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Royals Authority

Long Live The Process

In his Sunday Notes column in the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo writes the following:

The Royals had their organizational meetings a day after their World Series parade in Kansas City. GM Dayton Moore met with his scouts to go over possible moves for next season. The concern is losing Alex Gordon and Ben Zobrist. The feeling is that Zobrist could re-sign, but Gordon is likely gone. The Royals are looking not only at Jackie Bradley Jr. but free agent Gerardo Parra as possible replacements. They don’t feel they need to replace Gordon with a power hitter, given the dimensions of Kauffman Stadium, but rather a run preventer. Parra and Bradley would fit that description.

Hmmm… Where to start. I guess let’s start with the depressing part of that graph – The Royals don’t think they can retain Gordon. Deep in your heart, you’ve probably been expecting that. At the very least, the above statement shouldn’t come as a surprise. The market for outfielders is robust and Gordon is one of the top choices. It’s been just a few days, so the full market for the top free agents – or really any free agents for that matter – is just now formulating. It will be another couple of weeks before things really start cooking. Yet if you forced me to guess, I’d say there will be close to 10 serious suitors for Gordon.

Still, it’s the hot stove and that cooktop wouldn’t be worth a damn if there wasn’t some speculation. Major League Trade Rumors took a stab at a potential Gordon free agent contract and settled upon five years and $105 million. Jim Bowden at ESPN presented five years, but at $90 million. And Fangraphs crowdsourced about the same. It always feels foolish to take some of these numbers and figure a way a contract could come in for less. This is a free market where more is always the name of the game. So put me down for five years for Gordon as well.

This is where I fear the Royals will remove themselves from the bidding process. I just can’t see them reaching for five years for Gordon. Here’s my guess as to their reasoning:

1. He’s turning 32 just before the start of spring training. A five year deal would tie him up through his age 36 season. Gordon has been a fairly consistent performer over the last five seasons. His 2011 season was his best all around, while his 2013 was probably his worst. (Be gentile. “Worst” is a relative term simply pointing out the least productive of his last five seasons.)

2011 27 KCR AL 151 690 611 101 185 45 4 23 87 17 8 67 139 .303 .376 .502 .879 140
2012 28 KCR AL 161 721 642 93 189 51 5 14 72 10 5 73 140 .294 .368 .455 .822 123
2013 ★ 29 KCR AL 156 700 633 90 168 27 6 20 81 11 3 52 141 .265 .327 .422 .749 103
2014 ★ 30 KCR AL 156 643 563 87 150 34 1 19 74 12 3 65 126 .266 .351 .432 .783 118
2015 ★ 31 KCR AL 104 422 354 40 96 18 0 13 48 2 5 49 92 .271 .377 .432 .809 120
9 Yrs 1136 4818 4245 605 1140 262 21 134 523 81 35 468 1000 .269 .348 .435 .783 112
162 Game Avg. 162 687 605 86 163 37 3 19 75 12 5 67 143 .269 .348 .435 .783 112
AL (9 yrs) 1136 4818 4245 605 1140 262 21 134 523 81 35 468 1000 .269 .348 .435 .783 112
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/17/2015.

You get the feeling going by the trends that you can spot in the above table, that Gordon is playing at his peak. That means, if you reward him with a five year contract, you are going to maybe get another couple of years of this kind of production, but then you’re going to be paying for the opening years of the decline phase of his career. That’s something the large market teams can afford to do. The Royals are not – and never will be – in a position to pay upwards of $15 million to a player who is not worth that kind of money.

The large question in front of every team with interest in Gordon is, if they are willing to pay for a couple of his decline years, what will that decline look like? No one has the crystal ball, obviously, but this is important. Some players age more gracefully than others. A guy like Zobrist, for example, just completed his age 34 season and seems like he possesses a skill set (good plate discipline, moderate power) that will help him continue to be productive throughout his mid 30s.

Gordon has been a steady – and superior – offensive performer, a strong baserunner and an amazing defender. Studies have shown exceptional athletes like Gordon can maintain their offensive performance past what we would consider their peak seasons. The decline in value for such a player come from a loss in speed and defense. In the case of Gordon, you have an all-world defender. How is his defense going to play over the next five seasons? Jeff Zimmerman, writing at Beyond The Box Score, came up with some pretty nifty graphs on outfield UZR aging patterns. He found for left fielders, their defensive peak was generally in their age 27 season. From there, they held steady until around age 32. After that… look out.

Funny thing, though. Gordon doesn’t fit the typical pattern.


His peak came in his age 30 year, or three years after the peak of the average left fielder. Then, even though he played the final month plus of the regular season after recovering from his groin strain, Gordon still turned in a defensive performance commisurant with what he was doing in his late twenties. If he is slowing down in the outfield, the numbers sure don’t notice. Of course, UZR and other defensive metrics aren’t ironclad, but considering his defensive work from 2014 and the first three months of 2015, the eye test tells me the same thing.

Another way to look at his defense is through The Fielding Bible’s Defensive Runs Saved. Here are his lifetime numbers in left:

2010 – 3
2011 – 20
2012 – 24
2013 – 16
2014 – 27
2015 – 7

Those numbers conform to the UZR/150 graph above. Throw out 2010 if you like, since he played just under 500 innings in left after returning from Triple-A. While his single-digit tally for 2015 may cause some alarm, realize that Defensive Runs Saved is more or less a counting stat. Gordon played 864 innings in left last summer, his lowest tally since 2010. If you extrapolate his innings to a more normal total (say around 1,375) his final total would be closer to 12 Defensive Runs Saved. Still off the high standard he established in previous seasons, but still well above average.

Offensively, Gordon takes a patient approach at the plate. It’s quite different in the context of the Royals who think you’re legally bound to swing at everything. (Contact rates, baby!) Last year, he saw 3.99 pitches per plate appearance.  He’s tightening his zone, reducing his chase rate in each of the last two seasons. Since he’s become ALEX GORDON! he’s been offering at pitches outside the zone at a rate between 30 and 27 percent annually. Last summer, that was down to 23 percent. As a result of his improved discipline, his walk rate was at 11.6 percent. Not a career best mark, but better than he’s been over the last couple of seasons. Those walks helped him to a .377 OBP which was a career high.

What does the improved discipline mean? That’s a skill that can stay with Gordon throughout his mid 30s. And by working the pitchers to get into counts that favor the batter, Gordon should be a productive hitter for most of his next contract. It’s not a coincidence that Gordon enjoyed a 24.8 percent line drive rate last year, which again was close to his career best set back in 2012.

Gordon may lose a step in the outfield and on the bases, but his superior athleticism should ease his decline from his peak years. Then, his profile as a hitter should bring continued consistency. The decline is coming during his next contract, but it’s doubtful it will be a steep one.

2. The injuries are starting to become a concern. Sure, Gordon is a physical marvel. He should probably wear a cape in the outfield. But he doesn’t and injuries happen. Gordon missed 51 games with his groin injury last summer, and clearly wasn’t comfortable or at 100 percent when he returned. The season before, he sprained his wrist and ultimately had surgery in the winter. As you can see from the table above, it didn’t seem to hamper his ability to maintain his slugging percentage.

Still, Gordon is the kind of player who puts everything on the line when he’s in the field. That’s absolutely something we love about him, but it’s also something that could accelerate the decline of his overall production. The wrist injury that necessitated surgery last December? It was because of a head-first slide. The groin injury last July? It was from going all out to track down a fly ball hit to deep left field. That’s just who Alex Gordon is, so it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he had a couple more of these types of injuries over the term of his next contract. And we all know that as you get older, the body takes a little longer to heal.

Those are two very important points the Royals must deal with when approaching their decision on Gordon. They simply can’t afford to dole out a long-term contract where they aren’t going to get value in return. We know this. It’s something I’ve come to really like about this team. There’s no way they are ever going to overpay a player like Boston did Hanley Ramirez last winter when they don’t have a position for him on the team. (You could argue that Ramirez doesn’t have a position no matter what. But I digress.) Being on a budget does have some benefits. The flip side is they may not be able to extend and take what amounts to a calculated risk.

There are a couple more intangible points the Royals need to think about.

3. The Royals must consider what Gordon means to the team. Gordon is a clubhouse leader, a guy his teammates look up to thanks to a tireless work ethic and quality production. We all know his story… He is from the area, grew up a Royals fan, has a brother named after George Brett, blah, blah, blah. It’s great, but it’s ultimately meaningless. What does matter is his presence in the clubhouse and his role as an anchor for this team.

Obviously, the Royals played a good portion of the 2015 season without Gordon and not only survived, they thrived. I think to jump to a conclusion the Royals could function for an entire season without Gordon in their lineup would be misguided. The Royals need his on base ability in their lineup. Put aside for the moment the insanity of batting Gordon eighth and realize on a team built on free swingers and high contact rates, his patience is needed. They need his defense. They need the threat of his arm in the outfield. They need his health and they need his consistency.

Gordon is second on the Royals in fWAR the past three seasons. He’s the leader over the past four. He was fourth among position players last summer, but again, it’s not a stretch to see him as the most valuable Royal behind Cain if he had stayed healthy for the entire season. Bottom line, Gordon is an integral part of this team and this lineup.

This is an interesting discussion to have about Gordon because it’s so rare. Seriously, count the number of players who mean so much to their team. This takes added weight since the Royals have been so successful over the last couple of seasons. Take away the pennants and we aren’t even discussing his impact in these terms. He’s not a superstar by definition, but he’s the rock of the Royals.

Which brings us to the final point.

4. The Royals have a window of opportunity. I know, I know… Such windows don’t really exist. Except I think they do. Look at the Royals and their current position in The Process. Eric Hosmer is under team control for the next two seasons. Same for Mike Moustakas. Same for Lorenzo Cain. Wade Davis, Danny Duffy… The Royals control them for two more years as well. Salvador Perez is being abused each summer catching more innings than any human should be allowed. The point is, the nucleus of the 2015 World Champion Kansas City Royals will be scattered across baseball in the coming seasons, with question marks for replacements in the minors. Keeping the band together for as long as possible, even if it means paying Gordon for a couple of years where his production may not match the dollars, isn’t a bad idea. The Royals, more than anyone, understand how difficult it is to build a championship team. The last two seasons, they won an American League pennant and a World Series. With the core of this group under contract for another couple of seasons, if they can find a way to bring back Gordon – at many ways the heart of the core (if I may go deep metaphor for a moment) – they can still be a force in the American League Central.

The Royals went through this last winter with Billy Butler. Butler was thought to be an integral piece of the Royals lineup. And he was. Except there are a couple of asterisks that come with his situation. One, he was pretty clearly already declining and given he’s maybe one-tenth the athlete Gordon is, his decline figured to be abrupt. And two, the Royals were able to upgrade at his position with Kendrys Morales. Now at the time, the upgrade wasn’t so obvious. Yet the potential was there. Should the Royals decide to walk away from Gordon, they will be walking from a player who could likely hold off the regression monster for a few of the years of the multi-year deal he is certain to secure, plus they will be doing so without an obvious upgrade at his position.

I mentioned at the open of this post that I thought Gordon would score five years. What about the dollars? Put me down for somewhere in $80-90 million range. That’s between a $16 million and $18 million average annual value. The Royals have been extremely creative with their contracts and there’s no reason to think they can’t continue that with Gordon. They could front load his deal to give them some financial flexibility in years four and five of his contract when the rest of the core have moved on. Or they could backload the deal in anticipation of a new television contract and continued success of MLBAM. Or they could throw in an option year at the end with a buyout to push the AAV to where he needs to be.

David Glass and Moore have both gone on the record saying they want to retain Gordon, but that he will ultimately do what’s right for his family. That’s an admirable stance to take, but the Royals need to do what’s best for their franchise. Nearly 10 years ago, Moore and the Royals signed Gil Meche to a five year deal valued at $55 million. That continues to be the largest Royals contract ever, both in years and dollars. It’s not difficult to think that given the Royals recent success and the way the game continues to rake in the money, the Royals should be able to not only equal the length, but they should comfortably be able to go past the dollar amount. Bringing back Gordon would maximize their current position as the class of the AL. October glory is never guaranteed, but keeping Gordon on the team for the next couple of seasons keeps the Royals in position to continue this franchise’s success.

If the Royals are serious about continuing this amazing run of success, they will bring back Alex Gordon.

I recently took a look at the biggest plays of the Royals 2015 postseason through the lens of championship probability added (CPA). (The simplest way to explain CPA is the win probability added of each play multiplied the game’s championship leverage. For a more in-depth description, look at #9 in this post by Dave Studeman.) Here now is a look at the biggest swings in CPA out of the 5,582 plate appearances in all 74 Royals postseason games in team history (regardless of whether the play hurt or helped their chances):

10. 1980 World Series Game Five, ahead 3-2
top of the 9th, no outs, runner on first
Del Unser facing Dan Quisenberry

championship probability added: -15%

With the series tied at two games apiece, the Royals were in good shape in Game Five heading into the ninth with a 3-2 lead. Dan Quisenberry had already recorded five outs in the game before Mike Schmidt led off the ninth with a rocket ground ball to third base that George Brett barely got a glove on, but the ball ricocheted away and Schmidt was on first with a single. Del Unser followed with the above play to tie the score. Manny Trillo drove Unser home later in the same frame (-12% CPA, the 15th biggest CPA play in team history). The Royals never held a lead in the Series again.

9. 2015 World Series Game One, down 3-4
bottom of the 9th, one out, nobody on
Alex Gordon facing Jeurys Familia

championship probability added: 15%

Think of some of the Royals greats who never got to experience the playoffs with Kansas City: Kevin Appier, Zack Greinke, Carlos Beltran, Jeff Montgomery, Mike Sweeney. It looked for a long time like Alex would be added to that list. 2014 took care of that, and then 2015 really took care of it, highlighted by this signature moment.

8. 2014 World Series Game Seven, behind 2-3
bottom of the 9th, two outs, runner on third
Salvador Perez facing Madison Bumgarner

I don’t really want to find a video of this one.

championship probability added: -16%

Among the top 17 CPA plays in team history, this is the only one in which a run did not score.

7. 1976 ALCS game five, down 3-6
top of the 8th, no outs, runners on first and second
George Brett facing Grant Jackson

championship probability added: 17%

This is before my time, so I can only imagine the bliss of this home run at the time, followed by the pain of number four on this list.

6. 1985 World Series Game Seven, tied 0-0
bottom of the 2nd, one out, runner on first
Darryl Motley facing John Tudor

championship probability added: 18%

And the rout was on.

5. 1977 ALCS game five, ahead 3-2
top of the 9th, no outs, runners on first and second
Mickey Rivers facing Larry Gura

championship probability added: -19%

Dick Howser coaching third for the Yankees. The old-timers aren’t kidding when they talk about how heartbreaking the ’76, ’77, and ’78 ALCS losses were.
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Earlier this week, Shaun Newkirk at Royals Review discussed the Royals payroll going forward and what they should consider doing in that regard.  His payroll analysis, like many others, pegs the Royals at being committed to (this includes potential arbitration awards) right around $100 million for 2016 right now, with the possibility of the 2017 payroll being nearly $130 million WITHOUT adding anyone new this or next off-season.

Yes, my friends, there is a reckoning coming.

My belief is there are two paths to take for the Royals.  The first is to try to soften the inevitable end of this current core group of World Champions.  They could make moves that will keep them from falling back to a 90 loss team in 2018 and 2019.  This plan of action likely means building the 2016 and 2017 Royals to be 85-90 win teams instead of 90-95 win teams.  Hey, a lot of 88 win teams make the playoffs.  It is not an illogical idea at all.

On the other hand, one could ride this group hard.  The Royals won 89 games, then they won 95 and – not sure if you heard – the World Series.  They control the majority of the players that have been winners for two seasons for two more seasons.  Bolster the group, keep charging, spend the money and be a playoff team for two more seasons and worry about three years from now three years from now.  It is not an illogical idea at all.

Shaun is a young guy, a finance guy.  In his article he advocates saving your money for something better down the road.  Smart.

I am an old guy, a venture capitalist guy.  I believe in putting my money to work for a goal I can see in the near term.  Not dumb.

If the Royals were to follow my plan (and my gut, by the way, says they will try for something of a hybrid of the two), they have to first decide if they really are a 2016 playoff team.  That statement sounds stupid on the surface, doesn’t it?  After all this was a no-fluke World Champion with essentially 20 of their 25 man roster coming back.  Playoffs?  You betcha.  Let’s take a look anyway.

As it stands right now, the Royals are minus Alex Gordon, Ben Zobrist and Alex Rios from the offensive side of the equation.  Although they don’t play the same position, Rios has already been replaced by the return of Omar Infante.  Gordon is projected to land a contract somewhere around five years and $90 million.  Zobrist is projected to land one in the three year/$36 million range. If the Royals have around $30 million to spend this off-season, they could get both Gordon and Zobrist back….and that would be the extent of any major or even minor free agent activity for the team.   When 2018 rolled around and Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, Escobar, Davis and Duffy are all free agents, the Royals would have a 38 year old Zobrist and a 34 year old Gordon taking up $28 million of payroll per season.

Without resigning Gordon or Zobrist, the Royals could conceivably fill one outfield spot with a Jarrod Dyson/Paulo Orlando combination.  Defensively, they would be quite good.  Offensively, the two in combination would likely hold their own, but they will not post on-base percentages of .364…or .377.   Maybe the Royals sign one of Gordon and Zobrist to play the corner opposite Dylando.  Is that a playoff lineup?

For the pitching staff, let’s go with who is coming back.  The rotation currently has Volquez, Ventura, Duffy and Medlen.  The bullpen contains Davis, Herrera, Hochevar and….   Yeah, there’s some work to do.  Johnny Cueto (thanks for Game 5 of the ALDS and Game 2 of the Series, Johnny!) is and always has been leaving.  Ryan Madson wants a multi-year deal, which is probably not a good deal for the Royals.  Chris Young is a free agent who might get more than he should given his injury history, age and the fact that you have to tell yourself you are buying in for 140 innings per year.  Franklin Morales is a free agent, too and Greg Holland is hurt.

Now, there is a chance that the four starting pitchers currently on the roster could be quite good.  There is also a chance that they could be an inconsistent mess as well.  Let’s put it this way, a playoff 2016 Royals is going to need more than Louis Coleman and Tim Collins between its starting rotation and the new HHD.  They likely will also want more than the hope of Kyle Zimmer to fill the fifth spot in the rotation.

So, what DOES make the 2016 version of the Royals a real (as opposed to a hopeful) playoff team?

It is at least the signing of one of Gordon or Zobrist (or an equally capable bat who can play defense) and, quite honestly, a right handed bat better than Paulo Orlando to platoon with Dyson.  It will take a starting pitcher from the mid-tier of those available.  If Chris Young wanted to come back at a nominal price for the fun of it, who would not love to have him as your swing man?  It will take, as the Royals already seem to be on the hunt for, another quality relief pitcher and the next Ryan Madson.

Painting with a broad brush, that previous paragraph just cost David Glass $30 million.  For that, Mr. Glass, you get the chance to hang up another flag in the outfield.

Sadly, and this hurts, the logical move is to sign Zobrist and not Gordon.  At the plate, they are similar players, but Zobrist is at most a three year commitment (and one would hope most of the aging for Ben would occur in year three of the deal) and Ben brings some versatility.  You sign Zobrist to play a corner outfield spot, but you can use him at second or third or even shortstop in a pinch.  With Gordon, you are buying into two more years (I will offer that you would trust Alex’s decline to be slight for most of that contract given his work ethic and how he takes care of his body, but you never know) and pretty much getting a left-fielder that entire time.

You go sign a mid-level (maybe low mid-level) starting pitcher and good reliever and, if Dayton Moore catches a break and still have $5 million of his $30 to play with, see what you can get as far as another reliever and an right-handed outfield bat.   If everything breaks right and one of your starting pitchers steps up into top of the rotation class and this team could be on-par with the World Champions.   The Royals would also be positioned (albeit with an even larger and likely money losing payroll in 2017) to be just as good that year.

It would sadly position this organization for a hard crash landing in 2018, but I will tell you that going 68-94 in 2018 would be far more tolerable if it was coming off three straight 90 win playoff campaigns.  I think I make that trade, myself.

If you can look at a roster and be pretty confident that three realistic additions to your team makes you a playoff team, I think you have to reach out and make the moves.  The farther you look into the future, the less facts you have and your plans to be a winning team five years from now might well get derailed through no fault of your own.  We can all make some pretty good theories for 2018 and 2019, but we can stare facts in the face for 2016 and 2017.

What the hell?  Go for it and pick up the pieces three years from now.



Turns out it is really fun when your team wins the World Series. To help us keep basking in the afterglow (not that I’m worried about it wearing off anytime soon), here is a look at the most impactful moments of the Royals 2015 postseason through the lens of championship probability added (CPA). I’m piggybacking on some great work from Sky Andrecheck and Dave Studeman (and this recent post by Rany Jazayerli). The idea of CPA is to take the in-game win probability added (WPA) of every play and multiply it by the game’s impact on the team’s chances of winning the championship. I used Studeman’s chart (see link above) of the various championship leverages of every potential playoff game (ranging from a .094 championship leverage in the first two games of the division series to a full 1.0 for a World Series Game Seven). So if a play has a 10% WPA in-game during ALDS game one, it is worth .94% championship probability added (10% x .094), but if that same 10% WPA happens in a World Series Game Seven, it is worth the full 10% CPA since the champ is definitely being decided in that game.

With a shout out to the Baseball Reference play index, first up are the five plays that most hurt the Royals chances for a championship this postseason:

5. ALDS game five, tied 0-0
top of the 2nd, two outs, runner on first
Luis Valbuena facing Johnny Cueto

championship probability added: -5%

The only blemish on what became one of the great playoffs starts in Royals history.

4. World Series Game One, tied 4-4
bottom of the 12th, two outs, bases loaded
Jarrod Dyson facing Bartolo Colon

championship probability added: -5%

A missed opportunity, but the tie game remained up for grabs.

3. World Series Game Three, ahead 3-2
bottom of the 3rd, no outs, runner on first
Curtis Granderson facing Yordano Ventura

championship probability added: -5%

No silver lining or comeback after this play. But the game proved to be just a minor speed bump on the way to the title.

2. ALCS game six, ahead 3-1
top of the 8th, one out, runner on first
Jose Bautista facing Ryan Madson

championship probability added: -8%

This one felt bad. But of course the Royals just came right back to take the lead for good in the bottom of the same inning (on a play we’ll see in the next list).

1. World Series Game One, tied 3-3
top of the 8th, two outs, runner on second
Wilmer Flores facing Kelvin Herrera

championship probability added: -8%

This one also felt bad, until Alex Gordon washed it away with the biggest play of the postseason in the bottom of the 9th. (Spoiler alert?)

Some decent gut punches at the time of the above plays, but, amazingly, the Royals won four of the games that those five plays took place in. No team has been able to get back up and keep fighting after taking would-be knock out blows like the 2015 Royals.

On to the good stuff. The 10 plays that had the biggest positive impact on the Royals chances of winning the championship:

10. World Series Game One, down 2-3
bottom of the sixth, two outs, runner on second
Mike Moustakas facing Matt Harvey

championship probability added: 5%

Re-tied the score in one of many roller-coaster Game One moments.

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Baseball never stops. Well, the games stop. But the business… The business of baseball never stops.

That’s why, just a couple of days removed from a gathering of 800,000 of your closest friends, the Royals brain trust reassembled and began making the necessary adjustments to the roster for the 2016 season.

The Royals declined their portion of the mutual option for Jeremy Guthrie.

When Guthrie signed as a free agent following his brief tour with the Royals in 2012, it was for a straight three-year contract for $25 million. A year later, the Royals asked him to restructure, taking $3 million off his 2014 salary and placing it into a buyout on a mutual option valued at $3.2 million. It’s basically money that was deferred with a little interest tacked on as a thank you.

And thank you, JGuts. You were an asset to this community and an all-around stand-up guy. Every team needs someone like this – a guy you feel good rooting for. Sadly, the contract was a massive overshot by Moore and his staff. Guthrie clears over $25 million and finishes his Royals career 4.38 ERA with a 4.70 FIP and an ERA- of 93. Those are massively substandard numbers for a guy with that kind of contract. According to Fangraphs, he was worth 0.6 fWAR during the life of his contract, providing the Royals with roughly $5 million in value.

Coming off his age 36 season, it’s difficult to imagine Guthrie getting a major league deal this winter. I think it would be outstanding if the Royals find a place for him in their front office. That’s the kind of deal that would be worth it, just to keep him in the community.

The Royals declined their portion of the mutual option for Alex Rios.

As if there was ever a question. Rios was hurt early, struggled upon his return, got chicken pox, played himself (probably) onto the postseason roster with a solid September, and had a fine October. He had some big hits in the ALDS and the ALCS, which ensures he will be Forever Royal.

The Royals acquired him to be a solid, if unspectacular bat, and for a solid, if unspectacular glove in right. What they got was more underwhelming than anything. Since 2013, his production has declined sharply at the plate. His wRC+ numbers from 2012 onward – 126, 105, 91, to 72 with the Royals – tell you everything you need to know about the bat. Forgetting how many outs there were in a World Series game tells you everything you need to know about his concentration.

Alex Gordon declined his player option and will become a free agent.

Oh, the angst. This is the big one. I know, I know… Gordon has said he would love to stay. He even hinted that he would consider picking up the player option for $14 million for 2016. But come on. That was never, ever going to happen. Gordon has become too good a ballplayer for such foolishness. Put yourself in his shoes. You’re among the best in your profession. You have an opportunity to start a bidding war for your services. Yet, you do like your current job. Of course you are going to shop around. You owe it to yourself to find out exactly how much you are worth in the open market.

Besides, there is the small matter of the qualifying offer, which the Royals announced they would exercise for Gordon. Not that he’s going to take the QO (nobody ever does) but that offer is $1.8 million more than his player option. Even if Gordon was planning to stay, the smart thing to do would be to decline the player option and get yourself a little raise. Baseball economics are funny.

Will Gordon return to Kansas City. My Magic Eight Ball says, “Ask me again.” I think Gordon is in line for a four year, $70 million deal. The Royals have never given a free agent more than $55 million. His production has been rocksteady the last couple of years, so there’s no reason to think he’s about to fall into a rapid decline due to age. But I have some serious questions about his health. He’s had a wrist injury and of course the groin injury from last summer. He’s the kind of guy who takes brilliant care of his body, yet the way he plays is enough to make me worry about future injury.

The Royals certainly want to keep him. Can you imagine the backlash if he signs somewhere else? Never mind. It’s too painful to consider. Yet the Royals can’t blow up their economics just to keep one guy in the fold. You’re going to be paying him for the beginning of the decline phase of his career. How steep a decline is dependent upon his health. And that’s a gamble.

I think the Royals will do everything in their power to keep him. That could mean, a creatively structured contract that pays him beyond the normal life of his time on the field. I hope the two parties can work something out that is mutually beneficial to both.

The Royals exercised their option on Wade Davis. 

Do you want to know why the Wade Davis Trade was do great? Because the key to the trade came with three club options. So if the Royals hadn’t put Davis in the bullpen, so if he had been awful as a starter, at some point, they could have just walked away. Instead, they have the best reliever in the game on an extremely club-friendly contract. I mean, damn.

Davis will make $8 million next year and the team holds another option for 2017 at $10 million.

The Royals exercised their option on Alcides Escobar.

As crazy as the Sal Perez contract is, consider Escobar. At six years of service time, he would have been a free agent. Instead, the Royals pulled the trigger on an option that will pay him $5.25 million in 2016. Oh, they also hold the option for ’17 at $6.5 million. Oh, they also paid him a grand total of $9 million to cover his three years where he was eligible for arbitration. Just over $20 million for five years of #PeakEsky? Sign me up.

Watch this space for future angst over Escobar leading off next summer. But scoreboard! Right?

The payoff


We don’t normally runs guest posts on the blog. (Who am I kidding? We’ve never run a guest post on the blog.) But in the days since the Royals WON THE WORLD SERIES, we’ve gotten a strong amount of email. Fans old and new have reached out with some exceptional stories.

(I think that all references to WINNING THE WORLD SERIES should be in all caps for at least a year.)

Obviously, there are a huge number of fans who are in their 30s. They grew up hearing about the glory years and as a reward got to watch Mark Redmon, and Ken Harvey, and Kerry Robinson. If you turn back the clock a couple of years, it’s difficult to understand why this generation of fans so loved the Royals when they were never loved back. Credit to those who stood by this team. The win on Sunday was extra sweet for those who suffered through the 100 loss seasons and are experiencing a championship for the first time.

Dave Hettrick is one of those fans. He grew up in Lee’s Summit and has been a fan his entire life. Yes, he was alive during the ’85 World Series, but he was so young, he probably doesn’t remember much. Never mind. Like many around his age, his roots to Royals fandom start with one Bo Jackson. Why not? Bo was amazing. He just arrived at the wrong time to play a part in the Royals postseason.

Anyway, Dave wrote some nice words that we thought would resonate with those experiencing the bliss of the championship for the first time. He’s moved away from Kansas City, but he will never leave. Experiences like his are what make the last year and a half so special. I’m sure we have many more readers who can relate. He’s agreed to let us post them here.

You can follow Dave on Twitter at @dhettrick.


In 1989, I watched Bo Jackson hit a homerun to lead off the all-star game on a small black and white TV in Tennessee while on family vacation. At the time, as an awestruck baseball loving 9 year old, I had no idea this would be my last great Royals memory for nearly 25 years.

In 1994, I watched as the Royals had an incredible 14 game winning streak.  Major League Baseball literally cancelled the season exactly one week later for the players to go on strike.

In 1998, I worked as an usher where I was lucky enough to work the section immediately behind home plate where all the players’ families and Royals scouts (including super scout Art Stewart) sat.  It was the best job I ever had.  The Royals lost 89 games.

In 2001, while away at college, I discovered the Kansas City Star updated their website every night at midnight.  This meant I could read all the Royals stories online about 8 hours before they were in the newspaper the next morning.  The Royals lost 97 games.

In 2004, I started going to Royals Spring Training (and have gone every year for the last 13 years!).  They were predicted to have their first great season in years.  The Royals lost 104 games.

In 2005, I was working for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  The Royals had an embarrassing 19 game losing streak.  The Tonight Show writers would call me into their office every afternoon and torture me by reading the Royals jokes they had written that inevitably made it into Leno’s monologue.  The Royals lost 106 games.

In 2008, I went to New York to watch the Royals and for the last season of Yankee Stadium.  The Royals shockingly beat Rivera in the 9th to win the game but for some reason Yankee fans were still overwhelmingly nice to us.  After the game, a fan let us know it was because we were the Royals.  Yes, it was “cute” that Kansas City had a team, but they were no threat to the mighty Yankees.  The Royals lost 87 games.

In 2010, I bought the MLB package so I could now watch nearly every Royals game on my computer (as I have every year since).  The Royals lost 95 games.

In 2014, 25 years after Bo Jackson’s homerun, I found myself in shock as I flew back to Kansas City (twice!) to watch the Royals finally in the playoffs (including witnessing the greatest Wild Card game of all-time).

And then it happened….


For people that aren’t from Kansas City, it’s impossible to understand just how shocking this World Series victory is and how much it means.  For the past 25 years, not only were the Royals the laughingstock of baseball, being relegated to the last 15 seconds of SportsCenter, but really, most of the time, it felt like we were playing an entirely different sport.

While it absolutely kills me that I haven’t been able to be back in Kansas City this week – and that I’m missing the championship parade today – it’s very clear this journey has been about so much more than baseball.  It’s been about life.  It’s been about giving me a reason to call my Dad from 2000 miles away for no other reason than to talk baseball for two minutes.  It’s been about learning how to get back up after you’ve been repeatedly kicked down (we refer to that as the Buddy Bell years).  It’s been about texting with Brady during every game for the last three years.  It’s been about forging a life-long bond with five friends every year in Spring Training, when no matter the Royals team, optimism abounds.  It’s been about moving to a different city but being able to still leave a part of you at home.  And most importantly, as the 2015 Royals so clearly showed the world, it’s been about never giving up.



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At some point back in the dark ages, when The Process appeared aimless and the Royals were losing games in all possible fashions, I remember reading a quip from a scout saying ‘the Royals just want athletes’.  It was not a complimentary observation and, at the time, seemed valid as well.

The widely held perception was that the Royals drafted for looks, not for baseball skill and did little to develop the athletes they were collecting. In 2009, both Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas struggled in A ball, while Alex Gordon was on the verge of playing his way out of the game.  Sure, Zack Greinke won the Cy Young, but by 2010 was disinterested and demanded a trade.

The Greinke trade netted the Royals – you guessed it – more athletes.

The organization by then had handfuls of prospects.  The best farm system in the history of whatever, but it didn’t matter.  They lost 91 games despite having the new and improved Alex Gordon joined by Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar. They lost 90 games the next year, when Hosmer and Moose could not hit, Cain could not stay healthy and Perez hurt his knee in spring training.

Just a bunch of athletes on a baseball field.  Potential?  Sure.  Production? Not so much. The Royals were last in the league in walks, but also struck out the least and were 12th in runs scored.

Then the Wade Davis trade was made.  Off went Wil Myers, in came James Shields and Davis.  Sure, there were others (notably Jake Odorizzi), but the deal really would come down to what Wade Davis would be. We hoped he might become a serviceable starter, no one expected him to become a cyborg.  In 2013, he was neither.

That year, even as the Royals flirted with contention on their way to winning 86 games, they still had a third basemen and shortstop with on-base percentages below .300.  They had an athletic centerfielder who could not stay on the field and a got a total of just 33 starts from pitchers under the age of 29.  At the plate, with a few exceptions, the Royals hacked away. Only two teams walked less than Kansas City, but once again they struck out less than any other team.

It continued into 2014 when the Royals were predictably last in walks, last (in a good way) in strikeouts and last in home runs. They did, however, climb to 9th in runs scored and rode a now dominant bullpen and better than you might think starting pitching all the way to Game Seven of the World Series.  Those athletes, by the way, could also play a little defense.  Actually, they could plan a whole lot of defense.

You, of course, know what happened in 2015.  Last in walks, second to last in home runs, fewest strikeouts (by a mile) and third in stolen bases.  Now, however, the Royals were sixth in the AL in runs scored, somehow even better in the field and deeper in the bullpen.  The result, despite choppy starting pitching, was a championship.

That championship came, in no small part, by playing the numbers. An organization that seemed to thumb their noses at sabremetrics for years either intentionally or by chance, was betting that batting average of balls in play (BABIP) was real.  With the highest contact percentage in baseball, Kansas City very simplistically became a team that put more balls in play than their opponent.  When the Royals swung at pitches in the strike zone, they made contact 89.9% of the time – best in the game.  When they hacked out of the zone, they had the second best contact rate in the game.  Somewhat surprisingly, eight teams swung more often than the Royals in 2015, but only three swung and missed less than Kansas City.

This was the same group of athletes, playing the same way they always had….only better.  And those athletes could field. I suppose one could make a case that there were better defensive teams in baseball in 2014 and 2015 – you’d be wrong, but go ahead. It was all part of the Royals’ numbers games.  They would put more balls in play than you and, when in the field, make more outs on balls in play than your team.

Just a bunch of athletes making contact, catching and throwing and, oh yeah, they had five or six guys in the bullpen that threw 95 or better.  Welcome to the new world.

Dave Cameron at Fangraphs wrote a great piece on the Royals in which one of the premises is that it would be rather difficult for another team to replicate them. That makes one wonder if this is the team that Dayton Moore thought he was building or it just delightfully morphed into this current juggernaut?  Without a doubt, Moore wanted athletes and high velocity arms.  He preached pitching and defense, but did he (or any of us) really imagine that the pitching was mostly bullpen arms?  Did Moore really think he could put a plus – and usually plus-plus – defender at every position on the diamond?  Hey, who are we to wonder?

This is the GM who we watched sign Jose Guillen, trade for Mike Jacobs and acquire Yuniesky Betancourt…twice.  The same guy who, when forced to trade Zack Greinke got two All-Stars in return.  The same guy who traded his number one prospect for 400+ innings of James Shields and the best reliever in the game.  The guy who somehow went back in time and signed the 2011 version of Kendrys Morales in 2015.  The guy who signed Chris Young and Ryan Madson when no one else really wanted them.  The former ‘stand-pat’ GM who got Ben Zobrist AND Johnny Cueto at the trade deadline.  My God, boys and girls, Dayton Moore traded for Johnny Gomes ‘just in case’.  At this point, Mr. Moore could seemingly bring Ryan Shealy out of retirement and have him turn in positive WAR.

Not only did this group of athletes change and not only did their general manager change, but so did Ned Yost. Do I want Ned Yost designing the rocket that will take me to Mars?  I do not. Do I want him managing my baseball team? I do.

Would the Yost of a few years back have sent Kelvin Herrera out for a third inning in a World Series game?  Would he have used his close for multiple innings?  Go back to the early days of Yost and tell me if he would have routinely benched a veteran like Alex Rios for a defensive replacement in the seventh inning.  Yost’s team got better and that makes any manager look better, but I believe Ned himself got better, too.

The organization got better and, dare I say it, the ownership got better. Salvador Perez and Kelvin Herrera play for someone else if Moore had been hamstrung by the same conditions as Allard Baird had to work under.  The past is hard to forget.  David and Dan Glass spent much of their early ownership years gutting and flat-out wrecking this franchise and they don’t get forgiveness for that, but they do get credit for changing.

The payoff for having just a bunch of athletes, for sticking with a manager who seemed lost, for allowing a GM to follow a Process that took twice as long as he said it would and for becoming an ownership group that spent money and operated their team like a real franchise all came to fruition when Wade Davis froze Wilmer Flores for a called strike three.

On August 6th, 2005 we took our oldest daughter to her first Royals’ game.  That team lost to Oakland 16-1 on their way to losing 106 games. Joe McEwing, Angel Berroa, Denny Hocking, Donnie Murphy and Jimmy Gobble played in that game. In the late innings, Kaitlin looked at me and said “Daddy, this is pretty bad.”

Sunday night she texted me from college:  “WORLD CHAMPIONS!”


They saved their most Royals win for last. Held in check against a dominant starting pitcher for eight innings, the door opened in the ninth. Just enough. With the battle of bullpen attrition underway, it was just a matter of time. Confidence was high and by the time the 12th rolled around and Wade Davis entered, it was all but assured.

The Kansas City Royals are the champions of the baseball world.


This caps the most amazing year and a half of my baseball fandom. From the second half of the 2014 season, to clinching a Wild Card spot in Chicago in September, to the Wild Card Game, to the sweeps in the ALDS and the ALCS, to being 90 feet away, to storming out of the gate this April, to cruising to the Central title, to being down to their final six outs in Houston, to battling the dangerous Blue Jays, to this. This moment. This wonderful, zany moment when we reach the summit.

World Series champions.

True to Royals form, this was a total team effort.

From Edinson Volquez, a big free agent signing this past winter, who pitched his heart out just days after attending the funeral for his father. With Matt Harvey on point, Volquez was tasked with keeping his team in the game. Six innings with two hits and five strikeouts were exactly what the team needed. Sure, there were runs, but Volquez continually pitched around and out of danger. Without his start, the Royals aren’t in position to comeback. I mean, the Royals are never out of the game, but some comebacks are easier than others.

Kelvin Herrera, signed as an international free agent in 2006, pitched three innings in relief of Volquez. He set the tone for the bullpen, allowing just a single baserunner while getting his nine outs.

Lorenzo Cain, part of the Zack Greinke deal, had a couple of the ugliest at bats I’ve seen from him all season against Harvey early in the game. He led off the ninth inning against the Mets starter and drew a walk. The second night in a row a LoCain base on balls ignited a rally.

Eric Hosmer, the first round pick of 2008, who was nails with runners in scoring position all postseason, drives Cain home with an opposite field double, after Cain swiped second base.

Mike Moustakas, the first round pick of 2007, needing to at the very least hit the ball to the right side, did in fact pull the ball for a ground out, advancing Hosmer to third.

Sal Perez, signed by the Royals as a 16 year old when the Royals finally expanded their international scouting department, hitting a little squibber, in no-man’s land between third and short. Fielded by David Wright, Hosmer took off when the Mets third baseman stepped to first to make the throw. It was a play that was equal parts stupid and equal parts brilliant. Force the Mets defense to make a play. Hosmer was dead to rights. The game was over. But the throw home sailed wide and Hosmer slid, head first, across home with the tying run.

Luke Hochevar, the Royals 1st round draft pick in 2006, the longest tenured Royal, coming in from the bullpen and throwing two shut down innings.

Jarrod Dyson, the Royals 50th round draft pick in 2006, pinch running for Perez in the 12. Stealing second, moving to third on a ground out and coming home with the winning run.

Christian Colon, the fourth overall draft pick in 2010, who hadn’t had an at bat since October 4, coming up with Dyson on third. He laced the most beautiful single I’ve seen.

Let’s be honest. It was over at that moment. With you know who, lurking in the bullpen, one run was going to be enough. But the Royals weren’t done. They had rallied all year. They had avoided elimination in Houston, they battered a tough Toronto team. They were going to make a statement in their final inning of 2015.

Paulo Orlando, traded for Horacio Ramirez for crying out loud, hits one to second that gets booted.

Alcides Escobar, picked up in the Zack Greinke trade, so hot all month, drives in the insurance runs with a double.

Ben Zobrist, acquired at the trade deadline, is intentionally walked to load the bases.

— Cain again, doubling to clear the bases and provide the final margin, setting the stage for…

Wade Davis, the key to the Wil Myers trade. Wait, screw that. It’s forever The Wade Davis Trade. Three up. Three down. The Wade Davis Experience.

World Champions.

Congratulations to the architect, Dayton Moore. Congrats to the scouts, the baseball ops guys, the support staff, the coaches… Everyone. You have given Kansas City a team for the ages. This has been the most memorable summer of baseball. When Clark and I started this blog in 2005, the Royals lost 106 games. World Series? We were just hoping they could hit the damn cutoff man. It wasn’t always smooth, and it took a little longer than we may have liked. But it happened. It really happened.

This post is a bit of a mess. I’m a bit of a mess. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this was possible. Over the next few days, I’m sure Clark and Aaron and I will be able to step back a bit and process what we saw.

What a night. What a season. Thanks for coming along for the ride with us.

One final Gatorade bath for 2015.

The parade is Tuesday. See you there.

At this point, if you decided to forgo the first five or six innings of a Royals postseason game, no one in their right mind would criticize you.

The Royals rode the singles (and error) train once again, waiting until the later innings to fire up the engine, and now stand one victory from their first world championship in 30 years.

The first 16 innings or so of their Citi Field odyssey had been underwhelming. The bats, aside from a good start on Friday night, had been silent. The pitching, generally solid, but not solid enough to keep the Mets off the board. The fielding, curiously inconsistent.

It left the Royals just five outs away from dropping their second consecutive game and allowing the Mets to even the series while guaranteeing a return trip to Kauffman. Make no mistake, as comfortable as home has been this October for the Royals, not a single member of that club wants to have a home game there in November.

Funny how all this works. Roughly 24 hours after coming in for some criticism on how he managed his bullpen and bench, Ned Yost seemed to push the right buttons. Meanwhile, his counterpart Terry Collins failed at the most crucial moment of the game. Although with the way these Royals rally, Collins could have thrown the love child of Mariano Rivera and Rollie Fingers and it probably wouldn’t have mattered.

Let’s start with Yost. He lifted his starter Chris Young after four innings when his spot in the order came around with a runner on first and two outs. Conventional wisdom says that’s a little early. Conventional wisdom goes on to scream that you shouldn’t use Kendrys Morales in that situation, rather save him for a higher leverage moment. (Literally, it screams. At least the beats on Twitter do.) I disagree. Fire your best bullet at the first opportunity. Morales is capable of the home run or the double, both of which would have scored Alex Gordon from first. After the Royals had broken through with a run to cut the deficit in half, it was the right call. Morales singled to move the line, but the inning was over when Alcides Escobar grounded out.

In the next frame, Collins made his first blunder of the night, allowing Stephen Matz to return to the mound to face the top of the order for the third time. Matz doesn’t have much big league experience, only making his fifth home start of the year, and was on a short leash as far as pitch count. The signs were there in the previous inning that he was tiring. Plus, Collins had the opportunity to remove his starter for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the fifth. Never mind. Mistake recorded. Ben Zobrist doubles and Lorenzo Cain singles to add another run to the tally. Collins goes to his bullpen to stop the bleeding, but the Royals scratched back another run.

Forward to the eighth. Collins goes to Tyler Clippard, who has been his normal eighth inning guy. Confidence in Clippard is low, but Collins needed someone to bridge to the closer after Jeurys Familia threw the night before in a blowout win. We know exactly what happened.

Zobrist and Cain – those two again – work back to back one out walks. Cain’s plate appearance was especially impressive as it came after he fell into an 0-2 hole. With the pressure on, Collins finally summons Familia. He gets a weak grounder to second off the bat of Eric Hosmer. As Royals fans, we’ve seen this millions of times where Hosmer rolls over and hits a harmless grounder to the right side of the infield. Except this one was a little different in that it was weaker than his usual 4-3. Second baseman Daniel Murphy charged, but the ball scooted under his glove. The floodgates open. The Royals tie the score.

Who knows what happened to Murphy. I thought for a moment he may have been shielded by Cain running to second, but that doesn’t seem likely. Murphy may have been wondering if he could get Cain at second, which perhaps caused him to speed up the play. Or maybe Royals Devil Magic arrived in the nick of time. Whatever the reason, the Mets middle infield has been a defensive playground all year. Sometimes, it just takes a ball put in play. The Kings Of Contact, indeed.

Mike Moustakas and Sal Perez fire up the singles train to plate two more. With a two run lead, Yost trumps Collins by going to his closer, Wade Davis, for the final six outs. It’s the second time Davis has done it in the postseason, and really, you get the feeling if Davis was called upon to get a 27 out save (relax, I know there’s no such thing) he could do it. That’s how great Davis is.

A minor blip in the ninth as the Mets string together back to back singles with one out. Sometimes, you receive an unexpected gift from a stranger. It just shows up on your door. You may wonder why it’s there, or who sent it, but you generally just smile, say thank you and accept the gift.

Thank you, Yoenis Cespedes.

Lucas Duda hits a soft line drive to Moustakas, who looks up and is surprised to see Cespedes went on contact. Throw to Hosmer and ballgame.

The Royals stand on the brink of a championship.

It rests on the shoulders of Edinson Volquez, who made his return following the funeral of his father in the Dominican Republic. Volquez will be pitching for his dad, and will have the entire Royals Universe lifting him up. It sounds trite, but that’s what this team does to us. We root for them as ballplayers, but we support them as people. These are our Royals. Since they reported to spring training last February, they have been part of the fabric of our daily routine. It’s been a helluva ride. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s mostly been fun. They now need just one more win. The finish line is in sight. The goal has almost been reached.

The Big Blue Machine rolls along.

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