Royals Authority

Long Live The Process

With the ink drying on the Alex Gordon contract, it’s time for a little more reflection on the biggest free agent deal in Royals franchise history.

— With Gordon set to earn $12 million, he’s actually taking a pay cut from last season. He earned $14 million last year. And remember, he turned down his player option that was worth $13.25 million and a qualifying offer of $15.8 million. I don’t know why I find that interesting, but I do.

— The Royals 2016 payroll comes into focus ahead of the arbitration guys getting their contracts settled. The club currently has 16 players under contract at a total of $97.725 million. Add the $20.6 million MLB Trade Rumors estimates for the seven arbitration-eligible Royals, and you have a payroll of just above $118 million for 23 players. Throw two more on the roster at major league minimum and they are closing in on $120 million.

That’s a lot of cash, but it’s only around $7 million more than the Opening Day payroll in 2015. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great they’re spending more money. But I think they can spend more. I think there’s still room to add a starting pitcher on a short-term or backloaded deal where he would make $10 million this season. There are still several free agent rotation candidates available. The Royals have been linked to Ian Kennedy of late. Besides Kennedy, you have Yovanni Gallardo and Wei-Yin Chen as your best options available. All three are turned down the qualifying offer, meaning the Royals would forfeit their draft pick in the first round next June. There was probably a point in the last month where they were banking on collecting an extra pick from Gordon departing. Facing a payroll with room to grow, but not a ton of flexibility, and considering the loss of a draft pick, would the Royals go after one of the remaining best three? Or would they turn to the Upside Bargain Bin and look to a Doug Fister or Mat Latos as potential rebound candidates?

— Who’s up for some projections?

Yeah, yeah, yeah… Royals fans don’t have any time for projections. I know. But it’s an interesting exercise to look at an individual and his contract. At least it is to me. As always, your mileage may vary.

Let’s start with a little perspective on our favorite left fielder. From 2011 to 2014, Gordon averaged 156 games a season and 5.6 fWAR. Spanning his age 27 to age 30 seasons, it wouldn’t be out of line to consider those his peak years.

The projection systems all take this into account. Steamer (found on the player pages at FanGraphs) pegs Gordon for a 3.7 WAR in 2016. If you feel the Steamer projection is harsh, remember he suffered the groin injury last summer and finished with 2.8 fWAR in 104 games, his lowest totals since his left field renaissance. If you prefer, Dan Symborski’s ZiPS has Gordon at 3.1 WAR next year and around 10.3 WAR for the life of the contract. Baseball Prospectus hasn’t released individual PECOTA projections yet, but they have Gordon at around 11 wins over the next four seasons. If you apply an aging curve to the Steamer projection, you can come up with 11.2 WAR in that span.

That’s all a complicated way of saying it feels like a safe bet to project a healthy Gordon for close to 11 wins over the life of the contract.

That “digital dandy” Symborski estimates a value of a win at around $6.5 million, meaning he expects Gordon to be worth around the $72 million the Royals owe him. Handshakes and backslaps all around. But if you chose to believe the value of a win is higher and that Gordon will finish his new contract with the 11 wins mentioned a couple of graphs above, then the contract looks like a little more of a bargain for the Royals. The Baseball Prospectus post tags the value of a win at around $7 million. That means according to their PECOTA projections, Gordon would produce around $85 million in value.

I’ve heard rumblings the value of a win this winter could be set even higher – closer to $8 million. If that’s the case, and if Gordon produces the aforementioned 11 wins, then he would be worth closer to $95 million. Taking that figure and applying an inflation amount at four years and $72 million, the break even point for Gordon and the Royals is around 8.4 WAR total.

Obviously, things can (and will) happen. Injuries, a steeper than expected decline, bad karma… things conspire to work against ballplayers in their 30s. Yet this contract feels like a fair deal for both sides. The risk is there, but it’s not extraordinary. I would bet that if we jumped in the Delorean and traveled ahead to 2020, this will look like an extremely sensible move.

— One thing I haven’t heard discussed is the fact the Royals, in bringing back Gordon, get a known commodity. There’s no mystery about his health and there is absolutely no question about his work ethic. It may sound silly, but I think the Royals can find value and comfort in that. If for some reason, Gordon is sidelined by injury or some other circumstance, the team knows he will do everything he can to get back on the field. I’m thinking about another free agent outfielder Dayton Moore signed to a multi-year deal earlier in his tenure when I’m writing this paragraph.

— When a guy returns to his original team after exploring the free agent market, there’s always rumblings about the “hometown discount.” Color me skeptical that Gordon gave the Royals said bargain. The fact of the 2016 free agent market is the pitchers went off the board early and the position players found themselves frozen out of the money. Except for the Cubs, there hasn’t been anyone spending on bats and gloves. You knew something was up when the rumor mill churned the White Sox wouldn’t go more than three years for either Gordon or Yoenes Cespedes. The Sox need a corner outfielder, so it’s odd they would take that sort of stand. Except it turns out they probably aren’t alone.

 

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.

 

 

You’ve surely heard by now, the Royals and Alex Gordon have agreed to a four-year contract, valued at around $72 million.

Yes.

It was a drama played out longer than any sane Royals fan would have hoped for, but in the end, the only thing that really matters is that Gordon will remain in Kansas City for the foreseeable future.

The key takeaway from this is the Royals will have their core together for another two years. This is great news. Nothing is certain, but they are in a great place to stay in the mix for the upcoming season and 2017 as well. Remember, after 2017 Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar will be eligible for free agency. There’s a tendency among the sabermetrically inclined to dismiss the idea of competitive windows, but with limited reinforcements coming from the minor league pipeline, this feels very much like the Royals have one wide open. That’s one reason why this Gordon deal is so important to the Royals. It maintains there competitiveness at an optimal time.

It’s worth noting that Gordon now becomes the highest paid player in franchise history in terms of total dollars on a contract and average annual value. Despite all the protestations we heard at the opening of the Hot Stove season the Royals would maintain a payroll close to their 2015 level, if they wish to remain competitive, they have to keep spending. It’s just simple economics. The cost of wins increases each season. Teams serious about competing make the appropriate adjustments. The Royals have done this going back to 2012 and The Wade Davis Trade.

As of this writing, the dollar breakdown isn’t known for certain. There are rumblings the contract is backloaded, which gives the team freedom to pursue another arm for the rotation. Again, with uncertainty surrounding the starting pitching, the flexibility to add another candidate for the rotation is massive for this team. It allows them to continue to build around the core.

Without knowing the actual dollar amount for the 2016 season, I still feel comfortable currently projecting a payroll between $120 and $125 million. That’s pretty close to the number I felt it should be when we started the offseason. Remember, that’s a rough estimate as we don’t know the details on the Gordon contract, nor do we know how the arbitration cases of Cain, Moustakas, Danny Duffy and others will conclude. We do know the Royals have seven players eligible and estimates project them to collect around $21 million. Cot’s Contracts has the Royals on the books for $85 million right now, so if you project $15 million for Gordon in 2016, the math is pretty straightforward. Either way, the Royals have outspent their previous Opening Day payroll record and still seem to have some room to maneuver.

Following back to back AL pennants and a World Championship, Dayton Moore has given this generation of Royals fans the final piece – an icon. As fans, we love this team and we desperately want the players to love us back. I cannot tell you how cool it was at the parade to see the Royals wearing t-shirts emblazoned with “Thank You, Kansas City.” Are you kidding? No. Thank you!

In the glory years of the early days of the franchise, the Royals had a pair of icons. George Brett and Frank White won titles and played their whole careers in Kansas City. They created a legacy that remains to this day. It I s something I’m certain the younger generation tired of hearing about, but there presence has been vitally important to the team and the city.

Now, we have a new generation that has been privileged to celebrate winning a title. We just needed to find an icon to make it complete. To give this team it’s forever identity. To build a legacy. Today, Alex Gordon is truly Forever Royal.

What a great day to be a Royals fan. Again.

Happy Hall of Fame day. Over on my personal blog, I wrote about why I care about the Hall and offer a half-hearted solution to the problem there seems to be with the ballots. The post was published over the weekend, so I wasn’t able to reference the ballots that have been released in the last couple of days.

That’s probably a good thing, because they’ve been batshit crazy.

The controversy is never going away, and that’s too bad. But I still enjoy a good (civil) Hall of Fame debate. I figured since the Royals have shut down operations, why not offer my picks if I was fortunate enough to have a ballot. It’s navel gazing, but what the hell else is there to discuss?

Jeff Bagwell

I’ve heard a lot over the last couple days where some writers like to ask something along the lines of, “When I saw this guy, did I think to myself, there goes a Hall of Famer?” It makes me think of Bagwell, because I’m pretty certain I never thought of him as a Hall of Famer when he was putting up monster numbers with the Astros. But what the hell does that matter? By the end of his career he had a .948 OPS, a 149 OPS+, close to a 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio and finished with 449 home runs. Bagwell snuck up on you. Those are Hall of Fame numbers.

Barry Bonds
Roger Clemens

These two are a pair. They both used PEDs and they are both among the best to ever play the game. I’ve never gotten too wrapped up in the PED debate mainly because I figure a large percentage of players have done something meant to enhance performance at some point. Not painting with a broad brush because I don’t know and I don’t really care. It’s an era of the game that the commissioner’s office and the team’s allowed. Some players took advantage. The end.

Ken Griffey, Jr.

Duh.

Billy Wagner

I get the backlash against closers. Seriously. I have a personalized pitchfork. However, like the DH, the closer role is very much a part of the game today. Wagner was one of the best. He has an 11.9 SO/9 and a 187 ERA+. While numbers are great when evaluating closers, one thing that I would look at is consistency. From the time he entered the league in 1996 until he retired, save for 2000, Wagner was among the top of the game.

Mike Piazza

I heard Marty Noble (a writer from New York who cast a ballot with only Griffey, Jr. And Jeff Kent checked) give an interview where he said he was “pretty sure” Piazza did PEDs given he had a ton of hair on his back and had mood swings. Noble just described nearly every blogger I’ve ever met. Piazza’s defense gets a bad rap, but he was adequate behind the plate, but his arm was below average. The bat played, though.

Edgar Martinez

The feeling here is the Hall is a reflection of the game and it’s players. That means the DH is a legit position. Martinez was so good for so long with the bad, position is rendered irrelevant. He walked more than he whiffed, posted a 147 OPS+ and finished with .312/.418/.515. Even when you factor in his era, that’s damn impressive.

Mike Mussina
Curt Schilling

This duo strikes me as another pair where if you vote for one, you are obligated to cast a vote for the other. Schilling finished with a 3.46 ERA and 127 ERA+. Mussina had a 3.68 ERA and 123 ERA+. In their respective careers, Schilling had more notable postseason success, which while isn’t a requirement for my pseudo Hall vote, it’s certainly worth some bonus points. Mussina was simply a paragon of consistency and an exceptional defender.

Tim Raines

I’ve been on the Raines bandwagon for quite some time. He presents an interesting litmus test for voters. He was amazing from his rookie season in ’81 until around ’87. He was really good in ’88 and ’89, but the decline had begun. By the time the ’90’s rolled around, he still had a couple of solid seasons but was past his prime. So do you go for the guy who was consistently great for the majority of his career? Or do you go for the guy who was all-world for the five to seven seasons that constituted his prime? For me, I’ll go for the all-world guy with the outstanding peak. That was Raines.

So you’ve read this far and are thinking, if he votes for Wagner, why not Hoffman? I would, but I’m at the 10 vote limit. Hoffman would get my vote next year for sure. Saves don’t matter to me since they are the ultimate gimmick stat, but like Wagner, he was damn consistent. I just liked Wagner’s ERA and strikeout totals enough to give him the edge. Wagner also had a better walk rate.

Larry Walker is another player I considered. Same for Alan Trammell. It’s a stacked ballot. It’s just too bad that there’s a voting limit.

As for former Royals, this ballot had three: Mike Sweeney, Mark Grudzielanek, and Jason Kendall. None of those guys will get the required five percent to remain on future ballots. I know this is a Royals blog and we are contractually obligated to mock friend of The Cartoonist, Kendall, but the guy deserves more than just a glance and a “no” vote. He was at the end of the line when he arrived in Kansas City, but he finished with a .366 on base percentage. Based on Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, he ranks 18th among catchers, just behind Ernie Lombardi. I’m not saying he’s a Hall of Famer, and I can’t imagine he would get a vote on a ballot with as many deserving candidates, simply he’s someone who deserves a little more attention than he’s going to get.

Now, prediction time. I predict that Griffey will get in with around 98 percent of the vote. Maybe 99 percent. It won’t be unanimous. Piazza gets in with around 80 percent of the vote. Bagwell and Raines fall just short, I’m thinking somewhere between 70 and the 75 percent threshold needed for induction. If they don’t get in this year, they’ll make it on the next ballot.

In an ideal world, we would have at least four inducted to clear the logjam and perhaps get some consideration for other deserving candidates. Maybe next year.

Reports surfaced over the holiday weekend that Omar Infante underwent surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow.

The news was broken by Jon Morosi of Fox Sports.

The Royals, who made no announcement of Infante’s procedure at the time it occurred, are confident the surgery will alleviate the shoulder issues that hampered Infante throughout his first two seasons in Kansas City. The team believes Infante altered his throwing motion to compensate for the elbow pain, thus creating the shoulder problem.

To anyone who has watched Infante play second base the last couple of seasons, this is not a surprising revelation. His shoulder issues have been well documented since arriving in Kansas City. He missed part of his first spring training with the club with what was termed “elbow and shoulder inflammation.” The shoulder issue didn’t seem to get any better for Infante and he missed a few games here and there in 2014. He also spent time on the DL with an irritated disk in his lower back.

There was speculation he would have shoulder surgery following the Royals postseason run in 2014, but the team and Infante seemed to think his elbow and shoulder issues would subside with rest. The shoulder felt better when he opened spring training last year in Arizona, but his elbow still bothered him. And with the repetition at second base, it wasn’t soon before his shoulder started barking again.

This was a bit of a big deal because the Royals are paying Infante what for them amounts to big money. He is on the third season of a contract that totals four years and $32 million. Who felt more pain last summer? Infante playing with a bum shoulder and elbow or the Royals, who trotted out his carcass for 455 plate appearances in exchange a .552 OPS and 44 wRC+? I thought his defense was better last year (and the metrics back this up) but there’s no way any amount of defensive brilliance can cloak the stench of a .238 wOBA. According to Fangraphis, Infante was worth -0.9 fWAR in 2015, which made him the seventh worst regular in baseball last year.

In fact, the injuries hampered Infante enough the previous season, he was worth only 0.5 fWAR. This was not what the Royals were expecting. He averaged around 3.0 fWAR in his two seasons before coming to Kansas City, which was his peak output, but he was heading in to his age 32 season, and second basemen have not traditionally aged well. I’m aware of the fact the Royals have played in the World Series in each of the last two seasons, but the Infante contract was bad business from the moment the pen was put to paper. It’s simply the kind of deal a team like the Royals can’t afford to make.

If your New Year’s Resolution is to look at the positive, I suppose we should be thankful the Royals grabbed Ben Zobrist ahead of the non-waiver trade deadline. Zobrist filled the hole caused by Alex Gordon’s injury, then was able to slide over to second once Gordon returned. From August 28 to the end of the season, Infante made only six starts. An oblique injury suffered in mid-September assured he would miss the entire postseason run. The right move all along would have been to either bench Infante or keep him off the roster entirely. His injury prevented the Royals from having to make that decision. Injuries, injuries. That’s the real story of the Omar Infante era in Kansas City.

Infante will have the opportunity to redeem himself in 2016, but that’s only because at this point with $18 million left on his contract, he’s the immoveable object in the Royals middle infield. If he can stay healthy.

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.

 

It’s that time of the year, when the only news coming from the Royals is when their Twitter feed decides to do this:

Other than that… crickets.

So I’m sitting here wondering what to write. I have an hour to write. You have a few minutes to read. Let’s do this.

— The Royals are in the market for another starting pitcher. Rank the following:

Yovani Gallardo
Scott Kazmir
Wei-Yin Chen
Mike Leake

I have to get over my 2008 fan crush on Kazmir (which is, for some reason, incredibly difficult) if I’m going to give you a subjective ranking. Let’s go over a couple of broad pros and cons. Chen and Leake are the top remaining starting pitching options on the free agent market. That means they will each grab five years. As third-tier options, Gallardo and Kazmir would probably cost four. Kazmir is an injury risk. Gallardo and Chen both turned down qualifying offers and will cost the Royals their first round draft pick.

I’m not intending to do a deep dive into their profiles here, but I’ll just throw a couple of graphs onto the fire.


Source: FanGraphsScott Kazmir, Yovani Gallardo, Mike Leake

Kazmir is the only guy of the bunch who generates a SO/9 that is close to league average on a fairly consistent basis. Gallardo is the only guy who struggles to keep his BB/9 below league average. Put strikeouts and walks together in a graph like above and you can see how those impact this group.


Source: FanGraphsYovani Gallardo, Mike Leake, Wei-Yin Chen

I removed Kazmir from this graph because Fangraphs goes all wonky on his missed time when applied to rate stats such as FIP. This merely shows that most things equal, the remaining three (and Kazmir for that matter) are generally going to get you the same kind of production over the course of 32 starts. Generally.

So – and remember this is just a broad look – I’d probably go for Chen at the top of the group. He’s been fairly consistent his four years in the league and his fly ball tendencies would play better in KC. But he’s going to cost the most. I’d stay away from Gallardo who has seen his strikeout rate decline, along with his fastball velocity, over the last couple of seasons. Now, having said all that, if you could get Kazmir on a three year deal, that’s where I’d go. Aaaarghhh. Decisions, decisions.

— Yes, I’m with you. Surprised the outfield free agent market hasn’t done a damn thing since Jason Hayward signed with the Cubs last week. He was supposed to be the domino. Instead, he’s the tree that fell in the woods with no one around.

Dayton Moore vocalized something I’ve long wondered. He made reference to the free agent market as a game of musical chairs. The music was going to stop and some guys were going to be left on the sidelines, so that’s when it flips to a buyers market. The Royals are waiting. I’m starting to think that’s the case with other teams.

Who has the most cash in baseball? It’s pretty easy to go down the list. The Dodgers. They need offense, but have a stuffed outfield. The Red Sox. They made the early splash again and are likely done making major moves. The Yankees. Apparently, they are on some sort of budget. Which is hilarious. The Giants. They just dropped over $200 million on starting pitching. The Tigers. They are the new Phillies where they hit their 2016 budget when they signed all their aging players to extensions a couple years ago. The Cubs. They made their free agent mark. The Angels. OK, they’re actually kind of scary in this scenario, but they desperately want to stay flexible for Trout and they already gave too much for Pujols and are paying another guy (Hamilton) to play baseball in Texas.

This is by no means gospel, but the monied teams – the teams most likely to move the free agent needle – seem to be tied up for one reason or another. Is there enough money to take care of both the starting pitcher and the outfielders? The lack of movement in the outfield market would suggest there isn’t.

Although there’s always one or two teams that will surprise. The Rangers are a team that will reach into the well. We just saw the Diamondbacks take five hours to decide to sign Zack Greinke. The Cardinals have put money out there for starting pitching, only to be rebuffed, so you know they can spend for an outfielder if they decide one fits their needs.

Back to Dayton’s musical chairs analogy, you have to wonder if the silence for the bats is a result of the early splash on starting pitching from the big money. And maybe that impacts the second and third tier of starting pitchers. This year was simply too stocked with decent free agents. The next couple of weeks figure to be slow, but interesting as the market continues to evolve.

— I’ve seen (and heard) chatter from both Kansas City sports talk radio stations that they wouldn’t give Alex Gordon a five year contract because “he hits eighth.” I can’t even begin to wrap my head around how asinine a comment like that is. Let’s just say there are some sports talkers in this market who are smarter than that.

To characterize Gordon as an “eighth-place hitter” is asinine. There are argument for bringing him back and yes, there are arguments to stay away. But to talk about where Ned Yost hit him in the batting order in the postseason is irrelevant to the conversation.

Time’s up. Thanks for reading today. Hopefully, something interesting will happen for tomorrow.

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.

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