Friday, December 2, 2011

You're An Idiot, Babe's a a wonder that you still know how to breathe
(From "Idiot Wind," Blood On The Tracks)

I try not to write in anger. But today's news that Fox Sports Kansas City fired Frank White from their TV broadcasts really infuriates me.

For whatever reason, at the same time as the Royals improve on the field, they are doing a terrible job in the public relations department. So far this offseason, they have irritated their fans by cancelling the annual FanFest event and then followed that up by firing possibly the most popular player in Royals history. Sure, it was technically FSKC firing him, but obviously if the Royals wanted him on TV next year, he'd be on TV.

White told 610's Nick Wright that he was fired for being "too negative" about the team. This is a load of horsepucky, and frankly the Royals should be ashamed. First, I have a hard time remembering when White was overly critical of the team. Second, I WANT my color analyst to be negative when it is warranted. You know, I believe the Royals have smart fans. Sure, reading the comments on their Facebook page after a trade sometimes makes me wonder about that, but the fans I know personally and/or interact with on Twitter are not dumb. We know if the team is not playing well, and simply hiring a broadcaster to tell us otherwise is not going to work. It annoys me that the Royals apparently don't think we're smart enough to see through that. Of course, they've had Ryan Lefebvre around for years trying to convince us that Tony Pena Jr. and Yuniesky Betancourt were major league shortstops, so perhaps I should be used to it by now. It doesn't mean I have to like it, though.

Honestly, I don't believe Frank White is a great broadcaster. Obviously, he knows the game. I always wished he would be a little more open to the new stats that are out there, but I'm certainly not surprised that a former player who worked for the Royals wouldn't be very open to sabermetrics. But he was hardly the worst analyst out there.

Beyond that, though, he's Frank White. That name means something in Kansas City. He's from here, he literally helped build Kauffman Stadium, and he was a key part of the glory years. And now the Royals have essentially chased him away. Is there no one at 1 Royal Way who could not see that this move would enrage the vast majority of the fanbase? If I didn't know better, I'd say the Royals were TRYING to antagonize their fans.

The FanFest cancellation was based on the flimsiest of excuses: we can't handle that and the All-Star Game preparations, too. So far, the Royals haven't even bothered giving their side of the story on Frank White. They might not ever do that (which might be their best PR move--anything they say is likely to anger people even more).

Frankly, I expect this kind of PR idiocy from the Chiefs, because they seem to believe they are still the franchise they were in the 1990s, making the playoffs every year and filling Arrowhead. That arrogance can lead to lots of dumb decisions. But the Royals, who have no playoff appearances in 26 long years, and who have even sniffed contention maybe five times in that stretch, should be doing whatever they can to keep their fans happy. And lately, it seems like they have forgotten that.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Trading Soria

Should the Royals trade Joakim Soria?

It's a question I've actually been pondering for a while. At the end of the 2011 season, I expected Soria to be in the Royals' bullpen come Opening Day 2012. I would have been shocked, frankly, if he were even mentioned as a trade possibility.

That was before Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Phillies for 4 years and $50 million. And then Joe Nathan, one day after turning 37, signed with the Rangers for 2 years and $14.5 million. Suddenly the market for proven closers looks ridiculous. With limited free-agent options remaining, some teams might be very interested in Soria.

The particulars of Soria's contract ($6 million in 2012, club options for 2013 and 2014 at $8 million and $8.75 million, respectively) make him affordable for most teams, and the buyouts on those club options ($750,000 for each option) make him a lower risk. And yes, he struggled last year, but if he has indeed shelved the cutter he was experimenting with, he could easily get back to his All-Star form.

Don't get me wrong, I love Joakim Soria. There's no one I'd rather have on the mound as the Royals try to clinch the division next year (why not dream a little?). But closers can be found easily, a lot easier than a top starting pitcher or a power-hitting corner outfielder. Heck, look at the Royals' history: their best closer ever (Dan Quisenberry) wasn't even drafted. Their second-best closer (Jeff Montgomery) was stolen in a trade with the Reds. And Soria was a Rule 5 draft pick. Almost any failed starting pitcher can be a decent closer. And with the group of young pitchers the Royals had in the bullpen last year, they have options if they move Soria.

The first option would probably be Greg Holland, who was really the Royals' most effective reliever last year. I could easily see him as an effective closer. Also, the Royals added another option today by signing Jonathan Broxton. The 27-year-old had success as a reliever for the Dodgers for six seasons before an injury curtailed his 2011 season. The Royals say they will use him as a setup man for Soria, but he could certainly slide into the closer role if Soria were unavailable.

Given that, I think the Royals should certainly explore trading Soria. They shouldn't trade him just to trade him, but they should definitely listen to any offers. And they shouldn't be afraid to try to fill their rotation needs by trading him.

I know there was a Twitter rumor today about trading Soria to Toronto for Colby Rasmus. It looks like that has been denied by Dayton Moore as I write this, and I'm kind of glad. I'd still like to see Lorenzo Cain get a chance; I think he's better defensively than Rasmus and that is important in Kauffman Stadium.

But if the Royals can trade Soria for a good starting pitcher, they should definitely do it. I would miss him. But I think it would make the team better, and that's the most important consideration.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Stick With Me Baby, Stick With Me Anyhow

...things should start to get interestin' right about now
(From "Mississippi," Love And Theft)

The Royals are developing a habit of making surprising trades, the kind of trades you don't hear about until they have been completed. That is certainly true of today's trade of Melky Cabrera to San Francisco for left-handed starter Jonathan Sanchez and a minor-leaguer, left-hander Ryan Verdugo. There was certainly speculation about the Royals and Sanchez, but I didn't think any deal would happen this soon, or that it would involve Cabrera.

The more I think about this trade, the better I feel about it. Cabrera was certainly a vital part of the Royals' offense last season, but I think the Royals have upgraded their rotation here, and received a potentially useful bullpen arm for the future. Meanwhile, this apparently means Lorenzo Cain will finally get his chance in Kansas City, which should upgrade the defense.

I think the Royals did a great job of selling high on Cabrera. Melky's 121 OPS+ in 2011 was by far his career high. He did turn 27 during the 2011 season, so it is possible he could have several more good years. On the other hand, if you just looked at his career numbers without knowing his age, you would certainly notice that his 2011 season was unusual. I would have expected a couple more nice years from Cabrera, but probably not as good as he was this year.

Meanwhile, Sanchez will turn 29 in less than two weeks. He has been in the majors for six seasons and was a member of the Giants' rotation when they won the World Series in 2010. Coincidentally, 2010 was his best season, although he was decent in 2009. The problem with Sanchez has always been control; for his career, he averages 4.8 walks per 9 innings pitched. For comparison's sake, Danny Duffy averaged 4.4 walks per 9 IP in 2011, and he was by far the wildest starter on the team. The good news about Sanchez is that he gets lots of strikeouts: he averages 9.4 per 9 IP for his career. So the strikeout to walk ratio is almost 2:1, which is pretty good.

In my mind, any loss the Royals suffer on offense should be offset by Cain's superior defense, unless Cain is just a total disaster at the plate. Meanwhile, Sanchez should slide nicely into the 2 or 3 spot of the Royals' rotation, depending on other moves before Opening Day. He is almost certainly an upgrade over Jeff Francis, and probably over Bruce Chen (I do fear this is the end of Chen's time as a Royal; re-signing him would give the Royals three lefties with Mike Montgomery also knocking on the door).

The best part to me is that the Royals were able to upgrade their rotation and defense without parting with any prospects. So they still have the ability to make a major trade for pitching if they so choose. On the downside, Sanchez can be a free agent after the 2012 season, so it is possible he will be a Royal for only one year. But overall, I like this deal and I like the Royals' aggressiveness in making it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dave Eiland, Difference Maker?

I think we all understand this offseason is a crossroads of sorts for the Royals. The right personnel moves can augment the young talent on the roster and put them in position to contend in 2012, while the wrong moves could potentially make us all wait a couple more years.

So the first big move the team made was adding Dave Eiland as pitching coach, replacing the fired Bob McClure.

I liked McClure, but it is amazing to me he lasted as long as he did as the Royals' pitching coach. Six years with one team is a long tenure for any coach, especially a team that lost as often as the Royals did in that time. When you consider that McClure survived not one, but two managerial changes, it's even more surprising. But I suspect the message had gotten stale. The Royals have led the AL in walks allowed two of the past three years. Changing that will be Eiland's biggest challenge.

So, what is Eiland's background? Drafted by the Yankees in the 7th round of the 1987 draft, he made his major league debut the next season at the age of 22. I suppose that could be a useful experience when the Royals' promising young pitchers start reaching the majors.

After bouncing between the majors and the Yankees' farm system for four seasons, Eiland moved on to San Diego, back to the Yankees, and finally to expansion-era Tampa Bay before finishing up his career in 2002. Fashioning a major-league career out of what he told the Kansas City Star was "a little bit south of mediocre" stuff, Eiland had to learn how to prepare and be a pitcher, not just a thrower.

Eiland then began his coaching career in the Yankees' minor leagues, finally becoming the major-league pitching coach in 2008. He held that job through the 2010 season before the Yankees fired him. Eiland spent the 2011 season in the Tampa Bay front office.

The 2007 Yankees had an ERA+ of 101, meaning they were slightly above league-average. They improved to a 104 in 2008 and 108 in 2009 before a slight dropoff to 106 in 2010. Also, the Yankees' walk and strikeout rates did improve over 2007 during Eiland's tenure:

2007: 3.6 BB/9, 6.3 K/9, 1.75 K/BB
2008: 3.1 BB/9, 7.1 K/9, 2.33 K/BB
2009: 3.6 BB/9, 7.8 K/9, 2.20 K/BB
2010: 3.4 BB/9, 7.2 K/9, 2.14 K/BB

Now the downside: the Yanks' 2011 numbers were better in all three of those categories than in 2010 (3.1 BB/9, 7.5 K/9, 2.41 K/BB). But if Eiland can help the Royals improve their 2011 numbers (3.5 BB/9, 6.7 K/9, 1.94 K/BB) at the same rate, the Royals could certainly contend in 2012.

Of course, the thing Eiland can't control is what he is given to work with. There is a big difference between coaching CC Sabathia and, say, Danny Duffy. It will be up to Dayton Moore and the farm system to give Eiland talent to work with.

In my opinion, Eiland's most important task will be working with Luke Hochevar. We saw a much-improved Hochevar in the second half of the season, but let's be honest: Hochevar has shown flashes of brilliance before. It's unlikely he will ever be an ace, but if he can be an above-average starter, a bona fide number 2 starter, he will be a key piece of the Royals' rotation.

Other big projects for Eiland: getting Aaron Crow back on track and getting Tim Collins and Danny Duffy to improve their control. I have my doubts about Crow as a starter, although there is certainly no harm in giving him a shot to make the rotation in spring training. But even if he returns to a relief role, the Royals need him to be first-half Aaron Crow. Collins could be a valuable 7th-inning guy, maybe even a setup guy in a pinch, but he averaged 6.4 walks per 9 innings pitched in 2011. You just can't let a guy that wild pitch in the late innings. I think Duffy can be a middle of the rotation guy, but he too needs better control--100 pitches in 5 innings isn't going to cut it.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

And The Corner Sign Says It's Closing Time I'll bid farewell and be down the road
(From "Restless Farewell," The Times They Are A-Changin')

With the curtain pulled down on the Royals' 2011 campaign, it's time to look back at the last six months and also look ahead a bit to 2012.

Like many of you, I wanted the season to go on a while longer. We are all used to looking forward to the end of the season sometime around August 1, if not sooner, but this year was a little different. For me, the interesting part of the season really began on August 10, when the Royals called up Salvador Perez, completing the lineup they would basically use for the rest of the year and the lineup that will likely take the field on Opening Day 2012:

Salvador Perez C
Eric Hosmer 1B
Johnny Giavotella 2B
Alcides Escobar SS
Mike Moustakas 3B
Alex Gordon LF
Melky Cabrera CF
Jeff Francoeur RF
Billy Butler DH

That is probably the most solid everday lineup the Royals have run out there since...I don't know, 2003? Heck, I'd take the catcher and most of that infield over the 2003 team. Anyway, it's been a while since we've seen a lineup where it's enjoyable to watch at least 7 or 8 of the guys hit (I love Escobar's defense of course, but when he's struggling at the plate, it's especially difficult to watch. However, he's not here for his bat--we just have to hope that he'll at least throw in an empty .250 batting average in the future).

But for all the excitement for 2012 in the Royals' fanbase, that lineup only went 22-24 to close out the season. I think there certainly is reason to be excited, but I wouldn't expect a playoff appearance in 2012 unless several things go right. Yes, the Royals played well in September (15-10). They were 18-8 in September 2008, and what did that get us in 2009? The 2012 Royals will almost certainly be better than the 2009 version, but I don't know that they will be as good as we are hoping.

On the bright side, in those 46 games the Royals outscored their opponents 225-207. Over a full season, that would equate to an 87-75 record. But that was fueled in large part by a .297 team batting average in those 46 games. I don't think that's sustainable for six months. The .792 OPS they put up might be sustainable, but the team will need to take more walks to keep that number high. And this is still the Royals--they tied for 11th in the league in walks this season.

I'm sorry if this comes across as pessimistic. Believe me, I'm as excited as anyone to see these guys continue to grow and develop next year. I just don't want to start thinking playoffs quite yet, when there is still so much improvement that needs to take place.

For the Royals to truly contend next year, the first thing that needs to happen is an upgrade to the rotation. Part of the fun this year was seeing Danny Duffy develop, Felipe Paulino come off the scrap heap to strike out nearly a batter per inning, and Luke Hochevar to tease us with a solid second half. Those three will almost certainly all be back for 2012, and I wouldn't mind it if the Royals brought Bruce Chen back for another year of crafty leftiness. There's nothing wrong with this group, it just needs a guy who is clearly THE guy. Unfortunately, the free-agent market is weak this offseason, so the Royals' best bet is a trade. Who they should trade for is a separate post entirely, however.

Any contention in 2012 will also depend on the outfield of Gordon, Cabrera and Francoeur at least approaching the offensive numbers they put up this year. While none of them are at an age where you would expect a big decline in numbers, Gordon and Cabrera both had years quite a bit better than any previous season in their careers. Frenchy's 2011 was his best full season so far, but at least comparable to what he did in a half-season his rookie year and again in a half-season with the Mets. If you add up the trio's OPS+ numbers, you get a total of 380. The Royals will likely need something approaching that from the three of them next year, as the rest of the lineup is so young that there is no guarantee they will produce at the same level or even improve.

Right now, with a whole offseason of moves ahead of us, if I had to guess, I'd say the Royals will have a 2012 much like Cleveland's 2011: hang around 1st place for a while before tapering off and finishing around .500. Which would be a fun season and one I could live with at this point.

In the meantime, I have a few ideas for some offbeat offseason posts, and of course I will be around to opine on whatever moves the Royals make. Opening Day 2012 seems like a long ways away, but I think it will be here before we know it.

Friday, September 2, 2011

My Batting Practice With The Stars (And Jerry Terrell)

I think the moment when it became real to me, when I realized that what was about to happen would be one of the most memorable experiences of my life, was when I was standing on the right field foul line at Kauffman Stadium. Looking up at all those seats, the Rivals sports bar, and that huge scoreboard, it hit me. I was about to do something that would be far different from any baseball experience of my life.

This was the Royals Alumni Batting Practice, and it was truly amazing. I received this opportunity as an early birthday present from my dad and stepmom. I found out a couple of weeks before the Aug. 27 event that I would be participating, but the nervousness didn't really start until the drive over to the stadium that morning. It was more of a first-day-of-school nervousness, because my only goal was to hit one ball out of the infield and, in general, not embarrass myself. After all, I probably hadn't swung a bat at a baseball since high school, or possibly college. Sure, there had been plenty of slow-pitch softball, but that's not quite the same.

There are very few reasons to be awake at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, but this was certainly a good one. We arrived at the stadium about 7:30, a good 15 minutes before we were supposed to be there, but we were hardly alone. I think most of the participants were already there. We went inside the stadium, which was a rather unusual experience, as the place was quiet and almost eerily still. We proceeded into the Diamond Club and took the elevators down to the Crown Club.

You can see the Crown Club seats on TV every night--they're the ones directly behind home plate. But I really did not know there was a restaurant behind those seats, under the stands. The Royals provided a continental breakfast for those of us participating in the batting practice, and soon Fred White, former Royals radio broadcaster, introduced the alumni who would be joining us:

At last, it was time to head out to the field. Fred White read off our group assignments--there were four groups, with eight or nine of us in each group. I was happy to hear that my group would not be hitting first--I wanted to get some of the butterflies out of my system before I got in the cage.

Before there would be any hitting, though, we all gathered on the right-field foul line. Under the direction of former Royals trainers Paul McGannon and Nick Swartz, we jogged across the outfield and gathered in left field for some stretching.

An observation related to the Royals: That outfield is HUGE. I mean, you can tell it's big when you sit in the stands or even watching on TV. But when you're out there, you get a new appreciation for just how much room is out there. Now I would love to see the Royals trade Melky Cabrera for starting pitching and bring up Lorenzo Cain. I just don't think Melky can adequately cover all that ground, particularly when Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur aren't really above-average rangewise. They are good outfielders, but I don't think they can make up for Melky's lack of range.

Anyway, the first group headed to the batting cage, and we proceeded to center field to catch some fungoes. While Jamie Bluma hit to us, Willie Wilson alternately encouraged us, coached us, and entertained us with stories from his playing days. Since I didn't identify myself as a blogger, I don't feel like I should repeat the stories, but they were entertaining. As a long-time Royals fan, it makes me happy to see Wilson involved with the Royals and seemingly at peace with his place in Royals history. When he played for the Royals, it always seemed like he was a little surly (of course, given the much more limited media coverage in those days, that is just the impression I had). And then the Royals let him go, and I'm sure he felt like he could still play (and he would
have three more decent seasons).

Before we got to hit on the field, we were allowed to head to the batting cages behind the Royals dugout. If you didn't know, there are two batting cages back there where players can go to take extra swings during the game, or if the weather is bad, the entire team may take batting practice there before a game. John Mayberry and Willie Aikens were kind enough to pitch to us--well, it was more of a short toss. From behind screens about 10 feet away, they threw baseball after baseball to us underhanded. It was so good to see Aikens involved with this sort of thing after all he's been through.

Finally, it was time to go out and hit. But first, I had to take care of the blister that had developed on my left hand while I was in the batting cage. Nick Swartz was kind enough to fish a bandage out of his bag of supplies, plus put some tape on the bandage to keep it on. I know the blogging community wasn't always kind to him, but I had no complaints. I will be sure to invest in some batting gloves if I am lucky enough to do this again, though.

As we clustered around the batting cage, I had my first exposure to a treasure of man, Jerry Terrell. I have to admit, I knew very little about him before I got home from this event and looked him up on In fact, I thought he was a backup outfielder, when he was actually a utility infielder. He gave me an impromptu hitting lesson on staying loose while batting, holding a bat between his palms and swinging hard, not closing his hands around the bat until the imagined moment of impact. Armed with this newfound knowledge and confident after smacking line drives all over the batting cage, I stepped in for my turn at bat.

Brian McRae was pitching to our group. Apparently B-Mac likes to throw inside, and hard. I was having trouble getting my hands around fast enough to do much. But somewhere in there, I did hit a couple out of the infield. But those 10 swings were a blur.

Each member of the group got 10 swings, then a second round of five swings, then a third round of two swings. In between turns, we were entertained and encouraged by Jerry Terrell. He is the nicest man you could hope to meet, and quite a storyteller, too. After five minutes, I felt like I'd known him for years, which is why I feel comfortable teasing him (on the off-chance he would read this) with the headline of this post. Really, meeting him and hearing his stories was one of the highlights of the day. I think he could probably make a decent living selling an hour of his time to hear him tell stories--personally, I would love to hear what it was like to be a Royal in the late '70s.

After we hit, it was time to go back out and field for the next two groups. After I'd been in the outfield for a while, Fred White ambled over to the small group I was with. If you're my age, you grew up with Fred and Denny Matthews, and in those days, not nearly as many games were televised. So Denny and Fred were THE way to follow the Royals. So it was cool to talk baseball with Fred for a few minutes.

It didn't take long before it was my group's turn to hit again. This time, our pitcher was Al Fitzmorris. Brian McRae was all business on the mound, but as you might expect, Fitzmorris was a little less serious. One member of our group smacked a couple of line drives, and Fitzmorris said, "Big deal, everyone did that against me!"

Alas, I did not. I think I was a little tired and swinging a little slow. I even swung at one pitch that was at least neck-high, which was not one of my finer moments. I never was much of a hitter, but I always did have a good eye. So that session wasn't as successful as the first one.

Back out on the field, I got to meet and have a little conversation with one of my all-time favorite Royals, Jim Eisenreich. I'm happy to report that he is as nice in person as I hoped he would be. I don't know what he does with his time now, but he obviously spends a decent amount of time working out. He looks like he could still play!

Soon our day was at an end. There was time for some pictures with the Royals alums (see below) and it was over. We gathered our things and walked up the stadium steps to ground level, with memories for a lifetime.

Taking my cuts in the batting cage

Jim Eisenreich and Jerry Terrell with your humble correspondent. I told you Jerry was a cut-up.

Two great first basemen (John Mayberry and Willie Aikens). Oh yeah, and some doofus.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Joakim Soria Drinking Game

If you like to follow along on Twitter during Royals games (and why wouldn't you?), you probably know about the Kyle Davies Drinking Game (hat tip to @fakenedyost). Well, since Kyle is no longer with us, it's time for a new drinking game. And who better to inspire this game then the man who pitches when the game is on the line?

Now, before Soria turned into a mere mortal this season, this wouldn't have been much of a game. But since he has struggled for pretty much the whole 2011 season, we've got to do something to calm the nerves any time he tries to protect a lead.

So, here are the rules:

1. Before Soria comes in, take one drink if the Royals are ahead by three runs, two drinks if they are ahead by two runs, and three drinks if the lead is one run. The tighter the game, the more alcohol is needed.
2. Also, take one drink for each runner the Royals left on base in their previous inning. Insurance runs? Who needs 'em?
3. Leadoff walk. Drink.
4. Bloop hit. Drink.
5. Ground ball through the infield. Drink.
6. Soria gets the first out. One drink of water.
6. Soria's famous rainbow curve misses the strike zone by a foot. Drink one shot. Since Soria is Mexican, I recommend a good tequila.
7. Line drive just foul up the right- or left-field line. Drink.
8. Soria's famous rainbow curve bounces in the dirt. Drink one shot.
9. Fly ball to the warning track. Drink.
10. Tying run reaches scoring position. Two drinks.
11. Winning/go-ahead run reaches scoring position. Three drinks.
12. Soria gets the second out. Two drinks of water.
13. If one run scores: if it is not the tying or winning run, take one drink. If it is the tying run, finish your beer. If it is the winning run, finish your beer and spike the remote control.
14. If a second run scores: if it is not the tying or winning run, take two drinks. If it is the tying run, finish your beer. If it is the winning run, finish your beer and spike the remote control.
15. If a third run scores: finish your beer and spike the remote control. Get on Twitter and wonder why Greg Holland couldn't have just stayed in the damn game.
16. If Soria manages to close out the game: break out the champagne! One glass to celebrate.

Any suggestions for extra rules?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pick Up Your Money And Pack Up Your Tent ain't going nowhere.
(From "You Ain't Going Nowhere," The Basement Tapes)

"You" in this case being Jeff Francoeur. And he ain't going nowhere for at least two years after signing a contract extension with the Royals.

The move was announced this morning, and although this is an incredibly busy time at work for me, I tried to follow the discussion on Twitter. Frankly, I was taken aback by the hate for this move, especially before we even knew the financial details.

Now that we do know the details--$13.5 million over two years--it's easier to pass judgement on this deal. And my judgement is: this deal is not awful, but I wouldn't call myself a fan.

When the Royals signed Frenchy over the winter, I actually thought it was a decent addition. Now that we're 75% of the way through the season, it's obvious that it was a terrific addition. A 119 OPS+, a gun for a right arm, and yes, leadership--Francoeur has been a valuable player for the Royals this year. Of course, my hope when the Royals signed him was that he would play well and then be traded to fill a position of need.

However, a couple of things have changed since then. First, the Royals have evidently decided they can compete in the AL Central in 2012. Second, some of the bloom has come off the Wil Myers prospect rose.

As I've said before, I do think the Royals can compete next year. Obviously, the starting pitching will have to have considerable improvement, whether through trade, free agent signing, or simply having one of the talented young relievers in the bullpen adapt quickly to starting next year. Or having Mike Montgomery somehow overcome a disappointing 2011 season and contribute. At any rate, if you plan on contending, it's nice to have a right fielder on pace for roughly 20 homers, 45 doubles, 88 RBI, 25 stolen bases and 16 outfield assists.

It's especially nice when you don't have an apparent successor ready in the minor leagues. With all the talent that has come up to the majors this year, Wil Myers is probably the top position player prospect left in the farm system. After he raked at Class A Wilmington last year (in what is normally a terrible hitters' park), it seemed like he would be ready for the majors soon. But now, in a terrific hitters' park in Northwest Arkansas, Myers is...well, not struggling. But not doing outstanding, either. His OPS is .727, which is not bad but not really setting the world on fire. Most concerning is his lack of power; he only has 5 homers in 82 games coming in to tonight's games. That was a good week for Mike Moustakas as a Natural. This isn't meant to say that Myers is a bust. He's still just 20 and having a decent year at Double-A. He just doesn't look like he will be ready for the majors until 2013 now.

Faced with these developments, the Royals are obviously betting that Francoeur will overcome his historical pattern of starting off well for a team and then struggling. There is certainly a chance that this pattern will continue next year. I do think this is about as good a season as he is capable of. And if he falls off a lot, this contract will look terrible. If he falls off a little, it looks underwhelming. If he somehow continues this level of production, then it probably is about right. And there's my concern: I feel like the Royals overpaid slightly for a player who is having a very good season and has a decent chance of never being this good again. Then again, if the total dollars had been in the $11-12 million range, I would think that was fair. That is why I'm not that upset about it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Catching Up

Even an uneventful trade deadline helped make the last two weeks very eventful for the Royals franchise. If first-round draft pick Bubba Starling signs before tomorrow night's deadline, as is generally expected, we may look back on the past two weeks as the timeframe where the 2012-2018 Royals took shape.

By essentially standing pat at the deadline, the Royals basically committed to having one or both of Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur in the outfield next year. Cabrera will almost certainly be there, and I'd say Frenchy probably will be too. Even if he turns down his part of the mutual option for 2012 in his contract, I bet the Royals will do just about anything to re-sign him.

The Royals did add one potential piece of the puzzle by shipping Mike Aviles to Boston for Yamaico Navarro. I like this trade--Navarro will probably end up as a utility infielder who can hit a little bit. In short, a younger, probably more talented version of Aviles. Heck, if Mike Moustakas can't figure out major league pitching, Navarro might be a stopgap at third base for a while. I still believe Moustakas will learn to hit, but it's getting harder to believe that each day he goes 0-4.

A few days later, the Royals finally called up second baseman Johnny Giavotella. This move was long overdue, but whatever. I'd rather a prospect prove he has conquered the minor leagues than have that prospect called up too soon (like Moustakas almost certainly was). With this move, the Royals appear to have their infield set for the better part of the next decade. This should excite even the most casual Royals fan: the probable 2012 Opening Day infield, with their age next April 1:

1B Eric Hosmer, age 22. Under team control through 2017 season.
2B Johnny Giavotella, age 24. Under team control through 2017 season.
SS Alcides Escobar, age 25. Under team control through 2016 season.
3B Mike Moustakas, age 23. Under team control through 2017 season.
DH/1B Billy Butler, age 25. Under team control through 2015 season (team option for 2o15).
2B/SS/3B Yamaico Navarro, age 24. Under team control through 2016 season.

Throw in the catching duo of Salvador Perez (age 21, under team control through 2017) and Manny Pina (age 24, under team control through 2017) and you have a strong core of players that should learn to play at the major league level together, and hopefully win together.

The next step is getting Bubba Starling in the fold. I would think that he will go ahead and take the Royals' money rather than wait around for his chance to play quarterback at Nebraska. We won't have to wait long to find out--the deadline for him to sign is tomorrow night. There is a decent chance Starling will flame out, but if he is able to harness his considerable ability, the Royals will have a star in the outfield in short time.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

March Me Away To The Station

...I'm off to some far-distant land.
(From "Little Maggie," Good As I Been To You)

With the trade deadline coming up Sunday, the Royals are in a unique position. It's one you don't normally see for a team roughly 20 games under .500. Normally when you are that bad, you need help anywhere you can get it. But in the Royals' case, with so many young players on the major league roster and many more waiting in the wings, KC can afford to be picky if they decide to make some moves.

The Royals appear to be set at pretty much each defensive position, if not for this year, then for 2012 and beyond. Presumably they will pull the trigger on Johnny Giavotella at some point and he will be starting at second base next year, and today's promotion of Salvador Perez to Omaha makes me think he will be given every opportunity to win the starting catcher spot next spring.

Given that, Dayton Moore's focus the next few days and in the offseason has to be fixing a starting rotation that has ranged from mediocre to downright awful this season. Plus, there is a good chance they will need two new starters to fill out the rotation before next season. I feel like the Royals can compete for a division title next year in the normally weak AL Central, but only with a serious upgrade to the rotation. Moore's secondary objective should be solving the outfield logjam that is likely to result whenever Lorenzo Cain is deemed worthy of a spot on the major-league roster.

As a bonus, the Royals have plenty of prospects at all levels of the minor leagues now. Also, with this year's payroll at $38 million and change, there is plenty of room to add payroll. For once in recent Royals history, money is no object. Or shouldn't be, anyway.

Perusing the list of potential free agent pitchers this winter, it looks like a pretty thin class. Normally, big name free agents wouldn't even consider signing with the Royals. But I think players know what's going on with this organization and would at least consider coming here now. If there were plenty of big names available, I'd say the Royals would have a chance of signing one. But the limited star power in this particular class certainly hurts their chances. So any upgrade will probably have to come via trade, whether it's this week or in the offseason.

If it were up to me, I would be looking to trade for major league pitchers or pitching prospects who are ready to make the majors next year. I would certainly be looking to trade either Jeff Francoeur or Melky Cabrera. Or both, if I got enough return. I like both Frenchy and Melky, and both have played well here. But there is no guarantee the Royals can bring Frenchy back next season, and there is no guarantee Melky will hit as well next year. While it's true Cabrera is only 26 and theoretically entering his prime years, it is also true he has never had an offensive season this good. So I wouldn't feel locked in to bringing him back.

Beyond those two, I would be willing to listen to offers for anyone. While the Royals can afford to be picky, they shouldn't feel like any player is untouchable. The flip side of having a low payroll is that nobody on this team has a contract that would be untradeable. That should help the Royals get a better return if they trade someone on the major-league roster.

So KC is in a good position to trade a Joakim Soria or a Billy Butler, if that is what it takes to get a good starting pitcher. Of course I like Soria and Butler and would like them to stay, but I would like the Royals to win, too. And in Soria's case, I feel like he can be replaced by Aaron Crow or one of the other promising young relievers. Butler would be more difficult to replace--I'm not sure Clint Robinson is up to it, and the next really big hitting prospect in the system is Wil Myers, still in Class AA ball.

This trade deadline, and really the offseason, are going to be very important times for this franchise. You can only hoard so many prospects, and the payroll is unlikely to be this low again for some time. Smart, aggressive trades can set this team up for contention over the next several years.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Anger Management

Think back to last Sunday's Royals game, the last one before the All-Star Break. In the bottom of the ninth, with the Royals down by one run, Eric Hosmer tried to steal third. It was a close play, but I thought he was safe when it happened. Replays didn't prove it, but it certainly looked like there was a good chance Hosmer was safe. So instead of the tying run being on third with one out, there was no one on with two out. Hosmer argued (well, questioned might be a better word) briefly with the umpire as he got up. He insisted to the media after the game that he was safe.

I know lots of people didn't care for this gamble. Personally, I didn't have a problem with it. The Royals have obviously put an emphasis on stolen bases and baserunning as keys to their offense this year. While we can debate the merits of that strategy, I can't fault them for sticking to their guns in a game situation.

No, my problem with the play was that Ned Yost didn't even go out and argue the call. Now, it's true that manager-umpire arguments are mostly exercises in futility. But I think there is value in a manager sticking up for his players, particularly young players.

Tactics matter, but many times a manager has little or no effect on the outcome of a game. However, a manager can help his team every day by psychological means. I'm a stats kind of guy--I believe they can tell us a lot about who is actually a valuable player, who is overrated, where a guy is best suited to play in the field, and so on. But stats have never, and probably never will, tell us about the human aspect of the game.

Given that, I feel a manager can really help boost his team's confidence by standing up for them when they are on the wrong end of a bad call. It's just human nature to perform better when you know the boss has your back.

If I may switch sports...not to disappoint MU or K-State fans reading this, but I am a KU fan. And I'm one of those rare KU fans who cares as much about the football team as I do about the basketball team. And I believe with all my heart that Mark Mangino's comments after a horrible
offensive pass interference call cost the Jayhawks a game against Texas in 2004 helped make KU football competitive, at least for a few years. Starting the week after that game, KU went 39-21 until the end of Mangino's tenure. And many players pointed to that press conference as a turning point for the program.

Go watch the video I linked--fast-forward to the 3:40 mark for Mangino's postgame comments. It's commonly referred to as a rant, but watching it it's apparent that Mangino knows exactly what he's doing--sending a message to the league, the officials, and especially his own players that KU football would no longer be a pushover.

I'm not saying Yost needs to develop a Mangino-like attitude (insert eating joke here), especially given what we know now about Mangino's treatment of players and assistant coaches, which ended up being his downfall. But I do think it would help the Royals if Yost would stand up for his players a little more.

I think we all know that young players are not as likely as veterans to get the benefit of the doubt from umpires. It may not be fair, but it's been that way in baseball for decades. When a team is full of young players, the franchise has been irrelevant for almost 20 years now, and a joke for the better part of the last 15 years, it's going to be tough to get the umpires' respect. That's where a veteran manager, who has also played and coached in the majors, can help. I'm not saying Ned Yost should become Bobby Cox, but he has only been ejected once this year and once last year, as best as I can tell (if anybody knows where to find a comprehensive list of manager ejections, please let me know!). All these young players the Royals have? They have enough problems and pressure trying to figure out the game at its highest level. I think it would help them somewhat if Yost were a little more aggressive with the umpires.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The 2011 Royals: Progress?

A year ago, heading into the All-Star Break, the Royals were 39-49. This year, after today's loss, they are 37-54. That doesn't sound like much progress has been made, does it? I have seen and heard this be said many times in the last few weeks as the bottom has fallen out of the 2011 season.

Yet, I feel like this is a better team now than it was a year ago.

For one thing, the 2011 Royals are on pace to score 716 runs. Last year, they scored 676. Even better, with offensive numbers down all around the league, this year the Royals are sixth in the AL in runs scored and above the league average. In 2010, the Royals were 10th in the AL in runs scored and 45 runs below the league average. Even better, the Royals are doing this with the youngest offense in all of Major League Baseball, according to

That leads me to two key thoughts about the Royals' offense: it should continue to improve over the next few years as players like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas get more experience, and this offense should get even younger, but better, in the short term whenever Lorenzo Cain (age 25) and Johnny Giavotella (turning 24 tomorrow) are added to the mix.

In other good news, all those rookies in the bullpen are having solid years. I like that the Royals are using the bullpen to get a potential starting pitcher like Aaron Crow acclimated to the majors while controlling his innings. And guys that project as relievers in the majors, like a Louis Coleman, are getting to experience success in 6th- and 7th- inning situations. With Joakim Soria apparently back to his normal form, you have to like the Royals' chances for a win if they can get through 5 or 6 innings with a lead.

Defensively, this team at least looks better than any Royals team in recent memory. With Alcides Escobar playing a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop, Eric Hosmer showing Gold Glove potential at first base and the outfielders leading the majors in assists, the eye test tells me this is an upgraded defensive team from last year. Oddly enough, though, the Royals rank last in the league in the Defensive Efficiency stat, which is simply a measurement of how many batted balls are turned into outs. Which leads me to the main problem with this year's team...

Many expected the 2011 Royals to have the worst starting rotation in baseball history. They haven't been that bad, but they have been awful. Royals starters have won 19 games this year. The relievers have won 18. Royals starters have compiled a 5.13 ERA this year, while the bullpen has a 3.56 ERA (and remember, Vin Mazzaro's amazingly awful outing in May counts against the bullpen's numbers, even though he's normally a starting pitcher). But the most telling (and damning) statistic about the starters: in 519 1/3 innings pitched, they have 303 strikeouts. In 303 2/3 innings pitched, the relievers have 262 strikeouts.

That's right. In 216 more innings, Royals starters have managed to strikeout only 41 more hitters than the relievers. And this is after Felipe Paulino has amassed 42 K's in 43.2 innings. Basically, if the Royals hadn't plucked Paulino off the waiver wire, the strikeout competition would be a dead heat.

This ties in to the defensive stats of the team. The fewer strikeouts the pitchers get, the more opposing hitters are putting the ball in play. That doesn't necessarily impact the Defensive Efficiency stat, but it does give more chances for bloopers to fall in, grounders to find a hole, line drives to find a gap, or fly balls to get over the fence. It's nearly impossible to win consistently as a starter when you are striking out only five batters per nine innings pitched. About the only way to do it is to limit your walks, but of course the Royals are failing at that too. KC has given up the second-most walks in the AL, and the bullpen has contributed to that (178 walks by starters, 137 by relievers).

The plan on Opening Day was to have a starting rotation of Luke Hochevar, Jeff Francis, Bruce Chen, Kyle Davies and Mazzaro. They have 198 K's in 369 innings. Hochevar in particular is a mystery--for all his faults, he struck out 6.7 hitters per nine innings in 2009, 6.6 last year, but is only at 4.6 this year. Chen and Francis have never been big strikeout guys, but their rates have fallen off a bit, too. Only Davies has maintained his normal rate. Unfortunately, he's also maintained his normal rate of awfulness, too.

On the bright side, Paulino and Danny Duffy have both put up good strikeout numbers in their limited time as Royals. Paulino is at 8.4 K's per nine innings, while Duffy has 7.4. In fact, they rank 3rd and 4th on the team in strikeouts (Duffy and Crow are tied at 43). Both of them should expect to be in the rotation next year.

Unfortunately, any help from the minor leagues seems to be a ways off. I think we all expected Mike Montgomery to be in the majors by now, but a prolonged bout of wildness at Omaha has kept him in the minors. I'm not too worried--it sounds like his velocity is still there, just the command has been off. After skipping one turn in the rotation, he has had two consecutive good starts. Also, he just turned 22 last week and he's already had a half-season in AAA ball--that's very advanced for his age. If Monty keeps putting together solid outings, I would expect him to be called up in August or September, depending on what moves the Royals make at the July 31 trade deadline.

The 2011 Royals are a prime example of how important good starting pitching is. The offense is good enough to win, especially in a weak division like the AL Central (the Royals are second in the division in runs scored, only 10 behind Detroit). The bullpen is solid. In Escobar, Hosmer and Alex Gordon, the Royals have three of the best defensive players in the league at their respective positions. But without starting pitching, they have one of the worst records in the league. Progress has been made, but not in the most important area of any baseball team.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


A beautiful night at Werner Park

After the Royals had their Futures Game earlier this year, The Amazing Michelle and I thought it would be cool to take a short weekend trip to Omaha and check out a couple of games. We planned for a weekend in early June, hoping a) the weather would be good, and b) Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas would still be playing there. Well, we got half of our wishes. Hosmer, of course, has been raking at the major league level for over a month now. And the Royals pulled the trigger on the Moustakas call-up the day before we headed north.

However, the nice thing about The Best Farm System Ever is that there are still plenty of prospects at Omaha waiting for their turn in the majors. Also, there's the little matter of the Storm Chasers' shiny new ballpark, Werner Park.

We visited Arvest Ballpark, home of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, a couple of years ago and were impressed by that facility. Werner Park feels very similar. Just like the "new" Kauffman Stadium, it is possible to walk all the way around the ballpark and still see the game. There are some good concession stands, too--we enjoyed the cheeseburgers at the Omaha Steaks stand, although the concession workers seemed a bit overwhelmed by the large crowd (the Friday night game set a Werner Park attendance record, which was broken at the Saturday night game).

The games were enjoyable, too. The Storm Chasers were taking on the Oklahoma City RedHawks for the weekend. I am not much of an expert on other teams' farm systems, but I have to admit I had not heard of any of the Oklahoma City players, except for a few pitchers with major league experience and Koby Clemens (yes, Roger's son), who I don't believe is a top prospect.

As for Royals prospects, I was most impressed with Johnny Giavotella and Lorenzo Cain. In the two games, Cain went 3-6 with two walks and two doubles, plus made a couple of nice diving catches in center field. Giavotella was 4-8 with two walks and a home run. I guess left field can be a good home run area in Werner Park if the wind is blowing out, but both games were played with more of a cross wind, so I don't think Giavotella's blast was wind-aided. I know the knock on Gio is his defense, but he looked OK to me. He started one nice double play on Saturday night, and almost had another one (frankly, I think the ump blew the call at first base).

David Lough had a good night Friday (2-5) and a bad one Saturday (0-5), although he did hit a couple of balls hard in the second game. Clint Robinson was only 2-9 in the two games, although he did hit a home run to right field that definitely got no help from the wind. Anyways, Robinson's numbers for the season are impressive, and I hope he gets a shot at the majors somehow. It will be tough for the Royals to find a place for him with Hosmer and Billy Butler around.

Johnny Giavotella, ready to hit

If you have a chance to go up to Omaha sometime, I recommend it. We had a great time. And if you don't get there this summer, just remember that next summer there's a good chance Wil Myers and some other prospects will be there. Hmm...this might be an annual event!

(Photos courtesy of The Amazing Michelle)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Fast Flyin' Train On A Tornado Track

(from "Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie," The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1-3)

I know bloggers and stat nerds often get tagged with the reputation of being more interested in the numbers of baseball, rather than what the "old media" have tagged as the poetic, beautiful side of the game. Of course, any thinking person knows this is poppycock. There would be no reason to devote this much time and energy to something we didn't care about, and frankly, the statistically inclined would be better off using their considerable talents to make a pile of money on Wall Street.

Anyway, this particular blog post is about the poetic, beautiful side of the game. Namely, Jarrod Dyson. That dude is fast!

I know that's not earth-shattering news to any Royals fan, but it's fun to talk about. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of a Royals position player who has been more fun to watch than...Carlos Beltran, maybe?

I will admit, as a slow, fat guy, I have a soft spot for Royals who can run like the wind. I'm a little too young to remember Willie Wilson's prime as a speedster, but I always wanted Gary Thurman, Tom Goodwin and Joey Gathright to succeed. I like to imagine what I could do if I could run like that, just for one day. How much fun it would be, even in a beer-league softball game, to cover ground like that, to feel the wind rushing past your face as you fly down the baseline. Heck, I'd be parking my car at the far ends of parking lots and sprinting for the front doors wherever I was going.

Now that I'm older and hopefully wiser, I understand the limitations those guys had, and that Dyson shares with them: a lack of power and a low walk rate once pitchers realize they can challenge these guys and not worry about giving up homers.

In a perfect world, Dyson would be in Omaha, getting regular at-bats. The Royals are probably stunting his development some by keeping him in the majors. On the other hand, the Royals are definitely using him in the most judicious way possible while he's in the majors. Rather than just throwing him out there, they are picking their spots and letting his speed work for them at crucial moments in ballgames.

Meanwhile, I'm going to just enjoy the show whenever Dyson gets on base. Not only is he blazing fast, he seems to have very good baserunning instincts. And as a guy who was picked in the 50th and final round of the 2006 draft, Dyson is easy to root for. His mere presence in the majors is an example of odds overcome. In the first quarter of this season, the Royals have shown that they will fight, scratch and claw every night, and Dyson is just one Royal who embodies that spirit.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Your Hearts Must Have The Courage

...for the changing of the guards
(From "Changing Of The Guards," Street Legal)

I realize I am likely the last Royals blogger to say something about the Eric Hosmer callup, but really, what is there to say? I would have liked to see Kila Ka'aihue get a little more time to prove himself, but that's the way it goes sometimes. You can't really keep a guy hitting .439 with an OPS of 1.107 at AAA any longer than the Royals did. The fact that we still don't know for sure whether Kila is a bonafide major leaguer is due to the Royals trading for Mike Jacobs, not due to Eric Hosmer being called up. But that mistake happened and we can't fix it, just gripe about it.

The more interesting aspect of the Hosmer callup is what it says about the Royals organization right now. Whether you believe it or not, the Royals obviously think they are contenders this year. Personally, I don't think this team is good enough to win the AL Central, although they certainly look better than most people thought at the beginning of the season. And hey, as long as they are within a good two weeks of the division lead, they are actually contenders. I don't think Cleveland will continue on their 108-win pace, so why not give it a shot this year?

The easy play for the Royals would have been to let Kila keep playing here for another month, then call up Hosmer and not cost themselves an extra $8-$10 million in arbitration years from now. Instead, the Royals did the right thing for the team on the field, and for the fans. They should be commended for that.

It will be interesting to see how committed the Royals stay to the idea of contending this year. I can't imagine them trading top prospects for short-term "rental players." On the other hand, you could argue that adding Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery to the rotation is a talent upgrade over whomever they replace, and a "free" one to boot. And adding Mike Moustakas to the lineup actually strengthens the bench, as he likely takes playing time away from Wilson Betemit and Mike Aviles. (In a perfect world, Aviles would start at second and Chris Getz would be benched. But in the name of defense and general scrappiness, I have no doubt Getz will see the majority of the time at second.)

In a way, the Royals are playing with house money. No one expected them to contend this year. Now, they do find themselves in the race, early as it may be. Any prospect they call up will benefit from playing in important games, if the Royals can stay in it. If the Royals fall out of contention, then they can focus on getting as many prospects who deserve it to the majors. It's a good spot to be in.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Give Me A Minute, Let Me Get It Together

...I just gotta pick myself up off the floor
(From "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)," Street Legal)

He was a promising young hitter, although it took him a couple of seasons to get out of Class A ball. After splitting a season between AA and AAA, he was sent back to Triple A the next season, although he did get a September callup. An injury basically wiped out the following season, but he finally stuck in the majors in his sixth professional season. However, he only managed a .248/.313/.442 line in 182 plate appearances, good for a 97 OPS+. It would take three more seasons and 266 games before he found his niche, at age 28.

Our mystery player is one of the greatest hitters in Royals history: Hal McRae. And I hope his story will encourage Royals fans to be a little more patient with Kila Ka'aihue.

The point of this exercise is not to say that Kila is the next Hal McRae, but rather to show that even very good hitters can get off to slow starts at the major league level. And frankly, Ka'aihue's minor league stats compare favorably to McRae's.

It has been frustrating to watch Kila struggle during the first three weeks of the 2011 season. Just like it was probably frustrating to watch McRae hit .188/299/.328 in his first 18 games in 1973. Or George Brett hit .242/.324/.409 in his first 18 games in 1978. But 18 games is just not enough to give up on a guy, particularly a guy who has only played the equivalent of half of one season in the majors, like Kila has.

I know, it seems like Kila has been around forever. We've been hearing about him and looking forward to seeing him play since his monster 2008 season, split between Northwest Arkansas and Omaha. But really, he has only been a major leaguer for 82 games (going into Saturday night's game at Texas). After making him wait behind Ross Gload, Mike Jacobs, and Jose Guillen, I think the Royals owe it to Ka'aihue to give him at least into June to prove himself.

I understand why fans might want to push Kila aside. Both Eric Hosmer and Clint Robinson are off to hot starts at Omaha. The major league team looks like it might have a shot at actually contending for a title this year in a mediocre division, and division champs don't have first basemen who hit .188. But the same caveat applies to Hosmer and Robinson--both are in their first seasons at Omaha. If they can keep up their hitting for a longer period of time, then yes, figure out a way to make room for them in the majors. I don't think it's really fair to them (or to Kila) to bring them up now and expect them to keep the Royals in contention.

Furthermore, I would be more concerned with Kila's slow start if he were not still drawing walks. Part of the reason Royals fans have been excited by his minor league numbers was that sterling on-base percentage. In an organization that has done a great job talking about the importance of getting on base a lot, but has not been so good at getting players who actually, you know, get on base a lot, Kila stood out. So far this year, Ka'aihue is tied for second on the team with 10 walks. He's still exhibiting a good understanding of the strike zone, which gives me confidence he will hit at some point. Part of his problem is the team-high 21 strikeouts, which is rather high for a player who only struck out 39 times in 206 plate appearances last season.

Also, Kila's luck hasn't been the greatest this season, with a .256 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Since a normal BABIP is around .300, I would expect his average to go up. And as the weather gets warmer, his power should improve too.

The time is coming when the Royals will have to decide which two of the four 1B/DH types they have between KC and Omaha they want to keep. But that time is not now. Kila may need a change of scenery to hit, or he may just need a little more time to get his game going. Getting rid of him now, though, would be selling when his stock is at its lowest. And it would be a mistake.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Thoughts On The Futures Game

John Lamb pitching to Eric Hosmer. Mike Montgomery pitching to Wil Myers. Christian Colon fielding Johnny Giavotella's grounder and throwing him out at first. Is this a bizarre dream? No. Is it a sample of a Red Sox-Yankees game from 2020? God, I hope not. In this instance, it definitely is not. No, this is the Royals Futures Game, a matchup between the Northwest Arkansas Naturals and Omaha Storm Chasers. And it's a wonderful thing.

The Amazing Michelle (that's my way better half if you're new to this blog) and I spent most of our Saturday at the old ballpark, taking in the Royals-Angels game and then the Futures Game. Thankfully, it was a beautiful day for baseball, and the major league team played well. This was my first in-person look at the Royals, and I was pleasantly surprised. Of course, it's hard to tell anything from one game, but it does seem like the Royals will be better defensively and certainly in the bullpen. Yes, the defense has struggled a bit in the first few games, but I think most of that has been Mike Aviles, and I believe he is better with the glove than he has shown so far. We've seen him play a decent shortstop, so he should be able to handle third base. And if he does keep making two errors a game, he won't be playing third very long.

Meanwhile, Alcides Escobar is a lot of fun to watch. Especially after years of watching Angel Berroa, Tony Pena Jr. and Yuniesky Betancourt. It's just nice to not have to hold your breath every time a ball is hit towards the shortstop.

And this bullpen. So far, it looks outstanding. You may remember that last year, for the first month of the season, the bullpen was the weakest link by far on a bad team. That pretty much torpedoed any hope that existed at the start of the season. This year, knock wood, that looks like it won't happen. Aaron Crow looked darn near unhittable yesterday. And I think after three games, Angels manager Mike Scioscia would trade his entire bullpen for the Royals' relievers. So that's a positive. And if the rookies in the bullpen are any indication of the talent on the way to the majors, that's a big positive.

It was a lot of fun to see some of that talent actually on the Kauffman Stadium field. I'm no scout, but I have been watching baseball for a good 30 years now, and I saw lots of things to like. Once again, it's hard to tell much from one game, but I really like Mike Montgomery. Pitching for Omaha, he held Northwest Arkansas hitless for four innings. Montgomery was throwing hard (mid-90s), yet displayed a terrific breaking ball a few times. I also like his delivery--it seems compact, simple, and repeatable. It will be fun to follow him at Omaha this year and see how he does.

Overall, I thought all the pitching looked good. Chris Dwyer struggled a bit, and Danny Duffy walked 3 batters in his 3 innings (while striking out 5, so he wasn't terrible, just a bit wild). Of course, the flip side is that the hitters didn't do a whole lot. David Lough hit the game's only homer--I hope he gets a shot at the majors sometime soon. Johnny Giavotella had a couple of walks and a stolen base, plus a nice defensive play. The two hitters everyone wanted to see, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, only went 1-8 combined. I think they might have been trying a little too hard to put on a show. I'm not worried about them--what they've done in their minor league careers so far tells me they can hit.

Kudos to whomever came up with the idea for this game. The Royals should definitely make this a yearly tradition, even after this group of prospects is in the majors. Let's face it, this franchise's success will always depend on a strong farm system. So why not give fans in KC a chance to see them and get to know them? Plus, it's got to be good for the prospects to get an opportunity to play in a major league stadium. Perhaps it will reduce the nerves just a bit if and when they actually reach the majors. I really can't see any downside to having this game every year. I would hope the Royals promote it more in the future--I know a couple of fans who didn't know anything about when I talked to them this week, and these weren't casual fans either. But if this game does become an annual event, I suppose it will become well known.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Best Is Always Yet To Come

...that's what they explain to me.
(From "If Dogs Run Free," New Morning)

So here we are, hours away from the beginning of the 2011 season. I don't think anyone anywhere expects this season to be a success, despite the Royals' excellent spring training record. But I am excited about this season. The transformation of this franchise is finally underway. Consider this: 16 players on this year's Opening Day roster were not on last year's Opening Day roster (the holdovers: Mike Aviles, Billy Butler, Kyle Davies, Chris Getz, Luke Hochevar, Mitch Maier, Brayan Pena, Joakim Soria, and Robinson Tejeda. Alex Gordon was on the DL last year, while Jason Kendall is on it this year. Other than that, the roster has been turned over. The bullpen will feature four rookies, and two more guys who are essentially rookies (Sean O'Sullivan and Kanekoa Texeira).

This is only the beginning; we're going to see more rookies and second-year players joining the roster this year. The position players have more experience, but there's a good chance several of them will be gone by Opening Day 2012 (the only position player currently under contract for next year is Butler). So if somebody is lousy, or if a top prospect is ready, the roster flexibility is there to do what needs to be done.

I wouldn't say the win-loss record doesn't matter this year--the goal is always to win. But this season, a close second might be how well the fleet of rookies and second-year players perform. Even if 2011 is another 90-loss season, Royals fans can look for youngsters who seem like they "get it"--even the best rookies will struggle at times, but if they can play and then make adjustments when the league figures them out, then we'll know we've potentially got something.

That said, I think the two key players this season are Luke Hochevar and Alex Gordon. Although they haven't exactly earned it on the field at the major league level, both have been put in important positions to start the season, with Hochevar getting the Opening Day start and Gordon set to hit third in the lineup. I really like these moves. At some point, top draft picks have to stop being prospects and start being key cogs in the machine. If these two can step up to the roles the Royals have assigned them, the season may be better than anyone expects. If they can't, it may be time to cut bait.

As for predictions, I'm thinking the Royals go 72-90. I imagine they'll finish last, although they certainly could be better than Cleveland. My hope is that a seemingly improved defense will help a less-than-stellar rotation, and that the offense will be better than last year's. The Royals gave up 845 runs last year, worst in the AL and 130 over the league average. Cutting that down to around 800 would be a good start, even though it would still be too high. Meanwhile, they scored 676 runs; getting to around 725 this year would be a good sign.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Youth Movements: Is This One Different?

These are exciting times for Royals fans. Or you would think so, anyway.

It seems like you can't watch or listen to or read any sort of baseball media these days without hearing how great the Royals' farm system looks. I assume most of you are familiar with the details, but if not, let's just say there's a good chance the Royals have the best collection of minor league talent assembled in recent memory. Whether you're a scout or a stathead, whether you like a team built on pitching and speed or a team built on power and offense, this system has something for you.

But recently it seems like there is a mild undercurrent of, I don't know, distrust? A reluctance to embrace the immense potential in the minor leagues. A fear that, like so many other things in recent Royals history, this too will go wrong, and possibly spectacularly wrong. I sense this dread coming from both casual fans and from some of the more hardcore fans (the ones who frequent blogs and message boards, for example). The former may not know all the names that have us hardcore fans salivating, but they seem convinced that the Royals will be trading them all off within the next two years. The latter seem convinced that every single prospect will fail to live up to expectations, and that it doesn't matter even if a few of them do work out, because Dayton Moore is not a good enough evaluator of major league talent to add the proper supplemental pieces.

I do understand the trepidation. It is true that most prospects fail to pan out completely. For every Billy Butler or Zack Greinke, there's an Alex Gordon, Mark Teahen, Kyle Davies or Jeremy Affeldt. Or worse--all those guys are roughly average major leaguers. Not stars by any stretch, but they do have a role and even a deep team would probably find a use for them. For every Butler or Greinke, there are even more guys who are total busts. It is probable that one or two out of the Royals' top 10 prospects will suffer from injuries, inconsistency, or inability to hit a curveball. Or all three. Of the other top 10 guys, two or three more will likely fail to reach their full potential for whatever reason, but will hang on in the majors for a while. The rest will be solid players, and perhaps one or two will achieve stardom.

But here's the thing: the Royals probably have twice as many top prospects as anybody. That is to say, if their entire top 10 list started the season in the majors and all the folks doing the rankings had to pick a completely new top 10, that list would still be impressive. Rany Jazayerli has made this point far better (and with far more authority) than I could, but I certainly believe the talent is there to make the Royals a very good team in the near future.

As for the notion that the Royals will be trading off all these players in the near future, I think the team has proven in recent years that they will sign talented young players to contract extensions if they are willing. Greinke, Butler, and Joakim Soria are proof of that. And yes, the Royals traded Greinke. But they did sign him to one contract extension first, and Zack apparently wasn't interested in signing another. So instead they turned him into four prospects and even got rid of Yuniesky Betancourt in the process.

On the other hand, the Royals probably will eventually have to trade some of these players, either to fill a need or to clear payroll. The way the Royals will maintain success in the future is by having a core of young (and therefore inexpensive) but talented players supplementing the older players the Royals have signed to extensions or added through free agency. But the notion the Royals will be trading all of this young talent in the next couple of years is just silly. We know from the past couple of years that David Glass is willing to have a $70 million payroll, yet this year's will be around half that. The flexibility is there to lock up any young player the Royals want to.

Meanwhile, it is true that Dayton Moore has made some, um, questionable free agent signings and trades. Yet in the last year, he has seemed to learn from some of his bigger mistakes. Thus, Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera got one-year deals, not three-year deals. And nearly every trade he made at the trade deadline last year and after has received at least some praise. Plus, it seems odd to say that the same scouting department that has amassed this minor league talent is incapable of properly evaluating major leaguers.

I think once it becomes clear the Royals are on the upswing, it will be easier to convince free agents to come here. Look at most of the free agents the Royals have signed the last few years. Many of them were coming off injury or some sort of ineffectiveness. Essentially, the Royals have become the Last Chance Saloon for many a free agent, a chance to cash a few more paychecks before moving on to life after baseball. I'd argue the only real in-his-prime, could-actually-be-useful free agent Moore has signed is Gil Meche. Now, the Royals weren't smart enough to keep him healthy for all five years, but they did get good value for that money before he got hurt.

Of course, part of the fear is that we have heard this "youth movement" argument many times, and been burned nearly every time. I checked's franchise encyclopedia for the Royals, which includes the average age for batters and pitchers for each season. In the absence of an average age for the entire roster, I added those numbers together for each season. Since the 1994 players' strike, that total has decreased by one year five different times.

The first two times were the 1995 (-1.1) and 1996 (-1) seasons, which makes sense. In the aftermath of the strike, the Royals either foresaw the coming salary explosion and refused to join in, or threw in the towel, depending on your point of view. Ewing Kauffman's death contributed to this, as the group tasked with selling the team made an effort to keep payroll low. I am guessing this is the first time the Royals uttered the words "youth movement," but a look at the 1995 roster especially shows a large number of veterans. Still, these two years were the first real chances for guys like Johnny Damon, Joe Randa, Michael Tucker, Jose Rosado and Jim Pittsley (with Glendon Rusch coming along in 1997). So what happened? Rosado and Pittsley ended up getting hurt, while Rusch never really lived up to his potential with the Royals. The Royals traded Randa for Jeff King and Jay Bell, then reacquired him two years later for basically nothing. They traded Tucker for Jermaine Dye. Position player-wise, they should have had a good foundation. But without Rosado and Pittsley, the pitching got old. There just wasn't enough pitching, especially in that era of inflated offense, for the Royals to succeed.

Next up, 1999 (-3.8). This group of prospects included Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye, Mike Sweeney, Jeremy Giambi, and Carlos Febles. But once again, the pitching failed to materialize. The only real impact hurler ended up being Jeff Suppan. If you were a Royals fan then, you probably remember 1999-2000 as a long stretch of 11-10 games, usually with the Royals' bullpen blowing a big lead. The Royals had their two best run-scoring years in 1999 and 2000, but gave up even more runs than they allowed. Once again, a lack of pitching undercut this particular youth movement.

The most recent wave of youth was in 2005 (-2.8) and 2007 (-2.3). Yet this was offset by a rise of 3.9 years in 2006. If you're reading this, I'm guessing you're familiar with this group: Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Mark Teahen, Joakim Soria, J.P. Howell, and Leo Nunez, among others. Of course, we're still seeing how this group will turn out, but you will notice two of those pitchers are already gone.

If you are a skeptical Royals fan, whether you are a diehard or a casual fan, you've earned it. The promises we've heard, the pleas for patience from three different GMs, the signings of past-their-prime free agents, all have probably been even more damaging to the fanbase than the three failed youth movements I've listed above. But this time certainly feels different to me. I don't remember the Royals' farm system getting this much attention ever before, certainly on a national level. There are good hitters and good pitchers on the way, and lots of them. I don't want to tell you to trust the process, but perhaps if you've hung in there this long, you can hang in there a little bit longer. Some of those prospects are going to reach the majors this year; my advice is to enjoy watching them develop.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Catching Up

It's been a busy couple of weeks in Royals land. The 2011 starting rotation seems set now, with the addition of Jeff Francis and the re-signing of Bruce Chen. And then of course, the rather surprising retirement of Gil Meche opened up a bullpen spot, as well as gave the Royals a sudden surplus of cash.

I really like the Francis signing. It's only a one-year contract, and it's only $2 million (plus $2 million in incentives). Despite some nice seasons for the Rockies, Francis comes cheap because he has had shoulder issues. But he is entering his second year since his surgery, so there is hope that those issues are behind him. Even if they aren't, the Royals wisely invested little time and relatively little cash in him.

This is exactly the tack the Royals should be taking this offseason and in the next few. Look for low-cost players who have shown ability in the recent past but are available due to injury or underperformance. It is inevitable that even with the depth of talent in the farm system, there will be holes that need to be filled. The best example of this kind of gamble working out is Tampa Bay's signing of Carlos Pena in 2007. Pena had been on four teams in six seasons, and the Rays signed him to a one-year, $800,000 contract. A minor-league contract, even. Forty-six homers later, the Rays had the good sense to sign him to an extension. The next year, they were in the World Series.

I'm also glad the Royals brought back Chen, especially since they only signed him for one year and $2 million, plus $1.5 million in incentives. Chen was decent last year and even had the best ERA+ of any starting pitcher (his 101 was just above Zack Greinke's 100). He was a bit lucky last year, but even if he is ineffective as a starter, he has experience as a reliever and can contribute there. And if he can't contribute in either capacity, the Royals can get rid of him without much of a sunk cost in terms of dollars or time. And again, they are not blocking a spot for the long-term.

In sadder news, I was absolutely stunned to hear Meche was retiring with one year left on his contract. I don't think it's too cynical to suggest most players would go through the motions for one more year to get $12 million--it would be very tempting. I have a lot of respect for Meche, and I wish him the best. I certainly wish the Royals had been more careful with him, but let's hope they at least learned something from the experience.

Meche's departure opens up another spot in the bullpen, probably for one of the many young pitchers who are knocking on the major league door. So that's a nice benefit. Furthermore, the Royals now have an extra $12 million (what Meche was owed this year). After an Opening Day payroll of $75 million last year, the Royals will likely start this season with a payroll around half that. I couldn't believe the complaining I heard on local sports talk radio on the way home from work today. I don't see how the Royals are in a bad situation here. They are young, and likely to get younger over the next few seasons as more and more prospects reach the majors. We know they are willing and able to spend roughly $40 million more than they will this year to fill whatever needs they have. In the meantime, they can use some of that surplus to further their scouting or Latin America signing budgets. This is good news.


On a totally unrelated note, I'm so glad the Royals are acknowledging their online community. For being such a crappy franchise for so long, the Royals certainly have a great base of bloggers, and they are finally recognizing that with their Digital Digest setup at this week's Fan Fest. I must confess, I was disappointed not to be chosen to participate. But I am happy for the ones who were picked and have no problem with any of the selections. I'm really looking forward to reading about their experiences.

I'm grateful that I can be a small part of such a strong blogging community. I do this mainly as a lark--I always enjoyed writing about sports for my college newspaper, and when I started this blog it was in large part because I missed the writing process. And I always love discussing the Royals and baseball in general. Personally, I would never expect (or want) to get a press credential or sit in the press box, but I am hopeful that someday soon, the really good, quality bloggers who cover the Royals (and other teams) will be included in that if they want to be. This is not to slight the traditional media outlets that normally do a good job covering the team, but more to include the talented non-traditional outlets that are also excellent sources of info and analysis.