The Royals sign DH Kendrys Morales for $17M over 2 years.

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After a patient week at the MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego, the Royals finally made a move to improve their club by signing switch-hitting power DH Kendrys Morales to a two year, $17 million with performance incentives up to $18.5 million. With the addition of Morales the Royals have addressed one of their three major needs.

Morales played with the Angels from 2006-2011, joined the Mariners from 2012-2013, and he chose to turn down his qualifying offer entering free agency prior to the 2014 season. Mistake. No team wanted to surrender the draft pick to add Morales and he remained a free agent until finally Minnesota picked him up in June. He played 39 games with the Twins before being sent back to Seattle to help a Mariners playoff push that never came to fruition.

With such a tumultuous offseason, it’s not surprising that Morales’s 2014 production dipped significantly from his 2012-2013 campaigns. In fact, he was one of the worst hitters in baseball in 2014 hitting .218/.274/.338 and only 8 HRs in 98 games split between two clubs.

Thus, the primary question we’re all asking of Morales is whether 2014 was an anomaly or the start of a legitimate decline in ability.

Personally, I’m willing to look past his 2014 campaign. I don’t know what missing Spring Training and the first 2 months of the season can do to a baseball player physically and mentally, but it certainly isn’t ideal and is an easy explanation for such a decline. Sure, Morales is 31 and probably past his peak athleticism, but a drop that significant seems to be an obvious result of bizarre contract circumstances. He hit .280/.333/.480 from 2006-2013. To me, that outweighs 2014 enough to sign the guy called upon to replace Billy Butler.

The Royals chose to let Butler leave for free agency rather than picking up his $12.5 million option for 2015. Dayton Moore was quoted yesterday as having some regret for not bringing him back. It seems the DH market was thinner than anticipated which is likely why they ultimately seemed to panic and sign Morales to a somewhat pricey contract. That amount – $17M over 2 years – seems a bit high, but the Royals likely didn’t have much choice. With such a thin DH market, they were likely going to have to overpay no matter what. It’s the market they were presented with, unfortunately.

Everyone wants to compare Billy to Kendrys, and I’m no different. Billy gets on base more often (.359 vs .324 OBP), but Kendrys hits more homers (18 vs 25 HR/162 game avg). Billy is three years younger. Morales grounds into almost as many double plays as Billy does. Neither are fast. Both can play first base if called upon.

So, yeah, Billy Butler scores out as the slightly better player, and his contract in Oakland ($30M over 3 years) reflects that as would his contract in Kansas City had they decided to pick up his 2015 option.

Except the primary beef on Billy over the years has been this: for a DH he lacks power. Some of that is due to playing in an expansive Kauffman Stadium, but at this point we all know he’s a singles hitter with the occasional double to the gap. So before we get too far down the “why did we let Billy go, he was this team’s savior” road, let’s not forget that Ned Yost benched Billy down the stretch due to his lack of production, and we were all begging for Dayton Moore to ship him away at the trade deadline. Just because the dude had a few key hits in the postseason and took out a full page “thank you” ad in the KC Star on Thanksgiving, don’t let that cloud our eyes from our past frustrations about Billy. Fans have always had a love/hate relationship with Billy Butler, and I’m sure our relationship with Morales will be the same. I think relationships with DH’s are just like that – they have one specific job (hitting), and when they’re good at it, we love them, and when they’re bad it at, we don’t.

Kendrys Morales can drive the ball – specifically fastballs from the right side of the plate – and he can drive them farther than Billy Butler can. He just doesn’t do it quite as regularly. So it’s a trade off: OBP vs HRs. We needed a power bat and the DH was one of our primary needs. It’s not a sexy pick up, and Morales doesn’t solve all of our problems in a single player, but assuming he has even the slightest bounce back from 2014, he helps this team maintain it’s DH production from a year ago (which, we also can’t forget, wasn’t anything to write home about anyway).

And just because he’s not everything that Billy Butler was, we’re saving $3.5M this season by adding a player in Morales who is very close to Butler in OBP and exceeds him in HR. This seems like a lateral move overall, and that’s what this team needs to do. I’m fine with it.

Which means that $3.5M can be used elsewhere.

Remember that scene at the beginning of Moneyball when Billy Beane and his old school scouts are all trying to figure out how to replace Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen? They didn’t need to replace each one individually, they simply needed to replace their collective value. We need to do the same.

Butler had a WAR of -0.3 in 2014, but averages 1.6 over his career.
Aoki: 1.0 in 2014. 2.5 career.
Shields: 3.3 in 2014. 3.0 career.

Interestingly, they all had down seasons in 2014 (even Shields compared to recent years). For consistency’s sake, that means we need to replace a cumulative 4.0 WAR from 2014, but maybe closer to 7.2 WAR for their careers.

Morales had a WAR of -0.3 in 2014 – same as Billy, amazingly – and has a career average of 1.2 WAR. Added power. Lost OBP. So what we’d like to be able to find is two guys whose cumulative WAR is in the 4.0 to 5.0 range and we’ll come out ahead and we have more power to show for it with more money to invest in it.

Easier said than done? Of course it is. Looking strictly at the numbers makes the whole game seem like cake. But my point isn’t to solve the equation as much as it is to offer the equation itself.

We still need pieces, and it’s possible when all is said and done that the addition of Kendrys Morales will look just fine in conjunction with a right fielder and a starting pitcher (and I might even throw in a utility man who can add value off the bench…or in place of Omar Infante if the Royals happen to find any suitors).

One small caveat here before I wrap this up: I am a bit confused as to how this signing happened after all the conversation about the Royals utilizing a flexible DH spot in 2015 to get Salvy and others a few days off in the field. To me, adding a RF/DH hybrid was what needed to happen to provide that sort of fluidity, but alas, looks like we’re stuck with Salvy’s catching another 150+ games in 2015.

What I’m saying is that Morales is only one piece of the offseason puzzle. Hopefully my optimism in Morales bouncing back is not misplaced. There are still more moves to come, so calm down, Kansas City. The offseason is long – it’s December 11 and we have until early March to make moves – and Dayton Moore is not done adding pieces for 2015.

Stay the course, and let’s all revisit the Morales deal in March when the roster is set and in October when the Royals take the crown.

-apc.

Photo here: It’s All About the Money

“Hi, this is Ken Griffey Jr., Let’s talk about the Kansas City Royals’ offseason moves (or lack thereof).”

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I’ve been playing a lot of Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball for Nintendo 64 lately. It’s a terrific break from paper writing. I started a full season about a week into November and immediately started trading players. I’m the Royals, but they’re hardly recognizable anymore.

First, I traded for Griffey. I had to give up Johnny Damon and Jose Offerman, but the upgrade is completely worth it as Junior is easily the best player in the game. It’s very weird to see Damon in a Mariners uniform but Griffey’s never looked better.

Then I shipped Mike Sweeney and Jeff King over to Chicago for some dude named Frank Thomas.

Then I pulled Hideo Nomo and Trenidad Hubbard from the Dodgers. Nomo is great and a very fun reminder of how much fun he was to emulate when I was a kid. Hubbard’s bat is average, but he is off the charts on speed. Stealing bases/small ball is my jam (Go Royals), so Hubbs fits into my system perfectly. I don’t remember what I gave up for those guys though. Probably a starting pitcher. Or maybe it was Hal Morris.

Finally, I flipped Dean Palmer and Sal Fasano for Omar Visquel who promptly fractured his ankle and is on the 1-2 month DL. Terrific. Desi Relaford is holding is own at SS though. For now.

I also claimed a rookie named David Ortiz in free agency. He and Frank Thomas now swap 1B/DH duties.

So now my roster looks like this:

C – Mike MacFarlane
1B – Frank Thomas
2B – Shane Halter
3B – Dave Hansen
SS – Omar Visquel
LF – Trenidad Hubbard
CF – Ken Griffey, Jr.
RF – Jermaine Dye
DH – David Ortiz

SP – Kevin Appier, Hideo Nomo, Tim Belcher, Jose Rosado

RP – Glendon Rusch, Hipolito Pichardo, Jim Pittsley, Jaime Bluma, Jeff Montgomery

My next goals are to add Tony Gwynn in place of Dye or Paul Molitor to cover part of the weaker infield. I may need to wait for Visquel to get healthy and use him as a bargaining chip and let Desi stay at SS.

I guess you could say it’s a Process.

Not sure why I decided to start this post with my fictional video game roster, but it felt like a good starting point as any to talk about the Royals’ offseason. If only it was this easy in real life…

The RF/DH Situation

The real life Royals haven’t been nearly as active. They had a few key positions of need, and they haven’t made the moves we all expected them to make to address those needs. Specifically starting pitching, and a right fielder who could also serve as a designated hitter.

I made a list of their top needs and fully expected them to have addressed them by now. I thought we were players for Yasmany Tomas, but he went to Arizona. I thought we’d look into signing Nick Markakis or Torii Hunter or Alex Rios or Melky Cabrera to cover our OF/DH need. Hunter retuned to his old Minnesota home. Markakis went to the Braves to fill the void left by Jason Heyward moving to St. Louis. KC is supposedly in the Melky discussion, but I’m not sure we’d want to lose the draft pick we’d have to surrender of we signed him. Rios is still available and apparently the Royals have checked in on him too. Thanks but no thanks. It’s beginning to look like we won’t be pursuing a big name outfielder for 2015. It seems the Royals are content to just sit back and let the market come to them rather than springing for the big names.

At this point I’d look for the Royals to make another move like they made acquiring Nori Aoki last year (who is still unsigned and probably won’t be pursued until after the bigger names go, but the way things are going, I wonder if they’d take another 1 year flier on him?). Again, the worst case scenario here is that Cain plays RF and Dyson starts in CF.

Two names out of Toronto could be ones to watch. Colby Rasmus has never been a spectacular and somehow got paid $7M by the Blue Jays to hit .225/.287/.448 in 2014. We wouldn’t pay him anywhere near that , and would probably platoon him with Dyson and keep swapping Cain back and forth between RF and LF.

The other name from the Jays has Royals connections: John Mayberry Jr. is a beast with all the power but not much MLB success. He would be dirt cheap, and could provide depth in the outfield as well as at 1B behind Eric Hosmer. When I saw JMJ in Toronto back in September, I was shocked at how big the dude is, but he looked borderline lost at the plate. On a day when the Jays scored 14 runs off the fading Mariners, JMJ was the last Jays starter to get a hit – he went 1-4 with a double in the 8th, a walk and one ugly strikeout.

Just a couple names to consider. Nothing revolutionary, but it’s beginning to look like that’s the kind of offseason we’ll be having with KC.

Neither of these options addresses the DH hole in our lineup either. Which is why I’m afraid we’re going to have to take more drastic measures.

The final possibility is that we ship Greg Holland or Wade Davis elsewhere in a trade. Holland is the preferable choice because he’s the most expensive of the two, and honestly, I think Davis is the better of the two. But a move like this is only possible because of how active Dayton Moore has been with the bullpen.

Bullpen moves aplenty

The Royals have been very active in retaining the MLB’s best bullpen. First, they brought back Jason Frasor on a $1.8M deal with a club option for 2016. Then they signed everybody’s favorite #1 overall pick, Luke Hochevar, to a 2 year, $10M deal.

I love bringing back Frasor, but I’m pretty curious to see how Hochevar does coming off Tommy John surgery last year. Luke’s career was very disappointing as a starter, but he turned it around in the pen in 2013. Feels like a lot of money to give a guy who has only had one good year in his career and is coming off a major injury.

Assuming these two work out (and assuming we don’t ship Holland or Davis away) we seem to have fixed the “sixth inning issue” we faced in 2014. In fact, we’ve strengthened our bullpen to the point that we can just work backwards from the 9th inning to the 1st instead of the other way around.

9th – Holland
8th – Davis
7th – Herrera
6th – Hochevar
5th – …we literally only need 4 or 5 innings out of our starters. It’s kind of a joke.

And with how brilliant Brandon Finnegan was in September/October, he might just end up out there as well if our starters seem strong enough without him. He’d be a great 6th option out of the pen of needed.

When the season ended, with the departure of James Shields, the primary need appeared to be starting pithing. Now? I’m not so sure. If our bullpen is strong enough, we may not even need to jump at a top starter at all. Just someone serviceable who can give 5 innings to get the ball to HHDH. (The only reason I’d want us to ship Davis instead of Holland is so we could start referring to it as “Triple H.”)

Ervin Santana

Let’s be honest, it’s only a matter of time before Ervin Santana comes back to KC. He was great here in 2013, and he tried to get more money elsewhere but couldn’t find the market he wanted. He found a home in ATL and had a fine season, but he’s back on the market and seems to be a perfect fit in KC.

We can’t afford a Tier 1 starter, but giving a 4-year deal to a guy of Santana’s ability seems wise. Butler Olney of ESPN has reported that Santana wants 5 years, but that seems like a stretch. The only hiccup in the plan would be if another team (I’ve heard the Giants mentioned) were able to show more commitment with a longer deal.

A rotation of Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie and Santana? AND Finnegan? Seems more than good enough. And with our bullpen as strong as ever? Good to go.

Plus, he’s as likeable as they come. Just sign the guy.

Another note: Jeremy Guthrie appears to be recruiting Santana himself (top-left).

Atta boy, Jeremy. Go get him. And while you’re at it, can you convince him to bring Justin Upton along with him? Just kidding…but really.

Daniel Descalso

This isn’t going to happen, but I’d love to see it at least pop up as a possibility. The Cardinals decided not to tender utility infielder Daniel Descalso a contract this week. Many of you know that I come from a long line of Cardinals fans, and my dad raised me to root for them too. It’s a point of contention between other Royals fans and I because they hate the Cardinals with all of their being. I get that, and I won’t fight them on it either.

Anyway, as a Cardinals supporter, Descalso has been my favorite player for STL over the past few years. He plays about 50-80 games a year. He’s a backup utility guy who can play all four infield positions, and even pitched an inning in 2014. He’d cost less than $1M to add as a better-than-Christian-Colon bench player, especially if we think Colon needs additional time in AAA.

Probably most importantly: he hit .364/.472/.448 versus left-handed pitching in 2014. Sure, his career numbers aren’t phenomenal and the sample size was a bit smaller, but that’s 33 points higher than Danny Valencia hit this year at close to the same cost. Those LHP numbers are obviously way better than Mike Moustakas too. And with Infante’s age/injury status and the complete lack of depth behind Escobar (who played all 162 games last season), it might be a good idea to add a versatile and MLB-proven utility guy for the bench and occasional start.

Biased? Maybe a little bit. I do own a Descalso jersey t-shirt. But I also think it’s a good fit a la Danny Valencia last year only with more positional flexibility. Just an idea. Take it or leave it, Dayton.

And finally…

Do I think the Kansas City Royals are the team to beat in the AL Central? I do. Get at me.

-apc.