From the Bleachers: Notes Around Baseball

kc1

Here at Bleeding Royal Blue,  I spend a lot of time discussing my favorite team, the Kansas City Royals. But being a baseball fan in general means from time to time a little discussion around both leagues can do some good. So with that said, let’s kickoff the debut column, From the Bleachers!

kc2

A Tight Race

Before the season started, most analysts picked the Cleveland Indians to runaway with the American League Central, with the Tigers, Royals, Twins and White Sox either floundering or fighting for a Wild Card spot. I even figured Kansas City and (maybe) Detroit would give them some competition. Instead, Minnesota still sits atop the Central (yes, I noticed, Pete!) with the White Sox holding up the rear, only six games behind. You read that correctly, only six games separate the top and bottom of the division. Minnesota should get some major props for their performance so far, as they improved their two main weaknesses from last year, the defense and bullpen, while getting All-Star contributions from Ervin Santana and Miguel Sano. The Indians sit 2.5 games back, Detroit 3.5 back and the Royals at 5.5 back. Will Cleveland eventually perform closer to their 2016 model and decide they’ve had enough of these silly games? Will Detroit decide if they are contenders or needing to rebuild? Will the Royals wake from their slumber and make one final run with their core group that led them to a championship? If we are basing this off of what has happened to this point, I don’t know if any of that will happen. If I had to use one word to describe this division to this point, the word ‘mediocre’ would seem fair; ‘eh’ would work as well. Maybe this pattern will continue over the next four months and my friends up in Minnesota will be super happy. No matter the result, it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed by the Central over the last couple of months.

kc3

The Machine and 600

This past week, Albert Pujols clubbed his 600th career home run, an achievement only nine players have reached in MLB history. The Pujols we have seen the last five seasons pales in comparison to the one who was probably the best player in baseball in his first decade in the league. Despite that, Pujols is still a productive hitter, one who has averaged an OPS+ of 111 during that span. Injuries have taken its toll on him, and it’s easy to forget just how dominate Pujols was in his prime. According to the website Hall of Stats (which I highly recommend when determining a player’s value, especially when the Hall of Fame voting comes around), Pujols has a Hall rating of 211, which ranks him as the 30th best player (statistically) all-time and the 3rd best first baseman. Yes, we are seeing his regression right now, which should be expected in his late 30’s. But there are still some major goals he could reach before he retires, as he still has four years left on his contract after the current season. Pujols is 122 hits away from 3,000 and 140 RBI’s away from 2,000 for his career. Let’s enjoy the last few years of his career, because we are nearing the end of a Hall of Fame career.

kc4

Have a Day, Scooter

On Tuesday, Scooter Gennett of the Cincinnati Reds joined some elite company, hitting four home runs in one game, going 5-5 while driving in 10 runs. This, from a guy who before the season had hit 38 home runs in five big league seasons. Scooter doesn’t fit the profile of a guy who would club four in a game, not like the last guy to do it, Josh Hamilton. In fact, Gennett is only the 17th career player to reach this feat, a list that includes Hall of Famers like Mike Schmidt, Willie Mays and Lou Gehrig. This list also includes the like of Mark Whiten, Bob Horner and the infamous Bobby Lowe, he of 71 career homers. Safe to say Scooter will never have another night like this ever again, so I hope he soaks in all the adulation and enjoys his moment. His name alone will be a fun trivia question to bring up for many years to come.

kc5

Scherzer Meets Kershaw

As the season is unfolding, an interesting occurrence has developed that few probably saw coming: Max Scherzer is making a run at being the best pitcher in baseball. Clayton Kershaw has held that title for close to five years now and while Scherzer has compiled two Cy Young Award’s in that time-span, he still has not performed close enough to even have that conversation. But so far in 2017, Kershaw has put up an ERA+ (which is adjusted to the pitcher’s ballpark) of 185, which leads the league. Scherzer is right on his tail at 181 while leading the league in strike outs, WHIP and hits per 9. On Tuesday, Scherzer was dominate, striking out 14, walking 2 and allowing 1 run (unearned) in his 7 innings of work. In fact, Scherzer has three straight starts of 10+ strike outs, 7+ innings and 1 run or less. It’s going to be interesting to see if Scherzer can keep this up (which I believe he is capable of) and if he can continue to go toe to toe with Kershaw. I love watching Kershaw pitch, but I am always up for some healthy competition between two elite pitchers at the top of their game.

kc6

McCutchen Has a Pulse

Over the last two seasons, there has been a lot of discussion about the decline of Andrew McCutchen. Hitters normally start seeing a regression when they reach their early 30’s, but McCutchen didn’t turn 30 until last October and while injuries have been popping up for him the last couple seasons, it was hard to fathom that his decline would hit this badly, this early. Myself, like many other analysts, felt that McCutchen would bounce back this year and produce at a pace closer to his best years than his lackluster 2016. Instead, Cutch stumbled out the gate this year and as late as May 23 saw his batting average sitting at .200. But over the last 10 games, he has looked like the Cutch of old:

If McCutchen has finally found his groove, that is great timing for him and the Pirates. I am a big fan of not only McCutchen the player but also McCutchen the person. Baseball is stronger with him locked in.

tjsurgery

The Elbow and the Damage Done

Finally, another alarming Tommy John  Surgery stat came out this week worth noting:

I’ve spoken many times on this blog about the dreaded Tommy John Surgery and it amazes me that there isn’t more pressure to figure out a more worthwhile solution to this problem. While the new surgery that was done on Seth Maness cut his time out of action down considerably (down to 7 1/2 months), I still feel there should be more research done on a solution, not just a quicker remedy. If you are a believer that a pitcher’s arm has only so many bullets in it, it can’t help that many youngsters are throwing more pitches while their arm is still developing than ever before. If you are of the Nolan Ryan school of thought, you believe pitchers need to throw more, not less. An excerpt from a Ryan interview done in 2014:

 

Ryan said that in September of 1988 with Houston, he began experiencing pain in his elbow and paid a visit to Jobe in Los Angeles, who advised him to shut it down for the last couple of weeks of the season and resume throwing in December.

“There was a partial tear there,” he said. “It still hurt in December, but when I got to spring training, the pain began to dissipate until it was gone. Dr. Jobe said it had scarred over and that helped protect the elbow. I pitched with that tear the rest of my career.”

Ryan had two more 200-inning seasons and led the NL in strikeouts with 301 in ‘89 and 232 in ‘90.

While Tommy John agrees with Ryan, he also feels like I do, that kids today are throwing way too much, especially year round:

“First of all, one of the biggest reasons for all the arm injuries in baseball today is the way young kids are handled by their coaches in grade school and high school, pitching them year-round,” said John by phone from his home in Syracuse. “They’re told if they want to make it, they have to play travel ball — and that results in the over-use of their arms when they’re body is not fully developed. Travel ball has taken over the entire country and parents need to be educated about what this does to these kids’ arms.”

“I absolutely agree with Nolan that more is better,” John said. “Years ago, I’d have gone along with the thinking that there’s only so many bullets in your arm. But we’ve ‘dumbed down’ our thinking today to believing that pitch counts and innings limitations are the way to go to preserve arms. Starting in 1975 with the White Sox, when Johnny Sain was my pitching coach, I would throw six days a week out of seven and it was the best my arm ever felt. For the next 13 years, I never missed a start, except once when I had the flu. Sain believed in throwing between starts and it’s no coincidence that one of his disciples, Leo Mazzone, subscribed to that same philosophy, practicing and throwing every day, as pitching coach for the Braves. The Braves had the best pitching staffs in baseball in the ’90s and all guys like (Greg) Maddux and (Tom) Glavine did was pitch and win and never got hurt.”

So is the answer pitching less in your youth and more once your body has developed? And if that is the answer, how long will it take before travel league or high school coaches actually worry less about winning and more about their kid’s future health? I don’t know if this is completely the solution to the problem, but it doesn’t appear to be a bad place to start.

 

Dealer’s Choice

kc1

The second half of the Major League Baseball season is now underway, and with that comes the looming trade deadline, scheduled for August 1st this year. Teams can trade players throughout August, but a player has to pass through waivers first before a deal can be done. So for the next few weeks, teams will be trading players at a greater rate, since there are no restrictions to any deal they would like to procure. With that being said, the Kansas City Royals have a few needs they would like to fill before the deadline. The Royals probably won’t be making the splash they made before last year’s deadline, as the farm system was gutted last summer and with a number of injuries to the team this year, there isn’t as much depth as in years past. So don’t look for a Ben Zobrist or Johnny Cueto to end up in their lap this year. With that being said, the two I will be looking at today is starting pitching (which needs an immediate upgrade) and right field. Now, before anyone asks, yes Paulo Orlando is having a great season for Kansas City, playing mostly right field. While Paulo has been getting on base, he hasn’t been producing as many runs as maybe the team would like and there is possibly even a worry that he won’t be able to sustain his current pace. Now…let’s look at some trade possibilities for the Royals, beginning with starting pitchers.

MLB: MAR 20 Spring Training - Astros at Phillies
20 MAR 2016

Jeremy Hellickson

I’ve long been a supporter of Hellickson since his Tampa years, and secretly hoped the Royals would swing a deal for him. Hellickson has had a bounce back year for Philadelphia this year, throwing 105 innings with a 107 ERA+,  lower FIP and WHIP and a higher SO/W ratio(3.44). Hellickson is still only 29 and will be a free agent after the season, so the Royals wouldn’t have to keep him once the season was over. Hellickson is a ground ball pitcher, which would seem to be a good fit with the Royals infield defense. With Hellickson on the upswing, this would be a good time to pick him up and toss him into the rotation.

kc3

Rich Hill

Hill is inevitably on everyone’s list and not surprisingly so. Hill is coveted because A) He is signed only through the 2016 season B) He is only(only!!) making $6 million this year C) He’s left-handed and D) Billy Beane likes to deal his players at the deadline. Hill has dealt with a groin injury this year but that most likely won’t affect his value on the market. Hill has had a good season when healthy, posting 76 innings with an ERA+ of 184, 2.57 FIP, 3.21 SO/W ratio and 3.0 WAR. Hill resurrected his career last year but shouldn’t cost much if Kansas City decided to part with a prospect. Hill would be a good addition to the Royals rotation, but there is a long list of teams who have been scouting him over the last couple of months.

kc4

Matt Moore

Moore is another lefty that the Royals have been linked to as an interested party. Moore was once considered a top of the rotation type pitcher but has had control and health issues during his time in Tampa. Moore has thrown 109 innings this year, compiling an ERA+ of 93, 4.59 FIP and a 2.94 SO/W ratio. Moore still has electric stuff and is signed through this year, but has team options through 2019. If the Royals wanted, they could acquire Moore and possibly keep him with the team for three more seasons. He is still only 27 years old and would be an intriguing possibility if Kansas City decided to go this route. Tampa Bay appears to be in trading mode, so I would think there is a good chance Moore is dealt before the end of July.

kc5
(STAFF PHOTO / DENNIS MAFFEZZOLI)

Jake Odorizzi

Odorizzi is possibly the most intriguing name on this list, as he came up through the minors in the Kansas City farm system after being acquired from Milwaukee in the Zack Greinke trade. For the longest time Odorizzi was considered a future mainstay of the Royals staff, only to be dealt to Tampa in the Wade Davis deal(which is what we will refer to it moving forward). Odorizzi has seen Amodest success with the Rays the last few years, racking up 104 innings so far this year, with an ERA+ of 93, 4.39 FIP and a WAR of 1.3. There is some familiarity for Kansas City with Odorizzi and much like Moore, if Jake was acquired the Royals would have him under contract through the 2019 season. It might cost Kansas City a bit more to pick up Odorizzi because of the contract, but he also has a better recent track record than Moore and Kansas City would already have an idea of what they would be getting with Odorizzi. If I have a favorite on this list, it’s this guy.

Other names to keep an eye on: Erasmo Ramirez, Ervin Santana, Andrew Cashner, Dan Straily and Jorge De La Rosa

Now, let’s move on to the outfielders…

kc6

Jay Bruce

Bruce might be the most coveted position player available this trade season and is a good bet to be out of Cincinnati by the end of the month. Bruce is signed through the season but has a $13 million team option for 2017. He could be someone the Royals could acquire to keep through this current contending window and then allow to leave at the end of next year. But…I tend to think Bruce is a long shot to end up in Kansas City for a few reasons. One, it will probably take a decent size haul to trade for him in the first place, possibly more than the Royals currently have to offer. Two, while Bruce has put up good power numbers this year(18 home runs, .538 slugging percentage and 171 total bases), he strikes out quite a bit(69 times so far this year, 145 last year) and defensively he is a below average defender. Throw in the fact that he is tops on a number of teams trade list, and you have the likelihood of Bruce ending up in another contenders pocket when the dust finally settles on August 1st.

MLB: JUL 12 Athletics at Indians
12 July 2015

Josh Reddick

Reddick is most contending team’s wet dream; free agent at the end of the season, reasonable salary and is putting up good numbers this season. It’s been reported that the Royals have scouted both Reddick and his teammate Rich Hill, so there is interest from Kansas City in the Oakland slugger. I would normally be gung-ho about this move, especially since Reddick is hitting .295/.369/.426 with an OPS+ of 117 and 1.4 WAR. But Reddick has been dealing with a thumb injury and it seems to have sapped his power; so far this year he has only 5 home runs and 14 total extra base hits. I think this still might be a good acquisition for Kansas City, as the numbers show no major change in his hard hit rate and is also a plus defender in the outfield. If the team was looking to upgrade in right field, they could do a lot worse than Josh Reddick.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres
(Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY)

Melvin Upton, Jr.

I’m going to be honest: I’ve never been a big fan of Upton. I would even go so far as to say I have long felt he is overrated. This goes back to his early years in Tampa Bay, where I felt he was living off his potential and occasional bursts of solid production. He seemed to me to be an athletic guy with the “5 tools” executives and scouts covet but only really making use of one or two of them. In my eyes, he seemed to strike out too much and focus his attention on the longball, turning himself into a one-dimensional hitter. All this being said, I am thoroughly shocked at his production this year and even more shocked that he is out-hitting his brother(106 OPS+ compared to Justin’s 80). Upton is putting up numbers we haven’t seen from him since 2012, posting a line of .262/.311/.454 with 16 home runs, 44 RBI’s and 2.2 WAR. These are all really good numbers and you can see why he has been mentioned in many a trade rumor. But here is the elephant in the room-Upton’s contract. Upton is in year 4 of a 5 year deal that is paying him $15.45 million this year and $16.45 million next year. That is waaaaaaay too much money for a guy who has racked up only 1.2 WAR in 3.5 years.  The only way Kansas City would acquire him is if San Diego was willing to eat a large chunk of that contract, and even then they would be hesitant. If the Padres are willing to eat most of the money, there is a chance this could happen. If not, barely a discussion will happen between the two sides.

Other names to keep an eye on:  Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis, Matt Joyce and Odubel Herrera

kc9

The one thing to remember before the trade deadline is that there is probably at least a 1,000 to 1 ratio of ‘rumors’ to ‘rumors with actual legs on them’, so take many of them with a grain of salt. With that being said, it appears something will happen on the Royals front and possibly even before August 1st. Kansas City can still make a move after that, but that will require the players involved in the deal to pass through waivers unclaimed first, which is hard to do. Last year Cueto and Zobrist were the big prizes and GM Dayton Moore was able  to reel them in. This year, Dayton might have to be more creative when it comes to piecing together another team that can make a deep playoff run.

 

 

The Early Success of Jason Vargas

Jason Vargas

 

There is nothing quite like making a guess on a player’s production based off of his past numbers…and then that player going out and proving all those stats null and void. That is exactly what Kansas City Royals pitcher Jason Vargas is doing. Vargas has gone out there this first six weeks of the season and not pitched like, well, Jason Vargas. Before the season, he seemed to be a great number four or five starter, someone to knock out some innings and keep the team moderately in the game. Instead the Royals were going to use him as their number two starter, which was my real complaint. I didn’t hate the Vargas signing; I thought he was misplaced at the two slot-and I felt like a four year deal was a bit much. But I didn’t hate Jason Vargas. He was a solid pitcher who despite pitching in parks that were very pitcher friendly in the past, his numbers didn’t show the success that maybe he should of. So how is a guy who has been a very average pitcher over the years now looking like a steal this off-season for the Royals? It feels like it’s time to do some diggin’.

Jason Vargas

 

The first thing I was curious about was Vargas’ ground ball to fly ball ratio. My thinking was maybe he was inducing more ground balls (as he has been hurt in the past by the long ball) and that was helping his success. Nope. Vargas is showing about the same ratio(0.67) as he has the last few years, which has hovered around the 0.7 mark. Percentage of fly balls that were home runs? Not that either, as he is sitting at 7.1 %, the same as last year. Balls in play? Not a drastic change, as last year was 72% and this year is at 75%. I did find his line drive percentage was up a tad, 29% from last year’s 23%. To be honest, I don’t know how to take that. Part of me is glad that means more line drives mean less fly outs. But in Kauffman Stadium, line drives can be the death of you  with the large gaps in the outfield. Even his double play percentage is down from last year, so safe to say that isn’t it.

kc3

 

I started noticing some differences when looking at strikeout and walk ratio’s. Vargas’ strikeout ratio looks about the same(16.5% to 16.9 last year) but the walk ratio is down. The last couple years Vargas has had a walk ratio of 6.2% and 7.1%. This year he is sitting at a cozy 4.6 %. It’s conceivable to me that he is throwing more strikes and it’s leading to less walks. Except…his strike ratio is at 64.4%, very consistent with the percentage he has had over his career. It also appears as if he is not getting himself into a hole in the count as often either, as his 3-0 count percentage is down to 2.5%, where it has been in the 3’s and 4’s the last few years. On the other side of that coin, the percentage of 0-2 counts he has had is up, 26.6% to 21.1%. Allowing himself to work ahead in the count and have the advantage is probably helping Vargas quite a bit and leading to more favorably counts.

kc4

 

The amount of favorable counts has to be a big part of his success this year and why he has a 78% quality start ratio, 20% higher than last year and 11% higher than 2012. Pitching ahead in the count gives the pitcher the advantage and leads the hitter to reach out of their comfort zone and maybe swing at something they normally wouldn’t. I should probably note here that I also think the Royals defense is helping Vargas out a lot. The Royals are third in the league in defensive runs saved and first in total zone total fielding runs above average(the number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made). The Royals are also fourth in defensive efficiency. We are all pretty aware of how good the Royals defense is and how much they help their pitchers. The Royals defense played a big part in Ervin Santana’s success last year and I think it is helping Vargas here as well.

kc5

There is one more thing that I found interesting and could be a factor into Vargas’ great pitching this year. Back in Spring Training there was a lot of talk about his consistency and how much the Royals pitchers appreciated that about Vargas. In reading the article I linked I saw something in there as I was looking to see if Dave Eiland, the Royals pitching coach, had worked with him on anything this spring. What I found was this paragraph from the article:

Vargas operates with a simple stockpile of pitches. He throws an 87-mph fastball, a change-up and a curveball. Last year he ditched a cutter he had utilized in years past. He relies on guile, location and adjustments.

Vargas ditched his cutter. That speaks volumes, as a number of pitchers over the years have tried incorporating a cutter into their repertoire with very small success. The problem is if you can’t get the cutter to gain movement it will just appear to the batter as a regular fastball, just 2-5 MPH slower. In other words, if you can’t get proper movement the hitter is going to probably hit the ball hard. If Vargas wasn’t getting good movement on the cutter, that would explain why he would have incurred trouble in the past. A few years ago former Royals closer Joakim Soria started to use a cutter…and went through a spell where he was shelled quite frequently. Most pitchers aren’t able to get the movement on it that Mariano Rivera perfected, but it’s so easy to throw that they try. Vargas dropping the cutter might explain a big chunk of his success this year and could be the smartest thing he has done for his career.

kc6

 

So after looking at all the numbers and looking into any changes Vargas did in the spring, it looks like we have a better idea of how he has turned into an above average starter. Between staying ahead of the count and keeping his walks down he is able to be a more proficient pitcher. Add in the Royals defense and ditching the cutter out of his arsenal of pitches and it has made the Vargas signing much better than initially thought. If he continues to pitch like this over the next few years, I can easily sit here and tell you that any concerns I had about this signing will be long gone. Jason Vargas is just fine where he is at. Let’s hope this is just the first act.

 

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

kc1

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

kc2

Patience  at the Plate

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

kc3

The Starting Pitching is Still Great

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

kc4

Defensive Gold

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

Now, onto the things that aren’t working:

kc5

Royals Offense: MIA

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

kc6

Bullpen in Shambles 

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

kc7

Seven Relievers and No Backup Infielder?   

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

kc9

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

 

kc10

Ahhh, it’s already warming my heart!

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

kc1

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.

kc2

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.

kc3

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.

kc4

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.

kc6

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.

kc7

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.

kc8

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

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

Dayton Moore’s ‘State of the Royals’

kc6

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

kc7

Ervin Santana

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

Zimmer, Kyle 1211 (Mitchell).jpg

5th Starter Competition

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

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

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

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

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

Emilio Bonifacio

Emilio Bonifacio

When asked about Boni, Dayton made this comment:

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

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

kc10

Going to Arbitration with Greg Holland

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

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

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

kc11

Kansas City’s Depth

Dayton talked very glowingly about the team’s depth:

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

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

Moore also said this about the team in general:

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

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

kc12

Royals Payroll

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

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

kc13

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

 

 

The Little Hump in the Middle of the Field

kc1

Many a quote from many a great baseball man has stated that nothing is more important in the game than pitching. If you have it you can make up for weaknesses elsewhere. If you don’t, then don’t expect to be playing in October.  The Kansas City Royals knew this and spent last off-season fixing their pitching problem. Pitching is still an issue with the Royals and this past week a couple of notes related to the Royals pitching arose.

kc2

The most obvious note was the restructuring of Jeremy Guthrie’s contract. Sure, at first I wondered if there was a deeper meaning for Guthrie to restructure his dollars. Maybe he felt a greater need for shoes in 2015 rather than this year. Maybe the Backstreet Boys are planning to come out with a new album next year and he plans to follow them on tour. Speaking of, I don’t really understand his fascination with boy bands. I mean, if he was more old school, maybe more into New Kids on the Block, that would make sense. Hey, if he loved New Edition I would totally get it. I used to love New Edition, until Bobby Brown left and Johnny Gill took his spot. I know, I know, Gill wasn’t that bad. But he was no Bobby, as Whitney used to attest to…wait, I was discussing Guthrie…

kc4

If you are anything like me, once this was announced alarms went off. Big alarms. You normally only restructure a contract for two reasons: to free up room on the payroll because you are over or to make another addition. My thought was the addition of another starting pitcher. With the Royals seemingly set in their starting lineup, it only makes sense that Kansas City would go after another starter. I’ve felt(even after the Vargas signing) that the Royals needed to add another starter, at least for insurance. For one, there isn’t a lot of proven depth. You have James Shields, Guthrie, Vargas and then….well, it gets dicey from there. Sure, the Royals are hoping Danny Duffy or Yordano Ventura step up this year (and as far as we know they could) but it’s not assured. Wade Davis is still lingering around and (God help us all) they’ve even mentioned giving Luke Hochevar another (last) shot. Still, none of these guys are certain locks nor good replacements for Ervin Santana. So the idea of the Royals going out and bringing one more starter to Spring Training seems like the logical way to go. Although, speaking of Santana…

kc3

As of this writing Ervin Santana is still out there and available for the taking. The longer Santana is available, the better chance Kansas City has to bring him back. Now, most believe that Santana is just waiting for Masahiro Tanaka to sign with a team and then the dominoes will fall and Erv will have a new home. But at the same time, a lot of teams aren’t for sure Santana can duplicate his great 2013 season. Add in that to sign Santana you would have to give up a first round draft pick and more teams are leery to sign him to a long term deal. So far the Blue Jays, Mariners and Orioles have all been mentioned in rumors for Erv, but two of those teams seem like a bad fit for a flyball pitcher. So with all that said, there is a very outside chance that Santana could come back to play for the Royals in 2014. Now, it would take him not getting the type of deal he has coveted all winter, but it could happen. I’m sure if he did return, it would be on a one year deal (and Dayton would have to get permission from the Glass’ to up the payroll) for at least $15-16 million. It actually would make some sense for him to go back to the Royals. Let’s say he returns to Kansas City this year and performs at least moderately close to how he did last year. Then he could return to the free agent market and with two straight solid seasons under his belt could probably get the type of deal he has wanted this off-season. But once again, this is a big long shot and I highly doubt it will happen. As far as we know, a team like Toronto will swoop in this week and lock him up for 3-4 years. But the longer he is out there, the greater the possibility that Santana is a Royal in 2014.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Kansas City Royals

With all this being mentioned, Royals fans took a blow to the stomach this week as word came out that James Shields was seeking a “Zack Greinke-like” deal next off-season. Peter Gammons had reported this, as he was looking forward to next year’s pitching crop in free agency and the affects of Clayton Kershaw’s giant new contract. This is about the worst news the Royals could get, as that is money that the Royals just can’t spend on one player, even if that player is the caliber of Shields. Just as a reminder, Greinke’s deal is a 6 year, $147 million contract. Now, if you are like me, this hasn’t affected you much. I always felt the Royals weren’t going to be able to sign “Big Game James” so this was just confirmation that Wil Myers was traded for two years of James Shields. Now, there are warning signs that could hinder Shields being able to get a contract of that magnitude. For one, Greinke was 29 when he signed his deal; Shields will be 33 by the end of this season. Shields has also put more innings on his arm than Greinke has(although after the 2013 season they were fairly close on major league innings). But even if Shields lowers his expectations for his contract, it will still be out of the Royals price range. In theory it would be nice to bring Shields back after next year. But if you really thought about it, would you want the Royals to sign James to that big of a contract? More than likely it will have to be at least a four year deal, which would make him 37 by the end of the deal. At that point, regression would be his name(and game). Don’t be surprised if the Royals deal Shields before the trade deadline this summer if they are out of the playoff race. It would be the smart thing to do to at least get something for him rather than nothing. Even if they keep him for the duration of his contract, his time in Kansas City seems to be winding down.

KC1

With all of this in play, it makes for a very interesting next 9 months.  Without a doubt the starting pitching will be a bit of a question mark and that looks to continue into next off-season. I personally feel that is just another reason to sign another starting pitcher now rather than wait until it is too late. Hopefully by Spring Training we have a better idea of who fits in where and whether there needs to be more concern about the pitching or if it sizes up with 2013. Stay tuned, folks…it’s starting to get interesting.

 

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For: The Vargas Years

kc1

On Thursday, the Kansas City Royals held a press conference for their “Major Announcement”, the signing of left handed pitcher Jason Vargas to a 4-year, $32 million dollar deal. It was well known that the Royals were in the market for a starting pitcher to replace the departed Ervin Santana, who was a solid #2 starter for the team in 2013. Names like Tim Hudson, Josh Johnson and Phil Hughes were all bandied about for Kansas City, but in the end they inked Vargas. This announcement was met with neither joy nor anger by Royals fans…instead, it was met with a very ‘meh’ reaction. So was this a good deal for the Royals? Let’s go ahead and break it down.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Tampa Bay Rays

First is the length of the deal. When I first heard of the signing, this was the part that disturbed me. I am of the belief that very few pitchers are worth a contract over four years. The only ones you should feel confident with are the Clayton Kershaw’s and Justin Verlander’s of the game. If you are not an elite hurler, there should be no reason to give them a long-term contract. Pitcher’s are too fragile and tend to break down at a higher rate than a position player. It is also quite the gamble to do that with a pitcher in his 30’s, normally the age a moundsman starts to regress. So four years for an average pitcher(which I will get into in a bit) just seems like an awful idea. Between Jeremy Guthrie and Vargas, it seems as if Royals GM Dayton Moore feels he needs to add extra years just to get a pitcher to sign in Kansas City. At one point that might hold some truth; but that is not the case in 2013. Coming off of a winning year, the Royals aren’t in the position they were in when they had to sign Gil Meche to a large contract just to get him to listen. Those days are gone. So any talk that they HAD to give Vargas four years is preposterous. Hopefully signing Vargas to that long of a deal doesn’t come back to bite them, which it could. When you sign such a long deal for a guy, that is a commitment you are making to your baseball team despite how the player in question is performing. In this case, the Royals are more likely to stick with him in the rotation longer than they would, let’s say, Bruce Chen, because of their commitment to him. So in the end, the length of this deal is almost an albatross around the Royals neck.

kc3

Now let’s look at the dollars portion of the deal. I actually have no problem with paying Vargas around $8 million a year. The contract actually breaks down to $7 million the first year, $8.5 million for years 2 & 3, then $8 million for the final year. In all honesty, most experts had predicted Vargas would sign for around $10 million a year, so an average of $8 million a year really is not bad. In this regard, the Royals did okay, even if you think Vargas is just a younger Bruce Chen. Which brings us to the next section…

Bruce Chen

If you look at Vargas and his style, it’s hard not to see him as a younger doppelganger of Bruce Chen, or at least his pitching style. Vargas doesn’t break 90 mph on the radar gun, and uses a change of speed as his biggest weapon. Normally with pitchers like Vargas and Chen, you either have to keep the batters off balance, or you are going to get lit up like Snoop Dogg(Lion?) on a tour bus. The last two years Vargas has had pitcher’s parks to call home(Anaheim & Seattle) and yet his home/road splits show two different pitchers:

2013:
Home: 6-2, 3.30 ERA, 79 innings, 60 Ks, 24 walks, .251/.307/.413
Road: 3-6, 4.82 ERA, 71 innings, 49 Ks, 22 walks, .303/.359/.440

2012:
Home: 5-5, 2.74 ERA, 98 innings, 69 Ks, 22 walks, .219/.265/.327
Road: 9-6, 4.78 ERA, 118 2/3 innings, 72 Ks, 33 walks, .266/.315/.495

It’s easy to see that he does fine in a pitcher’s park, but once he is away from there his numbers spike upward…a lot. Kauffman Stadium is more of a neutral park than the last two he has pitched in on a regular basis, and I’m sure the Royals great defense will help him as well. But his number’s at the K over his career don’t exactly ooze confidence from me: Vargas has pitched 20 innings at Kauffman Stadium against the Royals, with two total strikeouts and an ERA of 5.31. These are numbers from a guy who the Royals look to be counting on to be their number 3 starter this year…and maybe more in the future. So go back to that contract: 4 years, $32 million. Bruce Chen probably could have been re-signed for 2 years and around $12 million. That is way less of a commitment and less money for the same kind of pitcher. Plus, Bruce Chen is funnier. Just saying.

Jason Vargas

Now, don’t take this as me disliking Vargas. I think if the Royals were using him as the #4 or 5 starter I would have less of a problem with this. Vargas will eat innings and have games where he will look unhittable. He will be what he is: a solid, inning eating average pitcher. Hey, we all know the Royals need innings as much as anything. The sad thing is the Royals are at a point where they can contend, yet bought like they just want to get by. The window for this Royals team to win is very small, as James Shields will become a free agent after this upcoming weekend. Logic says the Royals should have gone out and gotten a solid #2 starter for the rotation. Was one available? Maybe not on the surface, but a guy like Scott Feldman or Phil Hughes might have more upside than Vargas does. Yes, Hughes would have been a gamble, but that is kind of what this team needs to do now. Instead, the Royals gave a large contract to a league average pitcher. If he is to be believed to be Santana’s replacement, it will be a step down.

kc6

The one way around this is if Danny Duffy or Yordano Ventura step up this year and show the stuff that scouts have been saying about them for years. Duffy seems like a long shot, since he can’t seem to stay healthy or keep his pitch count down. He has the stuff and the talent, he just needs to stay off the DL and throw less pitches. Ventura had both good and bad moments in his September call-up. It’s hard to see his triple digit fastball and not get excited, and there is a very good chance he is as special as we’ve been told he is. But rookies don’t always flourish right out of the gate, so it’s hard to predict just what kind of pitcher he will be in 2014. There is also the outside chance Kyle Zimmer will jump from AA to the majors, but a lot of things would have to go right for that to happen. Either way, much like last year, the Royals are counting on more improvement than regression. It’s a scary gamble to take.

kc7

So I hate the length of this deal, but more than anything I hate what this signing stands for. It probably means the Royals have made their big move of the winter and it was for a pitcher who reminds me of Bruce Chen and looks like Rodney Ruxin. I think Vargas will be a serviceable pitcher and should be a steady arm for Kansas City to count on. But the Royals need more, which puts more pressure on Duffy, Ventura and Zimmer to be more of a savior for this pitching staff. If this pushes Wade Davis out of a rotation spot, the deal looks better. But it’s not the deal I would have made, and it makes you wonder just how in it  Kansas City will be for 2014. The rest of the American League Central looks to be improved for next year, so for the Royals to keep up with the Jones’ they need to improve as well. Sorry, Jason Vargas. You are a step down at this point. Nothing personal. At least you have security. Four years worth, in fact.

Royals Off-Season Needs: Starting Pitcher

kc1

With a current crop of free agents now free and able to work out new contracts for the 2014 season, now is as good a time as any to take a look at one of the Kansas City Royals needs for next season. We’ve already taken a look at right field so now it’s time to take a look at the other major need, starting pitching. Now, the Royals don’t need as much help in this category as they have in years past, but with Ervin Santana looking to be gone, they will need to replace him AND maybe even pick up a second arm(you know, because injuries do happen). So with that said, let’s look at some of the team’s options at starting pitcher.

kc2

Ervin Santana

I know, I know. I already said he is gone. I firmly believe Kansas City isn’t going to be able to match the years and dollars that Santana is probably due, so he is as good as gone. But…there is that outside chance he could stay. Kansas City followed normal protocol this week and gave him a qualifying offer, which is made just as much for the draft pick the Royals would receive if/when he leaves as much as anything. Santana seems to actually enjoy being in Kansas City and is an upbeat part of the locker room. He even roots for the Chiefs on Twitter! So there is an outside chance he stays. But should he? I hate to say this because I’ve been just as supportive of Santana as anyone else this past season, but part of me wonders if it was a one year thing. Go ahead and look at the career stats. Santana has a history of following a good year with a bad year, or at least doesn’t seem like the most consistent pitcher on the planet. This guy will probably get anywhere from 3-5 years and fairly close to $20 million a season. For those numbers, I just can’t accept that it would be smart for the Royals to re-sign him. I love that he loves this team and wants to be a part of it. But you also have to be smart for the financial sake of the team. So more than likely, Santana will be elsewhere in 2014.

kc3

Bronson Arroyo 

Arroyo seems like just the kind of pitcher Dayton Moore would want to sign, and I’m not completely saying that with snark or sarcasm. On one hand, Arroyo has been about consistent as possible over the years. The man has started over thirty games every year since 2005, and we could probably add 2004, as he started ONLY 29. He obviously is durable and  doesn’t seem to be made of porcelain like some pitchers do. BUT…he also gives up a lot of home runs, and gives up about as many hits per season as innings pitched. In other words, he is close to being a poor man’s Jeremy Guthrie. I like Guthrie, and don’t hate him like some folks, but I also know that part of his success could be attributed to smoke and mirrors. Arroyo is looking for a multi-year deal this off-season, which would seem to scare Kansas City off. But like I said, he seems like the kind of pitcher Dayton likes, so we can’t count him out as a possibility.

Detroit Tigers v Toronto Blue Jays

Josh Johnson

There is a big part of me that hates the idea of Johnson signing with Kansas City. For one, he would be one of those pitchers made of porcelain I mentioned just a moment ago. He just seems to have a hard time staying healthy. But there would be upsides to giving him a go. Johnson only wants a one year deal, as he is hoping for a bounce back season and then cash in on it. If the Royals could get him at a decent price, that would be great. We all know that Johnson has electric stuff and even just last season I was aboard the bus that would gladly bring him to Kansas City. But another injury riddled season has made me more skeptical about whether or not he can hold up. MLBTradeRumors.com predicted last week that he would sign with the Royals, which seems like the team’s modus operandi. Take a chance on a pitcher and get him at a good price. I’m fine with this if a)he doesn’t get paid too much and b)he isn’t counted on to be a major part of the team. Just like the Royals did with Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino this year, if Johnson ends up in Kansas City they should just be happy with whatever they get from him.

kc5

Scott Feldman

This feels a bit like deja vu. I mean, last year I felt like the Royals should go after this guy. Feldman was a reliever for Texas for the longest time before they shifted him to the rotation, where he found a bit of success. The Cubs signed him to a nice deal last off-season, then flipped him to Baltimore for a couple of young arms. A smart move by Chicago, who knew they weren’t going anywhere in the standings. Feldman is a free agent again, and he would seem a perfect fit for the back part of the Royals rotation. Feldman isn’t flashy, but he gives you innings, keeps the ball in the park and keeps the ball down. There is even a good chance he has even more success in a ballpark like Kauffman, the opposite of the parks he has called home in his career(Arlington, Wrigley and Camden). Feldman probably isn’t a top of the rotation guy, but he is a great fit in the back end and could probably be had at a decent price.

kc6

Tim Hudson 

This would be a long shot for the Royals, but I would love to see Hudson in Kansas City blue. Hudson is coming off of a gruesome injury, so he probably isn’t going to get a long term deal, or even one that is pricey. Most expect him to end up back in Atlanta, and that is probably where the safe money is. But Hudson is a former Brave(see that? I just got Dayton Moore’s attention!) and a former top of the rotation starter. He’s not completely what he used to be, but he would still be a great addition for a team that is on the brink of playoff contention. The Royals should at least kick the tires on Hudson and see what it would take to sign him. Seems like a better option than someone like Dan Haren(who’s back issues scare me).

kc7

Phil Hughes

Hughes had an awful 2013 season. Like, REALLY AWFUL! To give you an idea, Hughes had over 30 starts, yet threw only 145 innings this past year! His biggest detriment was the long ball, which accounted for his stats to be so bloated. The positive that teams have taken away from Hughes though is that his ERA away from Yankee Stadium was a decent 3.88. It would seem that throwing in the Bronx, a park with a very short right field, does more damage than good for Hughes. There’s a good chance that Hughes will not be returning to New York and will want to sign a one year deal somewhere. Hughes at ‘The K’ could be interesting. He is at least someone to look into.

BASEBALL: World Baseball Classic-Korea vs Venezuela

Suk-Min Yoon 

I mentioned earlier that mlbtraderumors.com predicted the Royals would sign Josh Johnson, and they also predicted Kansas City would sign Yoon. Yoon has been in the Korea Baseball Organization and is looking to make the jump to MLB. This seems like a weird choice, since Yoon had a rough 2013, as his velocity was down after competing in the World Baseball Classic. Yoon looks to be a back of the rotation arm, but with the decreased velocity might end up in a bullpen somewhere. As we are all aware, the Royals have bullpen arms. They don’t need another. Especially one who’s agent is Scott Boras, which means you will probably overpay for them. Just say no, Dayton. Step away.

kc9

That’s just a look at some options the Royals will have this winter on the free agent pitching market. For all we know, Moore will make a trade and acquire a pitcher that way(for say, Billy Butler?) but if not there are some decent arms on the market. I could mention a few more that interest me(Burnett? Only wants to go back to Pittsburgh. Johan Santana? questions on if he can come back from injury) but these are some good choices. Either way, the Royals need a starter or two for next year if they want to compete. The team was lucky in 2013, as no major injury hit their way, so the chances of that happening two years in a row is slim. For all we know, a guy like Duffy, Paulino or Yordano Ventura will take up a slot and fill a void. Even if that happens, standing pat isn’t an option. Last year Dayton brought in two big starters. Competing means you have to go all in, and the window isn’t open for long. Let’s just hope the Royals are at least smart about this, rather than treat it like Monopoly money.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑