Welcome (again) to ‘The Process’

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As Kansas City Royals fans, we all have a different reaction when we hear anyone mention ‘The Process’. Dayton Moore coined the term years ago to define what the organization was doing as part of their team-building strategy. Before 2014, if you were a Royals fan and you mentioned ‘The Process’, you were probably doing it with your tongue firmly planted into your cheek.

But then the trip to the 2014 World Series happened. Then Kansas City took home the gold and became world champions in 2015. Once Wade Davis struck out Wilmer Flores to wrap up the title that year, any mention of Dayton’s term was meant mostly with sincere intent.

Wrong Way Royals Baseball
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After the 2017 campaign, it was pretty well known that the Royals were in a position to rebuild and with that came the return of ‘The Process’. The Royals will probably never be a team that goes out and spends lavishly in free agency, so the main framework of any team in Kansas City would have to be done by building up the farm system.

Which is what Moore set out to do this season. The Royals came into the year with one of the worst farm systems in baseball. MinorLeagueBall.com had them ranked last while Baseball America had them ranked 29th. It honestly didn’t matter who was evaluating the organization, as almost everyone ranked the minor league system as one of the worst in the game.

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It was obvious that one of Moore’s goals this summer was to “restock the shelves”, so to speak. It appeared to begin early in June, as Jon Jay was dealt to Arizona for a couple of arms, Elvis Luciano and Gabe Speier. Twelve days later, Kelvin Herrera was traded to Washington for a trio of minor league players, third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez, outfielder Blake Perkins and right-handed pitcher Yohanse Morel.

You can see where this is going. Funny thing is that Dayton didn’t just shop at one store. While the trades helped, he used other methods to improve the talent coming up through the minor leagues. There was the signing of pitcher Yefri del Rosario back in December, a player who was granted free agency from the Atlanta Braves after incurring international signing violations.

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Add a couple more international signings to the list in Wilmer Candelario and Omar Florentino, both from the Dominican. The Royals even stretched their search all the way  in Japan, as the team signed 16-year-old pitcher Kaito Yuki. The Royals wanted Yuki to get himself acclimated to the United States first, so he should make his professional debut in 2019.

But the biggest splash might have been felt from the draft. In one fell swoop, the Royals drafted a number of college arms in Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, Jonathan Bowlan and Kris Bubic. The farm system was in desperate need of some arms with upside and this appeared to have done the trick, as almost all these pitchers (outside of Singer) were thrown into the low minors upon their signing.

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The farm system has always been the main focal point for Moore, but he also started piecing together a younger foundation for the major league club. Hunter Dozier was recalled in May. Adalberto Mondesi got the call in June. Brett Phillips and Jorge Lopez were acquired in the Mike Moustakas trade with Milwaukee. Slowly but surely, Dayton was piecing together a vision of the Royals future.

But the move that really felt like Kansas City was in full “Process” mode was Ryan O’Hearn getting the call to the big leagues. O’Hearn numbers weren’t anything special down in AAA yet they called him up to give him a shot. O’Hearn took the opportunity and ran with it, producing a line of .262/.353/.597 over 44 games and an OPS+ of 155.

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Throw in Brad Keller’s outstanding rookie season and Whit Merrifield’s ascension to being a five-win player and it appears ‘The Process’ is farther along then even Moore might have imagined it would be. This is not to say a playoff run is in the near future; that would just be a ludicrous dream riddled with disappointment. But there is one more factor that could solidify that Kansas City is on the right track.

It was announced on Sunday that manager Ned Yost would be back for at least one more year in 2019. While some will cringe at the thought of Neddy’s return, there is an important factor to remember:

The Royals have had numerous prospects move up through their system over the last 7-8 years and while some were among the biggest prospects in baseball, a number of them were not highly touted at all. Not all of this can be attributed to Yost and his work with younger players, but some of that success should be credited to him. Without him, a Salvador Perez or a Kelvin Herrera (just to name a couple) might not have turned into the All-Star caliber players they have been in their career.

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With Yost at the helm, the next wave of talent to move up to Kansas City should get the advantage of sitting under the learning tree. Yost has shown a penchant these last few years to just let the players go out and play, and that might be just what they need. The truth is that Yost is just as much a part of ‘The Process’ as any of the talent in the Kansas City system.

So while we might still snicker when Dayton starts talking about his game plan, the truth is that it worked once before. While we might question his focus at times, the bigger picture appears to be a mix of patience and trust. Rome wasn’t built in a day and ‘The Process’ initially didn’t pay off for a number of years. The good news is that the ship appears to be righted and back on course. It might be a bumpy ride on the way there, but you have to hope it ends up at the right destination.

Younger Days

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This was it. This was supposed to be the beginning of a new era of Kansas City Royals baseball, an era of rebuilding that would shape the foundation of the organization for not only the next few years but years beyond. 2018 was going to be the year we all look back on and see the outline of a master plan that would come to fruition around 2021-2022. Instead, we are sitting almost five months deep into the season wondering what the point of this season was.

Dayton Moore has been preparing us for this rebuild for more than a year, knowing full well that the team would be losing a number of free agents after the 2017 season. He knew that financially it wouldn’t make sense to bring back the entire group and that it was time to move forward. That would normally mean allowing younger players to infiltrate the roster. But is that how it has gone down?

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

Early in spring training the Royals went out and filled some holes on the roster with veterans, as they locked up Jon JayLucas Duda and Mike Moustakas. For the most part there was “no harm, no foul”, as Kansas City didn’t spend much on any of the three while giving the team trade bait for later in the summer.

For the most part that is how it has played out, as Jay and Moustakas have both been dealt and Duda is still a possibility to be traded later this month. So while these three have been taking up roster spots, they weren’t blocking a player who was ready to play in the big leagues.

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But there are some major question marks when it comes to a segment of the veterans still on the club and the amount of playing time they have been receiving lately. For example, over the last week or so we have seen Drew Butera make a couple starts at not only catcher but even first base. Yes, first base where he had started a total of two games before this season.

Four starts in one week for Butera feels like a lot. The guy is a solid backup catcher and appears to work well with the pitching staff. Should he be starting at a position he has played at sparingly when you have two youngsters (Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn) who actually play the position fairly regularly? Probably not. I won’t go as far as saying it is hurting their development but starting Butera over them this past week felt like a real head scratcher.

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How about everyone’s favorite punching bag, Alcides Escobar? It’s hard to justify his playing time with a line of .204/.257/.283 and -0.9 fWAR and yet he is in the lineup more often than not. Adalberto Mondesi has shown that offensively he is an improvement over Escobar and defensively has been superior for years now. Yet over the two months since being recalled, he has only started 31 games in the field.

Out of a group of six rookies (which does not include Mondesi, since he passed his rookie status before this season) that have played for the Royals this season, they have compiled 527 plate appearances, or only 108 more than Escobar. Whether it is allowing these players to ease into the big leagues or just not giving them a bigger role, these prospects have not gotten the experience many of us expected them to receive as the season progressed.

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It’s been a slightly different story for the pitching staff, as a number of rookies have been given more prominent roles. Brad Keller has probably been the pitcher of the year for Kansas City so far, posting a 3.57 ERA, 3.64 FIP and 1.3 fWAR. The Royals rookie pitchers (ten in total) have thrown 346 out of the team’s 1033 innings. Keller and fellow Rule 5 Draft Pick Burch Smith have thrown the most out of the bunch, 88.1 and 60.2 respectively.

Six Royals rookies have tossed 30 innings or more this year, including relievers Tim Hill and Jason Adam. It is hard to argue that the team is not giving some of the younger arms in the organization an opportunity to pitch this year when 4/5 of the current rotation are rookies. Then why does it feel like they could go even younger?

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The new “Black Hole of Death” appears to be in the bullpen, where Brandon Maurer, Jason Hammel and Blaine Boyer are taking up space. All three have struggled this year and have hurt the team on the field more than any value the rookies receive from their veteran leadership. It has been suggested that the club should cut bait with these three and give some of the arms in Omaha an opportunity…and at this point it is hard to argue with that reasoning.

Is there any reason not to give Eric Stout or Trevor Oaks a longer look? Are control issues enough of a detriment to see whether Josh Staumont and Sam Selman can have success out of a major league bullpen? What about new acquisition Jorge Lopez? And how are we in the middle of August and there is still no sign of Richard Lovelady? In my eyes, it makes no sense to employ veterans like Maurer and Boyer when they just aren’t getting the job done. Give them a bus pass and lets see what some of the inexperienced arms can do.

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Maybe my expectations were off course, but by this point in the season I presumed that the Royals would be employing one of the younger rosters in the league. Instead, they still feel really…old. By no means do I expect this team to be a cavalcade of 20 year olds, but I did expect the focus to be on the future. Instead, it feels like they are treading water.

Not every prospect is going to be ready and there is an appreciation for allowing them to develop at their own pace. But if the Royals are to contend again around 2021 (and that is the expectation in the front office) then they need to speed this process up. Giving at bats to Alcides Escobar or allowing Brandon Maurer another day on the roster isn’t helping anyone. For this to be a real rebuild, the Royals need to quit straddling the fence and move forward with players who could still be in Kansas City three years from now.

Dayton Moore’s Altered Masterplan

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As the Kansas City Royals muddle through a rough 2018 campaign, it isn’t hard to veer off course and try to entertain yourself in different ways. Some focus on other sports, while others pick up a new hobby. For myself, I try to play a fun game of ‘Rex Bingo’ as I watch the bullpen implode or the offense struggle to muster three hits (and trust me, this game will be explained at a later date).

But Royals General Manager Dayton Moore has found a new, creative way of dealing with the Royals holding the second worst record in baseball. As the Moustakas trade was going down in the late hours of Friday night, Moore decided to throw a Molotov cocktail into a nice, peaceful losing season. Moore was tired of Rome burning:

“We didn’t want to do a prospect-type deal in this case, because of the nature of where we are at the major-league level and what we’re trying to accomplish,” Moore said on a conference call with reporters. “We don’t like losing games and we don’t like where we are right now with the major-league team, so we wanted to try to seek talent that was going to help us sooner than later.”

We’ve all known that Kansas City would be rebuilding this year and for the last few years Moore has done a good job of reminding every one of what expectations should be. But this shift in thinking lit Royals fandom into a fury that started stirring more questions than answers for Moore. In other words, what exactly is Dayton Moore focused on right now, rebuilding or the wins and losses of a bad Royals team?

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Before we go down this path, do remember that most baseball analysts have applauded the Moustakas trade and what Kansas City received in the deal. Personally, I felt it was a bigger haul than expected for a player who was essentially a two-month rental. So by no means are we questioning the value of the trade.

To go a step further, there really aren’t a ton of complaints about the Kelvin Herrera trade or the Jon Jay deal. Both moves helped replenish the farm system and coupled with the recent draft have deepened the value in the minor leagues. In both regards, it feels like Moore has done right by the future of the organization.

But the one question that is always posed when deals like these are made is whether or not the team was able to get the best value in return. Sometimes it is about filling a need, and other times it is about getting the best players available. Even when it comes to the Moose trade, these deals have felt like proper value considering who was traded, how much time was left on the players contract and whether or not the Royals were willing to eat salary (which is almost always never).

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But Moore’s quote about wanting to improve the current roster feels like a big 180 degree turn. To be honest, in some ways it is hard to fathom why he would even care about wins or losses when the focus should be on development and planning for the future. If the current Royals team gets even 10 more wins than what they are on pace for, does it matter? In the scope of the bigger picture, are those extra wins helping this team become a contender sooner or appeasing some other master?

Because as much as the focus should be on procuring the future by letting some of the prospects play, it is important to also remember that baseball is a business. At the end of the day, upper management is (and should be) concerned about how much money is coming in and/or how much is going out. If we are being honest here, the Royals losing hurts business. Less wins equal fewer customers rolling through the turnstiles and that is a big part of the business side of this team.

But lets also not forget that the Royals are currently working on a new television deal, as the organization looks to replace one of the worst deals in baseball. It’s probably a safe assumption that the team will make a ridiculous amount of money off any new deal no matter how the performance on the field goes. But a winning team is easier to sell than one that has taken up residence near the bottom of the league.

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Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

So if Kansas City is trying to max out this new deal, they would obviously want to put their best foot forward. That would involve improving the ‘on the field product’ from what we have seen in the first half of the season. Now, Moore isn’t involved in these negotiations but he is the guy who would be able to make moves to improve the product on the diamond…and that involves seeking talent that can help them sooner rather than later.

So could this recent change in attitude be a byproduct of the TV deal? Possibly. It could also just be a knee-jerk reaction to all of the losing. The losing has obviously caused a stir in upper management:

“I’m embarrassed the way our major-league team has performed. OK? I didn’t necessarily expect us to be in the playoffs this year, but I didn’t expect us to be on pace to lose 100-plus games,” Moore said. “That’s embarrassing to me personally, it’s embarrassing to our organization. Mr. Glass doesn’t expect that, either, and so we’ve got to do a better job of that. (Former Tigers general manager) Bill Lajoie told me this a long time ago: major-league players aren’t paid to play, they’re paid to win. And so it’s our responsibility to get players on this major-league team that understand that and they have to go out and compete.”

At one point Moore had said he expected the Royals to be on pace to win 25 more games than the pace they are currently on. Most of us guessed before the season that the team would win in the vicinity of 68-76 games this year. The Royals have performed below expectations and obviously that is not sitting well with Moore or Glass.

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The good news is that as of right now, none of the moves made so far this season has led to a younger player not receiving the playing time he would need to develop. Sure, Alcides Escobar is still taking up residence in the lineup almost everyday but we knew that before the year began. As of right now, no one is being blocked.

But you do start to wonder where Moore’s head is. Is the rebuild still on with just slight alterations? Is he more willing to look at a player closer to being big league ready than one that is a few years away, even if the younger talent has a higher ceiling? Or will he start looking at veterans to help the bleeding stop?

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Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, Dan Szymborski of Fangraphs had some pointed comments toward the Kansas City front office. One of them really hits home right now:

While I’m not at a point where I’m ready to rally together the villagers with pitchforks and torches and ask for Moore’s head, I am asking the same question: Is there a master plan? And if there is, is it going to change again in a few more weeks? If there are more major changes, don’t be surprised when the villagers already have their weapons in tow.

Jay Traded to Arizona for Two Prospects

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Pretty much from the beginning of Spring Training this year, we have been aware that the Kansas City Royals would be sellers come the trade deadline. In fact, it was obvious who the Royals would be dangling as bait when that time came. But what none of us saw coming was outfielder Jon Jay being dealt during the first week of June:

So while we might have known Jay would be dealt before the end of summer, I’m pretty sure none of us saw this coming as early as it has. But from the first glance, it looks like a solid deal for Kansas City.

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In his short stint in Kansas City, Jay had proven to be exactly what the Royals needed. In fact, Jay is coming off of a great month of May. During those 31 days, Jay hit .368/.402/.436 over 28 games, racking up 43 hits and a sOPS+ of 132. May was big enough for him that he is still 14th in the American League in batting average (.307) and 5th in hits with 73 (2nd in singles at 61 behind only Jose Altuve). So it makes sense that Jay’s value is at a high right now and with the Diamondbacks dealing with some injury issues in the outfield (both A.J. Pollock and Steven Souza are currently on the disabled list), it only made sense for Arizona to be on the look-out for some help.

The good thing for Arizona is they are now getting a veteran outfielder who can play all three outfield positions and who can fit about any role that is needed. Jay isn’t going to wow anyone, as he is not a flashy player, but he is consistent and should help the team with some depth until Souza or Pollock are able to return.

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Credit: Kansas City Royals Twitter Account

The two pitchers that Kansas City acquired in this trade was 18-year old righty Elvis Luciano and 23-year old lefty Gabe Speier. Fangraphs did a nice little scouting report last night after the trade went down:

Luciano is a live-armed 18-year-old Dominican righty who spent most of 2017 in the DSL, then came to the U.S. in August for a month of Rookie-level ball, then instructional league. During instructs he was 90-94 with an average curveball, below-average changeup, and below command, especially later in his outing as he tired. He was an honorable-mention prospect on the D-backs list.

His velocity has mostly remained in that range this spring, topping out at 96. Luciano’s delivery has been changed to alter his glove’s location as he lifts his leg, probably to help him clear his front side a little better. He’s still had strike-throwing issues and might be a reliever, but he has a live arm and can spin a breaking ball. Though 18, Luciano’s frame doesn’t have much projection, so while he might grow into some velocity as he matures, it probably won’t be a lot. He’s an interesting, long-term flier who reasonably projects as a back-end starter.

As for Speier, he’s repeating Double-A. He’s a sinker/slider guy, up to 95 with an average slide piece. He projects as a bullpen’s second lefty and should be viable in that type of role soon.

So there is some definite upside to Luciano and Speier very well could have a future role for the Royals in the bullpen. Considering that Jay is essentially a league average hitter, it appears Kansas City actually got a couple of players who could be a part of the main roster in the future, even if it will be awhile before either is ready to contribute.

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Credit: RON JENKINS

While I know there was some uproar from the ‘Facebook’ crowd that the Royals went and traded one of their best players, the honest truth is it made sense and is a smart deal for the future of the organization. Jay was on a short, one-year deal and part of the point of signing him in the first place was to turn around and flip him in a trade this summer. The Royals accomplished that goal and in return added a couple of arms to add depth to their farm system.

While it might make the “on-the field” product a little lacking, the trade makes the future a little bit brighter. This is the whole point of this 2018 season: see what you have on the roster, keep the younger players with value and trade the veterans that can bring back some prospects. Jay is just the first of many deals we will be seeing from the Kansas City front office this summer. If this deal upset you, you probably aren’t going to like what happens next.

 

 

The 2018 Fake Royals Predictions

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With the Royals just a few days away from kicking off this 2018 campaign, I thought it would be good to throw out some predictions. But not the normal sort of predictions. No, I traveled down a different road.

So here are your 2018 Royals fake predictions. I’ve done these in the past and they were wildly popular. These are all jokes, so please don’t take any of this too seriously. They are just meant as amusement as we get ready to kick off the new season. So without further ado, here are your ‘Fake Royals Predictions’!

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Credit:Associated Press
  • After a near-death experience in the offseason, manager Ned Yost has grown a greater appreciation for the men and women of the media that he interacts with on a regular basis. Rather than snarky sound bites and short, abrupt answers, Ned gives the media answers with heartfelt, thought provoking feeling and life affirming positivity. Then they have a group hug when the session is over.
  • On Opening Day, Lucas Duda will make his official Royals debut…and will be awarded a 2015 World Championship ring.
  • With Lorenzo Cain off to Milwaukee, Salvador Perez is in need of a new best friend that he can harass and shoot instagram videos of. Luckily, that honor has been bestowed onto Jon Jay. Unbeknownst to Jay, he agreed to it when he signed his contract, as it was slipped in there thanks to some sneaky maneuvering by Salvy.

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  • Alex Gordon’s offensive struggles continue as the season begins, forcing him to try everything in the book to get out of this two-year funk. Gordon even resorts to eating junk food, which actually does improve his production…at first.
  • After appearing in all 162 games for three of the last four seasons, Alcides Escobar goes to Ned Yost 25 games into the season and asks for a day off because he is tired. Escobar falls asleep and awakens the last week of September, missing almost the entire season.
  • After giving up a dozen home runs, Ian Kennedy finally decides to become a different pitcher, one who focuses on ground balls. He then goes from giving up long bombs to inside the park home runs, still leading the league in home runs allowed.
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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star
  • A number of Royals fans attempt to play ‘Rex Bingo’ (a game my family created last year) during a lazy May afternoon game but everyone hits bingo by the second inning. All the mentions of ‘hands’ and ‘sneaking cheese by a hungry rat’ seems to have caused their boards to fill up super fast.
  • Jason Hammel asks to be moved to the bullpen and puts up good numbers through the first half. Come to find out after the All-Star break that Hammel and Luke Hochevar had a ‘Parent Trap’ moment and it was Luke all along these last two seasons.
  • In Whit Merrifield’s never-ending quest to ‘beef up’, he increases his protein intake and starts adding even more muscle mass to his frame. Whit sees a spike in his home runs yet again, but on the diamond he becomes a defensive liability. Think Daniel Murphy crossed with Alberto Callaspo at second base.
  • Steve Physioc realizes that the notes he is given before each game are to be used to help him during the broadcast. Not only does he start sounding like a competent announcer, he also receives less glares from Denny Matthews.
  • Danny Duffy stays healthy.
  • The Royals swap out one debonair first base coach for another, as Mitch Maier takes over for Rusty Kuntz. While many will miss Rusty, it doesn’t take long for the fans to warm up to the former Royals outfielder. A petition is started and Maier will get his own bobblehead night in 2019.

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  • While trying to forget a rough 2017, Kelvin Herrera decides to add an eephus pitch to his repertoire. Herrera finds success again, but it kills the Royals time of game. The pace of play Gods are angered.
  • Richard Lovelady tires of all the talk of his name and little discussion on his actual statistics. This leads him to change his name to something very bland and vanilla. You can now legally call him ‘Tim Collins’.
  • As the Royals attempt to stay as ‘pure’ as humanly possible, they start attending workshops over the summer discussing the ill effects of watching cartoon animals who don’t wear pants.

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  • Mike Moustakas was only able to land a $6.5 million deal this winter to return to Kansas City. The cut in pay has made it harder on Moose, as he no longer can afford his Stouffer Fit Kitchen Meals.
  • Brian Flynn will not fall through a barn…at least not for the first month of the season. All bets off after that.
  • Jorge Soler will hit the ball so hard this year that he will actually knock the cover off the ball. Also, Soler will swing and miss so hard that he will knock the cover off the ball.
  • and finally, the Royals will replace hitting coach Terry Bradshaw in May as the offense struggles. He will be replaced with former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw. Somehow, the offense will become the best in the league.
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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

So there you go, my 2018 fake Royals predictions. Hopefully you took them as they meant to be, which is all in jest. I will seriously crack up laughing if even one of these come true. I’m sure there is one or two I missed. So what fake predictions do you have for the upcoming season? What would amuse you if it happened to the Royals in 2018?

 

The 2018 Kansas City Royals: Where Do We Go From Here?

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Credit: Christa Dubill

You don’t think about it during the run. It escapes your mind every October. There is no thought of it during the parades, the raising of the flags or the passing out of rings. It’s after the gold and glory start to fade that you actually begin to think about rebuilding.

The Kansas City Royals have been running with their hair on fire for the past four years and while it sits in the back of our minds, you don’t really begin to think about how to start over until it smacks you in the face. The Royals have dealt with the probability of their next chapter since November, when Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar filed for free agency. They were the last major pieces of the 2015 World Champions to leave the nest and move on from one of the greatest eras in Royals history. Or at least two of them did.

So with Opening Day just a few days away and the Royals looking ahead to their future, it feels like the right time to break down what you should really expect from the ‘Boys in Blue’ as they embark on a new journey. There are some new faces, some old faces and more than anything, a different outlook.

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Let’s begin with what I think will be a positive this season for the Royals and that is the starting rotation. While on the surface this is an underwhelming group of arms, there is potential here that could be reached if circumstances go the right way. Danny Duffy returns to lead the charge, as he looks to bounce back from a season he would overall like to forget. There were the injuries…and then there was the DUI. By the end of the year it just felt like a wash for Duffman, despite the fact he still managed to lead the pitching staff in WAR over the 146 innings he threw. Duffy left his start on Saturday but right now that looks like a precaution more than anything. If the Royals even hope to sniff a winning season, they need Duffy to be healthy and produce the way he did back in 2016.

Duffy will be followed in the rotation by Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel. Both are coming off disappointing  campaigns last year and are looking to bounce back. The honest truth is that neither should be this high up in a rotation, but the one thing they do is eat innings. If Kennedy can give up a few less home runs (and stay healthy) and if Hammel can lessen the amount of base runners allowed, the Royals really only need them to be the reliable veterans they have been over the years. It would be even better if Kennedy can come close to approaching his 2016 season and help people forget that he still has three years left on his contract.

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Credit: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire

The real potential for the rotation is at the back-end, where Jake Junis and Nate Karns will occupy the final two slots. Junis only posted a 0.9 WAR season in 2017, but it was almost a tale of two seasons for him. In the first half, Junis appeared in eight games (six starts), posting a 5.66 ERA, 1.629 WHIP and a strike out to walk ratio of 1.75. The second half was a different story, as in his 12 appearances he produced a 3.55 ERA, 1.089 WHIP and a strike out to walk ratio of 5.78. Down the stretch, Junis was the Royals most reliable starter and if the team had been able to eek out a playoff appearance, he would have been in the rotation. I’m not a big believer in spring training stats, but Junis did strike out 20 batters in 14 innings while walking only one. His slider has become a very effective out pitch and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him take another big step in 2018.

Karns is one of those pitchers that has always had a stockpile of potential but has always found a way to get hurt. It was not different for him in 2017, as Karns only started eight games before being shelved and having to undergo thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. In fact, over his last four starts he was stellar, posting a 2.01 ERA over 22 innings, striking out 32 while walking only four batters. I discussed Karns a bit more in-depth a few months back and his use of the knuckle-curve has proven to be a game changer for him. If he can stay healthy and on the field, he can be a breath of fresh air for this Royals pitching staff.

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So what if any of the starters go down with an injury? The good news is the amount of decent depth built up within the organization this winter makes an injury not feel like a deal-breaker. Jesse Hahn will start the year on the disabled list but he could be an option if he is able to return in the near future (the earliest he will be back is early May). They also have a couple of righties in Andres Machado and Scott Barlow down in the minors and lefty Eric Skoglund could be an option as well, as he would look to improve on his seven appearances in 2017. Clay Buchholz was signed last week and could be an interesting arm to watch as he works to get back to the big leagues. The one name to keep an eye on is Trevor Oaks, who was acquired from the Dodgers this winter and could be a key piece of the rotation by September. Oaks is a sinkerball pitcher who spent most of last year in AAA and is right on the cusp of getting an opportunity in the majors. Oaks won’t miss a lot of bats, but he will keep the ball on the ground and won’t walk many either, as he has only walked 72 batters in 404 minor league innings throughout his career. If a starter goes down, there is a good chance Oaks will get the call.

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Credit: Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

While the rotation could be a major plus for the Royals, the offense has at least a chance to be interesting. The mainstays are still here, as Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas return and will probably produce about on par with what they have done in the past. I do think Moustakas could be a better overall hitter in 2018, as he could have a chip on his shoulder from how his time on the free agent market went this winter. A Moose with an agenda could be a frightening proposition for American League pitchers.

Whit Merrifield will look to improve on his breakout 2017, but the cynic in me thinks he could be in store for a small fall from grace. No one was expecting Whit to hit for power the way he did last year (19 home runs, .460 slugging percentage, .172 ISO) and while I don’t predict a big drop-off for him offensively, there could be a slight adjustment when it comes to the way pitchers approach him this year. The hope is that Whit will be able to adjust as well and negate some of the changes that are sure to pop up.

It should be interesting to see how some of the new bats perform as both Jon Jay and Lucas Duda begin their first season in Kansas City. Jay will probably hit near the top of the order and is a good on-base threat while Duda put together a solid 2017 and is looking to grow on that. While I don’t expect either to duplicate what their predecessors did last year, they are a vital part of the lineup and there is a greater chance they end up being pluses rather than negatives.

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Maybe the most intriguing bat in camp this spring is outfielder Jorge Soler. Soler struggled in his first season in Kansas City and is looking to bounce back and live up to some of the potential that he has been tagged with since the Cubs signed him back in 2012. Soler spent the winter working on his swing and management has really been impressed with what they have seen from him in Arizona:

The interesting part of Soler isn’t as much what he is capable of as much as the ridiculous expectations that have been put on him. I talked this winter about what the Royals really need from Soler and it’s very simple: a solid, run producing bat for the middle of the order with league average defense in right field. I think Soler might be a welcome surprise this year and possibly even reach some of those lofty expectations as he enters his age 26 season.

The rest of the lineup is probably questionable at best. Alcides Escobar returns to play shortstop and we all know what we should really expect from Esky offensively at this point. Alex Gordon is looking to prove that the rumors of his demise are overstated, as he has been working on his approach this spring. My belief is that if Gordon works on hitting the ball to the opposite field while focusing more on getting on base than hitting for power, we might just see an improvement in his overall numbers.

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The designated hitter spot will be interesting to watch this year, as the Royals won’t be going with just one batter there on a daily basis. Kansas City will attempt to try a floating DH this year, with guys like Cheslor Cuthbert, Soler and Jorge Bonifacio (when he returns from his suspension) probably seeing the majority of at bats there. This will give them flexibility and allow them to try different scenarios throughout the season.

In fact, the lineup we see on Opening Day will more than likely not be the same come September. I fully expect a few bats traded at the deadline, with Moose, Duda and Jay near the top of the list. By September we could be looking at a very young lineup and that could also mean a lot of evaluating by the Royals coaching staff. If these deals go down, they will want to see what they have for 2019 and will give guys like Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn as many at bats as necessary. While this might not be the best for this year, it will help the team in the future.

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Credit: MLB.com

So what does this mean for the Royals offense in 2018? Probably that it will be an inconsistent bunch. There is a decent amount of firepower right now, with Salvy, Moose, Duda and Soler leading the charge. But there are some possible black holes as well like Gordon and Escobar. Also remember, this is a bunch who don’t like to walk much (they were dead last in walks in all of baseball last year) and teams that don’t take as many bases on balls tend to go through wilder peaks and valleys. Add in the younger bats later in the season and this could be a team who offensively really struggles at times. While they weren’t dead last in the American League last year in wRC+ and offensive WAR, they were near the bottom and haven’t done much to improve the lineup.

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Credit: MLB.com

This leads to another problem spot, which could be the bullpen. The Royals bullpen outperformed expectations in 2017 (they were ranked by Fangraphs #28 before the season and ended up in the middle of the pack) but that was also helped by the great seasons that Scott Alexander and Mike Minor had. Both are now gone and what is left are a number of relievers that struggled last year, which is why Fangraphs has now ranked them 30th overall, which is dead last in all of baseball.

The good news is that both Kelvin Herrera and Brandon Maurer should be able to perform better than their numbers last year showed. I would also expect new signee Justin Grimm to perform closer to his 2016 season than 2017. But once you get past those three veterans you end up with more questions than answers.

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Credit: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

There are a few veteran arms joining the fray this year, like Blaine Boyer and Wily Peralta. There are also young arms like Brad Keller, Tim Hill, Brian Flynn and Eric Skoglund that will get an opportunity to show what they can do. In fact, I would expect the bullpen to be in constant flux this season, or at least until the team starts figuring out who to keep and who to scrap. Kevin McCarthy, Mike Broadway, Kyle Zimmer, Miguel Almonte, Scott Barlow, Richard Lovelady, Eric Stout, Josh Staumont and even Andres Machado could all see time out in the pen this year and the road between Omaha and Kansas City could get pretty worn out.

But the good news from this is a number of those arms are going to stick. Almonte looked this spring like he had finally turned a corner and his electric stuff could play well out of the pen. Lovelady has turned into a highly touted prospect in just a short amount of time and once he is up he will probably stick. Zimmer has always had the stuff but his health has always held him back. While the idea for some of letting this group work out their struggles in big league games sounds harrowing, it is what needs to happen if the Royals are hoping to be contenders again come 2021 or beyond.

So while it is tough to hear, the bullpen is going to struggle. But the pen you see in April probably won’t be the one you see in July. In fact, by then we could be talking about a completely different story when it comes to the Royals relievers. This will be something to keep an eye on for the next few months, as their will be development with a number of Kansas City arms.

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Credit: The Associated Press

The other aspect of this team that will be tough to swallow for some is the defense. Gone is Lorenzo Cain’s ability to cover everything in the outfield. Whether you believe the defensive metrics or not, losing Eric Hosmer at first base will be noticeable. Not only are those two gone, but the elite defenders still in Kansas City are a year older and some of the replacements are league average at best. The Royals teams of 2014-2015 prided themselves on their excellent defense and was a big part of why they had the success they did. Unfortunately, those expectations should be thwarted, as this team defensively will more than likely be a shell of their former selves.

So while the bullpen and defense are no longer the Royals strong points, one aspect of this team that will be fun to follow is the coaching staff. I actually discussed this last week over at Royals Review, but I am really intrigued to see how some of the new coaches are going to shape this team. Cal Eldred, Terry Bradshaw and Vance Wilson have joined the staff and with this will probably come a new way of viewing the pitching and the hitting. In fact, with the likelihood of Ned Yost retiring after this year, we could get a window into the philosophies we could be seeing for years to come. After years of the same coaches scouting and preparing these players, the new bunch will shape a whole new generation of Royals and I for one am excited to see what could come of that.

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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

So after all that, what does this mean for the 2018 Kansas City Royals? It means that while there will be some highs this year, there will be a few more lows as the team looks to begin their rebuild. For me, I am always interested in seeing what the young talent can do to outperform the expectations that have been thrown onto them and this group has a lot of players in that category. So while it will probably be a bumpy ride, it will at least be one where we learn more about what the Royals have within their farm system.

Overall I am expecting a 74-88 record, placing them in 4th in the American League Central. I wouldn’t be shocked at a few wins or a few losses going either way, but overall this team will fall a bit short of .500 while feasting on some of the lesser teams within the league. The good news is that most of the veterans under contract this year are only signed for one year, so if they aren’t dealt at the trade deadline they probably won’t be back in 2019. This will free up roster spots for any of the prospects who might elevate their game throughout the upcoming season.

Sure, this isn’t going to be the fun ride we got from September 2014 to November of 2015. But it also shouldn’t be as bumpy as most of the early 2000’s were. While most of the remnants of the glory days are gone, they will never be able to take away those memories that us Royals fans have. It’s time now to regroup, rebuild and motivate. It’s time to begin a new chapter to the next era of Royals baseball. That era begins this week, making it closer every day to another classic Kansas City moment…and it all begins this year. Win or lose, we all bleed Royal blue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are the Royals Finally Committing to a Floating DH?

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

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

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

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

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Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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

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

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

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Credit: Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times

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

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

 

Back in Blue: Mike Moustakas Inks New Deal

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Credit: Getty Images

It happened quickly and out of nowhere on Thursday night, catching most of us off guard. By the time the evening was done, Mike Moustakas was once again a Kansas City Royal, inking a one-year deal worth $6.5 million, a possible $2.2 million in incentives and a mutual option for 2019 worth $15 million which includes a $1 million buyout:

The deal is noticeably smaller than if he had accepted the qualifying offer earlier this winter of $17.4 million and was a big step down from what Moustakas and his agent Scott Boras were looking for out on the market. So what does this mean for all parties moving forward? Let’s start with the effects on Moose himself.

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Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

For Moustakas, this will be a chance for him to re-set his market and give teams a better look at what they can get if they sign him. The most important aspect for him will be the removal of the pesky compensation pick that will not be attached to him come November:

A number of teams (most notably San Francisco) passed on Moustakas this winter because of the compensation draft pick attached to signing him and without it he should be able to find a better deal than the one he finally accepted from Kansas City. It also should help him to have another season under his belt, especially one where he stays healthy. There has been some concern about him being injury prone (he missed a large chunk of 2016 and dealt with leg injuries throughout the latter half of the 2017 season) and a season where he stays healthy should go a long way toward calming some of those concerns.

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Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

What should also help him is a much different third base market than what he dealt with this last year. It felt early in the winter that most teams were pretty content with who they had to play the hot corner and the teams that didn’t went out and upgraded in what they probably would have considered a cheaper manner, whether by trade (Giants acquiring Evan Longoria) or free agent signing (Angels signing Zack Cozart to a three-year, $38 million deal). While both Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado will be out on the market this year, that doesn’t always mean a crowded field for third baseman. Both can only sign with one team and Machado has discussed wanting to play shortstop, which could be something he asks for before signing with a team. If Moustakas has a good season in 2018, I can see a team like Atlanta wanting to bring him in. They balked at it this offseason, but the Braves might feel like they are closer to contending before 2019 and adding Moose’s veteran bat to a younger lineup could be an enticing idea for a team who feels like they close (see Hosmer, Eric in San Diego). While the options dried up this winter, it could be a completely different ball game when this season wraps up.

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees
Credit: Sports Illustrated

This should also be a win-win situation for the Royals. They get to bring back a fan favorite, which should appease some of the fans disappointed with the losses of Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain.  They also aren’t locked in to anything long-term, as the deal is for two years at the most. It’s also not taking up much space on the payroll, as the most he will be able to make this year is $8.7 million (if he reaches all his incentives). I’m most curious to see how he performs this year, as I tend to believe he will play with a chip on his shoulder. There had been some grumblings at one point that Moose was angry and frustrated with how few offers he was seeing on the free agent market this winter and with him taking a sized down deal to stay in Kansas City (and more than likely just to play baseball before the regular season starts) you could see where he would be motivated to go out and prove all the naysayers wrong. If that happens, the Royals will be benefiting from his experience as a free agent.

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Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

It also feels like the Royals weren’t confident in some of the younger players they were looking at to play this season. With the signings of Alcides Escobar, Lucas Duda, and Jon Jay, they got a bit older while pushing guys like Adalberto Mondesi, Hunter Dozier and Bubba Starling to the side. The Moose signing tells me they also aren’t confident in Cheslor Cuthbert, who was the odds on favorite to start the year at third base before the Moustakas move was made. It appears that Dayton Moore likes the idea of guys coming up in the middle of the season rather than beginning the year with the big league club, so it might not be as dire for the younger talent as it appears on the surface.

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There is always the chance too that Moustakas could be dealt at the trade deadline to help out a contending team. While this would be upsetting to some, strategy-wise it would be a smart move for a front office that is trying to build back up the farm system and is hoping to get younger over the next couple of seasons. If the Royals would be able to trade Moose for some talent to help out in the future it would show that while some dislike this move from a rebuild standpoint, it would signify part of a deeper game that Moore is playing to place the team in a better spot in the next three to five years.

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Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Most Royals fans have known over the last couple of seasons that a large part of the core group of Royals would be entering free agency together, and all throughout that time I have stressed that in my opinion, Mike Moustakas was the player to keep. I even went on the record this winter as saying that Kansas City should focus on Moustakas, not Hosmer. In other words, I am on board with this reunion and feel like it is a great match for the upcoming 2018 season. I don’t expect Moose to stay past this year and while that might be disheartening to some, this might be a better way to give him a proper send off. While Eric Hosmer was the face of those championship Royals teams, Moustakas always felt like the heart. The Royals might have never gotten to the 2015 World Series if it wasn’t for Moose telling the clubhouse ‘Hey, listen, we’re not done yet! It’s not over yet! Let’s do something!’’’ as the team was down four runs going into the Top of the 8th inning in-game 4 of the ALDS against Houston. Mike Moustakas wears his heart on his sleeve when he is out on the baseball field and that can only be a plus as this Kansas City team wanders into a transition period for the franchise. Most of us had given up hope that Moose was headed back; now, we get one more season to appreciate what he means to this franchise. Let the ‘MOOOOOOOOSE’ chants reign down, Kansas City!

 

Royals Sign Jay; Hahn Placed on the DL

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Credit: Chicago Tribune

While most of us waited all winter for something (anything!!) to happen on the free agent market, it appears that with spring games being played and the regular season just around the corner, teams have finally decided to spend a few dollars. This has become very evident for the Kansas City Royals, as they signed Lucas Duda last week and earlier today they locked in Jon Jay, who played for the Cubs last year:

The team also placed right-handed pitcher Jesse Hahn on the 60-day DL with a UCL sprain. Both moves are worth a discussion, so let’s start with Jay.

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Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press

Jay is coming off of a fairly solid season, as he hit .296/.374/.375 with an OPS+ of 96 and 1.1 bWAR. Jay looks to be the new center fielder for the Royals, as Paulo Orlando has been the frontrunner for the job headed into the spring. Jay will also probably hit leadoff for the team, as he is has posted a career on-base percentage of .355 and appears to be the best fit for the job. Jay isn’t going to hit for much power (.383 career slugging percentage) but he will get on base and is able to play all three outfield positions:

Jay is a quality baserunner who is also a near average defender in the outfield. He is also a left-handed hitter, which the Royals have been in dire need of as of late. Much like Duda, Jay should be a steady veteran that can help the team transition to someone younger later in the year. There could be a scenario later in the summer where Bubba Starling could be given a shot and that would allow Jay to slide into the fourth outfielder role or even end up on the trade market. While I have been a proponent for the Royals to go for a complete rebuild, they didn’t spend much on Jay and if we are being blunt about it, they really didn’t have anyone prepared to be the regular center fielder. While Orlando should make the Opening Day roster, he is a better fit as a backup for the team than as a guy playing on a regular basis. This signing allows Paulo to slide back into a backup role and should be seen as an upgrade for the center field position in general.

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Credit: The Associated Press

Hahn being placed on the disabled list has to be a concern for Royals management, as he goes on the 60-day DL with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. An injury to the UCL is normally a precursor to Tommy John surgery, which Hahn has already had back in his college days at Virginia Tech University. The good news is that it might not be as bad as it looks on the surface:

Hahn had been competing for a spot in the rotation, although it appeared he might be ticketed for a bullpen role. While this might turn out to be more of a precautionary move by the Royals than anything else, it does mean Hahn will begin the season on the disabled list, with his availability appearing to be in the early part of May at the earliest.

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While for the most part I have no issue with the Royals going out and spending very little money on a couple of veterans like Duda and Jay, there is one part of this equation that is bothering me. Over the winter the team made a couple of deals to lower payroll, dealing Joakim Soria to the White Sox, Scott Alexander to the Dodgers and Brandon Moss to the A’s. While dealing Soria and Moss made sense (considering the direction of the team), I was never on board with the trade of Alexander. Alexander was added because the Royals needed to deal something of value to rid themselves of  Soria’s contract. The problem with that is Alexander would have been under team control for another five years and would have been very cost efficient. Then you throw this into the mix:

Most of us figured that the Royals were moving salary to keep Eric Hosmer but even then I was against the Alexander trade. His value was almost immeasurable last year and I’m not expecting Kansas City to have a player in their pen this year who can fill all the roles Alexander did in 2017. So to turn around and spend money on veterans and slide the payroll back to where it was doesn’t make sense, at least if the sole purpose was to get rid of Soria’s contract. I’m not saying I dislike the Jay or Duda signing and in fact I like both of them; I’m just saying they could have found a different way to jettison Soria while also keeping Alexander. Where there is a will, there is a way.

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Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

So with the Jay signing and Hahn injury we are getting a better idea of what the Royals Opening Day roster will look like. Dayton Moore has done a good job these last two weeks filling holes in the lineup without locking anything in long-term and leaving the door open for some of the youngsters to rise up this year. With some movement being made, one has to wonder if the possibility of Mike Moustakas coming back on a one, or even two-year deal is at least being broached. I’m still in the camp that the team should tear down even more and do a complete overhaul, but it appears Moore just isn’t in the business of tanking. Having some veteran presence around is a good thing, but at this point in the spring it would probably be best for Moore to be done. Then again, I wasn’t expecting these two moves sooooo…see you back here next week, when the next veteran is locked in to a one-year deal? Mark it down and save the date. Stay unpredictable, baseball.

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