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

Free Agency: What are the Royals biggest needs this 2014-15 offseason?

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Following the 2010 season – a mere 4 years ago – I’m not sure I could’ve written this post. Things were just too terrible to address in a 1000-word post.

That year, 2010, Billy Butler played 158 games at 1B and Yuniesky Betancourt played 151 games at SS. Gil Meche and Jose Guillen accounted for over 1/3 of the team salary. Coming off his 2009 Cy Young campaign, Zack Greinke had a bit of a set back (also he didn’t want to be in KC and was a borderline poison in the clubhouse) and was being shopped around the league, eventually going to the Brewers. Luke Hochevar was disappointing to say the least. Kyle Davies was the absolute worst. Brian Bannister was out of baseball. Bruce Chen was arguably our best pitcher this time 4 years ago.

Billy led all position players in WAR at 3.2. David DeJesus was second with 1.9, but he was a free agent heading to Oakland. Alberto Callaspo had a decent year but was traded to the Angels mid-season. Mike Aviles seemed to be a bright spot, but his .304/.335/.413 would drop to .255/.289/.409 in 2011.

Things were dark, and it was not easy to look at the organization and pinpoint three or four steps to becoming contenders.

It was a hot mess.

Thankfully, Dayton Moore knew what he was doing. He flipped Greinke for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Jake Odorizzi. Two years later he flipped Wil Myers and Odorizzi for James Shields and Wade Davis. Alex Gordon emerged as an all-star left-fielder. And Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez were groomed within the system and suddenly a championship team took shape.

This isn’t the 2010-11 offseason. This is the 2014-15 offseason, and it’s amazing how easy building in free agency can appear when you’re already a contender.

Today – again, just 4 years later – it’s relatively easy to pinpoint those key places the Royals need to address. It’s clear where this team has holes – some holes bigger than others, but holes nonetheless. So let’s look at the spots where the Royals need to improve and what they might be able to do to address each position.

Starting Pitcher

This is the big one. We all know how important starting pitching is in Major League Baseball. James Shields has officially rejected his qualifying offer, so the current Royals rotation for 2015 currently looks like this:

Yordano Ventura
Danny Duffy
Jason Vargas
Jeremy Guthrie

There is the possibility that Brandon Finnegan could be added to that list, but I think most of us would like to see him log some additional time in the minors prior to being thrown into a starting roll. Even if he is lights out in Spring Training and earns a spot on the roster, I’m not comfortable leaning on him for 20-30 starts. Besides, we need depth for when Yordano inevitably needs Tommy John surgery. Ugh, I hate that that is always a looming possibility.

So what are our options? Well, if Shields is out of our price range, then Jon Lester and Max Sherzer certainly are too. But second-teir starters like Francisco Liriano or Ervin Santana could be a fit. Santana loved his time in KC in 2013, and we know he can have success in the friendly pitching confines of Kauffman Stadium. Liriano’s 2014 campaign wasn’t nearly what his 2013 was, but he posted a low-3’s ERA for the second straight year and threw 150+ innings for the 4th straight year.

Personally, I’d love to see Ervin back in blue. Apparently the Royals have scheduled a meeting with his agent at the GM winter meetings coming up. Go get him.

Right Field/Designated Hitter

I’ve lumped these together because we ought to be able to kill two birds with one stone here. If we could find a power hitting right fielder, it would provide a lot of flexibility for this lineup moving forward. You could utilize a more fluid DH position between different guys – most importantly Salvador Perez who played a billion games behind home plate this season.

Names like Torii Hunter and Melky Cabrera have been floated around. Cabrera hasn’t played much right field (could we put him in CF with Lorenzo Cain full time in RF?), but we wouldn’t be putting him out there for his defense. Besides, with Jarrod Dyson available off the bench for defense, we would have the flexibility to simply utilize Melky as a DH as well. Torii is intriguing to me – more veteran leadership a la Shields and Raul Ibanez this past season, sure, but I’m not sure I want to sign a guy whose career is so clearly on the decline. But he wants a ring badly, and he would certainly make us better.

There’s still a possibility that Billy Butler returns for a much cheaper payday than he might get elsewhere, and if that happens, it would be interesting to see what the Royals did in RF without the need for a DH bat.

Nori Aoki isn’t completely out of the question either, although I’ve heard he’s seeking 3 years and I’m not sure the Royals would want to commit that much to him. He did a great job getting on base for us in 2014, but his defense remains an adventure.

And who knows – maybe Dyson can be a legitimate every day starter and we can unleash The Ultimate Outfield every day next year. He’s one of the best CF in the game. He’s such a threat off the bench, but he also put up 2.8 WAR this year as a part-time player which is the highest of his career.

If Melky is affordable, I’d love to see him back in a Royals uniform on a 2 or 3 year deal as a hybrid DH/OF. To me, he’s the best option. Better than Torii Hunter. And don’t try and convince me that Ichiro is even worth considering.

The other idea that has been circulating since the trade deadline this year is the possibility of trading for Marlon Byrd. Not sure what we would have to give up, but it’s worth noting.

One last thought: This time last year I was gushing over the possibility of Carlos Beltran making his way back to KC. Lots of people weren’t in support of the move, but I think we can all agree that he would be the perfect guy to complete this lineup. Freaking Yankees.

Update: Okay one more thought – apparently the Royals are pursuing Ryan Howard assuming the Phillies agree to eat the majority of his contract. Very interesting news.

Third Base/Utility Infielder

“But, you said that Mike Moustakas was a different player in October!” Yes, I did say that, and I still believe that he was. Moose looked relaxed, as if he no longer felt he needed to prove himself.

But he still wasn’t that great. In 15 postseason games, he hit .251/.259/.558. His 5 postseason home runs set a Royals record and resulted in a huge SLG split, but even with his AVG at .251, is that good enough to give him 150-160 starts next year? Especially when he hit .172 off of lefties…not acceptable as a full-time player.

That said, we’ve had a small sample size of Moose as a “relaxed” postseason player. I’d like to see a full campaign from him to determine whether he’s turned it around or not. Verdict is still out.

Omar Infante played with an injured shoulder to finish the season. If that lingers or becomes a trend it would be nice to have infield depth.

And God forbid Alcides Escobar gets hurt. He played all 162 regular season and 15 post season games last year, and we didn’t really have a backup plan for a while until Christian Colon was called up mid-season.

All that to say, we need options, and I’d prefer versatile options if possible. I’m a huge supporter if the utility man.

Christian Colon has proven he’s good enough to be on the roster coming off the bench, but I’m not sure he has much of an upside beyond his current role as a backup. Somebody like Emilio Bonefacio or Mark Reynolds might work. Just more as a safety net than anything else in case of injury or the return of MoustakAZ .

Left-Handed Bullpen Arm

Finally, we need a lefty out of the bullpen. We’re stacked with righties – Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland are all righties – but we are weak on lefties. Francisley Bueno and Tim Collins aren’t the scariest of foes out of the ‘pen. Of course, to compare anyone to those other three is unfair, but I’d rather see any of those guys than any lefty we currently have on the roster.

Brandon Finnegan was our best option during the postseason, and he made for a decent bandaid when called upon. He really only had one bad outing – Game 4 of the World Series – but we want him to be a starter in the future. Somebody like Josh Outman or Andrew Miller would be nice, but they might be too expensive depending which of the above moves we choose to make.

It would be wise for us to take a gamble on a lefty arm. We can’t call on HDH every time like we did this year. They just about ran out of gas in August/September.

***

It’s a new time in KC and there are very few holes on this team moving forward. With our postseason revenue and likely increase in season ticket sales next year, we ought to have more money than ever before as well.

The best thing we have going for us? The fact that winning usually begets more winning. So let’s wheel and deal. After all, we just need to get 90 feet better.

-apc.

The Royals are up 2-0 in the ALDS. Thoughts after Games 1&2, and looking toward Game 3.

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The Royals are one win away from the American League Championship Series.

Just let that settle in. A week ago Friday, the Royals were spraying champagne in the visitors’ dugout at US Cellular field celebrating their first playoff berth in 29 years. It marked the end of an exhausting month duking it out with Detroit, Oakland, Seattle and Cleveland for the last remaining playoff spots. We were like Charlie Bucket entering Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory – others may have felt entitled to their playoff spot, but we’re were kinda just happy to be there.

I alluded to this in my post following Tuesday’s Wild Card win, but I’ll say it more explicitly here: I always thought we would lose the Wild Card game. From the beginning of this season, I thought this was a playoff team, but I didn’t think we were most likely to win the Central. And everything in my experience as a Royals fan speaks to the narrative of disappointment. Losing the Wild Card matchup would have been the ultimate disappointment. I expected it.

But they won.

Then they won again on Thursday thanks to incredible outfield defense from Nori Aoki and Lorenzo Cain and a huge 11th-inning home run from Mike Moustakas. Then they won again on Friday thanks to Yordano Ventura completely shutting down the Los Angeles Angels’ star-studded power lineup and another huge 11th inning home run – this one from Eric Hosmer.

One week. It’s been an exhausting one, hasn’t it?

Not sure about you, but I’ve averaged around 4 hours of sleep over this past week. I was at Tuesday’s game that lasted 4 hours and 45 minutes. Didn’t get home until 1AM, and I was so jacked up there was no way I was getting to bed immediately. Thursday night’s 11-inning affair finished up at 12:13PM. Friday’s ended at 12:26PM. Even then, it’s just not possible for me to sleep well (or at all) after such dramatic ballgames.

It isn’t purely sleep deprivation though, is it? It’s been emotionally draining too. This is the first time in MLB postseason history that a team has won three consecutive extra inning games. This is the only time a team to play three straight 11+ inning games too. Only five other teams have won three total extra inning playoff games before this year: 86 Mets, 91 Twins, 96 Yankees, 03 Marlins, 04 Red Sox.

See anything in common in that list?

Oh, just that all of those teams won the World Series. So there’s that.

The Royals have an opportunity to sweep the “best team in the American League” (although that’s open for debate at this point) tonight. They are 1 win away from playing in the American League Championship Series and 5 wins away from the World Series and 9 wins away from being 2014 World Series Champions. THIS IS REAL PEOPLE. IT’S HAPPENING.

It’s been a crazy, exhausting and thrilling week, yes? I don’t know how I can survive the rest of this month. And if I don’t, it’s probably already been worth it.

Vargas & Yordano

When I heard the news that Jason Vargas would be starting Game 1, I was not thrilled. Vargas had a terrible September: a 9.00 ERA in his last 4 starts of the season. I saw his final start in person in Cleveland actually. He doesn’t throw hard, so he has to rely on his pinpoint control, and he did not have it that night. I wanted Danny Duffy instead, but the Royals know their team better than I do. Apparently.

Because Vargas was great. He gave up just two hits in 6 innings. Only problem is both of those hits were home runs – one to Chris Iannetta and one to David Freese. But overall he was extremely effective and got us to the bullpen after 6. (With a little lot of help from the defense.)

And Yordano. Oh, Yordano. The dude is just insane. I’ve never seen him nastier. He was throwing straight fire. 102 with movement just isn’t fair. Before Friday, the most 100+ MPH pitches he’d thrown in one game was 5. Friday night, he threw 12. TWELVE different pitches at or over 100 MPH. He only threw 95 pitches, so that’s 12.6% of his pitches! I tell you what, it’s nice to have a rookie like that. Get him a contract extension ASAP.

Moose & Hosmer

These two were Dayton Moore’s poster boys. The first round picks in 2007 & 2008 were supposed to come in and change the landscape of Royals baseball for years to come. Unfortunately, they’ve mostly stunk. Especially Moose.

Moustakas had a stint in Omaha this summer. The team went on a giant winning stretch while Hosmer was on the disabled list in July/August. I’ve personally lobbied for both of them to be benched at some point this season. Christian Colon has played well in his time in the majors this year, and Danny Valencia did a fine job platooning with Moose before we traded him to Toronto. Billy Butler’s resurgence while Hosmer was out sparked lots of questions whether Hos would get his position back when he returned.

But wouldn’t you know it, the first two games of the ALDS are won off of 11th inning home runs from each of them. They’re the heroes of the ALDS so far.

I’m curious how Friday’s game impacts Moose’s career in the long term. We know he can hit – he does it in Spring Training year after year. He has always put so much pressure on himself to perform that his average slips around .200-.220. But the last few weeks we have seen a different Moose in my opinion. He’s amped up to play. He’s taking the ball to the opposite field regularly to beat the shift. He even pushed a bunt single down the line on Friday. Pure gold.

I have a sense – and we’ll see how this plays out – that Moose is more relaxed than he has ever been in his career after the home run last night. I’m betting that we continue to see a productive Moose throughout the playoffs and into next season. At least, I hope.

Ned & Holland

I’ve already addressed how annoyed I get with the Royals fan base hating Ned Yost. And he’s not flawless, obviously. But I think we just enjoy hating him at this point.

No one seems to be arguing about the lineup since Omar Infante got moved down and Cain moved up. The only situation that seems to get criticized now is the use, or lack thereof, of Greg Holland in the 9th inning in the last three games.

In the Wild Card game, with the Royals losing 7-6, Yost brought in Holland in the 9th at home before the Royals tied the game up in the bottom half. Makes perfect sense because if he doesn’t use him and we don’t score then you’ve neglected your best bullpen arm in the end.

In the last two games, with the game tied, Yost has chosen to go with Jason Frasor and a Tim Collins/Frasor combo. He kept Holland for the 11th inning in both games. Typically, in a tie game on the road, you’d throw your closer in the 9th, get three outs and make sure the game goes to extras. Use your best arms and resort to the lesser arms when/if you have to. No sense in throwing the game away by putting in a lesser pitcher instead.

But here’s the rub with that logic: you’re going to have to throw your worse arm if you want to win anyway. Even if Yost decided to throw Holland in the 9th, then Moose/Hosmer hits their homer in the 11th, he would then turn to Frasor and/or Collins for the bottom of the 11th. You’d rely on the same pitchers, just at different points of the game.

So, hypothetically, if Collins had blown it in the 9th, we’d all be blasting Yost for not bringing in Holland instead. Except, if he does bring in Holland and he’s successful, you’re going to have to trust Collins later anyway. It’s a half foot one way, six inches the other.

It boils down to preference, really. Would you rather save your best guy for when you have a lead or throw him to sustain the tie? The lesser-than-Hollands are going to have to throw at some point anyway.

Personally, I’d much rather see Holland in there in a save situation in the 11th than Tim Collins or Jason Frasor, and I think you would too. Wouldn’t we rather have a shutdown guy ready to go once we took the lead? A lead is a win with Holland out there still. A lead is still somewhat in question when turning to Collins/Frasor.

Note to Yost: keep doing what you’re doing with Holland. Also, proud of you for bringing in Davis in the 7th. And if Herrera is out long term, the answer is either lefty Brandon Finnegan or righty Jason Frasor depending on the matchup.

Looking Forward: Big Game James v. CJ Wilson

I have tickets to the game tonight at Kauffman Stadium (!!!!!!), and who else would you rather have in a potential clinching game than James Shields? Let’s take a look at the career splits vs current rosters…

Shields vs LAA, career: .279/.305/.525

Wilson vs KC, career: .252/.337/.459

The Angels hit Shields very well. Howie Kendrick especially: 14-26 (.538/.556/.855). In fact, it seems like anyone on this team who has faced Shields much has had some success against him.

Albert Pujols is 3-6 vs Shields. Mike Trout is 2-6…with a 3B and a HR. That’s a .333/.333/1.167 split.

Except Josh Hamilton. He stinks versus BGJ. I would not be shocked to see Hamilton get benched today. He is hitless so far in the series, got booed loudly during Game 2 in Los Angeles, and lifetime against Shields he is 3-25 with 11 strikeouts. Collin Cowgill is 0-3 lifetime against Shields, but played 44 games out in LF this season, mostly while Hamilton was out during September. If I were Mike Scioscia, I’d bench Hamilton for Cowgill.

The biggest difference is that Shields (3.21 ERA) hardly walks anyone while Wilson (4.51) walks a lot. Except the Royals this year finished dead last in the majors in walks taken. Patience at the plate (looking at you, Salvy and Lorenzo) will reap it’s benefits against Wilson. Wilson also pitches significantly worse on the road (4-8, 5.31 ERA) than at home (9-2, 3.82 ERA). So that works in our favor as well.

Shields is obviously the better pitcher, especially with Wilson pitching on the road, but I’m more nervous than usual with Shields against the Angels.

*****

Okay that’s enough for now. We’ll pick it back up after they sweep the best team in the American League tonight. But let’s be honest, are they still the best team?

I’m predicting a 6-3 Royals win.

Until then, I’ll be listening to Tech N9ne and J-Lo’s “Waiting for Tonight” on loop. See you at Kauffman. Let’s get weird.

-apc.