Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

The Royals have released their team hall of fame ballot, on which fans have a small part of the vote. Like just about every baseball fan, I’ve become ambivalent about that other hall in Cooperstown, but the Royals Hall of Fame remains what a hall of fame should be: a fun honor and celebration of the best and most important people in a given history. The voters have done an excellent job in selecting the 17 players, two owners, two managers, one GM/president, one announcer, one scout, and one groundskeeper to receive a pre-game induction ceremony and plaque in the Hall of Fame building beyond Kauffman Stadium’s left field. Curt Nelson, the hall’s director, has done a fantastic job with the physical museum portion, the website (where you can find video of almost all the induction ceremonies), and making the voting process transparent and fan-inclusive.

As part of my rating system for my top 100 Royals list I’ve come up with a “hall rating” for each player. My rating system is patterned after Adam Darawoski’s work at his Hall of Stats, the basis of which is taking a player’s wins above replacement and wins above average and turning them into a single number called their hall rating. 100 or above means they’re in the Hall of Stats, under 100 means they’re out. (If you want all the messy details about the formula I use for the ratings, see here.) It’s an especially satisfying approach for the baseball hall, which I personally think should be about on-field greatness and little else. I’m undecided if the team hall selections should skew so heavily towards on-field production, and how much things like popularity or how much of the team’s “story” a person embodies should enter into induction. So far, the inductees have been the statistically elite in team history, with the exception of Cookie Rojas, whose stats are unimpressive but was (I gather) a big fan favorite. I can get too caught up in not being able to see past the statistics and sometimes miss a broader context of a player’s story, but the stats are what I can wrap my head around.

Here are the 10 players on this year’s ballot, from lowest to highest hall rating, and my thoughts on their hall worthiness. You can weigh in with a “yes” or “no” vote for each player’s RHOF-worthiness too.

Angel Berroa ∙ 9

Berroa’s story is unfortunately one of disappointment. He earned Rookie of the Year honors in that bizarro 2003 season and became the latest hope that the Royals had finally found a long-term solution at shortstop (a position that has haunted the Royals through most of their existence). But that modestly good season was the high water mark for Berroa’s career. He continued to play almost every day for KC for three more seasons, but something had robbed him of his potential.

Yes
0 Vote
No
89 Vote

 

Brian Bannister ∙ 22

Banny has the fan-favorite aspect down. Unfortunately a torn shoulder put an end to his career before he could get the longevity and production needed for hall consideration. (I wrote more in-depth about Bannister’s time with the Royals here.)

Yes
4 Vote
No
81 Vote

 

John Wathan ∙ 35

Wathan is one of those organizational soldiers who has put in so much time in so many different roles that I can understand a case for his induction. His 10 year playing career was spent only with the Royals, and was framed nicely by the team’s first playoff appearance in 1976 and the title in 1985. (Until 2014, there had never been a Royals playoff team without Wathan on it.) After his playing days, he managed the team to a 287-270 record between ’87-’91, and has continued to work for the team in various capacities off and on ever since. But for someone as production minded as me, it’s tough to vote for someone who was mostly used as a back-up/utility player. He averaged just 86 games played a year. He’s the kind of guy it’s nice to have around all these years, but not quite hall-worthy.

Yes
28 Vote
No
55 Vote

 

Bo Jackson ∙ 36

Along with Darrell Porter, Bo is one of the two on the current ballot that are tough decisions for me. If you subscribe to the idea that the hall members should be the ones who tell the team’s story, Bo is a lock. He was a myth come to life and invigorated baseball in Kansas City for a short time. His career is right in my sentimental wheelhouse too, having played in KC when I was ages seven through 11. I was fully swept up in Bo hype and he’s a big part of why I love baseball. So I’d be happy to see him inducted.

But it’s hard to get past the fact that he didn’t contribute that much to actually winning baseball games. He was the biggest tools freak of all time, making him possibly the most entertaining athlete to watch ever, but what we got to see in Kansas City was the slow process of Bo’s baseball skills growing into those crazy tools. It’s true that even his outs were exciting to witness, but it’s also true that he made outs way too often in the beginning. But he was just too talented, and he steadily improved every season until his production actually caught up with the tools and the hype in 1990 when he had his one truly excellent season. He would have had a glorious peak for many years after that if not for football. Being a two-sport all-star was of course a big part of Bo’s appeal, but it’s also a big negative when it comes to his place in Royals history. The violence of football crosses a line from acceptable brutality into an activity that robs people of their basic health and often even their mental well-being, and by playing football, Bo risked and ultimately lost the years that could have been the grand payoff of his baseball learning pains. He’s one of the best stories in team history. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to become one of the best players.

Yes
73 Vote
No
24 Vote

 

Al Cowens ∙ 56

Did you know Cowens finished second for the 1977 AL MVP? Wow. He had a fantastic year, the only season his hitting was way above average. His other five years in Royal blue were merely good, which all adds up to a nice, underrated career for AC. Sort of like David DeJesus after him, Cowens was subtly good, with no stand-out skill to make him as appreciated as he could have been. A fine career deserving more recognition than it gets, but not a team Hall of Fame career.

Yes
9 Vote
No
73 Vote

 

Gil Meche ∙ 58

Meche is almost unique in Royals history as a big professional free agent signing that actually worked out. (Steve Farr and David Cone went on to more success as free agent signings, but Farr wasn’t a big signing at the time considering he was 27, had just half a season in the big leagues, and the Indians had just released him outright. Cone’s signing was definitely a big one, but it also pre-dated the era when the Royals generally couldn’t or wouldn’t spend with the richest teams in free agency.) The Royals blew the market out of the water giving Meche a rich five-year deal heading into the 2007 season, and it paid off handsomely for the first two years as Meche piled up quality innings. The team may have let him pile up too many innings though, as his health, innings, and effectiveness diminished greatly in ’09 and ’10. Meche shocked the house by retiring before the ’11 season, leaving his Royals legacy built mostly on those two excellent first years. Not enough for the hall.

Yes
3 Vote
No
81 Vote

 

Al Fitzmorris ∙ 81

Fitzmorris was a huge get for the Royals in the ’68 expansion draft, and he pitched admirably for them all the way until KC lost him, ironically enough, in the ’76 expansion draft. Some of his raw numbers rank surprisingly high in team history, such as his 3.46 ERA (fifth in team history for pitchers with 500 IP) and .593 winning percentage (first in team history). Drilling down a little deeper though, Fitzmorris falls down the lists a bit. His adjusted ERA+ is 106, which is good, but right around other good but not great guys like Doug Bird, Jeremy Guthrie, and Jeff Suppan. Fitzmorris had no strikeout power to speak of, but learned to limit walks and home runs as his career progressed. His spot in team history is probably a little under-appreciated, but I regard him in a group of the best pitchers who aren’t quite hall worthy along with guys like Tom Gordon, Danny Jackson, and David Cone.

Yes
15 Vote
No
66 Vote

 

Kevin Seitzer ∙ 89

Seitz is similar to Fitzmorris in that group of the very best Royals careers that fall just shy of hall-worthiness. My silly hall rating is anything but definitive, but Seitzer has the highest hall rating of any player under 100. He put together four strong offensive seasons between 1987-90, accomplished by hitting lots of singles and doubles and actually taking something called “walks,” a foreign concept for most Royals throughout team history. His .380 OBP is best among the 39 humanoids who have 2,000+ plate appearances for KC. That alone is enough to make him a strong candidate for the hall, and I’d be happy to see him elected. But he really only had two truly excellent seasons, and overall probably ranks around the 15th most productive hitter in team history on a counting basis. Very good, but not quite enough in my book.

Yes
51 Vote
No
35 Vote

 

Darrell Porter ∙ 106

I go back and forth on Porter. He’s hard to judge because his time with KC was so short (four seasons) but so good. He possessed a wicked bat that would have played at any position, but Porter didn’t play just any position. He’s the only catcher the team has ever had to be a well above average hitter. Stats like WAR peg him as hall-worthy, but unfortunately it’s tough to place too much trust in WAR for catchers. Getting the positional adjustment and especially defensive contributions of a receiver factored into WAR is a tricky thing. I think Porter is a guy I really would have had to have watched for myself to judge properly. I gather his defensive reputation was fair, known for having a terrific arm but average “receiving” skills. I don’t know. I’d yield my vote to people who both saw his career with the Royals and give credence to advanced hitting stats. This is a weird way to look at it and probably shouldn’t enter into it, but I think if Porter were still alive I would really hope to see him honored. As it is, I’m on the fence.

Yes
45 Vote
No
35 Vote

 

Mike Sweeney ∙ 108

Sweeney is a pretty clear choice for the hall. There was plenty of disappointment revolving around his struggles to stay healthy and lack of team success, but overall, he gave the team everything he could for more than a decade. That included a long stretch as one of the AL’s elite hitters from 1999-2005 and an even longer stretch as the face and leader of the team.

Yes
93 Vote
No
4 Vote

3B/RF ∙ 2005—09

Mark Teahen was picked by the A’s in the 2002 Moneyball draft based mostly on his strong hitting numbers in college, and was still in the A’s minor league system in mid-2004 when he was shipped to the Royals in the three-team deal that sent Carlos Beltran to Houston (and also brought John Buck to KC). The Royals sent him to Omaha to finish the 2004 season, but Teahen was in the show as the starting third baseman on 2005 Opening Day. He remained a fixture in the team’s lineup for five full seasons. 2005 was an adjustment year for Teahen, during which he showed flashes of promise but did not put together a good overall year. He finished strong though, earning the team’s player of the month honor for September.

Things really clicked in 2006, though not right away. After struggling during the season’s first month, he spent most of the second month in Omaha. He worked on his swing some, but said the time in Omaha helped mentally more than physically.[i] After his recall to the bigs, Teahen played like an All-Star, hammering the ball and taking his walks to the tune of a .941 OPS. The good times came to an end early for a season-ending shoulder surgery. Despite missing two months of the season, he was rightfully recognized as the team’s player of the year. After the season he said, “I don’t feel it was a complete year, but I was happy with what I contributed.”[ii]

Despite that success, Teahen found himself at a new position at camp in 2007. To make way for über-prospect Alex Gordon, Teahen spent the spring learning right field despite never having played outside the infield at any level. He admitted later that he wasn’t thrilled about the move at first, but eventually was glad to gain positional flexibility and learned to enjoy the outfield.[iii] (Regarding Gordon, Teahen was prescient in saying, “…it’s important that people not put too much pressure on Alex to make an immediate impact. He needs time to develop just like anyone, rather than putting the weight of the entire organization on his shoulders.”[iv]) Teahen handled the huge Kauffman outfield well for a newbie, though his hitting took a step backward to close to league average in 2006. His average and OBP remained good, but the tantalizing power he flashed in 2006 never returned. 2008 and 2009 were struggles on the field as he battled back issues, the Royals mercilessly jerked him from position to position, and both his offense and defense declined. He spent some time at every position except for pitcher, catcher, and shortstop. He was traded to the White Sox in the ’09—’10 off-season in exchange for Josh Fields and Chris Getz.

Even when he was struggling, it was impossible not to like and root for Teahen, whose dedication could never be questioned. He was generous with charitable causes, particularly the Little League/YMCA Challenger program that brings sports to special needs children. The Mark Teahen Challenger Baseball Field remains in KC as a testament to his good deeds. His sheepishly goofy sense of humor (still on display on Twitter) helped make him a fan favorite as well. The admiration seems to go both ways. Teahen said in 2013, “My heart will always be in Kansas City…It’s a great city to play in. The town really got behind the team when we would play well, and if they win I will be excited to see what kind of baseball town it can be.”[v] True to his word, he traveled to Kauffman Stadium to catch the 2014 World Series in person.

[i] Jeff Moeller, “Q&A With Royals’ Mark Teahen,” http://m.royals.mlb.com/news/article/1514391/

[ii] Dick Kaegel, “Teahen named Player of the Year,” http://m.royals.mlb.com/news/article/1734874/

[iii] David Laurila, “Prospectus Q&A,” http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=12068, September 24, 2010.

[iv] “Teahen chats mechanics, confidence,” http://m.royals.mlb.com/news/article/1578400/

[v] Jeremy Deckard, “Hoping to play like it is 2005: ‘Horsehide Q&A’ with former Kansas City Royal Mark Teahen,” http://cjonline.com/blog-post/jeremy-deckard/2013-03-11/hoping-play-it-2005-%E2%80%9Chorsehide-qa%E2%80%9D-former-kansas-city-royal-mark, March 11, 2013.

On Monday, the Royals announced the retirement of assistant general manager Dean Taylor. Thus set off a chain reaction of new titles for some familiar faces across the front office.

The Star has the changes in full, but from their post, here’s a list of the new titles.

▪ J.J. Picollo has been elevated to vice president and assistant general manager for player personnel.

▪ Rene Francisco to vice president and assistant general manager for major-league and international operations.

▪ Scott Sharp to assistant general manager for baseball operations

▪ Jin Wong to assistant general manager for baseball administration

▪ Chino Cadahia to senior coordinator for player development

▪ Kyle Vena to director of baseball administration

▪ Ronnie Richardson to director of minor-league operations

▪ Mike Groopman to director of baseball operations for analytics

▪ John Williams to director of baseball analytics for player personnel

▪ Daniel Mack to director of baseball analytics for research science

▪ Chris Getz to baseball operations assistant for player development

▪ Phillip Stringer to baseball operations assistant

▪ Nick Relic to minor-league video coordinator

Forgive the cut and paste, but with so many names, it just seemed easier.

Up at the top, the roles haven’t changed. Just the titles. Picollo and Francisco added a vice presidency. Wong and Sharp get new business cards with “assistant general manager” (as opposed to “assistant to the general manager”).

If you have a sabermetric bent, the names of interest are Mike Groopman, who was formerly the director of baseball analytics and is now the director of baseball operations for analytics. John Williams, who was the assistant director of baseball analytics has been elevated to director of baseball analytics for player personnel. Daniel Mack was an analyst and is now a director of baseball analytics for research science.

Those three have appeared at Baseball Prospectus day at The K for the last couple of seasons. I know it’s cool to knock the Royals for their seeming distaste for analytics, but they’ve beefed up that department the last couple of years. If I’m not mistaken, about four years ago it was Groopman, Williams and a couple of interns. The department now includes at least six guys, maybe more. And they’re all smarter than you.

This collection knows their way around a database. At least that’s what they tell me. I have no idea how to get around a database. It looks to me like this restructuring is probably leading to more money and a larger staff than was employed last summer. If you have the opportunity to talk to any of those guys, they won’t tell you anything about what they’re doing. We should have had atomic scientists so secretive. But more voices in that department should be a good thing. Also, I had the briefest opportunity to say hello to Groopman prior to the Wild Card game and it was just great to see the enthusiasm and happiness he was experiencing at that moment. Good for him and good for his department. And hopefully, good for the fans as they figure out new inefficiencies to help keep the Royals relevant.

Further good news is that Taylor will remain associated with the Royals as a consultant. He’s an administrative wizard, with extensive knowledge of the rules governing teams and players. I’m sure he’s helped Dayton and the brain trust find a loophole or two to exploit over the years. His consul is undoubtedly valuable to Dayton and it will remain so.

Oh, and Chris Getz got a job.

 

Slow time for Royals news, so why not have some fun, cast a wider net, and stumble head-first into what is certain to be the first baseball controversy of 2015. How about a hypothetical baseball Hall of Fame ballot?

First, a pseudo disclaimer: I really enjoy the Hall of Fame. I enjoy the debates. I absolutely love the history. It’s an imperfect institution, but that’s OK. Most institutions are.

I even enjoy the sanctimony of some of the writers in a perverse kind of way. Their self-important bluster keeps me amused during the cold months of the winter.

Not all writers fall into the above paragraph. That wouldn’t be fair. Perhaps there’s a lesson there. Beware those who throw everyone from the same profession – or same era – into a one-size-fits-all container. That’s dangerous business. For every crank who votes for three or four players on what is an absolutely loaded ballot, there is a different kind of writer who is thoughtful and thorough. Oops. My bias is showing.

And that’s the rub with the Hall of Fame. You may have someone who claims to be impartial and/or fair and thoughtful about the process, but failing a definitive standard for election, it’s really up to an individual voter and their baseball worldview on how they ultimately cast their ballot. By virtue of said ballot, voters have an opinion and it’s their right to interpret the rules for use of that ballot however they deem fair. I may disagree with some, but it’s their right. The process doesn’t always provide for the result I think is right, but so what? That’s life.

It’s a fun diversion for a baseball fan at this time of the year. If you haven’t discovered Ryan Thibs HoF Tracker, I encourage you to take a few minutes and geek out. It’s fun stuff. Same for Repoz’s HoF Collecting Gizmo at Baseball Think Factory.

I’m of the opinion that the right players will eventually be enshrined. It may not be a pleasant process for everyone involved, and it may take a few years, but I truly believe that when the dust settles on this era, a number of “tainted” players will be in the Hall. Having said that, the limit of voting for 10 players is kind of silly. It leads to some strategic ballots where some writers will leave off a player like Pedro Martinez because someone else needs his vote. That really shouldn’t be happening. If there are 14 players on the ballot a particular writer feels are Hall of Fame worthy, then that writer should be allowed to vote for all of them.

The new rule where players are on the ballot for only 10 years is an embarrassment to the Hall. It reeks of manipulation – a desire by the Hall to remove what may be an unsavory name or two now five years earlier. From what I can tell, some of the newer writers seem a bit more forgiving to the steroid era (Again, some of the writers. It’s dangerous to make a general statement about an entire, diverse group of people.) and this is the way for the powers of the Hall to push some of the steroid era players off the ballot before the younger writers become eligible to vote. Unfortunate.

Having said this, I’m hopeful at least five and maybe six will make the Hall this year. Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio are locks. The first three are newcomers and Biggio missed last year by two votes. From the holdovers, it looks like Mike Piazza has a good chance. Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines are the outsiders. It would be excellent if one of them could get in, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

For some self-important bluster of my own, here’s my ballot:

Jeff Bagwell
Craig Biggio
Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens
Randy Johnson
Pedro Martinez
Mike Mussina
Mike Piazza
Tim Raines
Alan Trammell

By the Tango HoF Index, my ballot scores a 100. So that’s special. Promise I only checked my score after I filled out my pseudo-ballot.

If I expanded by “ballot,” it would include Larry Walker, Curt Schilling and John Smoltz. Probably Gary Sheffield. And Edgar Martinez. Oof. There are a bunch of great players on this ballot. As I said at the top of the post, I don’t begrudge writers their thought process for their selection. I agree with some, disagree with others. That’s fine. Having said that, a ballot without checkmarks for the full slate of 10 is something I’ll have an issue with this year. Tons of quality. I could’ve checked 15 names for crying out loud. And that doesn’t even include Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Jeff Kent, all of whom should be debated for inclusion.

The good news is, the logjam should ease a bit next year. Of the new candidates, only Ken Griffey, Jr. is a lock. Maybe then guys like Raines, Mussina and Schilling will get their due.

An imperfect system for an imperfect institution.

You can probably tell from my ballot where I stand on the so-called steroid era. It happened. Everyone looked the other way. Everyone. Some used. Some didn’t. We will never fully know who used and we will never fully know how it helped. The current process simply exposes the portion of the electorate who choses to act as judge, jury and some sort of moral compass for this era. The numbers are what the numbers are. They are right there on Baseball Reference. And until someone has some sort of proof that those numbers are invalid for one reason or another, those numbers are fact. It’s what we use to judge. Not speculation. When it comes to the Hall and my hypothetical ballot, I’ll stick to the facts.

It’s probably naive to think that this will sort itself out on it’s own. It’s probably also naive to think the veteran’s committee will right some of the wrongs. I love the Hall of Fame because I love baseball. I hope in the next couple of years, they can get their act together and enshrine some of the greatest players of the most recent generation.

Royals news – and this blog – took a bit of a hiatus during the holidays. I hope your Haunakah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s was enjoyable.

When I was at Baseball Prospectus, a writer whom I greatly admire told me that writing (and creativity in general) is like a muscle. You need to exercise it frequently, or risk losing it. Or at the very least, misplacing it for a moment. Deep in my psyche, I was aware of this, but it helped to actually hear those words, because they have stuck with me over all these years.

Inspiration has been difficult to locate at times, but I’ll try my best to at least give you a few random scribblings. If nothing else, for my own selfish reason to keep my wits about me. There are a few things I’d like to sort out before pitchers and catchers report in seven (seven!) weeks, so we’ll see how everything goes.

— Alan Eskew of Baseball America has a note about Royals Rule 5 acquisition Jandel Gustave. Not a lot of new info about the flamethrower from the Dominican, but the Royals were pleased with his consistent delivery in winter ball ahead of the draft, which led to improved command. The Royals also would like to get him a few more innings before spring training.

— I have the Royals current payroll at around $110 million. That’s actually lower than you would expect after they went on a free agent signing spree last month. But the contracts for multiple years are all backloaded. Kendrys Morales, Edinson Volquez, Luke Hochevar and Kris Medlen will all receive raises in 2016.

It’s an interesting – and dangerous – shell game being played by Dayton Moore, Jin Wong and the Royals front office. By my rough estimations, the Royals have $56 million in commitments for 2016 and that’s just for seven players under contract and six options. Some of those options will be picked up (Wade Davis, Alcides Escobar) so that $56 million is already too low. Plus, that doesn’t include arbitration for players like Greg Holland (if he’s still with the club) or Eric Hosmer. And it doesn’t count whatever money Alex Gordon will get. (He has a player option for around $13 million, which he’s said he will engage, and I’m unaware of the buyout if he declines it.)

The tldr is, that’s a bunch of cabbage committed for a year from now.

If anything, Moore and his Royals brain trust have shown an understanding of how to juggle the budget. They may misread the market, but they do know how to structure a deal to spread the pain. None of the contracts they awarded this winter are going to cause long-term damage, but the short-term juggling act will certainly be worth watching. And something to be aware of as the season approaches.

— Kind of an interesting note surfaced between the holidays about Rios and the Royals. Joel Sherman of the New York Post, wrote that the Royals and the Rangers had a trade agreement in place ahead of last summer’s deadline. The stumbling block – Rios had the Royals on his no-trade list. He asked the Royals to pick up his $13.5 million option for 2015. When the Royals refused, Rios exercised his right and blocked the trade.

The knee-jerk reaction would be to cast aspersions toward Rios for declining to play for a team that ultimately won the AL pennant. But don’t forget that at the trade deadline last year, the Royals were just one of many teams chasing a playoff spot. It was never a guarantee. Plus, those no-trade clauses exist for a reason. They are leverage for a player. Kind of a reward for a veteran. Put yourself in Rios’ shoes last July. You’re having a tough season. Your power is down as well as your run production. In the back of your mind, you’re wondering about your option for $13.5 million and if the Rangers will pick it up, knowing that because of your current year, it’s a long-shot you will make that much if you hit the open market. It’s his right to try to get that money.

In the end, it worked out for everyone. The Royals got Josh Willingham, who collected maybe the biggest hit of all the big hits in the Wild Card game. Rios got a $1 million buyout and $11 million guaranteed from the Royals, so he lost a small percentage of his original $13.5 million option for 2015. And we got a non-story to discuss during the holidays. Win, win, win.

— Anyone wondering about James Shields? It’s so quiet. I kind of thought if he was going to sign with the San Francisco Giants, it would be done by now. Especially after they have been jilted by a few free agents. Once upon a time, the Red Sox were interested, but they seem to have gone the “let’s-assemble-a-bunch-of-solid-yet-unspectacular-starters” route, so I wonder if there’s room. I keep hearing rumblings about the Padres being in play. And the Dodgers have more money than anyone, so they’re always in the discussion.

He’s not coming back to Kansas City, but he is tied to a draft pick the Royals are counting upon. There’s no way he remains on the shelf like Morales did last summer, but you just have to wonder about the holdup. The longer this goes, the more teams – like the Royals – have set their budgets and payrolls for 2015, limiting his options. Again, not that KC was ever a true option, but it’s just an example. Between Shields and Max Scherzer, there are still two top quality starting pitching options on the market.

The Hot Stove isn’t as scorching as it was last month, but there’s still plenty of heat.

The process was vindicated, sort of and belatedly, with the Royals run to the post-season and almost, dammit ALMOST, to a World Series championship.  I think that might be giving the word ‘vindication’ a bit of short stick, but it does or at least did for a while make Dayton Moore look like he knew what he was doing.

We are going to find out just how much luck and how much ‘process’ was involved in the very fun 2014 season soon enough.  So, if Dayton Moore really is smarter than us:

  • Kendrys Morales will do post something akin to his .277/.336/.449 line of 2013 (that included 34 doubles and 23 home runs). I’ll be honest, this contract is the one I hate the most, but he was better in the near past – certainly that excludes 2014 – than my feeble memory originally believed.  Look, this is a ‘is Dayton Moore smarter than you’ column, not a ‘Dayton Moore is a wizard’ column.  Asking any more from Morales than he what he did for Seattle two seasons ago is simply not realistic.  I’m not sure it’s realistic to even expect that, but certainly Moore does.
  • Aaron Crow will never start a game for the Florida Marlins.  Listen, this is not about wishing ill on Crow.  Frankly, I liked his comments about being left off the post-season roster.  Tell me again why anyone would want players in their organization that didn’t care about that?  Anyway, god forbid Crow starts 18 games next year for the Marlins with middling results:  Dayton Moore would never trade a reliever again.
  • Alex Rios will do what Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur did in 2011 for the Royals:  i.e. salvage his career. I think there is at least a 50% chance that Rios pulls a ‘Juan Gonzalez’ on us, but I do believe Rios sees 2015 as his chance to get that one last big contract. Again, Rios may be done physically and that will be that.  However, his past shows a player who might not always give you his undivided attention….Okay, let’s just say it:  I think Rios is a slacker who lives off a reputation that exceeds what he has actually produced.  That said, the idea that he could turn one year and $11 million into three more years and another $30 million would certainly motivate a traditionally hard to motivate player.  Now, as long as Dayton Moore is not the one that gives out three years…..
  • Edinson Volquez…..Eh, what do you want here?  Volquez had not been as good (i.e. lucky) as he was in 2014 since his rookie 2008 season.  In between those years, you have numbers that make you say ‘damn, I DO like that Jeremy Guthrie’.  Dayton Moore is smarter than us if Volquez, benefiting from only have to throw five innings due to the Royals’ once again fantastic bullpen, spins a nice half year for the Royals and is traded in July to make room for Kyle Zimmer.
  • Kris Medlen comes back in late June, pitches with dominance out of the bullpen for two months and then wins six straight starts down the stretch (or something like that). Does that make Moore smarter than any of use?  Maybe not, because that’s what we are all hoping in some fashion and the contract is one that hopes the exact same thing.  Of all that has happened, this is the move everyone loves and everyone should.  Even North Korean hackers should like this move.

Odds?  I like the Crow trade and Medlen signing (big leap there) and let me go on record by saying one of Morales or Rios (not sure which) probably will surprise with us with positive production.  I have no reason to be, but yet I am optimistic on Medlen.  Listen, if you are going to take a chance on a two-time Tommy John guy, do it with a pitcher who was very, very good before it all happened.   None of that, in my opinion, gets the Royals back to the playoffs.

Of course, if Dayton Moore really is smarter than us (or just plain luckier), than Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer will spend the 2015 regular season playing as they did in the 2014 post-season.  That, my friends, is what will get the Royals back to the playoffs.

It’s safe to assume Dayton Moore wrapped up his off-season spending spree, splashing the cash on the starting pitcher to fill the void in the Royals rotation.

Here are five thoughts as we all welcome Edinson Volquez to the Royals rotation.

Volquez is not a replacement for James Shields.

He will take the spot Shields vacated, but Volquez is not a replacement. Shields had fWARs of 4.5 and 3.7 in his two seasons in Kansas City. We can quibble about whether or not Shields was a “number one” starter, but there’s no denying he was the best starting pitcher in the Royals rotation in each of the two seasons he called Kansas City home. Volquez has posted a fWAR above 1.1 exactly one time in his career. And that was all the way back in 2008. Before his Tommy John Surgery. In his last three seasons combined, Volquez has been worth 2.1 fWAR. That’s fifth starter material. At best.

David Glass isn’t cheap.

Frankly, I’m kind of tired of this Royals meme. Glass hasn’t had an issue spending money since Dayton Moore was hired. I won’t go so far as to call Glass a “model owner,” but he’s done a nice job of staying out of the way of the baseball operations. Royals payroll, with arbitration estimates and unsigned players combined figures to be around $115 million. That’s pretty huge for this franchise. Although spending the money poorly is kind of the same as not having that money at all.

Volquez could see an uptick in his walk rate.

I know we aren’t supposed to speak ill of St. Sal, but Volquez really benefitted from Russell Martin behind the plate in Pittsburgh. Martin is regarded as one of the better pitch framers and stats say he’s the third best pitch framer in the game. The same stat puts Perez in the bottom tier of regular backstops.

This is key because Volquez has earned the moniker of “Walkman.” He has a career walk rate of 4.5 BB/9. He walks over 11 percent of all batters. Working with Martin last summer in Pittsburgh, Volquez’s walk rate was a career best 3.3 BB/9 and his percentage dropped to 8.8 percent. He is two years removed from a BB/9 over five and a whopping 13 percent walk rate. Read this post from Mike Petriello at Fangraphs for an in-depth study on the affect Martin had on Volquez. Certainly, there could be something mechanical that has led to his reduction in walks. I haven’t watched him enough to know. But this is something to watch going forward. If Volquez struggles with command, the best defense in the world isn’t going to be much help.

Volquez’s 2014 ERA of 3.04 was done with smoke and mirrors.

While Volquez has improved his walk rate, his strikeout rate has declined in each of the last three seasons. In 2014, his BABIP was .263. His xFIP was 4.20. His strand rate was 78 percent. These are not positive peripherals. He will not come close to his 3.04 ERA he finished with in 2014.

Volquez is a fifth starter.

It’s entirely possible with the Royals bullpen and their defense, they can overcome Volquez’s shortcomings as a starter. I’ve been waiting for Jeremy Guthrie to regress for the last two seasons yet he’s somehow become a serviceable back of the rotation starter. That’s what I see as the best case for Volquez.

I’m not slamming this signing. Volquez is probably the best pitcher the Royals could have plucked off the open market at this point and within their budget. There’s a whiff of “it is what it is” about this. It’s uninspiring, but when the Royals won’t make a trade and can’t go for the big players on the market, this is the new reality for the Royals. It reminds me of the Jason Vargas signing last winter in a way. Vargas signed for four years and people were shocked the Royals would hand out such a lengthy contract to a mediocre starter. But I saw the Royals locking in a starting pitcher to an affordable deal. They knew inflation would rapidly push the price of mediocrity and with Vargas, they got in front of the inflation. So far, so good. Because look at how much mediocrity costs in 2015. With Volquez, they needed to go two years for a much more inconsistent starter. I don’t see an upside here, but on two years, at least the Royals exposure is somewhat limited.

No matter what happened this offseason, repeating as AL champions was going to be a difficult task. Forget about what the White Sox, Indians and Tigers have done. Even in a vacuum, it’s just damn difficult to repeat. Volquez doesn’t help their chances as much as Shields leaving hurts, but no matter who the Royals got to fill the rotation, they simply weren’t going to make up Shields’s production.

Finally, here’s how I rank the Royals free agent signings by order of usefulness to the team:

1. Alex Rios

2. Volquez

3. Kendrys Morales

Not an inspring list, to be sure, but it’s maybe functional? I don’t know. All three carry huge risks with some upside. Not much. Some. To me, betting on three players of this ilk to produce is risky business. But after last year, who knows.

A few days after committing $17 million dollars for two years of Kendrys Morales, the Royals have dipped back into the rebound market.

This time, Dayton Moore and the Royals brain trust emerge with Alex Rios for $11 million.

I don’t like this signing. (Go ahead, bookmark this post for ammo later in 2015.) Rios is 34 years old, plays subpar defense in right, lost all of his power (in Texas for christsakes), and his ability to reach base is fueled almost entirely on his BABIP. How’s that for a summary?

But here’s the money question: What should Moore have done to fill his Aoki-sized hole in right field? They scouted Yasmani Tomas, but didn’t win his services. They were in on Melky Cabrera, but he went to the South Side on a three-year deal. I never heard they were interested in Nick Markakis. There just weren’t many free agent options in this market.

The trade market is more difficult to gauge. In the last week, I’ve seen articles from “insiders” suggesting John Lamb and Christian Colon or Sean Manaea and Colon would net Justin Upton. Let’s just say if that was accurate, I’d be opening an email from the Royals PR staff trumpeting a “Major Announcement.” That hasn’t happened, so I’ll continue down the road of my own personal skepticism that a pitching prospect and Colon are enough to get one of the best outfielders in the game.

There just aren’t any options. Or should I say, any good options.

Instead of accepting Rios and Morales, we should be asking some questions. Why are the Royals in the position where this is the best they can do? The easy answer is, of course, payroll constraints. The market size works against the Royals. This isn’t anything new. They aren’t going to be in on the top free agents. And they risk losing their top players after six years of service. Such is life in baseball in the 21st century.

I continue to go back to Dayton Moore and his quotes about building a farm system. And at one point, he and his team did build a fantastic farm system. But that system didn’t produce major league talent. Sure it brought Eric Hosmer. Mike Moustakas if you’re feeling generous. Greg Holland was a tremendous find. Wil Myers netted James Shields and Wade Davis. Billy Butler and Alex Gordon as members of the previous regime’s drafts weren’t part of that, so they don’t count.

The Royals found some talent in Moore’s early years via the draft, but lately it’s been a different story. Where are more success stories like Holland – the mid-rounder who defies scouting wisdom and develops into an All-Star? Outside of the Royals closer, they haven’t hit on anyone in the mid rounds of the draft.

Simply put, the Royals are in this position because of several abysmal drafts and the fundamental breakdown of player development.

The Royals 2009 draft brought Aaron Crow and Louis Coleman. The 2010 draft class produced Christian Colon and Michael Mariot. Their 2011 draft yielded Terrance Gore (fun in September and October, but a non-factor until rosters expand) and Aaron Brooks. The Royals 2012 draft hasn’t produced a major league player. The last impact player drafted by the Royals was Eric Hosmer. In 2008.

There are myriad reasons for the failure of the Pipeline 2.0 to produce major league talent. Poor scouting. Failed player development. Even bad luck has played a part. (I’m thinking of Bubba Starling in particular. In a draft where the Royals were targeting one of four pitchers with the fifth overall pick, all were off the board by the time the Royals made their selection.)

The fact is the Royals haven’t had a quality minor leaguer rise through the ranks in quite some time. The pipeline, with scant talent in the high minors, is currently dry. This is a failure of Dayton Moore, his scouting and his player development staff. The Royals window could very well have been 2014. That would be to damn bad, because last October was a blast. As fans, we want more success. It’s possible with Rios and Morales as spare parts we can find that success again. It’s just that at this moment, it feels like a long shot.

You asked for action. The Royals listened.

Kansas City made their first free agent splash of the winter, signing Kendrys Morales to a two-year deal worth $17 million. The contract contains up to $750,000 in incentives for each season, so the total deal could reach $18.5 million.

I don’t get it.

The Royals let Billy Butler walk in part because they desired “flexibility” at the designated hitter position. Ned Yost mentioned Sal Perez as a guy whose bat “is difficult to get out of the lineup.” (Which is a questionable statement in itself, but that’s a topic for another day.) The idea is the Royals have been locked in with Butler at DH, so they’d like to use the position to give some guys – like Perez – a partial day off. In theory, it’s a half-decent idea. Certainly understandable. Butler signs in Oakland for three years at $10 million per and the Royals decide they need Morales at roughly $9 million per year over the next two seasons.

See what I mean?

Morales famously turned down a qualifying offer following the 2013 season and was left adrift when the ’14 season got underway before finally signing with the Twins. His time in Minnesota could only be described as horrific. After posting a .234/.259/.325 line in 162 plate appearances, they returned him to Seattle in a trade. He was a little better, but a .207/.285/.347 isn’t going to get the job done. It could be fair to speculate that his poor 2014 was due to not getting reps in spring training and sitting out until June. But look at those slash lines again. His power didn’t come around until he moved to the Mariners (and that’s relatively speaking.) Seven of his eight home runs hit in 2014 were with Seattle.

A couple of other quick points about Morales. First, his line drive rate – which is an indication of how well he barrels the ball – has dropped each year since returning from his leg injury. Last year, it bottomed out at 17.8 percent, which can be used as a clue to explain why his batting average on balls in play was .244 last summer. The line drive rate isn’t the only cause – they don’t go hand in hand – but I thought it was worth pointing out. I would expect his BABIP to rebound as he’s usually around .300. Also, his HR/FB rate last year was a career worst 7.9 percent. That’s well off his career rate of 15.2 percent. Like his BABIP, I would bet on his home run totals to improve in 2015. And I’m thinking that’s what the Royals are betting on, too.

So the question is, was 2014 the harbinger of decline for Morales, or was it an aberration?

Personally, I’ll split the difference. Morales won’t be as bad as he was in 2014. Nor will he recapture his best years. Steamer has him at .259/.316/.421 with 14 home runs and a 0.3 fWAR. Better than 2014, but not enough to justify the contract. And certainly not enough to justify him as a full-time DH. This is my fear.

Throw out last season and if you go off his 2013 numbers (1.4 fWAR), you could perhaps talk yourself into giving Morales a $15 million contract over two seasons. But the 2014 season did happen. Even if you want to put an asterisk next to it. So even if Morales betters his Steamer projection, it won’t be enough, so this contract represents a serious overpay.

The Royals and Dayton Moore will get (and should get) a good will bounce following the AL pennant. The post-championship glow hangs around for a little bit. However, that can be squandered with a handful of bad moves. Tread lightly.

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