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.

Game 21: U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago

This morning’s post game report is going to be short and sweet because I’m on a time crunch to drive up to Milwaukee for this afternoon’s game. Here are a couple notes from yesterday’s game…

The Cell was way better than I anticipated. Not in my Top 10 ballparks. Actually probably not even in my Top 15. But I had extremely low expectations going into the game, and I was surprised at what I found instead.

U.S. Cellular Field was originally Comiskey Park II. It was built in 1991, which was the year before Camden Yards was built in Baltimore and completely changed the landscape of ballpark design. After Camden, every park for the next 20 years was a “retro” design utilizing steel and brick aesthetics rather than the concrete coliseums/multipurpose parks of the previous decades (think Kauffman Stadium, Oakland Coliseum, Dodger Stadium, etc.). Comiskey II was the last of that era, and I wasn’t expecting it to be worth much. It’s undergone renovations and remodels numerous times to make it more appealing, and clearly their improvements have made an impact.

We arrived in Chicago around 10:30 and bolted as quickly as possible to The Cell on the Southside. We made it most of the way there on the Red Line, but they weren’t letting passengers off at the 35th-Sox station next to the ballpark because there was an acid spill next to the station and they had to close down the whole area – blocks in each direction. A somewhat crazy start to the trip.

Keeping up with my tradition at each ballpark, I picked up a White Sox cap at the ballpark. As a Royals fan, I dislike the White Sox quite a bit, so I opted for the throwback 1983 style (which, as I’ve probably mentioned elsewhere, is one of my favorite uniforms ever). It’s pretty slick, actually.

I saw three potential themes to write about from today’s game: the myth of clutch-hitting, the goal of evangelism, and the purpose of the Ten Commandments.

#1: The Myth of Clutch Hitting

One of the largest debates in baseball circles is whether or not there is such a thing as a “clutch” ballplayer. Certainly there are clutch hits, and clutch situations, but is it true that some ballplayers are literally better than others at hitting in big time situations? When the pressure is on, are there certain guys that inexplicably can rise to the occasion while others cower and sweat and ultimately fail?

The reason I ask, is because on two separate occasions, rookie phenom, Jose Abreu, came up with runners on base and an opportunity to put the White Sox up with one swing of the bat. Abreu leads the MLB in HRs this year with 31. Now that Mashiro Tanaka is out with an injury, it seems pretty certain that Abreu will be the Rookie of the Year in the AL. He’s exactly the guy you want up in that situation.

He came up twice with runners on and both times I found myself leaning forward begging him to come through in the clutch.

In the fourth inning, with a runner on first, he grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. In the 6th inning, with runners on second and third with two outs (the Sox best chance for a rally in the game) he grounded out to the shortstop again, ending the inning and the threat.

Jose Abreu was not clutch yesterday.

But it begs some questions: are there certain humans that thrive in the tight spots? Are there others who are weak in pressure spots?

Ultimately, the guys at Baseball Prospectus will tell you that there’s no such thing as a “clutch” hitters. There are clutch moments – like Carlton Fisk in the 1975 World Series or David Freese in the 2011 World Series – that are certainly clutch moments. But there’s no such thing as a clutch individual. The numbers correlate pretty much across the board that guys who are better players are the guys you want at the plate in tight spots.

There’s more math here, and tons of articles written about it, but we basically know that the idea of “clutch-hitters” is a myth.

It’s funny what myths we buy into as humans. For example, the “creation story” of baseball is a myth. Abner Doubleday supposedly invented the game in Cooperstown. But there is zero evidence that Doubleday was ever in Cooperstown nor that he had anything to do with the game.

Baseball needed an origin story that made baseball purely an American game and not a variation of the English game of Cricket or stickball. We wanted an origin story – a myth – to believe in because we needed to believe in something. I’ve written a lot about the Genesis creation debate elsewhere, so I’m not going to get into it here, but suffice it to say, it’s a myth too.

#2: The Goal of Evangelism

As a culture, we don’t really care about faith/spirituality/belief actually changing our lives. We just want to know how to get to Heaven. What’s the one thing we have to do to cross from “Death into Life”?

I think many of us have adopted this mentality in how we preach the gospel to others. Is the goal of evangelism conversion and subsequent salvation? Or is the goal of evangelism an altered lifestyle? I believe it is the latter.

I believe that our culture is constantly trying to hit home runs in our evangelism when we should be focusing on hitting singles. When we preach or interact with others, are we trying to convert and save them? Or are we engaging them relationally in a new lifestyle?

Relationships aren’t about home runs. It’s done over time. Gradually. Stringing singles and walks together instead.

I love this analogy, but the exact opposite happened in the game yesterday. The only runs scored were off of HRs, and not a single run was scored by stringing singles together. So that’s hilarious, so never mind. We’ll revisit this idea somewhere else probably.

#3: The Purpose of the Ten Commandments

Ozzie Guillen was the White Sox manager from 2004-2011. When he was in Chicago, he had a list of phrases he called “Grinder Rules”, and the Sox have posted these phrases all around the ballpark. Here’s a sampling…

  • Win, or die trying.
  • Everything pitch is full count.Every inning, the ninth. Every game, game seven.Be a man. Play like a boy.
  • Ixnay on talkin’ about the ayoffsplay.
  • Pitch. Hit. Win. Repeat.
  • Crying in baseball is acceptable only if champagne burns your eyes.
  • Taste victory and be hungry forever.
  • Respect the past, people that are shoeless, and anyone named Joe.

There are many, many more, and they’re all full of Ozzie’s goofy yet competitive attitude. They’re a way of playing the game. A way of approaching the game they get paid to play. These phrases define an era of White Sox Baseball.

And it reminds me of the Ten Commandments. Well, I should say the 613 commandments, because thats how many there actually are in the Torah.

The Torah is the Law of Moses. The first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

When we read these 613 commandments, we often see a list of rules and regulations. A list of Dos and Don’ts. Legalism, even. But that’s not the goal of the Ten Commandments and Torah at all.

The goal of Torah is to maintain right relationship with God and others. It’s not about following the rules; it’s about our connection with our friends, our enemies and our God.

Every ball club has their “Way” of playing the game. The Cardinal Way. The Yankee Way. The Ranger Way. The White Sox Way. Each “Way” calls the players to a certain lifestyle.

The Way of God calls followers to a lifestyle of right relationship.

Just a few connections I started thinking about yesterday. Obviously incomplete, but we’re leaving for Milwaukee in 10 minutes and I gotta wrap this post up ASAP.

Game Notes:

Chris Sale started for the White Sox and really only made one mistake the whole evening – gave up a 2 run HR to Adam Rosales in the 2nd inning. Bummer we had to see one of Sale’s 2 losses on the year.

Rosales hit another HR off the Sox bullpen in the 7th. Dayan Viciedo hit a solo shot for the Sox in the bottom half of the inning to make it 3-1 Rangers and that’s all the scoring that took place.

Double plays were killer for the Sox. They got the lead off man on in 4 consecutive innings and couldn’t score any of those frames. Three DPs led to 0 runs.

Stinks to see another loss. But let’s be honest, I’m not a Sox fan.

Twenty-one down. Nine to go.

Up Next: Milwaukee Brewers.

-apc.

Game 5: Globe Life Park in Arlington

From the outside, Globe Life Park looks like more of a fortress than a ballpark. It is a massive brick structure with arched gates and peaked turrets, but it sits in the same complex as the Cowboys’ ridiculously huge AT&T Stadium so that makes it feel a bit less daunting. But don’t be fooled. It’s still Texas, and it’s still huge.

photo-21This was my second trip to the Ballpark. My last trip was 11 years ago. My family was in DFW for my cousin Ryan’s wedding, and the Royals happened to be in town that weekend too. Today, Ryan works for the fire department and he sports one of the most gnarly mustaches you’ll ever see. He and his family live in Abilene, TX, now, so he and his son, Graham, were able to join me for last night’s game.

The Rangers have been here since 1994, the year after Nolan Ryan retired, but his name is still found all over the place as he is the CEO of the Rangers today. Even the hot dogs are “Nolan Ryan Beef” dogs. Nolan Ryan has always been a favorite of my cousins*, and since I’m a handful of years younger, that’s probably the primary reason he’s been a favorite of mine over the years as well.

* – This might get a bit dicey trying to reference Nolan Ryan and my cousin, Ryan, in the same post. If you get confused, I understand. I’m trying my best to wordsmith so it’s clear. I do the same thing when I’m trying to avoid using the possessive form of Jesus’s name the name of Jesus in the possessive.

It’s funny how things like that rub off on you. Someone in your life you look up to likes something? Well, it’s only right that you adopt that thing too.

Oh, you like The Eagles, Dad? Yeah, me too.

Oh, you drink coffee, Mom? Yeah, me too.

Oh, you like Nolan Ryan, cuz? Yeah, me too.

It’s amazing how influential those people we admire truly are in our lives. I think if we all took a moment to think through our interests, careers and values, we could trace them all back to someone in our lives who modeled it for us.

Another individuals who I looked up to as a high schooler was my small group leader, Rapley, who now teaches accounting at the University of North Texas, and drove 45 minutes down from Denton to come to the game last night as well.

Rapley spent four years – freshman through senior year – committed to my group of friends at the church we grew up at. He was there week after week. Rapley wasn’t a youth pastor – he was an accountant in KC during those years – but he was present and committed to our group, and I looked up to him and he helped pastor me anyway.

Rapley was a K-State graduate, and he loved throwing around the Alf phrase, “Relax Willie, no problem!” I was too young to know the reference (and I still don’t really know it), but the guys in our group picked it up and worked it into our lexicon. Not because we knew the origin, but because if Rapley used it, then we wanted to too.

photo-20More importantly, I admired both of these men because of the way they taught me about being a man of God. Not through their intentional words, but through the way they lived their daily lives.

So the ability to be surrounded by Ryan and Rapley, both sitting with their sons, was an awesome experience for me last night in Arlington. They were spending time with me, sure, but more importantly, they were doing was shaping and forming their own sons.

I think something powerful happens when dads (or moms) take their sons (or daughters) to the events they care about. It’s a creator-created relationship, and the created child is being constantly formed in the way of the Creator.

I love getting to watch parents and kids interact at the ballpark. Dads teaching their sons to keep score. Moms dancing with their daughters in the aisles. Dads pointing out players and asking what number is on their uniform. Moms modeling for their sons cheers like, “Charge!” and “Let’s go [insert team name here]!” and “We want a single, S-I-N-G-L-E!” and more.

Baseball, unlike other sports, provides the perfect intimate setting for these interactions to take place. There is time to discuss and teach and invest in one another. It’s not just action packed intensity like football, and it’s not as fast-paced and noisy as basketball, and it provides breaks and silence in ways soccer and hockey doesn’t. It’s uniquely conversational and perfect for formation to take place.

All that to say, I loved being in the middle of these two father-son pairings. I’m thankful for these men in my life, and how they continue to model godliness to me through their love for their sons.

A couple additional notes before I move on to the game itself: the Rangers sell an item called the Boomstick. Which is a twenty-four inch hot dog for $26. It comes in a carrier that folds up with a handle and can be carried like a briefcase. We didn’t get one, but the family in front of us tag teamed one and licked the briefcase clean.

Also, the Rangers do a race called the Ozark Dot Race where three different color dots – Red, Blue and Green – race in from the left field warning track. It was fun to cheer for Relish Green, but then he finished last so clearly it’s rigged.

Game Notes:

The company was great, but the game itself stunk.

Colby Lewis was called up to make his first start in nearly 21 months for the Rangers. He’s a pretty cool story: Lewis was a major piece of the rotation during the 2010 and 2011 World Series teams, but hasn’t pitched since July 18, 2012. He’s spent the better part of 2 years trying to recover and finally made it back to start last night.

He had a respectable game. He gave up a solo homer in the 5th, and 2 runs to start the 6th. Lewis was pulled after that, and walked to the dugout to a standing ovation from the crowd. He looked sharp, which has to feel great for a guy who has worked so hard to get back there.

Unfortunately, the Rangers offense was pitiful again, and only managed 1 run the whole game. They hit into 4 double plays, and only had 3 batters reach 2nd base all night.

A day after watching the Braves offense exploding, I saw the Rangers bats do nothing at all against the Mariners’ Roenis Elias, who got his first win of his career.

The score was 1-0 going into the 6th, and everything still felt pretty good. Even after Lewis gave up 2 runs to make it 3-0, it felt like the Rangers still had a shot. But the defense made 3 errors and reliever Pedro Figeroa gave up 3 more hits en route to a 6 run inning for Seattle.

One of those errors was due to an overturned call. With the bases loaded, the Mariners chopped a ball back to Figeroa, who threw home to get the force out. The catcher, Arencibia, trying to transfer the ball out of his glove quickly and fire to first for the double play, dropped the ball taking it out of his glove.

Initially, the Rangers were given the out, but Mariners manager, Lloyd McClendon, challenged the call and Seattle picked up the run instead.

Then the most exciting moment of the game happened: Ron Washington got tossed. And fast.

Ryan’s question: “I wonder what he said to get himself thrown out so fast?”

photo-22Rangers got pounded, 7-1, and Prince Fielder’s #84 did nothing to help his physique.

Five down. Twenty-Five to go.

Up Next: Houston Astros.

-apc.