Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Sometimes you can see moves happening from a mile away. It was well known for years that Dayton Moore had a fondness for former Atlanta Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur, all the way back to his days in the Atlanta front office. So when the Royals signed Frenchy to a deal in late 2010, it was a shock to literally no one. 

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise last week when the Kansas City Royals hired former St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny as special adviser for player development. The rumors of Matheny being brought into the fold go back a few months, as it was first brought up by Derrick Goold in August. Goold had this to say just last week after the hiring:

    


Matheny, 48, will take part in working within the Royals’ organization and the role will also have a scouting aspect to it, he said. Before becoming the Cardinals’ manager for the 2012 season, Matheny worked as a special assignments official for the Cardinals and spent time during spring training and the season working with the organization’s young catchers. Matheny won seven Gold Gloves during his 13-year playing career in the majors.

So in a lot of ways, we’ve been preparing for this move for quite awhile. Would anticipate be a better word? Probably not, since Matheny did not leave St. Louis with high praise. Our own Max Rieper covered many of the issues associated with Matheny’s time as Cardinals manager earlier this week and I touched on some of the problems he created about a month ago when discussing replacements for Ned Yost.    

So this move isn’t the most popular for Royals fans, but it also feels like a knee-jerk reaction to something that hasn’t even happened. The thinking is that while Matheny has only been hired as a “Special Adviser”, the true purpose for the Royals to bring him in is to make him the replacement for Yost, whenever he decides to finally hang it up. Call it a “Manager in Waiting”.

It’s easy to see why people have connected the dots. When Yost was brought in, he was also hired as a “Special Adviser”. He also had major league managerial experience. He was also someone that Moore spoke very highly of, just as he did with Matheny: 


“This is a great opportunity to have Mike become a member of our organization,” said Royals general manager Dayton Moore in a statement. “It’s always been our policy to hire the best baseball people we can and this is a perfect example of that.”

So it is easy to see why almost everyone has instantly assumed that Matheny will be the next Kansas City manager. But the truth is that this is all speculation and it even feels like people are jumping to conclusions.

Let’s start with the obvious: Ned Yost is still the manager of this team. That will probably continue to be the case until he doesn’t want the job anymore. From the outside looking in, that appears to be when the 2019 season concludes, but for all we know it could go on past that. The one thing we can probably place money on is that no one will be uprooting Yost from his seat except for Ned. 

There are also a couple of very viable options already on the Royals coaching staff that could replace Yost. Bench coach Dale Sveum, bullpen coach Vance Wilson and catching/quality control coach Pedro Grifol have been mentioned in the past as possible successors to Ned and all three have been in the organization for a number of years. In fact, after the 2017 campaign this statement was made by Yost after the coaching staff shake-up:


“We feel like we’ve got the right people to take over for me,” Yost indicated. “We’re not bringing someone in.”

Now, this comment was made over a year ago and things change. I’ve even made the comment in the past that sometimes people change their mind and decide to go in a different direction, even if they felt differently a month, a week or a day earlier. An organization can change their mind and often do based off of where they feel the direction of the on-field product is headed.  

That being said, it also appears that the Royals have discussed Ned’s replacement for awhile now and have someone in mind for the job. Considering that Dayton has the highest of respect for Yost and the years he has spent in baseball, it is easy to see Moore taking Yost’s recommendation under the highest of consideration. 

Along those same lines, it would make sense for the front office to also take the consideration of some of the veterans on the roster and who they feel would be a great fit as manager. Grifol has been a name bandied about these last couple of years as a candidate and he is someone the players respect and look up to. You don’t have to let the players choose the new manager, but allowing a few of them some input might not be the worst idea when the future of the team is in consideration.

Credit:  Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

One other item to consider is the effect that time could have on this situation. Matheny has been in baseball for a number of years and I’m sure still has a number of friends within the game. It is not out of the realm of possibility to see someone hire him as a coach somewhere, if that is something he desires.

Back in the day he was a great defensive catcher and it is easy to picture a team wanting him to come in and work with their young backstops. While he might have had a rough time communicating with some of his players when he was managing, it is possible that if you take the pressure of that job out of the situation, he could flourish with more one on one teaching. 

I could even see a team wanting him as a bench coach. Now before you snicker at that thought, remember how Trey Hillman did in his time as Royals manager and then remember that he eventually became the bench coach for both the Dodgers and the Astros. So yes, weirder things could happen.

The point of all of this is that there are no guarantees that Mike Matheny will be the next Kansas City manager. There is still quite a bit of time before that position is even open and things could drastically change between now and then. 

For all we know, Matheny was simply brought in as a fallback in case their first option becomes unavailable. Maybe he simply is just being brought in as an adviser and that is the only interest the organization has in him. Worrying about “what might happen” is dangerous and takes the focus away from the now and then.

So for now, don’t worry too much about Matheny being in the organization. As much as some of us don’t want him anywhere near the managerial position, for now he isn’t. That is where your focus should be. Don’t want to believe me? Then take the words of a man who has covered the team for quite a long time, Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com:  

In Flanny we trust. Now go on and worry about anything else but Mike Matheny. Trust me, it will help your sanity.

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Vote For Change: My 2018 Year End Awards

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Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The World Series is in the rear-view mirror and free agency has officially begun. That also means we are engulfed in award season, as the BBWAA has unveiled their winners throughout the last week. Meanwhile, my fellow writers in the IBWAA have also chosen their triumphant few and to the victor go the spoils. For the fifth year, I was able to vote as part of this illustrious group and decide on who was truly worthy. If you want to check out my voting record over the years, you just have a few clicks to adhere to: 201420152016 and 2017. As always, it is a true honor to have this opportunity to vote and I always vote with the utmost respect. With that being said, here are my picks to win awards in 2018:

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American League MVP: Mookie Betts

Every year, I plan to pencil in Mike Trout for this award and most years that is how the vote ends up happening. Even last year, despite missing noticeable time due to an injury (or an upgrade, for those that believe Trout is a cyborg) he was my choice for MVP because of the sheer level of production he was putting up. But this year, Trout’s banner year just wasn’t quite enough to topple the year Mookie Betts had. 

Bett’s numbers speak of a new level for him: .346/.438/.640, 32 home runs, 80 RBI’s, an OPS+ of 186, 10.9 bWAR and 10.4 fWAR. Betts lead the American League in runs, batting average, slugging percentage and WAR all while helping lead the charge for the Red Sox to procure another world championship. 

But it wasn’t just the core numbers that won Betts this award. Mookie posted the highest extra base hit % of his career (13.7%), a great AB/HR ratio (16.3%), all while raising his walk rate to 13.2%, the highest of his career.

But what truly sealed the deal for me was his Win Probability Added, which lead the American League. Betts posted a 6.0 WPA according to Baseball-reference and a 5.77 for Fangraphs. The other candidates, most notably Trout and teammate JD Martinez are far enough away that this is a no-contest for me. Betts not only tore up the rest of the league, but was the most vital cog of the Red Sox’s arsenal.  

With Betts posting another great year offensively and defensively (and the third consecutive above six wins a season) it will be interesting to see if the conversation starts of his place on the hierarchy of baseball’s elite. Trout has held the mantle for years, but if Betts keeps up at this pace, we could have to start inserting him into the conversation of ‘Best Player in Baseball’ sooner rather than later.

My Top 3: 1-Betts, 2-Martinez, 3-Trout

IBWAA Winner: Mookie Betts

BBWAA Winner: Mookie Betts

National League MVP: Christian Yelich

When the season began for the Milwaukee Brewers, their big offseason acquisition was former Kansas City Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain. But the other pick-up turned out to be even more notable, as the team went and acquired Christian Yelich from the Miami Marlins. While Cain had a great season, Yelich performed out of this world and garnered himself an MVP trophy.

Yelich has always had the talent to make himself an elite producer and in 2018 he elevated his game to a new stratosphere. By the time the season had wrapped up, Yelich led the NL in batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+, total bases and WAR (both bWAR and fWAR) among position players in the league.

What really pushed Yelich over the edge was the second half of the season:

Down the stretch, Yelich was a monster as he hit a robust .370/.508/.804 in the final month of the season, not only cementing this award but also wrapping up a playoff spot for the Brewers.

The biggest change in his game was the elevation of the ball. The funny thing is, Yelich actually saw his fly ball rate go down (23.5%) from last year (25.2%), but he also saw his ground ball rate drop as well (down to 51.8% from last year’s 55.4%). But the increase happened in his line drive rate, which soared to 24.7%, up from 19.4% in 2017. Yelich was making better contact on the ball and it showed in his final numbers.

The cherry on top of the sundae for Yelich is his WPA, which lead in the NL for position players at 6.02. In fact, next on the list is Paul Goldschmidt, who posted a 4.66 WPA. That huge gap (as well as stellar defense) not only helped the Brewers but showed that Christian Yelich is far and away the winner of the National League Most Valuable Player award.

My Top 3: 1-Yelich, 2-Cain, 3-Carpenter

IBWAA Winner: Christian Yelich

BBWAA Winner: Christian Yelich

Credit: 
Brian Blanco/Getty Images

 American League Cy Young Award: Blake Snell

This was easily the hardest vote for me and one that took me awhile to be comfortable with. Snell and Justin Verlander both put up stellar performances in 2018 but only one man can win, and my vote went to Snell despite a few issues that in years past would probably cost him an opportunity to win this award.

Let’s start with the “dark print”, or where Snell lead the league. Snell was first in ERA (1.89), ERA+ (219) and hits per 9 (5.6). There were two more categories that Snell lead in, which I want to focus on a bit deeper. First is RE24 (Run Expectancy, or for pitchers Runs Saved), where Snell lead with 48.4. To give you an idea of just how impressive that number is, the only pitcher better than Snell this past year was Jacob deGrom, who had an absolutely amazing year for the Mets. Also, Snell’s previous high in this category was 1.6…seriously.

The other stat Snell lead in was wins at 21, and I found this a bit amusing. Over the last few years, there has been a progressive movement to “Kill the Win”, with MLB analyst Brian Kenny leading the charge. The reasoning being that there are so many factors involved in a pitcher getting a “W” that doesn’t even involve the pitcher that it feels like an empty statistic. If we are being honest, I never look at a pitcher’s win total anymore. The only time I am even aware of it is if it is mentioned in a broadcast or in an article. The win to me doesn’t factor into how I vote, so I don’t even give it a second thought.

That being said, the other numbers did enough to help his case. But he did receive some stiff competition from Verlander, who lead in strike outs, WHIP, strike out to walk ratio and pitchers WAR. The most notable difference between the two pitchers was innings pitched. Verlander threw an impressive 214 innings over his 34 starts this season, while Snell threw only 180.2 innings over 31 starts.

For some, that would be a deal-breaker. There is a case that can be made that the extra 33 innings thrown by Verlander should count for a bit more and I can see that argument. There aren’t many pitchers that toss 200+ innings in today’s game and having that kind of stallion to ride can be a difference maker.

But for me, the numbers just leaned too far to Snell’s side to get me to throw my vote to Verlander. It was a tough choice and I honestly believe either pitcher is worthy of the award, but at the end of the day I picked Snell, as did both the BBWAA and the IBWAA.

My Top 3: 1-Snell, 2-Verlander, 3-Kluber

IBWAA winner: Blake Snell

BBWAA winner: Blake Snell

National League Cy Young Award: Jacob deGrom

I don’t get to do this very often but…I predicted this at the beginning of the year. Yep, I took a big swing and actually connected for a change. Honestly, this felt like a natural progression for deGrom and it felt like at some point he would put everything all together. That year was 2018.

In fact deGrom absolutely dominated this year and pretty much ran away with this award. deGrom lead the NL in ERA, ERA+, FIP, HR/9, WPA, RE24 and WAR. Dominance isn’t always a given when it comes to pitchers but this year was truly the year of deGrom. 

To give you a deeper view of his dominance, let’s break down a few of the numbers. Batters hit .196/.244/.277 against deGrom, only taking him deep ten times this year. In fact, deGrom only gave up 40 total extra base hits this year over 217 innings. To give you a better view of how big a deal that is, the Anderson twins (Chase and Tyler, and yes, I am aware they aren’t actually twins) both gave up 30 home runs this year, or almost deGrom’s entire extra base total.

Want to go deeper? deGrom gave up 215 total bases. That number is actually pretty close to his 2016 number of 213 total bases. Oh, that was in 69 less innings then he accumulated this year. In other words, deGrom was a machine this year that no one could shut down.

There were even some analysts that felt deGrom was worthy of the NL MVP award this year, and it’s not too far of a reach.  deGrom posted an insane 9.6 bWAR and 8.8 fWAR this year, both fairly large numbers for a starting pitcher. Throw in the 5.85 WPA and you have an argument that determines the value of deGrom is possibly on par with any hitter in the league.

I’ve always viewed the MVP as a hitter’s award, unless there is a pitcher that blows away the rest of the competition. By that, I mean there are players who play every day who are having really, really good seasons but not quite great. If that happens and there is a pitcher who has being insanely dominate, I would vote for the pitcher. In this case, Yelich had an amazing season and because he is out on the field every day, 162 games a year, my vote went to him. 

I know that probably feels like I am slighting pitchers, but I am a firm believer in the mental aspect of the game and the wear and tear it has on position players. To say it is a grind would probably be an understatement. So while deGrom was out of this world this year, so was Yelich. 

Luckily for the Cy Young award, there is no argument. deGrom wins this hands down and can put his season up there with such greats as Gooden, Gibson and Kershaw. Jacob deGrom was the best pitcher in the National League this year, period.

My Top 3: 1-deGrom, 2-Scherzer, 3-Freeland

IBWAA Winner: Jacob deGrom

BBWAA Winner: Jacob deGrom

   

Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

American League Rookie of the Year: Shohei Ohtani

This felt like a slam-dunk for me and I was a bit surprised to hear some backlash from Yankees fans, but the best rookie in the American League this year was Shohei Ohtani. Sure, there were some great performances from Gleyber Torres, Brad Keller and Miguel Andujar, but none of them did what Ohtani did.

Let’s start there: Shohei Ohtani did things this year that hadn’t been done in a century. In. A. Century. Over the last 100+ years of baseball no one has achieved the feats that Ohtani did this year:   


Ohtani is also the first player since Ruth in 1919 to throw 50 innings and hit 15 doubles, or to throw 50 innings and draw 25 walks, or to throw 50 innings and drive in (or score) more than 35 runs, or to throw 50 innings and make 200 plate appearances. He’s also the first player since George Sisler in 1915 to throw 50 innings and steal more than eight bases. You get where I’m going with this. Even Ohtani’s abbreviated rookie run was something no one had seen since before the Black Sox scandal, and it happened in a league that’s vastly more talented and specialized than the one Ruth revolutionized.

You get where we are going with this. Ohtani broke down the norms of what is expected of a major league ballplayer. He was a successful pitcher and hitter in 2018 but that isn’t even all of it. He did all of this while playing in a different league than he was used to. He did all of this while playing in a completely different country than he was used to. If that wasn’t enough, he pretty much made it look easy.

.285/.361/.564 batting line. 22 home runs, 61 RBI’s. OPS+ of 152. 126 ERA+. 1.6 WPA. 29% K rate. All while shuffling in between being a hitter and a pitcher. In a new league. In a new country. If he would have just put up average stats and been an average performer it still would have been impressive. But the fact he made it look easy shows what a true talent he is.

So sure, Andujar, Torres and Keller had great seasons. Any other year it is a different conversation and even possibly a battle for the winner. But this is a no-contest. Ohtani is the Rookie of the Year and no one came close to what he did.

My Top 3: 1-Ohtani, 2-Torres, 3-Keller

IBWAA Winner: Shohei Ohtani

BBWAA Winner: Shohei Ohtani

Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

National League Rookie of the Year: Juan Soto

I mentioned earlier that the AL Cy Young was the toughest one to pick a winner, but a close second was this race. Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna were not only two rookies that shined in 2018, but they were pretty close to equals as well.

The two rookies tied for fWAR (3.7), were separated by four homers, 6 RBI’s, and .001 in batting average. Soto had a slightly higher OBP, while Acuna’s slugging was a bit higher. wRC+? Soto 146, Acuna 143. In other words, either player was worthy of being the best of 2018, but only one could win. 

In matters like this, where two competitors are so close that you would have to break a tie, I normally lean toward value. Looking at WPA, Soto had the sizable lead, 3.46 to Acuna’s 1.96. RE24 is a bit closer, but still a runaway for Soto (30.45 to 26.69). Finally, with the Clutch stat on Fangraphs, Soto wins again, 0.22 to -0.12. When it came down to helping their team and making sure they are put in winning situations, Soto came away with a lengthy lead.

So while you can see why I picked Soto, it’s not like Acuna wasn’t deserving. In fact, these two were so good this year that you almost forget all the other great rookies in the National League. Guys like Harrison Bader and Walker Buehler are rarely talked about despite putting up numbers that are very good for a first year player. With a NL class like this, you wonder who will break out and shrug off the ‘Sophomore Slump’ in 2019. If this year was any kind of barometer,  Soto and Acuna will soon be the cream of the crop of not just the NL, but the entire baseball world.

My Top 3: 1-Soto, 2-Acuna, 3-Buehler

IBWAA Winner: Ronald Acuna

BBWAA Winner: Ronald Acuna

    

Credit: AP Photo/Steve Nesius

American League Manager of the Year: Kevin Cash

This was another close race and one that could easily be a three-way tie. Bob Melvin of Oakland led his team of vagabonds and youngsters to a playoff spot despite starting the year with the lowest payroll in the game and 34-36 on June 15.  Alex Cora led the Red Sox to 108 wins (and eventually a world championship) in his rookie year as a manager and was able to turn away the playoff bound New York Yankees.

But what Kevin Cash did with the Tampa Bay Rays is some other level managing job. Cash propelled a team that was supposed to hang out in the basement of the American League East and led them to a 90 win season. Despite the team trading off some of their best players before the trade deadline, they went out and turned themselves into contenders. The funniest part of the whole deal is he did this almost from a survival standpoint.

The Rays lost a couple of their top pitching prospects (Jose De Leon and Brent Honeywell) before the season to injuries. Anthony Banda joined that list a few months into the season. After trading Chris Archer at the trade deadline, they were left with one actual starting pitcher. The lack of starters led Cash to use “The Opener”, where he would have a reliever start the game, pitch an inning or two and then hand the ball off to someone who could go deeper into the game.

This wasn’t done to be cute or try something new out as much as just a lack of starting pitching…and it worked. ‘The Opener’ became a regular part of their rotation and helped bridge the gap for a number of their younger pitchers.

The team focused on good pitching and defense and that helped get them to third place in the East, ten games behind the second place Yankees. Cash pushed the right buttons and his calm demeanor helped keep his team focused through a number of rough patches.

So while Melvin and Cora deserve a ton of praise, Kevin Cash deserves this award. If anything, Cash earned his managerial stripes in 2018 and has come out with a contract extension. It’s too bad he didn’t get some hardware to go with it. 

My Top 3: 1-Cash, 2-Melvin, 3-Cora

IBWAA Winner: Bob Melvin

BBWAA Winner: Bob Melvin

         

Credit: Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

National League Manager of the Year: Brian Snitker

The story of Brian Snitker is one that easily could be made into a ‘feel good’ movie for Disney. Snitker is a guy who has been the loyal soldier, a guy who has been in the Atlanta organization since 1977, when he was a minor league player. He has managed for almost every one of their minor league teams and even spent a stint as the major league team’s third base coach from 2007 to 2013. Snitker has been there and done that when it comes to the Braves organization.

But in May of 2016, Snitker was promoted to manager for the Braves on an interim basis and he would get the job full-time in October of that year. So the path Brian took to this role was a long and lengthy one, but he didn’t really reach his stride until this past season.

What Snitker did in 2018 is something no one, not even the Atlanta front office, expected. He led the Braves to a 90 win season, a National League East title and their first playoff appearance since 2013. This from a team that wasn’t really supposed to contend until 2019.

But it shouldn’t be too surprising it came early. With a nice mix of veterans (Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis) and top-shelf prospects (Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna), the Braves took advantage of the Washington Nationals’ pratfall and dominated the NL East for most of the season. While the talent will get most of the credit, Snitker deserves some heavy praise for the culture he has fostered in Atlanta. Former Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur told a great story of Snitker that goes back years before:


One of Jeff Francoeur’s favorite stories occurred after he homered a few times for Double-A Mississippi and then got drilled in the ribs against Montgomery. Snitker instructed a reliever to retaliate. When the pitcher simply buzzed a batter, Snitker blasted the pitcher in the dugout and told him to get out of his sight.
When one of Mississippi’s pitchers retaliated the next inning, the benches cleared and the umpires halted the game.
“After we got back in the clubhouse, [Snitker] grabbed a beer and told us he had never been more proud of the way we came together as a team that day,” Francoeur said. “If you play for him, you know he’s always going to protect you and have your back.”

Probably one of the best ways to describe Snitker is hard but fair. It appears that his mentality is exactly what this Braves team needed. Craig Counsell and Bud Black did some great things for Milwaukee and Colorado, respectively, but Snitker’s accomplishment this year has earned my vote for NL Manager of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Snitker, 2-Black, 3-Counsell

IBWAA Winner: Brian Snitker

BBWAA Winner: Brian Snitker

 

Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

American League Reliever of the Year: Blake Treinen

Blake Treinen of Oakland had a year for the ages in 2018. Before this year, Treinen was almost a stereotype for a reliever: Great stuff,  but not consistent enough with his location. Treinen could miss bats, but didn’t miss them as much as he needed them to.

That all changed this past year, as Treinen’s late break on his pitches helped increase his numbers across the board. He bumped up his strike out rate to 31.8% (previous high was 24%) and saw his walk rate take a dip. Hitters also went from hitting .271 against him in 2017 to .157 this year. 

Treinen posted an ERA of 0. 78 and a FIP of 1.82. An interesting look into his numbers show a guy who’s luck appeared to switch around in 2018. In 2017, batters posted a BABIP of .344 against him. Luck was not on his side. But in 2018, his BABIP was .230, .114 points lower. Whatever he changed this year made a huge difference in his results.

What’s interesting is there is a huge difference when it comes to pitch usage this past season. Treinen did use his slider a bit less (21% compared to 25.5% in 2017) but  his cutter was used 11.8%, up from 0.5%. His velocity also saw a slight uptick this year, but nothing that will blow the doors off. More than anything it appears he used his cutter slightly more and the extra movement made it harder to put the ball in play. 

Whatever he did, it appears to have elevated him to the top of the relief game in the American League. His dominance not only helped lift Oakland to a playoff spot, but also my nod for American League Reliever of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Treinen, 2-Diaz, 3-Leclerc

IBWAA Winner: Edwin Diaz

BBWAA Winner: Edwin Diaz

National League Reliever of the Year: Josh Hader

There was no reliever in the NL this last year that dominated quite like Josh Hader. Hader steamrolled through the league in his second season and left a litany of whiffs in his path. My comparison has been ‘Mitch Williams with control’ and in 2018 he proved to be a force to be reckoned with. 

Let’s begin with the numbers:  2.43 ERA, 2.23 FIP, 2.7 fWAR over 81 innings. Hader struck out batters at a 46.7% clip while posting a K-BB% of 36.9%. The best part is that he did this basically using two pitches: a fastball and a slider.

What Hader did was basically tell the hitter “here it is, now hit it” and most of the time the batter failed. Hader did allow nine homers this year, which equates to allowing one every nine innings. Hitters did make contact on Hader at almost a 70% clip when he put the ball in the strike zone. But this one blemish wasn’t enough to take away from his great year.

With Jeremy Jeffress still in the fold, it will be interesting to see if he continues to close or if Hader will get more opportunities in 2019. Hader did save 12 games and blow 5 (if you keep track of that stuff) and that number could see an increase in the next season. What Hader has done is put the rest of baseball on alert that he is one of the best relievers in all of the game, no matter what inning he is throwing in.

My Top 3: 1-Hader, 2-Jeffress, 3-Erlin

IBWAA Winner: Josh Hader

BBWAA Winner: Josh Hader

 

Credit: Jim Young-USA TODAY Sports

So there you have it, another season officially wraps up as we reward those that reached the highest of achievements. It is a great honor that I get to vote every year like this and I can only hope I do a respectable part to show the value of an organization like the IBWAA. This is a game we all love and while we might squabble here and there on numbers, it really comes down to what you value. I can only hope 2019 brings us just as many highly contested winners. Here’s to baseball being back sooner rather than later.

Questions With Getzie: The Front Office Edition

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       “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in…”

It’s hard as a writer to lose one’s muse. The muse becomes a never-ending fountain of productivity and topics. Sometimes you lose that muse and you never get it back, a whisper in the wind. Sometimes the muse returns and becomes part of the front office of your favorite baseball team. The last time we checked in with one Christopher Getz he was getting cut by the Toronto Blue Jays and was ready to visit that special place in the baseball sky(retirement, not heaven). Well, since then Getz became a part of the Kansas City Royals front office, as he is now an assistant to Royals GM Dayton Moore. With that said (and the Royals back in first place) I thought it would be a great time to let the Phoenix rise again and let Christopher answer some of your questions (or how I think he would answer them). So without further ado, here is the glorious return of ‘Questions With Getzie’!

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Getzie! Great to have you back!-Ryan, Overland Park, KS

Thanks! Golly, it is fantastic to be back. I haven’t had a chance to interact with the fans much since my return but it is great to hear from you guys and that you all remember me!

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Chris, give us an idea on what your job entails, especially the player development portion of it. Thanks.-Brandon, Odessa, MO

Shucks, that is a great question! The player development part of my job is fun, as I go around within the Kansas City minor league system and get to work with all the young prospects the Royals have. We work a lot on fundamentals, like fielding ground balls:

Also, lots of bunting. We work on LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOTS of bunting.

As to the assistant to the GM part of my job, I get a lot of coffee. I think it wouldn’t hurt if Dayton cut back a bit.

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Chris, any advice on dealing with bloggers who like to downplay your performance on the field?-Omar,  Puerto La Cruz, Anzoategui, Venezuela. 

Gosh, that’s a tough one. The media can be difficult at times but you have to learn how to deal with the lows and highs and try to even them out. I had a blogger write about me a lot. He at least amused me. In the end, there are lots of ways to deal with pressure:

Also, it would help if your OPS+ was better than the 43 you currently are sitting at.

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Chris, why won’t you return my calls?? Why???? I miss you!!!!-Lee, Kansas City, MO

Seriously, get a grip Lee. You have to move on without me. I am glad you tore that shrine of me down in your house. It always made me uncomfortable.

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What’s it like hanging out with George Brett while watching a game?-Joel, Eudora, KS

Gee, it’s great! I could do without a lot of the swearing, especially since that gets worse as the game goes on. Also, I’ve heard his story about crapping his pants in Las Vegas like 23 times now. I think I get the point.

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Chris, just wanted to let you know I’m glad you got to return to Kansas City. I am really enjoying myself in Anaheim. I’ve never seen so much playing time! Plus that Scioscia guy is a great manager. All my best!-Johnny, Metairie, LA

Glad to see things are you going well for you, you whippersnapper! Sciosc is a great guy and it’s good you are getting to work with him. I mean, he’s no Yosty, but he’s got some great qualities. Keep up the great work…oh, and I’ve also voted for you 35 times in the All-Star balloting. Just don’t tell Omar!

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Getzie, who are some of your mentors throughout all your years in baseball?-Darin, Lone Jack, MO

Gosh, I have so many! Here are some of them:

Those guys were all great, even my dad. But none have really been the wind beneath my wings like Dayton and Neddy. Those two guys are my heroes and are the reason I am here. No one else has ever believed in me like they have. They even thought I was ‘mistake free’! Also, Frenchy was a great mentor. I miss that guy.

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Chris, at your best were you better than Omar Infante is this year for the Royals?-Craig, Gardner, KS

Yes.

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Getzie, what are some of your greatest moments during your time in baseball?-Pete, Independence, MO

I actually have talked about this before:

Also, that one home run I hit in Atlanta. The stars were aligned that night.

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Chris, Mark Teahen said he leased his apartment to you when you were first traded to Kansas City. He made it sound like you were going to make a mess. Is that how it went down?-Jeffrey, Columbus, MO

Okay, first here is what Mark said:

Here is the truth. Mark’s apartment was a mess. There was plastic on the furniture because Mark didn’t use silverware…or plates…or cups. It was a pigsty when I got there. By the time I left it was spotless. He also charged me an arm and a leg for rent. He should have been paying me for making that place look like an immaculate palace. Silly Teahen.

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Christopher, I can’t believe I am about to say this, but I almost miss you. Omar is awful. You might just be better than he is at this point. I can’t believe I just said that. I just threw up in my mouth a bit.-Sean, Emporia, KS

I get it. It shouldn’t be that way. Carlos Febles, Tony Abreu, Luis Alicea, Esteban German, Ruben Gotay, Tony Graffanino, Jed Hansen, Tug Hulett, Steve Jeltz, Chico Lind and the ghost of Jerry Adair are all better than Omar is right now. Frank White would roll over in his grave right now if he wasn’t alive. Actually, Frank at 64 could hit better than Omar right now. At the very least Christian Colon deserves the bulk of the playing time right now at second. We at least agree on this.

Royals Spring Training workout

Golly gee, it was so great to catch up with all of you. We should do this again sometime soon. Also, Dayton told me to tell you guys to go to royals.com and #voteroyals. If you write in my name for the All-Star game balloting that would be swell. Have a great day everyone and I’ll catch you in the funny pages!

 

 

Two Dudes With Attitude: What Should the Royals do With Hosmer and Moustakas?

hayspost.com
hayspost.com

Maybe the most perplexing issue facing the Royals in this disappointing 2014 season is the struggles of two players who were supposed to be sure things:

tripod.com
tripod.com

No, not those two. We already know they are hard hitters. The two I am referencing are these two:

zimbio.com
zimbio.com

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have to be two of the most frustrating players ever, if for no other reason than the fact that they were supposed to be the cornerstones of this franchise. Instead it’s getting more and more apparent that these are not the baseball players(droids) we are looking for. So where did it all go wrong?

yahoo.com
yahoo.com

Let’s start with Moustakas first, since I have chronicled his issues heavily. There was last year’s struggles ; aaaaand this year’s slump. You read that correctly; Moustakas has pretty much been in a slump for two seasons now. Moose had looked to really up his game in 2012, as his defense had drastically improved and his bat produced numbers good enough for consideration for the All-Star Game that season. But a knee injury in the second half of the season sapped his power and seemed to sap whatever lightning he had trapped in his bottle.  Since then he has been a mess at the plate, producing either a strike out or pop-up 30% of the time this season and producing these numbers earlier this season:

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Moose’s numbers seem to be bottoming out this year and even a stint in Omaha didn’t cure whatever is ailing him, as he has only four hits since his return and his hitting .148 in those eight games. The bad thing is that even his newfound patience, which has raised his walk rate, seems to be of no use. Moose seems to have bad pitch selection, as he has a higher contact rate on pitches outside of the strike zone than inside the strike zone. The other major concern is that Moustakas can’t seem to hit fastballs at a regular rate, which is explained by his -10.0 wFB, or Fastball runs above average. To give you a comparison, Billy Butler has never had a wFB below 15.1 in a full season(besides this season where his numbers have taken a dive). More and more it just seems Moustakas can’t catch up to a fastball:

blessyouboys.com
blessyouboys.com

So the verdict on Moose? Moustakas is still young enough to bounce back and be a regular contributor in the majors. He is still above average defensively and has some pop in his bat. At this point, the Royals have given him over 1500 at bats and he still has a career slash line of .235/.288/.376. The team has given him close to a season and a half to break out of this “slump” and he is still putting up putrid numbers. There does appear to be some trade interest for Moose, with three teams interested. My guess would be that those three teams think a change of scenery would do him good. In my opinion it might be time to cut ties with Moose and let him get that change of scenery. If the Royals decide they don’t want to do that, they have to send him back to the minors…for real this time. His hitting obviously hasn’t improved from the ten days he spent in AAA, so a more prolonged time might be the way to go. The Royals are unfortunately thin at third base, at least in the upper minors. Cheslor Cuthbert is in AA Northwest Arkansas, but he still needs time to develop before he is major league ready. Hunter Dozier is the other major third base prospect in the Kansas City farm system, but he is currently in Wilmington, the High A team for the Royals. Dozier has been crushing the ball as of late, but he still has a way to go. So there isn’t a clear cut answer at third base for Kansas City in the minors, but it is also apparent Moustakas isn’t that answer either.

zimbio.com
zimbio.com

Now onto the other Kansas City problem child, Eric Hosmer. Hosmer struggled mightily in 2012 and started out 2013 about the same way, only he was able to get some hits but showed absolutely no power and seemed incapable of pulling the ball. Insert Pedro Grifol in as the Royals hitting coach at the end of May and we started seeing a new Hosmer, one who could pull the ball and hit homeruns. The difference was notable in his swing and stance:

kckingdom.com
kckingdom.com

The numbers are a bit closer, thanks to the change in June, but it is apparent there was a different Hosmer between the first and second half of last year:

Split       G GS  PA  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS  TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
1st Half   90 86 374 344 46 98 18  2  9  40  7  3 25 51 .285 .332 .427 .760 147   8   1  1  3   2   5  .310    89   111
2nd Half   69 69 306 279 40 90 16  1  8  39  4  1 26 49 .323 .379 .473 .852 132   7   0  0  1   2   2  .368   113   140

 

So coming into this year, it seemed as if Hos was fixed and there were no worries with him…

i70baseball.com
i70baseball.com

…but there are worries. Hosmer has seemed to have lost his power(slugging percentage is down to .357 from last year’s .448) and his approach at the plate the last few weeks has been hack-tastic. I’m starting to think Hosmer went to school at Francoeur High, where their motto is “We have never seen a pitch you don’t like”. Hosmer’s strikeout rate is up, walk rate is down but the biggest fall has been his situational hitting. Hosmer’s RE24(Base-Out runs added, where zero is average) is at -3.5, compared to last year’s 25.1. while his WPA+(Wins Probability Added) is at 4.6 next to last year’s 14.3. What that basically means is that in situations where the Royals need a big hit from Hosmer, he just isn’t producing. His doubles are way up this year, sitting at 20 already compared to last year’s 34, but across the board he is hurting the team more than helping. His defense is still above average(although the advanced metrics have not been nice to him defensively over the years) but his oWar is at a -0.9. So whatever he is bringing to the table defensively is being negated offensively. This is a nice look at his “new” approach:

fangraphs.com
fangraphs.com

Hosmer has a bit different verdict than Moustakas at this point, as there is still value in Hos. It amazes me that the Royals continue to hit him in the 3rd spot in the order, as he is hitting only .171 in the last month, but there he is every night, near the top of the order. Does a trip to Omaha help? Possibly. I could see a scenario where Hos is sent down and Matt Fields  is given a shot in his absence. The likelihood of that happening is probably miniscule, as the Royals seem reluctant to admit their draftees need to be sent back down(Moustakas being the perfect case). Another option is to package Hosmer in a trade to a contender at the trade deadline. David Lesky(who is a great follow on twitter) first proposed this at PineTarPress.com and I was taken aback at first. I had never really considered the idea of trading Hos, as he always seemed like a possible future MVP candidate. But as we stretch into year three of him struggling for major portions of the year, I really started considering if this was the right thing to do.

zimbio.com
zimbio.com

On one hand, it’s obvious the talent there. When Hosmer puts it all together he is a middle of the order threat and can be a major factor in the direction this ballclub goes in. But the more he struggles, the more you start wondering what is fundamentally wrong to where he can’t just put it together. Why does his swing get messed up so often? Why is his approach at the dish a mess? Why does his power go on vacation at the worst times? You really start to wonder if mentally he just isn’t cut for this and if this is how he will be his entire career. The Royals are very much in “win now” mode and if they fall out of contention this move could be considered. Hosmer still has a lot of value and I’m sure some team is already salivating at the thought of working with him on his swing and untapping his true potential. I’m not saying the Royals should go out and trade him; what I am saying is that it isn’t foolish to consider that as a possibility.

kansas.com
kansas.com

Hosmer and Moustakas were supposed to be two of the main keys to get the Royals to the “Promised Land”, the playoffs. But so far we are left with two players who just aren’t producing like this team needs them to. I remember once having a conversation about which of the two of these hitters the Royals should try to sign to an extension if you could only keep one(the thought being they are both Scott Boras clients so there was no way the Royals would be able to keep both). This was early in the season of 2012 and I couldn’t make a definitive choice. Now in 2014, I seriously don’t think the Royals should sign either to a long term deal. As the old saying goes, it’s time to quit straddling the fence on these two; it’s time for Kansas City to either “Shit or get off the pot”, cause Hosmer and Moustakas are killing the Royals in more ways than one.

 

 

Nori Aoki: Man of Laughter and Tears

zimbio.com
zimbio.com

Building blocks are a great mental exercise tool. Using these tools to figure out what is a good fit and what isn’t helps you for later in life on a number of different levels. One of the most obvious things you learn is that some shapes don’t fit into other shaped holes. So the idiomatic expression goes, “a square peg in a round hole”. At first glance you think the square will go into the hole made for a circle; but alas they just don’t go together. What looked like a good idea originally can end up being a major misstep. So is the acquisition of Nori Aoki by the Kansas City Royals.

zimbio.com
zimbio.com

When the Royals originally acquired Aoki it looked like a genius move by Dayton Moore(no, seriously). Moore had traded from an overflowing bullpen by dealing Will Smith to Milwaukee for Aoki. It was almost hard to fathom that Moore had traded from an area the team was overloaded in and helped fill a hole the Royals had. Right field had been a problem area for Kansas City for the last few years, as Jeff Francoeur had become a black hole of suck after one turnaround year in 2011. By the end of last year David Lough was splitting time with Justin Maxwell in right, with Jarrod Dyson also occasionally starting in center and shifting Lorenzo Cain over to right. Aoki was supposed to not only fill the spot defensively but fill the leadoff spot as well. The Royals had been on the lookout for a “true” leadoff hitter for awhile; Alex Gordon had been filling the spot for the most part the last few years and while he had success there, the team really wanted to use his bat lower in the order(despite the fact that his biggest success to date was batting first). Aoki seemed to be a good fit: a slightly above average defender that would not hit for much power but would get on base.

zimbio.com
zimbio.com

But the player Aoki was in Milwaukee the last few years has only shown up in slight glimpses for Kansas City. We already knew he wouldn’t walk much; his highest walk rate was last year at 8.2%. This year he is sitting in line with that, at 6.9%. But his strikeout rate is way up, 5.9% to 11.1%. He has already almost reached his strikeout total from last year(29 to last years 40) in not even half the amount of games played. Sure, you can chalk some of that up to changing leagues; it takes most players a little bit of time to adjust to the differences in the other league and the style of baseball played in each. Most of it is Aoki swinging at more pitches than ever before in his career. He is swinging at about 45% of the pitches he has seen and is only seeing on average about 3.81 pitches per plate appearance. For a guy who’s main responsibility is to go deep in the count to allow himself a better opportunity to get on base, he just isn’t doing his job.

zimbio.com
zimbio.com

The thing is, his numbers really aren’t much different than they were before this year. Most of his numbers show that he should be on pace offensively for close to his 2013 numbers, taking out his home run totals. Aoki had hit eight bombs last year, but you all know how Kauffman Stadium is a cavernous canyon where home runs go to die, so don’t expect much there this year(insert sarcasm here). The strikeouts seem to be dragging Aoki down, despite the fact he is still putting the ball in play quite frequently. His total bases also seem to be a tad bit down, .541 to .660. This factors in things like hit by pitch(HBP), which happens to Aoki quite often. Looking at the numbers, it really appears the issue is more that Aoki just isn’t a typical leadoff hitter. He doesn’t walk, he doesn’t hit a ton of extra bases, and his value early on in his career was his ability to get on base, whether it be by hit, error or free pass.

 

mlblogs.com
mlblogs.com

There is another issue: regression. Aoki is currently 32, which is about the average age that a major league ballplayer starts to slide downward when it comes to his production. Aoki had a slight progression downward last year, and it seems to be continuing into 2014. Offensively it means his bat speed slows down a tick and he can expect a gradual decrease in speed. This would explain why his ground ball rate is up and explain a portion of the strikeouts. He also has regressed on defense and the Royals have noticed. The Royals have gotten to the point where late in games Aoki is taken out defensively and Dyson comes in to play center field while Cain slides over to right. It’s been obvious by watching Aoki that he has lost a noticeable step or two and takes odd routes to the ball from time to time. Apparently he has been working with Royals first base coach Rusty Kuntz and maybe that means an increase in playing time late in the game as the season wears. Either way, it seems apparent that Aoki has not been the player the Royals expected to get when they traded for him and it leaves a few questions for later in the season.

kansasfirstnews.com
kansasfirstnews.com

The question has already been asked on whether or not Aoki will lose playing time and outside of being replaced defensively, manager Ned Yost has said no. That would mean at this point Aoki is the right fielder and leadoff hitter unless something changes. Could the team go out and acquire someone to play right field? Possibly, and there seems to be a good candidate in San Diego. Chris Denorfia is a very possible trade candidate and I’ve mentioned him this past offseason as a candidate for the position. As always the Padres are in sell mode and it probably wouldn’t take much to acquire a player like Denorfia, who isn’t an All-Star but is about as reliable a player as there is out there on the market. There is also the possiblity that Yost could play Dyson more, although it always seems that his flaws are on display more when he gets increased playing time. The amount Dyson is used now might be the best thing for him and his numbers.

zimbio.com
zimbio.com

Nori Aoki hasn’t been the player Dayton Moore thought he was acquiring this winter but it’s hard to really feel like it was a wasted trade. The Royals traded from a position of depth and took a chance on a guy who they thought could help them. Unfortunately, they seemed to have caught him at the beginning of the downturn of his career. There is still a few months for Aoki to salvage his season and elevate his numbers to more respectable levels and prove that there shouldn’t be questions about his playing time. Until that happens though, there is always the outside chance the Royals will look for more production from the right field and leadoff spots. If that isn’t enough to warm your soul, I recommend a laugh at Aoki’s expense. Thanks to the genius of one Grant Brisbee, numerous pictures of Nori jumping, ducking or flying out of the way of pitches were compiled for our sick pleasure. Yes, Aoki is a superhero and a damned treasure. Not always in that order. My tears might come from his on field play, but my laughter is the photographic proof.

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

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Two weeks from today, the Kansas City Royals will take the field and open the 2014 season in Detroit. Optimism runs high for the Royals this year, as they are coming off of their first winning season in a decade. Not only were they not eliminated from the playoffs until the last week of the season, but they are returning a large portion of the team that got them to this point. Now, I wasn’t quite sold on their chances in 2013 and I even admitted my mistake once the season was over. Going into this year, I think this is a team who will post another winning season(the Royals haven’t posted back to back winning seasons since the early 90’s) but playoffs? Let’s go ahead and take a look at this team and what can be expected coming into what very well could be a make or break year.

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Let’s start with what was the biggest strength for Kansas City in 2013, the starting pitching. Most of the same faces are back from last year. James Shields will once again anchor the rotation, leading a staff as free agency is beckoning him. Last year I foolishly didn’t believe Shields was a true ace(silly me), but I was proven wrong as ‘Big Game James’ showed he was up for the challenge. Following him will be Jeremy Guthrie, as he put up solid numbers that continue to defy logic. I only say that since Guthrie continues to give up more hits than innings pitched year after year but also puts up respectable numbers. One would think at some point that would catch up with Guthrie, but he’s been doing it for years and other than his dreadful few months in Colorado, he has been able to not let a large portion of those runners score. Following the ‘Jeremy Guthrie Magic Trick’ will be newly acquired Jason Vargas. Vargas will actually start the second game of the year, but that is more about not pitching Vargas and Chen back to back, since they are practically the same pitcher. Vargas’ signing this winter was the most highly debated, especially after the Royals went out and re-signed Bruce Chen as well. By no means am I saying Vargas is a bad pitcher or that the Royals overpaid for him(although signing him for four years is debatable), but it doesn’t make sense to have him and Chen on the same team. Vargas is replacing Ervin Santana, who put together a splendid year in 2013. It’s doubtful Vargas will put up numbers even comparable to Santana, but he will eat innings and (hopefully) keep the Royals in the game. Chen will be the fourth starter, at least for the first half of the season. If the Royals are serious about this contending thing they won’t have Bruce in the rotation come July. Look, I like Chen and he is great for the clubhouse but the formula they used with him last year(rotation only half the year, other half in the bullpen) is really the way to go with him. The fifth spot in the rotation seems to be young flamethrower Yordano ‘Ace’ Ventura, who might make all of us forget about Santana. There are some lofty expectations on him, as comparisons have even gone as far as future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. If Ventura is even close to what we think he could be, the Royals will be in for a fun year. So with all this said, as much as I like the rotation(and that is without even mentioning how we could see either Danny Duffy or Kyle Zimmer replace Chen at mid-season), I have to believe they won’t be as solid as they were last year. I’m not saying that in a negative way as much as saying that they were so good  last year that it seems inconceivable that they would be able to achieve that two years in a row. So expect a slight dip this year with the starters…but not much.

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Another solid bunch is the Royals bullpen. The bullpen was so solid last year that only the Atlanta Braves had a better pen in baseball. Leading the bunch was closer Greg ‘Dirty South’ Holland, who surprised even his biggest fans by shaking off an early season slump to put up some of the best numbers of anyone in Kansas City’s history(yes, even up there with Quisenberry and Montgomery). The pen was so deep last year that a guy like Louis Coleman, who was nasty both in the minors and the majors, was only in the big leagues for a portion of the season. One of the main cogs in the bullpen last year was Luke Hochevar, who will miss the 2014 season to have Tommy John Surgery. No worries, Royals fans, as former starter Wade Davis, who is a much better reliever than starter, will be taking his place this year. Add in Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera, and (probably) Donnie Joseph and you have one of the best bullpens in the game. Now, bullpens tend to rollover every few years, so we could be seeing some changes in the near future, but if they can last one more season then the Royals can worry about changes during the offseason.

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Now onto the starting lineup. To be flatly honest, this Royals lineup might be the most solid one they have had in years. Before last year, I really felt like the Royals hadn’t done enough to fix their 2012 lack of offense. Honestly, I was proven right. If the offense hadn’t been so streaky one wonders if the Royals would have actually made the playoffs. But this year, things are different. Just taking a glance and there are no major holes in the lineup, no Getz’s or Francoeur’s dragging it down. There are a few question marks, guys coming off of down years in 2013. Mike Moustakas might be the most talked about Royal in this conversation, as he pretty much stunk up the joint last year. It didn’t matter if he was facing lefties or righties, starters or relievers, Orioles or Indians, he just didn’t look good at the plate. Moose tucked his ego aside, went and played in the Venezuelan Winter League while working on his swing. Royals hitting coach Pedro Grifol managed the team Moose was on, so he was able to work with him on a personal basis. What we have seen this spring is more of an open stance from Moustakas, less movement in his swing and a better ability at hitting lefthanders. If Moose can bounce back, that leaves one less worry with this offense. Alcides Escobar was another concern, as he went from having a great offensive 2012 to a downright dismal 2013. It didn’t matter if you hit him at the top of the lineup or the bottom(although he should have had no business at the top of the lineup, where he batted a whopping 49% of the time), Esky was one of the worst hitters in baseball last year. Granted, we all know he is in there for his defense, but a little bit of offense would have been nice. Most Royals fans(and I assume a good portion of the Royals braintrust) would agree that even if Escobar hits in the .260-.270 range, his defense would make up for the rest. The Royals have him signed to a very team-friendly contract, but if doesn’t produce this year then they might have to start looking elsewhere, or at least until Adalberto Mondesi Jr. makes it to the big leagues.

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Milwaukee Brewers

Elsewhere in the lineup, Eric Hosmer is expected to hit much like he did in the second half of the season, as is Salvador Perez. Two guys who’s numbers were down last year was Billy Butler and Alex Gordon and both are being counted on to improve on last year. I know many soured on Butler, as he didn’t put up the power numbers he had the year before, but he was still one of the better hitters on the team. Gordon is being moved down to fifth in the order and will be asked to drive in more runs this year. In the past he has struggled when lowered in the order, so it will be interesting to see how he does. The two new additions to the Royals lineup are right fielder Nori Aoki and second baseman Omar Infante, who are expected to bat first and second respectively. Aoki should get on base at the top of the order, even if he doesn’t walk as much as expected out of that spot in the order. Infante might be better suited to sixth in the order but should be fine second, as he can do about anything asked of him from that spot. Both should be improvements over the players they are replacing and should give the lineup a different look. Lorenzo Cain will be the center fielder and at this point I believe most just want him to stay healthy. Royals management expects continued improvement from the youngsters, which very well could happen. We could also see some struggles as well. Either way though, this offense looks way better than it did last year and one can only hope it produces more to help out the pitching.

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The bench though is where there are a few concerns. Since the Royals plan on carrying 12 pitchers when they break camp, that leaves them with only four spots for their bench. One will be the backup catcher, which at this point appears to be Brett Hayes. It also appears as if both Justin Maxwell and Jarrod Dyson will be with the team to backup in the outfield. That leaves one spot, and most of the spring it appeared the Royals would be daring and not keep a backup infielder and instead keep 3B/1B Danny Valencia. Valencia has use, as he scorches lefthanders, but it would appear a backup infielder might be of more value. That seems even more apparent as both Escobar and Infante have battled injuries this spring. The Royals swear they can fill Valencia in at second and move Infante over at SS, but Danny has never played second and it doesn’t appear smart to start that now. The Royals options as backup infielder aren’t very promising, but they could suffice if absolutely needed. Pedro Ciriaco would seem to have the first shot, as he has hit well this spring and is out of options. Jason Donald has also had a good spring but is out of options. There is also former first round draft pick Christian Colon, who can man second or shorstop, but is pretty much just a glove-man at this point. The Royals don’t have great options(and let Emilio Bonifacio, their best option, go before Spring Training), but they knew this all offseason. It would seem insane to go into the season without a backup infielder, and I hope they come to their senses. If not, we could see Valencia at second base and possibly even Moustakas sliding over to shortstop. That’s just scary and nonsensical, folks.

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Finally, Ned Yost will be coming back for another season as manager of the Royals. You all know my thoughts on Neddy, and at this point I’m not even going to give you links to my columns ranting about Yost(which also seem to be some sort of weird therapy sessions). My feelings haven’t changed about him. I don’t think he is the guy to get Kansas City to the promise land. He did a good job last year of not letting the guys get too down after their craptacular May, which I give him kudos for. He has learned at this point to just let them play. But we all know he likes to tinker, and that hasn’t changed. Expect some bunting, expect some questionable lineups, and most definitely he will keep a starter in longer than he should. But until the Royals decide he isn’t the guy, it doesn’t matter what I think. Ned is the devil you know at this point.

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

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

Up For Grabs(Cause You Can’t Have 5 Guys Rotate as the 5th Starter)

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Spring Training is not only underway, but games have begun and the Kansas City Royals will start defending their 2013 Cactus League title later today(I’m sure it’s just a slight that the flag isn’t up at ‘The K’ yet). That also means the biggest competition this spring has begun, that being the fight for the 5th starter spot for the Royals. Five pitchers are battling for the spot, which is a great thing to have that many options. Today let’s run down these five warriors(it sounded good in my head) and the chances of them winning the spot.

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Yordano Ventura

Ventura is the most intriguing out of the five candidates for this spot. Ventura, a 22 year old fireballer, got a taste of the big leagues in September last year with mixed results(he had a great start against Cleveland, but got roughed up a bit by the White Sox). Ventura easily has the best “stuff” of the five pitchers, as he complements his triple digit fastball with an improving curve and change-up. His WHIP was a bit high last year for AAA Omaha, as he gave up more hits than innings pitched, but he also struck out more than a batter per inning. If Ventura can improve the number of baserunners allowed and continue his strikeout rate than we could see a lot of Ventura in Kansas City this year. My guess is that unless Ventura blows everyone away this spring, he’ll start the year in Omaha. I love the idea of Yordano being brought up later in the year, almost like a mid-season acquisition. Either way, I think we see Ventura contribute this year for the Royals.

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Danny Duffy

Duffy has to be the sentimental choice for most Royals fans. We love Duffy, just as much for his fan interaction on Twitter as his blazing fastball. Duffy put up good numbers in 2013 for the Royals but two issues keep popping up with him; injuries and high pitch counts. Duffy has electric stuff, mixing his fastball with a change, sinker and curveball. Duffy is another guy who has good “stuff”, but hasn’t been able to really harness it. If Duffy is healthy, he would be a great choice for the 5th spot. But even if healthy, his high pitch counts mean he doesn’t get far past the fifth inning in any of his starts. For him to be successful, he needs to start going deeper in games, even if the Royals bullpen is one of the best in baseball. I would have to think Duffy has a good chance to be in the rotation to start the season, although the Royals have kicked around the idea of him coming out of the bullpen to start the year. I actually really love that idea, as he wouldn’t have to worry about pitch counts and could just ‘air it out’ for the inning or two he pitched. Only issue with putting Duffy in the pen is how the Royals already have a full bullpen(and then some). It’s at least a solid idea being thrown around if Duffy doesn’t take the 5th spot.

Brad Penny

Brad Penny 

Penny probably is not making the team out of Spring Training, but he is in the 5th starter conversation, and could be solid insurance going forward. Penny sat out 2013 and will turn 36 in May. But if he is willing to go to AAA and be ready if needed, then Penny could be useful. It’s a long season and injuries and slumps happen. You hope they don’t, but they do. Penny has playoff experience and is a veteran who at this point probably just wants to play, no matter the role. I highly doubt Penny heads north with the team, but he would be good to keep around.

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Luke Hochevar  

Yes, Hochevar is a serious candidate for the 5th starters spot. I’ll even got a step further; I think he is the favorite. Do I agree with that? No. Not at all. The story has pretty well been told: pitcher sucks at starting, moves to bullpen, finds success. In fact, Hochevar became one of the best relievers for Kansas City in 2013, posting an ERA under two, a WHIP below one and a WAR of 2.0. Hochevar was so successful as a reliever that late in the season he was called upon numerous times to hold a lead–and he did! That might not seem like that big a deal, but Hochevar was never good in pressure situations as a starter. In fact, if he allowed a baserunner, we fans immediately started sweating. It was easy to say that Hoch could not deal with the pressure of having runners on base when starting, and earlier on in 2013 it was still a concern out of the bullpen. But he’s going to be given the chance to start and the Royals are hoping that what he learned slides over to him starting. Hey, they convinced him to get rid of his slider and go back to the cutter, which garnered him success, so maybe the Royals are right. But in my eyes, the Royals and them wanting to put Hochevar in the rotation is the definition of insanity; to try something over and over again while expecting different results. It would seem the smart thing to do would be keep Hochevar in the bullpen and let him continue to pitch good. But I’m pretty sure he will see him start before 2014 is over. Just remember this when Hoch is back in the pen by July…

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Wade Davis    

Wade Davis reminds me a lot of Hochevar, who reminds me a lot of Hiram Davies. All three guys have great “stuff”, all three had tons of potential, and all three were given probably more chances than they should have to prove to the Royals that they deserved to be in the rotation. Davis was considered a big part of the Wil Myers trade last year and pretty quickly it was evident that Kansas City was going to give him every chance to succeed. Davis did not back up that chance and before the season was done had been sent to the bullpen. His numbers last year were bad; like, “Hiram Davies” bad. There was a reason I started referring to Davis last year as ‘Hiram Davies III’. His ERA was well over 5, his WHIP was creeping up on 2 and his WAR was -2.1. Yes, that negative in front of the number is supposed to be there, and really proves how bad he was.  To give you an idea of how bad, you all remember Jeff Francoeur’s putrid 2012, right? The one where he was the “worst everyday player in baseball”? Well, that season Frenchy had a WAR of -2.3. So Davis almost reached that, and that was even with him having a solid September out of the bullpen. So once again, the Royals are giving Davis an opportunity to redeem himself and give him a shot at the 5th spot in the rotation. Will he? It’s possible he will get that chance. I know at one point Royals GM Dayton Moore referred to Davis as the ‘key’ to the Myers trade, and we all know Kansas City doesn’t want to be the ones to lose that trade. I’m not so sure Davis has it in him, since he did the same thing in Tampa. Struggled as a starter, was more than solid out of the pen. Sounds like Hoch, right? Davis could get a shot this year, but the leash will be very short. The Royals know they are in it this year to contend, and if Davis falters he’ll end up back in the pen faster than you can say ‘believeintheprocess’.  If that happens, it’s not the worst thing in the world. You just hope Davis isn’t allowed to stink up the joint as long as he did last year.

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With Spring Training games just underway, we’ve got a ways before we find out who wins the 5th starters job outright. In fact, there is a good chance the pitcher who wins this battle won’t still be the 5th starter come August. By then, we could be seeing Kyle Zimmer make his way to the big leagues or one of the five guys who didn’t make the rotation could slide in there and take over. More than anything, it is nice to sit here and know the Royals have solid options and only one rotation spot is up for grabs. Right there that is already an improvement over where Kansas City was even two years ago.

No Baseball Makes Me Crazy!

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This happens every year. Some time in January, I start to get “baseball antsy”. What that means(since I just coined the term) is I get to a point where not even Hot Stove talk keeps me satisfied. I get to a point where the only thing that can keep me from going completely out of my mind(or crazy insane, got no brain) is for Spring Training to get here…or for me to create baseball stories to keep me occupied. Now, I’m not saying this is healthy. In fact, I can feel them sizing me up for a straightjacket. But it keeps me even keeled and able to function like a normal human being, not as a baseball junkie who is frothing at the mouth and needs his fix. Hey, just because I daydream of Tim Kurkjian being my best friend doesn’t mean I have a problem!

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Okay, I have a problem. Anyway, here is my delusional baseball dreams that have kept my mind occupied the last couple of weeks. I promise none have Tim Kurkjian playing doctor. That even disturbs me.

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Puig is My Surfing Buddy

Yasiel Puig is misunderstood. Sure, he seems cocky and one of the few people in the world to pull off pink jorts. The jorts make me think that he is probably a great surfer. I’ve never surfed, but I have a feeling Puig can do everything at least fairly good(once again, pink jorts). I picture him teaching me the way of the ocean, where I learn to listen to her and connect with my inner chi. Not only would I learn how to surf, but we would have long discussions about the true meaning of life and why Jack Johnson is just misunderstood as a musician. I would probably ruin it by saying that Bo Jackson was a better athlete than him, but before that we would start a Beach Boys cover band with less Brian Wilson substance(you can take that either way; they both fit in this scenario). All in all, it would be a great five days on the beach. I’m going to go practice saying ‘Puig’ like Vin Scully now…

Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod Was Framed 

Most of us are pretty sure that Alex Rodriguez wasn’t framed and that he probably had this coming at some point, karma and all. But what if this was all an elaborate setup like we see on the fifty gajillion crime shows on television? Here we go: baseball Commissioner Allan Huber Selig is fed up with Rodriguez’s great play and his ability to serenade a mirror. The last straw is Rodriguez stealing Selig’s supermodel wife away from him because she isn’t fond of Wisconsin as a whole. Selig plots to get A-Rod banned from the game that he loves. He starts by getting the media to believe that Rodriguez is fake and the least genuine person you have ever met. After that seed is placed, he uses water torture to get A-Rod to admit to steroid use during his time with the Texas Rangers. When that doesn’t get him to retire, Selig hatches his grand finale. He hires a comedic actor to play Tony Bosch. I’m picturing someone with range like Dom DeLuise. At first no one believes this Bosch character, but then Selig schedules a 60 Minutes interview for Bosch and himself the day after having Rodriguez suspended for the 2014 season. In the interview, “Bosch” pulls off a great performance and have people actually believing that A-Rod was a big time substance abuser.  Selig  makes an appearance as well and makes it sound like Rodriguez is the worst person he has ever meet, just because the supermodel doesn’t find six different kinds of cheese fascinating. Selig even pays off A-Rod’s lawyer to be even shadier than he usually is, so now everyone thinks Alex is worse than Hitler. Of course this means a sleuth detective needs to get on the case and try to clear A-Rod’s good name. What is Monk up to these days?

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Baseball Celebrates First Cyborg Player

It was easy to wonder why Chris Davis had such a breakout season in 2013. For years Davis was a mild mannered, free-swinging giant of a man that could crush the ball whenever he wasn’t helping out the breeze around the ballpark. What looked to be hard work and better plate discipline turns out to be that the ‘Real’ Chris Davis died a few years ago and Cyborg Davis took his place. Half-man, half-machine, Davis is now a power hitting threat with no real emotion at the plate. Machines aren’t perfect, which explains the 199 strikeouts, and he sometimes needs oiled when out on defense. Since baseball rules say nothing about Cyborg’s being against the rules, Davis will be allowed to play again in 2014 with opposing pitchers now knowing his weakness against the knuckle-ball and bad accents. He’s also playing for the perfect manager, Buck Showalter, who is also part robot. Expect the Orioles expenses to go up this year, as they have to add WD-40 to their team rider.  Time will only tell is Davis ends up taking his real name, F630Z.

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Wilson Gets Off-Season Job 

Years and years ago, most baseball players had to get a job in the off-season. Back then players didn’t get paid as much so they needed some extra scratch to get them through the entire year. Lou Brock operated a flower shop. Paul Splittorff used to work in a dairy. Davey Lopes was a teacher. Nowadays this doesn’t happen as much, but it didn’t stop Brian Wilson from working kid’s birthday parties as a clown. It really isn’t hard to picture Wilson putting on a rubber red nose and the big floppy shoes. Actually, he’s been close before-

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Granted, that’s a bit more “selling men’s aftershave” than “clown for kid’s birthday party”, but you can tell he loves dressing up. I’m sure the kids would love the crazy baseball player who can tell them not only about pitching in the World Series but taking Big Foot to an awards show as well-

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Kids will love him, dammit! If anything, this gives Brian something to fall back on once his arm finally falls off and the beard just doesn’t amuse us anymore. Now, he needs to see just how many people he can get into his car at once…

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Hunting With Neddy 

It really wouldn’t be a successful off-season unless you get to go hunting with Royals manager Ned Yost. Neddaniel normally goes with pal Jeff Foxworthy, but I tend to think I would run him off. I can only imagine that Yost is a better hunter than baseball manager, so I could learn a thing or two while out in the rough with Yosty. For one, he only has focus on one main thing instead of a bunch of small things. You also wouldn’t need to bunt while in the wilderness. I also wouldn’t have to talk baseball with him, which will save me from losing my mind. Just focus on the hunting and we can be simpatico. Even better, Neddy wouldn’t have to deal with the media.  Nope, the only issue would be him naming the deer as they frolic by. I will have a hard time keeping my trap shut when he refers to a deer as ‘Wil Myers’. On the plus side of that, I would look forward to shooting the deer named ‘Frenchy’. Good to see Yost spends his off-season not thinking about baseball. It’s not like there is any pressure on this upcoming season or anything. On second thought, the best part of this trip might be if I just pull a ‘Dick Cheney’. It wouldn’t be the first time Dale Sveum was asked to step in for ‘The Man They Call Yost’.

Streaker  Photo by Rick Giase

Okay baseball, time to come back. I’m already having dreams of doing bad things to Ned Yost. That’s a sign that I need a distraction. How about you come back here in a few weeks and we can discuss how everyone is in ‘The best shape of his life’. Or how Carl Pavano will get hurt this year. Or how Luke Hochevar is ‘just about to turn the corner’. Baseball, you are my sanity…

Where are They Now: Powder Blue Edition

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I am friends with quite a few baseball geeks. Hey, it’s very hard to just ‘kind of’ like baseball! Because we love the game so much, we remember players who have long since either left the game or left (at least) the big stage of the big leagues. So I thought it would be fun to see what some former Royals are up to nowadays. Yes, I am as scared as most of you…

Royals vs. White Sox

Kila Ka’aihue

Kila was once a rising star in the Royals farm system as a possible solution to Kansas City’s shortage of power. In 2008, Kila was crushing balls left and right in the minor leagues and seemed to be on the fast track to Kansas City. Unfortunately, despite being called up in September of that year, Ka’aihue must not have impressed Royals management and was back in AAA in 2009, despite their need for a power bat(no, Mike Jacobs was NOT the answer!). Kila would continue to put up solid numbers in the minors until his next shot at big leagues, which wasn’t until 2010. By then, whether it was the obvious lack of faith in him by Royals management, or his flaws just being prominent against big league pitching, Ka’aihue struggled. Kila started 2011 with the Royals but only lasted 23 games before rising prospect Eric Hosmer was recalled to take over first base. That was it for his time in Kansas City. Ka’aihue bounced around the last few years, as he played in Oakland in 2012, then picked up by Arizona before the 2013 season. Kila played in the Diamondbacks farm system until June 2nd last year, when he was released so he could sign a contract with Hiroshima Toyo Carp in Japan. Kila is still only 29, so there is always an outside chance he could return to the big leagues at some point. I always felt like the Royals badly mismanaged Kila and never really gave him an honest chance to prove what he could do. It was obvious in 2008 that he at the least  should have been given a chance to show what he could do. Alas, that was not allowed to happen.

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Justin Huber

I always feel like if I mention Ka’aihue, I should mention Huber. Justin Huber was a prospect(from Australia) for the New York Mets before he was traded to Kansas City in July 2004 for…Jose Bautista. Yes, THAT Jose Bautista, but before he was really good. Huber was originally signed as a catcher but had made the move to first base for Kansas City, a spot that opened up once Mike Sweeney was gone. Huber had a great season in 2005 in the minor leagues and actually got 78 at bats that season for the Royals. But that would be about it for his time in Kansas City, as he would only appear in 13 big league games the next two years. During Spring Training 2008, Huber was purchased by the San Diego Padres. San Diego is where he got the most playing time of his major league career, a whole 33 games that year. Huber would also appear in a few games the following season for Minnesota, but that would be all she wrote for Huber and his time in the bigs. Huber is currently playing for the Offseason Leagues Australian Baseball League(or as I like to refer to it as, the OLABL). As to his time in Kansas City, once again, I felt like he was never given a fair shake. I fondly remember him getting called up at some point(I believe in the 2005 season) during a series in Minnesota. At the time, the Royals were sucking(as normal back then) and Huber would sit on the bench for that entire series, except for one at bat. He would then get sent back to AAA. I never understood why you would even call him up if that was all he was going to do. In all honesty, it probably meant that the Royals (and this wasn’t the first time for this) just didn’t see anything in him, a mistake that continues to get repeated. Once again, I felt like they could have at least given him a chance.

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Mitch Maier 

Hard to believe it, but Mitch Maier was a 1st Round Draft Pick of the Royals back in 2003. Even back then, it didn’t seem as if the Royals knew what to do with Mitch. He had started his career as a catcher, but by 2004 they had moved him over to third base.  With Mark Teahen on the horizon, the Royals once again moved Mitch in 2005, this time to the outfield. By 2006 he was a Texas League mid-season All-Star and made his big league debut in September. Maier would find himself back in the majors in 2008 and would hang around for awhile, becoming the Royals backup outfielder for the next 3 1/2 seasons. Mitch became a bit of everything for Kansas City, whether the team needed him to play in the outfield, pinch hit, pinch run, be the team’s third catcher at times and even come out of the bullpen. Seriously. Maier has two career pitching appearances, pitching an inning in both, giving up no runs and only one hit each appearance. The running joke amongst most of us fans was how if we needed someone to stop the bleeding, Maier should be called in to close the door. Unfortunately, Maier was designated for assignment by the Royals in July of 2012, spending the rest of the year in Omaha. Mitch would spend the 2013 season in Boston’s minor league system and has signed a minor league with the Chicago Cubs for the upcoming 2014 season. Now, I always felt Maier was a good fourth outfielder and I still feel like he has a lot of value to a team, especially a National League team. I don’t know if he would ever be a starter, but there is no reason he doesn’t have a major league job. Hopefully he catches on in Chicago and finds a new home.

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Mike MacDougal

Remember MacDougal? I mean, he was a former All-Star for the Royals. MacDougal was another 1st Round Draft Pick for Kansas City, 25th pick overall in the 1999 draft. Originally a starter, MacDougal was shifted to the bullpen in 2003 and became the Royals closer that season. He had racked up 24 saves by mid-season that year and made the All-Star team. MacDougal would struggle with flu-like symptoms during Spring Training 2004 and lost his closer job to Jeremy Affeldt. MacDougal would return to the closers role the next season, as Affeldt would deal with blister issues, which plagued him during most of his time in Kansas City. Injuries found MacDougal again in 2006 and would return to the field in July of 2006. His stay in Kansas City was wrapping up though, as he was dealt to the White Sox about a week later. Mike had a great rest of the season for Chicago, but injuries would find him again. Since then, MacDougal has bounced around, from Washington, to St. Louis, to Los Angeles, to Chicago, to Cincinnati to Philadelphia. MacDougal had some success with the Dodgers a few seasons ago, but in what looks to be a pattern, then turned around and struggled the following season. MacDougal was blessed with an arm that could throw in triple digits, but between injuries and lack of consistency, he has not been able to find a steady home. There is still time for him to add to his big league resume, but at 36 time is getting short.

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Philip Humber

Humber didn’t have a very long stint with the Royals. In fact his Royals numbers only total eight games. Humber was a top prospect for the Mets before they traded him to Minnesota in the Johan Santana trade. Between a Tommy John surgery and his struggles in the minors, Humber never really settled into a home before his arrival in Kansas City. There was a lot of intrigue in Humber by Royal’s management, as the team at that time was constantly looking for fringe players who might blossom if given a chance(as long as they weren’t home grown, obviously). Humber was recalled in August of 2010 by Kansas City and earned his first major league win in relief against Detroit. He would also get a start during that period, racking up 21.2 innings in his eight appearances. Humber was let go by Kansas City in December so they could make room for Jeff Francoeur on the roster, a casualty of the numbers game. Royals management had mentioned they would have liked to keep Humber around but felt they needed to use roster space on other players. Humber would be picked up by Oakland, then designated for assignment by them as well that off-season before the White Sox picked him up. Royals fans cringed when Humber pitched well in the first half of the 2011 season, earning him a contract for the 2012 season. Humber would throw the 21st perfect game in MLB history in April of 2012 against Seattle. Unfortunately, that did not mean added success for him, as he struggled the rest of the season and was let go following season. Since then, Humber struggled with Houston last year and signed a minor league deal with Oakland this past off-season. I know there were Royals fans who felt the team gave up on Humber too soon, but he really hadn’t done anything with Kansas City that made it seem as if he was going to be a quality fifth starter for the team. I tend to credit White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper with Humber’s success, as Cooper has helped numerous pitchers rise from the ashes of fallen careers and is a big part to Humber throwing that perfect game. Humber had some success after leaving Kansas City, but not enough to make anyone feel as if they did wrong by letting him go. For most of us, he will be “that guy who threw a perfect game after leaving the Royals”.

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Johnny Giavotella

Giavotella played for the Royals from 2011 to…wait, he is still with the team? Oh, that poor man! I figured since they had given up on him then that would mean they had let him move on. Should I restart the #FreeGio campaign? Or just revisit this once he is allowed to travel to greener pastures? That poor, poor man…

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So those are just a few former Royals and what they are up to now. I always find it interesting to see what happens to some of these players once they leave and you never hear from them again. At some point we will revisit some other players from years past, possibly even some from many a year ago. Sorry to leave everyone waiting, but Onix Concepcion and Angel Salazar will just have to wait. Until then I recommend chewing on a toothpick like U.L. Washington. I hear they are tasty.

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