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Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Alberto Callaspo

For those of you keeping track (and who isn’t?) that was the fourth time this season the bullpen has coughed up a lead in a Zack Greinke start.  Four times in nine starts.  Unreal.  And the Royals are now 2-7 in Greinke’s starts in 2010.

On Tuesday, it was Blake Wood’s turn to gack the lead.  Wood’s been with the team for what, a week?  He earned his stripes tonight, blowing Greinke’s game.  You aren’t a full fledged member of the Royals bullpen until you contribute to the destruction of a Greinke quality start.

So for that matter, Bryan Bullington got his membership papers as well.

Brutal.

Thoughts… Some random… Some not… All with a point…

If you’re Zack Greinke, are you pissed when the new manager rolls out a lineup that excludes Mike Aviles?

There are three hitters who have carried the Royals to their six wins this month.  Three.

Billy Butler – .367/.418/.517
Mike Aviles – .377/.377/.509
Alberto Callaspo – .303/.313/.485

Let’s identify some tangible ways these three have effected the Royals this month.

May 1 – Callaspo hits a double in the top of the 11th, scoring two.  Royals beat the Rays 4-2.
May 4 – Aviles collects three hits, including a home run.  Butler and Callaspo chip in with two hits each.  Royals beat White Sox 7-2.
May 13 – Callaspo hits a three-run home run to tie the game and Butler adds a run scoring double in the two run seventh to get Greinke his first win of the year.  Royals beat the Indians 6-4.
May 14 – The stars of this game were actually Yuniesky Betancourt and Mitch Maier.
May 16 – Aviles and Butler each reach base in rallies in the fourth and fifth innings as the Royals erase a 2-0 deficit to beat the White Sox 5-2.
May 17 – Butler singles to drive in the first run of the game, then doubles home an insurance run in the seventh.  The Royals need it as they edge the Orioles 4-3.

Key roles in five of the six wins.  It’s no surprise to us… We’ve seen these guys play.  They are clearly the three best hitters the Royals have.

So why wouldn’t you play them in games where your best pitcher is starting?

And the only time Jason Kendall should ever hit second is if they start cloning humans and we end up with eight Betancourts by mistake.

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Speaking of Greinke, his strikeouts are down this year.  He was whiffing 9.5 batters per nine innings last year and is down to 7.5 per nine this season.  We’re a quarter of the way through his season, so for him to be down two strikeouts a game qualifies as big news.

Greinke’s five most common plate appearance outcomes, through his first eight starts in 2009:

Strikeout – 28.6%
Fly Out – 17.2%
Ground Out – 16.7%
Single – 11.9%
Double – 5.3%

Zack Greinke’s five most common plate appearance outcomes, through his first eight starts in 2009:

Strikeout – 19.6%
Fly Out – 19.6%
Single – 16.4%
Groundout – 15.9%
Walk – 4.6%

So what’s the difference?  Hitters are really laying off his slider.  We all know about Greinke’s devistating slider – how it breaks down and away, out of the zone.  It’s a great strikeout pitch, because it can rarely be touched.  That was the case last year, when the opposition offered at 54% of all sliders Greinke threw and missed on 25% of those swings.

This year, hitters aren’t taking as many swings at his slider, moving the bat only 44% of the time when Greinke throws that pitch.  And since he’s getting a miss on only 12% of those swings, I’m guessing most hitters have an idea when that slider is going to fall out of the zone.

Greinke struck out six tonight.  His season high for strikeouts in a game this year is eight, which he’s reached twice.  Last year at this time, he had struck out eight or more in a game six times.

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Ned Yost has shown a couple of things that I liked since he became manager.  But it was almost as if the Ghost of Trey Hillman was piloting the ship on Tuesday.  First, as noted above, the lineup was destined for failure.

Second, the “by the numbers” use of the bullpen meant Wood was the eighth inning guy based on his past week of strong work.  Really, he’s been great since his call-up.  But this was his third day of work in a row and he’s now appeared in five of the seven games since he arrived.  That seems a little excessive.  And a little SABR Trey-esque.  SABR Ned?

Third, the bullheaded resistance to using your best pitcher in a tie ballgame.  Honestly, when you’re on the road and the game is tied in the late innings, forget about the freaking save opportunity.  Think about keeping your team in the game.  Please.

Fourth, the stubborn refusal to use the bench.  Basically, I never, ever want to see Chris Getz or Yuniesky Betancourt with a bat in their hands in the late innings of a tie game.  Please.  Yost should have pinch hit Mike Aviles for Betancourt with one out and if he had reached, he could have brought up Brayan Pena.  Then defensively, he could have left Aviles in at short and bought Wee Willie Bloomquist in to play second.

How in the hell can you go down in a one run game to the worst team in the AL and not use your hottest hitter?  Frustrating.

The four items I outlined above were all hallmarks of Hillman’s failed tenure.

I know I wrote an article last week, knocking Yost as being more of the same.  I was hoping he would prove me wrong.  (Although, let’s be honest… Most managers are going to manage a ballgame exactly the same way.  There’s little room for free thinkers or innovators in dugouts across the country.  I was hoping he would do more things like pull Gil Meche when he was clearly out of gas.  That was nice.  More, please.)

There’s still time, but Yost is going to have to do some heavy lifting to bring me on board.

Well, Alex Gordon has been sent to Omaha to learn to be a first baseman and outfielder while Alberto Callaspo has become the full time third baseman.  Once this whole situation sunk in for me, the first thought that came to my mind other than “What the heck are they doing with Gordon?” was “At what point does Alberto Callaspo truly become a Royal?”  It seems like an odd question considering Callaspo officially became a Royal on April 4th 2008 when he pinch hit for Tony Pena Jr. in the 8th inning against the Twins.

While technically at that point he was a Royal, ever since then he’s seemed like a visitor, a temporary part of the team, a guy who had some potential but represented a stop-gap. Even the Royals seem to have treated him like he was not very important to the team.  He was always rumored in trades, including heavily during this year’s Spring Training.

You would think that after 253 games, back to back .300+ hitting seasons and being one of the most productive offensive players on an offensively anemic team he’d be more than just a figurative Royal in my mind; he’d be a bonafied team stud.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of Callaspo, but he just hasn’t seemed like a true Royal.  For some reason it just hasn’t happened yet…until now.

It might have something to do with the fact that he wasn’t a part of the Royals minor league system.  He was acquired via trade for pitcher Billy Buckner.  It was a pretty heavily debated move at the time if I remember correctly.  Regardless, there wasn’t time to develop an affinity for him while watching his stats in the minor league.  He wasn’t one of our guys – he was thrust upon us.

The other part of the equation is that he hasn’t really been given a full time position.  He has played primarily at second base, logging 203 of those 253 games there.  But even with that many games at a single position, he hasn’t exactly been installed as the true starter and trusted in that role.  In 2008, Mark Grudzielanek was the full-time second baseman at the beginning of the season; however he had an ankle injury late in the season and the position ended up going to Callaspo nearly by default.

Before the 2009 season, the Royals attempted to make Mark Teahen a second baseman.  That experiment lasted 3 games until Jose Guillen had to go on the DL with a hip injury.  Again, the Royals reluctantly put Callaspo back at second base, this time however he started 142 games at the position.

Then, before the 2010 season, the Royals traded Mark Teahen for Chris Getz: a fast, light-hitting, decent fielding second baseman.  The Royals made no secret of the fact that they were shopping Callaspo. They were openly looking for potential trade partners but they either didn’t find one or didn’t get an offer they liked.  And in what’s looking like a pattern, Getz goes on the DL and Callaspo heads to his old position once more.

Finally, in what seems like a drastic move, the Royals send Gordon to Omaha in order to learn to be a 1B or an OF and finally give Callaspo a full time position, but this time it was at third base.  The club has seemingly placed their full faith in Alberto Callaspo.  So after acquiring Callaspo, moving him around the diamond, trying to get rid of him and attempting to replace him twice in the last two years, Callaspo seems to have worn down the organization.  They have finally decided that his bat is worth having in the lineup, and  they had to find a place to put him.

Alberto Callaspo is in his third season with the Royals, and he is continuing to produce offensive numbers.  He has finally been given a full time job at third base, and more importantly, seemst to have the full faith of the organization behind him.  It finally feels like he’s a Royal, well at least to me.  Welcome home Alberto, welcome home.

Nick hosts a podcast about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and welcomes feedback via Twitter (@brokenbatsingle) and e-mail (brokenbatsingle [AT] gmail [DOT] com)

Another series, another salvage of the final game.     Just a note for those that admire the grittiness of the Royals for hanging in:  teams that continually salvage the final game of a series end up with a 54-108 record.   Anyway, a lot did happen this weekend as the Royals dropped two of three to the Twins, so let’s get right to it.

The End of the Luis Mendoza Era

Okay, maybe not.   Mendoza, who was designated for assignment, will likely clear waivers, pitch in Omaha and likely end up back in Kansas City in the seemingly never ending cycle of never giving up on pitchers who have never shown any reason to warrant such consideration.

At any rate, Craig covered the designation of Mendoza and the release of Juan Cruz expertly was it happened last Friday, so I won’t waste a lot of time with it here other than to say that the release of Cruz was unexpected.    Outside of Joakim Soria, one can make a pretty good case for the release of everyone else in the bullpen, but Cruz did have a better track record (at least prior to coming to KC) than the others and was/is getting paid over three million this year.

That said, Trey Hillman had pretty much viewed Cruz as the pitcher of last resort most of the year and Juan had done little to change that mindset.  Perhaps this move was a ‘statement’ to the fans by Dayton Moore or a ‘wake-up call’ to the other members of the staff of maybe, simply, Hillman and Moore were tired of watching Cruz allow inherited runners to score.    I cannot say that releasing Cruz was a bad move, just a surprising one.

As far as the recall of Brad Thompson and Bruce Chen, it seems to point that the club wants veteran guys that it believes will throw strikes.   I assumed we would see Thompson at some point this year and he’s worth a look, but Bruce Chen?  Again? 

Gil Meche and the Mystery of Control

We have seen Gil have a three start stretch where he really struggles, but nothing like the first three starts of 2010.   Currently, Meche is averaging a walk per inning and sporting a robust 11.37 earned run average (most of it deserved).  You can analyze all the peripherals inside and out, but the simple fact is that Gil currently cannot consistently throw strikes.

Trey Hillman ‘does not see any mechanical or physical issue’ and my untrained eye sees Gil throwing hard with good movement (maybe he’s falling off to the first base side a bit?), so you have to pretty much just pray that Meche is still rounding into form from a sluggish and sporadic spring.  

One ray of hope is that Meche was pretty awful in April of 2008 (7.22 ERA, 15 walks in 34 innings) and was the ‘Meche of old’ the rest of that season.    Of course, he could simply be ruined, too.

An Ugly Saturday

Sure, it was an exciting 12 inning 9-7 loss for the Royals in the mist and rain, but this was not a pretty game.   Kansas City was tagged with three errors (one on a blown pop-up and another that cost them a double play).   The Royals also missed another pop-up and blew another double play that were not called errors.    Glad we focused on defense in the off-season.

Luke Hochevar pitched well early, but gradually (with some defensive ‘help’) let the Twins grind their way back into the game, but left with a two run lead with two outs in the seventh.   John Parrish came on to walk two hitters and surrender a Justin Morneau (he’s pretty good, by the way) home run.   After a great start, Parrish is suddenly looking like…well, a Royals reliever.

Kudos to Trey Hillman, by the way, for going to Soria at home in a tie game and letting him pitch two innings.   In doing so, he gave the Royals a two inning window to score a run while the one reliever the team can count on was shutting down the opponent.   The Royals, of course, did not score, but still it was worth a shot.

By the time umpire Greg Gibson had decided he was too wet and cold to be bothered to do his job correctly, the Royals had collected 18 hits and 5 walks, which was not enough to keep pace with the Twins.    An unearned run off Bruce Chen in the 11th was answered, but two more courtesy of an ineffective Robinson Tejeda in the 12th was too much.

As bad as Gibson’s call was – it may have been the worst I have ever seen – how many of you really thought the Royals were coming back in this one? 

Getz and the Roster

Chris Getz is about to begin a rehab stint in Omaha with all indications being that the Royals will activate him as early as Friday.   After watching Alberto Callaspo play second base, can you blame them?

The discussion in the Kansas City Star was that the Getz activation might signal an Alex Gordon demotion to the minors.  Like me, Dayton Moore may have grown weary of watching Gordon pull outside pitches on the ground to the second baseman, so the move actually might make sense.

With Jose Guillen hitting and Alberto Callaspo doing the same (although both have played similar defense – Jose has just played his without actually taking the field), there is no regular spot in the lineup for Alex.   As much as Kansas City needs another bench player, you probably do not want Gordon playing two times per week. 

All things being equal, I would advocate activating Getz, sending Gordon to Omaha (unless he goes 8 for 16 this week), paring the bullpen down to seven pitchers (I don’t care who goes, I really don’t) and putting Wilson Betemit on the bench.   Betemit is a veteran guy, can play everywhere and has a little pop.  It makes more sense to have Betemit playing sporadically than to have Gordon cooling his heels on the bench.

The Salvage

Brian Bannister had a nice outing, the bullpen was shaky but just good enough and Jose Guillen went yard again as the Royals came away with the win on Sunday.    Kansas City committed two more errors, but did just enough to overcome those on Sunday.

We also learned that Josh Fields is out for the year with hip surgery.   It was hard to see where Fields fit on this roster so missing 2010 is probably good for everyone involved.  

Ever Onward

The Seattle Mariners come to town for three games starting tonight.    Felix Hernandez versus Kyle Davies:  who could ask for a better matchup?

With yesterday’s off day it feels like we’re at the midway point of the Spring Training schedule. I have no idea if this is factually correct, but I don’t really want to spend the time counting exhibition games.

Anyway, now seems as good a time as any to see where some of the guys are as far as their performance. I don’t place any value in spring performances… small sample sizes and pitchers and hitters working on their approach and all that. Still, there have been some interesting developments this spring.

Let’s recap:

Stock Up: Alberto Callaspo

I’ve said it all along, any Royals lineup that doesn’t include Callaspo is a bad lineup. The Alex Gordon injury has simplified SABR Trey’s job in a manner of speaking in that it opened a position for Callaspo. A slash line of .448/.469/.586 in 29 at bats is sparkling – even if it is spring training.

Stock Way Down: Kyle Davies

There’s not a ton of competition for the back end of the rotation, but Davies is doing his level best to pitch himself out of a job. He can’t get anyone out – in his last appearance ten of the 18 batters he faced reach. That was seven hits (including four doubles) and three walks. This has become a dysfunctional relationship where It’s best that both parties go their separate ways before someone has to call the cops. Let him abuse another fan base.

Stock Up: Mitch Maier

He’s just reminding Dayton Moore that he’s younger and less expensive than the free agent retreads the Royals signed this winter. Like the Gordon injury opening the door for regular Callaspo time, the Rick Ankiel injury has presented Maier with an opportunity he wasn’t otherwise likely to have this spring. He’s responded by hitting .455/.478/.818 in 22 at bats.

I figured with the off season outfield shopping spree, Maier would be the odd man out. Now, I’m thinking Ankiel is a new version of Jose Guillen (i.e. On the downward side of a career where the injuries are going to pile up.) and will miss plenty of time this year, giving Maier some at bats.

I’m glad, because I root for Maier.

Stock Down: Josh Fields

I had hope that he could recapture his power stroke from a couple years ago, but now I’m not so sure. When you’re swinging a slow bat in spring training, that’s just not a good sign. Plus, he’s just leaving a ton of runners on base. A ton. And striking out. And not hitting for the power he was supposed to possess. He has potential to be Mike Jacobs, Version 2.0. That’s not a compliment.

Stock Up: Mike Aviles

He hasn’t seen a lot of action, but he does have seven hits in his 14 at bats. Encouraging progress for someone who wasn’t expected to be ready for Opening Day. The Royals could still keep him in extended spring training to open the year, but he’s close. That’s good news because we’re going to be calling for him by mid-April after watching a couple weeks of Betancourt.

Stock Up: Aaron Crow

It’s official: I’m excited to see this kid in Kansas City.

That said, I hope the Royals do the prudent thing and keep him in the minors all year. No need to rush him, and after setting out all of last year, he needs to get some low pressure innings on his arm. Double-A is absolutely the best place for him to open the year. If he tears it up in the first half, promote him to Omaha. If he tears it up in the second half, give him a courtesy call in September.

Let’s focus on him for 2011. It will be worth the wait.

Stock Down: Rick Ankiel

I know we have a new training staff, but didn’t you have a little deja vu when he was pulled from a game on Friday, said he felt better on Saturday and was shut down for a week on Sunday? Speaking of which…

Today’s Hillmanism is on Ankiel:

He just needs to have some consistency offensively. Occasionally, you’re going to see him swing out of the zone. Hopefully, he gets his discipline tamed a little bit before we get into the season.

This gets nominated for understatement of the spring. Last year, Ankiel offered at pitches out of the strike zone over 34% of the time. Of the 252 players who accumulated over 350 plate appearances, he had the 17th worst discipline. For his career, he’s swung at 33% of all pitches he’s seen out of the strike zone.

If I were a betting man, I’d bet against Ankiel discovering the magic of discipline.

Well, this was not exactly the best weekend in the history of the Royals, was it?

We will start with the good news from the weekend, which you can basically boil down to more good pitching. After Greinke’s outstanding start on Friday, Gil Meche pitched a healthy and effective two innings on Saturday (albeit taking 41 pitches to get through two innings). He was followed by a two inning-three strikeout performance from last year’s first round pick, Aaron Crow.

Saturday’s game also saw shutout appearances from Blake Wood, Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna and non-roster invitee Josh Rupe. We will ignore the almost total lack of offense, for now, as we have plenty of other ‘not all that positive’ news to discuss. The old baseball adage is that pitchers start out ahead of hitters, so we will just rely on that for another few games in hopes of seeing some sort of production with the bats.

Of course, it was injury news that caught all the headlines this weekend; especially since the Sunday game was rained out, taking with it a ‘B’ game that was going to be Joakim Soria’s spring debut as well as that of Willie Bloomquist (we were all waiting for that, I’m sure) and Mike Aviles.

Injury number one did not make a lot of news. To make room for newly acquired Gaby Hernandez, the Royals placed reliever Henry Barrera on the 60 day disabled list. Barrera’s 2009 was washed out with Tommy John surgery and he is still in “rehab” mode. Barrera can post seriously ridiculous strikeout numbers when he’s on and is eligible to come off the list in early June. All this really accomplished was to get Hernandez on the 40 man roster without having to drop anyone.

This weekend, we learned that prized left-handed prospect Danny Duffy is being shut down for the time being due to elbow stiffness. The Royals claim he is ‘medically sound’ and they are just being cautious. Other than being jaded by past history, I have no reason toquestion the team statement. Still, how many times have we heard a player ‘just needs a little rest’ and nextthing you know he’s under theknife?For now, we will simply have to hold our breath and hope we see Duffy ready to goin Northwest Arkansas this April.

While the seriousness of Duffy’s injury is in question, there is no doubting the injury to 2005 second round pick,Jeff Bianchi. After struggling with a back problem in his first two professional seasons andfighting some wrist issues in 2008, Bianchi finally broke out in 2009. He made the40 man roster and there was talk of him opening the season in AAA.Scratch all that: Bianchi is done for the season with reconstructive elbow surgery.

The silver lining here is that Bianchiwill likely be moved tothe 60 man disabled list any time, which opens up a40 man roster spot. While that does not help the Royals with the many players on the bubble who are out of options, it doesgive them the ability to add a non-roster player whoimpresses enough to make the 25 man roster or evensnag one last free agent at a bargain price without having to worry about dropping acurrent member of the roster. I know, I’m reaching here for something positive, but it is ‘something’.

The big news of the weekend was the broken thumb of Alex Gordon. Instead of talking about Alex getting a Saturday start at first base, we instead have this to discuss.

Gordon broke the thumb slidingheadfirst into second base (what are going to hear more on the Royals’ broadcasts this year? Broken bats or headfirst slides discussions?)and will be out three to four weeks. During that time, Alex will not be able to swing a bat or throw, so while he may be healthy in four weeks, he will not be baseball ready.

Here’s the silver lining.

I wrote just last week that Gordon may need a good spring training more than anyone else on this team in hopes of rebuilding his confidence. While missing all of spring training goes against that statement, having a couple of weeks of extended spring training and a few more on a rehab assignment in Omaha might be just the ticket. That assumes, and it is a big assumption, that the Royals don’t rush Gordon back to the majors. They have the luxury of time here and should use as much of April as possible getting Alex healthy and confident before bringing him back to the majors.

In addition, this injury gives Alberto Callaspo a regular playing spot to start the season. I fully believe that Dayton Moore made the Teahen for Getz/Fields trade fully intent on flipping Callaspo in the off-season. The offers, if there truly were any, did not meet expectations and hence the Royals have a crowded roster (not all bad, mind you).

With Callaspo playing third, presumably, to open the season, that allows the Royals do showcase him and Jose Guillen in the month of April. While it may be a longshot, it certainly cannot hurt one’s ability to move either player by having both playing everyday to start the season.

Worst case, the Royals reach the end of April with Gordon back on the roster with Callaspo and Guillen fighting for at-bats: basically right where they started off this spring. Best case, Guillen hits a little and Callaspo looks good at third base, increasing their marketability, however slightly.

Gordon going down is certainly not the best case scenario, but there are some minor benefits, too. Overall, for a non-contending team like Kansas City, this is not the worst thing that could happen. It buys them some time and flexibility in trying to improve the team.

Jose Guillen is in camp, in shape and healthy after two off-season surgeries (neither done by Jose himself, this time).

On the one hand, good for Jose. He showed up ready to go, saying all the right things about helping the team and, at least on the first day, seems to be motivated to have a good year.

On the other hand, Guillen is ‘not about to concede’ his outfield spot and become the full-time designated hitter. Anyone see some clubhouse outbursts down the line?

Guillen’s prickly personality aside, my real concern lies in what Trey Hillman might do.

Last year, we saw several occasions where Hillman sat David DeJesus against lefties (who David hit 13 points higher against than right handers last year) in favor of Willie Bloomquist. What is he going to do with Jose Guillen, who for all his faults is a better hitter (when healthy and right) than Willie?

Rick Ankiel was promised the centerfield job and Dayton Moore did not go out and sign Scott Podsednik to have him sit the bench. So that leaves DeJesus on the firing line, along with Alberto Callaspo. How long into the season will it be before the Royals trot out a lineup that does not include those two players? Players that just happened to be and probably still are the team’s second and third best hitters.

It is certainly not bad to have options and competition in spring training. Who knows? A market might yet open up that allows Moore to make a move involving one of the above. Right now, however, the thought of Trey having more options to ‘mix and match’ mostly makes my head hurt.

Perhaps, as someone is sure to comment, this is too much worrying about something that has yet to happen. Here’s a better question, which trade would you make on say, March 20th:

  • Guillen for a mid-level (somewhere outside of an organization’s top 15) prospect
  • Callaspo for an untested but near major league level position player (probably outside of an organization’s top 10) and another minor prospect
  • DeJesus for a real prospect emerging from AA and another mid-level prospect from about the same level

Are any of these trade options really realistic? I am frankly not sure, go ahead and comment on that, too. At same time, however, assume that the deals are out there and tell me which one you would do.

By the time you are reading this, the first workout of the pitchers and catchers could be underway. Awesome.

Time for the first edition of spring notes.

Let s start with a little old news. Hopefully, it s a semi-fresh take. Anyway, here s Trey Hillman s top choice for a lineup as reported by the Star s Bob Dutton:

Podsednik – LF
Getz – 2B
DeJesus – RF
Butler – 1B
Ankiel – CF
Guillen – DH
Gordon – 3B
Betancourt – SS
Kendall – C

A few random, knee-jerk thoughts:

– Any lineup that fails to feature Alberto Callaspo who was the team’s second best hitter last summer is a bad lineup. There can be no debate about this.

– The outfield alignment is screwed up, but we knew this was going to happen.

– Podsednik won’t get on base enough to justify a high position in the lineup. In writing about him for the Royals Authority Annual (on sale soon!) it was obvious he s entirely dependent on a high batting average on balls in play to elevate his OBP. He walks in less than 8% of his plate appearances.

– If you re going with Getz in the lineup, I suppose he s fine at second. He makes plenty of contact and won t kill a rally with a double play. Last year in 76 double play opportunities (when he was at bat with a runner on first and less than two outs), Getz hit into only four double plays. Nifty.

– There are three guys who are made for the number nine spot in that lineup and there really isn’t a number four hitter in the bunch.

– I don’t get why SABR Trey is looking to slide Butler down to the cleanup spot. He seems perfect for the number three.

Here’s my ideal lineup:

DeJesus – CF
Getz – 2B
Butler – 1B
Ankiel – RF
Callaspo – DH
Gordon – 3B
Kendall – C
Betancourt – SS
Podsednik – LF

The best hitters on the team occupy the number 1, 3 and 5 spots in the order which gives the Royals the best chance at a big inning – Something that s going to be rare with this offense. Ankiel is probably the best long ball threat at this point, so he gets the cleanup spot by default, although if Gordon shows some thunder, I wouldn t have an issue with flip flopping them in the order. I also wouldn’t be adverse to a Gordon/Josh Fields platoon at third.

I’m not happy with putting Kendall and Betancourt back to back in the lineup, but what else can you do? Cross your fingers and hope they make the final outs of the inning (which will happen over 70% of the time) and then Podsednik can be a de facto second leadoff hitter.

– Player Inventory is the catch phrase of the spring. Holy crap, I wish I were making this up.

This new buzzword comes to us thanks to the previous season when the Royals lost Mike Aviles, Alex Gordon, Gil Meche, Coco Crisp, Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies for extended periods due to injury. Look, the Royals weren’t contenders last year, no matter what. Take the starting left side of the infield, the starting center fielder and three-fifths of the starting rotation of any team in the league and they aren’t going to have the depth necessary to cover all the loses. No way.

It s a nice idea, but if a similar scenario happens this year, the Royals would again lack the proper depth to replace all those parts. The Royals always seem to be trying to close the barn door after all the animals have escaped.

– I prefer to play what I call roster math. As Dutton points out, there are several players on the 40-man roster who have options remaining that may ultimately come into play when it comes closer to Opening Day.

For example, there s the heated battle for the backup spot in the Royals outfield. Mitch Maier doesn’t have any options left while Brian Anderson does. Of course, Anderson has a major league contract that will pay him $700k while Maier will make only around $420k. It would have been great if someone noticed this early in the off season.

Chris Getz also has an option left, which could come into the equation if he struggles badly this spring. Although it would be an epic upset if he didn’t break camp with the team.

– One related roster math note that received considerable attention was this take on Betancourt:

Something to remember: Betancourt has options remaining. While he has sufficient service time to refuse the assignment and become a free agent, he would void whatever remained of his $9 million contract through 2012 by doing so.

If Betancourt struggles, and Aviles returns to form, the Royals won t hesitate to make a switch. That won t likely happen by opening day, but the way each plays this spring bears watching.

I really wonder about this. We re talking about the same organization that gave Tony Pena, Jr every opportunity to prove his worthlessness before they finally gave up. Do we really think they would be quick to option Betancourt, a player who costs much more money and who cost them a prospect in the trade that brought him to KC? Besides, there s a ton of evidence that GMDM coveted Betancourt for years. Years. No, I don t think he s going to cut the cord on Betancourt so quickly.

Although it would be great if Betancourt was optioned and he declined and voided his contract. Unfortunately, stuff like that doesn’t happen to the Royals.

– The Royals slogan for 2010 is It All Happens Here. What, exactly is it? Bad fundamentals? Buck nights? Zack Greinke shutouts? Drunken nights on the party porch? The possibilities are endless. I suppose that’s the idea.
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There’s a TV commercial that goes along with this slogan and can be viewed here. When you watch it, it’s apparent that they’re de-empahsizing baseball and instead trying to sell all the other periphery that goes on at the stadium. By my count, there were roughly 35 cuts in the commercial – three of which featured actual baseball being played by actual Royals. The same number of cuts that featured food.

Yesterday, Clark posted his over/under scenarios for the regular season. Today, I present some questions I have as camp gets set to open. We ll find out some answers almost immediately and others will take a bit longer to sort out.

Hey, the good news is, baseball is in the air. About damn time. On with the questions.

Are Gil Meche and Brian Bannister healthy and ready to make 32 starts for the Royals?

Although both pitchers were felled by Trey Hillman’s Starting Pitcher Chainsaw Massacre, Meche’s troubles began in his first spring training start last year when he reported a stiff back following a one inning outing. If both are healthy and Meche returns to the form he flashed in his first two seasons with the Royals and Bannister can continue to refine his cutter he developed last year, this team has the foundation of a quality starting rotation. As many have pointed out, the CHONE projections have the Royals rotation ranked as the 6th best in baseball.

Take those projections with a grain of salt. Zack Greinke has the highest projected WAR among all pitchers and CHONE is making the assumption that both Meche and Bannister are healthy and at the top of their game. Certainly, the potential is there, but let s not get carried away just yet.

Where will Alberto Callaspo play?

Did you see the Star’s rundown of the 40 man roster on Sunday. Nothing huge, just little capsules on each player along with a one-liner about how they fit on the team. For Chris Getz, the line read, Second base is his job to lose.

Really?

I know Callaspo leaves a lot to be desired with his glove, but this is a team in desperate need for offense, which is something Callaspo provides. If Getz is the starting second baseman, will the Royals slide Callaspo over to DH? I’d be fine with that, but then what happens with Jose Guillen? Honestly, I could care less about what happens with Guillen, but do we really want to hear the inevitable stories about how he’s pissed off? Oh well, this is his last season here, so he may as well go out with some fireworks.

Speaking of Guillen, is there any chance the Royals will get some production out of him in 2010?

I’ve heard various reports about his health and fitness this winter. It’s ranged from good to bad to horrible, so how he’s doing health-wise is anyone s guess.

My hope is, he reports to camp fat and hurt and the Royals decide to immediately end the Guillen era and give him his unconditional release. Hey, we’re out $12 million for 2010 anyway.

Has anyone heard if the Royals found someone to play the part of Sluggerrrr? Maybe the Royals can get their money s worth by having Guillen don the costume. That would be great, but can you imagine the liability when he s performing at a birthday party, drops a handful of f-bombs and then tears his groin while shooting hot dogs?

Is Billy Butler still motivated?

The knock on Butler prior to last season was he lacked a certain amount of maturity that would push him to realize his potential. All he did to dispel that notion was to work all winter on his defense and report to camp in excellent shape.

My question then, did he do something similar this off season? Sometimes, success creates a comfort level and some athletes aren’t able (or willing) to push themselves to maintain that success.

I m not saying Butler is a candidate for regression. There s no evidence he decided to take the winter off and rest on his laurels. I m just saying I hope he’s still working just as hard as he worked last year. I just get the feeling he could have a monster year if he put in the proper work this winter.

Who will set-up Soria?

The Dayton Moore era has been marked with bullpen uncertainty almost since day one. Sometimes, it all works out like it did in 2008. Other times not so much, like last year. Juan Cruz will be looking to bounce back but with Kyle Farnsworth and Robinson Tejeda auditioning for a starting role, there aren t many known commodities currently residing in the back of the bullpen.

(Hopefully the Royals understand Farnsworth isn’t an option to be a set-up man. I fear when it becomes apparent he can t start, the Royals will undoubtedly try him in this role once again.)

Will Alex Gordon be ready for the season?

Last year was supposed to be his breakout year, but now like his free agency, it s been delayed a season.

With newly acquired third baseman Josh Fields in the fold, is it possible the Royals picked him up to apply some pressure to Gordon? The parallels between the two are interesting in that both were highly touted prospects coming out of college and have yet to come close to that potential in the majors. Fields represents a true alternative should Gordon once again falter (through injury or poor performance.) That s something the Royals have never really had at third. Certainly, Teahen could have been that but during his last three years with the team, his services were needed at other positions. This year, Fields doesn’t really fit anywhere on this team.

I think it would be super cool if they threw the third base job wide open. Fields versus Gordon, may the best man win. It’s not like your going to piss Gordon off more than you already have. Besides, competition is healthy. That alone would make spring training infinitely more interesting.

There you go. A few questions for you to ponder as the equipment trucks and players roll into Surprise to get ready for the season.

This morning, I am going to run through a quick exercise in constructing the Royals’ twenty-five man roster for the coming season. My guess is that almost everyone who reads any Royals’ blog has already done this in one form or another, but I have serious doubts that the Royals’ front office has.

Okay, sure, we know that is total sarcasm, but seriously I think the Royals have a firm idea on the 40 man roster, but only a vague ‘things will work themselves out’ idea as to the 25 they will break camp with. You can make an argument that this is the perfect way to go into spring training and I would generally agree, but I do wonder if a ‘small budget’ club like the Royals can assemble and pay for 30+ guys to compete for their 25 spots?

The catching position is pretty simple: Jason Kendall starts, Brayan Pena watches. The hope is that Kendall is an upgrade defensively and in handling the pitchers, while not just destroying you at the plate. If he can get on base at even a .340 clip, throw runners out and get along with Greinke and Meche, he might be tolerable. In Pena, the Royals have a switch-hitter who might log some time at DH. I wish the team had given Pena two months of everyday duty last year to find out if he really is THAT bad behind the plate, but that ship has sailed. Manny Pina, acquired from Texas last year, is the next in line, but his bat is not ready for the bigs (and may never be). He is, should everything go to hell, probably the best defensive catcher in the organization. At any rate, it’s Kendall and Pean: that’s two.

The corner infield positions are pretty clear: Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. What happens after that is a mystery. The Royals acquired Josh Fields as part of the Mark Teahen trade, making rumblings about Fields playing a corner outfield spot, but that has gone by the wayside with the signings of Podsednik and Ankiel. Out of options, Fields will be on the 25 man roster come April, likely as the backup third baseman and part-time designated hitter. That’s three more guys, for a total of five.

We will jump out to the outfield at this point. I shudder to think how the team is going to actually arrange David DeJesus, Rick Ankeil and Scott Podsednik defensively, but we all know that those will be the three outfielders and that they will play everyday. The signing of Ankiel brought out the semi-public announcement that Jose Guillen would be the club’s primary designated hitter – something Jose probably has not yet heard and won’t like when he does. While the ‘just cut him’ plan of action is certainly appealing and maybe even logical, it is hard to see the Royals doing so. There’s four players, four veterans mind you, that will be on the team in April, bringing us to a total of nine on our roster.

Okay, middle infield will be…deep breathe…Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop and somebody else. Of course, the Teahen trade also brought Chris Getz over and the expectation is that he will be an upgrade defensively at second over Alberto Callaspo. However, with Guillen moving to DH (not to mention Fields), playing Getz at second leaves few places for Callaspo to play. As much as I hate watching Alberto field, I do love watching him hit. The other glaring problem is that keeping Betancourt, Getz and Callaspo leaves no room for Willie Bloomquist. We all know that’s not going to happen (besides, Willie is the only one who can play short). The wild card in this equation is Mike Aviles. My guess is that Aviles will not be ready at the start of the season and will open the year on the disabled list.

We will assume that the Royals will open the year with a 12 man pitching staff or move to that sooner rather than later. Although he has options left, it is hard for me to believe Dayton Moore traded Mark Teahen for a bench player and a guy who is going to play in Omaha. That leaves Getz on the roster, with Callaspo and Bloomquist who, for all his faults, can fill the role of both fourth outfielder and utility infielder. With Betancourt, that makes four for a total of thirteen.

That means Brian Anderson, all $700,000 of him, is in AAA and Mitch Maier, out of options, might be somewhere else come April. The schedule might allow the team to open with eleven pitchers, so it could be Mitch and the organization a couple of weeks to sort out what to do, but by the end of April, barring a trade or simply cutting bait with Guillen, Mitch will be off the Royals’ big league roster.

Now, onto the pitching staff. The starting rotation right now will be Greinke, Meche, Bannister, Hochevar and either Kyle Davies or Robinson Tejeda. There are rumblings about the Royals fishing for a veteran, which would likely be the end of Davies and push Tejeda back to the pen. Right now, though, my money is on Tejeda as the number five starter. At any rate, that’s five guys, so we are up to eighteen total, now.

The bullpen will have Joakim Soria and Juan Cruz at the backend, with Kyle Farnsworth available for blow-out work (what a fine use of funds, by the way). Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna is all but guaranteed a spot, which fills four of the seven spots.

I would be pretty amazed if veteran journeyman Matt Herges does not get a spot. Just a hunch, but I think he will trade it that number 77 for a real baseball number by April. I am also hoping beyond all hope that the Royals give and Carlos Rosa earns a spot in the bullpen this year. Rosa, performing as I hope he might, is the guy who makes what Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth do irrelevant.

That leaves one final spot (assuming Tejeda is the fifth starter) up for grabs between Ramon Colon, Victor Marte, Dusty Hughes and all the non-roster invitees. Throw Herges into this mix if you want and say this group is fighting for two roster spots. It doesn’t much matter how it ends up, but that’s seven relievers, twelve pitchers and a 25 man roster.

Now, in reading all this, how likely do you think it is that all of Chris Getz, Jose Guillen and Alberto Callaspo break camp with the Royals? You could throw David DeJesus into that mix as well as he is likely the most tradable of all the Royals’ position players. Barring trades or another free agent signing, I would put pretty good money on the 25 players outlined above.

Part of me is pretty certain Dayton Moore has two more moves on his agenda that will make the real 25 man roster different from the above. All of me is hoping that is the case.

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