The Case for Trevor Oaks in the Royals Rotation

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Credit: MLB.com

So far in 2018, Eric Skoglund has held down the 5th starters spot in the Kansas City Royals rotation, albeit with mixed results. In his three starts this season, Skoglund has given up 14 runs in 14.2 innings while allowing 18 hits and five walks. The positive is that Skoglund has slightly gotten better in each start, with his best outing this past weekend in Detroit.

The negative is that outing still was below expectations: four runs, four hits and two walks in five innings of work. Technically the numbers are improving, but definitely not enough to forego discussing other options for the rotation. There is already talk that Clay Buchholz will more than likely take over for Skoglund this weekend against Chicago and he is as good an option as any that the Royals have right now. But if we are talking options we might as well throw Trevor Oaks’ name out there.

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Credit: Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports

Oaks is in his age 25 season and was the biggest “get” in the Scott Alexander/Joakim Soria trade that went down earlier this winter. Oaks has primarily been a ground-ball pitcher throughout his career and relies on a nice four-seam fastball (with some natural sinking action), a sinker, and a slider with the occasional change-up thrown in there as well. He’s not going to miss many bats, but his ability to induce groundballs would be a welcome change for the Royals rotation.

The Royals have relied on fly-ball pitchers over the last 4-5 years and back when the team was making regular trips to the postseason it made sense. The team was employing an outfield of plus defenders like Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson, so the thinking was as long as the pitcher could keep the ball in the ballpark, their outfielders would run it down.

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Credit: Brian Davidson/Getty Images

But since then the focus in baseball has been on getting the ball in the air and more importantly, home runs. When even middle infielders are focusing on elevating the ball, it only makes sense to try and swing the pendulum to the other side and work on keeping the ball on the ground. The Royals still have a good infield defense and it would seem Oaks could be one to take advantage of that.

To give you an idea of how often Oaks keeps the ball on the ground, let’s do a comparison to some of the top ground-ball pitchers in baseball today. Over the last two seasons, Oaks has been in the range of 64-50% of groundballs, which would rank him in the top 20 if he would be able to make that transition to the big leagues. Lance McCullers, Jr. of Houston has the highest rate so far this season at 63.6% while the highest eligible Kansas City pitcher is Jason Hammel at 43.9%.

Oaks did have some issues with his sinker when he returned from injury last year but former big-league pitcher Justin Masterson, who has also heavily relied on the sinker over his career, was able to pass on some words of wisdom:

“I was struggling to find consistent movement. In years past, it’s always just kind of been a natural pitch for me, so I hadn’t really thought much about it or really tweaked around the grips too much. So while I was going through that period of struggle, he was able to show me things. It was like, ‘Hey, why don’t you try this?’

“A lot of it was just little tweaks here and there, from stuff he had learned over the course of his career throwing the sinker. And he was also kind of calming me down. He’d say, ‘Hey, don’t freak out if it’s not your best stuff that day.’

“I think that’s why I still had a decent year. While I didn’t have my best sinker, I was still able to go out there and compete. I had the confidence to be like, ‘I can get these guys out, even without my best sinker, and then once that pitch comes back for me, I can really take off.”

So while Oaks’ sinker is a big part of his repertoire, he seemed to make an adjustment last year which is always a big part of the maturation process. While Oaks only had a 50.8% ground-ball rate in AAA last year, the lessons he learned seemed to help him grow as a pitcher.

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Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It’s still early into 2018, but Oaks has pretty much kept pace with what he did in AAA for the Dodgers last year. Groundballs, flyballs and line drives are all pretty much on par with 2017 while the strike out rate has been a tad lower (11.8% compared to 21.1.%) and the walk rate is a bit higher (6.5% to 5.3%). This is only over 23.1 innings in Omaha, so it’s a small sample size, but more than anything there does appear to be a hint of consistency.

I’m not against Buchholz getting his chance before Oaks and I even understand why it is happening. Buchholz cost the Royals practically nothing and if he can show a glint of his former All-Star caliber talent then it only makes sense for Kansas City to see what they have in him.

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Credit: MLB.com

While it won’t hurt Oaks to stay in the minors a bit longer, it’s just a matter of time until he is in the Kansas City rotation. He has thrown 170 innings in AAA over the last couple seasons while proving he can hang at that level.

The next couple seasons are all about opportunities for Kansas City and seeing what they have. If Buchholz turns out to be a find then that can only be a positive for the team moving forward. But if we are talking long-term, that is where Oaks comes into the discussion. Last year Jake Junis was given the chance to prove his worth. 2018 should be Trevor Oaks’ turn to shine for the Royals.

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Rebuilding a Franchise

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Hi, my name is Sean and I am addicted to ‘Out of the Park Baseball’. What is that, you might be asking? Here is the tagline they use on their website:

Out of the Park Baseball is the best baseball management game ever created. Can you guide your favorite baseball team to glory? Win the World Series and build a dynasty?

In other words, OOTP Baseball is the “World’s most realistic sports simulation game”. There are a number of different options of how you can you play this game: you can be the manager, the General Manager, you can play a real league, a fictional league, or an international league…and that is just the tip of the iceberg. If you have ever wanted to know how you would do managing and/or running a major league team, this is the game for you. The thing is, once you get into it, it’s hard to stop. Last year I started a Kansas City Royals franchise, beginning with the 2016 season. That wasn’t a banner season for my team, as they struggled with injuries and a bit of regression, finishing the year 76-86. So going into 2017, I had the majority of the same roster with a number of minor tweaks. Much like the real life Royals, I knew after the season I was going to have a hard time re-signing a large chunk of the core group, but was hopeful they could get off to a good start and put myself in a good position after the season. Unfortunately, that did not happen.

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Instead, I got off to a horrible start. My team went 4-14 in April and while the offense was struggling (once again, sound familiar?) the pitching is what was really hurting me. My starters ERA was over 5.00, relievers were close to 5.00. I knew I would be wheeling and dealing, but wasn’t for sure when I would start the fire sale. I had made a few minor trades in May: I dealt Jason Vargas to the A’s and Alcides Escobar to Arizona, picking up Ryan Madson and Mitch Haniger. Nothing ground shaking but slight adjustments. But on May 24th, with my team 12-26 and 12.5 games out of first place in the American League Central, the fire sale begun. Within a matter of days, I had dealt Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Kendrys Morales, Kris Medlen, Jason Frasor and Jarrod Dyson.  In return, I went out and made my team younger (and coincidentally, cheaper). For those players I was able to acquire Cody Bellinger, Aaron Sanchez, Randall Grichuk, Blake Snell and Lucas Giolito. In one fell swoop I had improved my rotation while also re-stocking my lineup with enough young talent to keep a low payroll for at least a couple of years. I also recalled a number of young prospects to fill out the team, as Kyle Zimmer, Bubba Starling and Ryan O’Hearn all became regulars on my team. I figured if I was going young, might as well go all the way. I accepted that my team would be bad for at least the remainder of the 2017 season, but I would reap the benefits in the future. My goal was to let these players play and let them get the experience they needed. So how is that working out?

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My team, as expected, is still bad. My record on June 5th (when the final deal went through) sat at 15-33; since then I am 12-16. It’s still under .500, but there has been a slight uptick. The youngsters are struggling at times, but at other times they are excelling. The starting pitchers will have a good outing followed by a bad one, while the hitters will go through a stretch where you see improvement while struggling just a few games later. I understand it is a process and don’t expect a huge improvement instantly. Speaking of, my pitching numbers have slightly picked up since all the trades were made and between that and the defense, there have been less blowouts and more close games, which have been split when it comes to success rate. Instant gratification won’t be found here, but I feel better about my team’s future and feel I did the proper moves to help my team in the future. That is where the connection to the real life Royals comes in.

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This whole article has been building to this one big question: how does this game I play reflect on what is going on in real life this season for the Kansas City Royals? Very simply, the Royals are playing themselves out of contention this year and pushing themselves in the direction of a seller rather than a buyer at the trade deadline. Do I think Kansas City can go out, deal their valuable parts the way I did and get about the same return? Probably not. Mine is a game on a computer that has different values than a real GM and also is missing out on the human element. I was able to acquire top-notch prospects like Bellinger and Giolito; the Royals could only hope to pick up prospects of that ilk. But what they can do is get what they can and decide if what is being offered for the likes of Hosmer, Cain, etc. is better or less than the draft pick they may (or may not) get the following year. It is a tough line to straddle and I don’t envy the position that Dayton Moore is in. I struggled with my game on whether I wanted to throw up the white flag or move on. Eventually, I gave in and decided to start the rebuild now. In my estimation, that was a better route for my team; what is the better direction for the Royals in real life?

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Here is the honest truth: this time next year, the Royals will look completely different from where they currently stand. Royals fans need to brace for the fact that there is a good chance the team isn’t able to keep Cain, or Hosmer, or Moustakas or Escobar…and that’s not a bad thing. While rebuilding is scary, it is also a reality in today’s game, unless you are a team with endless money. In my eyes, if this Royals team is still slumbering around by late June, then they are probably better dealing off what they can and start moving in whatever the next direction is for this team. Avoiding the inevitable only makes for more suffering and bigger heartbreak. It might appear on the surface that it is easier to tear down a team on a computer simulated game; in reality, it is not as hard to do in real life, with focus, determination and a clear, precise direction. The first question Moore needs to ask himself (and he probably already has) should be ‘where do we want to be ‘x’ years down the road?’, which should be followed by ‘how do we get to that point?’. Start there and begin to move forward. We are getting closer and closer to just pulling off the band-aid and dealing with the pain.

Forever Royal

Kendrys Morales, Jarrod Dyson, Eric Hosmer

When a team wins a championship, it is only natural for fans to grasp onto the players who elevate the team to that level and cheer them on for years to follow. It is also natural for rosters to change and these same players to eventual leave, whether by a trade or free agency. A number of notable members of the 2015 World Champion Kansas City Royals were sent packing in the offseason and are now setting up residence east to west, north to south and even in Canada. With that in mind, lets see how these former Royals are doing away from Kansas City.

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First on the list is former Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson who has set up residence in Seattle. I’ve been interested to see how Dyson would do elsewhere for a while now, just for the fact that Kansas City always seemed to use him in situations where he could succeed. Seattle has talked about using him as a regular, and knowing how Dyson struggles against lefties, I have wondered how that would play out. So far the numbers haven’t been glowing: .202/.294/.257 with a wRC+ of 59 over 127 plate appearances and a fWAR of 0.3. All of these numbers are heavily down over his career averages but the sign of what really might be ailing Dyson appears to be on where he is hitting the ball. So far this season, Dyson has a 45.5% ground ball rate, where he has averaged 57.2 % over his career. Meanwhile, his fly ball rate is sitting at 38.6%, while his career average sits at 25%. It’s still early, but a player like Dyson (one with little power plus game-changing speed) has to use his positive tools to his advantage. These are all numbers that can be flipped around in a timely manner, but it might just show the difference between an organization that cultivated him and the new one that is still getting acquainted. The Royals always seemed to have a good idea of Dyson’s limitations and used him accordingly. For Jarrod’s sake, I hope he turns things around and can get back on pace to his career numbers.

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Edinson Volquez left Kansas City for Miami in the offseason, signing a 2 year, $22 million deal with the Marlins. In six starts, Volquez has posted an ERA of 4.71 with a FIP of 4.91. What has been noticeable in Eddie’s numbers is the pick up in Strike Out %…and Walk %. Both have seen a healthy increase , with strike outs up from 16% to 24% and walks up from 8.9% to 16.5%. Control has always been an issue with Volquez and those numbers had started rising last year in Kansas City. 2017 has also seen Eddie’s line drive rate, fly ball rate and hard hit rate all see an increase, which can’t be a good sign in the long run. Volquez’s velocity numbers are also on par with 2016, or at least close enough that there shouldn’t be any worries there. One last number I wanted to check was BABIP: the last few years Volquez has had the luxury of having the Royals elite defense behind him. So far in 2017, his BABIP sits at .347, compared to .319 last year and .290 in 2015. The good news for Marlins fans is that all these numbers are just through six starts, so there is lots of room for improvements. But the other side of that coin is that Volquez’s numbers have been skewing this way for a while now, so there isn’t a whole of shock in what we have seen so far in Eddie’s numbers.

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When Kendrys Morales signed with Toronto, I was sure that he would see his power numbers go up. Moving from Kauffman Stadium, where home runs go to die, to the Rogers Centre seemed like a lock he would see his numbers rise. But to this point, it hasn’t happened. So far in 2017, Morales is hitting .244/.294/.433 with 6 home runs and 20 RBI’s. Most of his numbers have seen a dip this year: strike out rate, walk rate, ISO and so on and so on. While he has seen his fly ball rate go down and the ground ball rate go up, there are some positives to his numbers. His line drive rate has seen an increase, as has his HR/FB ratio. But the numbers just don’t tell a good story, as even his hard hit rate has dropped while his soft hit rate has climbed. The one positive for Blue Jays fans is that this feels very similar to Morales’ 2016, where he struggled throughout the first two months of the season…and then June happened. So while it might look questionable right now, just wait Toronto fans. June is just around the corner.

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Maybe the hardest goodbye this offseason was Wade Davis headed to Chicago, despite the fact that it felt like the best time to deal him. Wade so far has been as dominant as we remembered him, as he has yet to allow a run in over 14 innings. Davis is coming off of an injury plagued 2016, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see a jump in his numbers. Strike out rate up, walk rate down. Soft hit rate up, hard hit rate down. Maybe most impressive is his fWAR, which already sits at 0.7; for the entire year last year, he accumulated 1.3 fWAR. There has been a slight decrease in velocity, but that has been going on for a couple of years now and honestly, is expected as he reaches his early 30’s. There is still a part of me that wonders if his forearm issues come back into play this year, but hopefully for Wade and Cubs fans, it is just me thinking the worst right now. So far to date, the Davis/Soler trade swings in the Cubs favor.

MLB: Spring Training-Philadelphia Phillies at Detroit Tigers

Then there is old friend Omar Infante. Infante is currently down in AAA, playing for the Toledo Mud Hens, the Detroit Tigers minor league affiliate. In 105 plate appearances, Infante is hitting .253/.276/.293 with a wRC+ of 55. If Detroit ever calls him up, it would have to be to fill a roster spot and provide a bit of depth as a backup. It appears as if Infante’s time as a starter is probably in the past, but there is always a place in baseball for a guy with his experience. We just all wish he was doing that without costing the Royals money this year…

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While there will always be an emotional connection to guys like Dyson, Morales and Wade Davis, baseball is a business and at some point everyone moves on. This is another hard reminder that by the end of this season, more members of the 2015 World Championship team will be former Royals rather than current. While these players move on to sometimes greener pastures, it sometimes is the best for both parties as well. Remember, while the present isn’t as glamorous as the past, those memories can never be taken away from us. All these guys are and always will be #ForeverRoyal.

 

 

Mondesi Wins Second Base Job; Soler to the DL?

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The biggest question mark for the Kansas City Royals throughout Spring Training has been ‘who would win the second base job?’, with four players competing for the spot. Christian Colon, Cheslor Cuthbert, Whit Merrifield and Raul Mondesi have all been vying for the job as the second sacker and Monday manager Ned Yost announced who will start the year at the position:

This was a bit of a shock, despite the fact that Mondesi has had a fantastic spring, hitting .375/.388/.625 with 6 extra base hits (3 homers) in 20 games. The shock is in the fact that both Colon and Cuthbert are out of options and most have felt Merrifield would begin the year either as the starter at second or the super utility player. Instead, Colon and Merrifield seem to be fighting over the final bench spot, with the fact that Whit still has options left probably hurting his case. So are the Royals making the best choice by starting Mondesi to start the year?

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It feels like a weird question to ask, but there are some important factors to remember when it comes to Spring Training numbers. For one, especially early on in camp, hitters are facing a variety of minor leaguers, which isn’t always a good barometer of how successful a hitter is. Max Rieper at Royals Review did a great write-up in this regard, charting all the pitchers that Mondesi has gotten hits off of this spring. I had actually wondered the same thing about Mondesi (and Peter O’Brien as well) this spring and now we know. This doesn’t completely discredit his spring (hey, a good spring is a good spring), as hitting has been the main issue with Mondesi throughout his progression in the Royals farm system and it was obvious that whether or not he made the Opening Day roster was going to be largely determined on how he hit this spring. With that being said, while the numbers appear different, the approach feels like more of the same. Mondesi is not a patient hitter and that showed in the numbers as well; only 1 walk this spring and 13 strike outs over 48 at bats. You don’t have to be a math major to realize that isn’t a great ratio and the Royals should at least be mildly concerned that he strikes out as much as he does. While patience is a concern, his athleticism has won Yost over:

Look, I like Mondesi and still feel like it is waaaaaay to early to start giving up on the kid (he is only 21 years old). That being said, he is no Mike Trout. The only way Mondesi could be like Trout is in his dreams, and even there he probably can’t imagine himself as great as Mike Trout. In other words, this is a ridiculous comment…but I think I know what Ned is getting at. It really feels like Yost naming him the winner this early and comments like this are being done to boost up Mondesi’s ego and give him a bit of confidence going into the season. Whether or not he performs as well as Ned imagines is another issue, one that we will find out soon enough. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Raul not play every day at second and shuffle into a few roles, including pinch runner. The Royals lost Jarrod Dyson this offseason and only other player on the Kansas City roster that can rival Mondesi’s speed is Terrance Gore. While Mondesi isn’t going anywhere, I’m not sold that he will remain the every day second baseman all season long.

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Meanwhile, the news on Jorge Soler was not as positive:

It appears there is a good chance that Soler will start the year on the disabled list, mostly as a precaution:

Remember how we mentioned the Royals missing Dyson this year? If Soler does end up disabled, good chance Gore takes his spot on the roster. It’s been an interesting spring for Soler, as he has struggled, hitting .143/.254/.286 with only 3 extra base hits all spring (2 homers). I know there are some down on Soler already, but I feel it important to stress a couple of things here. For one, he has had only one major league season of more than 400 plate appearances and still doesn’t have a full season under his belt. Two, he is moving to a different team and was traded for one of the most dominant relievers over the last 3 years; there is a bit of stress that goes with that and trying to prove ones self. Three, he is also adjusting to a new league on top of all of this. I fully expected him to struggle for the first few months of the season and don’t feel like a knee-jerk reaction really is fair here. Soler has four years to prove his worth and while he will need to do that sooner than year four, I don’t think we will get a good estimation of what he can do until later into the 2018 season. While the injury isn’t great timing, it also might give him an opportunity to slide back into the team early in the season with a little less pressure on him.

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While the makeup of the roster is getting closer to being finalized, it is interesting on how this will shake out. Gore is an interesting add, since he is almost solely on the team as pinch runner which limits his usage. If the final spot goes down to Colon or Merrifield, I have to feel like Whit loses out and possibly only because of option availability. The other factor to remember here is that Yost is not huge on using his bench, so in some ways the structure of said bench isn’t as super important now as it will be come August and September. It also appears as if Peter Moylan is poised to take the final bullpen spot, but that will also mean that the Royals will need to make a corresponding 40 man roster move, as Moylan is currently not on it. I made the comment a few weeks ago that this Royals roster is the deepest it has been in years and it is showing with the roster moves made over the last couple of days.

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Within the next day or two we will know the Opening Day roster, as Yost wants the team to be locked in before they head to Arlington, Texas this weekend for a couple of warm-up games against the Rangers. Earlier in the spring, it was mentioned that the roster always finds a way to work itself out and it is looking like there is a lot of truth in that statement. This team is built for the long haul and is in a good spot to handle a Soler injury or to give a youngster like Mondesi a shot at a starting job. Hope springs eternal and we all hope that the Royals are right about Mondesi and Soler. Luckily, this is a team that can handle a few missteps.

Straddling The Fence

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Being a longtime Kansas City Royals fan can give someone a different perspective of the team than say, someone who has only been around the last couple years. There is a section of the fanbase that sat around during the “Lean Years” so to speak, an era where many a time we would be accepting of an errorless game, or a quality start from the starting pitcher that day. Trust me folks, years ago the bar was set really low. With that being said, this winter the Royals have been fairly quiet on the acquisition front, as we have essentially seen the Jorge Soler trade and the Nate Karns trade with a few minor signings sprinkled in. I’ve actually felt like both trades made sense and were quality deals on GM Dayton Moore’s part. I even liked the Peter O’Brien signing and don’t hate Jonathan Sanchez being brought in on a minor league contract. But something else has been gnawing at me this winter and these trades have reinforced my worries. It appears on the surface like the Royals are neither “going all in” this off-season nor “rebuilding”. In fact, it appears as if Kansas City management is straddling a fence that often isn’t very successful.

KC Royals VS NY Mets, Game 2, 2015 World Series

I feel like I need to be a bit more clear in my estimation, as it could be taken as if I am saying the Royals won’t be in a position to contend in 2017, which I don’t feel at all. In fact, I feel as if Kansas City has a great chance to be in the playoff hunt this year, as we enter the final year of a contending window with the current nucleus in place. That is a big part of my worries right there; after this season, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain will be free agents. Danny Duffy was also set to go out on the market, but luckily he was given a long-term extension while Wade Davis and Jarrod Dyson, two more potential free agents after 2017, were dealt in the trades mentioned above. The front office has known for years that this was the final year of winning with this group and while the initial plan was for the farm system to keep spitting out major league ready talent, that hasn’t turned out to be the case. Knowing that there was not really any help on the horizon down in the minors (although someone like Hunter Dozier could contribute as soon as this year), this felt like the season where the team should be “all in” and put the team in the best position to reach the playoffs. That has not happened and not all of that can fall at the feet of Moore. No, you have to look higher up on the food chain to find the biggest issue facing the front office.

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Back in December, it came out that Royals owner David Glass didn’t want the team to increase the payroll for the 2017 campaign, putting Moore and his associates in the front office in a weird position. Moore over the years has always tried to temper expectations and kept his cards close to the vest, but apparently he really meant it this year when he said that the team wouldn’t be able to take on more payroll:

“We’re simply not in a position to add to our current payroll,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said.

This is why Davis was traded and why Dyson wasn’t far behind; Moore was trying to shuffle the roster by unloading any payroll he can why acquiring players who are younger, cheaper and are under club control for the immediate future. In fact I will go a step further and say Moore has done an admirable job trying to keep the foundation of the team together to make another run while keeping the payroll within Glass’ desired level. Yes, some of this falls at the feet of Moore; he is the one who gave Ian Kennedy his 5 year contract, Omar Infante’s contract that the Royals are still paying for this year and backloaded a number of contracts to make the team’s money situation work in years past. But more than anything this feels like Glass being cheap, which he really hasn’t been these last few years. Why pull back now when more money could be had if the team goes back to the playoffs?

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When I first started understanding the business side of baseball, I learned very quickly that to make money in baseball you have to spend money. There has never been a major league owner that pinched pennies and made a fortune off of it; maybe for one year or some random event but none consistently. Instead, the teams that have made a ton of money did so by spending as well. Now, I am not saying that the only way to make money in baseball is to spend like the Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers; in fact, many of those teams that were high spenders didn’t even profit from playoff teams to really max out their wealth. So I am not saying Glass should just spend willy-nilly and expect profitable results; no, there is a way to spend wisely while not going over any self-imposed budget. The perfect definition of that could very well be those Royals teams that made the playoffs in both 2014 and 2015. Glass spent more money those two years than any other Royals team and he made more money both of those years than ever before because of the team playing into October. I am not saying Glass should give Dayton an open check and tell him to go get what they need; that should probably never be done, period. But a slight bump in the payroll could give this Royals team a chance to improve a few holes in the team’s roster and improve their chances of winning this year. With the Twins and White Sox rebuilding and the Tigers also straddling a fence (they have hinted at dealing some of their veterans this winter but alas none have been dealt), realistically that would leave the Royals and Indians to battle it out for the American League Central in 2017. That could still happen, but one has to wonder how this team will improve based just off of players being healthy and expecting many to improve on their 2016 output.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

The other issue at hand is tied up in Moore’s trades this winter and what they mean for the future of this team. Like I said, I have liked both trades he has made and feel getting Karns and Soler were excellent acquisitions for what Kansas City is trying to do. But…it does appear on the surface that they are trying to win this year while also building a club controlled roster after the expected departures next winter. The team is neither “all in” or “rebuilding” and this is a problem. In the past, team’s who have tried to leverage a situation like this have eventually decided to take either one path or the other once they figured out that taking neither wasn’t working. We don’t have to look far to see what kind of problem this can cause-just look at the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2012, the Phillies finished .500 while employing a roster of veterans like Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Roy Halladay. The team attempted to re-stock in 2013, adding Michael Young and Ben Revere while keeping the older nucleus in tact. The team floundered that year, losing 89 games and it appeared a rebuild was in their future. Instead, they acquired A.J. Burnett right before Spring Training that year, and would rack up another 89 loss season. It wasn’t until after that season that the organization put forward a full-scale rebuild on the franchise. The Phillies learned that straddling that line between rebuild and contending normally doesn’t work out and I’m afraid Kansas City will learn the same lesson.

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Since the idea of drifting between contending and rebuilding sounds counterproductive to me, I am in the camp that the Royals should be going for it this year. This is the last year of the window with Moose, Esky, Hos and Cain, so now would be the time to give this team its greatest opportunity to return to the playoffs. The farm system has very little in the way of help next year and this is an organization that didn’t make it to postseason play for 29 years before 2014; now is the time for one last run. The logic I am using is that if Glass agrees to spend even just an extra $10-$15 million to upgrade a few spots, they would at least be giving this squad the best opportunity to reach October baseball. We have zero idea of what will happen after 2017, and the likelihood that the Royals are even able to bring back more than just one of those four free agents is probably slim and none. The thinking is that if the team puts forth another winning season, the stadium will be packed and Glass will make his money back and then some. Instead, it feels like he is saying “we won a World Series, I think we’ll just stop there”. Even if the team doesn’t make it back to the postseason this year, Glass can go cheap in 2018 with a much younger ballclub, make his money that way and no one will think less of it, since they would be “rebuilding”. This group of players deserve one last shot at etching a legacy in Kansas City but the chances of that happening at the moment don’t look as good as it should be.

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So what does this all mean for the 2017 Kansas City Royals? It means that while this club on the surface still looks like a contender, things could go awry very quickly as well. One does have to wonder, after the soul-crushing death of Yordano Ventura, if the team might go out and pick up a replacement starter for the rotation or if they will attempt to fill his spot with a Matt Strahm or a Mike Minor. Even if another acquisition is looming, I’m not sold that this is the best Royals team that could be pieced together. Could they contend with this squad? Of course. But does this feel like a team that could cause damage in October? Not likely. I could be wrong but it feels like ownership is not giving this team the best chance to bring the World Series back to Kansas City, and that saddens me. It’s easy for me to sit here and say “spend more money”, when it isn’t my own. But if I understand the structure of a major league baseball team that wants to contend, you don’t half-ass the project. It should be all about winning the whole damn thing again this year and instead it feels like someone just waiting to turn the lights out. We have no clue how much of a chance the Royals will have to make the playoffs again after 2017; why not go out with a bang and get the band back together for one last gig? Instead it feels like a farewell tour where we keep asking them to play all the big hits one last time before hitting the road. At this point, Royals ownership should do right by the fans, the front office and even the players who have given their blood, sweat and tears these last 4-5 years. It’s time to push the chips all in and go for broke. Now is not the time to stop halfway and assume that will do the trick. It’s time to go for broke…and trust me Mr. Glass, this won’t make you broke. In fact it could increase your wealth for years to come…

Royals Roster Math

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You know it has been a slow winter for the Kansas City Royals when two moves in one week feels like a tidal wave. It all kicked off earlier this week as Kansas City picked up Peter O’Brien from Arizona and was capped off Friday afternoon, as Royals fan favorite Jarrod Dyson was dealt to Seattle for pitcher Nate Karns. So what did the Royals get and how does it affect the team moving forward? Let’s dive in!

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks

On Tuesday, the Royals acquired Peter O’Brien from the Diamondbacks for minor league pitcher Sam Lewis. O’Brien was once a top prospect in the Yankees farm system but was traded to Arizona in 2014 and has only seen 36 games of big league action. In that short span he hit just .176/.228/.446 with 6 home runs, 12 RBI’s and a-0.4 fWAR. Over five minor league seasons, he hit .269/.317/.532 with 116 home runs (which for those that struggle with math, an average of about 23 a season). O’Brien was originally a catcher in New York’s system but at this point is primarily an outfielder when on defense. It’s obvious by the numbers that O’Brien’s big catch is his power, as he has slugged over .500 at every level in the minor leagues. His power is why teams will give him chances over and over again. There are flaws in his game, as obviously defensively he probably is best suited to be a DH, which tells you a lot right there. O’Brien has been adequate in the short amount of time he has seen at first base, which makes me think he is probably a Billy Butler type at first (which is not completely a knock; Butler worked hard to become an average defensive first baseman). O’Brien, like most sluggers, strikes out quite often and isn’t too fond of walks; it’s easy to see why teams are both enamored with and frustrated with him at the same time. His numbers have been a tad better against left-handed pitching and one has to wonder if he would be best suited in a platoon type situation where his flaws might not be as noticeable. The good news is he will only be entering his age 26 season (he’ll turn 27 in July) and the Royals are starving for some power in their lineup. Meanwhile, Sam Lewis was the pitcher given up by the Royals for O’Brien, and he is coming off a good season, where he threw 44 innings, with an ERA of 1.62, a WHIP of 0.857 and a 5.57 strike out to walk ratio. I don’t know if there was much of a future for Lewis in Kansas City, so trading an extra arm in the system for a guy who could help the big league club is plus-plus in my book. I don’t know if O’Brien will be helping the big league club to start off the season, but it’s a good bat to keep around and see if the Kansas City coaching staff can work out some of the kinks in his swing. Overall, good trade by Moore.

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Karns is entering his age 29 season and is coming off a lackluster 2016. Over 22 games in Seattle, Karns posted a 5.15 ERA over 94 innings, with an ERA+ of 79, WHIP of 1.484 with a 2.24 strike out to walk ratio. Karns has plus velocity, averaging around 93 on his fastball last year (92.2 mph over his career) and can gun it up to the upper 90’s on occasion. Karns did deal with some injury issues in 2016:

He has also had some command issues and (for right now) will be competing for the Royals 5th starter job. One of the reasons that Moore had his eye on Karns for awhile (they tried to work out a deal for him during the Winter Meetings) is contract control:

It’s obvious with all of the Royals trades this winter that Moore is looking for players who will fit on the roster past 2017, as the club will be losing a number of key players after this season. While Karns has been a starter, a big part of me wonders if he would be better suited out of the pen and could be a bit like Wade Davis when Kansas City acquired him. If you remember back to that trade, Davis was coming off of a good season out of the bullpen in Tampa but Kansas City wanted to try him in the rotation. Davis struggled as a starter, was moved back to the pen and became one of the best relievers in the game. Karns probably won’t reach the heights that Wade did, but a guy with a plus fastball being used in the back-end of the bullpen can be a big positive for a team like the Royals, who are trying to rebuild their pen this winter. Overall, I like the trade and think Kansas City got a quality arm for Dyson.

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I would be remiss a bit if I didn’t mention the value that Kansas City is losing with Dyson. While not a regular in the outfield during his time in Kansas City, Dyson was an important cog on the Royals world championship team and a vital part of the team. In fact, Dyson led the Royals offense in bWAR in 2016, at 3.1. Dyson was a fan favorite but it appeared for a awhile now that his days in Kansas City were numbered, as he will be a free agent at the end of the season, the team had a surplus of outfielders and losing his contract would free up some payroll issues. We all have our favorite Dyson moments, although many of them occurred on the basepaths. Dyson has plus speed and you always knew business was picking up (thanks, JR) when Dyson would enter the game as a pinch runner. While the Royals have a suitable replacement on the field in Billy Burns (a comparable player), Dyson will mostly be missed in the clubhouse and by the organization:

Dyson will be missed, but this game constantly moves on. I’ve long thought fans are going to have a hard time when the players from the 2015 Royals start departing, since we fans get attached to them. Dyson’s a perfect example of a player who will live long in the heart of Kansas City baseball.

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Two moves in one week for Dayton Moore and both are quality moves. He is under a number crunch with this year’s payroll and acquisitions like this help soften the payroll while also trying to improve the team that will take the field this spring. It’s obvious that Moore is trying to get players who can help the team beyond 2017 without completely tearing down the roster and starting over in 2018. O’Brien and Karns could both be additions that could help the Royals do just that. Not every deal has to be a blockbuster that shakes up the structure of the team; sometimes you just need small pieces to fill out the puzzle.

 

Firing Up The Royals Rumor Mill

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We are halfway through December and the Kansas City Royals’ hot stove is lukewarm at best. So far this offseason Kansas City has re-signed Drew Butera, traded Wade Davis for Jorge Soler, and have said goodbye to Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales and Tim Collins (who signed a minor league contract with the Nationals this past week). So we have seen a very uneventful  winter so far and the likelihood of something happening around the holiday season is very slim at best. That being said, a number of Royals have been linked in trade rumors so far, which makes sense as the Royals don’t look to be major players in the free agent market. So which Royals could be dealt and where? Let’s dive in and break down these rumors.

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Let’s start with the most recent rumor, which is that the Houston Astros are looking at upgrading their rotation and have placed Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy on their targeted list. I tend to feel like the chances of Duffy being dealt are slim or none, especially considering the Royals have opened talks with him on a contract extension. So if we take Duffy out of the equation (for now), then that leaves 25 year old Ventura, who has been a lightning rod throughout his early career. Most know Ventura has electric stuff, as he can reach 100 MPH on the radar gun and an equally as nasty curveball. The issue with him has been bouts of inconsistency and maturity, which continues to rear it’s ugly head. The potential of Ventura, plus his age, makes him a salivating target for GM’s around baseball, and when you add in the fact that he still is under team control for another three seasons (plus two more years of team options), you can see why a team like Houston would be interested. With all of that factored in, I can see a scenario where a Ventura trade could happen, but only if Kansas City got a healthy haul from their trading partner. Kansas City doesn’t have one of the best rotations in baseball, so if they dealt a Ventura, they would have to get at least one more arm in return that could fill his spot on the team. I actually believe Kansas City should look deep into a deal with someone like Houston, since they have a stocked farm system and could help bring them a couple of players in return to help replenish the Royals main roster and/or farm system. It would be hard to deal a player with the potential of Ventura, but one has to wonder if he will ever grasp the mental aspect of the game, which would elevate his game to the level of his potential. I think this is a deal worth exploring if you are the Royals front office.

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One trade that has been rumored that I believe will happen at some point is the Royals dealing Jarrod Dyson, who is entering the final year of his contract. Dyson so far this winter has been linked to Baltimore, Texas, St. Louis and most notably Oakland, who was talking to Kansas City during the Winter Meetings about Dyson. Dyson is an affordable (he made $3.45 million last year), versatile outfielder who brings plus defense and baserunning, especially as a secret weapon off the bench as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. Dyson’s value has never been higher and is coming off a season where he led the Royals in bWAR (3.1). It only makes sense to deal Dyson, especially with Billy Burns on the Kansas City roster, a player who essentially is a younger, cheaper version of Dyson. I would expect before the winter is out that Dyson is elsewhere and hopefully the Royals can get a solid trade piece in return, like a plus arm for the rotation or bullpen.

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Another trade possibility is Kansas City centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, who is also entering the last year of his contract in 2017. Cain is coming off an injury plagued season that saw him appear in only 103 games for the Royals.So far this winter the Rangers, Cardinals and Dodgers have all inquired about Cain and at one point they had discussed him in  multi-player trades involving Wade Davis, before Davis was dealt to Chicago. When healthy, Cain has become a force in the Kansas City lineup, a third place MVP finalist back in 2015. But that health is the issue and probably why Kansas City won’t look too deep into extending him past 2017. Cain has only played in more than 140 games once in his career (2015) and has been a regular visitor to the disabled list throughout his seven year career. Add in that he is entering his age 31 season and has been rumored to want at least a four year deal when the Royals had discussed extensions a couple of years ago. I don’t believe there is a very high chance of Cain being traded, but it might not be the worst thing for Kansas City to listen to any offers that teams have for Lorenzo. Cain could probably get a couple of solid big league players and teams would be drawn to his defense and postseason experience. I’m not expecting him to get dealt, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if it happened.

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A player I see getting traded even less than those mentioned above (and in fact I would say the chances are about as slim as they come with him) is Mike Moustakas. Now, I haven’t really seen his name mentioned, but his name had at least been tossed out there:

Moustakas is also entering the final year of his contract but he is coming off of an ACL injury that sidelined him for the final four months of the 2016 season. While I doubt Moose will get traded, the Royals do have a surplus of third basemen in Moustakas, Cheslor Cuthbert and Hunter Dozier (who the Royals have moved to the outfield but a team could still be interested in him at the hot corner). While the Royals have mentioned moving Cuthbert and Dozier around to other positions, with the right offer I could see Kansas City dealing one of these three. While the Royals would love to keep all three (especially with Moose possibly gone after 2017), there is always value in trading from a strength and right now Kansas City has one at third base. Like I said, I’m not counting on any of these three being dealt, but never say never, not with the position that the Royals are in right now.

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The Royals are in a tight situation that makes this offseason different than the last few. They are entering the final year of their contending window, as they have a number of players who will become free agents at the end of the 2017 campaign, so it would appear that the team should be pushing all their chips in on another playoff run. Unfortunately, owner David Glass is refusing to increase payroll, leaving the Royals front office in a position where they have to improve the team by making trades and essentially ignoring the free agent market. Because of this, the dealing probably isn’t done and at least one or two more deals appear to be on the horizon. Dayton Moore has spent much of his time in Kansas City working around small market limitations, but this might be the most creative he has ever had to be. How do you stay a contender by not increasing payroll and not having any major prospects on the immediate horizon? Hunker down Royals fans, because a player you are probably attached to emotionally could be gone within the next couple of months. Contending can still be done; but the Royals are being forced to shift the pieces on the board more by subtraction than addition. It can be done, but the makeup of this team is about to change. Time will tell if it is for the better or worse.

 

Shaking Up The Royals Roster

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A few weeks have passed since the Kansas City Royals wrapped up their 2016 campaign and we’ve all had time to really digest what went wrong with this year’s team. That also means we’ve had sometime to ponder what the Royals front office should do this offseason to move forward and take advantage of the last year with Kansas City’s home-grown core that garnered them a world championship. Once the season wrapped, General Manager Dayton Moore talked to the media and one of main talking points was how the Royals could see a regression with the payroll moving into the 2017 season. This really shouldn’t be a shock to anyone who has followed this team during Moore’s tenure, as he has a tendency to temper expectations and not show his hand. Moore also discussed how the team worked with most of the world championship team intact, hoping to catch lightning in the bottle a second time. That didn’t work, obviously, but it also appears as if Moore might want to shake things up this winter, which I tend to agree with. That might mean one or two of the main core of players being traded this offseason, which I am also in agreement of. So who would I move? Well, I’m glad you asked as I have put a lot of thought into this and think I have a strategy that could put the Royals in a better position financially while also keeping the team a contender in 2017. Tread lightly, folks; I’m about to shake up the Royals roster.

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Let’s start with a move you that already has been hinted at, trading closer Wade Davis. In fact, trade interest has already started to trickle out for one of the premier bullpen arms in baseball. No teams have been linked with Davis yet, but one would have to believe that some of the teams that showed interest before the trade deadline (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, etc.) will probably still be interested this winter. So far during the playoffs this October, we have seen the importance of having a stellar, lock-down pen and Davis would be a great addition to about any pen in baseball. So would the Royals get a package on par with what the Yankees got for either Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller? Probably something close to that, although it might be a tad less considering some of the issues Davis had during this past season. Davis saw his strike out rate and average velocity fall just a tick this year while his walk rate was the highest it has ever been during his time in the bullpen. Davis did miss about five weeks with a strained forearm, which will no doubt be a concern for any team wanting to acquire him this winter. Now, I’m sure someone, somewhere is wondering why the Royals would part with one of the best relievers in the game. For one, Davis will be making $10 million this upcoming season once the Royals pick up his option, which will be a formality. Freeing up that much money will give Kansas City some flexibility and the ability to use that money on multiple players. Second, no matter what anyone tells you, the Royals still had one of the top five bullpens in the American League this past season and Kelvin Herrera showed the team this year that he is more than capable of taking over the closer’s role. Third, there has to be some concern that Davis is starting to regress, especially seeing the struggles that occurred this past season. That doesn’t mean he will be terrible this upcoming season if he is regressing, but Moore has had issues in the past dealing his All-Star closers at their peak value. Moore held on to both Joakim Soria (version 1.0) and Greg Holland longer than he should have and both ended up on the operating table. Davis not only has great value right now, but the team would be able to ditch some payroll while procuring some young talent that could be mainstays in Kansas City past the 2017 season. Moore wanted to focus on rebuilding his pen this winter, and honestly, finding a young power arm on the cheap really isn’t that hard. To make that happen, move number one this offseason should be to deal Wade Davis.

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The next deal I would make would be trading shortstop Alcides Escobar. Escobar is coming off of a frustrating offensive season, putting up a line of .261/.292/.350 with an OPS+ of 70 and 0.3 bWAR. Escobar will be entering his age 30 season and defensively is still a plus defender, which should give him some value out on the market. Any team that would be acquiring Escobar would be picking him up for his defense and whatever offense he can contribute, although his best year at the plate was 2012, where he hit .293/.331/.390 with an OPS+ of 96, the highest of his career. If the Royals can find a trade partner for Esky, the team would be able to shed the $6.5 million he will earn this upcoming season (as long as the Royals pick up the option, which is expected) while hopefully acquiring a younger player. Shortstop will be taken care of in his absence, as Raul Mondesi, Jr. could slide over from second base, take over shortstop while freeing up the Royals to look for a second baseman this winter. Defensively, Mondesi might actually be an improvement at the position. Offensively, Mondesi still has some work to do (as evident by his OPS+ of 36) but it wasn’t like Escobar was producing a ton of offense. If you are in the camp of believing that Mondesi will continue to improve, you can imagine him possibly producing close to the numbers that Escobar put up in 2016. The likelihood of Moore dealing Esky is probably slim, but I am in the camp of dealing him and upgrading second base in 2017.

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I would also trade Jarrod Dyson. Now, this might seem a bit odd, in the sense that Dyson is still fairly cheap ($3.45 million in 2016) and is an important contributor not only on the field but in the clubhouse. Dyson is a major role player for Kansas City and in fact lead the team in fWAR in 2016, at 3.1 with Danny Duffy a close second at 2.8. So why would I trade Dyson? Because they already have a similar player who is younger and cheaper. His name would be Billy Burns, who the Royals acquired from Oakland back in July for Brett Eibner. Burns has comparable speed and offensively appears to be on par with Dyson, if you count his 2016 campaign as an off year. Burns won’t be a free agent until after the 2020 season and earned $513K in his second year in the big leagues. Dyson, meanwhile, will become a free agent after the 2017 season and is pretty close to peak value right now. I really figured he would be traded away back in July, but nothing came to fruition, as the Royals held pat at the deadline. The Royals wouldn’t be freeing up a ton of cash by trading away Dyson, so a trade would be more about what they could get back. I would imagine a good B level prospect could be had in a deal, which would strengthen the depth in the organization. If I had my say, Dyson would become an ex-Royal this winter.

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So would I deal anyone else? More than likely not, but I also believe the Royals should listen for any player, as there is always the chance a team might overpay for a key piece they want to add to their roster. Take for instance three impending free agents after the 2017 season: Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer. On first glance it would seem crazy to deal any of these three, as the offense struggled in 2016 and need as many quality bats as possible. But you could make a legitimate argument for any of the three, especially if the haul garners them some big name, major league talent. You could argue that Cain is injury prone, and the likelihood that he would get a long-term contract from the Royals while entering his age 31 season would seem a long-shot. While I believe that Kansas City really missed Moustakas’ bat this season, you could also argue that the Royals have two younger players (Cheslor Cuthbert and Hunter Dozier) who are third baseman that could take over the position at a much cheaper price. While the Royals probably don’t have a first baseman in their system that will be ready for the big leagues by the start of the 2017 season, Hosmer is enticing trade bait in my mind for a couple of reasons. For one, he is still really young (2017 will be his age 27 season) and most teams would be more likely to take a chance on a player his age than one in his 30’s. Two, the national media seems to love this guy, no matter how much they try to hide the truth, which is that he regressed in 2016, into a league average hitter. If the Royals can get a “King’s Ransom” for Hosmer, I think they should take it. To me, he is not the player some consider him and while he might have flashes of greatness, he also has valleys of huge proportions. More than anything, he seems to struggle with change. Take last year; after his red hot start, pitchers changed the way they pitched to Hosmer, throwing less fastballs and giving him a nice diet of off-speed stuff. This started before the All-Star game and from June through the rest of the year we saw a player who produced a below league average OPS+. Ian Kennedy could also be a candidate for a trade this offseason, as the Royals would like to get out from underneath the five year deal they gave him last winter. The Royals though will probably need his innings and stability in the rotation and for the moment that might hold more value to the team than any trade they would be able to swing.

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One of the big reasons this Royals team has been so popular with the fanbase over the last few years has been the ability to give them an emotional connection. This can also be a problem, as it will be that much harder when the front office starts dismantling the core of this team. Baseball is a business and as much as you or I would like to see these players be in Kansas City forever, that just isn’t realistic. The Royals have an opportunity this winter to shake things up, be creative and restructure the roster to make it both a contender next year and build a new core of players to carry the team past 2017. Will that happen? I have my doubts, but if I am being unbiased I know it needs to happen. What the front office needs to ask itself over the next few months is not only what will help the team contend next season, but what is best for the team in the long-term. The best thing for this Royals team is to let the heart fall to the side and let logic take over. Logic says it is time to shake up the team and deal some of their popular players. It will be shunned by some, but it’s the logical thing to do.

Euphoria Lingers:What 2016 Meant For the Kansas City Royals

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“I’ve had some wins. And been knocked down with defeats. Glimpsed views from the top of the mountain. And walked through the darkest of valleys. But through this entire ride called ‘a life’ – I’ve refused to give up.”~Robin S. Sharma

Everyone knew from the beginning that it wouldn’t be an easy task. Some would even say it was highly unlikely that the Kansas City Royals would repeat as World Series champions, a title they carried all throughout the 2016 campaign. The last team to repeat? That would be the 1998-2000 New York Yankees, a dynasty of a team that even tried to make it four in a row. So when the Royals came into the season, the hope was that they could make it back to the promise land. Instead, they were forced off their perch at the top of the mountain. There was a litany of factors as to why that was, but it wasn’t as if Kansas City had an awful season. In fact, the team wasn’t officially eliminated from postseason play until the last week of the season with four games to go. There were even some positives that came out of the season that will help the foundation of the 2017 Royals team.

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What Went Right  

First and foremost, Danny Duffy became the team ace that had been hoped of him for years now. Duffy started the year in the bullpen but it wouldn’t be long until he was summoned for starting duty. Duffy would make his first start of the year on May 15 against Atlanta, shutting out the Braves in his three innings of work. Duffy would continue to excel, gradually building up his arm strength while taking the lessons he learned in the pen into his starts. No longer was Duffy a man of inefficiency, racking up high pitch counts in a limited amount of innings. Instead, Duffy would post the lowest walk ratio of his career (2.1) while also increasing his strike out numbers as well (9.4 strikeouts per 9). On August 1st, Duffy would throw the game of his career, holding the Rays hitless through seven before finally giving up a hit, all while striking out 16 batters. Duffy would leave after 8 innings of work, just a mere inning away from throwing the first complete game of his career. He would get that complete game just two starts later, holding the White Sox to 1 run and 7 hits in a 9 inning gem . When it was all said and done, Duffy would post career highs in innings, strike outs, walks, FIP, BB9, SO9, SO/W and will go into the 2017 season as the ace of the Royals rotation.

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Cheslor Cuthbert was a welcome plus for the Royals this year, as he ended up with the third base job after Mike Moustakas went down with a season ending injury in May. Cuthbert’s numbers weren’t at Moustakas’ level, but did put himself into a solid position come Spring Training. Cuthbert hit a respectable .274/.318/.413 with an OPS+ of 93 (slightly below league average) and a bWAR of -0.2 (1.1 oWAR, -0.9 dWAR). Cuthbert could be a man without a position in 2017, but the team has sent him to the instructional league to get some work at second base, a chance to build up some versatility. Considering he is out of options and Moustakas will be back next year, Cuthbert could be dealt in the offseason; the good news is that 2016 really elevated his value in many people’s eyes.

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We also got our first look at Matt Strahm and he was a pleasant addition to the Kansas City bullpen. Strahm appeared in 21 games this year, posting a 1.23 ERA over 22 innings, 12.3 strike outs per 9 with an ERA+ of 362. Strahm became a reliable arm in the pen but manager Ned Yost was reluctant on using him too much, as he threw only 94 innings in 2015 and had already thrown over 100 innings during his time in AA this year. Strahm could return to the bullpen next year, but the Royals have also shown interest in giving him a shot at a rotation job in 2017.

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Paulo Orlando was another surprise this year for Kansas City, as the Brazilian elevated his game in 2016, putting him in a position to compete for a regular spot in 2017. Paulo hit .302/.329/.405 with an OPS+ of 95 and a bWAR of 2.3. Orlando sacrificed some power this year for more of a ‘spray the ball to all fields’ approach and that netted him a solid average but a dip in his slugging numbers. The Royals believe that Orlando is late bloomer and expect him to be in the hunt for the right field job at the ripe age of 31 next year.

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Whit Merrifield showed in 2016 that he could hang with the big boys, hitting .283/.323/.392 with an OPS+ of 90 and a bWAR of 1.6. Merrifield saw a lot of time at second base this year and while he proved adequate both offensively and defensively, he is probably better suited as a super utility guy for Kansas City. Merrifield will probably get at least a shot at the second base job in the spring, but there is a greater chance of Whit holding down a utility spot for the team next year.

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Finally, a slight nod to Drew Butera, the backup catcher for the Royals. It’s hard being the backup to Salvador Perez, as you see very little playing time. Perez did go down with a few injuries in 2016, so Drew saw some extra time behind the dish and performed admirably when asked. Butera got the most plate appearances he has seen since 2014, hitting .285/.328/.480 with an OPS+ of 112 and a bWAR of 0.4. Those are all career highs for Butera, who has long been known as a defense first guy with very little stick value. Drew will be a free agent this offseason and I can only hope he returns for another year in Kansas City. In a lot of ways, Butera is the perfect backup receiver for what this club needs from that spot.

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What Needs Some Work

Let’s start here with the starting rotation. The rotation felt like a talking point for a good chunk of the season, but some of that was positive in a few good stretches. Overall, the Royals starters had the third highest BB/9, the highest HR/9 and FIP, and in the bottom third of the American League in innings pitched, ERA and WAR. Yordano Ventura and Ian Kennedy both had roller coaster years, with equal parts good and bad in 2016. Ventura is still a work in progress and Kennedy gave up the third most home runs in the AL this year. Both will need to work on their consistency, as they will be back next year. There will probably be some change in next year’s rotation, as Edinson Volquez is a free agent while the fifth spot was in constant flux this year. Jason Vargas, Mike Minor and Strahm could all be in-house candidates for next year’s rotation.

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Also needing some work was the Royals bullpen. The bullpen was a key part of the Royals last two World Series’ teams, but this year they struggled. Luke Hochevar was lost for the season back in August, Wade Davis made a few appearances on the disabled list, and Joakim Soria struggled around a couple of strong stretches in his return to Kansas City. While some ranted and raved about the pen (mostly about Soria), I would like to point out here that we as Royals fans have been spoiled these last few years. The bullpen in year’s past were so insanely good that most seemed to just take it for granted. This was still a good bunch of arms for Kansas City, posting a HR/9 of 0.92(third lowest in the league), 77.3% LOB percentage (also third lowest), 3.45 ERA (yep, still third lowest), and 4.9 fWAR, 5th best in the league. The Royals have already talked about the bullpen being their main focus this offseason, so don’t be surprised to see some changes. Davis, Soria and Herrera will be back while Hochevar is a free agent, although it will be interesting to see if the Royals try to re-sign him. I also think there is a decent chance that Kansas City tries to bring Greg Holland, who spent the year recovering from Tommy John surgery, back into the fold. The pen is still a plus for Kansas City, but it will need some work.

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What Went Wrong

Two items of note went horribly wrong for Kansas City in 2016. First, the offense. What was actually a strong point in 2015 (6th in the league in runs scored last year), went sour this year. The Royals offense was last in home runs, ISO, BB% and wRC+, while in the bottom third of the league in runs, RBI’s, OBP%, slugging, and fWAR. Almost the entire lineup could be looked at to blame for this regression; Alex Gordon struggled when he wasn’t hurt, Salvador Perez saw a dip in his offensive numbers while Eric Hosmer had a horrendous second half  of the season, hitting in the low .200’s during that span, producing only six doubles in the second half while leading the American League in ground ball percentage. If it wasn’t for Kendrys Morales’ huge spurts of offense (and even Kendrys saw an early season slump derail his numbers)and Hosmer’s first two months of the season, one has to wonder how worse off this Kansas City team might have been. I believe some of the expectation of the Royals returning players is for them to improve on this year’s numbers in 2017, but there will need to be some changes before Spring Training rolls around.

MLB: ALDS-Kansas City Royals at Houston Astros
(Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY)

But the biggest blow to the Royals success this season was injuries. After years of the Royals being fairly healthy, they were dealt a bad hand this season. Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, Luke Hochevar, Jarrod Dyson, Chris Young, Kris Medlen and Wade Davis all spent some time on the disabled list this year at one point or another. Mike Moustakas collided with Gordon in late May, and while Gordon would miss a month, Moustakas would have a torn ACL and would be gone for the rest of the season. Lorenzo Cain, who was the Royals best player in 2015, had multiple stints on the DL and would end up missing about 1/3 of the season. While backups like Cuthbert, Merrifield and Orlando all performed admirably in their absence, they didn’t produce at the same level and it showed in the numbers. For the Royals to be successful in 2017, they are going to have to stay healthy and not have the level of injuries that hit them this season.

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The Royals finished 81-81 this season, a clean .500 record. To be honest with you, when you consider the performance of the pitching and the offense, then add in the injuries, I feel like Kansas City ended up about where they should have been. A few years back, I made the comment that all I really wanted from the organization was a contending ball club, a team that was in the hunt for a playoff spot on a regular basis. After years of watching them lose and most of the time in an ugly manner, I just wanted a team that could make the playoffs. We’ve gotten that the last couple seasons and even this year, the Royals weren’t officially eliminated until after game 158. You can expect a large chunk of this same team to return in 2017, as that appears to be the last year the window will be open with the core group of players they have now. It will be an interesting off-season, as the team needs to build up a few areas while also taking a look past 2017 when making any signing or deal. The 2016 season will be remembered as the year Kansas City came down from the euphoric high that we have all been on the last few years. Now it’s time to take a breath, rebuild and prepare for what could be another wild ride next season. I don’t now about you, but I’m ready.

 

 

 

 

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