Taking Whit for Granted

Last Monday, it was made official, as the Kansas City Royals and Whit Merrifield came to an agreement on a 4-year deal worth a guaranteed $16.25 million. The deal is one that benefits both the team and the player, and it would appear keeps Whit in Kansas City for the foreseeable future.

But what this deal will also do is really force us to appreciate what Whit Merrifield has done so far in his major league career. While we have praised him and been in awe of his productivity over these last couple of years, the honest truth is we took him for granted. Yes, we haven’t really admired and valued him the way we should have.

This doesn’t mean we haven’t loved watching him perform on the diamond or been impressed with what he has accomplished. As a fanbase, I feel we have done that and we’ve embraced him as one of us, a true Royal. But there is a line where you can enjoy watching and cheering on a player but not really grasp what your eyes are seeing. There is a point where you are not really appreciating what stands before you.

We all know how impressive it has been that Whit, at the age of 27, made his major league debut, an age that normally doesn’t guarantee success. Since that debut, Whit has posted a 3 WAR season, a 5 WAR season and has accumulated 11 bWAR over his career. Great numbers for a guy who no one saw as more than a bench player, let along a top prospect.

In fact, Merrifield has been compared to former Royal Ben Zobrist when it comes to his versatility and it’s not just his ability to play all over the diamond that feeds the comparison. Zobrist made his major league debut at the age of 25, but didn’t really stick in the big leagues until his age 28 season. That year saw him pile up 8.6 bWAR and an OPS+ of 149. While Whit hasn’t quite up the power numbers that Zobrist did in his prime, there is enough statistical comparisons to see that the two have very similar trajectories.

Both were late bloomers and that pushed us to believe that Whit was an anomaly. After the 2017 campaign, many of us (myself included) felt that the smartest play for the Royals was to trade Merrifield. The belief was that his value was never going to get higher and there was no guarantee that he would be able to duplicate what he did during that season.

Credit: John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS via Getty Images

So what did he do? He just came out and hit .304/.367/.438 while leading the league in hits and stolen bases. He racked up 5.5 bWAR and proved himself to be one of the top second basemen in the game, despite the fact that the Royals were still moving him around the field like a chess piece. Whit defied the odds and continued to improve his production.

Even after what he did in 2018, many felt the smart move to was to trade him this winter. As someone who used to be in that camp, it’s easy to see the logic. Here is a player who is entering his age 30 season, coming off of a 5 win season, playing for a team that doesn’t appear to be contending for postseason play for at least a couple more years. Using the rebuilding playbook, it would make sense to see what you could get for Merrifield and make a deal for younger players who could help the team in their contending window.

Makes sense, right? To me, this is where we have been taking him for granted. We’ve been so focused on Whit’s fall from grace and how he will be nearing his mid-30’s by the time the Royals are contending that we haven’t focused on how he can help this club get there in the first place.

Credit: Getty Images

While a young team can strive based on talent alone, there is always a piece of the puzzle that could and should be filled by the veterans that lead them there. Go ask the 2014 Royals about Raul Ibanez and what he meant. Go ask the 2015 team about Jonny Gomes. Keeping Merrifield around to be an influence on the players moving up through their system can only be looked at as a positive for Kansas City.

Just look at his story. The guy was left off the Royals 40-man roster a few years back, available for any team to take in the Rule 5 Draft. Luckily, he wasn’t taken, worked himself back to reach the big leagues, was left off the Opening Day roster in 2017, returned to Kansas City and has turned himself into an All-Star caliber player. If you are a young player who has struggled or is struggling, Whit is motivation that anything is possible if you set your mind to it.

That hard work, the work ethic, will find a way to rub off on the players we will see over these next couple of years. It’s easy to see Merrifield taking a more prominent leadership role moving forward and possibly even replacing Alex Gordon as a shining example of the hard work put into honing your craft.

Even if Whit drops off a bit these next few years (and that is possible as he gets closer to reaching his regression years), it doesn’t appear as if he is just going to drop off the board entirely. Even a 2-3 WAR season is more than adequate for a guy looking to build up a team that is rebuilding. Whit’s value at this point goes beyond the numbers on the field as he looks to be a cornerstone for the Royals moving forward.

So we now know that Whit is not going anywhere and we can really start focusing on all that makes him great. We can focus on the speed, the skill, the unselfishness and even the leadership. Rather than focus on what the Royals can get for him, we can turn our attention to how he can make the team better.

Dayton Moore is a big believer in loyalty and when he has that devotion he pays it back in spades. Whit has been loyal to the organization and on Monday he was shown that loyalty back. While we sometimes scoff at the manner in which Moore handles matters on the field, there is something to be said for focusing on players with high character.

But that character has to be met with productivity to truly work. Hopefully Whit will reward the organization’s loyalty with the same output we have seen these last two seasons. It’s time to start paying attention to what Merrifield really means to this team. It’s hard to bet against the guy who has defied all the odds up to this point.

Who Should Be the Next Royals Manager?

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On the last day of the 2018 campaign it was announced that manager Ned Yost would be returning to the Kansas City Royals to helm the ship for the 2019 season. This wasn’t a big shock, as there had been a prevalent thought that Yost wanted to come back for at least another season and continue the rebuild that is currently in place (I know, Dayton said it’s not a rebuild. We all know it IS a rebuild. But nice try, DM).

It appears from the outside looking in that the job is Yost’s for as long as he wants it. He has a good working relationship with both Moore and the Glass family, and the fact he led the Royals to back-to-back World Series’ gives him a certain level of leeway that many men in his position would love to have.

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Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

But at some point Ned is going to decide to call it a day and go home. In fact, that day is probably closer than you think. For all we know, Yost could decide to retire at the end of 2019 and hand off the reigns to his successor. It’s hard to remember, but Yost has been in this position since May of 2010, which is a lifetime for a major league manager. Imagining someone else leading this Royals team is difficult to picture at times.

But we are going down that road anyway. Let’s imagine that Yost steps down and the Royals are on the hunt for his replacement. Who should they look for? Should they hire from within the organization? Should they go with a younger manager or one with experience?

Sam Mellinger  of the Kansas City Star recently took a look into just what the Royals would be looking for and in some ways it is a bit eye-raising

From what I can gather, the Royals would basically want Ned 2.0, an updated version of Yost for the future of a changing game.

They would prefer someone with previous managing experience, which is worth noting, because the trend elsewhere is for fresh faces. They want someone with respect, who’s a good communicator, has a feel for the game, all the typical traits you’d expect. The biggest difference might be that they’d look for someone with a little more feel for metrics, and the ways baseball is changing.

Using the term “Ned 2.0” made me chuckle because I might have pictured him as a cyborg for a moment. But it is very telling of what they are looking for and it immediately led some to think of former Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, including Mellinger:

My friend Derrick Goold was first to the scene on the Royals’ interest in Mike Matheny. Not that Derrick needs it, but I can confirm the interest. There will be other names that come up, too, and they don’t necessarily have to check every box.

Just mentioning Matheny probably made you groan, right? I get it, since he isn’t my first choice for the job either. This past season really drove home the flaws in his managerial style, which was hit on ad nauseam this summer:

Even in the recent past, old-school managers such as Ned Yost, Dusty Baker, and Charlie Manuel have won not because they’re John McGraw, but because they can get 25 guys to pull together. For that reason, if you can’t get the tactics right, you damn well better bring the best out of your players.

Matheny was never able to do that. And ironically for such a young manager, he committed an age-old sin: inflexibility.

To me, that reads that Matheny is the exact opposite of Yost. Bizarro Yost? Very possible. So as much as we freak out when we hear Matheny’s name, I can’t imagine Dayton Moore will look past that, unless he can just charm the pants off of Moore.

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Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

But there are options to replace Yost and some are definitely in-house. Pedro Grifol has long been a favorite and someone the players are very fond of. By the end of George Brett’s tenure as hitting coach in 2013 , the players had shown a strong bond with Grifol and preferred him to Brett when it came to hitting issues. He is also bilingual and obviously a good communicator.

Dale Sveum, the current Royals bench coach, is another option. Sveum has managing experience (he led the Cubs for two seasons, 2012-2013) and has been a coach for Kansas City for five seasons now. Sveum has obviously built a relationship with a number of the current players and would be able to slide right into the system the Royals have been utilizing these last few years.

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Credit: MLB.com

My choice (and the person I felt was a future Royals manager from almost the moment he was brought into the organization) is Vance Wilson. Wilson managed Kansas City’s AA squad in Northwest Arkansas for four seasons and is the Royals current bullpen coach. Wilson has managed a number of the current players on the Kansas City roster and is familiar with their successes and failures. Wilson can be a bit old school, but has also been willing to use analytics as well to help the cause.

I found this comment from 2011 very telling into what kind of manager Wilson would be:

“I’m learning how to relate to the players, especially this new generation of players, and I’m learning to make guys better not only as players, but people. I will see where it takes me beyond this.”

This sounds like something from the Dayton Moore handbook. If anything, it fits the style of leader that Moore looks for in his managers.

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Credit: Associated Press

Jason Kendall, a former Royals catcher, has also been mentioned as a future manager over the years. He currently works in the organization as the Special Assignment Coach and has long been a favorite of the Kansas City front office. Kendall is an interesting option, but he might be a bit too rough around the edges. I’m not for sure today’s players would be very receptive to his gruff managerial style, which I imagine is what you would get from Kendall.

We could also throw in former Royals outfielders Raul Ibanez and Carlos Beltran onto the list as well. Neither have any managerial experience, but both are highly regarded in the baseball community and great communicators. One has to wonder just where the Royals would be if not for Ibanez’s speech to the Royals clubhouse in 2014, a speech that motivated the team and led them on their run to the postseason that year. Could something like that motivate Dayton to hire Raul? Experience (or lack thereof) might not be the deciding factor if the Royals like a candidate.

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There are a number of other candidates that Kansas City could consider when the time comes. Mike Maddux, Tim Wallach, Jay Bell (another former Royal), Bo Porter, Eric Chavez and Joe Espada are just a few more names that could be considered as the future Royals manager. The one thing to remember is that while the Royals might be looking for a Yost clone right now, that could change at the drop of a hat:

By the time Ned retires, the organization could have shifted their needs and desires in a different direction. Personally, I am fine with that. Deciding who leads this team moving forward shouldn’t be a hastily made decision and instead should be done with meticulous detail. Figure out where you want the team to be and decide at that point who is the best candidate to get you to your destination. That should be your choice.

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Credit: Orlin Wagner, The Associated Press

But we aren’t there yet. This is all speculation on our part and it might change twenty more times before Yost steps down. But the future gets a bit closer everyday, a future without Ned. Hopefully the Royals are prepared when that day comes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

…Or Maybe It Is Over

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Just a few days ago it was hard not to think the Kansas City Royals could not only take the series with the Detroit Tigers this weekend at Kauffman Stadium, but take on the world. The Royals inexplicably won a game on Monday night that they probably shouldn’t have and that had become the Royals mantra this year; fight back and win the unattainable. Royals Hall of Fame broadcaster Denny Matthews had even mentioned numerous times this year that these things only happen when you are destined to win, when luck is on your side. With all that said, it appears the Royals luck might have just ran out, as they have lost two heart breakers this weekend against Detroit.

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Friday night the Royals went out, a full house at ‘The K’, thunderstix and optimism in tow, and essentially crapped the bed. Jason Vargas had possibly his worst outing as a Royal, the offense was abysmal and the Tigers showed why they are a mainstay in the playoffs. I’m not sure there was anything positive to take away from Friday night’s game, other than after being on the roster for almost three weeks manager Ned Yost remembered Johnny Giavotella was on his bench, as Gio would take over second base late in the game. In fact, Yost emptied the bench, giving his regulars some rest or to feed them milk and cookies, I’m not for sure. Either way, Friday night should have been a night to drink away any memories of the game and let it die out in a field somewhere, never to be seen or heard from ever again.

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Saturday felt like the definition of a ‘must-win’ game as any would feel. If the Royals didn’t come away with a victory on Saturday they might as well concede the division to the Tigers. Things started out hopeful, as James Shields was dealing and looked to be on the top of his game. But the little voice in the back of my head went off in the bottom of the first inning. After a leadoff double from Alcides Escobar, Nori Aoki(who has been the Royals hottest hitter, just 13 for his last 16 plate appearances coming into the contest) stepped up to the dish and proceeded to put down a sacrifice bunt. Yep, the Royals have a runner in scoring position, a guy with speed that could score on a hit to the outfield and instead Aoki chose to bunt him over and give the Tigers a free out. After the game Yost would say Aoki did this on his own, but this still falls on Neddy. As manager you need to stress(especially to guys like Escobar and Aoki who do like to bunt) that in that situation go ahead and swing away. This looked even worse as Josh Willingham and Alex Gordon would follow with strike outs and Escobar would be stranded at third base.

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This was compounded in the third inning when Aoki would step back up to the plate with runners on first and second(two speedy runners in Jarrod Dyson and Escobar, mind you) and would lay down a sacrifice AGAIN! We would find out later this sacrifice was called for from the dugout and shows yet again that Yost has a hard time thinking outside of his outdated box. Once again, a hit to the outfield will get the runner home from second, but more importantly you are taking the bat out of the hands of the hottest hitter in baseball this week! Once again the Royals would not score a run as Willingham would continue his craptacular day at the plate with another strikeout against the Tigers Max Scherzer. I don’t understand using the sacrifice bunt this early in the game. I get that the Royals aren’t an offensive juggernaut and have trouble at times scoring runs. But to take the bat out of the hands of a batter and give up an out seems ludicrous, especially when the percentages say you have a better chance of scoring by letting the guy hit rather than pushing the runners up. So there was two big opportunities Kansas City had to score early on in the game that was flushed away because of poor tactical decisions. I know for years smarter baseball men than me have advocated the sacrifice bunt, but in today’s game it seems to be more effective late in the game when you need just one run to either tie or put your team ahead. In my eyes, a sacrifice bunt early on is the equivalent of a rally killer.

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The sixth inning was possibly a major turning point in this game and one that will haunt Royals fans for years to come. With one out and runners on second and third, Omar Infante would hit a light liner to Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler, who would then try to double off Eric Hosmer at second base. Only the ball would sail past shortstop Eugenio Suarez. Seeing this at third base was Salvador Perez, who was walking back to the base before taking off once he saw the ball go past Suarez. It seemed as if the Royals had taken a lead in the game but the only problem was Perez never stepped back on the bag, which he needed to do to score from third. Detroit’s bench noticed this, as Tigers Manager Brad Ausmus would come out and question the call. This is where things got kooky. The Tigers would appeal the call, as Scherzer would throw over to third base, where the umpire called Perez safe. But if you were watching at home, you didn’t see this. Great camera work, FOX, as they wouldn’t show this footage till much later in the game. After a conference by the umpires, Ausmus would ask for a review, which the umps would walk over to do. The only issue was the play was non-reviewable, as tag up plays are not part of the replay process. The umpires were told that as well while talking to the replay officials from New York. Meanwhile, the replay was shown at the stadium, clearly showing that Perez never stepped back on third base before trotting home. The umpires would huddle again and then declare Perez out. The main argument in all of this wasn’t that the wrong call was made; Perez never touched the base, therefore he should be out. The issue was more how this was handled by the officials. Why call Perez safe when the Tigers appealed? It seemed as if they thought he was out as well but wanted to get the play reviewed to make sure. Hopefully the call wasn’t influenced by the replay showed on CrownVision or by Royals first base coach Rusty Kuntz making a comment to one of the officials that Perez never touched the bag. The call was correct; the execution could have used some work.

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This leads us to the ninth inning. The Royals are down 3-2 with runners on base, 2 outs. Josh Willingham, who struggled mightily on this day, was scheduled to bat, but Yost decided to go to his bench. With Joe Nathan on the hill for Detroit, it would seem to make sense to go with the guy who was 6 for 14 career against Nathan, not the batter who was 1 for 11 against him. It seemed to be wise to go with the guy hitting .264 instead of the one slumming it at a .190 clip. Nope, Neddy went Raul Ibanez over Billy Butler, despite the fact Butler’s numbers all the way around are better than the guy who had batted twice the entire month of September. You can imagine how this turned out, as Ibanez grounded out to end the game. After the game Yost would say he was looking for a “professional at bat”, which he why he chose Ibanez. I get the thinking, but I think you would get the same from Butler, despite his latest struggles. In my mind you go with the guy who gives you the best chance to win; Ibanez should never be that choice. This was just another bad call for the manager who seems to be wilting under the pressure of a pennant race. Yes, we knew of this before now. Now we are seeing it with our own eyes, like Milwaukee before us.

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With only 8 games left in the regular season(and the Cleveland make-up game that will finish on Monday) the Royals still have a solid chance of reaching the postseason. But at this point a division title looks out of the question, as Detroit has owned Kansas City and only has Minnesota and Chicago left on their schedule. The Royals are left with a series against Cleveland that will be no walk in the park and the final 4 in Chicago. The Royals will have Oakland and Seattle to contend with for the two Wild Card spots, as Oakland has 3 against the Angels and 4 against the Rangers, while Seattle has 4 against Toronto and 3 against the Angels. It is too soon to say it is over but if the Royals catatonic offense doesn’t wake up and the defense continues to stumble, then the Royals are going to have a hard time picking up wins within the next week. Add in Yost’s questionable tactical decisions and you have a recipe for disaster for the last week of the season. This current series against Detroit was supposed to be an opportunity for the Royals to lay claim to the American League Central and show the baseball world that they deserved the respect they covet. Instead we are left wondering if there is enough gas in the tank to even get them to the postseason. At this point Kansas City needs to decide; are they contenders or pretenders?

Buy or Sell, There is No Standing Pat

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Hey, have you heard the trade deadline is this week? If you have, you know that the Kansas City Royals have been connected to many a rumor, as they fly around like texts from Billy Butler this time of year. This is just a smattering of names rumored to have Dayton Moore’s interest right now: Alex Rios, Marlon Byrd, Antonia Bastardo, Chris Denorfia, Andrew Miller, Jonny Gomes, Dayan Viciedo, Ben Zobrist, and even a hint of Ryan Howard(although I don’t think there is must interest on KC’s part as much as Philadelphia wanting to dump him on someone). It’s apparent the Royals are going to have to pick up another bat if they are serious about contending for a playoff spot. If they aren’t serious(and seriously, what team will really admit that?) then they need to be sellers. But the reports that are leaking out make one wonder if much of anything is going to happen.

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Let’s begin with the trade that went down today. Earlier, the Royals traded Danny Valencia to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for two players who have been playing in AAA, Erik Kratz and Liam Hendriks. By no means is this a “blow the doors off the barn” type of trade, but it does upgrade a few minor things for Kansas City. Kratz will take over the backup catcher spot for Brett Hayes(who was Designated for Assignment to make room for him) and will add a bit more offense to that spot. The move also allows the Royals to carry a backup infielder again, as Christian Colon will be recalled from Omaha. Yep, the Royals have been playing without a true backup infielder for a few weeks now. To make matters worse, it’s not the first time that has happened this year. Roster management isn’t exactly Dayton’s strength. The move also shows that the team has faith that Mike Moustakas has gotten past his struggles of earlier this year(and last year). I’m not 100% convinced Moustakas will ever be anything more than a guy who hits .250, slams around 20 homeruns and plays good defense. But that is another topic for another time. If anything, this move tightens up the bench, which is a must for any team who wants to go deep into the playoffs. Or is this a precursor to a bigger move?

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Unless this is all just a major smokescreen, it looks like there might not be a bigger move. Alex Rios of Texas was discussed for quite awhile; it now looks like his salary is an issue and would hold Kansas City back from acquiring him. Marlon Byrd? He looks like a no-go as well, as he has a no-trade clause and won’t waive it unless the team acquiring him picks up his 2016 option. The Royals are pretty set on acquiring a right handed bat(which I feel is a bit short-sighted; if there is a quality bat out there, you go after it, no matter what side of the plate it is) and the options are limited. The scary part is up in the article talking about the Royals bowing out of the Rios talks. It’s been mentioned a few times that salary is a key factor in a move not being made, as in “the Royals don’t want to take on more salary so they will hold off on a deal until August.” This blows my mind. We’ve heard for years by management that “2014 is the season” and “we are all in”. If that was true, you pick up the extra month of salary and give your team the best option of winning. It seems odd that money is now the issue, since Royals owner David Glass has stated he is “obsessed with winning”. If you are obsessed with it, you go all out to make it happen. You are not obsessed with it if you have a limit. This also opens up the other issue; even if the purse strings were opened, is this team a “real” contender?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Tampa Bay Rays

As of this writing, the Royals are 5 games behind the Tigers in the American League Central standings and only 2 games out of the second wild card spot. Technically, they are contenders. But…that second wild card is a bit of an illusion. Sure, it is a reachable goal. But is it worth it to trade off part of your future(a prospect) for a few months of mild improvement(a right handed bat)? I am about as torn on this as I humanly could be. On one hand, the Royals haven’t been to the playoffs in 29 years. We are all dying to get there and there might not be a better chance for a few years. On the other hand, this team just doesn’t scream playoff contender  to me, and hasn’t most of the year. This is a wildly inconsistent offensive team and I doubt even acquiring any of the names mentioned earlier will stabilize this bunch. So with that said, is it worth it for this team to go out, pick up players, get the second wild card spot, play one playoff game on the road, lose, then turn around and lose James Shields and Billy Butler at the end of the season? That is the million dollar question.

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I’m not trying to be a downer, but the realist in me knows we wouldn’t be having this conversation if that second wild card didn’t exist. If the old playoff system was intact, the Royals would be sellers, pick up a nice haul for Shields and start preparing for 2015. Unofficially, that second wild card is a version of beer goggles to some teams that would normally be sellers. That is why there isn’t much out there talent-wise and why a team like Tampa Bay, who once was in the cellar in the American League East, now believes they can get to the playoffs(they are currently only 4 games out of the wild card) and probably won’t be trading David Price or anyone else for that matter. But…that second wild card DOES exist and teams who normally wouldn’t be in play ARE in play. This includes the Royals and is why as much as part of me would like to see what they could get for Big Game James, I know they have to go for it.

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But are they? It doesn’t feel like they are. My dad would say they are “half-assing” it. What team, especially one with the offensive holes this Royals team have, thinks that the likes of Raul Ibanez, Erik Kratz, and Jason Frasor shows that they are “all in”? I’m not saying go out and kill the farm system to make this team better, but this team needs more than a 42 year old outfielder, a backup catcher, and a middle reliever to get them to “the promised land”. I have to believe this team will take a step back in 2015, so if they are going for it they can’t just wait until August to make a move, when players have to slip through waivers just to make something happen. No, the time to go for the kill is now(actually the real perfect time would have been when they were still in first place) and instead it feels like no matter what move is made, it will feel like a letdown.

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After 8+ years of the current Royals regime, it feels wrong that a simple thing like a few $100,000 will be the difference between an upgrade and the status quo. Sure, it’s not my money, but winning means more butts in the seats at “The K” and more filled seats mean more dollars. It’s a simple equation that ownership refuses to learn and in the long run it will cost them. For some, the Royals hovering around .500 is good enough for them and will satisfy their needs. But for some of us, we want more. We want what we had in the 70’s and 80’s. We want consistent winning, consistent contending and management that “gets it”. Instead, we get a GM who values the wrong things and an owner who thinks you should run a baseball team like it is Wal Mart. Folks, we deserve better. We deserve to see October baseball. I’m not sold we will see it this year. What I do know is right now is not the time to straddle the fence on what to do with this team. It’s quite simple; as Yoda would say ” Buy or Sell, there is no standing pat.”

Should Billy Stay or Should He Go

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There probably isn’t a more polarizing player on the Royals roster right now than Designated Hitter Billy Butler. The once beloved Butler has seemingly fallen from grace in the eyes of the fans and even in management’s eyes. Within the last few days word has leaked out that the Seattle Mariners have discussed the availability of Butler, a player they have coveted for awhile now. Butler is enduring the worst year of his career and it appears that at the age of 28 he might have started regressing already. So with all of this out there, the question needs to be asked: should the Royals trade Billy Butler?

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That question is an interesting one, one that isn’t a straight yes or no answer. Let’s first look at the facts: Butler has provided very little offensive punch this season, as he is on pace for the lowest homerun, RBI, and OPS numbers of his career. Since Butler has been one of the most consistent hitters in baseball for quite awhile the prevalent thought(mine included) has been that at some point he would turn around this season and put up numbers more representative of his career. With only 68 games remaining, the likelihood of that happening lessens everyday. His trade value has never been lower and with him carrying a team option(a hefty one at that; 12.5 million) for 2015, it’s pretty plain to see he won’t be in Royal blue next season. The smart choice would be to get something(anything) for him, but it’s not as easy as that. The Royals don’t have a ready replacement for him(Raul Ibanez?? Suuuuuure) and they are pushing for their first playoff appearance in Kansas City since 1985, so the Royals need all the fire power they can get. Since you probably wouldn’t get a better hitter for Butler, trading for his replacement would have to almost certainly be done separately. There is also this little dilemma; if you trade Billy to the Mariners, you are trading him to the team that is in front of them for the second Wild Card spot. So in effect, the Royals might very well be helping out the team they will be fighting for said playoff spot.

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So if Kansas City decides to pull the trigger on this trade with Seattle, they are probably either going to ask for a bullpen arm in return, either from the majors or minors. The Royals are probably also going to have to pay a portion of Butler’s remaining salary this year(8 million). The Royals have been searching for additional bullpen help, so this would help solve that. I wish I could say here that Billy would net more than that, but his value just isn’t that high. Mariners DH’s have hit a weak .236/.289/.356 this season, which means for them Butler would be an upgrade. I can’t foresee any other team being interested unless they wanted to use him as a part-time player or a bench guy(especially if a National League team was interested). Seattle is probably the best option for Kansas City to make a deal with at this point.

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If this happens, the Royals will then need to go out and pick up someone to be his replacement. There have been rumors that the Royals are interested in Jonny Gomes of Boston, who is a solid OF/DH type, but is better when facing southpaws(.306/.403/.429) than righties. Gomes would be a solid batter but one who’s flaws are more apparent when receiving more playing time. Cody Ross in Arizona could also be an interesting addition and he has helped teams make a push for a playoff spot in the past(San Francisco immediately coming to mind). Hell, the Royals might even add a couple bats and split them between RF and DH. There is also the option of the Royals using the DH as a rotating spot, letting their other starters play there occasionally to give them a rest on defense while keeping their bat in the lineup(see Perez, Salvador). The only problem with that is that their bench is weak to say the least and the lineup would see a decline playing Christian Colon, Brett Hayes or Danny Valencia more than they are now. Raul Ibanez? Like I said before this really isn’t an option. The man is 42 and was released by the Angels for a reason earlier this season. In the ten games since his return to Kansas City he is hitting a meek .135 with just 5 hits in 37 at bats. So if the Royals are looking to improve their offense by trading Butler, a couple other moves will probably have to happen as well.

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So what should the Royals do? In my opinion, the Royals have a legitimate chance of getting into the playoffs this year, but only if there is an upgrade in the offense. I’ve long been a supporter of Butler, if for no other reason than the fact that he had a consistent track record of producing for the Royals. Unfortunately, he just isn’t producing this year and the Royals aren’t in a position of just letting him fight through it all year. So would I trade Butler? Yes, but ONLY IF IT IMPROVES THE OFFENSE. I put that in bold, because the team shouldn’t just trade him to trade him. No, they need to be confident that if they deal him what they have to replace his bat will be of greater value than what Billy would have brought them for the rest of the year. Otherwise you are weakening an already bi-polar offense that has two players(Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas) who the team doesn’t know if they can trust to be solid offensive contributors. It’s sad to say, but it might be the best for both the Royals and  Billy to part ways. In two years Butler has gone from being willing to run through a brick wall for the team and its fans to “favoriting” a post about the trade rumors between Seattle and Kansas City on Twitter:

At this point, the Royals need an answer offensively. It appears more and more everyday Billy Butler isn’t that answer. Soon enough we will know if “Country Breakfast” is helping the Royals or the Mariners make a playoff push.

Hosmer vs. Butler: Potential vs. Production

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“I’ve been through it too many times,” Hosmer said. “I’ve gone through a rough start. I’ve gone through a whole rough year. I know my abilities, and I know I can get hot.”

Slumps are a funny thing. Most baseball players incur at least one per season, some longer than others. It’s a long season and things aren’t bound to be perfect for anyone the entire time. But when do slumps curtail into a whole new territory, that of a player either losing playing time or being moved down in the lineup? To ask a more pointed question, why is potential sometimes rated higher than actual production? The Kansas City Royals are dealing with this very issue at the moment, with both Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer struggling. But while Butler’s slump has mainly been the last few weeks, Hosmer’s is closing in on two months. Yet Hosmer continues to bat near the top of the order, and Butler has been dropped down the order to 7th. But is this the smartest move for a team wanting to reach the playoffs this year?

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“I can take it. I guess I’m a mentally tough guy. He could do it to somebody else, but I think he knows how I’ll take it.”

This was the sentiment felt by Butler after Friday’s loss to Cleveland. Obviously you can see the frustration from Billy, as well as the thinly veiled shot at Hosmer. With that being said let’s lay our truth cards out on the table; Billy Butler isn’t the Butler from 2012. At this point, Billy isn’t even the Butler from 2013. No, this Billy Butler has a combined 20 extra base hits and an OPS+ of 84(to judge against years past, since 2009 he has averaged between 138 and 116). His numbers are down across the board and even a red hot second half could probably not help most of his power numbers(slugging percentage this year is at an all time low). The biggest culprit is probably the rise in the amount of ground balls he has hit, as his ground ball to fly ball rate is at it’s highest this season(1.18). So by no means is this a declaration that Billy Butler is hitting the way he should nor is it saying that Billy is knocking the cover off the ball. But he has been producing more than Hosmer as of late.

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“He’s a guy that can hit .220 one month, and .360 the next.”

Royals manager Ned Yost obviously has faith in Eric Hosmer and his potential. Potential is what is keeping Hosmer near the top of the lineup the last couple months despite his prolonged slump. It’s a slump that has seen his OPS to fall from .800 to .648 and his double in yesterday’s game against Cleveland was his first extra base hit since June 18th. Hosmer’s main issue has been a lack of plate discipline. He is hacking at a career high 38.3 percent of balls outside of the strike zone and has 9 walks over the last month compared to 15 strikeouts over that same span. During this same span, Butler is hitting .311, and has an OPS of .781. For a guy who is batting near the top of the order, Hosmer should at least be getting on base. Unfortunately his on base percentage is below .300 this year and he isn’t driving in runs either. Hosmer’s numbers across the board are eerily similar to his disastrous 2012 season yet not only has Hosmer not been given a day off as of late, he was moved from 3rd to 2nd in the order(which means he would get even more at bats per game). So why was he moved up but Butler moved down? Potential.

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“I still feel he’s capable of being the Billy that we’ve had,” Yost said. “He hasn’t really been.”

Sam Mellinger wrote a great piece on this situation and why it is unfolding the way it is. The main thing to take from it is that the Royals see Hosmer filling his potential before Butler becomes the Billy of old. The problem is that doesn’t mean you can’t lower Hosmer in the lineup as well. I understand potential as much as the next guy, but when you need more offense it makes no sense to leave a player near the top of the order because of potential. What you need is actual, real production, not the possibility of production because that might never happen. My biggest beef to this whole scenario is this comment made here:

“The truth is that Hosmer’s spot in the lineup is being evaluated, but for now, the team sees Butler as an underperforming and now overpaid hitter on a roster in desperate need of consistent production…”

Hosmer’s spot is being evaluated? That is a sign that they just aren’t willing to face the reality that he isn’t producing. To add to that, if Butler is underperforming from his last month, what the hell is Hosmer’s last two months?? It’s obvious here that the club has soured on Billy and still considers Hosmer their “Golden Child”, despite the fact their true “Golden Child” is behind home plate. It’s a fairly well known fact that Butler has an option at the end of the year and Mellinger spoke what most of us have known for awhile now:

“For Butler, he must know there is little chance the Royals will pick up a $12.5 million option for next season. He is a full-time designated hitter in a modern baseball world that no longer values full-time DHs, and is having his worst career year at the worst possible time.”

Logic says that the Royals are smart in not picking up Billy’s option. I agree with that sentiment, especially since the club would like some more flexibility in the lineup and the ability to rest Salvador Perez’s knees from time to time by placing him at DH. With that being said, Billy is pretty untradeable at this point(I honestly don’t think the Royals would get a player in return that they feel would be at proper value) and even if they wanted to replace him, there is no one to take over the spot and produce even the below average numbers he has this year. Raul Ibanez? Please. There is a reason the Angels released him. Anyone in the minors? No one with near the pop Butler can have when he is on his game. Even the Royals understand this:

” So by now, even with both sides understanding they are likely breaking up at the end of the year, both sides also understand their mutual dependence. The Royals need Butler hitting to win, and Butler needs opportunities in the lineup to hit.”

Mellinger adds:

“Neither team nor player can fully succeed without the other, and in a season that each side has spent so much time working toward, ultimate success will depend heavily on recognizing that simple fact.”

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“That is what happens when things start to go south for him,” one American League scout said. “He tries to swing his way out of it.”

So Billy is going nowhere for now, same with Hosmer. But that doesn’t mean Hosmer shouldn’t be lowered in the lineup. At this point potential only matters in that Hosmer has a spot in the lineup. Without him producing and his inability to get on base it only makes sense for Kansas City to lower him in the lineup and insert someone who gets on base(like Alcides Escobar) in the 2nd spot of the order. It only hurts the Royals when Hosmer is allowed to get the second most AB’s every game when there are suitable replacements that can be shuffled. It’s also hurting Hosmer, as it has become glaringly obvious that dealing with pressure does not help his psyche. If the Royals are serious about winning then you put the best lineup out that that will produce.

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Potential is a slippery slope that can suck you up and make people in baseball make stupid decisions. The honest truth is sometimes potential just doesn’t pan out. This is the third straight season Eric Hosmer has gone through a long stretch of a season where he has just looked lost. As much as myself and others want to believe that he can reach the potential most of us believe he has, it is starting to look as if the mental aspect of the game messes with his physical part. The Royals are insistent that Hosmer will just one day play at the caliber he did his rookie year or in the second half of 2013. The honest truth is that there are no guarantees in baseball and you realistically you have to produce. Both Hosmer and Butler aren’t producing the way the Royals need them too, and neither is truly reaching their true potential. If you ask me, I trust the guy with the track record(Butler) over the guy who has shown he isn’t a consistent hitter(Hosmer). The one thing both of them are doing is hurting the Royals chances of reaching the playoffs. The definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. Expecting Hosmer to live off potential is a mistake that needs to be rectified soon. Butler has been dropped in the order; now it’s time for Hosmer to do the same. Production is more valuable than potential in the present.

“It’s not the first time I’ve done it,” Hosmer said. “So it’s not panic, or nothing like that. You realize what you’ve got to do, and how you get out of it.”

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