Are the Royals Finally Committing to a Floating DH?

Image result for Cheslor Cuthbert 2018

For the last three years, the Kansas City Royals have teased us with using a floating Designated Hitter in their lineup rather than having one player entrenched into the role on a daily basis. It was originally bandied about back when Billy Butler became a free agent after the 2014 season…and then the team signed Kendrys Morales. It was brought up again last winter…and then the Royals brought Brandon Moss on board to fill the role of full-time DH.

It feels like the Royals are thinking about the idea but just don’t want to commit to it. It’s the equivalent of dipping your toes into the water at the pool without just diving in. While the team has flirted with the idea before running back to what they know, it finally appears this is the season they commit to using the DH for a whole gaggle of players…and it couldn’t make more sense than it does right now.

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When Spring Training started last month, the DH wasn’t designated for just one player but it appeared the RF/DH combo of Jorge Bonifacio and Jorge Soler would see most of the at bats there. The team had committed to letting their young players play and getting Bonifacio, Soler and Cheslor Cuthbert at bats seemed to be their main goal. Then they signed Lucas Duda. Then Jon Jay. Finally, they brought back Mike Moustakas. At this point it was hard picturing those younger guys getting the 400 to 500 at bats that management wanted them to rack up.

But then Bonifacio was suspended 80 games for testing positive for a performance enhancing substance. That appeared to open up at bats for the likes of Cuthbert and Soler and made the idea of a floating DH even more enticing. With Bonifacio’s suspension, the Royals are now in a situation where they can use the DH as their own little testing ground.

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Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Cuthbert appears to be the one who would benefit the most from this, as his at bats seemed to go up in smoke once Moustakas was signed. Now, he could slide into the DH role while also occasionally filling in at first base ( Duda’s splits career-wise against righties are .249/.356/.486 while against lefties they are .218/.289/.370) and third base. Michael Saunders also could see some time at DH, as he would add another left-hander to the lineup and give someone a day off.

Speaking of days off, the best reasoning for going to a revolving door at DH would be to give some of the regulars time off and let them rest their legs. No one would benefit more from this than Salvador Perez, who has worn down physically these last few years from all the wear and tear behind the dish. Giving Salvy a few days a month where he doesn’t have to squat a gajillion times but can still keep his bat in the lineup feels like a win-win situation. It would also benefit some of the veterans in the Royals lineup like Alex Gordon, Lucas Duda, Jon Jay or Mike Moustakas. The season is a long one and when you give some of your older players a break during the long, hot days of summer it can only benefit your team.

Royals outfielder Jorge Bonifacio suspended 80 games for steroid use
Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

It also can make it easier when Bonifacio returns from his 80-day suspension. His return would probably (unless there is an injury) push Soler to float around a bit more. As Bonifacio would be working himself into mid-season form, this would also give him the occasional rest, letting him get at bats while resting his legs. Bonifacio won’t be able to just slide back into an every day role, but this would allow him to still get playing time while not pushing him too hard on his return.

This is without even mentioning the possibility of any players being recalled from the minors. What if the Royals decided to add Hunter Dozier or Adalberto Mondesi to the mix, or even someone like Bubba Starling or Ryan O’Hearn? While none of these are guarantees, leaving the DH spot open also leaves open different scenarios that could play out as the season progresses. Not locking just one player into the role allows the team to be creative while also getting a chance to see what they truly have on the roster.

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Credit: Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times

In fact, that flexibility is exactly why more and more teams have ventured away from employing a full-time DH. In 2017, only ten batters had enough plate appearances as the designated hitter to quality for the batting title. Of those ten, only five posted a wRC+ of 100 or more (Ryon Healy straddled that league average with exactly 100), with Nelson Cruz, Corey Dickerson and Edwin Encarnacion being the only notable batters to fill this role while also posting 2.5 fWAR or more. Most teams have realized the freedom they are allowed when they tear away from the shackles of one lone DH and treat it as a revolving door.

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So with about two weeks left until Opening Day, it appears the Royals might actually do what they have considered for years. I have long been a proponent of the team employing a floating DH and I’m even more intrigued by it now that it might actually happen. No matter the outcome, if the Royals follow this plan they will benefit from it one way or another. Whether it is a player performing above expectations, or resting some of the regulars, this is a plan that more than anything will allow them to know what they really have with the crop of talent on the roster. It might be scary and it might be the great unknown, but it’s time. It’s time for the Royals to jump into the pool and let the DH be a revolving door.

 

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Alex Rios Has Awoken!

Kansas City Royals’ Alex Rios hits a double off Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Gavin Floyd during the seventh inning of a baseball game, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

2015 has not been the season that either the Kansas City Royals or Alex Rios were counting on when Rios signed a 1 year, $11 mill dollar contract on December 19th of last year. The Royals might not have expected 2012 Alex Rios(where he hit .304./.334/.516 with 25 home runs, 91 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 126) but was hoping for a bit more production than the Texas Rangers got from Rios in 2014(4 homers and 54 RBI’s with a 97 OPS+). Instead, Rios was hit by a pitch the first week of the season and hadn’t rebounded from it since. That is until Rios came down with a case of the chickenpox(yes, that is still a thing) and has been lighting the ball up since his return on September 8th. In fact, Rios has probably gone from a man just on the outside looking in for a spot on the ALDS roster to the very probable starting right fielder when that game gets underway on October 8th.

Apr 6, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals right fielder Alex Rios (15) connects for a two run home run in the seventh inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
(Denny Medley-USA TODAY)

As late as one week ago it appeared that Rios wasn’t going to be on the Royals Division Series roster, as he had been struggling all year and the team had the likes of Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson, both better defensively than Rios, and Jonny Gomes, a solid bat off the bench that kills lefties. Royals manager Ned Yost was continuing to play Rios every day, for a couple of reasons. For one, he had just gotten back from his bout with the ‘pox’ a week earlier and deserved at least a chance to get back into a rhythm. The second reason is in that same vein, as the team was hoping Rios would hit a hot streak and take off, earning himself a spot on the roster, as the Royals would love to go with the hot hand(funny choice of words there) headed into October. There is also that bit about the Royals paying him a decent amount of money; we can act like that isn’t a reason but I would be shocked if it wasn’t. Now, to say Rios has been hot in the last two weeks might just be an understatement.

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Since Rios’ return on September 8th, he has a line of .366/.386/.610 for an OPS of 996 and a BAbip of .394. The part of this that illicited a ‘Wow’ out of me was his slugging, a robust .610 in that span. Over the last few years, Rios lack of power has been a major concern since throughout his career he has shown he can accumulate a decent amount of extra base hits which is what the Royals were hoping for when he was signed. Problem is that Rios has dealt with hand and wrist issues over the last few years which seem to have sapped his power. Rios dealt with an ankle and thumb injury last year with the Rangers, then seemed to be battling a re-occurrence of that thumb inury in Spring Training earlier this year. Then there was the fractured hand he received thanks to a wild rookie on the Minnesota Twins that halted his good start to the season during the second week of April. Hands and wrists are very important to batters, as that is where a lot of the power a hitter shows comes from. Rios can probably blame the regression of his career on these injuries, as they seemed to have sapped most of his power he showed even as recent as 2012.

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But you wouldn’t know that his power numbers have dipped these last couple seasons if you have watched him in September. Like I said, his slugging this month is .610, as he has 4 doubles, 2 homers and 5 RBI’s. Throw in a couple walks, a stolen base and 8 runs and you are looking at a man who might have realized his chance of getting to the playoffs might be slipping through his own fingers. What is really great about these numbers is how far they have jumped in just a few short weeks. Rios’ slugging percentage is up 30 points while his OPS is up over 40 points. Even his on-base percentage is up 10 points while he has doubled his home run total,  all this in just a few weeks. Breaking it down even farther, just within the last week Rios is hitting .375/.400/.583 with 3 of those extra base hits during that span. I have to believe that Rios has leapfrogged Orlando for a spot on the Royals playoff roster, a spot that would break a streak you don’t want to be a part of in baseball.

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If Rios makes the Royals Division Series roster, he will have broken a streak that no player wants to be a part of; he has played the most games of anyone active in baseball right now without playing in a playoff game. Rios’ streak of 1679 games over 12 seasons is the most in baseball at the moment, with the next man also looking to break his streak this season, 1392 games by Jose Bautista of Toronto. If Rios plays in just one playoff game he will fall off this list, as the next two players look to disappear off this list as well(Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion). Chase Headley follows them 1109 games, but that could fall as well with the Yankees possibly making the Wild Card game. If that happens, Adam Lind of Milwaukee would become the active player without a playoff appearance with over 1100 games by that point. As much as there are some great names on this all-time list(Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and George Sisler just to name a few), as a player you want no part of this. That is yet another incentive for Rios to keep up his hot hitting.

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There is no guarantee that Rios will 100% be on the playoff roster, but with only two weeks remaining in the season it looks like a good bet that he will be and start in right field for game 1 of the ALDS. The Royals really haven’t gotten what they expected from Rios this season(and I wouldn’t expect him back in 2016) but he has gotten hot at the right time. There are a lot of choices for the motivation, whether it be being left off the roster, wanting to break his streak of avoiding October baseball or even the threat of shingles, but what can be said is the Royals need Rios to hit like he has lately to help them next month. Many players have come out of nowhere to become October darlings, guys like Mark Lemke. I wouldn’t have any problem with Rios’ name being added to that list, even if it means negating what the previous five months have shown us about his production. At this point, it appears Alex Rios is awake and making pitchers pay for it. Let’s hope this Rios sticks around for another month.

The American League (Second) Wild Card Shuffle

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A few seasons back, Major League Baseball decided to spice things up and added a second Wild Card spot to the playoffs. In November of 2011, MLB announced they would be adding this second wild card, with the top two Wild Card teams playing each other in a one game playoff to determine who would go on to the division series and who would go home. In a lot ways this second Wild Card was added to hopefully add to the excitement of pennant chases, much like the electric last day of the 2011 season(do you remember how awesome that day was? If not, go ahead and revisit it!)

Now that I just gave you the equivalent of a sugar rush, let’s get to the real meat and potatoes of this; the second Wild Card spot is up for grabs in the American League this year with four teams battling for the spot with only a game separating these teams. No one team in this group stand out amongst each other with each team holding equal positives and negatives to their run for a playoff spot. Obviously around these parts we are cheering for the Royals to make the playoffs. With that said, lets look at what each team will bring to this ‘Wild Card Shuffle’.

Kansas City Royals-Currently holding 2nd Wild Card spot, 34.0% chance of reaching playoffs(BaseballProspectus.com/odds/)

Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins

The Royals have seen a big increase in their chances of making the playoffs over the past week, in fact almost a 18% increase in that span. As most Royals fans can attest to, this has been a very topsy turvy season already, as the Royals went on a 10 game winning streak in June, took over first place of the American League Central from Detroit. Kansas City followed that by going on a losing streak and even straddling .500 before the All Star break. The Royals currently have a 4 game winning streak and are 7-3 over their last ten games. Outside of back to back series coming up with Oakland and San Francisco, the Royals will then play 12 straight games(outside of a lone game against the Yankees) against teams under .500, followed by 3 games to wrap up August against Cleveland, who are currently at .500. If the Royals are going to make a run, now would seem to be the best time to do it.

Positives: One of the best defenses in baseball, great bullpen, solid rotation

Negatives: Inconsistent offense, poor plate discipline, iffy manager  

Toronto Blue Jays-1/2 game out of the 2nd Wild Card spot, 25.8% chance of reaching playoffs

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A week ago, the Blue Jays looked golden; in that span their chance of making the playoffs has fallen 34.3% and have basically let the other teams around them back into the boat. The Blue Jays could still be the team to beat in this position, but it’s going to take a bit to widen the gap. Toronto is almost the polar opposite to the Royals schedule-wise over the next month; the Blue Jays have Detroit, Milwaukee, Seattle, New York and the once surging Rays to contend with in August. The Blue Jays have been hit by the injury bug as of late, and they should be getting a few of their offensive pieces(Encarnacion, Lind) back soon. The Jays have a young pitching staff and still need some help in the bullpen, but if they piece things together they are a real threat to the Royals for that spot.

Positives: Great offense, young pitching, aggressive GM

Negatives: injuries, thin bullpen, rough schedule

Seattle Mariners-1/2 game out of the 2nd Wild Card spot, 23.0% chance of reaching playoffs

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Seattle is an interesting ball club to say the least. You have to wonder where the Mariners would be in the standings if their offense was just league average. Instead, they have a weak offense, in fact one so weak that it makes the Royals look like ‘Murderers Row’.  But Seattle’s GM Jack Zduriencik has already been working to fix that, adding Austin Jackson and Chris Denorfia before the trade deadline and very well could be adding more. Jack Z’s job is probably on the line, so he could very well be proactive over the next month. Add in a stellar pitching staff that is better than Kansas City’s  and you have a team that the Royals should be worried about. The Mariners still play a number of playoff contenders to play this season, including 15 of their last 18 against teams vying for a playoff spot. Seattle very well could be the Royals biggest obstacle in front of them when it comes to grasping a playoff spot.

Positives: Fantastic pitching, a GM with his job on the line,excellent at run prevention

Negatives: weak offense, rough schedule 

New York Yankees-1/2 game out of the 2nd Wild Card spot, 34.5% chance of reaching the playoffs

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The fact that the Yankees are still in this conversation is a minor miracle. Their starting rotation has been decimated, they have been hit with a number of injuries and unless Derek Jeter is truly a God(as has been hinted at by almost every major media outlet this season), the Yankees shouldn’t even be in this position. But…here they are. Actually, out of these four teams, the Yankees have the best percentage chance of making the playoffs. Getting players back from injury will help, but they also need to add to their weakened rotation. Unfortunately for them, the likes of Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano just won’t work. The Yankees are known for stocking up this time of year, so don’t be shocked to see another pitcher head to the Bronx before the month is up. If that happens, their odds will improve, although they still have 24 games left against teams trying to reach October(and that isn’t even counting games against Cleveland and Tampa Bay, who are on the fringe). I would like to see the odds are stacked against them, but I have counted New York out before and they’ve proven me wrong. Don’t be surprised if they are still in this spot come late September.

Positives: Improving offense, excellent bullpen, deep pockets

Negatives: Pieced together rotation, tough schedule, old shortstop

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You probably noticed I didn’t add Cleveland to this list. The Indians are currently 4 games out of the Wild Card spot, so technically they are still in it, but they would have a tougher road to go and more teams to climb over(same for Tampa Bay). Sure, it could happen. If anything, we have learned over the years that it’s not over until a spot is locked up. This might be the most interesting race to follow over the next seven weeks and one that could fluxuate quite a bit between now and then. Obviously us Royals fans are hoping that 29 years of playoff-less baseball ends this year, but there are no guarantees. Any of these four teams could grasp that last spot and play either the Angels or A’s for the one game playoff. None of these teams stand out above another, but the team that can play the most consistent over the rest of the season will probably be the team there at the end. At the very least it will be a fun seven weeks to cheer on your team if you are in Kansas City, Toronto, New York or Seattle. It will also be stomach churning at times. All this for October baseball. You gotta love it!

 

Questions with Getzie: The Canadian Version

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He might be across the border, but it’s time once again for ‘Questions with Getzie’, where former Kansas City Royals second baseman Chris Getz answers you, the fans, questions. Getz is now a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, who recently made a trip to Kansas City to play the Royals, but still has a few fans in the city of fountains. Getz was also designated for assignment by Toronto over the weekend, so he is still a part of the organization, even if he isn’t on the big league roster. With Getz’s future in limbo, we figured we would take the time today and let him answer some questions Royals fans have had since he left Kansas City (or how I think he would answer them). So with a passport in our hand and a Labatt Blue in the other, it’s time now for Questions with Getzie!

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So how do you like Toronto, Getzie?-David, Lawrence, KS

Golly gee, it’s great! There is so much in Toronto to take in and be a part of. I’ve gotten to check out the CN Tower, the Hockey Hall of Fame, and Canada’s Wonderland! Actually, I spent one whole day in the water park at Wonderland and couldn’t get enough of the slip-n-slide! More than anything though I love the people. I’ve made a really special friend in Toronto, and he just happens to be their mayor! Rob is a great guy and I never have a dull time when we are cruising around town, searching for his friends. All in all I really hope I am able to make it back to the big club so I can enjoy the great city.

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How did it feel to come back and play against the Royals?-Clint, Lexington, MO

Shucks, it was a blast getting to see everyone. It was a little weird at first, but when Neddy saw me and ran toward me to give me a big hug, it felt like I had almost won the World Series! We talked about bunting and he told me not to listen to anything that Seitzer instructed me on. We went out for root beer floats before each of the games and he told me they left my locker empty in the clubhouse. The only weird thing was how long Lee held me in his embrace when he saw me. Mr. Judge is a really nice guy, but I sometimes think he would do good drawing more cartoons and not try to snapchat with me so much. I felt really comfortable playing at the K, which is probably why that was the only place I’ve gotten a hit at this year. I hope I get to make a return trip back soon. Dayton said he is still trying to get me back “home” but we’ll see.

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Chris, it was great to see you a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been burying Gio every chance I get in my columns, hoping that everyone else starts wanting you back. Next time you are in town let me know and you can crash at my place. PS-if only I could have held you a bit longer…-Lee, Kansas City, MO

Um, Lee, I think I’ll just stay at the hotel. The shrine you have set up at your house is creepy. And quit teasing Gio; he’s a good kid!

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Since you’ve been with both teams, how would you compare offenses of Toronto and Kansas City?-Michael, Excelsior Springs, MO 

Darn, that is a hard one! I think the two offenses focus on different things. Toronto likes to get these things called “extra base hits”, especially home runs. Neddy always used to say those are rally killers. I keep trying to convince everyone to bunt more and play for one run, but Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion just chuckle and walk away. I think I fit in better with Kansas City’s offense, but I seem to cross home plate more in Toronto. I can easily say both offenses are juggernauts, just in different ways!

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees

 

I would just like to point out here that I have a big league job right now and you don’t! Plus, I hit another home run. You do remember what those are, right? Suck it, Getzie!-Johnny, Metairie, LA

Golly, you finally made it to the big show! Congrats, champ! I know I don’t hit a lot of homers, but I occasionally flash my warning track power. In a month get a hold of me and we can discuss the differences between Omaha and Buffalo. Keep those dreams alive, kid!

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What are your thoughts on the new Royals second baseman, Omar Infante?-Sam, Olathe, KS

Shucks, I have nothing but respect for Omar! He’s a great second baseman and a great guy in general. If I had to choose someone to replace me, Infante is about as good as they could have done. He needs a little work on his bunting, but with some help from Neddy he can get there. I wish Omar nothing but the best of luck.

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How do you feel about the continuing struggles of Mike Moustakas and how Kansas City is sticking with him?-Andy, Warrensburg, MO

That is a tough situation to be in. Moose is a good guy and I am rooting for him. Luckily for him, Neddy is good about giving people second chances. Sometimes even five or six chances! All he needs to do is listen to Neddy and he’ll be fine. He might also want to bunt a bit more. It will help raise that average!

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Getzie, sorry to hear about you getting designated for assignment. I hoped you would get to stay in Toronto for a long time. A very looooong time. Sorry to kick you while you are down. I just worried I wouldn’t get a chance to do this again.-Sean, Emporia, KS

No problems, we are good. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. Next time I bunt, it will be just for you!

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Golly, that was a lot of fun! It was great to hear from all of you and I hope we get to do this again real soon! I’m hoping to get back to Toronto so I can play some ball and to catch up on Canadian expressions. I still haven’t figured out what a hoser, loonie,or a two-four is. Until next time remember to bunt like it is the last day on earth…and no Sean, I haven’t been to Moose Knuckle. Although I think it is next to Cabbagetown.

 

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