Your Invite is in the Mail

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Spring Training is just around the corner, and there are always a few things you can count on. There is always that one player who is in “the best shape of his life”. Yep, you know the player; he’s the guy trying to bounce back from a down season and looking to put up career high numbers. Then there is the player who would conceivably be in “the worse shape of his life”. That player normally looks he spent all offseason on the couch watching Homer Simpson’s genius plan to be able to work from home by gaining as much weight as humanly possible. This role is normally reserved for Pablo Sandoval(sorry, Panda). Then there is the third type of player at Spring Training, the non-roster invitee who tries to slide into camp inconspicuously while hopefully walking away with an Opening Day spot on the 25 man roster. Most don’t, but there are always a few who make their case and wiggle their way up north. Headed into Spring Training there are a few of these players that will be in Kansas City Royals camp, looking to impress the Royals coaching staff and procuring a job. In fact, there are three in particular who will be vying for a spot that seem to have an outside chance of making the club. So who are these mystery men? Let’s start with a former New York Met looking to wear Royal blue come April.

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Dillon Gee will be entering his age 30 season, coming off of an injury riddled 2015 campaign with the Mets. In fact, Gee only appeared in 8 games last year, partially due to a groin injury and partially because the Mets were loaded with a bunch of young power arms(see Syndergaard, Noah or deGrom, Jacob). Plus, Gee didn’t help his own cause by getting bombed in the few starts he was given in 2015. The positive is that Gee is a serviceable arm, one that most major league teams would use as insurance at AAA until he is needed. In other words, there is a good chance Gee will be the 2016 version of Joe Blanton, who turned in a good season for the Royals and Pirates last year, netting him a deal with the Dodgers. Gee won’t overpower you with his fastball(he averaged about 89 mph in 2015)but he knows how to get outs and if paired with the Royals defense he would probably put up some pretty solid numbers. That being said, if Gee gets 8-10 starts for the Royals, someone is either injured or something has gone horribly wrong. I like Dillon Gee as insurance at Omaha, but his chances this spring hinge on the health of the other candidates in the rotation. So unless chicken pox arises in the Royals clubhouse again, it’s a safe bet Gee will be AAA to start the year.

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Peter Moylan’s chances of starting the year at Kauffman Stadium are better than Gee’s, but still a bit of an uphill battle for the 37 year old reliever. Age will be a factor for Moylan, although he has never been a guy who relied on his fastball and with his sidearm delivery his whole success is based more off of movement than velocity. Moylan was actually able to come back from a second Tommy John surgery in 2015, although the Braves initially intended him to be a coach in their low minors. Instead, the Braves stumbled and used Moylan out of the pen in September to positive results. For one, he didn’t walk anyone in the 10+ innings he threw, and was able to induce groundballs at a fairly high rate(69%), which we all know is a positive in Kansas City. He also was able to get some movement back on his sinker, which is a major plus for a guy who won’t blow pitches by batters. The Royals bullpen is loaded right now(as we all know), but there is always a chance Moylan could find his way to Kansas City. Louis Coleman was released on Wednesday, giving Moylan one less reliever to fight with for a spot in the pen. Moylan is also good friends with Royals starter Kris Medlen, as the pair were former teammates in Atlanta back in the day. I would say Moylan’s chances of making the team are slim, but did anyone predict he would have the career he has had so far? In other words, there is always a chance.

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Then there is Travis Snider. Snider was signed to a minor league deal over this past weekend and is the definition of living off of potential. Snider was once a 1st round draft pick of the Blue Jays back in 2006 and ten years later the baseball world is still expecting him to prove he can be as good as once expected. Over his 8 year career, Snider has performed below league average(93 career OPS+, league average is 100) and has not hit the way scouts once expected him to. There are positives with Snider, like the fact that he is going into only his age 28 season and he isn’t too far off from his career best year in the majors(2014). Looking back at that 2014 campaign, Snider played in 140 games for the Pirates with a line of .264/.338/.438, producing an OPS+ of 117 and a WAR of 2.1. Snider fell back this past season, splitting time in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The other positive for Snider is that the Royals are currently looking at a Jarrod Dyson/Paulo Orlando platoon in right field, so there is a lot of room for someone to step up and make Royals management take notice. The argument could even be made that if Snider showed an ability to get on base on a regular basis he would get a decent amount of playing time. The Royals at this point know what they are getting with Dyson and Orlando; Snider is the wild card that has the ability to open some eyes. There is a good chance Snider could make the opening day roster as backup outfielder and work his way to a good chunk of at bats. I don’t know if Snider will ever turn into a .300 hitter or a 20 home run guy, but a reliable bat who can get on base could work just as well when it comes to playing time.I have to say, Snider’s chances are good this spring but like most things, I am basing this off potential.

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There aren’t many spots available on the Royals roster as we head into Spring Training, but just look at last year. Ryan Madson came into camp as a guy who hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2011 and ended up not only making the roster, but being a reliable cog in the pen for the entire 2015 season. A few spots are open for the taking, and any of the three names mentioned above could sneak their way onto the team. That’s the great thing about spring; hope springs eternal, even for grizzled veterans. Even if they don’t, the Royals will have depth which is always a coveted part of any winning team. These signings are proof that the Royals roster will be just as deep in 2016 as it was during their run to a world championship.

A Team Tailored for the Playoffs

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As the Kansas City Royals inch closer and closer to their first postseason berth since  1985, it becomes harder and harder to not play out scenario’s in your head. What if they win a Wild Card spot? What will the starting rotation look like? Who do you leave off the playoff roster? These might all seem like minor details, but for us Royals fans it is foreign territory. Hey, we’ve spent close to 30 years just asking for a game that really matters; these questions seem to matter more to us than they should. With all that said there are a few things that not only make me feel confident that we could not only be witnessing a number of playoff games but that this team could be a great fit for what is headed their way.

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Obviously the preference for most of us is for Kansas City to win the American League Central, as the Royals would avoid the one game playoff that is the wild card. Winning a wild card is still playoffs, but there is always the possibility that the Royals have an off night and that would leave them one and done. Also, unless the Royals finish above or tied with Oakland in the Wild Card race they will be playing that game on the road. The thought of only getting one playoff game and not getting October baseball at ‘The K’ saddens me in ways you don’t even know. Like watching the end of Toy Story 3. I’m not alone on that, right? Anyway, there has been lots of discussion on whether the Royals playing in one game would be satisfying enough, and I can easily see why one game would not be enough. Either way, playoffs are playoffs, whether you play 1 game or 21. Bottom line is that the Royals need to reach the Division Series for any of the following points to even matter.

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There are normally three key things stressed for a team to go deep into the playoffs: pitching, defense and timely hitting. The good thing is the Royals are good for at least two of those, with the third coming and going. Let’s start with the pitching. This has been one of the bigger factors in the Royals success this year and without it we probably aren’t even talking playoffs right now. It will be interesting to see if the Royals will go with a 3 or a 4 man rotation to start out. I would imagine the top three goes James Shields, Danny Duffy, and Jeremy Guthrie. I would like to think Yordano Ventura would be the third rather than Guthrie, but my gut tells me they won’t want to push him real hard, as he has already pitched the most innings in one season of his career(179.0 as we speak). You also have to wonder where Jason Vargas is in this conversation, as he has had a really good season but in his last 7 starts he has a 5.89 ERA/1.66 WHIP and Kansas City has lost 6 of his those starts. Since I can’t see either Guthrie or Vargas being a part of the bullpen(unless they are a long reliever, and sweet baby Jesus, let’s hope we don’t need one of those) they will probably either start or not be on the playoff roster. This will lead to some interesting dilemmas for Royals management, as they will want to get the most out of their rotation without killing Ventura’s arm or using a starter who is regressing(I’m staring at you, Vargas!).

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But it’s not just the starters that will guide this team in October. The Royals bullpen has been a major force over the last few years and this year has added an element of dominance to the late innings. With Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland you are seeing a back portion of the pen who will slow down the best of offenses. Three guys with upper 90’s heat, nasty off-speed pitches and the ability to make a Royals game be over if they are leading after 6 innings. Add in the likes of Jason Frasor, Brandon Finnegan(who was drafted by Kansas City this summer) and just for the hell of it Francisley Bueno and Louis Coleman and you have the making of a playoff caliber pen. It will be interesting to see if Aaron Crow makes this squad, as obviously manager Ned Yost still thinks fondly of him, despite his disappointing season where inherited runners abound and velocity decreases. Add in the possibility of Ventura being in the bullpen and you could make the case that Kansas City will make opposing teams want to strike early or pay for it when HDH enter the game.

Kansas City Royals v Cleveland Indians

Defense is also a major plus for Kansas City and something that will help them in their hunt for gold. This has been about a solid of a unit as the Royals have had in a very long time, although there have been a few hiccups these last few weeks. For the Royals to play deep into October they need the ‘D’ to step up and return to their earlier levels of excellence. It shouldn’t be hard to muster, but this team has also showed the penchant to let pressure affect their play on the field.

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The timely hitting is the only thing that could be a worry. The Royals are hitting at a .270 with runners in scoring position, which is in the top 5 in baseball this season. It does drop to .214 with 2 outs in the inning, which lowers them to the middle of the pack in both leagues. They are also doing well when they get past the 7th inning, hitting at a .252 clip which is good enough for 6th in all of baseball. So this is a team that can hit and hit in the clutch if needed. But if you are a Royals fan you know how streaky they can be as well. One minute this team looks like an offensive juggernaut, the next you wonder if even Kent Murphy or Domingo Ayala(Google them; go ahead) could hit better than Kansas City’s hitters. They also aren’t a team that takes a lot of pitchers, so it is rare when you see them work a count and attempt to wear a pitcher down. Surprisingly they don’t strike out much either, although this means a lot of ground balls that don’t get past the infield. There is also a reliance on bunting when they start to struggle, which can be both good and bad. Letting a speedy player bunt early in the game for a hit? Fine by me, although I would prefer they hit. Sacrifice in the first 6 innings? Awful and something the Royals are notorious for doing. More than anything this team needs to hit in the clutch and attempt to be moderately consistent to reach the next level. I hope this can happen, but if there is anything I worry about it is this very issue that has hampering the team for the last couple seasons. Bottom line, this is a team of hackers who have both good and bad nights.

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Oh, there is one more positive that will be amplified in October; speed. The Royals are almost a team that harkens back to the 80’s, one built on speed, defense and pitching. The Royals like to flaunt this speed whenever possible, especially with both Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore on the bench for late inning heroics. This is a team that needs to use that speed to their advantage when they get to the postseason, if for no reason than that it is a plus for the team. This is a team full of speedy guys(Dyson, Gore, Cain, Aoki) and guys who are good base runners(Gordon, Escobar). If the offense is struggling? Use your speed by stealing bases and utilize the hit and run. The Royals aren’t a team that can bunch up a few hits and then expect a big three run bomb, so causing some damage on the basepaths would seem to be a solid game plan. I’m not saying do this all the time, and obviously I think they need to be smart about when they do take advantage of the speed, but there are times that this team strands runners on base, runners that could be in motion. Making opposing pitchers and defenses feel uneasy should be a regular part of Kansas City’s offense this October and one that could gain them a slight advantage.

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Look, there are areas of concern when it comes to this Royals team, like the much maligned offense, a non-threatening bench or Ned Yost’s tactical decisions. All could cost this team in the playoffs. In fact the ideal scenario for the Royals would be for them to get a lead by the 6th inning and then let Yost throw HDH out there for the last 3 innings. The less Yost has to manage, the better. But putting that aside, there are many teams in the American League who have already said they don’t want to play Kansas City in postseason play because of the way they are built. This is a Royals team that is used to playing in low scoring affairs and have shown a penchant to be a team that doesn’t give up late in the contest. So as much as this Royals team isn’t the team you or I would have built and despite logic telling us they shouldn’t have gotten this far with what they have, they are here. Watch out American League playoff teams; the Kansas City Royals are coming no matter how unorthodox or old school their game plan is.             

 

What is Working(and Not Working) for the 2014 Royals

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Well, it’s been eight games now. The Royals are 4-4. We’ve seen some good baseball so far. We’ve seen some bad baseball. Some things are working, some are not. Let’s go ahead and take a look at what we can take away from the first week of the 2014 season. First, let’s look at what is working:

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Patience  at the Plate

Over the years, it has driven me nuts that the Royals are just not a team who accumulates a lot of walks. This really isn’t anything new; this has been going on since the 90’s. Outside of Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, this team has been one that doesn’t take a lot of pitches and is always at the bottom of the league in bases on balls. But so far this year, we are seeing a different team. A team that has been seeing more pitches and taking more walks. Even a guy like Mike Moustakas, who didn’t get his first hit until last night, has shown a great amount of patience and has been able to take a few bases so far this year. This is a major improvement for this team and I really hope the patience is here to stay and isn’t fleeting. They are currently tied for 8th in the league in walks, which is way above where they have been in the past. In fact, they are currently way ahead of Detroit, who sits at the bottom of the league. If they can get some extra-base hits(more on that later), this team can make a big improvement on their ability to score runs from last year.

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The Starting Pitching is Still Great

I’ve been saying for awhile that the likelihood that the Royals would be able to put up the numbers the starting pitching had last year would be very small. Percentages say that it was just not realistic for that to happen, not with Ervin Santana gone and Bruce Chen and his clone(Jason Vargas) in the rotation. But so far, they are trying to prove me wrong. The Royals starting pitching is third in walks allowed, third in opponents batting average and second in WHIP. Jason Vargas has been the biggest surprise, as he has gone out there in two starts and has only given up two runs in 15 innings while compiling a 1.20 ERA and a WHIP of 0.73. Opponents are hitting a paltry .167 against Vargas. If he keeps this up(and I still believe he will be more in the middle and closer to his career stats this year), he will make Dayton Moore look like a genius for signing him. The rest of the rotation has been stellar, whether it be James Shields being, well, James Shields or Jeremy Guthrie continuing his magic tricks. Add in rookie Yordano Ventura, who made his season debut last night and made the Rays look awful(PLEASE, go check out these Gifs. They are worth it!), and you have a group of guys that might be able to challenge last year’s numbers. I hope it keeps up, as so far they have pitched above and beyond my expectations.

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Defensive Gold

This is no big surprise: the Royals defense is amazing. Anyone who has watched this team the last couple of years realize why they had 3 Gold Glove winners last year. It hasn’t slowed down, and might have gotten a bit better with the additions of Nor Aoki in right and Omar Infante at 2B. I don’t really see this changing and should continue throughout the year. The defense is working, oh yes, it is.

Now, onto the things that aren’t working:

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Royals Offense: MIA

This has probably been the biggest issue early on in the season for Kansas City. The Royals have struggled the last few years offensively, but the thought was with the additions of Aoki and Infante to the top of the lineup(and Alex Gordon moving down into the middle of the order)the Royals would see their offense flourish. So far, that has not happened. Sure, Aoki and Infante have hit, and so has Salvador Perez. Everyone else? Not so much. As a team, the Royals are 13th in runs scored, 14th in doubles, last in home runs, 13th in RBI, last in Slugging Percentage and next to last in OPS. Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon haven’t been horrible, but they haven’t been great. Billy Butler is struggling and Mike Moustakas, who tore it up this spring, just got his first hit of the year yesterday(in game 7!). I mentioned earlier that the team was doing a good job of taking some bases on balls, and it’s a good thing because they aren’t doing much else. I’ve had to remind myself numerous times so far that it is just eight games and is a very small sample size. But with the struggles the offense has had(especially scoring runs) the last few years, you hope this isn’t a regular thing and that the team can produce offensively the way management keeps thinking they should.

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Bullpen in Shambles 

I’ve been saying the last few years that bullpens have a very small shelf life. Normally, if a team can keep a solid group of guys together for 2-3 years then they are doing a good job. The Royals bullpen has been one of the best in baseball the last few years, and with their performance so far this year they might be drawing very close to a major shakeup. Tim Collins and Francisley Bueno have been roughed up, Greg Holland has looked human, and Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera have already had minor blips. What was once the most reliable thing on the team has become a big question mark. Louis Coleman has returned while Collins and Bueno have ended up on the disabled list for the time being. This is still a very solid group and will probably continue to put up solid numbers. But the days of them being locked down might be over. If there isn’t a shakeup this season, there very well could be in the offseason. Luckily for Kansas City, relievers are easy to accumulate and acquire.

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Seven Relievers and No Backup Infielder?   

One of the biggest deciding factors on whether or not a team makes it deep into the postseason is roster structure. If you are lacking in any area to compensate for another, there is a good chance you won’t even make it into the playoffs. With that said, it has been downright maddening to know that Royals management would rather carry seven relievers than ditch one and add a backup infielder to the roster. Pedro Ciriaco started the year on the team but was quickly jettisoned to Omaha to add to their collection of infielders. Christian Colon and Johnny Giavotella have seen regular time in AAA, as has journeyman Jason Donald. You would think with the amount of time both Alcides Escobar and Omar Infante missed this spring that it would be wise to keep an extra around in case one gets hurt. Hell, you might keep one around just because you might be tempting fate if you don’t. The Royals tempted, and what happened? Omar Infante was hit in the face the other night and had to be replaced by Danny Valencia. Yes, the Danny Valencia that had never played second base before Spring Training. The Danny Valencia who is a corner infielder and doesn’t play in the middle of the diamond. So in other words, he was out of place on Tuesday night when a ball was hit near him in the ninth inning that got past him and helped win the game for Tampa Bay. I’m not throwing this at Valencia’s feet; it wasn’t his fault. He just went out and did what was asked of him. But it makes no sense to not have a backup infielder on the team. They finally called one up for Wednesday’s game, as Giavotella made it to Kansas City and got a hit and a sac fly. This might seem like a minor thing, but it’s the difference between a contender and a pretender. For a team like Kansas City, there is no room for mental mistakes by management.

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So there it is, a breakdown of the first eight games and what the Kansas City Royals are doing right and what needs improvement. Look, it’s only been eight games so far; there is a lot of baseball yet to be played. I’m not too worried yet, but check back again with me in May. This team still has the potential and could be very special. As long as they continue to improve and don’t press too hard, we very well could be in a pennant chase this year. If not, we have this:

 

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Ahhh, it’s already warming my heart!

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.

Luke Hochevar Meets Tommy John

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Tommy John has struck again. This time the famed surgery has claimed Kansas City Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar, as he will miss the entire 2014 season. It’s amazing to think this way, but this is actually a blow to the Royals, as Hochevar was an important part of the teams success in 2013 and looked to continue that this year. It seems weird to say that, since Hochevar for years was an unreliable starter who put up some of the worst numbers in baseball history. The Royals were contemplating giving Hoch another run in the rotation this year as the fifth starter, but obviously those plans have now changed. So where are the Royals at now without Luke Hochevar?

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For one, the fifth starters job is now down to two. Brad Penny was released earlier this week and Wade Davis has been officially moved to the bullpen. That leaves the competition to young flamethrower Yordano Ventura and Twitter’s favorite son Danny Duffy. In my eyes this is the best thing for the future of this team, as Penny seemed like a long-shot and Davis failed miserably last year at the back of the Royals rotation. As much as I love Ventura(and think in the long run he will be a top of the rotation starter), it might be best to start out the year with Duffy at the back end of the rotation. This saves some of Ventura’s service time(June seems like a good guess as to when he would join Kansas City, barring an injury) and allows Duffy some time to prove he can be the pitcher that many feel he is capable of being. So far in his young career, Duffy has been hit with a mixture of injuries and lack of control.  But at times Duffy has looked electric with a fastball that can reach the high 90’s and a curveball that is close to being a 12-to-6 downer with varying speeds. His change up is also above average, so Duffy has all the makings to be a number 2 or 3 starter…if he can learn some control. The biggest obstacle he has faced so far(outside of injuries) is a lack of control that makes it hard for him to go much past 5 innings in any of his starts. If Duffy can learn to be more efficient and avoid the injury bug, it’s conceivable that both him and Ventura could be in the Royals rotation by the end of the year.

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Hochevar’s injury also forced Wade Davis to the Royals bullpen, which is also a major plus for Kansas City. Manager Ned Yost felt that with Hoch out, the Royals needed more of a veteran presence in the pen. Insert Davis, a pitcher who over his career has been a questionable starter(at best) and a solid reliever. Davis was a starter in 2010-2011 for Tampa Bay and last year for Kansas City. 2012 was spent out of the pen. Compare:

Wade Davis Statistics and History – Baseball-Reference.com: Standard Pitching

His numbers in relief are very solid, especially his strike out rate(jumping to 11.1 in 2012) and his ERA+(a full 63 points higher than his best season in the rotation). Davis could easily slide into Hochevar’s 2013 role and put up very similar numbers, while also elevating his value(as the Royals hold his option for the 2015 season). The Royals really wanted Davis to be a starter when he was acquired, but it appears he is better suited for the pen, especially if the team is serious about contending.

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The last way in which Hochevar’s injury affects the Royals is that it opens up another spot in the bullpen. Right now six pitchers seem a lock for the pen: Greg Holland, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera, Davis and Louis Coleman. That leaves a spot for either a lefty(Franciscley Bueno, Donnie Joseph), a long reliever(Everett Teaford, P.J. Walters) or the pitcher that loses out in the fifth starter spot. With the Royals talking about Davis being a 2 inning reliever, that lessens the need for a long reliever. Kansas City GM Dayton Moore would prefer that the loser of the starters spot go to AAA Omaha,  as the club wants insurance in case a starter suffers an injury. That would leave a battle between lefties Bueno and Joseph. Bueno is coming off of a rough outing yesterday against Milwaukee, one in which he looked very hittable while Joseph has yet to give up a run this spring. Joseph meanwhile is younger and is more of a strikeout pitcher(he has a career 12.3 SO/9 in the minors) although his walk rate is high as well(4.5 BB/9 in the minors). The Royals have used Bueno over the past couple seasons and seem to like his ability to get lefties out. Either could make the team and there is a good chance both will see time with Kansas City at some point this season.

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I’ve never been a big fan of Luke Hochevar but he was a major part of the Royals bullpen last year and seemed to have breathed life into a flailing career. It’s unfortunate that as he seemed to have turned a corner(thanks for that, Ned) he is now out for 2014 and his career is now in question going forward. Hoch’s injury has given us an even better view of what the Royals Opening Day roster is going to look like. As valuable as Hochevar has become, he seemed overpriced(he is scheduled to make $5.21 million this year) for someone coming out of the bullpen. Moore has said they would like to bring Hochevar back in the future, but at this point it is possible we have seen the last of Luke in a Royals uniform. The Royals were lucky and weren’t really hit with any major injuries last year. Hopefully this is the last of them for this year.

The 2013 Kansas City Royals: Like Mike Ness said, “I Was Wrong”

My mother once told me I was both stubborn and bull-headed. I remember asking her how I could be both, and she said that there was a difference. The difference was if you were bull-headed, you would purposely do things just to spite others. Or not admit you made a mistake. Well, I can freely say that some things have changed since my childhood(some), and I can say like that Social Distortion song, I was wrong about this Kansas City Royals season. I initially thought this was a 78-80 win team and thought there were problems within the team that were being ignored. Okay, I wasn’t completely wrong. So let’s do a fun exercise today, folks. I will go through my predictions for the Royals before the season, and we’ll find out what I guessed correctly and what I was badly incorrect about. Nothing like pointing out all your mistakes…although to be fair, baseball can do that to you!

What I was right about: 

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals

1) The starting rotation was better

I know, this isn’t really going out on a limb. The 2012 Royals rotation was awful. Putrid. Atrocious. Deplorable. Offensive. Pretty much any negative synonym you can think of would describe how bad they were. Improving the rotation was Dayton Moore’s main goal last winter and improve it he did. James Shields came in and was the ace the Royals needed every fifth day. Jeremy Guthrie was above what most predicted for a large portion of the season, but the real surprise was Ervin Santana. We will cover him in things I got wrong, although I wasn’t alone when it comes to “Magic”. I was also right that Wade Davis would struggle, and it took most of the season before he was sent to the bullpen. But don’t fret, children; put money on Davis starting next year in the rotation. Or as I now call him, Hiram Davies III. The rotation being better made a lot of the Royals flaws less noticeable. It just goes to show that once again, if you have pitching and defense they can mask a team’s ills.

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2)The bullpen was an elite bullpen   

This, once again, wasn’t a shock. The year before the pen had been fabulous and had pitched waaaaaay more innings than they should have. This year they got some relief of their own from the rotation, but it almost didn’t matter who came in; this unit was the best in baseball. They were led by All-Star closer Greg Holland, who has an argument for being the best closer in baseball this year–not for him breaking the team’s saves record(maybe the most worthless stat in the sport) but for striking out 103 batters in 67 innings thrown. Insane. After a rough first week #DirtySouth held things down and rolled successfully most of the year. After Holland, it was literally a who’s who of solid relievers; Hochevar, Collins, Coleman, Smith, Crow, and Davis(once he was shipped out there). Really the only one who slumped was Kelvin Herrera, and it’s not like he is a lost cause. Bullpens normally don’t have a long shelf life, so next year they could implode, but at least for 2013 they can say they were the best.

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3) The offense struggled 

During Spring Training, I felt like a kid in a car, yelling while the windows are rolled up. No one would hear me as I kept saying that the offense struggled in 2012 and the Royals did nothing to remedy it. By May, I was not only correct, I was ridiculously right–and I hated it. The offense struggled so much that even players that you thought would be fine had their issues. Billy Butler caught a lot of scorn this year, as his numbers were down from the year before. But by the end of the season, he was the team leader in RBI’s and outside of some of the power numbers, he had a close to normal season for Billy. Alex F. Gordon played Gold Glove defense, and was a team leader that they needed. But Alex struggled off and on all year and he just didn’t have the typical Gordon season. Alcides Escobar fell way off of his 2012 numbers. Likewise for Mike Moustakas. Right field and second base were black holes until David Lough and Emilio Bonifacio started getting regular playing time. The only real shining light was the return to glory of Eric Hosmer, but even that took bringing in a Hall of Famer to fix his swing. Hosmer went from purely a singles hitter in May to looking like the rookie who was going to be an MVP some day. All in just a few short weeks. The good news for Kansas City is hopefully Dayton will target a right fielder in the offseason with some pop…and the only direction to go for most of these guys is up next year. Let’s hope.

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4) Bringing back Getz and Francoeur was pointless 

Most anyone with a pulse was smart enough to realize another season of Frenchy and Getzie would lead to failure. Most anyone isn’t Dayton Moore and Ned Yost. I’ll be honest when I say a lot of my predictions were based on these two still being around. Luckily, Moore didn’t completely want to tank the season so Getz was sent down to Omaha in June, while Francoeur was cut just a few weeks later. Neither had even close to an average season, let alone a passable one. Getz would get recalled before the start of the second half of the season, but he didn’t see as much playing time and by September was riding the pine except for the occasional start or pinch running assignment. Francoeur was picked up by the Giants, but that didn’t last long. Just thinking of what the season could have been if the Royals had just cut ties with these two might have garnered them a few more wins…and maybe the chance of a wild card spot. I can only hope ‘the coaches son’ will be gone next year, so I don’t have to mention how Moore and Yost hold onto guys who no longer carry any value.

Ned Yost

5) Ned Yost will screw something up when it counts

Nothing new here. Been calling it for close to two years now. He does not deal well with pressure. Or allows his starter to stay in despite him getting very lucky. Oh, and keep him in for a chance at a ‘W’. Bunting in the early innings. Weird choices late in a pennant race game. More bunting. I’m to the point that I am tired of talking about it. Let’s move on.

Okay, now onto what I got wrong:

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1) The Royals finish above .500

This should probably count for like 3-4 things I got right. But…I’ve never been so happy to be wrong about something! Nothing really compares to playing meaningful games in September. Nothing made me happier than to see a packed house at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals didn’t seem to me like an above .500 team most of the year, if for nothing else than the fact that this was the streakiest of streaky teams that I have ever seen. It would have been nice for our sanity if the Royals had been a bit more consistent this year. At the end of the day, I was way wrong about this and fully admit it. But I’m glad I was wrong. As a diehard Royals fan, I just want to see my team compete and win. They did that this year, even if it might have been at the cost of another year of Dayton Moore and Ned Yost, or mortgaging the future thanks to the Wil Myers trade. Step 2 is now to actually reach the playoffs. That window is closing, so it’s time to jump through.

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2) Ervin Santana was ‘Magic’

There was no way I thought Santana would be as good as he was for the Royals this past season. Honestly, I’d like to know who actually DID think he would be this good. Santana was coming off of what was quite possibly his worst season in the majors, a season that saw him lead the league in home runs allowed despite the fact he spent 2012 pitching in one of the bigger ballparks in the big leagues(the Angels’ Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Geez, even their stadium has a giant name!). In what will go down as one of Dayton Moore’s better trades, Santana was a legitimate number two starter in the Royals rotation. His numbers do not lie. I was of the thinking that he would spend most of the year injured…yep, shows you what I know. Santana is a free agent this winter, and odds are the Royals aren’t going to be able to afford his lofty cost(both years and dollars). Santana was the most unexpected surprise Kansas City had this year, and a surprise most of us didn’t see coming. It’s too bad ‘Magic’ probably won’t be back in Royal blue, since he would be a welcome return, even if he would end up being overpaid for too many years.

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So in all fairness, I wasn’t really too far off. Sure, I thought this was an under .500 bunch, but that was with the thought that Getz and Francoeur would see the majority amount of time most of the year and with the offense never really figuring it out. Instead, Kansas City wised up, and Getzie and Frenchy were either exiled to AAA or sent packing when they didn’t produce. History showed that Dayton Moore didn’t have an endless leash on these guys, and their replacements, for the most part, improved on their positions. The bats were still streaky, but had enough glimpses of what everyone THOUGHT  they could do and got great starting pitching to keep them in way more games than in years past. I am willing to be wrong more often if it means the Royals win and keep themselves in a pennant race. I probably had more fun in September than I have had in a long time as a Royals fan. Hopefully they will continue to prove me wrong in 2014 and we can have a discussion about how I never thought they would reach the playoffs. I’m willing to look the buffoon if it means playoffs. A little bit more optimism wouldn’t hurt me, even if the realist in me finds it hard sometimes. I just have to remember the little kid growing up that loved his Kansas City Royals. He is still around; he always makes an appearance every time I walk into Kauffman Stadium.

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