Just a Transaction Away

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We are creeping into the second week of December and very little has occurred with the Kansas City Royals transactions page since they wrapped up the World Series. It’s a bit odd at this point in the offseason to see Dayton Moore so quiet after all those years of moves being made within the first week of the end of the season. All has been quiet until the other day, when the Royals made a few notable moves to add to the ledger.

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Let’s start with closer Greg Holland being non-tendered a contract. This wasn’t a shocking move, as it had been discussed almost immediately after everyone found out Holland would be having Tommy John surgery and would be missing the 2016 campaign. The good news is that this move was purely financial, as the Royals didn’t want to be on the hook for close to $10 million next year for a pitcher who would be sitting on the sideline. This also means the Royals are open to re-signing Holland to a new deal, possibly a two year deal that would be low for this upcoming season while much larger salary for year two of the deal, probably with a bunch of incentives. I would say the chance of Kansas City and Holland coming to agreement on a new deal is pretty good, as both parties want to stay together and understand why this business decision was made. I would expect Holland back in the fold fairly soon and hopefully will make his Royals return in 2017.

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The other move made by Kansas City was acquiring backup catcher Tony Cruz from St. Louis. On first glance this seemed like a move designed to make him the new backup to Salvador Perez while pushing Drew Butera(yes, I almost just wrote ‘Sal’ instead of ‘Drew’; his father would be proud) out the non-tendered door. But then the Royals offered Drew a contract, leaving the Royals with two options to play in about 30 games next year(if that). So it would appear from the outside that these two catchers will be battling in Spring Training to see who heads North with the team, and who ventures to Omaha(possibly; last year’s AAA catcher, Francisco Pena, was claimed by Baltimore). So who would be the better option?

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Offensively this might be a bit of a push. Butera last year had a line of .196/.252/.252 with an OPS+ of 40 while Cruz had a line of .204/.235/.310 with an OPS+ of 47. Over their careers, Butera has an OPS+ of 41 while Cruz’s is 58. Cruz looks to be the better hitter, even if by just the smallest of margin’s. It does appear Cruz has more pop in his bat(.310 to .266 career slugging percentage) while Butera seems to be the more patient hitter(Cruz has averaged a tad over 6 walks a year over his career, Butera almost 8 per year). Offensively, neither one of these guys are going to earn their job with their work with the bat, so let’s check the glove work.

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Looking at dWAR, Butera has quite the advantage over Cruz, 2.3 to -0.4. It seems as if Butera is the better defender, which was my initial thought before I started breaking down the stats. I was actually surprised though; Butera only has about 45 more career games than Cruz, despite Butera being 3 years older than Cruz. It also appears as if their offense drags them down, as both have negative career WAR; -1.7 to -2.8, Butera over Cruz. Now I can say I haven’t seen as much of Cruz’s work, but I’ve long enjoyed Butera’s work behind the plate, where he is known for his defense and good game calling skills. I’m not 100% for sure where Royals management head is on the backup catcher situation, but I know manager Ned Yost(a former catcher) prefers his backup to be solid defensively. It would appear if that was the case again this spring, you will see Butera backing up Perez. I wouldn’t mind keeping Cruz down in AAA if he is open to that, and once again, I’m not entirely for sure what the Royals braintrust is thinking. If I had to make a guess, this move was purely for depth, which is never a bad move for any team.

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So nothing major has occurred yet for the Royal roster, but the Winter Meetings are this week, so something is bound to happen. There is already talk that Kansas City is close to a deal with Chris Young and word crept out today that they have interest in lefty Scott Kazmir. So more than likely, expect something to happen this week in Nashville. This news also brightened my day today:

So be prepared; it could be a busy week, and by the end of it we might have a better idea of what the 2016 Kansas City Royals will look like.

 

Royals’ Spring Hopefuls

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One of the great things about Spring Training every year is that it’s the beginning for younger players to show what they can do. It’s also a proving ground for wily veterans to work with a clean slate and start anew. Every year there is a surprise(Arizona) player(or players) that the big league club didn’t have penciled in as a part of the major league team that leaves them with no other choice than to bring them up north to begin the season. There is no guarantee that any of the players I am going to bring up here will be with the team on Opening Day against Chicago but they are all interesting cases that are with the Kansas City Royals this spring for a variety of reasons. Some you will have heard of, others this will be the first time. But what they all have in common is they want to be in Kansas City to start the year.

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1) Christian Binford

If you follow this blog even mildly you know this isn’t the first time I have mentioned Binford. In fact last year I mentioned he was a prospect to keep an eye on and the Royals had even considered him to be a September call-up out of the pen. This spring is his first in Royals camp but he comes in as the Royals 2014 Minor League Pitcher of the Year and has a good shot of getting the call to the big leagues at some point this year. Binford isn’t going to break any radar guns but he throws strikes(and has a great walk ratio) and great command. The Royals had tried him in the bullpen late in the season at Omaha with less than spectacular results but that doesn’t tarnish his abilities or how the organization views him. Binford compiled 8 starts in AA last year before the experiment in Omaha, and it is a good bet he starts this year back in Northwest Arkansas. But honestly, probably not for long and there is a chance if the Royals need a starter at some point later in the summer Binford could be the one who gets the call. In fact Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland has liked what he has seen from Binford this spring, as he wonders if some of the tinkering with his delivery would add a few miles an hour to his fastball:

“What I’ve seen, I like,” Eiland said. “He’s a strike thrower. He’s got movement. He’s much more downhill, better angle now, once we moved his hands a little bit.”

Binford won’t ever be a top of the rotation starter but could very well fill out the back end of the rotation sooner than later. Binford’s ability to throw strikes and pitch to contact should be a plus with Kansas City’s defense. So don’t be surprised if you hear Binford’s name again before this season is over.

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2) Bubba Starling

Let me clarify here–Bubba Starling will not be on the Royals 25 man roster on Opening Day. That is not why Starling is in camp this spring. He is in camp to get a feel for what goes on at big league camps and learn from the Royals coaches and players. It at least sounds like he is getting adjusted, as Starling started hitting the ball finally in a game, as he struck out his first five plate appearances this spring. The Royals are still holding out hope for the 2011 first round pick, as he is still only 22 years old. Starling’s struggles have been well documented and there is some concern that he might never reach the majors, at least with the numbers he has compiled so far in his minor league career. The hope is that rubbing elbows this spring with the likes of George Brett, Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer will light something under him and will at least bump his career in an upward trajectory. No matter what, the experience of being at big league camp this spring has to be viewed as a positive for ‘The Man They Call Bubba’.

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3) Ryan Madson

Madson is an interesting case for the Royals. On one hand, he is a former closer for the Phillies who has a lethal change-up. On the other hand, he hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2011 and last pitched in a regular season game back in 2013 for the Angels in A ball. Finally, on the other other hand(yep, he has three hands; deal with it), Madson is fighting for a spot in what is already a jammed pack bullpen. Even if the Royals decide to go with 8 pitchers out of the pen to start the season, Madson might be on the outside looking in. The best chance for Madson this season might be to get some velocity back in Omaha and wait for a bullpen arm to get injured. There is some positive to Madson’s story so far this spring, according to the Kansas City Star:

“Madson lacked accuracy with his four-seam fastball, but scouts still clocked the pitch at 91-92 mph, a tick below the 94-mph heater he unleashed with regularity for the Phillies through 2011. His changeup fooled his adversaries, even if they were of the lower-level variety. Manager Ned Yost referred to the offspeed pitch as “a real weapon.”

Hopefully the Royals are able to retain him and keep him stowed away until he is needed. He could be an interesting add to a bullpen late in the season, if the team is making a playoff push. Nothing like another solid arm for an already elite bullpen, if you ask me.

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4) Francisco Pena

I find Pena to be an interesting case. For one, he is the son of former Royals skipper Tony Pena. Two, Pena has been in the minors since 2007 and has cleverly avoided the “prospect” term for the majority of that time. In fact you almost wondered when the Royals acquired him before the 2014 season if they did it because a)of who his dad is or b)they thought his brother, Tony Jr.(former Royals SS) had changed his name or c)they just needed some depth at the catchers position. C seems to be the most likely answer but little did we know that Pena would put together a solid offensive season last year in Omaha, compiling 27 home runs, a.515 slugging percentage and an OPS of .795. Hey, not ‘blow you out of the water’ numbers, but impressive for a guy who had hit a combined 40 home runs the previous 7 minor league seasons. At this moment it appears that Salvador Perez’s personal caddy, Erik Kratz, will be the Royals backup catcher, but if something were to happen to Kratz while sitting on the bench(or getting Perez a cup of water), Pena could see some action in the big leagues. There is also the possibility that Perez will break down like an old Buick due to all the innings manager Ned Yost makes him catch, but I hate the idea that this thought even creeps into my brain. Instead know that Pena is an outside shot to make the big league club but a possibility to warm the bench later in the season.

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5) Franklin Morales

Morales might have the best chance of this group to make the Royals this spring, if for no other reason than because of an injury. Royals left handed reliever Tim Collins has ligament damage in his left elbow and very likely could have Tommy John surgery and miss the 2015 season. That would leave Kansas City with a decision to make in their bullpen, including whether the team should go with another lefty to take Collins’ place in the pen. If they go the route of adding another lefty, Morales very well could be the answer. Morales has flipped back and forth between being a starter or a reliever the last few years with Boston and Colorado, so he is familiar in either role. But the Royals specifically signed him to work out of the pen and that is his best shot at a job for the team. Last year Morales pitched well against left-handed batters, with his splits showing a noticeable difference. In fact if the team wanted to use him as a LOOGY(a left-handed specialist who would primarily pitch to left-handed batters) I think he would be quite successful in that role. A lot of factors will determine whether or not he goes north with the team in April, such as whether or not Luke Hochevar is ready or whether the Royals plan on carrying an 8 man bullpen or not. The other factor is whether or not the team wants to keep Brandon Finnegan as a reliever or if he gets sent to the minors to begin the process of starting again. Either way, a good spring from Morales would go a long way to deciding his fate. A good spring makes the Royals decision harder. A bad spring and Morales is either in Omaha or on the unemployment line, although not for long; I mean, he is left-handed.

Royals Spring Baseball

A few weeks still remain in Spring Training, so things could unwind even more before the team heads back to Kansas City to start the season. There’s a good possibility we see a few of the names mentioned here at the least or maybe even most of them. It’s one of the great things about baseball; you never know how a season will unfold. All we know at this point is most of these players are fighting for a spot and want to be with the team the first week of April at Kauffman Stadium. It’s been said before and will be said again; hope springs eternal.

 

Ramble On: Royals Notes of Interest

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With the Hot Stove season in full tilt, and the Winter Meetings coming up fairly soon, I thought today we would take a look at some items of interest going on with the Kansas City Royals.

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Obviously the main news is the Royals have discussed a trade with the Colorado Rockies and Dexter Fowler has been the main Rockie of interest discussed. Word is that Colorado really likes Wade Davis and might be willing to make a Davis/Fowler trade straight up. Names also mentioned on Kansas City’s side have been Aaron Crow and Tim Collins. Basically, the Royals are willing to part with their surplus of great arms in the pen to fill a hole elsewhere on the diamond. Smart move in that regard and Fowler is about the level of player you would get for a reliever. But would this move be an upgrade? I have been hemming and hawing all day, going back and forth on whether or not this would improve the Royals both offensively and defensively. Fowler has great speed, is only 27, a switch hitter with some power and even takes a walk(the Royals must not know this yet!). Fowler has also been fairly injury prone, has not produced big numbers at Coors Field despite his home/road splits( At Coors: .298/.395/.485 Away: .241/.333/.361 for his career) and for some reason doesn’t have the best defensive metrics. So would he be an upgrade? Probably, but not by much. I tend to think using a platoon of David Lough/Just Maxwell with Jarrod Dyson occasionally filling in for Lorenzo Cain in center field with Cain then sliding over to right to be about the same as if the Royals go out and get Fowler. Fowler is still only 27 years old, so there is a chance he hasn’t reached his peak yet. It would be great for the Royals to be the benefit of that upside, but the possibility of regression is there as well. Either way, I have a feeling we won’t hear anymore on this front until a decision has been made on Carlos Beltran, either way.

George Kottaras

Almost a week ago, the Royals traded backup catcher George Kottaras to the Chicago Cubs for cash. The week before he had been taken off the 40-man roster to make room for newly signed pitcher Jason Vargas. At the time it seemed like an odd move, as Kottaras was a very serviceable backup for catcher Salvador Perez and quite possibly the best pinch hitter the team had on their bench. The running joke was that Kottaras was either going to do one of two things when he was at the plate: take a walk or hit a homer. Kottaras easily was one the most patient hitters for the Royals in 2013 and might have been the most patient I have seen in a long time. So seeing him get cut seemed a little out of place. But there were rumblings that this was a financially inspired move. Even Bob Dutton heard from a Royals official who said this was a money move. So how much money would Kansas City save if Brett Hayes ends up being the Royals backup catcher this year? $500, 000. So this could be about finances–hell, Kottaras was traded for “cash considerations”. But I think one more thing factors in here: Ned Yost is a former catcher who loves his catchers to play great defense. Nothing wrong with that, in fact I am a big proponent of holding on to great defensive catchers. But Kottaras wasn’t chopped liver behind the dish; word was that he called a good game and worked really hard to make sure he was fully prepared for every start. Add in his patience at the plate(with some pop, may I add) and logic would tell you to stick with Kottaras for one more year. Instead he will head to Chicago and the Royals will go with either Hayes, or Francisco Pena. Neither will put fear in opposing pitchers. Though not a big deal, it’s a move that just doesn’t sit well with me.

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Speaking of things that don’t sit well with me, the Royals gave General Manager Dayton Moore a 2-year contract extension on Black Friday. At the time it felt like a move tucked away on the busiest shopping day of the year, a holiday weekend where few would pay much notice. It still feels that way, as I have to believe the Royals realized it wouldn’t be a popular move. I’ve said my peace on GMDM more than once, and in a lot of ways don’t want to just retread the reasons I feel the Royals are held back by having Moore as their GM. If you want to read my thoughts, read this. It pretty much sums up my thoughts. Craig Brown of Royals Review hit the nail on the head, which I pretty much completely agree with. Now, the extension isn’t a big surprise. Once Yost’s contract was extended, it seemed like just a matter of time until Dayton received his extension. Even if you are like me and wish the Glass’ had waited a few months into the season before extending his contract, Sam Mellinger makes some good points as to why the Royals needed to give Dayton the extension. So I get why this was done; I just don’t think it is in the best interest for the future of this ball club. Hopefully I am wrong and the Royals will flourish, contending for the foreseeable future. But there is a better chance the last seven years are a better indicator of what we should expect.

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Finally, it just doesn’t seem right for me to write up some Royals thoughts without mentioning the fact that CHRIS GETZ IS NO LONGER A KANSAS CITY ROYAL!!!!! Anyone who knows me or has read this blog knows I am not a big fan of Mr. Getz. I have felt for awhile that the Royals should part ways with ‘The Man Who Was Mistake Free ‘. I poked fun at him with a fake mailbag column. Actually, come to think of it, Getzie was a pretty good muse for me. He brought out the sarcasm in my writing, sarcasm that doesn’t always show up in print. At the end of the day, Getzie was allowed to be a regular part of this team for way too long, or at least too long for a very average player. As a human being, I wish the best for him in the future…as long as it is far away from Kansas City. As a Royals fan, I am elated he is finally gone. I’m sure some will say I’ll have to find some other player to poke fun at now that ol’ Getzie is gone. I would counter that I am looking forward to not having a player on the field that I don’t feel belongs. I’ll feel even better about this if the Cardinals pick him up. I’m off to party now, to celebrate Happy ‘Chris Getz is No Longer a Royal’ Day–but I have a feeling this isn’t the last word from me on Getzie. There might be one more mailbag in me…until then, let’s celebrate!!!

                     

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