Royals Authority

Long Live The Process

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.

It’s been a little over 48 hours since the Cubs signed Jason Heyward. That’s notable, because for a signing that was supposed to signal the falling of the dominoes, the opening of the floodgates, the breaking of the dam, or whatever the hell your metaphor of choice is for the opening of the currently stagnant outfield market, it’s not happening. Not yet, anyway.

And that lack of movement is making everyone a little twitchy. At least around these parts.

What is going to happen with Alex Gordon? Where is he going to sign? Do the Royals even have a chance?

This is a nervous time. If you don’t bite your fingernails, I suggest you start. This is the eighth inning, Game Four, ALDS nervous time.

If you believe the words coming out of One Royal Way the last couple of days, it looks like a long shot that Gordon will return. The first trial balloon floated by the Royals brain trust was the feeling that even if they didn’t add an outfielder to the current roster, they would be OK. Lately, the discussion has turned to finances. While I’ve been operating with the unfounded expectation that payroll would increase along the lines of the 2015 increase, it appears I may have been a tad optimistic.

So even after two World Series runs, the team does not intend to alter its business model to accommodate the rising price of free agents. The Royals exited Nashville still in search of another outfielder and another starting pitcher, but Moore stressed he did not expect the team’s payroll to accelerate a sizable amount past last year’s Opening Day mark of about $112 million.

“Just because clubs are spending money, a lot of money, doesn’t mean that they are good business decisions,” Moore said. “I don’t know what other clubs are doing. I just know what we do. We’re trying to make sound business decisions, along with sound baseball decisions. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Instead, we are left to play everyone’s favorite guessing game: “What exactly does Dayton Moore mean?” In this episode, we parse the word “sizable.” Is that $2 million? Is that $10 million? Is it bitcoin?

Backtracking a moment, Moore’s quote is spot-on. Spending cash does not always equate with good business decisions. In baseball, it seems like a lot of the time, it’s the opposite. Spending money is kind of hellfire to the wind, sailor on leave, let’s see how many Jagerbombs we can do school of thought. Moore won’t apologize for the Royals playing in a small market and having a budget. That’s actually part of what I like about being a fan of this team. Yeah, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval are sexy names, but adding them just because they are available is some kind of insanity.

Except bringing back Alex Gordon isn’t insane. It isn’t questionable. It’s good baseball sense.

Recently, there’s been media chatter that the Royals aren’t interested in extending themselves for Gordon because they’d like to keep their core intact beyond the 2017 season when they become eligible for free agency. The Core has been defined as Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas.

Take a moment to wrap your head around that.

For starters, to insinuate Alex Gordon is not part of The Core (which is what the Royals – and by proxy Mellinger – is doing by not including him in the group listed) is straight up insanity. Certifiable. He’s been more valuable that all four of those players over the last four seasons. Only Cain has been better the last two. I would think – and I’ve been writing – that it makes all sort of sense to bring Gordon back for five years just so you have the opportunity to keep this group together for the next two. Sabermetricians scoff at the idea of “windows,” but I really don’t think there’s much debate here. The Royals have a great chance to win over the next two seasons. Without Gordon in the lineup, and without a comparable replacement, their chances will success will decrease.

Second, if you think the Royals have a chance of extending all four of The Core, you’re smoking something stronger than Trevor Vance’s turf. Hosmer and Moustakas are Scott Boras clients. They are most assuredly hitting the open market. Besides, are you sure you want to give a bunch of cash to Moustakas? I mean, I’ve done a 180 on him (or maybe more like a 90. Maybe a 45. I’m still trying to decide) but I’m going to see more than half a season where he hit the ball the other way before I’m buying. The idea of an extension for him has to keep Royals executives up at night, because a scenario exists where it would make more sense to just toss a pile of cash into a paper shredder.

It sounds like Hosmer is intent on maximizing everything. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see him at first base in Yankee Stadium after they wipe the Tiexiera contract off the books. You think Gordon is expensive? Wait until Cain edges toward the market if he continues to play the way he has over the last two seasons. I suppose you could get Escobar at a decent rate, but come on… He’s not the guy of the four you’d want to build around.

Saving money today for the possibility of cashing in on a long shot in 2017 is not good business sense. Not when it weakens your team for the next two seasons.

As I’ve said all winter, the years on free agent contracts have gotten out of control. Imagine your comfort zone on a contract length, then add a year. That’s where we are now with free agency. This is the price of doing business. It’s not great for a team like the Royals, but if they are going to keep this run going, this is the new reality.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Part of The Process was about moving players through the minor leagues and providing the big league club with a pipeline of talent. Uhhhh… That’s not happening anymore. The organization has whiffed on the last few drafts. Badly. The 2010 and 2011 drafts which should be providing players at this moment, were horrific. There’s a very real possibility the Royals will need to flip some of their core in order to restock a system that has been failed by the draft. When the Royals extended Gordon before the 2011 season, they figured they would have his replacement lined up in the system by the time he walked. Instead they are talking up Jarrod Dyson, Paulo Orlando, Brett Eibner, Reymond Fuentes, and Jose Martinez. OK.

I want to add one final thing to this post: It’s fine to criticize or to be unhappy with some of the moves the Royals will make ahead of the 2016 season. Truly. Yes, they won a World Series and for that we will be forever grateful. They won on their terms, which is awesome. The Process took longer than we would have liked, but ultimately The Process worked. Vindication for The Process.

Still, it’s worth remembering this is the same group that signed Omar Infante to a four year deal with an option for the fifth. It’s also the same group that thought Alex Rios was a viable answer in right field. Now, to be fair they were wildly successful with Kendrys Morales and Edinson Volquez and I guess that’s the point. There will be successes and there will be failures ahead. There will be bargains and there will be some nasty contracts. Some good trades and some flops. No front office is perfect. So this is something I don’t understand: The KC media would like to give everyone associated with the Royals a pass. They won back to back AL pennants! They won a World Series! While this group should absolutely receive bouquets and hosannas for a job well done, that doesn’t mean they get a free pass. That doesn’t mean everything they do is correct or above reproach.

It’s a tricky space we now inhabit. Criticize, and it looks like you are either ungrateful for the success, or stupid to the fact baseball is back in Kansas City. But if the Royals throw years and money at someone like Gerardo Parra and the radio and print guys respond to the criticism with, “They just won a World Series,” well, that’s just some lazy analysis. Yet that won’t prevent that kind of analysis from happening. It’s OK to celebrate a title and not like some of the moves.

Do the Royals get a pass for the moves they will make in the immediate future? I hope not. Each signing or trade should continue to be examined on their own merits, just the way they’ve always been held to the light. And hey, some analysis of signings and trades will be wrong, too. The front office doesn’t have exclusivity on hits and misses.

Will they get the benefit of the doubt? I think given the success of the last couple of seasons, that’s fair. That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to have an unfavorable opinion of something.

This brings us back to Alex Gordon. I’m convinced it would be in the Royals best interests to bring back their best player and go all-in for the next two seasons. Yes, it will cost five years and around $90 million, but that’s a cost I’m comfortable with. A contract like this isn’t without risks, but of The Core, Gordon is probably the player who carries the least amount of risk on receiving a large deal. His consistency and his work ethic are points in his favor.

I expect a resolution to come at some point this week. At least before Christmas. Hopefully, it’s one that can be positive for everyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Day two of the Winter Meetings have come and the outfield market is still stagnant.

With inertia the order of the day, the Dayton Moore addressed the Royals situation on Tuesday. Kansas City entered the meetings with vacancies in left and right field. Left has belonged to Alex Gordon the past few years, and even with the outfield market yet to take shape, indicators were the Royals wouldn’t be able to come close to matching a high bid for their All-Star. Right has been a black hole for nearly the entire Moore regime.

The following table is not for the weak of heart. It’s players who have played 30 percent of their time in right field for the Royals with their career stats for the team. I would have loved to broken it down just by numbers accumulated at the position, but Baseball Reference doesn’t allow for that feature in it’s play index. Why 30 percent? Because I’m a masochist and wanted to get a way to include Jose Guillen.

Rk Player WAR/pos G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 David Lough 2.7 116 400 374 44 104 19 5 5 35 .278 .308 .396 .704
2 Paulo Orlando 1.0 86 251 241 31 60 14 6 7 27 .249 .269 .444 .713
3 Nori Aoki 1.0 132 549 491 63 140 22 6 1 43 .285 .349 .360 .710
4 Mark Teahen 0.9 437 1802 1640 213 443 96 13 34 169 .270 .330 .407 .737
5 Reggie Sanders 0.5 24 85 73 12 23 7 0 2 11 .315 .412 .493 .905
6 Carlos Peguero -0.0 4 10 9 1 2 1 0 0 1 .222 .300 .333 .633
7 Ryan Freel -0.0 18 51 45 8 11 2 0 0 3 .244 .306 .289 .595
8 Jai Miller -0.2 20 60 55 5 13 3 0 1 4 .236 .300 .345 .645
9 Jeff Francoeur -0.3 360 1452 1345 154 341 81 9 39 149 .254 .301 .414 .715
10 Jonny Gomes -0.4 12 34 30 2 5 2 0 0 4 .167 .235 .233 .469
11 Justin Maxwell -0.8 55 156 137 18 32 7 1 5 20 .234 .314 .409 .723
12 Alex Rios -1.1 105 411 385 40 98 22 2 4 32 .255 .287 .353 .640
13 Willie Bloomquist -1.3 197 649 604 83 160 21 9 7 46 .265 .305 .364 .669
14 Jose Guillen -2.3 340 1383 1275 142 327 67 3 45 199 .256 .308 .420 .727
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/8/2015.

That is an awful, horrible, disgusting group. It’s possible with just three adjectives, I may be underselling it.

Never mind all that. The Royals think their right field answer for 2016 is already in the organization. From Moore from the lobby at the Opryland:

“We think it’s time for (Jarrod) Dyson to get an opportunity to play a lot more.”

This may qualify as outside the box thinking, because I’ve always associated Dyson with fourth outfielder status. He’s a great guy off the bench as a pinch runner or defensive replacement, along with a spot start or two every once in a while. Dyson’s offensive numbers suggest he’s a platoon candidate.

I Split PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS tOPS+
vs RHP as LHB 959 853 227 28 20 6 62 78 169 .266 .329 .367 .696 110
vs LHP as LHB 243 213 45 6 1 0 14 22 51 .211 .288 .249 .536 63
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/8/2015.

Dyson is eligible for arbitration for the second time and MLB Trade Rumors estimates he will earn in the neighborhood of $1.7 million. That’s certainly a less expensive option than anything the team could get on the free agent market. Over the last four years as a fourth outfielder, Dyson averaged 2.2 fWAR. Steamer projects him for 1.6 fWAR as a full-time player, but I think the system is underselling his defense. It’s not a stretch to imagine him topping his 2.2 fWAR average, which would make him a great value for the Royals.

The thinking is, addressing the outfield situation internally, prevents the Royals from committing long-term to a player. With Bubba Starling on the 2017 horizon, the team wants to keep their options open.

Except I keep coming back to the Royals current payroll situation and how the core group will be together for the next two seasons. It doesn’t feel like the time for settling for a fourth outfielder as an upgrade. However, if that fourth outfielder gives the team the payroll flexibility to go big in left field to bring Alex Gordon back in the fold, then sign me up. That’s really the only way this makes sense.

Either way, this is Dayton Moore speaking about a player on a roster that is – at the moment – incomplete. Dyson has been a great value for the Royals and the team has used him in a way for them to realize that value. Making him an almost everyday player wouldn’t be the worst thing the team could do, but if they choose that path, they better be prepared to go big on the other corner.

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