Grade Two Sweep: Royals Pummel Rays, Lose Gordon

Kansas City Royals' Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando (16) celebrate after Orlando hit a walk-off grand slam during the ninth inning of the first game in a baseball doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday, July 7, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. The Royals won 9-5. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Sometimes there are series where it appears nothing much of importance happens and you are left wondering if you are even going to remember anything from those games a week later. Then there are series like this, which was packed full of excitement and concern. It was mentioned to me at one point this week that this would go down as possibly the most emotional series of the year, and when it is all said and done it very well could be a pivotal series that decides whether or not this team makes it to October or falls short of the prize. It’s surprising I have said all of that and yet the Royals swept the Rays, taking all four games and extending their lead in the American League Central. We have a lot of ground to cover so let’s get to it.

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Series MVP: Alcides Escobar

No disrespect for Lorenzo Cain, who packed quite a punch in the last two games of this series, but Alcides Escobar set the table for this offense to come alive this series and score a plethora of runs. Escobar was 9 for 18 this series, knocking in 3 runs on a bases clearing double and produced a .667 BAbip. Escobar pretty much owns Rays starter Chris Archer, as he went 4 for 4 against the All-Star on Wednesday night, 7 for 9 career. Escobar is not your typical leadoff hitter, as he hardly ever walks and tends to swing at the first pitch quite often. I am a big believer in working the count, taking walks and getting on base in whatever manner possible. When Alcides is on his game, he gets on base and that is all that matters. Sometimes he even bunts and ends up with a double:

I am a big Escobar supporter and this series showed a lot of reasons why he will be starting at the All-Star game next week. Escobar is one of those great acquisitions by Dayton Moore that is appreciated more when you watch him everyday. I guess we can thank Milwaukee for letting Kansas City take him off their hands:

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Edinson Volquez

In all honesty, there wasn’t one pitching performance that really stood out in this series, as the offense was really the hero for these four games. That being said, Volquez had the best game score out of the bunch, a solid 55 after his outing on Tuesday. Volquez went 5 innings, giving up 5 hits and 1 run while walking 3 and striking out 5. The only real blemish on there is the 3 walks, which are Volquez’s weakness. The good thing is the starters in this series all got through 5 innings and let the bullpen guide them the rest of the way. The Royals did see the return of Yordano Ventura on Thursday, as he coasted through the first 4 innings before struggling in the 5th, as he had a hard time finding the strike zone. I talked about this after the weekend, but getting Danny Duffy, Ventura, Jason Vargas and Kris Medlen will go a long way toward solidifying the rotation and might make it to where the Royals won’t need to go out and acquire another starter. That is the hope, since the Royals now have an All-Star sized hole in the outfield for the next two months…

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Gordon Out For Eight Weeks 

The most talked about subject from this series is the injury to All-Star left fielder Alex Gordon. Gordon went down during Wednesday night’s game and it did not look pretty:

The initial thought was a knee injury(if you watch the video, Gordon’s knee looks like it buckles right before he falls) but it turned out to be a groan strain:

The good news is Gordon won’t need surgery and should be able to start rehabbing in 2-3 weeks. Gordon is a work-out nut, which would make one think he could be back closer to 6-7 weeks than the expected 8. But groin strains are risky business:

No matter what, that leaves a hole in the Royals outfield. For now Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando will split time in left field, but neither should be starting too much, and with Alex Rios struggling as well, there is a need for another outfielder:

There is also a couple of other issues. For one, this doesn’t even factor in how important Gordon is to the fabric of this team:

The plus to that is it looks as if Gordon will still be around:

The other factor is Gordon’s contract situation. Gordon has an option on his contract at the end of this year that he can opt out of. I have no idea whether or not this injury will hamper his value on the open market. For the most part that will be determined on how he performs when he returns from the injury. If he plays fine, his value will remain as high as it was before Wednesday. If not, teams could be less likely to want to roll out a multi-year contract for “A1”. His time away will make one thing very obvious for this Kansas City Royals team:

 

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There was soooo much more this series that was notable. Now onto an emotionally charged news and notes:

  • There was a lot of roster shuffling to start off this series. Paulo Orlando was recalled from Omaha on Monday, which forced the Royals to DFA Jason Frasor. Frasor had been a solid arm in the pen for the Royals since his acquisition last year but he was low man on the totem pole and had an issue earlier this year with allowing base runners. Frasor was a total class act about being let go:

The Royals also put Mike Moustakas back on the bereavement list and recalled Cheslor Cuthbert from AAA. I’ve been following Cuthbert’s progress in the minors the last few years, even when the team had experimented with playing him at second and first base, and loved seeing him getting the call up to the big club:

By the way, Cuthbert went 5 for 15 in his first 4 games in the big leagues, including his first career triple on Thursday afternoon to drive in a couple of runs. Then there was the insane amount of moves on Thursday:

I expect some more moves before the Royals return from the All-Star break. It will be interesting to see how this team looks over the next couple of weeks.

  • Monday’s game was rained out. It was not safe in Kansas City:

https://twitter.com/staypuft/status/618189295342325760

There was also all the “mucho rain” in the Royals dugout:

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The game was rescheduled and played as part of a “day-night” doubleheader on Tuesday.

  • The reserves for the All-Star game were announced on Monday night, and Royals relievers Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera made it six Royals going to the All-Star game next week. Third baseman Mike Moustakas is part of the final vote, and as of this writing is leading the balloting. If he wins it, that will make it seven Royals going to Cincinnati next week.

  • Paulo Orlando might never have a greater experience than his walk-off grand slam in game one of the doubleheader on Tuesday:

The walk-off reminded me of the one Justin Maxwell hit a few years ago and was the third consecutive walk-off win for the Royals. Orlando’s slash line isn’t the most impressive in the world but he did a solid job of filling in for Alex Rios earlier this season and plays above average defense. With Gordon on the shelf, having Orlando around is a definite plus for this team.

  • Speaking of backup outfielders, Jarrod Dyson will start seeing some increased playing time, and so far he has excelled with it. First, there was this little inside the park home run on Wednesday night:

Then there was his impersonation of Willie Mays on Thursday:

He would also throw out a runner at home on Wednesday and 4 for 11 in the entire series. Right now Dyson is riding a hot streak and the Royals will need that going forward.

  • I mentioned earlier that Lorenzo Cain had a good series, despite only playing the last two games. Cain was 4 for 7, hitting 2 home runs while driving in 5 runs. I doubt anyone at this point is questioning whether or not he deserves to be in Cincinnati next week.
  • How deep is the Royals bullpen? Normally the Royals go Herrera-Davis-Holland late in the game. On Thursday, they went Madson-Hochevar-Herrera with the same results. This pen is insanely good:

 

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Tweets of Royalty

 

Kansas City Royals' Paulo Orlando, right, celebrates with teammates after hitting a walk-off grand slam during the ninth inning of the first game in a baseball doubleheader against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday, July 7, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. The Royals won 9-5. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

So the offense has come back to life, and hopefully they can keep things going as the one more series before heading to the All-Star break. The Royals invite the Toronto Blue Jays into town for three games, and with only those games left it is assured the Royals will head into the break in first place in the American League Central, currently 5 games ahead of the Minnesota Twins. The Blue Jays are 3-7 in their last 10 games but they possibly have the most talent in the American League East and offensively can be a juggernaut. The Royals will throw Duffy, Young and Volquez over the next three games and then there is a chance Vargas and Medlen could be added to the team after the break. It’s a fun time to be a Kansas City Royals fan, but the injury to Alex Gordon looms over the entire team at this point and we will know soon enough if they can overcome this latest obstacle thrown in their way. I’m not going to enjoy two months of no Gordon, but I like the idea of knowing what this team’s mettle is truly made of and just how valuable Gordon is to their success. No success is truly great without some major obstacle to overcome. We are now going to see what this Royals team is truly made of.

 

 

 

 

 

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Kansas City Royals History Did NOT End After 1985

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This past weekend I made a trek to my home away from home, Kauffman Stadium. With the temperatures reaching the mid-90’s on Saturday we decided to venture into the air conditioned Royals Hall of Fame, if for no reason than to keep cool. While in there we decided to check out a film the Royals have on the history of baseball in Kansas City. While we watched the video, I was reminded of just why Kansas City really is a baseball town. Near the end of the film they showed highlights from the Royals winning the World Series in 1985 and then proceeded to mention how former Royals manager Dick Howser would pass away just a few years later from brain cancer. They then discussed Buck O’Neil for a bit, showed a few highlights(including the Justin Maxwell walk off grand slam last year) and the film was over. Yep, the video basically wraps up after the Royals winning the World Series 29 years ago. As a longtime Kansas City fan, I felt a bit insulted. You mean we are supposed to believe that nothing has happened in 29 years? Trust me, I am well aware this team hasn’t appeared in the playoffs since then, and as fans we have endured MANY pitiful and craptastic teams…but we have nothing to show off since then? I disagree. In fact, I think they are quite a few things that should have been mentioned, even for just a mention in the film. With that being said, here are some moments I would have thrown into this film to celebrate this Kansas City Royals team.

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1) Bo Jackson

Yes, I know Bo isn’t one of the greatest Royals ever. I realize that he was a shining star that we only got to marvel at for a few years. But in those few years we saw possibly the greatest athlete in Royals history and a caliber of player we might never see again in our lifetime. Bo wasn’t about numbers, unless you count the distance on homers or how far it is to throw a baseball from the warning track to home plate with no bounce. Bo Jackson was that special player that only comes along once in a lifetime and he was a Royal, through and through. The film could have shown a few highlights from his time with Kansas City and some of the mind bending feats Bo was famous for. Bo had his faults as a player but he was a big part of those late 80’s Royals team and someone who was one of the most mainstream athletes of that era. Trust me, Bo Jackson is a big part of Royals history, even if he only makes sporadic appearances at ‘The K’.

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2) Bret Saberhagen Throws a No-Hitter

Bret Saberhagen was the ace of the Royals pitching staff from 1985 until he was traded to the New York Mets in the winter of 1991. But in August of that year, Saberhagen threw his greatest game ever, a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox. It was an odd game in that Sabs let his defense do most of the work on this night, only racking up 5 strikeouts and 2 walks in his 9 innings of work. It was the fourth no-hitter in Royals history and was a cherry on top of a fantastic career in Kansas City. Sure, you could mention the two American League Cy Young Awards he won, or his All Star elections, but throwing in a clip of the last no-hitter in Royals history would have been a nice touch and a great moment for the Royals.

 

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3) George Brett gets his 3,000th Hit

Brett is easily the greatest Royal in history and a man cherished by Royals fans everywhere. There were a few big accomplishments for George late in his career, like Brett winning his third batting title in 1990, the only man to record batting titles in three different decades. But his biggest moment late in his career was reaching the 3,000 hit mark, which almost assures a player induction into the baseball Hall of Fame(or at least it used to). Brett would have a four hit game that night in Anaheim and hit number four was lined past the Angels second baseman for the momentous hit. Brett would wrap up his career a year later, but throwing in this key moment in Royals history would seem like a “must have”.

 

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4) A Cavalcade of Stars

For a long time in the late 90’s and early 2000’s the running joke around baseball was that the Royals were a farm club for the bigger market teams like the New York Yankees. It wasn’t literally like that, but it was fairly well known that when a player would start to become a star for Kansas City they wouldn’t be able to re-sign them and would have to deal them before they became a free agent. The bigger point was that the Royals were developing stars that would shine on the baseball diamond. Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye and Mike Sweeney all became star players during this period and pointing this out in the history of this team isn’t a bad thing. Sure, it sucked that the Royals felt forced to trade all of them(besides Sweeney) but these were all guys that we could say were Royals first(or in Dye’s case the place that gave him a chance to be a starter). To go a step further you could also point out in the film all the other talent the Royals have produced in the last 30 years, including the stars of today. What better way to point this out than to show three players who have been All-Stars for Kansas City the last two seasons: Alex Gordon, Greg Holland and Salvador Perez. This franchise has produced some major talent over the years and it’s something that should be marked down in the team’s history.

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5) Zack Greinke is Spelled ‘Cy Young’

Zack Greinke had a special 2009 season. A season that very few pitchers have ever achieved. A season so good that he would become the American League Cy Young Award winner that year. Most remember his messy exit out of Kansas City but for awhile there he was the heart of the Royals, a true ace on a losing team. Greinke would go 16-8 with a major league-low 2.16 ERA that season and received 25 of 28 first-place votes and three seconds for 134 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Greinke was so dominate that year that the Royals scored just 13 runs in his eight losses and 21 runs in his nine no-decisions. He failed to get a victory in six starts in which he allowed one run or none. The Greinke/Royals relationship would become ugly soon enough, but for that one season the Royals could champion that they had the best pitcher in the American League.

 

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I’m sure if I thought about it more I could come up with many more positives the Royals have had over these past 29 years. Whether it is the 3 Gold Glove winners the team had last season or some of thrilling moments at ‘The K’, it’s not all been bad during this team’s playoff drought. We all acknowledge that there have been some rough times and we don’t want to relive most of them. But there are some great moments or personal seasons that the Royals could throw into their film and truly show the history of a great franchise. I don’t want to discourage anyone from watching the film at the Royals Hall of Fame; it’s a great film and deserves your time. But I think it could be better, and the suggestions above would make a great start. Who knows? Maybe this Royals team can secure a playoff spot this year so the team is forced to make a new video. Weirder things have happened. Don’t believe me? Just go back to 1985…

Nori Aoki: Man of Laughter and Tears

zimbio.com
zimbio.com

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

zimbio.com
zimbio.com

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

zimbio.com
zimbio.com

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

zimbio.com
zimbio.com

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

 

mlblogs.com
mlblogs.com

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

kansasfirstnews.com
kansasfirstnews.com

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

zimbio.com
zimbio.com

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

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Just One Fix: Helping the Ailing Royals Offense

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We are through eleven games so far into the 2014 campaign and to say the Kansas City Royals offense isn’t clicking is a major understatement. It’s been awful. Disgusting. Weak. Punchless. Craptastic. Describe it any way you want, they are simply not getting the job done. The good thing? We are only eleven games in. Seriously. I get that as Royals fans we are programmed to expect the worst, but the reaction of the fanbase this weekend was frightening. The season is over already? Eleven games, people. Chill out.

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I heard a lot of ideas that fans had yesterday to fix this club. Fire Yost/Moore/Grifol? Sorry, it’s none of these guys’ fault. For once, the blame doesn’t fall on their shoulders. Trade Butler/Moustakas? To who? For what? Their value has never been lower, but they should trade them? The Royals wouldn’t get anything of value in return for them, so that is a pointless argument. Bring back Brett? I love George Brett, but he isn’t coming back and he shouldn’t. He isn’t what elevated this team last year; Grifol is the one who worked on Hosmer’s mechanics, not George. George was just there for motivation, which he was fine at, but he was the hitting coach in name only. To be honest, why would the Royals bring Brett back? Is that the answer every time this team struggles offensively? When I answered that question in my head, I kept coming back to the same thing: no more hand-holding. No more coddling. The younger core of this group has been in the majors now for over three years. They need to either produce or lose playing time. With that in mind, it got me to thinking of what the Royals should do. Now, I’m not totally sure I have the answer to this; hell, maybe I’m not even close. But if I was in charge, or even just asked my opinion, this is what I would do.

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First thing I would do is shuffle the lineup. Move Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler from 3rd and 4th to 6th and 7th in the order respectively. I would then bump Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez from 5th and 6th up to 3rd and 4th. Gordon and Perez are at least having good at bats, with Perez getting off to one of the few good Royals starts to the season. I would then move Lorenzo Cain up from 8th to 5th in the order(nice call, Dalton!). Cain is also getting some key at bats, so he should be rewarded for it. With all these moves, it would move Mike Moustakas down from 7th to 8th in the order. Here is the thing though; I actually think Moose had some of the best at bats of the Minnesota series.

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Did I just say that the guy hitting .111 had some of the best AB’s in that series? Yes, yes I did. Moose had 2 hits in Friday’s game and a hit in yesterday’s contest. Moustakas was also able to accumulate a walk in games 2 and 3 of the Minnesota series. Mike actually looks like he has a game plan when he steps up to the plate(unlike Hosmer and Butler) and is still taking quite a bit of pitches compared to the rest of the team. We even saw him drive the ball throughout the three games, so there is reason to believe that he is just a tick off and about go on a bit of a hitting streak. I know Moose is struggling and not hitting even close to how he was in Arizona this spring, but he doesn’t look lost like others do. I know it’s frustrating, but I’m willing to be a bit more patient with Moustakas, at least for awhile.

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With all that lineup shuffling, I also think it wouldn’t hurt to have a few of the hitters struggling to sit out a game or two. Nothing major, just take a day off, no pressure and sit with hitting coach Pedro Grifol and go over a few things. Sometimes it just takes a different perspective to get your head on straight. Maybe let Justin Maxwell play a few games at DH while Danny Valencia gets some reps in at 1B or 3B. I know Ned Yost thinks it’s better to be in the lineup everyday to get out of a slump, but at this point it is just hurting the team. It won’t hurt for guys like Butler or Hosmer to sit out a game or two. In fact, Yost has a habit of not getting his bench players much playing time. Who already forgot Brett Hayes is on the roster? It looks like there has already been some work being done, as Grifol talked to Butler about moving off of the plate and stand in his normal spot in the batter’s box. It’s good to hear that a veteran like Butler is open to trying something, anything, to help his situation. A game or two talking baseball with Grifol might just be the thing for a few of these hitters.

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So it isn’t much, but that is what I would do to try and get the Royals offense going. Honestly, I don’t think a drastic event needs to happen for the hitters to come alive. They mainly just need to go out there, relax and try to keep it as simple as possible. This Royals offense has been living off of potential for years now; it’s time for them to either prove their worth or the team will have to consider Plan B. The Royals aren’t in a position where they can completely dismantle this team in the middle of the season, but something would have to be done if the offense continues to sputter along. The main thing is the blame needs to start falling on the players, not everyone else. 2014 could be the season we find out who really belongs and who needs to move on. But remember, we are only eleven games in; there is still lots of time to turn this thing around. Patience will be our greatest weapon.

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

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

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

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

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

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Milwaukee Brewers

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

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

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

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

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

Moose’s Warning Track(s)

Mike Moustakas,  George Brett

Dayton Moore strikes again this off-season, pulling off a trade of role players today with the acquisition of Danny Valencia from Baltimore for outfielder David Lough. On first glance, it looks as if Moore traded a player who didn’t really fit into the Royals plans in 2014, and turned him around for a guy who could be a backup infielder. But it goes a bit deeper than that.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Baltimore Orioles

Valencia was once a prospect for the Minnesota Twins back in the day, but it didn’t take long for him to wear out his welcome. The Twins, after figuring out that Trevor Plouffe(PLOUFFE) could put up even better numbers than Valencia, traded Danny to Boston in August of 2012. Valencia was then traded to Baltimore just a few months later, where Buck Showalter figured out that he was a better role player than a regular. In fact, throughout his career, Valencia has struggled against righties but flat out massacred lefties:

Split            G GS  PA  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG   OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
vs RHP as RHB      31  68     64 13  0  1  4  10  0  0  4 18 .203 .250 .422  .672 27   3   0  0  0   0   0  .214    51    91
vs LHP as RHB      43 102     97 36 14  0  4  13  0  2  4 15 .371 .392 .639 1.031 62   2   0  0  1   0   1  .405   133   175
vs LH Starter   30 30 116 111 15 39 14  0  5  14  0  1  4 20 .351 .371 .613  .983 68   2   0  0  1   0   1  .391   122   172
vs RH Starter   22 11  54  50  5 10  0  1  3   9  0  1  4 13 .200 .259 .420  .679 21   3   0  0  0   0   0  .206    53    88

When used in the proper context, Valencia’s value shot way up. In fact, this would probably be why the Royals were so interested in him.

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Mike Moustakas struggled in 2013. Like, “Jeff Francoeur is batting better than me” struggles. Moose’s first half last year was downright putrid. After coming off of a pretty good sophomore year in 2012, things seemed to be looking up for Moustakas. Sure, he suffered through a knee injury late that year, but he was healed and looked to grow on 2012. Instead, the bottom fell out. Every know and then we would see a glimmer of the Moustakas we thought he could be, but then he would fall back into another slump. He hit so many pop-ups last year that I started making up distance totals of all of them to determine just how much distance was accumulated and if it would wrap around ‘The K’. To make matters worse, Moose never got the hang of it against lefties:

Split             G  GS  PA  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS  TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
vs RHP as LHB       128 396    365 89 22  0 10  32  2  2 23 60 .244 .295 .386 .682 141  11   5  0  3   1   1  .265   109    83
vs LHP as LHB        66 118    107 21  4  0  2  10  0  2  9 23 .196 .256 .290 .546  31   2   0  1  1   0   0  .229    69    70
vs LH Starter    34  24 109 104  3 20  2  0  1   8  1  2  4 20 .192 .220 .240 .461  25   3   0  0  1   0   0  .226    43    30
vs RH Starter   102 102 405 368 39 90 24  0 11  34  1  2 28 63 .245 .304 .399 .704 147  10   5  1  3   1   1  .266   116    96

To put it bluntly, Moustakas stunk in 2013, and it only seemed apparent that the long leash the team gave him last season wouldn’t carry over to 2014. It only seemed to make sense to give him some competition.

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That would be where Valencia slides in. Moose can’t hit lefties. Valencia can’t seem to hit righties. Literally, this is a perfect platoon, and there is a good chance that is what will happen. But this is also a wake up call to Moose. Moustakas up to this point has probably been given the benefit of the doubt thanks to him being a first round draft pick. Most teams, and especially the Royals, give their top draft picks a longer leash than a normal pick. The Royals were also in a position to where they weren’t winning, so taking your time with letting a player grow wasn’t a problem. But the Royals are now in a position where they can be a contender, which means they can’t afford to have a third baseman that has an OPS of .651. So this trade is what you think it is; a message to Moose that if he falters next year, they already have his replacement handy. Will there be a battle for the position in Spring Training? Possible. If I had to guess though, it is Mike’s job to lose. Unless he just downright stinks up the joint come spring, I would bet he is in the starting lineup come Opening Day. The Royals are going to give him every opportunity to succeed. But if he struggles like he did this past season, Valencia can step in.

David Lough

So what about David Lough? Well, there was a good chance that Lough wasn’t in the Royals plans in 2014. The outfield is set with Gordon, Cain and Aoki, and the Royals like having Jarrod Dyson on the bench.  Lough is out of options, and doesn’t have the power bat that Justin Maxwell possesses. So with that in mind, it made sense for Dayton Moore to see what Lough’s value was and see if he could swing a deal to bring someone in that would help the team more in 2014. With that, Dayton accomplished his goal. Look, I like Lough. I think he would be a great fourth outfielder, and he showed last year that he can play all over the outfield and was a good spot starter. But he will be 28 next month and most guys who don’t see regular playing time in the majors until late in their 20’s don’t have great careers. In all honesty, there is a good chance 2013 will be his peak. Even if not, the Royals had no spot for him, and Baltimore had a need. I hope Lough gets a chance to play quite a bit for the O’s, and I’ll be rooting for him. It’s sad to see him go, but baseball wise it makes sense.

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It’s hard for me to say this, but Moore has pulled off another good trade. This off-season he has realized how to recognize the strengths the Royals have and trade from that to pick up pieces for next year’s team. Valencia should be a solid bat off the bench, and a probable starter at third base against southpaws. The real value in the trade will be determined on how Moustakas reacts to a little bit of competition. If it causes him to step up his game, it is a win-win. Moose will have earned his keep at third while having Valencia be a solid bat with some pop. If Moose continues to struggle, the Royals at least have a guy who can fill the role and not be completely lost. But I have a feeling if Valencia accumulates more than 450 at bats, we have a problem. Time will tell, but looking at this deal right now I only see the Royals getting stronger. One more solid starter( maybe a #2) and this team can be a serious playoff contender. Work still needs to be done, Dayton, but things are looking up.

Ramble On: Royals Notes of Interest

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With the Hot Stove season in full tilt, and the Winter Meetings coming up fairly soon, I thought today we would take a look at some items of interest going on with the Kansas City Royals.

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Obviously the main news is the Royals have discussed a trade with the Colorado Rockies and Dexter Fowler has been the main Rockie of interest discussed. Word is that Colorado really likes Wade Davis and might be willing to make a Davis/Fowler trade straight up. Names also mentioned on Kansas City’s side have been Aaron Crow and Tim Collins. Basically, the Royals are willing to part with their surplus of great arms in the pen to fill a hole elsewhere on the diamond. Smart move in that regard and Fowler is about the level of player you would get for a reliever. But would this move be an upgrade? I have been hemming and hawing all day, going back and forth on whether or not this would improve the Royals both offensively and defensively. Fowler has great speed, is only 27, a switch hitter with some power and even takes a walk(the Royals must not know this yet!). Fowler has also been fairly injury prone, has not produced big numbers at Coors Field despite his home/road splits( At Coors: .298/.395/.485 Away: .241/.333/.361 for his career) and for some reason doesn’t have the best defensive metrics. So would he be an upgrade? Probably, but not by much. I tend to think using a platoon of David Lough/Just Maxwell with Jarrod Dyson occasionally filling in for Lorenzo Cain in center field with Cain then sliding over to right to be about the same as if the Royals go out and get Fowler. Fowler is still only 27 years old, so there is a chance he hasn’t reached his peak yet. It would be great for the Royals to be the benefit of that upside, but the possibility of regression is there as well. Either way, I have a feeling we won’t hear anymore on this front until a decision has been made on Carlos Beltran, either way.

George Kottaras

Almost a week ago, the Royals traded backup catcher George Kottaras to the Chicago Cubs for cash. The week before he had been taken off the 40-man roster to make room for newly signed pitcher Jason Vargas. At the time it seemed like an odd move, as Kottaras was a very serviceable backup for catcher Salvador Perez and quite possibly the best pinch hitter the team had on their bench. The running joke was that Kottaras was either going to do one of two things when he was at the plate: take a walk or hit a homer. Kottaras easily was one the most patient hitters for the Royals in 2013 and might have been the most patient I have seen in a long time. So seeing him get cut seemed a little out of place. But there were rumblings that this was a financially inspired move. Even Bob Dutton heard from a Royals official who said this was a money move. So how much money would Kansas City save if Brett Hayes ends up being the Royals backup catcher this year? $500, 000. So this could be about finances–hell, Kottaras was traded for “cash considerations”. But I think one more thing factors in here: Ned Yost is a former catcher who loves his catchers to play great defense. Nothing wrong with that, in fact I am a big proponent of holding on to great defensive catchers. But Kottaras wasn’t chopped liver behind the dish; word was that he called a good game and worked really hard to make sure he was fully prepared for every start. Add in his patience at the plate(with some pop, may I add) and logic would tell you to stick with Kottaras for one more year. Instead he will head to Chicago and the Royals will go with either Hayes, or Francisco Pena. Neither will put fear in opposing pitchers. Though not a big deal, it’s a move that just doesn’t sit well with me.

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Speaking of things that don’t sit well with me, the Royals gave General Manager Dayton Moore a 2-year contract extension on Black Friday. At the time it felt like a move tucked away on the busiest shopping day of the year, a holiday weekend where few would pay much notice. It still feels that way, as I have to believe the Royals realized it wouldn’t be a popular move. I’ve said my peace on GMDM more than once, and in a lot of ways don’t want to just retread the reasons I feel the Royals are held back by having Moore as their GM. If you want to read my thoughts, read this. It pretty much sums up my thoughts. Craig Brown of Royals Review hit the nail on the head, which I pretty much completely agree with. Now, the extension isn’t a big surprise. Once Yost’s contract was extended, it seemed like just a matter of time until Dayton received his extension. Even if you are like me and wish the Glass’ had waited a few months into the season before extending his contract, Sam Mellinger makes some good points as to why the Royals needed to give Dayton the extension. So I get why this was done; I just don’t think it is in the best interest for the future of this ball club. Hopefully I am wrong and the Royals will flourish, contending for the foreseeable future. But there is a better chance the last seven years are a better indicator of what we should expect.

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Finally, it just doesn’t seem right for me to write up some Royals thoughts without mentioning the fact that CHRIS GETZ IS NO LONGER A KANSAS CITY ROYAL!!!!! Anyone who knows me or has read this blog knows I am not a big fan of Mr. Getz. I have felt for awhile that the Royals should part ways with ‘The Man Who Was Mistake Free ‘. I poked fun at him with a fake mailbag column. Actually, come to think of it, Getzie was a pretty good muse for me. He brought out the sarcasm in my writing, sarcasm that doesn’t always show up in print. At the end of the day, Getzie was allowed to be a regular part of this team for way too long, or at least too long for a very average player. As a human being, I wish the best for him in the future…as long as it is far away from Kansas City. As a Royals fan, I am elated he is finally gone. I’m sure some will say I’ll have to find some other player to poke fun at now that ol’ Getzie is gone. I would counter that I am looking forward to not having a player on the field that I don’t feel belongs. I’ll feel even better about this if the Cardinals pick him up. I’m off to party now, to celebrate Happy ‘Chris Getz is No Longer a Royal’ Day–but I have a feeling this isn’t the last word from me on Getzie. There might be one more mailbag in me…until then, let’s celebrate!!!

                     

Royals Offseason Needs: Right Field

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Most people who follow the Kansas City Royals know that there are three major needs this off-season for Kansas City to be a contender in 2014: a starting pitcher to replace Ervin Santana(which is pretty much a probable), a second baseman and a right fielder. Today I’ll take a look at possible candidates for right field. It’s safe to say that a right fielder with some pop would be nice, and might be the way Kansas City goes. But for the sake of this article, let’s take a look at some major candidates for the Royals to either sign or trade for.

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Carlos Beltran

Carlos Beltran is probably not only the best candidate for Kansas City, but the sentimental choice as well. Now, we should preface the rest of this with the point that Beltran is probably a long shot to sign with the Royals this off-season. But he would be a great choice and who wouldn’t want the greatest playoff hitter in baseball history on their team come September? Many a Royals fan was crushed when Beltran was traded to Houston, especially since he was such a great talent. Kansas City would welcome him back with open arms and his bat would be great to have in the middle of the Royals lineup, which tends to lean very light when it comes to power. There would be issues, though. For one, Beltran will be turning 37 within the first month of the 2014 baseball season, so he is not a spring chicken. Defensively, he is not the outfielder he used to be. Sure, you can give him the occasional start at DH, but then you are sitting Billy Butler(or Eric Hosmer if Billy is moved to first). Sure, you can replace Beltran late in games and let David Lough or whoever else is the backup outfielder get some time in the field, but then you are taking his bat out of the game. I still think Beltran would be the best choice, but I also think that is highly unlikely. It would be neat to have him sign with Kansas City, hoping to be the guy who returns to his old stomping grounds and take them to the playoffs for the first time since 1985. Yes, he would be a certifiable God in Kansas City if that happened. But it is probably a giant ‘IF’.

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Shin Soo Choo

Choo had a great 2013 season, his first in Cincinnati. Choo brings a lot of weapons to the table, mainly his potent bat and the ability to get on base at the top of the order. The Royals are very familiar with Choo after his tenure in Cleveland, on top of the Royals hitting him numerous times over the years, much to the displeasure of  Mr. Choo. Part of me wishes he had taken care of Jonathan Sanchez right then and there. Anyway, Choo will be a free agent here within the next few weeks and will looking to be cashing in. Like, REALLY cashing in! So more than likely, Choo is out of the Royals price range. I know Dayton Moore said that Kansas City was going to stay at the same payroll for 2014, but they said the same thing last winter and went out to spend where they felt they needed to. I personally believe the same for this winter, but even with that said, Choo will be too expensive. Scott Boras gets his clients the most money humanly possible. That just isn’t Kansas City.

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Kyle Blanks/Chris Denorfia

There is a reason I mention both Blanks and Denorfia. Earlier this summer the Royals sent scouts out to check out a number of players on the San Diego Padres. At the time second base and right field where both still major issues(funny how some things don’t change). I’m pretty sure both of these guys were scouted, as was Will Venable, another Padres outfielder. Venable’s value took off not too long after that, so I’m sure he is probably off the market. But I would have to think both Blanks and Denorfia are there for the taking. Blanks had a rough year, as he spent most of the year injured or benched. Blanks has very raw talent, but he also has the main thing the Royals need: power. Denorfia had his best season in the big leagues in 2013, but his numbers just won’t jump out at you. He doesn’t have the power Blanks has but seems to be a bit more consistent. I’m not sure either guy is better than a David Lough/Justin Maxwell platoon, but I could see Moore taking a flyer on either one of these guys. Remember, Moore did the same thing with Maxwell and he turned out to be a good acquisition.

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Giancarlo Stanton 

Stanton is the long shot of all long shots. It will take a HUGE package of players to acquire Stanton in a deal, and I do mean HUGE. But the Royals have the prospects to pull it off. Now, the only problem would be a deal like this would probably kill the farm system and it could take all the top players in your system(Zimmer, Bonifacio, Ventura, Mondesi,etc.). I LOVE Stanton’s power, which is just ridiculous and would solidify the middle of the Royals order. But…if it took all of those prospects to make the deal happen, it’s probably not worth it. I would like the Royals to stay in contention for years to come; not one good year and then have to wait a number of years before winning again. Once again, this would be a very long shot, so don’t expect this one to happen.

Nelson Cruz

Nelson Cruz   

Yes, THAT Nelson Cruz. The one who was suspended from the Biogenesis scandal. But it is also the same Cruz that has played in the postseason and has had success in it. Cruz’s power is very intriguing and is the kind of bat Kansas City needs. But I have my worries with him, and it’s not just the Biogenesis thing. For one, he is a streaky hitter. Sure, when he is hot, he is hot. But when he is cold…it’s like Hoth and he has no Tauntaun to cut open and stay warm inside of. Cruz is also not the greatest defender in the world and, after having Jeff Francoeur out in right the last few years, we all know how that goes. To add to this, I’m not real big on how he has acted in the past. I don’t always put a lot of value in character, but we all know Moore does. Cruz’s value is about as low as it’s been in quite awhile, so there is probably at least a chance he could wind up in Royal blue.

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Corey Hart

Out of all the guys I have mentioned so far, THIS is the one who I think has the best chance of being a Royal in 2014. For one, he is coming off of an injury filled season in 2013, one where he didn’t even play in a single regular season game. This would also mean there is a good chance Hart could be had on the cheap, maybe even a contract with a lot of incentives. Two, Hart played under Royals manager Ned Yost, so Yost already knows what kind of player he would be getting. Hart hits for power, drives in runs and puts up a good batting average. His defense isn’t great, but it’s not awful either. He’s versatile as well, as he could play any of the outfield positions and first base if needed. As long as Hart is healed, I could see him patrolling right field at Kauffman in 2014. The Royals could actually do a lot worse.

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Jacoby Ellsbury/Curtis Granderson   

I know what you are thinking: aren’t these guys center fielders? Yes, yes they are. They are also both free agents this off-season. Yes, my interest would be for them to play center field. So who would play right? Lorenzo Cain. Royals management prefers Cain in right field, where they feel he is better suited. If that is the case, why not acquire a center fielder and shift Cain to right? I would have to assume Ellsbury will take a large chunk of money to be signed, so he would be a long shot. But Granderson? Sure, he isn’t the guy who used to be a perennial All-Star and put up huge power numbers. But he still has power, has a bit of his speed left, and could be had at a realistic price. I don’t know if he would want to play in Kansas City, but the Royals are closer to a playoff spot at this point than the Yankees are. It is at least another option, one the Royals should at least consider.

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No matter which direction Kansas City goes in, it is obvious that they do need an upgrade at the position. I like both David Lough and Justin Maxwell, and a platoon of them isn’t the worst idea in the world, but if the Royals want to reach the playoffs they will need a more potent bat. There are options out there; one can only hope Dayton Moore does his research and makes a move that not only improves the Royals, but is smart for the team as well. If he wants an extension of his own, making a shrewd move here would be in his, and the Royals,  best interest.

Just Another Boring Walk-Off Grand Slam

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So I’ve been sitting around for the last few hours, pondering what I witnessed today.  I journeyed to my home away from home, The K, to take in the final home game of the 2013 season for the Kansas City Royals.  I spent a lot of the season bitching and complaining about Royals management, but come September, I(like most Royals fans) got swept up in the realization that they were actually playoff contenders. I always try to go to the final home game of the season, since I know it will be months before I get to go to another baseball game. Little did I know what I was walking into today…

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As we sat down to watch the game, nothing really seemed out of the ordinary. In fact, it seemed like every other game in this series between the Royals and their opponents, the Texas Rangers. Great pitching from both sides, great defense, and little offense. My son wanted to see Royals catcher Salvador Perez throw someone out; he threw out two guys. We got to see Justin Maxwell(who will be brought up again) make a sprawled out dive in right field early in the game. Alex Gordon showed(once again) why anyone who runs on his arm is stupid, catching Alex Rios for an easy out at third to kill a Texas rally. When it went into extra innings scoreless, it was a foregone conclusion that we could be there awhile.

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Top of the tenth rolled around, and Tim Collins held the Rangers in check. To the bottom of the tenth we went, and the Royals, who to that point had only mustered together two total hits on the day, were looking to start a rally. Eric Hosmer led off the inning and slapped the ball to left field, sliding into the bag at second for a double. With Billy Butler coming up next, the Rangers brought in reliever and former Kansas City All-Star closer Joakim Soria, who would proceed to intentionally walk Butler. This led to a chorus of boos, as most of us wanted to see what Billy could do against his former teammate. Chris Getz would run for Butler, in a move that puzzled me, both because Butler wouldn’t have been the go ahead run(thus taking out one of your key hitters for a runner who might never matter), and because if you wanted anyone to pinch run, Jarrod Dyson should always be at the top of your list. Salvador Perez would hit a liner to shortstop, tying up Elvis Andrus who couldn’t get Getz out at second(who I will give credit to here; knowing that the first baseman was not holding him at first, Getz took a more sizeable lead than he normally would. If not for that lead, Andrus would have gotten him out). The bases were now loaded with no outs for Mike Moustakas. Moose would hit a weak pop up to third, making one out. George Kottaras(or he we haven’t seen in about two weeks) would come up, pinch hitting for Lorenzo Cain. Kottaras would hit a ball to second, with Ian Kinsler getting the force out at home. The bases remain loaded for Maxwell with two outs, who had an interesting day to that point. I mentioned the great catch, but he also had struck out earlier in the game, throwing his helmet and bat down in disgust. The umpire had pointed it out and made a gesture that he wasn’t pleased with Maxwell’s actions. One wonders if lady luck had been shining on us since he hadn’t been ejected from the game. Maxwell would work the count full, before….before…well, just watch this:

 

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=espn:9710648&startTime=00:30

Just WOW! Not just a walk-off, folks. A WALK-OFF GRAND SLAM!  This Royals team has found time and time again new ways to win and help this team stay in contention. Kansas City showed once again they aren’t dead yet, even if they are 3.5 games out of the wild card with only seven games remaining. That blast to left, off of Soria of all people, will be ingrained in my brain for years to come. You couldn’t have asked for a more dramatic win.

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So what did I take away from one of the most exciting Royals games I have ever seen? For one, this is a TEAM.  For them to get to this point, the Royals can’t just rely on one player to lift them up, they need all 25 guys. That is a sign of a true winner. Go ahead, check playoff pasts. The teams that play like a team tend to go further into October. I’m not saying destiny is on Kansas City’s side(I haven’t completely lost my mind!), but I think there is something to say for how this team wins in spit of their flaws. I also saw a group of guys that really enjoy not only themselves, but each other. We hope in a few years these guys will want to stay and won’t wander off through free agency. The argument can be made that they like each other and who doesn’t want to play a kids game with your best friends? But more than anything else, I saw a team who wants to win. I saw a fanbase that wants to win. Both played their parts yesterday and made for one of the most exciting times I’ve ever had at the ballpark. So exciting that you can’t tell who is more excited, myself or my son:

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Seven games are left in the regular season. Logic tells me that will be it, but the little boy in me wants a playoff game. In a week, we’ll know if destiny is on the 2013 Kansas City Royals side.

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