Smiles & Hugs: Melky is Back in KC

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Credit: Chicago Tribune

There is nothing quite like late July in Major League Baseball; pennant races, visits to Cooperstown and the trade deadline. It’s long been believed that the Kansas City Royals would be buying at the trade deadline and last week Royals GM Dayton Moore swung a deal with San Diego for three pitchers to help both the rotation and bullpen. Earlier in the weekend, it was known that Moore was also on the hunt for a bat to beef up the lineup:

This was on Friday and the idea of a reunion with Melky seemed to make the most sense. Luckily, Moore agreed:

So the Royals have now added an additional bat for the lineup. The question has already been asked so let’s immediately address it: Where does Melky fit in?

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Indians

The answer is ‘everywhere’. The most apparent fit would be left field, as Alex Gordon has struggled most of the season. The numbers seem to preach that as well:

Gordon-.201/.294/.296, 0.4 fWAR

Cabrera-.295/.336/.436, 0.8 fWAR

Since Melky would be a possible fit at DH against lefties, I decided to break down those splits as well:

Gordon- .186/.336/.209, 59 wRC+

Cabrera- .296/.327/.500, 118 wRC+

Moss-.318/.412/.591, 166 wRC+

In years past there have been some heavy splits for Moss against lefties, but so far in 2017 he is handling them very well. It would appear that Gordon would be the odd man out in this scenario, but while I expect to see Gordon’s playing time cut, he will probably still see a good  number of starts as well as being a defensive replacement late in the game. If you look up above at the fWAR numbers, Melky and Alex aren’t too far off and that is mostly because of defense. Alex has been an above average defender in 2017 while Melky continues to be below average. What I would expect to see is Melky floating around, playing left field one day, right field another, and DH every now and then too. Manager Ned Yost will probably mix and match according to who is on the mound that day and who is struggling/needs rest. Melky being a switch hitter helps in this equation, as he can fit in whether there is a righty or a lefty on the mound. While Melky isn’t exactly tearing up the league offensively, he is an improvement over what Kansas City has had most of this year and while not displacing just one player, will be a fairly regular in the Royals lineup, most likely in the two-hole.

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Credit: The Sporting News

While his bat will improve the lineup, maybe the biggest addition with Melky is his presence in the clubhouse. During his previous stint in Kansas City, he was beloved by the likes of Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez and Melky has still been known to give a hug to Hosmer whenever he reaches first base when he has been on the opposing team. In fact, it surprised me a bit that Melky didn’t try to return to the Royals before the 2015 season when he was a free agent. This is what I wrote back in August 2015 about it:

But while watching Melky this past weekend I started thinking about how much he loves these guys and I started pondering how much fun he would have if he was still with Kansas City. The thing is, he could have been a Royal again. This past winter, the Royals were on the hunt for a new right fielder to take the place of Nori Aoki. They had tried Torii Hunter but he returned to Minnesota. They had also talked to Melky about coming in, even offering him a contract fairly similar to what he got from Chicago. Chicago eventually won the Melky sweepstakes, but I found it interesting why he chose the White Sox over the Royals:

 Cabrera “really wanted to win,” Rick Hahn, White Sox GM recalled. “(He said) ‘But with all due respect are you guys really in a position to win and am I really a difference maker for you?’ ”

So Chicago’s winter moves swayed Melky, or at least he felt like they had a better chance to win. The funny thing is, the Royals offered a deal somewhat similar to what Chicago gave him. I believe it was one less year, and possibly a few million less. But here was my thought this weekend: with the Royals in about the same situation as Chicago, at least when pertaining to their chance of winning, why would he not take a little less money to be around a bunch of guys that he really enjoys playing with? Now, Seattle did offer Cabrera an extra year, so maybe the years weren’t as big a deal but with the Royals offering something in the same ballpark, I just find it odd that he wouldn’t try to come back to Kansas City. I’m sure that White Sox locker room is full of quality guys; I don’t doubt that a bit. But the chance to win a championship and do that with a bunch of guys you think fondly of? I tend to think you can’t beat that. But obviously it was not meant to be, and instead the Royals end up with Alex Rios who looks about the same as the Alex Rios that was sapped of power last year in Texas. We can only imagine how much better this Royals team would have been with Melky roaming right field…

So Melky is now going to get that chance to play with his friends and I can only imagine good things come from that. There is no statistic to quantify clubhouse chemistry, but it is well-known that Kansas City has a great group of guys that most have enjoyed playing with whenever they come play for the Royals. I have to believe the addition of Melky has put a bunch of smiles on the faces of the veterans who were with Kansas City back in 2011.

Chicago White Sox Workout
Credit: Sports Illustrated

Adding Melky to the Royals equation was a smart move, but there is always the other side of  a deal and in this one it involved two young pitchers. A.J. Puckett was the Royals first pick for Kansas City back in the 2016 draft (in the second round) and has been pitching this year in the Royals High A affiliate in Wilmington. Baseball America had Puckett ranked as the number 5 prospect in the Royals farm system before the 2017 season but he has struggled a bit so far in this campaign: 3.90 ERA over 108 innings, allowing 107 hits and a 1.412 WHIP. The original belief was that Puckett would go as far as his breaking ball takes him and at his ceiling would probably be a #3 starter in the big leagues. That being said, consistency has been his enemy this year:

Scoles does a great job analyzing the Royals farm system for Baseball Prospectus Kansas City and is someone who has been keeping an eye on Puckett. Davis is a 23-year-old lefty who hasn’t been listed on any of the Royals top prospect list but has done a good job against lefties this season at Class A Lexington: .216/.289/.352 batting line in 97 plate appearances this year. His overall numbers are a bit pedestrian: 4.82 ERA, with a 1.389 WHIP and a nice 3.78 strike out to walk ratio. Obviously Puckett is the bigger piece of this deal and while it always hurts to give up a solid pitching arm, this feels like a low regret type deal for the Royals in the long haul.

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So the Royals pick up another piece on their latest run to the playoffs and if anything the front office and ownership has shown they will step up when needed:

So in the last week Kansas City has acquired a rotation arm, two bullpen arms and a solid bat for the lineup….and it appears that Kansas City isn’t quite done yet:

The MLB trade deadline is set for 3pm Central on Monday, more than enough time for ‘Dealer Dayton’ to grab another arm. If the last week has been any indication we should expect another surprise within the next 24 hours. It feels good to know that no matter the end outcome, Royals management is giving this team everything it needs to play October baseball. The band is back together and getting ready to spin their greatest hits over the final two months of the season…and maybe the encore come October.

 

 

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Oh, What a Feeling: Your 2015 World Champions, the Kansas City Royals!

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The Kansas City Royals have waited 30 years to say they are World Champions. Whenever anyone around Kansas City talks about the Royals, it is inevitable that the 1985 Royals, the only other Kansas City team to win the World Series, are brought up. In some ways I’m sure it felt like big shoes to fill, living up to the legend of a team that made a lot of us(myself included) Royals fans. Now though is another champion for future teams to live up to. In what was possibly the most dramatic 5 game World Series in history, Kansas City can now call themselves ‘World Champs’!

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There are so many stories to tell here, and all deserve your time and praise, but let’s start with the beginning of the season. This was a team that felt like they had unfinished business, left with the bad taste in their mouth from being beat by the Giants the year before in the World Series. This was a team that was on a mission to finish what they fell just short of in 2014. Not only is it a difficult path to make back to back World Series in this day and age, but they were doing it without some big components from the year before. Billy Butler was gone. James Shields-gone. Nori Aoki jumped ship to the world champs. In their place was Kendrys Morales, Edinson Volquez and Alex Rios, two of which were coming off of disappointing seasons. In fact, guys like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer were also coming off of less than stellar campaigns, which is why the PECOTA projections had Kansas City at 72 wins. In fact, I was a bit skeptical of their chances, expecting them to be in the hunt while falling just short. It wasn’t that I didn’t want my team to ‘Take the Crown’; I just wasn’t for sure that a majority of the lineup was going to improve on their 2014 numbers. Luckily, I was wrong.

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What happened during the regular season would seem like a fairy tale written up by a Royals fan before the season began, while bordering on fan fiction(somehow Salvador Perez and his perfume would fit in here). The team got off to a hot start, took control of the American League Central and held it for 3/4 of the season. In fact, if it wasn’t for the surging Minnesota Twins stepping up near the beginning of the summer, the Royals might have lead the division all season long. There was so many highlights to the regular season, like Mike Moustakas’ offensive turnaround, as he learned to hit to the opposite field, forcing opposing teams to quit putting the shift on him and play him straight up. There was the monster comeback season by Morales, toppling 100 RBI’s while adding power to the middle of the order. There was another phenomenal season by Wade Davis and Volquez turned out to be a solid replacement for Shields. Lorenzo Cain really blossomed this year, putting together a MVP caliber season after dealing with injuries almost every year before. The team almost single-handedly took over the All-Star Game, with 4 Kansas City starters in the game and 8 total players representing the Royals. Hell, we Royals fans almost voted Omar Infante into the game, and most of us agree he was awful this year! Then in July, the Royals front office stepped up, acquiring Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist to further elevate their chances of capturing a world championship. Zobrist was a huge acquisition, as he filled in for left fielder Alex Gordon while he was out with a groin strain, then slid over to second base, taking over for the black hole of offense known as Infante. Cueto had very mixed results, sometimes looking like the ace he was in Cincinnati, other times looking like a back of the rotation arm who had to be perfect to succeed. Either way, Royals management did their part by giving the team the pieces to win, leaving it all up to the players to take it home. In fact, the Royals steamrolled through the competition most of this year, putting up the best record in the American League and garnering them home field advantage throughout the playoffs. This team was on a mission from day one and accomplished the first part of it; making the playoffs. Now it was time to do the hard part: advance to the World Series.

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In the American League Division Series, the Royals would play the Houston Astros, a young team that gave Kansas City trouble during the regular season. This series pretty much dictated the Royals fate and what we should have expected from this Royals team. Royals would lose Game 1, but then would mount one of their famous comebacks late in Game 2 to pull out a victory. Game 3 went to Houston, as Dallas Keuchel shutdown the Royals offense, and at this point it was ‘do or die’ for Kansas City. In Game 4, Houston took a four run lead into the Top of the 8th, which seemed like a death kneel for this Royals team. The Royals ‘kept the line moving’ in this inning, with a bit of help from Carlos Correa, and would not only storm back, but would end up taking the lead, taking the game and forcing a Game 5.

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Game 4 of the ALDS might be the greatest summary of what this Kansas City Royals team did this entire postseason. When their backs were against the wall, they didn’t give up. The picked and picked, battling  pitchers while finding a way to get on base and keep a rally going. The word ‘relentless’ has been used at great lengths these past few weeks, but I also think you can use the word ‘stubborn’. This Royals team just would not quit, which was night and day from what we saw just a few years earlier. Once you get in the playoffs you are playing nothing but great teams, and the Royals frustrated every last one of them. The philosophy of ‘putting the ball in play, forcing the defense to make the play’ really has worked for this team, and I’m not for sure it can be duplicated. You would think Game 4 of the ALDS was a standalone game, one that was the outlier of the group, but it isn’t. The Royals entire postseason was some variation of that Monday afternoon in Houston, where even myself doubted this team would come back and win. Game 5 was almost a non-contest, once Johnny Cueto got past the Luis Valbuena home run. It was smooth sailing after that blast for Cueto, as the Royals punched their ticket to the ALCS.

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Before we move on to the ALCS, I want to point out something here. I have long criticized Ned Yost and his managing style. Before last September, he seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. There was concern that the same mistakes he made in Milwaukee would be repeated in Kansas City, costing the Royals any semblance of glory. But sometimes people surprise you and change their ways, and Yost did just that. Starting in late September 2014, Yost started listening more to his coaching staff and venture outside of the box some more. It was very slight at first(letting Kelvin Herrera pitch more than an inning at a time), but by the playoffs he made almost every logical move a manager could make. That continued this year and to be honest, a lot of it was just letting the players go out and play. Trust them. The players stepped up this year and deserve a lot of the credit, but Yost’s more laid back managing style was a welcome plus. I’m still not a big Yost fan, but I will give the man credit when I feel he deserves it. Quite a bit of the Royals success this year can be tied into Yost relaxing his style and allowing himself to not be confined to an old way of thinking that had held him back in the past.

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 28: Alcides Escobar #2 of the Kansas City Royals and Alex Rios #15 of the Kansas City Royals celebrate with Kendrys Morales #25 of the Kansas City Royals after scoring runs in the fifth inning against the New York Mets in Game Two of the 2015 World Series at Kauffman Stadium on October 28, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

This would lead to the ALCS, the match-up that almost everyone wanted, Royals vs. Blue Jays. These two teams had some issues this past August and despite the fact that no one expected any extra fireworks this series(I mean, it is the postseason; no one wants to lose time in October over something stupid), some of the bad feelings were still lingering. Game 1 went to Kansas City, thanks to another solid postseason start from Edinson Volquez and some timely hitting. Game 2 was the perfect definition of #RoyalsDevil Magic, as Kansas City looked lost for 6 innings against David Price, to the point Price had retired 18 straight batters before heading to the 7th inning. Then it happened; Zobrist hit a fly ball to right field that fell in between Ryan Goins and Jose Bautista in what looked like a miscommunication. What followed was the Royals doing what they do, or what they call ‘keep the line moving’. By the end of the inning the Royals had taken the lead and put a seed of doubt into the Blue Jays’ minds on their ability to stop this Kansas City team. Game 3 went to Toronto, as the two teams ventured north of the border, which was  followed by a Royals offensive slaughter of the Blue Jays in Game 4. The Royals could have clinched the series with a win in Toronto for Game 5, but Marco Estrada shut down Kansas City, which meant the series would return to Kauffman Stadium, with the Royals only needing one win to head to the World Series.

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I think when we really dissect this postseason for the Royals, what we will find is a number of games that will go down in Kansas City history as some of the most memorable games in team history. Obviously Game 4 of the ALDS ranks high on the list, but the argument can also be made for a couple of the World Series games and for Game 2 of the ALCS. But without a doubt, Game 6 of the ALCS will be on that list, as it turned into another classic nail-biter that left Royals fans on the edge of their seats. The Royals would take the lead early on thanks to a Ben Zobrist and Mike Moustakas hitting solo home runs, and would hold the lead until the Top of the 8th. Jose Bautista would club his second home run of the game, a 2 run shot, that would tie the game at 3 and had sucked a lot of air out of the ballpark. There would be a slight rain delay before starting the bottom of the inning(could it have been building to the drama that was to happen?) but it didn’t slow down the Royals. Lorenzo Cain led off the inning with a walk, then Eric Hosmer would stride to the plate, yet another clutch situation for him in a postseason filled with clutch hits for the Gold Glove first baseman. Hosmer would line a single down the right field line, which meant no matter what Cain was getting to third. But the Royals scouts had noticed earlier in the series that Bautista would always throw the ball into second base with runners on first, while third base coach Mike Jirschele had also noticed it was normally done in a lackadaisical manner. The Blue Jays were not prepared for Cain to be racing home on the play, as Troy Tulowitzki was caught a bit off-guard when after receiving the ball from Bautista, he turned around to notice Cain was headed home. Cain was in safely, giving the Royals the lead and giving Kansas City another memorable moment this postseason.

Cain’s play was even more impressive when you realize he was tracked at nearly 21 mph by Statcast on his trip around the bases. The almost unstoppable Wade Davis would come in to pitch the top of the 9th, and despite the allowing the tying and go-ahead runs to get on base to start the inning, Davis would shut down the Blue Jays, getting probabley future AL MVP Josh Donaldson to ground out to end the game and give Kansas City back to back World Series appearances for the first time in team history.

The Royals were now only four wins away from a World Championship, their first in 30 years.

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So the stage was set for the Royals returning to the World Series, this time to face the New York Mets. It was interesting to notice the narrative thrown out by the media during this series, as it focused on New York, making their first World Series appearance since 2000, trying to bring the trophy back to the ‘Empire State’. Should it have been the narrative? Probably not, as it should have been the Royals trying to do what they couldn’t do last year and win their first Championship since 1985. But because New York is considered the center of the sports world(or even just the center of most things in this country, whether you are talking about entertainment or sports), the focus was bound to be on the Mets. I wasn’t overly bothered by it, because once again it made the Royals the underdog, a role that this team cherishes. This series would get off to a hot start, as I think it safe to say Game 1 will go down as a World Series classic. There are so many little tidbits from this game that I loved, and maybe it was because it was my first ever World Series game to be in attendance for, but here is just a snippet of what all happened in this game:

  • The game started out with the news leaking on Twitter about Edinson Volquez’s father had passed away earlier in the day, unbeknownst to Eddie. The crowd, in support, chanted “Eddie” numerous times throughout the contest.
  • Alcides Escobar would hit the first inside the park home run in World Series history since George “Mule” Haas of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1929. Escobar’s hit was on the first pitch of the bottom of the 1st inning.
  • The Mets would take a 4-3 lead in the Top of the 8th thanks to an Eric Hosmer error, allowing Juan Lagares to score from second. It was an odd sight, since the Royals had been almost spotless defensively during the playoffs this year before that, and since Hosmer is normally so sure-handed.
  • The Royals would tie the game back up in the bottom of the 9th with an Alex Gordon homer off of Jeurys Familia, the Mets closer. This was a monster of a shot that Statcast had at 438 ft, off of a 97 mph sinker:
  • Chris Young, who was scheduled to start in Game 4 of the series, would come in and throw 3 shutout innings, stifling the Mets. This might have been the biggest pitching outing of the series, outside of Johnny Cueto’s Game 2 start.
  • The game was won in the bottom of the 14th by Kansas City. I was live tweeting the game for work, and might have foreshadowed the win as I sent this out in the middle of the 14th:

Bottom of the 14th would start with Escobar reaching on an error by David Wright(which I had wanted to tweet out ‘costly error?’ but since I was on the work account I figured I shouldn’t), followed by a Zobrist single and a Cain intentional walk. This led to the bases loaded with no outs and Hosmer at the plate, hoping to redeem himself for his error back in the 8th. Hosmer would lift a fairly deep fly ball to right field, scoring Escobar and giving the Royals a Game 1 victory. This game was the third World Series game to go 14 innings and undoubtedly will go down as a classic. In a lot of ways, this game set the tone for the rest of the series.

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Game 2 would see Johnny Cueto put up the best game score for a Royals pitcher in a playoff game in history, as the Royals would go up 2-0 in the series with a 7-1 victory. The two teams would travel to New York for three games, and the Mets would take Game 3, 9-3 as Royals starter Yordano Ventura saw a loss in velocity and the Royals never seemed to find their footing in this game. Game 4 would be another close one that the Royals took, 5-3 and gave Kansas City a 3-1 lead in the series, needing only one more win to be world champions. This would lead to yet another classic Royals comeback in Game 5.

Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer celebrates with his teammates after scoring during the ninth inning of Game 5 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the New York Mets Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

For 8 innings in Game 5, it looked as if the Royals number might be up, as Matt Harvey was dominating Kansas City, looking as sharp as I have seen him all season(in what starts I have seen him in). Harvey would come out for the Top of 9th, which seemed fine since he had been handcuffing the Royals all night long. He would allow a leadoff walk to Cain, who would then steal second base. Eric Hosmer, who to this point had been hitting about .111 in the series, came up big again with a double off the left field wall, scoring Cain and cutting the Mets lead to 2-1. Familia would come in for New York and he would get Moustakas to ground out, moving Hosmer to third. So with one out and the Royals down by one, Salvador Perez would hit a slow chopper to David Wright at third. Wright would glance back at Hosmer, who was just a little bit of the way down the line at third, then toss to first. Hosmer, in what would be equal parts genius and stupid, took off for home once Wright slinged it over, causing Lucas Duda to hurry a throw home. The throw would be wide of catcher Travis D’arnaud, as Hosmer slid into home safely.

Now, I know the broadcasters said it was good baserunning by Hosmer, but like I said, it was just as much a lucky play. Probably nine times out of ten, that throw is accurate and Hosmer would have been out by a mile. Royals scouts had told the team to run on Duda and D’arnaud as much as possible, and it seemed Kansas City picked an opportune time to take advantage of that knowledge. But as most everything this postseason, the play went the Royals way and the game was now knotted up at two. It would stay this way until the 12th inning, as Jarrod Dyson was on third and Christian Colon, former #1 Draft Pick for the Royals, making his lone postseason at bat and he would deliver big:

The Royals would tack on four more runs and then would hand the ball over to the best relief pitcher in baseball the last two years, Wade Davis:

For the first time since 1985, the Kansas City Royals are World Champions! For everything that the city of Kansas City, the organization and even us fans have endured, this was the sweetest victory that one could imagine. Demons were purged, losses have faded and now here they stand, the best team in baseball in 2015.

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When the 2015 season started, 30 teams all wanted one thing, to call themselves the World Champions. Only one team gets that distinction, and this year it is the Kansas City Royals. For years this team has heard about the ghosts of Royals past: George Brett, Willie Wilson, Dane Iorg, Jim Sundberg, Bret Saberhagen, Darryl Motley and so many more. Those ghosts will no longer haunt this team, as they have accomplished their only goal this season: win the World Series. It has been a crazy ride all season long, one that could make this team the greatest Royals team of all-time(they have competition with those late 70’s teams that faced the Yankees in the playoffs) and will hopefully not leave ghosts of their own for future generations. What this team did was the equivalent of slaying the dragon, or blowing up the Death Star. What this team did was put the focus back on an organization that for years was one to duplicate throughout the 70’s and 80’s. Celebrate this victory, Kansas City. Your Royals are the World Champions!

South Side Sweep: Royals Take the Broom to the White Sox

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Coming off of a ten game road trip that saw the Kansas City go 4-6, the Royals returned home this past weekend to take on division rivals the Chicago White Sox. The Royals last played Chicago in the second city to kick off the second half of the season, a series the Royals won. Would the same happen in Kansas City? Would the Royals bounce back from a rough series in Detroit? Would Salvador Perez get a Gatorade sponsorship? And would the Royals need Jedi help in their rotation this past weekend? All these answers lie ahead(well, most of them anyway!).

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Series MVP: Lorenzo Cain 

Friday night was a spotlight stealing night for Lorenzo Cain, as he would get a double, a triple and an RBI to help pace the Royals to a victory. Big night for Cain, but overall he would put forth a stellar series, going 3 for 7, while also scoring a run, stealing a base and slugging at an .857 clip. It really shouldn’t have been a surprise that Cain would step up this weekend:

I’m also pretty sure he saw some fastballs against Jeff Samardzija, who you could probably call Cain’s nemesis:

Looking at Lorenzo’s numbers this season breaks it down even more how much he has improved the last few years. Strikeouts are down, walks are up, average still sitting above .300 while already setting a career high in triples and home runs. Add in 20 stolen bases and a career high WAR of 5.9 and OPS+ of 133 and you have the making of an all around above average player. I think sometimes we take what guys like Cain and Hosmer do on defense as just daily plays that are the norm. They are the norm, but that does not mean they are ho-hum. Cain has elevated his game so much this year that it’s not hard to see him take the mantle of ‘best player on the Royals’ once Alex Gordon is no longer in Kansas City. Actually that day could come sooner than that, much sooner. The good part is that Cain isn’t eligible for free agency until 2018; the bad part is he could be quite expensive by then. Trust me, it is a good problem to have.

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Pitching Performance of the Series: Kris Medlen

With credit going to Edinson Volquez’s great outing on Friday night, I was overjoyed with the performance of Kris Medlen on Sunday afternoon. After Danny Duffy left the game in the fourth inning, Medlen would come in for his first outing since Thursday(although in that contest he would face only one batter and throw only three pitches) and would shut down the White Sox. Medlen would go 3.2 innings, giving up no hits, and no runs while walking 1 and striking out 3. Medlen threw 69% strikes on Sunday and looked like the former ace he was in Atlanta. As much as we would all love to have Medlen in the rotation, we do have to remember he is coming off of Tommy John Surgery and at this point should just be thankful that he is healthy and able to pitch for the team. In a dream world, Medlen would be in the rotation come October, and we are not alone in that thinking:

I was just happy with how good he looked this weekend. He seemed to have good velocity on his fastball and he seemed to have a good feel for his off-speed pitches. We can’t expect Medlen to pitch like this every outing, but if this is what we see the majority of the time, then the rotation has sunnier day’s in their future.

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Thanks For the Hugs, Melky 

If you remember early in the season, whenever Melky Cabrera would get on base, he would hug some of his former teammates. Didn’t matter if it was Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar or Salvador Perez, Melky would proceed to embrace his friends. It was not only amusing to watch a grown man act like a child and show his affection, but it also seemed to drive Rex Hudler bonkers(calm down, Rex; the game has changed since you played). But while watching Melky this past weekend I started thinking about how much he loves these guys and I started pondering how much fun he would have if he was still with Kansas City. The thing is, he could have been a Royal again. This past winter, the Royals were on the hunt for a new right fielder to take the place of Nori Aoki. They had tried Torii Hunter but he returned to Minnesota. They had also talked to Melky about coming in, even offering him a contract fairly similar to what he got from Chicago. Chicago eventually won the Melky sweepstakes, but I found it interesting why he chose the White Sox over the Royals:

 Cabrera “really wanted to win,” Rick Hahn, White Sox GM recalled. “(He said) ‘But with all due respect are you guys really in a position to win and am I really a difference maker for you?’ ”

So Chicago’s winter moves swayed Melky, or at least he felt like they had a better chance to win. The funny thing is, the Royals offered a deal somewhat similar to what Chicago gave him. I believe it was one less year, and possibly a few million less. But here was my thought this weekend: with the Royals in about the same situation as Chicago, at least when pertaining to their chance of winning, why would he not take a little less money to be around a bunch of guys that he really enjoys playing with? Now, Seattle did offer Cabrera an extra year, so maybe the years weren’t as big a deal but with the Royals offering something in the same ballpark, I just find it odd that he wouldn’t try to come back to Kansas City. I’m sure that White Sox locker room is full of quality guys; I don’t doubt that a bit. But the chance to win a championship and do that with a bunch of guys you think fondly of? I tend to think you can’t beat that. But obviously it was not meant to be, and instead the Royals end up with Alex Rios who looks about the same as the Alex Rios that was sapped of power last year in Texas. We can only imagine how much better this Royals team would have been with Melky roaming right field…

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Time to slide on over and review some news and notes from this weekend sweep for Kansas City:

  • So Yordano Ventura has been an enigma this year. How has the guy who dominated the Giants in Game 6 of the World Series now have issues facing even lower level teams in the American League? Well, we might have finally have gotten a peak into what has been plaguing Yordano:

The entire article is here and it definitely goes into some major detail as to what ails “Ace”. It’s been noticeable that with runners on Ventura has been leaving more pitches out over the middle of the plate. His Babip has also been crazy this year, .309 to last year’s .288. The biggest obstacle Ventura is going to run into is figuring out how to get hitters to quit sitting on his fastball and forcing them to swing at the off-speed stuff. As frustrating as it has been, he is still young and has plenty of time to adjust and return to form. It would just be nice if that could happen before October.

  • Good news on the Alex Gordon front; he is now taking batting practice:

Just imagine a September lineup with Gordon back in left field and Ben Zobrist at second base. Yep, hard not to get excited about what we could see in October with this team.

  • Over the years, John Danks has confused Kansas City hitters. Before this year, Danks was 9-0 against Kansas City and had only given up 28 runs in 104 innings against the Royals. So far this season, Danks is 2-2 against the Royals, giving up 10 runs over 23 innings. The Royals haven’t completely solved Danks, but it’s no longer a guarantee that he will put up a ‘W’ whenever throwing against Kansas City like it used to be.
  • Wade Davis did not pitch in this series as his back continues to give him problems:

If this was last year, Davis would probably be asked to pitch through it and increase the chances of injuring himself even further. Instead, with a big lead in the American League Central, Davis can sit out and heal. Davis, at this point, is more important in October than August.

  • Saturday night, Greg Holland looked like the “Dirty South” of old. His breaking pitches  had proper dive and his fastball was popping, reaching 97 mph on the radar gun. Holland has been hovering around 93 mph most of this year, so seeing the uptick in velocity is a definite plus. It’s been rumored most of this season that Holland had an injury(and he still might), but Kansas City management has to breathe easier knowing Holland seems to be pitching more like his old self as we reach the last few months of the season.
  • On Sunday, Kendrys Morales would hit his 13th home run of the season, while also driving in RBI’s 79 and 80. This puts him 3rd in the American League in RBI’s and tied for second in doubles. I feel like I can’t stress enough how valuable Morales has been to this Kansas City team. He drives in runs in the middle of the order and as much as most of us loved Billy Butler, he had really quit doing that last year. I don’t even want to imagine where Kansas City would be without Morales’ bat in the middle of this lineup.
  • Sunday was ‘Star Wars Day at the K’, as the Royals finally dipped their toes into what has become a popular promotion over the years for most other major league teams. There was no way I was going to miss this, since the two things I am most passionate about are baseball and Star Wars. This also led to scenes like this at Kauffman Stadium:

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Sure, the in-between skits on the field were hokey and it felt like it would have been nice to have more Star Wars characters floating around all sections of the stadium, but it was still a fun time and I was just happy Kansas City finally took the plunge. Here’s to hoping this becomes a regular promotion for the Royals!

  • Finally, let’s go back to Sunday afternoon’s game. The Royals have runners on second and third with one out and Omar Infante at the plate in a tied game. On an 0-1 count, Infante would flair the ball in between the pitcher and first baseman:

Yes, it wasn’t the farthest hit ball Omar has ever had. But here is the thing; it was a difficult play for the defense to make, which hurt the White Sox chances of making the play. To further that thought, Alex Rios took off at contact. If he doesn’t do that he probably doesn’t score in that situation. It wasn’t the most dramatic hit but was the perfect description of how the Royals season has gone to date. They just find a way to win. At the end of the day, that is all that matters.

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Tweets of Royalty

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So with the White Sox in the rear-view mirror, the Royals look ahead to a three game series against Detroit. Last week, the Tigers were able to beat the Royals 2 out of 3 in the ‘Motor City’, and one has wonder if things will be different this time at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals have an 11.5 game lead in the Central, which is just mind blowing if you have watched this team the last few years. This hasn’t been done by a Royals team since 1980, and it conjures up memories of those late 70’s team that were ousted in the playoffs by the Yankees. In some ways this big lead gives them a chance to rest regulars on a consistent basis or guys who are injured(like Wade Davis); you just hope they don’t become complacent before they get to October. We are in uncharted territory but this isn’t a bad thing; in a lot of ways we have earned this as Royals fans since we sat through a lot of awful baseball for all those years. The rewards have now become a regular occurrence; let’s just hope this team is as hungry as they were before the season started.

 

 

The Pine Tar Game

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Today marks the 32nd Anniversary of the infamous ‘Pine Tar Game’ between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees. To celebrate this memorable game, I decided to watch the entire game. I realized once I started, that watching a game from 1983 was amusing to say the least. So with that said, here is a thoughts column on a game that will forever live in baseball lore.

  • Ooooooo, 80’s graphics! My son couldn’t grasp why the graphics were so bad. I told him that was the best we had at the time. He said that was sad.
  • Bert Campaneris was still playing in 1983?
  • The Yankees announcers are horrid. Yes, it was a different period, and I realize that. But it’s amazing to listen to just how bad the commentary was back in this era. There is literally no statistical analysis at all. In fact, Phil Rizzuto has discussed so far moustaches, buttons on the jersey and the tobacco in Leon Roberts mouth. The sad part is they are probably on par with Steve Physioc. Yes, Phys is that bad.
  • I realized this when I watched the 1985 World Series recently, but I have really gotten used to having all the information on the screen during the game. The only part that drives me crazy is not being able to see the score and outs at all times! We sometimes tease that there can be too much information on the screen but at the same time it has become a vital part of our baseball watching experience.
  • Steve Balboni without a moustache is blasphemous. Although without the lip hair he has a passing resemblance to John Belushi.
  • U.L. Washington still has his toothpick in his mouth. The. Entire. Time.
  • I almost forgot Don Slaught spent some time in Kansas City. I keep picturing Slaught with that guard covering his face after he had gotten hit in the face later in his career.
  • Since I didn’t see Dave Winfield until later in his career, I think I forgot just how crazy athletic he was. He is playing center field in this game and a few innings in it makes total sense.
  • Trash talking on Municipal Stadium in Cleveland…beautiful!
  • John Wathan should be in the Royals Hall of Fame. Yes, Wathan wasn’t a great player, but he was a solid part of these Royals teams in the 80’s and has stayed in the organization throughout the years, whether he was managing or scouting. To me, Wathan is a guy transcends any numbers he compiled in his career.
  • Frank White was pretty damn graceful on defense. I don’t think I am saying anything you didn’t already know.
  • There is a lot more discussion in the broadcast about strategy and I like that. Part of the beauty of baseball is the mental back and forth that goes on between the two teams as they decide what is their best move in a close game.
  • Skoal Bandit tote bag day at Yankee Stadium? Pretty sure you wouldn’t get a tobacco company to sponsor any giveaway at the stadium in this day and age.
  • Lou Piniella(seriously, I thought he had retired yyyyyyyyyears before this) made a catch that was very reminiscent of Nori Aoki. In fact the route Piniella took was straight out of Aoki’s playbook.
  • There has been some talk about the Royals needing pitching. Within a year of this game, the Royals would have Bret Saberhagen and Mark Gubicza, two young pitchers in their farm system, in the majors. By 1985 you can add Danny Jackson to that list. Pitching was a big part of that 1985 championship team.
  • There aren’t enough pitchers who throw sidearm in the majors these days. Take note, youngsters.
  • Don Baylor scares me. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley in the 80’s. I’m pretty sure I still wouldn’t want to today.
  • Let’s go to replay…oh yeah, they don’t have that yet…
  • Every generic 80’s song used for these games used a synthesizer. People loved their moog’s back in the 80’s.
  • Amos Otis might be one of the most underrated players in Royals history. He wouldn’t quite be on the Royals ‘Mount Rushmore’, but he would be pretty damn close.
  • Don Mattingly as a defensive replacement? Wonder if Balboni was higher on their depth chart in 1983.
  • I know it’s Rizzuto, but do you need to ask whether or not Willie Mays Aikens was named after Willie Mays?
  • Brett vs. Gossage is such a classic matchup. Is the modern day equivalent Aroldis Chapman vs. Bryce Harper or Mike Trout?
  • Brett just seemed so locked in there against Goose. It seemed like no matter what Brett was going to drive a pitch during that at bat.
  • If you are a lip reader, don’t watch George’s mouth after he runs out. I noticed a plethora of four letter words spewing from his mouth.

 

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The funny thing about this game is that this situation will never happen again. The whole reason the pine tar rule was even in the rulebook was so the tar wouldn’t muck up the baseballs. Having pine tar on the bat does absolutely nothing to the ball if hit. This game is now one of the most famous games in history and will probably be discussed for hundreds of years to come. If you want to know more about the game, there is a new book out this week called “The Pine Tar Game: The Kansas City Royals, The New York Yankees and Baseball’s Most Absurd and Entertaining Controversy” by Filip Bondy. You can get it on Amazon by clicking here. You can also watch this game in its entirety down below. Trust me, it is worth your time.

 

The 2015 Kansas City Royals: So Now What?

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If you are a fan of the Kansas City Royals, this time of year is normally spent pondering whether or not this is the year the Royals break through the glass ceiling and reach the playoffs. So many years went by wondering ‘is this the year?’ that it started to feel like it was never going to happen. The jokes about Ewing Kauffman selling his soul to get the Royals a championship back in 1985 started to feel like they were actually true and explained the playoff drought this franchise held for 29 years. But this is all a distant memory, as the Royals are not only coming off of their first playoff appearance since that ’85 season but also came one long bomb away from a World Series title. It was a magical October for the entire city of Kansas City and made believers out of the most jaded of us(What, me?). So this is uncharted territory for us headed into this 2015 season and has thrown up a giant question mark going into Opening Day. The question has to be asked; so now what?

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Let’s start with the changes, as there are a few differences with this roster than the one who guided the Royals through the playoffs. Two big cogs of last years team are gone: James Shields and Billy Butler. You can also add Nori Aoki to that list, along with Josh Willingham and Raul Ibanez off the bench. Shields was not only the leader of the Royals rotation the last two years but he also brought confidence and guidance to youngsters like Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura, helping them turn a corner in 2014. Yes, intangibles! Butler had been with the organization since he was drafted in 2004 and was a fan favorite. Butler’s numbers weren’t quite on par in 2014 with his earlier years but was still a solid bat in the middle of the order. Aoki struggled to begin his Royals career but saved it by finishing hot the last 6 weeks of the season and giving us many a memory. To replace them on the roster the Royals signed Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios this offseason, 3 players with questionable pasts who are being counted on to make solid contributions this year. Volquez is the only one of the three coming off of a solid year for Pittsburgh, but he is not the replacement for Shields; instead that honor goes to a true “Ace”.

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Young “Ace” Ventura becomes the Royals new #1 starter and will take the mound at Kauffman Stadium on Opening Day. It’s hard to argue with this, as Ventura showed the world he was for real during the playoffs, most notably a superb outing in game 6 of the World Series, a game that could have been an elimination game for the Royals. It’s a lot of weight on Yordano’s shoulders, but he seems able to handle the pressure that comes with being “the man”. Danny Duffy will slide into the role of #2 starter and the hope is last year was a glimpse into what to expect from “Duffman”. There are some concern about Duffy and his injury history, but as long as he continues to throw strikes and let the defense work in his favor, he should be fine. Jason Vargas, Volquez and Jeremy Guthrie will round out the rotation and hopefully all three can continue to put up the numbers they had in 2014. Vargas defied his own career numbers last year and turned out to be a pleasant surprise while Guthrie continues to make no sense, a pitcher who allows a lot of  baserunners yet not many score. Also remember that the Royals could add Kris Medlen to the rotation around August if all goes according to plan. I wouldn’t expect this to happen, but it very well could as Medlen recovers from Tommy John surgery. The Royals rotation isn’t going to match up with, say, Washington’s, but as long as Kansas City employs their elite defense they won’t need them to be Cy Young candidates. They just need them to throw 5-6 innings an outing, giving up 3 runs or less, or give the team as many quality starts as possible.

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Speaking of the Royals defense, if there is a reason to be excited for 2015 it’s the possibility that this team will continue their winning ways led by a top notch ‘D’. The only notable defensive difference in 2015 is Alex Rios replacing Nori Aoki in right field. Rios has the label of being lazy defensively but obviously if that is the case that also means the defender’s success in the field is determined purely on his want and will on any given day. It does appear as if early on Rios will not be replaced late in the game on defense, like Aoki was for 3/4 of last year. That could change after a few months but for now he looks to have some slack in the leash. Outside of that the Royals are returning 3 Gold Glove winners(Hosmer, Perez and Gordon) and two other players who were in the discussion for Gold Gloves last year(Cain and Escobar). Add in solid efforts for Moustakas and Infante and you have one of the best defenses in baseball. The defense was a key factor in the Royals October success and why the Royals could be looking at postseason baseball again in 2015. Now about that offense…

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This section will probably feel a lot like the 2013 Royals…or the 2012 Royals…anyway, you get the hint. The last couple of seasons the Royals offense hasn’t been a force to be reckoned with. In fact the last 2 seasons we have seen the team struggle offensively the beginning part of the season so badly that the last 2 May’s they have been forced to change hitting coaches to get the offense to pick it up. 2014 was no different in that the team was in the bottom third of the league in OBP, Slugging, OPS, Total Bases, and dead last in Walks and home runs. There a couple positives; the team does get quite a few hits (3rd in the AL last year) and is first in stolen bases. Now I don’t expect this team to ever be an offensive juggernaut, but the two areas that could be improved on would be extra base hits and walks. They were 4th in doubles and 5th in triples last year, which would be great if they could hit more home runs(not a ton more but some) and take more walks. There are times this team becomes a station to station team, which doesn’t work with as little power as the Royals have. So will there be a difference in these numbers in 2015?

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The answer to that question is a loaded one. There are some that believe that the additions of Morales and Rios are the keys to how this offense does, but I actually don’t agree with that. The real key to the Royals offensive season will be whether or not Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas improve on their awful 2014 regular season. For Moustakas that will mean learning to hit the ball to the opposite field and taking advantage of that left side being open when teams put the shift on him. Those shifts killed Moose last year, as he continued pulling the ball despite the fact that teams would fill up the right side of the field when he came up to the dish. He also needs to drive the ball more this year, as his 21 doubles and 15 home runs could be improved on. His walk rate was up last year and his strikeout rate went down, so he did have those positives going for him. But those were about the only positives when it comes to Moustakas in 2014. Hopefully his power surge in the postseason carries over into this year and if so that would mean improved numbers in 2015.

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If you didn’t follow the Royals until October you would think Hosmer was a middle of the lineup force for Kansas City in 2014, but you would be wrong. Hosmer struggled for a good portion of the season(what I have started calling his ‘yearly swoon’) and didn’t really start producing until his return from the disabled list in September. Sure, he had a respectable .270 average and a solid 35 doubles last year, both are in the positives of his season. But his slugging percentage was below .400, he didn’t reach double digits in home runs, finishing the year at 9(in fact he didn’t even hit his 5th HR of the year until July) and he was awful in clutch situations. Add in an absolutely putrid June where he looked lost at the plate and you have a guy who is about as streaky as it gets. The Royals worked with Hosmer and re-tooled his swing late in the year and it paid off in the playoffs, where he had 6 extra base hits and drove in 12 runs. If that Hosmer shows up this year, this team will be improved on offense. It would also help if he could avoid his ‘yearly swoon’. The last 3 seasons he has spent a long stretch of the season in a funk at the plate where he just looks lost and his swing is a mechanical mess. A little bit of consistency would go a long way for Eric as he heads into his 5th year in the big leagues.

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The rest of the offense could use some improvement as well. Alex Gordon had another good season last year and looks to be returning to the top of the order this year, as it appears he will be hitting 2nd to begin the new campaign. Salvador Perez fell a bit offensively in 2014 but a lot of could probably be contributed to him catching the most innings in major league history. One of the items on Neddaniel Yost’s ‘to do list’ in 2015 is to give Perez some much needed days off. Sal will never have great plate discipline but it could improve with a little bit more rest. Lorenzo Cain is coming off of a great 2014 and will start the year batting 3rd for Kansas City. Cain had a ridiculous .380 average on balls in play last year, which will probably fall a bit but if he can even get close to that number again he would looking at another good season. Alcides Escobar will return to the leadoff spot this year and hopefully he can avoid his ‘every other year’ curse he has had in his major league career. Also, if he is going to stay at the top of the lineup they will need him to take a few more walks than the 23 he had last year. Omar Infante is coming off a rough first season in Kansas City and more than anything just needs to be healthy in 2015. That leaves us with the two newbies, Morales and Rios. The hope by Kansas City management is that both will bounce back after rough seasons in 2014. Both are sitting at their regression years and we probably won’t see them put up All Star numbers this year, but the Royals don’t need them to. As long as they can be compotent and improve on last year they should be a plus. It does appear Rios will go into this year with his thumb injury, an injury that hindered his swing and sapped his power in the second half of last year. These two aren’t keys to the Royals season but it would be nice for them to produce close to what Butler and Aoki did last year for Kansas City.

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That leaves us with the strongest part of this Kansas City Royals team, the bullpen. The bullpen, along with the defense, was a guiding force for this team in October and it’s easy to see why teams hated getting into the late part of ballgames against this Royals team. The ‘Big 3’ of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland return this year and the hope is they can come close to replicating their dominating 2014 numbers. There is some concern, considering the workload these 3 took on in October:

 

Hopefully it’s nothing major, although even if one of these three go down, there are other arms that can slide in. Luke Hochevar is returning from Tommy John surgery and should be able to go sometime in the next couple months. Jason Frasor is a former closer and was a great pickup for Royals GM Dayton Moore last summer. You could also throw someone like Brian Flynn into the conversation, a reliever acquired from Miami this offseason, a flamethrower that went to Wichita State. The Royals trio might not be able to be AS great as they were in 2014, but this group might be even deeper than it was for Kansas City last year.

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So that leaves us with the inevitable question; where do I feel the Royals will finish this year? Most projections have had the Royals under .500 and sitting in 4th in the American League Central. I can see where they come up with this, as we are talking about a team that didn’t really get hot until the last few weeks of the 2014 season. Add in the free agent losses, the giant question marks on the new acquisitions and how Cleveland and Chicago have improved in the Central and you can see why there is some skepticism. Some think it is being disrespectful to the defending American League Champions; I see it as realizing the flaws that Kansas City does have. That being said, outside of the team dealing with some major injuries, I think they will be in the hunt for a playoff spot. Unfortunately, I also think they will fall just short of that, probably sitting in the 81-84 win mark this year. It’s hard to believe the entire offense will improve and that the rotation won’t have a few faltering parts, and I can see the team hitting a snag in the road at some point in the summer. The solid to all of this is that this will still be a contending team and for years that is all that we have asked for. I would rather see them contend and fall short than be an afterthought and have fans start focusing on the Chiefs come August. If this team is still in the race come September, then I will be a happy man. Let’s be honest; it’s going to be hard to top the Royals playoff run last October. But the competitiveness in me says “Maybe so, but lets give it a try”. This is what competitive baseball is folks; hopefully it becomes a regular occurrence.

 

Spring Training on the Horizon

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With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Spring Training starting on Wednesday I felt like there is no better time than now to return to my blog after a few weeks away. This time of year is weird in that outside of a few minor signings and arbitration filings and signings, there just isn’t a whole lot going on. With that said there are a few key items I wanted to toss out there to get back in the groove. Call this a news and notes post or just ramblings of a bored baseball fan; either way here are a few topics of discussion to pass the time.

Shields ends up in San Diego

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One of the biggest questions over the last couple months is ‘just where is James Shields going to end up?’ . I pondered this question about a month ago and at that point basically had no clue what was going to happen. In fact with the way things were going it appeared at best he was going to end up with a 3 year deal in the $18 million a year vicinity, rather than the 5 year, $20 million a year he was shooting for. Color me shocked then when he got a a 4 year deal from the Padres in that $18-20 million range per year. Shields grew up near San Diego and is a perfect fit for their rotation of youngsters that needs a veteran to help guide them to the next level. Most of us Royals fans are familiar of how Shields helped the likes of Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy and I’m sure he will look to do the same for guys like Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner. It also seems fitting he ends up with a home ballpark that is sure to not only help some of his numbers but also hide some of the regression that I believe is on his doorsteps. Petco Park is a spacious park and, much like Kauffman Stadium, is not known for being a hitters park. Shields might have picked the best park for him at this stage in his career with the only possible downfall being his defense in the outfield(Kemp, Myers and Upton)will pale in comparison to the Royals outfield he has had behind him the last two years. With all the talk the last few weeks focused on how his agent might have hurt what he would get on the market, at the end of the day going to San Diego is probably the best place for him, both as a family man and as a baseball player. We will miss him in Kansas City but I’m glad the Royals don’t have him locked in for the next four years. He served his purpose and now he can serve that same purpose for the Padres.

Game 7 Question Answered…Maybe?

AP WORLD SERIES GIANTS ROYALS BASEBALL S BBO USA MO

The one question Royals fans have wondered all winter about has been whether or not 3rd Base coach Mike Jirschele should have sent Alex Gordon home on his extra base hit in the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series. Some people believed the team should have gone for it, especially with Salvador Perez up next and his propensity to swing at anything and everything(and the fact he had been hit by a pitch earlier and was hobbling most of the game). Some others(myself included) felt there was no way Gordon would have made it and Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford(an excellent defender) would have nailed him at home plate if he would have gone. Well, the Kansas City Star decided to test the theory out, using the Rockhurst University baseball team(a Division II school) to test out whether or not it was plausible:

Now what happened is not a 100% accurate portrayal of what would have happened, but it does appear that if they would have sent Gordon he would have been easily out. The team ran the play 6 different times with one of their fastest runners and he was nailed at home plate 5 out of the 6 times. I tend to agree with Rany Jazayerli on this one:

I get why everyone pondered this question and the possibilities of if Gordon had scored and tied the game up. But the thought of him being thrown out at home and sitting on that all winter sounded like a personal living hell for me. I would have rather taken the chance with Perez possibly wrapping the ball around the foul line at third(like in the Wild Card Game) then sit and wonder all winter why they didn’t just hold Gordon at third. People will still ask ‘what if?’ but it might now be time to just let it be, folks.

The Royals Have the Best Billboards

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If there was one thing the Kansas City Royals dominant at(besides bullpen arms and outfield defense) it would be their wonderful billboards. Above is this year’s, Jarrod Dyson taking off and burning the path behind him. Fantastic! It didn’t seem possible they could top last year’s,  which looked like this:

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…and this one as well:

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So the creative minds that put these together continue to excel with the Dyson billboard this year. Which apparently also lights up at night and makes people actually think it is on fire:

The bar is now set pretty high after two straight years of creative, out of the box thinking for their billboards. Makes me wonder what is in store for 2016.

Your Promotional Schedule is My Wet Dream

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Back in 2013 I was less than enamored with the Royals promotional schedule for that season. In fact so much so that I wrote my own ideas about what I felt they should do to improve their giveaways. One of my big beefs in 2013 was that they were doing condiment bobbleheads rather than the actual players on the field. You see, I love bobbleheads and love collecting them each season. Last year they took a step in the right direction by giving away Alex Gordon, James Shields and Salvador Perez bobbleheads(all of which sit in my house). What they are doing for this year not only tops 2014 but might be even better than any idea I could have come up with. Here is a look at the Royals bobblehead giveaways for 2015:

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Good God almighty I need all of those! The fact that the team went with key moments from the playoffs was a genius idea and made me wish I had thought of it first. You have Perez celebrating after his walk-off hit in the wild card game. You have Lorenzo Cain sprawling out and making an electric catch in the outfield. You have Yordano Ventura tossing a gem during Game 6 of the World Series…and most importantly you have Mike Moustakas making a diving catch on top of the third base dugout suite in the ALCS against Baltimore. These bobbleheads are so great that it almost puts a tear in my eye. I also fear I won’t be able to go to all of these games and will have to purchase them on ebay, which will probably cost me an arm and a leg. Good thing I only really need one of each!

And the Projections are In… 

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One of the interesting items of interest before the season starts are projections of where everyone believes the Royals will end up this season. PECOTA projections have the Royals at 72-90, which would net them 4th place, still ahead of the Twins. David Schoenfield of espn.com has the Royals at 80-82, which would net them 3rd place in the American League Central. Finally, Bovada Official in Las Vegas has the Royals at 80.5 wins for 2015, in case you are the betting type. The consensus is that the Royals will slide a bit from their 89 wins in 2014, which I can see why. The Royals key 3 free agents they lost (James Shields, Billy Butler and Nori Aoki) have been replaced on the roster by Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios. It’s not hard to see how these three are a step down from the players they are replacing. You could also factor in on whether or not you believe Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie will be solid contributors to the rotation and whether or not their young lineup stalwarts(Hosmer, Moustakas, Perez, etc.) are able to improve on their 2014 numbers. I personally have my own thoughts of how I think this season will go(which I will reveal at a later date), but it’s safe to say there is no reason to get upset about any of these predictions. These are just predictions, guesses and estimates on a season that hasn’t even started. Some guesses are better than others, but there is no real clue as to how the season will go. A team could get hit with injuries and cause a major hole in their lineup. A player could come out of nowhere to put up career high numbers and elevate the team. Yes, a players career projection normally doesn’t adjust very much season by season, but it could happen. That’s the beauty of baseball; there is no definite until the games are played. So any Royals fans that see these “guesses” and gets bent out of shape, just remember; the season hasn’t started so nothing is etched in stone. No need to get upset about these projections…yet.

Division Series - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Kansas City Royals - Game Three

So there you go. Just a few notes of interest over the last few weeks. Here before too long we’ll be able to discuss actual games and roster moves that will affect the Royals going into this 2015 season. Just the fact that pitchers and catchers are reporting tomorrow brings a smile to my face and puts a little hop into my walk. So get ready; the defending American League Champions are headed back soon. The 2015 season is just on the horizon!

 

Head West, Norichika

Cleveland Indians v Kansas City RoyalsWith the inevitable news that former Royals outfielder Nori Aoki would be taking his talents out west, signing with the San Francisco Giants, it felt as if a part of me was now missing. I felt incomplete knowing that this slap-hitting savant would no longer give us the privilege of viewing his awkward approach to hitting and his scenic routes in the outfield.

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Aoki struggled early on in 2014 but would bounce back in August and by the end of September had pushed his numbers close to what he had performed at over his career. Aoki was a cog in the Royals playoff run this past October and despite some defensive hilarity he put together a solid postseason resume. But Aoki’s accomplishments are not what I will miss about him. Oh no, not at all. In fact, it is safe to say I get much joy out of his injuries. Like, to a sickening degree. Just see for yourself.

kc3Whether it was on defense…

kc4…or at the plate…

kc5…mostly at the plate…

Norichika Aoki…where he got hit by a lot of pitches…

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Toronto Blue Jays…so many that you would think he had a target on his back, and pitchers were aiming…

kc8…but defense was always an adventure…

kc9…those plate appearances though…

kc10…and those faces…

kc12…and sometimes he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time…

kc13…but most of the time it was self induced.

kc11Getting Aoki from Milwaukee last offseason was one of Dayton Moore’s better trades and one that benefited Kansas City in October. You have to wonder if the Royals will be able to replace him, at least when it comes to pure entertainment. Maybe it will be Alex Rios or maybe Edinson Volquez. But most likely we will find out that Aoki was a rare gem that can’t be replaced. Nori Aoki might be gone but he will always remain in our hearts. We’ll always have the memories. Cue the Sarah McLachlan song.

Wherever Shields May Roam

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Now that Nori Aoki has planted himself in San Francisco for this upcoming season, that leaves only one major Kansas City free agent left on the market in James Shields. It’s a bit surprising that Shields hasn’t chosen where he will play in 2015, as it seemed he would sign once Jon Lester decided on his destination. Lester chose the Cubs over a month ago and Shields is still being courted by several teams. The question now is which teams are in on the Shields sweepstakes?

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Arizona mentioned earlier last week they would like Shields to mentor their young pitchers if he ended up in the desert. Late in the week we also found out that the Tigers have had discussions with his agent, which makes sense since Max Scherzer won’t likely be returning to Motown. San Francisco, Boston, Toronto, Texas and Miami have all shown interest at one point or another for Big Game James but have all but said they no longer are interested, at least for the price he wants. A close source told ESPN’s Jonah Keri this past week that the Marlins have “zero chance” of signing Shields, which last I checked was as low as you can go. There was also word that a team had offered him $110 million (I’m assuming over 5 years) but that he didn’t want to sign with that team.

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So where will he land? Honestly, I have no clue. If you asked me this question before the season I would have told you big market teams like Boston, New York or Chicago would seem to be the frontrunners but the fact that we are sitting here in late January and there seems to be no clear winner, well, that tells me that this could go on a bit longer. As more and more time goes on, I’m glad the Royals aren’t wrapped up in these negotiations. Shields is 33 and wants a 5 year deal. I might not have enough fingers but by my math that would make him 38(almost 39) by the end of this deal. Add in his bumpy postseason performance and the amount of innings his arm has logged over his career and it makes one wonder if his regression is just around the corner.

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As much as I was initially against the trade with Tampa Bay that brought him to Kansas City, I can sit here now and say I was wrong. The trade did what it was supposed to do, which was get the Royals to the postseason. Shields was a big part of that and his work with fellow moundsmen Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura speaks volumes about how his value exceeded any numbers he accumulated on a scorecard. But at this point in his career I would say good luck to any team that signs him. Maybe Detroit wouldn’t be that bad of a destination for Shields. But with the way this winter has gone he will end up in Atlanta with no logical explanation.

Royals Holiday Shopping Now Complete

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“Another great move from the Royals. They were able to procure an outfielder with some upside, athletic and for the most part on a solid contract. Good work by Dayton”

“The Royals went the unexpected DH route but brought in a slugger with some power coming off a solid season”

These are quotes I wanted to say during this winter, hoping that maybe the great postseason run the Royals accomplished this year might have changed Moore’s mind on some things. More than anything I wanted to like what GMDM has done this winter and feel confident(or at least moderately confident) headed into the 2015 season. Instead he has made two offensive signings that made me shake my head so violently that even more is loose upstairs then before and a rotation acquisition that I don’t hate.

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It all started last week with the signing of Kendrys Morales. I didn’t like the move on many fronts, but also took the stance of hoping that his awful  2014 season was more a byproduct of missing Spring Training and the first two months of the season than him beginning to regress(which is my belief). Then Moore went out and acquired long coveted outfielder Alex Rios to a one year, $11mm contract. I’ve never been a big fan of Rios, mainly for the fact that he is the ultimate streaky player, a player who has the talent but basically decides from year to year just how much of said talent he will actually use. Rios lacks consistency and his 2014 season was probably the sign of a player who’s best days are in the rearview mirror. Rios did hit lefties pretty solid in 2014, but there was very little power (4 home runs total, only 1 in the bandbox known as Globe Life Park in Arlington)to speak of. Add in that Rios will turn 34 in February and was a below average defender last season(although he might be a tad better defensively than Nori Aoki). All this made me not even want to write about Rios and left me with more questions about the Royals going into next year than answers. Yes, these guys will be complimentary players to the Hosmer’s and Gordon’s, but I felt the whole point to this offseason was to improve the offense and I wasn’t for sure that had been accomplished. Then it hit me.

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The reason I don’t like most of Dayton’s moves on the offensive front, and why I seem to always be at conflict with his game plan is simple; I value different strengths in batters than Moore. I have known this for a long time, but these signings really glared the light at the differences between what I value compared to him. I prefer hitters that tend to walk more, are more patient and don’t strikeout much. Moore prefers free-swingers who make lots of contact. Rios and Morales fit this mold, although not quite to the extreme as some of the current Royals batters. Since this is the case, more times than not I am not going to like the players he is on the hunt for. It’s a bitter conflict, as I can’t quit being a Royals fan(hey, 30 years later isn’t the time to jump ship) but I also am just not on the same page with the thinking of this Kansas City front office. Yes, I am just a fan and they have major league baseball jobs(no jokes please), but I would like to think I am not a complete dummy when it comes to evaluating talent and noticing player patterns that don’t just change overnight.

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I am smart enough to know that Kansas City isn’t going to be able to go out and match dollars with the likes of a Boston or Los Angeles, but I also think the Royals could be smarter about how they evaluate talent. There is nothing wrong with creativity by a front office; it has helped Billy Beane in Oakland for years now. The Rios and Morales signings felt like the opposite of creative; it felt like two signings that were taken by an old, tattered 1983 book that felt outdated 20 years ago. The Royals are hoping(counting) on these two to have bounce back seasons, when both are at an age where regression has begun to creep in. I wouldn’t expect either guy to put up career best numbers, but at this point in their careers I’m not even for sure they can accumulate average numbers. I would have preferred the Royals gone after an outfielder like Corey Hart or Colby Rasmus than the likes of Rios and Morales. Hell, I was more on the bandwagon of Kansas City going out and making a trade. The Royals are a team that has to spend wisely on the free agent market and it just seems that spending $17.5mm on two bounce back candidates wasn’t the best direction for a team hoping to make it back to the playoffs in 2015.

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That leads to Wednesday’s announcement that Kansas City had signed Edinson Volquez to a 2 year, $20mm contract. Volquez is essentially James Shields replacement in the rotation and is coming off a solid 2014 campaign for the Pittsburgh Pirates. There are some concerns when it comes to Volquez, most notably his penchant to giving up the walk and a declining strikeout rate. The strikeout rate doesn’t worry me as much, as he has worked on pitching more to contact and relying on the defense, which will be a plus in Kansas City. Sure, Volquez isn’t at the level of a James Shields(although I personally feel that decline is right on Big Game James’ doorsteps) but if a Danny Duffy or Yordano Ventura bump up in the rotation then all Volquez has to do is throw 6 innings and give up an average of 2-3 runs on a consistent basis. I personally like this move and feel with the way the market was this was one of Dayton’s better bets. This goes to show that as much as my thinking clashes with Moore when it comes to hitting, I tend to value a lot of the same strengths in pitchers, especially those that are middle rotation starters.

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So out of the three big offseason acquisitions the Royals have made this winter(this week?) I am on board with at least one of them. In a perfect world every move is a positive and elevates this team even more in 2015. Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world and just as I don’t trust anyone who hates every move a general manager makes, I also don’t trust the person who loves every move that is made. Free agency is a gamble and Dayton has rolled the dice with the Royals for this upcoming season. Hopefully he was more right than wrong and we can experience another magical October. My skepticism does remind me though that I felt this same way in September and we know what happened after that. So was it luck or a careful, drawn out plan? Only time will tell us.

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