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Royals Authority

Long Live The Process

“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.

Life moves fast….sort of.

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

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

Catcher – Sal Perez, Tony Cruz or Drew Butera

First Base – Eric Hosmer

Designated Hitter – Kendrys Morales

Second Base – Omar Infante

Shortstop – Alcides Escobar

Third Base – Mike Moustakas

Utility Infielder – Christian Colon (and Cody Decker?)

Left Field – Jarrod Dyson

Center Field – Lorenzo Cain

Right Field – Paulo Orlando

Backup Outfield – Brett Eibner or Rey Fuentes or Jose Martinez

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work to do and we already all knew that.

Reports have the Royals agreeing to a deal with reliever Joakim Soira for three years at around $25 million. As usual, there are rumblings of a mutual option for the fourth year. The Royals have not confirmed the deal, and may not until later in the week, likely pending a physical.

If the deal comes to pass, it’s a welcome home for Soria, who the Royals stole in the Rule 5 draft in December of 2006 and immediately paid dividends. Over five years in Kansas City, Soria had a 2.20 ERA, 160 saves and a 9.6 SO/9. His time with the Royals came to an early end as he underwent a second Tommy John procedure in April of 2012.

Here are three things to consider about the Soria signing:

— Three years seems steep on the surface, but this is the going rate for the relief pitching market. Hey, if Ryan Madson who hadn’t thrown in the big leagues for three years can get a three-year/$22 million deal after throwing just over 63 innings, Soria was always going to get a deal of  similar length. Having said that, Soria at three years is a risk based on his health record. He’s four years removed from his second Tommy John surgery. Jeff Zimmerman, writing at The Hardball Times found (starting) pitchers had about 650 innings or four years between their first and second TJ procedure. (That finding comes with a small sample size caveat.) Soria had his first TJ surgery in 2002 when he was in the Dodger organization. His second was with the Royals in April of 2012. A larger gap in years, but the mileage between his first and second is a little less clear. Since returning to action in 2013, Soria has thrown 135 innings. Some may point to insurance as a cover against losing a player to injury (i.e. Jason Vargas) but the industry won’t cover for a recurrence. And Soria has already had two. No way the Royals can find insurances against a third.

Soria’s velocity is stronger than ever. His fastball in 2015 was consistently the hardest he’s thrown in his career.

SoriaVelo

— How will the Royals use Soria? He has saved 202 games in his career, and former closer Greg Holland was non-tendered as he recovers from his own Tommy John procedure. Yet Wade Davis has been the best reliever in the universe over the last two seasons. We can talk about shuffling roles and using ninth inning guys based on match-ups and whatnot, but the truth is the modern reliever likes to have a set job. Ned Yost likes it, too, and you can bet his deer hunting blind he’s not going to deviate from an automatic phone call to the bullpen. That much should be obvious. My thought is the Royals will move Kelvin Herrera back to the seventh inning, have Soria pitch the eighth and The Wade Davis Experience keeps the ninth.

— We will have to wait for the contract details to determine how this will impact the projected payroll. Earlier today, I had the Royals with 13 players under contract at a total of around $70 million. I’m guessing the Royals will use that mutual option to keep the upfront cash low, while giving him some money at the end of the three years. This is what they did to Jeremy Guthrie. I’m thinking Soria could cost the Royals around $7 million per season with the remainder on the buyout on the option.

A healthy Soria means the Royals again keep the games short for their rotation. Given the state of the rotation going forward, that is a good thing.

Welp, this is what I get for writing a post on Sunday night before the Winter Meetings officially start. Rumblings overnight have the Royals signing Joakim Soria to a three-year deal, valued at $25 million. Which pretty much blows up this entire post. Oh, well. Read anyway and throw his money into the mix.

Nashville is teeming with baseball-type people. Why would they be there? Nashville doesn’t have a team. Ahhhhh… complaints about a cavernous Opryland Hotel can only mean one thing: The Winter Meetings have finally begun.

If you are a baseball fan and a fan of the Hot Stove, this is your week. And if you’re a baseball fan, you probably are dreaming about how Player X will look in your team’s uniform. (Unless you’re a fan of the Diamondbacks. You’ve already signed Zack Greinke and your new uniforms look awful.) The only thing that is stopping your team from signing your player is one thing… Money. It’s always about the money.

With the Royals arriving in Nashville on Sunday night, rumors were circulating the club was very much near a two year agreement to bring back Chris Young. While exciting, not the top priority to be sure. At one point on Sunday, word came out the Royals were talking to Scott Kazmir. Now we’re getting somewhere. Thankfully, there were rumblings the team was still very much in the Alex Gordon Sweepstakes.

This is all well and good, but the larger question looms: How do these players – or anyone for that matter – fit into the 2016 budget? I’m really glad you asked. Because that’s what this post is about.

Let’s start with what we know. The Royals currently have 13 players under contract for next season.

Contract2016

Those players will make a total of $74.475 million.

*Of course the caveat is Jason Vargas will miss most – if not all – of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Word is, they have a $6 million insurance policy that will defray a nice chunk of his 2016 salary. If we remove that money from the players already under contract, we are at $68.475 million.

Next, let’s take a look at the players eligible for arbitration. These players have all been tendered contracts by the club, but they are not signed for the 2016 season, so we don’t know where they fit on the ledger. Player and team will exchange dollar amounts in mid-January, then will have the rest of the winter to come to an agreement. Failing that, they each will present their case to an arbiter, who will rule in favor of either the player or the club. There is no middle ground.

Since we are over a month out from the exchange of figures, that makes it a little more difficult to estimate payroll. Thankfully, we have MLB Trade Rumors to take care of that for us. The Royals have seven players eligible for arbitration. Here is the list, followed by their estimated contract for 2016.

ArbEstimate2016

Those estimates total $20.6 million.

If you’re keeping score, that gives the Royals 20 players totaling $89.075 million.

We need to fill out our 25 man roster, so assuming the Royals don’t make a trade, don’t sign anyone in free agency (Chris Young rumors be damned) the Royals will fill those spots with players who are still under club control with fewer than three years in the majors to their credit. Those players generally make the league minimum or close to it, which is just north of $500,000. So we need to add five more players at a total of roughly $2.5 million.

That puts the 25 man roster around $92 million.

The above number is something to keep in mind you navigate the rumors this week. Royals are reportedly budgeting for a payroll around $130 million.

The hottest rumor as of Sunday night has Young coming back to Kansas City on a two year deal at between $10 and $12 million. So let’s put $5 million for Young in the 2016 column as a rough estimate.

For Gordon, I’ve seen speculation for five years at anywhere between $90 and $105 million. Basically, you’re looking at $20 million per year, but nothing is even close to certain at this point, as the outfield market hasn’t even started to take shape. Plus, the Royals have always been rather creative with some of their more notable contracts, so even if they bring Gordon back at five years and $100 million, it probably wouldn’t be as simple as paying him $20 million a year. Still, with myriad options we should probably stick with the straightforward for this exercise and put him down for $20 million next year.

With Young and Gordon, you subtract $1 million (since we are removing two players who would make the minimum) and add $25 million. That puts the payroll roughly at $116 million, which is already more than the opening day payroll for 2015.

That leaves you room for one more free agent addition. Possibly Kazmir. Early industry estimates had him at around three years and $13 to $15 million per season. That would get the Royals right on the mark of that $130 million budget.

If these numbers are accurate and the budgets are correct, that means you can basically forget about Ben Zobrist coming back. The Royals are going to need to add another starting pitcher (and probably a bargain bin reliever or two) and there’s simply no way they can bring back Gordon (their number one choice) and Zobrist while signing a middle of the rotation starter. I suppose Zobrist could be their fall-back, in case they lose out on Gordon, but all indications are the Zobrist market is heating up and he’s looking at four years, which is probably one year too many for the Royals to stomach.

For now though, it’s all speculation. Hot Stove! The next few days will give us a little clarity as we move closer to the opening of camp in Arizona. At least if things go according to plan.

Clark kind of recapped the Royals offseason yesterday (it took a whole paragraph) and parsed the Alex Gordon/Ben Zobrist conundrum. It’s a waiting game everyone is playing at the moment. With the market fixated on the glut of starting pitching, he free agent outfield situation is no closer to resolution today as it was on November 2. Zobrist is linked with every team in baseball (and probably some in a couple of other sports – that’s how useful the guy is) and is patiently waiting as teams kick his tires. It’s inertia and it’s the lame part of the winter.

That will probably all change either this weekend or early next week as the Winter Meetings convene in Nashville.

For the snark about Dayton Moore and company always getting the jump in the offseason, the meeting in December is when the Royals front office gets really active. I wouldn’t be surprised if a free agent (or two) previously not thought to be on Kansas City’s radar would suddenly get tweeted about by Ken Rosenthal and then linked to on MLB Trade Rumors.

With the outfield market in deep freeze, it’s not surprising the Royals moves have been on the minor side of the ledger. They are almost certainly waiting on Gordon and Zobrist to make their decisions. If payroll is pushed to $130 million, there’s certainly a way to fit both on the roster, even with the pending arbitration cases. The club realized a savings of at least $10 million and probably more when they non-tendered Greg Holland this week.

(A quick aside on the tender/non-tender: Teams were obligated to offer all players contracts by December 2, or they would become free agents. It’s procedural, but as discussed below, there’s always one or two surprises who don’t get offered a contract. And it’s simply an offer of a contract. Some deals are signed ahead of the deadline, but most are still negotiating.)

Holland was non-tendered because under the rules of arbitration, had the Royals offered a contract, they would have had to pay him at least $6.6 million. (Which under the collective bargaining agreement is amount after a maximum 20 percent pay cut from the $8.4 million he earned last year.) That’s a lot of cabbage to pay someone who is pretty much guaranteed to spend an entire season off the mound and in rehab.

So where does this money go?

It’s established the Royals will shop in the bargain bin for free agent starting pitchers to fill out their rotation, so it wouldn’t be surprising at all to me to see them pursue Henderson Alvarez who was non-tendered by the Marlins on Wednesday. Alvarez banked $4 million last summer, but shoulder issues (and subsequent surgery) meant he made only four starts. (My god, that’s Zack Greinke money! Get it?) The Royals, as you know, have had success on reclamation projects, but the shoulder is a different animal than the elbow. Alvarez is a useful starter if he’s healthy and he would be affordable, too. For the Marlins to cut him loose makes me think they’re skeptical he will be able to pitch effectively. Although we can’t discount the idea that the Marlins are just kind of insane.

Anyway, Alvarez is the kind of pitcher who fits the Royals philosophy – a strike-thrower with a high contact rate who keeps the ball in the yard. In fact, Alvarez is something of a ground ball machine, getting the old worm-burner on 55 percent of balls put in play in his career. With the Royals starting infield set to return – sorry, not talking about Zobrist here. Second base belongs to Omar Infante – you certainly know about their ability to turn grounders into outs. It could be a decent fit, provided the shoulder is sound. That’s far from a guarantee.

Another recent non-tender to keep an eye on is Yusmerio Petit, who we all know from the San Francisco Giants. His ’14 season was pretty great. His ’15… not so much. His strikeout rate cratered and his xFIP added about a run and a half. So effective as a swingman when the Giants won the title – he made 12 starts and had a run of 37 consecutive scoreless innings in relief – Petit just couldn’t seem to put it together last summer. The issue here besides the known volatility of relievers is that held up to the rest of his major league career, 2014 looks like a bit of an outlier. Still, if you can grab him from a cool million he’s worth a flier. Although he made $2.1 million last year and since his best season isn’t that far in the rearview mirror, it’s doubtful he will come that cheap.

Neither of those names are sexy, but such is the situation as we nervously await word from Gordon and/or Zobrist.

The Royals did some stuff on Wednesday, but it was just that:  some stuff.

Greg Holland was non-tendered, instead of offering a pitcher who will not pitch in 2016 arbitration.  The traded the Jose Martinez that you didn’t know for another back-up catcher, Tony Cruz, and actually did tender a contract to the other back-up catcher, Drew Butera.  Hey, if you are going to use your backup catcher a whopping 20 times per season, you ought to have a couple.  Three, of course, would be silly and so Kansas City sold Francisco Pena to Baltimore.

Along the way, the Royals also tendered contracts to Louis Coleman, something that was not a certainty, and also to a whole bunch of ‘certanties’:  Cain, Moustakas, Duffy and Dyson.  Dropped from the 40 man roster was Orlando Calixte.  Add Monday’s signing of Tim Collins to a one year deal and you pretty much the Royals’ off-season to date in two entire paragraphs.

Yawn.

Of course, that’s okay.  Dayton Moore has something of a reputation for being a quick striker when it comes to the off-season, but that might well have been the product of being the GM of a not very good team. As World Champions, with at least 19 players from last year’s roster coming back, one probably does not need to strike quickly any longer.

Of the smattering of moves and signings made thus far by other teams, has there really been a single one that you wish the Royals had been involved with or even one that effects what the Royals might or might not be able to do this winter?  I can’t come up with one.  Perhaps no news is good news.

Sadly, given the years and dollars rumored (yes, there are rumors and speculation in the off-season, get over it), I cringe at the thought of ‘Ben Zobrist news’ as it seems very likely any ‘actual’ news surrounding Zobrist will likely include the phrase ‘his former team, the Royals’.  For the record, I’d be delighted with Zobrist for three years, but I’m hesitant about four.  I do not get too hung up on ‘old’, which is apparently anything with a 3 in front of one’s age, but Ben will be 38 for the bulk of four seasons from now.  There is a lot of thin ice and cliffs when you get up around that age as an athlete.

If Zobrist is gone, it would seem the Royals could – should they so choose – go pretty big in an effort to retain Alex Gordon. Four seasons from now, Gordon will be the same age as Ben Zobrist will be this coming year. I’m willing to take a gamble that Alex will still be productive (probably not a Gold Glover any longer, but certainly not Jose Guillen…or Alex Rios) in even year five of a mega-deal.

Truthfully, that IS what we are all waiting for: news about Ben Zobrist and Alex Gordon.  The notoriously tight-lipped Royals may well have something cooking with them or a starting pitcher or, just to mess with the baseball world, a good reliever. Some news…any news and not ‘Tony Cruz type’ news.

Or, should we be hoping for no news?

While you are pondering that deep, deep question, maybe someone can enlighten me as to why the idea of extending Lorenzo Cain has so much traction?

I love Cain and his value is undeniable…for now.  Yet, I am perplexed that so many who are ready to say good-bye to Alex Gordon couple that sentiment with ‘using the money’ to extend Lorenzo.  He will be thirty in April and will be entering his age 32 season  when eligible for free-agency, with a history of leg issues.

Give me Gordon and Cain together for the next two seasons and I’ll take a gamble on Gordon (and the Royals) being viable in 2018 and deal with what to do or try to do about Cain then as well.

Quite honestly, there is nothing new to see above.  We are all waiting for something to happen and, for at least a decent majority of us, dreading what that something might be.

Winter Meetings are a week away and with the dust yet to settle from the David Price signature in Boston, the free agent market is starting to take shape. For pitchers, anyway.

The Royals were never in for Price (obviously), nor are they in on Zack Greinke. Top tier pitchers are way out of the Royals market. Always have been. Always will.

The developments of Tuesday and the rest of the week underscore how important it is for Dayton Moore and company to draft and develop pitchers. Or failing the development part (which is the norm for the Royals) they at least need to draft well enough to flip those prospects for real major league talent. Moore has inked a handful of free agent starters the last couple of seasons. Jason Vargas signed for four years at $32 million. Edinson Volquez joined for two years at $20 million. Vargas’ injury aside, those deals look quaint in the current economic landscape. And they aren’t especially old deals. That’s how fast the money is flowing around the game.

At the time of the Vargas signing, I thought Moore made a bit of a shrewd gamble. He was paying for a guy who was a back of the rotation starter, but locking him in at a rate that was affordable to the team and could return some value. Early estimates are 1 fWAR will cost around $8 million on the market this year. That contract was a good risk.

So while Moore figured out the fourth starter market, that leaves the front of the rotation. If the top tier are signing these megadeals, that means the secondary market – think guys like Mike Leake and Wei-Yin Chen – are going to cash in as well. The Royals could get frozen out of the starting pitching market forever.

That places a massive burden on the draft. Which means it comes down to the development of starting pitchers. For all the accolades Moore has received the last couple of seasons, he’s gotten a bit of a pass here. But the evidence is clear and disturbing: The Royals have consistently failed when it comes to this aspect of the game.

Matt LaMar did some nice work on this at Royals Review last summer. He went through the prospect lists and found a consensus of Top 100 talent the Royals possessed in the starting pitching ranks. Out of 13 pitchers he identified, exactly one has developed into a quality starting pitcher – Yordano Ventura. The rest reads like road kill: Mike Montgomery, Chris Dwyer, John Lamb. Danny Duffy has continually vexed. At times he’s looked like a solid rotation candidate. Other times he looks more comfortable coming out of the bullpen. I still don’t know where his future lies. Although I know he’d do himself and the Royals a huge favor if he would just fill a role in the rotation.

Obviously, some of those guys were dealt for parts who just helped this team win a championship. That’s massive.

Yet, the point remains: In nine seasons in charge, the Royals have exactly one starting pitcher they have developed who is a lock to contribute in the rotation this coming season.

They say There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect (TINSTAAPP) but this is ridiculous. Why is it so difficult for the Royals to produce a starting pitcher who can contribute? Is it an organizational philosophy where they have treated their young pitchers in a cookie cutter manner, limiting long toss and issuing an edict limiting sliders in young pitchers? It sounds as if their philosophy has shifted – they are a bit more relaxed on individual training regiments – but the Royals have been a team that was risk averse with their young pitchers. Again, understandable. They want to protect their assets. But sometimes caution limits results. A pitcher like Montgomery was particularly vexing. He rolled through the low minors and was actually a candidate to make the team out of spring training a few years ago. He didn’t and was shipped to Triple-A where his Royals career came to a crashing halt. And sometimes caution still yields a worst case scenario. Here I’m thinking Lamb and his Tommy John surgery and subsequent slow recovery.

Whatever the Royals are doing, the results demand a rethink. And the economics of the game demand a quick rethink. We worry about the offensive core departing via free agency the next couple of seasons, but the lack of development of starting pitching could be the real reason the Royals see their window of contention close faster than they expect.

OK, OK… I’m late on this. But it’s the offseason. That Thanksgiving week lull where we are a few weeks removed from the World Series and a week or two ahead of the winter meetings. There’s not much going on, so why not talk about Ned Yost.

Yost, if you will recall, wasn’t even a finalist for the Manager of the Year award handed out last week. Meaning he wasn’t even in the top three.

(Now feels like the appropriate time to remind everyone that the voting for the awards is done prior to the start of the postseason. That way everyone is held to the same standard of the 162 games of the regular season. October glory does not count for this particular set of hardware.)

When the finalists were announced, I went on a mild Twitter rant – it’s kind of difficult to get worked up over these awards – expressing a little disdain that Yost was ignored in the balloting. After all, it seems like the Manager of the Year award goes annually to the manager who led his team to the most surprising, positive finish. The Houston Astros were pretty bad last year and were expected to be pretty bad again this year. Therefore, being in the hunt for the AL West title for most of the year before ultimately settling for the Wild Card meant AJ Hinch would receive consideration. Paul Molitor in Minnesota didn’t have his team atop the division, but they did massively beat the expectations of a fifth place finish. And Jeff Banister… You get the point.

Anyway, the point of this isn’t to bemoan Yost’s lack of support. When I received my annual delivery of the Bill James Handbook, I flipped to the section on managers. What jumped off the pages was exactly how much Yost didn’t do. He has, by his experience and familiarity with his team, become the ultimate push-button manager. And it works.

Let’s look at how Yost has managed his team over the last season.

The Lineup

That the Royals were so set with their starting nine uncovers another Yost nugget and that was his lineup was pretty much set in stone. Granite, if you will.

The average American League manager filled out a total of 128 different lineup cards. Yost had 83 different lineups. Here are the five managers who fielded the fewest different batting orders.

Ned Yost – 83
Robin Ventura – 114
Brad Ausmus – 122
Paul Molitor – 124
Mike Scioscia – 125

Again, that’s simply amazing. Yost had the fewest lineups in the AL and it wasn’t even close. We clogged copious amounts of bandwidth complaining about Alcides Escobar hitting leadoff and Alex Gordon hitting sixth (or eighth!) but it was never going to make a difference.

However, this is an area where I give Yost a ton of credit for his willingness to go outside of the box. When he installed Mike Moustakas as his number two hitter, that seemed to make as much sense as insisting the sun rises in the west. Then, paired with Escobar at the top seemed a special kind of lunacy. Yet it worked. Why? In retrospect it was clear that moving Moustakas to the top of the order actually took the pressure off, where he could focus just on making contact and going to the opposite field, rather than trying to drive the ball all the time, which in year’s past had led to a bag of mixed up swing mechanics and a plummeting of confidence. Fixing that is what a good manager is supposed to do. Yost fixed it.

The consistency carried over into October. The only time he deviated from his end of the year lineup in the postseason was when he lost his designated hitter for the games at Citi Field. The Royals most popular regular season lineup?

Escobar
Moustakas
Cain
Hosmer
Morales
Gordon
Rios
Perez
Infante

That was Yost’s lineup for 11 games in 2015. His second most popular lineup was the exact same, except for a flip-flop of order of Alex Rios and Sal Perez that was used 10 times. Stability, man.

Pinch Hitting

With such a set lineup, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Yost avoided pinch hitters. Myself, I can’t get over how little he uses bats off his bench. Last summer, he summoned a pinch hitter just 40 times, by far the least in baseball. How far?

Rk PA ▾ AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS tOPS+ sOPS+
1 TBR 217 195 14 40 7 2 4 35 13 64 .205 .272 .323 .595 66 92
2 OAK 159 137 13 34 4 2 0 14 19 43 .248 .340 .307 .646 87 110
3 CLE 137 122 10 28 7 1 5 24 10 28 .230 .296 .426 .723 97 131
4 SEA 131 117 10 27 6 0 5 20 10 35 .231 .305 .410 .716 98 129
5 HOU 119 103 17 23 3 0 6 14 15 33 .223 .328 .427 .755 102 142
6 NYY 117 106 8 27 3 0 4 17 9 29 .255 .319 .396 .715 93 130
7 CHW 116 102 14 20 3 1 2 12 9 32 .196 .276 .304 .580 70 87
8 LAA 112 101 8 22 3 0 2 14 8 23 .218 .273 .307 .580 66 87
9 TOR 96 79 8 18 5 0 3 13 15 19 .228 .354 .405 .759 93 145
10 TEX 93 82 6 18 3 0 1 6 8 32 .220 .312 .293 .605 67 96
11 BAL 88 81 10 17 1 0 1 6 6 28 .210 .273 .259 .532 50 72
12 DET 83 74 3 11 4 0 1 9 6 30 .149 .220 .243 .463 25 50
13 MIN 75 71 4 9 1 0 1 6 4 16 .127 .173 .183 .356 3 15
14 BOS 72 66 5 16 4 0 0 5 4 22 .242 .306 .303 .609 67 97
15 KCR 40 36 1 7 0 1 0 1 3 9 .194 .275 .250 .525 46 70
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/24/2015.

This speaks to the strength of the Royals lineup combined with a lack of depth. The Royals decided to keep speedsters and glovemen along with the basic backup catcher. Not to mention the fact they rolled with 13 pitchers for most of the season, rendering their bench only three deep. On occasion they had four on the bench is consisted of a back up infielder like Christian Colon, a pair of defense-first outfielders in Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando and a catcher. You may decide to work those guys into a game, but it’s understandable when they aren’t used for their bat.

Pinch Running

This was an area where Yost seemed to overmanage, removing players from the game a little too early, or in situations where their run didn’t matter. In 2014 Yost led the AL using 63 pinch runners. I would imagine roughly 62 of them were used to remove Billy Butler from the game. In 2015, with Butler gone from the roster, it wasn’t a surprise Yost’s pinch running number dropped. He used only 40 pinch runners. That was tied for the sixth most among AL managers and just ahead of the average of 37.

The Bullpen

We know about The Seventh Inning Guy, The Eighth Inning Guy, and The Closer. Yost loves his roles and for the most part, the bullpen was an area of strength for the second consecutive year. According to the Bill James Handbook, Yost had a “Quick Hook” 51 times last summer. That’s tied for the fourth most in the AL, which makes all kinds of sense, given the relative weakness of the rotation as compared to the strength of the bullpen.

Not that the manager always jumped the gun when going to the bullpen. He would give his starters some length. Yost had a “Slow Hook” 42 times, which was right in line with the league average.

As good as the Royals bullpen, Yost did seem to find the proper balance as to usage. He used relievers on back to back days 90 times, which was well under the AL average of 104 times. As much as Yost preferred to have defined roles, he seemed to do a strong job when he needed to move beyond – or around – those roles. Of course, that’s ignoring his refusal to use his closer on the road in a tie game. There are 29 other managers in baseball who do the exact same thing. Until someone arrives to blow up the notion of The Closer, this is a non-issue.

Intentional Walks

Yes, this is a stat that is found in the Bill James Handbook. Yes, Yost issued only 10 intentional walks all summer, again, by far the lowest in the AL. League average was 26 IBB.

The Tactics

This is a bit of a grey area because we know that so often Royals hitters are allowed to do things like bunt on their own. Generally, it’s ok that the manager trusts his players enough to give them the freedom, but sometimes players take advantage and attempt to give themselves up far too early in the game, or in a situation where giving away the out is actually throwing the odds back in favor of the opponent. I really wish Yost would have a “Don’t Bunt!” sign to enlighten some of his players with lower baseball IQs.

Over the years, Yost has developed a reputation as a guy who can’t wait to order the sac bunt, but as we’ve written about, that’s an unfair characterization. Last season, Royals attempted 45 sacrifice bunts according to the Bill James Handbook. Baseball Reference has them at 48. Either number is just slightly above league average.

What the Royals love to do is run. They attempted 138 steals last year and were successful 75 percent of the time. That’s right around where you want to be at the break even point. They’re successful enough that their running isn’t hurting the team, but they’re not so successful as to gain an advantage.

Overall, Yost doesn’t distinguish himself from his peers with his in game tactics such as bunting or steals.

The Conclusion

If you’re looking for ways Yost stands apart where you would say, “Jeez, that guy is really great at what he does,” keep looking. It seems like Yost’s strength as a manager is finding a system or a role that works for a player and then taking his hands off. Of course, there’s the intangibles to consider as well. He’s a different manager from his days in Milwaukee where now, he seems to keep things in the proper perspective to keep the clubhouse steady. It’s clear his players love him and it’s clear he loves his players. It’s a highly functional and productive relationship. He may not use pinch hitters, or bunt like a madman, but he has the proper feel for his team. That may not win him any awards, but that will will you championships. That’s probably just fine with Yost.

Just in case you’re busy thinking this is a hit piece on our newly-beloved field marshall, let me give you a word of advice: Stop. This isn’t a criticism. How could that be? He won the World Series. I know. I was at the parade. This is simply to point out that Yost is the ultimate paint by numbers manager. He gets credit for finding roles where his team (if not his players… cough… Escobar… cough) was able to thrive. His HDH bullpen formula was a hit for five months. When the Royals lost that, the seventh and the eighth innings were a little more anxious. Why? Because Yost never hit on a guy who would pair with Herrera in whatever inning. Again, not necessarily a criticism of his managerial style, more an observation that by taking one of his three best relievers out of the mix created an unstable bullpen.

Yost is the right guy in the right place at the right time. He’s the winningest manager in franchise history and has led the team to consecutive World Series appearances. He may not distinguish himself with his tactics, but it’s clear his team responds to his leadership and his style. It’s also clear he has learned how to utilize his players in a way they can succeed as a team.

Someday, his statue will be just beyond the fountains. And it will be much deserved.

So, yesterday we learned via Jeffrey Flanagan that the Royals’ plan (i.e. hope) is for Bubba Starling to make his major league debut sometime in 2016 and be a major league regular in 2017. That is somewhat startling news (get it?) given that Bubba has a career minor league line of .245/.329/.403 with a nearly 27% strikeout rate.  Without question, the timeline reported by Flanagan is certainly the Royals’ best case scenario.  Clubs don’t typically reveal that their plan for player X ‘is to play fair to middling baseball next season, struggle at the next level and be out of the game by 2017’.  I still found the above timeline and in particular making it public to be surprising.

Yes, Starling has had a great Arizona Fall League which has featured two rather stunning defensive plays. I don’t believe anyone has any doubts that Starling could be an upper echelon defender at the major league level right now.  In fact, he pretty much came out of the womb with a major league caliber glove, that has never been the problem.  The problem, as we all know, is that this is player that as recently as last year was described as ‘unable to recognize pitches and constantly late on them when he does’.

As recently as 2014, Starling hit .218/.304/.338 in Wilmington.  Now, say all you want about that league and that ballpark and even how poor a statistic batting average is, but .218 is still .218.  Bubba followed that up with a .177/.226/.241 in 84 Arizona Fall League appearances. It was dismal.

Minus a waggle in his swing, Starling had more fun in 2015:  obliterating High A pitching for two weeks before moving up to AA ball.  He was okay in AA (.254/.318/.426) but nothing special frankly. Not anything that would necessarily restore luster to a tarnished former prospect’s star. While raves are coming in this fall, Starling is hitting .274/.330/.440 in the Arizona Fall League with four home runs and five steals.

Nice numbers, right?  They are, but Gary Sanchez has 7 home runs, Adam Engel has 10 steals (and is hitting .403).    And Starling still has 25 strikeouts in 90 plate appearances. Let’s not bid farewell to Gordon and Zobrist just yet, okay?

That variable is the interesting part of the optimistic organization timeline.  It tells me that the Royals are looking at one corner outfield spot and seeing Dyson, Orlando, Jose Martinez, maybe Brett Eibner (speaking of parks, age and batting average, .384 is .384!) and then Starling.  It tells me that the organization is thinking Gordon OR Zobrist at one corner outfield spot and going ‘internal’ for the other. They could perhaps add a one year veteran reclamation project for 2016 as well.  You know, it worked with Melky Cabrera and sorta, kinda if you squint right also did with Alex Rios.

We could also take the fun scenario here (dollars be damned!) and read the above to mean Gordon resigned to play left, Zobrist resigned to play right in 2016 and then sliding in to play second in 2017 when Bubba Starling arrives and wins a Gold Glove in right.  That sounds fun, but sadly unrealistic.

Or course, the more logical analysis is that the comments reported to Flanagan were just talk of what the club sees as an optimistic, but realistic, timeline and has nothing to do with what the Royals do this off-season.  Truthfully, that is far closer to reality than anything I just wasted your time with above.  That’s okay, in my opinion.

We are not too far removed from the days of targeting the arrival of a Bubba Starling to the big leagues as the START of when the Royals had a chance.  Instead, we stand here in mid-November with the Kansas City Royals as your World Champions, back to back World Series participants, with six regulars (seven if you count Infante), four starters, their closer and best set-up man already coming back for 2016.

There have been comments and commentary about what the Royals should do that include ‘not having to rebuild or, flat out suck, in 2018 and 2019’.  I read many of those and see how you can get the 2018 Royals to 80 or 82 wins….maybe, but I don’t see how you do it without the 2016 and 2017 Royals sacrificing wins.  That logic does not fly with me.  I can see, with the right moves and some money, how the Royals could be a playoff team in the next two seasons.  Truthfully, they might be as close as Yordano Ventura being a true number one away from another World Series.

Bubba Starling in 2017?  Hey, that would be quite a nice bonus, but it should have nothing to do with planning to be a real winner without him.

 

 

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