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

MLB: FEB 27 Kansas City Royals Photo Day

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

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees
Credit: Getty Images

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

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

Mike Sweeney
Credit: MLB.com

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

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

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

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

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Credit: Kansas City Star

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

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Baseball Thank You’s

League Championship Series - New York Yankees v Houston Astros - Game Two

Thanksgiving is a great time to spend time with family and friends, eat lots of carbs and be thankful for everything in your life. Yes, we should be more thankful on a daily basis, but with the pace of life speeding up more and more, we sometimes forget to stop and smell the roses (so to speak). We probably don’t say it enough, but I am thankful every day that baseball appears to be on an upswing and is still such a large part of my life. I’m not for sure what the ratio would be, but the amount of joy that this great game gives me would appear to be greater than what I am able to give back to it. So for today, let me be thankful for all the glory that is this kid’s game that we adore…

Mike Trout

I am thankful for Mike Trout. Literally everything about him. Trout is that every day working man who goes out there and helps his team almost every game. Defense, hitting, hitting for power, running the bases; Trout brings it to every aspect of his game. We are seeing the best player in modern-day baseball and possibly one of the greatest of all-time when it is all said and done. I am thankful we get to see such a great player in my lifetime.

Almost the same can be said for Clayton Kershaw, only on the pitching side of the game. I’ve seen Maddux, Johnson and Pedro in my time, but Kershaw could be the best of the bunch. I am thankful for his precision, dedication and work ethic that makes Kershaw as great as he is.

I am thankful for the current playoff system. I was initially against the second wild card in the playoffs, but it has added a new, exciting element to the postseason and I feel it is for the better. The last four October’s have been spectacular and it has shown a steady uptick for baseball viewing among the general public.

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Credit: Chicago Tribune

I am thankful for the mass group of players that I love watching all throughout the baseball season.

Ben Zobrist’s versatility and patience.

Andrew McCutchen’s five tools.

Giancarlo Stanton’s unbridled power.

Yasiel Puig’s child-like enthusiasm.

Bryce Harper’s hustle and ‘Hair on Fire’ approach on the field.

Wade Davis’ ‘Vein’s of Ice’.

Jose Altuve’s ability to hit the ball “where they ain’t”.

Baseball not only has a great group of guys that encompass the immense talent in the game, but a group that are positive role models for the game and makes rooting for them even easier.

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I’m also thankful for all the retired players whose accomplishments I’m still in awe of today.

Ted Williams’ love and dedication to hitting.

Willie Mays’ grace.

Bob Gibson’s fire.

Yogi Berra’s understated play on the field…oh, and his sayings.

Tony Gwynn’s knowledge of the strike zone.

Greg Maddux’s precise location.

Edgar Martinez’s understated study of hitting.

Tim Raines’ speed and ability to put himself in a position to score.

Jackie Robinson’s patience, maturity and determination to prove his worth.

Hank Aaron’s power, quiet leadership and calm demeanor.

I could go on and on with some of the greats of the game, but more than anything I am thankful they were able to pave the way for the talent that would follow them.

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Credit: NPR

More than anything, I am thankful for my favorite team of the last 30+ years, the team I fell in love with as a child and the team that always reminds me why I love baseball, the Kansas City Royals.

Thank you George Brett, for the hustle and inability to give up that helped me love this game.

Thank you Bo Jackson, for doing the impossible on a baseball diamond.

Thank you Dan Quisenberry, for your unique delivery, late inning shutdowns and your sense of humor.

Thank you Bret Saberhagen, for being one of the best of your generation.

Thank you Mike Sweeney, for your loyalty.

Thank you Alex Gordon, for quiet leadership and ability to become a Gold Glover at a new position. Oh, and that home run in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series.

Thank you Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. Without you, 2014 and 2015 do not happen.

Thank you Salvador Perez, for your infectious smile and childlike love of the game.

Thank you Denny Matthews and Fred White. You were the voices of my childhood and will always be my favorite baseball announcers. The pictures you drew with your words made listening to a Royals game on the radio an absolute joy.

Thank you Kauffman Stadium, for being so beautiful.

Thank you, 1985.

Thank you, 2015.

Thank you, Kansas City.

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More than anything, thank you baseball. Thank you for loving me back. There will never be another like you. I could go on all day with the things I love about baseball, but more than anything, I love it all. I am thankful that baseball has been a major part of my life since the age of 7. I look forward to the many years ahead we have together. I will always be thankful for you. You’re the best, baseball.

 

 

 

 

Back In Blue

MLB: OCT 20 ALCS - Game 4 - Royals at Blue Jays
(Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire)

I love the Winter Meetings. I have since I was a kid. There is nothing quite like the insanity of four days of trades, signings and now rumors of where a number of baseball players could be inhabiting for the upcoming season. All has been quiet on the Kansas City Royals front(well, except for a few minor moves) but it was inevitable it wouldn’t stay that way forever. So when news broke Monday morning that a few moves were very close, I figured it was time to take a peak at the two new-old signings.

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The first was the re-signing of right handed starter Chris Young. Young was a great signing this past year for Royals GM Dayton Moore, as he would take a flyer on the 6′ 10″ righty during Spring Training. Most of us felt like Young would be a solid pick-up, if for no reason other than the fact that he is a notorious flyball pitcher, which works well in Kauffman Stadium. Young was even better than advertised, starting 18 games while throwing out of the pen for 16 more, with a 3.06 ERA over 123 innings, an ERA+ of 135 and an FIP of 4.52. His GB/FB rate was on pace with what he has done over his career and was solid in whatever role manager Ned Yost had for him.That flexibility turned out to be a Godsend for Kansas City, as Young excelled in every role he was given, but none bigger than Game 1 of the World Series. The Royals needed someone to come out of the pen, and despite the fact that Young was the expected starter for Game 4, was called upon to eat some innings that night. All he did was pitch 3 no-hit innings, walking 1 and striking out 4. He was just what the Royals needed and ended up getting the victory after Eric Hosmer’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 14th.

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The Royals inked Young to a new 2 year, $11.5 million deal(with a 3rd year as a mutual option; yes, Dayton loves his mutual options!) with the deal paying Young $4.25 million in 2016 and 5.75 million in 2017. Young can also earn bonuses based on games on the roster, which sounds like a sweet deal for someone as consistent as Young. Considering what all Young did for Kansas City this year, it’s not hard to see why the Royals wanted to bring him back:

“Chris Young is special,” Moore said from his suite in the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. “He’s an unbelievable competitor. You can make the case that he’s the MVP of our pitching staff. And we’re very proud that he’s returning to Kansas City.”

I really like this signing, as Young can fill multiple roles for this team and is a great competitor. Part of what makes Young so great is the fact that he doesn’t have to worry about  a loss of  velocity, as he already doesn’t throw very hard and works more on location and deception than anything else. It appears Young will start the year in the rotation, so it will be interesting to see if the Royals go after another starter, as a name like Scott Kazmir has been mentioned so far as a possible acquisition.

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The other signing for Kansas City was the return of former All-Star closer Joakim Soria. Now, this deal hasn’t been 100% finalized yet(Soria still has to take his physical) but the word is that Soria would come in on a 3 year, $25 million dollar contract(with a fourth year mutual option). There apparently is some language in the deal they are working on where Soria would have incentives for starting; I wouldn’t look too deep into that, as it seems like a moot point. In other words, he won’t be starting unless the rest of the rotation falls victim to chicken pox(oh, wait…). One positive for Kansas City is the fact that most of the Royals management is familiar with Soria and know what he is capable of performing for the team out of the bullpen. In fact, manager Ned Yost sounds as if he is anxiously awaiting Soria’s return to Kansas City:

“Just loved his professionalism,” manager Ned Yost said. “Loved his makeup and his composure. Loved his ability to field his position, control the running game, execute pitches. A lot like Chris Young. He’s just a professional performer when he steps on the mound and still very, very productive. Would love to have him.”

Last year Soria split time between Detroit and Pittsburgh and performed admirably in whatever role was chosen for him. It appears at this point that he will be a setup guy for Wade Davis, so I can easily see him pitching the 8th while sliding Kelvin Herrera back to the 7th inning. Soria’s numbers looked good last year, accumulating an 2.53 ERA over 67.2 innings, with an ERA+ of 156 and an FIP of 3.71. Soria also had 24 saves(if you like that sort of thing) in 2015, the most he has had in a season since his days in Kansas City. The most impressive number from Soria this past season was an increased velocity out of his fastball. In 2015 he had an average fastball speed of 92.1 mph, his highest average speed throughout his entire career. It would appear on the surface as if his arm is fine and possibly in the best shape it has been in years.
Joakim Soria
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

But I have my concerns. Soria has had two Tommy John surgeries so there will always be a concern that another arm injury could finish him off. Also, it will be hard to insure Soria because of those surgeries, which doesn’t seem like a big deal but if you look at a situation like Jason Vargas, where the Royals will get most of his 2016 contract covered if he sits out the entire year,  you could see the importance of being able to insure a pitcher’s arm. There has long been talk about how the Royals waited too long to try and deal Soria, and then lost him for his final Kansas City season to that 2nd Tommy John surgery. But his health isn’t the only problem I have with the Soria signing.

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The other aspect of this signing I have issue with is the size of the contract, both dollars and years. For one, averaging over $8 million a year(and knowing Dayton the deal will be smaller for the first year and gradually increase) just seems like too much for any reliever to me, unless you are Mariano Rivera or Dan Quisenberry. I know it is what the market is dictating right now, but I don’t agree with it. Finding hard throwing arms to fill your bullpen is fairly easy at this point and also fairly cheap. So to spend that money on a setup guy just seems almost comical. Throw in that the deal is 3 years and it goes from bad to worse. No offense to Joakim; I love the guy and I’m already looking forward to hearing ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ blare when he comes into a game at Kauffman Stadium. But for a guy with his injury history and where he is at in his career, 3 years just feels like too much. Once again, I feel the Royals could have gotten a solid reliever cheaper and probably even younger and they could have done the same job Soria will do for Kansas City. I’m glad Soria is returning to where he started, but sometimes that same magic doesn’t return just because you do.

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But the best returning news came Monday afternoon thanks to an interview with skipper Ned Yost:

Seriously, best. news. ever. Sure, part of it is the glorious hair that Kuntz rocks. I’m sure even part of it is his name that people still butcher. But the main part is that Kuntz is a big part of that Royals coaching staff. He is the one who works with shifting the outfielders and moving them around based on which hitter is at the plate. He also works with the team on baserunning and was a big part of a big play in the ALCS against Toronto, as he picked up on something David Price had been doing and took advantage of it. Kuntz is a vital part of the Royals success and I’m glad they convinced him to return for at least one more year. Watch out ladies, the ‘Kuntz is Loose’!
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…and so goes day one of the Winter Meetings! There are still a few days left, so plenty of time for Dayton Moore to continue his holiday shopping for the Royals. It will be interesting to see if a couple of the main outfielders on the market start to sign if the other dominoes(ie. Alex Gordon) fall after that happens. All that can be said at this point is the dull period of the offseason is probably over; time to turn the ‘Hot Stove’ up to 11!

Motown Mowdown: Royals Win Series Over Tigers

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Sure, there are series’ that are ho-hum and feel like just another day at the office. Then there are ones that are more important, or at least important to the mind. As we speak the Detroit Tigers are in last place in the American League Central, a once strong powerhouse now turned into a tamed kitty. Over the last five years we have seen the Tigers spank the Royals on such a regular basis that most of us got used to the routine. But the last two years have been a different story, as Kansas City has held their own and even taken a number of important games from the Tigers. So to say it felt good this week to see the Royals take two of three from Detroit would be an understatement. To see Kansas City pound the ‘Boys from Motown’ well, that felt great. Two blowouts of a division rival is enough to put the biggest smile on any fans face. So how did we get here? All it took was some solid all around baseball to get to your answer.

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Series MVP: Kendrys Morales   

There was some tough competition for this honor, as Lorenzo Cain and Ben Zobrist both put up some hefty numbers in these last three games. But Kendrys Morales was an offensive juggernaut against Detroit, going 8 for 14 with 2 home runs, 8 RBI’s, a BAbip of .600 and raised his OPS over 20 points. The first of his two home runs was hit on Tuesday night, in the Royals one loss in this series:

Morales would get another deep blast on Wednesday night, driving in 3 runs that night.

He came just a few feet short of a third home run in this series on Thursday, but had to settle for a double and 4 RBI’s. Morales is currently sitting at 98 RBI’s with four weeks left in the season but I can almost guarantee he won’t reach the all-time leader for RBI’s by a Royals designated hitter. Hal McRae owns that honor, driving in 133 runs back in 1982. Morales has shown this year that he still has some gas left in the tank(I will fess up to being one that thought he had begun his regression) and has been a vital cog in the middle of this Royals batting order. Morales has been hot as of late(.327/.417/.635 over these last two weeks) and hopefully he can continue this hot streak all the way into October.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Yordano Ventura  

Most concerns about Yordano Ventura were alleviated with his start on Wednesday night, a start that showcased just how dominate he can be. Ventura went 7 innings, giving up 5 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 11. That is two consecutive starts that ‘Ace’ has struck out 11, a feat only duplicated by a few other Royals:

In fact Ventura has looked more like the pitcher we envisioned he would be this year over his last five starts, stringing together some numbers that can put a smile on even the most pessimistic fan’s face:

In some ways he just made the Tigers hitters look silly:

The most impressive part of his outing was how Ventura was able to mix his curveball and change-up in with his electric fastball. In fact, Ventura used his fastball only 57% of the time, while his curve was used 25% and the change-up 16%. Going back to the end of July and Ventura was using his fastball more(62%) while only using his curve sparingly(14%), even throwing in a few cutter’s. When Yordano has a good feel for his off-speed pitches he can set batters up with his fastball and then get them by throwing something off-speed. He has been able to do that a lot more this past month and if this is the Ventura we see the rest of the season, he easily locks down a spot in the postseason rotation.

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Down Goes Detroit! Down Goes Detroit!

The Royals offense is a curious thing. It’s not nearly as bi-polar as in year’s past, but it still has their moments. Then there are games like Wednesday and Thursday, where the Royals bats were so hot that I expected to see smoke rising off of them. Kansas City was able to get Detroit’s starters out of both games early, leaving the Tigers bullpen to try and stop the bleeding. Problem is, the Tigers pen is one of the worst in baseball. The Tigers pen has a -0.3 WAR so far this year(28th in baseball), 2nd highest FIP, 71% LOB percentage(26th in baseball) and an ERA of 4.76, the 2nd highest in baseball and highest in the American League.

So you can see why the Royals eyes got larger and feasted on this atrocity of a bullpen. It should be no surprise why Morales, Cain, Cuthbert, Orlando and Zobrist all contributed with home runs in this series and why the offensive numbers were off the table for these three games. In years past Detroit has been able to get away with a creaky bullpen due to their solid rotation and aggressive hitting. Now that some of those key parts have been traded and the team has had to deal with injuries, that pen becomes a giant bullseye for all teams to target. Knock out the Tigers starters and you have a good chance of picking up a ‘W’.

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Plenty of more goodness coming from this series win for the Royals. Brace yourself; time to spill out some news and notes from this first week of September:

  • Alex Gordon was activated on Tuesday, which was great news for those of us that worried Gordon would be lost for the rest of the season when he went down back in July. Instead, he made a quick recovery and got a heroes ovation in his first at bat back:

He would get a sac fly in that at bat, helping put Kansas City on the board. Gordon is a big part of this Royals team and having his back is nothing but a plus. It appears he will be batting 6th most of the time this month, but don’t be surprised if we see him hitting leadoff come October:

It’s great to have Alex back but if you want to understand the true depth of this team, check this out:

It’s almost like the Royals didn’t miss a beat. It does appear as if Alex will be rested fairly often, as he has been in the lineup about every other day since Tuesday. I am totally on board with this, as we want him as rested as possible before October rolls around. So yes, I am excited Gordon is back. But I’m not the only one:

  • The Royals beefed up their bench on Monday with an acquisition of Jonny Gomes from Atlanta:

Gomes has postseason experience and will mostly see action against left handers, as per his success against them:

He also isn’t too shabby playing at ‘The K’:

If things got bad enough, he could even fill in out of the bullpen:

He also can fight off a pack of wolves:

Good acquisition by Dayton Moore, as Gomes could be a solid bat off the bench in the playoffs. It also appears as if this trade was made because of the uncertainty of Alex Rios’ condition. Speaking of…

  • Word trickled out on Tuesday that Rios and Kelvin Herrera both came down with a case of chickenpox:

It’s a little unclear how this affects the team going forward. It looks like both players will be cleared to return in about another week, but chickenpox is much worse if you get it as an adult:

So it will be interesting to see if there is a period where Rios and Herrera play at not quite full speed. The good news is that it appears no one else on the team came down with the illness. It also appears as if we don’t have to worry about Morales and Gomes:

  • The September call-ups have begun:

There is a good chance we see quite a bit out of these guys, as manager Ned Yost rests his regulars throughout this month. It also appears this could be all we see of players recalled from the minors:

Some of these players have already become a necessity. All saw action in this series and Cuthbert saw starts in the last two games:

It also helps when you blow the other team out of the water for two straight nights. Just saying.

  • Justin Verlander started against the Royals Tuesday and was coming off of his one-hit effort against the Angels last week. But Verlander has a history with Kansas City:

Verlander went 6.2 innings, giving up 7 hits and 4 runs(2 earned) while walking 1 and striking out 4. The Royals didn’t dominate him but you could also say the same about Verlander. Maybe it’s because the two teams play each other so much, but it definitely seems like the Royals are not fooled by Verlander. Verlander might look more like the Verlander of old, but the Royals are not impressed.

  • The Royals celebrated their ‘Franchise Four’, which was selected by the fans before the All-Star game this summer. George Brett, Frank White, Bret Saberhagen and Dan Quisenberry were chosen for this honor and it was great to see three of the honorees on the field this week:

All four men hold a special place in my fandom, as they were all prevalent stars when I began watching baseball in the 1980’s. It was also great to see Frank White out there, as he has been at odds with Royals management over the years and has only been at a few games since his firing a few years ago. I had been asked when this voting was going on who my four would be, and this was who I chose. I think there are legitimate arguments for the likes of Willie Wilson, Kevin Appier and Amos Otis, but I think the fans chose the right four. Hopefully we get to see White return next month to throw out a first pitch before a playoff game. Yes, fingers are crossed.

  • Finally, Johnny Cueto struggled in his start on Tuesday, the third straight start he has had issues. There was lots of concern about Cueto, but I’m not one of them. If he looked like he was compensating on the mound for an injury, or even had a loss of velocity I would have my worries. But it appears his problems are purely location:

Dave Eiland has already worked with Cueto and they think they have fixed an issue with his arm slot. Remember, three starts is a small sample size and while it is a bit concerning, we are talking about one of the best pitchers of the last four years:

Now, if he struggles again this weekend…

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Tweets of Royalty

Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain (6) celebrates with Salvador Perez after Cain hit a solo home run during the third inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

So 29 games remain in this regular season for the boys in blue and the magic number continues to dwindle:

Most of us have been in a playoff frame of mind for awhile now, but Kansas City not only has to lock down the Central, but also home field advantage in the playoffs. Regulars will be rested during this month, but they also need to keep their eyes on the prize. The White Sox are headed into Kauffman Stadium this weekend to take on the Royals and while they haven’t performed up to expectations this year, they have given the Royals fits throughout the year. Kind of like that gnat that lingers and won’t go away, no matter how often you shoo it away. So by no means will this be an easy series. At this point, every win is another game closer to lowering that magic number. There will also be a battle for the 4th starter spot for the playoffs, which at this point looks to be between Kris Medlen and Danny Duffy. Three games up, hopefully at least two go in the win column. Steady wins the race, as has been the case all year for the Kansas City Royals.

The Drought Is Over

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On Friday night, the 29 year wait ended. On Friday night, the Kansas City Royals clinched a spot in the 2014 playoffs, assuring themselves of at least a Wild Card spot when the postseason starts next week. As most know, the Royals hadn’t reached the playoffs since the won the World Series back in 1985. During that span, anyone associated with the Royals, whether it be players, coaches, broadcasters, front office personnel, vendors and even fans have felt the weight of this playoff drought. It had almost gotten to the point to where that became the team’s defining talking point, not anything that was actually going on out on the field or within the organization. I’ve had a little over 24 hours to think about this and what this means personally to me. Like a lot of people, a hefty weight has been lifted off of everyone’s shoulders.

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I immediately thought of all the people involved within the organization who had been around forever. People like Denny Matthews, who has been with the team since the beginning and has dealt with all the highs and lows. I made sure Friday night that I was listening to Denny’s call, if for no other reason than it is comfortable listening to him. Art Stewart came to mind, the long time Royals scout and even guys like Mike Swanson, VP of broadcasting, who has had a couple tours of duty with Kansas City, going all the way back to the 1970’s. I thought of how happy guys like George Brett, Mike Sweeney and Jeff Montgomery would be, former players who were still around and working within the organization. If anyone understood how it was for us fans, it would be these folks, who have endured just as much heartache as we have.

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I also thought of former Royals no longer with us. Dick Howser came to mind, as he was the last man to take the Royals to the postseason. Howser came down with brain cancer into the 1986 season and passed away in June of 1987. Dan Quisenberry and Paul Splittorff both came to mind as well, longtime Royals who also lost their battles with cancer. Former Royals announcer Fred White passed away in May of 2013 and if ever there was a good trooper for the organization, it was Fred. White was still with the organization when he passed away and no one would have loved seeing the Royals celebrate a playoff berth like Fred White. There are probably others I have forgotten about, all who would have loved this moment.It goes to show how much this team meant to so many different people.

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I then thought of my Grandma Thornton. Craig Brown has a great read about him watching games with his Grandfather and my story is somewhat like that. When I first got interested in baseball around 1984, I would go listen to Royals games at my Grandma’s, as we would listen to Denny and Fred call the play by play on the radio. She would tell me stories about growing up listening to the Yankees as that was the only team in the area that stations would broadcast, since there was no local team yet. Listening on the radio made you picture the action in your head, as Denny and Fred would weave their words to give us an idea of what was happening on the diamond. I fell in love with baseball and shared that with my Grandma for many years. Once the Royals started being on television more we would watch the games and  talk about what was happening. I sometimes wish I could go back to then, when I was more innocent and just watched the game without questioning managerial tactics or analyze statistics like I do today. I think I was one of Grandma’s favorites(easy for me to say!) and part of that reason was we both loved this game. Before she got sick she gave me some of her baseball memoribilia she had purchased over the years, as she wanted me to have them. At the time I felt weird about it, since she wasn’t even sick at that point, but I know now that she wanted me to have these items and was afraid I wouldn’t end up with them if it got into the hands of other family members. I still remember her sternly telling me I was to take them and this wasn’t up for conversation. I took them, even if it was reluctantly, and the baseball signed by all the 1990 Royals still sits on a shelf in my bedroom, along with other signed balls. I’m sure if she was still around she would have loved seeing the Royals in the playoffs, which puts a smile on my face every time I think about it.

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Lastly, I thought of Dayton Moore. Over the last few years I have been very vocal about whenever I felt Moore had madea move I felt was less than great. Most of the time it was earned, and when a General Manager is in charge as long as Dayton has been and not produced a playoff team it is only natural to question whether or not he is suited for the job. I still am not the biggest fan of him, but I will give credit where credit is due; Dayton did it. He assembled a team that got the Royals to the playoffs. I don’t agree with how he built the team and there will still be a few doubts about “the trade”(and I’m sure it will get brought up again in the future) but for now none of that matters. All that matters is that Dayton kept his word and got this team to posteason play. For that I will give him a “thank you, Dayton” and hope that this will just be the first of many appearances. Adding Jason Vargas has helped this team in 2014, but credit also must go to all the players drafted, signed and developed during his tenure. Sure, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are still question marks, but look at guys like Salvador Perez and Danny Duffy as two guys that have been huge for this team. Look at the profits of the Zack Greinke trade, as Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain are regulars in the lineup(and Jake Odorizzi helped bring in James Shields and Wade Davis). Even the bullpen has Moore’s fingerprints on this team, as both Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera were developed in the Royals organization. Moore has made some questionable moves over the years and probably will again in the future, but for now he backed up what he promised, and that is what matters in the present.

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I have been critical of this organization in the past, and I will again in the future. It’s not out of spite or to complain, it’s out of love. I love this team, and I love all the joy that being a Royals fan has given me over the years and I always want them to succeed. Sure, there have been huge bumps in the road, but it has made this season even more special. On Friday night I sat there and thought about all the things I love about this team and this game and I am so glad I stuck with them. Sure, the Royals might play the wild card game on Tuesday and lose, and just like that it will be over. Or they will keep playing. And keep playing. Either way, the Royals have done what many of us weren’t for sure they could do, and that is break the drought. For that, I am perfectly fine with being wrong about this team.  I bleed Royal blue and will till the day I die; let’s make this a yearly thing now, boys!

 

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.

Put That in Your Pipe and Smoke It!

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If you have been a fan of the Kansas City Royals for as long as I have been(or even longer), you are well aware that the teams they trotted out in the late 70’s and early 80’s were overloaded with talent. Sure, everyone knows about George Brett and Frank White. Most will have heard about Willie Wilson or Dan Quisenberry. Real diehards will mention Amos Otis and Dennis Leonard as key players to Kansas City’s success. But a key cog in the Royals machine for most of those years(and a man who has always been taken for granted) was Hal McRae. In fact, it might be safe to say McRae and his hitting was almost as vital as Brett’s for a lot of those Royals teams.

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McRae’s professional career began in 1965, as he was drafted in the 6th round of the amateur draft by the Cincinnati Reds, the 117th overall pick. It’s hard to believe, but at one point Hal was a speedster, a center fielder that could cover a lot of ground. Before the 1969 season though, McRae suffered a multiple leg fracture in the Winter League and he went from being a player who could fly to just being of average speed. As much as the injury hurt his speed, what really hurt Hal in Cincinnati was the pool of talent the Reds were accumulating, a team that would soon be referred to as “The Big Red Machine”. The Reds at that point had an outfield of Cesar Geronimo(who would end up in Royal blue in 1981), Bobby Tolan and some guy named Pete Rose. With George Foster also in the picture, the Reds found McRae expendable and dealt him to Kansas City after the 1972 season. McRae didn’t instantly show Cincy that they had made a mistake, as he would struggle in his first season with the Royals, hitting .234 in 106 games.

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It’s safe to say though that the 1974 season was Hal’s coming out party. McRae would play in 148 of the Royals games, hitting .310 with an .850 OPS and a 3.9 WAR. McRae fit perfectly in the Royals lineup, a contact hitter who didn’t hit for a lot of power but got on base and drove in runs. Kauffman Stadium(at the time known as Royals Stadium) has always been known as a good park for gap hitters, and back in the 70’s it was even better with the artificial turf. McRae would also spend a lot of his playing time at DH, a fairly new position that was somewhat looked down upon. McRae would embrace the role and some would say became a pioneer for the position.

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1976 would be a banner year for Hal, as he continued his hot hitting. In fact, McRae was leading the league in hitting going into the final game of the season, with teammate George Brett and Minnesota Twin Rod Carew right behind him. Brett would go 2 for 4 and clinch the batting title by a margin of less than .001. McRae was not happy though, as he felt the Twins had conspired to help George win the title. Twins left fielder Steve Brye would misplay a fly ball in the 9th inning that helped Brett win, a move that McRae felt was racially motivated. McRae was so incensed that as he headed back to the dugout after getting out in his final at bat, he would turn toward the Twins dugout and flip the bird toward Twins manager Gene Mauch. A scuffle would ensue, and McRae would let his feelings be known after the game:

“Things have been like this a long time. They’re changing gradually. They shouldn’t be this way, but I can accept it.” […] “I know what happened. It’s been too good a season for me to say too much, but I know they let that ball fall on purpose.”

McRae was never one to be shy or not let his feelings known, and this would be one of those moments. Overall, McRae had a great season in 1976, as he would get picked for his second straight All-Star team and ended up fourth in the MVP voting. 1976 was also the first year that DH was his primary position. Things were definitely looking up for McRae.

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The rest of the 70’s McRae put up solid numbers, even if they weren’t quite at the peak of his 1976 season. McRae would lead the league in doubles in 1977 and continued to be a solid run producer for the Royals. Hal would also be known for being an aggressive base runner. So aggressive in fact that the rule that states a runner must slide into second base to break up a double play is known as the “Hal McRae Rule”. McRae was known to cross body block infielders while sliding into second, which many players had learned to avoid.

Oakland A's v Kansas City Royals

Injuries had started taking their toll on Hal starting in the late 70’s and continuing into the early 80’s. After appearing in only 101 games in 1979, McRae came back in 1980 and was a vital part of the Royals team that would make their first World Series appearance. He would lose close to 40 games to injuries that year, but still put up solid numbers that many had started expecting from him. After having a rough ALCS that year, Hal would have a very good World Series, hitting at a .375 clip, with 9 hits and an OPS of .923. It wouldn’t be enough as the Royals would fall to the Phillies in six games.

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1982 would see McRae stay healthy, which helped him have a season that would rival 1976. Hal would hit over .300, put up his highest OPS of his career(.910), hit the most home runs of his career(27) and lead the league in both doubles(46) and RBI’s(133). The Royals would not make the playoffs that year, but it wasn’t because of Hal. This would garner him with another All-Star nod, a Silver Slugger Award, and fourth place in the MVP voting.

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1983 would see another solid season from McRae as he would play in all but 5 games for the Royals that year. Injuries would return though in 1984 and so would the regression expected at his age(he turned 39 in the middle of the ’84 season). Hal would appear in just a shade over 100 games in both 1984 and 1985 and his hitting took a hit as well. McRae would hit about .260 for both the ’85 season and the ALCS that year, and with no DH in the World Series that year, McRae would see only pinch hitting duty. The Royals would finally get their first(and only) World Series title that year and luckily he got to be a part of that. But it had become apparent that he was nearing the end of his career.

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1986 would be McRae’s last full season in the big leagues, appearing in only 112 games and hitting a paltry .252. The man who had once been a major cog of the Kansas City Royals machine was nearing the end, and on July 17, 1987, he would play his final game in the majors. During his 19-year career, McRae put up some very strong numbers, numbers that even today he should be proud of. Hal would be a career .290 hitter, with over 1000 RBI’s and close to 500 doubles. He would rack up a career OPS+ of 123 and a career WAR of 27.9. Maybe his biggest accomplishment though was his embracing of being the DH and realizing that a career could be made just batting. As guys like Harold Baines and Edgar Martinez would do later on, McRae would not let injuries end his career and in fact helped him flourish. McRae helped make it easier for players to play the majority of their games at DH, as he showed that you could actually make a career out of it.

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With his playing career over, Hal would return to Kansas City’s dugout in 1991, this time as the team’s manager. Much like his playing career, he was hard-nosed and expected the same from his players. McRae would actually turn into a good manager for the Royals and in 1994 had the team playing their best baseball since the late ’80’s. The Royals were making a run at the playoff spot that season before the strike hit and ruined the Royals hopes. When the strike went down on August 12th, the Royals were only four games out of the American League Central and half a game out of a Wildcard spot. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be and McRae would be fired before the 1995 season would get underway. But before this happened, there was one defining moment during Hal’s run as Royals manager. It might be one of the greatest post-game blowups of all time. Words cannot do this justice. Just watch:

Just epic. All these years later and people still flock to that meltdown. To clarify, McRae didn’t even think about pinch hitting Keith Miller for George Brett. Actually just typing that makes me agree with Hal. Who would pinch hit for #5, even late in his career? By the way, my favorite part of that is the twirly bird. Fantastic.

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McRae would manage one more team before it was all said and done, managing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for a couple of seasons in the earlier 2000’s. McRae would also show up as the hitting coach over the years for the Reds, Phillies and Cardinals and was St. Louis’ hitting coach in 2006 when they would win the World Series, McRae’s second ring. As far as I know, McRae is out of baseball now, but I can’t help but feel like he could help a team. I hope when everyone thinks of those great Royals teams of the ’70’s and ’80’s, they remember that McRae was a big part of them and in fact they probably wouldn’t have gone as far without Hal. His tough as nails style rubbed off on his teammates and pushed them to be better. Between that and his being a pioneer for the Designated Hitter, McRae has more than enough to be proud of when looking back at his career.

Positively Royals

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Less than thirty games remain in this 2013 season, and the Kansas City Royals are on pace for their first winning season since 2003. For most organizations, that isn’t considered a big deal, but in Kansas City it’s big. Coming into the season there was a lot of hope with equal parts criticism(myself included), and at some points in the year the Royals have looked like a playoff team. It seems highly doubtful that will happen this year, but 2014 seems reasonable for a playoff push. Whichever way you look at it, there has been improvement with the Royals, and as fans we can walk away with some positives from the 2013 season. With that in mind, here are five positives that the Royals will bring into next year and hopefully help set the foundation for a contender. See, I CAN be positive!

Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas

1) Eric Hosmer & Mike Moustakas have started hitting

If the first two months of 2013 were what we should have expected from Hosmer and Moustakas, then it looked as if the two linchpins of this Royals team were going to be a bust. Moustakas got off to an awful start that saw his average dip into the .170’s while Hosmer showed no power and had become an opposite field singles hitter. Hosmer’s 2012 had already put a seed of doubt into many a Royals fan’s mind, so when he AND Moustakas struggled early on, we all felt that disgusting feeling in the pit of our stomach’s. But then the Royals fired hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David(why does that feel like it was three seasons ago??), brought in some guy named George Brett and Pedro Grifol, and they immediately started to work with the Dynamic Duo. This dynamic duo:

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Hard to imagine these guys not being taken seriously, right? The work with Hosmer showed immediately, as he started hitting not only to right field, but to right field with power! Moustakas has gone from a .215 hitter in the first half of the season to a .299 hitter in the second half. I’m a little bit weary to say they are both fixed(although I feel a LOT safer saying that about Hosmer), but it sure appears as if whatever was ailing them earlier this year is now gone. You hate to pin success on a team on one or two players, but as these two go, so go the Royals. The offense at times has really lagged for Kansas City this year, and there are still concerns that this is a very streaky Royals team, but if Hos and Moose can be more consistent then we should also expect more consistency from the entire offense. If anything, it has been nice to see these two climb out of their early season slumps and show the promise they once had when they first arrived in the majors. But for the Royals to jump into that next level, they need them to do this on a consistent basis.

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2) Glorious Starting Pitching

We all knew going into this season that the Royals starting pitching was going to be better than 2012. That seemed pretty obvious, as it couldn’t have been much worse than it had been. Actually, after 2012 it almost would have been an improvement to trot out the cotton candy vendor, the ticket lady, Ned Yost’s Grandma, and the ghost of Hiram Davies(he is dead, correct?). So the shock this season wasn’t that the rotation was improved, it was just how much it was improved. The Royals went from having one of the worst rotations in baseball(that could barely get through 5 innings each start) to one that was clearly one of the best in the sport. James Shields immediately took the reigns of leader of the staff, and has shown that on the mound this year, despite his record(Kill the Win? Indeed). Jeremy Guthrie had a wonderful first half, and while he has come back down to earth here in the second half, he has still been a very serviceable starter. The big surprise has been Ervin Santana, who few of us thought was even going to be an average pitcher. Santana has exceeded expectations, lowering his home run rate and allowing his wonderful infield defense to take care of things for him. It’s possible the Santana trade could be Dayton Moore’s best trade to date, and one that could continue to benefit Kansas City. Santana is a free agent at the end of the season, and his value has skyrocketed this season, even for the team he seems to love now. The Royals might be able to re-sign him, but if they do it will be at a hefty price. Throw in the occasional Wade Davis start(or my new name for him, Hiram Davies III), a splendid second half by Bruce Chen(throwing a steady diet of slop, courtesy of Chuck Samples), and the return of Danny Duffy and you have a rotation fighting with Texas over the best ERA in the American League. Hopefully the team can keep most of this group intact and grow on it come 2014.

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3) Defense for Royalty

Most Royals fans acknowledge that the team’s defense has long been a strong point for this team, even if the numbers didn’t always point that out. But this year, with a healthy Lorenzo Cain, an improved Hosmer, and the usual great ‘D’ by Perez, Escobar, Gordon and Moose, this team has been excellent defensively. Remember, numbers don’t lie:
2013 American League Defensive Summary

The biggest factor there is the ‘Defensive Runs Saved Above Avg.’. It’s obvious having such a good defense has made other facets of the Royals game(ahem, the pitching) even better than originally thought. I personally believe that Cain has been a big part of this, as when he went down with his most recent injury the team seemed to shuffle. Having his glove, and the ground he covers, on the field every day has been a major boom for Kansas City and has helped those defensive numbers a lot. For the Royals to continue their success in 2014, they need the defense to continue to put up these kind of numbers.

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4)#DirtySouth

The last couple years, Greg Holland has been one of the Royals top relievers. His 2011 season was phenomenal, as he proved he deserved a shot at closing for the team once Joakim Soria left for greener pastures. It took the team trading away veteran Jonathan Broxton, but finally Holland was given closing duties late last year, and he stepped up again. Slide back to the first month of this season: Holland struggles and crazy Royals fans with pitchforks want Kelvin Herrera to take over the closers job after Holland’s early struggles. Before Thursday’s game against Seattle, Holland had given up only four runs since April. Four. Sure, Mariano Rivera is still the best. Aroldis Chapman consistently lights up the radar gun with triple digits, and Craig Kimbrel might be having the best season of a closer this year. But make no doubt about it, ‘Dirty South’ is right up there with him. Just look at his K/9 ratio: 13.8. 89 strikeouts, 14 walks this season. Insane. Holland is having a season that the only other Royals closers can even compare to are two guys named Quisenberry and Montgomery. Holland more than earned his All-Star nod this year, and the sad part is trading Holland might actually be the smart thing for Kansas City to do this year. But if he isn’t dealt, we can deal with having one of the best closers in the game.

5)The Final Episodes of ‘Breaking Bad’

Whoops. My bad. I was just really excited after that shootout Sunday night. Whoops again. Spoilers.

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5)The Royals are Winning! 

It’s September 9th as I write this, and the Royals are still in the Wild Card discussion in the American League. I know, I didn’t expect that. But it’s nice, real nice to see the Royals go out there and compete every night and feel like they can win the game. We’ve all watched some real lousy baseball over the years(and some in spurts this year) but to see a team in playoff contention this late in the season is splendid. Wonderful. It makes me happy and puts a smile on my face. This is all we’ve wanted, guys. We just want to win and know we can be in the same discussion as the other teams making October plans. Early on this year I didn’t see them playing good enough to be in the conversation, but it’s happening. Soak it up, Royals fans. We could definitely get used to this!

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Hopefully  in a year from now, this list is twice as long. Hopefully we are still talking playoffs, and hopefully it is Division title talk. This team has grown as a group since the early parts of the year and have really earned the spot they are at right now. It’s so much nicer talking about positive baseball than all the bad things that can develop during a season. Hopefully in a year, we can retire the term ‘Yosted’ and ‘Royalling’…because winning makes all those things go away.

These are Just Some of My Favorite(Baseball) Things–Of All Time

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The other day I talked about some of my favorite things in baseball that get me excited in the current game. But going through all those exciting players made me think of all my favorites from when I was younger. So it seemed only appropriate to visit the past and go through those players I’ve enjoyed over the years. Much like my friend Chuck Samples took a look earlier this year at his favorite starting nine, I’m about to take a look at what a lot of my baseball youth was surrounded by. So here we go–back to the late 80’s/early 90’s for the best of the best(at least in young Sean’s mind).

Barry Larkin roaming the infield

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I was more than overjoyed when Barry Larkin was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I had always felt he wasn’t as appreciated by some because he wasn’t the biggest, wasn’t the flashiest and wasn’t playing in a big market. What he was? A great, complete hitter, a clubhouse leader and a great defender. In fact, if I had to choose one thing I loved the most about Larkin, it was his defense. He was so smooth with the glove. He did it all, as this video bio shows:

Sure, Cal Ripken, Jr. was The Man at shortstop during this period. But Larkin could do more than Ripken, in all honesty. That was why I loved watching Larkin. He was a five tool infielder who made the Reds better because of it.

Lee Smith closing out a game at Wrigley Field

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Growing up, I watched a lot of Cubs games. I mean A LOT! With WGN showing the Cubs almost every day, and them playing mostly day games, I got to witness Lee Smith in his prime. It wasn’t just the fastball that popped in the catcher’s mitt. It wasn’t just the stoic, cold stare that Smith would give every batter. No, what really made Smith fun to watch was a batter stepping in with Smith on the mound at Wrigley Field–with the shadows around home plate. Like it wasn’t bad enough facing this big guy with the ridiculous fastball. No, let’s make it even harder by trying to see all this through the shadows! To say it was scary would be an understatement. All those things added up to another Cubs win…and a ‘Holy Cow’ from Harry Caray!

Bo Being Bo

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When Bo Jackson debuted back in 1986, we had never seen an athlete quite like him. Since then, we still haven’t seen a player who compares to Bo and we might never see such a player. He was a once in a lifetime athlete that I feel fortunate was on my favorite team. Bo would hit home runs farther than anyone else. Bo would run like an Olympic racer. Bo could throw a runner out at home from the deepest parts of the Kingdome. Bo could do practically anything.

Bo’s ability was unlimited, and one wonders just what he could have accomplished if not for the hip injury. I start dreaming about what the Royals would have been AS he got even better…seriously guys, goosebumps. Bo Jackson was so fun to watch and to this day I get giddy just talking about him. We were lucky to get to see him play, even if it was for such a short time.

‘Young’ Barry Bonds

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Before 1999, Barry Bonds was the best player in the game. Not only the best player in the game, but one who could do everything: hit, hit for power, run, and play great defense. He was as close to a well rounded baseball player as I have ever seen. I loved watching Barry make the game seem simple and doing everything on the field. Hell, he stole bases at a higher rate than his home runs at one point! He was what every player wanted to be on the field.

But we all know how this ends. Bonds, after watching Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa steal the spotlight in 1998, decides he can do what they did and Bonds bulked up. He bulked up to the point that he was hardly recognizable. He bulked up so much his defense suffered, he quit stealing bases, and became a home run hitter. Sure, he became the best home run hitter EVER, but everything I loved about watching Barry Bonds went away and I was bored with him. The younger version of Bonds? Loved. The older one? Dull and predictable. But at one point, he was a blast to watch.

Van Slyke’s Hustle

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Andy Van Slyke was never a big star. Hell, he wasn’t even the best player on his own team(hello, Barry Lamar)! But Van Slyke busted his butt out on the field, and I loved watching him do it. Offensively, you would have thought every at bat was his last. Defensively, you would have thought his hair was on fire. He worked for everything he achieved, trust me.

Van Slyke’s career was over by 1995, and injuries took a toll on his body. But those great Pirates teams of the early 90’s wouldn’t have gotten there without him. He was just as important a cog as Bonilla, Drabek and Bonds. It’s too bad he isn’t remembered as fondly as I remember him.

Sabes Shining

Kansas City Royals v Oakland Athletics

The first time my heart was broken was when the Royals released Bo Jackson. The second was when they traded Bret Saberhagen to the Mets in the winter before the 1992 season. He was the Royals ace, the winner of two Cy Young awards, and a no-hitter against the White Sox back in 1991.

Saberhagen was almost unhittable when he was on–which was normally in odd years. Seriously his stats in odd years were great, while they were ‘eh’ in even years. Don’t believe me? Click here. Most importantly, he was OUR ace. He was the guy on the mound when the Royals won the World Series. He was that generation’s Busby, or Leonard, or Splittorff. To me, Saberhagen was just as important as White, or Wilson, or Quisenberry. To me, he will always be a Royal.

Brett: The Best

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George Brett was and will always be my favorite player. George was everything good about the game. He was a great hitter, become an above average defender, and was as clutch as clutch gets. The 1985 ALCS was proof of that.

Brett WAS the Kansas City Royals. Sure, I loved Bo, I loved Sabes, and loved Frank. But George…George was the heart of this team. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I realized despite me watching the latter part of his career, I still saw a guy who went out there and killed himself despite his body falling apart. I have so many great memories of Brett, so here are just a few.

and that’s just what I could find! I remember him sliding into the St. Louis dugout trying to make a catch in the 1985 World Series. I remember his 3000th hit, which happened late at night in Anaheim. It was off Tim Fortugno(I still remember this, like it was yesterday), and capped off a 4 for 5 night for Brett. In fact, I can close my eyes and picture the hit. I was staying at my Grandma Thornton’s that night, and remember being so excited that he finally got it. I also remember the batting title he won in 1990(his third career), which most didn’t expect, as he had an awful first half of the season, but bounced back to claim the title in the second half of the season. I remember betting my PE teacher that he would win it, and of course I won. Brett IS Kansas City Royals baseball. Sure, I’ve heard the stories about him being a jerk, and of him getting drunk and being less than friendly to fans. I’ve heard the Vegas story. But…I still loved watching him play. Maybe the best I will ever see, but I am heavily biased. To me, George Brett is simply the best…and he gave us this.

So there you go, a peak into my youth. I would love to wait another 20 years and see what my son’s list would be. I can only hope he has as fond memories as I have of the best game on earth, America’s Pastime.

 

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