L-O-Y-A-L-T-Y

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Credit: KansasCity.com

I’ve always been told loyalty is an honorable trait to have. It speaks of a person’s character and can be a window into how a person will react when times get rough. In fact, the definition says it all:

loyalty
[loi-uh l-tee]

1.the state or quality of being loyal; faithfulness to commitments or obligations.
2.faithful adherence to a sovereign, government, leader, cause, etc.
3.an example or instance of faithfulness, adherence, or the like:a man with fierce loyalties.

Loyalty in sports can be a tricky thing. The definition of the word can fluctuate, whether you are a fan or a player. For years players have been labeled as “sell outs” or “greedy” whenever they decide to look for greener pastures ($$$$) and head to the highest bidder. But loyalty in baseball should probably be defined differently.

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Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

 

I bring this up because a few Royals fans were not pleased with Eric Hosmer’s decision to sign with the San Diego Padres. Yes, these fans are the minority, but they are a vocal bunch. Obviously there is an emotional attachment to this group of players; I knew this was going to be rough when a part of me felt bad that Jeremy Guthrie was gone. It’s inevitable that winning a championship would make it harder when the business of baseball gets in the way of putting together the big league roster. But that word–business–seems to be the hurdle some have a hard time getting over.

Let’s break this down. When a player is allowed to venture out on the free agent market, they can talk with other teams and see if there is a mutual interest there in working together. It only makes sense that a player would want to gauge how much he is worth. It’s really not any different from if another job talks to you about leaving your current employment and offers you perks that your current job has not.

 

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Credit: Michael Sears, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

But baseball has a slight difference: you can’t be a major league player forever. In fact the average length of a major league career is just 5.6 years:

After studying the 5,989 position players who began their careers between 1902 and 1993 and who played 33,272 years of major league baseball, three demographers have come up with an answer: On average, a rookie can expect to play major league baseball for 5.6 years.Their study, which is being published in the August issue of Population Research and Policy Review, also found that one in five position players would play only a single season.

Fewer than half of all rookies remain long enough to play a fifth year. And only about 1 percent of players last 20 seasons or more.

Cognizant that pitchers are more prone to injuries and have volatile careers, the authors, William Witnauer of the State University of New York at Buffalo and Richard Rogers and Jarron Saint Onge of the University of Colorado, excluded them from the study. They also excluded 618 players who made their debut after Sept. 1 and played only that season.The authors found advantages in starting a major league career early. The probability of ending a career after one year is 10 percent for players starting at age 20, but rises to 13 percent for players who start at 21, and 36 percent for players who start at 28.

With the averages not boding well for a long, lengthy career for a large chunk of players reaching the majors, that would mean the wise decision is to make as much money as humanly possible while you can. You never know when an injury or illness could swing around and not only hurt your value but also hurt your chances of continuing your career.So it’s easy to see why most players want to make as much money as possible when they head out on the free agent market. Take Lorenzo Cain for example. Cain has dealt with numerous leg issues over the years and will be entering his age 32 season this year. While he might have been able to take a shorter deal for more money per year, Cain went with a 5-year deal in Milwaukee this winter. It made more sense for Cain to go with a long-term deal rather than a shorter one where he would end up back on the market at an older age. At that point, who knows where Cain’s value would be and if injuries would hurt his chances of procuring a deal similar to what he received this past offseason.

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Credit: Charlie Neibergall / AP

What that means is I will never fault a player for getting as much money as they can out on the market. I also wouldn’t question their loyalty to the organization, since that is a two-way street. Sure, Hosmer and Cain could have possibly returned to Kansas City on lesser deals, but why? A sense of loyalty from what they have done these past seven years? While it might be looked at by some as a noble gesture if they had stayed, logically it would make no sense. The Royals this winter weren’t financially in a position to offer the contracts that the Brewers or Padres offered, let alone whether those deals would make sense for the Royals long-term.The honest truth is that while it is great when players like George Brett or Alex Gordon stay with one team for the duration of their career, you can’t fault a player for wanting to milk as much as they can from the market. This doesn’t mean they are disloyal to the team they left nor does it mean they disliked the team, organization or even the fans with that team; it just means they did what was best for them and their family.

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Credit: K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune

I expect Royals’ fans will give a healthy standing ovation the next time Eric Hosmer or Lorenzo Cain return to Kauffman Stadium and they should. Both players were a big part of the rejuvenation of baseball in Kansas City over these last couple of seasons. But if you boo these players you might want to think about what you would do in that situation. It’s easy to say you would take less money to stay in a comfortable place like Kansas City, but would you still feel that way if your career was winding down or if you had the opportunity at a mega-contract?At the end of the day baseball is a business and as we have seen this offseason, it can sometimes be a cold, heartless, ruthless business to those looking for a job. While on the surface the idea of a player staying in one spot and being loyal sounds great, the reality is a lot murkier than that. Temper expectations, try to look at the situation from someone else’s point of view and enjoy the time you have with your favorite players. Hopefully if you are loyal to your team, they will be loyal to you.

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Book Review: The Bullpen Gospels

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There is something to be said about a good baseball book and when you can find one that deals with failure, it makes it even better. “The Bullpen Gospels” is a book written by former major league reliever Dirk Hayhurst, looking at a pivotal part of his career while in the minor leagues. While a number of baseball books delve into the successes of its players, this book also takes a hard look at what it is like as a player trying to achieve his dream while coming up through the minor leagues

The book begins as Hayhurst is struggling with his future. He’s coming off of a lackluster finish to a season and is unsure how long he wants to continue trying to reach his dream of being a big league pitcher. He does a great job of letting us wander into his mind as he deals with what his future has in store. You really get a window into how something as major as “confidence” can play into a player’s success or failure. Hayhurst is dealing with a floundering career, a lack of confidence and a non-existent support system.

Rays Spring Baseball
Credit: Associated Press

While the focal point of this book is Hayhurst’s struggle and attempt to reach the big leagues, the aspect of the book that really grabs you is his description of minor league life and the relationships with his teammates. Whether it is the lewd jokes, the grizzled coaches or even a bus trip from hell, listening to stories about the grind of a baseball season really puts into perspective how unattractive the minor leagues can be. While some of the names are legit and left as is, there are a number of players whose names were changed for one reason or another. If you’ve ever wondered what it is like to live a season chasing your baseball dream, this is a nice view into that scenario.

You also find out how Dirk evolves as a pitcher and allows himself to not worry about his performance on the field. While his struggles are in the forefront at the beginning of the book, his success is thrown in as almost a side note as the book progresses. The deeper you get into this book, the more you realize it isn’t as much about what happens on the baseball field as much as it’s a look into the thinking pattern of a player trying to avoid the repetitiveness of a long baseball season.

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Credit: DirkHayhurst.com

Overall, I loved the book. I’ve always had a fondness for locker room stories and a deeper look into not just the game of baseball but the nuts and bolts of what makes the game. My favorite part of the book was Dirk’s interactions with Trevor Hoffman, someone who Hayhurst had looked up to for years. These visits not only gave a nice insight into how his mind works, but also how someone like Hoffman can be viewed one way as a player and another as a person.

If you are looking into an honest look into what it is like climbing the ladder of baseball’s minor league system and the ups and downs that are met along the way, this is for you. Some have said this is the best baseball book since Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” and while I can’t vouch for that (I haven’t read the classic Bouton book), I will say that Hayhurst is a great writer and has woven a baseball tale that will entertain you. If you would like to give it a read, here is a link to the book on Amazon and he has written two other books, here and also here. While his career was a short one, Hayhurst has made sure that it will live on for years to come. The book is worth your time and should make you even more excited for baseball season to begin.

Three Questions to Ask Now That Eric Hosmer is in San Diego

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Credit: Getty Images

Now that the dust has finally settled and Eric Hosmer has landed in San Diego, it only seems fair to ask where the Royals go from here. There are so many questions to ask, especially as the team appears to be getting ready for a rebuild. But what three questions are the most urgent? I went ahead and earmarked these three as being the most pressing for Kansas City moving forward.

Should the Royals re-sign Mike Moustakas?

I’ve long been a proponent of bringing Moose back to Kansas City, but with the developments of the last month weighing heavy on my mind, my opinion has shifted just a bit. I still believe that re-signing Moustakas isn’t an awful idea, especially if it would be on a two or three-year deal. But with the market for him all but dead at the moment, the Royals definitely shouldn’t roll out an armored bank truck for him.

That being said, the idea of a complete rebuild sounds more and more enticing by the day. This Royals team can lose 85-100 games with or without Moustakas, plus it would keep the payroll at bay. It could also give the organization a chance to see what Cheslor Cuthbert and/or Hunter Dozier can do while both could also see playing time across the diamond at first base. Honestly, I’m okay with either scenario playing out as there are positives and negatives for both. But if the Royals really buy into a rebuild, letting Moustakas go would make the most logical sense.

Who plays first base in Kansas City this year?

This could be the most interesting question of the three while also being the one that is answered last. It does appear there are no frontrunners in the bunch, although Dozier and Cuthbert will get first crack at both corner positions. In fact, the Royals actually have a number of options floating out there, which I took a look at a few months back.

To be honest, my opinion hasn’t changed much since December. I like the idea of Dozier or Ryan O’Hearn (or both) getting a shot and seeing what they could do. Out of the free agents on the market, signing someone like Adam Lind to platoon with Dozier also appeals to me. The interesting aspect about this is that the Royals aren’t tied down to one player who gets all the playing time. This gives the coaching staff a chance to evaluate some of the younger talent while also seeing what is a good fit for both the lineup and on defense. While the answer isn’t an obvious one, that also breeds opportunity which isn’t a bad thing for a club that is rebuilding.

Should the Royals overhaul the roster even more and look to trade veterans?

On the surface it appears that Kansas City is going to rebuild one way or the other now that most of the major cogs are out of the picture. But should the team do a complete rebuild? At this point, it honestly makes more sense to go this route. Merrifield would seem to be an obvious choice to be dealt, as his value might never be higher than it is right now. The team already has a player who could take over at second base (Raul Mondesi) while hopefully acquiring one or two players who could be under team control for multiple seasons.

Duffy was bandied about in trade talks earlier this winter and one would think the Royals could get a hefty haul in any trade that Duffy was involved in. While the Royals don’t have any in-house replacements that could fill the top of the rotation, more than likely Dayton Moore would ask for such a piece in any deal that Duffy is in. While the idea of Duffy also leaving is grim, it isn’t guaranteed he would still be with the team the next time they are contending.

It would also make sense to see what they can get for the likes of Kelvin Herrera and Jason Hammel. Both are veterans that will be eligible for free agency at the end of the year and could bolster a number of teams’ pitching staffs. The idea at this point might be to wait until the trade deadline and then see what they can get for either pitcher. While neither player will probably net Kansas City a top-tier player/prospect, Moore should be able to get something for them to help now and possibly even in a packaged deal.

What about Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy? While I’m sure most would like to see their contracts off the Kansas City books, the team would probably struggle finding anyone to take them on, or at least without the Royals paying a sizeable chunk of their salary. Gordon and Kennedy might not be quite untradeable, but they are about as close as any player on the Royals roster. In other words, Kansas City has to hope they turn things around and be productive in 2018.

The one player that would probably be off-limits would be Salvador Perez. While this might be the right time to trade him off before he starts regressing, the likelihood of that is slim and none. At this point Salvy is the “Face of the Franchise” and with Hosmer, Cain, etc. gone, dealing Perez would kill off a large chunk of the fanbase. It’s going to be a hard adjustment already for a number of fans this upcoming season; it would take years to build trust back up if they dealt off Salvy.

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Credit: Kansas City Royals

While there are more questions that will need to be answered in the future, these three feel like the most important moving forward. It’s going to be a hard adjustment for some to view the Royals in rebuilding mode, especially those that don’t remember the team before 2014. I always look for the positive and with this club it appears to be options. The Royals can build their roster pretty much as they please moving forward without a ton of restrictions. Think of it like a clump of clay that you can design however you want; just remember that how that design looks this year could look completely different in two years.

Hosmer Headed to San Diego, and I Feel Fine

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Credit: Photo: John Sleezer, AP

It took much longer than expected, but Eric Hosmer has finally found a home for the foreseeable future. Late Saturday, Hosmer agreed to an 8-year, $144 million deal with the San Diego Padres:

 The contract, which includes a fifth-year opt-out, easily surpasses the four-year, $75 million deal for pitcher James Shields that previously set the standard for a Padres free agent.

So we can officially close the book on Hosmer as a Kansas City Royal and there is a number of ways to look at him leaving. I figured today we would look at as many angles to this whole situation.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Kansas City Royals
Credit: USA Today Sports Images

First, let’s discuss what the Royals were able to offer Hosmer. We’ve all heard all the numbers floated out there and while I don’t know if we will ever find out the true number, we can at least take a good stab at it. I’m pretty sure the high-end year wise was seven years, as multiple sources around Kansas City appeared to agree on that number. But what about the dollars?

It was, at one point, believed to be in the neighborhood of $140 million — though club officials declined to divulge the final number. It was competitive, depending on your definition of the word, though Moore acknowledged that the Padres’ final package was better.

It does appear San Diego had the higher volume of dollars but Kansas City did make “certainly the highest offer we’ve ever made.” In fact it was so much money that it required a lot of flexibility from GM Dayton Moore:

While it appears the highest offer on the table at one point was 7 years and in the $140 million range, it definitely wasn’t the final offer that was given to Hosmer:

FanRag reporter Robert Murray, who works with Scott Boras-connected reporter Jon Heyman, writes today that the Royals’ final offer was for five years in the $100 million range. That is about the same amount of money the Padres offered in the first five years of their offer, but without the guarantee of the final three years of the deal should something happen to Hosmer.

So the Royals offer to Hosmer appeared to have gone down from earlier in the winter. What would cause that to happen?

Without Royals officials disclosing much — publicly or privately — the details of the Royals’ side of this are a little murky. But through a handful of conversations this week, and a working knowledge of how the organization has operated, here’s the best guess:

▪  Royals owner David Glass didn’t want to do it. This has all the markings of him going skittish at another big contract.

▪  The Padres pushed forward at the end of the negotiation while the Royals pulled back. The Padres won by offering an opt-out clause, which the Royals didn’t want to do because that wouldn’t guarantee Hosmer being around when they’re ready to win again.

▪  That may not have mattered, because while the Royals talked early of a six-year deal with an average annual value near $20 million, the final offer peeled back a little at (presumably) Glass’ direction. That last part is important.

Again, this is all based on varying levels of guesswork. The Padres’ offer is believed to be significantly better than the Royals’ — more years, more guaranteed money, more money upfront and an opt-out.

If you are able to connect the dots here, it appears that while Moore was always on the Hosmer bandwagon, owner David Glass was into moving on from him. In fact, Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star continues his guess as to what happened:

My guess: Glass is already uncomfortable with those deals for Gordon and Kennedy, which have turned out horribly. The Royals owe Gordon $44 million over the next two seasons and Kennedy $49 million over the next three.

Locking into another long-term deal worth $20 million or so per year was a tough sell for the owner, who knows the Royals are likely to lose a lot of games the next few seasons no matter what. He was looking for a way out.

One more time, because I want to be as clear as possible: This is based in part on conjecture.

So while Sam is just guessing, it’s a guess that has a decent amount of weight to it. At the end of the day, a contract of this magnitude could cripple the Kansas City organization for years and cause stress on their payroll, even with all the money in baseball and the Royals negotiating a new television deal in the near future. Obviously, Glass appeared to be skittish about making this much of a commitment to one lone player.

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Credit: Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

It also means that the old era of Royals baseball is now dead and a new one will soon be on the horizon:

When we heard earlier in the winter that it was “Hos or Bust” for the Royals, Moore really wasn’t kidding. To be honest, it makes more sense for the team to rebuild at this juncture. In fact, I am on board for a complete rebuild. If Kansas City would have locked in Hosmer, that would add one more large salary to a payroll that already feels a bit bloated. Toss in the length of any deal for Hos and you start dealing with trying to find a spot in the lineup for when guys like Samir Duenez and Nick Pratto are ready for the big time. It’s already going to be a couple of years before we can start discussing the Royals as a legit contender again; if Hosmer had signed, Moore might not have had the flexibility available when it comes to payroll and it could have pushed the contending window back even further. In other words, I’m glad Hosmer chose San Diego and there was multiple reasons I breathed a sigh of relief to find out he was officially gone.

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If we are being honest here, I have long been in the camp that Hosmer was overrated by not only the Kansas City organization, but the baseball media in general. I saw the reasons for the fawning: Hosmer has a pretty swing, is fluid around the bag at first, is well spoken and appears to be a born leader. Add in how clutch he has been in the playoffs (I would rattle off all the key moments, but there really are a bunch) and how he doesn’t seem to fear the big stage and you have the recipe for a star to build around. The problem is that if you watched him on a regular basis, you also saw the slumps. You remember, the slumps where his swing would look like a mess and he would be so cold that you would have to put his face on a milk carton? These weren’t just slumps but long periods of time where Hosmer would go missing for four to six weeks. Toss in a slightly above average 111 career wRC+, a paltry 9.9 career fWAR over seven seasons and a ground ball rate that hasn’t been below 50% since his rookie year (and even that was 49.7%) and you don’t have a player who would elicit a contract that would bump him into the higher echelon of major league contracts. Yes, his 2017 was a career high for him and I do believe he can be this player that everyone longs him to be. I just question whether or not it will actually happen. I’m very skeptical and that skepticism made it difficult for me to get on board for the team to commit 5-7 years to a player that doesn’t feel like a franchise cornerstone. At the end of the day, I am a numbers guy and the numbers don’t lie; Eric Hosmer isn’t worth the money or the length of the deal.

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That being said, I’m happy for Hosmer. He got his money and he got a contract that was heavily front-loaded with an opt out after year five. Hosmer will be gearing up for his age 33 season after his fifth year in San Diego and at that point he could be able to bank even more dough. The truth is that baseball players have very short shelf lives and I will never blame one for trying to make enough money as humanly possible. It’s why I was happy when Lorenzo Cain got his deal from Milwaukee and why I will be happy when Mike Moustakas gets his. Would I love some of these guys to stay and play in Kansas City? Of course I would. I’m already dreading watching Cain in a different uniform this upcoming season. But I get how this business is and trust me when I saw that at the heart of things, this is a business. It’s why when an owner cries foul that they lost money the previous season I roll my eyes. All owners have money; it’s just a matter of what they are willing to spend and how big they want their bottom line. Also, there are times you should take comments with a grain of salt:

I know some Royals fans got upset when they saw this comment from manager Ned Yost. The truth is we don’t know what actually happened and it even appears that Neddy was joking a bit here. Just realize that players don’t owe us anything; the loyalty we pledge as fans is to the name on the front, not the one on the back.

Padres Hosmer Baseball
Credit: The Associated Press

So if you are a Royals fan, how should you take this signing? If you are a fan of Hosmer, be thankful he was in Kansas City for seven years. You will always have the memories. The triple in the wild card game. The clutch hits throughout the playoffs in 2014 and 2015. The ballsy slide in Game five of the 2015 World Series. Know that Hosmer won’t soon forget Kansas City:

“Every player’s goal is to ultimately win a world championship,” Hosmer said. “To be able do that in Kansas City was amazing. To have that taste and understand what it means to a city and how much joy and excitement it brings to the people out there, it’s an experience I can sit here and talk about all day. It’s something that drives you as a player — to try to bring back as many as you can.

He also hasn’t forgotten his former teammates:

“I told Glenn it would mean a lot to me if I could wear No. 30 and continue Yordano’s legacy,” Hosmer said. “Not only Yordano, but all those guys in Kansas City. We all shared good moments with him and obviously shared a really tough moment in his passing. It really meant a lot to me. Hoff was more than open to let me carry on that number. I told him I’ll wear it with pride each and every day.”

So while it will be sad for some to not see #35 on Opening Day at Kauffman Stadium, it’s also wise to remember that nothing lasts forever. The Royals have to move on and we need to do the same. For all you know the next player who will be your new favorite could be in Kansas City sooner rather than later. You will always have those memories of Hosmer and no one can take that away. But it’s time to make new memories with some new faces. So cheer the new Royals we will meet this year and even cheer Hosmer from afar. But don’t judge him for leaving. Don’t be a Cardinals fan; understand that we are better than that. Kansas City needs to just be thankful. So even while I am not his biggest fan, I say thank you, Eric. Thank you and the best of luck. Now…who wants to tell Hosmer what San Diego means in German?

Moss, Buchter Traded to the A’s; Royals Continue to Stockpile Arms

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With Spring Training almost two weeks away, the Kansas City Royals swung another deal on Monday night, trading OF/DH Brandon Moss and reliever Ryan Buchter to the Oakland A’s for pitchers Jesse Hahn and Heath Fillmyer. Cash was also involved, as $3.25 million was sent from the Royals to the A’s. This frees up about $5 million on the Kansas City payroll, which already has some (like myself) speculating on why the Royals would want to do that:

So while the Hosmer rumors can now run wild (brother), let’s take a look at what the Royals gave up and are receiving.

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Moss had a very underwhelming 2017, his only season in Kansas City. Moss posted a line of .207/. 279/.428 with 22 home runs, 50 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 84. Moss struggled out of the gate and it wasn’t until later in the summer that he started producing like the Royals expected. Moss will be entering his age 34 season in 2018 and while he would have seen consistent playing time somewhere for Kansas City (whether it was at first base or DH), he probably would have also been taking playing time away from some younger talent like Jorge Soler, Hunter Dozier or Jorge Bonifacio. While the move feels like a salary dump, it also allows the Royals to see what they have with Dozier or Soler without a veteran like Moss blocking them. While Moss didn’t have many memorable moments in a Royals uniform, he was always very honest about his performance on the field and never made excuses for the lack of production. My favorite Moss moment will be from Star Wars day at The K this past year. My wife, son and myself got to listen to a couple of fans give their “analysis” of Moss’ issues at the plate, which included the serious line of “he needs glasses; he can’t see the ball.” We listened for what felt like fifty innings to these two “special” fans rag on Moss non-stop. Then…he stepped up and hit a three-run home run. At that point, our “friends” left their seats and got out of Dodge. If anything, I became a Brandon Moss fan that day. But it wasn’t just Moss packing his bags for Oakland…

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Ryan Buchter was the bigger catch for the A’s, as they can plug-in another lefty into their bullpen. While Buchter incurred a few issues during his short stint in Kansas City, he was a very reliable part of the Padres pen and has produced some great numbers these last couple of seasons:

Over the past two seasons combined, Buchter’s 16.7% infield fly ball rate (IFFB) ranks 10th in the majors among qualified relievers. He also ranks 14th during that span with a 26% soft contact rate against. Buchter is even tougher against lefties, limiting them to a .160/.255/.306 batting line during his MLB career.

The Royals started the winter with a couple of strong lefties in their pen, but with this trade and the trade of Scott Alexander, that depth has taken a big hit. The team still has Eric Stout, Brian Flynn, Tim Hill and Eric Skoglund as lefty options currently on the 40-man roster, and a prospect like Richard Lovelady could slither his way into the conversation this spring. While losing Buchter could be looked at as a loss, the Royals did get a couple of positive gains in this trade.

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Credit: BRIAN ROTHMULLER/ICON SPORTSWIRE

Jesse Hahn is entering his age 28 season for the Royals and looks to be an option as either a starter or a reliever. More than anything, Hahn just needs to stay healthy as he has dealt with various ailments over the last couple seasons. He pitched in only 14 big league games last year, producing a 5.30 ERA, 3.62 FIP and an ERA+ of 81. Early in his career he showed a lot of promise but the injuries have derailed his career since 2015. The Royals have been focusing on ground ball pitchers this winter, as they are looking to counter the rise of home runs in the league the last two years, and Hahn fits that profile. He’s produced a 49.7% groundball rate throughout his career and a slightly below hard hit rate of 28.3%. If he can stay healthy, Hahn could fit at the back of the Royals rotation in 2018 and either way will probably stick on the roster, since he is out of options.

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Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Heath Fillmyer is the intriguing catch of this trade for the Royals, as he slides into the 28th best prospect in the Kansas City system according to MLB.com. Let’s start with the scouting report on Fillmyer:

Fillmyer has a quick arm and typically throws his fastball in the 92-96 mph range with good sinking action that nets him ground-ball outs and results in few home runs. He has a pair of above-average secondary offerings in a curveball, which he throws with tight spin and late bite, and a changeup, a pitch he made big strides with last season. Improved feel for repeating his delivery has led to him throwing more strikes, though he regressed with both his control and command in his first full Double-A campaign.

With his athleticism, big arm and feel for three average-or-better pitches, Fillmyer has the ingredients to become a No. 4 or 5 starter in the big leagues.

Once again, the Royals have put an emphasis on ground ball pitchers and Fillmyer is another that fits the mold. He dealt with some control issues in 2017 (his walk rate bumped up to 8.0%) but he will be entering his age 24 season this year and looks to be a good candidate for a bounce-back year. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him start the year in AAA Omaha when camp breaks.

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Credit: SCOTT WINTERS/ICON SPORTSWIRE

This trade accomplished a couple of check marks off the Royals “to do” list. Acquiring Fillmyer helps them continue their goal of re-stocking the farm system, while adding Hahn gives the team another option in the rotation. Obviously dealing Moss was a way to pare down payroll, although it feels like a preemptive measure to help accommodate incoming payroll from a certain first baseman. While I wasn’t a big fan of the Alexander/Soria trade earlier this winter, this trade felt more like a solid gain (and possibly even a win) for Dayton Moore. I am fully on board with the team targeting ground ball pitchers and actually I felt that should have been done a couple of years ago. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see another trade in the near future, as veterans Jason Hammel and Kelvin Herrera could help the team shed more payroll and force the Royals overall to get a bit younger. We could also see a free agent signing…I mean, this is what these moves are leading to, right? Time will tell, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the team signs Eric Hosmer sometime in the next couple weeks. For now, this move was simply a way to dump some payroll while building up some pitching depth. At the end of the day, that is a positive.

 

 

Destination Unknown: Where Will the Royals Free Agents Land?

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Here we are halfway through January and baseball’s “Hot Stove” is more like a frigid freezer. There has been some speculation as to why the free agent market is as dead as a door nail; Jeff Passan broke down baseball’s economic system while Max Rieper did a great job looking into baseball’s middle class. No matter how you view this situation, the bottom line is there are a number of players ripe for the picking on the market right now and that includes the “Big 4” of the Kansas City Royals. Still out there are Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas, all still unemployed as of this writing. There is no way these four don’t end up on some needy team soon, but who will they finally sign with? I thought it would be fun today to look at each player and throw out some guesses as to where they end up. Do I have any inside information? Nope. Am I just going to guess? Kind of. Should you take this seriously? Since I’m not their agent, probably not. Chalk this up as just a fun exercise to pass what has been about the slowest winter since the mid-80’s, when that dreaded “C” word was going around (Yes, collusion. Not the other “C” word…).

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Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Moustakas

It does appear as the market has almost flat-lined for Moose. Most speculated that the Angels would be the most obvious pick for Moustakas, since he is from California and they were in need of a third baseman. Instead, they signed Zack Cozart. Maybe the Giants? Nope, as they plucked Evan Longoria from the Rays. Whether it is the draft pick a team would have to give up to sign him, concerns about his injury history or just trying to stay under the luxury tax threshold (I’m looking at you, Yankees), it appears every team has had more worries than they would like when it comes to signing Moustakas. Even earlier this week, we are still just hearing a sprinkle of interest when it comes to team’s looking for a slugging third baseman. Baltimore has been mentioned, but they have Manny Machado at the hot corner and Tim Beckham proved he could start at shortstop for the O’s, so it’s not like they have to make a move and force Machado back to shortstop. Milwaukee has been mentioned but they still have Travis Shaw, who one would think would be a slightly younger, cheaper option for the Brewers. I still contend that Moose would be the guy that Kansas City should look into, but it appears that is purely a long shot.  It will be interesting to see where he finally ends up, but I definitely think his value has shrunk and he is more likely to get a two-year deal out of a team than four years and up. A one-year deal is possible, but that would force him back onto the market next winter, with competition from fellow third baseman Machado and Josh Donaldson. To be frank, things aren’t looking good on the long-term front for Mike Moustakas.

Likely Destination: St. Louis Cardinals

Tampa Bay Rays v Kansas City Royals

Alcides Escobar

If the Moustakas market feels cold, then Escobar’s is Antarctica. To say the rumors of interested teams for Esky is limited would be an understatement. There’s the Padres, who showed interest in him before acquiring Freddy Galvis to play shortstop, and then there are…ummm…there is also the…uhhh…no one. Nope, I haven’t seen any other team linked to Escobar this winter, outside of a few writers suggesting locations that might need him. The honest truth is that Escobar has been a weak hitter these last few years who has gotten by on his defense…which has begun to regress. So it shouldn’t be a shock to say that the market for a light hitting shortstop, entering a period where his defense and speed will start to wane as well, is sparse. There aren’t many options for Alcides, so at this point he might have to just take what he can get, even if it is a role as a backup mentor on a rebuilding team.

Likely Destination: Kansas City Royals

Arizona Diamondbacks Kansas City Royals

Lorenzo Cain

This might be the most curious of available Royals still out there, since Cain actually has a lot of value and isn’t represented by Scott Boras. We’ve all heard the teams that have shown interest in LoCain: Giants, Rangers, Brewers, Dodgers and Blue Jays just to name the most interested. More than likely, the main reason Cain is even still on the market is his age and injury history, combined with a desire for a long-term deal. The long-term thing always appeared to be a hang-up for the Royals and probably went a long way to them not focusing their attention on him. There have been a number of articles written recently discussing Cain’s value and why team’s should be jumping over each other to sign him. I have to believe the answer lies somewhere in-between, as this quote from the Passan piece I mentioned earlier:

One assistant GM interested in center fielder Lorenzo Cain thought about the possibility of offering him a multiyear deal. “I’d rather just give him one year at $24 million,” he said, and maybe he didn’t realize that the one-year deal was a hallmark of collusion, and maybe he did.

It appears that teams would be more interested in someone like Cain and even pay him more on a shorter deal than lock him up on a longer deal. I know as a fan I have had my concerns about Cain’s health and more importantly, the health of his legs. If as a fan I am having that concern, you could see why major league team’s appear to be weary as well when it comes to the long-term health of an outfielder who will be entering his age 32 season in 2018.

Likely Destination: Milwaukee Brewers

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Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Hosmer

…and then there is Eric Hosmer. There has been a ton of speculation of just who will lock-up Hosmer, but the honest truth is there appears to be only two teams really committed to the idea of making him a long time fixture in their organization: the Royals and the Padres. It does appear both teams are willing to go six to seven years on a deal but the money looks to be the major hang-up in getting the pen to paper. A few other teams appear at least in the mix (the Cardinals and Red Sox keep getting brought up), even if it is just dipping their toes into the proverbial water. Teams have concerns about Hosmer, with a lot of it being directed at his ground ball rate (55.6% in 2017) and whether or not he would adjust his hitting style to allow the ball to be put in the air more often. Any deal over five years takes with it a certain amount of risk and when you add in the ground balls, the defensive metrics and the inconsistency he has had over the years, you can see why more teams aren’t flocking to bring him into their fold. Hosmer very well could be the first major Royals free agent to sign, but he could also be the final domino to fall. With Hos, it will all come down to if an offer is on the table that his agent (Boras) feels comfortable with.

Likely Destination: Kansas City Royals

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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

If this winter has proven anything, it’s that teams have become more methodical in how they spend their money and the effects are being felt by this crop of long-time Royals. Do I feel comfortable with my guesses? Not really. This market has been the hardest to read and it might just come down to the best offer on the table whenever pitchers and catchers report next month. The best scenario for the Royals is still for their stars to sign elsewhere, accumulate the extra draft picks and let the team start rebuilding. But the Royals front office sometimes zags when we think they will zig, so I guess that means the possibility is still out there for all four to return to Kansas City. I would say crazier things have happened, but I don’t know if anything is crazier than the lack of action we have seen this winter.

 

The State of the Royals Bullpen

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Credit: Getty Images

We were spoiled. Wade Davis. Greg Holland. HDH. 

Throughout 2014 and 2015, the Royals bullpen was out of this world. Looking back, it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that Kansas City was able to dominate the way they did and shut down opposing teams in the postseason. The honest truth is that the Royals pen of that era was a ‘once in a lifetime’ group that we might never see again. Sure, it feels like every team in baseball is trying to copy the Royals’ blueprint (Hello, Rockies!) but who knows if we see that level of domination in both the regular season AND the postseason again. 

But what that group taught us is that success can be fleeting. The last two years, the Royals bullpen has been a shell of those playoff teams when the honesty of the situation is that the Royals had slid back into the norm. Many fans expected dominance all the time, not realizing how irregular the numbers were that those bullpens were putting up.  The truth? The Royals bullpen the last two years has been a very average group, or in other words…normal.

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Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The numbers in 2017 speak of just how average they were: 3.9 fWAR, 4.24 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 20.4% strike out rate, 10.0% walk rate. These numbers placed the Royals pen in either the middle of the pack or closer to the bottom of the American League. While the pen did post a 4.20 WPA last year (good enough for 5th best in the AL), they also put up a 1.64 RE24, putting them down to 10th in the league. In other words, while this group had some positives, they had just as many (if not more) negatives to cancel out the good they were doing.

So what does the bullpen have moving forward? To be honest, the pen is in a bit of disarray. Scott Alexander and Joakim Soria have been traded. Kelvin Herrera has been mentioned as a trade possibility and logic will tell you that the Royals should look further into dealing him. He is coming into the last year of his contract and will be making a substantial amount of money for a reliever on a rebuilding team.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Kansas City Royals
Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Herrera is the interesting case, as he is coming off of a very roller coaster season. Herrera saw his strike out rate decline (30.4% to 21.6%), his walk rate shoot up (4.2% to 7.7%), and his home run to fly ball rate took a step up as well (10.0% to 14.5%). Many expected his transition to the closers role to be an easy move, while instead it turned into a nightmare and he had been displaced by the end of the season. 

So did anything go right for Herrera? Not really. His numbers almost across the board went in the opposite direction and the only (somewhat) positive to find was an increase in his velocity. Almost all across the board was an increase: his sinker, slider, change-up,  and curve all saw an uptick…except for his cutter, which took a dive from averaging 96 MPH to 90.4 MPH.

The argument could be made that this could have very well been his downfall, as Herrera was using the cutter at a greater rate last year, from 0.1% to 8.1%. He was also using his fastball at a higher rate (56.4% to 66.9%) and while it is a plus pitch, it has always been his ability to mix in his off-speed stuff and breaking balls that pushed his success. Those off-speed pitches were used less in 2017, and a re-focus on their usage could bring success to Herrera in the upcoming year.

All that being said, it feels like the time to deal him. Herrera could see a pay increase from arbitration and with the Royals looking to rebuild, there is not much need to keep him around. He will be going into his age 28 season and it would make more sense to deal him now and continue rebuilding the pen.

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Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

So how does the rest of the pen shake out? Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter (two of the pitchers acquired from San Diego over the summer) will be back for their first full season in Kansas City and one would have to think their numbers would improve upon their short stint in KC so far. Maurer is an interesting option, as his plus fastball can be a difference maker. A number of scouts have suggested that Maurer would be better suited in the set-up role, (rather than as the closer he was in San Diego) and if he can command his control, we could see improvement from him in 2018. 

There are a number of other arms that could be interesting options for the pen this year. Kevin McCarthy had a solid rookie season and Andres Machado could be an interesting arm if he isn’t in the minors as a starter. Brad Keller and Burch Smith were acquired in trades after being picked in the Rule 5 draft and could add some depth to the back-end of the pen. Wily Peralta was signed earlier this offseason and while he has struggled the last couple seasons, he still has an electric fastball and could be a pet project for new pitching coach Cal Eldred. Scott Barlow is another interesting option that was signed by Kansas City this winter and could be a nice fit for the Royals in middle relief :

“Today, Barlow’s heater sits in the low 90s, but his out-pitch is a plus-slider which normally comes in between 78 and 82 MPH. He also throws a curve in the low 70s and changeup in the low 80s to compliment his off-speed arsenal.”

Barlow is also on the 40-man roster, so he should be given a bigger opportunity to secure a main roster spot this spring.

MLB: Spring Training-Kansas City Royals at Oakland Athletics

A number of minor leaguers could also see action this year, names like Tim Hill, Eric Stout and yes, Kyle Zimmer. Zimmer could be an intriguing option out of the pen if (and stop me if you’ve heard this one) he can stay healthy, while Josh Staumont could also make the case for a job if he can harness some of his control issues. The one name I expect to hear from in 2018 is Richard Lovelady, who compiled a great season in 2017. John Sickels of minorleagueball.com had this to say about Lovelady:

10th round pick in 2016 from Kennesaw State; 1.62 ERA with 77/17 K/BB in 67 innings between High-A and Double-A; fastball up to 96, good slider, usually throws strikes, command and stuff good enough to avoid LOOGY work, might get to close games eventually if command holds; as usual, rating/grading relievers is problematic due to difficulties in valuation but he should be a good one. 

There are options in the minor league system and a number of arms could be given opportunities in the upcoming season. 

For a team that is not going to be a contender, I almost lean toward the Royals going with a bullpen by committee this season. This would allow them to see what they have as the season progresses and I’m a proponent of using your best pitchers in the best situations. The closer role in general feels outdated and it would be nice to see the Royals shuffle their pitchers around according to what is going on with the game. The reality is that Ned Yost appears to prefer having set roles for his relievers and outside of 2015 and the postseason, has used them in their roles. There was some shuffling late last year, but that felt more like a reaction to Herrera’s struggles and the injuries they had been dealt. So while it would be nice to see a more “hands on deck” approach, we shouldn’t count on seeing it in the near future.

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Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The bullpen in its current state feels a bit weak but they still have time to work on that this offseason. There are a number of options on the free agent market this winter, but few that really pop out. Drew Hutchison interests me, as he could be a nice reclamation project and could see an uptick in velocity, as he would be shifting from being a starter to a reliever. Moore could easily sign a few guys like that to minor league deals, bring them into camp and see what they can do. The options are endless right now and it would be smart for the team to think outside the box. The focus was once on building a better bullpen to compensate for a weak rotation. It might be time to take that route once again.

Did They or Did They Not? The 7 Year, $147 Million Dollar Question

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So unless you live under a rock (or have gone on a sabbatical from social media), you probably saw the report last week that Kansas City offered Eric Hosmer a seven-year, $147 million dollar contract:

But did they? Did the Royals really offer that deal?

So I figured we would sort this out real quick, for those that are confused. Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star is saying that was not the deal offered to Hosmer by Kansas City (which is not to say they haven’t offered a deal, just not that one), while Bob Nightengale’s report is saying they did, according to his source. So who is this mystery source?

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Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Since Mellinger is obviously more informed on this topic (I would have to believe there is no way his sources are not tied to the Royals organization is some manner), I would tend to lean toward him. To me, the answer is right there in his first paragraph:

The Royals remain interested in signing Eric Hosmer but have not offered a contract worth $147 million over seven years, as stated in a report almost certainly pushed by people close to Hosmer in an attempt to kickstart action in a historically slow baseball offseason.

It is very possible that someone within the inner circle of Hosmer’s management (and do remember his agent is Scott Boras) has floated this number out there to push for a bigger deal. In fact, there have been rumors that Boras has been seeking an eight or even nine-year deal for the star first baseman. The only report that appears to have some accuracy is the offer from San Diego:

 

According to a USA Today report, the Royals have offered Hosmer a seven-year, $147 million deal to remain in Kansas City, while the Padres’ bid is worth $140 million.

People with knowledge of San Diego’s pursuit on Wednesday contradicted that report. The Padres’ offer is lower than $140 million, according to sources who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of negotiations. The exact amount proposed is unknown, though it is well above $100 million.

So the exact dollar amount offered appears to be the bone of contention here…but are the years?

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When reading both the article from Nightengale and the one from Mellinger, it does appear that the length of the deal being offered from Kansas City (7 years) is accurate. In fact, that appears to be the one aspect of these reports that everyone can agree on:

I don’t know about you, but if the Royals are offering Hosmer a deal of seven years, I feel that is a giant mistake. Personally, I wouldn’t offer any player a deal of that length unless their last name was Trout, Harper or Machado. Now, there could always be a provision in the contract where Hosmer could opt out after season three or four, but even then you are tying up a position and the payroll for a number of years. In fact, it does appear that the big trade that went down the other day was a payroll move:

In fact, Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star echoes that sentiment:

For the Royals, the move represented a cost-cutting maneuver while signaling the impending rebuild. They dumped the final $9 million on Soria’s three-year, $25 million contract by sending the reliever to Chicago, picking up his $1 million buyout for 2019 in the process. To make the deal work, they attached a valuable asset in Alexander and acquired two prospects who will help fill a hollowed-out farm system.

The savings on Soria could offer the Royals flexibility to further pursue free agent Eric Hosmer. Yet the club may need to make additional reductions, Moore said. The club is hoping to pare its payroll down to close to the $105 million range. It entered Thursday with obligations of more than $115 million, including possible arbitration cases. That reality — and the desire to gain assets for the future — spurred team officials into action.

So even if the Royals aren’t offering $147 million for Eric Hosmer, they are still looking to offer him a boatload of money for his services.

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Credit: Rob Tringali/Getty Images

Whether you are for the Royals re-signing Hosmer or not (and I am definitely in the not category) it appears Kansas City is going to at least put forth the effort to make it happen. It’s obvious a rebuild is a lock for the future of the Royals and it will be interesting to see if Hosmer actually wants to be a part of it. On the surface, it kind of looks as if he could be questioning such a move. Major league players already have a short career span and one could understand why they wouldn’t want to be tied down to a rebuilding franchise during the prime of their playing days. These are the issues that Hosmer has to juggle and decide which is more important. For the sake of the future and the ability of this organization to return to contending baseball, let’s hope Eric decides that winning is of higher value than sentimentality.

 

Ohtani Headed to Disneyland, Stanton to the Bronx

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Credit: The Japan Times

The ‘Hot Stove’ season has felt lukewarm at best since the World Series wrapped up, with a number of reasons at the forefront. Two very big reasons for the lack of action was a number of teams focusing their attention on Japanese star Shohei Ohtani and Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. With the Winter Meetings looming on the horizon, both players have punched a ticket to their 2018 destination and it appears on the surface that the rich just got richer.

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Credit: Sports Illustrated

Ohtani announced his intentions on Friday to sign with the Los Angeles Angels and while I’m sure a few teams felt slighted (I’m looking at you, Mariners and Cubs), the more I’ve thought about it the more it makes sense for him to play with the Angels. For one, Ohtani instantly moves to the front of the Los Angeles’ rotation, as Garrett Richards is probably better suited to be in the 2nd or 3rd slot of a major league rotation. Second, with the Angels loaded in the outfield (Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Kole Calhoun) it means Ohtani will almost exclusively be used at DH whenever he is in the lineup. The less time he spends out on defense the better, since that opens up more opportunities to get hurt and the Angels need him pitching more than anything.

Third, being teammates with Trout is a plus. With Ohtani playing beside the best player in baseball, it means Shohei won’t always be the focal point of attention and it means occasionally he can fade into the background. It won’t be the majority of the time, but it will allow him some room just to play baseball. Fourth, the Angels aren’t too far off from being a playoff team. The team stayed in the pennant race until the last week of the season this year and adding Upton for a full year, a healthy Trout and now Ohtani, it should improve the team’s chance of seeing October baseball. Baseball is better when their best players are showcased in October and Trout is the best while Ohtani could end being in that category.

With all that being said, it will be interesting to track his adjustment to American baseball. While we have seen guys like Ichiro Suzuki and Hideo Nomo have instant success once coming to America, they also both were in the back half of their 20’s when they made it to the big leagues. Ohtani will be just 23 years of age when he plays on opening day and he would appear to have more eyes on him than Ichiro and Nomo had combined. Also, I still contend that by the end of his contract he won’t still be a two-way player. I totally get the want and need to see if he can do both on a regular basis, but at the end of the day his true value for the Angels is on the mound, not the 3-5 at bats he racks up in a game. I know there is a ton of interest to see if he can be the “Next Babe Ruth”, but I feel there is a greater chance he becomes the “First Shohei Ohtani”…and there is nothing wrong with that.

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Credit: New York Post

The other big news of the weekend was the acquisition by the New York Yankees of Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton. For weeks there were discussions of Stanton moving on to the Cardinals, or the Giants, or possibly even the Dodgers. But at the end of the day, the Yankees swooped in and took ownership of the massive slugger and his massive contract. Now I know there are a variety of talking points that have already been hit on with this trade, but I wanted to cover a few just for me personally:

  1. While I am no fan of the Yankees, the one thing this organization does most of the time is put their team in a position to reach the playoffs. We can boo-hoo all day about how much money the Yankees can eat, but remember that big contracts do not always equal on-field success. Remember the Padres spending all that money in 2015? What about the Red Sox of 2016? Or even go back to the early 2000’s and the Yankees additions of guys like Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson? While the Yankees have once again gone and done what the Yankees do, they still have to go out there and perform on the field and rack up W’s. Plus, be honest: would you really want your team to take on Stanton’s ridiculous contract?
  2. Also remember that Stanton isn’t the definition of health. Over the last six seasons, Stanton has played 130 games or more just twice. That is not to say he will go and get injured next year, but do remember that he has had a proclivity of  ending up on the disabled list throughout his eight-year career.
  3. I have always been told that baseball is better when the Yankees are good because so many of us despise the ‘Bronx Bombers’. While there is some definite truth to this (I will almost always root against them, with very few deviations), I can also tell you that if they had advanced to the World Series this year my interest in the series would have gone down tremendously. There is a difference between ‘rooting against’ and ‘not giving a damn’ and the line is very thin between those two things.
  4. While I agree with most that the new ownership group in Miami is off to a horrible start (especially in the public relations department), I don’t fault them for trading Stanton. That contract was awful from day one and none of us really believed he would stay in Miami for the duration of the deal. The Marlins did what any other ownership group would do, which is look into ridding themselves of that bloated contract. That being said, they did fumble everything else when it comes to dealing him, as evidenced by the fact he ended up in New York. If he wasn’t going to accept a deal to St. Louis or San Francisco, why waste all that time working out a deal? Maybe they should have talked to Giancarlo, figured out who he was willing to accept a trade to and then talk to those teams? The Marlins look like bumbling idiots for spending weeks on end trying to work something out and at the end of the day they had to work out a deal with the team in the largest market in baseball. It has not been a good start for the Derek Jeter-led group as they begin their tenure in Miami.
  5. Finally, I am already dreading listening to baseball outlets discuss the Stanton-Judge tandem in the Bronx. Look, we get it. The Yankees have two big sluggers in this itty-bitty ballpark. It doesn’t mean we need to hear about it ad nauseam for the next four months. It will be a shock to a number of major media outlets, but most of us couldn’t care less about what the Yankees are up to. The less we hear about them, the better.
Shohei Ohtani
Credit: Associated Press

So now that Ohtani and Stanton are off the table, it might finally be time for baseball’s ‘Hot Stove’ to heat up. With the Winter Meetings taking place this week, it’s as good a time as any to see teams start wheeling and dealing. It will be interesting to see how the team that had interest in these two players move forward and how they react to not acquiring their top choice. In one fell swoop, two major pieces came off the board and the real game this offseason kicks into full swing. Los Angeles and New York made their moves; now it’s time for the 28 other teams in baseball to make theirs.

 

 

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