Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

There have probably not been two trades that were so overwhelmingly greeted with joy by Royals’ fans than the acquisition of Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, since…well, Joe Foy for Amos Otis?  That said, there was still some angst and a decent amount of grumbling about impending doom in the near future.  One has to give to get, and the Royals gave up Sean Manaea, Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, Cody Reed and Aaron Brooks.   Five guys who were not going to have major – if any – roles with the team in 2015, but for whom there were modest to sky high expectations in the coming years.


What of those coming years, however?  While the Cueto and Zobrist trades are an indicator that the Royals are certainly ‘going for it’ for 2015, that does not necessarily mean that Kansas City is ‘going for broke’.  It may be very likely that the Royals best chance for a World Series is 2015, but they won’t drop off the face of the earth before next spring.  I actually saw a tweet bemoaning that the Royals were going to be ‘just like the Marlins’ and another comment (here, there, somewhere – I get confused) that ‘the Royals better win this year because they’ll be back in the dark ages in coming seasons’.  Sometimes, I think people just like to complain….

Anyway, let’s have a look at the future or maybe more appropriately The Window.

Following is a table of the players, by position, that are under team control in one form or another through 2018. Players who have a player option at the end of their contract (Alex Gordon) or those who have a mutual option (Morales, Volquez and a bunch of others) are not shown in the year an option of that type would have an effect.  Team options are noted, buyouts of team options are not.

2015 2016 2017 2018
C Perez (1.75) Perez (2.0) Perez (3.75 team opt) Perez (5.0 team opt)
1B Hosmer (5.65) Hosmer (8.25) Hosmer (Arb)
2B Infante (7.5) Infante (7.75) Infante (8.0) Infante (10.0 team opt)
SS Escobar (3.0) Escobar (5.25 team opt) Escobar (6.5 team opt)
3B Moustakas (2.64) Moustakas (Arb) Moustakas (Arb)
LF Gordon (12.5)
CF Cain (2.73) Cain (Arb) Cain (Arb)
RF Rios (11.0)
DH Morales (6.5) Morales (9.0)
BENCH Zobrist (7.5)
BENCH Dyson (1.23) Dyson (Arb) Dyson (Arb)
BENCH Butera (0.9) Butera (Arb)
BENCH Orlando/Cuthbert/Colon/etc
SP Cueto
SP Ventura (0.95) Ventura (1.2) Ventura (3.45) Ventura (6.45)
SP Volquez (7.5) Volquez (9.5) Volquez (10.0 team opt)
SP Duffy (2.42) Duffy (Arb) Duffy (Arb)
SP Guthrie (9.0) Guthrie (10.0 team opt)
RP Holland (8.25) Holland (Arb)
RP Davis (7.0) Davis (8.0 team opt) Davis (10.0 team opt)
RP Herrera (1.66) Herrera (2.55) Herrera (Arb) Herrera (Arb)
RP Hochevar (4.0) Hochevar (5.5)
RP Medlen (2.0) Medlen (5.5)
RP Morales (1.85)
RP Madson (0.85)
RP Young (0.68)
INJ Vargas (8.5) Vargas (8.5) Vargas (8.0)
INJ Collins (1.48) Collins (Arb) Collins (Arb)

A quick glance shows three big holes on the 2016 roster:  the two corner outfield spots and that which will surely be vacated by Johnny Cueto.  Now, you would hope that Kris Medlen joins the 2016 starting rotation and Yordano Ventura returns to his rookie form to give the Royals four solid starting pitchers.  The fifth spot could be Jeremy Guthrie’s – if one wanted to pay $10 million for what Guthrie gives you.

Here is the first spot where those who cannot stand to lose prospects sound the alarm.  The Royals will need another starter and there is no certainty that Chris Young will return.  Brandon Finnegan and John Lamb were certainly two names that would have come into play.  Sean Manaea, although the start of 2016 might have been a tad optimistic would have gotten mention, too.  All three, obviously, are gone, leaving Kyle Zimmer (stop laughing) and Miguel Almonte as the in-house possibilities.  Sure, five names – especially minor league pitching names – is better than two, but it is not a bad two names, either. Not to mention that it is nice to type Cueto and Zobrist into the 2015 roster.

Speaking of Zobrist, he is up there around the other two gaps in the 2016 roster.  It would be fun to have the Royals ink a healthy Alex Gordon to a new contract (or have Gordon do them a favor and pick up his $12.5 million player option) AND get Zobrist to sign a decent value two year deal to come back.  Hey, it’s easy!  Corner outfield spots solved!  Of course, we know that scenario is highly unlikely, but nothing that Dayton Moore did in July had or will have any effect on that situation.

The Royals, with only a little bit of luck (Ventura/Medlen) and maybe one big contract (Gordon) could be close to or as good in 2016 as they have been in 2015.  Sure, it might be nice to have Manaea and Finnegan hanging around spring training next March, but it seems nicer to have Cueto and Zobrist hanging around the regular season this year.

Come 2017, then maybe we’ll lament the loss of those five arms a bit more, but the Royals’ cupboard will hardly be bare.  The future was not mortgaged to get Cueto and Zobrist, not even close.  The window will certainly be open in 2016 and, with some breaks, stay open in 2017 as well.  In theory, anyway.

Elbows and shoulders come apart, knees buckle,  and a time may come when an owner tires of carrying a $120 million payroll.  These are things less easy to predict and all real possibilities, but the foundation for the Kansas City Royals to compete this year, next year and the year after that remains intact.


In defeating the Detroit Tigers 5-1 on Tuesday, the Royals continued to take care of business in their division. Looking for a reason the club is setting the pace in the Central? Start with their 27 wins against division foes, against just 16 losses.

Prior to April, any series with Detroit demanded to be circled on the calendar in red ink. These would be the games that would decide the victor. The team that would get to watch the Wild Card Game from the comfort of their own man caves. Now… Not so much. The Tigers have been hit with the curse of age: Underperformance and injury have sapped them of their swagger. These aren’t the Tigers anymore. They have been declawed.

The last time Salvador Perez had an on base percentage above .300 was on May 29. In the 49 games he’s played since then, he’s hit .202/.219/.378. Really, there’s no need to play the arbitrary endpoint game with Perez. He’s hitting just .247/.257/.412 on the year. That is continuing a slide that began in 2012, his second season in the league.

Let’s just say that Perez struggles against pitching. Not any specific pitcher, per se. Pitching. As in, all of it. Except when it comes to Justin Verlander. Against Verlander, Perez has 18 hits in 38 at bats, good for a .474 batting average. On Tuesday, Perez faced Verlander three times. Three times, he collected a hit. He also drove in three runs. It was the Salvy Show. It always is against Verlander. Isn’t baseball the best?

Meanwhile, Danny Duffy continued his resurgence with another solid start. He went seven innings, allowed five hits (and four walks) while surrendering a solitary run. In eight starts since returning from the disabled list, Duffy owns a 2.66 ERA. The ERA is nice and shiny, however I prefer the fact he’s gone deeper into games for an extended stretch for seemingly the first time in his career.

This isn’t so much a new-look Duffy. He was stellar for an extended stretch last summer. However, this is one who inspires confidence. He may not be an “ace” in the truest sense of the word, but there’s no reason to think he can’t be a dependable starter going forward. Not an innings eater. Something better. Slot him in to the number two spot behind Johnny Cueto. Or push him to number three behind Edinson Volquez. Wherever he starts, Duffy can now be counted on for some consistency that has been lacking in his game the first three months of the season. He’s back and the Royals are better for it.

The Tigers season can be summed up by a double play the Royals turned in the seventh. After a triple and walk put runners at corners to start the inning, Anthony Gose hit a ground ball to third. Moustakas went to second to start a potential double play, but the runner on third, Nick Castellanos, for some reason broke for home. Omar Infante fired to Perez and Castellanos was out by about 20 feet. Just an inexplicable TOOTBLAN. Yet, as Royals fans, we could knowingly nod our heads. That was a play made by a team who have checked out on the season. How many times have we seen something similar? It’s over for the Tigers. There will be no playoffs.

The Royals have stretched their lead in the AL Central to 9.5 games. That represents their largest lead since 1980. Given the competition, it’s not difficult to image that lead hitting double digits. The Twins are taking their punishment from the Canadian bullies and have begun the slide we all knew was inevitable. Thanks for playing. The White Sox have attempted to remain relevant, but they’re still the White Sox, still managed by Robin Ventura. The Indians have hugely underachieved. That rotation and those results… Wasteful.

And the Tigers. The Tigers. Injuries and poor contracts have accelerated their decline. At this point, it’s not difficult to imagine them as the AL version of the Phillies. Old, broken and stuck in the Wild Card purgatory of a total rebuild. The tear down began last week at the trade deadline, as Dave Dombrowski shipped David Price to the Blue Jays, Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets, and Joakim Soria to the Pirates. He gathered a decent haul of prospects (which definitely puts them ahead of the Phillies at a similar point of their slide into baseball irrelevance) but for his troubles, was shown the door by Tigers elderly owner Mike Illich. Quite a turn of events.

And quite a turn of events in that Dombrowski is now a general manager free agent, but I’m good with the guy we have making those decisions for the Royals. Had the Dombrowski ouster happened two years ago, the drums in Kansas City would have beat loudly. A GM with a successful track record in rebuilds? Where do we sign up? Instead, this news was greeted in KC with a collective yawn. Or perhaps pity. The Royals were so good this year, we somehow cost poor Dombrowski his job. The body count continues to rise.

Forever Royal, indeed.

After a well timed, from a both a physical and mental aspect, off-day yesterday, the Royals embark on a 13 games in 13 days stretch.  Ten of those contests come at home and only four are against a team with a winning record.

As you likely all know, the Royals open up with three in Detroit tonight against a team that just traded David Price, Joakim Soria and Yoenis Cespedes and is still without Miguel Cabrera.  The Tigers have lost 13 of their last 20 games to fall three games under .500.  This is not the Tigers that we are used to facing, but it does not mean the Royals should glide into Detroit and think they can just show up and win.  This is a chance for Kansas City to run away and hide from not just the AL Central, but the American League.

While the Royals get six with the Tigers, four with the White Sox (a .500 team the last 20 games) and four with the Angels (who have lost 8 of 10), the Twins intersperse two series with Cleveland with Toronto and Texas and then go on the road to play New York and Baltimore.  When the Twins are on the East Coast, your Royals will also go on the road, but to Cincinnati and Boston.  Between taking care of business themselves against Detroit and Chicago and what Minnesota has in front of them, Kansas City could truly end any slim division hopes for the other teams in the Central.

Winning the division, however, is not the target.  Having the best record in the league gives the Royals a little extra post-season edge.

They can put the Angels in a hole just by virtue of winning three of four in Kansas City, but the Angels also have Baltimore and Toronto on the horizon.   Speaking of Toronto, six of their next twelve are against the Yankees and those two teams have 13 games remaining between themselves.  Baltimore plays New York and Toronto six times each the rest of way.  I think all three of those teams are good, likely good enough to beat each other up enough to keep any one of them from piling up a bunch wins.

Then there is Houston (who’d of thought?) who has Texas, the Giants, the Dodgers and the Yankees between now and the end of August.  I like the Royals’ August schedule better than any of the other contenders, even there is just one more off-day between now and August 31st.

Going out a little further, the Royals have seven games with Baltimore and six with Minnesota.  As it stands right now, those 13 games and the four with the Angels referenced above are the ONLY games that Kansas City plays against teams with winning records for the rest of the year.  Quite frankly, if Kansas City does not end up with the best record in the league and home field advantage throughout the playoffs it will be entirely their own fault.  It probably should not even be a contest and it might be worthy goal to keep the team focused on playing good baseball.

None of the above, however, should keep Ned Yost from liberally resting the struggling Salvador Perez or from at least entertaining the idea of playing Ben Zobrist and Jarrod Dyson more in place of Omar Infante.  Just because the Royals are twenty games over .500 and cruising does not mean that a shuffle of the batting order (basically unchanged since Opening Day) might be warranted.  Taking a chance with a two or three run lead late and not going to HDH on consecutive days for a while might be worth it as well.

It will be a delicate dance for the Royals – one they have not been in a position to try since the early eighties – as they try to simultaneously keep the team fresh and sharp.

Heel turns are usually intentional. The good guy decides he’s had enough of being the good guy and decides to do some old fashioned stomping. The Royals, it seems, have been involved in a heel turn that has been brought about by the other teams in the league. After minor dustups in Anaheim and Chicago earlier this year, the anger spilled north of the border this weekend in Toronto.

The Blue Jays own one of the AL’s most potent offenses. They also own some exaggerated splits. Their OPS at home is .835. On the road, their OPS is .719. That’s some kind of extreme Jeckyll and Hyde act. It’s not unique, though. The Yankees, for example own a pretty extreme split that favors home cooking. The difference is the Rodgers Centre is a neutral ball park when it comes to favoring pitchers or hitters. New Yankee Stadium trends to favor hitters. I was on Twitter enough over the weekend to see numerous theories floating in cyberspace about the Jays doing some shenanigans to obtain an edge. I’m not certain that’s the reason for the extreme home and road split. Sometimes things happen in baseball that can’t be easily explained by the players involved or the numbers.

What isn’t in dispute is the Jays roughed up the Royals for three straight days heading into Sunday. They hit three home runs and plated five runs in the opener. They followed that with six more runs in regulation before plating the walkoff run in the 11th on Friday. Six more runs on Saturday, but the Royals finally snagged a win, coming back not once, but twice. Toronto’s lineup is stacked. Loaded. Hardcore. Whatever your adjective, these guys are scary. It seems you never get a break. The power is loaded at the top and the bottom is just pesky enough to cause you headaches for three hours.

After three days and a narrow win, it seems the Royals pitchers embraced a strategy that involved attacking inside. The best hitters on the Jays stand on top of the plate. If the Royals (or other teams) give the Jays the inner half, they’re going to get clobbered on a pretty regular basis. Edinson Volquez isn’t going to let anyone have the inner half.

He came inside to Josh Donaldson with his eighth pitch of the game. It was also the first pitch of the plate appearance. Intentional? I don’t think so. We know the Royals batters have been hit with regularity this summer. In the previous three games, Lorenzo Cain was pegged twice and Moustakas was hit once, but again, I really don’t think any of those was intentional.

Anyway, home plate umpire Jim Wolf disagreed and issued a warning.

I just don’t understand how umpires can be so tone deaf to the ebb and flow of the game. They are on the field as much as the players and they see thousands of pitches each season from the vantage point from behind the plate. On Saturday, Cain was hit when there were already runners on first and second. Besides, it was his third plate appearance of the game. I seriously doubt Mark Buehrle decided to wait until that moment to deliberately plunk Cain. Later in the game, Moustakas was hit in the ninth inning when the Blue Jays were trailing by a run. Again, who would throw at a batter and give a team a free baserunner in that situation? Apparently, home plate ump Wolf thought Volquez was on some sort of vendetta early on Sunday, so he felt the need to issue the warning.

This led to Josh Donaldson showing his complete lack of understanding of the game himself, by throwing tantrums every time a baseball was thrown on the inner half of the plate. Donaldson stands close to the home plate edge of the batter’s box. He has a high front leg kick and brings his foot down on the same plane where he starts. He’s not on top of the plate, but that high kick exposes him to a pitch inside. Ryan Madson struggled in his outing on Sunday. He had runners on first and second when he came inside to Donaldson. He’s not trying to hit the batter in that situation. That’s insane. Yet, Donaldson hopped away, gesturing to let everyone know he was displeased at Madson’s approach.

Donaldson looked like a child. And he certainly looked like he didn’t understand the situation or the strategy of the Royals pitching staff.

Warnings mean that pitchers can’t hit a batter with intent. They don’t mean they can’t pitch to the inner half of the plate. Wolf didn’t eject Madson when he hit the previous batter, Tulowitzki, probably because Tulo was hit on the seventh pitch of the plate appearance and because there was already a runner on base. Good umpiring. (That feels weird to type.) Donaldson spun around like he was auditioning for Dancing With The Stars and ended up getting his manager ejected.

The pitch that drilled Escobar was absolutely intentional. Two outs, three run lead and a third baseman throwing fits. Ned Yost backed his pitcher’s strategy and thought Wolf was on point behind the plate .

“These guys are as good an offensive team as you’re going to face. They’ve got tremendous power. But they all dive into the plate, which makes them susceptible, (on) inside pitches, (to) getting hit. I mean, if you continue to throw them away, away, away, away, away, you’re going to get hammered. You’re going to get killed. So you have to utilize the inside part of the plate to open up the outside part of the plate.

I thought Jim Wolf did a tremendous job understanding the game, understanding what’s intentional. Was it intentional on their part to hit Esky? Absolutely.”

So this is another kerfuffle for the Royals. I really don’t care how they are perceived throughout baseball and I lost score sometime around the end of April. Just add Canada to the list of people who are annoyed at our baseball team.

What I don’t like is when this kind of garbage happens and obscures the things we really should be discussing. Naturally, I’ve spilled too many words on the incidents from Sunday. How about some real baseball talk?

— Ben Zobrist hit his third home run in two days. Nice timing, coming after the Escobar HBP and cutting the Jays lead to one at that point. Zobrist has hit second for the last two games, which is a very good thing for the Royals. Unfortunately, I’m not sure we can expect it to last. Moustakas was given a day off on Saturday, which is why Zobrist was second. Then, when Moustakas pinch hit late in the game and was drilled on the knee, he suffered a contusion and the Royals held him out on Sunday as a precaution. He also gets Monday off, so three days off is probably a good thing for the slumping third baseman.

In his last 129 plate appearances going back to June 23, Moustakas has hit .186/.266/.310. He has a 20 percent line drive rate and is hitting the ball hard 36 percent of the time during this stretch, but his BABIP is an abysmal .177. Maybe it’s a little bad luck. Maybe it’s karma for his hot opposite field start. Whatever the reason, he’s been a drag on this offense for over a month. It couldn’t hurt to drop him in the order with Zobrist on board.

— If the Royals do face the Blue Jays in the postseason, I would vote we put Madson deep in the bullpen. He’s appeared in four games against Toronto, thrown a total of 1.2 innings and surrendered nine hits and seven runs. To go along with his two hit batters.

— The Royals finally get an off day, their first since the All-Star Break. They look like a team in need of a day away from the diamond. They travel to Detroit and have 13 games in the next 13 days, which includes a 10 game homestand. They get six games against the fading Tigers, three versus the surging White Sox and close out the stretch with four games with the Angels, renewing a rivalry that started with the Royals sweeping them in the ALDS last October and then sweeping them in Anaheim with a couple of discussions between the teams back in April.

RHP ∙ 1969—72

Mike Hedlund was an original Royal, acquired during the 1968 expansion draft. He had made just nine brief relief appearances for Cleveland before impressing KC decision makers at 1969 spring training with a good fastball, command, and the ability to change speeds. That earned him a spot on the first Opening Day Royals roster. He wound up as a swing-man that year, making 16 starts and 18 relief appearances and doing an excellent job keeping the opposition off the board in both roles. The 22-year-old ended up throwing only 125 innings, so he and the club agreed he could benefit from some more work in the Venezuelan winter league. Hedlund dominated the league like no pitcher had before. He started the winter with 38 scoreless frames, and ended with a 0.75 ERA in 140 innings of work. He was expected to be an important part of the Royals staff for 1970.

Hedlund picked up valuable experience in Venezuela, but unfortunately he also picked up a nasty virus. The sickness knocked a ton of weight off of him. (He lost a little more weight after manager Charlie Metro required him to shorten his bright orange sideburns. “The ear is the cutting-off place,” Metro ordered.[i]) The effects of the illness lingered and lingered. Hedlund’s strength was sapped, and it showed with diminished zip on his pitches. “I didn’t have my fast ball because I was tired,” Hedlund admitted.” “I tried to be too fine…I got all psyched out.”[ii] After just 15 relief innings over the first month of the season, Hedlund was sent down to Omaha where he stayed for the remainder of the year trying to regain his form. He later called it “a wasted year.”[iii]

After some much needed off-season rest, Hedlund was back to full strength and full velocity for 1971 and slotted back into the big league rotation from the get-go. It was a splendid season for him and the Royals. Hedlund and Dick Drago formed an excellent one-two punch at the top of the rotation as the Royals recorded their first winning season. Hedlund was supremely reliable all year, leading the way to a 20-10 record in games he started. He did not do it with power, striking out just 76. He managed a complete game shutout of the Indians while striking out just one on April 24. He allowed the opposition to put the ball in play throughout his career, and seemed to have a knack to induce soft contact. He was also quick to credit his fielders: “We had a great infield with Freddie Patek and Cookie Rojas up the center…so if I could get it on the ground we had chances of getting the out or getting the double play.”[iv] It all worked beautifully in 1971.

Hedlund then worked an off-season job doing promotion and ticket sales for his hometown Texas Rangers. This led to natural speculation about the chance of him pitching for the Rangers someday, but Hedlund replied, “I’m real happy where I am. It’s a young club that is really getting everything together. I kind of pride myself on being with an expansion club that has come along like this one has and finished in second place. And I want to be there when the Royals win a pennant, because we will, there’s no doubt in my mind about that. There’s a great outlook in the organization.”[v]

Hedlund was correct that the young organization was on a relatively fast track, but unfortunately he and the team hit a stumbling block in 1972. He actually slightly improved both his strikeout and walk rates, but the batting average on balls in play bumped up closer to the norm, and the results were much less pretty. After the team dropped six of his first seven starts, he lost his regular turn in the rotation. He had to settle for just eight more spot starts and 13 relief appearances for the rest of the year. During the ’72-’73 off-season Hedlund was traded to his original team in Cleveland in exchange for utility man Kurt Bevacqua, and he never was able to break back into the big leagues.

[i] Sid Bordman, “Hedlund Looks Royal Minus Sideburns,” The Sporting News, March 14, 1970.

[ii] Bob Williams, “Hedlund Bounces Back After Bouts With Flu, Fatigue,” The Sporting News, August 8, 1970.

[iii] Joe McGuff, “Question-Mark K.C. Pitching Turns Into Exclamation Point,” The Sporting News, June 19, 1971.

[iv] MondayNightSports14, “Mike Hedlund – Former MLB Pitcher,”, August 8, 2013.

[v] Randy Galloway, “K.C. Hurler Makes Pitch For Rangers,” The Sporting News, January 8, 1972.

Were you one of the few who wondered why the Royals felt the need to acquire Johnny Cueto? Tuesday and Wednesday’s starting pitchers pretty much provided the answer.

Chris Young struggled, elevated his pitch count and couldn’t complete five innings on Tuesday. The next day, Jeremy Guthrie provided the gasoline for the Indians pack of matches and was torched for eight runs in 5.1 innings. There isn’t a contending team on the planet that would accept those two in the same rotation for meaningful baseball. And since the Royals are a contending team… You see where I’m going with this.

The question now is, who survives? Cueto mercifully pushes one to the bullpen. One will remain. I feel the need to get the host of the Bachelor on the blog. “Gentlemen, there is only one baseball remaining.” (Take it easy on me. People in my house watch. I learn via osmosis.) Both pitchers currently inhabit an island of suck. In his last 12 starts, Young owns a 5.9 SO/9 against a 3.2 BB/9 and has posted a 4.57 ERA and 5.41 FIP. His ERA- is 116 (meaning his ERA is 16 percentage points worse than league average) and his FIP- is a whopping 140. I discussed Young in-depth back at the end of May and noted his success was a product of smoke and mirrors.

Meanwhile, in Guthrie’s last 12 starts, he owns a 5.7 SO/9 and a 2.6 BB/9. He has an ERA of 6.30 and a FIP of 5.30. Fine. While Young has been “fortunate,” Guthrie has been on the opposite end of the fortune spectrum. Guthrie has a ERA- of 160 and a FIP- of 137. One of my favorite things I’ve seen on Twitter are from Royals fans who like to say things along the lines of, “If you remove the New York start from Guthrie’s stat line, he’s actually pitched better.” Well, no shit. Remove Eric Hosmer’s June from the ledger and he becomes an MVP candidate. You’re not allowed to randomly eliminate the bad and keep the good. That’s now how statistics work. Yes, there can be outliers. But if there are outings where a starter gives up 11 runs in one inning, you must also note the six scoreless innings from a previous start.

You’re allowed to like Guthrie. I like Guthrie. I think he’s a stand-up human and all-around good guy. I also happen to think he’s not worthy of being in the starting rotation of a team with October aspirations. Perhaps your vision of Guthrie is clouded by our introduction. He pitched really well for the Royals when he came over from the Rockies. In 14 starts, he posted a 3.16 ERA, a 3.84 FIP and was good for 1.5 fWAR. Solid numbers. They look even better when you realize the Royals gave up the corpse of Jonathan Sanchez for Guthrie in a classic “change of scenery” trade. Perhaps deluded by a small sample size, Dayton Moore signed him to a three-year deal. At the time, it was misguided. Time has proven this correct. Here’s how Guthrie has done since re-signing as a free agent:


In the two-plus years since Guthrie signed his deal, he’s provided 1.6 fWAR. That’s just 0.1 fWAR more than he provided in his first 14 starts as a Royal. This is stunning, but if you knew anything about Guthrie’s career, it’s not surprising. Using the fWAR as a barometer, Fangraphs estimates he’s provided $11.3 million worth of real value to the Royals. The Royals are going to pay him a total of $28.2 million for this contract. Don’t forget, I like Guthrie. But the guy is flat out committing larceny.

You could make the argument Guthrie is the last of the kind of pitcher Moore used to sign. The guy he would throw millions at to “eat innings” or provide a “veteran presence” and would be expected to at least be a number two or three starter in the Royals rotation. Young, on the other hand, is the kind of pitcher the Royals are now bringing on board for the back of the rotation. Cheap and on a one year deal. This is the luxury you can have once you develop a starting pitcher or two and wade into the free agent waters or trade market for other frontline type starters.

I mentioned the other day the Royals had an opportunity to shift around their rotation. With their first off day of the second half coming on Monday, they have the opportunity of skipping their fifth starter and keeping everyone on normal rest. That eliminates a Young or Guthrie start for at least one turn, which is kind of like ignoring that grinding sound your car makes when you put it in drive. The club will need to use their fifth starter at the end of next week. They’re not going to a four-man rotation when they hold a nine game lead in the Central and are twenty-plus games over .500. I can’t imagine they’d go to a four-man rotation under any circumstance. Kris Medlen could be an option. The Royals know his medical situation and what is possible for Medlen, who is returning to action after his second Tommy John surgery. However, I think the Royals know that Medlen would be used out of the bullpen in the playoffs and want to give him every opportunity to get acclimated to the role. He could pick up a spot start or two, but I don’t think the Royals are considering him as a full-time option for the rotation at this moment.

That leaves the Scare Pair. Young or Guthrie. Guthrie or Young. There is no correct answer. Both are going to continue to struggle. ZiPS projects Guthrie to make 11 more starts wit ha 5.65 ERA and a 0.2 WAR. The same projection system pegs Young at a 4.50 ERA and 0.2 WAR in nine starts. At this point, they’re basically the same pitcher. Pick your poison.

The good news is, in the postseason, neither pitcher should ever start. Nor should they ever find themselves in a high-leverage situation. If you can stomach the clunkers and realize that you can’t win ’em all, it will be easier to take the Guthrie or Young start every fifth day for the next couple of months. It’s not ideal, but at this point, it’s the best the Royals can do.

The Royals finished last night’s game in spectacular fashion.  A two out go ahead home run from Eric Hosmer in the top of the ninth and a spectacular Omar Infante flip to Alcides Escobar’s barehand and then a laser to Hosmer for an out.  If you haven’t seen it, FIND IT!  It is worth any trouble you have doing so.  I have seen that play before, most notably from Cookie Rojas and Freddie Patek way, way back when I was young.  Spectacular is about all you can or need to say about it.

Anyway, that was just the frosting on the cake of day that Tuesday turned out to be as the Royals traded for Ben Zobrist earlier in the day.  Don’t like the starting rotation?  Boom!  Dayton Moore gets you Johnny Cueto.  Worried about depth, second base, rightfield and maybe an extra bat?  Whammo!  Dayton Moore presents us with Ben Zobrist.

Now, there has been a little bit of angst about these deals in the land of Royal.  Some of it, I think, stemming from the fact that this fanbase had been beaten down for so many years that we may simply not believe we get to have nice things.  There is also some of the ‘well, I’m no follower’ in finding a reason not to be excited about a trade that is seen as a tremendous positive by the vast majority of the fanbase and, quite honestly, the baseball world.

There is another couple of sentiments that go along the lines of the Royals have a good thing going, why do we want to disrupt it?  In a similar vein, there is the Royals are almost certain to make the playoffs as it is and once there it is all really just a crapshoot, so why not save the prospects and roll with this unit?

Okay, now, I put probably more stock in clubhouse chemistry than a lot of folks who frequent this edge of the blog world, but I also believe that players know who can play and who can’t.  There is no doubt in my mind that every person in the clubhouse, including the starting pitchers, thought the Royals could really use another starting pitcher. I also believe that the team is not unaware that Omar Infante’s on-base percentage would be a bad batting average and his slugging percentage would be a poor on-base percentage.   They know that, until recently, Alex Rios was swinging a wet noodle, that Jarrod Dyson never has and never will hit lefties and that Paulo Orlando, for all his heroics, has some holes in his swing.  You know what else they know?  They know Ben Zobrist can play the game a little bit.

Moving along, as a craps player, I understand a little bit about luck.  As a Royals’ fan, I remember Buddy Biancalana being a World Series hero in 1985 even though he was not really a very good player.  We have seen the St. Louis Cardinals win a World Series with a team that was no very good in the regular season.  We saw Detroit get David Price last year and not make it through one playoff series.  Weird things happen in baseball, especially in a short series.  Luck happens.  Bad players get hot.  Good players get cold.  Any team on any given day stuff, you know the drill.

While I don’t buy that the woeful 2005 Royals would have a 40% change of beating this year’s Royals in a seven game series, I know they would have some chance (see the paragraph immediately above).  Let’s say the Royals, who I don’t think anyone can argue have improved their regular season team in the last week to the extent that they are virtual locks for the playoffs, end up facing the Astros in the first round.  I don’t know (or care) what the actual percentages were, but for discussion purposes we will say Kansas City had a 54% chance of winning the series.   If adding Cueto and Zobrist moved that needle to even just 57% I will take that action over the ‘playoffs are all luck’ approach.

Of course, both Cueto and Zobrist came at a cost.  While I will not be surprised if all five pitchers involved in these two deals have major league careers, the Royals might well be haunted by Sean Manaea in future years. That’s actually fine, in my opinion, especially if the Royals have a really big, tall new flag in leftfield next spring.  Manaea was not going to play for Kansas City this season and, frankly, probably was not going to be up at the start of 2016, either.  He might well be great…but that greatness will certainly not be in full effect until 2017 at the earliest.  Same timeline for Cody Reed.   John Lamb might have been a contributor on the 2016 team and we all know the Finnegan drill.   Good pitchers….maybe, but not good MAJOR league pitchers (other than Finnegan being decent out of the bullpen – not exactly a weakness for the Royals) this season or likely next.

You know who is good THIS season?  Johnny Cueto is and so is Ben Zobrist.

Dogged by injuries earlier this year, Zobrist has rebounded to hit .268/.354/.447, which is freakishly right on his career numbers.   He has been worth 1.1 fWAR so far, after being worth 5.6 in 2014, 5.2 in 2013, 5.8 in 2012 and 6.3 in 2011.   With Alex Gordon on the shelf, Zobrist is probably the Royals’ most consistent hitter right now.  I was not the first to come up with this and you do actually worry about changing too much (domes, you know), but I would be tempted to bat Zobrist leadoff.   His strikeout rate has declined in each of the last four seasons (that’s good), while his walk rate remains right at his career rate of 12%.   Dude can hit, boys and girls.

Defensively, Zobrist has played everywhere but catcher in his career.  He was a decent shortstop and even logged 236 innings there last year:  good enough to be there if something happens to Escobar during a game.   The metrics don’t like him at second this year, but it is very small sample size and effected by Zobrist playing hurt early on.  For his career, his defensive numbers (and reputation in the game) at second base are excellent.  If you are worried about a defensive dropoff there between Infante and Zobrist, you are worrying too much.  Zobrist has logged the majority of his time in right, where he was very good as well (metrically speaking) in seven of the last eight years.  He has played more innings in left this year (197) than any previous season and the metrics don’t like him there, but they loved him in left in a similar sample size in 2014.   When healthy, and Zobrist seems to be healthy now, Ben is a good defender just about anywhere and especially in the spots the Royals are going to play him.

And that is kind of the beauty of this trade.  You can play him everywhere and offend no one.  For now, we are likely to see Zobrist spend most of his time in left.  Personally, I would put him at second and roll with Dyson/Orlando, but that’s me.  While left might be Zobrist’s primary spot, the Royals would be silly not to give him a couple of days a week at second and another in right and maybe another day at designated hitter.  Until Alex Gordon returns and returns in full Alex Gordon mode, the Royals can pretty much play Ben Zobrist every day and not have truly benched anyone.

Let’s face it, every team could use Ben Zobrist and your Kansas City Royals got him.   In the span of less than a week, Dayton Moore added two very good veteran baseball players to his team without subtracting a single relevant piece of the club that was already the class of the American League.  There is nothing to fear here other than expending some angst over what MIGHT have been pieces of the 2017 starting rotation.

This is going to fun, kids.

Another night, another win. These are occurring with great frequency, yet they never get old.

With Monday’s 8-4 demolition of a listless Cleveland nine, the Royals have surged to 22 games over .500, built their lead to 8.5 games in the Central, and won their 60th game of the year in just their 98th game, the fastest pace to 60 wins in franchise history.

Oh, and the Royals have some guy named Johnny Cueto joining the team on Tuesday.

Heady days, indeed.

This one ended early, when Eric Hosmer clubbed a three-run monster shot over the tall wall that lines left-center field in Cleveland. The only drama that remained was whether Angry Ed Volquez would get run due to the gross ineptitude of the home plate umpire who insisted on calling strikes balls and balls strikes. It was a frustrating night to be a starting pitcher for the American League’s best team, but Volquez kept his cool and, while his pitch count was elevated thanks to a rotating strike zone, he managed to throw six innings of one-run ball.

Games in July and August have taken on the point where we are just marking time. Certainly, there is much baseball to be played, but this team is positioning itself for October. That’s what Cueto and any subsequent moves are about. I know Clark exalted the Cueto deal, but forgive me if I revisit some points he may have made because I’M JUST SO DAMN EXCITED.

Just like everything that has happened over the last 12 months, this is new territory for the Royals. I can’t remember a time they were buyers at the deadline and I certainly can’t remember they were buyers and they went out and landed the big fish. The rotation now looks like this:

An ace in Cueto
A steady Volquez.
An ascendant Danny Duffy.
And a rebounding Yordano Ventura.

That’s something else. A couple of anchors and some upside thrown in for good measure. (I’m starting to tire of referring to Duffy and Ventura as guys searching for their upside. I have a feeling we may finally shed that distinction when discussing them over the course of the next few months.)

Joe Blanton took the mound in the seventh, gave up a home run and settled down, dispatching the rest of the lineup with relative ease in picking up a three inning save. It’s likely his swan song with the Royals, as they will surely cut loose a pitcher to free up a roster spot for Cueto on Tuesday. If this was Blanton’s final appearance, it was a good one. He gave the Royals 41.2 innings and 40 strikeouts against just seven walks. He did surrender six home runs, but he answered the bell when it rang and pitched better than anyone could have expected. I have to say I don’t understand some of the invective I saw on Twitter about some of his performances or his role on the team. Blanton is the back of the bullpen, but someone has to have that spot. They can’t all be Wade Davis. Blanton sat on the sidelines last year and came back to contribute for the best team in the American League. That’s something.

Personally, I hope he clears waivers and decides to go to Omaha. There could certainly be a spot for him back in September when the rosters expand. Now putting him on a playoff roster? That’s another matter entirely. But I just respect the perseverance it obviously took for him to make it back.

The other matter of Cueto business is who will leave the rotation? Chris Young starts on Tuesday and Jeremy Guthrie takes the bump on Wednesday. Both could be pitching for their rotation spot. If I had to guess, unless Young throws a no-hitter, the spot goes to Guthrie. I can hear the outcry from here, but like the back end of the bullpen don’t forget, we’re discussing a fifth starter here. The Royals are at something like a 95 percent chance to make the postseason. I’m not going to sweat whoever the last guy in the rotation is going to be since he’s going to the bullpen when the stakes elevate anyway. The thinking here is it will be Guthrie because he’s been a good Royal soldier (don’t forget he restructured his contract to free up some money a couple of years ago) and because he was a member of the team last year. Those kind of things count to this organization. Young was signed to be a long man out of the bullpen and to fill a starting role if the need should arise. He’s done both and done both admirably well. Yet his peripherals have long suggested his success was unsustainable.

The Royals finally catch a break in the schedule with their off day next Monday. Here’s how I see the rotation going forward:

7/28 – Young
7/29 – Guthrie
7/30 – Duffy
7/31 – Cueto
8/1 – Ventura
8/2 – Volquez
8/3 – Off Day
8/4 – Guthrie

Everyone gets an extra day of rest (finally) and the rotation sets up for the month of August.

And by the time the Royals reach Ventura’s next start, there could be another trade or two. Perhaps a Ben Zobrist? I can’t rule anything out with this team anymore. Hell, anything seems possible these days.

A new book, misleadingly titled The Pine Tar Game, thankfully examines a much broader scope than the infamous 1983 Royals vs. Yankees game. I might have suggested the title The Pine Tar Rivalry since the book really takes a broad view of Royals and Yankees history, including the four playoff meetings of the teams between 1976—80, the contrasting personalities of George Steinbrenner and Ewing Kauffman, and the changes in baseball that contributed to the rivalry fizzling out. The pine tar game does indeed get the most attention, but is the direct focus of just six of the book’s 24 chapters. This was a pleasant surprise for me, as I doubted how interesting a book-length treatment on the one game could be.

While I’ve heard many of the stories related in the book, author Filip Bondy brings a richer understanding to this particular thread of Royals history. He also introduces plenty of new information for my Royals-addicted brain to feed on, such as a particularly enjoyable chapter on the details of David Cone’s upbringing in Kansas City as a die-hard Royals fan who can’t believe his luck to get to pitch for them…until they make a massive mistake in trading him. Twice. Another chapter tells of Rush Limbaugh’s time as a Royals employee. Sometimes Bondy’s scope gets a little too wide, such as a passage relating some KC Monarchs history. That’s one of my favorite topics, but I wasn’t sure what the connection was to this particular book.

While I’ve almost grown tired of seeing the brief clip of George Brett’s famous pine tar game freak out over and over, it was fun to read the more complex tale of that crazy game told in as much detail as anyone probably needs. Don Zimmer’s role as a Yankees coach, Dean Taylor as the Royals “rules nerd” helping draft the team’s protest, the Yankees going through the courts to try to block the three weeks later resumption of the ninth inning, and the umpire’s reactions to Brett the next time they saw him on the field are a few examples of the fresh (to me) details Bondy uncovered. It’s a fun, easy read, recommended to all Royals fans.

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