Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

Browsing Posts tagged Dayton Moore

We don’t hear much from Royals owner David Glass. That’s probably a good thing, given his penchant for infuriating an already frustrated fan base. He usually grants a couple of interviews a year. One early in the spring, one at the end of a usually disappointing season and he will generally talk around the All-Star Break.

Royals beat writer Any McCullough sat down with Glass this week in Minneapolis. The Star published the entire Q&A online, which is a really good thing. As per my usual, I’ll grab a couple of snippets and we can discuss.

“I thought we’d be more consistent. At times, we’ve played extremely well. At times, we’ve played not so well. It’s the inconsistency that has surprised me. But we’re in a good position, I think, to make a run for the playoffs. If we have a good second half, there’s no reason why we can’t be in the playoffs.”

That pretty much sums up the season to this point. For me, the key to this comment is packed in the middle. “But we’re in a good position, I think, to make a run for the playoffs.” That may be stating the obvious as the team is 2.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot, but it’s nice the owner sees his team in position. (You know how I feel.) I know we treat everything Glass says with a healthy does of skepticism, but this is an expectation I don’t think we’ve heard from ownership at this point in the season. Yes, he’s allowed GMs to make some late season acquisitions in the past when the team was on the fringe of contention, but I don’t think he’s ever come out past the midway point of the season and proclaimed that they are in a good position to make a run for the playoffs. That’s usual the stuff we hear in March, when everyone is saying they have a shot at contention.
“I think they’ve (Dayton Moore and Ned Yost) both done a good job. Dayton is one of the best baseball people I know, and I’ve been around a lot of them for the last 60 years. And I think Ned is a very good manager. I think that he continues to grow as a manager. He’s got the balance that you need, as far as being a players’ manager, and also holding them accountable. I think that he does that.”

Is this a vote of confidence? I don’t think so, for the simple fact the Royals aren’t circling the drain at this point. In other words, Glass doesn’t need to give his management team a vote of confidence. Although we can disagree on this point.
“The one thing I’ve learned about Ned and Dayton both is they are as obsessed with winning as I am. All three of us have a real problem when we lose.”

How do you react when you lose?

“Not very good. You wouldn’t want to be around me.”

There are a couple of themes that run through this interview. One is “obsessed with winning.” It appears a couple of times in the transcript.

As I mentioned at the open of this post, Glass doesn’t speak much. My theory why this is, is because he’s extremely unpolished and has a penchant of saying some really crazy stuff that only serves to fan the flames of the fan base’s perception of negativity toward him. Except I didn’t read anything crazy in this transcript. He seemed almost… Coached. Is it possible, that after nearly 20 years at the helm in various capacities of this franchise that he’s finally had some media coaching.

I don’t just want to win, I’m OBSESSED with WINNING, dammit!

The second response above just kind of cracks me up. I don’t buy it.

“I think Dayton’s done a good job of putting this team together… And he and Dan (Glass) work closely together. Both of them believe that we’ve got a good enough team to win the division. In my mind, watching the team and interfacing with them, I think we’re good enough to make the playoffs. We just need to crank it up and make it happen.”

I pulled this quote because I think it’s another example of where Glass has received some PR coaching. Moore and Dan Glass work closely together? I’ve never been impressed with Dan Glass. Ever. However, he is the next in the ownership line. Dad is greasing the skids for his son. If there’s success, Dan Glass will damn sure get a portion of the spotlight. Second, Glass mentions he not only watches the team, he “interfaces” with them. This is always a criticism about Glass and his ownership. Many see him as an absentee owner, content to watch the team from afar, if at all. I don’t know that I’ve ever bought into that narrative. I also don’t know that it matters. Do we really want the owner heavily involved? Hire your baseball people and stay the hell out of the way. It seems Glass has been doing that since Moore was hired. But he’s not detached.

“Our objective has always been to try to break even. I guess you’ll have a year where you might make a little. But you might have years where you lose money. Over a period of time, we’d like to come close to breaking even, at least. And you try to fit it into that framework. But if you have an opportunity to win, you consider doing almost anything.”

More coaching.

I’ve been on Glass for years now about what exactly represents the break even point. Last November, he was deservedly ripped when he talked team financials.

But this is the new David Glass: Hey, we make money some years, we lose money some others. He learned to avoid specifics. Good student.

What would it mean to you for this team to reach the playoffs?

“It would mean that Dan and I picked the right people to do the job. Kansas City deserves a winner. It’s a great baseball town. The people in Major League Baseball still talk to me about the All-Star Game here, and how the cooperation they got from the Royals, the way the fans supported it, the way the city supported it, is unique. Better than what they were accustomed to experiencing.

“They rave about Kansas City and the fans and the city and the organization. It’s a great baseball town. And these fans deserve in the playoffs. They deserve to be able to support a winner. And if you go to The K, and we’re playing, and we’re playing well, and it’s an exciting game, and you’ve got a big crowd, it is really fun to watch how much they get into the game. It’s not like they’re just kind of casual fans. They get excited about it.

“They deserve it. All of us deserve it. I’m a fan, too.”

For some reason the mainstream media kind of likes to have a go at the fans from time to time. We’ve been portrayed as impatient, irrational and stubborn. My counter is to root for a team that hasn’t played a meaningful game in 29 years. Glass may be pandering to the fans here, but let’s be honest, that’s something he kind of needs to do. I don’t mean pandering in the pejorative. What Glass said is not heavy-handed. He’s paying tribute to us in this quote. We’re knowledgeable and passionate. We “deserve” it.

I can’t disagree with that.

Finally, at the end of the quote above, Glass mentions that he’s a “fan” as well. Four times in that transcript, Glass mentions he’s a fan. I’m telling you, the investment in his media coaching is paying dividends.

Overall, I enjoyed the interview. Which is a strange thing to write when it comes to Glass. He comes across as tuned into the situation with his team and is an owner who is largely hands-off in letting his baseball people run the show. I won’t go so far as to call him a “model” owner. I will give him credit for learning on the job. And that’s something.

Sunday morning, the Royals made some transaction news when they shoved Danny Valencia to the disabled list and recalled Mike Moustakas from him Triple-A sojourn.

Moustakas played seven games for Omaha. Overall, he hit .355/.412/.548 in 34 plate appearances. Solid, no? Or you could dive a little deeper inside the number and see that most of that damage was done in his last two games when he went 6-8 with a pair of doubles. Either way, it’s semantics. We’re parsing the smallest of sample sizes. He got off to a slow start in Omaha, went on one of his patented mini hot streaks and got a recall when the Royals disabled Valencia.

What exactly is going on in the front office? You have a player who has seen his production slip for three consecutive seasons. This player has the fourth worst wRC+ among American League hitters with at least 130 plate appearances. A player who was hitting .153/.225/.323 in 130 plate appearances at the time of his demotion. And apparently, all he needed was seven games in Triple-A.

I get that no one is saying he’s “fixed.” Because you can’t wash away 1,600 subpar major league plate appearances with a handful of at bats in the minors. But if you’re going to send down a guy who has struggled nearly every single day of his major league career, why on Earth would you do such an abrupt about-face? What purpose was the demotion supposed to serve?

The only thing I can think of was the demotion was meant to be a wakeup call to Moustakas. Maybe the Royals thought he needed a kick in the ass. A fire lit under his attitude and motivation. Because I can’t imagine why else he would be down to Omaha and back just 10 days later. It just makes no sense.

Christian Colon and Johnny Giavotella are options. Both are on the 40-man roster. Pedro Ciriaco is already here. Or you could recall recently demoted Jimmy Paredes. None of the above are what you would consider good – or even acceptable – options. The cupboard is bare. There is no depth. Which is another story altogether.

The Moustakas demotion was long overdue. His promotion was premature. There are no winners in this. So very Royals.

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On Friday, Dayton Moore gave Ned Yost a sort of vote of confidence:

“Here’s the bottom line: It’s not Ned, it’s not Pedro (Grifol), it’s me,” Moore said. “I’m responsible. It’s all on me. At least that’s the way I feel about it.”

“It’s my job to give the managers and the coaching staff the right players to succeed. I have to be able to give them the tools to win. So if we’re not succeeding, ultimately the responsibility comes back to me. No one else.”

We have a tendency to parse everything Moore says. Especially when he says stuff to Jeff Flanagan, who gets some of the more choice quotes from our favorite general manager. But this… I don’t know. It doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy to me. It’s a general manager who remains under fire from a fan base fed up with eight years of underachieving baseball. He’s saying what he’s supposed to be saying.

And here’s the (not really) funny thing: He hasn’t given his staff the tools to win. Ever. Or more importantly, he’s hired the wrong guys who are supposed to shape and mold the players that are supposed to make up the pipeline of major league talent. There has been a systematic failure of player development, bad drafts and regression at the major league level. Moore hired the coaches and scouts who have brought us this debacle. Moore is responsible for all of this.

It’s on him. Duh.

I stand behind what I wrote nearly a year ago at Royals Review.

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And finally, Nori Aoki. Yeah. We all thought he would be a little better than this. But there is entertainment. I’m all for entertainment.

aokinuts

From our friends at Fansided. Very nice. Have a good Monday. And wear a cup.

Don’t panic! It’s going to be OK.

Here’s some kind of late breaking, instant analysis of what Prince Fielder signing with Detroit means for the Royals… You’ll feel better after you read this. Guaranteed, or your money back.

Delusional Defense
Miguel Cabrera isn’t a good defensive first baseman. Once upon a time, he played third and some in the outfield. Kind of difficult to imagine these days. With that kind of versatility, you’d think he was decent with the leather. Not so. He’s been pretty much awful at whatever defensive position he’s played. First base was his best spot if only because you can hide a poor glove there. Now, he moves to third – a position he hasn’t played regularly since 2007.

Now you have Fielder, who is a worse defender than Cabrera at first. Less agile and slower, it’s not surprising that he landed in the AL because he has “Future DH” stamped on his mitt. It’s surprising that a team signed him to weaken two positions in the process.

And the Tigers also have Jhonny Peralta at short. The only shortstop worse than Peralta would be Yuni.

Last year, Detroit was around the middle of the pack in Defensive Effiency. They are now an absolute lock to finish in the bottom five.

We’ve been down this road before.
Remember when the tigers were going to shatter the AL record for runs scored? Think back to 2008 when they stole Cabrera from the Marlins. One thousand runs was the prediction. Sky’s the limit.

Yeah.

Except they scored 821 runs. Fourth best in the AL.

The Tigers aren’t going to be hurting for runs. This isn’t the Mariners or Astros. But still… Baseball has a funny way of taking our expectations and smashing them to pieces.

They’re better… But not that much better
The Tigers grabbed Fielder because they lost Victor Martinez to injury. Just estimating, but I think VMart would be worth around 3 WAR. Prince will be worth around 5 WAR. Sure, the lineup is better when you replace Martinez with Fielder. But what lineup wouldn’t benefit from Fielder? At least in 2013.

Fine. The Tigers are improved. But some of the gains they realize offensively will be returned when they take the field. They haven’t improved enough that we can say they are a stone cold lock for the Central.

Be glad it’s not the Royals
These are the kinds of contracts that hamstring a franchise. Nine years? If you believe the Tigers weren’t even involved in the Fielder sweepstakes prior to the Martinez injury, this is just a staggering overplay by the Tigers. It kind of reminds me of 1993 when Ewing Kauffman opened his checkbook to bring David Cone back to Kansas City. Kauffman knew his time was limited and he desperately wanted to bring a winner back to KC. Cone was the guy and Mr. K personally got involved and ponied up the cash. From what I understand, the Tigers owner Mike Illich is doing the same thing. He’s getting along in years and his team has two studs on the roster in their primes, so if the Tigers are going to win, now is the time. He’s going for it. Brass ones.

But there were better gambles out there… Fielder could be out of baseball before his contract is over. Odds are strong his decline will be sudden… And steep.

Although the Angels will probably trade for him in four years.

The Royals are done shopping this winter.
The Tigers were the favorites before the Fielder deal, so nothing changes on this front. Short-term, the Tigers are the team to beat. Meanwhile, the Royals have always focused on the long term. While it’s possible GMDM could have been tempted to add a free agent arm like Edwin Jackson or Roy Oswalt in an effort to make a run at the title, he will now be content to throw this group on the field to see how they stack up the Beasts of the Central. If they’re in the hunt this summer, he’ll make a move. Otherwise, he’ll stand pat.

Don’t lose focus.
If you thought the Royals were going to contend this year, consider this signing a gift. And a reality check. Because the Royals were going to need several things break their way for them to win the Central in 2012. Don’t get that confused with me being a pessimist, or me thinking they’re not improving. I’m not and they are. But if you’re being rational, you understand you’re looking for a 15 to 20 win improvement for the Royals to be contenders. And that’s without addressing the rotation.

Short term, it makes it difficult for the Royals to contend. That’s fine. But this is why they play the games. We have no clue what’s going to happen in 2012, or the year after or the year after. Fielder could break down, Verlander could demand a trade, Cabrera could be in jail… Meanwhile, the Royals could have added three quality starting pitchers, signed Hosmer to an extention following his MVP year and seen a zero failure rate in the next wave of The Process.

To quote my favorite mental case, Joaquin Andjuar: “Baseball can be summed up in one word: Youneverknow.”

The Royals held their end of the season press conference and used it as an opportunity to announce pitching coach Bob McClure wouldn’t return for the 2012 season. Ned Yost had the honors:

“We threw too many balls, we walked too many hitters. We fell behind in the count too much. McClure did a phenominal job here for many, many years. Had a great working relationship with these young pitchers. We just felt as an organization it was time for a different voice.”

Yost is absolutely correct on this count. Royals pitchers threw a grand total of 24,376 pitches this year. No team in baseball threw more pitches. League average was 23,595. Think about that one for a moment… Royals pitchers threw almost 1,000 more pitches than the average major league pitching staff. That’s like playing a 170 game schedule.

Taking this further… Royals pitchers threw a strike 62% of the time. Although major league average is 63% (and all teams threw a strike between 65% and 62% of the time) the Royals tossed the fewest strikes percentage-wise of all teams in baseball. Here’s the list:

Oakland – 62.5%
Toronto – 62.4%
Baltimore – 62.3%
Houston – 62.2%
Kansas City – 62.1%

To be the team with the highest number of total pitches and the lowest percentage of strikes… Yeah, that’s not so good.

So who swung the hatchet and sent McClure to the unemployment line?

“There’s a lot of input from Dayton. Dayton and I talk about everything. I trust Dayton. Uh… As much as I could trust anybody in this business. We started really talking about it the last six weeks and thought it through and made sure it was the right decision for our organization.”

Make no mistake… Yost was the triggerman on the McClure hit. I think Yost had been unhappy with McClure for a long time and started putting this move in motion shortly after the All-Star Break. Here’s what GMDM had to say.

“I like Bob’s style. The most important trait of a pitcher is toughness and poise. At the same time you have to think through the process. You have to overcome so many things. It’s gotta be a very tough, tough thing to be able to succeed in that role. I think McClue has that. Ned certainly has a vision for what he wants. He’s with the players every single day. He knows what they need and we’ve gotta trust his opinion there. And that’s what we’ll do. We’ll find somebody that compliments our coaching staff and someone who works very well with Ned and somebody that can give our pitchers the extra boost they need right now. Make no mistake, Bob McClure has created a great foundation on and off the field on all these pitchers.”

McClure was a holdover from the Baird regime (Buddy Bell brought him over from Colorado prior to the 2006 season), but clearly had a fan in GMDM. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have lasted six seasons. GMDM is loyal to his guys. To a fault, I think. If it had been solely his call, I doubt this move would have happened.

I know a bunch of people looked to McClure as the scapegoat, but honestly, I have no idea how much effect a pitching coach has on a major league staff. Bruce Chen seemed to figure out how to change arm slots and has had a small dose of success. Is that McClure? Danny Duffy struggled in his debut season. Is that McClure? Luke Hochevar put together a solid second half after turning to his slider. Is that McClure? Some guys showed up in KC and pitched well… Some guys didn’t. Happens all the time.

Having said that, six years is a long time for a pitching coach to be on a team that isn’t winning. Yost wasn’t happy with the results, he wants his guy and GMDM wants Yost to feel comfortable. Both want someone who can work with young pitchers since that’s the next wave of The Process. Maybe McClure couldn’t communitcate with the youth. Maybe Hochevar figured out how to be successful on his own and maybe he could just never reach Duffy.

So Yost wanted McClure gone. As I said, GMDM is loyal, but ultimately his style is to hire his people and let them do their jobs. It’s a standard organizational ladder. If one of the higher-ups wants someone beneath them gone… It’s done. Will at Royals Review thinks this is a sign that Yost is the long-term guy as manager. I don’t necessarily read it that way. Yost is under contract through next season. I suppose an extention could happen, but I see this as GMDM basically giving his manager what he wants. (Kudos to whomever asked Yost about his contract. Without an extension, he’s a lame duck manager in 2012, so this is a fairly important issue. And thankfully, Karen Kornacki got in a question about Santa Claus. Seriously. She freaking name-dropped Santa at a baseball press conference.) Everything could change by this time next year. It’s baseball. Just ask Terry Francona.

Similarly, Yost will play a huge part in the hiring of the next pitching coach. And he knows exactly what he wants…

“I’m looking for a guy that has energy, a guy that has competitive spirit, a guy that is focused on teaching mechanics and a guy that can formualte an idividual game plan for each pitcher on each particular day. You know, I learned a lot with Mike Maddux when we were together for 6 years. I watched how he did it, and he was pretty good.”

Maddux is currently the pitching coach for Ron Washington’s Texas Rangers.

“I’m looking for a guy that pitched in the big leagues for a long time with mediocre stuff. Mike Maddux had mediocre stuff, but he pitched 15 years in the big leagues. Because he knew how to pitch, he understood mechanics, he understood the importance of fielding your position, he understood the importance of controlling the running game, he understood the importance of knowing the signs and the situations at all times. And those guys that have to work real hard at their game and have longevity in their game usually make dynamic pitching coaches.”

McClure had a 19 year major league career that spanned over 1,150 innings. With an ERA+ of 102, I’d call him mediocre. I’d also call him left-handed, which surely helped him pitch into his forties.

Using Yost’s criteria, I did a search for pitchers who played at least 15 years, finished with an ERA+ between 95 and 105 and threw at least 1,000 innings. Here are some candidates for the Royals pitching coach job:

Bruce Kison
Milt Wilcox
Andy Hassler
Doyle Alexander
Bob Forsch
Mike Norris
Bob Knepper
Rick Sutcliffe
Floyd Bannister
Jim Clancy
Rick Honeycutt
Dennis Lamp
Dan Schatzeder
Juan Berenguer
Mike Morgan
Bruce Hurst
Danny Jackson
Kevin Gross
John Burkett
Dave Burba
Chris Hammond
Scott Erickson

I have no clue who on this list is active in baseball and who’s been working on their golf game. It would be kind of fun if the Royals next pitching coach was one of these guys.

The Royals had a decent second half and Yost is flexing his muscles. McClure and Gibbons were his call. No mistake. And the next hires will be his guys. Again, no mistake. So at this time next year if the pitching staff has taken a step forward, we can give Yost some of the credit for bringing in his guy. He’ll have to take the blame if things get worse.

Meanwhile, John Gibbons, the bench coach got the axe as well. Yost has someone in mind for his replacement and says he will come from within.

“I’m looking for somebody with catching experience. A really good teacher. A real good catching coach, that can work with these young catchers.”

All indications are the Royals will look to Chino Cadiha who is currently a special assistant to the Royals player development staff. Prior to that he was… Hold on… a bench coach with the Braves. He worked with GMDM as the Braves roving catching instructor and was a minor league field coordinator.

There was plenty more from GMDM’s press conference, but this post is already running long. Look for a weekend post. Special edition.

The off season has begun…

Thursday evening the Royals open up the second half of the season at Minnesota.   Let’s take a somewhat light-hearted look at some numbers for the remainder of the season.

The Royals play 36 games against teams with winning records and 35 against those with losing records.   Forty-one games are on the road and just 30 are at home.   Only 18 of those road games, however, are against teams with winning records.

In a nutshell, the Royals play a lot of games on the road, but it is not a particularly daunting road schedule.  Is it conceivable that this team, which will probably only be marginally effected by the trading deadline, could play close to .500 ball in the second half?   Something on the order of 34-37, maybe?  

With the current rotation, it seems unlikely, but should Eric Hosmer continue to improve and with Mike Moustakas seemingly having nowhere to go but up, the Royals could continue to improve on what is already an improved offensive team.  Not a lot of championship teams are built by playing 7-6 games every night, but high scoring games often leave the decision making up to the bullpens and there, the Royals generally can stand toe to toe with anyone.

Perhaps the better question is:  if the Royals win 34 games or more the rest of the way, would that get you excited about the team’s chances in 2012? 

Assuming the Royals stick with both the six man rotation and their plan to recall Danny Duffy after he makes one AAA start, Duffy is scheduled to make 11 more starts in 2011.   The remaining five members of the rotation are slated to start 12 times.

  • How many of those 11 starts does Duffy actually end up making?  (My answer is 8)
  • How many of the remaining 5 starters make all 12 scheduled starts?  (My answer is two – Hochever & Paulino)
  • How many of the six are still on the team at the end of July?  (My answer is five.  I think Francis is traded)
  • Kyle Davies will or will not get his ERA under seven by year’s end? (Yes and Dayton Moore will call it a ‘very optimistic sign’)
  • Luke Hochevar will or will not keep his ERA from going over 5.50 by year’s end.  (No)
  • Mike Montgomery will start how many major league games in 2011?  (I think 3)

Factoring in a couple of days off, a regular position player will likely garner an additional 265 plate appearances this season.

  • The over/under on Mitch Maier’s plate appearances the rest of the way is 30.  I feel bad for Mitch in that he is, by all accounts a quality teammate and serviceable fourth outfielder.   On the flipside, he did have a chance over the past few years to make a real impression on management and did not.   Maier did not flame out like Kila Ka’aihue (although it’s worth noting that Mitch also got about 400 more at-bats, too), but did nothing to make the Royals think they wanted to put him in an outfield spot everyday, either.
  • What’s the likelihood of either Lorenzo Cain or Johnny Giavotella getting even half that many plate appearances in 2011?  My guess is virtually zero for Johnny as the Royals love Chris Getz and his average defense and nominal ability to work a count – although I have to pause here and say that I think Getz has been a little better all around as of late.    Cain, who Dayton Moore referenced on WHB as being part of the team in the ‘next couple of years’ would also seem to be destined to spending the entire summer in Omaha, unless Moore pulls off a a Francouer/Cabrera trade.
  • 265 plate appearances times nine positions, discounting days off,  equals a team total of around 2,500 the rest of way.   Ned Yost will pinch hit more or less than 10 times during those 2,500 plate appearances?   I’m not saying that it is good or bad, but just kind of something to fun to watch.

In the days leading up to the July 31st trade deadline, the Royals play three games at home against Tampa, four road games in Boston and three more on the road at Cleveland.

With trade rumors likely to be swirling, this could be a rather dismal stretch for Royals’ fans.  After this string of games and through the end of the year, the number of football games (pro & college, regular and pre-season) you watch will or will not outnumber the number of Royals’ games you watch?

Over his career, Billy Butler has hit a home run every 51 plate appearances prior to the All-Star Break, but sent one out of the park every 34 plate appearances after the All-Star Break.

That puts the over/under on Billy’s second half home runs at eight.   You taking the over or the under?  How many would Billy need to hit to quiet the majority of his critics?

Alex Gordon and Melky Cabrera are probably the two most pleasant surprises in the first half of the season.   By the end of the year which of the following will be true:

  • Alex Gordon will still be the most production leftfielder in the American League or Alex Gordon will more resemble the .260/.351/.432 player of 2008
  • Melky Cabrera will lead the Royals in plate appearances or will be wearing a different uniform.

Mike Aviles has 10 steals and just 9 walks.   Several other Royals have a real shot at having more steals than walks at year’s end.

Chris Getz has 17 steals and 25 walks.   Alcides Escobar 14 and 17, while Jeff Francouer has 15 and 20.   Will any of the three manage this possibly dubious feat?  Will we ever see Mike Aviles in Kansas City again?

Okay, there’s a little fun to get the second half started.    Of course, the real fun will be watching Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas hit, Alcides Escobar field, Danny Duffy pitch and Alex Gordon dominate.  Feels good to say that last bit without any sarcasm, doesn’t it?

I didn’t see the walk-off balk when it happened. It was a holiday and I was with my family. Fireworks trumps Royals baseball these days. Sort of… I was still following the game on my phone.

When I saw what happened – that All-Star Aaron Crow balked in the winning run – I laughed, send off a Tweet about the Buddy Bell Corollary (Help me out people, is this a corollary or an axiom? We need to settle this because it comes up at least once a month.) about never saying you hit rock bottom and then went about my business of drinking beer and shooting bottle rockets at my neighbor who is a Cardinals fan.

I’m numb.

Seriously… I just can’t get worked up about the way this organization loses. Not anymore. Seagulls in the outfield? Check. Letting a catchable flyball drop between a pair of outfielders? Uh-huh. Kyle Davies? Ohhhh, yeah.

At this point, if a T-Rex stomped out of the Royals bullpen in left and smashed Alex Gordon while he was trying to make a catch with two down in the top of the ninth, my reaction would pretty much be to shrug my shoulders and go hunt some nachos.

The Royals are my novocain.

Don’t take that the wrong way… I still love this team. It’s part of my DNA, part of who I am. Nothing will change that. (If 10 years of the dream team of Allard Baird and Dayton Moore can’t kill fandom, it’s damn near rock solid.) I just don’t get surprised at what I see on the field.

Take 2011. I’ve written many times that this season was supposed to be a transitional year. It was the year when we would begin to see the fruits of The Process at the major league level. And we have seen that. Crow, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas… It’s been exciting getting to see the new guys come up and have some success.

Am I supposed to feel better about the balk-off because Aaron Crow was involved and Chip Ambres wasn’t? I don’t know… Seems kind of the same to me. A loss is a loss is a loss. This is a huge issue. Huge. There’s a stench of losing that wafts around this organization and it’s been there for almost 25 years. It’s difficult to clean that off. Dayton Moore has paid a good amount of lip service to reversing the “culture of losing” that has permeated the Royals front office, but all he’s done is ratchet up the paranoia a few clicks past irrational and lost a ton of ballgames while treading water in a sea of substandard baseball.

By building the team through the draft (the correct way, in my opinion) Moore bought himself several years of a teambuilding. You can’t construct a winner with only one draft class. Duh. It takes years of quality drafts. And that’s something the Royals have done. The future! The Process! We’re going to build our team mostly with homegrown talent!

Yet they can’t shake the stink.

That stink masks the fact that there have been improvements. Gordon, Butler, Hosmer and Moustakas are playing everyday and can form a solid middle of the order nucleus for the next couple of seasons. The bullpen rocks (that’s our All-Star!!!). The Shortstop Jesus is waaaaay better than Yuniesky Betancourt.

Sadly, the successes can’t cover for the failures. Once GMDM knew he was trading Zack Greinke, he needed to find cover for the rotation. His gambles haven’t delivered and his trades are even bigger busts. Jerod Dyson is fun to have around as a pinch runner, but really has zero business being on a major league roster – even on a team that’s going to lose 95 games. Chris Getz is now the leadoff hitter. Kyle Davies has no business being on a Triple-A roster. Ned Yost is a unicycle away from descending into Trey Hillman madness.

As frustrating as this season has been, I’m still on board. Christ, I’m as insane as Yost.

If we’ve learned anything from 2011 it’s that pitching really, truly is the currency of the game. Moore was hung with Confederate money when he traded for Davies, O’Sullivan and Mazarro. Yet, the Royals are in ballgames because their offense works. This season, they are scoring 4.4 runs per game, their highest number in the Dayton Moore Era. That’s good. The fact that runs are down across the league as a whole makes it even better. Yes, there’s still a way to go to catch the big boys, but the bottom line is the Royals offense has improved while it’s taken a step back for most of the league. Read this again: Offense is down throughout baseball, but the Royals have taken a step forward with the bats.

It’s a chicken and the egg sort of thing… In order to shake the stench of losing, you have to win. And in order to win you have to have the players. In order to secure the players, you have to be a winner. Vicious cycle.

On Tuesday, Felipe Paulino scattered nine hits, but also chalked up nine strikeouts in six innings. These days, for the starting pitchers, it’s all about keeping the team in the game. And that’s exactly what Paulino did. Turn the game over to the bullpen with a two run lead and shut things down for the final nine outs. It’s a simple formula that would work more often… If we only had starting pitching.

I firmly believe we are on the cusp of leaving the days of walk-off balks and seagulls in the outfield in our rearview mirror. Tuesday was an example of where we can go if the Royals brain trust can simply cobble together a major league rotation. I know… Easier said than done. Especially on a budget. We’ve said before that the Royals can’t afford to make a free agent mistake. Flush $36 million down the toilet after Jose Guillen and that sets the organization back several years. Now that GMDM has learned a harsh lesson and is spending wisely, we need to extend the same school of thought to the trade deadline. If Moore and the Royals are going to be active sellers at the deadline, they absolutely have to find a way to get value in return. No more stiffs like O’Sullivan and Mazarro. The next round of trades has to secure at least one back of the rotation starter, who can be counted on to keep the team in games. We need another Felipe Paulino.

In many ways, the trade deadline at the end of the month is just as important as the draft or the international signing period which opened last weekend. With The Process rolling along, every move the Royals make is critical to the forward progress of this organization. The slightest error in judgement can have some serious repercussions.

Meanwhile, remember The Process and what it means… There’s going to be some good wins, but there will continue to be some really ugly losses. 2011 remains a transitional season. It’s not fair that we have to endure another season of stink, but it is what it is… And given the struggles of the top pitching prospects this year, it’s likely 2012 will bring the same issues. That’s why it’s so important that the Royals strike gold when looking to fill their pitching void… Otherwise, 2012 will be a carbon copy of 2011 and the stench of losing will hang around for yet another season.

Is Dayton Moore the guy to lead this team out of the fog? I have some serious doubts. For all the success in the minors, the Royals have had a helluva time identifying major league talent and assembling a coherent roster. Yes, the offense is better, but the starting pitching… That’s why the next 18 months are crucial times for the Royals and their movement forward. This is an improved organization and GMDM and his people get full credit for that. But if we’re handing out credit, we also have to deduct points for the failings… And there have been many.

It’s cliche, but the future truly does start now… With the prospect pipeline open, the trade deadline and what the Royals do this off season toward building their 2012 roster will give us a good idea if they will ever realize the fruits of The Process. This needs to move forward… Because I’m ready to care about this team. I’m ready to celebrate meaningful wins. I’m ready to be bothered by a meaningful loss. I’m ready to contend.

The novocain needs to wear off and this team needs to refute the culture of losing.

Eyes on the prize, people… Eyes on the prize.

The biggest fear of people who claim to be anti-statistics is the idea that there will be no room for the human element in baseball — no strategic decisions, nothing based on the mental side of the game or the intangibles inherent in human players, or there will be some kind of robot making decisions based on human players.  It seems like an absurd notion, but that day arrived years ago.

One of the silliest accusations of people who say they don’t like statistics is that “the game isn’t played on a spread sheet”. A statement which is as condescending as it is obvious. However, it’s not the advanced-statistics crowd that needs the preaching, it’s the Major League mangers and general managers. It’s they who continually run this simple program on a loop:

IF I = 9

AND 4 > L > 0

THEN INSERT C

WHERE

I = INNING

L = LEAD

C = CLOSER

It’s almost astonishingly simple, this program. The only pieces of information needed are the inning and the difference in team scores. In a game that can be as complex as baseball, where there are millions of variables it’s amazing that managers continually rely on something so simple. With apologies to Occam and his razor, the simplest solutions aren’t always the best.

This solution has worked pretty well for the Royals for the past few seasons as the pitcher they used as their closer was one of, if not the best relief pitcher in baseball. Rare though, is the pitcher who can stay dominant for season after season. Short bursts of brilliance followed by mediocrity are far more common. At the time, nobody believes it will happen. Typically while in the moment, people tend to project the future based on the present. Few and far between were the analysts and fans predicting the downfall of Eric Gagne when he was mowing down hitters in the 9th inning for the Dodgers. It’s just as impossible to find anyone who predicted a fall to earth by the suddenly human Joakim Soria. But that’s exactly what has transpired.

Speculation as to the reason for Soria’s sudden fall from grace are numerous and rampant. The most significant seems to be his lack of curveball command. His once devastating, knee-buckling curve ball is now a shell of it’s former self, mirroring in some ways the ice-cold Mexican saves leader himself.

Once upon a time in the not so distant past, when Soria would have his opponent behind in an 0-2 count, everyone in the ballpark, including the batter knew that the curve was coming. 12-6 didn’t do justice to just how much movement and how little speed was on the pitch. It froze hitters and left them shaking their heads. It made spectators turn to each other and mutter “wow”. Now, it’s barely thrown and when it is, it’s rarely in the strike zone. The old curve would seemingly drop out of a batters chin and be perfectly placed in the catcher’s mitt, giving the umpire an easy “STRIKE!” call.

But for whatever reason, that pitch isn’t effective now and neither is Joakim Soria. Nobody should be ready to proclaim the end of a still young career or even a still young season. Pitchers go through periods of struggle and many recover. It seems obvious that at the very least he shouldn’t be in the game during important, potentially-game-changing moments.

We  now return to our simple program from above. There’s very little room in it for adjustment, for as long as Joakim Soria is designated the “closer” then he is brought into the game in the save situations. It’s the kind of closed-minded thinking that the stat crowd despises and it’s the managing to some in-human equation that the anti-stats crowd decries.

Managers see only the opportunity to get a (S) in the boxscore next to his most valuable reliever’s name. The general manager sees merely an opportunity to prove to the next free-agent closer that joining his team will get the closer more saves on his resume so he can put more money in the bank. It’s a scenario which is as ironic as it is maddening. Baseball managers create “closers” by giving them a big number in the spreadsheet column labeled “save” so that the closer can earn more money and so that the general manager can go out on the market and pay exponentially more for some other guy who has received the same treatment from another team.

Luckily, baseball in general is still a merit based game so while closers may command an over-inflated price they typically are the best relief pitchers. But there is little doubt that being tagged with the term closer for a general manager is tantamount to a brand-name clothing designer to a teenager. In many  cases that tag denotes a higher quality, but make no mistake that tag is what creates the value.

For teams that not only can afford to pay the higher prices commanded by closers, but actually set the market for them by paying extraordinary prices there isn’t near as much risk. But for small-market teams like the Royals, trying to play the same game as the large-market teams is a game that’s rigged against them.

Teams like the Royals have to make up the difference in revenue with smarts. They aren’t afforded the luxury that the born-wealthy teams like those in New York, Los Angeles and Boston are. They have to work harder and smarter to over-come their inherent deficiencies. Being outside the scrutiny of major market teams though does provide some benefits.

Nobody is forcing them to play the same game the Yankees and Red Sox play. There isn’t anything in any rule book saying that every team must do things in a certain way. The rules in regards to roster construction and player use in fact are extremely open and free. Yet the Royals, like every other team in baseball just do what every other team does. Change comes glacially. The Royals, in an attempt to do things exactly like every other team in baseball, have handed wins over to their opponents.

Just looking at the statistics from this year, the Royals have been putting their worst relief pitcher in the most important situations. They’ve taken leads into the 9th inning on a number of occasions and looked to the bullpen have essentially said “bring out our least effective guy and see what happens”. At this point it’s bordering on insanity, but because this is what baseball teams do the Royals can continue to do it without fear of criticism. Because how can a team be criticized for doing what everyone else does? It’s not those that melt into the crowd who get noticed, but those that stand out.

So the Royals choose to try and hide behind their baseball brethren in terms of relief pitcher usage and those actions have cost them wins.  Of course there is more statistical information than what is at hand this year and Joakim Soria hasn’t just been a good relief pitcher, he’s been one of the best for the past three seasons. So I’m going to assume that when manager Ned Yost makes the call to the pen in the 9th he’s actually thinking “send out one of the best relief pitchers in the past few years who has struggled this season and let’s hope he’s figured it out.”

It’s perfectly acceptable to do that for a time, but eventually it had to end. That end came yesterday as the Royals replaced Joakim Soria with Aaron Crow in the role of closer. But it didn’t have to come to that. Had they just avoided using the term closer they could have put both pitchers in situations where they had a better opportunity to succeed. As one out-performs the other, he gets shifted towards more important situations. If that were the case, there wouldn’t be the need for an embarrassing demotion from the invented role of closer.

What’s the real cost to the Royals of ignoring “roles”? They would be a less attractive spot for the high-profile free-agent closers? Is that something the Royals should really be concerned about? We’ve already established that high-profile closers command too much money in free-agency and the Royals have to be smarter than that. If they were to change the way they use their bullpen, they could possibly be a MORE attractive place to high quality relievers who are not tagged closers — guys who will get a chance to get some saves on their resume if they are pitching well — guys who are failing as starters, but still have the stuff to be decent bullpen guys. In other words, guys that are almost certainly under-valued in the baseball market. The Royals, by doing something different could position themselves into a destination for exactly the kind of players they need to acquire and at likely lower than market rates.

Yet the Royals persist in following the leader in a game that’s stacked against them. They say that if you’re at a poker table and you can’t identify the sucker, then it’s you. My guess is the Royals look around baseball and think “huh, not a sucker to be seen.”


Nick Scott hosts the Broken Bat Single Podcast and writes a blog for the Lawrence Journal World. You can follow him on  Facebook or email him at brokenbatsingle at gmail dot com.

It’s good to be Dayton Moore right now.  

Seemingly everyday, someone comes out with a minor league ranking that is littered with Royals’ prospects.   The system has drawn such rave reviews from so many sources that it almost seems that the question is not ‘if the Royals be good’, but instead is ‘when will the Royals be good?’   Almost….

Prospects are guys who have yet to prove anything on the major league diamond and, as such, having a bunch of good ones is nice, but it doesn’t win you any games.   Keep in mind, if the Royals had acquired Alcides Escobar before the 2010 season, most everyone would have been delighted to acquire the then number twelve overall prospect in baseball.   Instead, the acquisition of Escobar this winter led many to believe that the Royals acquired a shortstop who ‘might not be any good’ or, as some of our more cynical (i.e. beat down) fans have said ‘simply can’t play.’

All that said, the top of Dayton Moore’s to-do list when he was hired was to rebuild the farm system.   Unquestionably, he has done so with spectacular results.   Now, he just has to hope that his system turns prospects into legitimate major league players.    Should that occur, all the grief Moore received (and it was warranted, mind you) for signing Mike Jacobs, Jose Guillen, et.al. and trading for Yuniesky Betancourt will be forever gone.   Heck, if the Royals are 47-33 at the All-Star Break in 2012, we will even have forgiven him for signing Melky Cabrera!

While his ability to build a farm system is beyond question, at least for now, Moore’s acumen at managing a major league roster is less established.   Now, one can certainly point out that managing the 40 man roster that, at times, might have included less than twenty ‘true’ major leaguers may have been beyond the capabilities of anyone.  I would not disagree with that, but there have been some troubling/curious organizational decisions in the past:

  • The love affair with Tony Pena Jr. was one of the first red flags.   Tony’s only real distinction as a major league shortstop was that he was better not as annoying as whoever took possession of Angel Berroa’s body after 2004.   On June 3rd, TPJ was pounding the ball at a zesty rate of .158/.178/.196 when, at last, the Royals gave Mike Aviles – a ‘Baird guy’ who the scouts didn’t think could play – a shot.   It was laughable because, even if the Royals truly were convinced that Aviles could not play, Pena Jr. (whose defense was always overrated) was so awful that virtually anyone (probably even Berroa) would have been a better option a month earlier.
  • Kila Ka’aihue and slider bat speed.   I have written too much about Kila the past three years, so we won’t waste a lot of time here.   Suffice it to say that after hitting .314/.463/.624 in AA and .316/.439/.640 in AAA during the summer of 2008, one might have expected the team to NOT trade for Mike Jacobs during the off-season.    We still don’t know if Kila can hit major league pitching (at last we’ll find out in 2011), but probably he was ready to succeed or fail in 2009.   Dayton Moore could have found out then AND kept Leo Nunez as well.
  • The Yunigma.   This trade ended up not being quite as dismal as it seemed at the time.   Yuni was awful, but not god-awful, and until Dan Cortes turns into a back of the pen monster (of which the Royals seem to have about 25 guys in the system poised to do the same), Moore didn’t give up anything of note.   Still, a bad baseball team panicked over the injuries to Mike Aviles and Jeff Bianchi and acquired a poor baseball player in what still appears to be a shortsighted move.   The lurking rumor that a year or so earlier Moore explored a Billy Butler for Yuni trade adds the spectre of fear to the whole scenario.
  • The Pursuit of the Sixth Tool.   There is value in leadership, professionalism and veteran presence:  certainly and without question.   Dayton Moore’s relentless pursuit of it, however, has become blog legend.   For every Scott Podsednik or Gil Meche that has performed reasonably well, Moore’s resume has a Guillen, Ankiel, Kendall, Bloomquist (sorry % in UK) and Jacobs who could not hit taking up lineup space with their  veteran presence.

As we move forward, will the pitfalls referenced above continue or just be long forgotten examples of a general manager trying to cobble together something resembling a major league team while he, dare we say it, stuck to The Process?

From this point forward, Moore will have a number of critical developmental decisions to make, roughly in this order:

  • When does Lorenzo Cain become the everyday centerfielder?
  • How many rookie relievers do the Royals break camp with?
  • How long does Moore wait until bringing Mike Moustakas up?  If you care, I say you hold Mike in Omaha just long enough to control him for that seventh year, but not worry about avoiding Super-Two status.   His agent is Scott Boras, who we all dislike, but is a guy that is not going away and a person you would rather not antagonize.
  • Do you move Christian Colon off shortstop?   How about Jeff Bianchi?
  • Do you give Eric Hosmer a try in the outfield?
  • How long do you stick with Alex Gordon?
  • When do you start bringing your talented group of starting pitchers to the majors?   And in what order?
  • When does Eric Hosmer get the major league call?
  • When does Wil Myers move up to AAA?

All of the above really falls into one big question:   When do you start turning prospects into major leaguers?   It is risky, because some will fail.   Some of them will fail miserably and cast doubt on the entire farm system that Moore covets so greatly.

Somewhere in 2012, Dayton Moore will no longer be able to play the ‘look at the great farm system I built’ card.   Dayton Moore surely knows this, he is not an idiot.   What he needs to realize, what we all need to realize, is that building the system was not the hard part:  making the system produce is the hard part.

It’s been a couple of weeks, but with the Billy Butler extension on the books and all the arbitration eligible cases cleared, it’s a good time to look at how the payroll stacks up with about two weeks before pitchers and catchers report.

All payroll info comes from the indispensable Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

What’s amazing is the payroll has decreased since we last examined the books.  That’s entirely due to Gil Meche walking away from $12 million.  And helped by Butler settling for less than the Royals offered in arbitration in exchange for long-term security.  Say what you will about Dayton Moore, but the Royals have come out ahead in the salary game as we head into 2011.

The list above has 13 players with guaranteed money.  That leaves 12 players to fill out the 25-man roster… Each of whom will earn less than $500,000 on average.  Remember, the major league minimum will be $414,000.  Since the Royals aren’t in the business of making a salary statement at the major league level (as opposed to routinely going above slot in the draft) just figure that any player who makes his debut this year, will earn the minimum.  A player like Mike Aviles with a little over two years of service, will make the most of this group… And he’ll earn about $440,000.

So let’s figure an average salary for the remaining 12 players (assuming they are players already on the 40 man roster) will be $425,000.  That’s a total of $5.1 million.

Get ready for this…

That means the Royals Opening Day payroll currently projects to be just over $33 million.  They haven’t had a payroll that low since 2000.

The good news is the Royals are being prudent fiscally.  They aren’t going to contend and with Meche, Greinke and DeJesus in the fold, they weren’t going to contend either.  By dumping almost $30 million in salary, they’re probably going to finish with around the same record they had last summer.  (I’m still figuring things out, but I don’t expect this team to be as historically bad as some people think.)

As I report on the lower payroll, news comes in the Royals signed Dominican right-hander Darwin Castillo for $300,000.  He recently pitched before 125 scouts in the Dominican Prospect League All-Star game, and the Royals jumped quickly.  Sure, $300,000 is relatively peanuts and was certainly already in the scouting and signing budget, but that’s where your Meche money is going.  You have to think the Royals will be even more aggressive in Latin America.  That’s a good thing given we will soon be entering the second phase of The Process.

As we get closer to the actual Opening Day, the fear is still there that GMDM could waste spend some of his surplus on another pitcher, like Kevin Millwood.  Even though he’s gone on the record stating he’s 99.9 percent certain the Royals personnel is set as we head to Surprise, GMDM hasn’t always been truthful.  There will be pressure from fans and from suits within baseball to elevate the payroll… Because believe me, this payroll will be in the news in another month and a half.  The media in New York and Boston will have a field day and trot out the usual Kansas City Cliches.  Hopefully, GMDM can ignore the pressure and keep his focus on building the team for the future.

In case you missed the news, on Tuesday Baseball America announced the Royals have the number one farm system in all the land.  In all the land!

For me, the proclamation had an air of anticlimax.  It would have been news if the Royals had been the number two system.  After a fall and winter where the accolades have been rolling in like a Billy Butler grounder to short, this just seemed inevitable.

This is quite the feather in the cap that is The Process.  Dayton Moore wasn’t going to come to Kansas City unless he received commitments from the Glass family that they would stay the heck out of his way and unleash the funds to scout, draft and develop.  It took about four and a half years, but there’s absolutely no denying the talent that GMDM and his crew have accumulated.

In the grand scheme, having the number one ranked minor league system will look good on the resumes of the guys who built said system, but in order for this to matter, the Royals will need most of these players to have an impact.  That’s step two of The Process.  Of this crop of young talent, not everyone will make it.  Some will fizzle out, some will get hurt and some will just never realize their potential.  Honestly, I’m looking forward to Phase Two.  Just like there will be some players who are currently in the system that aren’t so highly regarded that will become stealth prospects.  Yep… The next phase will be enjoyable to watch.

The really good news is GMDM and his staff are still around to scout and draft the next round of talent.  The first four years have been about restocking the barren system.  The next four years will be about reloading… Replacing the talent that graduates from the minors.  GMDM and his boys have shown their chops… If this organization drops out of the top five, that would be a colossal disappointment.

Anyway, since this is good news for an organization that has been on the losing end of far too many events over the last two-plus decades, the Royals celebrated by issuing a press release.  That’s absolutely the right thing to do.  They have a PR department and being named number one in something is certainly PR worthy.

They also posted the news to their Facebook page.

Then, hilarity broke loose.

I’ve heard about this Royals Facebook page, but I have never ventured to surf that direction.  I’m on Facebook and all that, but it just seems like a colossal time waste.  However, the news filtering my way on Twitters was just too tempting.  Low hanging fruit.

A sample of some of the best comments on Facebook.  These are not edited for spelling or punctuation because that’s part of their charm.

Mathew Calhoon -
What a joke. Number one farm system. 30th best owner and front office don’t make for winning at the big league level.

I understand Mathew doesn’t trust the caretakers of The Process. He also has never heard of Jeffery Loria.

Russell Wenz - So, the farm system for the Royals is #1, which makes the Royals the #1 farm system for the Yankees. OK, got it. Thanks!

Russell, I share your pain.  Why couldn’t we have held onto Jeter, Posada and Riviera?  And Sabathia and A-Rod?  Why?!?

Jeff Rice - Just because the are the best the royals have doesn’t mean there good. We haven’t had more than 2 prospects at any time before moore now look at it some of the have to hit unlike relying on just alex gordan.

I thought typing Jeff’s comment would allow me to better understand what he was trying to say.  I thought wrong.

Kip Ryan -
Yeah, and our major league system is the worst!

Zing!

Dennis Hillers - Team ran like Wal-Mart? No wonder. All these great guys will be traded to the haves of the baseball world after the first time they make the show.

Points for proper use of “The Show.” Negative points for the Wal-Mart reference.  Very 1995.

Steve Martens - Farm system is Not MAJOR LEAGUE, it means nothing.

Exactly, Steve.  That’s why nobody subscribes to Baseball America. Or buys their books.  Or cares about their silly rankings of minor league systems. If they’re not writing about MAJOR LEAGUE, who’s reading?

Todd Peppers -
It should be. You always trade away our best players to make our minor league teams better.

What can I say, Todd?  I enjoy making trades that improve our minor league teams.

Dion Webb - That is because they trade ALL their major league talent for everyone elses prospects.

I hear ya, Dion. When we can’t hold on to the Scott Podsedniks and Rick Ankiels of the baseball world, I want to smash things.

And we’ll end with the best…

Elliott PinkhamCould someone name some of these great prospects? No other team is pursuing them for some reason.  I think the Royals are a fraud.

Some of the prospects include Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer, Elliot Pinkham and Mike Montgomery.  Wait… What?

Actually, I think Elliot is onto something.  Has anyone actually seen Myers?  Has anyone attended a game where Montgomery started?  Are these real people, or are they the figment of Dayton Moore’s imagination?  Elliot can’t see them, so they obviously don’t exist.  Frauds!

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