Depth Is King

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(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The World Baseball Classic has been a nice distraction through the dog days of Spring Training (I forget every year how long the preseason drags on)but there is an aspect of it that can shake a baseball fan to the core-an injury. I agree with most that an injury, for the most part, is just as likely during a spring game, with the main difference being that at least in a Spring Training game the major league team has control over when and where a player is in the game. With that in mind, most Kansas City Royals fans lost their breath for a short bit a few weeks ago when catcher Salvador Perez was in a collision at home plate with Royals teammate (and his backup catcher) Drew Butera:

After my initial thought of “man, that was one awkward slide”, my next thought was Perez’s health and how he needed help being escorted off the field. My mind scurried back to 2012 and the meniscus tear in Salvy’s knee and how he missed the first few months of the season. Then my mind ventured to who could take his place…and I got really worried. There is Butera, who is a great backup but too much playing time would expose his flaws. Brayan Pena is in Royals camp, but like Butera, is better suited to occasional starts, not full-time duty. Cam Gallagher is in the Royals pipeline and is a great defensive catcher…but can’t hit a lick. This meant my mind then started thinking of trades and what catchers might be available. The Royals just don’t have great depth at the catcher position and when I started thinking if there is any other position on the field that Kansas City would have a hard time filling, I was relieved to realize that this 2017 Royals team was not only very deep from position to position, but it also might be the deepest team they have had over the last four years.

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On Monday, manager Ned Yost announced the winner of the 5th spot in the starting rotation:

Karns was part of a deep pool for Yost to dig from, as he was battling with Chris Young and Travis Wood to wrap up the rotation. Any of the three fit into that spot and cases can be made for all three as to why they would be valuable in the bullpen as well. Since the Royals have made their run for postseason contention back in 2013, I can’t remember a time when they had as many quality options in the rotation as they do this season. This isn’t even mentioning prospects like Josh Staumont or Kyle Zimmer, who both could be valuable to Kansas City at some point this season, whether it be in the rotation or the pen. If the Royals are hit with an injury at some point this season, it does appear as if there will be a pitcher that can easily slide into a spot in the rotation.

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The bullpen is just as deep, with Kelvin Herrera taking over the closers role and Matt Strahm and Joakim Soria leading the way as setup guys. Add in Wood and Young from the rotation battle and lefty Mike Minor, and you have the make-up of a solid bullpen crew. But the depth extends; Staumont and Zimmer are possible additions later in the year, along with Eric Skoglund in the minors. Throw in veterans Peter Moylan and Al Albuquerque (who are in camp on minor league deals) and there are arms galore for Yost to choose from. While the relief core might not be Holland-Davis-Herrera deep, it is still an above-average group that is a good ten-men deep.

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The infield backups, while not a group of all-stars, are still all serviceable and capable of filling in on a semi-regular basis. Kansas City has Cheslor Cuthbert or Hunter Dozier at third base if something happened (again?) to Moustakas, Raul Mondesi can fill the glove of Alcides Escobar in a pinch (although there are questions about his bat, which has been solid this spring) and the group of Mondesi, Christian Colon and Whit Merrifield are all able at second base, a position without a true starter. Initially I thought first base might not be as deep, but it might be even deeper than the other three spots in the infield. If Hosmer went down, Kansas City could plug-in Cuthbert, Dozier, Brandon Moss, or even Peter O’Brien, who has shown some massive power this spring. Even Hosmer’s future replacement (probably), Ryan O’Hearn, has shown marked improvement this spring and might be available late in the season. While not a collection of offensive juggernauts, the infield could survive a few injuries if something happened and in some ways be able to put up fairly comparable numbers.

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The outfield is more of the same, with Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Jorge Soler scheduled to be the starters from left to right. If Gordon goes down, Moss, O’Brien, Dozier or Paulo Orlando could fill in. Cain? Orlando’s best defensive position is actually center field and Billy Burns could take over for a few weeks as well. If Soler went down to an injury (or started seeing more time at DH), there are even more options in right field: Moss, O’Brien, Dozier, Orlando and even Jorge Bonifacio could man right if so needed. You can mix and match some of these players, shuffle them all around the outfield but they would spell the same thing-suitable replacements that the Royals have stockpiled within the organization, the most I have seen in years in Kansas City.

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What will be the most interesting aspect of all this depth will be how Ned Yost uses it. It is very well-known that Yost is not a manager who uses his bench a ton and in the past has penciled in the same lineup for weeks on end. Now that he has a surplus of talent all around the diamond, will he use it to maximum effort or get locked in on a set ‘9’ and go with that most of the time? No matter how the lineup shakes out, this amount of depth can only be a positive for the Royals in 2017. If you go back over the years and look at teams who play deep into October and even win championships, the one constant is almost always how deep of a roster they have. If the Royals are serious about playing in the postseason again, their roster is set for an extended run in the playoffs. It has to make management feel a little bit better, knowing there is a replacement for almost every starter on the team in case something happens. Now, if Perez goes down again…

Straddling The Fence

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Being a longtime Kansas City Royals fan can give someone a different perspective of the team than say, someone who has only been around the last couple years. There is a section of the fanbase that sat around during the “Lean Years” so to speak, an era where many a time we would be accepting of an errorless game, or a quality start from the starting pitcher that day. Trust me folks, years ago the bar was set really low. With that being said, this winter the Royals have been fairly quiet on the acquisition front, as we have essentially seen the Jorge Soler trade and the Nate Karns trade with a few minor signings sprinkled in. I’ve actually felt like both trades made sense and were quality deals on GM Dayton Moore’s part. I even liked the Peter O’Brien signing and don’t hate Jonathan Sanchez being brought in on a minor league contract. But something else has been gnawing at me this winter and these trades have reinforced my worries. It appears on the surface like the Royals are neither “going all in” this off-season nor “rebuilding”. In fact, it appears as if Kansas City management is straddling a fence that often isn’t very successful.

KC Royals VS NY Mets, Game 2, 2015 World Series

I feel like I need to be a bit more clear in my estimation, as it could be taken as if I am saying the Royals won’t be in a position to contend in 2017, which I don’t feel at all. In fact, I feel as if Kansas City has a great chance to be in the playoff hunt this year, as we enter the final year of a contending window with the current nucleus in place. That is a big part of my worries right there; after this season, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain will be free agents. Danny Duffy was also set to go out on the market, but luckily he was given a long-term extension while Wade Davis and Jarrod Dyson, two more potential free agents after 2017, were dealt in the trades mentioned above. The front office has known for years that this was the final year of winning with this group and while the initial plan was for the farm system to keep spitting out major league ready talent, that hasn’t turned out to be the case. Knowing that there was not really any help on the horizon down in the minors (although someone like Hunter Dozier could contribute as soon as this year), this felt like the season where the team should be “all in” and put the team in the best position to reach the playoffs. That has not happened and not all of that can fall at the feet of Moore. No, you have to look higher up on the food chain to find the biggest issue facing the front office.

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Back in December, it came out that Royals owner David Glass didn’t want the team to increase the payroll for the 2017 campaign, putting Moore and his associates in the front office in a weird position. Moore over the years has always tried to temper expectations and kept his cards close to the vest, but apparently he really meant it this year when he said that the team wouldn’t be able to take on more payroll:

“We’re simply not in a position to add to our current payroll,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said.

This is why Davis was traded and why Dyson wasn’t far behind; Moore was trying to shuffle the roster by unloading any payroll he can why acquiring players who are younger, cheaper and are under club control for the immediate future. In fact I will go a step further and say Moore has done an admirable job trying to keep the foundation of the team together to make another run while keeping the payroll within Glass’ desired level. Yes, some of this falls at the feet of Moore; he is the one who gave Ian Kennedy his 5 year contract, Omar Infante’s contract that the Royals are still paying for this year and backloaded a number of contracts to make the team’s money situation work in years past. But more than anything this feels like Glass being cheap, which he really hasn’t been these last few years. Why pull back now when more money could be had if the team goes back to the playoffs?

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When I first started understanding the business side of baseball, I learned very quickly that to make money in baseball you have to spend money. There has never been a major league owner that pinched pennies and made a fortune off of it; maybe for one year or some random event but none consistently. Instead, the teams that have made a ton of money did so by spending as well. Now, I am not saying that the only way to make money in baseball is to spend like the Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers; in fact, many of those teams that were high spenders didn’t even profit from playoff teams to really max out their wealth. So I am not saying Glass should just spend willy-nilly and expect profitable results; no, there is a way to spend wisely while not going over any self-imposed budget. The perfect definition of that could very well be those Royals teams that made the playoffs in both 2014 and 2015. Glass spent more money those two years than any other Royals team and he made more money both of those years than ever before because of the team playing into October. I am not saying Glass should give Dayton an open check and tell him to go get what they need; that should probably never be done, period. But a slight bump in the payroll could give this Royals team a chance to improve a few holes in the team’s roster and improve their chances of winning this year. With the Twins and White Sox rebuilding and the Tigers also straddling a fence (they have hinted at dealing some of their veterans this winter but alas none have been dealt), realistically that would leave the Royals and Indians to battle it out for the American League Central in 2017. That could still happen, but one has to wonder how this team will improve based just off of players being healthy and expecting many to improve on their 2016 output.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

The other issue at hand is tied up in Moore’s trades this winter and what they mean for the future of this team. Like I said, I have liked both trades he has made and feel getting Karns and Soler were excellent acquisitions for what Kansas City is trying to do. But…it does appear on the surface that they are trying to win this year while also building a club controlled roster after the expected departures next winter. The team is neither “all in” or “rebuilding” and this is a problem. In the past, team’s who have tried to leverage a situation like this have eventually decided to take either one path or the other once they figured out that taking neither wasn’t working. We don’t have to look far to see what kind of problem this can cause-just look at the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2012, the Phillies finished .500 while employing a roster of veterans like Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Roy Halladay. The team attempted to re-stock in 2013, adding Michael Young and Ben Revere while keeping the older nucleus in tact. The team floundered that year, losing 89 games and it appeared a rebuild was in their future. Instead, they acquired A.J. Burnett right before Spring Training that year, and would rack up another 89 loss season. It wasn’t until after that season that the organization put forward a full-scale rebuild on the franchise. The Phillies learned that straddling that line between rebuild and contending normally doesn’t work out and I’m afraid Kansas City will learn the same lesson.

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Since the idea of drifting between contending and rebuilding sounds counterproductive to me, I am in the camp that the Royals should be going for it this year. This is the last year of the window with Moose, Esky, Hos and Cain, so now would be the time to give this team its greatest opportunity to return to the playoffs. The farm system has very little in the way of help next year and this is an organization that didn’t make it to postseason play for 29 years before 2014; now is the time for one last run. The logic I am using is that if Glass agrees to spend even just an extra $10-$15 million to upgrade a few spots, they would at least be giving this squad the best opportunity to reach October baseball. We have zero idea of what will happen after 2017, and the likelihood that the Royals are even able to bring back more than just one of those four free agents is probably slim and none. The thinking is that if the team puts forth another winning season, the stadium will be packed and Glass will make his money back and then some. Instead, it feels like he is saying “we won a World Series, I think we’ll just stop there”. Even if the team doesn’t make it back to the postseason this year, Glass can go cheap in 2018 with a much younger ballclub, make his money that way and no one will think less of it, since they would be “rebuilding”. This group of players deserve one last shot at etching a legacy in Kansas City but the chances of that happening at the moment don’t look as good as it should be.

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So what does this all mean for the 2017 Kansas City Royals? It means that while this club on the surface still looks like a contender, things could go awry very quickly as well. One does have to wonder, after the soul-crushing death of Yordano Ventura, if the team might go out and pick up a replacement starter for the rotation or if they will attempt to fill his spot with a Matt Strahm or a Mike Minor. Even if another acquisition is looming, I’m not sold that this is the best Royals team that could be pieced together. Could they contend with this squad? Of course. But does this feel like a team that could cause damage in October? Not likely. I could be wrong but it feels like ownership is not giving this team the best chance to bring the World Series back to Kansas City, and that saddens me. It’s easy for me to sit here and say “spend more money”, when it isn’t my own. But if I understand the structure of a major league baseball team that wants to contend, you don’t half-ass the project. It should be all about winning the whole damn thing again this year and instead it feels like someone just waiting to turn the lights out. We have no clue how much of a chance the Royals will have to make the playoffs again after 2017; why not go out with a bang and get the band back together for one last gig? Instead it feels like a farewell tour where we keep asking them to play all the big hits one last time before hitting the road. At this point, Royals ownership should do right by the fans, the front office and even the players who have given their blood, sweat and tears these last 4-5 years. It’s time to push the chips all in and go for broke. Now is not the time to stop halfway and assume that will do the trick. It’s time to go for broke…and trust me Mr. Glass, this won’t make you broke. In fact it could increase your wealth for years to come…

Duffman: Signed, Sealed & Delivered

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Most of the focus this winter for the Kansas City Royals has been on how they were going to bounce back in 2017 while trimming payroll, as the team’s cavalcade of free agents after this year looms in every conversation about this team. Throughout all this, there has been a growing sentiment (one of which was from me last summer) that the Royals real focus should have been on getting a new long-term contract worked out for staff ace Danny Duffy. After word leaked out back in November that Duffy and the Royals were negotiating a contract extension, it was hard not to get excited about a deal getting done before Spring Training in February. But as November became December and December became January, worry started to set in. Luckily, all that worry was for not, as Kansas City has locked up Duffy with a 5 year, $65 million dollar deal. Now that Duffman is signed, sealed and delivered, let’s break down the deal and how it will affect the Royals.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Kansas City Royals

Let’s start with the specifics:

Duffy had asked for $8 million through arbitration last week and the Royals had countered with $7.25 million for 2017. Obviously, GM Dayton Moore has backloaded this deal, which trims some money from Kansas City’s 2017 payroll. Not a big shock, as Moore has shown a tendency to backload contracts to keep the current payroll as low as possible. This will give the Royals some flexibility this year in case the team decides to make any further moves, which it would appear very well could be the case. This is a move that not only is exciting for us fans but for Kansas City management as well:

“We’re very excited to have Danny Duffy with us for the next five years,” Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore told MLB.com. “Danny is someone who fits in with our organization and within our community.”

It was obvious that Duffy’s 2016 season was a deciding factor in working out an extension with him:

“He has begun to separate himself among the top left-handers in the game,” Moore said. “As I said, very excited to know he’ll be a Royal for quite some time.”

Considering how the market has grown the last few years, especially for pitchers, this deal could actually turn out to be a steal for Kansas City, as it is a fair comparison to other elite left-handed starters in baseball. As an example, Chris Sale (who will be the same age as Duffy next year) will be making $12 million this year, $12.5 million in 2018 and $13.5 million in 2019. Duffy’s deal will be just slightly less than Sale’s but within that same ballpark. While Sale has had more success to this point in his career, they are very similar pitchers in many different aspects and it is easy to see Duffy being discussed in the same sentence with Sale if he continues to pitch the way he did in 2016.

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Maybe the biggest advantage to getting Duffy locked in is making sure the rotation is taken care of past this upcoming season. If Duffy had left through free agency after the 2017 season, that would have left Yordano Ventura and Ian Kennedy for the Kansas City rotation followed by a bunch of question marks. Chris Young has a team option and Mike Minor has a mutual option for 2018, but both are question marks in the first place so who knows how valuable they will be in 2017, let alone the year after. Matt Strahm is a possible future fixture in the rotation, but at least in the immediate future he looks to be ticketed for the bullpen. Nate Karns could also be in the back-end of the rotation, but he could also be better suited for the pen. What about any prospects in the farm system? Pitching-wise, there is very little on the immediate horizon, as guys like Miguel Almonte and Christian Binford have taken a step back, Kyle Zimmer can’t stay healthy and Josh Staumont will probably end up as a valued piece of the bullpen. The good news is that the Royals would have had options, but none of the names mentioned would be able to be what Duffy was last year, which was the stopper, ace and leader of the pitching staff. When the Royals scored 0-2 runs in a game, Duffy had an ERA of 1.37 and a strike out to walk ratio of 11.0. Having that guy at the top of the rotation can help a team’s confidence and make a few losses not turn into a long losing streak. Danny Duffy is that guy for the Royals.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Baltimore Orioles

More than anything, this gives the Royals a homegrown starting pitcher to build the rest of their rotation around, which has been few and far between during Moore’s tenure as General Manager. In fact the only homegrown pitcher to flourish during his time as GM (besides Duffy) was Zack Greinke, who was drafted in 2002, well before Moore was employed by the Royals. If there is one part of the Moore regime that has failed, it is the development of starting pitching. Locking up Duffy gives the Royals a homegrown pitcher that can lead the team into the future and possibly give the younger arms in Kansas City’s system someone to aspire to, an organizational cog. With Duffy signed, the team doesn’t have to go outside the organization and sign a staff leader, or trade a top prospect to get that arm to Kansas City. Instead, they have rewarded a player drafted by the team and can spend the money or prospects on something else over the next five years. Signing Duffy, in some ways, is growth for this franchise.

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Over the last couple months there have been more questions than answers in Kansas City and with this signing there is one less question to be answered for the future of the Royals. The future looks a little bit brighter and (dare I say it) a little more gnar. While some might question the Royals ownership decision to not “push all the chips in” this year (and you can probably count me in that group), it is evident the front office is looking past 2017 and well into the future. Long ago, Danny Duffy said “Bury me a Royal” and while it felt a tad like pandering, you could tell the man meant it and was extremely grateful for this organization and what they had done for him. Now it is his time to return the favor. I honestly can’t think of a better representative to lead the future of this franchise into whatever direction they will be going into. Duffy is a sound investment and hopefully in the future will be discussed the same way the generation before talked about Leonard, Splittorff and Busby.

Euphoria Lingers:What 2016 Meant For the Kansas City Royals

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“I’ve had some wins. And been knocked down with defeats. Glimpsed views from the top of the mountain. And walked through the darkest of valleys. But through this entire ride called ‘a life’ – I’ve refused to give up.”~Robin S. Sharma

Everyone knew from the beginning that it wouldn’t be an easy task. Some would even say it was highly unlikely that the Kansas City Royals would repeat as World Series champions, a title they carried all throughout the 2016 campaign. The last team to repeat? That would be the 1998-2000 New York Yankees, a dynasty of a team that even tried to make it four in a row. So when the Royals came into the season, the hope was that they could make it back to the promise land. Instead, they were forced off their perch at the top of the mountain. There was a litany of factors as to why that was, but it wasn’t as if Kansas City had an awful season. In fact, the team wasn’t officially eliminated from postseason play until the last week of the season with four games to go. There were even some positives that came out of the season that will help the foundation of the 2017 Royals team.

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What Went Right  

First and foremost, Danny Duffy became the team ace that had been hoped of him for years now. Duffy started the year in the bullpen but it wouldn’t be long until he was summoned for starting duty. Duffy would make his first start of the year on May 15 against Atlanta, shutting out the Braves in his three innings of work. Duffy would continue to excel, gradually building up his arm strength while taking the lessons he learned in the pen into his starts. No longer was Duffy a man of inefficiency, racking up high pitch counts in a limited amount of innings. Instead, Duffy would post the lowest walk ratio of his career (2.1) while also increasing his strike out numbers as well (9.4 strikeouts per 9). On August 1st, Duffy would throw the game of his career, holding the Rays hitless through seven before finally giving up a hit, all while striking out 16 batters. Duffy would leave after 8 innings of work, just a mere inning away from throwing the first complete game of his career. He would get that complete game just two starts later, holding the White Sox to 1 run and 7 hits in a 9 inning gem . When it was all said and done, Duffy would post career highs in innings, strike outs, walks, FIP, BB9, SO9, SO/W and will go into the 2017 season as the ace of the Royals rotation.

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Cheslor Cuthbert was a welcome plus for the Royals this year, as he ended up with the third base job after Mike Moustakas went down with a season ending injury in May. Cuthbert’s numbers weren’t at Moustakas’ level, but did put himself into a solid position come Spring Training. Cuthbert hit a respectable .274/.318/.413 with an OPS+ of 93 (slightly below league average) and a bWAR of -0.2 (1.1 oWAR, -0.9 dWAR). Cuthbert could be a man without a position in 2017, but the team has sent him to the instructional league to get some work at second base, a chance to build up some versatility. Considering he is out of options and Moustakas will be back next year, Cuthbert could be dealt in the offseason; the good news is that 2016 really elevated his value in many people’s eyes.

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We also got our first look at Matt Strahm and he was a pleasant addition to the Kansas City bullpen. Strahm appeared in 21 games this year, posting a 1.23 ERA over 22 innings, 12.3 strike outs per 9 with an ERA+ of 362. Strahm became a reliable arm in the pen but manager Ned Yost was reluctant on using him too much, as he threw only 94 innings in 2015 and had already thrown over 100 innings during his time in AA this year. Strahm could return to the bullpen next year, but the Royals have also shown interest in giving him a shot at a rotation job in 2017.

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Paulo Orlando was another surprise this year for Kansas City, as the Brazilian elevated his game in 2016, putting him in a position to compete for a regular spot in 2017. Paulo hit .302/.329/.405 with an OPS+ of 95 and a bWAR of 2.3. Orlando sacrificed some power this year for more of a ‘spray the ball to all fields’ approach and that netted him a solid average but a dip in his slugging numbers. The Royals believe that Orlando is late bloomer and expect him to be in the hunt for the right field job at the ripe age of 31 next year.

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Whit Merrifield showed in 2016 that he could hang with the big boys, hitting .283/.323/.392 with an OPS+ of 90 and a bWAR of 1.6. Merrifield saw a lot of time at second base this year and while he proved adequate both offensively and defensively, he is probably better suited as a super utility guy for Kansas City. Merrifield will probably get at least a shot at the second base job in the spring, but there is a greater chance of Whit holding down a utility spot for the team next year.

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Finally, a slight nod to Drew Butera, the backup catcher for the Royals. It’s hard being the backup to Salvador Perez, as you see very little playing time. Perez did go down with a few injuries in 2016, so Drew saw some extra time behind the dish and performed admirably when asked. Butera got the most plate appearances he has seen since 2014, hitting .285/.328/.480 with an OPS+ of 112 and a bWAR of 0.4. Those are all career highs for Butera, who has long been known as a defense first guy with very little stick value. Drew will be a free agent this offseason and I can only hope he returns for another year in Kansas City. In a lot of ways, Butera is the perfect backup receiver for what this club needs from that spot.

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What Needs Some Work

Let’s start here with the starting rotation. The rotation felt like a talking point for a good chunk of the season, but some of that was positive in a few good stretches. Overall, the Royals starters had the third highest BB/9, the highest HR/9 and FIP, and in the bottom third of the American League in innings pitched, ERA and WAR. Yordano Ventura and Ian Kennedy both had roller coaster years, with equal parts good and bad in 2016. Ventura is still a work in progress and Kennedy gave up the third most home runs in the AL this year. Both will need to work on their consistency, as they will be back next year. There will probably be some change in next year’s rotation, as Edinson Volquez is a free agent while the fifth spot was in constant flux this year. Jason Vargas, Mike Minor and Strahm could all be in-house candidates for next year’s rotation.

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Also needing some work was the Royals bullpen. The bullpen was a key part of the Royals last two World Series’ teams, but this year they struggled. Luke Hochevar was lost for the season back in August, Wade Davis made a few appearances on the disabled list, and Joakim Soria struggled around a couple of strong stretches in his return to Kansas City. While some ranted and raved about the pen (mostly about Soria), I would like to point out here that we as Royals fans have been spoiled these last few years. The bullpen in year’s past were so insanely good that most seemed to just take it for granted. This was still a good bunch of arms for Kansas City, posting a HR/9 of 0.92(third lowest in the league), 77.3% LOB percentage (also third lowest), 3.45 ERA (yep, still third lowest), and 4.9 fWAR, 5th best in the league. The Royals have already talked about the bullpen being their main focus this offseason, so don’t be surprised to see some changes. Davis, Soria and Herrera will be back while Hochevar is a free agent, although it will be interesting to see if the Royals try to re-sign him. I also think there is a decent chance that Kansas City tries to bring Greg Holland, who spent the year recovering from Tommy John surgery, back into the fold. The pen is still a plus for Kansas City, but it will need some work.

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What Went Wrong

Two items of note went horribly wrong for Kansas City in 2016. First, the offense. What was actually a strong point in 2015 (6th in the league in runs scored last year), went sour this year. The Royals offense was last in home runs, ISO, BB% and wRC+, while in the bottom third of the league in runs, RBI’s, OBP%, slugging, and fWAR. Almost the entire lineup could be looked at to blame for this regression; Alex Gordon struggled when he wasn’t hurt, Salvador Perez saw a dip in his offensive numbers while Eric Hosmer had a horrendous second half  of the season, hitting in the low .200’s during that span, producing only six doubles in the second half while leading the American League in ground ball percentage. If it wasn’t for Kendrys Morales’ huge spurts of offense (and even Kendrys saw an early season slump derail his numbers)and Hosmer’s first two months of the season, one has to wonder how worse off this Kansas City team might have been. I believe some of the expectation of the Royals returning players is for them to improve on this year’s numbers in 2017, but there will need to be some changes before Spring Training rolls around.

MLB: ALDS-Kansas City Royals at Houston Astros
(Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY)

But the biggest blow to the Royals success this season was injuries. After years of the Royals being fairly healthy, they were dealt a bad hand this season. Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, Luke Hochevar, Jarrod Dyson, Chris Young, Kris Medlen and Wade Davis all spent some time on the disabled list this year at one point or another. Mike Moustakas collided with Gordon in late May, and while Gordon would miss a month, Moustakas would have a torn ACL and would be gone for the rest of the season. Lorenzo Cain, who was the Royals best player in 2015, had multiple stints on the DL and would end up missing about 1/3 of the season. While backups like Cuthbert, Merrifield and Orlando all performed admirably in their absence, they didn’t produce at the same level and it showed in the numbers. For the Royals to be successful in 2017, they are going to have to stay healthy and not have the level of injuries that hit them this season.

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The Royals finished 81-81 this season, a clean .500 record. To be honest with you, when you consider the performance of the pitching and the offense, then add in the injuries, I feel like Kansas City ended up about where they should have been. A few years back, I made the comment that all I really wanted from the organization was a contending ball club, a team that was in the hunt for a playoff spot on a regular basis. After years of watching them lose and most of the time in an ugly manner, I just wanted a team that could make the playoffs. We’ve gotten that the last couple seasons and even this year, the Royals weren’t officially eliminated until after game 158. You can expect a large chunk of this same team to return in 2017, as that appears to be the last year the window will be open with the core group of players they have now. It will be an interesting off-season, as the team needs to build up a few areas while also taking a look past 2017 when making any signing or deal. The 2016 season will be remembered as the year Kansas City came down from the euphoric high that we have all been on the last few years. Now it’s time to take a breath, rebuild and prepare for what could be another wild ride next season. I don’t now about you, but I’m ready.

 

 

 

 

Five Is The Magic Number

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The defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals have had a very trying 2016, with a litany of injuries, slumps and starting pitching woes. While the rotation has seemed to stabilize as of late, the team still struggles to put up good numbers from their number five starter each week. Chris Young isn’t the answer. Dillon Gee isn’t the answer. Brian Flynn probably isn’t the answer either, or like the other two pitchers mentioned, has racked up better numbers out of the bullpen than out of the rotation. So who would that leave Kansas City to be their fifth starter? There seems to be a lack of depth in some regards for the spot, but if they really want to be creative there might some solutions to this season-long problem.

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One fairly obvious choice would be to shuffle rookie reliever Matt Strahm into the rotation. Strahm has been a starter in the minor leagues but the Royals have been using him out of the pen since his recall. Strahm has shown electric stuff out of the bullpen, combining his 91-95 mph fastball with a slider and a change-up. He also occasionally throws a slurve, which is normally in the 77-81 mph range. Strahm’s numbers this year in the majors have been impressive; 1.80 ERA, 19.8 K/9 and a bWAR of 0.2. Obviously, if he was put back into the rotation his fastball would probably go down a notch or two, but it still can be an effective pitch with his deceptive delivery. Strahm will eventually be in the Royals rotation, so he really wouldn’t be a bad choice to get a test run under his belt this year.

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Credit: Minda Haas Kuhlmann

Then there is prospect Jake Junis. Junis started the year in AA, where he put up some impressive numbers, a 3.35 ERA with 18.5 K/BB% and a FIP of 3.32 over 119 innings. Junis was recalled to AAA Omaha within the past week and threw 7 innings of 1 run ball, striking out 7 while walking none. Junis was rated as the 10th best prospect for Kansas City this year and in his age 23 season and has seen an increase in his velocity (92-94 mph, topping out at 96 mph) with a consistent curve and a change-up with good sink. The Royals could be concerned about elevating Junis too fast this season, which is understood. But with September around the corner, a couple of starts at the big league level would be a good way to get his feet wet while helping the Royals get solid innings from the fifth starters spot.

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Now we get to the really creative options for the rotation. First, lets start with Mike Minor. Minor is currently on his second rehab stint in the minors for Kansas City, after the first one was shut down for “shoulder fatigue”. While Minor’s ERA has looked better, I’m sure Royals management would be concerned with most of his other numbers during this stint; he has 44 strike outs over 38.1 innings, although the 20 walks in that span would be a bit concerning. There was hope earlier in the season that Minor would be able to contribute at some point and September could be his best shot of helping the Royals out. Minor’s numbers aren’t eye-popping in the minors, but he does have big league experience and could be an upgrade over the options the Royals have thrown out there so far this year.

Kris Medlen
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Don’t like any of those ideas? Well, here are a couple of less likely options that we probably won’t see, but are at least worth mentioning. Kris Medlen has been on the disabled list since May but was scheduled to begin a rehab assignment on Tuesday. Medlen struggled in his 6 big league games this year, posting an ERA of 7.77, with 6.7 K/9, 7.4 BB/9(yes, his walk total was higher than his strike out total), and an ERA+ of 57. Even if we see Medlen this year, I would imagine it would only be a few starts, as his rehab stint will probably cover almost the entire 30 day period.

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Also out on rehab assignment is Jason Vargas, who had Tommy John surgery last year. Vargas will begin his assignment at AA and will probably see some work at AAA as well. Vargas’ situation is interesting, since there was some concern that if Vargas started for the Royals this year that they would lose the $6 million insurance coverage of his contract, but it appears it would be maxed out by then anyway. Even so, I’m not so sure we see Vargas this year. It would be about 13 months after his surgery if he pitched next month for Kansas City and I’m not really for sure what Vargas or the Royals would really gain by having him throw in the big leagues this year. In my mind, let him do the rehab assignment and then shut him down until Spring Training. That being said, the Royals could think differently and we could see the Rodney Ruxin look-a-like throwing off a big league mound in September.

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So there are some outside of the box options for the back-end of the Royals rotation. At this point in the season, all Kansas City really needs from their number five is 5-6 innings of 3 runs or less and most of us would be appeased with that. With the Royals still of the belief that they can claim a playoff spot, this spot in the rotation becomes even more vital. If the Royals are close to a wild card spot and the number five spot struggles, it could be the difference between playoffs or no playoffs. With the Royals winning the last three series’ and playing like a contending team, now might be the time to take a chance and see what a Strahm, Junis or Minor can do. It could make all the difference in the world.

 

 

Wanna Be Starting Something

MLB: ALCS-Toronto Blue Jays at Kansas City Royals
(Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY)

Back in May, I discussed how the starting pitching had become a major issue for the Kansas City Royals. Luckily, not too long after that the starters stabilized and even with Chris Young and Kris Medlen on the disabled list, the Royals starters improved upon what at the time was a woeful performance. No one was going to confuse their starting staff with the Atlanta Braves rotations of the 1990’s or the Baltimore Orioles starters in the 1970’s, but there was some notable improvement, especially once Danny Duffy returned to the rotation. But the glaring weakness of this Royals team is still the starting five and I’m not so sure help is on the way.

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On Friday night, the normally steady Edinson Volquez had one of the worst starts of not only his career, but in baseball history. Volquez only threw one complete inning, allowing 8 hits, 3 walks and 11 earned runs. This earned him the honor of worst game score in Royals history, -18, which toppled the old record of -11, held by Jeremy Guthrie from last year and Zack Greinke in 2005. Chris Young followed that the next night by pitching 2.1 innings, and allowing 7 runs. Luckily, the Royals got some solid bullpen work both days from Dillon Gee, Brian Flynn, Peter Moylan and Chien-Ming Wang(oh, and Drew Butera). This is after Ian Kennedy only worked 4 innings on Tuesday and while Yordano Ventura is serving his 8 game suspension. The Royals starters are struggling and it’s easy when looking at the numbers to see why.

Indians Royals Baseball
 (AP Photo/David Dermer)

The Royals starters are 13th in the American League in innings pitched, the second highest in walks per 9 and 4th highest in home runs per 9. The only thing saving them from being last in the league is the fact they are stranding the most runners on base(a league leading 76.8%) and the Angels and Twins starters have actually performed worst this year. Back in May, both Medlen and Ventura were averaging 7 walks per 9 innings; Medlen is currently out on rehab assignment and Ventura has lowered his rate to 4 walks per 9. Chris Young and Ian Kennedy are 1 and 3 respectively in home runs allowed in the American League, with Jered Weaver of the Angels sandwiched between the two Royals. If the Royals are going to stay in the pennant race come September, this has to improve. But how?

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Unfortunately, there isn’t much help on the horizon. Medlen is close to being back, but if he pitches the way he was earlier in the season I’m not for sure that is an improvement. Mike Minor was once thought of as an option, but he was shut down from his rehab assignment a few weeks ago for shoulder fatigue and hasn’t been heard of since. Same for two top Royals prospects, Kyle Zimmer and Miguel Almonte. Almonte did return to action on June 9th, but the longest start he has had since then was only 4 innings. Alec Mills was recently recalled to AAA Omaha, but I doubt he is ready yet for a rotation spot. So there are really no answers within the organization. What about outside the organization?

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Unfortunately, the Royals don’t have much to deal, especially after last year’s Cueto and Zobrist trades that took a large chunk of their pitching depth.It’s conceivable that the Royals could go out and make a trade, although it wouldn’t be for much. More than likely it would have to be a middle to back end of the rotation type starter and someone that Kansas City could get fairly cheap. Someone like a Rich Hill of Oakland would probably be within their price range and would be a nice fit in the middle of this rotation.

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If the Royals are going to contend they are going to have to improve from within. Young and Kennedy would do good to keep the ball down low, pitch on the corners and avoid the middle of the plate. Yordano needs to keep his cool and use his fastball to set-up his off-speed stuff. All the Kansas City pitchers would be wise to lower their walk total and let the Royals defense do their job. More than anything, they need to limit the amount of base runners that are on the base paths; the current amount is just a recipe for disaster. This all seems like basic stuff that I’m sure they are trying to do anyway, but at this point whatever they are trying to do is not working.

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So the main solution to the Royals problem is a bit more consistency from their starters. In reality, all they really need to do is go 5 to 6 innings, allowing 3 runs or less(which is essentially a quality start) and then hand the game over to the bullpen. All of the Royals starters are capable of doing this and while it is unrealistic to expect this out of them every start, it is realistic to expect it the majority of the time. It appears rather funny to sit here and tell them to ‘just pitch better’ but essentially that is what will have to happen. There is no hero coming, riding in on a white horse. For the most part, the rotation they have now will decide whether or not this Kansas City team is playing again come October. This is the hand they dealt themselves,  and more than likely it is the hand that will decide their fate.

Cough Syrup, Free Passes and Sparkplugs: Random Royals Notes

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I think we can all agree that the Kansas City Royals have hit a rough patch these last few weeks. The Royals have lost 11 out of their last 14 games and have fallen below .500 within the last couple of days. I’m not one to worry this early in the season, but it does appear as if plenty of other Royals fans are doing that for me. With all that being said, the news has not gotten much better this week as the path of ‘getting back on track’ has taken a detour. With that said, here are some random notes on what has been an eventful week for the Royals of Kansas City.

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  • Let’s begin with the most shocking news of the week, the 50 game suspension of Royals top prospect, Raul Mondesi, Jr.:

Now, the good news from this is that rather than receiving the normal 80 game suspension for a first time offender, Mondesi got his reduced due to proving a cough syrup he took had the PED he tested positive for in the ingredients:

The other positive of the reduced sentence is that because he was able to get his suspension reduced, Mondesi will be eligible for postseason play if the Royals want to use him in October:

So all things considered, this could have gone much worse for both the Royals and Mondesi. It appears, going off of the Royals AA affiliate’s, Northwest Arkansas, schedule that Mondesi would most likely be activated sometime in early July. Where the suspension hurts both parties is the development of Mondesi and his eventual ascension to the big leagues. I’ve been of the belief since before the season even started that Mondesi would be the Royals starting second baseman no later than August of this year. Now with this setback, I would say we might not even see him in the majors until September at the earliest, unless the Royals just believe he is ready to go. So there is still a possibility Mondesi will be helping out the big league club before the season is over, but the chances dimmed a bit from this news. There will be people in certain circles that will label him with the scarlet ‘PED’ letters, but I tend to lean toward MLB with this; if they believed his story enough that they reduced his suspension, then that’s where I will stand as well. Hopefully this is just a bump in the road to what will be a highly successful career for this youngster.

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  • An ever-growing area of concern for the Royals the last few weeks is the starting pitching, which has floundered at best during that span. Outside of Ian Kennedy (who has had only one bad start so far this season), the rotation has been inconsistent at best and ‘watching Bartolo Colon squeeze into a pair of speedos’ at worst. Edinson Volquez has had mostly good outings but a few stinkers while Chris Young has given up 13 home runs in just 32 innings(or a home run every 2.4 innings). Maybe the most concerning statistic is the one that Kris Medlen and Yordano Ventura have put up this year. Both starters are averaging over 7 walks per 9, with Medlen at 7.4 and Ventura at 7.3. The Royals starters are averaging 4.52 walks per 9 innings and only 5.2 innings per start. Bottom line, this group just isn’t getting it done and it’s put extra weight on the Royals bullpen. So are there any options? Only a few, to be honest. There is Danny Duffy in the bullpen, and it has always been figured that he would end up starting at some point this year, since Young was never slated to be a starter all year-long. Duffy might have to build up his arm a bit, but he is a good possibility. Dillon Gee is starting for Young on Saturday and has a good shot of staying there unless he completely bombs out. Mike Minor made his first rehab start on Tuesday, but he probably won’t be ready until the beginning of June. Hey, the Royals might have even see if Brian Flynn, a starter throughout his minor league career, can make a few starts to tide them over. So for the most part that leaves Kansas City with less than stellar options. For the most part, the Royals’ starters just need to step up their game and pitch the way they are expected to, as there is no magical solution to the problem on the horizon.

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  • I was posed the question multiple times this past week on whether or not Cheslor Cuthbert can play some second base. My answer was fairly standard: yes, as he had started three games in the minors throughout his career, committing two errors but I’m pretty sure the Royals would prefer a defensive player at second. Royals Review covered the possibility quite a bit recently and as much as I like Cheslor and would like to see him get more at bats, I just don’t see him getting playing time at second base in his future. The other question I was asked was about Royals minor league outfielder Jorge Bonifacio, who is off to a hot start down in AAA Omaha. I like Bonifacio as well, but I get the feeling the Royals aren’t quite sold that he is ready for a big league job. The questions were directed toward me more because the person was thinking that the Royals needed ‘a spark’ to get them going. As much as the offense has struggled scoring runs this year, I’m not sure either Cuthbert or Bonifacio are really the answer. I tend to believe the answer is already on the roster.

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  • Speaking of that answer, this leads me to a positive note about the offense. Over the last week, a few members of Kansas City’s starting lineup have started producing and getting on base quite regularly. Lorenzo Cain, who had struggled mightily to begin the season, has produced a line of .339/.339/.518 over the last couple of weeks with 3 home runs(all in one game against the Yankees on Tuesday), 7 RBI’s and a BABIP of . 421. Alex Gordon, a notoriously slow starter, has put up a line of .300/.400/.433 with 1 home run, 2 RBI’s and a BABIP of .421 since May 1st. Finally, Alcides Escobar has a line of .368/.400/.421 since May 1st with 3 RBI’s and a BABIP of .412. So the bats are starting to wake up and if Kansas City can get some solid starting pitching, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of belief if they went on a big winning streak. As much as the offense still has some questions(when will Kendrys Morales wake up?), it does appear as if a few players have started climbing out of their early season funk.

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So this season hasn’t played out the way most of us figured it would but it isn’t a lost cause either. It’s not the like the ‘World Champs’ have forgotten how to win, they just need to tweak their performance for better results. The good news is that Atlanta is headed to ‘The K’ this weekend and we all know how dreadful they have played so far this season. The bad news is that after that, Kansas City has Boston and then the White Sox to play in back to back series. If the Royals don’t want to fall farther off the beaten path, they are going to have to step it up and get locked in. If not, there might be a bigger discussion coming up about what needs to happen to turn things around. Before anyone asks, no, they don’t need to change the hitting coach. All that really needs to happen is for the Royals to stay focus and remember what made them the hunted and start being the hunter again.

The 2016 Kansas City Royals: Top of the Mountain

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Last year in my Kansas City Royals preview I asked this question after they came one game away from winning the World Series: “So now what?”. We got our answer, which was the Royals returning to the Series and winning the whole damn thing in just five games. The Royals last year had one goal on their mind and they were going to do everything in their power to reach that goal of being world champions. This Royals team didn’t listen to critics, analysts or even numbers when it came to reaching the top of the mountain. Now that the Royals have reached the pinnacle of the sport, the question now becomes ‘Can they repeat?’…and the answer might surprise you.

New York Mets v Kansas City Royals
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

I’m going to break down the Royals into segments, starting here with the starting rotation. In 2015, the rotation put up decent numbers but wasn’t the most reliable group of moundsmen in baseball. As a team, the Royals were 22nd in starters WAR, 24th in IP, 15th in LOB%, 9th in ERA, and 10th in FIP. The rotation was fronted by Edinson Volquez, who duplicated his WAR from 2014 in Pittsburgh and was the most reliable starter manager Ned Yost had. In fact, looking at his numbers, Volquez was very close to replicating his bounce back 2014 season and that is meant in the most positive of ways. Yordano Ventura was initially looked at as the ‘Ace’ last year but efficiency and maturity became an issue. Ventura still put up decent numbers(8.6 K/9, 3.57 FIP and 102 ERA+ over 163 innings) but there is hope that he can put up stellar numbers in this, his third big league season. New acquisition Ian Kennedy was acquired for one reason-eat innings. Kennedy had another poor season last year in San Diego(4.51 FIP, 85 ERA+) but he did strike out 9.3 batters per 9 innings and there is hope that with Kansas City’s defense and above average outfield defense his numbers will improve this year. Chris Young is returning for his second season in Kansas City and was a strong veteran presence in the Royals rotation last year. Young was exactly what the Royals needed, posting a a WHIP of 1.086, and an ERA+ of 135 over 123 innings. Young split time last year between the rotation and bullpen and will look to do the same this year. Rounding out the starting five is Kris Medlen, who returned last year at midseason from Tommy John Surgery. Medlen only threw 58 innings last year, but more is expected from him this year with hope he will return to something resembling his 2012-2013 form. Medlen was acquired more for this year than last, so what he truly can do post surgery is likely to be seen this year. The Royals have some depth this year in case of injury and struggles, with Mike Minor being a possibility after June. They also have Danny Duffy and Dillon Gee stowed away in the bullpen for now(and more than likely they will break the glass for emergency at some point this year), with a few guys in the minors a possibility as well. Kyle Zimmer’s name has been long rumored as contributing this year, and time will tell if he is physically and mentally ready for the big time. A guy like Miguel Almonte is also an outside shot, but there is probably a greater chance he sees time out of the bullpen this year.

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Speaking of the bullpen, the Royals are returning a large part of the core of a pen that has been a force in baseball for a number of years. Last year the Royals were 5th in baseball in relievers WAR, 17th in K/9, 1st in LOB%, 2nd in ERA, and 10th in FIP. Wad Davis returns for his third year in the bullpen for Kansas City, following two of the greatest seasons a relievers has ever tallied. Over the last two seasons, Davis has accumulated 139 innings, striking out 187 batters while posting an ERA of 0.97, an FIP of 172, and an ERA+ of 418(league average is 100). The one thing that will be different is that this will be his first full year as the Royals closer which means there will be a new bridge to Wade in the 8th inning. That bridge looks to be former Royals closer Joakim Soria, returning to Kansas City after stints in Texas, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Last year Soria racked up the most appearances of his career while posting his lowest ERA and highest ERA+ since 2010. Kelvin Herrera will also return to help setup and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Luke Hochevar used as well in that position. Gee and Duffy will be the longmen out of the pen, with both occasionally starting while Chien-Ming Wang resurrected his career this spring and will also be used out of the bullpen. The great thing about the Royals is that there are more arms ready to go in the minors, as guys like Scott Alexander, Brian Duensing, Matt Strahm, Alec Mills and Brian Flynn could all see action this year. Even starters like Almonte and Zimmer could be used in relief at some point. This is the deepest part of the Royals team and is so good that it makes the Royals starters only have to go 5-6 innings a start if necessary to hand it over to the biggest strength the Royals have.

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One thing that has to be mentioned here is that the Royals pitching numbers(both starters and relievers) wouldn’t be so good if not for the Royals incredible defense. Last year the Royals had the highest defensive rating in baseball, the 2nd most defensive runs saved,  and the highest UZR. If you want to know the real reason the Royals have excelled these last two years, it’s because of the bullpen and the defense. The Royals currently employ three returning Gold Glove winners from 2015(Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez) while also having Alex Gordon patrolling left(a four time Gold Glove winner) and Lorenzo Cain in center, two of the best defensive players at their positions. Throw in above average defenders all around the diamond(Mike Moustakas at third, Omar Infante at second) and a right field platoon of above average outfielders(Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando) and you have a team with above average defense at every position. This team was specifically built this way and has given the Royals an unfair advantage for a number of years. I would expect more of the same from the Royals ‘D’ in 2016.

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That leaves us with the offense, which took a big leap forward in 2015. Kansas City is returning 8 of the 9 starters in their lineup this year so they are hoping for similar output as they saw last year from a number of players who elevated their game. Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales and Lorenzo Cain all improved on their 2014 offensive seasons which helped the Royals offense be a bit more potent last year. The team ranked 5th in offensive WAR, 5th in stolen bases, 7th in runs scored, 1st in lowest strikeout %, 11th in BABIP, 11th in OBP, and 10th in wRC+. The Royals are infamously known as a team that doesn’t walk or hit many home runs, which shows up in the totals; they had the worst walk % in baseball, 24th in home runs but 11th in sluggening percentage. Kansas City is smart to play to their strengths offensively, which they did to a ‘t’ last year  but there are a few areas they can improve on. Alcides Escobar struggled for a good portion of 2015, but could see a jump in his age 29 season, as he has shown a pattern of improving on offense in even years. Last year, both Omar Infante and Alex Rios ended the year with negative Wins Above Replacement, and the Royals are hoping to improve at both positions this year. Infante is back, and for almost the first time as a Royal, is healthy. Infante won’t walk much and probably won’t produce like he did for Detroit in 2013, but an improvement would help his cause and not make the Royals search for a second baseman come July. Rios is gone, and in his place is the platoon of Dyson and Orlando, who both had positive offensive WAR in 2015. I’m not so sure the Royals will replicate their offensive numbers of a year ago(and I could see a scenario where Moustakas and Morales specifically take a slight slide down)but overall this should be a team who produces enough offensively to help the starting pitching while also putting extra pressure on opposing teams late in the game, which has become their specialty. It’s a cliche saying, but for the Royals it really is all about the little things.

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Kansas City’s coaching staff returns for another season and that includes the skipper, Ned Yost. Over the years I have been less than enamored with Yost and in some ways that hasn’t changed. What has changed is that since late in the 2014 season, Yost has learned to trust his players and just allow them to go out and play ball. In a lot of ways this has lead to the Royals success and I give major props to Ned for staying out of his own way and only making major in-play decisions when necessary. He’s also put more stock in what his coaches pass along to him, which tends to lean toward a team with more on-field success. Yost will never be my favorite, but these ballplayers have embraced him and as long as they have his trust, his voice will be heard. Hard to argue with the direction he has steered this Royals team in the last two years, so I am hoping for more of the same this year.

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So what is on tap for the Royals this year, or at least in my estimation? I lean toward another successful year, one in which the chance of postseason play is a very high possibility. It’s hard in today’s baseball landscape to win back to back World Series’, but I don’t doubt this team, not in the least. This is a team that has had the percentages and odds against them for two seasons now and they keep coming out on top. I figure nothing much changes this year, in that regard. You can bet against the Royals and say the numbers are against them; I won’t be the one betting against Kansas City. No, I think more success is just around the corner, as the Royals plan their next big comeback. Kansas City, Kansas City here they come…again!

   

Minor Intrigue

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Remember back when the Kansas City Royals signed Ian Kennedy to fill out their rotation? Word leaked out during that time that the Royals were still on the hunt for another starter, most likely just for depth purposes. Everything stayed quiet on the Royals front, that was until Friday, a day after pitchers and catchers reported to Royals Spring Training camp:

I was instantly elated and felt this was another stellar move from GM Dayton Moore. So who is Mike Minor and how can he help the Royals moving forward? I’m glad you asked.

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Minor is a former first round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves who will be entering his age 28 season for Kansas City. Minor sat out the 2015 season due to shoulder surgery, as he went in to fix the labrum  in his left shoulder back in May. Over his five year major league career, Minor has produced a slightly below league average ERA+(93) and a career FIP of 3.90 while accumulating over 652 innings. Minor doesn’t have blow you away stuff, as he uses four pitches in his arsenal (fastball around 90 mph, slider, knuckle-curve and change-up) but over his career has produced good strikeout and walk rates. There is a lot of hope within the Royals organization that the team’s medical staff will be able to help Minor, as he is about nine months removed from surgery at this point:

“We’re trusting (trainer) Nick Kenney and our medical team,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said, “along with Mike’s work ethic and dedication to get back to perform successfully at the major leagues. (It) led us to a conclusion to give him a two-year deal.”

It is looking like we will see Minor back in the big leagues sometime around late May, early June:

“We don’t anticipate him being ready for the first six weeks to two months (of the regular season),” Moore said.

So the signing seemed to be done to have Minor help out the team later in the year, and in a lot of ways, be more helpful in 2017. If the signing seems familiar, it should.

 

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It seems familiar cause it is very similar to the deal former teammate Kris Medlen signed with Kansas City about a year ago. Medlen was coming off of a major surgery(Tommy John) and the signing was for him to help later in the season(last year) with more emphasis on the following season. Much like Medlen, Minor could fill various roles for Kansas City, either out of the bullpen as another left-handed arm or in the rotation if needed. Overall, Minor’s role on the team in 2016 is one of doing whatever is needed, although his strength would mainly be in the rotation:

“Hopefully, we’d have him in a position to give us some depth the second half — probably before that,” Moore said. “But realistically, around that period of time.”

This also shows the team is allowing him to not rush to action and rehab at his own pace:

“We wouldn’t put limitations on him,” Moore said. “The important thing is to move at a rate that ensures his long-term health. And that’s why it was important to get him on a two-year deal; not just one year, because not always, but usually you see them better the following year.”

 

The contract gives Minor the luxury of knowing he is set for 2017 and anything he is able to contribute this year is purely an added bonus. This is also the kind of signing the Royals have to make.
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Don’t let the world championship, nor the big contract signings of Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy fool you; the Royals are still a small market baseball team. That means that the Royals have to look at guys coming off bad seasons and/or injuries to help fill out their team. The Royals will never be allowed to have an unlimited payroll(or at least the likelihood is very, very low) so scrounging for guys like Minor is pretty much the modus operandi for Dayton Moore and his front office staff. That being said, there is some risk involved in this signing.
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The risk is quite obvious; what if Minor isn’t able to bounce back from surgery or continues to show lingering issues? That is the risk any team takes when signing a player coming back from a major injury and the Royals are just like the other 29 teams in baseball, as they know there is always that chance. The one positive aspect of this is the Royals training staff has shown a propensity the last 3-4 years of keeping players healthy and not rushing a player back out on the field before they are ready. I tend to think if the Royals really felt Minor might not be able to bounce back, they wouldn’t have signed him to a two year deal in the first place. This kind of risk will always be there, but I tend to believe if the Royals had any trepidation, we wouldn’t be discussing this signing right now.
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If one would look at the Royals rotation, especially looking onward into 2017, there are more questions than answers. With that said, having Mike Minor in the fold for the foreseeable future can only be viewed as a plus for the organization. I’m not for sure we should expect much from him in 2016, in fact it could be very comparable to what Medlen contributed last year. What you can probably expect is to pencil his name into the rotation for the 2017 season. Things could still go sideways, but at this moment it looks like the Royals front office found themselves another solid arm for their starting forces. Moore has had issues developing starting pitching throughout his run in Kansas City’s front office, but finding pitching in the bargain bin has become a specialty of his.

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