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.

Game 1: Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati

Cincinnati was the perfect place to kick off Opening Day. They do it right here in the Queen City, and they’ve been doing it right for a long long time.

I wanted to begin my ballpark tour in Cincinnati because historically it is where the baseball season has always started. In 1869, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first all-professional baseball team. Ten salaried players managed to go 57-0 against its competition that season.*

* – Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been surrounded by Cincy natives who hate Kentucky basketball, but it’s hard to shake the obvious comparison of college athletes getting handouts under the table causing a similar imbalance in the NCAA. 

Being first in professional baseball may not have been the sole reason the Reds managed to host the season opener every year, but it definitely aided Cincinnati’s case. Until recently, it was the place to be for Opening Day. The president would even be regularly called upon to throw out the first pitch. But in an era of TV ratings, coastal elitism and dreams of international fan bases (Australia?! Seriously?), it doesn’t get the national audience has in the past.

But that doesn’t mean it lacks the enthusiasm on a local level. Cincinnatians still have Opening Day fever. The city buzzes with life the whole weekend leading up. People skip out on work, businesses take the day off, and Skyline Chili offers free cheese coneys. The 95th annual Findlay’s Market Opening Day Parade travels the streets of downtown, and fans line the streets for miles to wave back at the nearly two hour fanfare.

I even saw one woman who dyed her poodle completely red to celebrate the day. Opening Day is that big of a deal in Cincinnati.

We hit the Hall of Fame first – the Reds’ is one of the best HOF experiences in the MLB – and then walked the parade route for a bit. Hall of Famer Dave Concepcion, Reds shortstop during the 1970s “The Big Red Machine” era, was grand marshall this year, and joined by George Foster and injured Reds pitchers Mat Latos and Aroldis Chapman. Poor Chapman. Really rooting for a quick recovery for him after getting hit in the head with a Salvy Perez line drive a couple weeks ago.

Concepcion also threw out the first pitch alongside another HOF Reds Ss: Barry Larkin. Straight off the ESPN set, he donned a Reds uniform over his blue collared shirt, and the two threw out simultaneous first pitches (although Concepcion jumped the gun a bit and definitely threw first).

Something I learned about Reds baseball: it has a long history of local talent. In fact, in the Hall, there is a whole section dedicated to all the Reds players out of Cincinnati and nearby Indiana and Kentucky. The list is astonishing, really. Here’s a quick sampling…

  • Barry Larkin
  • Pete Rose
  • Ken Griffey, Jr.
  • Joe Nuxhall
  • Dave Parker

…that’s just off the top of my head. The plaque has over 100 names on it.

This connection with the players – the local boys – creates a bond between the fans and the players. They call them by their first names (or at least the friendly lady I was sitting next to did), and they feel a connection with the team in a way high profile, big city teams don’t.

The Reds are their boys, and they represent their city.

This hometown bond makes Reds fans extremely loyal, and their players – especially the local boys – embrace and return this loyalty – Pete Rose flew in from Las Vegas to support his hometown and former team even! There’s a great tradition of guys like Rose who play hard for their home city and it’s fans.

Speaking of Rose, it was awesome to see him on hand at Opening Day. But it had to kill him to watch his former teammates Concepcion, Foster, and Joe Morgan (who was a part of the pre-game fanfare too) be honored for their time in a Reds uniform on field while Rose watched as a paying customer. The Reds and their fans certainly want to honor Pete the same way they honored Dave, George and Joe. And as a Cincy native, he deserves accolades more than any other.

If you don’t know by now, I’ve positioned myself fully in the “Let Pete into the HOF” club. He never bet on his own team (that would be completely against his competitive nature), and if Barry Bonds can be honored on field in Pittsburgh yesterday, then Pete Rose should in Cincinnati.

If all baseball sins are equal, then there should be no difference between the treatment. If all baseball sins aren’t equal, it baffles me that gambling would be less egregious than steroid use.

Pete has been demonized by Major League Baseball and turned into a poster boy for what happens when you bet on baseball. That may have been a necessary message in the 80’s, but now the message has run it’s course.

It’s time to let Pete in. Maybe a new commissioner will make it happen. I sure hope so.

All that to say, Cincinnati loves the Reds. Especially on Opening Day. And not just the organization, but the individual ballplayers themselves. It’s a truly hometown team.

Game Notes:

The game itself was a pitchers duel. Adam Wainwright pitching for the Cardinals and Johnny Cueto for the Reds. Cueto was terrific, but Wainwright was even better:

Cueto: 7 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 8 K
Waino: 7 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 4 BB, 9 K

Cueto was one mistake away from being the better pitcher actually. He served up a solo HR to Yadier Molina. His other two hits were to Matt Adams who beat the insane shift to the right side with opposite field hits to left. No shift, and Cueto may have tossed a 1 hitter and still taken the loss.

I wonder how much teams will continue to use the dramatic shift on Adams throughout the season. It worked twice, but it burned the Reds twice too. He got a double on a little dribbler just inside the bag. Would’ve been an east play for Todd Frazier at third with Adams running. Instead it was a double. Maybe John Mabry, Cardinals hitting coach, taught Adams to take it to opposite field during the off season.

Waino had the Reds off balance all night. First pitch curves. Freezing batters with 2-strike fastballs. The Reds never knew what was coming next. They looked lost most of to night.

The most lost: Billy Hamilton.

I was really excited to see Hamilton play. I wanted a lead off bunt, two stolen bases and a run on a Brandon Phillips groundout. Never even got close to happening. Wainwright is terrible matchup for Hamilton – tons of off-speed stuff with lots of twelve-six movement making it really tough to bunt on.

If Hamilton is going to be the success the Reds hope he is, he’s going to have to learn to make contact with breaking balls. He needs to work the count. His balance at the plate needs to improve. You absolutely cannot go 0-4 with 4 Ks as lead off hitter. Unacceptable.

The Reds still had plenty of opportunities. Three errors and five walks ought to bite you back at some point, but somehow the Cardinals continued to weasel their way out of jams.

It was a great first game of the season, and I can’t say that I was entirely disappointed with the outcome. It would’ve been fun to celebrate with the home team fans, but the Cardinals fan in me has to smile.

One game down. Twenty-nine to go.

Up next: Atlanta.

-apc.