Royals Authority

Long Live The Process

Browsing Posts published by Craig Brown

The Royals unveiled a new commercial over the weekend. They did the same last year, running a spot during a local break in the Super Bowl. It’s strong.

The spot opens with three iconic home runs from last October. First up is the best one, in my opinion: Alex Gordon going over the batter’s eye in dead center in Game One of the World Series. That’s followed by Alcides Escobar’s inside the park job off the leg of Yoenis Cespedes, then Kendrys Morales’s we discussed on Thursday in Game Five of the ALDS to put the game out of reach. Kind of funny that a franchise that doesn’t hit home runs starts their 2016 marketing campaign with three in a row. Rumor is, they couldn’t find any footage of Royals batters taking walks. I kid, I kid. Those home runs were amazing and they all have earned a rightful spot in the pantheon of tremendous Royals at bats.

Then you have Eric Hosmer’s slide across home and Drew Butera jumping into Wade Davis’s arms. Cut to the parade. Party time.

The spot is decidedly smaller budget than last year’s tour of Kansas City with images projected on buildings and landmarks. The only special effect in this spot is the removal of all color except for the blue in a couple of scenes. That is a cool effect and the spot could have used more of it. We’ve seen this footage thousands of times (if you haven’t, what the hell is wrong with you?) so it’s OK to desaturate here or there, or to boost the contrast to give it a different feel. The parade is in the spot likely to highlight the connection between the team and the fans, which is definitely the correct call. I still scoff at the estimate of 800,000 people, but that’s just picking nits. Whatever the number, say there were a ton downtown for the celebration, and I would nod my head in agreement.

If you get right down to it, the Royals don’t have to spend a ton of marketing cash. Ticket sales are probably though the roof and The K is going to be packed all summer. It would’ve been nice to have a more polished TV spot like last year’s, but when you have a drawer full of postseason highlights, that’s plenty. It’s not a great spot, but it’s a good one, and that’s all they need.

The only thing missing was a Salvador Perez Gatorade bath. Which is kind of surprising because the billboard the team put up last week at Southwest Trafficway and Westport Road was epic.

I mean, this is great. Really, really great. The Perez celebratory bath should have it’s own hashtag. At this point, it’s as much of the Royals as the fountains at The K. Hell, yes. Market around that.

The billboards have become legend the last couple of years. So much so, there’s some solid anticipation ahead of the unveiling every winter. This year’s entry may be the best of the bunch. If it was possible, I would pour a celebratory bucket of Gatorade on the billboard. How’s that for meta?

Overall, I’m much happier the team and their advertising agency brought back the Forever Royal slogan from last year. Whatever works, right? Yet it’s more than that. You won’t find someone more worn out by the trite and cliched Royals slogans than me. And let’s face it, the Royals have had some really, really bad ones over the years. In fact, the slogans are usually easily ignored and forgotten, noticed only when you had a pocket schedule lying around. But there’s something about Forever Royal that resonates. There is power in permanence. It reminds everyone the last two years have been about a rebirth of baseball and the Royals in Kansas City and it’s something that will always stay with us. This may seem cliche, but this Royals team has brought the city together in ways I don’t think anyone believed was possible. I loved the slogan last year. I love it even more today.

It’s the perfect slogan for the perfect time.

I was wrong about Kendrys Morales.

If there’s any comfort in the above statement, it’s that I wasn’t alone in my skepticism.

Let’s rewind ourselves. After the 2014 season, the Royals bid farewell to folk hero Billy Butler and declared the designated hitter spot to be an open space among hitters on the roster. Maybe the Royals would rotate a few guys in the postition, to give some a break from duties in the field. Maybe someone would step forward and take charge enough to get three or four games a week. Ha. We know Ned Yost doesn’t play that game. He likes a set roster with set roles.

So the Royals went and signed free agent Morales to a two year deal with $17 million. Morales made $6.5 million in 2015, is due $9 million in 2016 and has a – wait for it – mutual option worth $11 million for 2017 with a $1.5 million buyout. That was a lot of scratch to give a player who struggled the seasons before joining the Royals, posting the worst offensive season of his career. Myriad reasons were given for Morales’s lack of offense, most of which focused on the qualifying offer that depressed his market and prevented him from signing until June. Missing spring and the first couple months of the season, Morales never got on track. So said the conventional wisdom.

Because this is the Royals, we really should have seen how this was going to end. Morales rewarded the faith of the Royals with the second best offensive season of his career, and his best since he shattered an ankle celebrating a walk-off grand slam in 2010. Quite a rebound.

A switch-hitter, Morales has historically been stronger from the left side of the plate. His career OPS is roughly 90 points higher from this side. He comes by it honestly, as his ability to reach base and his power are both better when he hits left-handed. That’s pretty much how his 2015 season played out, with much better production coming when Morales hit from the left side. However, the gap wasn’t as pronounced when it came to reaching base. The big difference was in the power department.

Split PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
vs RHP as LHB 377 331 94 28 1 18 65 36 65 .284 .363 .538 .901 .303 111 139
vs LHP as RHB 262 238 71 13 1 4 41 22 38 .298 .359 .412 .771 .340 84 110
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/3/2016.

Morales collected 29 more extra base hits as a left-handed hitter in roughly 100 more plate appearances.

If you like your saber metrics slightly more advanced, FanGraphs had Morales at a 146 wRC+ as a left-handed hitter versus a 110 wRC+ from the right side. His left-handed batting split of 146 wRC+ is a great stat, but taken in perspective, it’s not like it stands out against the rest of the league. It’s the same amount totaled by Yoenis Cespedes and Prince Fielder, good for the 19th best wRC+ in baseball on that particular split. Yet, it was the highest total on the Royals, which is why his bat was a delight to have in this lineup. Think about the left-handed thunder at the Royals disposal: Eric Hosmer (141 wRC+), Mike Moustakas (123 wRC+), and Alex Gordon (120 wRC+). OK, thunder may be a bit of a stretch. But as Uncle Hud likes to say, “You can’t sneak a piece of cheese past a hungry rat.” How about we amend that to say something like, “You can’t sneak a right-handed pitcher past these hungry lefty bats.”

Given that his power profile tilts toward the left side, it’s not surprising Morales’s power production is to right and right-center. Here’s where his 22 home runs landed, according to Hit Tracker.

Morales_Kendrys_2015_scatter

One thing that jumps out from the chart is the fact Morales hit some absolute bombs. The power was real, and it was spectacular. According to Hit Tracker, Morales of the 22 bombs he launched, 15 were classified as having “plenty” or “no doubt” status. The average speed of the ball of the bat was 103.7 mph and his average true landing distance was a shade over 400 feet at 403.6 feet. He played his home games in a yard that is supposed to suppress power, yet there wasn’t a ballpark that could contain Morales if he caught one right in 2015.

Morales crushed the hard stuff last year, no matter what side of the plate he was standing. From PITCHf/x data collected from Brooks Baseball, if a pitcher tried to sneak a fastball past Morales in 2015, he made them pay.

Morales_PitchType

That’s pretty much the breakdown on his splits as well. If you wanted to get Morales out in 2015, you jumped ahead in the count and then you fed him offspeed and breaking pitches. Sure, that’s basically the MO against any hitter, but with Morales, it was pretty pronounced.

If you were a pitcher crazy enough to enjoy the challenge of getting the hard stuff past Morales, where would you go? Well, like any left-handed hitter, he liked pitches down and in. And like any right-handed hitter, he liked to get his arms extended to yank one to his pull field. So if I were advising a pitcher with a death wish, I’d strongly suggest he keep the pitch on the third base side of the plate and maybe keep it down. But not too far down.

Morales_HardPitches

There just weren’t holes in Morales’s offensive game in 2015. Next year is his age 33 season. Can we expect him to continue to perform at this level? Probably not. But the way he was punishing the ball last year, if there’s any falloff in production, I’d bet it would be incremental. ZiPS has Morales projected for 30 doubles and 18 home runs with a .276/.336/.444. Steamer is guesstimating 31 doubles and 19 home runs, good for a line of .270/.334/.440. I’m a little more optimistic, thinking a line of around .285/.345/.455 is a nice target.

Turns out that free agent signing in December of 2014 wasn’t such a bad piece of business.

Forever Royal

I’ve been toying around with including this feature in player profiles, but have yet to follow through. Now feels like the right time to start.

When Morales stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game Five of the ALDS, the Royals already owned a two run lead and were three outs away from advancing to the Championship Series. Morales made sure the outcome wasn’t in doubt.

A glorious moment that reveled in the high drama of the postseason. That’s exactly why these Royals October games were great theater. An elimination game. An early deficit. The Royals chip away. The lead is secure – at least it feels secure with Wade Davis in the bullpen – but there is still a nervous energy. Another run – or two – would add to the cushion and give some comfort. Screw that, says Morales, as he launches a bomb to left-center.

It was a laser, leaving his bat at 113.7 mph, the third hardest home run he hit all year, and traveling 440 feet.

Worth it.

Don’t mind me. I’m just over here fooling around with the Baseball Reference Play Index

We are all Royals fans, so I don’t think what I’m going to tell you is a revelation: The Royals abhor the base on balls. Like actively go out of their way to avoid it. Of course, they’ll tell you that’s bunk. It’s just the way things are! And besides, they won the World Series!™ (I’m beginning to think the previously bold phrase will be present in every post from now on.)

Anyway, the numbers don’t like. Last summer the Royals walked in 6.3 percent of all plate appearances. That walk rate was the lowest in the AL and was tied for the lowest in all of baseball with the Miami Marlins.

Unlike the Royals, you could say I’m obsessed with walks. Maybe it’s because when I played the game, it was my best shot at reaching base. Or maybe it’s because when I watch a Royals game these days, it’s a pretty rare occurrence. Not as rare as an Alcides Escobar inside the park home run, but… pretty rare. So I decided on a windy February night to pull some numbers related to the Royals and walks.

— Already noted above was the fact the Royals finished last in the AL in walk rate. You have to go back all the way to 2010 to find the last time the Royals didn’t finish in the basement. That year they finished… Second to last.

— The current trends aren’t helping the Royals. Or maybe the Royals aren’t helping the current trends. The average walk rate has dropped since 2010, going from 8.5 percent to last year’s 7.7 percent.

— There were 241 walks issued with the bases loaded last year. The Royals drew four of them. That was the lowest number in baseball.

Lorenzo Cain drew two of those free passes, both within a few days of each other in April. The game on April 13 was the infamous JR Graham game where the young Twins reliever broke Alex Rios‘s hand, then proceeded to cough up a single and a pair of walks, the last of which was the bases loaded one to Cain, before he was mercifully pulled. Kendrys Morales drew a four pitch walk to plate an insurance run against the White Sox in July. That was a big one, because Greg Holland blew the save in the ninth, but the Royals held on through extras and won in the 13th. And Alex Rios is the final entry on this list, driving in the first run of the August 6 game against Detroit. That was the game where the Royals couldn’t hold their early three run lead, but made up a three run deficit in the later innings, only to lose the game on the Ian Kinsler home run off Ryan Madson in the bottom of the ninth.

— In 2015, a team opened their offensive portion of a game with a walk 144 times. That seems like a low number. I mean, there are 30 teams that play 162 games each. (Except Cleveland and Detroit, who played just 161 games. How did I miss that?) That’s a total of 4,858 opportunities to start a game with a walk.

Three times in 2015, the Royals opened their offensive portion of the game with a walk. Surprise, surprise, each time it was Alcides Escobar. Maybe it’s not so surprising, considering Escobar hit at the top of the order in 131 games, so he certainly had opportunity. Motive? That’s another thing. We know he’s all about reaching Peak Escobar, but we should be nice and realize that three walks leading off the game isn’t all that bad. In fact, it’s around the median for leadoff hitters. Curtis Granderson and Matt Carpenter each walked seven times leading off a game, which was the most in baseball last year.

— On the other hand, Royals pitchers opened the game with a walk three times last year. Yordano Ventura did it twice and the other one belonged to Jeremy Guthrie.

The first time Ventura did it was on May 24, it was Kolten Wong who drew the honor. Ventura followed that up with another walk to Carpenter. In fact, seven of Ventura’s first eight pitches were out of the zone. A single and a double followed. Disaster in a 6-1 Royals loss.

Guthrie’s game-opening free pass happened on July 8 in Tampa. It was the first of three walks that inning. Somehow, Guthrie avoided surrendering a run. That was the game the Royals hung nine runs on Chris Archer, so it was all good.

Ventura’s second leadoff walk was issued in a game on August 27 against the Orioles. It was an inning of true outcome perfection. Ventura walked Manny Machado leading off the game then went strikeout, walk, strikeout, strikeout to close the frame. This, you may recall, was Ventura’s 11 strikeout game, which was a season high. This start earned a Game Score of 75, which was his second highest total of the year. So not everything has to be terrible when a pitcher opens a game with a walk.

What does all this mean? Absolutely nothing. Just a fun walk through a handful of games and some silly, isolated instances where the Royals did (or didn’t) draw a walk. Just a diversion to pass the time until the real games start. Thankfully, Play Index is around to help us pass the time.

And by the way, the Royals won the World Series!™

Right about the time I hit “publish” on the old blogging dashboard yesterday, the ever-reliable Jon Heyman came up with some info Royals fans had been jonesing for for about a week and a half. The Ian Kennedy numbers! The Ian Kennedy numbers!

This helps settle the Royals payroll situation as we’re about three weeks from pitchers and catchers reporting. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, let’s dissect the contract itself.

For starters, it’s not a surprise Kennedy is playing for $7.5 million this year. The Royals are approaching the $130 million threshold, so if they had spread the guaranteed cash evenly, that would have tacked $6.5 million in the column for 2016. That may not seem like a lot of cash when you think to yourself, “Hey! Omar Infante is set to make $8 million!” But this is the Royals. There will never be a situation where every dollar doesn’t count. It’s also not surprising that the contract takes a jump next season, but doesn’t go all the way. Again, we’re expecting 2017 to be the end of the run of the current core. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Wade Davis, and even Danny Duffy will be departing as free agents. That means this group will be at their maximum earning while under the Royals employ.

We could include Kennedy in that group as well. His contract contains an opt out following 2017. That’s the catch. This is a heavily backloaded contract, where Kennedy is due $21 million before he’s eligible to walk, and a whopping $49 million over the final three years.

It’s still a ways off, but this feels like a trap contract. Kennedy will be in his age 32 season in 2017. It’s possible he does well enough and pitchers salaries escalate to the point where it would make sense for him to walk away from $49 million covering his age 33 to 35 seasons, but there’s a real risk here. If Kennedy stumbles at any point in the next two seasons… If he suffers an injury… That big money looks like a potential albatross.

It feels like the Royals tendered this contract in the hopes Kennedy could contribute over the next two seasons, when the window is open, followed by him triggering the opt out and removing the $49 million guillotine hanging over the franchise.

You may think I’m down on this signing, but I’m not. Not really. I think there’s a strong chance Kennedy rebounds and delivers a couple of decent seasons for the Royals. In fact, I’d take his Steamer projection of 2.0 fWAR and tack on at least another win. We’ve discussed this before, but I fully expect his home run rate to normalize and for Kennedy to benefit with a real outfield defense behind him for 30-plus starts. Call it the Volquez Effect. And if Kennedy can hit that fWAR, he’s already paid for his first two seasons with that kind of value. At $7.5 million, the Royals are paying him as a sub 1.0 fWAR starter.

It’s the opt out that will keep Dayton Moore and the Royals brain trust awake at night.

So, about that payroll… I project (with help from Cot’s Contracts and MLB Trade Rumors) the Royals 2016 Opening Day payroll will be just above $127 million. Here’s how it breaks down for the next five seasons:

Payroll012716

A quick word on the color codings. Blue is a buyout on an option. Green is when a player is eligible for free agency. And red is an estimate of arbitration.

Some more housekeeping… There are 26 players listed because Jason Vargas will open the year on the disabled list. His salary counts toward the Opening Day roster. Then there’s the issue of the insurance. I’m not entirely certain how that is handled, but I would assume the Royals would collect at the end of the year, once it’s determined how much time Vargas has missed. It’s possible the Royals won’t be eligible to collect the full amount of the rumored $6 million they have in insurance.

Plus, don’t think the players listed above are set in stone. The Royals will owe some money to a third catcher, but I don’t see any scenario where they keep both Drew Butera and Tony Cruz. (Besides, Butera is giving the baseball from the final out of the World Series to the Royals Hall of Fame. This makes him the favorite in the backup catching competition in my mind. Butera forever!) And there’s a strong chance someone like Dillon Gee makes the roster at the expense of someone like Tim Collins. Gee will make $2 million if he makes the team, but he has an early spring opt out if he’s not on the 40-man roster. That’s why the dollar value on the Kennedy contract is so important (and low) for 2016. They need the wiggle room just based on what can still happen with the players they have in camp.

And finally, buyouts are noted, but they are applied to the end of the year totals of the previous season. So the money the Royals gave to Alex Rios and Jeremy Guthrie goes on the books for 2015, not 2016. So basically, my own chart is a little goofed for 2017. I have the Royals on the hook for $82.5 million, but really it’s closer to $73.5 million at the moment. That in itself is amazing. The Royals have topped that only four times in franchise history. And they’ve committed that much cash to just eight players! We live in exciting times, my friends.

 

Some random notes as the search for Ian Kennedy ended this morning. (Discussion on his contract and payroll implications coming soon.)

— Baseball Prospectus released their top 10 Royals prospects. Not surprising Raul Mondesi, Jr. was the first choice here. The prospect mavens at BP hang a 60 grade on the shortstop who made his debut in the 2015 World Series, which rates as a “first division regular.”

Second is Kyle Zimmer. He projects as a 2/3 starter according to BP. That gives the Royals a strong consensus within their organization as their top two prospects, given that was the rank assigned by Baseball America and Minor League Ball.

The takeaway from this writeup seems to be the system has thinned out since the deadline trades last summer. Hey, flags fly forever, but there was a price that was paid. There’s no way I would change a thing, but facts are facts. So as you travel down beyond the top two, there’s not a lot in the way of impact. It seems like we’ve been beating this drum all winter, but this is why it was so essential they bring back Alex Gordon and sign a mid-rotation starter. There feels like little hope to keep this core together, so it’s essential the team maximizes their current window of opportunity.

Enjoy today, everyone.

— It’s nice that Bubba Starling has reentered the prospecting consciousness. While last summer was unexpected, yet incredibly enjoyable, it’s smart to continue to temper expectations. His name makes the BP list at number five with the usual raves about his defense (which has been major league ready since the draft) combined with some encouraging marks about his approach at the plate and pitch recognition.

That’s encouraging to be sure, but to me, this summer is the key. He needs to prove he can take those adjustments at the plate to another level. Literally and figuratively. Let’s see how well he does in Omaha before we start penciling him into the Royals 2018 outfield.

— Royals FanFest is this weekend at Bartle Hall downtown.

FanFest is a fun experience, albeit overrated. It sounds like things will be a little different this year, with timed entry and a World Series trophy to view and all that, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m not an autograph hound, and I’m fairly sure my restraining order against noted felon Sluggerrrr is still in place, so I’m not going to be visiting any of the games they’ll have for the younger fans.

What FanFest is good for; it’s an opportunity to get a baseball fix during January. You’re with fellow fans and surrounded by baseball. For the winter, that’s pretty good.

— If you’re interested in putting Royals fandom on your car, you can now obtain a Royal-centric license plate from the state of Missouri (That’s where the Royals play. This seems like a relevant point after those clever “Oz” signs we’ve seen the last two Octobers.) It takes a $35 donation to Royals Charities, which seems simple enough.

It really would have been cool if they had incorporated the World Series trophy into the design. Or the tagline “2015 World Champions.” Because when you’re driving around eastern Missouri, having that on your plate would be kind of fun. Could you imagine the reaction? I can. It’s fun.

Those of us from “Oz” will have to go with the old fashioned way of showing our Royals pride on our cars: Bumper stickers and window clings.

— I know you’ve been missing them, but I figure the player profiles will return soon. Kendrys Morales is in the works. Promise.

— Ian Kennedy is not currently on the list of Royals scheduled to attend FanFest.

It’s been percolating under the surface the last few months. On Monday, Jon Heyman threw it out there: The Royals and Salvador Perez are talking about restructuring his contract.

To call Perez’s contract “team-friendly” is an affront to team-friendly contracts. Signed nearly four years ago, it continues to be the standard of bad decision making by a player and his agent. Maybe “bad decision” is a tad too harsh, but it was difficult to imagine how Perez wouldn’t be worth more than the Royals were paying at this point in his deal.

To fully comprehend how team-friendly this contract is, we need to jump into the wayback machine to when Perez and the Royals reached their agreement. At that point, Perez had been a major leaguer for two months, making his debut in Tampa on August 10 of 2011. The Royals paid money upfront for Perez’s first three years of club control – about $3.25 million against the roughly $1.5 million he would have made had the Royals just renewed his contract every year. Where things got crazy was in the arbitration years. The Royals agreed to pay Perez $1.75 million in his first year of eligibility in 2015, $2 million for his second year, and they hold a team option at $3.75 million for what would have been his third and final year of arbitration eligibility.

To gain perspective, it’s useful to find comps. According to Baseball Reference similarity score, Wilson Ramos is among Perez’s top 10. Ramos was eligible for arbitration for a third time this winter, and coming off a down offensive season, signed for $5.35 million. Last year, his second year of arbitration eligibility, after playing in just 88 games the year before, Ramos inked a deal for $3.55 million.

Ramos gets very positive marks for his defense, but has been plagued by injuries over his career and has never won a Gold Glove. Nor has he been an All-Star. Fold into the comparison equation that Perez has seen his home run production climb each of the last four years. Remember, when an arbiter decides a contract, the arguments are weighted toward accomplishments and raw counting numbers. OPS+ and WAR aren’t much of a factor. Home runs and RBI count. I would imagine the same holds true with defensive metrics. Particularly for catchers.

Maybe a better comp would be Matt Wieters. Through his first four seasons, Wieters was a two-time All-Star and won a pair of Gold Gloves. He also hit 65 home runs, the exact same total Perez has at this point in his career. For his second trip through the arbitration process, Wieters made $7.7 million.

This is just a very rough comparison, but it’s pretty obvious that Perez should be making more money at this point in his career than the $3.55 Ramos made in 2015. If anything, he should be making Wieters money. He’s going to make $2 million.

The arguments in favor of restructuring Perez’s deal fall firmly on the side of public relations. First and foremost, it’s about keeping one of their core happy. Perez started talking last year about his contract and expressed an interest in renegotiating. He’s underpaid. By a lot. He knows he’s underpaid. I mean, he has to know, right? The last thing the Royals want or need is to have one of their team leaders disgruntled.

A potential benefit to renegotiating would be how the Royals would look to the rest of the players in the league. The Royals have developed a reputation of having a very player-friendly environment. Ned Yost

The downside to all of this is Perez’s declining production.

Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2011 21 39 158 148 20 49 8 2 3 21 7 20 .331 .361 .473 .834 128
2012 22 76 305 289 38 87 16 0 11 39 12 27 .301 .328 .471 .798 115
2013 ★ 23 138 526 496 48 145 25 3 13 79 21 63 .292 .323 .433 .757 105
2014 ★ 24 150 606 578 57 150 28 2 17 70 22 85 .260 .289 .403 .692 91
2015 ★ 25 142 553 531 52 138 25 0 21 70 13 82 .260 .280 .426 .706 89
5 Yrs 545 2148 2042 215 569 102 7 65 279 75 277 .279 .306 .431 .737 100
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/25/2016.

Those are some disturbing trends as he enters what should be the prime of his career. His raw home run totals have progressed, but his plate discipline is off the charts awful. The last two years, he’s chased roughly 45 percent of pitches he sees outside the strike zone. His walk rate has gone from an awful 4.4 percent his rookie year to an abysmal 2.4 percent last season. I’d say I have no idea why opposing pitchers throw him strikes, but there are so many happy Wild Card flashbacks, I’m not certain it matters so much.

As he’s become a less patient hitter at the plate, he’s spent more time than anyone behind the plate. Perez has caught more innings than anyone over the last two seasons – and that’s not even accounting for his October workload. Folding those innings into his totals and he practically laps the field. Next year is his age 26 season, but there are serious questions about his ability to stay behind the plate due to his use by the team. It’s understandable the Royals would think Perez is so valuable he should start the lion’s share of the games, but there needs to be some common sense deployed. A healthy, rested Perez is a more productive Perez.

I’m not sure the Royals should bend over backward in the renegotiation. After all, the Royals have all the power in the situation. Perez is still a mighty valuable member of this team, but his declining production and demanding position should make the club wary. If they do come to an agreement, I would expect it to be backloaded to a degree. Maybe they guarantee his remaining options and add a couple more with a larger than normal buyout for some of the security he surrendered when he signed a few years ago. If there’s more guaranteed money involved, I can’t imagine it would be much more than a couple million for the next couple of seasons. As it stands, payroll looks to be around a club record $130 million. Why would the Royals feel the need to add to that when it’s unnecessary?

Either way, the Royals will come to an agreement that will keep their backstop happy. And as Heyman notes, it will probably come around the time of Fanfest. A new deal for a fan favorite that should remain relatively team-friendly. Everyone wins.

We owe you a player profile or two. Maybe this week. Also this week, we can expect to get the details and breakdown of the Ian Kennedy contract. Of course, we thought the same thing at this time last week, so what do you really know? The contract isn’t really official until Kennedy takes a physical and Mellinger tweeted at me the other day that the new Royals pitcher is on a scheduled vacation with his family, which accounts for the holdup. Completely understandable. It’s just not something we see every day.

Feels like we haven’t seen this lately:

 

In the meantime, there’s not a helluva lot to discuss. The Star’s Royals webpage has gone close to dormant. Which will happen when you’re between beat writers. Looks like despite my best efforts to lobby for an internet writer (blogger feels like such a dirty word) the Star stayed internal and assigned the job to Rustin Dodd. Dodd currently holds the KU beat, which from my understanding, was the same path Dutton took. I’ve read a few of Dodd’s stories from when he was bouncing around The K on various assignments, and he seems like a logical hire.

Hey, the Royals signed Peter Moylan to a minor league deal. Moylan joined the Braves organization way back when Dayton Moore was there. If anything, it’s nice that despite the Royals recent success, it seems like we will always be able to make lame jokes about Moore’s connection to Atlanta. And here I thought almost 10 years removed, the pipeline of former Braves players who played under Moore was almost dry. Anyway, Moylan is another lottery ticket. He joins other intriguing non-roster invitees to camp including Dillon Gee, Chien-Ming Wang, and John Lannan. After seeing the contracts former non-roster invitees such as Ryan Madson and Joe Blanton, that lottery ticket thing is a two way street.

Speaking of Moylan, he’s a submarining Australian (!) right-hander who is returning from his second Tommy John surgery. He got back to the big leagues last summer and threw 10 innings total in 22 appearances. For his career, he has a 2.83 ERA along with an 18 percent strikeout rate and 10 percent walk rate. As you would expect from a submariner, he keeps the ball on the ground. His career ground ball rate is almost 62 percent. He features a fastball in the low 90s and a slider that comes in around 78. The good news about his recovery from the Tommy John was his velocity seemed to have fully returned and his command (0 walks) was spotless.

The Royals have assembled a decent collection of arms with a little bit of upside. There will be a few storylines in Surprise and how they handle all these pitchers will be one of them.

Over at the official dot com, Flanagan chimes in with a mailbag that has a few interesting morsels of info, including speculation the Royals may again carry five outfielders. We know the names of four: Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, and the proposed Jarrod Dyson/Paulo Orlando platoon. Flanagan speculates the versatility of Christian Colon means the 25th man could be that fifth outfielder or it could be another arm in the bullpen. Definitely, early in the season, there isn’t as much need for a 13 man bullpen. (I would argue there’s never really a need for that many relievers, but I digress.) It looks like we have spotted another spring storyline.

Speaking of which, here’s how I see the spring intrigue ranked from most intriguing to least:

— The Omar Infante/Colon battle for second base.
— Will the right field platoon actually happen?
— Where will Danny Duffy start the season? Rotation? Or bullpen?
— How will the Royals handle all of their non-roster invitees?
— Who will be the backup catcher?

I’ll leave you to ponder those. Until tomorrow.

As you would expect with the core Royals offense returning for an encore, there won’t be wholesale changes to the batting order.

Ned Yost has been making the media rounds of late (deer hunting season must be over in Georgia) and is discussing his optimal lineup. Of course his optimal lineup may differ from the optimal lineup of common sense. But, hey! World Series Champs! Here is how Jeffrey Flanagan sees the lineup at the dot com.

Alcides Escobar – R
Mike Moustakas – L
Lorenzo Cain – R
Eric Hosmer – L
Kendrys Morales – S
Alex Gordon – L
Salvador Perez – R
Omar Infante – R
Jarrod Dyson – L

Yost deployed 83 different lineups last season, by far the fewest in baseball. This is a manager who needs his roles and set positions. There’s not a lot of fooling around here. Just the facts with this lineup.

On the surface, this gives Yost the left/right rotation he craves. Only Perez and Infante at the bottom of the lineup go same side. Flanagan gives Christian Colon as an option at the eighth spot along with Infante. As much as I’d like to buy into some sort of second base competition, I’m not there yet. If Infante hasn’t lost the job after two dismal seasons at the plate, and with his hefty contract, I don’t see how he’s relegated to the bench.

But hey, let’s jump back to the top, because this is sure to rankle a feather or two: There is no way Escobar should continue to lead off. No way. Among 13 Royals who tallied more than 100 plate appearances in 2015, Escobar was the 12th best hitter, ahead of only Infante. His .297 on base percentage was ninth on the team, ahead of Alex Rios at .287. Do you see where I’m going with this? Escobar is keeping company with two very unpopular Royal hitters. This is who he is: A career .262/.298/.344 hitter with a 74 wRC+. Yet I will accept his offensive output because his glove is super-valuable. However, I don’t want to watch him hit at the top of the order for an entire summer.

You are welcome to disagree with the above opinion. ALCS MVP and all that. *Cough* Small sample size. *Cough*

Despite my kvetching about Escobar at leadoff, I’m fine with him if hacking at the first pitch and establishing Peak Escobar means the Royals voodoo is working and they will win the game. Whatever it takes, man. I’m not a total moron.

The final say belongs to the skipper:

“Hey, it just works for us. It’s proven now. We just respond with him up there.”

We could say the same thing about Yost. Keep on, keeping on.

According to Flanagan, the second spot is up for grabs between Moustakas and Gordon. Obviously, I was horrified when Yost placed Moustakas so high in the order to open the season, but you have to admit it was an inspired bit of thinking. Moustakas was unshackled from the run production expectations and was much more relaxed at the plate, as we all saw with his aggressiveness on going to the opposite field. Moustakas faded a bit midway through the season. He had a dreadful July and once Ben Zobrist joined the club, the Royals third baseman slid down to sixth in the order. Personally, I’d like to see Gordon hit second because he’s probably going to get on base more than any other Royal. Hell, he should hit leadoff, but that’s just not going to happen. Still, you have to consider Moustakas’ dome and all that. He was so much better hitting second last year, that I would be open to trying it again.

Just for fun, here are Moustakas’ career splits for each spot of the lineup:

I Split PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip tOPS+
Batting 1st 2 2 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .500 .500 .500 1.000 .500 190
Batting 2nd 409 365 47 103 18 1 10 40 26 45 .282 .342 .419 .762 .295 118
Batting 3rd 64 57 10 10 2 0 5 10 5 16 .175 .234 .474 .708 .132 96
Batting 4th 121 109 9 20 5 0 3 14 12 23 .183 .264 .312 .576 .205 65
Batting 5th 283 266 31 66 15 0 5 22 15 41 .248 .293 .361 .654 .277 87
Batting 6th 961 872 96 239 56 2 33 124 67 164 .274 .330 .456 .787 .302 123
Batting 7th 502 468 41 93 27 0 12 43 26 84 .199 .245 .333 .578 .215 64
Batting 8th 220 197 17 47 7 1 5 25 18 27 .239 .311 .360 .671 .253 93
Batting 9th 45 43 3 9 3 0 1 3 2 8 .209 .244 .349 .593 .235 68
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/20/2016.

Fun stuff. He’s best at the second and sixth spots. Makes you wonder if the Royals have his Baseball Reference page bookmarked or something.

There wasn’t a mention of the proposed Dyson/Paulo Orlando platoon, but Yost was on the radio in KC this week still selling that idea. Sans obtaining a corner outfielder, this remains the Royals best option. Yet there’s something that makes me wonder if there will be a true platoon, which goes against the managerial gumption of Yost. Besides, that would give the Royals four right-handed batters in a row against a left-handed starter. That’s the kind of stuff that will keep Yost up at night. Still, Dyson is bad enough against left-handed pitching (career .211/.288/.249) that a platoon pretty much has to happen.

At least we’ve moved from discussing free agent signings to talking about the lineup. Spring is around the corner.

While we wait for the Royals to make the Ian Kennedy signing official (Is it a front-loaded contract? Back-loaded? Or was Dayton Moore just plain loaded?) it seems things have settled back into the mid-winter slumber.

The Kennedy numbers are important, not only to see how the salary picture looks for Opening Day this year, but how the money is spread will affect the opt out clause, I would imagine. If the Royals are pushing a bunch of the salary to the back half of the five years, it makes it less likely Kennedy would return to the open market after the 2017 season. If there is more cash up front, then it feels more plausible he would grab the cash and look to improve his station for 2018 and beyond. Still, there are plenty of variables in place so speculation at this point is kind of silly. But, it’s January. What else is there to do?

— If you’re the Tigers, you look to keep pace with the Royals.

How fun is that? Detroit, watching their hegemony in the AL Central disintegrate, signed Justin Upton to a six year deal with an average annual value around $21 million. Big money that comes with the now obligatory opt out after the second season.

The Tigers have made some moves to compensate with the loss of David Price and Yoenes Cespedes, but the core bats are still aging and now this lineup skews heavy to the right. There’s still plenty of off season left, but it feels to me like the Tigers won’t fade like 2015. Plus, now that Cespedes is the lone impact outfielder available, it will be interesting to see if the Chicago White Sox join the party. He seems like a natural fit on the South Side. The AL Central is shaping up to be tough.

— The Royals released their schedule with game times, so if you want to start planning a random August weekend, now is the time.

CZGZ25wUMAE6rqx.jpg-large

It looks like they’re following the Cleveland experiment and starting weekday games in April and September at 6:15. Insert your own attendance smack here. I suppose that makes some sense in Kansas City. Demand for tickets will be high and this gives those young minds an opportunity to go to The K, see the game, and not miss their bedtimes. Whatever helps the future generations. Then, you have weekday games starting at 7:15, which is later than usual. Otherwise, it’s your garden variety baseball schedule. Although there is a World Series champion trophy present.

— Missed the hullabaloo of the Kennedy deal was the Royals agreeing to a two year contract with Lorenzo Cain, buying out his final two seasons of arbitration eligibility. He will earn $6.5 million this season and $11 million in 2017.

I love LoCain, but this is a bit of a head scratcher to me. I’m not sure the benefit of locking him in for his final year of arbitration is at this point. If he had another stellar season where he finished in the top three of the MVP vote, how much more than the $11 million the Royals are now committed to paying would he have earned? It feels like picking at nits, but it just kind of seems like a gamble on the part of the Royals in an effort to gain some cost certainty.

Having said that, I went searching for comps for what Cain could earn in arbitration as a third-time eligible players. This year, MLB Trade Rumors estimated Mark Trumbo, who has just over five years service time (an amount similar to where Cain would be at this point next year) would make a shade over $9 million. Seattle traded Trumbo to Baltimore and settled on a deal that will pay him $9.15 million. Before you start hammering the comment button, I’m not comparing Cain to Trumbo. I’m comparing their situations. Clearly, Cain is a better player, so maybe that $11 million they are going to pay him in 2017 is a bargain. We’re only guessing at this point. You could justify either outcome.

— Word ahead of the Cain deal was his camp was looking for a six year deal from the Royals, effectively buying out his final two years of arbitration, along with four years of free agency. That would take Cain through his age 35 season. I can’t fault Cain for wanting to maximize his earnings at this point in his career. It sure feels like he will have the opportunity for one large payday, a la Alex Gordon. While Cain has defied the aging curve to this point, it doesn’t make a lot of fiscal sense for the Royals to tie up so much money on two-thirds of their outfield when those players will be approaching their mid-30s.

 

We saw it coming, but we didn’t see that coming. Not that contract. Not like that.

The Royals were linked to Ian Kennedy early in free agency, and often. The frequency increased at the end of last week, and as we’ve learned so often during the Hot Stove, when Rosenthal and Heyman are tweeting about it, things are percolating. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when the deal was broken on Twitter early Saturday. What was surprising was the length and dollars of the contract.

Five years? Huh? $70 million? What?

There’s a lot of collateral to unpack in this contract. For starters, there’s a reported opt out after two seasons.

The opt out is a new tool clubs have been utilizing on the larger free agent deals. I realize the teams carry most of the risk on the opt out. If a player is good, they will pull the cord and reenter the free agent market much earlier than the team would have liked. If the player underperforms in the first couple of seasons, they will be more likely to bypass the opt out and could potentially saddle a team with a horrendous contract.

While the risk is certainly present in these opt outs, it’s also easy to see how teams like the Royals are approaching them. As stated ad naseum this winter, the core of the Royals will hit the free agent market following the 2017 season. With the window of contention so obviously open the next two seasons, it’s easy to understand the reasoning of giving the opt out for Kennedy at that moment. The hope is, Kennedy will pitch well enough for the Royals during their window that he will exit to give the Royals more flexibility to rebuild. Two things to remember are: His agent is Scott Boras and somehow, someway Boras always manages to find a better deal for his clients. And two, it’s folly to try to predict how a player and the market will react. I mean, Kennedy was saddled with a qualifying offer this year. If there was ever a pitcher who would take the $15.8 million, it would have been Kennedy. There were questions that the Padres would even give it to him, because the threat of him accepting was real. Instead, he has a potential $70 million payday.

This opt out is going to loom large, because the projections are… Unkind. Not so much for the first two years of the contract. It’s the final three that will keep Royals executives up at night.

Kennedy has averaged 1.6 fWAR over the last three seasons. As as starting pitcher the last six years, he’s averaged 2.4 fWAR. He’s compiled two strong years as as starter, a couple that were kind of meh, and two that were not very good at all. When you view his Steamer projection at FanGraphs, a 2.0 fWAR makes a lot of sense.

Using FanGraphs projected value of fWAR at $8 million, it’s easy to see how this deal falls apart after the 2017 season.

KennedyValue

Based on the projections, the above table suggests a fair value for Kennedy would have been around three years and $40 million. But come on… Free agency and fair value are rarely synonymous.

As Matt Jackson wrote at Beyond the Boxscore, it’s easy to see how Kennedy fits into the second tier of free agent starting pitchers. His track record compares favorably with the subset of starters who received five year deals this winter. If I were to guess as to why the Royals went after Kennedy, his durability had to have been a major selling point. Kennedy has made 30 starts in each of the last six seasons and has topped 200 innings three times. Despite possessing one of the top bullpens in the game, the Royals value innings from their starters. Who doesn’t? There’s a comfort in knowing you have one (or preferably more) guy who will take the ball every fifth day. The Royals rotation was littered with question marks. It’s strange to say, but Yordano Ventura is still relatively unproven. He was great for the Royals in the last couple of months of the season, but can he be a steady performer for the entirety of the year? Chris Young has stamina issues. This will be Kris Medlen’s first full season since his second Tommy John. And who knows where Danny Duffy will see the majority of his innings. Before Kennedy’s arrival, Edinson Volquez was the only known quantity in the rotation.

The counter argument is that the Royals are paying a high price for mediocrity. Perhaps, but this is the cost of doing business in baseball in 2016. Compare to Jason Vargas a few seasons ago. Vargas was an underwhelming starter who surprisingly signed for four years. I’m certain the Royals extended in that manner to secure what they hoped would be an innings eater at a controlled cost of around $8 million a year. It didn’t work out that way, but it was a gamble worth taking because now that innings eater is averaging around $14 million a year. The Royals can’t go out and sign multiple starting pitchers in an off season, but they can stagger their contracts to alleviate the pain.

The Royals have also had a fairly positive track record on their pitching acquisitions the last couple of years. Maybe that’s due to their ballpark and defense and pitching coach, but you can’t argue against the successes of Volquez, Young, Vargas, James Shields, Ervin Santana, and even Jeremy Guthrie for a time. There are no All-Stars or Cy Young award winners in this bunch, but as we’ve learned, when you built your team on defense and a rock-solid bullpen, you don’t necessarily need those types of pitchers to be successful. Shorten the game, catch the ball, and profit.

There’s also the issue of the Royals losing their first round draft pick by signing a player who declined a qualifying offer. I’ve seen estimates of that pick at around $10 million, so if you like to count every nickel and dime in a deal, that increases the overall expenditure by the Royals, which makes this a less attractive signing. Kennedy doesn’t pocket that money, of course, but the Royals jettison the opportunity by removing the pick from their draft equation. The Royals haven’t done as well in the draft over the last couple of years, but we have seen there are ways to spin those draft picks into players who can help you win a World Series. The Royals are in a position where they probably thought they had a couple of high draft picks (their normal slot, plus their extra pick for when Gordon left via free agency) and now those picks are gone. I’m sure there were several interesting discussions centered around the draft and Kennedy.

Kennedy is good enough he can be a solid mid rotation starter for the Royals in the next couple of seasons. The hope here will be that he pitches well enough to propel the Royals back into the playoffs while the window remains open before choosing to opt out after the 2017 season. Let the Royals take advantage of what should be a couple of remaining solid years in his arm, then let another team worry about his mid-30’s. That sounds like a good deal to me.

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