Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts in The Process

Dismal.  

That is my complete analysis of the three game sweep at the hands of the Pirates.

Currently, Wil Myers is hitting .341/.388/.714 through right at 100 AAA plate appearances.    He has been playing centerfield in Omaha, but I have yet to get any definitve review of how he has been playing centerfield.   Is he Jeff Francoeur with a touch more range?  David DeJesus minus the instincts?  Melky Cabrera only…well, Melky Cabrera?   Maybe Myers will fall in with the Moustakas syndrome.  You know, we all thought that Moustakas might be passable defensively at third, only to see him be a very good defensive third baseman (at least preliminarily).  Maybe Myers could be the same sort of deal in center.  Maybe.

For fun, I did exhaustively comprehensive research in the last four and one-half minutes, and pulled the leaders in wOBA from Fangraphs and reviewed how many AAA plate appearances each of them had before hitting the major leagues.   The results, as you might imagine from such a small sample size is quite varied:

  • Joey Votto – 580 AAA plate appearances
  • Josh Hamilton – 0
  • Paul Konerko – 868
  • Carlos Gonzalez – 237 (Cargo played half a season with Oakland, then got 223 more AAA PA’s after getting traded to Colorado the next year)
  • David Wright – 134 (only 272 more in AA – all in the same season)
  • Mark Trumbo – 595
  • Ryan Braun – 134 (only 257 in AA as well)
  • Josh Willingham – 279 (Josh was 26 when he made the majors and was still playing A ball at age 24)
  • Carlos Beltran – 0 (just 208 in AA as well)
  • Bryan LaHair – 2,709

LaHair and Willingham are fun cases in that we often just discount those types of players as ‘too old for their level’ and ‘AAAA’ types.  Most times they are, but it is wise to remember that sometimes they are not. 

For our purposes, however, Wright, Beltran and Braun are noteworthy.  Myers already has more AA at-bats than any of them and is closing in on the amount of time Braun and Wright spent in AAA.   Beltran, who skipped AAA entirely, got a cup of coffee at the end of 1998 and then won Rookie of the Year honors in 1999.   He did end up spending some time in AAA in 2000, but that situation might apply more to a discussion on Eric Hosmer than Wil Myers.

Certainly and without question, those three players are elite level talents and highly thought of prospects on their way up.   However, isn’t that what most think Wil Myers might be?  Now, you could deal Ryan Braun out of the equation given that he was a college player prior to being drafted, but both Beltran and Wright were not and both were in the majors before age 21.   The point is not to call up Wil Myers this very second, but only to show a very few examples of some really good prospects who spent very little time in getting to the majors.

Of course, the Royals are not a ‘Wil Myers’ away from contention.  Had they drafted Chris Sale instead of Christian Colon and Tim Lincecum instead of Luke Hochevar (or Clayton Kershaw or even Brandon Morrow), then maybe the Royals would be just one player away.   The question is, just how many players away are they?

Let’s remember that even great teams don’t have great players at every position.  They all have a Jeff Francoeur or a Jarrod Dyson or a Johnny Giavotella in their lineup and a Hochevar in the rotation.   Truthfully, it is a bit unfair to even lump Frenchy in with the others.   He is not a good major leaguer, but he is a legitimate major league player:  decent enough to play right and bat seventh on a contending team.

For better or worse, the Royals are set at six spots in the lineup:  Gordon, Moustakas, Escobar, Hosmer, Butler and Perez.  If that core group does not perform over the next two to three years, then this discussion is irrelevant and Dayton Moore will not longer by your general manager.   That group is, as a unit, is not getting it done right now, but let’s pretend (if nothing else) that they will start doing so soon. 

In addition to that core, the Royals have a very good and very deep bullpen and one and one-half starting pitchers.  Bruce Chen is not a number one on any team, but he can certainly be a number four starter on a contender.   Felipe Paulino is good, when he’s healthy.   There is a pitcher like this on a lot of teams.  Hell, Jonathan Sanchez was that guy for the Giants when they won the World Series.

So, where are we?   Right back to where we all thought the Royals were in March?  Two good starting pitchers away from being decent?  Pretty much.

Truthfully, one really good starter and two ‘better than what they have now’ starting pitchers away from being pretty solid.   Throw in Wil Myers and you are getting there.   If Wil Myers can really handle centerfield, then Kansas City moves to very good.   Big ‘if’, but an intriguing if and one that should be explored once the Royals are willing to roll the dice on the Super Two timing as it relates to Myers’ service time.

Myers would make the Royals better and certainly more interesting, but the truth is it doesn’t matter when Vin Mazzaro and Luis Mendoza are your number three and four starters.   IF Paulino could get and stay healthy and IF Jake Odorizzi continues to appear to be and eventually becomes the ‘real deal’, then you could line up Odorizzi, Paulino and Chen in the rotation for the second half with the hope that Danny Duffy could be back by the middle of 2013 to be your number five starter.   That group has some hope.

Of course, that leaves a big blank spot at the top of the rotation.   Your move, Mr. Moore.

xxx

 

With a 6-3 win over Cleveland yesterday, the Kansas City Royals completed a quite successful 5-4 road trip.   That is five out of nine against the then leaders of both the AL East and Central divisions, plus the New York Yankees.   That’s five out of nine after starting out the trip by losing three of the first four games and going through a five game stretch where the Royals scored only 15 total runs.

Frankly, if prior to the start of the trip, I told you the following would happen, what would you have pegged the nine game record to be?

  • The Royals would commit 12 errors
  • Starting pitchers would go five innings or less in five of the games.
  • Opposing baserunners would steal 14 bases in 15 attempts

I don’t know, 2-7 probably?

Instead the Royals, whose 16-11 road record trails only that of the division leading Orioles, White Sox and Rangers, came home a happy 5-4.  Oh yeah, five wins on this road trip is equal to the number of home wins the Royals have compiled ALL year.  This team is anything but boring.

This road trip really underscores that you don’t need to play perfect to play decent baseball.  The Royals are not going to go on any fifteen game winning streaks playing like they did the past week and a half, but when they make the plays at the right time, they can slowly climb back to .500….despite themselves.

Yesterday, the Royals got only five marginally effective innings out of Bruce Chen.  They were picked off twice, while Cleveland ran wild on the bases.  Kansas City bailed a befuddled and disgruntled Jennmar Gomez out of trouble when Johnny Giavotella was picked off first base with Billy Butler at the plate.   Later in the game, after rookie Scott Barnes loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batter, Jeff Francoeur bailed him out of trouble by popping out on the FIRST pitch he saw.   And, let’s not even get into what Jonathan Broxton did in the ninth.

The day before the Royals committed three errors behind rookie Will Smith (who also walked the first two batters of the game) and the team still cruised to an 8-2 win.   On Sunday in Baltimore, Luke Hochevar did not make it out of the fifth, but the Royals still won 4-2 and the day before that, Felipe Paulino walked five in five innings and the Royals won that game, too.   A team doesn’t have to be perfect to play winning baseball.  In the Royals case, on the road at least, they don’t have to even come close to perfect.  

Over the last thirty games – basically a fifth of a baseball season – the Kansas City Royals are 16-14.   They have done so with a starting rotation so jumbled that the occupants of  both the fourth and fifth starter slots are almost always in a state of flux.  Although the lineup and, more particularly, the batting order has recently settled down, but for most of those thirty games it has been a roulette wheel every night.   Let’s put it another way, the best two starting pitching performances of the road trip were turned in by two guys who did not make the rotation out of spring training and the biggest hit in yesterday’s game came from a player who was sent out to the minors with two weeks left in spring camp.

This is not the Royals team most of thought we would have in 2012.  No one, no matter how correctly skeptical of the rotation, envisioned this team being 5-17 at home.   Of course, this Royals team is not ’5-17 bad’.   The very basic whims of the baseball gods means the Royals are due for some good luck at home, it not actually destined to, you know, play better baseball on their own field.

The White Sox, by virtue of an 8 game winning streak, have surged to the lead in the Central with a 29-22 record.  However, they don’t really strike one as a team that is going to play .560 baseball all year.  I could be wrong – it’s been known to happen – but the longer the Tigers flounder about the more it seems like the Central Division is in play for whichever mediocre team wants to back into it.

The Royals have begun to see signs of life, or at least signs of better luck, from Eric Hosmer.   Alex Gordon has started to get on base again and Mike Moustakas is emerging as a middle of the order impact bat.    Is Salvador Perez as savior?  Not sure, but I like him in the Royals lineup way more than Brayan Pena or Humberto Quintero and that is going to happen before the end of June.  

While the Royals don’t really know what they have in Lorenzo Cain and likely won’t find out for at least another month, I still believe he is an upgrade in centerfield.  Could Wil Myers find a place by mid-summer?  How about Jake Odorizzi?  What if Will Smith pitches another strong outing this weekend? 

At the end of that awful 12 game losing streak, most of us had this season as being effectively over.   Times have changed.   The Royals don’t need to be perfect to win baseball games.   The season is far from over.

xxx

 

 

Eight different pitchers have started a game for the Kansas City Royals thus far in 2012.  That’s eight different starters in just 37 games…..in a schedule that has included five off-days (that includes rainouts).   Along the way, the Royals have employed thirteen different relievers:  fourteen if you want to include Mitch Maier.

While those numbers are really quite shocking given we are not quite a quarter of the way through the season, they are not unexpected to most Royals’ fans.   Going in, we knew the starting pitching was problematical and the bullpen would be relied upon heavily.   We also knew that there was considerable bullpen depth, even after Joakim Soria went down and Blake Wood and Greg Holland.

Of the many criticisms that can be leveled at Ned Yost and Dayton Moore, one has to compliment them on the ability to manage the merry-go-round between Kansas City and Omaha.  They have maneuvered the roster admirably.  We may have laughed at the idea of two, sometimes three, long men in the pen, but damn if they weren’t needed…often less than 24 hours after being called up.

The problem, and Ned Yost has already said as much, is that the bullpen simply cannot keep up this pace.  Even as the Royals, with the recall of Everett Teaford and Louis Coleman, cycle through the second time around the bullpen ride they still have Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera and Jose Mijares all on a pace to pitch almost 80 innings.  The return of a hopefully healthy and effective Greg Holland will ease that burden some, but it is still going to be a grind for the relief corp.

The problem, obviously, is the rotation.   The Royals can pretty much count on Bruce Chen to get them innings (that’s right, I believe in Chen) and it looks highly likely that Felipe Paulino is going to be a guy that gets the Royals six innings, maybe into the seventh, on a regular basis.  After that…

Well, are you going to buy back in on Luke Hochevar after one excellent start and one good start?  I’m not.  I’m done, remember?  Hochevar’s problem, as we are all keenly aware, is that when he is bad, he is a bullpen destructor.   You get a start, and believe me there’s one coming, where Luke gets blown up in the third inning, followed by a short start by Luis Mendoza or Jonathan Sanchez (when he comes back..and he will, like it or not) and the bullpen merry-go-round has to shift gears into a higher range.

What’s the solution?   Well, better planning by Dayton Moore leading up to this point is a warranted criticism.   Still, two years ago you just know the organization was certain that the group of  Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, John Lamb, Aaron Crow and even Chris Dwyer  would have produced at least two quality big league starters for the 2012 rotation.   Well, now Duffy and Lamb have both had or about to have Tommy John surgery.   The club has turned Aaron Crow into a reliever:  a very good reliever, but a reliever nonetheless and Mike Montgomery has spent his AAA career struggling.

Out of that entire group, the guy who might well emerge as a solution to one spot is Jake Odorizzi, who was not even in the organization back then.  In Odorizzi, Royals’ fans have to hope that this, finally, at long last is a rookie pitcher who is going to come up and be very good right away.  It happens sometimes…to other organizations, but maybe the Royals are due for some good luck.

I have pondered what the Royals should do in the short-term.   They are not playing particulary well, especially at home, but yet they are not buried in the standings and not resigned to going 70-92.   This team is not a contender in the truest definition of the word, but they are good enough to not be blown up.

The rotation was not good before the season started and now it is a mess.  Quick, can you even name the rotation right now?   Can you tell me what it will be past Sunday afternoon?

So, what do the Royals do right now?   

Nothing.

That may well make you right some bad things to me in response.   Go ahead, you might be right, but doing nothing is my response. 

First off, are  you really willing to trade Wil Myers or Mike Moustakas or, quite frankly, one of those two and a couple of other guys not named Clint Robinson or Johnny Giavotella (or Irving Falu) to get a starting pitcher that another team is willing to part with? 

Secondly, while the merry-go-round is starting to spin pretty fast, the bullpen actually can survive at this pace for at least another month.  Maybe with a little luck and a hot streak by Teaford or Mendoza or Adcock or Mazzaro (okay, I threw that last one in for comedy relief), the pen might make it intact and effective to the All-Star Break.

By then, you hope Salvador Perez is back (sounds doable according the latest), Eric Hosmer is hitting, Lorenzo Cain is back (my sanity craves a centerfielder who can, you know, field the position), Eric Hosmer is hitting, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar continue to perform as they have, Eric Hosmer is hitting and, oh yeah, Eric Hosmer is hitting.

One good way to milk an extra inning out of a borderline starter is to score six runs instead of four.  The above will certainly, hopefully, go a long ways towards accomplishing that.

In the interim, you can hope that either Odorizzi or Montgomery begins to blow AAA hitters away with consistency.  Heck, you want to dream, go ahead and hope BOTH of them do.   The baseball world does not have to be all sunshine and roses for the Royals to have a dramatically better roster by mid-July than they do right now.  It will not be a roster that will truly contend, but it should be better. 

Doing nothing, other than spinning the roulette wheel of relievers every other day, is the kind of thing that rankles the fans of a 15-22 team.  I get that and, listen, I am right there with all of you on the frustration train, but I do not see the ‘big move’ to be made right now.  Roy Oswalt is not coming to Kansas City and may not be a big help even if he did.  The Phillies are not trading Cole Hamels (not right now anyway) and the Royals sure as heck don’t need to trade for Josh Beckett and his contract.

Doing nothing sucks for a fanbase that has sniffed contention once since the 1994 strike.  Doing nothing for the next six weeks or so, is exactly what the Royals should do.

xxx

 

Ten straight losses.   Nine straight at home.  New and inventive ways to lose every day.  A player to the disabled list every week. Welcome to the 2012 Kansas City Royals, ladies and gentlemen.

There have been a lot of things that have gone wrong through 15 games.  In fact, at one time or another, almost everything has gone wrong.  Enough, in fact, to have Ned Yost remark that changes may be on the horizon.  It is a deep, dark hole and there really is no way around it.   Losing 12 of 15, while accentuated by having it happen to start the season, would be a bad stretch and extremely noticeable at any time in the season.   Three and twelve is three and twelve, folks.   If you are not panicking just a little, then you are just being a contrarian for the sake of being contrarian.

All that said, the Kansas City Royals could reach .500 by the end of the season by simply winning two more games than the lose in each month.  Of course, that assumes they right the ship and manage to play it even until we get to May Day.  Sadly, that is a rather optimistic, sunshine pumping assumption right now.

As bad as the 2012 campaign has begun, some things have gone right. 

  • Mike Moustakas, with three hits on Sunday, raised his average to .269 and now has eight extra base hits.  Along the way, Sunday’s error was the first blemish on what has been a very good defensive start for him.   One cannot trust defensive stats this early in the year (or a player’s career), but the stats and the eyes certainly are pointing to Moustakas being a far better defender than was originally thought when he was coming up.  Decent or better fielding coupled with a pace that puts Moustakas on track for fifty plus extra base hits is indeed something good.
  • Speaking of good fielding.  Well, let’s be serious, really good and probably great defense.  Even after an 0 for 3 on Sunday, Alcides Escobar is hitting .286 with a .322 on-base percentage.  Those numbers don’t get you in the Hall of Fame, but when combined with Escobar’s impact on defense, they are more than enough to get him deep into the positive side of the ledger.  Sure, he has a somewhat fortutious .341 BABIP, but it is not crazy lucky.  Prior to the season, if you were told that Escobar would have four doubles, a triple and a home run by game number 15, would you have even asked how often he was getting on base?  Oh yeah, he has four stolen bases without being caught.
  • Billy Butler.  I almost didn’t put Billy on this list because he has done exactly what we expected:  hit.  You have arrived when an early wOBA of .394 gets you a ‘yeah, that’s Billy, he can hit’ response.
  • I will probably draw some ire here, but I am not going to expound on the early season runs of Yuniesky Betancourt, Humberto Quintero or Mitch Maier’s .370 on base percentage.  Maybe it’s bias, but I see Butler, Escobar and Moustakas building on their good starts and see the first three players in this bullet point falling.  Yes, they have all three had moments and, quite frankly, more moments than many on the roster.  Long term, I don’t see Yuni, Humbo and Mitch as answers to anything.  I will make a deal with you:  if Yuniesky Betancourt has an OPS over .800 May 23rd, I will write 1,000 words of something nice about him.
  • Bruce Chen and Danny Duffy.  While Duffy had a rough day on Sunday, he was outstanding in his first two starts and I think most of us would be delighted if Danny could produce two good starts out of every three in his sophmore season.   As for Chen, I give up, he appears to be the next Jamie Moyer and, for right now anyway, the Royals can sure use him.
  • Not a lot has gone right in the bullpen.  What was supposed to be a ‘Super Pen’ has been decidedly average.  While both Aaron Crow and Tim Collins have been tagged for some runs, both have had some really outstanding outings as well.  Maybe the biggest positive of the entire pen has been Collins’ 12 strikeouts to just 1 walk in his first 8.2 innings of work.  With the injuries to Soria and Holland, the deep pen is no a bit shallow and being able to rely on Collins and Crow (who has allowed 5 hits in 8 innings) is a nice fallback.

I know, some of this is reaching for sunshine.  Perhaps this column should have been used to take  some shots at Yost (who should just pick a batting order and let the guys settle in – this team is thinking too much, give them at least one less thing to think about!) or Moore or Glass or the coaching staff or just about anyone.  We could truly panic and call for Johnny Giavotella, Nate Adcock and whomever else is someone different than Jason Bourgeois, but it is just a fraction too early.  Not by much, mind you, but a week or two weeks too soon.

There are some positives and some really bad luck (entering Sunday’s game, Alex Gordon had a BABIP of .235, Hosmer just .163).   The Royals have played horrific ball, but they don’t look like a team that should be this bad.   This 3-12 start almost certainly means that Kansas City won’t win the division this season, but it does not doom them to laughingstock…at least not quite yet.

xxx

 

I told myself I wasn’t going to get too worked up about this Yunigma nonsense. I told myself that the Royals surely didn’t think he was going to play much – if any. I told myself not to worry.

But I can’t help myself…

From Bob Dutton:

I think Yuni will start three or four times a week,” Yost said, “and we’ll be able to keep everybody strong in that infield. I don’t think we’re going to lose a beat. It’s a perfect scenario.”

A perfect scenario? Maybe it is for someone like Lifto – the circus freak who likes to put nails through his scrotum. Me? Not so much. So the thought of Yuni starting three to four times a week is kind of the same thing on my scale of pain threshold.

Reading between the lines, you’d figure Yost is thinking of playing the Yunigma as a “rover.” He’ll play for Mike Moustakas on Tuesday, sit Wednesday, play for Alcides Escobar on Friday and then for Johnny Giavotella on Sunday. Normally, this kind of strategy doesn’t bother me too much. It’s a good idea to give the regulars a break. It’s a long season, after all.

Except we’re talking about Yuniesky Betancourt.

The quote about his playing time wasn’t even the best part of the article. Check out this gem:

Club officials never accepted the general sabermetric view on Betancourt, which contends he is a liability in the field because of limited range and at the plate because of a .292 career on-base percentage.

I’d love to know what Jin Wong and Mike Groopman think of the Betancourt signing. I mean what they really think, because obviously, if you asked them you’d get the company line. But if I was either of those guys, I’d be insulted. Because the general sabermetric view is dead accurate on Betancourt: He’s among the worst players to draw a paycheck in the majors.

That .292 career OBP? It’s powered by his early career, believe it or not. Over the last three seasons, his OBP is .277. In 1,680 plate appearances. While you may have thought he couldn’t get much worse than three years ago, think again. He’s sinking. This isn’t even about sabermetrics. This is about being bad at baseball.

And defensively, we’ve seen him enough to know the defensive metrics proclaiming him to be horrible are pretty much spot-on as well. Sure, I’ve seen him make the spectacular play. Then I’ve seen him fail to reach grounders two steps to his left. The amazing does not make up for falling short at the routine.

Dayton Moore is on the record as saying he likes the fact Betancourt hits with “some power.” Yeah, that’s great he can reach double digits in home runs. Except the whole OBP issue kind of clouds any gains in power he may realize.

For some perspective, league average OPS was .730 last year. Betancourt, despite clubbing 43 extra base hits, posted a .652 OPS. So for him to be league average if he’s not going to improve his OBP (which as you read earlier, doesn’t matter to the Royals) would need to add 11 home runs to his totals. It’s not a Ruthian task, but it is kind of a tall order for someone who’s never hit more than 16 in a season in his career. And we’re just talking about being average here. Not an All-Star, not an MVP candidate… Average.

Of course there are those of you who will urge me to calm down. The Yunigma is a utility guy… Someone not to be troubled with. There are larger issues to worry about. Fine. Continue to live in denial that Dayton Moore and his brain trust struggles with constructing the best 25 man roster possible. Don’t worry about their inability to evaluate major league talent. Hey, the minor league system rocks, so who cares about some utility infielder we tossed a couple of million at to warm the bench?

Some will urge me not to sweat the small stuff. I will argue that it’s the small stuff that will ultimately undermine The Process. Everything matters. Everything. Leave nothing to chance.

The Royals committed $2 million to a player who, according to Fangraphs, was worth -0.3 WAR over the last four seasons. He’s not good. Or even average. He’s awful.

The Betancourt situation smells like the same one we faced with Willie Bloomquist. I remember at the time of his signing, I said the Bloomquist deal wasn’t anything to get worked up about as long as he had fewer than 250 plate appearances. Naturally, in his first season with the Royals he had 468 plate appearances. Ugh. I continue to stand by my assertion that Johnny Giavotella will break camp as the Royals starting second baseman, but will be supplanted by the Yunigma by mid-May. If you’re fine with watching Betancourt for most of the summer, be my guest. I figured we were done with the guy when he was shipped to Milwaukee. Never in my wildest dreams did I think he’d return. Apparently I’m not as diabolical as Dayton.

Yuni isn’t the end of baseball in Kansas City. And it won’t derail or even delay The Process. Yet his presence on this roster is a symptom of a much larger issue facing the Royals.

Someday the Royals will be in contention. And someday they’ll need to hit the market to patch a hole or two in their roster. I’m not talking about a utility guy… I’m talking about an important cog to the team. Maybe a leadoff hitter, or a frontline starting pitcher. Do you have confidence they can find the right guy at the right price? Do you think the Royals can evaluate and project the best option to round out a winning ballclub?

Based on the evidence we have, I sure don’t.

And that’s what The Yunigma is about.

As you should have heard by now, the Royals and Alex Gordon finalized their 2012 contract, avoiding arbitration. The total value is thought to be $4.775 million. I had postulated earlier that if the two compromised on a number less than $5 million, that was a sign that negotiations for a long-term deal were progressing in a positive fashion. Well, that was accomplished as the dollar amount is $25,000 below the half-way point on the numbers both sides exchanged in preparation for a potential arbitration hearing.

Although there does seem to be a bonus clause worth exactly $25,000 if Gordon has 700 plate appearances. He had 688 PAs last summer.

For those of you keeping score at home, Dayton Moore has never gone to arbitration with any of his players while with the Royals.

The next step is the oft discussed extension. A good sign from the conference call on Thursday was the fact there is no self imposed deadline by either side. I take that as both sides thinking that something will be done before the season opens in two months. Although in his conference call with reporters, Gordon characterized the extension talks as “slow.”

Gordon turns 28 today, by the way.

Other matters…

ESPN’s Keith Law hates the Royals, but that didn’t stop him from putting out a prospect smorgasboard that includes a Top 100 list and a list of the top 10 prospects from each organization. (All links require a subscription to read Law’s take on individual prospects.) For those interested here’s how different top 10’s have looked this winter.

(By the way, I’m kidding about Keith Law hating the Royals. He hates EVERY team.)

What’s interesting (to me, at least) is how the players seem to fit in ranges. Myers and Starling are clearly the cream of the crop in the minors for the Royals. Montgomery, Odorizzi and Cuthbert represent the next tier. While Lamb, Adam, Ventura, Dwyer and Herrera populate the bottom half of this list.

Also interesting to note that Dwyer just missed being on all four lists. (Kevin Goldstein has him at number 11 at Baseball Prospectus.) Also interesting is the absence of 2009 top pick Christian Colon from every list but Jonathan Mayo’s at MLB.com.

And we’re about 10 days to the official reporting date of pitchers and catchers…

Reports emerged last night (from the indefatigable Bob Dutton… who else?) that the Royals and Alex Gordon are close to an agreement on a one year deal.

Naturally, I had a couple of reactions.

The Good: This prevents the unnecessary step of meeting before an arbiter to decide Gordon’s 2012 salary. Gordon is asking for $5.45 million while the Royals offered $4.15 million. It’s a pretty wide spread, but it’s not something that the two sides can’t hash out and meet somewhere in the middle.

The Bad: What happened to the extension everyone’s been discussing?

According to Dutton, the two sides are focused on reaching a deal for 2012 before moving onto talks for an extension. Exhale. One thing is certain… Dayton Moore thinks of his ballclub as a family. And family members (good one’s, at least) don’t drag other family members into court. This contract will never, ever end up in front of an arbiter. The two sides will most definitely reach a one year agreement before the scheduled hearing on February 16.

What to watch for: The key will be the amount agreed upon in this one year deal. Remember Butler’s contract extension from last year. After the two sides exchanged numbers, his camp settled on a compromise less than halfway in return for more cash in the future. It’s a fair trade… Less money today for guaranteed salary for the next three or four years.

I think that if Gordon takes less than $5 million, that indicates that the two sides are very close to getting something done.

(By the way, is this the lamest off season in Royals history, or what? Four months of no baseball and what do we have to show for it? Bruce Chen getting what’s basically a two-year extension? The Melk-Man trade? The Yunigma returning to haunt my summer? Seriously, this winter has been excruciatingly boring. Not unlike Moneyball.)

Then last night, I saw this Tweet from WHB’s Nate Bukaty.

Saw the report that Royals are offering Gordon 4 yrs, 30 million. I’ve been told Gordon’s camp wants 6 yrs, 80 mil. Seems like a big gap.

Uhhh… yeah.

Now, if anyone is plugged into the Royals, it’s Nate. But I don’t know where he’s getting those numbers. That’s insanity, both in total years and in cash. If Gordon is truly asking for that kind of security and scratch, and I was GMDM, I’d wish him luck, buy him some luggage for the move from KC and call the Boras Corp and try to lock up Eric Hosmer.

As Nate pointed out in a later Tweet, Gordon has basically had one good season. Although his second half of 2008 was supposed to be his “breakout” before injuries, a position change and demotions derailed his career for the better part of two seasons. The dude has had a hell of a career packed into five seasons and I’m not sure how you can hold his performance in 2009 and 2010 against him. They happened, so you can’t ignore them… but at the same time, there were mitigating circumstances that conspired from keeping him from what we could have expected as his best performance.

Still, if the Gordon camp is truly angling for a six year, $80 million contract, they are insane. Like have-a-crush-on-Jodie-Foster insane. Maybe if he plays out his final two seasons in KC and builds upon his most excellent 2011 season, he could be looking at that kind of payday when he hits the open market at the end of 2013. But not now. Good grief, not now.

The good news is, there’s simply no way GMDM goes for something like that. Not with talent bubbling in the cauldron we call The Process. No way does he commit a record contract (for the Royals) to a corner outfielder who would be on the wrong side of 30 for half of the deal. Uh-uh.

So what happens to the two sides? I’ve gone on the record with the Royals and Gordon agreeing to a four year deal valued around $35 million. I’m going to bump my estimate by a cool million. Here’s how I would break down the deal:

2012 – $5 million
2013 – $7 million
2014 – $12 million
2015 – $12 million

Gordon was a Super Two, so he won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season. Thus, he makes $7 million in his final year of arbitration and the Royals buy out his first two years of free agency for a total of $24 million. The contract takes him through his age 31 season and keeps him in Kansas City for when the Royals are supposed to contend in the AL Central.

Gordon could play Contract Roulette and gamble he can stay healthy and continue to abuse opposing pitchers, but this is a fair deal for someone at this point in their career with the limited amount of success he’s had. This seems like a win all the way around.

Hopefully, both sides can reach an agreement.

“What the hell is going on with you?”  – A statement from me to myself.

The Kansas City Royals are budding contenders, right? I’ve been writing those words in articles and saying them aloud to friends for almost a year now. It has become second nature for me to just start rattling on about how Eric Hosmer is going to be a star and the bullpen is one of the best in baseball and they can overcome a mediocre pitching staff and blah blah blah. I can say it and convince others, but I don’t believe I’ve convinced myself.

I should be stoked for the upcoming 2012 season for all the reasons you are aware of. This should be a good team, this should be a fun team. But I can’t get excited. I’ve thus far been unable to embrace what might come. Which prompts the statement at the top of the post.

I’ve been a die-hard Royals fan since birth. I’ve lived through the 90′s and the 2000′s and the 2010′s and always retained a sense of optimism. I’ve always been the guy that people could come to and ask “Why should I like the Royals this year?”. Surprisingly, I’ve always had answers:

“Kevin Appier is one of the best pitchers in baseball.”

“They have these young guys Carlos Beltran and Carlos Febles who are going to be superstars.”

“Kyle Snyder is going to be a rookie sensation!”

My enthusiasm has rarely wavered and my optimism has known no bounds. But now, suddenly on the verge of what might be something truly special, I’m hesitant. Have waves of constant losing eroded my baseball soul until there is little more than a nub remaining? Has writing, which requires objective observation made me empty? Or has the constant drive to find information and post about it just worn me out?

The truth as always is complex. I believe that my time spent analyzing baseball has begun to create a zen-like state of baseball awareness. Things just are. And for as long as I can remember baseball fandom has been one which is synonymous with losing. I’ve accepted it. I’ve almost welcomed it. I can list a number of things about losing which actually make being a baseball fan better.

1. Tickets to games are cheap

2. Tickets to games are plentiful

3. The Spring Training complex is much easier to get in and out of

4. I can’t prove it, but I think it creates better baseball writers

I’ve combined this acceptance of losing with a crash-course in baseball analysis. Knowing that there are significant elements of luck in baseball and that players value can be measured and compared has opened my eyes. Many people fight this realization. They just can’t allow the beautiful game to be reduced to 1′s and 0′s. I get it. It can leave you feeling a bit dead inside. It’s almost as if learning that Picasso traced his paintings. I disagree, but I see it. But this awareness has allowed me to objectively see the Royals for who and what they are.

With that knowledge, I should be optimistic. I know this team has flaws, but there are real objective reasons to believe they should be a contender for the playoffs.  I know this. I’ve written this. However, the intersection of my analysis, my heart and most importantly my history won’t let me process it.

“What does it mean?” – Me, again to myself.

The Royals are actually and objectively possible contenders. What am I supposed to do with that information. My experience has no way to deal with it. Getting excited has proved in the past to be an exercise in futility. Believing this is the same as the past 20 years conflicts with my analysis. So I’m stuck. I’m caught in the middle of a psychological impasse. My reaction has been to let my brain do my writing and talking, while my heart has covered my eyes, plugged my ears and screamed ” LA LA LA LA LA LA I CANT HEAR YOU LA LA LA LA”. It’s left me to keep baseball and the Royals at arm’s length for now. It has almost pushed me into apathy.

What both sides need is more information. They need games. They need to see the standings. Only once the results start to stream in can both sides be placated. For now though, both sides are standing their ground.

“Is it baseball season yet?” – Me, in unison.

 

 

 

- Nick Scott
Follow @brokenbatsingle

With the arbitration filing deadline just past, it seems like a great time to take stock of where the Royals are this winter with contract commitments for the upcoming season.

That’s 14 players for a total outlay of just north of $46 million. The Royals will fill out their roster with 10 players who will make close to the major league minimum. Yeah, Hosmer’s awesome, but like everyone else, he has to put in his service time before he can get paid. The minimum salary in 2012 will be $480,000. To keep things nice and tidy, let’s just assume Hosmer, Moustakas, Duffy, et al will make $500k apiece. That adds another $5 million to the payroll, pushing the total to almost $52 million.

Wait!

That list is missing Alex Gordon. After the year he had, A1 is due a tidy raise. Because the Royals and Gordon didn’t come to an agreement on a contract before noon, central time on Tuesday, his agent Casey Close and the team exchanged one-year contract figures. Reports are Gordon asked for $5.45 million and the Royals offered $4.15 million. It’s a big gap, but this is just another step on the road to arbitration. Also, it’s worth remembering that since Dayton Moore took over as the General Manager, no Royals player has gone to see the judge. Moore doesn’t want to present a case before an arbiter. It’s an unpleasant process, so it’s understandable the GM who preaches clubhouse chemistry does his level best to avoid the messiness of arbitration.

While there have been a number of players who have filed for arbitration as a procedural during Moore’s tenure, very few of them have actually exchanged numbers. Like this year, there’s always a flurry of activity just ahead of the deadline. Here’s a list of those recent instances where the Royals and one of their players have swapped valuations along with the final compromise:

Two things of note:

1 – Nearly every time the Royals and a player submitted dollar amounts, they reached an accord close to the midway point. The art of the compromise is strong.

2 – Dayton Moore has signed three young players to long-term contracts: Joakim Soria, Zack Greinke and Billy Butler. Soria was never eligible for arbitration, but in the instances of Greinke and Butler, both sides submitted offers for a one-year deal while a multi-year contract was being negotiated. And both times the multi-year agreement was reached within days of the deadline to submit numbers.

Gordon and the Royals have been talking contract extension. However, like most of these negotiations, there’s been little incentive (meaning deadline) to get a deal done. Think of it as similar to the process we’ve gone through with guys like Bubba Starling after the draft. Without a deadline, nothing happens. Now we have reached a place where both sides have to show their hand (for a one year deal at least) expect the talks to gather a little steam.

So here’s my bold prediction: Alex Gordon signs a contract extension by this time next week. I’ll guess four years at $35 million with an option year for the club. Let’s also figure A1 will pocket just under $5 million for 2012. (Butler and Greinke both took a number just below the mid point for the start of their multi-year deals.) That puts the Royals payroll for the upcoming season in the neighborhood of close to $58 million.

The Royals topped $70 million on their Opening Day payroll in both 2009 and 2010. I have to think the money is available for GMDM to add another starter to the payroll. The flexibility extends to the future, so if he desires, Moore can look beyond the one year rentals. There are plenty of options available to GMDM. I hope he’s bold enough to take one.

After he inks Gordon to a multi-year deal.

Truthfully, trading Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Verdugo was the easiest decision Dayton Moore will make this off-season.   It was also an easy decision for Giants’ GM Brian Sabean.    

The Giants believed they had an excess of starting pitchers (which they do until two of them get tired arms and a third can’t find the strike zone) and the Royals thought they had an extra centerfielders (which they did as long as Lorenzo Cain hits some and Melky Cabrera doesn’t become a four-plus WAR player for the next five years).   A good trade in both directions by most accounts and one that is highly thought of by the majority of those of us who follow and write about the Royals even during football season.

If Melky Cabrera regresses and Sanchez pitches to 2010 form while Lorenzo Cain proves to be a defensive whiz with a decent bat, then the Royals will win this trade.   Even if it turns out otherwise, this was a logical move with moderate risk.   No trade is a sure thing:  if there was not risk involved, I would not have a Ryan Shealy jersey gathering dust in my closet.

Now, Mr. Moore, the water gets deep.

Is two years of Bruce Chen at $10 or $12 million more important than the compensation draft pick the Royals would get if Chen signs elsewhere?   Is Jeff Francis the guy we saw in 2011?   If so, is that enough to bring him back to fill out the rotation?  Are you all in for 2012 and prepared to make a big move to put a name at the top of your rotation?   What about second base?  What about Joakim Soria?   With the likes of Ryan Madson rumored to be worth $40 million over four years, the trade value of Soria is surely back on the rise, isn’t it?

As you know, I have been advocating a ‘hold the course’ line of late, which really has not been tremendously changed by the Sanchez acquisition.   On his own, Sanchez does not make the Royals’ contenders, but he does put them maybe a bit closer to that title (again, assuming Cain is at least a 2-3 WAR player in center).    Simply put, Hochevar-Paulino-Duffy-Sanchez and somebody else is a better place to build from than Hochevar-Paulino-Duffy-and two other guys.

That said, plugging Chen or Francis in as the fifth starter or Mike Montgomery, should he have a big spring, does not make Kansas City a bonafide contender.   If everything breaks right and the Royals get a little luck, sure they could contend.  Heck, they could win the Central under certain scenarios.  To be likely contenders, however, Kansas City would need at LEAST a starting pitcher better than Sanchez/Hochevar.

That’s the rub, isn’t it?  At some point, the Royals are going to have to go ‘all in’ and getting that point in time right is the single most important decision Dayton Moore will make of his baseball life.

I don’t think the time is now.   The Royals are young and with youth comes uncertainty.  We’re pretty sure Eric Hosmer is going to be a star, we think Alex Gordon is going to come close to replicating his 2011 campaign, we have to believe that the young bullpen arms will continue to be effective and that Escobar and Perez will hit enough to justify their outstanding defensive abilities.   For one, I will be shocked if Danny Duffy is not significantly better in 2012, but what the hell do I know?

The Royals could go ‘all in’ right now and have a decent justification for doing so.   Just know, that there is no trade scenario for the kind of pitcher they will need that does not begin with Wil Myers or Mike Montgomery and won’t end until there are three more names on the list – all of which even the people on Facebook have heard of.    That is all fine and good until Cain strikes out 172 times, Gordon hits .277, Moustakas hits 16 home runs instead of 32 and Eric Hosmer is a ‘nice player’ but not an ‘All-Star’.

Yeah, Cabrera for Sanchez was easy.  It gets hard from here on out.

xxx