Royals Authority

Long Live The Process

Browsing Posts published by Clark Fosler

When he signed with the Royals, we all knew that Kris Medlen was a bit of a calculated gamble.  After 335 innings of outstanding work in 2012 and 2013, Medlen had gone through Tommy John surgery for a second time, sat out all of 2014 and would not be ready at the start of 2015.  Anything the Royals got at the major league level out of Medlen in 2015 would be a bonus.

What the Royals got was 58 innings of decently okay regular season work and one good, if short, start in the post-season.  That did not re-establish Medlen as a major league pitcher on par with what he had been in 2013 or even assure him a spot in the 2016 rotation (although he does have an inside track).

To begin with, Medlen’s 94 total innings (minors, majors and post-season) in 2015 does not give anyone any assurances that he is ready to take the ball every fifth day and pitch effectively for most, if not all of the 2016 season.  More importantly, what we saw out of Medlen in 2015 was not the Kris Medlen of 2012 and 2013.

You want to give the 2016 Kansas City rotation a shot in the arm? Have Medlen pitch like it is 2013.

To be honest, I thought the key might be Medlen’s changeup.  After all, while using that pitch roughly as often as he had in 2012 and 2013, opposing hitters were swinging and missing far less.  In 2012, swung and missed 27% of the time.  That number went up to 30% in 2013.  In 2015, however, batters whiffed on just 16% of Medlen’s changeup.   More swings and misses with the change and more success, right?

Maybe.

Except opposing hitters hit just .180 against the Medlen change in 2015, after hitting .206 in 2013 and a microscopic .102 in 2012. Sure, more whiffs is a good thing, but it is not like opposing hitters were destroying Medlen when he threw a change.

They were, however, destroying him when Medlen threw a curve. In 2015, opposing hitters posted a .286 average and slugged .595 against Medlen curveballs. FIVE HUNDRED AND NINETY-FIVE.  By comparison, in 2013, batters managed just a .160 average and slugged just .280.  The year before that, .184 and .245.

The reason is fairly obvious:  it’s all about the break.

In 2013, a Medlen curveball averaged a horizontal break of 6.69 inches.  In 2015, the break was just 5.76 inches.  The vertical break of his curve in 2013 was a -9.36 inches compared to a 2015 drop of -7.87 inches.  Listen, I still play a little ball and a couple of inches different in the break of a curveball does not make it any more hittable for me, but for Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout or, hell, Jackie Bradley Jr. or Wilson Ramos would certainly notice the difference.

Now, not lost in all of this, Medlen’s velocity was up across the board.  Fastballs up a solid mile per hour from before, curve ball up a two as was the change (up four from 2012).  That is not unusual, I hear, for pitchers to have more velocity post-surgery and, probably, less touch.

So, is the change we need to watch (i.e. hope?) this spring or the curve? More likely, it is both. The secondary pitches take more time, be it post-injury or just getting going each spring and it seems quite possible that Medlen simply did not get the innings to get the ‘feel’ back.

Of course, maybe the ‘feel’ just isn’t going to come back. It has happened to more than one pitcher, even in these modern sports medicine times.

Oh, my friends, but what if Medlen does get it back?  What if the 2016 Kris Medlen is the guy we saw pitch in Atlanta in 2012 and 2013, with this Royals’ defense and bullpen behind him?

What if?

Yes, I write eight or nine columns per year on the construction of the Royals’ – your defending World Series Champion Royals, mind you – twenty-five man roster. Lazy? Sure. Predictable? Probably.  However, you cannot stop me, you can only hope to contain me.

Anyway, yesterday we touched on Jarrod Dyson being, at minimum, the left-handed hitting portion of a rightfield platoon for the 2016 Royals.  Barring a new acquisition, it would not surprise me a ton to see Ned Yost use Dyson against at least some left-handed pitching as well, but time will tell on that front.  We can certainly, however, count on the fact that the Royals’ fourth outfielder will hit from the right-side and there is a better than average chance that it will be Paulo Orlando.  Right now, I would be shocked if Orlando is not on the opening day roster. If not as Dyson’s platoon partner, as the fifth outfielder.

Let’s get back on topic, however.  When it comes to projecting the 25 man roster for the beginning of 2016, you do not have to go very far out on a limb to speculate that there are really just two spots open.  Two.

When it comes to the pitching staff, there are ten locks to make the roster:

  • Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura, Ian Kennedy, Kris Medlen, Chris Young and Danny Duffy.  All in the mix to either be in the rotation and, if not a starter, locks to be on the major league roster in the bullpen.
  • Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar and Joakim Soria. Duh.
  • While those ten are virtual certainties, I think you can add Dillon Gee to the mix as an almost certain number eleven.  Gee has a mid-March opt out, but will get $2 million if he makes the major league roster (plus incentives for both number of starts and number of relief appearances).  Short of Gee not being able to throw sixty feet six inches during the first week of March, I have a hard time seeing the Royals not hanging onto him.

That leaves one spot open on the pitching staff and with Louis Coleman designated for assignment and Tim Collins recovering from Tommy John, I am not sure a favorite for this spot exists.  Given Dayton Moore’s rather remarkable ability of late to find reclamation projects can’t you just feel a 2016 coming where Chien-Ming Wang is the next Ryan Madson?

Offensively, the Royals are currently as set as they are with their pitching staff.

  • Going around the diamond, the Royals are locked in with Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Omar Infante, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson and Kendrys Morales.
  • Either Drew Butera or Tony Cruz will be the back up catcher. Christian Colon is almost assuredly going to be the utility infielder (if not the regular second baseman – that’s a story for another day).  Those two additions put us at 11 position players.
  • As indicated in the opening, Paulo Orlando is certainly the leader for the right-handed portion of the rightfield platoon (if such a platoon is actually allowed to exist) and, given his speed, defense and experience from last year, the fifth outfielder if he loses the platoon spot.  That takes us to twelve, one spot left.

Including Orlando as either the fourth or fifth outfielder implies, as the Royals have implied, that the team will open the season with five outfielders. The recently signed (minor league deal) Travis Snider is a left-handed hitter and strikes me as insurance against Dyson going 2-48 in spring training.  Cody Decker?  He has 17 innings of outfield work since 2013.  So that brings us back around to the Omaha crew of Brett Eibner and Jose Martinez as competitors with Orlando for the short half of the platoon with Dyson.

Let’s get creative for a moment, however.  While we might be skeptical of Ned Yost resorting to a true platoon in right, he certainly will want to head north with a right-handed hitter outfielder and right now that is either Orlando, Eibner or Martinez.  Pick one, put him on the twenty-five and then, just for fun, consider that the final roster spot goes to Terrance Gore. First one who shouted Herb Washington gets a hard candy!

Ned Yost loves a set lineup and he has let more than one backup position player collect cobwebs on the bench during his tenure. That is not necessarily a criticism, just an observation.  If Yost was to pinch hit this season – which he has rarely done in the past – it would be for Infante with Colon (or vice-versa, I guess) and the fourth outfielder for Dyson (or vice-versa).  When do you see the last bat on the bench getting any playing time?

If that truly is the case and if, like me, you do not believe any amount of time in the minors will ever yield a Terrance Gore that can get on base against major league pitching, then why not carry Gore as a pinch runner?  The team might well run into nagging injuries that will force them to get a more potent bat on their bench as the season goes on, but to start the year would they not get more bang for the buck being able to insert Gore onto the basepaths for a Morales or Perez (or even Gordon and Moustakas) in a tie game late?

Is a designated pinch runner any more a waste of the 25th roster spot than a third catcher who will never play (and can’t hit), a second infielder who will really, really never play or a fifth outfielder who cannot change a tie game in the ninth inning with stupid, crazy speed like Gore?  Sure, it is a bit of disservice to any hope of Gore developing beyond being just a runner, but baseball is a business and the Royals are completely geared towards winning the next two seasons.  That’s life in the bigs.

As an old-time baseballish guy, a designated pinch-runner in the modern game seems silly at first, but as I mull it through the meanderings of my ever shrinking brain, it almost begins to make sense.

 

There have been a number of surprises this off-season, but barring one more, the rightfield job for the Kansas City Royals is Jarrod Dyson’s to lose.

Now, that very sentence is quite possibly not accurate.  Most of us assume Dyson will be part of a platoon due to his noted inability to hit left-handers and there exists the very real possibility that when Dyson starts it will be in center with Lorenzo Cain sliding to right. We can debate the exact outfield alignment as the spring progresses (frankly it is hard to go wrong when your tools are Gordon, Cain and Dyson), but without question Jarrod Dyson can go and get it with anyone in the league….including Lorenzo Cain.

In 2015, Cain ranked fourth among all outfielders with 18 defensive runs saved.  Kevin Kiermaier led all outfielders (and everyone else) with 42 runs saved.  Dyson? He was credited with 11 DRS, which would have tied him for ninth in baseball with Gregory Polanco.  Of course, if you are thinking ahead, you have already noted that all of those nine outfielders tied with or above Dyson all played well over 1,000 innings.   Jarrod logged just 560 innings in 2015.  Pick your metric, do the math and you come up with what your eyes already told you: Dyson can play defense on par with any outfielder in the game.

And 2015 was not an outlier, either.  Pick any year and conduct the same exercise and Dyson still comes out among the best in defense. Of course, most of those numbers come playing center.  He has logged less than 200 major league innings in either left or right.  This inexperience would seem a minor concern as it is hard to envision  a centerfielder with Dyson’s speed having too much trouble adapting to right and his UZR ratings in limited action would seem to at least start to confirm that observation.

Defense was not your concern though, was it?

Offensively, the question has always been – or maybe skepticism is the better phrase – how would Dyson hold up over a full season at the plate or at least a full season on the big half of a platoon.

For his career, Dyson is a .250/.320/.343 hitter. If you take his 243 plate appearances and the accompanying .211 batting average out of the equation, Dyson is a .266/.329/.367 hitter.  Couple a line like that with Dyson’s defense and speed and you have, well, you have a player who might well be worth 2.5 WAR (as he was in 2013) or even 3.1 WAR (as in 2015). Your worst case is something on par with what Dyson gave the Royals last season: 1.8 fWAR.

While those Wins Above Replacement values came with Dyson working in a part time role and aided by his frequent use as a pinch-runner, twice as many innings on defense will go a long ways towards making up for offensive shortcomings that may become apparent as the plate appearances pile up.

Will there be shortcomings?

There are some indications to support that, not the least of which that Dyson’s walk rate has declined each year since 2012.  Last year, Dyson also bunted for a hit just twice as opposed to 14 times the year before and 10 times in 2013 (in just 13 more plate appearances than in 2015). For a speedster with a problematic bat, less walks and less bunt hits is not a great approach to up one’s on-base percentage.  If Dyson is not on-base, his best offensive tool helps no one.

On the flip-side however, while Jarrod is swinging more, he is increasing his contact percentage – both in and outside of the zone. In the process of making more contact, he has also managed to keep his ground ball to fly ball ratio (well over 2 to 1) the same and, in 2014, actually hit even more ground balls. If you are not going to walk and, be it by your own doing or the opposing defenses, not going to bunt for hits, all the better to swing, make contact and run like hell.

That is really it, isn’t it?  Sure, we could delve into Dyson’s value against pitches. I could show you pictures or more data that proves what you already knew:  Dyson is an elite defender. How much value is lost from the 12 games Dyson was strategically inserted into a game as a pinch runner versus having him on defense for an extra 500 innings?

All things being equal, the Royals (like me) seem prepared to see just what Dyson can do if given regular work. The million dollar question is will Ned Yost truly platoon Dyson with a right-handed bat or do something not so traditional? It may well turn out that the best platoon partner for Jarrod Dyson is having Dyson playing defense and hoping he eeks out a hit or two here and there against left-handed pitching.

No matter the scenario, we will see a lot more of Jarrod Dyson this season. By and large, I think that is a good thing.

Okay, even if the Royals and Alex Gordon do agree to the mutual option for a fifth year, there is still at least one more contract in Gordon’s future.  It very well might not be with Kansas City at that point, but for right now it feels like he will always be a Royal.  That’s good enough…for a while.

Certainly the vast majority of Royals’ fandom was elated with the $72 million deal that was announced yesterday.  It locks in (or at least allows the Royals the ability to lock in) the core of this team – hell, pretty much all of this team – for both 2016 and 2017.  If you are willing to just accept the whole ‘Omar Infante’ thing, the World Champions will have eight returning starters from last year’s Opening Day lineup with seven of those having started for the 2014 American League Champions as well.   Some people don’t care for and discount the talk of ‘windows’ in baseball, but I think it is a real concept and one that very much applies to a smallish market team.  In that sense, the Royals are really in year three of a four year window that has thus far yielded two World Series appearances and one championship. So far, so good.

Now, for the angst and there will be angst.  There are those who just won’t be happy or can’t stay happy or like to be contrarians or have real fears of what the future holds that do have actual factual foundation.  To be clear, I am not a member of any of those groups. I’m ecstatic Alex Gordon is back and that the Royals spent the money to do so.  I am willing to wager that age 34/35 Alex Gordon is going to resemble more Ben Zobrist and than Jose Guillen.  Let’s have a little fun and look into the future, through Alex Gordon tinted sunglasses.

2016

With the possible exception of someone to share time with Jarrod Dyson in the outfield, you know what the lineup will be:  Gordon, Cain, Moustakas, Escobar, Infante, Hosmer, Morales, Perez.  While Dayton Moore is still pursuing a starting pitcher and, with Gordon making ‘just’ $12 million this season, he has some ability to do so, the rotation currently is Volquez, Ventura, Duffy, Medlen and Young with the hope that Kyle Zimmer comes along at some point.  The bullpen?  Yes, you could do a whole lot worse than Davis, Herrera, Soria and Hochevar and, in fact, 27 or 28 teams will likely readily admit that they will do worse than that.

Hey, it is tough to repeat.  The division is better, other teams are not standing still and the 2016 Royals would not be the first World Champion defenders to slump.  The fear is that this squad suffers from a not very uncommon post-season hangover and David Glass stews his way through the summer wondering why his $135 million dollar payroll is playing .500 baseball. It could happen, if for no other reason than the current starting rotation could turn into a hot mess.

Now, the current starting rotation, could also turn into a pretty salty unit. Volquez is, let’s face it, pretty much Volquez.  I would not call him a ‘rock’, but you have a decent idea of what you are generally going to get.  Chris Young is going to give you 120 or so innings of decent work.  However, we are just one season removed from thinking Yordano Ventura was going to turn into an ace. We have seen Danny Duffy be brilliant and we have seen him be awful, could he maybe just settle down and be solid?  Kris Medlen? While you can see lots of red flags, you can also see lots of ability as well. Listen, with the bullpen the Royals have, it is not really dreaming to think that Ventura-Duffy-Medlen could provide six innings of really good pitching most every night.

Bottom line, even without adding another starter, the 2016 Royals have to be a favorite to make it back to the playoffs.  I will entertain opinions that Kansas City might be more wild-card than division winner, but if last year’s roster won 95 games it is hard for me to see how this year’s is not capable of winning 90.

 

2017

Fifty-eight million dollars (give or take a couple of million between friends) allows the Royals to pick up the 2017 options for Davis, Escobar, Volquez, Morales, Medlen, Perez and Hochevar.  They will have to swallow some big arbitration numbers for Hosmer, Cain, Moustakas and Herrera (among others).  The Royals have a fair amount of control to bring back the entire 2016 roster should they so choose.  Morales, Medlen and Hochevar are mutual options, so take those for what they are worth.  At $11 million for an aging DH, there is a chance the Royals might be able to get Kendrys Morales back for this season.  It might be a rare case where the mutual option is both worth the money and about all the player could expect on the open market.  All options picked up or agreed to and they would end up with a payroll likely nearing $150 million in doing that and, let’s face it, I don’t see that happening.

That said, another playoff appearance in 2016 would likely keep David Glass in a $130 million dollar state of mind for this season. The hope would be that Kyle Zimmer becomes KYLE ZIMMER and Yordano Ventura is coming off a season that warrants his contract.  If so, the Royals might well buy out the option on Volquez or let Medlen walk. Depending on what Raul Mondesi does in 2016, the Alcides Escobar option is not a sure thing, although I think it probably is picked up.

Being realistically optimistic, the lineup probably shakes out as Gordon, Cain, Dyson, Moustakas, Escobar, Infante/Colon, Hosmer, Perez and somebody to DH.  I love Kendrys Morales’ approach at the plate, but something tells me one side or the other declines the mutual option.  One hopes this core group is by now being challenged by Bubba Starling and Raul Mondesi.  With or without Morales, this is an expensive lineup in 2017, but one that you can (and have already) win a championship with.

Should the Royals not sign a free agent starter prior to the 2016 season, it would seem an Edinson Volquez option pick up is almost a certainty, keeping the veteran in a rotation that plus or minus Medlen, strongly resembles the 2016 group.  The bullpen will likely swap out Hochevar for an Almonte or someone, but likely be similarly dominant.

To be honest, I don’t know that an 83-79 2016 campaign means that the 2017 Royals could not win a World Series.  I don’t think the Royals will fall back that far in 2016 and, assuming they do not, Glass and Moore are not dismantling the 2017 squad before it has a chance to establish itself as a fourth consecutive post-season squad.  Enjoy the ride, kids, it gets bumpy from here on out.

 

2018-2019

Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez (team option), Yordano Ventura and Kelvin Herrera (arbitration).   That is your current 2018 roster.  Yes, they hold team options on Chris Young and Omar Infante if that makes you feel better.  Those of you who think the Royals MIGHT have won the World Series without Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist can chime in here to note that the 2018 rotation could have included all those young pitchers traded away.  I will counter that the Royals DID win the World Series with a pretty fair amount of assistance from Zobrist and Cueto in the post-season.  I’m okay with picking up the pieces in 2018.

Extensions prior to free agency?  I think a lot of that is a pipe dream. Of Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, et.al.  I think maybe….maybe, you can get one to a deal that takes them beyond the 2017 campaign. I think Cain is the most likely to get a deal done, but probably the one with the most risk as well.  If you were/are worried about an age 34 Alex Gordon, you should be scared to death of the thought of a 33-34 year old Lorenzo Cain who is a step and one-half slower than the one you know now and can’t stay on the field for more than 120 games.

Offensively, the organization has to hope that Mondesi and Starling are bonafide major league regulars.  Playing the extension game and knocking wood for good health, a Gordon-Starling-Cain outfield is not bad to build around. On the mound, we still are pinning are hopes on a quality one-two Ventura-Zimmer punch with the back end of the bullpen likely being Soria and Herrera.  Wade Davis?  THAT will be an interesting discussion in the winter of 2017 won’t it?   Scared of Gordon, frightened of an aging Cain?  What are your thoughts on a 32 year old closer?

The upside of all this is that the Royals, even if Glass dictates a payroll of say $90 million, would have something along the lines of $40 million to play with in the open market.  God knows what $40 million buys by 2018, but it buys something.  I am playing this scenario out as if the 2016 and 2017 Royals are contenders and maintained essentially intact, which means no trading of Hosmer for prospects in July of 2017 (or similar scenarios) and as such the 2018 and 2019 Royals are mostly Gordon, Perez and a whole bunch of imagination.  That is okay, I think, as long as the prior two years are what we all hope they will be.

I can imagine all sorts of things going right and Dayton Moore making big splashes with a couple of free agent signings and still do not see the 2018 Royals being any better than a .500 team.  Quite frankly, they could be considerably worse than that, but they will be an organization with money to spend.  Depending on the appetite of ownership, they could have a lot of money to spend, with a new television contract finally coming up on the horizon. That might go a long way towards making the inevitable 2018 rebuild a lot shorter than one might think.

Playoffs in 2018?  Nope.

Playoffs in 2019?  It is not impossible to see it, not anymore.

 

 

Isn’t that the real issue these days?

It is not so much the dollars per year, but the concern over what sort of production the Royals might be paying big money for three, four and especially five years down the road. It is a valid concern as the Alex would be 36 years old for the entirety of the fifth year of a potential deal.  I was 32 once and 36 once as well.  I was faster at 32 than I was at 36 and my knees and shoulder did not ache near as much.

Now, let’s have a bit of fun.  Let’s go back in time to the off-season following the 2012 campaign.  Ben Zobrist was turning 32 years old.  If Zobrist had been a Royal back then, would you have signed him to a five year deal? Let’s ignore the dollars (I know, sounds stupid, maybe it is) for now and address the issue of declining production.

If you had not signed Zobrist to a five year deal, one would have missed out on 5.0 fWAR in his age 32 season, 5.5 in his age 33 campaign and 2.1 in his age 34 season.  Yes, Zobrist had an injury and played in just 126 games and his WAR took a hit defensively.  His bat, however, as we are well aware remained right in line with career (.276/.359/.450). If the Royals were locked into paying Ben for his age 35 season, would you be particularly concerned about getting bang for your buck?  Personally, I would be feeling pretty good about it right now.

I apply this exercise to Zobrist because, while he is a different type of defensive player, he bears a striking similarity with the bat to Alex Gordon.

Over 1,190 games, Zobrist has compiled a line of .265/.355/.431 and been worth 36.8 fWAR.  Over 1,136 games, Alex Gordon has compiled a line of .268/.348/.435 and been worth a total of 29.7 fWAR.  If over the next three seasons, Gordon was worth 12.6 fWAR (as Zobrist was at ages 32-34), he could not play a game at age 35 and still be worth the money spent.

You all know my stance:  resign Gordon, spend the money, go for it in 2016 and 2017 and pick up the pieces in the next couple of years. I think Alex Gordon, like Zobrist, will be productive for certainly the two season and could well be a productive player in his age 34 and 35 seasons to ease the post-Hosmer, et.al. crash.

Including Zobrist, 19 players age 32 or older were worth 2.0 fWAR.  All ages, by the way, 92 players were worth that much or more.  When you up the age to 34, only nine players surpassed 2.0 fWAR – that doesn’t count, by the way, Carlos Beltran who was worth 1.9 with a triple slash of .276/.337/.471. Only four players were worth two wins or better at age 35 or older last year – three of those being 36 or older.

That is one season – not detailed research and comparison to really just one player (Zobrist). There is risk in a big money four year deal and certainly more in five.  I am not sure I buy the idea that small market teams cannot afford to take risks. I am also not sure I buy the logic that trying to avoid a cruddy season or two at the end of this decade is worth trying to skimp on restocking a championship team for the next two years.

Alex Gordon for four years?  You bet.  For five? I think I still take the leap.

So, no news last week.  Not surprising as baseball players and general managers also are real people with families and grandparents, too. Basically, baseball did not get any more work done last week than you did.

As such and amid some public outcry about projections for 2016, the Royals continue to have no defined answer in leftfield.  We talked ever so briefly about Jose Martinez last week as a possibility. We know and love Paulo Orlando and by love, I mean we like him as a person and for some of his rather dramatic plays last year while ignoring his .269 on-base percentage and 53 strikeouts versus 5 walks. We have some faith in Jarrod Dyson versus right-handed pitchers.  All of that combined still leaves the Royals with at least one big hole in the lineup and the outfield.

Let’s talk (once more, ever so briefly) about another in-house option for the outfield:  Brett Eibner.

I was three paragraphs into the first draft of this article when I stumbled across John Sickels’ late summer piece on the 26 – soon to be 27 year old outfielder.  Click on that link and you get the Eibner story from a guy with far more knowledge of prospects, used to be prospects and organizational filler than I.

Bottom line, Eibner had his first truly good minor league season in 2015 (i.e. one is which you did not have to use this phrase ‘the numbers don’t look great but..’) when he posted a .303/.364/.514 line in 100+ AAA games. He exhibited better pitch recognition, cut his immense strikeout rate to tolerable levels and then did all the other toolsy things he always had:  hit with power, run, field and throw.

Now, as Sickels rightly points out, the PCL has spawned dozens (hundreds?) of good to great offensive seasons that never turned the player having them into a major league regular. He also accurately points out that Eibner is likely to see the average and the OBP take a real hit in the majors and characterizes Eibner as a Paulo Orlando type player with more power and less speed.  I agree completely.

Brett exhibited very little in the way of a platoon split last year, hitting for more power against lefties, but generally posting similar average and on-base skills against either hand pitcher.  In 2014, however, Eibner had a huge reverse split, but then in 2013 had a huge ‘normal’ platoon split. Hell, I don’t know and you don’t either.

Those projections that got many in an uproar last week?  Hey folks, they are based in part on Paulo Orlando AND Jarrod Dyson getting 500 at-bats each.  That is a crude assessment to be sure, but your 2016 Royals outfield is Lorenzo Cain in center, Dyson against right-handers at one corner and a whole bunch of ‘I hopes’ and ‘maybes’. Oh and those projections also factor in Omar Infante at second.  As Craig tweeted, somewhat sarcastically, ‘What if the projections are right?!’

Sure, trot out the old line that the Royals had the best record in baseball with Infante playing every day at second and a combination of Alex Rios, Dyson and Orlando in right.  Tell me again how the Royals won all those games while Alex Gordon was hurt and how the team would have made the playoffs without Ben Zobrist.  All of that is true, but here is something else that is true.

The Kansas City Royals might have made the playoffs, but they would not have become World Series champs without Zobrist and Gordon and, quite frankly, Johnny Cueto on the roster. I don’t know about you, but I very much enjoyed winning the World Series or, going back one season, just getting to the World Series. I would like to do that again while this team still has a realistic chance (i.e. before Hosmer, Davis and company depart) and I think a good starting point might be to NOT rely on Brett Eibner, Jose Martinez and Paulo Orlando, or even to hope that Dyson can hold his own against lefties.

Alex Gordon?  Again, for the hundredth time, yes please.  If it is not Gordon and the reason for not getting him better not be that the best the Royals could do was 4 years and $64 million, then it needs to be someone.  And that someone was not named in the paragraph immediately preceding this one.

When folks discuss filling the vacated left and right field positions for the Kansas City Royals with in house options, Jose Martinez’s name generally is fourth or even fifth on the list. Not just us random know-it-all bloggers, either.  Dayton Moore when rattling off in-house names went through four of them before getting to Martinez.

Of course, that’s progress for Martinez, who started the 2014 season in independent ball and finished it as a 26 year old playing A-ball (where he hit .319/.375/.444). A spot on the 40 man roster and being mentioned, no matter how far down on the list, is a giant leap from where Jose was not very long ago.

Let’s also keep in mind, this is the 40 man roster not of the Chip Ambres-ish Royals, but of the World Champion Kansas City Royals.  Posting the best batting average in the Pacific Coast League since 1958 will get a guy from oblivion to this close to the majors.

Sure, 2015 was Martinez’s age 27 season, so he is hardly a phenom.  You can take heart that last season was his first above AA or use that as a criticism.  One can point to his completely unsustainable .434 BABIP in Omaha last year as the fuel for his eye popping triple slash of .384/.461/.563 and be totally logical. He simply will not post a BABIP anywhere near that again in his career unless he shows up at a fantasy camp somewhere.

However, it is worth noting that in the nine minor league stops in Jose’s career where he collected at least 150 plate appearances or more, Martinez posted BABIPs of less than .299 just once and lower than .321 only twice. Take minor league BABIP numbers for what they are worth, but Martinez has also posted an on-base percentage below .340 just twice in his journeys through the underside of baseball.

I suppose it was a combination of age and lack of progress in AA that pushed Martinez to the independent ball.  Hell, maybe he looked at somebody wrong.  One’s margin for error if you have not pushed out of AA by your mid-twenties gets pretty thin. Omaha manger Brian Poldberg described him as “a great kid” and a guy “who came here to work”.  If there was attitude or lack of effort in Martinez’s past, it does not exist any longer (if it ever did).

I probably saw Martinez play six times or so this past summer and Martinez ‘looks’ like a hitter.  He was not just swinging and getting lucky.  He had a good approach at the plate and, at least in AAA for one summer, strike zone awareness. His walk rate in 2015 was well above his career rate, but he has been a guy who pretty consistently posts an on-base percentage 50 points above his batting average.  Not great, but serviceable.

Of course, with Jose Martinez comes plenty of doubt. His slugging percentage was stupid out of line with anything he had done previously. The highest ‘slug’ Jose posted prior to 2015 was .444 in 2014.  His career slugging percentage is under .400 and one would expect that extended major league time would likely yield a similar result. Unless…just maybe Martinez has gotten stronger in his later twenties or maybe just plain figured something out.  It happens.

In an organization that seemingly has speed and defense guys just hanging around at almost every level, Martinez is capable in the field, but likely pales in comparison to even an Orlando or Eibner.  He’s got decent speed, but does not ‘blaze’ as quite literally tens of other Royals and Royals’ farmhands do.  In short, he is not the prototypical ‘Royal type’.

Listen, a good portion of us are still holding out hope that Alex Gordon comes to terms and instead of figuring out who will play everyday in left, we can worry about who can platoon with Jarrod Dyson in right. I have no problem filling that role internally and might well lobby for Martinez (who has hit right handers as good as left in the last two seasons, but prior to had displayed more traditional splits) to get first shot.

 

The Royals signed pitcher Dillon Gee yesterday.  The Mets’ 2014 opening day starter, Gee struggled and then lost his job in 2015.  I have no reports as to whether Gee met Noah Syndergard early last season at 60’6″ to officially hand over his spot in the starting rotation or not.

Remember folks, the Royals are the bad guys because their leadoff hitter swings at first pitch fastballs, the Mets are cool because Syndergard threw at his head as opposed to, I don’t know, throwing a freaking change-up that Escobar would have missed by four feet, but I digress.

Gee, despite last season, has some value and almost certainly has the inside track to the 11th or 12th spot on the Royals’ 2016 pitching staff. He would seem to be set up to be the complimentary swingman to pair with Chris Young, who you cannot, should not and will not count on for more than 140 or 150 innings. Don’t get me wrong, I expect most of those Young innings to be good, he is just not a guy you put down for 190 in a season…..ever.

There are deals like this all the time in the off-season and they almost always make sense.  Ryan Madson is your poster boy for such a deal last year.  Young, as noted by others already, is not really a valid comparison.  Truthfully, Gee lies somewhere in between where Madson was prior to spring of 2015 and where Young was, maybe he’s more a Joe Blanton type.  In the case of Blanton, he cost the Royals little and gave them 41 decent innings when the team really needed them. Forgotten amidst all the fun that goes with winning a World Series, the Blanton signing was certainly a success for Dayton Moore.

The interesting clause in Gee’s minor league deal is that it require he be placed on the 40 man roster by March 2nd or given the option to pursue well, other options. Pretty common for veteran players to have a spring opt-out date, but usually that dependent on not the 40 man roster, but making the 25 man roster.  Madson had such a deal last year: he had to be assured of a spot on the 25 man roster at some point in late March or given the option to request his release.  Gee’s early date and the fact that it relates to the 40 man roster instead of the active 25 leads me to believe a handshake deal is in place (or maybe a written one actually!) that he will be placed on the 40 man roster not long after arriving in Arizona for the spring.  The Royals are limit up right now on the 40 man, but we know Jason Vargas is headed to the 60 day DL as soon as one is allowed to do so (March 1? – I know there is this internet thing out there, but I tried for almost a full minute and could not find out the exact date).

Little things like this signing are not big news.  They sometimes turn into nothing (Chris Volstad anyone?) or a real something (Madson).  It was not long ago that the Royals signed a Horacio Ramirez (or traded for him, traded him and resigned him!) or a Luis Mendoza and one knew in January that he would be a starter.  Now, they sign a Dillon Gee and all we really know is he probably will be on the 40 man roster in March.  As I have said so many times already, this is sure a lot better.

What is not better is the Alex Gordon situation.

Craig covered it in detail yesterday and I echo his thoughts.  I will add that Dayton Moore’s comments each day ring more and more like a guy who has picked up his ball and stormed home.  Now, even back when the Royals were not good at much of anything, they were very good at keeping secrets and all of this could just be smoke to cover what is really going on.  That does not keep it from being worrisome – at least for those of us in the keep Gordon camp.  I have become skeptical that Kansas City will carry a $130 million payroll into the season and that in itself might point to Gordon going elsewhere.

With the signings of Jason Heyward with the Cubs and Johnny Cueto with the Giants, I have to believe those two teams (noted often as potential suitors) are out of the running, which helps the Royals.  The problem is, the Cardinals are in the mix. Anywhere but St. Louis, Alex.  Anywhere, but there.

Written hundreds of times already, but worth reiterating:  the Royals can cobble together the list of supposed prospects to pair with Jarrod Dyson and certainly and without question replace Alex Rios.  There is no combination in the system that will replace what Alex Gordon has given the Royals next year…or the year after that.  Simply put, if the decision comes down to signing a Kazmir/Gallardo versus Gordon, I’ll gamble in Ventura/Duffy/Medlen being more capable of providing production at pitcher than on Eibner/Fuentes/Martinez/Starling/Orlando providing production that will absorb the loss of Gordon.  That is an rugged sentence, but you get my drift.

Do a Gordon and have a fun summer.

“I don’t know. We’ll see,” Moore said. “I don’t know the answer to that. – from Royals.com

A day after Dayton Moore supposedly said that ‘something is likely to pop today’, the above is your winter meetings update in an nutshell.

If you have been reading, you know I am firmly in the camp of making the 2016 and 2017 Royals as good as they possibly can be and worry about picking up the pieces in 2018.  There is a strong current of opinion to ‘not do things now that will hurt the Royals down the road’.  There is valid logic to that opinion, but my opinion of that opinion is that it make the Royals much more likely to win 84 games for five years and never really threaten doing anything in the post-season.  Just my opinion.  For me, doing all one can to give the Royals a chance at 90+ wins and another World Series in the next two seasons is worth a 71-91 in 2018.

While the off-season is still young, especially given the slow pace taken not just by the Royals but most of baseball when it comes to making moves, Dayton Moore seemed to indicate that one corner outfield spot will belong to Jarrod Dyson (and, it is assumed, a platoon partner to be named later).  I don’t mind that idea, especially if the Royals are not stubborn and actually DO platoon Dyson against left-handed hitting.  The ‘company line’ behind this move includes the ‘we don’t want to tie up a spot that we hope Bubba Starling will fill in 2017’.  I have to be honest, holding a spot for Bubba Starling sounds a lot like an organization worrying more about not losing 90 in 2018 than it is worrying about winning 90 in 2017.

I am not on the Starling bandwagon and I hope I’m proven wrong (it’s bound to happen sometime) and really is THIS the off-season to think the Royals don’t know what they are doing? No, it certainly is not…..but then Royals.com provides this as well:

But we also know this: If we do nothing in the outfield, we’ll still be very good defensively at the corner outfield — we’ll have speed and upside with Jarrod Dyson, Paulo Orlando and Brett Eibner and Reymond Fuentes. Jose Martinez isn’t the defender those guys are but has offense. We’ll see.

Does that translate to ‘we’re going to take five fourth outfielders, mash them together and sell them as two everyday outfielders because we’re peeved the free agent market is stupid’ for anyone else or is it just me?

Hey, we have seen the value in Dyson and Orlando had some heroics this past year.  Having taken in my share of Omaha games, Jose Martinez is certainly intriguing while Eibner, besides the fabulous hair, showed flashes of ability. Fuentes has been around and I don’t know that you have to squint really hard to see him turn into an Andres Blanco type…maybe.  Serviceable guys for sure.  Some combination of them can, without question, replace or probably even improve on the production the Royals got from Alex Rios last year.  None of them, alone in combination or probably even if you let two of them play left at that same time is going to replace what Alex Gordon gave the Royals.  If you think that, you’re silly or you refuse to acknowledge the true value of defense, working the count and taking walks, or you are an old Big Eight guy and just can’t get over the Nebraska factor.  Get it over it, by the way, we haven’t been in your conference for years and haven’t been good at anything but volleyball for a decade.  

I also do not buy the logic that the Royals were just fine with Rios and Infante playing everyday last season or that they played well for the two weeks after Alex Gordon was injured and before Ben Zobrist was acquired.  Green comes up on the roulette wheel once in a while, too, doesn’t mean it is a logical bet. The truth is that the Royals played most of last season with either Gordon or Zobrist in the lineup (or both), so I will not buy into the idea that they will be just fine in 2016 without either one of them.

Sometimes I like to read more into comments than is really there and it should be noted that Dayton Moore has been a master of secrecy throughout his career as general manager, but his words from yesterday strike me a at minimum frustrated or at worst, a guy who had pretty much resigned himself to not being able to make any major moves this off-season. The latter is probably not the case, I hope it isn’t.  I would not put it past Moore to be using all of yesterday’s quotes simply as a bit of deception to possibly move along some negotiations.

If the Royals are serious about defending their World Series Championship, I hope that is exactly what is happening.

 

Life moves fast….sort of.

The signings of Joakim Soria and Chris Young have already altered the winter roster landscape. As Craig detailed yesterday, the Royals have $30 to $35 million to spend this season after paying guaranteed contracts and accounting for arbitration.  They ate up $12-$13 million (depending on how Soria’s deal is structured) with those two signings and that very simply points to Zobrist OR Gordon, not both and maybe not either one.

Right now, as we speak and not accounting for whatever conversation Dayton Moore may be having at this very moment, the defending champion Royals would open the season with this roster:

Catcher – Sal Perez, Tony Cruz or Drew Butera

First Base – Eric Hosmer

Designated Hitter – Kendrys Morales

Second Base – Omar Infante

Shortstop – Alcides Escobar

Third Base – Mike Moustakas

Utility Infielder – Christian Colon (and Cody Decker?)

Left Field – Jarrod Dyson

Center Field – Lorenzo Cain

Right Field – Paulo Orlando

Backup Outfield – Brett Eibner or Rey Fuentes or Jose Martinez

Starting Rotation – Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura, Kris Medlen, Danny Duffy and Chris Young

Bullpen – Wade Davis, Joakim Soria, Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar, Louis Coleman, Tim Collins and…somebody.

Certainly, the Royals are not done and without question they are not going into 2016 planning on playing Dyson in one corner of the outfield and Orlando in the other.  The two combined to hold down right (or left)? Sure, that’s doable and likely no worse than Alex Rios – maybe even better, but both playing everyday?  I know there are some on the Eibner bandwagon and Martinez did enough last year in Omaha to warrant curiosity, but let’s be realistic here: that is not a championship outfield.

This is just a little exercise I will do from time to time this off-season.  Marking the Royals for what they would be at this one moment in time.  Right now, your Royals’ outfield is Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson against right-handers and the hope that Orlando and company outhit Omar Infante.

The rotation is probably no worse and, honestly, maybe even a little better than what it was at the start of last season.  At least, it could be better….maybe.  With Soria in the fold, the bullpen is awfully salty.  As good as last year?  Quite possibly.

So, a 2015 team that won 95 regular season games is currently morphed into the above.  How many wins does that group collect? Feel like 86 or 87 right now.

Work to do and we already all knew that.

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