A Bargain For Relief

Editors note: This originally was on Royals Review a week ago, so obviously a few of the names mentioned have signed with teams since then.

On Thursday, one of the bigger reliever names out on the free agent market, David Robertson, agreed to a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. With the Robertson signing, it would appear the rest of the relief pitchers available this winter might start following suit and see a bit of movement in what has been a pretty tepid Hot Stove this winter.

That would mean names like Craig Kimbrel and Zach Britton could start falling off the board. Even a former Royal, Kelvin Herrera could find a home and get ready for the upcoming season. These are all great relievers and guys that any team would love at their disposal in the late innings with the game on the line. But these are also all names that won’t be coming to Kansas City.

Because while the Royals are in search of help in their bullpen, the help they are looking for is, well, could we say, [ahem] cheaper. In fact, Jeffrey Flanagan wrote about what GM Dayton Moore is looking for to bolster the pen this offseason:


Typically, some bullpen arms hold out through January in hopes of landing $5 million or $6 million deals. When there are no takers, that’s when the bargains come. Expect Moore to land a veteran arm or two in the $2 million range to bolster a bullpen that clearly was the weakest link on the 2018 team.

So if Dayton will be roaming the bargain bin over the next couple of months, who should he be keeping tabs on? While this is never a perfect science, there are a few lesser known names on the market that could be had to fill out the rest of the Royals bullpen.

Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Blake Parker

Parker would appear to be a great candidate for a bounce-back season in 2019. Parker saw a slight increase across the board when it comes to HR per 9, hard hit rate and walk rate, but there were a few hints that a turn around is possible. Parker saw an increase in his BABIP, which at times can be attributed to a bit of luck and he also appeared to strand runners at a higher rate.

Maybe most intriguing is a pitch he started utilizing more near the end of the season. Here is former Angels bullpen coach Scott Radinsky talking about some of those results:


“He started to utilize his breaking ball a little more toward the end of the year, and a lot of that had to do with data. His breaking ball was just as good to righties and lefties, so we told him, ‘Don’t be afraid to use it.’ Blake has been around the league for a bit, so guys knew it was going to be either fastball or split. When he started throwing that breaking ball in there — and not just in early counts, but late counts as well — he froze a lot of batters.”

Parker is a durable veteran that could be a good fit on a team like the Royals, looking for some value at a cheaper price.

Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

Cory Gearrin

Gearrin is another reliever who saw his numbers go up where they shouldn’t but not enough to scare teams away. While pitching for three teams last year (Giants, Rangers and A’s), Gearrin put together a pretty pedestrian season that at the least saw his walk rate improve.

His velocity appears to be on par with previous years and the possibility of a new, steady home with some stellar defense might be a good fit. For Gearrin, his 2018 might have been just a case of too many environments in a short amount of time.

Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Wilson

Wilson is a familiar name for some Royals fans, as he has been toiling in Detroit since 2015. Wilson is a bit different than some of the other names on this list, as he actually improved a lot of his numbers this past season and has proven to be a durable and reliable arm out of the pen. A great description of Wilson was given a few weeks back by David Laurila over at Fangraphs, who writes a weekly ‘Sunday Notes’ column that I try to never miss:


He’s not one of bigger names available, but Alex Wilson will almost assuredly add value to one of the 30 MLB teams next season. The reliable reliever was non-tendered by the Detroit Tigers this past week, despite a track record of dependability and durability. In four seasons with the AL Central club, Wilson averaged 62 appearances annually and had a more-than-respectable 3.20 ERA. Heading into his age-32 campaign, the Hurricane, West Virginia product represents a cost-effective option for teams in want of a no-frills bullpen depth.

If Moore is looking for a reliable, veteran piece for the Royals pen, he could do a lot worse than Wilson.

Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Clippard

Clippard will be entering his age 34 season in 2019 and is a reliever who has pretty much done everything out of the pen throughout his career. Clippard is coming off of a solid campaign where he tossed 68.2 innings for Toronto, posting a 3.67 ERA and 0.5 fWAR.

In fact, it’s a bit surprising Clippard hasn’t seen more action this winter. 2018 saw him raise his strike outs and lower his walks while stranding runners at a higher clip. Clippard tends to allow a bit more fly balls than those on the ground, which could be a benefit if he wanted to come to Kansas City.

I would expect Clippard to have at the least moderate interest from other teams, but taking a flyer on Clippard at the right price could be a good call for Kansas City.

Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

There were a couple other relievers that the Royals might want to at least keep their eye on over the next couple of months. One is the Royals former closer Greg Holland. Holland was absolutely putrid for St. Louis last year but saved some face late in the year for Washington.

During his short run for the Nationals, Holland posted a 0.84 ERA, 510 ERA+ and 1.3 bWAR in 24 games. More than likely Holland will be too pricey for Kansas City’s blood, but if he is still hanging around once camp opens it could be interesting to see just how low he would sign for.

The other name of interest is Drew Hutchison. Drew hasn’t had a full season in the big leagues since 2015 and is still just 28 years of age. It’s very apparent Hutchison would be a reclamation project for whichever team signs him this winter and more than likely would just be brought in on a minor league deal.

One has to wonder what a healthy Hutchison could do, whether it be as a reliever or even a starter. I’ve always been intrigued by him and he could be a perfect candidate as someone who the Royals could stow in Omaha for part of the summer and see if he regains some of his old spark.

Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

So those are just a few names that I tend to think could help the Royals and be brought in fairly cheap. More than anything it doesn’t look like we will see a signing in the immediate future:


Royals general manager Dayton Moore has only a few million to spend to keep under his targeted payroll limit of $92 million, so expect Moore to be patient with the relievers market and wait until Spring Training nears before he makes his move.

At some point though, the Royals will need to add some arms for the bullpen. The question at this point appears to be who will still be available once Moore finally decides to strike.

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A Winning Formula

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Credit: AP Photo/Colin E. Braley

You’ve probably noticed but in case you haven’t, the Kansas City Royals have been playing good baseball as of late. The team is 16-14 over their last 30 games and 12-8 over the last 20. It has felt like night and day in comparison with how the Royals performed during the first two months of the season. So what has changed to cause all this winning?

The most obvious answer is the influx of young talent in the Royals lineup on a daily basis. Ryan O’Hearn, Adalberto Mondesi, Hunter Dozier and Brett Phillips have all become regulars for Kansas City and while a few of those names have been on the roster for months now, they have never looked as comfortable as they have recently. This change has not only been a spark for the lineup, but has really shifted the morale in the clubhouse.

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Credit: Associated Press

It also helps that the offense has been one of the best in the league over this past month. The Royals are 1st in slugging and ISO(tied for the lead with Oakland and Toronto), 2nd in wOBA, BABIP and batting average, 3rd in WAR and RBI’s and 4th in wRC+, runs, home runs and OBP. They have the second best hard hit rate over that span and the 5th best win probability added in the AL. The offense is leading the way and producing at a level we really haven’t seen from Kansas City since 2015.

But maybe the most important shift has been the Royals increased emphasis on running the basepaths. The Royals are first in the league in stolen bases and BsR over the last month and fourth in Ultimate Base Running (UBR). Early in the season, Kansas City wasn’t running as often and it made sense why. At that point, the lineup was filled with older and slower players like Mike Moustakas and Lucas Duda, players who aren’t exactly known for their speed. Factor in the colder weather as well, and Kansas City was a very station-to-station team.

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Credit: Carlos Osorio, AP

But in the last 30 days, the team has made speed a potent part of their offense. Whit Merrifield, Mondesi and Alex Gordon (yes, ALEX F. GORDON!) have all been taking advantage of their baserunning expertise and Whit is even tied for the league lead in BsR over that span. This has allowed the Royals batters more situations with runners in scoring position and given them more opportunities to drive in those runners. All this equals a greater chance for runs and the Royals have taken advantage of it.

So the offense has been a big part of the Royals recent success, but it isn’t the only element that has improved. Kansas City’s starting pitching has been just as vital for the team’s success as the bats. Over the last 30 days, the Royals starters have the 3rd best ERA, HR per 9 and HR/FB rate, 4th best WAR, WPA, BB per 9 and WHIP and 5th best FIP and xFIP. The Royals starters have thrown the 2nd most innings in that span (152.1 innings, only behind Cleveland) and while they haven’t been a dominating bunch (they’ve posted a 19.3% K rate in the last month, which is only 10th best in the league) they have found a way to get outs.

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Credit: AP Photo/John Minchillo

The most accurate representation of how they have been getting the job done would appear to be how the ball is being put into play. The Royals starters have allowed the third best ground ball rate and are 14th in fly ball rate, which is next to last. So they are making the opposing batters put the ball on the ground more, allowing the infield to be put to good use. The Royals have a very good defensive infield and it appears the team is working to their strength in that regard.

On the opposite end of that spectrum, they are not allowing as many fly balls which would also explain the lack of homers allowed. Many of the teams in the American League are built to be home run teams, so when that is stifled it would appear to be a big blow into their offensive output. It really appears like the starting pitching is working smarter, not harder.

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Combine all of these efforts and you get a winning month for the Kansas City Royals. It appears that the shift to youth has been the right move for this franchise and hopefully is a springboard for expectations over the next couple of years.

What will be the most interesting aspect to follow is whether or not the team is able to take the experience from the last month and transfer that over into the 2019 season. While success in September should sometimes be taken with a grain of salt due to everything from roster call-ups to playoff teams resting their regulars more often, the Royals are doing a number of things right and it has led to success. This won’t mean the team will become a winning ballclub again next season, but it does create some hope and intrigue that wasn’t there just a few months ago.

Gone But Not Forgotten

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Credit: Associated Press

When the 2017 Kansas City Royals wrapped up their season this past October, we all knew it was the end of an era. It was not only the end of the line for a number of players who had been a large part of the Royals return to postseason play for the first time in decades, but it also meant the end of contending baseball in Kansas City, at least for a while.

It’s not always easy to say goodbye. Max Rieper talked the other day about how much we end up caring about these players, not only for their on the field work but who they are as people. It’s why players from the past, like Bret Saberhagen or Bo Jackson, are still cheered when making rare appearances at Kauffman Stadium.

It’s also why we still check up on former Royals to see how they doing after they leave Kansas City. Good or bad, we want to know what they are up to and in most cases hoping they have found success outside of their former home. Except for Neifi Perez. He was the worst.

So with that, let’s take a peek into what some former Royals are doing in their first year away from Kansas City.

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Credit: Associated Press

Lorenzo Cain has been absolutely amazing in his return to Milwaukee, as he is hitting a robust .293/.393/.427 with a wRC+ of 125. Cain is third in the National League in fWAR at 3.6 and has the most defensive runs saved for a center fielder with 14. Maybe the most impressive improvement in Cain’s game this year has been plate discipline, as he is posting a 13.4% walk rate, which would easily topple his career high of 8.4% from last year. Cain’s increase shouldn’t be too surprising, considering the Royals have put a heavy emphasis on putting the ball in play these last few years and less focus on working the count.

Overall, Cain has been worth the money Milwaukee spent on him this past offseason and he looks to be in the running for National League MVP as the Brewers attempt to play October baseball. Milwaukee currently sits in 2nd place in the NL Central, 2.5 games behind the Cubs while holding down the first wild card spot in the league.

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Credit: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Jason Vargas on the other hand has been a disappointment for the New York Mets. Vargas has started in nine games for the Mets, posting an ERA of 8.60 over 37.2 innings with a FIP of 6.60. Vargas’ walk and strike out rates have stayed consistent but teams are hitting a hot .337 off of him with a .367 BABIP. Vargas has also seen his hard hit rate increase, jumping to 37.4% from last year’s 32.7%.

Vargas has spent considerable time on the disabled list this year and recently has been rehabbing in the minors. The news could get even worse for Vargas when he is activated, as the team could ease him back into action by making him a long reliever rather than a return to the rotation. Considering this is his age 35 season, we might be seeing the last leg’s of Vargas’ career.

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Melky Cabrera has had a “roller coaster” type season so far in 2018, as he didn’t sign a contract until late April, when the Indians signed him to a minor league deal. Cleveland would punch his ticket back to the majors a few weeks later, as he was recalled on May 20th.

Melky would be less than impressive during his stint for the Tribe, as he would hit .207/.242/.293 over 66 plate appearances with 11 RBI’s, a wRC+ of 38 and -0.5 fWAR. Cabrera would elect free agency about a month into his stay in Cleveland rather than accept an outright assignment back to the minors.

But the ride wasn’t over yet. A few weeks later, the Indians would re-sign Melky on July 5th, and assigning him to Triple-A Columbus. Cabrera has at least been productive for Columbus this year, hitting .324/.333/.423 with a wRC+ of 111. With Lonnie Chisenhall out of action, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Cabrera back in Cleveland before the summer is over.

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Scott Alexander has also had an up and down year during his inaugural year in Los Angeles. Alexander struggled in the first month of the season, posting a 6.35 ERA while batters were hitting .286/.412/.381 off of him over 11.1 innings. Alexander would even get sent down to the minors for a short spell to right the ship.

Luckily for him, he would turn things around in May. Since May 9, Alexander has a 2.25 ERA and has held hitters to a line of .214/.285/.304 while keeping the ball on the ground. In fact, throughout the month of June he only allowed one fly ball the entire month. One!

Alexander has essentially returned to form and is now a vital part of the Dodgers bullpen. He was even used as an “opener” for Los Angeles, as they attempted to thwart the Rockies use of a bunch of lefties at the top of the order. It doesn’t matter what role he is inserted in, as it appears Dodgers fans are starting to see the pitcher who might have been the most valuable arm for the Royals in 2017.

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Credit: MLB.com

Speaking of valuable, Joakim Soria has been just that for the White Sox this year. Soria has a 2.75 ERA, 149 ERA+ and a 2.20 FIP so far in 2018. He has already almost reached his fWAR total from last year (1.2 to 1.7) in 20 less innings and has seen a major increase in his soft hit rate, bumping up this year to 29.6% from 18.4% in 2017. Soria will probably be dealt before the July trade deadline and should help the White Sox pick up a nice return for him.

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Credit: Rick Yeatts/Getty Images

Mike Minor’s return to starting has been a mixed bag. Minor signed with the Rangers this past winter and has started all 18 of his appearances so far this year. While the expectation was that some of his numbers would see a decline this year due to his change in roles, it hasn’t completely been a bad move.

Minor has seen his strike out rate fall and his hard hit rate increase, but his walk rate has actually gone down. In fact if you compare his numbers this year against his time as a starter with Atlanta, he is either on par with what he was doing back then or slightly better.

But at the end of the day, it appears Minor has more value as a reliever, as evidenced by his WPA of -0.42, compared to last year’s 1.97 in Kansas City. Minor wanted to be a reliever and got his wish, but one has to wonder where he would be if he had stayed in the bullpen.

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Credit: Thearon W. Henderson, Getty Images

There have been some other former Royals who have had interesting seasons. Trevor Cahill has performed admirably for Oakland this year, as he has an ERA of 3.10 while increasing his strike outs and lowering his walks. Unfortunately, he has only started nine games due to injury, tossing 52.1 innings.

Ryan Buchter also missed some time due to injury but returned to the A’s in late June and since then has lowered his ERA to below 2.00 while lowering his walks and seeing an uptick in K’s.

Sam Gaviglio has become a regular part of the Blue Jays rotation but is still performing slightly below league average. Luke Farrell has become a valuable arm out of the Cubs bullpen and Matt Strahm has become what many of us feared he could be when he was traded to San Diego last summer.

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Credit: Denis Poroy/Getty Images

But the name that most are interested in is Eric Hosmer and what he has done for the Padres this year. This has not been a magical year for the “Man Called Hos”, as he is hitting a lowly .249/.317/.397 with a -0.1 fWAR.

In fact, Hosmer is on pace for the second worst offensive season of his career, behind only his miserable 2012. His walks are down, strike outs are up and his wRC+ is at 95. Hosmer has gotten away from hitting the ball to the opposite field, as he is only hitting the ball to left field 27.3%. The only two seasons he has hit oppo less is 2014 and 2012, his two worst seasons in the big leagues.

But the number that really speaks of Hosmer’s struggles is the same one we have been talking about for years, his groundball rate. He currently is hitting the ball on the ground 61.9%, the highest of his career. For all the talk these last few years that Hosmer would leave Kansas City and start hitting the ball in the air, it appears things have actually tilted the opposite direction.

The funny part is that Hosmer has known for years he should be hitting the ball in the air more, yet his fly ball rate has been declining these last few years. Here is a quote from 2017 where Hosmer admits he should be taking to the air more:

“You look at the averages and all that, it’s definitely better with the ball in the air,” he said. “Most guys, especially power hitters, are trying to hit the ball in the air. Our stadium is playing a little different, it’s bigger out there, but still, somebody in my spot in the lineup, and type of hitter I am, I should definitely be trying to hit the ball in the air.”

So this notion that he would change his style as soon as he left Kansas City and Kauffman Stadium always felt like wishful thinking. A change could still happen, but right now Hosmer looks to be stuck in one of his infamous cold spells that last for weeks on end. The good news for him is that he will still get paid $20 million this year and has lots of time left on his contract to figure things out…or at least the Padres hope he figures it out.

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So after seeing all the talent that Kansas City lost this past winter, it’s easy to see how the Royals are on pace for the worst season in team history. The combination of losing some key pieces while their substitutions are performing either at or below replacement level is a good way to post a .284 winning percentage.

So while there is little joy in Mudville (Kansas City), feel safe in knowing that a number of former Royals are excelling in their new homes. It’s not hard to still cheer for the Cain’s and Soria’s of the world and there is a bit of solace in seeing them performing so well, even if it isn’t in royal blue. There is absolutely nothing wrong with cheering on our old friends from afar. Except for Neifi Perez. He is still the worst.

Ready to Start: My 2018 MLB Predictions

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There might be no greater day in the entire calendar year than Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season. The hope, the promise and the search for glory all start today and the standings all say your team is still in it. Every year I like to break down how I believe the season will go…and then go back a few months later and laugh at how far off I was.

In fact if you want to view my guesses last year, just click here. To go a step further, we are keeping me honest this year, as part of these predictions I already did over at Royals Review, as the staff (myself included) broke down the upcoming season. As I stress every year, these are just some fun guesses and by no means should you take this super serious. No one really knows how this will play out, but it’s fun trying to predict. So with that said, here are my 2018 MLB predictions.

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Credit: Jim McIsaac | Getty Images

AL EAST

  1. New York Yankees
  2. Boston Red Sox
  3. Toronto Blue Jays
  4. Tampa Bay Rays
  5. Baltimore Orioles

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AL CENTRAL

  1. Minnesota Twins
  2. Cleveland Indians
  3. Chicago White Sox
  4. Kansas City Royals
  5. Detroit Tigers

 

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AL WEST

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Los Angeles Angels
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. Texas Rangers
  5. Oakland A’s

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Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

NL EAST

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Philadelphia Phillies
  3. New York Mets
  4. Atlanta Braves
  5. Miami Marlins

Chicago Cubs v Milwaukee Brewers

NL CENTRAL

  1. Milwaukee Brewers
  2. Chicago Cubs
  3. St. Louis Cardinals
  4. Cincinnati Reds
  5. Pittsburgh Pirates

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Credit: Associated Press

NL WEST

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks
  3. Colorado Rockies
  4. San Francisco Giants
  5. San Diego Padres

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Credit: David J. Phillip / Associated Press

Awards

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American League MVP: Mike Trout, Los Angeles

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Credit: Getty Images

American League Cy Young: Marcus Stroman, Toronto

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American League Rookie of the Year: Eloy Jimenez, Chicago

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National League MVP: Bryce Harper, Washington

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Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

National League Cy Young: Jacob deGrom, New York

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National League Rookie of the Year: Victor Robles, Washington

Kansas City Royals v Cleveland Indians

Playoff Teams

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American League

Division Winners: New York, Minnesota, Houston

Wild Cards: Cleveland, Los Angeles

American League Champions: Houston

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Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

National League

Division Winners: Washington, Milwaukee, Los Angeles

Wild Cards: Chicago, Arizona

National League Champions: Washington

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Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

Am I super confident about my picks? Nope. Baseball is a funny thing, largely because of the length of the season. There are so many twists and turns that there is no way to truly predict how it will all shake down. What I can say with confidence is that another fun, memorable season is getting ready to start and I can’t wait. The best part about baseball is the storyline that it revolves around. I can’t wait to see how this whole thing unfolds. Last October, we had a crazy Houston/Los Angeles World Series; what do the baseball God’s have in store for us this year? Truly, only time will tell.

 

 

Royals Sign Grimm, Buchholz; Trade Gaviglio to Toronto

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Credit: Nancy Lane

The Kansas City Royals have continued their thrifty ways during Spring Training, as the team made a number of notable moves centered around their pitching staff this week, as the team signed former Cubs reliever Justin Grimm who will be added to their bullpen. Then on Monday, the team came to an agreement with Clay Buchholz on a minor league deal, as the former All-Star will begin the year down in the minors. Then on Wednesday, the Royals made a trade:

So as Opening Day looms, Kansas City has shuffled some of the cards with their pitching staff. All three moves have a certain significance, so lets start with the Grimm signing.

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Grimm signed a one-year deal with Kansas City for $1.25 million. Grimm was cut the week before by Chicago and the Royals made room on their roster for him by designating Gaviglio for assignment. Grimm is coming off of a lackluster season in 2017, throwing 55.1 innings for the Cubs, posting an ERA of 5.53, a WHIP of 1.34 and -0.4 fWAR. Grimm struggled with the longball in 2017, as he gave up 12 home runs in those 55 innings, which gave him a 1.95 HR/9 ratio, the highest of his career. Grimm is another power arm for the Kansas City bullpen, as he had a 25.4% strike out rate in 2017 and over his career has averaged a 24% K rate.  He has also dealt with control issues throughout his career, averaging a 9.6% walk rate and an 11.6% rate last year. Grimm will be entering his age 29 season and could be a nice arm for Kansas City to use in a set-up role if he can lessen some of his control issues.

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Kansas City also brought former Boston starter Clay Buchholz into the fold this week, bringing him in on a minor league deal. Buchholz only appeared in two games for Philadelphia last year, as he dealt with a torn flexor tendon in his right arm. Buchholz is only two years removed from a 2.7 WAR season, as he did that for Boston back in 2015, with an ERA+ of 132 and a 2.68 FIP, but he also only threw 113 innings that season. In fact injuries have been a big part of his downfall over the years, as he has only posted three seasons of 150 innings or more in his 11 year career. So where does Buchholz fit in for Kansas City? More than likely he will begin the year down in Omaha and get his feet underneath him before there is even talk of him making the trek to the big league club. His velocity will be interesting to track, since over the last few years he has seen a small decline on his fastball, which was down to 91 MPH in 2017. More than anything, Buchholz will be insurance for the Royals rotation, just as Ricky Nolasco was signed for. While Buchholz is intriguing because of his success in the past, he is also entering his age 33 season and is probably on the decline portion of his career. That being said, he might still have a few bullets left in his arm and on a minor league deal he is well worth the bargain.

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Credit: Getty Images

Finally, the Royals dealt right-hander Sam Gaviglio on Wednesday, as he went to Toronto for cash considerations or a player to be named later. Gaviglio had a very brief career in Kansas City, as he was acquired late in the 2017 campaign and only appeared in four games for the Royals. In that short span, he had a 3.00 ERA, 4.24 FIP and 0.2 WAR over 12 innings. Gaviglio at best was going to be a long reliever/spot starter in 2018 for Kansas City and was probably ticketed for Omaha to start the season. The Royals have added a decent amount of depth for their starting rotation this offseason, which probably made Gaviglio expendable this spring. This move probably has very little effect on Kansas City, as his spot can be filled pretty easily within the Kansas City organization.

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With the Grimm signing being the only move really affecting the main roster, it is evident the Royals are gearing up to set their roster before next Thursday. It also shows the team is constantly evaluating and not standing pat with what they have. It’s possible we won’t ever see Buchholz in KC and Grimm could be a plus or a bust for the pen. At the very least it shows Dayton Moore knows how important pitching depth is for any team during the long baseball season. There are no issues from me with any of the moves and hopefully at least one pans out. If not there is nothing really lost. If anything, this shows the team that talent is constantly being scouted and as much as some fans would prefer the Royals tank this year, if it happens it won’t be because of a lack of trying on the front office’s part.

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.

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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.

Goodbye Lorenzo; Hello Alcides

MLB: Kansas City Royals at San Diego Padres

In a span of less than 24 hours, Kansas City Royals fans felt a mixture of pain, sadness, joy and confusion. Thursday night we finally found out the destination of Lorenzo Cain, as he signed a five-year, $80 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers. Many of us felt sad for the finality of Cain finally being gone, but also a sense of pride as he flourished during his time in Kansas City and had become one of the more productive center fielders in baseball. Then Friday morning, news broke that the Royals were close to a deal with Alcides Escobar, which left fans…well, confused to say the least. So what do these moves mean for the Royals (and the Brewers) moving forward?

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Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

First, lets look at the LoCain contract, which actually looks to be a pretty good deal in what has been a very slow market:

Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Cain will earn $13MM in 2018, $14MM in 2019, $15MM in 2020, $16MM in 2021 and $17MM in 2022 (Twitter links). He’ll also receive an additional, deferred payment of $1MM in each of the five years following the contract’s conclusion. The no-trade provision offers complete protection in year one of the deal and limited protection each season thereafter, dropping down to five teams in the final year of the contract. More specifically, MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy adds that Cain can block deals to 15 teams in 2019, seven teams in 2020 and five in 2021-22.

The biggest takeaway from the deal appears to be that Cain gave up a higher rate of money per year with other teams so he could get the fifth year of this contract. To be honest, I don’t blame him. Cain will be entering his age 32 season this year and with his injury history it would appear his value could be hurt if he had taken a smaller year total. The good news is that the Brewers have a couple of young outfield prospects and as long as they don’t go and trade Keon Broxton for pitching, more than likely he will eventually take over center field and move Cain to right. I would be really surprised if Cain was still a center fielder by the end of this deal, since the final year of his contract will be his age 36 season.

It also puts him back onto a contending team, as the Brewers showed in 2017 that they are getting closer and closer to being a threat in the National League Central. Cain would appear to be a player to lean on (or lean back) when October rolls around, as he is one of the few on the Brewers roster with postseason experience. Considering that teams like the Giants, Rangers and the Blue Jays were showing interest in him earlier in the winter, returning to Milwaukee (the place where his career began) looks to be a win/win situation for LoCain thanks to their role as contenders and what he got out of the contract.

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Before we could even digest the Lorenzo Cain news, reports started trickling out that the Royals were working on bringing Alcides Escobar back into the fold. It wasn’t long until an agreement had been made:

A little bit later, the financials became public:

So Escobar is back on a one-year, $2.5 million deal. The next question most of us were asking is whether Esky starts or if Raul Mondesi was still the front-runner at shortstop this year:

To say Royals twitter handled this news well…that would be false. Yep, most fans lost their mind. To a degree I get it; Escobar has been a below average offensive player throughout his major league career (his highest OPS+ was 96 back in 2012) and he is infamously known for being a free-swinger, posting a 3.9% walk rate throughout his career. While his defense has been good (he ranks sixth among Major League shortstops in Ultimate Zone Rating (+18.5) over the past seven seasons), there has been a slight shift in just how good he is these last two seasons, as he posted an UZR of 0.8 in 2016 and 1.9 in 2017 (after averaging 3.1 UZR over the previous five seasons, including years of 9.6 and 10.9).

But the bigger question is what happens with Mondesi? On the surface it would appear that the Royals have their concerns about Raul (which it turns out is accurate) and bringing Esky back is an insurance policy in case he struggles. It looks as if Escobar will be the starter and Mondesi will either float around at different positions or return to AAA for another season. With the Royals rebuilding, it makes sense to let Mondesi go out and just play, but it feels like Kansas City just doesn’t have that kind of confidence in him. That is where Escobar fits in.

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To be honest I wasn’t surprised by the signing and even predicted it a couple of times since October. First, my comments at the end of the season:

Alcides Escobar was almost a ghost in the first half of the season, posting a line  of .226/.242/.306 and a wRC+ of 39 (league average is 100). Escobar was able to pick it up in the second half of the season, hitting .282/.309/.424 with a wRC+ of 90 and might have even earned himself a new contract this offseason.

Even just a few weeks ago, it seemed obvious that Esky would be back:

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

So I wasn’t outraged when I heard the news on Friday. In fact, I’m not opposed to the signing at all. For one, it is only a one-year deal for a minimal amount of money. It’s not like the Royals opened bank for the guy. Second, with the team rebuilding, Escobar is a nice veteran that can be a mentor to some of the younger players, including Mondesi. Finally, if the organization is this concerned about Mondesi and his future, they might not even look at him anymore as the future shortstop. In fact, after the season Nicky Lopez had in 2017 it wouldn’t surprise me if he had jumped over Raul in the shortstop pecking order. If this is the case, signing Esky for one year is not a bad deal at all. We can discuss his actual value all day long (and to be frank about it, the Royals value him way more than any other team does) but it’s not like the team is going anywhere of substance in 2018; it’s one and done for Escobar…I think.

Cleveland Indians v Kansas City Royals
Credit: Getty Images

Baseball is a business and sometimes as fans I think we forget that. While most of us hate the idea of Lorenzo Cain putting on another uniform, I understand the process for the players and don’t blame them a bit. Cain’s absence will leave a big hole in center field for the Royals that will not be easily filled. While many will hate it, getting Escobar back for one more year also isn’t the end of the world and seems to be a short-term solution to the bigger picture at shortstop. Expecting him to be much more than a placeholder is probably wishful thinking and I’m already expecting articles being written mid-summer this year about how he should be displaced…and to a degree, it will probably be warranted. When one door closes, another one opens with a new opportunity. That is what we are seeing with both Cain and Escobar. Next up? Hosmer and Moustakas. No one said this would be easy.

 

 

 

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.

 

Safe Trails, Doc

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The baseball world was shocked on Tuesday by the death of former Toronto and Philadelphia pitcher Roy “Doc” Halladay in a plane crash off the Florida coast. Halladay was only 40 years old and he is expected to be a first ballot Hall of Famer when he is eligible for induction in 2019. The numbers don’t lie about Halladay’s greatness: two-time Cy Young award winner, 41st best WAR all-time for pitchers, 69th all-time in strike outs, 24th best K/BB ratio, 40th best ERA+, and 14th best WPA. He was a durable ace in a time period where starters didn’t finish what they started; Halladay led the league in complete games seven times and threw over 200 innings in a season eight times. Halladay’s closest comparisons are Zack Greinke, Dwight Gooden and Justin Verlander, three pitchers who have all been Cy Young winners and had long, productive careers. But while the numbers speak of greatness, the baseball world’s response to his passing speaks of how great he was as a human being, not just what he did on a baseball diamond:

I could keep going with the tweets and the numbers, but you get the point. Roy Halladay was everything that was great about baseball. He’s a guy that was easy to root for and one your kids should be looking up to. Rather than writing a column looking back at the greatness of Halladay (and trust me when I say that article will happen when he is going into the Hall of Fame), I thought we could watch some of his greatness on the mound:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s amazing how watching a couple of videos can remind someone of just how great Halladay truly was. I hope younger players not only study how he pitched, but also the work ethic that went with it. Roy Halladay was an elite pitcher that didn’t just blow batters away. Location and control were his friends and helped him be more than just another good pitcher. I can only hope baseball receives more ‘Doc’ Halladay’s in their future; he was everything that is great about this game we love. Thanks, Doc. You will be missed.

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