He’s Back

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If you spent the winter fretting over whether Royals outfielder Alex Gordon was going to come back to Kansas City or retire, this past week’s news that Gordon was returning on a one-year, $4 million dollar deal should have been a relief. Gordon has been with the organization since he was drafted by Kansas City back in 2005 and has been in the big leagues (outside of a few trips to the minors) since 2007. Gordon is the link between the past and the future, a man who has been around longer than even GM Dayton Moore. When you think of the Royals over the last dozen years, you probably think of Gordon.

Gordon is everything that is good about this organization. Whether it’s the charity work, the countless hours spent on honing his game, the learning curve of leaving third base behind to roam the outfield while at a career crossroad, the defense in left field, the home runs in the postseason and even the struggles over the last four seasons, Alex Gordon has been a constant and the closest thing they have had to George Brett since he retired in 1993.

With all that said, not everyone is happy that Gordon is coming back. Some will argue that a man who is entering his age 36 season will just hold back a younger player who could receive valuable playing time this season if Gordo had stayed home. Some will point out that his best offensive season since 2016 was last year, and even then he could only muster an OPS+ of 96, which is just a smidge under league average. Some will say it is time to move on and let the past stay in the past, as a new era of Kansas City Royals baseball is getting ready to begin.

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But I’m not one of those people. I actually think the best thing for the Royals this season is for Gordon to be in tow. To me, having Gordon back gives this organization some stability as they maneuver into uncharted waters with a new owner and a new manager. To me, the script for the Royals this season just wouldn’t feel right without Alex out in left field.

So today, let’s weigh the positives and negatives of this signing. There are easily a nice dose of both and I will even admit that I see some of what the naysayers are saying when they view this as a poor signing. So let’s take off the “fan” hat for just a moment and put on our “subjective” hat and dissect the return of Alex Gordon.

First let’s look at Alex’s offense. As I said earlier, he did post what I will generously list as a league average season offensively in 2019. With that being said, he did improve his strike out rate, he saw a slight increase in his power numbers (including ISO) and improved his on base stats. But it doesn’t change the fact that at 36 years old, Gordon is a league average hitter at best and history has shown us that most players are likely to regress moving forward rather than improve. He will get on base at a decent clip, provide some power off and on, but his days of being an offensive force are essentially over.

Is Gordon blocking a younger player from getting quality playing time? This is a bit harder to really estimate, but there are two younger players (Brett Phillips and Bubba Starling) who an argument could be made would receive playing time if Gordon had not re-signed.

At this point, it’s not really known if Starling would receive the extra playing time no matter what. Bubba got a chance to show what he could do the last few months of 2019, and while defensively he might be the Royals best in the outfield, offensively he struggled. Over 197 plate appearances, Starling put up an OPS+ of 50 (league average is 100) and posted a negative WAR from both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs. Add in that he has only had two minor league seasons where he was an above average hitter, and it just appears that Starling is better suited to being a 4th outfielder or defensive replacement.

When it comes to Brett Phillips, there is at the least an argument that he should receive more playing time. Phillips struggled again in the big leagues in 2019 (.138/.247/.262, 35 OPS+), but showed some progress in AAA. From June 1 to August 13, Phillips hit .277/.404/.613 over 238 plate appearances and while he still struck out a decent amount (52 times over 58 games), he also walked 40 times and combined for 28 extra base hits.

The changes didn’t really transfer over during his time in the big leagues last year, but he did enough to at least get an audition at some point in 2020. Gordon being back in the picture might hinder that a bit, but you can say the same thing when the Royals acquired Maikel Franco and moved Hunter Dozier to right field. If the Royals were confident in Phillips, Franco wouldn’t have been signed. Gordon coming back appears to have been expected all along, so his return doesn’t appear to be the one blocking Phillips from playing time.

Credit: Royals.com

Gordon’s defense is still a plus for the team, as shown by him winning another Gold Glove award this offseason. He isn’t quite the defender he was in his prime, but he is still considered among the elite at his position. He might be a step or two slower, but he makes up for it with positioning and knowing how the ball moves as it makes its way to left field.

More than anything, it feels that Gordon is at a point in his tenure in Kansas City where he decides his own fate. You can’t blame the front office for wanting Gordon to stay in the fold, as his leadership and work ethic alone gives him value to the organization. There might not be any better stories than the ones told by younger players who want to prove themselves by showing up early in spring training and proving to management their dedication to making the team…only to find Alex Gordon is already there and has been working out for awhile. Gordon is the bar to climb towards in the organization and is the model when it comes to putting your all into being a part of the Royals.

So after 13 years, Gordon should be the one to decide whether he comes or goes. He doesn’t strike me as a player who will stay past his welcome and the Royals don’t appear to be a club that would allow that to happen. Considering that Kansas City will want to keep him in the organization whenever his playing career is over, allowing him to go out on his terms seems like the smart and respectful thing to do for the guy who has only wanted to play for one team.

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So while we are looking at the twilight of his career, it makes more sense to keep Gordon around than to not. We shouldn’t expect him to be any more than he has been these last few years and there is a good chance we don’t even see him take the field for more than 150 games in 2020. But considering all the reasons to let him go, keeping Gordon around feels like the right thing to do for this Royals team.

While some fans (like myself) love the numbers involved in baseball and even make suggestions based on those numbers, sometimes keeping a player around has very little to do with the statistics. Sometimes the right thing is to bring back a player who has been the core for this Royals team for the last ten years. Gordon has all the attributes that we love in our baseball players and has earned that respect.

If anything, the Houston Astros have proven over the last four months that structuring an organization based purely off of winning and losing allows for behavior that can be detrimental for any team. For as much grief as we give Dayton Moore, one of the characteristics that he should be applauded for is creating a family atmosphere within the Royals organization. Alex Gordon is the one of the wise father’s of this club and instead of looking at the possible negatives, I’m choosing to look at the positives as he makes his final turn around third base. Gordo has earned it.

My 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot

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We have reached that time of year again, where the discussion reverts back to the greats of the game of baseball. It’s the time of year where the “hot” isn’t really for the stove as much as the debates on which former players are most worthy of going into the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Last year, four players from the current ballot (and a couple from the Today’s Game Era committee) received induction into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, which appears to have cleared up the logjam we had seen on the ballot for years.Add in a sparse incoming class of eligible players and you have a year where there is one certain selection and a number of questions after that.

As a member of the IBWAA, this will be my sixth year of voting for ‘the Hall’ and as I have said in years past, I have no issue voting for anyone suspected for PED use, since I feel those players played within the parameters of the rules allowed at that time. I’ve long considered the Hall of Fame a museum of the game, not a church, and because of this I vote based on performance alone.

Now, there are a few differences between us in the IBWAA & our brethren in the BBWAA, one of which is the players we have already inducted. Last year we inducted Mariano Rivera and Roy Halladay. In years past we had elected Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds, so they did not show up on our ballot this year. Also, we are allowed to vote for up to 15 players, where the BBWAA can only vote for 10.

Before we get to my actual votes, you can read my previous votes: Here is 2014201520162017  ,2018 and 2019. Also, follow Ryan Thibodaux on Twitter. That way you can follow how the voting is going before the big announcement on January 21st.

Without further ado, here are my votes for the 2020 Hall of Fame ballot. I have shaken things up this year, so you won’t get the usual huge article breaking down every vote. Instead, this year I am going to break them down by category and explain a bit why I voted the way I did this year. In fact, this year saw a couple of firsts for me.

The Longtime Holdover

This will be the 10th and final year for Larry Walker to appear on the BBWAA ballot and there is still a lot of uncertainty from some on whether Walker is a legit HOFer. It took me awhile to come around, as I was always concerned about how much time he missed due to injury, but over the last few years Walker has become a regular on my ballot.

The numbers tell a story of a great all-around player: he could hit, field, run, hit for power and had a great arm in right field. There are batting titles, Gold Gloves, Silver Slugger awards and even an MVP award back in 1997. Love the black ink? He’s got a lot of that as well. I’m always big on guys who are statistically in the Top 100 of all-time in a number of strong categories, and Walker checks those off as well.

In fact there isn’t much that Walker doesn’t rack up when it comes to what we look for in a Hall of Fame player. According to the Hall of Stats, Walker is the 7th best right fielder in history and 10th according to JAWS. If you believe in the ‘7 Year Peak’, Walker has six seasons with a bWAR of 5 or more. It’s easy to see some of the concerns that are floated about, but when you look at overall weight, Walker is on par with most of the greats in right field.

So will he get in? That is the big question. As of this writing, he is sitting at 85% of the ballots made public. There is normally always a bit of a drop-off once all the ballots are counted, so it will be interesting to see just how big of a drop he has. In fact, he needs 69% of the rest of the ballots to reach the 75% needed for induction. It’s going to be a close one, so keep your fingers crossed that he reaches the final goal.

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The Usual Suspects

There are a number of players who have become “regulars” on my ballot over the years. This year that includes Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, Todd Helton, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner. They all have their strong points and reasons for me to check the box for them. If you want a real in-depth look at these candidates, I have covered them in full detail over the years. Here is a quick summation:

Jones and Rolen were defensive excellence and when you add on their offensive production, you have Hall of Fame talent. The big question for both of them is the length of that excellence and how far they dropped from their greatness. Rolen’s claim is a bit longer than Jones’, but both were impressive for a decent amount of time. You can also make the argument that they are both the best defensively at their respective positions, which should bump them up even more in the eyes of the voters. I’m a big proponent of a player’s “peak”, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I have voted for these two.

Ramirez and Sheffield have amazing offensive numbers and have put themselves in the Top 100 of a number of offensive statistics. I know many refuse to vote for Manny based on his testing positive for multiple drug tests and I respect that. I am one who just votes based off of the numbers, so both Manny and Sheff feel like surefire HOFers.

Helton and Wagner were dominant during their prime. While Wagner’s accumulative numbers don’t quite stack up, the average on those numbers are downright jaw-dropping. Relievers already get shortchanged when it comes to voters, but in my eyes if you are as dominant as Wagner was, you deserve a plaque. Helton was someone who’s numbers are impressive but the ballpark he called home makes him lose votes from some writers. When you look at the overall package though, you have a guy who was one of the best players in the game for a good chunk of his prime. I can see the argument for length of peak, but if you are a “Big Hall”  kind of person, Helton should feel like a slam-dunk.

Schilling has been a lightning rod for controversy over the years and his comments about journalists has not gone unnoticed by the people filling out those ballots. As much as I don’t agree with a lot (most) of what Schilling says, I’m only concerned about what he did between those white lines on the baseball diamond. Schilling was an elite pitcher throughout his career and has immaculate postseason numbers. This should be why he gets a plaque in Cooperstown, even though it feels like it will take at least another year or two for that to happen.

The Lock

The one person that we know will have his name announced on Tuesday is Derek Jeter and really the only question about his induction will be whether or not he receives 100% of the vote like his former teammate, Mariano Rivera, did last year. Jeter was an easy vote for me, since he has the numbers, the postseason glory and mystique that most look for in their Hall of Famers.

My only real knock on Jeter is his defensive prowess or lack thereof. I know some will glance at the Gold Glove awards on his resume and assume excellence, but Jeter at best was an average defender and below-average later on in his career. This doesn’t take away from his spot in Cooperstown, but I feel we should point out a part of his lore that has been exaggerated over the years because of plays where he has ran into the stands to catch a foul ball or the play in Oakland where he dished the ball to the catcher. While they are great highlights, they don’t speak of his actual defensive standing.

I will admit to loathing the media coverage of Jeter during his final season and it would be hard to even put him as one of the top ten shortstops of all time (JAWS has him ranked 12th all-time). Part of the “Jeter Love” stems purely from the national media, which if we are being honest is essentially the East Coast media. My fellow friends in the Midwest will agree with me that most of the media coverage about baseball leans very much to the New York’s and Boston’s of the world and while I understand most are based there on the eastern portion of the country, it would be wise for them to realize that the entire baseball community does not revolve around there little portion of the world.

So you will hear a lot of smoke blown up the arse of Jeter over the next few days and even the weekend he is inducted. While he was a great player, he wasn’t the greatest ever and he definitely doesn’t deserve to go into ‘The Hall’ on his own. Just a bit of reality would go a long way for some of us who would like to acknowledge his greatness without feeling like we will be told he is a God.

Maybe?

For the first time this year, I voted for two players that I don’t really know whether or not I believe they are Hall of Famers but I wanted more time to review their cases. In years past, there has been such a backload of worthy candidates that it was hard to justify a players vote purely to keep them on the ballot. Since most of that has been cleared out now, I went ahead and voted for Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi so I can continue to review their careers.

Abreu’s case is interesting, since he was never a true superstar but was that solid middle of the lineup bat that always put up solid numbers. There isn’t much black ink, and outside of a few All-Star nods, a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove, no major awards were really thrown his way.

But what Abreu did do was get on base and rack together a solid 18-year career. He has a few statistics that are in the Top 100 of all-time (something I always look for) and even some that have filtered into the Top 30. Abreu is that borderline case that can go back and forth and while right now I’m not a ‘yes’, I wanted to continue looking into it which is why he received a vote from me.

Same could be said for Giambi, who does have an MVP award to his credit, with a few All-Star appearances and Silver Sluggers to his resume. Giambi has less of a case than Abreu (in my eyes), but his career power numbers are impressive: 50th all-time OPS, 68th slugging percentage, 43rd home runs, 65th RBIs, 82nd OPS+, 67th runs created, 87th extra base hits, 37th RE24 and 47th WPA.

Giambi also has a lot of black ink in his career, and for awhile was one of the top players in the game. His career started tapering off sooner than most would like, but his numbers are intriguing enough that I wanted to try and keep him on the ballot. I tend to think he will never get a 100% ‘yes’ vote from me, but keeping him around for another year or two to fully judge his career isn’t an awful thing to do for someone with his career.

So there are my picks. Like most, I always look forward to this time of year and see the greats of the game truly get the honor they rightfully deserve. The question this year becomes whether or not Derek Jeter is joined by a Larry Walker or a Curt Schilling and just how close the votes get. The voters have done a pretty good job over the last few years and I hope that continues as the years go by. More inductions are good for the game and help show off the diversity that litters Major League Baseball. This should be a showcase for the game, one that allows us to put baseball up on a pedestal. The more crowded the pedestal, the better, in my opinion.

 

Better Late Than Never: My 2019 Year End Awards

A few weeks ago, the BBWAA announced their year end award winners, mostly with approval amongst the baseball community. That also means that a group that I am a part of, the IBWAA, announced their winners as well. Per usual, I took part in the voting for all of the awards and normally I go through my picks in this space, breaking down my choices and why it went the way it did.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the time to write about my votes, so instead you will get a condensed version this year. Before we get started, here are my winners from 2018. You will notice a big difference in articles this year, but I wanted to at least get my votes out there and see how close I was to the mass majority. As always, it is a true honor to have this opportunity to vote and I always vote with the utmost respect. With that being said, here are my picks to win awards in 2019:

American League MVP: Mike Trout

My Top 3: 1-Trout, 2-Bregman, 3-Alvarez

IBWAA Winner: Mike Trout

BBWAA Winner: Mike Trout

National League MVP: Christian Yelich

My Top 3: 1-Yelich, 2-Bellinger, 3-Rendon

IBWAA Winner: Cody Bellinger

BBWAA Winner: Cody Bellinger

American League Cy Young Award: Gerrit Cole

My Top 3: 1-Cole, 2-Verlander, 3-Clevinger

IBWAA Winner: Justin Verlander

BBWAA Winner: Justin Verlander

National League Cy Young Award: Jacob deGrom

My Top 3: 1-deGrom, 2-Scherzer, 3-Ryu

IBWAA Winner: Jacob deGrom

BBWAA Winner: Jacob deGrom

American League Rookie of the Year: Yordan Alvarez

My Top 3: 1-Alvarez, 2-Biggio, 3-Anderson

IBWAA Winner: Yordan Alvarez

BBWAA Winner: Yordan Alvarez

National League Rookie of the Year: Pete Alonso

My Top 3: 1-Alonso, 2-Tatis, Jr., 3-Soroka

IBWAA Winner: Pete Alonso

BBWAA Winner: Pete Alonso

American League Manager of the Year: Aaron Boone

My Top 3: 1-Boone, 2-Baldelli, 3-Cash

IBWAA Winner: Rocco Baldelli

BBWAA Winner: Rocco Baldelli

National League Manager of the Year: Mike Shildt

My Top 3: 1-Shildt, 2-Martinez, 3-Counsell

IBWAA Winner: Brian Snitker

BBWAA Winner: Mike Shildt

American League Reliever of the Year: Liam Hendriks

My Top 3: 1-Hendriks, 2-Rogers, 3-Chapman

IBWAA Winner: Liam Hendriks

BBWAA Winner: Aroldis Chapman

(Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)

National League Reliever of the Year: Kirby Yates

My Top 3: 1-Yates, 2-Hader, 3-Lugo

IBWAA Winner: Kirby Yates

BBWAA Winner: Josh Hader

So there you have it, another season officially wraps up as we reward those that reached the highest of achievements. It is a great honor that I get to vote every year like this and I can only hope I do a respectable part to show the value of an organization like the IBWAA. This is a game we all love and while we might squabble here and there on numbers, it really comes down to what you value. I can only hope 2020 brings us just as many highly contested winners. Here’s to baseball being back sooner rather than later.

Royals Hire Matheny as Their New Manager…and You Shouldn’t Be Happy About That

The inevitable and expected happened on Thursday, as the Kansas City Royals announced that Mike Matheny would be their new manager, taking over the for the retired Ned Yost. This move can be traced all the way back to last November, when the Royals brought him into the organization to be a special advisor to player development.

While this was expected for months, it has also been a very unpopular hire within the Royals fanbase, with many like myself pointing out many of the issues that led to his dismissal in St. Louis. This hire has left many shaking their head and wondering why the Royals braintrust felt giving Matheny a second opportunity at managing was wiser than taking a chance on a younger option like Pedro Grifol or Vance Wilson.

If I am truly being fair here, lets look at some of the positives that pop up on Matheny’s resume. Under his leadership, Matheny guided the Cardinals to the playoffs his first four years at the helm, including a World Series appearance in 2013 and leading baseball in wins in 2015 (when the Royals won the World Series over the Mets). He accumulated a record of 591-474 over his six and a half seasons in St. Louis, which is impressive for someone who had never managed before and was following in the footsteps of the legendary Tony LaRussa.

What eventually led to his dismissal in St. Louis has been well documented and feels like a list of ‘Do-Nots’ for any manager to follow. He showed a preference to veterans, struggled with communication when met with resistance, was not open-minded to advance analytics, showed poor decision-making when it came to tactical decisions, neglected fundamentals and was not open to outside advice. If you really want a window into why so many Royals fans (and analysts within the game) have been against the hire, this is probably a great way to start.

So with all that said, why was Matheny Dayton Moore’s choice? For one, he is an old school leader who follows in line with Moore on how the game should be played. Both are firm believers in a style that focuses on putting the ball in play, bunting runners over into scoring position and a love of the sacrifice fly. In some ways Matheny is an extension of Ned Yost, at least when it comes to the tactical side of a managers job. As a baseball fan, this part isn’t the worst thing in the world, as the ball being put in play more has proven to be a more exciting product to watch and one that was very successful for the 2014-2015 Royals teams.

The issue lies in the problems that arose in St. Louis near the end of his run. The Royals are in a rebuild (whether Moore acknowledges it or not) and with that comes a higher focus on young talent. Matheny showed a tendency to lean toward his veterans while the younger players would ride some pine if met with any struggles. At this point of development, the younger players in Kansas City will need the playing time and a long stint on the bench won’t really do them any good. Yost was great working with the youngsters, even going back to his time in Milwaukee. This was one aspect of Ned’s managerial style that he was praised for and one that Matheny would be smart to adopt.

Maybe this will change for Matheny since he is in a different situation than the one he was anointed in St. Louis. Matheny was thrown into the pressure cooker when he was hired by the Cardinals, as he was replacing a legend in Tony LaRussa and left with a roster that was playoff-ready. There was no rebuild going on during his stint in St. Louis and the expectancy to win was much higher than it is going to be in Kansas City the next two years. We should know pretty early whether or not Matheny has changed in this regard and it will be interesting how he handles a different side of the game, one that can expect more lows than highs.

Another issue that has to be addressed would be his communication skills. Matheny was known as someone who would shut down for long periods of time and sometimes even ignore certain players. This can’t happen in Kansas City and is a big part of my concern with him taking over this job. He will be working with younger players who need feedback on what they are doing correctly and incorrectly and having a manager that isn’t there to teach them is a major problem. During the press conference on Thursday, Matheny talked a lot about “growing” and acknowledging his “blind spots” and for this to work, this can’t be just talk.

So is it just talk? Obviously at this point there is no way to tell but Moore saw enough that he felt the change was real. Matheny did take an analytics course to grow his knowledge and even hired a consultant to help him deal with the media. At the very least, these are signs that Matheny wanted an opportunity to manage again and was willing to take the steps necessary to make it happen. He was very stubborn during his first managerial job when it came to not only the use of analytics but also taking any other comments, opinions or suggestions as a form of growth. Matheny would be wise to soak in everything that is tossed his away and at the very least consider the advice that is sent his way. If he is serious at growing, he needs to be an open-minded manager.

With this said, the biggest reason I don’t feel Matheny is the right hire for Kansas City is because to me he isn’t the best choice. To me, the best choice has been in the Royals dugout for years now and his name is Pedro Grifol. Grifol has been with the big league club since 2013, when he was brought in as a special assignment coach when George Brett was hired as interim hitting coach. Grifol has also served as the quality control coach, catching coach and hitting coach during his tenure in Kansas City. While he was with the Mariners organization, Grifol was a manager, scout, coordinator of instruction and Director of Minor League Operations. You could probably name it, and Grifol has done it.

So why do I feel he is the best choice? Not only does his wealth of knowledge in all aspects of the organization help, but he is also bilingual, has the respect and admiration of the current players and has watched many of the players move up through the organization as well as watching the current crop that is still down in the minors. Grifol has shown an ability to learn and grow and is someone thought highly of not only within the Royals organization, but other organizations as well. Currently he is on the short list of candidates to become the new San Francisco Giants manager and has been considered for managerial jobs in the past in both Detroit and Baltimore. Grifol would have walked into the Royals managerial job with a leg up on everyone else while having all the tools that organizations look for in their field generals.

So with that said, why the choice of Matheny over Grifol? Managerial experience is almost certainly one of reasons, but there is another reason that isn’t talked about as much but one I addressed just last weekend. Dayton Moore is a deeply religious man and so is Mike Matheny. We have seen over the last few years Moore get more and more aggressive with this beliefs being pushed out in public, most publicly with his battle against pornography. As Royals fans, we have known about Moore’s faith for years and for the most part it has never been a big issue. Craig Brown at Royals Review talked extensively about this the other day (which I highly recommend you click that link) and I felt better after reading it because I wasn’t alone in believing that Moore hired Matheny in part because of his religious beliefs.

I know some will disagree with this, but much like Matheny talked about his “blind spots” when it came to managing, I firmly believe Moore’s “blind spot” is his faith. Part of that faith is believing in second chances and in my opinion that is what is going on here. Moore sees Matheny as a good Christian man and wants to reward him for that by giving him another managing job. By no means am I saying Matheny shouldn’t be given a second chance at some point. Far from it. At some point I do believe he should be given that second chance, as long as he has shown that he has learned what failed him during his first managerial job.

But he is just 15 months removed from that firing, which feels too soon. Add in a candidate in Grifol that feels like the superior choice and you start wondering “why Matheny?”. It seems very apparent where the dots are connected here and why Matheny was Dayton’s choice. Personally, I have no issue with anyone and their religion. As comedian Katt Williams would say “You do you, Boo-Boo”. But when it comes to baseball and hiring coaches or signing players, I care nothing about religion. I want the best person for the job, the person who will give the team the best opportunity to win. Unless they are just an absolutely deplorable human, it doesn’t matter to me whether you praise Jesus, Buddha, Allah or any other deity. I want the best person for the job and Matheny is not that person for the Royals.

Moore has made his decision and I will call it now: this move will be the beginning of the end for Dayton. Over the last couple years, he has made some questionable moves and we’ve seen his decision making become more and more questionable. It used to just be free agent signings or trades but now it has started to seep over into whether his personal belief system is on a higher plain than winning. Need more proof? Look no more than his defending of Luke Heimlich. Moore’s want to give people a second chance almost gave the organization a giant stain that would have been hard to recover from. It is obvious what his mission is at this point and on a daily basis I question more and more whether or not that goal is winning. The hiring of Matheny could very well be his eventual downfall, especially with new ownership getting ready to move in.

So it is very obvious that Matheny being hired by Kansas City was not well received at my house. The hope for those of us who dislike the move is that he proves us wrong and he has truly changed his ways. For the longterm health of this organization, I hope that his hiring won’t push back the progress that has been made these last few years. The good news is this: when Ned Yost was brought in, many like myself looked down on the hire and eventually Yost proved us wrong. Now it’s Matheny’s turn. For our sanity, I need to be wrong.

Musings and Opinions About October and Baseball

(Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports)

With the MLB postseason in the stretch run, I thought I would run through a few topics that are hitting the baseball news cycle this month and put a bit of a personal slant on it. With that being said, let’s start with our Kansas City Royals.

The Wrong Choice?

If you are a Royals fan, you are probably well aware that former St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is the frontrunner to take over for Ned Yost in the dugout. You are also probably aware that Royals fans have been very adamant about their dislike of Matheny and the feeling that he would be a horrible choice to take the helm in KC. In fact, if you thought Yost caught a lot of flak, it’s nothing compared to Matheny and he hasn’t even been hired yet.

If you are unaware of why many of us within the fanbase are not fond of Matheny, it basically comes down to his dealings with the players near the end of his run in St. Louis. Matheny wasn’t even talking to outfielder Dexter Fowler and it even sounds like he allowed bullying to go on in the bullpen. Go ahead and read this to get a better idea of what was going on while he was with the Cardinals and there is also this from a few Cardinals fans. To say there is some skepticism about Mike and his handling of the clubhouse would be an understatement.

While I have concerns with all of this (and worry how this could effect a young team like the Royals), there is another issue that I have with the idea of WHY exactly Royals GM Dayton Moore would hire a man with this much baggage. It has to do with Matheny’s faith and how Moore seems to want to surround himself with people who are very religious and wear it like a badge of honor on their sleeves.

I almost hate to keep bringing this up, since I have no issue with what anyone believes in or doesn’t believe in. To me, it comes down to whether or not you are qualified to do the job at hand and no matter what team, you should hire the person best suited for the job. If Matheny was coming off a great run in St. Louis and was a good fit for Kansas City, I couldn’t care less what his religious beliefs were. If he was the best choice, he should be the man hired to take over for Ned.

But instead, it feels like Dayton is continuing to hire based more on faith rather than logic. I’m all for giving someone a second chance and the Cardinals job was Matheny’s first managing job. It would be ridiculous to think he didn’t learn anything from it. But the Royals are in a position where they are a young team that needs proper leadership to help them grow and eventually flourish at the big league level, to the point of them possibly contending within a couple of years. Hiring someone like Matheny, who doesn’t appear to work as well with younger talent as well as veterans, would seem to be a weird hire for a team that is in full-blown rebuild mode.

The Royals have two coaches in-house (Pedro Grifol and Vance Wilson) who have had their names tossed around in managing circles and would appear to both be good choices for any team that is considering hiring them. Both have been with the Royals organization for years and have seen many off the current roster make their way through the Kansas City farm system. Both have good relationships with the players and embrace advanced analytics, which every team is now using to help the development of their players.

This feels like a no-brainer, but you have to really worry about a team that thinks Matheny is a good fit to lead the Royals into the next realm of their development. Maybe Grifol has been the choice all along and we’ve all spent a ton of time worrying about nothing. But it doesn’t feel that way and it feels like the beginning of the downfall of Dayton Moore. I hope I’m wrong, because what awaits us if Matheny is hired could be tough to endure when all Moore has to do is make the best choice for the team.

Nationals Devil Magic     

The funnest team to watch this postseason has been the Washington Nationals. Not only are they an underdog (going from the Wild Card game to the World Series), but they are a jovial team that appears to enjoy each other’s company. In fact, it hit me the other day that part of why I like watching this Nationals team as much as I do could be because they remind me of the 2014-2015 Royals teams that had a little bit of luck on their side.

Offensively there appears to be a lot of the Royals formula in their style. This is a team that just finds a way to get on base and numerous times this postseason has managed to compile multiple run innings by “moving the line”. Washington has a bit more power than those Royals teams, but they know how to keep an inning alive and make their baserunners count.

Pitching-wise, their rotation is miles better than Kansas City’s was, but the Royals had an edge when it came to their bullpen. Switching around the roles, the Nationals lean on a dominant rotation while the Royals leaned on their dominant bullpen. There are slight differences (and it makes the late innings a bit more stressful if you are a Washington fan), but you can see enough of a similarity that it’s not hard for a Royals fan to cheer for their brethren in D.C.

If Washington can seal the deal, they would have a giant monkey off their back, much like the Royals did in 2014. The hard part for them was winning a playoff series, which they had never done before. Since then, they have been playing with house money and you can tell how much looser they are on the field…just like when the Royals won the Wild Card game in 2014. Bottom line is while they aren’t carbon copies, they are close enough that it has been easy to get behind the Nationals this October. I can only hope they are able to do what the Royals did in 2015.

Everything’s Coming Up Soto

(Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The biggest joy I have received from this postseason has been the attention given to Nationals outfielder Juan Soto. Soto, who just turned 21 (I know, you hadn’t heard that yet), has flown under the radar these last two years, especially to the casual baseball fan. But for those of us that follow it more closely, his success is something we pretty much expected. In fact, he probably should have been praised more before even getting to the playoffs.

With all the hoopla for Ronald Acuna, Jr. these last two seasons (and trust me, it’s deserved), Soto is right there with Acuna. I would even go so far as to say they are very similar players, as the numbers will attest. First, Acuna:

Now, Soto:

As you can see, the two have very similar numbers, with Acuna utilizing his speed more and probably the better defender. With that said, it has been nice to see Soto get the attention that Acuna has been receiving since before his recall to the majors. In some ways these two will be linked together till the end of time, much like Harper and Trout or Williams and DiMaggio. I’m not saying these two are on that level, but in the same regard they could be at the level soon.

So enjoy watching Soto in these next few games. It’s a treat that we get to appreciate him on the biggest stage with the biggest spotlight.

The World Series is nearing the end. Award season is just around the corner. And after that? I would like to say Hot Stove season, but the last two winters it has been anything but hot. So enjoy this week. While Major League Baseball has dealt with the de-juicing of the baseballs, the fiasco with the Houston Astros front office, and the news of a possible restructuring of the minor leagues, baseball needs a strong finish to the postseason and hope for an active offseason. The ball is in your court, baseball. Be smart with your next move.

One More For the Road?

Everything comes to an end eventually. If we’ve learned anything during our time on this planet, it’s that change is inevitable and Mother Nature wins all races. You can try to slow things down and make them last longer, but eventually time wins out.

That’s two-fold for athletes. Their time in any sport is limited, some longer than others. If you are lucky, you get to play the sport of your choice for a couple decades and excel at what you do. These are the ones who make Mother Nature wait on them, knowing full well that their time will come in the end.

This is where Alex Gordon sits right now. One week left in the MLB regular season and Gordon has been pondering whether to play another season or hang up the spikes and quit doing the only job he has had as an adult. No decision has been made on his part and it appears none will be made before the season ends. At the age of 35, Gordon will be deciding whether he wants to return another season to help the next generation of Kansas City Royals, or step away to be with his family and look back fondly on his career.

Credit: Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

As a fan, I am very biased when it comes to Alex Gordon. He has been my favorite Royal for a number of years now and in my opinion is the closest thing Kansas City has had to George Brett since his retirement. Just reading this blog over the years would point out that Gordon is “The Man” for the Royals and the measuring stick that the current roster should be emulating. He has been a leader on and off the field over the years and while he isn’t a loud and brazen leader, he is the one that carries the most weight in the Royals clubhouse.

So why Gordon? Sure, there was a period where he was an elite level player and a regular All-Star. From 2011 to 2014, Gordon only had one season under 5 WAR and was “THE” best left fielder in baseball. Gordon has won 6 Gold Gloves since his move to the outfield in 2010 and very well could add a 7th this offseason. Most acknowledge that Gordon and his defense are the biggest part of his legacy and puts him on par with former Royals second baseman Frank White as a model of defensive excellence.

But he has been no slouch on offense either. During his ‘peak’ years (the before mentioned 2011-2014) he had only one average offensive season (2013) while the rest were at least 18% better than league average. He has racked up close to 200 home runs, over 350 doubles and has a career line of .258/.339/.413. While his peak didn’t last as long as some, it is a great addition to his golden glove.

Yes, the last few years have been a struggle for Gordon offensively (whatever you do, don’t go look at his 2017 numbers) but he has bounced back a bit here in 2019 and has posted his highest batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage since 2015. He is still essentially a league average hitter but when you add in his defense and leadership, you have a player worthy of a roster spot in Kansas City.

In fact, his early season surge had Gordon even leaning toward playing in 2020:

“My wife (Jamie) always asks me that and I’m just like, ‘I don’t know,’” Gordon told MLB.com. “There are a lot of things that will come into play when it comes to that decision.

“I give her percentages. At the beginning of the year, I gave her 50-50. Then I moved to 55-45. Now I’m at about 60-40 (on playing again).”

The other factor in play is whether the Royals want him back, since he doesn’t want to play elsewhere:

“I don’t want to play anywhere else,” Gordon said. “Yeah, I want to retire as a Royal. I’ve established my family here with my kids. This is home.”

The Royals will most definitely buyout the option on his contract this winter, but it is conceivable they could bring Gordon back at a lower rate. The Royals front office has showed mutual interest in bringing Alex back, so it is hard to imagine a world where Dayton Moore tells him no. With that said, at this point, it is Alex’s call.

With that said, I find it hard to imagine a world where Alex Gordon isn’t playing baseball for the Royals. My mind tells me it will happen eventually and for someone like me who is a realist, I know it is going to happen soon. But the idea of him not out in left field saddens me and it has been a long time since I have felt that way about a player on the Royals. Gordon is that piece of Kansas City, before they returned to prominence and before back-to-back World Series appearances.

Watching Gordon play over the last 13 years has been a pure treat and he has almost always made me glad to be a fan of the Royals. Before the season started this year, I prepared myself for his possible retirement at the end of the year and went and bought three Gordon shirts. If this was it, I was going to make sure I had his shirts that I could wear for a number of more years. I only own one baseball jersey, and it is a powder blue #4. To me, Gordon embodies what I love about this franchise.

So if this is the end, I’m going to treasure these last few games. If he decides to come back, I’ll probably go through the same cycle next year that I have over the last 7 months. The truth is that a part of those 2014-2015 Royals teams will die once Gordon is gone. He won’t be the last to go, but he will be a large chunk to leave. Players come and go, but there will only be one Alex Gordon in Kansas City.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Credit: Kansas City Star

I really thought I wasn’t going to write again until September at the earliest.

It was really going to take something big to force me to write.

David Glass selling the Kansas City Royals falls into the ‘big’ category.

Also, being on vacation makes it easier.

And yet here we are.

Here’s the thing: I wrote a whole big article about Sherman buying the Royals. 1500 words were spilled, easily one of the longest articles I have written in a long time. But then the auto-save feature here shit the bed.

All of it was gone. All but 172 words. I haven’t felt this kind of frustration in quite awhile. It was soul crushing for someone who hadn’t written in two months.

So you won’t get my in-depth look at the move. I just don’t have the energy or time to re-write my thoughts. It was a good article too. It made me feel better about the fact I hardly write anymore. I can still do this, which I was starting to question.

So instead, here is the abbreviated version: I like the move. Sherman seems like a good fit, even if it feels almost too good. Yes, that is probably the worry of a Royals fan from before 2014. Trust me, it never completely goes away.

Back to Sherman. The move feels as good as we could expect. Honestly, I feel better about the new ownership than I would have if Dan Glass took over for his dad. While I’m thankful for the Glass’ keeping the team in Kansas City and making moves to put together a championship team, even this year ‘Good ol’ Dave’ couldn’t bear to eat money in a move that would have helped the future of the organization.

It always felt like Glass was more concerned about his bottom line than the product that was presented on the field. It’s unfortunate, but when I can point to numerous times he wouldn’t eat money in a trade (and I covered all this in the lost article. Zobrist, Cueto, Soria, and even a possible Kennedy trade just a month ago) than there is proof that Glass never believed in the saying ‘to make money in baseball, you have to spend money’. Hopefully that is not lost on the new ownership.

What does this mean for GM Dayton Moore or Manager Ned Yost? There is no way to know for sure, but a new owner might want his own people. Or he might want to stay with the old guard that went to back to back World Series’ and won a world championship. All we know for sure is that once we hit November and the sale officially goes through, it could turn out to be a wild winter. You can’t run from it, changes are comin’.

So that is the short version of what I wrote. Since we are only at 500 words, lets run through a few things since I haven’t written in months. It’s been a long time since I wrote anything on this blog. In fact, it’s been so long that I look like this now:

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Credit: Hollywood Reporter

Okay, maybe I don’t look that old. But it feels like it. Also, that is Gandalf from the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies. I’m not as cool as him. Or talented. I’m quite a bit shorter and not nearly as thin. What was I talking about again?

Oh yeah. I was going to bring up a few other items related to the Royals. Let’s start with Jorge Soler.

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Soler currently sits at 38 home runs (as of this writing), which ties him with the Royals single season record that Mike Moustakas set back in 2017. So once Soler hits #39, he will be the new Moose. Who was the new Balboni. Who was the new Mayberry. 

The unfortunate part of all of this is that Kansas City is the only team to never have a 40-home run season from one of their hitters. Never. With Soler just two away, that record could go bye-bye as well. It’s amazing to think we are witnessing the greatest individual home run season in team history and it feels like a blip because balls are flying out of parks all across America at an alarming rate. And to think, just a couple seasons ago fans were ready to give up on Soler.

Looks like the Royals won this Wade Davis trade as well.   

Since this whole article is about change, it’s nice to see the team go and finally embrace the young talent and give them an opportunity in what has otherwise been a lost season. It was depressing as hell to see the team trot out the likes of Wily Peralta, Billy Hamilton and Lucas Duda for as long as they did. I get what the front office was thinking but it also felt like a colossal waste of time.

Look, this is a team that needs to know what they have with some of their fringe talent. Guys like Brett Phillips and Bubba Starling just need the opportunity to go out and get some experience at the major league level. Whether they sink or swim is undetermined, but at least give them a fighting chance. Putting out replacement level veterans (at best) to fill holes until some one is “ready” is so 2018. We all predicted what Hamilton would do. Most knew Peralta was going to be a dumpster fire.

If I’m going to watch my team go out and lose 100 games, at least give me the decency of doing it with players that may or may not be a part of the future. Penciling Lucas Duda’s name into the lineup from the beginning should have been a no-go. Instead, we got to see 119 plate appearances from a guy who wasn’t a league average hitter a year ago when he was in Kansas City and was even worse this year.

I know, it sounds like I am dumping on the front office and to some degree I am. They wanted to put up the illusion of contending (or at least flirting with .500), thinking the vets would perform better than expected and then they could turn around and flip them at the trade deadline. Problem was, most of them (if not all) regressed. Homer Bailey was the one true find and his pull from the trade with Oakland wasn’t much. 

The problem was that most of us as fans could tell it wasn’t working by mid-May at the latest. Instead of something being done soon after, we were forced to sit through two more months with these players that were just taking up space. I have no clue whether or not the Royals would have won a bunch more games if they would have sped up this process. For all we know, they would still be sitting with the same record they are at now, looking at another ‘Top 5′ draft pick. The point is that some of us would have preferred seeing the Phillips’ and Starling’s and Lovelady’s more than we have. Let the kids play, as they say.

Whew. Sorry about that. I’ve had months of that built up. Just needed to vent.  

So a month is left in the season. I want to see if these kids will flourish. Last year at this time was a fun time to watch Royals baseball, as they looked like a spry team looking to knock off some Goliath’s. That might not happen this year but a good ending to the season could be just the positive this team needs.

Maybe Bubba will start knocking the baseball around and Jorge Lopez will look like a competent reliever. Maybe Brett Phillips will make us forget about Moose and Richard Lovelady will look like the dominant reliever he was in the minors. Or we can just relish in the fact that we aren’t the Tigers. I’m game for that.

Also, maybe Dish Network and Fox Sports can settle their differences here soon. Sean would like to watch his Royals again before the season is over. Please?    

The 2019 Kansas City Royals: A Rebuild By Any Other Name is Still a Rebuild

Credit: Kansas City Star

When 2018 ended, the Kansas City Royals wrapped up one of the worst seasons in team history. The team coasted to a 104 loss season, allowing almost 200 more runs than they scored and compiling the worst bullpen in baseball.

But something happened those last two months. The team compiled a 25-31 record in August and September and while on the surface it IS still a losing record, compared to the team’s 13-31 record in June and July, the latter months made them look like world beater’s.

So the team was actually riding a high those last two months and they were doing it with a simple philosophy: pitching and speed. For the first time all season, they looked more like the aggressive team we saw during their championship runs in 2014 and 2015 than the team’s that appeared to be scraping by the previous two seasons.

Credit: Kansas City Star

Whatever the reason, that philosophy trickled into the offseason and the Royals you are getting ready to see in 2019 appear to be a team ready to run. Management realized this was a team with very little power and the possibility of competing with other teams stocked with that extra ‘pop’ wasn’t going to get them very far. So instead, they have decided to take a page from Forrest Gump and just run.

The Royals already had the American League stolen base leader (Whit Merrifield) from last year and coupled with rising star Adalberto Mondesi (32 steals in 75 games), it appeared the team had an excellent one-two punch that would keep the opposing defense busy.

But then they signed super-speedy outfielder Billy Hamilton. Then they reunited with baseball’s version of Barry Allen, Terrance Gore. The Royals decided to double-down on speed and make sure that the catchers and pitchers around the league are going to have to stay on their toes when facing Kansas City this season.

Credit: Getty Images

But will this plan of attack work? The biggest roadblock to the Royals offense this season isn’t the lack of power or even the uncertainty of a number of younger players. The biggest fly in the ointment could very well be their ability to get on base, or lackthereof.

While Merrifield or even Ryan O’Hearn showed an ability last year to consistently find their way on base, bu t others did not. Hamilton is the biggest concern, as he posted a .299 OBP in 2018 with a rising strikeout rate. While he did see an uptick in his walk rate last year, he struck out more and saw an increase in his flyball rate. For a guy who’s sole purpose it is to get on base and cause havoc, it would appear less strike outs and putting the ball in the air less would be a healthier way to get the most desired results.

In fact, outside of Whit and Alex Gordon, no other Royals hitter had a walk total above 30. This is a team that needs to be on base as much as possible to score runs, since relying on a longball to help them doesn’t appear to be much of an option. The Royals were near the bottom portion in almost every power category last year for all of baseball and there doesn’t appear to be much help on the way. That being said, there could be some interesting developments to follow this year when it comes to the offense.

Credit: Kansas City Star

O’Hearn saw 170 plate appearances in his rookie year and showed that he could hit major league pitching, posting a solid OBP and an OPS+ of 155. But most of his damage was against righties, so the goal in 2019 is to see what he can do against lefties. The good news is that he produced some solid numbers in the minors against lefties in his career, so there is a chance that last year was an outlier.

Hunter Dozier struggled during most of his rookie campaign, but showed some steady progress as the year wore on. He has looked good this spring and his continued development would be huge for the Royals success this year.

Brett Phillips is starting the year in AAA, but he has a chance to be a regular if he can tone down his strike outs this year. Phillips has some major pop in his bat and combined with his above-average defense, could be a foundation piece for Kansas City if he battle some of his flaws this year.

Most eyes are on Mondesi to see what he does this year. He started seeing regular playing time in July of last year and once that happened he appeared to take off. He hit .276/.306/.498 last year with 14 home runs and an OPS+ of 116. Mondesi’s combination of speed and power illicits a lot of comparisons and if he can continue to hit with authority while showing a bit of patience, he could be an elite player in no time at all.

Credit: Kansas City Star

Then start the questions. Will Jorge Soler stay healthy? It felt like Soler had turned a corner last year and one wonders what would have been if he hadn’t fouled a ball off his foot in Oakland. For the Royals to show some improvement this year, they need a healthy Soler to steer the middle of the batting order.

Can Chris Owings rebound? Owings is the new ‘Alcides Escobar’ (ie. super utilityman, not player who will never leave) and it would appear he is going to be a semi-regular moving forward. But Owings hit a paltry .206/.272/.302 but he also posted an extremely low BABIP of .265 which could be a sign of bad luck. Owings has never posted an above-average offensive season, so his value at this point might be tied into how he produces on defense.

How about the catchers? With Salvador Perez gone for the year, the catcher’s spot will be helmed by Cam Gallagher and Martin Maldonado. While you shouldn’t expect much from these two on offense, defensively the Royals might actually see an improvement in 2019. I’m not saying either of these two are superior to Perez as much as I’m saying that what they excel at are the areas that Salvy struggles with. It will be interesting to see how these two mesh with the pitching staff.

Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Finally for the offense, Alex Gordon returns to man left field. Gordon hasn’t been the same since his collision with Mike Moustakas back in 2016, but he did show a few signs of offensive glory last year and defensively is an elite defender. This very well could be the end of the road for Gordon, as his contract is up at the end of the season and he has talked about going home and spending more time with his family.

As an Alex Gordon fan, this is going to be a hard season for me and this spring has already left me dreading what is close at hand. Gordon has been the lifeblood of this organization for a long time and it’s going to be strange if this is it. At some point this year, I will discuss a bit more in detail, but for me, Gordon has been the closest thing to George Brett the Royals have had since #5 retired. For those of us that have been around for the last 30+ years, 2019 will be an end of an era.

Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

All this talk about the offense and no mention of the pitching? No worries, as the rotation for Kansas City actually looks like a pretty solid group. Brad Keller looks to front the rotation this arm, as he looks to duplicate a great rookie season. Keller started the year as a Rule 5 pick that the Royals could stow away in the bullpen and by the end of the year he had locked down a starting job and become Kansas City’s most reliable pitcher.

Jake Junis and Jorge Lopez return and both look to improve in 2019. Junis was an innings eater last year but ran into some issues with the longball (32 home runs given up last year) and is hoping to cut that total down to a more livable number.

Lopez was acquired mid-season from Milwaukee and showed signs of being a stud as the season progressed. His most notable achievement last year was the perfect game he took into the 9th inning against the Twins in September. For the Royals to see some success this season, these two need to show some improvement in their game.

The back-end of the rotation looks to be filled by Homer Bailey and Danny Duffy. Bailey is looking to resurrect his career and showed glimpses of a solid starter throughout the spring. The biggest issue for Bailey has always been his consistency and for him to stay employed in Kansas City he is going to have to show some steadiness in his performance.

Duffy is coming back from an injury-riddled 2018 and is hoping to be ready once April rolls around next week. There are a lot of questions of whether Duffy can be an elite starter again or whether he can just stay healthy for a full season, and the Royals are going to give him every opportunity to show he can return to his past stellar glory. There was some talk of moving Duffy to the bullpen, but as of now he is slated for the rotation.

Credit: Kansas City Star

Speaking of, Ian Kennedy appears to be starting the season in the bullpen, a move that the coaches hope can keep him off the injured list. The Royals hope to use him as a guy who can throw a few innings at a time out of the pen while possibly filling in as a starter should an injury arise. There is some belief that Kennedy’s stuff will play better out of the pen, much like former Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar. Kennedy is locked in for another two seasons (counting this one), so Kansas City is going to give him one last chance to show his worth.

When talking about the bullpen, the honest truth is that one has to believe this year’s group can’t be any worse than the pen the Royals assembled in 2018. In fact, when I talked to Max Rieper of Royals Review earlier in the month, that was exactly his sentiments. It’s essentially addition by subtraction and with Maurer, Boyer and Grimm sent off to sea, the pen would appear to be improved from last year.

The Royals have added Brad Boxberger and Jake Diekman to fill the veteran quota of the pen, while also giving them some late inning experience that was sorely lacking for most of last year. Wily Peralta returns to fill a late inning role while Kevin McCarthy and Tim Hill also appear to be returning, and both were solid during their time in Kansas City last year.

That being said, it has sounded like there might not be defined roles in the pen for these relievers, at least early on. Boxberger, Diekman and Peralta will all be called upon to fill not only the late innings, but will be the primary candidates for any high-leverage situation. It will be interesting to see if anyone breaks away from the rest and ends up as the de facto closer in 2019.

Credit: Kansas City Star

But the real story out of the pen this spring has been the emergence of former first round draft pick Kyle Zimmer. Zimmer did not pitch at all in 2018, as Kansas City sent him to Driveline to build up his strength and see if they could help him stay healthy, which has been a longstanding issue with him.

After a solid stint there, Zimmer was signed by Kansas City to a major league contract and thrown onto the 40-man roster. All he did this spring is produce a 0.71 ERA in 12+ innings, striking out 8 and walking 4. His velocity is up a few MPH and appears to finally be ready to make his major league debut. If he continues to excel, he will easily be the best story to come out of Kansas City in what appears to be a year focused on rebuilding.

Yes, the Royals are rebuilding. I’m not declaring anything you don’t already know, but Dayton Moore has refused to use that ‘R’ word over the last 4 or 5 months, always implying that the team is still going to go out there and “compete”. As a veteran Royals fan, let me try my best to interpret “Dayton Speak”, which isn’t always as clear as one might think.

What I believe Moore is trying to relay is that Kansas City isn’t tanking this year, but rather trying to stay a bit competitive while also allowing a number of younger players the time to develop at the big league level. Now what this means they still want fans to come out to the stadium and not feel like this isn’t a team worth paying your hard earned money for. They also have a television contract to think about, and the higher the ratings, the higher the dollars will be once it is signed.

Credit: Nicky Lopez, Twitter

But in layman’s terms, yes, it is a rebuild. While the team has brought in veterans like Lucas Duda, Owings and Bailey to fill roles to start the year, it doesn’t mean those vets are the focus. The focus will be on not only the Lopez’s, Phillips’ and O’Hearn’s, but also guys like Nicky Lopez and Richard Lovelady, who will probably both make their big league debuts this year. It will be about finding out if a minor league vet like Frank Schwindel can take advantage of his opportunity in the big leagues. It will be about seeing who can fill what role and who is worth keeping around once this team starts winning again.

So if I am being fair and unbiased, this is probably a team who is going to win 70-75 games this year, a healthy improvement over last year. At times this team will look like they have turned a corner and other times they will look like a boxer who has fallen back into the ropes. Part of the joy of a rebuild is watching the youngsters learn and grow and a lot of times that includes more struggling than succeeding.

Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

So hopefully you come along for the ride. It’s going to get bumpy from time to time, but 162 games will do that to a person. What I can say with quite a bit of certainty is that no matter what, it’s hard to imagine this version of the Royals being as woeful as they were in 2018. This version will at least give you reasons to stay in your seat. Whether you want to see Mondesi or Merrifield, or Keller or Lovelady, it’s going to be an interesting development. Just call it what it is: it’s a rebuild, Kansas City style.

Taking Whit for Granted

Last Monday, it was made official, as the Kansas City Royals and Whit Merrifield came to an agreement on a 4-year deal worth a guaranteed $16.25 million. The deal is one that benefits both the team and the player, and it would appear keeps Whit in Kansas City for the foreseeable future.

But what this deal will also do is really force us to appreciate what Whit Merrifield has done so far in his major league career. While we have praised him and been in awe of his productivity over these last couple of years, the honest truth is we took him for granted. Yes, we haven’t really admired and valued him the way we should have.

This doesn’t mean we haven’t loved watching him perform on the diamond or been impressed with what he has accomplished. As a fanbase, I feel we have done that and we’ve embraced him as one of us, a true Royal. But there is a line where you can enjoy watching and cheering on a player but not really grasp what your eyes are seeing. There is a point where you are not really appreciating what stands before you.

We all know how impressive it has been that Whit, at the age of 27, made his major league debut, an age that normally doesn’t guarantee success. Since that debut, Whit has posted a 3 WAR season, a 5 WAR season and has accumulated 11 bWAR over his career. Great numbers for a guy who no one saw as more than a bench player, let along a top prospect.

In fact, Merrifield has been compared to former Royal Ben Zobrist when it comes to his versatility and it’s not just his ability to play all over the diamond that feeds the comparison. Zobrist made his major league debut at the age of 25, but didn’t really stick in the big leagues until his age 28 season. That year saw him pile up 8.6 bWAR and an OPS+ of 149. While Whit hasn’t quite up the power numbers that Zobrist did in his prime, there is enough statistical comparisons to see that the two have very similar trajectories.

Both were late bloomers and that pushed us to believe that Whit was an anomaly. After the 2017 campaign, many of us (myself included) felt that the smartest play for the Royals was to trade Merrifield. The belief was that his value was never going to get higher and there was no guarantee that he would be able to duplicate what he did during that season.

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So what did he do? He just came out and hit .304/.367/.438 while leading the league in hits and stolen bases. He racked up 5.5 bWAR and proved himself to be one of the top second basemen in the game, despite the fact that the Royals were still moving him around the field like a chess piece. Whit defied the odds and continued to improve his production.

Even after what he did in 2018, many felt the smart move to was to trade him this winter. As someone who used to be in that camp, it’s easy to see the logic. Here is a player who is entering his age 30 season, coming off of a 5 win season, playing for a team that doesn’t appear to be contending for postseason play for at least a couple more years. Using the rebuilding playbook, it would make sense to see what you could get for Merrifield and make a deal for younger players who could help the team in their contending window.

Makes sense, right? To me, this is where we have been taking him for granted. We’ve been so focused on Whit’s fall from grace and how he will be nearing his mid-30’s by the time the Royals are contending that we haven’t focused on how he can help this club get there in the first place.

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While a young team can strive based on talent alone, there is always a piece of the puzzle that could and should be filled by the veterans that lead them there. Go ask the 2014 Royals about Raul Ibanez and what he meant. Go ask the 2015 team about Jonny Gomes. Keeping Merrifield around to be an influence on the players moving up through their system can only be looked at as a positive for Kansas City.

Just look at his story. The guy was left off the Royals 40-man roster a few years back, available for any team to take in the Rule 5 Draft. Luckily, he wasn’t taken, worked himself back to reach the big leagues, was left off the Opening Day roster in 2017, returned to Kansas City and has turned himself into an All-Star caliber player. If you are a young player who has struggled or is struggling, Whit is motivation that anything is possible if you set your mind to it.

That hard work, the work ethic, will find a way to rub off on the players we will see over these next couple of years. It’s easy to see Merrifield taking a more prominent leadership role moving forward and possibly even replacing Alex Gordon as a shining example of the hard work put into honing your craft.

Even if Whit drops off a bit these next few years (and that is possible as he gets closer to reaching his regression years), it doesn’t appear as if he is just going to drop off the board entirely. Even a 2-3 WAR season is more than adequate for a guy looking to build up a team that is rebuilding. Whit’s value at this point goes beyond the numbers on the field as he looks to be a cornerstone for the Royals moving forward.

So we now know that Whit is not going anywhere and we can really start focusing on all that makes him great. We can focus on the speed, the skill, the unselfishness and even the leadership. Rather than focus on what the Royals can get for him, we can turn our attention to how he can make the team better.

Dayton Moore is a big believer in loyalty and when he has that devotion he pays it back in spades. Whit has been loyal to the organization and on Monday he was shown that loyalty back. While we sometimes scoff at the manner in which Moore handles matters on the field, there is something to be said for focusing on players with high character.

But that character has to be met with productivity to truly work. Hopefully Whit will reward the organization’s loyalty with the same output we have seen these last two seasons. It’s time to start paying attention to what Merrifield really means to this team. It’s hard to bet against the guy who has defied all the odds up to this point.

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