Happy Trails, Omar

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Sometimes things just don’t work out. That’s a good way to describe the Kansas City Royals parting ways with second baseman Omar Infante on Wednesday. This wasn’t a shocking move in the fact that it happened; the timing was the only thing that caught most off-guard. Infante had been relegated to third-string second baseman thanks to the hot start that Whit Merrifield has gotten off to and the fact that Omar had struggled on both offense AND defense this year. The Royals still owe Infante another $17.75 million, which includes a buyout of his 2018 option and the fact that Kansas City was willing to eat the rest of his contract shows you the albatross that Infante had become to the Kansas City roster. But at the end of the day, this was the best choice for everyone involved.

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Not everything was all downtrodden when it comes to the Royals signing of Infante. The Royals signed Infante before the 2014 season to a 4 year, $30.25 million deal with a team option for 2018 and at the time it felt like a good signing. The Royals had struggled at second base for years and before Infante, Kansas City was saddled with my favorite punching bag, Chris Getz. Infante was coming off of a solid 2013 campaign in Detroit, where he put up a line of .318/.345/.450 with an OPS+ of 115 and a bWAR of 2.5. Sure, he was entering his age 32 season with the feeling of regression lurking in the shadows, but all he really had to do was give the Royals an upgrade at offense and solid defense and they would be happy. Unfortunately, the momentum started to shift from almost the very beginning.

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In Infante’s six game in a Royals uniform, he took a fastball to the jaw courtesy of Heath Bell. To say he hasn’t been the same since would be an understatement:

 

For Infante’s almost 2.5 years in Kansas City, he hit .238/.269/.328 with an OPS+ of 62 and a bWAR of -0.2. Infante did put up above average defensive numbers for the first two years of his deal but even that took a dip this year, falling below replacement level. For the longest time, Infante’s litany of injuries (jaw, shoulder, elbow) were blamed for his struggles, but that seemed to be rectified this past offseason, as Infante had surgery in November to remove bone chips from his right elbow. The belief was now that Omar was healthy, we would see the guy who had performed so well in 2013. Instead, he struggled even more this year, most notably on defense. The move to his right to backhand a grounder was a normal task in the past; this year he struggled on a consistent basis making that move. It appeared his range had continued to decline and there was very little zip on the ball whenever he would make the throw to first. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I saw Omar throw the ball over the top; every throw I saw from him this year was sidearm. The injuries had seemed to take a toll on his body and the guy who was once a solid defensive second baseman had now become a liability on the field. Infante would bumble a ball in Cleveland a few weeks ago and that would be the last time he would start a game in a Kansas City uniform. Infante was regulated to the bench moving forward, as utility man Merrifield would see the majority of starts moving forward. Christian Colon would be recalled last week and even he was getting multiple starts at second base instead of Infante. It was obvious the end was near.

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There were a couple Omar highlights that I will probably remember for awhile. There was the home run in Game 2 of the 2014 World Series:

 

Oh Hunter Strickland, you insidious gas can! There was also Infante’s walk-off against the Angels in June 2014(a game I was actually in attendance for):

 

But there is one highlight that will be hard to ever forget. Last year in Cleveland, Infante and Alcides Escobar pulled off a highlight reel play that still is fun to watch today:

 

Yep, that was in the 9th inning of a one run game. That’s as big time as it gets! Sure, there aren’t a ton of Omar highlights during his time in Kansas City, but these won’t fade from my memory anytime soon.

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So what should be the game plan for the Royals at second base moving forward? At the current moment, Whit Merrifield seems to be acclimating himself to major league baseball quite well, so I would assume he would continue to see the majority of playing time there. Christian Colon will also figure into their plans, getting a few starts a week at the position:

There has been an interesting rumor floating around over the last couple days:

Now, I’m not 100% sold this will happen. For one, Reyes hasn’t played much second base in his career, just a few games back in 2004. That would be a minor hurdle. The bigger hurdle to jump would be the character issue. Reyes is coming off of a domestic abuse issue and will probably be highly scrutinized for the immediate future. Royals GM Dayton Moore has made it a priority to bring in players who are great clubhouse guys, players who will fit in with the family environment in Kansas City. Moore has occasionally veered off the path(Jose Guillen immediately comes to mind, even Alex Rios wasn’t considered a high character guy) but this just feels like too much media coverage just to fill a slight hole. The plus to it would be that Merrifield could go back to being the utility guy that is probably better suited for him and Reyes would be a major offensive upgrade over Infante. The Royals also wouldn’t have to pay him much, as the Rockies are on the hook for the remainder of Reye’s 2016 salary. But my gut tells me this won’t happen; if I’m wrong there could be a whole batch of issues for us to discuss then. For now, the Royals will just go with Merrifield and Colon and see if someone becomes available that could strengthen the team down the stretch drive.

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No matter how much flak we have given Omar these last couple seasons, I still don’t consider this a bad signing. Sure, I didn’t love that it was a four year deal, but unfortunately that is what a small market team like the Royals has to do since they can’t offer a player more money. No one saw Infante’s regression being so steep, so fast. The good news is we are in the middle of June, with three and a half months left in the season. This could have been so much worse if Infante was still holding up a roster spot into August, taking up space while rarely being used. Infante seemed like a nice enough guy, but it just didn’t work out between him and the Royals. The Royals can now move forward and Omar can see if he is able to latch on to a new team for the rest of the season. That being said, there is one more thing you can do; Vote Omar. Yes, the All-Star balloting is still going on and Infante is listed at second base. Go ahead and go to Royals.com and #VoteOmar. I know, he doesn’t deserve it, but it will burn the chaps of all the people who take All-Star voting seriously. You at least owe us this, Omar. Happy trails.

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Canadian Kerfuffle: Royals Take Series From Blue Jays

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It was the last series before the All-Star Break, and by design it should be a simple three games before a large contingent of the Kansas City Royals(active roster and coaching staff) take off for Cincinnati. Instead it was three games that packed as much action, excitement and insanity that a series could. No way, right? Um, read on. It was crazy.

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Series MVP: Eric Hosmer

I have issues with Eric Hosmer. Seriously, peruse through this blog. You will find more words written about Hosmer than any fan should probably ever consider writing. But I have gone down that path and it’s because the guy mystifies me. One minute, he looks like a major leaguer that completely forgot how to hit, mechanics and all. The next minute he looks like a perennial All-Star and someone who could regularly compete for an MVP. So which one is he? I think after all this time he is actually both. He is obviously someone who’s mechanics at the plate get messed up while his pitch selection seems to go south for weeks on end. Luckily it seems as if Eric is starting to come out of a prolonged slump and start to get on base consistently. Hosmer was 6 for 12 in this series, with one double, 2 RBI’s and a BAbip of .545. Sure not ‘blow the doors off the barn’ numbers, but I like that he was getting on base, including a 4 hit game on Friday night:

I do have one wish of Hosmer, and that is for him to drive the ball more. His Line Drive % is up this year(23.1 to last year’s 16.9) which is promising, but there is a stat that is insanely higher for Hosmer this year that scares me. Hosmer’s IFH% (Infield Hit Percentage) is sitting at 6.2% this year, compared to last year’s 1.9%. Now in the past he has had a % in that 5-7% range, so the outlier number might be last year’s, but it just feels like we have seen Hosmer get a lot of infield hits this year. Over the last week we have seen him pull the ball with some authority a bit more, which his Pull% this year is down just a tad(34.9% to 36.8%) from last year. I know the Royals have been pushing to have Hosmer turn on the ball more than he does, but it also seems like he is at his best when he is driving the ball to left-left center. The improvement this past week is a plus, but I think we could see an even more potent Eric Hosmer and hopefully that guy will show up just around the corner. Otherwise I will accept the guy who gets on base at a .500 clip during a series. Getting on base is half the battle.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Danny Duffy

Before the season started I stated that I felt like Duffy could very well be the key to how the Royals performed this season. My thinking was since he was going to be a bigger part of the rotation this year, the Royals would need for him to be healthy and pitch like he did last year. So far he has struggled to do either of those things(and the Royals are still on top of the American League Central), but if he pitches like he did on Friday it could go a long way toward adding another piece to the rotation puzzle. Duffy went 6 innings, giving up 4 hits and no runs while walking 3(while also plunking a batter) and striking out none. Yep, look at that line again and you would wonder what happened to the Duffy that would rack up the strikeouts while also adding to his pitch count in the process. This lead to his second best game score this season and a victory over the Jays. He still hasn’t quite looked like 2014 Danny Duffy, but there is at least progress and he seems to be getting closer and closer to that guy after every start. It wasn’t a Cy Young performance, but it was exactly what the Royals needed.

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You Wouldn’t Believe Me Even If I Told You… 

How would I describe Sunday’s game? Crazy, absurd, mind-boggling, unreal and sometimes ugly. Yep, the rubber game of this series was one of those games that made no sense.  Let’s start from the beginning. In the bottom of the 1st inning, the Royals tacked on 6 runs, including a mammoth home run from Kendrys Morales:

Instantly, I figured the game was over. Silly me. The Royals were up 7-0 in the 6th inning when the Blue Jays would score 8 times and put them ahead 8-7. Craziness really did ensue at this point, as the Royals had collected 3 errors. I can’t even remember the last time Kansas City had 3 errors in one game. The Royals would counter and go up 10-8 in the bottom of the inning, highlighted by a Jose Reyes 2 run error. Watching this series, I wasn’t too impressed with Reyes’ defense. Remember the bad throw last year in Toronto that helped the Royals come back with a big victory? It just felt like Toronto was going to do everything it could to hand this game to the Royals. The Blue Jays would strike back in the 7th inning, thanks to another Kansas City error:

It could have been even worse for Kansas City in the top of the 7th inning if it wasn’t for Salvador Perez and his ability to see everything laid out on the field:

I loved Martin’s comment after the game about Perez:

“If you look at it, I really wasn’t that far [around third],” Martin said. “That kid has a cannon arm. What I did recognize was the pitcher was kind of lazy to get to and cover home plate. I’m rounding third base with a full head of steam and thinking aggressively.”

Wade Davis would come in for the 8th inning, and how many of us instantly thought “Nothing happening this inning”? Except Davis did a very un-Wade Davis thing to do, and gave up a run(which ballooned his ERA up to 0.46). Seriously, I don’t think I would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it. Then it would get crazier; with a runner on first base,  Jose Bautista would get himself ejected from the game:

It would stay tied going into the bottom of the 8th when Paulo Orlando continued his magical week:

As if that wasn’t enough excitement, there was the old ‘strike ’em out, throw ’em out’ to end the game:

So the Royals came away with another victory in one of the wackiest games I have ever seen:

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Now here is some news and notes from the final series of the first half of the 2015 season:

  • I know we have all been frustrated by Alex Rios’ play since he returned from his hand injury, but there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Over the last two weeks, Rios has a line of .304/.333/.348, and has six 2 hit games in that span. The biggest worry is his lack of extra base hits, which he did have 2 doubles in this Toronto series and hopefully that is a sign of greater things to come. If not, the Royals will be on the lookout for another outfielder, especially with Alex Gordon gone for 8 weeks.
  • Mark Buerhle shut down the Royals again on Saturday and it got me wondering just how much he has dominated Kansas City over the years. In 53 career games started against the Royals, Buerhle has won 26 games, compiling a 3.53 career ERA against Kansas City and a WHIP of 1.245. It isn’t quite as dominating as I remember, but it is nothing to sneeze at. Hopefully the Royals can skip him when they travel to Toronto at the end of the month.
  • Dee Gordon of Miami injured his thumb this weekend sliding into first base and all I kept thinking of was how that just as easily could have been Eric Hosmer. There is no advantage to sliding into first base and can lead to a hand injury. I wish Hosmer would stop doing it before he ends up hurt.
  • I got the chance to watch 3/4 of the Futures Game on Sunday, and it was great to Royals prospects Raul Mondesi, Cheslor Cuthbert and Balbino Fuenmayor. It was my first time seeing Fuenmayor and I was impressed. He seemed to have solid batting tools and agreed with what the announcers said, which was that his stance and batting style was reminiscent of former Royal Billy Butler. Hopefully he can contribute at the major league level in the near future, although not too near.
  • Finally, it was great to see Mike Moustakas win the Final Vote and procure himself a spot on the American League All-Star roster. The #VoteMoose stuff was great on Friday and he earned that spot based on his great performance in the first half of this season. He returned to the team on Friday and we also officially found out that his mother has been ill, which is why he has been away a few times this year. I’ve been asked that question numerous times the last few months, and I always said that I knew she was sick, but didn’t know for sure if that was the reason he had a leave of absence. Hopefully she is getting better and all of us in Royal Nation send our positive thoughts her way:

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Tweets of Royalty

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So there you go, as the first half of the baseball season is in the books. The Royals are currently sitting in first place in the American League Central, 4.5 games ahead of the Minnesota Twins. The Royals will return to action on Friday against the White Sox, as they will have a doubleheader on Friday, one being a makeup game from earlier in the season. We are getting close to the trade deadline, so it will be interesting to see if the roster does some fluctuation over the next couple of weeks. If you remember last year the Royals picked up a couple players during August, which means they had to go through waivers. We also have a good chance of finally seeing Kris Medlen make his Royals debut in the second half, which will hopefully strengthen the pitching staff. It’s too early to say this team will be in the playoffs come October, but so far so good. One half down, one half left to go. I’d like to go to another playoff game this October; lets make that happen Kansas City!

 

 

 

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