The Royals are 1-0: lots to get excited about from Opening Day.

Aside from the clouds, a few moments of spitting rain and a 10 minute panic attack after Yordano Ventura grabbed his right wrist, Opening Day went swimmingly.

The Royals won 10-1 and Ventura was the dominant pitcher we need him to be. The bats were hot as Jeff Samardzija was introduced to the Royals high contact bats. Every Royals hitter reached base but Omar Infante, and even he hit the ball hard on Monday and deserved a better line than he ended up with. Mike Moustakas and Alex Rios homered. Morales drew three walks. Ryan Madson threw his first inning of professional baseball in 4 years in the 9th. It was a fun game.

But it’s just one game, and we can’t thump our chest too much. Just like last year’s Opening Day loss to the Tigers, we can’t jump to conclusions about this team based on one game. It’s a 162 game season, and this one game – despite it being a stellar performance – only counts for 1, and the Royals magic number is 162. So, there’s still a lot of work to do.

That said, we can pull a few nuggets of speculation out and celebrate the signs of what may (or may not) be to come. Let’s get to it.

Moose’s first career opposite field home run.

Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Monday’s home run off Samardzija was Moose’s first ever to the opposite field. Here’s his HR chart via ESPN Stats & Information. i Three things stand out here.

The first thing that stands out is that one lone red dot in right field that is way further than all the others. That one came off of Lance Lynn on June 24, 2012. Recorded at 464 feet.

The second thing that stands out is the home run the farthest left, which is the one Moose hit on Monday. It’s obviously a rare scenario for Moose to hit anything to the left side, so to see him hit for power the opposite way is something to celebrate. I think if Moose can get it into his head that he can have success without pulling the ball, we could be in for a decent season from Mike Moustakas. Which would also be rare.

But then the third thing that stands out is that the home run wasn’t to left field at all. “Opposite field” is technically based on splitting the field right down the middle. As you can see, Moose’s homer barely qualifies. If you asked what part of the field that HR went to, you’d say it went to center field, not left. So technically, it was opposite field, but it wasn’t THAT opposite field. So let’s keep our emotions in check here because it wasn’t like he sliced one into the bullpen in right. So lets not get carried away and start talking like Moose now hits with power to all fields.

But still. It’s something.

The newcomers do not disappoint.

Did any Royals hitter walk three times in a game last year? I could probably look it up, but it’s easier to speculate that it never happened in 2014. Somebody prove me wrong.

We’re one game into the 2015 season and it’s already happened. Kendrys Morales walked three times on Monday. One of them was intentional. Last year the Royals finished dead last in all of baseball with 380 walks. Their team OBP still managed to end up middle of the pack aided by their high batting averages, but if we can work the count and get on base more, this team is going to be extremely dangerous on offense. With three yesterday, Morales is currently on pace for 486 walks. Obviously he’s not going to do that, but it’s fun to say. He also doubled. I still like this signing.

Alex Rios was even more impressive. He went 3-4 with a home run and a stolen base. In the 7th inning with the Royals already up 6-1, Rios got the pitch he was looking for on a 3-1 count and deposited it in the right field camera booth. Along with walks, the Royals also lacked power last year finishing dead last in MLB with only 95 big flies. People weren’t happy with the Royals gave Rios is $11M deal for the 2014 season, but if this is a testament of what’s to come, then we’re in for a treat this year.

And Ryan Madson, the last player to make the Royals 25-man roster, pitched the 9th inning. He gave up a hit and a walk, but induced a double play and ended the final frame with no damage. Madson hasn’t pitched since 2011 with the Phillies but has already managed to comeback and make a MLB roster after being out of the game so long. He has upside as a veteran in the bullpen, and it’s good to get him some work in a stress-free situation like Monday was.

Yordano good.

Ventura looked like an ace on Monday, yes? His stuff was working, he looked comfortable. He only gave up 1 run – an absolute monster home run to suspected robot, Jose Abreu – and he was only at 78 pitches when he left the game with a thumb cramp.

When I saw Yordano slumped on the grass holding is arm and writhing in pain, I panicked. I thought that was it and that the season was already over after just 6 innings of baseball. Kauffman Stadium was silent and suddenly the cheering subsided. Herrera came on to pitch the rest of the 7th.

It looked serious in the moment, but quickly it was speculated and confirmed on twitter that it was just a thumb cramp.

But it highlights this truth: if the Royals are going to succeed in 2015, their two young starters, Ventura and Danny Duffy, are going to have to stay healthy and carry this team. Both have a history of scaring us. Duffy had Tommy John surgery two offseasons ago and was the Royals best starter last year coming back from surgery, and Yordano had multiple moments in 2014 where he left the game early or missed a start with fears about his arm/elbow. We need these guys to throw a combined 380-400 innings.

I cried again.

This is becoming a theme, I suppose, but the AL championship ring ceremony and postseason video montage got the water works flowing again. I couldn’t help it. I’ll probably always cry when I think about that 2014 run. The Wild Card game. All three ALDS games. The ALCS clincher. Game 6 of the World Series. They all brought tears of joy to my eyes.

I’m not even embarrassed about it anymore.

There weren’t any clips from Game 7 in the montage. I expected it to end with some “unfinished business” tag at the end, but it didn’t. It just buried the sadness and highlighted the celebrations. Fair enough.

Bruce Chen was back and got a ring. He may have received the loudest cheers. Billy Butler, James Shields and Nori Aoki were not in attendance because they were playing baseball elsewhere. Louis Coleman, recently placed on waivers, got a ring too and it was awkward. Aaron Brooks got a ring for his single miserable performance. Ned Yost told the team physician not to lose his ring doing rectal exams.

***

I’m supposedly heading back out to the K tonight. We’ll see if the game happens or not with the rain we’re supposed to get. Danny Duffy gets the ball either tonight or for the first part of a double header tomorrow.

Good to have the Roys back in town and off to a good start. I’m still convinced that this team is better than last year’s team. I expect the playoffs…then who knows.

-apc.

Cactus League: Happy Yordano Day

So he gave up 4 runs in 1 inning in his first spring outing…so what? There are still few things in baseball as exciting as Yordano Days.

I’m not totally certain where the term “Yordano Day” originated. I picked it up sometime early in the season last year. Maybe I invented it. I’m not sure. All I know is that every day Yordano Ventura pitches feels like a freaking holiday for me.

Someone decided to launch a Twitter account this year, apparently: @yordanoday.

Okay fine. It’s all me.

Yordano didn’t have it yesterday. Well, maybe he did, but it’s Spring Training, so it doesn’t really matter. It’s not like Ventura is going to lose his starting spot based on a poor Cactus League. At most, he’ll lose out on pitching Opening Day on April 6. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter one bit.

Established ballplayers come out in Spring Training working on specific things. Mike Moustakas is working on his bunting and taking the ball to the opposite field. Alcides Escobar may be working on his plate discipline as the leadoff hitter going into 2015. Bubba Starling (not established as anything but a potential bust) may want to start working on not striking out 5 consecutive times.

Pitchers do the same thing. They might need to work on or develop a new pitch. Or perhaps there’s a specific mechanical adjustment that needs to take place. Or maybe they’re trying to establish comfort pitching inside. The point is that pitchers aren’t always bringing their best stuff in Spring Training. Their bread and butter may be on the back burner.

This is why we shouldn’t geek out when Mike Moustakas wins the Cactus League batting title. It’s also why we shouldn’t freak out when Yordano Ventura allows three of the first four batters he faces on base. Not great, but let’s remember where we are.

Ventura did admit that he needs to get more movement on his fastballs. His pitches were too straight, he said, but he felt good. Ned Yost said he may have been overthrowing a bit, but overall was impressed and thought he looked fine.

I got to watch Yordano warm up. What a freak. He begins by tossing with Salvador Perez in the outfield. Every throw he takes three steps back. Soon, he’s rifling the ball from the center field to the right field corner – something like 250 feet away. Hits Salvy in the glove every time. Pop. Pop. Pop. Then Salvy throws the ball back so high its like Ventura is practicing flyballs. Then he slowly moves back in and the two walk to the bullpen to throw from the mound.

Just listen to it. Sheesh.

Every time Ventura reaches back to throw, my heart skips a beat. It’s so powerful. It sounds like a bottle rocket. Ssssssifffffff-POP! But the other reason is because I get scared. His arm is insane, and every time he throws I’m afraid he’s going to catch the return throw from Salvy and motion to the trainers to come check out his elbow. It feels inevitable. I hate that it feels so inevitable.

Ventura looks bigger than I remember him. His shoulders looked broader. His body looked thicker. He clearly worked hard in the offseason – or perhaps his adult body is still developing – but it eases the fear somewhat. Means the torque on his ligaments is assuaged by the size of his muscles. It’s good news – although it may just be my eyes playing tricks on me observing him so up close.

A few other notes from the Royals’ 11-9 win against the Indians on Friday…

Alex Rios looks great. He had three hits yesterday and hit his second homer of the short spring season. Making a case for himself as Cactus League MVP after just three games.

The Royals only won the game because the Indians defense is awful. They botched multiple plays that led to an eight run 5th inning capped off with a Brett Eibner three run HR. Thanks, Tribe.

Speaking of awful defense, Orlando Calixte had a rough game at short. He airmailed a throw to first. His range is poor. Just reenforces how valuable Alcides Escobar is to this team defensively. He played all 162 games at SS last year. Christian Colon is the backup option and with Omar Infante continuing to be a question mark at 2B, it puts our middle infield depth in the spotlight.

Kelvin Herrera pitched one inning. He was lights out. Good. Herrera is the first of the HDH trio to pitch this spring. I think we know who Davis and Holland are at this point. They’re proven. Herrera had a good year, but part of me wonders if he pitched over his head last year. Herrera had a good year, and I hope he continues what he established himself to be last year.

***

I’m back in KC now. Spring Training was fun, but the rest of it will need to be watched from afar. Great start – with the exception of Tim Collins being injured, there’s a lot to be excited about in 2015.

Also, I got sunburnt.

-apc.

Cactus League: Royals go back to back to back, win opener 13-2.

Baseball back and it feel so right. I’ve been missing these boys something fierce.

To celebrate, I decided to make a quick trip down to Surprise. I woke up at 3:30am, caught a 5:50am flight out of KC and was in PHX by 7:45am. My friend Dan – who you may remember from my time in Houston, Arizona and San Diego last April – lives in downtown Phoenix, so he and I are hitting a few games over the next few days. The current plan: catch today’s game in Surprise against the Rangers and Yordano Ventura’s start on Friday in Goodyear against the Indians. In between, I think we’ll go give Billy Butler a visit in his new A’s uniform against the Cubs on Thursday. Supposedly they have a pretty sweet new ballpark out here.

The Royals dominated their Cactus League opener 13-2. It was over early: it was 6-0 after 6 Royals batters. The pitching staff did their job, and the offense more than pulled their weight. 



 A few highlights…

Hosmer/Morales/Rios go back to back to back.

Like I said, this one was over early. Here’s how the first inning went down for good guys…

Escobar: BB
Dyson: 1B down the third baseline
Cain: 1B bloop to center, RBI
Hosmer: 3-run HR, at least 450′ to straight away centerfield
Morales: solo HR
Rios: solo HR

…Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales did a decent job making a first impression today. Both are coming off a down year in 2014 and lots of Royals fans are wondering if they’re worth the large contracts we’re giving them. Personally, I’m looking for both of them to bounce back. Will the power hitting continue in the regular season (or the rest of the Cactus League, for that matter)? Who knows. But it was good to see today.

Other first impressions: Morales looks more fit than Billy Butler, whom he’s replacing at DH. And Rios has very very long legs.

Tim Collins leaves game with elbow injury.

Collins is scheduled to have an MRI tomorrow, but initial reports make it sound like it isn’t super serious, but it’s something to keep an eye on for sure. Even if he’s injured, it’s not like losing Tim to an injury is going to make or break our bullpen. He’s fighting for one of the last spots in the pen as it is along with Franklin Morales as a lefty.

Perhaps the largest impact of a Tim Collins injury would be that if Franklin Morales doesn’t impress, the Royals may be forced to roll with Brandon Finnegan in the pen to start the season. They’d much rather let Finny begin the season in the minors, continuing to develop him as a starter, but if they can’t land a lefty reliever with Collins or Morales, Finnegan is likely their man.

Jandel Gustave throws fire and looked rull nice.

Replacing Tim Collins in today’s game: Jandel Gustave. The Royals acquired Gustave in the Rule 5 draft this offseason from the Houston Astros. The stipulation with the Rule 5 draft is that the player must remain on the 25-man roster for the season in order to retain the rights to that players contract. Gustave is young and throws a billion MPH, but his BB/9 ratio is a robust 6.7 during his time in the minors dating back to 2010. So basically, he has no idea where it’s going when he lets go. Which is scary because he throws 100+ MPH.

He came in from the bullpen today and fired three warmup fastballs…102…102…104. Sheesh. Talk about terrifying for an opposing hitter.

Cheslor Cuthbert: gems on gems on gems.

Cuthbert’s opportunity in the majors mostly depends on whether or not Mike Moustakas can turn the corner this year and put up some decent numbers in non-Cactus League play. He made a good case for an opportunity with three legit plays this afternoon. One diving to his right; one on a hard hit grounder and one leaning far over into the stands just past the Royals dugout. Looked stellar in the opener.

***

Those were my initial takeaways from today. Royals looked fresh and powerful. Definitely the better team. Tomorrow is the Billy Butler Memory Tour. Breaking out the Butler Roys jersey and A’s cap. Can’t wait.

-apc.

Should the Royals have sent Alex Gordon? Nope. But what if they’d tried a squeeze bunt?

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What if?

It’s been nearly three months since Mike Jirschele decided to hold Alex Gordon at third base with two outs in the bottom of the 9th down 3-2 in Game 7 of the World Series. Three months later and we’re still talking about his Decision. But let’s be honest – three months, three years, three decades…it doesn’t matter – Jirschle’s Decision will continue to be debated among Royals fans forever.

Today, Lee Judge of the KC Star posted about that very question: Should Alex Gordon have tried to score? The argument lives on.

A few days ago, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback claimed he’s the sort of guy who would’ve sent Alex Gordon.

I’ll keep my mouth shut regarding Brownback’s opinion on that (and other things), but I’m no different when it comes to theorizing what the Royals’ options were at that moment. Personally, I think Jirschele made the right decision in holding Gordon. Brandon Crawford was already fielding the relay throw while Gordon was rounding third base. It would’ve taken another fumble from Buster Posey or an errant throw in the resulting rundown play for Gordon to score. All of us agree the ball would’ve beaten Gordon home by a substantial margin.

But still…what if?

The conversation typically boils down to odds. Was it more or less likely that Gordon would’ve been safe versus Salvador Perez getting a hit off of Madison Bumgarner? Obviously in hindsight, Perez failed to get a hit to tie the game and the Royals lost 3-2 and stranded Gordon at third.

The odds were not in the Royals’ favor regardless. You can maybe say that Perez had a 20% chance to get a hit in that situation – probably generous – and you might say that Gordon would’ve been safe 1 out of 10 attempts trying to score in that same situation. If you limit the options to just those two possibilities, the odds of Perez getting a hit is about twice as likely as Gordon scoring. In that case, Jirschele’s Decision to hold Gordon was the correct one.

However, there’s another possibility that I think may have put the Royals in the best possible odds of winning the game. After holding Gordon at third, there were a number of moves Ned Yost could’ve made to put the Royals in an better chance to win than simply the 20% chance of Salvy getting a hit off Bumgarner.

Step 1: Pinch run with Terrance Gore.

Step 2: Pinch hit with Jarrod Dyson.

Step 3: Squeeze bunt for a single.

Yes, I know. This is the exact ending of Major League.

Okay fine, Hayes scores from second, but still. Same idea.

Jarrod Dyson had 13 bunt single attempts in 2014 and was successful on 9 of those attempts. In 2013, Dyson attempted 18 times and was successful 10 of those. So over a two-year stretch, Dyson went 19-31 attempting to bunt for a single – a .613 average, or 61.3%. That number is among the best in baseball.

Obviously that number doesn’t tell the entire story. There’s still the possibility that the Giants could go home and tag out Gore at the plate. First of all, I doubt they would’ve tried for Gore – the faster of the two runners and the tougher of the two plays to execute. Second, Gore is so fast, he would likely be across the plate by the time the fielder even gets the ball in his glove. Whether they went home or to first, the odds are still worse with multiple out possibilities.

The most important difference though is the fact that the Giants would’ve likely been playing Dyson to bunt. Corners in, prepared to field the ball quickly. Those 19 successful bunt single attempts are likely all in situations where the infielders are playing back and Dyson saw an opportunity to get tricky and take the base they were giving him. A situation like this would be very different, and his odds of making it to first would decrease significantly.

But would they drop as far as 20% chance? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?

To me, the odds of Gore getting thrown out are minimal. The greater odds are that Dyson’s bunt goes right back to Bumgarner and he tosses him out easily at first. In order to be successful, Dyson’s bunt would probably need to go past a charging third baseman and toward the shortstop. If Dyson could lay it down in the space behind and to the left of the mound, he’d have a good chance of beating the throw and there’s no way there could be a play at home.

Not only that, but it heightens the chances that something goes wrong on the Giants’ part. Maybe a fielder can’t pick the ball up. Maybe there’s an errant throw to first. If the play is at home, maybe Posey drops the ball, or Gore kicks it from his glove. Maybe the throw to first hits Dyson in the back en route to first base. To me, the chances of something happening in a squeeze bunt scenario are much higher than if Jirschele had just sent Gordon home. My hunch is that the odds would be higher than 20% – the chance Perez gets a hit – as well.

At minimum, it forces the Giants to make a play, which was the Royals game plan all season – high contact rate, speed on the bases, make the opponent make a play. Good things happen when you put the ball in play, so the saying goes.

Naysayers will point out that if you pinch hit and pinch run for two of your best hitters, suddenly their bats (and gloves) are out of the lineup for subsequent extra innings. Noted. But that cannot be the thought process when putting your team in the best position to win at that moment. And sure, if the bunt failed we’d all be up in arms about why Yost took the bat out of the hands of the Wild Card hero and the only guy to score a run off Bumgarner the whole postseason (Salvy hit a solo homer late in Game 1).

But it’s also hard to imagine a more poetic ending for the 2014 Kansas City Royals. If only we could go back.

I imagine we’ll never reach a point where this conversation is exhausted and/or agreed upon. It’s a fun conversation despite its belaboring. It’s all hindsight and “what if” speculation, but on paper, it might’ve provided a better chance of the Royals tying the game than the other two alternatives.

Ultimately, I think we need to accept that we weren’t going to win the game. That’s the reality, and it sucks, but it’s true.

90 feet, man. It was right there.

-apc.

Image cred: KC Star, accessed 1/21/15: LINK.

The Royals sign RHP Kris Medlen for $8.5M over 2 years.

MLB: New York Mets at Atlanta Braves

WHAT. ON. EARTH. IS. HAPPENING.

We thought they were finished, but apparently they’re not! The Royals have added to their week of free agent pick ups – Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios and Edinson Volquez – and have agreed to a contract with Kris Medlen that will pay him $2M in 2015 and $5.5 in 2016 with a mutual $10M option for 2017 or a $1M buyout.

Dayton, you dog, you. Incredible work.

All this time we knew they needed three pieces – RF, DH and SP – and yesterday’s Volquez signing just didn’t seem to be the answer for most of us. He’s fine, and was the best option at that price, but we felt underwhelmed, deflated.

But this changes everything.

After the Royals signed Alex Rios on Monday, I wrote about how they still needed to add a starting pitcher. I offered up Volquez as a safe option that wasn’t a sexy name, but that would at least bring some serviceable innings to the 2015 starting rotation. I also offered the option that they could take a gamble on a pitcher who missed 2014 due to injury – specifically Kris Medlen who had just been non-tendered by the Atlanta Braves. Here’s what I wrote on Tuesday morning…

The other option would be to take a gamble on a pitcher who missed 2014 due to injury. Kris Medlen missed last season due to Tommy John surgery and was non-tendered by the Braves. What do you get from a guy coming back from Tommy John surgery? Who knows. Could he be the guy who threw a 2.47 ERA from 2012-2013 or would he be a shell of himself? And is that worth a $5-6M gamble? Hmmm. Answers please, Dayton Moore.

I never believed for a moment that they would pick up both Volquez and Medlen, but Dayton Moore has gone and stirred things up even more with this move. They’re essentially opposite players in terms of their potential ceiling, so paired together, this feels like a brilliant move. On the one hand, Volquez is coming off his best season as a starter, and we pretty much know his ceiling is his 2014 season. His control is questionable, and he’s not going to be lights out, but he’ll eat up innings. You know what you’re getting with Edinson Volquez and it’s not great. He’s…fine.

But with Kris Medlen, we really have no idea what we’re getting. Medlen was incredible with the Braves from 2009-2013. He has a career 2.95 ERA. He strikes out nearly 8 batters per 9 innings. He walks less than 2 batters per 9 innings. His career WHIP is a notch above 1. Kris Medlen was going to be one of their top starters. He was entering the prime years of his career. Instead, he had to undergo his second Tommy John surgery of his career.

So what are we getting with Kris Medlen?

It’s a lottery ticket basically, but the upside is astronomical. We’re paying $2M in 2015 for a gamble on a guy who could come back from injury and be an absolute stud in our rotation. He probably won’t be ready by Opening Day, and with the depth of the Royals rotation now, we may let him take his time and trot him out there sometime in June.

Even then, he would probably be a back of rotation guy for this year, pushing Guthrie or Volquez back to the bullpen. He’ll have to work his way back to his old role as a top of the rotation guy. This also takes the pressure off the bullpen to have additional long men available rather than having to turn to Hochever/Frasor early and making Herrera/Davis/Holland work more innings than they should be throughout the season. This also almost guarantees that Brandon Finnegan starts the season in the minors.

Kris Medlen has ace-calibur stuff. A fastball in the upper 80s, but pinpoint control. His changeup and his curveball are his best pitches. From 2012-2013 only two pitchers (Cole Hamels and, interestingly, Jason Vargas) generated more value out of their changeup than Medlen did, and only 8 players had a more valuable curveball. Basically, Kris Medlen has the stuff to potentially be a top of the rotation type of guy, as long as he can jump back from TJS #2.

So this year we’ll spend $2M on a second-half starter. We can expect around 80 innings from Medlen this year, but could be really special in 2016 if he can work back to his old form.

We have unbelievable depth at starting pitching suddenly. Which is very important, and we were fortunate to not have any injuries to our rotation in 2014. High five to one of baseball’s best training staffs. With the addition of Kris Medlen, the pressure on Ventura and Duffy is lifted, and you have one of the highest upside pitchers waiting for the ball come midseason.

So in 2015, the Royals are on the hook for $6.5M for Morales, $11M for Rios, $10M for Volquez and $2M for Medlen. That’s $29.5M in 2015. Rios is gone in 2016, but the second year for both Morales and Medlen is more money, so it’s $9.5M for Morales, $10M for Volquez and $5.5M for Medlen. That’s $25M in 2016. We are sure to lose either Greg Holland or Wade Davis’s option for that year (if not before this season), which reduces that commitment even further.

All that to say, we’ve had a busy busy week and our pocketbook isn’t on the hook much at all. Suddenly this move makes yesterday’s move feel completely justified. By signing veteran guys to modest money, if any of these four exceeds expectations, we’re going to come out way on the plus side on these deals.

And we didn’t have to give up anything but cash to do it. I absolutely love this deal. Bravo, Dayton Moore. Bravo, David Glass.

I thought this team was done with signings yesterday, but apparently I was wrong. This team is still moving and shaking and who knows what might be in store for tomorrow. What a crazy busy and exciting week in the life of Royals baseball fans. Phew.

…SO IS IT SPRING TRAINING YET, OR WHAT?!

-apc.

The Royals sign RHP Edinson Volquez for $20M over 2 years.

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And there it is.

The final piece of the roster puzzle is righty starter Edinson Volquez, who signed a 2-year, $20M contract with the Royals this afternoon. He joins Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios, who both signed earlier this week, as the trifecta called upon to fill in the gaps left by Billy Butler, James Shields and Nori Aoki.

I have a lot of thoughts as it pertains to this signing, and I want to rifle through them so I can get to the second half of this post which is a look at the complete roster as it stands right this minute.

First a little bit about Edinson Volquez.

Volquez is a veteran starter who has played with 5 different teams since 2008. He’s had two terrific seasons. Most recently, he posted a 3.04 ERA over 192.2 innings with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the best pitching performance of his career. His other terrific year was back in 2008 for the Cincinnati Reds: 3.21 ERA, 196 innings and he was elected to his only All Star Game.

Unfortunately, all the years in between 2008 and 2014 are borderline stinkers. Volquez’s career 4.44 ERA is ripe. He strikes out quite a few – 8.1 K/9 – but he also walks a ton – 4.5 BB/9. In 2012, he led the league with 105 walks. In 2013, led the league with 108 earned runs. In 2008, he led the league in hit batters with 14, and he matched that number again last year. None of these are great categories to lead the league in. He’s kind of a wild thing out there, apparently. Effectively wild, we might say.

His 2009 season was cut short due to Tommy John surgery, and his 2010 season was segmented by a 50 game suspension due to PED use coming off his injury.

I should also mention that Edinson Volquez started the Pirates NL Wild Card game and he got shelled by the Giants: 5 innings, 5 hits, 5 runs. (Before you go throwing stones at the guy, remember James Shields line from the AL Wild Card game: 5 innings, 5 hits, 4 runs.)

But still, I know what you’re thinking…not great. And if you were actually thinking that (which I’m sure you were), you’d be right.

Edinson Volquez isn’t great.

But, just like Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios before him, I think he is good enough to get this team back to the playoffs for the second consecutive season. There’s just a little more pressure on him than those other two to pan out.

Edinson Volquez likely slots in as our 3rd or 4th pitcher in the rotation (depending how high you are on Jason Vargas). If you thought the Royals were actually going to replace James Shields with another #1 starter out of free agency, you’re crazy. The replacement for James Shields is Yordano Ventura. It always has been. He is our best pitcher, and Danny Duffy is not far behind him as our #2. The Royals are looking to them to take another step in 2015.

So my first thought following the Volquez deal is it puts an immense amount of pressure on Duffy and Ventura to carry this team next year. Are they going to be up to the task? We’ll have to wait and see.

What we need out of Edinson Volquez is about 180 innings with an ERA in the 3’s. If he can do that, this signing is absolutely worth the $10M/year we’re paying him. Signing proven veteran guys is never cheap.

Oh, and the other thing you get from signing Volquez? You get to keep your prospects and your draft picks and your future.

The Royals signed three players to semi-expensive deals without having to surrender any other pieces, and none of their contracts extend beyond two years. It’s going to stretch the pocketbook (and you have to applaud David Glass for being willing to extend the payroll into the $110-115M range, by far the highest in team history), but it’s not going to restrict the future of this team even if none of these guys work out.

Which feels unlikely…doesn’t it seem like at least one these three will be a big hit? Alex Rios is the surest thing of the three. He has hit around .280 his entire career, and we can anticipate him doing it again in 2015. Morales and Volquez are slightly bigger risks with Morales’s curious contract situation in 2014 and Volquez coming off his only good season since finishing 4th in the 2008 Rookie of the Year vote.

By the way, for those of you who hated the Morales deal because he had a terrible 2014, you are basically required to like the Volquez deal because he had an awesome 2014. Just saying. You can’t flip-flop your opinion on how much one season matters versus an entire career.

The Royals are paying $48M over the next two years to these three guys. The obvious rebuttal is the same as it was after Rios signed on Monday: why couldn’t they add two cheaper pieces at DH and RF and funnel all those funds into one big name top starter?!

The reason is in the length of the contracts. If we were going to sign a monster name, we’d have to commit to that individual over 5+ years (not to mention the loss of a draft pick). We simply cannot pay a guy $20M/year for that long. Even if we allocated that much dough to swing it, we shouldn’t commit that much money to a single player for that long. If anything were to go wrong – injury or suspension or a major slump – our team tanks because we have too much money invested in one place. This team needs to spread the money over all 25 guys, not just one or two major pieces.

Did anyone really expect us to add Jon Lester? Or Max Scherzer? Or James Shields? Heck, even Melky Cabrera and Yasmany Tomas as right field options seemed far fetched when their names were making the rounds. This team was never going to add a monster piece. It was always going to be three good-not-great players…in fact, I’m a bit surprised we even ended up with those pieces solved. If they hadn’t signed Volquez (supposedly the Twins were after him too) they probably would’ve been stuck with Jake Peavy instead, and that would’ve been way way worse. (Although, Peavy has been on the last two World Series teams – 2013 Red Sox and 2014 Giants – maybe we missed our chance. Psssh, as if he won’t be available at the trade deadline again this year.)

So there it is.

Kendrys Morales. Alex Rios. Edinson Volquez.

We knew the three pieces they needed to add, and Dayton Moore went out and added all three of them without having to sacrifice the future of this club (speaking of, if you don’t know yet, Will Myers was just traded to the Padres in a three team deal and the Rays got squat in return).

A few reminders before we look at the full roster…

  1. We have the best relief pitching in all of baseball and our starters only need to go 6 innings.
  2. We have the best defense in baseball, a giant, pitcher-friendly ballpark, and lots of speed. Those three aspects of the game are sustainable no matter how the offense and pitching performs.
  3. The core of this team – the guys who won us 89 regular season games, won 8 straight postseason games and took us to within 90 feet of a World Series championship – are still here. The success or failure of this team will be because of them. Just like last year.
  4. That said, this is not the same team because they ought to have all matured following the success and excitement of last season. We can expect a slight bump in production from all our young guys.
  5. Final caveat, and this is one I don’t like to think about…our payroll at $110-115M, which feels higher than it should be. Maybe they’re putting the postseason revenue directly back into the roster, but it’s possible that we might still trade Wade Davis or Greg Holland for prospects.

Okay, that’s enough reminders. Let’s look at the roster as it stands right now…

Rotation

  • Yordano Ventura
  • Danny Duffy
  • Jason Vargas
  • Edinson Volquez
  • Jeremy Guthrie

Bullpen

  • Greg Holland
  • Wade Davis
  • Kelvin Herrera
  • Luke Hochevar
  • Jason Frasor
  • Tim Collins
  • Louis Coleman
  • Brandon Finnegan (?)

Lineup

  • Alcides Escobar
  • Lorenzo Cain
  • Eric Hosmer
  • Kendrys Morales
  • Alex Gordon
  • Salvador Perez
  • Alex Rios
  • Mike Moustakas
  • Omar Infante

Reserves

  • Jarrod Dyson
  • Christian Colon
  • Erik Kratz

That’s a complete 25-man roster right there. It’s probably more likely that Brandon Finnegan starts in AAA and we add some depth to our reserves list somehow. Teams typically don’t have 13 pitchers and 12 hitters. Usually it’s the other way around, but who knows – why not double down on our bullpen arms?

Overall, I’m perfectly comfortable with this offseason.  I’m not completely over the moon, but it’s not like the Royals were going to suddenly have a $150M budget. But again, we may need to check ourselves the next time we try to cast the blame on David “Malt-o-Meal” Glass*. The budget is up by nearly 20%.

* – Tasty O’s and Fruity Dyno-Bites are cheaper for a reason…c’mon.

We had needs, we addressed them. Nothing flashy or extravagant, but with good enough pieces to put us back in a position to contend for the AL Central without sacrificing our future by giving up draft picks and prospects.

Barring anything crazy, that’s your 2015 Kansas City Royals.

-apc.

Photo cred: Getty Images – WPXI.

The Royals sign RF Alex Rios for $11M in 2015.

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Another piece of the 2015 Royals puzzle was added yesterday evening when AL Champs agreed to a 1 year deal with right fielder Alex Rios for $11M. This comes on the heels signing Kendrys Morales to a 2-year, $17M deal just four days ago.

Rios is a career .278/.323/.439 hitter and is coming off a .280/.315/.398 campaign with the Texas Rangers. Rios was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the first round of the 1999 draft, debuted in 2004 before being traded to the Chicago White Sox in 2009. He was traded to the Texas Rangers in 2013 in the wake of Nelson Cruz’s suspension for PEDs. His 2006-2008 years in Toronto were his best, but he still posted 3.4 WAR in 2010 and 4.1 WAR in 2012 while with Chicago. His career average is 2.6.

Rios is a good veteran player. He’s going to be productive and make a team better. He is expensive at $11M and immediately becomes the second highest paid player on this roster following Alex Gordon, but that’s the price of a good everyday right fielder in today’s market. The Royals pursued Yasmany Tomas, Torii Hunter and Melky Cabrera (in that order) but ultimately had to let the market come to them. They didn’t like the price tags the Diamondbacks, Twins and White Sox were willing to place on each of these guys, so they waited until it made sense. Alex Rios was their guy.

Is he worth $11M? Not a chance. But for a flier on a proven guy for 1 year, that’s what the price is these days, I suppose. The only other alternative is to sign a guy like John Mayberry Jr. to a cheaper deal but probably for multiple years, and with this current nucleus of returning players, I’m not sure we want to commit to anyone beyond 2015 or 2016 unless we absolutely know they’re the right fit.

Speaking of fit, I think Rios is going to fit in nicely on this team. He’s fast, which is sort of a prerequisite on this team, especially with our larger outfield. He puts the ball in play, which is also the Royals style. And his defense is serviceable enough, but I would continue to watch for the late inning Dyson defensive replacement move we all got used to seeing with Nori “The Adventure” Aoki out there. Rios isn’t much better with the glove, but he’s guaranteed to be a lot less goofy than Aoki…despite what the photo above may suggest.

I like this move just fine. You needed a right fielder, you got a solid veteren right fielder. The Morales move may have been a lateral one, but the Rios move is an obvious upgrade.

People (mostly the Royals Twitter community) are hating on this Rios signing like he’s Jeff Francour Part Deux ready to plummet this team into oblivion. I think it’s important to remember that Alex Rios – despite being paid $11M – is not what the success of the 2015 Royals depends on. Were the Royals successful last year because of Nori Aoki and Billy Butler? No way. They helped, and didn’t hurt, but the success was in the defense, the pitching, and ability to make productive outs and manufacture runs. That hasn’t changed. Rios (and Morales) will have roles, but the success of this team lies on Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, HDH and our core of affordable talent – Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, and especially Salvador Perez and his ridiculously team-friendly contract. In the same way we don’t count on Omar Infante to be our savior, we won’t count on Morales or Rios either. They’re serviceable pieces, and we want major production from them, but they’re not going to make or break the success of this team.

Or, let’s put it this way: if Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy both post a 4.50 ERA next year, this team flat out does not make the playoffs, but if Morales and Rios both bat .250/.300/.350 and hit a combined 3 HRs? This team is still far from toast.

Which is why I wouldn’t have minded if we’d found him for cheaper. If they’re not centerpieces, then why are we paying nearly a combined $20M for them? I would’ve rather seen them sign a guy for significantly less money – not to continue to beat the John Mayberry Jr. horse, but the Mets signed him for a mere $1.45M – and put that savings into a top tier starter for a year or two. Lester and Scherzer need longer contracts. Shields probably too…I wonder if he would’ve come back for, say, $18M for 1 year. Eh, probably not.

At least it’s only for 1 year for Rios, and not multiple years. That’s what I keep falling back on. Regardless what happens, we won’t be on the hook for his contract in 2016 and beyond (unlike Infante, who we are still trying to pawn off on some other sucker).

So we got piece 2 of 3. I’m as pleased as I expected to be. Not a great move, but a good one.

Now all we need is piece 3 of 3.

A lot of starting pitchers have already signed, but there are still a lot of names out there. One of them will become the final piece of the puzzle. Names like Edison Volquez (192.2 IP, 3,04 ERA) or Aaron Harang (204.1 IP, 3.57 ERA) may not sound as sexy as those top tier guys, but their innings and earned run average are more than good enough to fill in. For what it’s worth: Shields threw 227 IP with a 3.21 ERA. Lester: 219.2 IP, 2.46 ERA. Scherzer: 220.1 IP, 3.51 ERA.

If we assume that Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy will take a step forward in their innings and that Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas maintain their production, we don’t need 230 innings. 180 innings would do just fine. Throw in the deepest bullpen in baseball, and you’ve got a recipe for success.

The other option would be to take a gamble on a pitcher who missed 2014 due to injury. Kris Medlen missed last season due to Tommy John surgery and was non-tendered by the Braves. What do you get from a guy coming back from Tommy John surgery? Who knows. Could he be the guy who threw a 2.47 ERA from 2012-2013 or would he be a shell of himself? And is that worth a $5-6M gamble? Hmmm. Answers please, Dayton Moore.

I’m still feeling confident that this team can contend for the AL Central – they already have their core established, and we know it can be a recipe for success. These two latest ingredients ought to only make things better…I guess I’ve moved past the puzzle and moved on to a food analogy. Cool.

For what it’s worth, they’re 20:1 to win the World Series right now. They were 16:1 the moment the World Series ended. Add a starting pitcher, and we ought to be right back where we were…

…just 90 feet away.

-apc.

Photo cred: The Greedy Pinstripes.