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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

Ohtani Headed to Disneyland, Stanton to the Bronx

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Credit: The Japan Times

The ‘Hot Stove’ season has felt lukewarm at best since the World Series wrapped up, with a number of reasons at the forefront. Two very big reasons for the lack of action was a number of teams focusing their attention on Japanese star Shohei Ohtani and Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. With the Winter Meetings looming on the horizon, both players have punched a ticket to their 2018 destination and it appears on the surface that the rich just got richer.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

Ohtani announced his intentions on Friday to sign with the Los Angeles Angels and while I’m sure a few teams felt slighted (I’m looking at you, Mariners and Cubs), the more I’ve thought about it the more it makes sense for him to play with the Angels. For one, Ohtani instantly moves to the front of the Los Angeles’ rotation, as Garrett Richards is probably better suited to be in the 2nd or 3rd slot of a major league rotation. Second, with the Angels loaded in the outfield (Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Kole Calhoun) it means Ohtani will almost exclusively be used at DH whenever he is in the lineup. The less time he spends out on defense the better, since that opens up more opportunities to get hurt and the Angels need him pitching more than anything.

Third, being teammates with Trout is a plus. With Ohtani playing beside the best player in baseball, it means Shohei won’t always be the focal point of attention and it means occasionally he can fade into the background. It won’t be the majority of the time, but it will allow him some room just to play baseball. Fourth, the Angels aren’t too far off from being a playoff team. The team stayed in the pennant race until the last week of the season this year and adding Upton for a full year, a healthy Trout and now Ohtani, it should improve the team’s chance of seeing October baseball. Baseball is better when their best players are showcased in October and Trout is the best while Ohtani could end being in that category.

With all that being said, it will be interesting to track his adjustment to American baseball. While we have seen guys like Ichiro Suzuki and Hideo Nomo have instant success once coming to America, they also both were in the back half of their 20’s when they made it to the big leagues. Ohtani will be just 23 years of age when he plays on opening day and he would appear to have more eyes on him than Ichiro and Nomo had combined. Also, I still contend that by the end of his contract he won’t still be a two-way player. I totally get the want and need to see if he can do both on a regular basis, but at the end of the day his true value for the Angels is on the mound, not the 3-5 at bats he racks up in a game. I know there is a ton of interest to see if he can be the “Next Babe Ruth”, but I feel there is a greater chance he becomes the “First Shohei Ohtani”…and there is nothing wrong with that.

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Credit: New York Post

The other big news of the weekend was the acquisition by the New York Yankees of Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton. For weeks there were discussions of Stanton moving on to the Cardinals, or the Giants, or possibly even the Dodgers. But at the end of the day, the Yankees swooped in and took ownership of the massive slugger and his massive contract. Now I know there are a variety of talking points that have already been hit on with this trade, but I wanted to cover a few just for me personally:

  1. While I am no fan of the Yankees, the one thing this organization does most of the time is put their team in a position to reach the playoffs. We can boo-hoo all day about how much money the Yankees can eat, but remember that big contracts do not always equal on-field success. Remember the Padres spending all that money in 2015? What about the Red Sox of 2016? Or even go back to the early 2000’s and the Yankees additions of guys like Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson? While the Yankees have once again gone and done what the Yankees do, they still have to go out there and perform on the field and rack up W’s. Plus, be honest: would you really want your team to take on Stanton’s ridiculous contract?
  2. Also remember that Stanton isn’t the definition of health. Over the last six seasons, Stanton has played 130 games or more just twice. That is not to say he will go and get injured next year, but do remember that he has had a proclivity of  ending up on the disabled list throughout his eight-year career.
  3. I have always been told that baseball is better when the Yankees are good because so many of us despise the ‘Bronx Bombers’. While there is some definite truth to this (I will almost always root against them, with very few deviations), I can also tell you that if they had advanced to the World Series this year my interest in the series would have gone down tremendously. There is a difference between ‘rooting against’ and ‘not giving a damn’ and the line is very thin between those two things.
  4. While I agree with most that the new ownership group in Miami is off to a horrible start (especially in the public relations department), I don’t fault them for trading Stanton. That contract was awful from day one and none of us really believed he would stay in Miami for the duration of the deal. The Marlins did what any other ownership group would do, which is look into ridding themselves of that bloated contract. That being said, they did fumble everything else when it comes to dealing him, as evidenced by the fact he ended up in New York. If he wasn’t going to accept a deal to St. Louis or San Francisco, why waste all that time working out a deal? Maybe they should have talked to Giancarlo, figured out who he was willing to accept a trade to and then talk to those teams? The Marlins look like bumbling idiots for spending weeks on end trying to work something out and at the end of the day they had to work out a deal with the team in the largest market in baseball. It has not been a good start for the Derek Jeter-led group as they begin their tenure in Miami.
  5. Finally, I am already dreading listening to baseball outlets discuss the Stanton-Judge tandem in the Bronx. Look, we get it. The Yankees have two big sluggers in this itty-bitty ballpark. It doesn’t mean we need to hear about it ad nauseam for the next four months. It will be a shock to a number of major media outlets, but most of us couldn’t care less about what the Yankees are up to. The less we hear about them, the better.
Shohei Ohtani
Credit: Associated Press

So now that Ohtani and Stanton are off the table, it might finally be time for baseball’s ‘Hot Stove’ to heat up. With the Winter Meetings taking place this week, it’s as good a time as any to see teams start wheeling and dealing. It will be interesting to see how the team that had interest in these two players move forward and how they react to not acquiring their top choice. In one fell swoop, two major pieces came off the board and the real game this offseason kicks into full swing. Los Angeles and New York made their moves; now it’s time for the 28 other teams in baseball to make theirs.

 

 

Classic Royals: Opening Day 1996

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While searching on Youtube for the last no-hitter in Royals history (which was by Bret Saberhagen in August of 1991), I stumbled across this gem. What a great pitching match-up, as Kevin Appier took the hill for the Royals and Mike Mussina for the Orioles. Kansas City would lose 4-2, but if you miss the old days it’s a good chance to watch some Royals legends like Keith Lockhart, Joe Vitiello and Bob Hamelin. For those worried about what the team will look like next year, this might be a decent comparison, as the 1996 Royals finished 75-86 and last in the American League Central.

To give or not give Eric Hosmer a long-term deal, that is the question

MLB: FEB 27 Kansas City Royals Photo Day

Ask any player out on the free agent market this winter what they covet the most and a good majority will say a multi-year contract. Sure, they won’t turn their nose up to the wads of cash thrown their way, but signing a new deal for an extended period is the kind of stability players dream of. The Royals have set their sights on re-signing first baseman Eric Hosmer and it’s hard to fathom that happening without Kansas City committing to a deal that is at least four years in length (and probably more). But history has shown that might not bode well for the Royals.

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees
Credit: Getty Images

The most infamous long-term contracts in Royals history goes back to 1985 and the “lifetime contracts” . George Brett, Dan Quisenberry and Willie Wilson were the recipients of those deals that appeared at the time to be solid commitments for a perennial contender. But those deals would fall apart quickly, with Quisenberry being released in July of 1988 while Wilson fought off injuries and saw his offensive production wane before leaving after the 1990 season. While in theory these contracts appeared to lock in a chunk of the Kansas City nucleus in the mid 1980’s,  the reality was that the Royals overpaid for players during a period where collusion controlled the free agent market and salaries.

The Royals would close out the 1980’s with one of the worst free agent signings in club history, signing Mark Davis (the 1989 Cy Young award winner) to a four-year, $13 million dollar deal. That deal would go sour almost instantly, as Davis would struggle and lose his closers role to future Royals Hall of Famer Jeff Montgomery. Davis would be dealt to Atlanta in July of 1992 and put up some ugly numbers during his short stint in Kansas City: 167.2 innings, a 5.31 ERA, 5.01 FIP and an ERA+ of 76.

Mike Sweeney
Credit: MLB.com

We all remember Mike Sweeney’s $55 million dollar deal he signed after the 2002 season. Sweeney was the one who decided to stay, while watching Damon, Dye and Beltran be shipped off. Sweeney was coming off his career year in Kansas City, posting the highest bWAR and OPS+ of his career, among other career highs that season. Sweeney’s deal kept him in Kansas City through 2007 but injuries would take their toll on him as early as 2003. While the offensive production was still there for the first couple years of the contract, his time on the field diminished and by 2006 he had essentially become a shell of his former self.

Not every long-term contract handed out by the Royals would miss the mark. One could argue that George Brett’s lifetime contract paid off in spades, as he would continue to be a hitting machine until his age 38 season, well past the normal age of regression for a major league hitter. Zack Greinke’s four-year deal that was signed in 2009 would produce a Cy Young season, but Greinke would be dealt before the contract had run its course. One could even make the argument for David Cone’s three-year deal that he signed with Kansas City before the 1993 season being a success, but for the sake of argument you could also contend that a contract of three years really isn’t “long-term” by definition.

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That leads us to the modern-day Royals, which currently host a number of extended relationships. Ian Kennedy is locked in for another three seasons in Kansas City and has been a mixed bag during his first two seasons as a Royal (one good season, one bad season). Salvador Perez will be entering year two of a five-year extension in 2018 and while Salvy should be entering his prime, there have to be some concerns about the amount of games (and innings) he has caught in his major league career and the wear and tear that goes with it. Danny Duffy will also be in the second year of a five-year extension this upcoming season and has dealt with a wide array of injuries throughout his career as well as a DUI arrest just last summer.

Then there is the Royals contract with the most scorn, that of Alex Gordon. His four-year contract originally appeared on the surface to be a calculated move. Gordon had been a consistent run producer and defensive wizard for the previous five seasons and while he was entering his regression years, the slope appeared lessened by his crazy work ethic and ability to stay healthy. Gordon had appeared in at least 150 games in every season between 2011 and 2014, while his groin strain in 2015 looked to be an outlier. But injuries hindered his 2016 campaign and offensively he hasn’t looked the same for two years now. Situations like Gordon’s are why teams become hesitant to commit to a long-term contract.

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Credit: Kansas City Star

This all leads back to the Eric Hosmer situation and how the Royals should deal with it. On one hand, you have a player entering his age 28 season, coming off of a career best season, in what should be the prime of his career. On the other hand, Hosmer before 2017 was an inconsistent offensive player and has a propensity to hit the ball on the ground at an alarming rate. While the Royals have not had the best of luck when it comes to contracts of more than four years, we are all aware that every situation (and player) is different. Signing any player for 4+ years is a gamble within itself. The question the Royals have to ask is if the risk is bigger or smaller than the reward when rolling the dice on their future.

Hall of Shame

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I received my IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in my inbox yesterday. I look forward to it every year, as it is an honor to be able to vote for players I feel are worthy of baseball’s highest honor. It also gives me the opportunity to really dive into the numbers, or as my wife calls it “fall down the statistic rabbit hole”. You will see that article in about a months time, where I breakdown my votes and why I voted the way I did. Since I occasionally get asked this, in the IBWAA we do things a bit differently than the boys and girls over at the BBWAA. We have a number of guys who have been voted in (Vlad Guerrero, Edgar Martinez) that the BBWAA still has on their ballot. We are also able to vote for 15 players instead of the 10 the BBWAA are left with. Finally, we don’t have a former player like Joe Morgan send us a letter, trying to sway our vote with arrogant confidence and ignorant hubris…and for that I am grateful.

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Credit: Kansas City Star

If you aren’t aware(or maybe in a cave), Joe Morgan sent out a letter a few weeks back, hoping to veer the writers of the BBWAA away from voting for players linked to steroid use. If you want to read the entire letter, here it is:

Now, I’m not going to get into a huge debate over the Hall of Fame or steroid use in baseball; I have done that so much over the years that I’m just bored with it and it just seems to agitate me. I will tell you that if you want my opinion on the Hall, read this; I wrote this a few years back and it pretty much encompasses my feelings on “cheaters” in the Hall. So I’m not going to get into a big debate about steroid use and Cooperstown. But…I do have a few comments about what Joe said and just who Joe is speaking for.

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Credit: MLB.com

First, let’s start with Joe’s comment about those linked to steroid use:

We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They
cheated. Steroid users don’t belong here.

I hate to tell Joe, but I’m pretty positive there is someone (or likely more than one) in the Hall who used steroids. Oh yeah…Mickey Mantle took steroids. So right there, you have a player in those “hallowed halls” that falls below Morgan’s standard for Cooperstown. Pretty sure you won’t catch ol’ Joe looking to pull “The Mick” and his plaque.

Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League
Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in. Those
are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.

Look, there is a some validity to the Mitchell Report but lets not act like it is a 100% guilty verdict. That is just someone wanting to believe guilt without the proof.

Now, I recognize there are players identified as users on the Mitchell Report who deny they were
users. That’s why this is a tricky issue. Not everything is black and white – there are shades of gray
here. It’s why your job as a voter is and has always been a difficult and important job. I have faith in
your judgment and know that ultimately, this is your call.

Wait, so Joe knows the Mitchell Report is probably not 100% accurate, yet earlier wants voters to use that report as a template? Come on Joe…

But it still occurs to me that anyone who took body-altering chemicals in a deliberate effort to cheat
the game we love, not to mention they cheated current and former players, and fans too, doesn’t
belong in the Hall of Fame. By cheating, they put up huge numbers, and they made great players
who didn’t cheat look smaller by comparison, taking away from their achievements and consideration for the Hall of Fame. That’s not right.

Body-altering chemicals? You mean like performance enhancers? So players who used amphetamines, right? Because, if we are being honest, amphetamines are enhancing a players performance…and Greenies were used in baseball up until they started testing for amphetamines back in 2006. Greenies were prevalent in the game for years and were widely used during Morgan’s playing days. In fact, players like Hank Aaron & Willie Mays have both been linked to amphetamines over the years…and no one is asking those two to leave Cooperstown (nor should they).

It’s gotten to the point where Hall of Famers are saying that if steroid users get in, they’ll no longer
come to Cooperstown for Induction Ceremonies or other events. Some feel they can’t share a stage
with players who did steroids. The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame
too. The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will
divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.

Does this include Gaylord Perry? Is he appalled by the cheating?

I care about how good a player was or what kind of numbers he put up; but if a player did steroids,
his integrity is suspect; he lacks sportsmanship; his character is flawed; and, whatever contribution
he made to his team is now dwarfed by his selfishness.

So when do we point out the selfishness of baseball for allowing steroids to be used all those years? The owners? The GM’s? Bud Selig? I’m sure their selfishness won’t allow them to return all the money they received from fans flooding the ballparks during this period. You can put some of the blame on the players, Joe, but there is enough blame to go all the way around.

Steroid users knew they were taking a drug that physically improved how they played. Taking
steroids is a decision. It’s the deliberate act of using chemistry to change how hard you hit and throw by changing what your body is made of.

See “Greenies” from earlier.

I and other Hall of Famers played hard all our lives to achieve what we did. I love this game and am
proud of it. I hope the Hall of Fame’s standards won’t be lowered with the passage of time.
For over eighty years, the Hall of Fame has been a place to look up to, where the hallowed halls
honor those who played the game hard and right. I hope it will always remain that way.

Honestly, baseball has never been a pure game and never will. If I’m being completely honest, when I first read this letter, it felt sanctimonious and hypocritical. Reading it again doesn’t make me change my mind. In fact, it just further cements my initial thoughts of the ignorance in Joe’s words…and how Joe is being used as a puppet.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

Don’t get me wrong; I totally think Joe Morgan believes the words he wrote in this letter. But I also believe that what he wrote was allowed to be sent because the people on the board for the Hall of Fame and those involved agree with this sentiment. I also feel this is a direct reaction to seeing Barry Bonds’ and Roger Clemens’ vote total moving upward these last couple years. The honest truth is that testing for performance enhancing drugs was not being done when these players were putting up those “tainted numbers” that Joe mentioned. Maybe it’s just me, but since baseball wasn’t testing and those involved seemed okay with it continuing (that was until congress stepped in to put a halt to it), it feels self-righteous to then turn around and punish the players and no one else (including the true villain in this, Bud Selig). Luckily, the letter appears to have angered many a writer in the BBWAA and it makes one wonder if Bonds’ and Clemens’ total will continue to rise. As a member of the IBWAA, we don’t have to worry about any of this mess. I don’t expect a letter from Howard Cole telling us about “hallowed grounds” and “flawed character”. I thank Howard for that, as he appears to “get it”. I’m still going to enjoy the Cooperstown inductions next summer, as I love watching some of the best players in the history of the game get to celebrate their career in the best way possible. The real taint on the Hall of Fame is those involved who try to move the chess pieces to their liking by ignoring a section of history. History is exactly what it is, a part of the past. If you don’t ignore it, you aren’t likely to repeat it again. Now, it appears it’s time for me to go turn in my IBWAA ballot…

 

 

 

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