-season obviating the need for Lopez as a starter. In all fairness though, over the last three years his ERA as a starter is a not horrible 4.54 (plus an 18-32 record with two playoff teams and the D-Rays).
That's the basic problem with Lopez, he's not horrible, just pretty much mediocre overall. It's his mercurial nature that's the most dangerous aspect of Lopez-he seems like a decent pitcher one year and then a stiff the next. He has had some horrific, slow-down-and-let's-rubber-neck seasons over his career. 1996 and '97 are prime examples. He went from a great young Indian prospect to a 6.00+ ERA'ed staff killer. Then in 1998, he moved on to Tampa and had a stellar year: 2.60 ERA that was 88% better than the adjusted average according to Baseball-Reference.com and a 7-4 record. He was a long reliever that entire season. When he slipped somewhat in 1999, the D-Rays tried him in the rotation for a good part of 2000 and he was actually pretty good (11-13 with a 4.13 ERA, 19% better than average). But has been by and large subpar since.
He also gives up a ton of hits and walks and has a not so special strikeout-to-walk ratio even though he sports a decent strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate. Take a look at some of his numbers over the years:
He's all over the place from year to year. Is that the kind of pitcher that the Royals want to unleash on their unsuspecting young pitching staff? Aren't they paying him $1.5 due in part to his years of experience? What experience, as a drag on a staff? You know that at least one of their young pitchers will fail and they will turn to Lopez. "He's pitching well in long relief. Let's give him a start or two," they'll say. And before they know it he'll be a 2-7 sinkhole in their rotation. When they return him to the bullpen, he'll ruin the confidence of all of the remaining young starters by becoming a sinkhole in the middle innings.
And then they'll turn him loose after the season and talk about fiscal responsibility. Well, what do I expect? These are the Royals after all. I'm just surprised they were able to pry $1.5 M out of their coffers given that every move this offseason seems hell-bent on divesting them of payroll. This is of course to increase the amount of luxury tax money and welfare checks that the Royals' ownership will use to line their well-lined pockets next winter.