I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For: The Vargas Years

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On Thursday, the Kansas City Royals held a press conference for their “Major Announcement”, the signing of left handed pitcher Jason Vargas to a 4-year, $32 million dollar deal. It was well known that the Royals were in the market for a starting pitcher to replace the departed Ervin Santana, who was a solid #2 starter for the team in 2013. Names like Tim Hudson, Josh Johnson and Phil Hughes were all bandied about for Kansas City, but in the end they inked Vargas. This announcement was met with neither joy nor anger by Royals fans…instead, it was met with a very ‘meh’ reaction. So was this a good deal for the Royals? Let’s go ahead and break it down.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Tampa Bay Rays

First is the length of the deal. When I first heard of the signing, this was the part that disturbed me. I am of the belief that very few pitchers are worth a contract over four years. The only ones you should feel confident with are the Clayton Kershaw’s and Justin Verlander’s of the game. If you are not an elite hurler, there should be no reason to give them a long-term contract. Pitcher’s are too fragile and tend to break down at a higher rate than a position player. It is also quite the gamble to do that with a pitcher in his 30’s, normally the age a moundsman starts to regress. So four years for an average pitcher(which I will get into in a bit) just seems like an awful idea. Between Jeremy Guthrie and Vargas, it seems as if Royals GM Dayton Moore feels he needs to add extra years just to get a pitcher to sign in Kansas City. At one point that might hold some truth; but that is not the case in 2013. Coming off of a winning year, the Royals aren’t in the position they were in when they had to sign Gil Meche to a large contract just to get him to listen. Those days are gone. So any talk that they HAD to give Vargas four years is preposterous. Hopefully signing Vargas to that long of a deal doesn’t come back to bite them, which it could. When you sign such a long deal for a guy, that is a commitment you are making to your baseball team despite how the player in question is performing. In this case, the Royals are more likely to stick with him in the rotation longer than they would, let’s say, Bruce Chen, because of their commitment to him. So in the end, the length of this deal is almost an albatross around the Royals neck.

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Now let’s look at the dollars portion of the deal. I actually have no problem with paying Vargas around $8 million a year. The contract actually breaks down to $7 million the first year, $8.5 million for years 2 & 3, then $8 million for the final year. In all honesty, most experts had predicted Vargas would sign for around $10 million a year, so an average of $8 million a year really is not bad. In this regard, the Royals did okay, even if you think Vargas is just a younger Bruce Chen. Which brings us to the next section…

Bruce Chen

If you look at Vargas and his style, it’s hard not to see him as a younger doppelganger of Bruce Chen, or at least his pitching style. Vargas doesn’t break 90 mph on the radar gun, and uses a change of speed as his biggest weapon. Normally with pitchers like Vargas and Chen, you either have to keep the batters off balance, or you are going to get lit up like Snoop Dogg(Lion?) on a tour bus. The last two years Vargas has had pitcher’s parks to call home(Anaheim & Seattle) and yet his home/road splits show two different pitchers:

2013:
Home: 6-2, 3.30 ERA, 79 innings, 60 Ks, 24 walks, .251/.307/.413
Road: 3-6, 4.82 ERA, 71 innings, 49 Ks, 22 walks, .303/.359/.440

2012:
Home: 5-5, 2.74 ERA, 98 innings, 69 Ks, 22 walks, .219/.265/.327
Road: 9-6, 4.78 ERA, 118 2/3 innings, 72 Ks, 33 walks, .266/.315/.495

It’s easy to see that he does fine in a pitcher’s park, but once he is away from there his numbers spike upward…a lot. Kauffman Stadium is more of a neutral park than the last two he has pitched in on a regular basis, and I’m sure the Royals great defense will help him as well. But his number’s at the K over his career don’t exactly ooze confidence from me: Vargas has pitched 20 innings at Kauffman Stadium against the Royals, with two total strikeouts and an ERA of 5.31. These are numbers from a guy who the Royals look to be counting on to be their number 3 starter this year…and maybe more in the future. So go back to that contract: 4 years, $32 million. Bruce Chen probably could have been re-signed for 2 years and around $12 million. That is way less of a commitment and less money for the same kind of pitcher. Plus, Bruce Chen is funnier. Just saying.

Jason Vargas

Now, don’t take this as me disliking Vargas. I think if the Royals were using him as the #4 or 5 starter I would have less of a problem with this. Vargas will eat innings and have games where he will look unhittable. He will be what he is: a solid, inning eating average pitcher. Hey, we all know the Royals need innings as much as anything. The sad thing is the Royals are at a point where they can contend, yet bought like they just want to get by. The window for this Royals team to win is very small, as James Shields will become a free agent after this upcoming weekend. Logic says the Royals should have gone out and gotten a solid #2 starter for the rotation. Was one available? Maybe not on the surface, but a guy like Scott Feldman or Phil Hughes might have more upside than Vargas does. Yes, Hughes would have been a gamble, but that is kind of what this team needs to do now. Instead, the Royals gave a large contract to a league average pitcher. If he is to be believed to be Santana’s replacement, it will be a step down.

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The one way around this is if Danny Duffy or Yordano Ventura step up this year and show the stuff that scouts have been saying about them for years. Duffy seems like a long shot, since he can’t seem to stay healthy or keep his pitch count down. He has the stuff and the talent, he just needs to stay off the DL and throw less pitches. Ventura had both good and bad moments in his September call-up. It’s hard to see his triple digit fastball and not get excited, and there is a very good chance he is as special as we’ve been told he is. But rookies don’t always flourish right out of the gate, so it’s hard to predict just what kind of pitcher he will be in 2014. There is also the outside chance Kyle Zimmer will jump from AA to the majors, but a lot of things would have to go right for that to happen. Either way, much like last year, the Royals are counting on more improvement than regression. It’s a scary gamble to take.

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So I hate the length of this deal, but more than anything I hate what this signing stands for. It probably means the Royals have made their big move of the winter and it was for a pitcher who reminds me of Bruce Chen and looks like Rodney Ruxin. I think Vargas will be a serviceable pitcher and should be a steady arm for Kansas City to count on. But the Royals need more, which puts more pressure on Duffy, Ventura and Zimmer to be more of a savior for this pitching staff. If this pushes Wade Davis out of a rotation spot, the deal looks better. But it’s not the deal I would have made, and it makes you wonder just how in it  Kansas City will be for 2014. The rest of the American League Central looks to be improved for next year, so for the Royals to keep up with the Jones’ they need to improve as well. Sorry, Jason Vargas. You are a step down at this point. Nothing personal. At least you have security. Four years worth, in fact.

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Royals Off-Season Needs: Starting Pitcher

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With a current crop of free agents now free and able to work out new contracts for the 2014 season, now is as good a time as any to take a look at one of the Kansas City Royals needs for next season. We’ve already taken a look at right field so now it’s time to take a look at the other major need, starting pitching. Now, the Royals don’t need as much help in this category as they have in years past, but with Ervin Santana looking to be gone, they will need to replace him AND maybe even pick up a second arm(you know, because injuries do happen). So with that said, let’s look at some of the team’s options at starting pitcher.

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Ervin Santana

I know, I know. I already said he is gone. I firmly believe Kansas City isn’t going to be able to match the years and dollars that Santana is probably due, so he is as good as gone. But…there is that outside chance he could stay. Kansas City followed normal protocol this week and gave him a qualifying offer, which is made just as much for the draft pick the Royals would receive if/when he leaves as much as anything. Santana seems to actually enjoy being in Kansas City and is an upbeat part of the locker room. He even roots for the Chiefs on Twitter! So there is an outside chance he stays. But should he? I hate to say this because I’ve been just as supportive of Santana as anyone else this past season, but part of me wonders if it was a one year thing. Go ahead and look at the career stats. Santana has a history of following a good year with a bad year, or at least doesn’t seem like the most consistent pitcher on the planet. This guy will probably get anywhere from 3-5 years and fairly close to $20 million a season. For those numbers, I just can’t accept that it would be smart for the Royals to re-sign him. I love that he loves this team and wants to be a part of it. But you also have to be smart for the financial sake of the team. So more than likely, Santana will be elsewhere in 2014.

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Bronson Arroyo 

Arroyo seems like just the kind of pitcher Dayton Moore would want to sign, and I’m not completely saying that with snark or sarcasm. On one hand, Arroyo has been about consistent as possible over the years. The man has started over thirty games every year since 2005, and we could probably add 2004, as he started ONLY 29. He obviously is durable and  doesn’t seem to be made of porcelain like some pitchers do. BUT…he also gives up a lot of home runs, and gives up about as many hits per season as innings pitched. In other words, he is close to being a poor man’s Jeremy Guthrie. I like Guthrie, and don’t hate him like some folks, but I also know that part of his success could be attributed to smoke and mirrors. Arroyo is looking for a multi-year deal this off-season, which would seem to scare Kansas City off. But like I said, he seems like the kind of pitcher Dayton likes, so we can’t count him out as a possibility.

Detroit Tigers v Toronto Blue Jays

Josh Johnson

There is a big part of me that hates the idea of Johnson signing with Kansas City. For one, he would be one of those pitchers made of porcelain I mentioned just a moment ago. He just seems to have a hard time staying healthy. But there would be upsides to giving him a go. Johnson only wants a one year deal, as he is hoping for a bounce back season and then cash in on it. If the Royals could get him at a decent price, that would be great. We all know that Johnson has electric stuff and even just last season I was aboard the bus that would gladly bring him to Kansas City. But another injury riddled season has made me more skeptical about whether or not he can hold up. MLBTradeRumors.com predicted last week that he would sign with the Royals, which seems like the team’s modus operandi. Take a chance on a pitcher and get him at a good price. I’m fine with this if a)he doesn’t get paid too much and b)he isn’t counted on to be a major part of the team. Just like the Royals did with Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino this year, if Johnson ends up in Kansas City they should just be happy with whatever they get from him.

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Scott Feldman

This feels a bit like deja vu. I mean, last year I felt like the Royals should go after this guy. Feldman was a reliever for Texas for the longest time before they shifted him to the rotation, where he found a bit of success. The Cubs signed him to a nice deal last off-season, then flipped him to Baltimore for a couple of young arms. A smart move by Chicago, who knew they weren’t going anywhere in the standings. Feldman is a free agent again, and he would seem a perfect fit for the back part of the Royals rotation. Feldman isn’t flashy, but he gives you innings, keeps the ball in the park and keeps the ball down. There is even a good chance he has even more success in a ballpark like Kauffman, the opposite of the parks he has called home in his career(Arlington, Wrigley and Camden). Feldman probably isn’t a top of the rotation guy, but he is a great fit in the back end and could probably be had at a decent price.

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Tim Hudson 

This would be a long shot for the Royals, but I would love to see Hudson in Kansas City blue. Hudson is coming off of a gruesome injury, so he probably isn’t going to get a long term deal, or even one that is pricey. Most expect him to end up back in Atlanta, and that is probably where the safe money is. But Hudson is a former Brave(see that? I just got Dayton Moore’s attention!) and a former top of the rotation starter. He’s not completely what he used to be, but he would still be a great addition for a team that is on the brink of playoff contention. The Royals should at least kick the tires on Hudson and see what it would take to sign him. Seems like a better option than someone like Dan Haren(who’s back issues scare me).

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Phil Hughes

Hughes had an awful 2013 season. Like, REALLY AWFUL! To give you an idea, Hughes had over 30 starts, yet threw only 145 innings this past year! His biggest detriment was the long ball, which accounted for his stats to be so bloated. The positive that teams have taken away from Hughes though is that his ERA away from Yankee Stadium was a decent 3.88. It would seem that throwing in the Bronx, a park with a very short right field, does more damage than good for Hughes. There’s a good chance that Hughes will not be returning to New York and will want to sign a one year deal somewhere. Hughes at ‘The K’ could be interesting. He is at least someone to look into.

BASEBALL: World Baseball Classic-Korea vs Venezuela

Suk-Min Yoon 

I mentioned earlier that mlbtraderumors.com predicted the Royals would sign Josh Johnson, and they also predicted Kansas City would sign Yoon. Yoon has been in the Korea Baseball Organization and is looking to make the jump to MLB. This seems like a weird choice, since Yoon had a rough 2013, as his velocity was down after competing in the World Baseball Classic. Yoon looks to be a back of the rotation arm, but with the decreased velocity might end up in a bullpen somewhere. As we are all aware, the Royals have bullpen arms. They don’t need another. Especially one who’s agent is Scott Boras, which means you will probably overpay for them. Just say no, Dayton. Step away.

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That’s just a look at some options the Royals will have this winter on the free agent pitching market. For all we know, Moore will make a trade and acquire a pitcher that way(for say, Billy Butler?) but if not there are some decent arms on the market. I could mention a few more that interest me(Burnett? Only wants to go back to Pittsburgh. Johan Santana? questions on if he can come back from injury) but these are some good choices. Either way, the Royals need a starter or two for next year if they want to compete. The team was lucky in 2013, as no major injury hit their way, so the chances of that happening two years in a row is slim. For all we know, a guy like Duffy, Paulino or Yordano Ventura will take up a slot and fill a void. Even if that happens, standing pat isn’t an option. Last year Dayton brought in two big starters. Competing means you have to go all in, and the window isn’t open for long. Let’s just hope the Royals are at least smart about this, rather than treat it like Monopoly money.

2013 Predictions That Will Probably Be Wrong By June

openind day 13Spring Training has started and before you know the 2013 baseball season will be underway. Spring might be the best time for most teams, as everyone is filled with hope and think their team could be THE team. Yes, even some Houston Astros fans. Or not. Hope springs eternal and Spring gives team eternal hope, even when they maybe should be more realistic. With the season only six weeks away, I will go ahead and try to guess how the season will unfold. Just remember when June rolls around to not point out my bad predictions(or bad guesses, however you want to word it) and realize that very few so called “experts” can predict what will happen. That’s part of what makes baseball so great. So without further ado, here are my division predictions for 2013.

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AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

1.Tampa Bay

2.Toronto

3. New York

4. Baltimore

5. Boston

This might be the hardest division to handicap. I literally could rotate most of these teams in any slot and wouldn’t really argue too much with the results. Tampa almost seems like the safe bet, since Joe Maddon and company always find a way to win and probably have the best rotation in the American League. I like what Toronto has done this offseason, especially with how their rotation will shape up. Dickey, Morrow, Buerhle, Johnson and Romero? If everyone stays healthy, that could be a lethal round of arms. The Blue Jays could also turn out like the Marlins did last year, so they might be interesting to follow. I hate putting the Yankees in third place, especially since they did nothing major this offseason and in fact lost talent, but they still have some good arms, and they are the Yankees. Unfortunately. Baltimore will slip, as no team can keep up the amount of luck this team had last year(especially in extra innings), but they still won’t be a bad team. Buck Showalter is too good of a manager for that. Boston is at the bottom of my list, but I do think they will be better than they were last year. Farrell will do fine in his first year in Beantown, but this team still doesn’t have the firepower they have had in the past. All in all, this division will be a fun one to watch, and might have the most depth of the bunch.

Royals-Walk-Off-Celebration-436x350AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

1. Detroit

2. Cleveland

3. Chicago

4. Kansas City

5. Minnesota

This pains me more than you will ever know. Let’s start at the top, with the Tigers. Detroit won the Central late last year, after Chicago held the top start for a good chunk of 2012. Not only did the Tigers get to the World Series, they have IMPROVED since last year. Detroit now gets Anibal Sanchez for a full season, Victor Martinez returns from injury and they added Torii Hunter to the team, which will help them offensively, defensively and in the clubhouse. No reason to think the Motor City will be giving up the reigns on the division anytime soon. I’m going ahead and taking Cleveland second, although you should be able to flip flop them and Chicago in all honesty. I really like the moves that the Indians have made this offseason and the biggest acquisition has to be manager Terry Francona. Francona alone makes that team better in 2013 and when you add in Swisher, Bourn, Stubbs, and Bauer, and the offense looks tons better than they did last year. The real question with Cleveland will be their pitching and whether or not they can get Ubaldo Jimenez back to being the guy who made NL batters look dumb. Chicago ran out of gas late last year, but they have a lot of quality young arms and somehow GM Kenny Williams always makes it work. It’s easy to say they will fall a bit this year, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they don’t. I’ve got Kansas City sitting in fourth place and I will go into more detail obviously when the season gets closer. To shorten up my thoughts, the Royals have a lot of ‘ifs’ going into this year and they are counting on a lot of things that didn’t work in 2012 to work in 2013. That is really expecting some major changes, when not as much has changed with this team as they have people thinking. Just saying, you might want to hold off on purchasing those playoff tickets, my Royal Blue brethren. Minnesota takes up the bottom of the league, but I have to believe they will be better than they were last year. If the Twins play this year like they did last year, I think Ron Gardenhire might blow a gasket and up and quit before the season is over. A part of me is leery to count out the Twinkies. They are THAT team, the one who never truly goes away. Just ask the Royals about that. I know everyone thinks the Central is the worse division in baseball, and they might be right. But it is already way better than it was this time last year.

2013 al westAMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

1. Los Angeles

2. Texas

3. Oakland

4. Seattle

5. Houston

Another good division, with a number of teams that could contend for a playoff spot. It is also a division with one extra team this year, as the Astros move over to the American League and join the West. Granted, they were kind of held at gunpoint to move and really didn’t want to, but they are there now and a number of NL Central teams are a lot sadder because of it. Let’s start at the top with the Angels. I’ve got them in first, and will freely admit that it is partially because they are my second favorite team. Year two of the Pujols Project should help the team way more than last year, and they’ve even added that Hamilton guy to take some of the load off of Albert’s back. Oh yeah, and there is that Trout guy as well. I’ve heard he’s pretty good. Texas is slotted in second, but they just as easily could get first. One wonders if their early exit out of the playoffs will motivate them or let it linger as the season begins. Even though the Rangers have lost some key players(Hamilton, Young, etc.) I love the young talent that is shooting up the pipeline for the Rangers and think they will be just as lethal as they were before. Oakland is in third, but it is hard to bet against Bob Melvin and company. This team has no stars, and yet had over 90 wins last year. They still have the good pitching that guided them to the playoffs last year and an offense that buys into what Melvin and Billy Beane are selling. If the team makes a push at the traded deadline they could once again win the West in 2013. The Mariners are booked for fourth place and I want to like this team more. I think they have a some really good young talent, but I totally don’t know what they are thinking with the offseason acquisitions. I mean, does the team really need 253 outfielders/first basemen/designated hitters? They do realize that those three areas only cover 5 spots in the order, right? It just doesn’t make much sense. Lastly, the Astros will take up the cellar of the West. This team is completely rebuilding, and as much as they should be credited for it, it will make for a very, very long season in Houston. Good luck, Astros fans. You are going to need it.

NL-East-Batting-Practice-featuredNATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

1. Washington

2. Atlanta

3. New York

4. Philadelphia

5. Miami

The top of this division will probably have a couple of the best teams in the league. They also might have a couple of the worst. Washington looks to once again see October baseball this year, as they have both Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper for a full season. This is just a really, really good team with lots of great talent and depth. Yes, depth will win you games, especially come postseason. Atlanta looks at a possible second place finish, although anyone who thinks they win the division might not be too far off. Great pitching, great offense, great defense and this team will probably be a wild card team when it is all said and done. The Upton boys will get a full season playing together and even with the loss of Chipper Jones might not slow down Atlanta as much as originally thought. I’ve got the Mets in third place, as this team seems on the verge of some really good seasons. It is a young bunch, but one with some great up and comers. I think they will be way better than anyone gives them credit for. Philadelphia takes up fourth place, and I am aware the team still has Halladay and Lee. But they also have a group of aging veterans(Utley, Rollins, Howard) and players who are bloated and overpaid(Delmon Young, Yuniesky Betancourt). Phillies fans, a lull is in your future. Embrace it. As much doom and gloom as the Phillies seem to be, the Marlins are in worse shape. Another rebuilding year. A rookie manager. A bunch of new, young faces. Don’t embrace this, Marlins fans. You deserve better.

pittsbNATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

1. Cincinnati

2. St. Louis

3. Pittsburgh

4. Milwaukee

5. Chicago

The National League Central hosts one less team this year. Unfortunately for the other five teams, they won’t have the Astros to feast on anymore. Let’s start with the Reds, who sit atop the perch of this division. Dusty Baker’s team was right on the verge of getting to the NLCS this past fall, but those pesky Giants took that dream away from them. It was kind of San Francisco’s thing this past year. Back to the Reds. They are basically bringing back the same team, and with it probably the NL Central title. If I had to find something that worried me, it would be the switch of Aroldis Chapman to the rotation. I don’t get it, but we’ll see how it goes. The Cardinals will make it interesting for Cincy, but the loss of Chris Carpenter for the year could cause the Cards to go out and pick up another starter, although using someone like Shelby Miller might do just as good a job. I totally think this is the year Pittsburgh FINALLY gets a winning season, even if it is just a few games over .500. The baseball Gods have to be looking out for those faithful fans that have stuck by that team for so long. With Andrew McCutchen leading the charge, I see good things in the Pirates future. Milwaukee takes up fourth, as it seems the team just doesn’t have the pitching to keep it in the hunt. Rounding out the division is the Cubs. Now, I completely think Chicago will be better this year, especially with the great offseason they had acquiring pitching. But the team is still fairly young and will go through some growing pains. Stay strong, Cubs fans. Your time is coming soon.

San Francisco Giants v Colorado RockiesNATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

1. San Francisco

2. Los Angeles

3. Arizona

4. San Diego

5. Colorado

What a hot mess this division could turn out to be? Almost any of the last four teams could collapse and make for a rough season for their ballclubs. Or they could go on a hot streak and give San Francisco a run for their money. The Giants are not only the defending World Champions, but with their team basically kept in tact, could be a favorite for another world title. Their pitching alone should have the other teams in their league worried. The Dodgers have the chance of giving their rivals a run for their money, but it could go the other way. A lot of money spent does not guarantee one a playoff spot. Ask the Red Sox about that. There is a part of me that can’t wait until Zack Greinke implodes in LA, but how soon that happens is anyone’s guess. There is a good chance it won’t be this year. The Dodgers could be interesting to follow, just to see how the team chemistry is in that clubhouse. Also in the conversation is Arizona, but they also had a major upheaval. The team got rid of their best player, and got rid of any players who don’t live by manager Kirk Gibson’s hard nosed style. This will either be a team who is fun to watch, or one that has to scrap to score runs. San Diego will get a reprieve again from last place, mainly because Bud Black is really good at his managing job. I hope the Padres are paying attention, since that guy deserves a more competitive team. Last once again looks like it will be Colorado. Some changes have been made, and one is curious to see how first year manager Walt Weiss does. I have to believe that if Troy Tulowitzki is healthy, this could be a much better team. But like all things in this game, that is a big if.

So there you go, my predictions for 2013. I’m sure I will be forced to eat my words within a few months and you’ll want to point out where I was wrong. You’re right; I should have just gone with a Cubs/Red Sox World Series! I’m sure Major League baseball and the Fox Network would just love that. Now….LET’S PLAY BALL!

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