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 24: Target Field, Minnesota

Did you know Ted Williams played ball in Minnesota?

I didn’t until this past week when @Baseball_Photos tweeted this picture on Monday evening. I would’ve found out sooner or later, I suppose; I have The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. This rotten seminary reading keeps getting in the way. (Just kidding. I love it…occasionally.)

ted-williams-millers-rare-photo1At age 19, Ted Williams (right) spent the entire 1938 season playing for the Minneapolis Millers, the Boston Red Sox AA affiliate. In his year in Minnesota, he hit .366 and slugged .701. As the youngest guy on the team, led the team in every offensive statistical category: games played (148) hits (193), doubles (30), triples (9), homers (43), and at 6′ 3″, 205 lbs, he led the team in those categories as well.

Willie Mays (35 games in 1951) and Carl Yastrzemski (1960) spent time in in a Millers uniform before their pro debut as well. The Millers have their roots as far back as 1885 as a part of the Western League.

On the other side of the Mississippi were their rivals: the St. Paul Saints.

The Saints arrived in St. Paul in 1894 when Charles Comiskey bought the team and moved them over from Souix City, Iowa. They joined the Western League as well and the Minneapolis/St. Paul rivalry was established. But following the 1899 season, Comiskey’s club joined the newly formed American League, and moved the club away to become – you guessed it – the Chicago White Sox.

In 1902, both the Millers and Saints became charter members of the minor league American Association. By the late 30’s the Saints would become affiliates for the White Sox and later the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. Roy Campanella, Lefty Gomez and Don Zimmer were a few of the players to come through St. Paul during those years.

The East-West rivalry between the two ball clubs ran for 59 years between 1902 and 1960. Both teams won multiple league championships. In fact, Minneapolis and St. Paul had the two highest overall winning percentages over that 59 year span:

The played 22 games against one another every season. Sometimes on major summer holidays – Labor Day and Fourth of July, for example – the teams would play home and away doubleheaders. They would play in the morning at one ballpark, and then the fans and players would travel by streetcar to the other side of the river for an afternoon game in the other team’s park.

As expected, the two cities grew to hate one another. Violence would break out in the cities following these ballgames (1923 was apparently the worst of the brawls) The cities kept trying to 1-Up one anthers buildings. In fact, in the 1950s, both cities built brand new ballparks – separately – in hopes of reeling in a Major League team. There are even rumors that they would kidnap census takers so that the other city wouldn’t overtake the  other in population.

In 1960, both the Saints* and the Millers packed up and left town. The Millers became the Seattle Rainiers, and the Saints became the Omaha Dodgers.

* – The Saints returned to St. Paul in 1993 and are there today as a part of an independent league. They’re owned by Mike Veeck (son of Bill Veeck) and BILL MURRAY!!!!!

Why the moves? Because the MLB had just awarded the area with their first Major League ball club: the Washington Senators were moving from D.C. to become the Minnesota Twins.

Technically, it was the Millers who had reeled in the big tuna. The team settled on the Minneapolis side, but without the Saints, St. Paul was going to have to root from across the river. And by the late 1960s, significant healing had taken place between the two.

The team name itself was an intentional move to unite the two groups. It isn’t the “Minneapolis Twins,” but the “Minnesota Twins” – in fact, they wanted to call them the Twin City Twins, but that was too repetitive so they included the whole state. They commissioned a freelance illustrator from St. Paul named Ray Barton to create the team logo for which he got paid a whopping $15.

Target-Field-St-Paul-Minnie-HandsToday, that logo is featured prominently at Target Field. In straight away center field, a giant state of Minnesota borders two goofy looking men and a river with a bridge over it. The men are both wearing baseball uniforms – one with an “M” on the sleeve and one with an “S” and a “P” and a “T” on the chest – and they’re reaching across the river and shaking hands. They’re the real Twins – Minnie and Paul – the two cities united together by this new team.

Now, I’m not going to act like the arrival of Major League Baseball has completely reconciled the ill will on both sides of the Mississippi. There is still significant social segregation. There are strong tribal identities as well. But the arrival of the Twins truly united a previously hostile relationship. Regardless which side of the Mississippi someone lives on, they can come together and cheer for their Minnesota Twins.

The entire Twins franchise is founded on principles of reconciliation and hospitality to one another. How about that? I think I’ll center on that for my book. I’ve already got a good start here.

Baseball. Bringing people together. Cities, even.

Okay. Moving on. Let’s talk about Target Field.

IMG_9344It was built in 2010, and is basically perfect. It features tons of sandstone: the exterior, the section faces inside the park, even the top of the dugouts. It has oversized statues of five Twins greats at each of the gates to the park. Harmon Killebrew extends his gorgeous swing in front of Gate 3. Kirby Pucket celebrates his 1991 World Series walk off HR in front of Gate 34. Kent Hrbek stands outside of Gate 14. Rod Carew has his bat cocked awkwardly outside Gate 29. And Tony Oliva swings outside Gate 6.

Gates 3, 6, 14, 29 and 34? Weird. Those are all retired Twins numbers. Hmm.

“Wait, what about Bert Blyleven?! Where’s his statue? His number is retired too!” His wasn’t retired until 2011, the year after Target Field was built. But his #28 is out beyond left field with the others. (Circle me, Bert!)

The final retired number: 10, worn by Tom Kelly who – despite his overall poor winning percentage (1140-1244, .485) – managed the Twins to World Series championships twice (’87 & ’91) in his 16 years with the team (1986-2001).

There’s a giant Gold Glove outside the park as well. Fans get to climb up on to it and get their picture taken. There’s plaque of all the past Twins Gold Glove winners with it.

The Twins haven’t had many Gold Glovers, but the ones they have won it a bunch. They have 41 total GGs over their 53 years as a franchise, 30 of which are from 5 guys: Jim Kaat (won 11 GGs with the Twins), Torii Hunter (7), Kirby Puckett (5), Gary Gaetti (4), and Joe Mauer (3).

Target Field seats 42,000, but it feels like way less. The ballpark feels very intimate. The lower sections extend much further back than the upper decks, which are basically just stacked on top of each other up high and very shallow. I heard that the ballpark was constructed within 4 city blocks, a 2-by-2 square, so everything feels squeezed in on top of the action. Not in a bad way at all, but in a comfortably communal way.

That Minnie & Paul logo in centerfield is awesome too. It does all sorts of light up dancing moves when the Twins do different things on the field. It goes bizerk when they hit a homer. a line traces the MN border when a run is scored. It blinks when the pitchers strike someone out or throw a scoreless frame too.

And when the Twins win – as they did on Wednesday night when I was there – the T and the S blink off and on so it flashes TWINS, WIN, TWINS, WIN.*

* – Ever noticed how the letters W-I-N are the only letters underlined in the Twins logo? So subtle. So brilliant.

I went to the game with my friends Jourdan and Jeff. Jourdan interned for me at Jacob’s Well a couple years ago, and Jeff, her husband, is a pastor at a church called Mosaic in East St. Paul. The mission for their church centers on hospitality: Stranger, Guest, Host. Extending themselves out of the church and into the community around them. I’m sensing a theme here.

I want to write something about lakes and mosquitos and snow somewhere in here too, but I’ve already spent too much time on this post. Time to get to the game wrap.

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Game Notes:

The Twins were playing the White Sox, and John Danks got spanked. As I wrote in my pre-trip post on Tuesday, the Twins have historically owned Danks – Joe Mauer especially. In fact, basically everyone but Kurt Suzuki bats really well off the Sox lefty, which would explain why Suzuki sat out that night.

The Twins lit Danks up, as expected, for 7 runs on 11 hits in 4.2 innings. The guy was absolute meat and the Twins hit the ball hard all night. The bullpen wasn’t much better for the rest of the game either. Overall: Twins scored 11 runs on 19 hits which meant Twins fans saved 19 cents per gallon at SuperAmerica gas stations on Thursday. Sweet.

Eduardo Nunez went 4-6 and was a HR short of the cycle. Kennys Vargas hit a 429 ft bomb to LF. The other Eduardo (Escobar) went 3-4 with a triple and a walk. Minnesota batted around in the 5th inning – the inning that chased Danks from the game – and my scoresheet ended up looking all messy and gross.

Of course, that could’ve also been because of the rain that kept rolling in and out. It caused one short rain delay at one point lasting maybe 15 minutes. I continue to have really good luck when it comes to weather on this Ballpark Tour.

Trevor May got his first career win. Previously he was 0-4 in as many starts with an ERA over 10. He was working great through three innings but started laboring a bit in the fourth and fifth. He gave up 3 runs in 5 innings, but after the Twins batted around, those runs pretty much didn’t matter anymore. Twins win. 11-4. That logo was extremely busy.

Twenty-four down. Six to go.

Up Next: Tampa Bay Rays.

-apc.

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.