The Royals signed four free agents. All four of them potentially have something to offer, and one of them is a virtual guarantee to contribute something.
The four? First baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, starting pitcher Scott Elarton, and catcher Paul Bako.Mark Grudzielanek is the best of the bunch. He’s a smooth-fielding second baseman who hits line drives, gets on base, runs the bases smart, and has good enough speed to lead the team in stolen bases. Grudzielanek could step right in to the #2 spot. In short, he does three things the Royals didn’t do last year. And he just so happens to play the position where the Royals are the weakest.
Doug Mientkiewicz is a puzzler. The Royals already have way too many 1B/DH types, and he’s pretty much the opposite. Mike Sweeney and Matt Stairs have difficulty fielding the position. Mientkiewicz is arguably the smoothest fielding first baseman in the game, but he hits for low average and doesn’t have a lot of power. Although, come to think of it, by Royals standards, Mientkiewicz’s numbers at the plate look pretty good. The Royals didn’t know how to hit, run the bases, or field last year, so having someone who does one of the three very well is an improvement. Besides, if Mientkiewicz comes to bat in a crucial game situation, Stairs can always hit for him. And if Mientkiewicz doesn’t hit, he can come in for defense and save the game with his glove.
I think the Royals are paying way too much for Elarton, but at least the guy had a winning record and an ERA under 5 last season. The only Royals starter with a winning record last year was Ryan Jenson, who went 2-3 with a 7.11 ERA, and the only Royals starters with ERAs under 5 were D.J. Carrasco, who isn’t returning, and Mike Wood, who spent most of the year as a relief pitcher.
In Elarton and Mark Redmond, the Royals at least now have two pitchers who can keep the team in the game while throwing a lot of innings, so they won’t wear down the bullpen as badly as they did last year. If Greinke, Runelvys Hernandez, and Jeremy Affeldt all stay healthy and pitch the way they’re capable of pitching, the Royals will have a good rotation with these two additions. And all of them will be better than Jose Lima.
Paul Bako is a journeyman backup catcher. No reason to get excited there, except he used to be Greg Madux’s personal catcher when both played in Atlanta. As such, Bako will be able to teach the Royals’ young pitchers a few things. There are much worse questions to ask yourself in a game situation than "What would Greg Maddux do?" and Bako will know the answer. Bako may be able to help straighten Zack Greinke out.
But the best thing is that these signings may allow the Royals to sign a corner outfielder who can hit. Right now the Royals don’t have very many better options than George Brett (53 years old) or manager Buddy Bell (54). Maybe now they’ll be able to convince someone that they’re serious about getting out of last place. I think the Royals should have chased Nomar Garciaparra hard and told him he can play shortstop if he wants, but it’s probably too late for that. Jacque Jones and Rondell White are still available though.