Unearthed Solutions For the Royals Offense

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Kansas City Royals

The Kansas City Royals offensive woes have hit levels that no team should ever have to worry about. You’ve heard all the “answers” to their slump: elevate the ball, be more patient, more barrels, etc. But for a slump of this magnitude, I really feel like the Royals need some major out of the box thinking. That’s where I come in, as I LIVE outside the box. So here are some possible solutions to make the Kansas City Royals a fluid hitting machine once more.

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Royals Ice Cream Social

Who doesn’t love ice cream? Everyone loves the cream of ice (#brokenbrilliance), even those of us who are lactose intolerant (we love ice cream but don’t enjoy what it does to us). Find me a person who doesn’t get excited for ice cream and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t like to have fun. A nice get together where the Royals enjoy some frozen goodness seems like a good way to get their mind off their struggles and onto the bottom of the ice cream cone. I can already picture Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain, enjoying their cones, while Salvy takes a few licks of Cain’s ice cream while he isn’t looking. There are some downsides to this. For one, while they will be on the sugar high for a while, at some point they will have to come down. You can only hope that doesn’t happen in the middle of the game. Second, ice cream can pack on the pounds which is bound to slow down even the fastest of Royals on the field. Also, Alex Gordon wouldn’t eat a drop; there is no way he is putting any sugar into his system:

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Seriously, you don’t look like this by eating sugar. By the way, welcome to the gun show.

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Royals Dance Party

Sometimes you just have to get loose and let the music take over. Some good Royals dancing  could make all their troubles go away as they let their body give in to the smooth stylings of Daryl Hall and John Oates…or whatever the kids are listening to these days. A little electric slide, some Gangnam Style, the funky chicken, even the whip; doesn’t matter what your preference is, as long as you get down and feel the beat. Personally, Brandon Moss seems to be a pop and lock kind of guy. Luckily, Royals fans know how to get down as well:

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It’s obvious Salvy has some rhythm as well:

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The only issue that could arise with a dance party is someone pulling a hammy or even worse, a stage dive that goes awry. Yes, I’m looking at you Eric Hosmer.

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Tea and Crumpets

While this might feel a tad dull and boring, it also can be a nice, relaxing way to spend an afternoon while not dealing with the doldrums on the field. A nice spot of tea with some tasty crumpets? Indeed and splendid. You just hope no one gets in a big hurry and decides to drink their tea before it cools down a bit; with Alcides Escobar’s patience at the plate, I assume he has the same patience when it comes to his tea. No need to burn the roof of your mouth just to get some refreshing tea.

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A Night of Karaoke

Look, there is a reason that most of us don’t have recording contracts: because we can’t sing. Ball players are no different, but sometimes you just have to belt out your favorite tune while other’s eardrums bleed. There will be classic tunes chosen: ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’, ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’, ‘Ice Ice Baby’ and anything else that can be made worse by people thinking they can sing…and dance.

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Worried about the amount of pitches you are swinging at outside the strike zone? No worries when you know all the words to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ but can’t carry a tune to save your life. This would be a good choice for the Royals, although they would probably only sing from the Fetty Wap catalog.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Kansas City Royals

Hitting the ball hard…in a game

I know this sounds crazy, but hear me out on this. Maybe…just maybe…if the hitters started, I don’t know, hitting the ball hard consistently, they would score more runs and win more games. They could do stuff like this:

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or this:

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I’m a big fan of this:

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and I’m not opposed to this:

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Look, call me crazy but I don’t believe the Royals forgot how to do this. All they need is a bit of a refresher course on ‘Making it Happen 101’.

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Look, we can throw out ideas all day for Kansas City’s offense, but the bottom line is the team needs to decide on a solid game plan and stick to it. There is some stressing and pressing going on right now and a good relaxer would probably help a ton. I would mention a night at a ‘Knocker Locker’ but that turned out badly for the ladies back when Bruce Chen was involved. I’ve even considered voodoo, but considering the “rumor” of Ewing Kauffman selling his soul for a world championship and the Royals proceeding to not win another one for 30 years, I think we’ll pass on that. It’s time to wake up the bats, boys; whatever it takes, do it. Much like ‘slump-busting’, just don’t tell anyone how you did it. There is no need to mention where the bodies were buried.

 

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Duffman Might Just Be the Key

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Spring Training is underway, which is cause for celebration within itself. But there is also celebration if you are a Kansas City Royals fan because for the first time in 29 years the Royals are the defending American League Champions. Maybe the most asked question over the last month(by pundits and fans alike) has been whether or not the Royals will be able to make the playoffs two years in a row. In due time I will throw my thoughts out there on that subject, but for now it is easy t0 see that the American League Central will be a fight possibly among four teams(and I think Minnesota will not go quietly into the night). For the Royals to be in that conversation they will need the starting rotation to be at the same level they have held the last two years, even with James Shields now calling San Diego home. That means Danny Duffy needs to step it up yet another notch.

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Heading into 2014 it didn’t appear that Duffy was going to be a major part of the team’s rotation. Duffy had struggled throughout Spring Training and by the time the season started he was pitching in Omaha. When the Royals did finally call him up he was being used out of the bullpen and seemed to find a bit of success there. But the end of April saw a couple of awful outings out of the pen and questions as to where Duffy should go from there. Luckily for Duffy, Bruce Chen came down with an injury, forcing him into the rotation. His first outing was nothing spectacular, but within a few more starts he started pitching more efficiently and was putting up numbers that Kansas City management always knew he was capable of. A large part of his success could be attributed to his ability to pitch to contact, letting the Royals stellar defense get the outs while reducing Duffy’s pitch count. In fact keeping his pitch counts down led to him pitching deeper in games while still lessening his workload. It seemed as if Danny Duffy had finally figured out the key to success.

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Then in September Duffy threw one pitch in a start in New York before being taken out of the game for health concerns. Then there was the horrible outing in Chicago where Duffy couldn’t throw a strike from the windup and was forced to throw from the stretch. Once the playoffs came around Duffy was exiled to the bullpen and appeared in only a few games, normally for just a few innings at a time. It wasn’t until after the World Series had wrapped up that we found out that Duffy had been dealing with a ribcage injury.

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So where does this lead Duffy to in 2015? The Royals are counting on him to be a major part of the rotation, possibly as high as the number 2 starter with Shields leaving and Yordano Ventura (hopefully) taking over the role as team ace. Obviously there are concerns about Duffy heading into this season, mainly concerning his health. Duffy took the first step toward alleviating those concerns, changing his physique over the winter and his workout routine. Duffy cut back on fast food(changing up his diet), cut back on the amount of running he normally does and worked out more in the gym. The point is to keep him healthy so he would be able to log 200 innings this season, which he has never been able to do in his career. The change is noticeable this spring, as Duffy has gained some muscle mass, bumping up from his 2014 weight of 195 to a stealth 212 pounds.

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But his health isn’t the only concern this spring. I mentioned earlier that a key to Duffy’s success was pitching more to contact, which is shown in the numbers. His ground ball to fly ball ratio was up as was the balls in play percentage(up to 69%, as his career percentage before was around 63%) and his walk rate was down as well(down to 8.8% from 13.5 in 2013). But his strikeout rate was also down(18.7 from 21.2% in 2013 and 23.1% in 2012) as was his velocity, although I’m not as concerned with that as others.

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In my mind Duffy’s velocity was down to help his command and throw more strikes. In the past Duffy had a habit of hunkering down late in the count, looking for the strikeout. The change in philosphy though meant he needed better command so he would dial the heat down 1 or 2 miles per hour. Because of that he had very favorable stats when it came to accuracy. His strike percentage was up to 63.8%(from 59.8% in 2013) while his contact percentage was sitting at 83.1%, up from 75.4% in 2013. So with him throwing more strikes, more of those pitches were put into play, meaning his pitch count was kept down while pitching deeper into games. The other positive from this new change was the ability of getting ahead in the count. Duffy’s first pitch strike percentage rose up to 59% last year while the amount of 3-0 counts he faced was at a career low, 5.4%. To add to this his strikeout looking percentage went up, 31.0% from 27.3%, which means Duffy was able to mix his pitches better and keep hitters off guard. It makes sense then (especially with Kansas City’s ‘Grade A’ defense) that Duffy’s BAbip(batting average on balls in play) of .240 is sustainable if he can continue attacking the hitters and pitching to contact. The real question will be if some of his velocity comes back, even just to keep the hitters guessing.

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With all this said, the Royals need Danny Duffy to be the guy he was for the majority of 2014. If he can do that and stay healthy, the Royals have a good shot at capturing the American League Central crown. But if Duffy falls back(or can’t stay out of the trainer’s room) the Royals could have a problem filling out their rotation. Sure, the Royals need Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez to improve the offense this year, and bounce back seasons from Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios wouldn’t hurt. But the key to the Royals success this season lies in their rotation and there is no bigger key to it than Duffy. Without him, the team will need to find innings from somewhere; unfortunately Omaha might not have an answer for them. In 2015, the Royals need Duffy to be as gnar as he can be.

Winning the Arms Race

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With the Royals continuing their winning ways and stretching their lead in the American League Central(2.0 games ahead of the Tigers) there has been some talk of plans for the team come September, preparing themselves for a stretch run to the playoffs. One of the most discussed ideas has been that of calling up some of their top arms in the minors and using them to help in the last month of the season. Think about that for a minute; a team that prides themselves on having one of the best bullpens in baseball is talking about adding more arms. You might be asking yourselves right now ‘why?’ and that is a valid question. But what Kansas City is considering is not a new concept.

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Let’s start with the two main arms that have been mentioned to be part of the Royals pen come September. Brandon Finnegan is the Royals #1 Draft Pick this year but has been progressing through the Royals farm system this summer, currently at Double AA Northwest Arkansas, where he has been pitching out of the pen, working 2 innings at the most in those games. The initial thought when he was drafted from TCU was that his future might be in the bullpen, the thinking that his size would hold him back from being a consistent major league starter. Finnegan has a plus fastball, plus slider and a good changeup to boot. He seems to be in the vein of a Billy Wagner type pitcher, small stature with some high heat. Finnegan even throws across his body like Wagner. The 21 year old isn’t even a year removed from college but has a chance to be pitching in games that matter come September for Kansas City.

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The other prospect that has been discussed for bullpen work this September is Christian Binford. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because I discussed him earlier this season. In fact, out of the current crop of minor league arms in the Royals system, the only other pitcher that has me as excited as Binford is Miguel Almonte. Binford started the year in Wilmington, moved up to Double AA Northwest Arkansas after 14 starts, pitching in 8 games there before being called up to Triple AAA Omaha this past week. Binford isn’t a guy who will light up radar guns, but he has tremendous command of his pitches and a superb walk ratio. Binford has mainly been a starter since the Royals drafted him, and I’m pretty sure he takes the place of Jason Adam, who the Royals had shifted to the pen awhile back before trading him to Minnesota in the Josh Willingham trade. I’m not entirely sure how Kansas City would use him out of the pen(long reliever if needed? Help rest the other relievers?) but he would be different after seeing the smoke thrown by guys like Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. I don’t think this role is really in Binford’s long term future, but for this year he might be just what the Royals need.

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So what about Kyle Zimmer? Most of us are aware of how 2014 has been a wasted season for Zimmer, as he has been battling a lat injury these last few months. Before that the Royals were taking their time with him, as he has dealt with injuries since the Royals drafted him in 2012. At this point, Zimmer has appeared in one game this season for Idaho Falls in the Rookie League. At one time there was some talk that we could see him in September, but that was before the lat injury stripped him of playing time this season. At this point, the best thing is for Kansas City to let him get some innings in the minors the rest of the year and chalk up this year to a lost cause. We will see Zimmer soon enough, just not this year.

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Earlier I mentioned that the concept of using youngsters in your farm system to help out the relief corp in September wasn’t a new idea. Off the top of my head I can think of two times it has helped a team further their chances in the postseason. The first is the Los Angeles Angels using Francisco ‘K-Rod’ Rodriguez to help them gain a World Series title in 2002. Rodriguez only appeared in 5 games that season, but was a key part of their bullpen come October. K-Rod would appear in 11 games for the Angels that fall, giving up only 4 earned runs in 18.2 innings. It had to be hard for teams that year to really get a scouting report on this kid that the Angels had barely used in the season. The other instance I can think of is the St. Louis Cardinals using their young arms these last few years in the playoffs. Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller, and Carlos Martinez all were used off and on during the postseason and were live arms that could go out there and just throw heat in short outings for the Cardinals. More than anything it helped the team in 2011, as the Cardinals were able to come away with a World Series title in Tony LaRussa’s final season. These are both prime examples of teams that used young arms in their farm system to help their bullpen in postseason play and use them to help gain the richest prize of them all.

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So with just over 5 weeks left in the season it appears as if the Royals are making plans to make the team the best they can be if they are headed to October. Adding a couple of young arms to the pen might not seem like the most obvious paths to take for guys like Finnegan and Binford, but it would give them the opportunity to experience a pennant race(and possibly postseason) while getting big league experience. It’s not a guarantee we will see these two youngsters next month but I would bet money we see at the very least one of them, if not both. The Royals bullpen is a juggernaut and has been the last few years, but adding these two could make it even stronger. With all of us hoping for a “Blue October”, I love the out of the box thinking, especially with some of the struggles as of late for Aaron Crow, Francisley Bueno and Bruce Chen. Finnegan and Binford might be future rotation mainstays for Kansas City, but for now their value might be pitching late in the game during the most exciting September Royals fans have seen in three decades.

The Turnaround of Danny Duffy

Kansas City Royals  v Cleveland Indians

It has not been the smoothest of rides to get where Danny Duffy is at this moment. If you can think of possible derailments for a player to be a consistent performer in the big leagues, Duffy has probably had it. Tommy John Surgery? Check. Left baseball for awhile for personal reasons? Check. Struggle with pitch efficiency? Check. The word potential has been floated around for years now around Duffy, but headed into this 2014 season it seemed that might be all we saw of him. But a few twists and turns(and an injury to the lovable Bruce Chen) have left Duffy in the brightest of spots; one of the best starters in the Kansas City Royals rotation this year.

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The season didn’t start out this year all sunshine and lollipops for Duffy, though. I remember watching a Spring Training game against the Rangers where he was all over the place with his location, which forced him to throw a few pitches down the heart of the plate. This lead to a couple of homers and a big inning for Texas. Outings like this lead the Royals to switch Duffy to the bullpen to start the year, where the thought was that he could harness his nasty stuff(plus fastball with late tail on it, sharp 12-to-6 curveball and a changeup over 10 mph slower than his fastball) and let it all hang out. It worked for awhile, but within a span of a week Duffy had a bad outing in Baltimore and then a few days later he faced two Toronto batters, hitting one and walking the other. None of his pitches were near the strike zone and he didn’t look comfortable on the mound. It made me make this observation:

Whoops! In my defense, 1) it was just an observation and 2) he just didn’t look like himself on the mound. I wasn’t implying that he was going to be the next Rick Ankiel or Steve Blass, but I won’t lie: the thought crossed my mind. This also happened the week that Bruce Chen went on the disabled list, which meant the Royals needed a starter to take his place that weekend. I was almost certain it wouldn’t be Duffy and was worried about what would happen if it was.

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Nothing spectacular happened that outing, but my concerns did go away and showed whatever I saw earlier in the week was unfounded. Duffy pitched what has been a normal outing for him the last few years, as he threw 4 innings, giving up 2 hits and 1 run while striking out 2 and walking 4 against the Tigers. Duffy threw 75 pitches in those four innings, which at that point was average for him, as his pitch efficiency has always been the big concern. But then…then there was the outing against Baltimore. Duffy was perfect for 20 batters and pitched into the eighth inning, giving up only two hits. THIS  was the Duffy that everyone envisioned as he was coming up through Kansas City’s farm system. Since that start Duffy has been one of the most consistent starters in the Royals rotation, notwithstanding a hiccup here and there.  So what is Duffy doing differently?

MLB: Houston Astros at Kansas City Royals

The obvious answer here is that Duffy has learned how to use the spectacular Royals defense to his advantage and pitch more to contact rather than trying to strike everyone out. This is backed up by a lower strikeout rate(19.2%) and a higher balls in play percentage, which is up 5 percent(28.0%) . Obviously this has helped his pitch count a ton and led to him being able to last longer in the game than normal. His walk rate(10.0%) is also down, about 3.5 percent from last year and the lowest of his major league career. It also appears as if Duffy is inducing more ground balls than ever before in his career, as his ground outs to air outs ratio is at 0.55.

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The other thing that Duffy is doing better than ever is pitching ahead in the count. We’ve already seen this year how that has helped teammate Jason Vargas and it appears to have helped just as much for Duffy. His first pitch strike percentage is the highest it has ever been(58.3%), as is the amount of 0-2 counts he has achieved(28.8%). What seems the oddest fun stat for Duffy is the amount of strikeouts looking, which is sitting at 46.2% this year, almost twenty points higher than his previous high last year of 27.3%. Duffy over his career has had issues with not being able to finish batters off, which leads to numerous balls fouled off and a raise in his pitch count. This year he seems to be fooling batters more often and they don’t appear to be locked in on what Duffy will throw next.

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To me, the best part of Duffy’s game this year are the pitch counts. It has been obvious for a very long time that for him to be a major contributor for Kansas City Duffy would have to be a more efficient pitcher. This year he is doing that, as he is averaging 92 pitches per start, which isn’t much less than his career average. But what has changed is his innings pitched per start, which is up to 5.9 compared to last year’s 4.9 and 2012’s 4.6. So it’s obvious that he is throwing the same amount of pitches, just spread out longer, which is a great thing. So far this year Duffy has had one game where he threw under 80 pitches(which would have been his first start after leaving the bullpen), 6 games throwing between 80-99 pitches, and 3 games throwing between 100-119 pitches. With the way Duffy has been throwing, he has earned more faith from the Royals coaching staff and has been allowed to go longer in his games. That is nothing but positive for a team who will need him down the stretch if they are to be serious contenders.

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So after all this time and some losing faith(like myself), Danny Duffy has found himself in a position where he could be a difference maker this September for a playoff hopeful like Kansas City. At one time some of us debated whether Duffy should be a starter or pitch out of the pen. It now appears as if Duffy will be a fixture in the Royals rotation for years to come, barring an injury. His new found success couldn’t come to a better guy; the Royals need more guys who make comments like “bury me a Royal”. It proves once again that efficiency is the key to a pitcher’s success.

 

 

 

What is Working(and Not Working) for the 2014 Royals

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Well, it’s been eight games now. The Royals are 4-4. We’ve seen some good baseball so far. We’ve seen some bad baseball. Some things are working, some are not. Let’s go ahead and take a look at what we can take away from the first week of the 2014 season. First, let’s look at what is working:

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Patience  at the Plate

Over the years, it has driven me nuts that the Royals are just not a team who accumulates a lot of walks. This really isn’t anything new; this has been going on since the 90’s. Outside of Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, this team has been one that doesn’t take a lot of pitches and is always at the bottom of the league in bases on balls. But so far this year, we are seeing a different team. A team that has been seeing more pitches and taking more walks. Even a guy like Mike Moustakas, who didn’t get his first hit until last night, has shown a great amount of patience and has been able to take a few bases so far this year. This is a major improvement for this team and I really hope the patience is here to stay and isn’t fleeting. They are currently tied for 8th in the league in walks, which is way above where they have been in the past. In fact, they are currently way ahead of Detroit, who sits at the bottom of the league. If they can get some extra-base hits(more on that later), this team can make a big improvement on their ability to score runs from last year.

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The Starting Pitching is Still Great

I’ve been saying for awhile that the likelihood that the Royals would be able to put up the numbers the starting pitching had last year would be very small. Percentages say that it was just not realistic for that to happen, not with Ervin Santana gone and Bruce Chen and his clone(Jason Vargas) in the rotation. But so far, they are trying to prove me wrong. The Royals starting pitching is third in walks allowed, third in opponents batting average and second in WHIP. Jason Vargas has been the biggest surprise, as he has gone out there in two starts and has only given up two runs in 15 innings while compiling a 1.20 ERA and a WHIP of 0.73. Opponents are hitting a paltry .167 against Vargas. If he keeps this up(and I still believe he will be more in the middle and closer to his career stats this year), he will make Dayton Moore look like a genius for signing him. The rest of the rotation has been stellar, whether it be James Shields being, well, James Shields or Jeremy Guthrie continuing his magic tricks. Add in rookie Yordano Ventura, who made his season debut last night and made the Rays look awful(PLEASE, go check out these Gifs. They are worth it!), and you have a group of guys that might be able to challenge last year’s numbers. I hope it keeps up, as so far they have pitched above and beyond my expectations.

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Defensive Gold

This is no big surprise: the Royals defense is amazing. Anyone who has watched this team the last couple of years realize why they had 3 Gold Glove winners last year. It hasn’t slowed down, and might have gotten a bit better with the additions of Nor Aoki in right and Omar Infante at 2B. I don’t really see this changing and should continue throughout the year. The defense is working, oh yes, it is.

Now, onto the things that aren’t working:

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Royals Offense: MIA

This has probably been the biggest issue early on in the season for Kansas City. The Royals have struggled the last few years offensively, but the thought was with the additions of Aoki and Infante to the top of the lineup(and Alex Gordon moving down into the middle of the order)the Royals would see their offense flourish. So far, that has not happened. Sure, Aoki and Infante have hit, and so has Salvador Perez. Everyone else? Not so much. As a team, the Royals are 13th in runs scored, 14th in doubles, last in home runs, 13th in RBI, last in Slugging Percentage and next to last in OPS. Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon haven’t been horrible, but they haven’t been great. Billy Butler is struggling and Mike Moustakas, who tore it up this spring, just got his first hit of the year yesterday(in game 7!). I mentioned earlier that the team was doing a good job of taking some bases on balls, and it’s a good thing because they aren’t doing much else. I’ve had to remind myself numerous times so far that it is just eight games and is a very small sample size. But with the struggles the offense has had(especially scoring runs) the last few years, you hope this isn’t a regular thing and that the team can produce offensively the way management keeps thinking they should.

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Bullpen in Shambles 

I’ve been saying the last few years that bullpens have a very small shelf life. Normally, if a team can keep a solid group of guys together for 2-3 years then they are doing a good job. The Royals bullpen has been one of the best in baseball the last few years, and with their performance so far this year they might be drawing very close to a major shakeup. Tim Collins and Francisley Bueno have been roughed up, Greg Holland has looked human, and Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera have already had minor blips. What was once the most reliable thing on the team has become a big question mark. Louis Coleman has returned while Collins and Bueno have ended up on the disabled list for the time being. This is still a very solid group and will probably continue to put up solid numbers. But the days of them being locked down might be over. If there isn’t a shakeup this season, there very well could be in the offseason. Luckily for Kansas City, relievers are easy to accumulate and acquire.

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Seven Relievers and No Backup Infielder?   

One of the biggest deciding factors on whether or not a team makes it deep into the postseason is roster structure. If you are lacking in any area to compensate for another, there is a good chance you won’t even make it into the playoffs. With that said, it has been downright maddening to know that Royals management would rather carry seven relievers than ditch one and add a backup infielder to the roster. Pedro Ciriaco started the year on the team but was quickly jettisoned to Omaha to add to their collection of infielders. Christian Colon and Johnny Giavotella have seen regular time in AAA, as has journeyman Jason Donald. You would think with the amount of time both Alcides Escobar and Omar Infante missed this spring that it would be wise to keep an extra around in case one gets hurt. Hell, you might keep one around just because you might be tempting fate if you don’t. The Royals tempted, and what happened? Omar Infante was hit in the face the other night and had to be replaced by Danny Valencia. Yes, the Danny Valencia that had never played second base before Spring Training. The Danny Valencia who is a corner infielder and doesn’t play in the middle of the diamond. So in other words, he was out of place on Tuesday night when a ball was hit near him in the ninth inning that got past him and helped win the game for Tampa Bay. I’m not throwing this at Valencia’s feet; it wasn’t his fault. He just went out and did what was asked of him. But it makes no sense to not have a backup infielder on the team. They finally called one up for Wednesday’s game, as Giavotella made it to Kansas City and got a hit and a sac fly. This might seem like a minor thing, but it’s the difference between a contender and a pretender. For a team like Kansas City, there is no room for mental mistakes by management.

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So there it is, a breakdown of the first eight games and what the Kansas City Royals are doing right and what needs improvement. Look, it’s only been eight games so far; there is a lot of baseball yet to be played. I’m not too worried yet, but check back again with me in May. This team still has the potential and could be very special. As long as they continue to improve and don’t press too hard, we very well could be in a pennant chase this year. If not, we have this:

 

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Ahhh, it’s already warming my heart!

The Duffy Debate

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When Spring Training started last month, Danny Duffy looked to have a good shot of making the Kansas City Royals rotation. Early on it seemed as if Duffy had an inside shot at being the team’s fifth starter. Then Yordano Ventura came in and embarassed batters as if they had bullied him as a kid(except for Eric Sogard). So with Ventura locking up a rotation spot, that now leaves Duffy on the outside looking in. Originally it looked as if Duffy would go to AAA Omaha to start the year, but word trickled out this week that the team was seriously thinking of putting Duffy in the bullpen. Now it appears as if Duffy will in fact be in the pen, as the Royals feel nothing will get accomplished for him in Omaha. With that said, is this the best thing for Danny Duffy, the pitcher?

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals

When the idea was first floated around, I will admit to being highly intrigued. Duffy has electric stuff, including a mid-90’s fastball with a change, sinker and curveball. Duffy’s biggest challenge since he made it to the “bigs” is pitch efficiency. For every batter he would strike out, there is a batter who either walked or was at least able to work the count full. In most starts, Duffy would reach his pitch limit by the 5th inning, with even a few coming earlier than that. So the idea of a guy with his stuff being able to just go out there and blow people away seems like an interesting idea. The only problem is the Royals bullpen already has more arms than roster spots. There’s also that pesky issue of the lack of young starters developed by the Royals over the years…

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The Royals are currently in a situation where they can’t just discard good arms to the pen. Kansas City has done an awful job developing young starters during Dayton Moore’s tenure(hell, you could go back even farther if you want. Jim Pittsley anyone?). Ventura making the rotation this spring makes him the only starter who came up through the Royals farm system. The last young pitcher to give Royals’ fans hope? Danny Duffy. Before that? Zack Greinke. There are a couple more arms heading to Kansas City soon(Kyle Zimmer and Miguel Almonte chief among them), but they could still be a year or more away. The Royals need someone to step up this year, especially since they can’t let Bruce Chen start all year if they want to contend. With James Shields probably gone after this season, it puts even more pressure on the Royals to develop starting pitching. So one hopes this isn’t a long-term thing and is more of a ‘for now’ thing. In fact, many feel as if the Royals should keep him starting, even if it is down in AAA. Craig Brown of Royals Review among them:

It makes sense. If the Royals use Duffy out of the pen in the first half of the season and then want him to shift to the rotation, it will take awhile before his arm is stretched out to handle the extra workload. Pitching in Omaha would solve that.

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But go back to some of the comments Ned Yost and Dave Eiland made:

“You can have success in Class AAA doing exactly what you’re doing now,” Yost said. “They’re going to swing at pitches out of the zone. If you’re going to have success, he’s going to have to do it up here.”

Added pitching coach Dave Eiland, “He needs to learn how to get big-league hitters out. And the only way he can do that is in the big leagues.”

I really feel this is the real argument here. Duffy has developed as much as he can in the minors. There is very little left for him there to accomplish or learn in AAA. AAA hitters are different than major league hitters, by a wide margin. Duffy’s biggest issue has been a lack of efficiency and being able to finish off batters. Half a season in the bullpen can get him to work on it, on top of not having the pressure of being a starter. There is a lot more thinking when it comes to being a starter. In the bullpen, you only need two above average pitches(or one filthy pitch) and a lot less pacing. Sure, Duffy would have to go back to that at some point, but half a season of not thinking might be the best thing for him. One rival executive even agrees with that line of thinking:

“Some of these guys that are high octane, they’re better off not knowing when they’re going to pitch,” the executive said. “Because they sit around the four days in between just dwelling on it.”

To a degree, even Duffy agrees with this line of thinking:

“I think that my game would play very well out of the bullpen, but that’s just my opinion that I’ve had for my whole career,” said Duffy. “I’ve stated my case for that a few times.”

It sounds like Duffy has been open to a move to the bullpen for awhile now. That might be the best thing for him, at least for now. It sounds like he would be more comfortable coming out of the pen.

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So what is the best thing for Danny Duffy and his future? I think at this point, both arguments make sense, but the case being made for him to get actual major league hitters out seems like the best course of action. If Duffy excels in the role, they can just insert him in the rotation mid-season, even stretching out his relief appearances building up to his return to the rotation. If he fails out of the pen there are bigger issues at hand than just pitch efficiency and over-thinking. For the long term, the Royals need Duffy to be in the rotation. But for now, a major league role(any major league spot) might be just the thing to tap into his true potential. That is the true endgame.

2014 Kansas City Royals: Be Royal…Code for Playoffs?

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Two weeks from today, the Kansas City Royals will take the field and open the 2014 season in Detroit. Optimism runs high for the Royals this year, as they are coming off of their first winning season in a decade. Not only were they not eliminated from the playoffs until the last week of the season, but they are returning a large portion of the team that got them to this point. Now, I wasn’t quite sold on their chances in 2013 and I even admitted my mistake once the season was over. Going into this year, I think this is a team who will post another winning season(the Royals haven’t posted back to back winning seasons since the early 90’s) but playoffs? Let’s go ahead and take a look at this team and what can be expected coming into what very well could be a make or break year.

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Let’s start with what was the biggest strength for Kansas City in 2013, the starting pitching. Most of the same faces are back from last year. James Shields will once again anchor the rotation, leading a staff as free agency is beckoning him. Last year I foolishly didn’t believe Shields was a true ace(silly me), but I was proven wrong as ‘Big Game James’ showed he was up for the challenge. Following him will be Jeremy Guthrie, as he put up solid numbers that continue to defy logic. I only say that since Guthrie continues to give up more hits than innings pitched year after year but also puts up respectable numbers. One would think at some point that would catch up with Guthrie, but he’s been doing it for years and other than his dreadful few months in Colorado, he has been able to not let a large portion of those runners score. Following the ‘Jeremy Guthrie Magic Trick’ will be newly acquired Jason Vargas. Vargas will actually start the second game of the year, but that is more about not pitching Vargas and Chen back to back, since they are practically the same pitcher. Vargas’ signing this winter was the most highly debated, especially after the Royals went out and re-signed Bruce Chen as well. By no means am I saying Vargas is a bad pitcher or that the Royals overpaid for him(although signing him for four years is debatable), but it doesn’t make sense to have him and Chen on the same team. Vargas is replacing Ervin Santana, who put together a splendid year in 2013. It’s doubtful Vargas will put up numbers even comparable to Santana, but he will eat innings and (hopefully) keep the Royals in the game. Chen will be the fourth starter, at least for the first half of the season. If the Royals are serious about this contending thing they won’t have Bruce in the rotation come July. Look, I like Chen and he is great for the clubhouse but the formula they used with him last year(rotation only half the year, other half in the bullpen) is really the way to go with him. The fifth spot in the rotation seems to be young flamethrower Yordano ‘Ace’ Ventura, who might make all of us forget about Santana. There are some lofty expectations on him, as comparisons have even gone as far as future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. If Ventura is even close to what we think he could be, the Royals will be in for a fun year. So with all this said, as much as I like the rotation(and that is without even mentioning how we could see either Danny Duffy or Kyle Zimmer replace Chen at mid-season), I have to believe they won’t be as solid as they were last year. I’m not saying that in a negative way as much as saying that they were so good  last year that it seems inconceivable that they would be able to achieve that two years in a row. So expect a slight dip this year with the starters…but not much.

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Another solid bunch is the Royals bullpen. The bullpen was so solid last year that only the Atlanta Braves had a better pen in baseball. Leading the bunch was closer Greg ‘Dirty South’ Holland, who surprised even his biggest fans by shaking off an early season slump to put up some of the best numbers of anyone in Kansas City’s history(yes, even up there with Quisenberry and Montgomery). The pen was so deep last year that a guy like Louis Coleman, who was nasty both in the minors and the majors, was only in the big leagues for a portion of the season. One of the main cogs in the bullpen last year was Luke Hochevar, who will miss the 2014 season to have Tommy John Surgery. No worries, Royals fans, as former starter Wade Davis, who is a much better reliever than starter, will be taking his place this year. Add in Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera, and (probably) Donnie Joseph and you have one of the best bullpens in the game. Now, bullpens tend to rollover every few years, so we could be seeing some changes in the near future, but if they can last one more season then the Royals can worry about changes during the offseason.

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Now onto the starting lineup. To be flatly honest, this Royals lineup might be the most solid one they have had in years. Before last year, I really felt like the Royals hadn’t done enough to fix their 2012 lack of offense. Honestly, I was proven right. If the offense hadn’t been so streaky one wonders if the Royals would have actually made the playoffs. But this year, things are different. Just taking a glance and there are no major holes in the lineup, no Getz’s or Francoeur’s dragging it down. There are a few question marks, guys coming off of down years in 2013. Mike Moustakas might be the most talked about Royal in this conversation, as he pretty much stunk up the joint last year. It didn’t matter if he was facing lefties or righties, starters or relievers, Orioles or Indians, he just didn’t look good at the plate. Moose tucked his ego aside, went and played in the Venezuelan Winter League while working on his swing. Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol managed the team Moose was on, so he was able to work with him on a personal basis. What we have seen this spring is more of an open stance from Moustakas, less movement in his swing and a better ability at hitting lefthanders. If Moose can bounce back, that leaves one less worry with this offense. Alcides Escobar was another concern, as he went from having a great offensive 2012 to a downright dismal 2013. It didn’t matter if you hit him at the top of the lineup or the bottom(although he should have had no business at the top of the lineup, where he batted a whopping 49% of the time), Esky was one of the worst hitters in baseball last year. Granted, we all know he is in there for his defense, but a little bit of offense would have been nice. Most Royals fans(and I assume a good portion of the Royals braintrust) would agree that even if Escobar hits in the .260-.270 range, his defense would make up for the rest. The Royals have him signed to a very team-friendly contract, but if doesn’t produce this year then they might have to start looking elsewhere, or at least until Adalberto Mondesi Jr. makes it to the big leagues.

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Milwaukee Brewers

Elsewhere in the lineup, Eric Hosmer is expected to hit much like he did in the second half of the season, as is Salvador Perez. Two guys who’s numbers were down last year was Billy Butler and Alex Gordon and both are being counted on to improve on last year. I know many soured on Butler, as he didn’t put up the power numbers he had the year before, but he was still one of the better hitters on the team. Gordon is being moved down to fifth in the order and will be asked to drive in more runs this year. In the past he has struggled when lowered in the order, so it will be interesting to see how he does. The two new additions to the Royals lineup are right fielder Nori Aoki and second baseman Omar Infante, who are expected to bat first and second respectively. Aoki should get on base at the top of the order, even if he doesn’t walk as much as expected out of that spot in the order. Infante might be better suited to sixth in the order but should be fine second, as he can do about anything asked of him from that spot. Both should be improvements over the players they are replacing and should give the lineup a different look. Lorenzo Cain will be the center fielder and at this point I believe most just want him to stay healthy. Royals management expects continued improvement from the youngsters, which very well could happen. We could also see some struggles as well. Either way though, this offense looks way better than it did last year and one can only hope it produces more to help out the pitching.

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The bench though is where there are a few concerns. Since the Royals plan on carrying 12 pitchers when they break camp, that leaves them with only four spots for their bench. One will be the backup catcher, which at this point appears to be Brett Hayes. It also appears as if both Justin Maxwell and Jarrod Dyson will be with the team to backup in the outfield. That leaves one spot, and most of the spring it appeared the Royals would be daring and not keep a backup infielder and instead keep 3B/1B Danny Valencia. Valencia has use, as he scorches lefthanders, but it would appear a backup infielder might be of more value. That seems even more apparent as both Escobar and Infante have battled injuries this spring. The Royals swear they can fill Valencia in at second and move Infante over at SS, but Danny has never played second and it doesn’t appear smart to start that now. The Royals options as backup infielder aren’t very promising, but they could suffice if absolutely needed. Pedro Ciriaco would seem to have the first shot, as he has hit well this spring and is out of options. Jason Donald has also had a good spring but is out of options. There is also former first round draft pick Christian Colon, who can man second or shorstop, but is pretty much just a glove-man at this point. The Royals don’t have great options(and let Emilio Bonifacio, their best option, go before Spring Training), but they knew this all offseason. It would seem insane to go into the season without a backup infielder, and I hope they come to their senses. If not, we could see Valencia at second base and possibly even Moustakas sliding over to shortstop. That’s just scary and nonsensical, folks.

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Finally, Ned Yost will be coming back for another season as manager of the Royals. You all know my thoughts on Neddy, and at this point I’m not even going to give you links to my columns ranting about Yost(which also seem to be some sort of weird therapy sessions). My feelings haven’t changed about him. I don’t think he is the guy to get Kansas City to the promise land. He did a good job last year of not letting the guys get too down after their craptacular May, which I give him kudos for. He has learned at this point to just let them play. But we all know he likes to tinker, and that hasn’t changed. Expect some bunting, expect some questionable lineups, and most definitely he will keep a starter in longer than he should. But until the Royals decide he isn’t the guy, it doesn’t matter what I think. Ned is the devil you know at this point.

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So with just two weeks remaining until the games count,  the Royals almost have their roster set and ready to go. I’ve bounced around a lot of ideas as to what I think will happen this season and where I see them come October and a lot of other issues will factor in during the season(injuries could play a major part, as the Royals lack a lot of depth, especially in the lineup). Last year, I picked them for right around .500, or just a tad below. This year, I believe at the very least this is a winning ball club. Playoffs? I’m not quite there yet. I definitely don’t see them toppling Detroit in the Central and am not totally sure they can get past Cleveland. But if the youngsters continue to develop and Ventura is as good as advertised, this could be a really fun season. In some ways this season is ‘Playoffs or Bust’, as the window for this team is closing. Shields is a free agent at the end of the year, and Butler and Gordon both can be free agents after 2015. There is more young talent on the way, but it’s anyone’s guess just when we will see them. I personally see this team winning 83-87 games, just barely missing out on the postseason. A lot of things went right for them last year and the percentages say that doesn’t happen two years in a row. I do think this team will be fun to watch, even if they win 83. Dayton Moore has finally put together a winning team, one that he pretty much developed. July might be a true test of how much he(or David Glass, as he would have to open the pocketbook) wants it. If the Royals are in it, they have to go for it. This team can contend, but might be still one or two players away from the playoffs. Once again Kansas City, it’s time to prove me wrong. Make me eat my words. I would gladly do it if it means I am watching the Royals play in October. Maybe by then I will understand what ‘Be Royal’ means.

P.S.-I’m pretty sure we will hear this song this year at the K. I just hope they realize the lyrics don’t really make sense for a winning team. Just saying.

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.

 

 

Bonifacio Put Through Release Waivers

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Originally I was going to just discuss the Dayton Moore ‘State of the Royals’ press conference from today, but with the news of Emilio Bonifacio being put on release waivers I felt like I should cover that as well. So look for the Dayton article later.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers

First off is Bonifacio. As most know, he was designated for assignment 10 days ago, which gave the Royals ten days to find a suitable trade partner. I know I was personally upset that the team was getting rid of Boni, as he was a great addition by Dayton Moore late in 2013 and had solidified the second base job. I felt even back when Kansas City acquired him that Emilio would be a great super-sub, someone who could play about any position on the field and get 3-4 starts a week. He also gave the team great depth in case they lost somebody to a major injury, which was another plus to having him on the roster. A major weakness for the team over the last few years has been the lack of depth, which luckily hasn’t majorly affected them as the Royals haven’t been hit with any major injuries during that time. So in other words, I felt like the team was weakened by getting rid of Bonifacio. But I had also heard rumblings that he didn’t want to be a backup and that was even a big part of why Toronto had dealt him to the Royals in the first place. As if that wasn’t enough, getting rid of Bonifacio also seemed to be a money move by the Royals, as they had just added Bruce Chen(who had just signed a one year, $3.25 million dollar deal) to the roster. Chen and Bonifacio make about the same amount, so it seems Kansas City has hit their ceiling when it comes to payroll. It’s sad that as little as a shade over $3 million is just too much for this team, especially when they are thisclose to being serious contenders in the American League Central.

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So it was already upsetting to know the Royals were losing Emilio. To then find out today that they weren’t even able to get anything in return was even more upsetting. I mean, they should have been able to get something, even if it was just a minor leaguer. But it got worse.

Look, I am the first person who will tell you I feel like the Royals should not make a deal unless they are getting real value back in return. I’ve felt that for a long time the Royals weren’t always good about doing that. But if you are going to designate someone for assignment(especially someone like Bonifacio who has real value) then you need to get something(anything) in return. At this point, we can only hope there is a team(Baltimore?) that is willing to claim him off waivers, as that would save the Royals having to pay any of his salary this year. If he isn’t claimed, the Royals will have to pay $600,000 and he would then become a free agent.

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I think to me the worse thing here is the Royals got nothing for him. To me, it felt weird they would DFA him when they did. His value would have been much higher if they had waited until Spring Training had started. All it would have taken is for someone to get hurt or someone not playing up to expectations and the Royals could have traded Bonifacio to that team in need. In other words, his value would have greater than to wait until a week or so before Spring Training starts and most teams have already completed additions to their roster. Now we just have two days to wait and see what happens, although I tend to think he will be claimed. If he does, that is the best scenario for the Royals. If not, it is a wasted opportunity. Small market baseball teams can’t waste opportunities. Yes, it is a small deal. But a small deal can point out a bigger problem.

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