There is something to be said about a good baseball book and when you can find one that deals with failure, it makes it even better. “The Bullpen Gospels” is a book written by former major league reliever Dirk Hayhurst, looking at a pivotal part of his career while in the minor leagues. While a number of baseball books delve into the successes of its players, this book also takes a hard look at what it is like as a player trying to achieve his dream while coming up through the minor leagues
The book begins as Hayhurst is struggling with his future. He’s coming off of a lackluster finish to a season and is unsure how long he wants to continue trying to reach his dream of being a big league pitcher. He does a great job of letting us wander into his mind as he deals with what his future has in store. You really get a window into how something as major as “confidence” can play into a player’s success or failure. Hayhurst is dealing with a floundering career, a lack of confidence and a non-existent support system.
While the focal point of this book is Hayhurst’s struggle and attempt to reach the big leagues, the aspect of the book that really grabs you is his description of minor league life and the relationships with his teammates. Whether it is the lewd jokes, the grizzled coaches or even a bus trip from hell, listening to stories about the grind of a baseball season really puts into perspective how unattractive the minor leagues can be. While some of the names are legit and left as is, there are a number of players whose names were changed for one reason or another. If you’ve ever wondered what it is like to live a season chasing your baseball dream, this is a nice view into that scenario.
You also find out how Dirk evolves as a pitcher and allows himself to not worry about his performance on the field. While his struggles are in the forefront at the beginning of the book, his success is thrown in as almost a side note as the book progresses. The deeper you get into this book, the more you realize it isn’t as much about what happens on the baseball field as much as it’s a look into the thinking pattern of a player trying to avoid the repetitiveness of a long baseball season.
Overall, I loved the book. I’ve always had a fondness for locker room stories and a deeper look into not just the game of baseball but the nuts and bolts of what makes the game. My favorite part of the book was Dirk’s interactions with Trevor Hoffman, someone who Hayhurst had looked up to for years. These visits not only gave a nice insight into how his mind works, but also how someone like Hoffman can be viewed one way as a player and another as a person.
If you are looking into an honest look into what it is like climbing the ladder of baseball’s minor league system and the ups and downs that are met along the way, this is for you. Some have said this is the best baseball book since Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” and while I can’t vouch for that (I haven’t read the classic Bouton book), I will say that Hayhurst is a great writer and has woven a baseball tale that will entertain you. If you would like to give it a read, here is a link to the book on Amazon and he has written two other books, here and also here. While his career was a short one, Hayhurst has made sure that it will live on for years to come. The book is worth your time and should make you even more excited for baseball season to begin.
Now that the dust has finally settled and Eric Hosmer has landed in San Diego, it only seems fair to ask where the Royals go from here. There are so many questions to ask, especially as the team appears to be getting ready for a rebuild. But what three questions are the most urgent? I went ahead and earmarked these three as being the most pressing for Kansas City moving forward.
Should the Royals re-sign Mike Moustakas?
I’ve long been a proponent of bringing Moose back to Kansas City, but with the developments of the last month weighing heavy on my mind, my opinion has shifted just a bit. I still believe that re-signing Moustakas isn’t an awful idea, especially if it would be on a two or three-year deal. But with the market for him all but dead at the moment, the Royals definitely shouldn’t roll out an armored bank truck for him.
That being said, the idea of a complete rebuild sounds more and more enticing by the day. This Royals team can lose 85-100 games with or without Moustakas, plus it would keep the payroll at bay. It could also give the organization a chance to see what Cheslor Cuthbert and/or Hunter Dozier can do while both could also see playing time across the diamond at first base. Honestly, I’m okay with either scenario playing out as there are positives and negatives for both. But if the Royals really buy into a rebuild, letting Moustakas go would make the most logical sense.
Who plays first base in Kansas City this year?
This could be the most interesting question of the three while also being the one that is answered last. It does appear there are no frontrunners in the bunch, although Dozier and Cuthbert will get first crack at both corner positions. In fact, the Royals actually have a number of options floating out there, which I took a look at a few months back.
To be honest, my opinion hasn’t changed much since December. I like the idea of Dozier or Ryan O’Hearn (or both) getting a shot and seeing what they could do. Out of the free agents on the market, signing someone like Adam Lind to platoon with Dozier also appeals to me. The interesting aspect about this is that the Royals aren’t tied down to one player who gets all the playing time. This gives the coaching staff a chance to evaluate some of the younger talent while also seeing what is a good fit for both the lineup and on defense. While the answer isn’t an obvious one, that also breeds opportunity which isn’t a bad thing for a club that is rebuilding.
Should the Royals overhaul the roster even more and look to trade veterans?
On the surface it appears that Kansas City is going to rebuild one way or the other now that most of the major cogs are out of the picture. But should the team do a complete rebuild? At this point, it honestly makes more sense to go this route. Merrifield would seem to be an obvious choice to be dealt, as his value might never be higher than it is right now. The team already has a player who could take over at second base (Raul Mondesi) while hopefully acquiring one or two players who could be under team control for multiple seasons.
Duffy was bandied about in trade talks earlier this winter and one would think the Royals could get a hefty haul in any trade that Duffy was involved in. While the Royals don’t have any in-house replacements that could fill the top of the rotation, more than likely Dayton Moore would ask for such a piece in any deal that Duffy is in. While the idea of Duffy also leaving is grim, it isn’t guaranteed he would still be with the team the next time they are contending.
It would also make sense to see what they can get for the likes of Kelvin Herrera and Jason Hammel. Both are veterans that will be eligible for free agency at the end of the year and could bolster a number of teams’ pitching staffs. The idea at this point might be to wait until the trade deadline and then see what they can get for either pitcher. While neither player will probably net Kansas City a top-tier player/prospect, Moore should be able to get something for them to help now and possibly even in a packaged deal.
What about Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy? While I’m sure most would like to see their contracts off the Kansas City books, the team would probably struggle finding anyone to take them on, or at least without the Royals paying a sizeable chunk of their salary. Gordon and Kennedy might not be quite untradeable, but they are about as close as any player on the Royals roster. In other words, Kansas City has to hope they turn things around and be productive in 2018.
The one player that would probably be off-limits would be Salvador Perez. While this might be the right time to trade him off before he starts regressing, the likelihood of that is slim and none. At this point Salvy is the “Face of the Franchise” and with Hosmer, Cain, etc. gone, dealing Perez would kill off a large chunk of the fanbase. It’s going to be a hard adjustment already for a number of fans this upcoming season; it would take years to build trust back up if they dealt off Salvy.
While there are more questions that will need to be answered in the future, these three feel like the most important moving forward. It’s going to be a hard adjustment for some to view the Royals in rebuilding mode, especially those that don’t remember the team before 2014. I always look for the positive and with this club it appears to be options. The Royals can build their roster pretty much as they please moving forward without a ton of restrictions. Think of it like a clump of clay that you can design however you want; just remember that how that design looks this year could look completely different in two years.
It took much longer than expected, but Eric Hosmer has finally found a home for the foreseeable future. Late Saturday, Hosmer agreed to an 8-year, $144 million deal with the San Diego Padres:
The contract, which includes a fifth-year opt-out, easily surpasses the four-year, $75 million deal for pitcher James Shields that previously set the standard for a Padres free agent.
So we can officially close the book on Hosmer as a Kansas City Royal and there is a number of ways to look at him leaving. I figured today we would look at as many angles to this whole situation.
First, let’s discuss what the Royals were able to offer Hosmer. We’ve all heard all the numbers floated out there and while I don’t know if we will ever find out the true number, we can at least take a good stab at it. I’m pretty sure the high-end year wise was seven years, as multiple sources around Kansas City appeared to agree on that number. But what about the dollars?
It was, at one point, believed to be in the neighborhood of $140 million — though club officials declined to divulge the final number. It was competitive, depending on your definition of the word, though Moore acknowledged that the Padres’ final package was better.
It does appear San Diego had the higher volume of dollars but Kansas City did make “certainly the highest offer we’ve ever made.” In fact it was so much money that it required a lot of flexibility from GM Dayton Moore:
Dayton Moore stressed that signing Hosmer would have required unloading more money. "I'm responsible for where we are economically as an organization, " he said. "I made a decision after the 2015 season, knowing full well that our players were going to become free agents."
While it appears the highest offer on the table at one point was 7 years and in the $140 million range, it definitely wasn’t the final offer that was given to Hosmer:
FanRag reporter Robert Murray, who works with Scott Boras-connected reporter Jon Heyman, writes today that the Royals’ final offer was for five years in the $100 million range. That is about the same amount of money the Padres offered in the first five years of their offer, but without the guarantee of the final three years of the deal should something happen to Hosmer.
So the Royals offer to Hosmer appeared to have gone down from earlier in the winter. What would cause that to happen?
Without Royals officials disclosing much — publicly or privately — the details of the Royals’ side of this are a little murky. But through a handful of conversations this week, and a working knowledge of how the organization has operated, here’s the best guess:
▪ Royals owner David Glass didn’t want to do it. This has all the markings of him going skittish at another big contract.
▪ The Padres pushed forward at the end of the negotiation while the Royals pulled back. The Padres won by offering an opt-out clause, which the Royals didn’t want to do because that wouldn’t guarantee Hosmer being around when they’re ready to win again.
▪ That may not have mattered, because while the Royals talked early of a six-year deal with an average annual value near $20 million, the final offer peeled back a little at (presumably) Glass’ direction. That last part is important.
Again, this is all based on varying levels of guesswork. The Padres’ offer is believed to be significantly better than the Royals’ — more years, more guaranteed money, more money upfront and an opt-out.
If you are able to connect the dots here, it appears that while Moore was always on the Hosmer bandwagon, owner David Glass was into moving on from him. In fact, Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star continues his guess as to what happened:
My guess: Glass is already uncomfortable with those deals for Gordon and Kennedy, which have turned out horribly. The Royals owe Gordon $44 million over the next two seasons and Kennedy $49 million over the next three.
Locking into another long-term deal worth $20 million or so per year was a tough sell for the owner, who knows the Royals are likely to lose a lot of games the next few seasons no matter what. He was looking for a way out.
One more time, because I want to be as clear as possible: This is based in part on conjecture.
So while Sam is just guessing, it’s a guess that has a decent amount of weight to it. At the end of the day, a contract of this magnitude could cripple the Kansas City organization for years and cause stress on their payroll, even with all the money in baseball and the Royals negotiating a new television deal in the near future. Obviously, Glass appeared to be skittish about making this much of a commitment to one lone player.
It also means that the old era of Royals baseball is now dead and a new one will soon be on the horizon:
It doesn't appear the Royals will be pursuing Mike Moustakas or any other costly free-agent, even with Hoz signing elsewhere. Dayton Moore said, “That period of time, that phase of who we are, is over. We need to move on.”
When we heard earlier in the winter that it was “Hos or Bust” for the Royals, Moore really wasn’t kidding. To be honest, it makes more sense for the team to rebuild at this juncture. In fact, I am on board for a complete rebuild. If Kansas City would have locked in Hosmer, that would add one more large salary to a payroll that already feels a bit bloated. Toss in the length of any deal for Hos and you start dealing with trying to find a spot in the lineup for when guys like Samir Duenez and Nick Pratto are ready for the big time. It’s already going to be a couple of years before we can start discussing the Royals as a legit contender again; if Hosmer had signed, Moore might not have had the flexibility available when it comes to payroll and it could have pushed the contending window back even further. In other words, I’m glad Hosmer chose San Diego and there was multiple reasons I breathed a sigh of relief to find out he was officially gone.
If we are being honest here, I have long been in the camp that Hosmer was overrated by not only the Kansas City organization, but the baseball media in general. I saw the reasons for the fawning: Hosmer has a pretty swing, is fluid around the bag at first, is well spoken and appears to be a born leader. Add in how clutch he has been in the playoffs (I would rattle off all the key moments, but there really are a bunch) and how he doesn’t seem to fear the big stage and you have the recipe for a star to build around. The problem is that if you watched him on a regular basis, you also saw the slumps. You remember, the slumps where his swing would look like a mess and he would be so cold that you would have to put his face on a milk carton? These weren’t just slumps but long periods of time where Hosmer would go missing for four to six weeks. Toss in a slightly above average 111 career wRC+, a paltry 9.9 career fWAR over seven seasons and a ground ball rate that hasn’t been below 50% since his rookie year (and even that was 49.7%) and you don’t have a player who would elicit a contract that would bump him into the higher echelon of major league contracts. Yes, his 2017 was a career high for him and I do believe he can be this player that everyone longs him to be. I just question whether or not it will actually happen. I’m very skeptical and that skepticism made it difficult for me to get on board for the team to commit 5-7 years to a player that doesn’t feel like a franchise cornerstone. At the end of the day, I am a numbers guy and the numbers don’t lie; Eric Hosmer isn’t worth the money or the length of the deal.
That being said, I’m happy for Hosmer. He got his money and he got a contract that was heavily front-loaded with an opt out after year five. Hosmer will be gearing up for his age 33 season after his fifth year in San Diego and at that point he could be able to bank even more dough. The truth is that baseball players have very short shelf lives and I will never blame one for trying to make enough money as humanly possible. It’s why I was happy when Lorenzo Cain got his deal from Milwaukee and why I will be happy when Mike Moustakas gets his. Would I love some of these guys to stay and play in Kansas City? Of course I would. I’m already dreading watching Cain in a different uniform this upcoming season. But I get how this business is and trust me when I saw that at the heart of things, this is a business. It’s why when an owner cries foul that they lost money the previous season I roll my eyes. All owners have money; it’s just a matter of what they are willing to spend and how big they want their bottom line. Also, there are times you should take comments with a grain of salt:
Ned Yost said he texted Hoz numerous times this off-season but never heard back from him: "I’m not sure whose orders that was." Ned then joked, "Even when I was on my death bed.”
I know some Royals fans got upset when they saw this comment from manager Ned Yost. The truth is we don’t know what actually happened and it even appears that Neddy was joking a bit here. Just realize that players don’t owe us anything; the loyalty we pledge as fans is to the name on the front, not the one on the back.
So if you are a Royals fan, how should you take this signing? If you are a fan of Hosmer, be thankful he was in Kansas City for seven years. You will always have the memories. The triple in the wild card game. The clutch hits throughout the playoffs in 2014 and 2015. The ballsy slide in Game five of the 2015 World Series. Know that Hosmer won’t soon forget Kansas City:
“Every player’s goal is to ultimately win a world championship,” Hosmer said. “To be able do that in Kansas City was amazing. To have that taste and understand what it means to a city and how much joy and excitement it brings to the people out there, it’s an experience I can sit here and talk about all day. It’s something that drives you as a player — to try to bring back as many as you can.
He also hasn’t forgotten his former teammates:
“I told Glenn it would mean a lot to me if I could wear No. 30 and continue Yordano’s legacy,” Hosmer said. “Not only Yordano, but all those guys in Kansas City. We all shared good moments with him and obviously shared a really tough moment in his passing. It really meant a lot to me. Hoff was more than open to let me carry on that number. I told him I’ll wear it with pride each and every day.”
So while it will be sad for some to not see #35 on Opening Day at Kauffman Stadium, it’s also wise to remember that nothing lasts forever. The Royals have to move on and we need to do the same. For all you know the next player who will be your new favorite could be in Kansas City sooner rather than later. You will always have those memories of Hosmer and no one can take that away. But it’s time to make new memories with some new faces. So cheer the new Royals we will meet this year and even cheer Hosmer from afar. But don’t judge him for leaving. Don’t be a Cardinals fan; understand that we are better than that. Kansas City needs to just be thankful. So even while I am not his biggest fan, I say thank you, Eric. Thank you and the best of luck. Now…who wants to tell Hosmer what San Diego means in German?
You’ve all heard the saying-‘Hope springs eternal’. Every year players report to Florida and Arizona with the hope that this year will be a year of improvement. The work is put in all throughout the winter as players aim to improve on any flaws in their game. Another common goal is to stay healthy and that is the position Royals pitcher Nate Karns is in, as he missed most of the 2017 season while dealing with thoracic outlet syndrome, a surgery that a number of former and current Royals have undergone over the last few years.
The good news is that it felt like Karns was moving in the right direction during the eight games he started last year. In his nine appearances overall (eight starts and one relief outing), he posted a 4.17 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP and 0.4 fWAR over 45.1 innings. On the surface, those numbers feel like an average pitcher putting up average numbers. But when you dig deeper you notice a difference over his performance the previous two seasons.
The most notable difference was in his strike out and walk rate. His strike out rate increased for the third straight year in 2017, moving from 23.4% in 2015, 24.2% in 2016 and then bumping up to 27.1% last season. Karns can point a lot of this success to his knuckle-curve, which has been a very effective pitch for him the last couple of seasons. Karns has seen his use of the pitch see an incline during that span. Karns was throwing a curveball 29.4% of the time back in 2015; the last two years he was throwing a curve 36% of the time (36.4% in 2016, 36.3% in 2017). In fact, there is a pattern of him throwing less off-speed stuff when he is utilizing his curveball more:
This is a good thing, since Karns’ changeup has been less effective over the last couple seasons. Karns also has a higher whiff percentage on his breaking pitches the more he uses the knuckle-curve:
So in some ways, Karns’ success is tied in with how often he is throwing the knuckle-curve. Unfortunately, it is better for Karns to get to the batter early on, since he struggles the third time through the order:
This is actually fairly common throughout baseball and is part of the reason why Karns is not a pitcher who works deep into the game. So for Karns to have success, he needs to be throwing his curve and throwing it often.
His walk rate also saw improvement in 2017, dipping down to 6.9%, the lowest of his career. There appears to be a few reasons for this. One, his percentage of first pitch strikes went up last year, 58.0% from 2016’s 57.4%. Not a big increase, but an increase. Karns also saw 0-2 counts more last year, moving up 31.4% from 25.6% the year before. To top it all off, his percentage of getting into a 3-0 count took a big dive, down to 5.9% from 8.1% in 2016. As most anyone will tell you around the game, when you work ahead in the count as a pitcher, you are bound to have more success. Karns did that in 2017 and it appears to have improved his production.
But it isn’t just the strike outs and the walks that improved for Karns. He was getting more hitters to swing outside the zone (31.1%) and inside the zone (65.6%), which made his swing percentage in general higher as well (46.2%, up from 43.6% in 2016). Hitters also made less contact against Karns, as his contact rate fell to 72.8%, down from 74.9% in 2016 and 79.3% in 2015. He also had a higher swinging strike rate, as it bumped up to 12.5%, the highest of his career. Add in a higher soft hit percentage (23.0%) and a higher ground ball to fly ball ratio (1.30) and you have a pitcher who appeared to be moving in the right direction before his injury.
But the numbers that impressed me the most were his win probability numbers. Karns (in limited action, remind you) put up a 0.66 WPA and a 4.25 RE24. Both numbers were in the negative category in 2016 and both are stats that accumulate the more you play. It’s very apparent that the improvements that former pitching coach Dave Eiland suggested were working and it makes you wonder what would have been had Karns been able to stay healthy throughout 2017.
The one reminder to all of this is how these numbers are just a small sample size. Eight starts isn’t a lot to go off of and it’s understandable if anyone is skeptical of the improvement. But digging deeper into the numbers appear to show a pitcher who was making some slight adjustments and showing improvement almost all across the board.
The biggest hurdle for Karns this year will be just to stay healthy. On top of last year’s injury, 2016 saw him deal with back problems, 2015 saw him shut down late in the year with a forearm strain and he even dealt with some leg issues in 2013. Karns is now entering his age 30 season and it feels like the main thing holding him back is his health. While he may never be mistaken for a top of the rotation starter, he has the ability to be a mid-rotation guy for the Royals. Kansas City would welcome an arm of Karns’ caliber to the rotation in 2018. It’s all just a matter of staying away from the trainer’s room.
When the news broke last week that the Royals were looking to bring Alcides Escobar back into the fold, a lot of questions were needing to be asked. Most asked why, a few asked what we had done to anger Dayton Moore but one question hovered over the rest: Where does this leave Raul Mondesi?
The belief all winter was that Mondesi would take over at shortstop and (for the most part) would be allowed to sink or swim. Now that idea has been turned on its head by not only the Escobar news but also a piece that ran on Fangraphs last week that didn’t paint a fuzzy picture of the relationship between the organization and Mondesi. In fact, it felt like a damning piece for the former prospect’s future:
The term “makeup” might have different meanings from scout to scout. In Mondesi’s case, evaluators are concerned about his defensive consistency, especially as it pertains to throwing accuracy, and have seen him fail to execute routine plays. Others were not thrilled with what they saw from Mondesi as he worked back into playing shape following his PED suspension in Arizona, citing poor effort and on-field focus which they particularly disliked in an environment laden with young, impressionable teenagers.
With Nicky Lopez coming up fast through the Kansas City system, it feels like Mondesi isn’t the “Chosen One” anymore and that the Royals have moved on to a prettier girl, so to speak. But…that can all change in an instant based on how he performs this spring or at the beginning of the minor league season. It’s forgotten sometimes because of how long we have heard about him, but Mondesi will only be entering his age 22 season in 2018, so it’s not like he is a washed up prospect trying to make it work in his late 20’s.
So I’m going to play devil’s advocate. Let’s throw out a couple of situations and find a spot in the lineup for Raul. This activity is a best case scenario and more than likely the reality will be somewhere in between this and struggling in the minors. The good news is that Mondesi has some versatility and a few options besides shortstop.
Scenario #1: Mondesi has a great spring offensively and forces the Royals to move him back to second base.
Sound crazy? It wouldn’t be completely out of the realm of possibility, considering he had a good spring last year, even if the numbers weren’t telling the entire truth.
So they could start the year with Mondesi at second base, moving Whit Merrifield to the outfield. Whit played center field a little bit in the minors and has seen a bit more time in left field, which could slide Alex Gordon over to center. While Merrifield has experience at the position and played there quite a bit in college, this scenario doesn’t feel like a long-term solution.
Gordon playing there could be a bit more interesting, but you would have to question how he would hold up manning the position for a full season. One could make the argument of Whit going back to being a super-utility player, although I doubt the Royals would allow that to happen after the season he pulled off in 2017. The best case scenario for playing Mondesi at second base would be a trade of Merrifield, which doesn’t look likely at the moment.
Scenario #2: Mondesi has a great spring and wins the center field job.
Alright, I think this is actually possible, despite the fact it sounds crazy to me. Mondesi has always been lauded for his glove and it feels weird that the Royals would move a guy that is that good defensively in the middle of the infield and plop him down in the outfield, where he has never played professionally. Obviously the organization has been thinking of doing this for a while, as it was first brought up in July:
“He’s such a good athlete. We’ve even talked about his ability to play the outfield – centerfield specifically – not that we’re necessarily moving on that right now.”
Let’s be honest here: the Royals right now don’t have a great center field option. There is Paulo Orlando, Billy Burns and…maybe Bubba Starling. That’s really it. This is what the Royals have to deal with unless they go out and sign a free agent this spring. So the idea of Mondesi playing center isn’t the worst idea ever; if he hits well, adapts to the outfield and shows some patience at the plate, he could be a possibility. Chalk this up as a long-shot, but one that might just pan out.
Scenario #3: Mondesi starts the year in AAA and gets off to a hot start. The Royals struggle offensively and decide to recall him and see if he can inject some life into the lineup.
We’ve all seen the Royals’ bats go cold early in the season. In fact, we just saw it last year. Mondesi actually had a good offensive season for AAA in 2017 and has shown a pattern of improving at different levels in the minors after his second go around at that level. He hit .305/.340/.539 in 357 plate appearances last year in Omaha and we continue to see his power numbers improve the older he gets. I’m not saying he has figured out AAA pitching, but it does appear that he is learning and his production could be on the upswing.
The main issue I see with this scenario is the same one we saw in scenario #1: who gets bumped out of the lineup? We can probably assume that Escobar will be trotted out there every day, so scratch him off the list. Whit is a possibility, but only if he is in the middle of a big cold spell. Center field still looks like the best spot, unless Whit shuffled around the diamond.
Scenario #4: Mondesi is the starting shortstop.
The likelihood of this happening is probably slim and none. But it does make you wonder just what it would take for the Royals to break camp with Mondesi in the starting role. Outside of an injury, it’s hard to think of a situation where the Royals would pick Mondesi over Escobar. Even if Mondesi tore it up this spring, my belief is that the team would find another role for him rather than picking him over Esky. Now, if Raul continued to play well as the season progresses there could be a situation where he would start seeing more playing time than Escobar, but that feels like an August-September situation rather than a March-April one.
The one scenario that feels like a step back is the one where Mondesi makes the team as a backup infielder. The key at this point is for Raul to continue his development, which could be stunted sitting on the Kansas City bench. Ned Yost is not widely known as a manager who uses his bench regularly and if this happened the worry would be how much playing time Mondesi would actually see. Repetition is what he needs and the only way that happens is with regular playing time.
The good news is that while it looks a bit bleak right now for Mondesi attaining a starting big league job, those tides can turn fast. He is just a Merrifield trade or an Escobar injury away from getting his shot to show what he can do. The Royals obviously have their concerns and most of us aren’t too blind to see them. He needs to work on his plate discipline, continue to improve his power numbers and fix whatever small flaws he has on the defensive side of the ball.
The Royals did him no favors back in 2016 when they called him up to the big leagues and they would be doing him a disservice now by looking past him. Luckily, at 22-years old it wouldn’t take much for him to get back into the organization’s good graces. Solid play with continued development feels like the best way to get management’s attention. While Mondesi might not be in favor at the moment, there is too much talent there to ignore what he could still be.
In what has been a slow offseason that has seen the coldest of ‘Hot Stove’s’ we’ve ever seen, we needed a bit of a pick me up. Luckily, on Thursday we got one:
Cool feature of speed-up-the-game negotiations between MLB and players: The return of bullpen carts! Union has asked MLB to consider them, and MLB is considering it, where possible, as early as 2018 season.
That’s right: in 2018, we could see the return of the bullpen cart in baseball! The unfortunate thing is that baseball is not considering this because the carts are one of the coolest aspects of the baseball experience. No, no, no. They are wanting to bring it back to help the pace of play initiative going on within the game. But would it help? Luckily, the greatness that is Grant Brisbee looked into how much it could improve the pace of a baseball game:
There are an average of about six pitching changes per game between both teams, but that also includes relievers who start an inning. Let’s be generous and suggest there are an average of four mid-inning pitching changes in every game.
That’s about two minutes. It’s not nothing. Slap together 20 changes just like it, and you have some real progress. Not to mention that the real tire-fire games probably have more mid-inning pitching changes, which means the dullest blowouts could be trimmed by five minutes, perhaps.
So there would be an improvement, even if just a slight one. But as I should have expected, Grant wasn’t done with ideas:
We’ll have lots of time to revisit the idea during the strike this year or next year.
Maybe they could have a drone carry the player to the mound.
What about a sled with wheels that’s pulled by 16 trained Alaskan Malamutes, all of whom are very good dogs?
I wouldn’t mind those dogs who let a monkey ride on their back pull some of these carts. Maybe that is too mean…maybe they could pull a Segway? a street luge? The Cardinals could go get a couple of Clydesdale’s to pull the cart…or what about pygmy horses? I hope Grant realizes he opened up a can of worms here. No matter the case, I am all for the return of the bullpen cart. I’m already looking forward to when the first cart dies near the mound and 30 minutes are spent trying to figure out how to get it off the field. That should improve that pesky pace of play!
With Spring Training almost two weeks away, the Kansas City Royals swung another deal on Monday night, trading OF/DH Brandon Moss and reliever Ryan Buchter to the Oakland A’s for pitchers Jesse Hahn and Heath Fillmyer. Cash was also involved, as $3.25 million was sent from the Royals to the A’s. This frees up about $5 million on the Kansas City payroll, which already has some (like myself) speculating on why the Royals would want to do that:
So while the Hosmer rumors can now run wild (brother), let’s take a look at what the Royals gave up and are receiving.
Moss had a very underwhelming 2017, his only season in Kansas City. Moss posted a line of .207/. 279/.428 with 22 home runs, 50 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 84. Moss struggled out of the gate and it wasn’t until later in the summer that he started producing like the Royals expected. Moss will be entering his age 34 season in 2018 and while he would have seen consistent playing time somewhere for Kansas City (whether it was at first base or DH), he probably would have also been taking playing time away from some younger talent like Jorge Soler, Hunter Dozier or Jorge Bonifacio. While the move feels like a salary dump, it also allows the Royals to see what they have with Dozier or Soler without a veteran like Moss blocking them. While Moss didn’t have many memorable moments in a Royals uniform, he was always very honest about his performance on the field and never made excuses for the lack of production. My favorite Moss moment will be from Star Wars day at The K this past year. My wife, son and myself got to listen to a couple of fans give their “analysis” of Moss’ issues at the plate, which included the serious line of “he needs glasses; he can’t see the ball.” We listened for what felt like fifty innings to these two “special” fans rag on Moss non-stop. Then…he stepped up and hit a three-run home run. At that point, our “friends” left their seats and got out of Dodge. If anything, I became a Brandon Moss fan that day. But it wasn’t just Moss packing his bags for Oakland…
Ryan Buchter was the bigger catch for the A’s, as they can plug-in another lefty into their bullpen. While Buchter incurred a few issues during his short stint in Kansas City, he was a very reliable part of the Padres pen and has produced some great numbers these last couple of seasons:
Over the past two seasons combined, Buchter’s 16.7% infield fly ball rate (IFFB) ranks 10th in the majors among qualified relievers. He also ranks 14th during that span with a 26% soft contact rate against. Buchter is even tougher against lefties, limiting them to a .160/.255/.306 batting line during his MLB career.
The Royals started the winter with a couple of strong lefties in their pen, but with this trade and the trade of Scott Alexander, that depth has taken a big hit. The team still has Eric Stout, Brian Flynn, Tim Hill and Eric Skoglund as lefty options currently on the 40-man roster, and a prospect like Richard Lovelady could slither his way into the conversation this spring. While losing Buchter could be looked at as a loss, the Royals did get a couple of positive gains in this trade.
Jesse Hahn is entering his age 28 season for the Royals and looks to be an option as either a starter or a reliever. More than anything, Hahn just needs to stay healthy as he has dealt with various ailments over the last couple seasons. He pitched in only 14 big league games last year, producing a 5.30 ERA, 3.62 FIP and an ERA+ of 81. Early in his career he showed a lot of promise but the injuries have derailed his career since 2015. The Royals have been focusing on ground ball pitchers this winter, as they are looking to counter the rise of home runs in the league the last two years, and Hahn fits that profile. He’s produced a 49.7% groundball rate throughout his career and a slightly below hard hit rate of 28.3%. If he can stay healthy, Hahn could fit at the back of the Royals rotation in 2018 and either way will probably stick on the roster, since he is out of options.
Heath Fillmyer is the intriguing catch of this trade for the Royals, as he slides into the 28th best prospect in the Kansas City system according to MLB.com. Let’s start with the scouting report on Fillmyer:
Fillmyer has a quick arm and typically throws his fastball in the 92-96 mph range with good sinking action that nets him ground-ball outs and results in few home runs. He has a pair of above-average secondary offerings in a curveball, which he throws with tight spin and late bite, and a changeup, a pitch he made big strides with last season. Improved feel for repeating his delivery has led to him throwing more strikes, though he regressed with both his control and command in his first full Double-A campaign.
With his athleticism, big arm and feel for three average-or-better pitches, Fillmyer has the ingredients to become a No. 4 or 5 starter in the big leagues.
Once again, the Royals have put an emphasis on ground ball pitchers and Fillmyer is another that fits the mold. He dealt with some control issues in 2017 (his walk rate bumped up to 8.0%) but he will be entering his age 24 season this year and looks to be a good candidate for a bounce-back year. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him start the year in AAA Omaha when camp breaks.
This trade accomplished a couple of check marks off the Royals “to do” list. Acquiring Fillmyer helps them continue their goal of re-stocking the farm system, while adding Hahn gives the team another option in the rotation. Obviously dealing Moss was a way to pare down payroll, although it feels like a preemptive measure to help accommodate incoming payroll from a certain first baseman. While I wasn’t a big fan of the Alexander/Soria trade earlier this winter, this trade felt more like a solid gain (and possibly even a win) for Dayton Moore. I am fully on board with the team targeting ground ball pitchers and actually I felt that should have been done a couple of years ago. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see another trade in the near future, as veterans Jason Hammel and Kelvin Herrera could help the team shed more payroll and force the Royals overall to get a bit younger. We could also see a free agent signing…I mean, this is what these moves are leading to, right? Time will tell, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the team signs Eric Hosmer sometime in the next couple weeks. For now, this move was simply a way to dump some payroll while building up some pitching depth. At the end of the day, that is a positive.
In a span of less than 24 hours, Kansas City Royals fans felt a mixture of pain, sadness, joy and confusion. Thursday night we finally found out the destination of Lorenzo Cain, as he signed a five-year, $80 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. Many of us felt sad for the finality of Cain finally being gone, but also a sense of pride as he flourished during his time in Kansas City and had become one of the more productive center fielders in baseball. Then Friday morning, news broke that the Royals were close to a deal with Alcides Escobar, which left fans…well, confused to say the least. So what do these moves mean for the Royals (and the Brewers) moving forward?
First, lets look at the LoCain contract, which actually looks to be a pretty good deal in what has been a very slow market:
Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Cain will earn $13MM in 2018, $14MM in 2019, $15MM in 2020, $16MM in 2021 and $17MM in 2022 (Twitterlinks). He’ll also receive an additional, deferred payment of $1MM in each of the five years following the contract’s conclusion. The no-trade provision offers complete protection in year one of the deal and limited protection each season thereafter, dropping down to five teams in the final year of the contract. More specifically, MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy adds that Cain can block deals to 15 teams in 2019, seven teams in 2020 and five in 2021-22.
The biggest takeaway from the deal appears to be that Cain gave up a higher rate of money per year with other teams so he could get the fifth year of this contract. To be honest, I don’t blame him. Cain will be entering his age 32 season this year and with his injury history it would appear his value could be hurt if he had taken a smaller year total. The good news is that the Brewers have a couple of young outfield prospects and as long as they don’t go and trade Keon Broxton for pitching, more than likely he will eventually take over center field and move Cain to right. I would be really surprised if Cain was still a center fielder by the end of this deal, since the final year of his contract will be his age 36 season.
It also puts him back onto a contending team, as the Brewers showed in 2017 that they are getting closer and closer to being a threat in the National League Central. Cain would appear to be a player to lean on (or lean back) when October rolls around, as he is one of the few on the Brewers roster with postseason experience. Considering that teams like the Giants, Rangers and the Blue Jays were showing interest in him earlier in the winter, returning to Milwaukee (the place where his career began) looks to be a win/win situation for LoCain thanks to their role as contenders and what he got out of the contract.
Before we could even digest the Lorenzo Cain news, reports started trickling out that the Royals were working on bringing Alcides Escobar back into the fold. It wasn’t long until an agreement had been made:
Source: #Royals, Alcides Escobar have a deal, pending physical.
So Escobar is back on a one-year, $2.5 million deal. The next question most of us were asking is whether Esky starts or if Raul Mondesi was still the front-runner at shortstop this year:
Dayton Moore confirms the Royals still are working on the Alcides Escobar deal. Not at the finish line yet. Dayton also said it would be a short-term contract but that Esky would play "a lot of shortstop." Raul Mondesi likely would be moved around or start at Omaha.
To say Royals twitter handled this news well…that would be false. Yep, most fans lost their mind. To a degree I get it; Escobar has been a below average offensive player throughout his major league career (his highest OPS+ was 96 back in 2012) and he is infamously known for being a free-swinger, posting a 3.9% walk rate throughout his career. While his defense has been good (he ranks sixth among Major League shortstops in Ultimate Zone Rating (+18.5) over the past seven seasons), there has been a slight shift in just how good he is these last two seasons, as he posted an UZR of 0.8 in 2016 and 1.9 in 2017 (after averaging 3.1 UZR over the previous five seasons, including years of 9.6 and 10.9).
But the bigger question is what happens with Mondesi? On the surface it would appear that the Royals have their concerns about Raul (which it turns out is accurate) and bringing Esky back is an insurance policy in case he struggles. It looks as if Escobar will be the starter and Mondesi will either float around at different positions or return to AAA for another season. With the Royals rebuilding, it makes sense to let Mondesi go out and just play, but it feels like Kansas City just doesn’t have that kind of confidence in him. That is where Escobar fits in.
To be honest I wasn’t surprised by the signing and even predicted it a couple of times since October. First, my comments at the end of the season:
Alcides Escobar was almost a ghost in the first half of the season, posting a line of .226/.242/.306 and a wRC+ of 39 (league average is 100). Escobar was able to pick it up in the second half of the season, hitting .282/.309/.424 with a wRC+ of 90 and might have even earned himself a new contract this offseason.
Even just a few weeks ago, it seemed obvious that Esky would be back:
If the Moustakas market feels cold, then Escobar’s is Antarctica. To say the rumors of interested teams for Esky is limited would be an understatement. There’s the Padres, who showed interest in him before acquiring Freddy Galvis to play shortstop, and then there are…ummm…there is also the…uhhh…no one. Nope, I haven’t seen any other team linked to Escobar this winter, outside of a few writers suggesting locations that might need him. The honest truth is that Escobar has been a weak hitter these last few years who has gotten by on his defense…which has begun to regress. So it shouldn’t be a shock to say that the market for a light hitting shortstop, entering a period where his defense and speed will start to wane as well, is sparse. There aren’t many options for Alcides, so at this point he might have to just take what he can get, even if it is a role as a backup mentor on a rebuilding team.
Likely Destination: Kansas City Royals
So I wasn’t outraged when I heard the news on Friday. In fact, I’m not opposed to the signing at all. For one, it is only a one-year deal for a minimal amount of money. It’s not like the Royals opened bank for the guy. Second, with the team rebuilding, Escobar is a nice veteran that can be a mentor to some of the younger players, including Mondesi. Finally, if the organization is this concerned about Mondesi and his future, they might not even look at him anymore as the future shortstop. In fact, after the season Nicky Lopez had in 2017 it wouldn’t surprise me if he had jumped over Raul in the shortstop pecking order. If this is the case, signing Esky for one year is not a bad deal at all. We can discuss his actual value all day long (and to be frank about it, the Royals value him way more than any other team does) but it’s not like the team is going anywhere of substance in 2018; it’s one and done for Escobar…I think.
Baseball is a business and sometimes as fans I think we forget that. While most of us hate the idea of Lorenzo Cain putting on another uniform, I understand the process for the players and don’t blame them a bit. Cain’s absence will leave a big hole in center field for the Royals that will not be easily filled. While many will hate it, getting Escobar back for one more year also isn’t the end of the world and seems to be a short-term solution to the bigger picture at shortstop. Expecting him to be much more than a placeholder is probably wishful thinking and I’m already expecting articles being written mid-summer this year about how he should be displaced…and to a degree, it will probably be warranted. When one door closes, another one opens with a new opportunity. That is what we are seeing with both Cain and Escobar. Next up? Hosmer and Moustakas. No one said this would be easy.
On Wednesday, the National Baseball Hall of Fame got a little bit bigger as the BBWAA (Baseball Writers’ Association of America) voted in four new inductees: Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Vladimir Guerrero. Add in Alan Trammell and Jack Morris and you have six induction speeches on a sunny July afternoon in Cooperstown. Meanwhile, my brethren in the IBWAA did some house cleaning as well, as we inducted six players (Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Trevor Hoffman) into our digital Hall of Fame. In my eyes, all the players mentioned above were worthy of this honor. It is also showing a shift in the thinking of baseball writer’s across the baseball landscape.
First, let’s discuss the BBWAA voting, which almost led to a five man class in 2018:
First, it was very obvious going into Wednesday that Chipper, Vlad and Thome were locks. All three were over 90% for the polling (which was sitting at around 55% of the ballots made public) that morning. Hoffman was a bit dicier, as he was sitting around 78.2% of public ballots. It appeared on the surface that he would get in, since he fell just five votes short in 2017.
Meanwhile, Edgar Martinez came up just a bit short, despite the fact he had been polling in the 80% range for the last couple weeks. The good news is that Edgar jumped up to 70.4%, less than 5% to the promised land as he enters his final year on the ballot in 2019.
Also making ground this year on the ballot was Mike Mussina and Larry Walker. Mussina bumped up to 63.5% and Walker 34.1%. Mussina feels like a lock for induction sometime in the next couple of years, while Walker has only two more years of eligibility left. Clemens, Bonds and Curt Schilling all appeared to stay put around where they have been, so next year could be a big one for all three of them.
I was glad to see Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones get enough support to stay on the ballot, and their climb could get a bit easier over the next couple of years, since there are less Hall-worthy candidates on the horizon. The one disappointment was Johan Santana, who is a borderline candidate for the hall. If you are like me and believe strongly in WAR7 (which is the seven-year peak or that players best seven years) and notice the similarities with Sandy Koufax, then you are probably leaning toward him being in. If you believe in a long career and lots of innings for a pitcher, then you are probably against him. The one thing that most of us can agree on is he probably deserved to at least stay on the ballot and let his case be judged for a few more years. Unfortunately, he is now bumped off and like Lou Whitaker, Jim Edmonds and Kenny Lofton before him, he won’t get a fair shake of letting his case be heard.
Overall I felt like the BBWAA did an admirable job and it does appear as if the ballot logjam is starting to sort itself out. That should be a good thing for fringe candidates and those players like Mussina and Martinez who need a little extra nudge to get them over the finish line.
Now onto an organization I am part of, the IBWAA. If you want to talk about making room on the ballot for the future, I believe we took care of that this year:
Six players are entering our “Digital Hall of Fame” and I’ll be the first to admit I was a bit shocked that we elected Clemens and Bonds, just because they have been floating around on our ballot as well. This is just me throwing out a theory, but our members tend to skew a bit younger and it has felt over the last couple of years like the younger writers have less of an issue with the “Steroid Era” than the older ones. I’m sure there are different reasons for that, whether it is the lack of testing during that period making it harder to really know who did what, or feeling like the rest of baseball was able to get off scot-free while inducting then-Commissioner Bud Selig just last year. Whatever the case may be, Bonds and Clemens were joined by Chipper, Thome, Mussina and Hoffman as part of the IBWAA Class of 2018.
With six players off the ballot, that should make it easier for us to focus on some other deserving candidates next year. Schilling and Walker both took big jumps and Scott Rolen posted a nice 44.7% of the vote in his first year on the ballot. Even Santana stuck around for round two, as he got 36 votes and sits at 21.1% in his first year. With next year’s class of Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay and Todd Helton being the main first year candidates, it should be easy for us to keep honoring players who deserve this highest honor. We also get 15 votes instead of the BBWAA’s 10, which also helps us keep players on the ballot longer. All in all, I feel like we as a group did a great job this year and I look forward to the results in 2019.
In 2013, the BBWAA voted no player over the 75% threshold, which meant a very quiet summer in Cooperstown. Luckily, the last few years have made up for that error, as the writers have voted in 16 players over the last five years. Whether you prefer a bigger Hall of Fame or a smaller one, the truth is that we have seen a lot of worthy entries over these last few years. For every Tim Raines or Edgar Martinez that have to struggle and have people preaching their cause, there are the Chipper Jones’ and Jim Thome’s that have the numbers and look the part. Baseball is better when a light can be shone on the players of year’s past that helped make this the great game that it is. For all its flaws, baseball at its pinnacle is the grandest game of them all. To get to honor those that encompass that greatness…well, that just makes this process a whole lot sweeter.