Straddling The Fence

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Being a longtime Kansas City Royals fan can give someone a different perspective of the team than say, someone who has only been around the last couple years. There is a section of the fanbase that sat around during the “Lean Years” so to speak, an era where many a time we would be accepting of an errorless game, or a quality start from the starting pitcher that day. Trust me folks, years ago the bar was set really low. With that being said, this winter the Royals have been fairly quiet on the acquisition front, as we have essentially seen the Jorge Soler trade and the Nate Karns trade with a few minor signings sprinkled in. I’ve actually felt like both trades made sense and were quality deals on GM Dayton Moore’s part. I even liked the Peter O’Brien signing and don’t hate Jonathan Sanchez being brought in on a minor league contract. But something else has been gnawing at me this winter and these trades have reinforced my worries. It appears on the surface like the Royals are neither “going all in” this off-season nor “rebuilding”. In fact, it appears as if Kansas City management is straddling a fence that often isn’t very successful.

KC Royals VS NY Mets, Game 2, 2015 World Series

I feel like I need to be a bit more clear in my estimation, as it could be taken as if I am saying the Royals won’t be in a position to contend in 2017, which I don’t feel at all. In fact, I feel as if Kansas City has a great chance to be in the playoff hunt this year, as we enter the final year of a contending window with the current nucleus in place. That is a big part of my worries right there; after this season, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain will be free agents. Danny Duffy was also set to go out on the market, but luckily he was given a long-term extension while Wade Davis and Jarrod Dyson, two more potential free agents after 2017, were dealt in the trades mentioned above. The front office has known for years that this was the final year of winning with this group and while the initial plan was for the farm system to keep spitting out major league ready talent, that hasn’t turned out to be the case. Knowing that there was not really any help on the horizon down in the minors (although someone like Hunter Dozier could contribute as soon as this year), this felt like the season where the team should be “all in” and put the team in the best position to reach the playoffs. That has not happened and not all of that can fall at the feet of Moore. No, you have to look higher up on the food chain to find the biggest issue facing the front office.

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Back in December, it came out that Royals owner David Glass didn’t want the team to increase the payroll for the 2017 campaign, putting Moore and his associates in the front office in a weird position. Moore over the years has always tried to temper expectations and kept his cards close to the vest, but apparently he really meant it this year when he said that the team wouldn’t be able to take on more payroll:

“We’re simply not in a position to add to our current payroll,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said.

This is why Davis was traded and why Dyson wasn’t far behind; Moore was trying to shuffle the roster by unloading any payroll he can why acquiring players who are younger, cheaper and are under club control for the immediate future. In fact I will go a step further and say Moore has done an admirable job trying to keep the foundation of the team together to make another run while keeping the payroll within Glass’ desired level. Yes, some of this falls at the feet of Moore; he is the one who gave Ian Kennedy his 5 year contract, Omar Infante’s contract that the Royals are still paying for this year and backloaded a number of contracts to make the team’s money situation work in years past. But more than anything this feels like Glass being cheap, which he really hasn’t been these last few years. Why pull back now when more money could be had if the team goes back to the playoffs?

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When I first started understanding the business side of baseball, I learned very quickly that to make money in baseball you have to spend money. There has never been a major league owner that pinched pennies and made a fortune off of it; maybe for one year or some random event but none consistently. Instead, the teams that have made a ton of money did so by spending as well. Now, I am not saying that the only way to make money in baseball is to spend like the Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers; in fact, many of those teams that were high spenders didn’t even profit from playoff teams to really max out their wealth. So I am not saying Glass should just spend willy-nilly and expect profitable results; no, there is a way to spend wisely while not going over any self-imposed budget. The perfect definition of that could very well be those Royals teams that made the playoffs in both 2014 and 2015. Glass spent more money those two years than any other Royals team and he made more money both of those years than ever before because of the team playing into October. I am not saying Glass should give Dayton an open check and tell him to go get what they need; that should probably never be done, period. But a slight bump in the payroll could give this Royals team a chance to improve a few holes in the team’s roster and improve their chances of winning this year. With the Twins and White Sox rebuilding and the Tigers also straddling a fence (they have hinted at dealing some of their veterans this winter but alas none have been dealt), realistically that would leave the Royals and Indians to battle it out for the American League Central in 2017. That could still happen, but one has to wonder how this team will improve based just off of players being healthy and expecting many to improve on their 2016 output.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

The other issue at hand is tied up in Moore’s trades this winter and what they mean for the future of this team. Like I said, I have liked both trades he has made and feel getting Karns and Soler were excellent acquisitions for what Kansas City is trying to do. But…it does appear on the surface that they are trying to win this year while also building a club controlled roster after the expected departures next winter. The team is neither “all in” or “rebuilding” and this is a problem. In the past, team’s who have tried to leverage a situation like this have eventually decided to take either one path or the other once they figured out that taking neither wasn’t working. We don’t have to look far to see what kind of problem this can cause-just look at the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2012, the Phillies finished .500 while employing a roster of veterans like Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Roy Halladay. The team attempted to re-stock in 2013, adding Michael Young and Ben Revere while keeping the older nucleus in tact. The team floundered that year, losing 89 games and it appeared a rebuild was in their future. Instead, they acquired A.J. Burnett right before Spring Training that year, and would rack up another 89 loss season. It wasn’t until after that season that the organization put forward a full-scale rebuild on the franchise. The Phillies learned that straddling that line between rebuild and contending normally doesn’t work out and I’m afraid Kansas City will learn the same lesson.

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Since the idea of drifting between contending and rebuilding sounds counterproductive to me, I am in the camp that the Royals should be going for it this year. This is the last year of the window with Moose, Esky, Hos and Cain, so now would be the time to give this team its greatest opportunity to return to the playoffs. The farm system has very little in the way of help next year and this is an organization that didn’t make it to postseason play for 29 years before 2014; now is the time for one last run. The logic I am using is that if Glass agrees to spend even just an extra $10-$15 million to upgrade a few spots, they would at least be giving this squad the best opportunity to reach October baseball. We have zero idea of what will happen after 2017, and the likelihood that the Royals are even able to bring back more than just one of those four free agents is probably slim and none. The thinking is that if the team puts forth another winning season, the stadium will be packed and Glass will make his money back and then some. Instead, it feels like he is saying “we won a World Series, I think we’ll just stop there”. Even if the team doesn’t make it back to the postseason this year, Glass can go cheap in 2018 with a much younger ballclub, make his money that way and no one will think less of it, since they would be “rebuilding”. This group of players deserve one last shot at etching a legacy in Kansas City but the chances of that happening at the moment don’t look as good as it should be.

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So what does this all mean for the 2017 Kansas City Royals? It means that while this club on the surface still looks like a contender, things could go awry very quickly as well. One does have to wonder, after the soul-crushing death of Yordano Ventura, if the team might go out and pick up a replacement starter for the rotation or if they will attempt to fill his spot with a Matt Strahm or a Mike Minor. Even if another acquisition is looming, I’m not sold that this is the best Royals team that could be pieced together. Could they contend with this squad? Of course. But does this feel like a team that could cause damage in October? Not likely. I could be wrong but it feels like ownership is not giving this team the best chance to bring the World Series back to Kansas City, and that saddens me. It’s easy for me to sit here and say “spend more money”, when it isn’t my own. But if I understand the structure of a major league baseball team that wants to contend, you don’t half-ass the project. It should be all about winning the whole damn thing again this year and instead it feels like someone just waiting to turn the lights out. We have no clue how much of a chance the Royals will have to make the playoffs again after 2017; why not go out with a bang and get the band back together for one last gig? Instead it feels like a farewell tour where we keep asking them to play all the big hits one last time before hitting the road. At this point, Royals ownership should do right by the fans, the front office and even the players who have given their blood, sweat and tears these last 4-5 years. It’s time to push the chips all in and go for broke. Now is not the time to stop halfway and assume that will do the trick. It’s time to go for broke…and trust me Mr. Glass, this won’t make you broke. In fact it could increase your wealth for years to come…

And the Winner is…

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The 2014 Major League Baseball season has come to an end, which also means that all ballots have been turned in to decide the winners in the awards to be announced this week. I was fortunate to turn in my first ballot as a member of the IBWAA, the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, this year and realized a few things. One, this isn’t as easy as one thinks it is. I spent a lot of time thinking about who I really felt should win these awards and who truly should be honored. I also realized that it is MY vote, and though I am positive some will disagree with it, it is just one man’s opinion. I also should stress this: I turned in my ballot about two weeks before the end of the season. In hindsight, I probably should have waited, but that is a lesson learned and will prepare better for 2015. So without any further ado, here are my winners for the 2014 season…

American League MVP: Alex Gordon, Kansas City

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We can probably all agree that Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels had the best numbers for a player in the American League this year. I don’t argue that, nor am I trying to take that away from him. But my vote was based more on who was more valuable to his team this year in the league, and in my opinion that man is Alex Gordon. Not too long ago I made Gordon’s case for MVP, as I felt he shouldn’t be overlooked when it came time for the voting. I know I am a bit biased, if for no other reason than the fact that I watch the large majority of Royals games during the season. The thing about Gordon is his numbers don’t tell the whole story; he is the leader of this Royals team in so many facets of the game. Obviously his defense is of another caliber, as most know. His WAR numbers get a nice bump from his defensive metrics, as he finished the year 7th in the AL in bWAR with 6.6 and 5th in fWAR with 6.1. You could also add in the 27 defensive runs he saved this year on defense, 1st in the league with Josh Donaldson far behind in 2nd place with 20 DRS. Gordon is also an excellent base runner, and was most valuable when the Royals needed him to be. Gordon basically carried the team on his back in August, a month where the Royals made one of their biggest pushes for a playoff spot. Gordon had a slash line of .292/.356/.585 with 9 home runs and 16 RBI’s. Alex was what the Royals needed when they needed it this year to help propel them to the playoffs. This Royals team doesn’t go on the run they went on in the playoffs if not for Gordon being a leader during the regular season. In fact, without him this Royals team doesn’t even get to October. For that, my most valuable player vote goes to Alex Gordon.

National League MVP & Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles

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What else can be said about Clayton Kershaw’s season that hasn’t already been said? Kershaw had a season for the ages, one that was so good that the comparison’s toward all-time great Sandy Koufax don’t really feel far-fetched anymore. Kershaw lead the league in Wins(if you like that sort of thing), Win-Loss Percentage, ERA, Complete Games, ERA+, FIP, WHIP, Strikeouts per 9 inn., Strikeout to Walk Ratio and was an All-Star as well. Oh, and he threw his first career no-hitter, a game so dominant that only one other pitcher(Kerry Wood) has thrown a better game, and that was just a piddly 20-strikeout game. All this while missing the entire month of April(after throwing the season opener in Australia)! Kershaw was so dominate this season that I also felt like he was the MVP of the National League, which some folks in baseball(hello, Tommy Lasorda) feel a pitcher shouldn’t win the award for Most Valuable Player. But when a pitcher has a season like this (and no other major candidate really sticks out) it throws that pitcher into the MVP conversation. I had seriously considered both Andrew McCutchen of Pittsburgh and Giancarlo Stanton of Miami for the award, but alas I felt Kershaw was more valuable to the Dodgers success than either of those two were for their teams. Kershaw winning MVP isn’t like Willie Hernandez winning American League MVP back in 1984; Kershaw is not only an elite pitcher at the moment but if he continues on the path he is going he could be an all-time great. So as preposterous as some believe a pitcher winning MVP is, just remember it in the proper context; Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball and it isn’t even close.

American League Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Seattle  

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Out of all the votes I had to place, this was easily the toughest decision to make. It came down to Hernandez and Corey Kluber of Cleveland and honestly, a pick either way didn’t feel like a bad one. As someone who watches close to every Royals game during the season I had seen Kluber several times and saw just how dominant he was for the Indians this year and in some ways that almost swayed my vote. Obviously in a close vote you compare numbers and once again, they were pretty damn even. David Schoenfield goes into great detail about just how close this race was and why really neither pitcher was a bad choice. My only hope is no one voted for Kluber just based off of win totals; that would just seem silly. I think the biggest argument for Hernandez(at least in my eyes) was his streak of 16 starts of at least 7 innings giving up 2 runs or less which he held this year until August 17th. The previous mark was set all the way back in 1971 by Tom Seaver as he set the mark of 13 starts. In this day in age, where most starters have a rough time going more than 6 innings a start and where teams employ lockdown bullpens as part of their strategy, the fact a starting pitcher could accomplish this feat is borderline amazing. The fact that Hernandez was able to accomplish this really swayed my vote and was enough to warrant his second Cy Young award. The real point of this is that if I would have gone with Kluber it wouldn’t have been a bad choice either; there was no bad choices. Just two pitchers who had excellent seasons and both deserved consideration for this award.

American League Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu, Chicago   

Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox

This was about as easy a choice as possible. From almost day one Abreu showed he was the real deal, which is never a certainty with any talent from Cuba. But Abreu made sure it was known early he was as advertised, hitting 29 home runs, a slash line of .292/.342/.630 and an sOPS+ of 169 in the first half of the season. His power numbers went down in the second half, hitting only 7 home runs while producing a slugging percentage of .513 and raising his batting average and sOPS+. I’m sure the longer season wore on Abreu, but all in all he put in a rookie season that should be praised for years to come. It’s a bit unfortunate that Abreu ran away with this award, as the American League put together a nice crop of rookies in 2014, from New York Yankees Masahiro Tanaka and Dellin Bettances to Kansas City’s flame-throwing hurler Yordano Ventura. All had really solid opening campaigns but none matched Abreu who should be a solid bat in Chicago’s batting order for years to come.

National League Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati

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This race was much closer than it’s AL counterpart, as it came down to New York Mets pitcher Jacob DeGrom and Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton. Honestly, an argument for either rookie is valid and a part of me almost voted for DeGrom. But I liked all the different area’s of the game that Hamilton helped the Reds this year. Everyone knows of Hamilton’s speed, he of the 56 steals this year. But he also produced 200 total bases only grounded into 1 double play this year and 39 extra bases. There was a small downside to his year; Hamilton struck out a ridiculous amount for a top of the order guy, 117 times, and was caught stealing 23 times. Both of these facets will need to be improved upon in 2015 for him elevate his game. Defensively Hamilton was more than solid; 14 defensive runs saved in 2014, 10 assists and an 1.8 dWAR. Overall a more than solid rookie campaign for Billy Hamilton(and likewise for DeGrom) and for the Reds sake(especially if they want to contend in 2015) hopefully he can grow on it.

American League Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin, Oakland 

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I mentioned earlier that I should have waited and locked in my votes during the last week of the season and this selection is a big reason why. Do I think Bob Melvin did a fabulous job managing the A’s in 2014? Of course. This was a team that was one of the elite in baseball for a large chunk of the season, a team of no superstars, compiled together and platooned–yet they still reached the playoffs. But just barely and Oakland’s second half collapse almost cost them that postseason spot, one they didn’t clinch until the last weekend and left them in Kansas City for the one game “battle to the death” Wild Card game. For that reason I feel like I should have waited to vote, as Buck Showalter deserved high praise for this honor and very well might have been my vote. Hell, throw Mike Scioscia’s hat into this argument as well, as the Angels came from behind to not only win the American League West but put together the best record in the league. Lesson learned by me, but I still think Melvin should get a ton of credit. No way does Oakland even sniff the playoffs if an average manager is in charge of this team. Melvin maneuvered and coddled this roster and got top notch performance out of his team. Something has to be said for being able to get the most out of the talent you have, especially when your talent doesn’t always match up with the best teams in baseball.

National League Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh 

MLB: NL Wild Card-Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates

The easy thing is to say Hurdle deserved this honor more in 2013. That year he guided Pittsburgh to their first playoff spot in over 20 years and helped the Pirates slay some demons. But for all the love Hurdle got in 2013, he deserves even more for his managerial work in 2014. Hurdle helped the Pirates reach the playoffs again this past season and did it without their ace from 2013(A.J. Burnett), their closer fizzled out and was eventually traded(Jason Grilli), they lost their star(Andrew McCutchen) for a few weeks and lost their future ace(Gerrit Cole) multiple times to the disabled list. Despite all of this the Pirates made back to back appearances into the postseason and although that only lasted one game(thanks to Brandon Crawford and Madison Bumgarner) it just showed the great job Hurdle did as manager this season. Honorable mention should go out to both Matt Williams of Washington and Mike Redmond of Miami. Both did a great job with their team this past year and that was not lost on me. It just felt like Hurdle accomplished the insurmountable and continued to show that he has been one of the best Pittsburgh acquisitions the last few years.

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So there you go, my picks for the 2014 IBWAA end of season awards. This was a great learning experience and makes me even more pumped for my next ballot, the upcoming Hall of Fame vote. Voting seems like an easy chore from the outside looking in, yet there is a decent amount of pressure if you take them seriously. I have a feeling that the next vote will go a bit smoother. The great thing about the voting process is that they inspire endless debate. One man’s vote is another man’s worst nightmare…that was mainly meant for anyone who voted Ned Yost ‘Manager of the Year’. So you might not agree with my vote’s, just know that can go both ways. It is all just a matter of opinion at the end of the day.

Dayton Moore’s ‘State of the Royals’

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Earlier today, Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore held a Pre-Spring Training media conference at Kauffman Stadium and talked about a number of topics with reporters. I thought it would be fun to look at some of the topics covered by Moore and what we can take away from them.

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Ervin Santana

Moore said that Santana was the most asked topic he has encountered this off-season, but that they knew early on that working out a long term deal with Erv was probably not going to happen. He was asked where things stood now and Dayton said that he really isn’t for sure where things stand since he hasn’t spoken to them “in at least a couple of weeks” and there definitely has been no contact since the team re-signed Bruce Chen.

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5th Starter Competition

Moore discussed the fifth starter spot and how content he was with the competitors for that spot(Wade Davis, Luke Hochevar, Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy). One name not mentioned there is former first round pick Kyle Zimmer, who’s chances for that spot have diminished as he recovers from arm problems. Dayton mentioned that Zimmer probably won’t even start throwing again until late March:

“He’s not even going to pitch until probably the end of March. We’re going to go slow with him,” Moore said. “He finished last year on the disabled list; he had a bicep tendinitis issue. When he had his throwing program this year, he still felt a little discomfort. We brought him in and had him checked out medically. It looks really good and our medical people really aren’t that concerned. But his body’s going through adaptive changes, and we’re really going to go slow with him.”

However one other name was thrown into that mix that would be considered kind of a wild card: Chris Dwyer:

“Chris Dwyer is a pitcher that’s a little under the radar for us, but we like him a great deal,” Moore said. “He’s got a great overhand curveball, a pitch that a lot of left-handers don’t have in the game today and therefore it makes it tough on the hitters. He’s got a changeup that is really good, and his velocity picked up a little bit last year and his command really improved, so he’ll got a shot to compete as well.”

Also talked about during the discussion was how there is a good chance Duffy starts out the year in the bullpen and if Ventura doesn’t make the rotation out of camp, there is always a chance he could be slotted into the pen. Personally, I don’t understand that. With a guy like Ventura you keep him as a starter. If he doesn’t make the top five starters out of Spring Training, you send him to Omaha and recall him during the season. Putting him in the pen would seem to stunt his growth. I do like the idea of Duffy in the pen; only problem is Kansas City already has a crowded field in that spot.

Emilio Bonifacio

Emilio Bonifacio

When asked about Boni, Dayton made this comment:

“There were some clubs that were interested,” Moore said. “It just didn’t happen for us.”

That would be because the Royals asking price was too high. My complete thoughts on the team getting rid of Emilio are here.

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Going to Arbitration with Greg Holland

Greg Holland is the lone Royal left unsigned going into this 2014 season and it looks as if an arbitration hearing is in their future. Just as a side note, Dayton has never had an arbitration case go to hearing in his 8 years with the team:

“Getting a deal prior to a hearing is going to be more challenging for us going forward as long as we having players excelling and doing well,” he said. “Holly had a terrific year, he’s one of the best closers in the game and we’ll see what happens.”

I should probably mention here that there have been rumors that Holland and the Royals have been working on an extension. If that is true, that would explain why this has been dragged out.

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Kansas City’s Depth

Dayton talked very glowingly about the team’s depth:

“We do have depth — depth in the outfield, depth in the infield, depth at the backup catching spot, we certainly have depth in the bullpen,” Moore said. “We’re probably not going to move any of our pitching unless it’s really something that overwhelms us.”

I don’t really agree with this. Or to be more exact, I don’t agree with the assessment that they have depth in the infield. Sure, you have Danny Valencia in case Mike Moustakas struggles at third base again. But cutting ties with Bonifacio hurt the team’s depth and having Pedro Ciriaco and Christian Colon as your infield backups don’t exactly make me feel comfortable. You have to take the view that the team has enough depth to weather a major injury in the infield(worst case scenario) and right now I don’t think they do. If Alcides Escobar or Omar Infante go down, the Royals are probably in trouble. Colon plays good defense but hasn’t proved he can really hit. Ciriaco has hit decently in his short time in the big leagues, but his defense is nothing to rave about. Neither seem like a solid replacement if someone goes down. That is where losing Bonifacio is going to hurt.

Moore also said this about the team in general:

“We feel like everybody on our roster is improving. There isn’t one guy we say, ‘they’re on the downside.”

I would also disagree with this. I can’t see a 32 year old Omar Infante being on the upswing, as most players his age start to regress. Not saying he is going to suck, but I don’t think you will really see his numbers improve. Since it is a young team, what Dayton is saying is probably fairly accurate. But there is no way everyone improves. Percentage wise,  it just won’t happen.

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Royals Payroll

Yes, the Royals payroll will be the largest in Kansas City history. But Dayton sure makes that sound bleak:

Alright, I get that the Royals have a payroll limit. I should probably mention here that it is David Glass’ money, not mine. But…to only raise the payroll $9 million from last year(when every MLB team was awarded $25 million as part of their TV deal) is insulting. I’ve always said that if you want to make money in baseball you have to spend money. I was never a big fan of George Steinbrenner, but he understood that. David Glass must not understand how small the Royals window to win is. It also makes him look bad that he tells people he wants to win, yet doesn’t seem to be all in. Look, payroll isn’t everything; just look at the Oakland A’s, year after year. But the Royals probably need one more starting pitcher, and a guy like A.J. Burnett is out there for the taking. You can’t tell me that adding someone like Burnett would not help this team immensely and immediately push them into major contention for a playoff spot this year. Once again, it’s not my money. Obviously they feel even $3.5 million over that limit is too much, which is why Bonifacio was cut when Chen was added to the roster. But if you put a legitimate winning team on the field, more fans will come to The K. More fans at the game mean more money being spent inside the stadium(merchandise, concessions, etc.). That also means more money from parking at the stadium(and we can all agree those prices have been too high for awhile now). Win enough and you can sell out almost every game, which means more money. Win now and it will probably buy you a couple of years of loyalty from an already very loyal fanbase. Make the playoffs and other players will want to come play for your team, solid players. You might spend extra now, but in the long run it will come back twofold. I like that the Royals are spending money now; but it’s not going to be easier from here. If some of these guys take off(Eric Hosmer, Ventura, Moustakas, etc.) they will want to be paid. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler have contracts running out after the 2015 season. They will cost more. Spend the extra now and you will be rewarded, Mr. Glass. Or worry about your bottom line now and suffer in the long run. Once again, it’s not my money.

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So that is some highlights from Dayton today. Look, I think this is a good team and they should be over .500 again, but I’m not 100% sold they are a playoff team. I want them to be a playoff team, but I need more convincing. With that being said, I feel good going into this season. Yes, there is a ray of optimism there. Soon enough we will find out whether Dayton has constructed a team that will pay off or if they stay pat. He did say something that I feel he had to say, especially after years of hearing about the process and patience. Moore said “We want to win now. That’s what we’re here for.”  Good, that is where we should be now. Take it home, GMDM.

 

 

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