Destination Unknown: Where Will the Royals Free Agents Land?

kc11

Here we are halfway through January and baseball’s “Hot Stove” is more like a frigid freezer. There has been some speculation as to why the free agent market is as dead as a door nail; Jeff Passan broke down baseball’s economic system while Max Rieper did a great job looking into baseball’s middle class. No matter how you view this situation, the bottom line is there are a number of players ripe for the picking on the market right now and that includes the “Big 4” of the Kansas City Royals. Still out there are Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas, all still unemployed as of this writing. There is no way these four don’t end up on some needy team soon, but who will they finally sign with? I thought it would be fun today to look at each player and throw out some guesses as to where they end up. Do I have any inside information? Nope. Am I just going to guess? Kind of. Should you take this seriously? Since I’m not their agent, probably not. Chalk this up as just a fun exercise to pass what has been about the slowest winter since the mid-80’s, when that dreaded “C” word was going around (Yes, collusion. Not the other “C” word…).

kc12
Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Moustakas

It does appear as the market has almost flat-lined for Moose. Most speculated that the Angels would be the most obvious pick for Moustakas, since he is from California and they were in need of a third baseman. Instead, they signed Zack Cozart. Maybe the Giants? Nope, as they plucked Evan Longoria from the Rays. Whether it is the draft pick a team would have to give up to sign him, concerns about his injury history or just trying to stay under the luxury tax threshold (I’m looking at you, Yankees), it appears every team has had more worries than they would like when it comes to signing Moustakas. Even earlier this week, we are still just hearing a sprinkle of interest when it comes to team’s looking for a slugging third baseman. Baltimore has been mentioned, but they have Manny Machado at the hot corner and Tim Beckham proved he could start at shortstop for the O’s, so it’s not like they have to make a move and force Machado back to shortstop. Milwaukee has been mentioned but they still have Travis Shaw, who one would think would be a slightly younger, cheaper option for the Brewers. I still contend that Moose would be the guy that Kansas City should look into, but it appears that is purely a long shot.  It will be interesting to see where he finally ends up, but I definitely think his value has shrunk and he is more likely to get a two-year deal out of a team than four years and up. A one-year deal is possible, but that would force him back onto the market next winter, with competition from fellow third baseman Machado and Josh Donaldson. To be frank, things aren’t looking good on the long-term front for Mike Moustakas.

Likely Destination: St. Louis Cardinals

Tampa Bay Rays v Kansas City Royals

Alcides Escobar

If the Moustakas market feels cold, then Escobar’s is Antarctica. To say the rumors of interested teams for Esky is limited would be an understatement. There’s the Padres, who showed interest in him before acquiring Freddy Galvis to play shortstop, and then there are…ummm…there is also the…uhhh…no one. Nope, I haven’t seen any other team linked to Escobar this winter, outside of a few writers suggesting locations that might need him. The honest truth is that Escobar has been a weak hitter these last few years who has gotten by on his defense…which has begun to regress. So it shouldn’t be a shock to say that the market for a light hitting shortstop, entering a period where his defense and speed will start to wane as well, is sparse. There aren’t many options for Alcides, so at this point he might have to just take what he can get, even if it is a role as a backup mentor on a rebuilding team.

Likely Destination: Kansas City Royals

Arizona Diamondbacks Kansas City Royals

Lorenzo Cain

This might be the most curious of available Royals still out there, since Cain actually has a lot of value and isn’t represented by Scott Boras. We’ve all heard the teams that have shown interest in LoCain: Giants, Rangers, Brewers, Dodgers and Blue Jays just to name the most interested. More than likely, the main reason Cain is even still on the market is his age and injury history, combined with a desire for a long-term deal. The long-term thing always appeared to be a hang-up for the Royals and probably went a long way to them not focusing their attention on him. There have been a number of articles written recently discussing Cain’s value and why team’s should be jumping over each other to sign him. I have to believe the answer lies somewhere in-between, as this quote from the Passan piece I mentioned earlier:

One assistant GM interested in center fielder Lorenzo Cain thought about the possibility of offering him a multiyear deal. “I’d rather just give him one year at $24 million,” he said, and maybe he didn’t realize that the one-year deal was a hallmark of collusion, and maybe he did.

It appears that teams would be more interested in someone like Cain and even pay him more on a shorter deal than lock him up on a longer deal. I know as a fan I have had my concerns about Cain’s health and more importantly, the health of his legs. If as a fan I am having that concern, you could see why major league team’s appear to be weary as well when it comes to the long-term health of an outfielder who will be entering his age 32 season in 2018.

Likely Destination: Milwaukee Brewers

kc15
Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Hosmer

…and then there is Eric Hosmer. There has been a ton of speculation of just who will lock-up Hosmer, but the honest truth is there appears to be only two teams really committed to the idea of making him a long time fixture in their organization: the Royals and the Padres. It does appear both teams are willing to go six to seven years on a deal but the money looks to be the major hang-up in getting the pen to paper. A few other teams appear at least in the mix (the Cardinals and Red Sox keep getting brought up), even if it is just dipping their toes into the proverbial water. Teams have concerns about Hosmer, with a lot of it being directed at his ground ball rate (55.6% in 2017) and whether or not he would adjust his hitting style to allow the ball to be put in the air more often. Any deal over five years takes with it a certain amount of risk and when you add in the ground balls, the defensive metrics and the inconsistency he has had over the years, you can see why more teams aren’t flocking to bring him into their fold. Hosmer very well could be the first major Royals free agent to sign, but he could also be the final domino to fall. With Hos, it will all come down to if an offer is on the table that his agent (Boras) feels comfortable with.

Likely Destination: Kansas City Royals

kc16
Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

If this winter has proven anything, it’s that teams have become more methodical in how they spend their money and the effects are being felt by this crop of long-time Royals. Do I feel comfortable with my guesses? Not really. This market has been the hardest to read and it might just come down to the best offer on the table whenever pitchers and catchers report next month. The best scenario for the Royals is still for their stars to sign elsewhere, accumulate the extra draft picks and let the team start rebuilding. But the Royals front office sometimes zags when we think they will zig, so I guess that means the possibility is still out there for all four to return to Kansas City. I would say crazier things have happened, but I don’t know if anything is crazier than the lack of action we have seen this winter.

 

Advertisements

The State of the Royals Bullpen

kc11
Credit: Getty Images

We were spoiled. Wade Davis. Greg Holland. HDH. 

Throughout 2014 and 2015, the Royals bullpen was out of this world. Looking back, it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that Kansas City was able to dominate the way they did and shut down opposing teams in the postseason. The honest truth is that the Royals pen of that era was a ‘once in a lifetime’ group that we might never see again. Sure, it feels like every team in baseball is trying to copy the Royals’ blueprint (Hello, Rockies!) but who knows if we see that level of domination in both the regular season AND the postseason again. 

But what that group taught us is that success can be fleeting. The last two years, the Royals bullpen has been a shell of those playoff teams when the honesty of the situation is that the Royals had slid back into the norm. Many fans expected dominance all the time, not realizing how irregular the numbers were that those bullpens were putting up.  The truth? The Royals bullpen the last two years has been a very average group, or in other words…normal.

kc12
Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The numbers in 2017 speak of just how average they were: 3.9 fWAR, 4.24 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 20.4% strike out rate, 10.0% walk rate. These numbers placed the Royals pen in either the middle of the pack or closer to the bottom of the American League. While the pen did post a 4.20 WPA last year (good enough for 5th best in the AL), they also put up a 1.64 RE24, putting them down to 10th in the league. In other words, while this group had some positives, they had just as many (if not more) negatives to cancel out the good they were doing.

So what does the bullpen have moving forward? To be honest, the pen is in a bit of disarray. Scott Alexander and Joakim Soria have been traded. Kelvin Herrera has been mentioned as a trade possibility and logic will tell you that the Royals should look further into dealing him. He is coming into the last year of his contract and will be making a substantial amount of money for a reliever on a rebuilding team.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Kansas City Royals
Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Herrera is the interesting case, as he is coming off of a very roller coaster season. Herrera saw his strike out rate decline (30.4% to 21.6%), his walk rate shoot up (4.2% to 7.7%), and his home run to fly ball rate took a step up as well (10.0% to 14.5%). Many expected his transition to the closers role to be an easy move, while instead it turned into a nightmare and he had been displaced by the end of the season. 

So did anything go right for Herrera? Not really. His numbers almost across the board went in the opposite direction and the only (somewhat) positive to find was an increase in his velocity. Almost all across the board was an increase: his sinker, slider, change-up,  and curve all saw an uptick…except for his cutter, which took a dive from averaging 96 MPH to 90.4 MPH.

The argument could be made that this could have very well been his downfall, as Herrera was using the cutter at a greater rate last year, from 0.1% to 8.1%. He was also using his fastball at a higher rate (56.4% to 66.9%) and while it is a plus pitch, it has always been his ability to mix in his off-speed stuff and breaking balls that pushed his success. Those off-speed pitches were used less in 2017, and a re-focus on their usage could bring success to Herrera in the upcoming year.

All that being said, it feels like the time to deal him. Herrera could see a pay increase from arbitration and with the Royals looking to rebuild, there is not much need to keep him around. He will be going into his age 28 season and it would make more sense to deal him now and continue rebuilding the pen.

kc14
Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

So how does the rest of the pen shake out? Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter (two of the pitchers acquired from San Diego over the summer) will be back for their first full season in Kansas City and one would have to think their numbers would improve upon their short stint in KC so far. Maurer is an interesting option, as his plus fastball can be a difference maker. A number of scouts have suggested that Maurer would be better suited in the set-up role, (rather than as the closer he was in San Diego) and if he can command his control, we could see improvement from him in 2018. 

There are a number of other arms that could be interesting options for the pen this year. Kevin McCarthy had a solid rookie season and Andres Machado could be an interesting arm if he isn’t in the minors as a starter. Brad Keller and Burch Smith were acquired in trades after being picked in the Rule 5 draft and could add some depth to the back-end of the pen. Wily Peralta was signed earlier this offseason and while he has struggled the last couple seasons, he still has an electric fastball and could be a pet project for new pitching coach Cal Eldred. Scott Barlow is another interesting option that was signed by Kansas City this winter and could be a nice fit for the Royals in middle relief :

“Today, Barlow’s heater sits in the low 90s, but his out-pitch is a plus-slider which normally comes in between 78 and 82 MPH. He also throws a curve in the low 70s and changeup in the low 80s to compliment his off-speed arsenal.”

Barlow is also on the 40-man roster, so he should be given a bigger opportunity to secure a main roster spot this spring.

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Oakland Athletics

A number of minor leaguers could also see action this year, names like Tim Hill, Eric Stout and yes, Kyle Zimmer. Zimmer could be an intriguing option out of the pen if (and stop me if you’ve heard this one) he can stay healthy, while Josh Staumont could also make the case for a job if he can harness some of his control issues. The one name I expect to hear from in 2018 is Richard Lovelady, who compiled a great season in 2017. John Sickels of minorleagueball.com had this to say about Lovelady:

10th round pick in 2016 from Kennesaw State; 1.62 ERA with 77/17 K/BB in 67 innings between High-A and Double-A; fastball up to 96, good slider, usually throws strikes, command and stuff good enough to avoid LOOGY work, might get to close games eventually if command holds; as usual, rating/grading relievers is problematic due to difficulties in valuation but he should be a good one. 

There are options in the minor league system and a number of arms could be given opportunities in the upcoming season. 

For a team that is not going to be a contender, I almost lean toward the Royals going with a bullpen by committee this season. This would allow them to see what they have as the season progresses and I’m a proponent of using your best pitchers in the best situations. The closer role in general feels outdated and it would be nice to see the Royals shuffle their pitchers around according to what is going on with the game. The reality is that Ned Yost appears to prefer having set roles for his relievers and outside of 2015 and the postseason, has used them in their roles. There was some shuffling late last year, but that felt more like a reaction to Herrera’s struggles and the injuries they had been dealt. So while it would be nice to see a more “hands on deck” approach, we shouldn’t count on seeing it in the near future.

kc16
Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The bullpen in its current state feels a bit weak but they still have time to work on that this offseason. There are a number of options on the free agent market this winter, but few that really pop out. Drew Hutchison interests me, as he could be a nice reclamation project and could see an uptick in velocity, as he would be shifting from being a starter to a reliever. Moore could easily sign a few guys like that to minor league deals, bring them into camp and see what they can do. The options are endless right now and it would be smart for the team to think outside the box. The focus was once on building a better bullpen to compensate for a weak rotation. It might be time to take that route once again.

Did They or Did They Not? The 7 Year, $147 Million Dollar Question

kc1

So unless you live under a rock (or have gone on a sabbatical from social media), you probably saw the report last week that Kansas City offered Eric Hosmer a seven-year, $147 million dollar contract:

But did they? Did the Royals really offer that deal?

So I figured we would sort this out real quick, for those that are confused. Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star is saying that was not the deal offered to Hosmer by Kansas City (which is not to say they haven’t offered a deal, just not that one), while Bob Nightengale’s report is saying they did, according to his source. So who is this mystery source?

kc2
Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Since Mellinger is obviously more informed on this topic (I would have to believe there is no way his sources are not tied to the Royals organization is some manner), I would tend to lean toward him. To me, the answer is right there in his first paragraph:

The Royals remain interested in signing Eric Hosmer but have not offered a contract worth $147 million over seven years, as stated in a report almost certainly pushed by people close to Hosmer in an attempt to kickstart action in a historically slow baseball offseason.

It is very possible that someone within the inner circle of Hosmer’s management (and do remember his agent is Scott Boras) has floated this number out there to push for a bigger deal. In fact, there have been rumors that Boras has been seeking an eight or even nine-year deal for the star first baseman. The only report that appears to have some accuracy is the offer from San Diego:

 

According to a USA Today report, the Royals have offered Hosmer a seven-year, $147 million deal to remain in Kansas City, while the Padres’ bid is worth $140 million.

People with knowledge of San Diego’s pursuit on Wednesday contradicted that report. The Padres’ offer is lower than $140 million, according to sources who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of negotiations. The exact amount proposed is unknown, though it is well above $100 million.

So the exact dollar amount offered appears to be the bone of contention here…but are the years?

kc3

When reading both the article from Nightengale and the one from Mellinger, it does appear that the length of the deal being offered from Kansas City (7 years) is accurate. In fact, that appears to be the one aspect of these reports that everyone can agree on:

I don’t know about you, but if the Royals are offering Hosmer a deal of seven years, I feel that is a giant mistake. Personally, I wouldn’t offer any player a deal of that length unless their last name was Trout, Harper or Machado. Now, there could always be a provision in the contract where Hosmer could opt out after season three or four, but even then you are tying up a position and the payroll for a number of years. In fact, it does appear that the big trade that went down the other day was a payroll move:

In fact, Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star echoes that sentiment:

For the Royals, the move represented a cost-cutting maneuver while signaling the impending rebuild. They dumped the final $9 million on Soria’s three-year, $25 million contract by sending the reliever to Chicago, picking up his $1 million buyout for 2019 in the process. To make the deal work, they attached a valuable asset in Alexander and acquired two prospects who will help fill a hollowed-out farm system.

The savings on Soria could offer the Royals flexibility to further pursue free agent Eric Hosmer. Yet the club may need to make additional reductions, Moore said. The club is hoping to pare its payroll down to close to the $105 million range. It entered Thursday with obligations of more than $115 million, including possible arbitration cases. That reality — and the desire to gain assets for the future — spurred team officials into action.

So even if the Royals aren’t offering $147 million for Eric Hosmer, they are still looking to offer him a boatload of money for his services.

kc4
Credit: Rob Tringali/Getty Images

Whether you are for the Royals re-signing Hosmer or not (and I am definitely in the not category) it appears Kansas City is going to at least put forth the effort to make it happen. It’s obvious a rebuild is a lock for the future of the Royals and it will be interesting to see if Hosmer actually wants to be a part of it. On the surface, it kind of looks as if he could be questioning such a move. Major league players already have a short career span and one could understand why they wouldn’t want to be tied down to a rebuilding franchise during the prime of their playing days. These are the issues that Hosmer has to juggle and decide which is more important. For the sake of the future and the ability of this organization to return to contending baseball, let’s hope Eric decides that winning is of higher value than sentimentality.

 

Remembering Roberto Clemente

kc1
Credit: Neil Leifer

Sunday was the anniversary of Roberto Clemente passing away in a plane crash, as he was making a trip to Nicaragua to help out victims of a recent earthquake. Clemente was just 38 years old at the time of his death and had just gotten his 3,000th career hit a few months earlier. The statistics show an unbelievable player; he was pretty much the definition of a five-tool player. Career .317 hitter. Career wRC+ of 129. Eight seasons of 5+ WAR, with 80.6 career fWAR. He could hit, he could run, he could field and he could lead. Clemente was more than just a ball player, as he was a known for his charity work in Latin American and Caribbean countries. Roberto Clemente was everything great about baseball but don’t just take it from me. Here are some highlights of a man’s career and life.

 

 

 

 

 

kc2
Credit: Neil Leifer/Sports Illustrated

As someone who never got to watch Clemente play, it’s a bit harder to grasp what all he meant to not only baseball, but to Puerto Ricans at the time. This wasn’t just a player who put up great numbers and helped his team win a world title. Clemente transcended the game and is a benchmark for even the Latin players of today. The good thing is that even for those of us that never witnessed him in person, the stories carry on his greatness and his message. It’s not just that every player should strive to be like Roberto Clemente. No, it’s more that as a person we should strive to be as great as Clemente was as a human being.

Moose Hunting

MLB: World Series-New York Mets at Kansas City Royals
Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY

Since the 2017 campaign wrapped up in October, all we have heard from those surrounding the Kansas City Royals front office was how Eric Hosmer was the player they wanted to rebuild around out of their recent crop of free agents. In fact, the push to bring Hosmer back took another step forward on Monday , as Mitch Moreland re-upped with Boston, taking them out of the hunt for Hosmer’s services. So while the Royals might have to step over San Diego or St. Louis to sign him, in my eyes he isn’t the Kansas City free agent that Dayton Moore should even be targeting. In my humble opinion, the focus should have been on Mike Moustakas all along.

It’s easy to see why they picked Hosmer initially; he is a year younger than Moustakas, has been almost injury-free throughout his career and has racked up a nice resume of awards, including  four Gold Gloves’, a Silver Slugger and an All-Star Game MVP to round it all out. Hosmer has shown himself to be a charismatic interview, a team leader and a player that both men and women adore, sometimes for different reasons. It’s easy to see him as the face of an organization that will be transitioning to a team looking to rebuild and get younger. But it also ignores a number of factors that could be detrimental for Kansas City in the long run.

kc2
Credit: CBS Sports

If Hosmer returns to Kansas City, his contract would not only take up a large portion of the payroll, it would also cause a conflict with the length of it. More than likely he would be getting a five or six-year deal if Kansas City brought him back, which means he would be manning first base through at least the 2022 season. This could be a possible roadblock for first base prospects Nick Pratto and Samir Duenez. Pratto has been ranked as the number one prospect in the organization and will be entering his age 19 season in 2018. It is easy to conceive him being ready for the big leagues in four years while Duenez could ready even sooner. Meanwhile, there is no major third base prospects in the Royals system (Hunter Dozier is listed as a 3B, yet played more innings in the outfield in 2017. Because of that and the fact that the Royals rarely mention him in the context of the third base discussion, I am considering him as a OF/1B), with Emmanuel Rivera being the top rated one at #16. So if the Royals signed Moustakas to a new deal, he wouldn’t be keeping anyone’s spot warm, so to speak. It would also make sense that Kansas City wouldn’t be bringing Moose back on the same length of deal as Hosmer. I could easily see the team signing Moustakas to a 3-4 year deal instead of the 5-7 years that Hosmer would probably be getting. Add in that Moustakas would probably be in the $15 million dollar a year range and it’s easy to see where he would give the Royals more flexibility with their payroll.

Adjustments also play into this discussion. One of the big talking points this winter has been whether or not Hosmer would adjust his swing to where he would be hitting the ball in the air to tap into his power potential. In fact one of his major suitors, the San Diego Padres, have just that concern:

Whether Hosmer is truly willing to alter his approach could play a sizable role in his free agency. Are suitors bidding for a 25-homer hitter or a player who retains untapped power potential? The historically spendthrift Padres and other teams must contemplate the answer to that question.

Most of the concern lies in his ground ball rate, which has been alarmingly high for years now. Hosmer has not had a ground ball rate below 51.2% since his rookie year and the last two seasons have seen him produce a 58.9% and 55.6% rate when it comes to ground balls. While he still put together a great offensive season in 2017, there has been a feeling that he would see even more success if he put the ball in the air more. Even Hosmer is aware of this:

“You look at the averages and all that, it’s definitely better with the ball in the air,” he told the Kansas City Star in April. “Most guys, especially power hitters, are trying to hit the ball in the air. Our stadium is playing a little different, it’s bigger out there, but still, somebody in my spot in the lineup, and type of hitter I am, I should definitely be trying to hit the ball in the air.”

Problem is, we have rarely heard about him working on his game. There was a small adjustment he made late in the 2014 season and when he started laying off inside pitches early in the 2017 campaign. Meanwhile with Moustakas, there has been a number of times he has worked on a part of his game in the offseason with improved results. Before the 2012 season Moustakas spent the winter working on his defense and improved himself at third base to the point he almost beat out Adrian Beltre for a Fielding Bible Award. Then in 2015, there was his adjustment hitting to the opposite field , which forced teams to halt their extreme shifts on him. He then worked on hitting for more power before the 2016 season, which eventually saw him break the Royals 32 year, single season record for home runs. We know that if there is a part of his game that needs work, Moustakas will put in the work. This is not to say that Hosmer won’t, but there also isn’t as much proof that he will.

kc3

When comparing the two, one would expect Hosmer to edge Moustakas out in offensive production but the numbers might surprise you. Both were called up in 2011 and both have dealt with a decent amount of adversity, so let’s start out with the raw career totals. Hosmer has produced a line of .284/.342/.439 over his career while Moose has a line of .251/.305/.425. The two are also fairly close in OPS, .781 to .730 and Hosmer has a decent lead in overall OPS+, 111 to 96. It is apparent that Moustakas’ struggles in 2013 and 2014 dragged him down in the career section of this experiment. But when you compare their numbers over the last three seasons, they end up being very similar. Since 2015, Hosmer has hit .294/.359/.463 with an OPS+ of 119. Meanwhile, Moose has hit .275/.329/.496 with an OPS+ of 117. Hosmer has hit for a higher average and has a higher walk rate in that span while Moustakas has hit for more power. But where Moose starts to show an advantage in the numbers is strike out rate, where he edges out Hosmer 13.8% to 17.2%. Moustakas also has a higher percentage of extra base hits, 10% to 8.1%. While factoring in that Moustakas missed a good chunk of the 2016 season, the numbers imply that there isn’t a giant difference in the actual offensive output by these two, just a difference in how they get there.

The one concern that has been batted around about Moustakas is his leg injuries during the last two seasons. While it is obvious why teams would be leery about this, one can make the argument that both were fluke injuries. The torn ACL in 2016 was on a collision with Alex Gordon, a play that can just be chalked up to two players hustling for a fly ball. The knee issues this past season began after Bruce Rondon hit him in the hip with a 99 MPH fastball. This resulted in a bruise that would drain fluid in his knee over the next couple of weeks. Moustakas would aggravate the knee a few weeks later and would deal with the issue off and on over the last six weeks of the season. Neither injury feels like a trend and would almost fall into the category of bad luck.

kc4

One final consideration for re-signing Moustakas is the state of the third base market this offseason. With Zack Cozart signing with the Angels, Evan Longoria being traded to San Francisco yesterday and Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson’s names coming up in trade discussions, teams have taken their focus away from Moose. With the market drying up for him, it’s possible he wouldn’t even be able to sign a deal worth more than $50 million; if that would happen, the Royals would go from getting a compensatory pick after the 1st round of the draft next year to getting one closer to #80. If that is the case, Kansas City would almost get more value out of bringing him back than the pick they would get for him at that spot. It’s hard to imagine a team at this point offering him a long-term deal, and with fewer years come less money. If it looks like he won’t get a deal above $50 million (and that appears to be what is happening) then Kansas City might be better off to swoop in and lock him up.

kc5
Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY

While I am all for a rebuild for the Royals, Moustakas feels like a safer option than Hosmer to build around. It would place less strain on the payroll, would allow greater lineup flexibility in the near future and would still give the team a leader for the younger players to learn from. While Hosmer is the shiny star, Moustakas is the understated grinder. Hopefully the glint from Hosmer hasn’t blinded the Royals front office from seeing the value they would get from Moose.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

kc1

A few weeks back, the Modern Baseball Era Committee announced their results for the 2018 Hall of Fame election, where Jack Morris and Alan Trammell will be joining whomever will be voted in by the BBWAA later on next month. While the result wasn’t surprising, I am struck with a tinge of excitement and frustration when it comes these election results, both by who got in and who didn’t.

kc2
Credit: Duane Burleson, Associated Press

First, I was elated that Alan Trammell will be in the Hall. I came around a bit late to just how great Trammell was but felt really strongly that he deserved to be in the Hall a few years back. Here is a snippet of my argument for him back in 2015:

The argument for Trammell though outweighs a lot of the negatives; Trammell has a career WAR of 70.4, which makes him 94th all-time and 63rd amongst position players. To go a step further, Trammell has a career dWAR of 22.0, which places him 34th all-time.

Trammell is listed as the 12th best shortstop according to the Hall of Stats (hallofstats.com) and has a Hall Rating of 143 (100 is deemed Hall worthy). Trammell played in an era of Cal Ripken, Jr. and Ozzie Smith and while he wasn’t quite at their level, he was close and even beat Cal out for the Gold Glove four times. What is even more interesting is going back and comparing his numbers to Derek Jeter as Joe Posnanski did a few years ago:

Joe Posnanski has made the argument that if you are of the belief that Derek Jeter is a Hall of Famer, then you should compare his numbers with Trammell’s. Joe points out just how close Jeter and Trammell were as players, with Jeter holding a slight edge over Alan offensively, while Trammell was easily a better defender.

Trammell really felt like a player who could have gained momentum if more voters had digested his numbers. Instead, the highest he reached on the ballot was 40.9% (back in 2016) and one does have to wonder if the constant logjam of only being able to vote for ten players really hurt him in the long run. The good news is that his peers corrected this injustice and he will be claiming his rightful place in Cooperstown this summer.

kc3
Credit: Baseball Hall of Fame

Then there is Jack Morris. There is really no easy way to put this than to just say I don’t feel he is a Hall of Famer. Did he have moments of greatness? Obviously. He is viewed by many as the greatest pitcher of the 1980’s, which is easy to see when looking at stats like strike outs and wins. But when digging deeper he is 65th in ERA+ (league and ballpark adjusted) in the decade and 12th in bWAR for pitchers. It gets even dicier when you start digging through the all-time rankings. According to the Hall of Stats, Morris is 165th among pitchers all-time and has a Hall Ranking of 77, well below the necessary 100 to be “Hall Worthy”. In fact, over an 18 year career, Morris has only 44.2 WAR, which roughly averages out to 2.45 Wins Above Replacement a year. The truth is that much like Bill Mazeroski, Morris’ greatness is defined by one classic moment: Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, where he pitched 10 innings of shutout baseball and led the Twins to a World Championship over the Braves. It’s an iconic moment, but unfortunately for Morris it is not a complete representation of his career. The issue with putting him into the Hall is simple; the numbers don’t back up what the memory recalls. It might just be better to let Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated explain:

While Morris won 254 games for the Tigers, Twins, Blue Jays and Indians in his 18-year career—the 43rd highest total in history and seventh among those outside the Hall—his win total is a reflection of the great work of his teammates. He got excellent support from his defense, which included Trammell and his longtime double play partner Lou Whitaker, in the form of a .272 batting average on balls in play, 14 points better than league average. Relative to his leagues, the offensive support he received was six percent better than average (better than 41 of the 62 other Hall starters), while his rate of run prevention was just five percent better than league average. Among Hall of Famers, his 105 ERA+ tops only those of Catfish Hunter (104) and Rube Marquard (103). By comparison, Red Ruffing, whose 3.80 ERA was previously the highest among Hall of Fame starters, had a 109 ERA+, as he pitched during a higher-scoring era (1924-47).

In other words, Morris being in the Hall of Fame redefines greatness:

Still, his election lowers the bar for Hall of Fame pitchers and serves as a slight to numerous contemporaries such as Bret Saberhagen, Dave Stieb, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser and David Cone. Win totals aside, all have far fuller résumés than Morris from a Hall standpoint, better run prevention combined with Cy Young awards and their own shares of records and postseason heroics. They now deserve an equally thorough airing in this context, particularly in light of the scarcity of viable starting pitcher candidates in the coming years.

This is not to say I wish ill on Morris; personally I like the guy and believe he has handled all the arguments about his Hall of Fame case like a champ. I just don’t personally feel he should be sitting among the greats of the game. The one silver lining to this is we can now be done with the Morris argument; it no longer matters since the Modern Baseball Era Committee made sure he is getting a plaque.

kc4
Credit: Associated Press

While Trammell felt like a step forward and Morris felt like a slight step back, the fact Marvin Miller was not elected just felt like a slap in the face. Miller is the former executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association and was the driving force behind free agency in baseball. Without Miller, the players would probably never make the kind of money and have the freedom they have today. Once again, Jaffe said it best:

Miller, who oversaw the game’s biggest change since integration by dismantling the reserve clause and therefore shifting the century-old balance of power from the owners to the players, is the candidate with the strongest case of any individual outside Cooperstown, and perhaps the strongest case of any non-player in the game’s history.

It really surprises me that a committee of what was mostly former players didn’t vote in the guy who has had possibly one of the biggest effects on their career when it comes to the ability to make market value money. Hopefully this mistake will be rectified in the very near future.

kc5
Credit: Baseball Hall of Fame

The one thing this recent vote proves is that it just isn’t a perfect process. Whether it is the new committee or the BBWAA, this is a system where most of the voters are doing their due diligence to get it right.  For every slam dunk like Ken Griffey Jr., there is an Alan Trammell who falls through the cracks. While I might not feel Morris is deserving, I was happy to see Ted Simmons (who I feel is deserving) fall just one vote shy of being added to this group. As long as the games continue to be played, the Hall of Fame debates will continue to be discussed. The fact that baseball is constantly trying to get this right should tell you that everything is moving in a forward direction, just possibly not at the speed everyone would hope for.

Who’s On First?

kc1

While the focus has been on the Royals pursuit of first baseman Eric Hosmer, there hasn’t been much discussion about what Kansas City will do if (or when) Hosmer doesn’t return. Normally at this stage of the game there has already been some talk of future replacements or even Plan B, C and D. Instead, there is hope upon hope that “The Golden Child” returns. But what direction should the Royals go in if Hos changes his address to San Diego or Boston? The good news is that there are options aplenty.

Let’s start with in-house options and the one name bandied about the most has been Hunter Dozier. Dozier is coming off of an injury plagued 2017 season where he was only able to rack up 33 games in the minors. There isn’t much statistically to go off of last year (.243/.341/.441 through 111 at bats), but in 2016 Dozier put together a solid minor league season (in both AA and AAA), posting a line of .296/.366/.533. Dozier is coming into his age 26 season and could be an intriguing option for a Royals team looking to rebuild. He has limited exposure to first base professionally (12 total games over the last two seasons), but with a number of his other positions filled (third base and the outfield corners), first base could be a good way for him to get some major league at bats without taking time away from some of the other younger talent. The team even worked with him last spring on the basics of the position:

Also in the discussion could be Cheslor Cuthbert, who was a man without a position in 2017. Cuthbert has a bit more experience at first base than Dozier (7 major league games, 67 in the minor leagues) but more than likely will be the starting third baseman if Mike Moustakas doesn’t return. Brandon Moss could also see some time at first base, since it was once his primary position and a move there could allow some players to slide into other slots in the lineup. If Moss played at first base, Jorge Bonifacio could patrol right field and move Jorge Soler to DH, allowing all three power bats in the lineup at once. Moss is obviously more comfortable at the position than Dozier, so a move could also get Dozier at bats at DH if needed. There is some mixing and matching that could go on with Moss playing his old position and it would allow manager Ned Yost more flexibility with his lineup.

Since we are bringing up options within the organization, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Ryan O’Hearn and Frank Schwindel. O’Hearn looked to be on the fast track to Kansas City and appeared to have an inside shot at taking over for Hosmer. But his numbers took a slight dip in 2017 (.253/.330/.455 and 22 home runs at both AA and AAA) and was even shipped to Northwest Arkansas near the end of the season to maintain his playing time. O’Hearn was moved because Frank Schwindel put up an amazing second half for Omaha, hitting .396/.414/.681 from July 15th on, putting up 14 home runs and 53 RBI’s in that span. While both aren’t completely out of the picture, the Royals elected not to add either to the 40-man roster last month, leaving them open to the Rule 5 draft. While first basemen normally aren’t picked in the draft, it is also telling that neither were protected, a sign of what the Royals really feel about their value moving forward.

kc2
Credit: Getty Images

So with all that being said, I’ve been of the belief that Kansas City won’t look from within to fill the spot; instead, my gut tells me they will go looking for a veteran bat to hold down first base. There have already been a couple of first baseman that appear to be on the Royals radar:

Adams is a slightly above average career hitter with some power, but more importantly for Kansas City he would be a cheaper option for the ballclub. His splits are pretty lopsided, so if the Royals did sign him they would probably be better suited to use him primarily against righties.

Reynolds is an interesting choice, since he has long been compared to Dave Kingman as primarily a home run-strike out guy. He has encountered a career renaissance in Colorado the last two years, but it’s hard to get behind the Royals looking into him when you factor in the “Coors Field Effect”. In 2017, Reynolds home/away splits showed a major increase in production at Coors Field: .294/.393/.584 at home, .242/.311/.392 on the road . The slugging percentage in particular is very skewed and it showed in his power numbers: 21 homers and 31 extra base hits at Coors, 9 homers and 22 extra base hits on the road. His power would probably play at Kauffman Stadium but the concern would be his productivity when you take away those 81 games played at Coors Field.

kc3
Credit: CLIFF WELCH/ICON SPORTSWIRE

While Reynolds and Adams appear to be on Dayton Moore’s mind, there are a number of quality first baseman on the market this winter. Carlos Santana would be a great catch, but one has to wonder if he would be out of Kansas City’s price range. Same thing for Yonder Alonso, as he is coming off of an All-Star season. Logan Morrison hit 38 home runs last year and racked up a wRC+ of 130 and the Kansas City native has said it would be a “dream come true” to play for the Royals. One does have to wonder if Morrison’s somewhat abrasive manner fits in with what Moore looks for in his clubhouse.

Lucas Duda, Mitch Moreland and Mike Napoli are some other options in free agency this winter, but one player who should be on the Royals list is Adam Lind. Lind had a productive year for Washington in 2017 (.303/.362/.513 with a wRC+ of 122) and would be a good fit on a one or two-year deal. He would probably be best served in a platoon and could be a good choice if the Royals are looking to get Dozier’s feet wet at first base this year. Lind would be a stopgap player, but for somewhere in the $4-7 million dollar range he could be a nice veteran fit on a team looking to rebuild.

kc4

The good news for Kansas City is that there are plenty of options for them at first base if Hosmer decides to depart. While it might be hard for any of these players to equal his production this past year, all the Royals need is someone who can hit above the league average and play some solid defense at the position. The job here isn’t to get the same kind of results as the team got from Hosmer; instead, it is to hold down the fort for a couple of years before Nick Pratto or Samir Duenez is ready.

Classic Royals: Royals Clinch First Playoff Spot in 29 Years

kc1
Credit: Jerry Lai, USA TODAY Sports

It feels strange to think this was ONLY three years ago, but back on September 27, 2014 the Kansas City Royals clinched their first playoff spot since 1985. We are all well aware of what happened next: the Royals would beat the A’s in the wildest baseball game I have ever seen and would continue to win all the way to the World Series that year. While the wild card game extracted most of the Kansas City demons, this game and the finality of wrapping up a playoff spot made all the naysayers and doubters clamp up. This was where all the pessimism went to die. Looking back, it’s funny how ingrained into my brain the highlights from 2014 and 2015 are. I can rattle off moments in full detail about those two seasons and games that I remember like they were played yesterday. There is a long road ahead for this franchise and I’m sure they will get back to this spot sooner rather than later. But for now, this is a great starting spot for the ride that was soon to follow. It was a ride that none of us expected but one that we all needed.

Rebuilding a Franchise: A 2017 Wrap-Up

kc1
Credit: MLB.com

It was hard to venture anywhere this past summer and not see or hear questions about the Royals future. It didn’t matter if you were watching baseball, listening to baseball or reading about baseball; everywhere you went there were discussions about whether Kansas City should trade their future free agents or ride the wave out and see what happens. Obviously we now know how this story plays out, as the team was contending throughout the summer and the Royals held on to their Eric Hosmer’s and Lorenzo Cain’s.

But I didn’t. You see, I’ve been playing ‘Out of the Park Baseball’ for about three years now and it is a daily staple of my life. In my humble opinion, it is baseball simulation at its grandest. Every year I purchase the newest model of the game and almost instantly begin a new Royals season. When my 2017 team started off the year in a bumpy manner, I decided to begin the tearing down of my team. If you want to read about the how, who and why of this rebuild click here.

kc2
Credit: Out of the Park Baseball

When I last wrote about my OOTP Royals, it was near the end of June and my team was in the basement, which I was expecting considering I had just gutted my team. They were sitting at 27-49 and my attendance was already sliding. I knew a change this drastic was not going to instantly take and my feeling was it would be rough all the way around.

Recently the 2017 season wrapped up for my team and it came with some mixed results. They finished with a 64-98 record, which means I went 37-49 since my last update. It wasn’t a great second half, but it was a slight improvement. The pitching ended up being my downfall; a combined 5.07 ERA, 189 home runs allowed and only a 4.9 WAR for my entire pitching staff. One of the big aspects of the “New Look” Royals was to go young which was really felt with the pitching.

kc3
Credit: MLB.com

By the end of the year I had Yordano Ventura, Blake Snell, Aaron Sanchez and Kyle Zimmer in my rotation, all 25 years of age or younger. Ventura ended up racking up over 200 innings and a 2.3 WAR. Snell and Sanchez each reached 122 innings for Kansas City and while at times they struggled with their command (both gave up over 50 free passes), they also showed signs of dominance, as evidenced by each of them striking out over 100 batters. The real surprise for me was Zimmer, who I had no idea what to expect from him. Early on he struggled and had a hard time making it to the 5th inning on a regular basis. But as the season wore on, he righted the ship and while the numbers aren’t great (4.73 ERA, 5.29 FIP, 0.3 WAR) they did improve. Maybe the biggest surprise was that for the most part he stayed healthy, making 28 starts for Kansas City and throwing 159 innings.

While the rotation at least showed signs of life, my bullpen killed me. Only one reliever (Wade Davis) posted a WAR above 1.0 and only three were even league average.If I really want to look in the mirror and see where I failed in 2017, the bullpen was a good place to start. Let’s just say the less I say about the pen, the better. The good news is there is only one direction to move for my relievers and that is up.

kc4
Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

This leaves me to my offense and it was the one area of my team that saw an obvious improvement in the second half of the season. Randall Grichuk was a savior after being acquired from St. Louis, as he produced a team high 3.6 WAR, 145 wRC+, 20 home runs and a line of .289/.361/.564. Cody Bellinger also turned out to be a stellar pick-up, posting 2.2 WAR, 127 wRC+ and a slash line of .288/.359/.494.

The lineup stalwarts that I kept on the team were Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas and while both were above replacement level overall (Gordon 1.5 WAR, Moose 1.4), offensively they were just below the league average. Gordon had a wRC+ of 92 while Moose had an 88. Both suffered injuries at separate points in the season and I’m hoping they both make a decent comeback for my 2018 campaign (authors note: I locked Moustakas into a two-year deal in the middle of the season).

kc5
Credit: Kansas City Star

But my two biggest surprises were homegrown, as I recalled Bubba Starling and Ryan O’Hearn to get some big league playing time. Since I was going young and I knew the season would be a losing one, I figured it was the perfect time to get some quality at bats. I knew Bubba would deliver solid defense, but I was a bit surprised about some of the pop in his bat (11 home runs and 23 extra base hits). Starling put up a .217/.319/.376 line in 78 games, with a wRC+ of 93 and 1.0 WAR. It’s obvious his offense still needs some work, but I was actually expecting less.

O’Hearn was my big shocker. I had him splitting time at 1B and DH with Bellinger but through his first 100 at bats he was hitting right around .100 with no home runs. I seriously considered sending him back down to Omaha, but remembered that the whole point of this exercise was to get the younger guys playing time. So I stuck with him and in the end it paid off. O’Hearn led the team with 22 home runs, hit a nice .272/.358/.508 with a wRC+ of 125 and 1.5 WAR in just 83 games. The power definitely played and he went from a consideration for 2018 to a locked in starter.

kc6
Credit: AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

So what has this rebuild taught me? First, it was very obvious that there is no easy answers for a team dealing with a number of major free agents. I might have been able to put together a .500 season if I had kept everyone, but then I would be facing 2018 without a number of younger talents that ended up being major contributors.

Second, I learned that pitching AND hitting really can determine a hit or miss season. With the improvement I saw on offense, it makes me wonder how the season might have turned out if my bullpen had been even league average. There are two sides to this game and if you skimp on one it won’t matter how good the other side is.

Finally, I learned that patience is a virtue. I normally play every game rather than simulate it (so I can make in-game managerial decisions) and because of that I played some really bad baseball during the season. But after starting my 2018 season, my team is 12-9 in the early going, sitting in first place in the AL Central. I’m not for sure that will hold up all season but it’s already apparent how much improved my team is.

On one final note, if you have never played OOTP Baseball I would highly suggest it. I still feel like I am learning every day that I play it. Also, if you have any questions or even suggestions for me about the game, you can always shoot me a message on twitter @SeanThornton5. Enjoy and I hope this shows that the term “rebuild” isn’t a dirty word.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑