Did Yordano Ventura’s Tragic Death Slow Down the Royals Rebuild?

kc1
Credit: John Sleezer/KC Star

(Writers Note: The intention of this article is to see the effect that Yordano Ventura’s death had on the Kansas City Royals organization and the building of the roster. In no way, shape or form, is it trying to trivialize his passing. Hopefully you, the reader, see that he was a vital part of the Royals future and a beloved player within the Kansas City fanbase. This is purely a ‘What If’ article.)  

January 22, 2017 is a date that will always be a painful reminder of how fragile life can be, as that was the day that former Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura passed away. Ventura’s death was only four months after the passing of Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez and the similarities between the two pitchers was remarkable.

But maybe the biggest similarity was the effect both deaths had on their respective organizations. Both left a giant hole in not only their rotations but also the locker rooms. The loss of each not only forced their organizations to take a second look at their future, but also to reassess what path they were already on for 2017.

We’ve seen what it did for the Marlins. Miami finished 77-85 last year and they spent the winter dismantling their roster, as key players like Giancarlo Stanton and Christin Yelich were sent to greener pastures. The Marlins threw up the white flag and decided to begin what feels like the umpteenth million rebuild during their 25 year history.

Rangers Royals Baseball
Credit: Associated Press

But despite being told that Kansas City is in a “rebuild”, it sure doesn’t feel like it at times. The Royals have a very veteran heavy roster and while that could (should) very well change by August, as of now it feels like they are straddling a fence. Because of that I have to wonder: did Yordano Ventura’s passing slow down the Kansas City rebuild?

Before we head down this path I feel the need to clarify a couple of things. First, I won’t dabble in any possible deals the team could have made or should have made. Instead we will look at the pitching moves made since his passing and determine whether or not they would have still taken place.

Second, there is no way to determine how the Royals would have done with Ventura still on the team so that won’t be discussed as well. The honesty of this is that there is no surefire way to know how things would have developed with Yo'(unless you know something about time travel I don’t. If that’s the case, quit holding out on us!) so this is just an estimated guess based off of how the front office has acted over the last couple of years.

kc3
Credit: AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

Let’s start with the three moves made not that long after Ventura’s death last year. Brandon Moss was signed on February 1st, Jason Hammel on February 5th, and Travis Wood on February 13. It’s hard to tell if Moss’ signing was directly connected to Ventura, especially since the team had been looking for another bat throughout the winter. More than likely the Moss signing would have still happened, even without Ventura’s loss.

Hammel and Wood totally felt like a reaction to losing Yordano. The Royals rotation at that point looked set with Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Ventura, newly acquired Nate Karns and Jason Vargas. The team even had Chris Young, Matt Strahm and Jake Junis as backup options for the rotation, so there wasn’t any real need for Hammel or Wood at that time.

One could make the argument that the Royals might have had interest in Wood as a reliever, which is very possible considering that had been his role for the majority of the previous two seasons. But if not, then Kansas City would have never signed them and we could take their contracts off the books, not only for 2017 but 2018 as well.

kc4
Credit: Associated Press

Let’s move to the winter and the Royals deal with the White Sox and Dodgers. In that trade, Scott Alexander would go to Los Angeles while Soria would eventually end up in Chicago. One has to wonder if Kansas City would have been compelled to deal either reliever if the team had never signed Hammel or Wood.

The crux of this trade was moving Soria’s contract, which might not have been as important without those signings. If that is the case, then the trade might have never happened and Alexander and Soria would have stayed in Kansas City.

We could easily see a scenario where Soria would have still been shopped, but even if that is the case I doubt they would have felt moving him was important enough to lose the club control that Alexander would have (which runs through the 2022 season). This would mean the Royals would have kept two big cogs in their bullpen and we might have not seen the likes of Tim Hill, Brad Keller and Burch Smith when the season began (which would have meant some tough decisions, considering Keller and Smith were Rule 5 draft picks).

kc5
Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Then at the end of January, the Royals traded Moss and Ryan Buchter to Oakland for pitchers Jesse Hahn and Heath Fillmyer. This is a trade that feels like it would have happened no matter what. Moss had an awful season in 2017 (.207/.279/.428, -1.0 bWAR) and trading him would probably allow the Royals to move a portion of his salary commitment.

The interesting part of this becomes whether or not Buchter would have actually been a Royal. We all remember the ill-fated trade with San Diego but that trade happened for two reasons. One, the Royals needed pitching. Two, the Royals were still in the hunt for a playoff spot, 1.5 games out in the AL Central while holding down the second Wild Card.

I could see the Royals needing pitching, even with Yordano still in the picture. It’s very possible the deal could have gone down, but that is also trying to determine where Kansas City would have been in the standings. This is probably a good place to mention that Ventura finished 2016 with an ERA+ of 97 and a bWAR of 1.6. While some felt he was going to turn the corner in 2017, there was no guarantee that would happen.

So with that in mind, we’ll go with the San Diego trade still going down. Almost every team can use more pitching and it’s easy to see the Royals in a situation where they would need more arms. In other words, this is a deal that just reeks of fate.

kc6
Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

So with all these moves out-of-the-way, we can start assessing whether or not the rebuild was slowed down by the passing of Ventura. With what we saw in 2017, it was very apparent the Royals were going to stick with the core group (Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, etc.) and give them every opportunity to clinch a playoff spot. So any idea that they would be dealt was probably slim and none from the very beginning.

It’s probably also safe to say that if Kansas City had somehow found their way to the playoffs last year with Ventura, that would be one more reason to not completely tear the whole thing down and start over. The Royals would have still had a nice nucleus together (Perez, Whit, Duffy, Ventura, etc.) and with the way the free agent market collapsed this winter it’s possible Dayton might have been even more aggressive than he was.

It also appears Moore has never been down with a real “rebuild”. Back in March Dayton had this to say about how competitive the team would be this season:

“I believe that we can put a strong, competitive team on the field each and every night and also develop in the minor leagues,” he said. “I believe we can build our farm system back to the level it was in 2010 and 2011, and maybe even do it better and still win games at the major-league level.

“You can’t just turn it on and turn it off. If you want a winning culture, you’ve got to do everything in your power each day to win.”

It just doesn’t feel like the front office has ever been behind a full rebuild with this club. In fact, it has sounded like they would be content with piecing together the roster as needed, letting the younger talent filter in when they were ready and letting them get comfortable at their own pace.

Image result for kansas city royals june 2017

So with all that in mind, my guess is that Yordano Ventura’s untimely passing didn’t slow down a Kansas City rebuild. As much as moves made after his passing felt like a knee-jerk reaction to his death, the team had already committed to being “all in” for 2017 and even taking on less payroll wouldn’t have deterred that frame of mind.

Unless…the Royals decided to deal Yordano. While in some circles that might sound crazy, it might not be as far-fetched as you think. In fact, in the winter before the 2017 campaign, the Houston Astros were rumored to have shown interest in Ventura:

Royals starters Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura are two of the pitchers on the Astros’ list of rotation targets, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports.  The two K.C. arms join several other previously-known names (i.e. Jose QuintanaChris ArcherJake Odorizzi and other Tampa Bay’s starters) as potential trade fits for a Houston team looking to upgrade its starting pitching.

Now, showing interest isn’t the same thing as on the trading block. But if you are any team, you should probably be willing to listen to any offers on any player, just in case a team is willing to go way overboard just to acquire a player. While Ventura could have been under club control until 2021(with the help of club options), that might have been a selling point for Kansas City:

Their willingness to least listen to other clubs’ offers could be due to doubts about his personality, or it could just be due diligence, as Ventura’s years of control could net K.C. a nice return in a trade.

If a team was willing to offer a nice package of talent for Yordano, Moore would have to at least listen. One would think if a deal actually went down and the Royals were able to acquire young talent, it’s possible the rebuild could have sped up a bit.

kc7
Credit: Royals.com

In fact, that might have been one of the few scenarios where guys like Hosmer and Cain would be dealt before the trade deadline. While it feels like a long shot, it could have very well happened considering in the last year the Astros have picked up both Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole to improve their starting rotation.

While I highly doubt Kansas City would have dealt Ventura, it does show how one or two moves can sway a team in different directions. Ventura very well could have gone from a building block for the team to an asset to fill multiple holes on the roster.

Image result for yordano ventura july 2016

So while his death probably didn’t slow down the Royals rebuild, it definitely changed the fabric of the team and the organization. Ventura is that hole that hasn’t been filled and it could be generations before they have another pitcher with his potential.

While it would be nice to say losing one player was the cause for the lack of youth on this Royals roster, the answer is far deeper than that. Trades, injuries, bad judgment and bad luck all play a part in why the Royals aren’t rebuilding more than they are right now.

Maybe in a different dimension or a different universe (Earth 2 or even Earth 81) this is all different and the Royals are still a potent contender in the American League. But in this reality, they are a team trying to build themselves back up without many pieces. While Yordano’s death was tragic, it is not the cause of their current situation. It’s just not that simple.

Royals Sign Nolasco; Dayton Begins Crusade Against Porn

kc1
Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Remember the other day when I said if the Kansas City Royals go out and sign another veteran that I would be back? Well, it happened. The Royals on Wednesday went out and signed right-handed pitcher Ricky Nolasco to a minor league deal. Here is how the numbers shake out:

It also appears as if Nolasco has an opt out clause in his contract scheduled for March 24. I initially groaned when I heard of the signing, but I fully realize why it happened. The move feels like a knee-jerk reaction to the Jesse Hahn injury and allows the team to add some depth to the pitching staff. Nolasco started 33 games last year for the Angels, throwing 181 innings, posting a 4.92 ERA, 1.453 WHIP and an 18.2% strike out rate. He did see a higher soft-hit rate last year as well as a slight uptick in velocity across the board. Nolasco actually had a modicum of success during his 11 games in Los Angeles in 2016 and it appears he was throwing his slider less last year and throwing a split-fingered fastball more often, leading to mixed results. While it is easy to categorize this as a bad signing, there is also a chance that nothing will happen with it. If the Royals don’t feel they need him to start the year, they can stow him away on the Omaha roster in case of a rainy day (that is if he would accept the move to the minors). He could also just opt out of the deal on the 24th and be done with it. If Nolasco ends up starting more than ten games then it is apparent the Royals season has fallen off the tracks and things are not going good. Personally, I’m not a fan of the signing but I understand the need for depth and this is a low-cost deal that might not even be necessary. If you are unsure of Nolasco and what he can bring to the table, don’t have a discussion with any Twins fans; my friends up in Minnesota have already been laughing and pointing at the Royals move from afar.

kc2
Credit: fightthenewdrug.org

But while the Nolasco news ran amok last night, the news that really caught my eye was how the Royals were the “First MLB team to take a stand against porn” and had players and coaches attend an anti-porn workshop this past weekend. Now, for some of us Royals fans this wasn’t a big surprise, since General Manager Dayton Moore discussed the “dangers of porn” all the way back in August when star pitcher Danny Duffy had been arrested for a DUI. In fact it gave us this weird answer from Moore that started out discussing drinking and driving:

We’ve done a lot of leadership stuff with our players. Very transparent about things that happen in our game, not only with drugs and alcohol. We talk about pornography, and the effects of what that does to the minds of players and the distractions, and how that leads to abuse of—domestic abuse—to abuse of women. How it impacts relationships—we talk about a lot of things. And I don’t mind sharing with you.

At the time it felt a bit out of left field, but most of us in the Kansas City area are aware Moore is a very religious man and has always been very vocal about his faith. Still…I laughed when I first saw the story of the workshop because it felt like such a Moore thing to have his players and coaches do. But then I realized it was a big deal that probably shouldn’t be glossed over.

kc3
Credit: fightthenewdrug.org

While I’m sure Moore’s intentions are in the right place, it also feels like he is overstepping some bounds with this. Now I don’t know if this was a mandatory workshop or not, but it sure does feel that way:

 And this past weekend, those goals became reality at our groundbreaking spring training presentation event where over 200 Royals players, coaches, trainers, and staff attended.

Having that large of the organization together sure feels a bit mandatory. But even if it wasn’t, it might be something that players would still feel obligated to attend. We’ve known for a long time that Moore has treated this team like they are family and that is something as a fan that I have always appreciated about him. It creates a sense of  trust and over the years they have handled some tough situations, such as players who have stepped away from the game for a bit (Zack Greinke, Danny Duffy and Ashe Russell come to mind). This is good for the organization as a whole…but this feels different and a bit more invasive.

The one thing any employer should probably never do is mix religion and the workplace. This country is one where we are allowed certain freedoms and one of those is freedom of religion. This also means people from all walks of life have different beliefs built into their life. Pushing one’s set beliefs on another would not only be uncomfortable but also make them conflicted. To give you an idea, here is what they talked about at the anti-porn workshop:

In FTND’s awareness-raising presentation to the players, we specifically focused on how porn can impact a consumer’s overall well-being, which in turn can affect productivity, work performance, and personal image. Seeing as they are all constantly in the spotlight, and setting an example for those who look to them for inspiration, this issue is something that can greatly impact not only their careers, but their lives.

Sure sounds like a segment’s beliefs being pushed onto the players. I’m sure some agreed with what was being discussed, but I’m also sure there were some that felt this was a giant waste of time. We’ve all had jobs where we were supposed to attend meetings that either didn’t pertain to us or were talking about something that didn’t matter. But those meetings were normally based on something at least somewhat connected to your work. This instead feels like a boss wanting his employees to believe in the same ideology he believes in. It’s preaching and most people don’t like to be preached to, especially at work. Once again, while I think Moore’s heart is in the right place, his way of going about it is crossing a line.

kc4
Credit: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images

Maybe the most bothersome part of the whole thing is that Moore has hitched his horse to porn when the issue he should probably address to his players is drinking and driving. We already mentioned the Danny Duffy DUI last year, and just barely over a year ago they lost Yordano Ventura to an automobile accident that may or may not have been alcohol related (the toxicology reports have never been released). While Moore might consider porn to be an evil to fight against, drinking and driving has affected his own team and can easily result in a loss of life. The fact that I am reporting on an anti-porn meeting and not a drunk driving one makes me feel like the organization is pushing their own agenda. Or do they not want to hear complaints from any of their alcohol sponsors? Or even lose some of those sponsorships? Talking about the effects of drinking and driving seems like a better way to send a good message while not alienating players or other employees who feel they are being talked down to.

kc5
Credit: Cliff Owen (AP)

Look…we all know the Royals are a faith-based organization. For years they have held a “Faith and Family Night” at Kauffman Stadium and that’s perfectly fine. Everyone can have their own belief system and you don’t have anyone’s toes getting stepped on. But preaching the dangers of pornography to a bunch of grown men is shaming them for what they might (or might not) do in the privacy of their own home. It’s not like Dayton is worried that his players are going to all of a sudden start turning up with wrist injuries or sore groins. No, he would like them to all be on the same page when it comes to his beliefs. These are adults who can make their own choices and are fully capable of making those decisions. Support them, get to know them and their family and even embrace who they are as human beings. But also let them decide what is pure and what is evil. I guess he should just…trust the process.

Rebuilding a Franchise: A 2017 Wrap-Up

kc1
Credit: MLB.com

It was hard to venture anywhere this past summer and not see or hear questions about the Royals future. It didn’t matter if you were watching baseball, listening to baseball or reading about baseball; everywhere you went there were discussions about whether Kansas City should trade their future free agents or ride the wave out and see what happens. Obviously we now know how this story plays out, as the team was contending throughout the summer and the Royals held on to their Eric Hosmer’s and Lorenzo Cain’s.

But I didn’t. You see, I’ve been playing ‘Out of the Park Baseball’ for about three years now and it is a daily staple of my life. In my humble opinion, it is baseball simulation at its grandest. Every year I purchase the newest model of the game and almost instantly begin a new Royals season. When my 2017 team started off the year in a bumpy manner, I decided to begin the tearing down of my team. If you want to read about the how, who and why of this rebuild click here.

kc2
Credit: Out of the Park Baseball

When I last wrote about my OOTP Royals, it was near the end of June and my team was in the basement, which I was expecting considering I had just gutted my team. They were sitting at 27-49 and my attendance was already sliding. I knew a change this drastic was not going to instantly take and my feeling was it would be rough all the way around.

Recently the 2017 season wrapped up for my team and it came with some mixed results. They finished with a 64-98 record, which means I went 37-49 since my last update. It wasn’t a great second half, but it was a slight improvement. The pitching ended up being my downfall; a combined 5.07 ERA, 189 home runs allowed and only a 4.9 WAR for my entire pitching staff. One of the big aspects of the “New Look” Royals was to go young which was really felt with the pitching.

kc3
Credit: MLB.com

By the end of the year I had Yordano Ventura, Blake Snell, Aaron Sanchez and Kyle Zimmer in my rotation, all 25 years of age or younger. Ventura ended up racking up over 200 innings and a 2.3 WAR. Snell and Sanchez each reached 122 innings for Kansas City and while at times they struggled with their command (both gave up over 50 free passes), they also showed signs of dominance, as evidenced by each of them striking out over 100 batters. The real surprise for me was Zimmer, who I had no idea what to expect from him. Early on he struggled and had a hard time making it to the 5th inning on a regular basis. But as the season wore on, he righted the ship and while the numbers aren’t great (4.73 ERA, 5.29 FIP, 0.3 WAR) they did improve. Maybe the biggest surprise was that for the most part he stayed healthy, making 28 starts for Kansas City and throwing 159 innings.

While the rotation at least showed signs of life, my bullpen killed me. Only one reliever (Wade Davis) posted a WAR above 1.0 and only three were even league average.If I really want to look in the mirror and see where I failed in 2017, the bullpen was a good place to start. Let’s just say the less I say about the pen, the better. The good news is there is only one direction to move for my relievers and that is up.

kc4
Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

This leaves me to my offense and it was the one area of my team that saw an obvious improvement in the second half of the season. Randall Grichuk was a savior after being acquired from St. Louis, as he produced a team high 3.6 WAR, 145 wRC+, 20 home runs and a line of .289/.361/.564. Cody Bellinger also turned out to be a stellar pick-up, posting 2.2 WAR, 127 wRC+ and a slash line of .288/.359/.494.

The lineup stalwarts that I kept on the team were Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas and while both were above replacement level overall (Gordon 1.5 WAR, Moose 1.4), offensively they were just below the league average. Gordon had a wRC+ of 92 while Moose had an 88. Both suffered injuries at separate points in the season and I’m hoping they both make a decent comeback for my 2018 campaign (authors note: I locked Moustakas into a two-year deal in the middle of the season).

kc5
Credit: Kansas City Star

But my two biggest surprises were homegrown, as I recalled Bubba Starling and Ryan O’Hearn to get some big league playing time. Since I was going young and I knew the season would be a losing one, I figured it was the perfect time to get some quality at bats. I knew Bubba would deliver solid defense, but I was a bit surprised about some of the pop in his bat (11 home runs and 23 extra base hits). Starling put up a .217/.319/.376 line in 78 games, with a wRC+ of 93 and 1.0 WAR. It’s obvious his offense still needs some work, but I was actually expecting less.

O’Hearn was my big shocker. I had him splitting time at 1B and DH with Bellinger but through his first 100 at bats he was hitting right around .100 with no home runs. I seriously considered sending him back down to Omaha, but remembered that the whole point of this exercise was to get the younger guys playing time. So I stuck with him and in the end it paid off. O’Hearn led the team with 22 home runs, hit a nice .272/.358/.508 with a wRC+ of 125 and 1.5 WAR in just 83 games. The power definitely played and he went from a consideration for 2018 to a locked in starter.

kc6
Credit: AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth

So what has this rebuild taught me? First, it was very obvious that there is no easy answers for a team dealing with a number of major free agents. I might have been able to put together a .500 season if I had kept everyone, but then I would be facing 2018 without a number of younger talents that ended up being major contributors.

Second, I learned that pitching AND hitting really can determine a hit or miss season. With the improvement I saw on offense, it makes me wonder how the season might have turned out if my bullpen had been even league average. There are two sides to this game and if you skimp on one it won’t matter how good the other side is.

Finally, I learned that patience is a virtue. I normally play every game rather than simulate it (so I can make in-game managerial decisions) and because of that I played some really bad baseball during the season. But after starting my 2018 season, my team is 12-9 in the early going, sitting in first place in the AL Central. I’m not for sure that will hold up all season but it’s already apparent how much improved my team is.

On one final note, if you have never played OOTP Baseball I would highly suggest it. I still feel like I am learning every day that I play it. Also, if you have any questions or even suggestions for me about the game, you can always shoot me a message on twitter @SeanThornton5. Enjoy and I hope this shows that the term “rebuild” isn’t a dirty word.

Hammel, Wood & Karns Are No Emerson, Lake & Palmer

kc1

Late this winter, Kansas City Royals General Manager Dayton Moore was on a mission to go out and find starting pitching to fill the void left by the passing of Yordano Ventura. The team had already acquired Nate Karns but they would need more pitching if they were to contend in the American League Central in 2017. Luckily, ownership allowed their wallets to open a smidgen more and the team went out and signed Jason Hammel and Travis Wood to give the rotation more depth than they have had in years. With the first month out of the way (and a frustrating month it was), let’s see how the newbies are performing for Kansas City.

kc2

Let’s start with Hammel, or as I call him ‘Hochevar 2.0’. So far in 5 starts, he has an ERA of 6.65 over 21 innings, which is averaging out to a bit over 4 innings pitched per outing. Comparing his numbers to his 2016 in Chicago, his strikeouts are on par with last year while everything else looks drastically different. Down so far this year is his HR/9 and ground ball rate, as is his FIP. Unfortunately, the batting average on balls in play this year has skyrocketed to .384 and his line drive rate has moved up a bit as well. The good news is that while this is going on, the hard hit rate against him is almost identical to last year (32.4%) while the soft hit rate has jumped up 3% to 21. 6%. This combined with the BABIP tells me that he is dealing with a bit of bad luck and should see some of those numbers even out as the season progresses. I’m not too worried about the higher fly ball rate and lower ground ball rate, since the Royals have a big ballpark at ‘The K’ and their outfield is normally above average defensively. One concern I do have with Hammel so far is his walk rate, which has jumped to 12%, compared to 7.7% in 2016. Hopefully this is just an outlier, since he has never had a walk rate higher than 10.4 % (2007) in his career. A lot of his struggles early on can be traced to the high rate of walks and Sunday was a good example, as he walked 3 in the 3 short innings he threw. If he can lessen the amount of bases on balls and receive a bit of good luck on balls in play, his numbers should be more than acceptable for what the Royals need from him this year.

kc3

Travis Wood on the other hand has been a walking nightmare. There has been nothing statistically that really looks promising for Wood so far in 2017, as he has seen everything rise that shouldn’t: walk rate, hard hit rate, ERA, FIP and BABIP. In 9 games he has only thrown 5 1/3 innings and has allowed more hits (9) and walks (8) than innings thrown. The curious part for me when it comes to Wood is his splits. In 2016, Wood was crazy successful against lefties (.128/.208/.239) compared to righties (.265/.344/.521). This would seem to imply that if manager Ned Yost is using Wood out of the pen, he should primarily face left-handed batters. Instead, he has faced righties 20 times to lefties 13, with righties hitting .400/.550/.733, walking 5 and allowing 6 hits. But Wood hasn’t been much better against lefties so far this year: .300/.462/.400 with 3 hits and 3 walks. Wood has been mentioned before as a possibility later in the season if a starting pitcher goes down, but I’m not for sure he would be a great option at this point. I would still recommend he mainly face those that are left-handed, but Yost also has to figure out a proper way to use him, as he has only pitched in 3 games over the last two weeks. The Royals are committed to Wood through 2018, so hopefully he can turn things around and show some of the magic he had in 2016.

Drew Butera, Ned Yost, Nathan Karns

Nate Karns has been a bit of a mixed bag for Kansas City so far. Over 23 innings, he has improved on his walk rate while inducing more soft contact. Ground ball rate is way up while his fly ball rate is down, which would be good if his home run to fly ball ratio wasn’t 30%. The big thing with Karns has been a decline in his strikeouts and it can more than likely be a cause of his pitch usage. Karns is throwing his fastball just as much as last year (both at 52.7%) but his changeup usage has doubled, bumping up to 20.5%, while he has only been using his curveball 26.9% of the time (compared to 36.4% in 2016). Why is this important? Because Karns has a lethal knuckle-curve that is a game-changer and much of his success the last few years has hindered on it. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to see his struggles considering how little he is using the pitch that everyone gushes about. If Karns start using his knuckle-curve more, I can almost promise his numbers will start improving exponentially.

kc5

So with one month in the book, the 3 big pitching acquisitions haven’t blown anyone away, but 2/3 of them could see some increased success with a slight tweak or two. I would expect Karns and Hammel will get their numbers by the end of the year, while Wood has a long road to prove his worth. The positive is that one month does not make a season and all three have the next 5 months to show Kansas City what they’ve got. By no means should anyone count them out yet, especially since the Royals need them and will give them every opportunity to show their signings were worth it.

The 2017 Kansas City Royals: In It To Win It

kc1

2016 was anything but a glorious season for the Kansas City Royals. Coming off of their first World Championship since 1985, the Royals spent most of last year trying to catch their footing and keep hopes afloat as long as possible. Injuries piled up, fatigue set in but more than anything, the fire the Royals showed in 2015 was few and far between. It wasn’t a huge surprise; one of the biggest obstacles for teams who reach the top of the mountain is to stay on top. Instead, the Royals fell and while there were positives for this team, there was mostly disappointment. So the question has been asked headed into 2017: how does Kansas City return to past glory? While the predictions and pundits aren’t glowing of the Royals chances, that is even more reason to bet on the ‘Boys in Blue’ to return to the playoffs.

kc2

Let’s start with the story of the winter, which was the unfortunate passing of Yordano Ventura. His untimely death left a giant question mark in a pitching rotation that already had a few questions. The Royals, instead of trying to ‘replace’ Ventura, went out and stocked up. First it was Jason Hammel. Then they went and signed Travis Wood. The rotation went from one with more questions than answers, to one of the deepest groups in recent Kansas City history.

Starting Rotation

  1. Danny Duffy
  2. Ian Kennedy
  3. Jason Hammel
  4. Jason Vargas
  5. Nate Karns

Duffy will front this group and hopefully show that his career-turning 2016 was not a fluke. My money is on Duffy excelling as he grows into the ‘ace’ role. Kennedy, while not your normal number two starter, actually put up solid numbers last year and looks to continue that this year (this spring he has yet to allow a run over 17 innings). Kennedy will have his rough outings and will give up some homers, but he consistently racks up innings and at times looks amazing. Hammel strung together a good 2016 with the Chicago Cubs, with the only real concern being the fatigue that hit him near the end of the season. Hammel is another innings eater who will probably benefit from the Royals defense. Vargas returned in September last year from Tommy John Surgery and looks to pick up where he left off in 2015. Vargas will more than likely be what he was before the surgery, as he is in the last year of his 4 year deal. Karns won the 5th starters spot this spring, striking out 30 over 23 innings thrown. The back-end of the rotation is interesting, since I tend to believe it could very well be different by the time the Royals reach the All-Star break. Wood and Chris Young are both candidates to fill in while they are being stowed away in the bullpen for now. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Kansas City looks for a trade as they get close to the trade deadline and that could shake up the rotation even more. While this might not be the most dominating group in Royals history, it is a solid group that should eat a lot of innings.

kc3

While Fangraphs does NOT think fondly of the Royals bullpen (they have them ranked 28th in MLB), I lean the other way, thinking while it may not be as dominant as years past, they are a solid group that will do more good than bad.

Bullpen 

Kelvin Herrera-Closer

Joakim Soria-Setup

Matt Strahm-Setup

Mike Minor

Travis Wood

Chris Young

Peter Moylan

Herrera takes over the closers role from the departed Wade Davis and should slide nicely into that role. Soria was a walking nightmare last season and Kansas City is hoping he bounces back and at the least, improves on his 2016 numbers. Soria did have an excellent strike out rate last year, but that still doesn’t explain this:

“The roles haven’t been defined,” Yost said. “If we were going to do it tomorrow, we’d probably use [Soria] in the eighth inning, depending on what the matchups are.”

High-leverage situations were a killer for Soria last year and I tend to think he should be kept away from those this year, or at least until he gets his feet underneath him. To me, Strahm will end up in this role eventually and has shown the ability to stop rallies. Those two might not be the only relievers in the setup role:

Minor battled throughout most of 2016 to stay healthy but has looked good so far this spring. Wood is an interesting choice, but he did prove valuable in Chicago’s pen last year. Moylan was a solid bullpen arm last year for Kansas City and while Young struggled, he is still a great choice for the long reliever/spot starter role. The intriguing part of the Royals pen are the ‘What Ifs’ that could contribute later in the year. Josh Staumont is a rising star in the Royals organization and has electric stuff. If healthy (stop me if you’ve heard this before), Kyle Zimmer could also factor into the pen late in the year and don’t count out someone like Eric Skoglund, a lefty who could be a great LOOGY down the stretch. While on the surface this wouldn’t appear to be a deadly pen, it could be a completely different story by July or August.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals

So what about the offense? It appears manager Ned Yost has already figured out his lineup for Opening Day:

I’ve long been less than satisfied with Yost’s lineup structure, but I totally approve of this lineup. It is very interesting to see how the Royals and Yost came to this starting nine:

Royals manager Ned Yost likes to point out that the club’s batting order is an organizational decision, with input drawn from coaches, front office staff and members of the club’s analytics department.

Yes, I smiled to see the team used their analytics department to help structure it. There is also a bit of logic thrown in there as well:

“It gives us a nice left-right-left balance,” Yost said.

I have loooooooong been a proponent of Alex Gordon in the leadoff spot, as it only makes sense to put the guy with the best on-base percentage at the top. Gordon is coming off of his worst season since moving to the outfield and is hoping to bounce back this year. He also added some more muscle to his frame this winter and if spring is any indication, it has paid off (.351/.448/.509 with 8 walks and 5 extra base hits). Moustakas in the two-hole is a great choice, as he has some of the team’s most professional plate appearances while also adding extra base power to the top of the lineup. Cain and Hosmer at 3 and 4 respectively makes sense, although I would like to see Hosmer elevate the ball more this year and hit the ball much less on the ground (he lead all of baseball last year with a 58.9% ground ball rate). Salvy and Moss at 5 and 6 gives the team some thump in the heart of the order and hopefully they are able to drive in the guys who get on base ahead of them. Moss especially adds a nice power bat to the middle of the Royals order and I am excited to see him do his thing. Paulo Orlando will start the year in RF and will hold down that spot until Jorge Soler comes back from the disabled list. The lineup could shuffle a bit after Soler’s return, but I could also just see him slide into the same spot as Orlando, since that would keep up that L-R-L-R order that Yost likes. After years of attempting to keep Alcides Escobar in the leadoff spot, Yost finally has sent Esky down to the bottom of the order, where he is better suited. Rounding out the lineup is second baseman Raul Mondesi, a surprise winner of the job this spring. Mondesi struggled offensively during his short stint in Kansas City last year and the team is hoping that his bat will improve while adding much-needed speed and great defense to the roster. The offense is going to be different this year, as the team looks to provide more power and focus less on speed and a clustering of hits. Kansas City finished last again in 2016 in home runs in the American League and the additions of Moss and Soler should add more thump to the lineup and hopefully more extra base hits. This team has seven players capable of hitting 20+ home runs, which will be a big change of pace for the Royals(as will the strike outs that come with it). It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out as the season gets underway.

kc5

I’ve been touting the team’s depth for a few months now and as much as this will be the immediate lineup, there will be more shuffling this year than in year’s past:

Bench

Cheslor Cuthbert

Drew Butera

Christian Colon or Whit Merrifield

Terrance Gore

Cuthbert will get plenty of playing time shuffling between third base, DH and possibly even 2B. Butera is the perfect backup catcher for this squad, providing above average defense and is coming off the best offensive season of his 7 year career. I would expect Gore to only be with the team during Soler’s time on the disabled list, but when he is on the roster he provides a late inning speed threat on the basepaths. The final roster spot battle has come down to Colon or Merrifield, and it looks like we won’t find out the result until Sunday:

Colon is out of options and would appear to have the inside track, but there have been some rumblings about a trade going down to procure a spot (not only a spot for backup infielder but also to open a 40 man spot for Moylan). I don’t know who of those two would get traded, although Merrifield’s versatility might be a heavier intrigue for some teams. Also remember, Peter O’Brien is stashed away in AAA and his big bat was all the rage this spring. O’Brien has massive power and if someone in the lineup would happen to go down with an injury, O’Brien would be an interesting name to insert into the lineup. He has his flaws, but if the Royals mainly used him against lefties he could be a big bonus to a bench that has never had much pop. Either way, the Royals don’t employ a large bench but then again Yost has never been big on using his bench players on a regular basis.

kc6

You won’t ever hear me talk much about intangibles here, mostly because at the end of the day they are hard to quantify. You can break down numbers and get a good idea of the performance of a player, but stuff like clubhouse chemistry and leadership are like a mystical potion that just floats around in the air. What I am saying is that those intangibles exist but it is hard to really figure out how much they affect the play that goes down on the field. That being said, there is no way to follow this team and NOT recognize the intangibles. Bottom line is this group is very tight-knit and loves being around each other. That is a huge plus and why some players are excited now about coming to Kansas City. There is also some big motivators this year. For one, the core group of this team (Cain, Hosmer, Moustakas and Escobar) are all free agents after the season and more than likely the majority (if not all of them) will be gone. This is their final chance for another deep playoff run together. Also, there is some motivation with the death of Yordano Ventura. The loss of Ventura hit the Royals hard and he was looked at like their little brother. If you don’t think there is motivation there to win one in his honor, then you aren’t looking in the right places. Finally, there is a bit of a chip on the Royals shoulders this year since Cleveland took their spot, or at least what they considered to be their spot. If you remember back in 2015, a big rallying cry for this team was them feeling like they came thisclose to winning the World Series only to come up short. They played the entire 2015 season like they were there to prove everyone wrong and I have gotten that same vibe from them this spring. These are all big factors into the makeup of this team and why they will more than likely be fighting for a playoff spot into the fall.

kc7

So what should we expect from the 2017 Kansas City Royals? While the predictions and projections once again aren’t kind to the Royals,  I see this from a different slant. What the projections miss some of the time is the value of defense and it’s counter-effect on the pitching. In that regard, Kansas City is still a top-notch defensive team. The other factor is that a number of the Royals hitters struggled last year (Gordon, Hosmer, etc.) or missed a good chunk of the season (Moustakas, Cain). In my estimation, as long as those guys stay healthy they will produce better than they did in 2016 and even if there are injuries, I feel the Royals are better prepared to handle them. Add in power bats like Soler and Moss and factor in a deep starting rotation, and I tend to believe they will be battling the Indians for American League Central dominance all season long. Unless things go horribly sideways (and the percentages tend to lean toward that being doubtful), the Royals are prepared for one final long playoff run. They might not claim the division, but there are two wild card spot for the taking and I have to believe this Royals team has a good shot to claim a playoff berth. One of the greatest joys of my life has been watching these Royals teams of the last few years play meaningful baseball for the first time in decades. While that contender door could be closing after 2017, I have to believe there is one more final run in this squad. Batten down the hatches, Royals fans; I have a feeling this 2017 season is going to be one for the ages.

Royalty’s Notebook: February Royals Thoughts

kc1

Spring Training is so close that we can practically smell the freshly cut grass and see the perfectly drawn baselines. It’s that time of year when the phrase ‘Pitchers and catchers report’ is music to any baseball fans ears. Over the last few weeks, I have had a number of thoughts littering my head and figured rather than writing four separate articles, I would shoot out a few short notes on some Kansas City Royals related activities that have been going on. What better way to start than with the pitcher we call ‘Duffman’…

kc2

There are so many reasons to love Danny Duffy right now. Duffy showed himself to be a true front of the rotation starter last year and was rewarded with a nice new contract, which means he will be around for at least the next five years. There is his return to twitter where he is trying to do some good. Speaking of Duffy the good samaritan, if you weren’t already ‘Team Duffy’, than him meeting and talking to fans at Kauffman Stadium after Yordano Ventura’s death should have swayed you. But the story that made me really proud to know that Duffy is on ‘my team’ is the one where he bought a Yordano bobblehead. This story must be read, so click here. In short, a Royals fan in the Kansas City area sold his Ventura bobblehead on ebay and right before he mailed it off, he saw it was addressed to Duffy. He canceled the payment and sent Duffy a message, telling him he wasn’t going to charge him for the bobble. Duffy told the guy he was trying to buy up as much Yordano merchandise as possible and then mail it to his mom at the end of the season. When I first read that, a legit huge smile broke out on my face. I have long rooted for Duffy to succeed, if anything because the guy has shown again and again that he is an awesome human being. The fact that he was accumulating as much Yo’ memorabilia as possible because it would help her “remember the good times” was just phenomenal. Talk about being proud that he is in Kansas City; I have never seen an athlete who is so open about his feelings AND in such a positive way, to boot (Yes, that was slightly directed at Zack Greinke). We might love our Salvy, our A1 and our Moose, but dammit if I’m not a Duffy fan for life because of what he represents as a player and a person.

Royals Preview Spring Baseball

Speaking of Ventura, there has been a call amongst many Royals fans for the team to retire his number 30 this season. I understand that for most of us there is an emotional attachment to the group of players who guided this team to their first championship in 30 years. I was just as broken up about Ventura’s passing as most other Royals fans and I figure the home opener on April 10th will probably cause a few lumps in throats. That being said, it feels like the push to retire his number is an emotional thought and not a logical one. Over the team’s 47 year history, they have retired three former Royals: George Brett (5), Frank White (20) and Dick Howser (10). That’s it. In my eyes there have been a few worthy numbers that could have been retired by Kansas City over the years, but I do like that they aren’t just retiring numbers left and right. To me, if you are going to go that route, it better be a player who really marked their spot in franchise history. While Ventura had a number of big moments in his short career, he did only have three full seasons under his belt, and was just slightly above league average overall during that time. I have heard a number of great ideas in honoring Ventura this year, like leaving the ball on the mound opening day and letting manager Ned Yost make a “pitching change”, or naming a baseball academy down in the Dominican Republic after him. Those are just two great examples of honoring his passing and I wouldn’t even have a big issue with putting him in the Royals Hall of Fame in the future, even if it would feel like it was being done because he passed away while still with the team. But retiring his number feels like an emotional reaction to his death and I just don’t agree with it. I’m sure the Royals will honor his time in Kansas City this year and they should; but lets not overreact. Honoring Ventura is fine, but retiring his number is unnecessary and to be brutally honest, not really earned.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

With the Royals signing of Jason Hammel this week, Kansas City has marked off almost every need that they were searching for this winter…that is, except for another bullpen arm. The thought has been that the Royals would possibly sign one more reliever and with Spring Training looming in just a few days, there could be a last-minute signing, especially if they bring Luke Hochevar back into the fold. Hochevar is coming off of Thoracic Outlet Surgery but it’s been thought all along that as long as he is healthy, the team would look to bring him back to Kansas City. If not Hochevar, there are a few options still available on the market. Guys like Travis Wood, Jonathan Niese and former Royals Joe Blanton and Jorge De La Rosa are still available. The Royals also checked in on Seth Maness last week, the former Cardinals reliever who bypassed Tommy John Surgery and elected an experimental surgery that would have him back on the field in 7 months. While I tend to think Hoch will be back fairly soon, Kansas City has many choices and with a group of young arms also in the running ( Josh Staumont, Kevin McCarthy and Eric Skoglund among them) there will be some definite competition in the bullpen this spring for the Royals.

Boston Red Sox v Kansas City Royals-Game Two

The Hammel signing also meant that room would have to be made for him on the Royals 40 man roster, and Alec Mills was the unfortunate person to be sent packing. Mills was dealt to the Cubs for outfielder Donnie Deewees. Mills was a solid arm for Kansas City’s system but at best was probably someone who would have success out of the bullpen rather than in the rotation. Deewees is an interesting acquisition, as he is a speedy outfielder type that Dayton Moore continually covets. The scouts evaluation of Deewees seems to be on par with current Royals outfielder Billy Burns:

ESPN’s Keith Law recently rated Dewees 15th among Cubs farmhands, noting that he’s a 70-grade runner that can handle center field from a range standpoint but has a 20-grade arm that limits him to left field. Longenhagen ranked him 19th among Cubs prospects offering a similar take (albeit a 30-grade arm instead of 20), writing that without the power to profile as a left field regular, his best scenario is a Ben Revere type. B-Pro’s Steve Givarz was a bit more optimistic about his glovework but still pegs him as more of a fourth outfielder than a potential starter.

Deewees is still only 23 years old and more than likely will start the year in Kansas City’s High A Ball team in Wilmington. This could be a trade to monitor over the next couple years and see how Deewees has (or has not) developed. When all else fails, Moore will always lean towards speed.

kc7

Finally, Kansas City went out and signed Brayan Pena to a minor league deal this past week. Pena is a former Royal who played for Kansas City from 2009-2012 and spent most of his time as a backup catcher. Pena is a serviceable receiver who has a bit of pop in his bat and is well liked in the clubhouse. The honesty is that this is a depth signing and much like Tony Cruz last year, Pena will most likely be spending his time in Omaha this year unless something goes wrong for Salvador Perez or Drew Butera. It’s good to see Brayan back in blue, but I wouldn’t expect to see much of him once the season starts.

kc8

In just a few days pitchers and catcher will be reporting to Spring Training and we can actually start digesting some news on our ‘Boys in Blue’ and start getting a feel for what the major league roster will look like come April. I can say with all honesty that I feel better about the feel of this roster now than I did even a few weeks ago. For all intent and purposes, the Royals are looking to gain back what they lost last year, which would be the top of the Central Division. Next week, step one begins on a long road to their (hopeful) final destination, October baseball.As always, hope springs eternal.

Royals Add Rotation Arm, Sign Hammel

kc1

Ever since the untimely death of Yordano Ventura, the general feeling was that the Kansas City Royals were going to have to go out and acquire another starting pitcher. Names like Doug Fister and Travis Wood, but the name that was mentioned multiple times was Jason Hammel, the best available arm still on the free agent market. Royals GM Dayton Moore can be a sneaky dealer, and while most were zoned in on the Super Bowl, Moore made his move:

The Royals got their man in Hammel, locking him up for two years, $16 million dollars with a mutual option (of course Dayton gave him a mutual option!!) for a third year. As of this writing the breakdown of the financials have not been released (I would tend to think the annual salary will be higher in 2018 than this year) but even without that knowledge the Royals seemed to have locked down a solid mid-rotation starter at a fairly cheap rate.

kc2

So what kind of production should Kansas City expect from his signing? Hammel pitched for the Cubs in 2016, racking up 166 innings with a 3.83 ERA, 4.48 FIP and an ERA+ of 105. Hammel raised his ground ball rate last year, posting at 42%, his highest percentage since 2012 in Baltimore. He’s not a big strike out guy, but he did put up a 13.2% strike out to walk ratio, and both his strike out and walk rates in 2016 were about league average. He does throw his slider quite a bit, in fact he threw it 35% last year, the 4th highest percentage of sliders for qualified pitchers. Hammel did improve his left on base percentage last year bumping up to 76% while his batting average on balls in play also took a step downward. A very positive sign for Hammel in 2016, especially where it concerns not only Kansas City but pitching at Kauffman Stadium, was how hard the ball was hit off of him. His line drive saw a dip this past year while his ground ball rate saw an increase. Hammel really didn’t see a major shift in hard hit rate or soft hit rate and his exit velocity is interesting:

chart

While Hammel was up and down when it comes to exit velocity, this is actually fairly accurate throughout his career. His velocity also didn’t see a big change in 2016:

brooksbaseball-chart

The chart above has Hammel’s velocity for both 2015 and 2016. What was very noticeable, especially with his changeup and slider, was the consistency in 2016 compared to 2015. It really seemed that Hammel was able to not vary much month to month, which is a positive considering some of the rumors that were floated out there this winter.

kc3

One of the reasons Hammel was still available this late in the winter was because of a feeling that he was hurt late in the 2016 season:

If you looked at the exit velocity chart above, Hammel appeared to not pitch after the middle of September and he wasn’t on any of the Cubs postseason rosters. The Cubs also declined his club option for 2017 after the season, which was fairly reasonable at $12 million. All this led to many teams assuming that he was hurt and probably hurt his chances out on the market this winter. Normally, pitchers who are injured show a decrease in velocity, which is normally an indicator that he is injured. If you look at the velocity charts above, they are pretty steady. That shows me that any injury concerns can probably be put to bed, unless a major decrease shows up when games start in Spring Training.

kc4

Financially, Hammel’s signing appears to be a steal for the Royals. Even if his contract calls for a split of $8 million a year (and once again, I’m expecting us to find out it is lower than that for year one of the deal), that puts Kansas City’s payroll just a bit higher than what Owner David Glass was wanting, but not too far off. Considering Hammel has averaged 161 innings a season over the last 8 years, this is a great deal and once again shows what a fantastic job Dayton Moore has done this winter while working under financial restrictions. In fact, Hammel’s deal looks fantastic in comparison with former Royal Edinson Volquez’s contract he got from Miami:

Steamer projections are expecting Hammel to produce 1.3 WAR this year, while 2.0 for Volquez. But if you go more off of last year, Hammel produced 1.4 WAR while Volquez compiled 1.5. The two pitchers are fairly similar with Hammel about a year older in age. If you asked me which pitcher I would want going into 2017, I would take Hammel. Hammel produced a lower walks per 9 and hits per 9 than Volquez, and over their respective careers, Hammel has shown more consistency. In many ways, Hammel is a perfect replacement for Volquez, even if it feels like he is in Kansas City now because of what happened to Yordano Ventura.

USP MLB: CHICAGO CUBS AT MILWAUKEE BREWERS S BBN USA WI

With pitchers and catchers reporting in about a week, it’s good to see that the Royals are now set and ready to go all across the diamond. Hammel is the final piece of the rotation puzzle and should be a steadying veteran force in the middle of what is looking more and more like a good group of starting pitchers. The Royals should expect consistency more than anything else from Hammel this year and that is a strength that some take more lightly than they should. It’s unfortunate the circumstances that brought Hammel to Kansas City (and I do feel the Royals don’t sign him if Ventura is still with the team) but he is now ready to wear Royal blue and represent Kansas City. It’s another good acquisition from the Royals front office and they should be applauded for their work this winter. One thing I ask of Royals fans this year: don’t bring up the Wild Card game to Hammel. I’m sure he will hear enough about it when he shows up to Arizona this spring. I can already hear Salvy joking with him about his game winning hit…trust me, Hammel will take it much better coming from Perez. I mean, who could hate Salvy?

Royals Lineup Projection

kc1

One of the funnest parts of the offseason in baseball is breaking down the projections that are littered throughout the winter. The three main projection systems are PECOTA, Steamer, and ZiPS and they all attempt to predict and break down how the upcoming season will turn out. Of course, as with any algorithm, there will be predictions that are way off, which is why the games are played. But this is a fun look at how the upcoming season could go and see whether or not the projections predict a player will improve, regress or stand pat. With that said, I thought it might be interesting to break down the Kansas City Royals projected lineup and see what the Steamer projections have in store for Kansas City offensively in 2017.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

Salvador Perez-Catcher

What I found most interesting about Salvy’s projected numbers for this year wasn’t the fact that they expected his numbers to pick up a notch but that they project he will play in less games! I don’t know if that happens, especially if they use the designated hitter as a rotating spot, but I like the idea of Perez getting some much-needed extra rest. Steamer has Salvy hitting .264/.298/.444 with 20 home runs, 67 RBI’s and 2.8 WAR. All but the home runs would be an improvement over 2016 and even that was only off by two. I tend to think all of this is possible, especially if Ned gives him that extra rest. It’s been very apparent over the last couple of seasons that by August, Salvy seems to be tiring and the grind of catching as many innings as he has the last few years catches up to him. I would like to see Perez get some extra at bats at DH and rest his legs, which I think would mean an increase in his offense. For the most part, I believe these projections are doable.

kc3

Eric Hosmer-1st Base

Anyone who has followed this blog knows that I soured on Hosmer this past season and it was to the point where I don’t know if I will ever expect him to perform even remotely consistent in the big leagues. The good news is that Steamer thinks Eric will improve on last year, projecting a line of .278/.345/.455 with 22 home runs and 84 RBI’s and a 1.7 WAR. Outside of the home runs and RBI’s, everything else would be an improvement on a season that was the tale of two different seasons for Hos. To me, the biggest tell on whether or not he improves offensively this year is if he is able to decrease his ground ball rate, which was a ridiculous 58.9% in 2016. If he does that and lowers his strike out rate, I think we could see a better Hos in 2017. There has never been a better time for him to have a career year than the season right before he enters the free agent market, so there should be some motivation to not be the guy who produced a well below average OPS+ (78) in the second half of 2016.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Kansas City Royals

Raul Mondesi-2nd Base

My hunch is that Mondesi will be the Kansas City second bagger to start 2017 unless he really struggles this spring. The good news is that there is almost no way he could be worse offensively than he was during his first stint with the Royals last year. Steamer agrees with me on this, as they are projecting him to hit .231/.272/.360 with 8 home runs and 36 RBI’s, a WAR of 0.0 and a wRC+ of 64. Yes, none of those numbers are great, but all would be an improvement on his numbers in 47 major league games in 2016. I tend to look at Mondesi like this: right now, his defense is ready while his bat still needs some major work. But he has slowly improved his offense ever year in the minors, with his power numbers improving by quite a bit in his short spans in both AA and AAA in 2016. The question the Royals have to ask is if A.) His defense is good enough to let him learn at the big league level? or B.) Do they have a better option at second base? The honest answer is that as much as I like Whit Merrifield, I think he is better suited to be a super utility guy in the big leagues and I also believe Mondesi is going to learn more in the majors then spending time in the minors. This could be an interesting development to follow and I’m highly intrigued to see if Mondesi raises some eyebrows this spring in Arizona.

MLB: ALCS-Toronto Blue Jays at Kansas City Royals

Alcides Escobar-Shortstop

Escobar’s offense in 2016 was nothing to write home about; in fact, it’s probably best left to just not mention it happened. It was evident throughout the season that he had no business hitting leadoff and was not pulling his weight for a guy getting close to 700 plate appearances. Luckily, Steamer is expecting bigger things from Esky this year, with a projected line of .264/.299/.352 with a WAR of 1.0 and wRC+ of 72. Okay, the numbers are only slightly better but even if we just see a slightly better strike out rate or walk rate, I’ll take it. At this point, Escobar is who he is, which is someone who rarely walks, strikes out too often and his faith lies in the BABIP Gods. As much as I have always enjoyed his defense, we are even starting to see a slight regression there, so it might be good that he will be a free agent after the season wraps up.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

Mike Moustakas-3rd Base

Man, the Steamer really loves Mike Moustakas! Moose missed most of the 2016 campaign but in the 27 games he appeared in it was obvious that his power numbers were drastically improved and it appeared he was headed for a break-out season. Instead, a collision with left fielder Alex Gordon did in his knee and he was shelved. Right now though, the Steamer has Moose hitting .267/.329/.468 over 129 games with 23 home runs, 73 RBI’s, a wRC+ of 111 and a WAR of 3.1. Now, a large chunk of that projection is from his 2015 season, but I feel like these estimates are light. Yes, I think Moustakas is going to have a big year and I wouldn’t be surprised if he surpasses the 30 home run barrier if he can stay healthy. Moustakas has shown a tendency to improve throughout his career and in what could be his final year in Kansas City, I tend to believe he wants to show the power we have all expected him to display. While most of these projections have felt close to what I was thinking, this is one that I think will be much higher when it is all said and done.

kc7

Alex Gordon-Left Field

Most players have that one season where they would prefer it would magically disappear and never be spoken of again. For Alex Gordon, 2016 was one of those seasons. Gordon struggled through the year, ending up with a line of .220/.312/.380 in 128 games. In late May, Gordon collided with Mike Moustakas and would proceed to miss the following month. It really just felt like Gordon was off most of the year, and chalk it up to whatever you want (I personally felt he wasn’t 100% most of the year) but it was a year to forget. So what is being predicted for this year? Steamer has Gordon at .248/.335/.404 with 15 home runs, 61 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 98. Call me an optimist, but I feel Gordon will be a bit better than that this year, as he looks to bounce back. Gordon probably won’t see the highs he racked up back in 2011-2012, but if he stays healthy a .260/.350/.430 season is reachable. Yes, Gordon is probably seeing the beginning of his regression, but I just don’t see it being as sharp a fall as he had last year. Expect Alex to improve on  a forgettable 2016 this year and help improve the Royals offense.

kc8

Lorenzo Cain-Center Field

Coming off of a career year in 2015, Cain looked to grow on that last year and guide the Royals back to the playoffs. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always follow a nice, cozy script and Cain would spend a large chunk of 2016 on the disabled list. Cain went from appearing in a career high amount of games in 2015 (140 games) to barely over 100 (103 to be exact) in 2016. This also meant a decline in his MVP caliber numbers from the previous year and a line of .287/.339/.408 and a wRC+ of only 98. Luckily, Steamer is projecting a similar year for Cain in 2017, as they foresee a .283/.338/.417 line and a wRC+ of 100 in 130 games. I must be the middle man here; I think Cain’s numbers could very well be higher, as he will be working for a contract, but it will all be determined on his health. If he can stay on the field, I think he will produce. If he doesn’t expect a season on par to last year. I don’t think we will ever see the numbers from Cain again that we saw two years ago, but something in that vicinity would greatly improve Kansas City’s offense.

kc9

Jorge Soler-Right Field

If you haven’t noticed it yet, there is a trend with the Royals lineup coming into this year. Almost every hitter is coming off of a sub-par 2016 and looking to redeem themselves this year. Count new acquisition Soler in that category, as he struggled for Chicago this past year. Soler hit .238/.333/.436 with 12 home runs, 37 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 106. Soler was slightly above league average, but only appeared in 86 games due to injuries in 2016. The Royals are counting on Soler to be a regular cog in the middle of their order this year…but Steamer doesn’t trust his injury history. Right now, they have predicted he will hit .257/.333/.436, 14 home runs, 48 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 104 in just slightly over 100 games. The Royals training staff has done a good job these last few years keeping the team on the field (with last year being the exception) and I tend to feel like this will be the first full year Soler spends in the big leagues. Number-wise, Soler is what he is: a high strikeout, power hitting slugger. Soler did see an uptick in his walk percentage last year and with a full year on his plate, I think he could put up solid slugging and on base percentage numbers. Soler’s probably never going to hit for a high average, but if the other stats are there, it won’t matter. The Royals need him to slug and that is just what should see him accomplish this year.

MLB: NLDS-Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals

Brandon Moss-Designated Hitter

Now, I know Royals GM Dayton Moore said the other day that Moss won’t be the “primary” DH this year, but I have a feeling when it is all said and done Moss will be the recipient of the most AB’s in that spot. Moss had a very productive 2016 and Kansas City is hoping that the same power he showed last year transfers over to Kauffman Stadium this year. A solid 2016 out Moss at .225/.300/.484 with 28 home runs, 66 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 105. Steamer has Moss sitting this year at .237/.319/.453 with only 17 home runs and 44 RBI’s and a wRC+ of 103. Now, if you are asking yourself why those numbers are lower, it is because Steamer has projected that Moss will only appear in 89 games this year, which right now feels like an extremely low number. I tend to project Moss will play in the 120-130 game zone which will see his production go slightly up. I think we could see Moss’ on base numbers increase this year (mostly from more walks) and his power numbers see a slight drop, although with Kauffman in play I could see Moss racking up more doubles than homers. In this regard, I tend to think Steamer is fairly close on the averages and a bit low on the accumulated numbers. Look for Moss to perform fairly similar this year, if not a tad bit better.

Opening Day 5-6-15

So with the projections out there, it’s easy to see that most of them are based off of past production, which isn’t always a good thing for this Royals team. Luckily, the games are played for a reason and coming off of a poor offensive season in 2014, many of the Royals batters improved on their numbers in 2015. There is no reason to think that can’t happen again, at least with a number of their starters this year coming off of injuries. One final projection I want to throw out there are the ZiPS projections which are done by Dan Szymborski and are one of the more sought after projections during baseball’s offseason. Going off of fWAR, ZiPS projects the Royals this way (projections obviously made before Ventura’s death and Moss’ signing):

kc12

The good news is that ZiPS has improvement from Gordon, Cain and Moose. The bad news is that there is little if any improvement expected from Hosmer, Soler, Escobar and Mondesi. Once again, these are just projections and while some will be fairly close, some of these will end up being way off. I always like to say that projections like this are a good starting point and once the season begins we will get a better feel for how this team will operate in 2017. More than anything, this Royals team needs improvement from their offense in 2017; if they don’t, we might as well kiss October baseball goodbye. No pressure, offense-just be better.

Straddling The Fence

kauffmanfireworks1

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

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

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

kc2

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

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

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

kc3

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

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

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

alex1

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

kc6

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

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑