Taking Whit for Granted

Last Monday, it was made official, as the Kansas City Royals and Whit Merrifield came to an agreement on a 4-year deal worth a guaranteed $16.25 million. The deal is one that benefits both the team and the player, and it would appear keeps Whit in Kansas City for the foreseeable future.

But what this deal will also do is really force us to appreciate what Whit Merrifield has done so far in his major league career. While we have praised him and been in awe of his productivity over these last couple of years, the honest truth is we took him for granted. Yes, we haven’t really admired and valued him the way we should have.

This doesn’t mean we haven’t loved watching him perform on the diamond or been impressed with what he has accomplished. As a fanbase, I feel we have done that and we’ve embraced him as one of us, a true Royal. But there is a line where you can enjoy watching and cheering on a player but not really grasp what your eyes are seeing. There is a point where you are not really appreciating what stands before you.

We all know how impressive it has been that Whit, at the age of 27, made his major league debut, an age that normally doesn’t guarantee success. Since that debut, Whit has posted a 3 WAR season, a 5 WAR season and has accumulated 11 bWAR over his career. Great numbers for a guy who no one saw as more than a bench player, let along a top prospect.

In fact, Merrifield has been compared to former Royal Ben Zobrist when it comes to his versatility and it’s not just his ability to play all over the diamond that feeds the comparison. Zobrist made his major league debut at the age of 25, but didn’t really stick in the big leagues until his age 28 season. That year saw him pile up 8.6 bWAR and an OPS+ of 149. While Whit hasn’t quite up the power numbers that Zobrist did in his prime, there is enough statistical comparisons to see that the two have very similar trajectories.

Both were late bloomers and that pushed us to believe that Whit was an anomaly. After the 2017 campaign, many of us (myself included) felt that the smartest play for the Royals was to trade Merrifield. The belief was that his value was never going to get higher and there was no guarantee that he would be able to duplicate what he did during that season.

Credit: John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images

So what did he do? He just came out and hit .304/.367/.438 while leading the league in hits and stolen bases. He racked up 5.5 bWAR and proved himself to be one of the top second basemen in the game, despite the fact that the Royals were still moving him around the field like a chess piece. Whit defied the odds and continued to improve his production.

Even after what he did in 2018, many felt the smart move to was to trade him this winter. As someone who used to be in that camp, it’s easy to see the logic. Here is a player who is entering his age 30 season, coming off of a 5 win season, playing for a team that doesn’t appear to be contending for postseason play for at least a couple more years. Using the rebuilding playbook, it would make sense to see what you could get for Merrifield and make a deal for younger players who could help the team in their contending window.

Makes sense, right? To me, this is where we have been taking him for granted. We’ve been so focused on Whit’s fall from grace and how he will be nearing his mid-30’s by the time the Royals are contending that we haven’t focused on how he can help this club get there in the first place.

Credit: Getty Images

While a young team can strive based on talent alone, there is always a piece of the puzzle that could and should be filled by the veterans that lead them there. Go ask the 2014 Royals about Raul Ibanez and what he meant. Go ask the 2015 team about Jonny Gomes. Keeping Merrifield around to be an influence on the players moving up through their system can only be looked at as a positive for Kansas City.

Just look at his story. The guy was left off the Royals 40-man roster a few years back, available for any team to take in the Rule 5 Draft. Luckily, he wasn’t taken, worked himself back to reach the big leagues, was left off the Opening Day roster in 2017, returned to Kansas City and has turned himself into an All-Star caliber player. If you are a young player who has struggled or is struggling, Whit is motivation that anything is possible if you set your mind to it.

That hard work, the work ethic, will find a way to rub off on the players we will see over these next couple of years. It’s easy to see Merrifield taking a more prominent leadership role moving forward and possibly even replacing Alex Gordon as a shining example of the hard work put into honing your craft.

Even if Whit drops off a bit these next few years (and that is possible as he gets closer to reaching his regression years), it doesn’t appear as if he is just going to drop off the board entirely. Even a 2-3 WAR season is more than adequate for a guy looking to build up a team that is rebuilding. Whit’s value at this point goes beyond the numbers on the field as he looks to be a cornerstone for the Royals moving forward.

So we now know that Whit is not going anywhere and we can really start focusing on all that makes him great. We can focus on the speed, the skill, the unselfishness and even the leadership. Rather than focus on what the Royals can get for him, we can turn our attention to how he can make the team better.

Dayton Moore is a big believer in loyalty and when he has that devotion he pays it back in spades. Whit has been loyal to the organization and on Monday he was shown that loyalty back. While we sometimes scoff at the manner in which Moore handles matters on the field, there is something to be said for focusing on players with high character.

But that character has to be met with productivity to truly work. Hopefully Whit will reward the organization’s loyalty with the same output we have seen these last two seasons. It’s time to start paying attention to what Merrifield really means to this team. It’s hard to bet against the guy who has defied all the odds up to this point.

Advertisements

More Than Just Thankful For Baseball

kc1

It’s that time of year where most of us look back fondly on what is good in our life and how lucky we really are. The more and more I threw this idea around in my head today, I kept coming back to all the joy baseball gives me. With that in mind, here is what I am thankful for this holiday season, at least where baseball is concerned.

kc2

  • I am thankful that ‘The best Farm System in Baseball’ eventually did pan out for Kansas City, as players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez all turned out to be All-Stars and quality big leaguers.
  • I am thankful that Lorenzo Cain stepped up his game in 2015, proving there is more to him than just one of the best gloves in baseball.
  • I am thankful that when Mike Trout is inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I can say I remember when he was a rookie and we had no idea that what we were seeing was greatness.
  • I am thankful that the extra round of playoffs in baseball has worked and has made it even more exciting than it was before.
  • I am thankful that Matt Harvey realized an innings limit didn’t matter in the playoffs…and that he was stubborn enough to convince his manager to keep him in for the 9th inning in Game 5 of the World Series.
  • Speaking of the Mets, I am thankful that my favorite team only has to face the Mets young arms in one series next year. They are the real deal.
  • I am thankful that baseball has a crop of young superstars(Trout, McCutchen, Stanton, etc.) that they can be proud of and should be promoting as to why they are great for the game.
  • By the way, I am thankful that a baseball town like Pittsburgh can tout a talent like McCutchen and add him to a legacy of true stars that deserve to be looked at like stars, much like Roberto Clemente before him.
  • I am thankful that we get to see a historic season like Bryce Harper this year…then remember he is only 23!

kc3

  • I am thankful for a baseball world where Bartolo Colon is still a thing…and gives everyone great material on a monthly basis.
  • I am thankful for a sport where you can argue for years about possible Hall of Fame players and still change someone’s mind after a ‘deeper look at the numbers’.
  • I am thankful my son loves the Hot Stove League as much as I do.
  • I am thankful that baseball has gone from a game where ‘experience is king’ to a game where now ‘youth is king’.

kc4

  • I am thankful for Rusty Kuntz’s flowing mane…damn!
  • I am thankful that we now live in a world where phrases like ‘exit velocity’ and ‘efficient route’ are part of the lexicon.
  • I am thankful for bat flips.
  • I am thankful predictions mean nothing in baseball; it’s why you play the games.

kc5

  • I am thankful that certain ballplayers can make my hair look suave…thanks, John Jaso!
  • I am thankful that I can watch a different baseball game everyday and learn something new, even 30+ years after I first started watching the game.
  • I am thankful that the history of the game is still woven into the fabric of today’s game.
  • I am thankful that my son thinks I would be a better analyst than Harold Reynolds.
  • I am thankful for the Royals defense.
  • I am thankful that I got to watch Brett, Saberhagen, Jackson, Wilson, McRae and White in my youth. Those players made me fall head over heels for baseball.
  • I am thankful that I am not the only person who believes Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.
  • I also am thankful for the push the last couple years for Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez for their deserved spot in Cooperstown.
  • I am thankful I still remember Oddible McDowell,  Razor Shines and Danny Darwin.

kc6

  • I am thankful that Ken Griffey, Jr. still smiles.
  • I am thankful to have witnessed the transformation of Wade Davis from human to cyborg.
  • I am thankful that I have been given the chance over the last 4 years to do things around this sport that I never imagined possible.
  • I am thankful that I waited out all the bad years of Kansas City baseball. It has made these last two years even more joyful than I can ever put in words.
  • I am thankful that I was wrong about Dayton Moore and Ned Yost.
  • I am thankful for all the late comebacks by the Kansas City Royals.
  • I am thankful for Lorenzo Cain’s running.
  • I am thankful for Alex Gordon’s clutch slugging.
  • I am thankful for Eric Hosmer’s daring baserunning skills.
  • I am thankful for a lockdown Kansas City bullpen.
  • I am thankful to call ‘my Royals’ the World Champs. I honesty wondered if I would ever see that again in my lifetime.
  • and I am thankful that the people in my life who I care most about not only support my love of baseball, but they share in the love. They make all of this even better than if I was just enjoying it on my own.
  • Oh…almost forgot. I am thankful for Jonny Gomes mic skills. His speech will never get old.

kc7

Honestly, I could go on and on. I love this game and there are so many little bits of information or plays that remind of the nuances of this game that spark my love. Let’s all be thankful that baseball is still flourishing and despite some of the things we would fix with the game, for the most part it is as good as it was when we first got hooked. Thank you, baseball. Thank you for being you.

It’s Not Easy Being On the Royals Playoff Roster

kc1

It’s that time of year, where the leaves turn colors, the hoodies are dragged out of the closet and, if you are lucky, your favorite baseball team can start thinking about the playoffs. This also means that as a fan you can start piecing together how you think your team’s playoff roster will look. As a Kansas City Royals fan, we never knew this was a ‘thing’, since up until last year we never had to worry about the Royals playing October baseball. But with Kansas City’s magic number currently sitting at ‘3’, it is pretty safe to say they will be playing past October 4th and hopefully deeper into the postseason. With that said, I was asked over the weekend what I thought the Royals playoff roster would look like. So here is my guess, although to be honest it looked a bit different than on Friday.

kc2

Catchers(2): Salvador Perez, Drew Butera

Infielders(5): Eric Hosmer, Ben Zobrist, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Christian Colon

Obviously, this was fairly easy, since you have the four starting infielders and a backup. Originally I felt like Omar Infante would get picked over Colon, despite the fact that Colon is more versatile whereas Infante is solely a second baseman. Then Omar came up with an oblique injury on Friday, which could sideline him for close to a month if not longer. As most also know, Zobrist can also play the outfield so he could almost be counted as an infielder and an outfielder if necessary.

Outfielders(5): Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Rios, Jarrod Dyson, Jonny Gomes

There was some debate just a week ago that Rios could be on the outside looking in for a roster spot due to his poor performance most of this year. Then he went out last week, continuing his hot hitting since his return from the chickenpox(which is not a minor league team in the Frontier League) and pretty much sewed up a spot for the playoffs. In my mind this pushed Paulo Orlando off the team, as I think the Royals will want Jonny Gomes’ bat for pinch hitting late in the game or against a tough lefthander. I had an argument with someone over Gomes being on the team, as I am of the belief that he was acquired for the sole purpose of being used in the playoffs while this other person who will not be named believes he won’t because the Royals aren’t using him much. I guess we will see, but in the playoffs I can’t see the reasoning behind six outfielders, or having Orlando on the team for solely defensive purposes. But, there might be a spot for him otherwise, which I will get to later.

DH(1): Kendrys Morales

Starting Pitchers(4): Johnny Cueto, Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Kris Medlen

This seems pretty self-explanatory, especially once Danny Duffy was sent to the bullpen. I still laugh when thinking about some of the Royals fans believing that Cueto might not be on this roster if he continued to under-perform. The wild card in this group is Yordano Ventura; if he pitches like he has over the last 4-6 weeks then he will be a solid number two. If he reverts back to his form from earlier this year there could be an issue. I also think Medlen could be a major player, which seems a bit inconceivable considering where he was at when the season started(starting the climb back from Tommy John Surgery). This isn’t the most solid group but if they can go 5-6 innings every game in the playoffs, hopefully the bullpen can do the rest.

Relievers(8): Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson, Franklin Morales, Danny Duffy, Luke Hochevar, Chris Young, Greg Holland

Speaking of, the bullpen is still a strong suit for this Kansas City team but not quite the monster it was last year. Greg Holland has fallen from grace and it was announced earlier today that Wade Davis is the closer going forward while Holland’s role on the team is to be determined. It also came to light that Holland has been dealing with an elbow issue since the All-Star break and isn’t reliable enough to close games for Kansas City. I’m not shocked to learn Holland was hurt, as I have suspected it most of this year, but this puts a giant question mark into the playoff roster. Can Holland be relied on to perform in any close game, even if that means coming in as early as the 6th inning? Or is he past the point of being trusted in such a situation and be completely left off the roster? I really don’t have an answer to this, but I also know manager Ned Yost is a loyal person and might keep Holland around for that reason only. The other options would be to leave him off while adding Paulo Orlando to the team, trusting that a 7-man bullpen is good enough in the ALDS, or you add young pitcher Miguel Almonte to the pen. Almonte has been a mixed bag so far in September and probably isn’t ready for the big stage, but he does have electric stuff and if used in the proper situation could be a viable option. IF Holland is left off the roster, Orlando very well could be the one given the nod.

July 03, 2015: Kansas City Royals Manager Ned Yost relieves Kansas City Royals' starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie (11) in the seventh inning during a Major League Baseball  game between the Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. The Royals won in ten innings, 3-2.

The other roster question for the bullpen is whether to go with Chris Young or Jeremy Guthrie as the long reliever. I know there some Royals fan snickering right now for even mentioning Guthrie, but hear me out. Over the weekend I felt like it could be Guthrie, since he was given the starting nod once Duffy was shuffled to the pen and because Chris Young hasn’t been used much over the last couple months. In fact, in August Young didn’t throw more than an inning in any outing, and only appeared in five games during the entire month. Young does have a 2 and a 3 inning outing so far in September, but I would imagine his arm isn’t stretched out like it normally would be. Plus, I couldn’t imagine Young, an extreme fly ball pitcher, to see any action in Toronto, New York, or even Arlington or Houston’s ballparks. Those ballparks are pretty much all hitter’s parks, or in other words a nightmare for a guy who gives up lots of fly balls. So the only action Young would see would probably be at Kauffman Stadium and that cuts down how often you could use him. But then Guthrie looked atrocious on Tuesday night against Seattle and pretty much assured that he would be left off of any and all playoff rosters. Great guy, but Guthrie has had an awful season that isn’t getting better. So Young gets the nod over Guthrie, but hopefully there won’t be much of a need for him come October.

kc4

So there you go, my guess as to what the Royals first round playoff roster will look like. Like I said, there could be a few slight changes to this and with a week and a half left in the season there is the possibility someone else could get hurt or there could be a need for a bit more depth in an area I hadn’t thought of. At the end of the day it is great to even be able to have this conversation, no matter how much bickering goes on about which player stays or goes. With September being a rough month, I think I speak for lots of Royals fans by saying “let’s just start the playoffs already”. Trust me, it will be here soon enough, as we get to engulf ourselves in another ‘Blue October’.

Alex Rios Has Awoken!

Kansas City Royals’ Alex Rios hits a double off Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Gavin Floyd during the seventh inning of a baseball game, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

2015 has not been the season that either the Kansas City Royals or Alex Rios were counting on when Rios signed a 1 year, $11 mill dollar contract on December 19th of last year. The Royals might not have expected 2012 Alex Rios(where he hit .304./.334/.516 with 25 home runs, 91 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 126) but was hoping for a bit more production than the Texas Rangers got from Rios in 2014(4 homers and 54 RBI’s with a 97 OPS+). Instead, Rios was hit by a pitch the first week of the season and hadn’t rebounded from it since. That is until Rios came down with a case of the chickenpox(yes, that is still a thing) and has been lighting the ball up since his return on September 8th. In fact, Rios has probably gone from a man just on the outside looking in for a spot on the ALDS roster to the very probable starting right fielder when that game gets underway on October 8th.

Apr 6, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals right fielder Alex Rios (15) connects for a two run home run in the seventh inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
(Denny Medley-USA TODAY)

As late as one week ago it appeared that Rios wasn’t going to be on the Royals Division Series roster, as he had been struggling all year and the team had the likes of Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson, both better defensively than Rios, and Jonny Gomes, a solid bat off the bench that kills lefties. Royals manager Ned Yost was continuing to play Rios every day, for a couple of reasons. For one, he had just gotten back from his bout with the ‘pox’ a week earlier and deserved at least a chance to get back into a rhythm. The second reason is in that same vein, as the team was hoping Rios would hit a hot streak and take off, earning himself a spot on the roster, as the Royals would love to go with the hot hand(funny choice of words there) headed into October. There is also that bit about the Royals paying him a decent amount of money; we can act like that isn’t a reason but I would be shocked if it wasn’t. Now, to say Rios has been hot in the last two weeks might just be an understatement.

kc3

Since Rios’ return on September 8th, he has a line of .366/.386/.610 for an OPS of 996 and a BAbip of .394. The part of this that illicited a ‘Wow’ out of me was his slugging, a robust .610 in that span. Over the last few years, Rios lack of power has been a major concern since throughout his career he has shown he can accumulate a decent amount of extra base hits which is what the Royals were hoping for when he was signed. Problem is that Rios has dealt with hand and wrist issues over the last few years which seem to have sapped his power. Rios dealt with an ankle and thumb injury last year with the Rangers, then seemed to be battling a re-occurrence of that thumb inury in Spring Training earlier this year. Then there was the fractured hand he received thanks to a wild rookie on the Minnesota Twins that halted his good start to the season during the second week of April. Hands and wrists are very important to batters, as that is where a lot of the power a hitter shows comes from. Rios can probably blame the regression of his career on these injuries, as they seemed to have sapped most of his power he showed even as recent as 2012.

kc4

But you wouldn’t know that his power numbers have dipped these last couple seasons if you have watched him in September. Like I said, his slugging this month is .610, as he has 4 doubles, 2 homers and 5 RBI’s. Throw in a couple walks, a stolen base and 8 runs and you are looking at a man who might have realized his chance of getting to the playoffs might be slipping through his own fingers. What is really great about these numbers is how far they have jumped in just a few short weeks. Rios’ slugging percentage is up 30 points while his OPS is up over 40 points. Even his on-base percentage is up 10 points while he has doubled his home run total,  all this in just a few weeks. Breaking it down even farther, just within the last week Rios is hitting .375/.400/.583 with 3 of those extra base hits during that span. I have to believe that Rios has leapfrogged Orlando for a spot on the Royals playoff roster, a spot that would break a streak you don’t want to be a part of in baseball.

kc5

If Rios makes the Royals Division Series roster, he will have broken a streak that no player wants to be a part of; he has played the most games of anyone active in baseball right now without playing in a playoff game. Rios’ streak of 1679 games over 12 seasons is the most in baseball at the moment, with the next man also looking to break his streak this season, 1392 games by Jose Bautista of Toronto. If Rios plays in just one playoff game he will fall off this list, as the next two players look to disappear off this list as well(Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion). Chase Headley follows them 1109 games, but that could fall as well with the Yankees possibly making the Wild Card game. If that happens, Adam Lind of Milwaukee would become the active player without a playoff appearance with over 1100 games by that point. As much as there are some great names on this all-time list(Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and George Sisler just to name a few), as a player you want no part of this. That is yet another incentive for Rios to keep up his hot hitting.

kc6

There is no guarantee that Rios will 100% be on the playoff roster, but with only two weeks remaining in the season it looks like a good bet that he will be and start in right field for game 1 of the ALDS. The Royals really haven’t gotten what they expected from Rios this season(and I wouldn’t expect him back in 2016) but he has gotten hot at the right time. There are a lot of choices for the motivation, whether it be being left off the roster, wanting to break his streak of avoiding October baseball or even the threat of shingles, but what can be said is the Royals need Rios to hit like he has lately to help them next month. Many players have come out of nowhere to become October darlings, guys like Mark Lemke. I wouldn’t have any problem with Rios’ name being added to that list, even if it means negating what the previous five months have shown us about his production. At this point, it appears Alex Rios is awake and making pitchers pay for it. Let’s hope this Rios sticks around for another month.

Free As a Bird: Orioles Continue Royals Slide

kc1

It feels like weeks since I have done a review of a Kansas City Royals series and in some ways it has. Life sure has a way of getting in the way of fun, although there is little joy in Mudville right now. That’s right, the Kansas City Royals are on a downward projectory with only a few weeks left in this regular season and the villagers are freaking out. Well, some of them are. I am not. In fact, I say lets get this losing cycle out of the way. The Royals struggled a bit this past weekend in Baltimore, a series that saw the Orioles take two of three from Kansas City. There was some good, some bad and even the downright ugly. Let’s meander over and see what all this series meant for the Royals of Kansas City.

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas, right, celebrates his grand slam with teammates Ben Zobrist (18), Kendrys Morales and Lorenzo Cain (6) in the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Series MVP: Mike Moustakas

On the surface, it wasn’t a blow away series for ‘The Man We Call Moose’. But it’s hard not to give this achievement for one lone game when it is one of the best in franchise history. On Saturday, Moustakas went 3 for 5, hitting 2 home runs and driving in 9, which is a new Royals record:

So what is even better about this? How about the fact that this monster achievement could have entirely been the source of a ‘mechanical adjustment’:

Still not impressed?

Here is the 2nd home run, the one that pushed him to 9 RBI’s in the game:

Overall, Moustakas went 4 for 14 in this series, with a total of 11 RBI’s. Over the last month we have gone from Moustakas going back to his pull-happy days of 2014 before reverting back to the Moose we saw earlier this season, that opposite field hitter we call ‘Oppo-Moose’. It has been a crazy season for Moustakas, one that was more of a struggle than any of us knew. Word got out this weekend about his mother passing away last month, as she had been battling cancer over the last couple of years. It has been something Moustakas has been dealing with for awhile now and I’m sure it weighed heavy over the last month. Hopefully Moose can finish the year strong and possibly even reach a plateau, like that 20 home run mark, since he is only two away.

kc3

(Most Talked About)Pitching Performance of the Series: Johnny Cueto 

The most talked about topic with the Royals nowadays is the performance of Johnny Cueto and why he is struggling so much. It’s pretty obvious that Cueto has hit a bump in the road, which wasn’t helped by his start on Sunday night. Cueto went 6.1 innings, giving up 11 hits and 8 runs(7 earned) while walking 1 and striking out 3. It gets worse when you go back to August 21st, which is five starts ago and when this stretch of confusion sat in for Cueto. In those five starts, Cueto has thrown 26.1 innings, giving up 48 hits and 30 runs(28 earned) while walking 5 and striking out 20. That leaves Cueto with an ERA of 9.57 and opposing hitters have a BAbip of .417. It’s even worse when looking at hitters slash line against him: .390/.411/.675. So what is going on? Oh, there are theories and so far no one theory is the sole answer. The Royals felt like he was tipping his pitches for awhile, or that he wasn’t getting as much movement on his pitches as he normally does:

That was debunked Sunday, as his pitches had good life and there were no noticeable tipping going on. Injured? He says no and has been saying no for weeks. Lost command of his fastball and hung some off-speed pitches? Early on, yes, but not really recently. He has been leaving more pitches up in the strike zone than normal, as normally he would keep the ball down more. There is also this; Rob Neyer recently wrote a piece on Cueto and I found this very telling:

One odd thing about Cueto’s pitching in recent weeks: the range of speeds on his fastball seems to have gotten significantly smaller. Prior to his last seven starts, his fastballs in a game typically ranged from 87 to 96 miles an hour. In his last seven starts, though? Cueto hasn’t thrown a single fastball slower than 91. His two-seam fastball and his change-up are his second and third pitches, and those also have shown less variance lately. Which might suggest that he’s a little too amped up, and is simply overthrowing.

So there is that as well. Funny thing, his strikeout to walk ratio with the Royals is better than when he was with Cincinnati, in fact better than at any other time in his career over a full season. More than anything it appears he has hit a slump where he is leaving the ball up and losing confidence. That has made some of us ask some very poignant questions:

Some Royals fans have suggested he be left off the playoff roster. That isn’t happening. He still has about 4 starts left this season and after that will determine his fate. At worse he comes out of the pen, or becomes the fourth starter. It would be insane to keep Cueto off the playoff roster considering his status in the league over the last five years. I know I have my concerns, but I’m also not majorly worried…yet. It does appear that a wise sage doesn’t agree with my estimate:

It will be interesting to follow. What we do know is that even if this keeps up, the Cueto trade isn’t the worse in Royals history:

kc4

It sure seemed as if Moustakas and Cueto were the only talking points in this series, but they weren’t. A visit to ‘Charm City’ brought some news and notes for these Royals:

  • I mentioned that Moustakas had his one monster game, but Lorenzo Cain put together a good series for the Royals. Cain was 4 for 13, with 2 home runs and 3 RBI’s, with both homers coming on Friday night. Cain is continuing his push in the American League MVP race, one in which he will probably come up short but should end up in the top five. In fact, Cain is hitting .310/.362/.643 so far in September and looks to continue that into October as the Royals push for their first championship since 1985.
  • Royals manager Ned Yost has started using a more logical batting order as of late, moving high OBP hitters like Alex Gordon and Ben Zobrist batting 1-2 while Alcides Escobar has slid back down to 9th in the order:

I’ve been highly critical of Yost over the years, but since last October it’s almost like he has become a wizard and figured out that logical managing is easier than he thought. I love this move and have zero complaints about it. Good job by Neddy. There. I said it.

  • If there is a major concern I have with this club, it is the bullpen. One issue is the lingering physical issues Wade Davis continues to battle:

As if that wasn’t enough, Greg Holland’s velocity has fallen and it can’t get up:

But there’s more! Looking at the bullpen’s numbers over the last month and they are posting a -0.1 WAR and a 4.71 FIP, both ugly numbers. Strikeout and walk rates aren’t too bad but the ERA is around 3.79 in that span, very human for this stellar pen. It gets worse. Over the last two weeks, they are the worst bullpen in the American League, posting a -0.5 WAR, a 5.91 FIP and an ERA of 6.00. Their strikeout rate in this period is the middle of the pack, but the walk rate is the second highest in the league and their HR/9 is only ahead of the Red Sox. This is alarming since this group has been one of the hallmarks of this team the last few years and what was once a guarantee now seems like a question mark. Hopefully the bullpen ship can be righted before October, otherwise more rocky waters could be on the way.

  • Finally, don’t look now but someone has woken up Alex Rios! Rios was 5 for 10 in this series, with 2 doubles, a home run and 3 RBI’s against Baltimore. In fact, since returning from his bout with the chickenpox, Rios has a line of .353/.368/.647 and looks to be positioning himself for a spot on the playoff roster. There have been many discussions about whether or not Rios will be on it, considering you have Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando as better defensive options and Jonny Gomes as a major bench contributor, but if I was asked right now I would say he is on it. He might never have the power he had even three years ago, but if he can hit like he has over the last week than he has a valuable spot on the roster.

kc5

Tweets of Royalty 

kc6

Only twenty games remain in this 2015 regular season for the Royals as their ‘Magic Number’ sits at 11. I think we can all agree this isn’t how we pictured things wrapping up in September, but Kansas City now has some work to do as time does start to run out. The Royals travel to Cleveland for four games this week, a great chance for this team to get back on track and knock off a few wins so some of the panicky Royals fans can calm down and enjoy the next month. Look at it this way; they can either slump now or slump once the playoffs begin. I will take now. It seemed elementary just a month ago but now it might take a little bit of work. If the Royals are going to clinch soon, they are going to have to do it within the division. Honestly, that’s how this should go down. Step 1, get back to basics. Simple as that.

Motown Mowdown: Royals Win Series Over Tigers

kc1

Sure, there are series’ that are ho-hum and feel like just another day at the office. Then there are ones that are more important, or at least important to the mind. As we speak the Detroit Tigers are in last place in the American League Central, a once strong powerhouse now turned into a tamed kitty. Over the last five years we have seen the Tigers spank the Royals on such a regular basis that most of us got used to the routine. But the last two years have been a different story, as Kansas City has held their own and even taken a number of important games from the Tigers. So to say it felt good this week to see the Royals take two of three from Detroit would be an understatement. To see Kansas City pound the ‘Boys from Motown’ well, that felt great. Two blowouts of a division rival is enough to put the biggest smile on any fans face. So how did we get here? All it took was some solid all around baseball to get to your answer.

kc2

Series MVP: Kendrys Morales   

There was some tough competition for this honor, as Lorenzo Cain and Ben Zobrist both put up some hefty numbers in these last three games. But Kendrys Morales was an offensive juggernaut against Detroit, going 8 for 14 with 2 home runs, 8 RBI’s, a BAbip of .600 and raised his OPS over 20 points. The first of his two home runs was hit on Tuesday night, in the Royals one loss in this series:

Morales would get another deep blast on Wednesday night, driving in 3 runs that night.

He came just a few feet short of a third home run in this series on Thursday, but had to settle for a double and 4 RBI’s. Morales is currently sitting at 98 RBI’s with four weeks left in the season but I can almost guarantee he won’t reach the all-time leader for RBI’s by a Royals designated hitter. Hal McRae owns that honor, driving in 133 runs back in 1982. Morales has shown this year that he still has some gas left in the tank(I will fess up to being one that thought he had begun his regression) and has been a vital cog in the middle of this Royals batting order. Morales has been hot as of late(.327/.417/.635 over these last two weeks) and hopefully he can continue this hot streak all the way into October.

kc3

Pitching Performance of the Series: Yordano Ventura  

Most concerns about Yordano Ventura were alleviated with his start on Wednesday night, a start that showcased just how dominate he can be. Ventura went 7 innings, giving up 5 hits and 1 run while walking 1 and striking out 11. That is two consecutive starts that ‘Ace’ has struck out 11, a feat only duplicated by a few other Royals:

In fact Ventura has looked more like the pitcher we envisioned he would be this year over his last five starts, stringing together some numbers that can put a smile on even the most pessimistic fan’s face:

In some ways he just made the Tigers hitters look silly:

The most impressive part of his outing was how Ventura was able to mix his curveball and change-up in with his electric fastball. In fact, Ventura used his fastball only 57% of the time, while his curve was used 25% and the change-up 16%. Going back to the end of July and Ventura was using his fastball more(62%) while only using his curve sparingly(14%), even throwing in a few cutter’s. When Yordano has a good feel for his off-speed pitches he can set batters up with his fastball and then get them by throwing something off-speed. He has been able to do that a lot more this past month and if this is the Ventura we see the rest of the season, he easily locks down a spot in the postseason rotation.

kc4

Down Goes Detroit! Down Goes Detroit!

The Royals offense is a curious thing. It’s not nearly as bi-polar as in year’s past, but it still has their moments. Then there are games like Wednesday and Thursday, where the Royals bats were so hot that I expected to see smoke rising off of them. Kansas City was able to get Detroit’s starters out of both games early, leaving the Tigers bullpen to try and stop the bleeding. Problem is, the Tigers pen is one of the worst in baseball. The Tigers pen has a -0.3 WAR so far this year(28th in baseball), 2nd highest FIP, 71% LOB percentage(26th in baseball) and an ERA of 4.76, the 2nd highest in baseball and highest in the American League.

So you can see why the Royals eyes got larger and feasted on this atrocity of a bullpen. It should be no surprise why Morales, Cain, Cuthbert, Orlando and Zobrist all contributed with home runs in this series and why the offensive numbers were off the table for these three games. In years past Detroit has been able to get away with a creaky bullpen due to their solid rotation and aggressive hitting. Now that some of those key parts have been traded and the team has had to deal with injuries, that pen becomes a giant bullseye for all teams to target. Knock out the Tigers starters and you have a good chance of picking up a ‘W’.

kc5

Plenty of more goodness coming from this series win for the Royals. Brace yourself; time to spill out some news and notes from this first week of September:

  • Alex Gordon was activated on Tuesday, which was great news for those of us that worried Gordon would be lost for the rest of the season when he went down back in July. Instead, he made a quick recovery and got a heroes ovation in his first at bat back:

He would get a sac fly in that at bat, helping put Kansas City on the board. Gordon is a big part of this Royals team and having his back is nothing but a plus. It appears he will be batting 6th most of the time this month, but don’t be surprised if we see him hitting leadoff come October:

It’s great to have Alex back but if you want to understand the true depth of this team, check this out:

It’s almost like the Royals didn’t miss a beat. It does appear as if Alex will be rested fairly often, as he has been in the lineup about every other day since Tuesday. I am totally on board with this, as we want him as rested as possible before October rolls around. So yes, I am excited Gordon is back. But I’m not the only one:

  • The Royals beefed up their bench on Monday with an acquisition of Jonny Gomes from Atlanta:

Gomes has postseason experience and will mostly see action against left handers, as per his success against them:

He also isn’t too shabby playing at ‘The K’:

If things got bad enough, he could even fill in out of the bullpen:

He also can fight off a pack of wolves:

Good acquisition by Dayton Moore, as Gomes could be a solid bat off the bench in the playoffs. It also appears as if this trade was made because of the uncertainty of Alex Rios’ condition. Speaking of…

  • Word trickled out on Tuesday that Rios and Kelvin Herrera both came down with a case of chickenpox:

It’s a little unclear how this affects the team going forward. It looks like both players will be cleared to return in about another week, but chickenpox is much worse if you get it as an adult:

So it will be interesting to see if there is a period where Rios and Herrera play at not quite full speed. The good news is that it appears no one else on the team came down with the illness. It also appears as if we don’t have to worry about Morales and Gomes:

  • The September call-ups have begun:

There is a good chance we see quite a bit out of these guys, as manager Ned Yost rests his regulars throughout this month. It also appears this could be all we see of players recalled from the minors:

Some of these players have already become a necessity. All saw action in this series and Cuthbert saw starts in the last two games:

It also helps when you blow the other team out of the water for two straight nights. Just saying.

  • Justin Verlander started against the Royals Tuesday and was coming off of his one-hit effort against the Angels last week. But Verlander has a history with Kansas City:

Verlander went 6.2 innings, giving up 7 hits and 4 runs(2 earned) while walking 1 and striking out 4. The Royals didn’t dominate him but you could also say the same about Verlander. Maybe it’s because the two teams play each other so much, but it definitely seems like the Royals are not fooled by Verlander. Verlander might look more like the Verlander of old, but the Royals are not impressed.

  • The Royals celebrated their ‘Franchise Four’, which was selected by the fans before the All-Star game this summer. George Brett, Frank White, Bret Saberhagen and Dan Quisenberry were chosen for this honor and it was great to see three of the honorees on the field this week:

All four men hold a special place in my fandom, as they were all prevalent stars when I began watching baseball in the 1980’s. It was also great to see Frank White out there, as he has been at odds with Royals management over the years and has only been at a few games since his firing a few years ago. I had been asked when this voting was going on who my four would be, and this was who I chose. I think there are legitimate arguments for the likes of Willie Wilson, Kevin Appier and Amos Otis, but I think the fans chose the right four. Hopefully we get to see White return next month to throw out a first pitch before a playoff game. Yes, fingers are crossed.

  • Finally, Johnny Cueto struggled in his start on Tuesday, the third straight start he has had issues. There was lots of concern about Cueto, but I’m not one of them. If he looked like he was compensating on the mound for an injury, or even had a loss of velocity I would have my worries. But it appears his problems are purely location:

Dave Eiland has already worked with Cueto and they think they have fixed an issue with his arm slot. Remember, three starts is a small sample size and while it is a bit concerning, we are talking about one of the best pitchers of the last four years:

Now, if he struggles again this weekend…

kc6

Tweets of Royalty

Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain (6) celebrates with Salvador Perez after Cain hit a solo home run during the third inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

So 29 games remain in this regular season for the boys in blue and the magic number continues to dwindle:

Most of us have been in a playoff frame of mind for awhile now, but Kansas City not only has to lock down the Central, but also home field advantage in the playoffs. Regulars will be rested during this month, but they also need to keep their eyes on the prize. The White Sox are headed into Kauffman Stadium this weekend to take on the Royals and while they haven’t performed up to expectations this year, they have given the Royals fits throughout the year. Kind of like that gnat that lingers and won’t go away, no matter how often you shoo it away. So by no means will this be an easy series. At this point, every win is another game closer to lowering that magic number. There will also be a battle for the 4th starter spot for the playoffs, which at this point looks to be between Kris Medlen and Danny Duffy. Three games up, hopefully at least two go in the win column. Steady wins the race, as has been the case all year for the Kansas City Royals.

Buy or Sell, There is No Standing Pat

kc1

Hey, have you heard the trade deadline is this week? If you have, you know that the Kansas City Royals have been connected to many a rumor, as they fly around like texts from Billy Butler this time of year. This is just a smattering of names rumored to have Dayton Moore’s interest right now: Alex Rios, Marlon Byrd, Antonia Bastardo, Chris Denorfia, Andrew Miller, Jonny Gomes, Dayan Viciedo, Ben Zobrist, and even a hint of Ryan Howard(although I don’t think there is must interest on KC’s part as much as Philadelphia wanting to dump him on someone). It’s apparent the Royals are going to have to pick up another bat if they are serious about contending for a playoff spot. If they aren’t serious(and seriously, what team will really admit that?) then they need to be sellers. But the reports that are leaking out make one wonder if much of anything is going to happen.

kc2

Let’s begin with the trade that went down today. Earlier, the Royals traded Danny Valencia to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for two players who have been playing in AAA, Erik Kratz and Liam Hendriks. By no means is this a “blow the doors off the barn” type of trade, but it does upgrade a few minor things for Kansas City. Kratz will take over the backup catcher spot for Brett Hayes(who was Designated for Assignment to make room for him) and will add a bit more offense to that spot. The move also allows the Royals to carry a backup infielder again, as Christian Colon will be recalled from Omaha. Yep, the Royals have been playing without a true backup infielder for a few weeks now. To make matters worse, it’s not the first time that has happened this year. Roster management isn’t exactly Dayton’s strength. The move also shows that the team has faith that Mike Moustakas has gotten past his struggles of earlier this year(and last year). I’m not 100% convinced Moustakas will ever be anything more than a guy who hits .250, slams around 20 homeruns and plays good defense. But that is another topic for another time. If anything, this move tightens up the bench, which is a must for any team who wants to go deep into the playoffs. Or is this a precursor to a bigger move?

kc3

Unless this is all just a major smokescreen, it looks like there might not be a bigger move. Alex Rios of Texas was discussed for quite awhile; it now looks like his salary is an issue and would hold Kansas City back from acquiring him. Marlon Byrd? He looks like a no-go as well, as he has a no-trade clause and won’t waive it unless the team acquiring him picks up his 2016 option. The Royals are pretty set on acquiring a right handed bat(which I feel is a bit short-sighted; if there is a quality bat out there, you go after it, no matter what side of the plate it is) and the options are limited. The scary part is up in the article talking about the Royals bowing out of the Rios talks. It’s been mentioned a few times that salary is a key factor in a move not being made, as in “the Royals don’t want to take on more salary so they will hold off on a deal until August.” This blows my mind. We’ve heard for years by management that “2014 is the season” and “we are all in”. If that was true, you pick up the extra month of salary and give your team the best option of winning. It seems odd that money is now the issue, since Royals owner David Glass has stated he is “obsessed with winning”. If you are obsessed with it, you go all out to make it happen. You are not obsessed with it if you have a limit. This also opens up the other issue; even if the purse strings were opened, is this team a “real” contender?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Tampa Bay Rays

As of this writing, the Royals are 5 games behind the Tigers in the American League Central standings and only 2 games out of the second wild card spot. Technically, they are contenders. But…that second wild card is a bit of an illusion. Sure, it is a reachable goal. But is it worth it to trade off part of your future(a prospect) for a few months of mild improvement(a right handed bat)? I am about as torn on this as I humanly could be. On one hand, the Royals haven’t been to the playoffs in 29 years. We are all dying to get there and there might not be a better chance for a few years. On the other hand, this team just doesn’t scream playoff contender  to me, and hasn’t most of the year. This is a wildly inconsistent offensive team and I doubt even acquiring any of the names mentioned earlier will stabilize this bunch. So with that said, is it worth it for this team to go out, pick up players, get the second wild card spot, play one playoff game on the road, lose, then turn around and lose James Shields and Billy Butler at the end of the season? That is the million dollar question.

kc5

I’m not trying to be a downer, but the realist in me knows we wouldn’t be having this conversation if that second wild card didn’t exist. If the old playoff system was intact, the Royals would be sellers, pick up a nice haul for Shields and start preparing for 2015. Unofficially, that second wild card is a version of beer goggles to some teams that would normally be sellers. That is why there isn’t much out there talent-wise and why a team like Tampa Bay, who once was in the cellar in the American League East, now believes they can get to the playoffs(they are currently only 4 games out of the wild card) and probably won’t be trading David Price or anyone else for that matter. But…that second wild card DOES exist and teams who normally wouldn’t be in play ARE in play. This includes the Royals and is why as much as part of me would like to see what they could get for Big Game James, I know they have to go for it.

kc6

But are they? It doesn’t feel like they are. My dad would say they are “half-assing” it. What team, especially one with the offensive holes this Royals team have, thinks that the likes of Raul Ibanez, Erik Kratz, and Jason Frasor shows that they are “all in”? I’m not saying go out and kill the farm system to make this team better, but this team needs more than a 42 year old outfielder, a backup catcher, and a middle reliever to get them to “the promised land”. I have to believe this team will take a step back in 2015, so if they are going for it they can’t just wait until August to make a move, when players have to slip through waivers just to make something happen. No, the time to go for the kill is now(actually the real perfect time would have been when they were still in first place) and instead it feels like no matter what move is made, it will feel like a letdown.

kc7

After 8+ years of the current Royals regime, it feels wrong that a simple thing like a few $100,000 will be the difference between an upgrade and the status quo. Sure, it’s not my money, but winning means more butts in the seats at “The K” and more filled seats mean more dollars. It’s a simple equation that ownership refuses to learn and in the long run it will cost them. For some, the Royals hovering around .500 is good enough for them and will satisfy their needs. But for some of us, we want more. We want what we had in the 70’s and 80’s. We want consistent winning, consistent contending and management that “gets it”. Instead, we get a GM who values the wrong things and an owner who thinks you should run a baseball team like it is Wal Mart. Folks, we deserve better. We deserve to see October baseball. I’m not sold we will see it this year. What I do know is right now is not the time to straddle the fence on what to do with this team. It’s quite simple; as Yoda would say ” Buy or Sell, there is no standing pat.”

Should Billy Stay or Should He Go

kc1

There probably isn’t a more polarizing player on the Royals roster right now than Designated Hitter Billy Butler. The once beloved Butler has seemingly fallen from grace in the eyes of the fans and even in management’s eyes. Within the last few days word has leaked out that the Seattle Mariners have discussed the availability of Butler, a player they have coveted for awhile now. Butler is enduring the worst year of his career and it appears that at the age of 28 he might have started regressing already. So with all of this out there, the question needs to be asked: should the Royals trade Billy Butler?

kc2

That question is an interesting one, one that isn’t a straight yes or no answer. Let’s first look at the facts: Butler has provided very little offensive punch this season, as he is on pace for the lowest homerun, RBI, and OPS numbers of his career. Since Butler has been one of the most consistent hitters in baseball for quite awhile the prevalent thought(mine included) has been that at some point he would turn around this season and put up numbers more representative of his career. With only 68 games remaining, the likelihood of that happening lessens everyday. His trade value has never been lower and with him carrying a team option(a hefty one at that; 12.5 million) for 2015, it’s pretty plain to see he won’t be in Royal blue next season. The smart choice would be to get something(anything) for him, but it’s not as easy as that. The Royals don’t have a ready replacement for him(Raul Ibanez?? Suuuuuure) and they are pushing for their first playoff appearance in Kansas City since 1985, so the Royals need all the fire power they can get. Since you probably wouldn’t get a better hitter for Butler, trading for his replacement would have to almost certainly be done separately. There is also this little dilemma; if you trade Billy to the Mariners, you are trading him to the team that is in front of them for the second Wild Card spot. So in effect, the Royals might very well be helping out the team they will be fighting for said playoff spot.

kc3

So if Kansas City decides to pull the trigger on this trade with Seattle, they are probably either going to ask for a bullpen arm in return, either from the majors or minors. The Royals are probably also going to have to pay a portion of Butler’s remaining salary this year(8 million). The Royals have been searching for additional bullpen help, so this would help solve that. I wish I could say here that Billy would net more than that, but his value just isn’t that high. Mariners DH’s have hit a weak .236/.289/.356 this season, which means for them Butler would be an upgrade. I can’t foresee any other team being interested unless they wanted to use him as a part-time player or a bench guy(especially if a National League team was interested). Seattle is probably the best option for Kansas City to make a deal with at this point.

kc4

If this happens, the Royals will then need to go out and pick up someone to be his replacement. There have been rumors that the Royals are interested in Jonny Gomes of Boston, who is a solid OF/DH type, but is better when facing southpaws(.306/.403/.429) than righties. Gomes would be a solid batter but one who’s flaws are more apparent when receiving more playing time. Cody Ross in Arizona could also be an interesting addition and he has helped teams make a push for a playoff spot in the past(San Francisco immediately coming to mind). Hell, the Royals might even add a couple bats and split them between RF and DH. There is also the option of the Royals using the DH as a rotating spot, letting their other starters play there occasionally to give them a rest on defense while keeping their bat in the lineup(see Perez, Salvador). The only problem with that is that their bench is weak to say the least and the lineup would see a decline playing Christian Colon, Brett Hayes or Danny Valencia more than they are now. Raul Ibanez? Like I said before this really isn’t an option. The man is 42 and was released by the Angels for a reason earlier this season. In the ten games since his return to Kansas City he is hitting a meek .135 with just 5 hits in 37 at bats. So if the Royals are looking to improve their offense by trading Butler, a couple other moves will probably have to happen as well.

kc7

So what should the Royals do? In my opinion, the Royals have a legitimate chance of getting into the playoffs this year, but only if there is an upgrade in the offense. I’ve long been a supporter of Butler, if for no other reason than the fact that he had a consistent track record of producing for the Royals. Unfortunately, he just isn’t producing this year and the Royals aren’t in a position of just letting him fight through it all year. So would I trade Butler? Yes, but ONLY IF IT IMPROVES THE OFFENSE. I put that in bold, because the team shouldn’t just trade him to trade him. No, they need to be confident that if they deal him what they have to replace his bat will be of greater value than what Billy would have brought them for the rest of the year. Otherwise you are weakening an already bi-polar offense that has two players(Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas) who the team doesn’t know if they can trust to be solid offensive contributors. It’s sad to say, but it might be the best for both the Royals and  Billy to part ways. In two years Butler has gone from being willing to run through a brick wall for the team and its fans to “favoriting” a post about the trade rumors between Seattle and Kansas City on Twitter:

At this point, the Royals need an answer offensively. It appears more and more everyday Billy Butler isn’t that answer. Soon enough we will know if “Country Breakfast” is helping the Royals or the Mariners make a playoff push.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑