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Bleeding Royal Blue

Inside the mind of a Kansas City Royals fan

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December 2015

Book Review: Rally Caps, Rain Delays & Racing Sausages

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During the offseason, most of us “seamheads” try to find a way to sustain our baseball fever until Spring Training rolls around. Some immerse themselves into other sports, some go back and watch classic games(I am guilty of doing this fairly often) and some go to find something baseball related to read. I have read a couple of baseball related books so far this winter and one of them might be one of the funnest baseball books I have ever read; it’s called ‘Rally Caps, Rain Delays and Racing Sausages’ by Eric Kabakoff.

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The book is a simple science project; what happens when one fan tries to attend a game at every major league ballpark? It’s something we have all thought of(yes, it is a part of my baseball bucket list) and the author actually did just that, even if it wasn’t his initial plan. Basically, Eric kept going to different games in different stadiums, then at one point decided it would make a great book. What you get is a fan’s perspective of his journey all across the United States(and Canada) to fulfill this dream/project.

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What you get is a very unbiased(well, for the most part unbiased; Kabakoff is a Yankees fan, so there is some favoritism there. Honestly, we all do that to a degree for our hometown team) opinion of the cathedrals of Major League Baseball. There are some great stories in here, like the chapter on visiting RFK Stadium in Washington, which is a hoot to read or a visit to the Metrodome in Minnesota that was a bit different than anywhere else he had gone. There is not only lots of discussion about the games that are attended, but also visiting other baseball attractions around these areas. There is a visit to the site of the old Tigers Stadium and a tour of Wrigley Field before actually attending a game there.

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One thing that I really love about this book is the attention the author takes to not only the game, but all the nooks and crannies around the stadium. You get a history in each chapter about the home team and history about each stadium as well. I love that we get a deeper look at not just the product on the field, but also the extra entertainment at the stadium. Anymore when you visit a ballpark, you have a lot of  options to keep you entertained if you aren’t worried about the play on the field. Kabakoff does a great job of taking in all of this  while also paying attention to the action on the field.

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Then there is the food. Obviously every ballpark has different food on their menu and Eric spends a lot of time discussing this. Hey, I can’t blame the guy; it’s always interesting to get a sneak peak into the meals that are available at each park you might visit if you are taking on a tour of each stadium. Since a good portion of us enjoy our food, Kabakoff ‘s deeper look into stadium menu’s is an extra bonus and can be taken into consideration if you are going to a new park. Also, he mentions places you can go and eat around these ballparks if you are wanting to get a bite before or after a game. If you are a food connoisseur,  Kabakoff will give you something to look forward to if you bring your appetite to the ballyard; or he will give you a reason to go elsewhere before the game.

Ballparks
Ballpark Pictures

Overall, I really loved this book. It is a fun read that seems to fly by fast, as you want to see how every stadium rates for the average fan. Kabakoff has done a great job of putting together a book that anyone could read, whether you are new to the game or you are a diehard that lives the sport. I highly recommend picking up this book and it is easy to buy on Amazon whether you want it in paperback or your Kindle. I also recommend following Eric on Twitter; I have had many a conversation with him and he might be one of the nicest guys I have interacted with on social media. This book would make a great read for yourself, a friend or as a gift. Hopefully after reading it, you too will want to visit all the Major League Stadiums and compare your notes to Eric’s. Oh, and also remember to bring your hat to the ballpark or else you’ll have to wear an A’s hat no matter where you go!

 

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Back In Blue

MLB: OCT 20 ALCS - Game 4 - Royals at Blue Jays
(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)

I love the Winter Meetings. I have since I was a kid. There is nothing quite like the insanity of four days of trades, signings and now rumors of where a number of baseball players could be inhabiting for the upcoming season. All has been quiet on the Kansas City Royals front(well, except for a few minor moves) but it was inevitable it wouldn’t stay that way forever. So when news broke Monday morning that a few moves were very close, I figured it was time to take a peak at the two new-old signings.

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The first was the re-signing of right handed starter Chris Young. Young was a great signing this past year for Royals GM Dayton Moore, as he would take a flyer on the 6′ 10″ righty during Spring Training. Most of us felt like Young would be a solid pick-up, if for no reason other than the fact that he is a notorious flyball pitcher, which works well in Kauffman Stadium. Young was even better than advertised, starting 18 games while throwing out of the pen for 16 more, with a 3.06 ERA over 123 innings, an ERA+ of 135 and an FIP of 4.52. His GB/FB rate was on pace with what he has done over his career and was solid in whatever role manager Ned Yost had for him.That flexibility turned out to be a Godsend for Kansas City, as Young excelled in every role he was given, but none bigger than Game 1 of the World Series. The Royals needed someone to come out of the pen, and despite the fact that Young was the expected starter for Game 4, was called upon to eat some innings that night. All he did was pitch 3 no-hit innings, walking 1 and striking out 4. He was just what the Royals needed and ended up getting the victory after Eric Hosmer’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 14th.

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The Royals inked Young to a new 2 year, $11.5 million deal(with a 3rd year as a mutual option; yes, Dayton loves his mutual options!) with the deal paying Young $4.25 million in 2016 and 5.75 million in 2017. Young can also earn bonuses based on games on the roster, which sounds like a sweet deal for someone as consistent as Young. Considering what all Young did for Kansas City this year, it’s not hard to see why the Royals wanted to bring him back:

“Chris Young is special,” Moore said from his suite in the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. “He’s an unbelievable competitor. You can make the case that he’s the MVP of our pitching staff. And we’re very proud that he’s returning to Kansas City.”

I really like this signing, as Young can fill multiple roles for this team and is a great competitor. Part of what makes Young so great is the fact that he doesn’t have to worry about  a loss of  velocity, as he already doesn’t throw very hard and works more on location and deception than anything else. It appears Young will start the year in the rotation, so it will be interesting to see if the Royals go after another starter, as a name like Scott Kazmir has been mentioned so far as a possible acquisition.

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The other signing for Kansas City was the return of former All-Star closer Joakim Soria. Now, this deal hasn’t been 100% finalized yet(Soria still has to take his physical) but the word is that Soria would come in on a 3 year, $25 million dollar contract(with a fourth year mutual option). There apparently is some language in the deal they are working on where Soria would have incentives for starting; I wouldn’t look too deep into that, as it seems like a moot point. In other words, he won’t be starting unless the rest of the rotation falls victim to chicken pox(oh, wait…). One positive for Kansas City is the fact that most of the Royals management is familiar with Soria and know what he is capable of performing for the team out of the bullpen. In fact, manager Ned Yost sounds as if he is anxiously awaiting Soria’s return to Kansas City:

“Just loved his professionalism,” manager Ned Yost said. “Loved his makeup and his composure. Loved his ability to field his position, control the running game, execute pitches. A lot like Chris Young. He’s just a professional performer when he steps on the mound and still very, very productive. Would love to have him.”

Last year Soria split time between Detroit and Pittsburgh and performed admirably in whatever role was chosen for him. It appears at this point that he will be a setup guy for Wade Davis, so I can easily see him pitching the 8th while sliding Kelvin Herrera back to the 7th inning. Soria’s numbers looked good last year, accumulating an 2.53 ERA over 67.2 innings, with an ERA+ of 156 and an FIP of 3.71. Soria also had 24 saves(if you like that sort of thing) in 2015, the most he has had in a season since his days in Kansas City. The most impressive number from Soria this past season was an increased velocity out of his fastball. In 2015 he had an average fastball speed of 92.1 mph, his highest average speed throughout his entire career. It would appear on the surface as if his arm is fine and possibly in the best shape it has been in years.
Joakim Soria
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

But I have my concerns. Soria has had two Tommy John surgeries so there will always be a concern that another arm injury could finish him off. Also, it will be hard to insure Soria because of those surgeries, which doesn’t seem like a big deal but if you look at a situation like Jason Vargas, where the Royals will get most of his 2016 contract covered if he sits out the entire year,  you could see the importance of being able to insure a pitcher’s arm. There has long been talk about how the Royals waited too long to try and deal Soria, and then lost him for his final Kansas City season to that 2nd Tommy John surgery. But his health isn’t the only problem I have with the Soria signing.

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The other aspect of this signing I have issue with is the size of the contract, both dollars and years. For one, averaging over $8 million a year(and knowing Dayton the deal will be smaller for the first year and gradually increase) just seems like too much for any reliever to me, unless you are Mariano Rivera or Dan Quisenberry. I know it is what the market is dictating right now, but I don’t agree with it. Finding hard throwing arms to fill your bullpen is fairly easy at this point and also fairly cheap. So to spend that money on a setup guy just seems almost comical. Throw in that the deal is 3 years and it goes from bad to worse. No offense to Joakim; I love the guy and I’m already looking forward to hearing ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ blare when he comes into a game at Kauffman Stadium. But for a guy with his injury history and where he is at in his career, 3 years just feels like too much. Once again, I feel the Royals could have gotten a solid reliever cheaper and probably even younger and they could have done the same job Soria will do for Kansas City. I’m glad Soria is returning to where he started, but sometimes that same magic doesn’t return just because you do.

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But the best returning news came Monday afternoon thanks to an interview with skipper Ned Yost:

Seriously, best. news. ever. Sure, part of it is the glorious hair that Kuntz rocks. I’m sure even part of it is his name that people still butcher. But the main part is that Kuntz is a big part of that Royals coaching staff. He is the one who works with shifting the outfielders and moving them around based on which hitter is at the plate. He also works with the team on baserunning and was a big part of a big play in the ALCS against Toronto, as he picked up on something David Price had been doing and took advantage of it. Kuntz is a vital part of the Royals success and I’m glad they convinced him to return for at least one more year. Watch out ladies, the ‘Kuntz is Loose’!
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…and so goes day one of the Winter Meetings! There are still a few days left, so plenty of time for Dayton Moore to continue his holiday shopping for the Royals. It will be interesting to see if a couple of the main outfielders on the market start to sign if the other dominoes(ie. Alex Gordon) fall after that happens. All that can be said at this point is the dull period of the offseason is probably over; time to turn the ‘Hot Stove’ up to 11!

Just a Transaction Away

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We are creeping into the second week of December and very little has occurred with the Kansas City Royals transactions page since they wrapped up the World Series. It’s a bit odd at this point in the offseason to see Dayton Moore so quiet after all those years of moves being made within the first week of the end of the season. All has been quiet until the other day, when the Royals made a few notable moves to add to the ledger.

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Let’s start with closer Greg Holland being non-tendered a contract. This wasn’t a shocking move, as it had been discussed almost immediately after everyone found out Holland would be having Tommy John surgery and would be missing the 2016 campaign. The good news is that this move was purely financial, as the Royals didn’t want to be on the hook for close to $10 million next year for a pitcher who would be sitting on the sideline. This also means the Royals are open to re-signing Holland to a new deal, possibly a two year deal that would be low for this upcoming season while much larger salary for year two of the deal, probably with a bunch of incentives. I would say the chance of Kansas City and Holland coming to agreement on a new deal is pretty good, as both parties want to stay together and understand why this business decision was made. I would expect Holland back in the fold fairly soon and hopefully will make his Royals return in 2017.

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The other move made by Kansas City was acquiring backup catcher Tony Cruz from St. Louis. On first glance this seemed like a move designed to make him the new backup to Salvador Perez while pushing Drew Butera(yes, I almost just wrote ‘Sal’ instead of ‘Drew’; his father would be proud) out the non-tendered door. But then the Royals offered Drew a contract, leaving the Royals with two options to play in about 30 games next year(if that). So it would appear from the outside that these two catchers will be battling in Spring Training to see who heads North with the team, and who ventures to Omaha(possibly; last year’s AAA catcher, Francisco Pena, was claimed by Baltimore). So who would be the better option?

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Offensively this might be a bit of a push. Butera last year had a line of .196/.252/.252 with an OPS+ of 40 while Cruz had a line of .204/.235/.310 with an OPS+ of 47. Over their careers, Butera has an OPS+ of 41 while Cruz’s is 58. Cruz looks to be the better hitter, even if by just the smallest of margin’s. It does appear Cruz has more pop in his bat(.310 to .266 career slugging percentage) while Butera seems to be the more patient hitter(Cruz has averaged a tad over 6 walks a year over his career, Butera almost 8 per year). Offensively, neither one of these guys are going to earn their job with their work with the bat, so let’s check the glove work.

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Looking at dWAR, Butera has quite the advantage over Cruz, 2.3 to -0.4. It seems as if Butera is the better defender, which was my initial thought before I started breaking down the stats. I was actually surprised though; Butera only has about 45 more career games than Cruz, despite Butera being 3 years older than Cruz. It also appears as if their offense drags them down, as both have negative career WAR; -1.7 to -2.8, Butera over Cruz. Now I can say I haven’t seen as much of Cruz’s work, but I’ve long enjoyed Butera’s work behind the plate, where he is known for his defense and good game calling skills. I’m not 100% for sure where Royals management head is on the backup catcher situation, but I know manager Ned Yost(a former catcher) prefers his backup to be solid defensively. It would appear if that was the case again this spring, you will see Butera backing up Perez. I wouldn’t mind keeping Cruz down in AAA if he is open to that, and once again, I’m not entirely for sure what the Royals braintrust is thinking. If I had to make a guess, this move was purely for depth, which is never a bad move for any team.

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So nothing major has occurred yet for the Royal roster, but the Winter Meetings are this week, so something is bound to happen. There is already talk that Kansas City is close to a deal with Chris Young and word crept out today that they have interest in lefty Scott Kazmir. So more than likely, expect something to happen this week in Nashville. This news also brightened my day today:

So be prepared; it could be a busy week, and by the end of it we might have a better idea of what the 2016 Kansas City Royals will look like.

 

Should He Stay or Should He Go: The Gordon Dilemma

Oct 27, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon (4) celebrates after hitting a solo home run against the New York Mets in the 9th inning in game one of the 2015 World Series at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-245840 ORIG FILE ID: 20151027_jla_ac1_235.jpg
Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY

The question has been asked nonstop since the Kansas City Royals wrapped up their second championship at the beginning of November, and it will continue to be asked until there is a definite answer: will Alex Gordon re-sign and stay a Royal, or will he leave the only place he has known as home? It’s a question that will nag at most of us Royals fans until a decision is made. But the real question that should be pondered is whether or not the Royals should invest long-term in one of the best players in Royals history. That seems crazy to say, right? It does, but follow me on this.

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I should start this with my personal feelings on this matter: Alex Gordon is my favorite player on the Royals, so from a selfish standpoint of course I want him to come back to Kansas City. But sometimes, even if it would break your heart from a fan standpoint, it makes more sense to view a player’s return based on how it would affect the team going forward, both on the field and on the payroll. Obviously just based on the next couple seasons, it makes sense to have Gordon in the fold. The Royals seem to have a small window to contend with this group of players, as right now Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Wade Davis would all be possible free agents after the 2017 season. With little help on the horizon prospects wise for Kansas City, it would appear the Royals chances of continuing this great run will be closing soon. Bringing back a player of Gordon’s caliber would help this team not only contend in the present, but be a great veteran presence for the younger players whenever they make their way to the big leagues. Now the issue to this is that Gordon wouldn’t just be signing a 2 or 3 year deal if he comes back.

Kansas City Royals' Alex Gordon hits a single in the seventh inning during a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

The word on contract negotiations are that Gordon would be getting either a 4 or 5 year deal with whomever he signs. Add in the price tag of anywhere from $16-20 million a season and team like the Royals would be making a big commitment to one player for not just a season or two, but into 2020 possibly. When you add in the factor of all the players mentioned earlier that could be on the market after the 2017 season, and you can see where locking in a player for that long term could handcuff Royals GM Dayton Moore in more ways than one. Let’s do a little bit of math here: if Kansas City pays Gordon anywhere from $18-20 million a season, Gordon’s contract alone would take up about 15% of the projected $130 million dollar payroll for 2016. For one player to take up that substantial chunk of the payroll is a bit daring and he would have to be a player worth the risk. So is Gordon worth that?

Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins
(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The easy answer is ‘yes’. Gordon not only has been an above average offensive player over the last 5 years, but is possibly the best defensive left fielder in baseball(yes, I see you, Starling Marte) and is the backbone of this Kansas City team. You can bat Gordon near the top of the order(he is the abnormal Royal who actually takes a decent amount of walks and has been productive in the past at the top of the order), in the middle as an RBI threat or near the bottom as a lethal bat before a team reaches the top of the lineup again. Gordon takes good care of his body, as he is a workout fiend, to the point he doesn’t hardly ever put any sweets into his stomach. The belief is that because Gordon takes such good care of himself, he won’t regress the way a lot of players do starting in their early 30’s. If Gordon would sign a 5 year deal, he would be in his age 36 season in year 5 of the deal. I’m not saying there won’t be regression on his part; there is always some sort of regression going on, even if it is just a little bit of speed on the basepaths and reaction time on defense. But it won’t be the kind of regression that most players see during this section of their career.

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With that being said, there is an injury history with Gordon. Just this past season alone, he recovered from offseason wrist surgery to start off 2015, then encountered a groin strain that kept him out for about two months this year. This history doesn’t mean it is the norm going forward for A1, in fact it could be an outlier for him. But if you watch Gordon play, you know he goes all out on every play. With his aggressive style on defense, there is a good chance injuries could start to pile up. As a team that would be locking him in for the foreseeable future, the hope would be that this past season was not a pattern that will show up for the duration  of his contract.

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With all that being said, the main concern for Kansas City goes back to the payroll flexibility mentioned earlier. Dayton Moore likes to keep himself in a position where if he needs to move around pieces midseason he can afford to do that without having a contract on the books weighing him down. The initial thought of having a player holding down 15% of the payroll seems a bit much for a small market team like Kansas City, who can’t just go out there and compete on the free agent market with the Boston’s and New York’s of the baseball world. There has been talk that Kansas City could see their payroll up around $130 million this year, compared to last year’s $112. It makes sense, as between raises for a number of arbitration eligible players added in with any free agent signings would raise the total, especially after coming off of a championship season. It is easy to see why Moore could be leery of getting into a bidding war with another team over Gordon, as it could leave Kansas City with a contract that feels like an albatross around their neck. As much as the Royals want Gordon to come back, they also realize the financial issue it could put on the Royals payroll come 2018 and on. Or would it?

MLB: World Series-San Francisco Giants at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY)

I ask ‘would it?’ because if you follow baseball you’ve probably noticed how much money is flowing in from their TV contract. Baseball is making so much money at this point that you feel at times like the higher ups in the sport are like Scrooge McDuck, swimming in a vault of money all day long. It’s conceivable in three years that even with the Royals not making the amount of revenue off of the gate like they have these last two years, they could still be sitting pretty on their own before the TV money even flows in. That could mean that Gordon’s $18-20 mill a year contract could be a steal by then and the amount of payroll he would be taking up would be much lower than the estimated 15%. Yes, David Glass might not want to spend what he is spending now, but unless the team just decides to go into total rebuidling mode(which I don’t predict will happen), Gordon’s contract would not be weighing down the team as much as one would expect. It’s even possible in three years we could be discussing how it was humorous how much concern there was giving one player in Kansas City that much money.

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The verdict? As much as there are concerns that a big contract(like 5 years, $100 mill) could be hefty for the Royals, I think it is workable. Not only that, but knowing how Moore operates, it is very likely that there could be a couple years of mutual or player options, a portion of the contract deferred and lots of incentives, including a promise to Gordon for a spot in the organization once his playing days are over. I’ve heard the same things as everyone else on other team’s interested in Alex and how hard a push these teams will make for him; at this point we just have to wait to see what happens. What Gordon’s decision will come down to is this: how badly does he want to stay in Kansas City and what is best for his family? Only he can answer that question. What I can tell you is no fanbase will love Alex the way us Royals fans do; what he would gain by staying couldn’t be measured in dollars. Oh, and a statue. If he stays he would get a statue in the outfield. Not too shabby for a kid from Nebraska.

 

 

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