Mar 6, 2013, 9:23 AM EST
SURPRISE, Ariz. — When I was columnist for The Kansas City Star, I would write an annual column where I predicted the Kansas City Royals to win the division. It wasn’t quite an inside joke … and it certainly wasn’t a serious prediction. It was, instead, my best effort to capture a little bit of spring hope in a baseball town that had been beaten up over the years. It’s that time of year for baseball hope. Every player is in the best shape of his life. Every manager is thinking pennant. Every fan is imagining that this will be the year this guy hits 25 homers and that guy strikes out 200 and the other guy gets 30 saves.
I think that’s the whole point with March baseball. The season — and grim reality — will come soon enough.
Well, the problem with writing the Royals’ hope column in the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s was simply that it was really hard to come up with an even remotely plausible scenario where Kansas City won anything. They always needed so many crazy things to happen. They would need Chad Durbin and Jimmy Gobble to become stars. They would need Reggie Sanders or Juan Gonzalez to hold off the hands of time. They would need to win every single one-run game they played and to suddenly become a great fielding team and to magically start getting on base more.
After a while, I referred to it as “hitting on 20 in blackjack” hope. If you hit on 20 in blackjack, you might — MIGHT — draw the ace and win. It could happen. But it’s no way to go through life.
This year — warning: I’m about to break one of my major rules about baseball analysis and quote a spring training statistic — the Royals are unbeaten. They tied their first game of spring training (which, in itself, tells you how meaningless this all is) and they have won every game since. They pounded a split-squad Oakland team on Tuesday — battering the shell of Bartolo Colon for four runs in the first inning — to make it 10 victories in a row. “Everybody’s contributing,” Royals manager Ned Yost said after the game. “That makes it fun.”
Now, let me make this clear: I believe this 10-game spring training winning streak means almost exactly nothing. It means about as much as an NBA player making 20 three-pointers in a row during warmups or an NFL kicker making a 68-yard field goal in pre-game. It might buoy the confidence a bit. It might sell a couple more early season tickets. It might help create a more positive atmosphere in the clubhouse. But that’s it. The Royals began last year by losing their first 10 home games in the regular season — THAT means something.
But … hey winning 10 in a row is better than losing 10 in a row. And there is something exciting about this team. That exciting thing is, paradoxically, something kind of boring: For the first time in what seems like forever, the Royals don’t enter a season needing miracles. They don’t need some crazy-good year from Emil Brown or Dan Reichert, they don’t need supernatural comebacks from Chuck Knoblauch or Jose Lima, they don’t need for anybody to transform into one of the Avengers. Few are expecting the Royals to really compete for a playoff spot this year … and they might not. But for the first time in forever, they COULD compete without an inconceivable series of magic tricks and freak occurrences and James Bond luck.
For one, the bullpen should be dominant — especially in the eighth and ninth innings. The eighth is held down by Kelvin Herrera, whose name might not ring a bell yet, but who had the fastest average velocity in American League last year at 97.1 mph. He has already hit 100 this spring — he’s in shape early for the World Baseball Classic — and he dominated most of last season. The ninth is owned by Greg Holland, another new name to many, and he struck out 91 batters in 67 innings last year, and the league hit .194 against him after he became the closer. They have other guys in the bullpen — Aaron Crow, Tim Collins among them — who consistently throw in the mid-to-high 90s. “Where do the Royals get all these guys?” one American League scout asks.
The starting rotation has questions, certainly, but James Shields, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie all have been above average major league starters over their careers — and all have had good seasons in the not-so-distant past. Wade Davis was really good in the Tampa Bay bullpen last year and could be a very good fourth starter. The last time the Royals went into a season with just three starting pitchers who you might reasonably expect to be average or better was probably 1994.
*Kevin Appier, David Cone and Tom Gordon … to give you an idea how long ago it has been.
The lineup is young — which makes it both volatile and exciting. Alex Gordon is one of the better players in baseball, even if few people have caught on yet. Billy Butler hit .310 with 32 doubles and 29 homers last year. Young players like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas were Top 10 prospects and have All-Star talent, and catcher Salvador Perez is probably the best throwing catcher in the American League at age 22 and he has been an offensive wonder in limited time. Of course, it can go bad — Hosmer had a shockingly bad 2012 season and Moustakas wore down and Perez was injured and hasn’t established himself yet. But, pretty much across baseball scouts love those three players. As the American League scout above said, “I’d start my team with those three right now.”
Does this mean the Royals definitely will compete in 2013? Of course it doesn’t. They still need all the things teams need — they need to stay healthy, especially in the starting rotation. They need for some young players to break through and get better, Hosmer in particular. They need for some veterans to repeat what they’ve done in the recent past. They need some luck. But these are the things all teams need going into a season. As one Royals executive said Tuesday, “This camp feels more businesslike than any I can remember.” That might not sound like much, but having been around the Royals for a long time I thought what he was really saying was: “Hey, look, we actually have good players.”
Dec 9, 2013, 11:57 PM EST
After accepting minor league deals in seven straight years, free agent reliever Jamey Wright appears primed to receive a major league contract this winter. According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Wright is currently deciding whether to return to the Rays for another season or sign with the Dodgers, who he pitched with in 2012. The…
Dec 9, 2013, 11:27 PM EST
We have seen some conflicting reports in recent days about whether the Rakuten Golden Eagles will post much-hyped right-hander Masahiro Tanaka this winter, but Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports brings word on why there could finally be some clarity on the situation this week: The will-he-or-won’t-he question may find resolution in the next couple of…
Dec 9, 2013, 10:23 PM EST
It was reported last month that Justin Masterson was open to a long-term deal with the Indians, but FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal hears that the team is willing to listen to trade offers. Masterson is just one year away from free agency, so the Indians would prefer pieces that they can control for the long-term.…
Dec 9, 2013, 9:35 PM EST
Mark Prior has attempted numerous comebacks in recent years, but the oft-injured right-hander told Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press earlier today that he has officially retired and could accept a front office position with the Padres. Prior, now 33, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2006. He made seven relief appearances with…
Dec 9, 2013, 9:13 PM EST
Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times has been checking in all day with updates from the Winter Meetings in Orlando. Earlier this evening, he unleashed this interesting little nugget: There are rumors that free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz turned down the Mariners’ offer of 5-years, $75 million. That’s a lot of money for a guy…
Dec 9, 2013, 8:33 PM EST
It’s been suspected all offseason that the Mets would shop second baseman Daniel Murphy and Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports hears that they are pushing “very hard” to move him at this week’s Winter Meetings. Nothing appears imminent, but Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Orioles are among the teams who…
Dec 9, 2013, 8:16 PM EST
Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Phillies reliever Mike Adams recently required surgery to repair a sports hernia, which is a fitting end to a disappointing year. Adams joined the Phillies last offseason on a two-year, $12 million contract, but he made just 28 appearances prior to undergoing surgery in July to repair…
Dec 9, 2013, 7:50 PM EST
There was renewed chatter over the weekend about the Red Sox possibly making a play for Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, but Rob Bradford of WEEI.com hears from major league sources that there’s “nothing to” the reports. In fact two sources said the two sides have “barely touched base.” Kemp’s agent, Dave Stewart, told Dylan Hernandez…
Dec 9, 2013, 7:35 PM EST
This is Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval as he appeared last season. This is Pablo Sandoval now, courtesy of a pic he posted on twitter this afternoon. Now, the shirt is a kinda baggy. There’s probably still some flab hiding under there. But at the rate he’s going, there might not be for much longer.…
Dec 9, 2013, 7:17 PM EST
With Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury off the board, Shin-Soo Choo is the biggest name remaining in the free agent market. And it sounds like he could find a new home during this week’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, Florida: Sources: Choo talks appear to be reaching critical stage. #Rangers, at least one other club in.—…
Dec 9, 2013, 6:59 PM EST
ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that free agent right-hander Jason Hammel is looking for a three- or four-year deal in free agency. This is an excellent market for starting pitching, with Phil Hughes and Scott Feldman both recently receiving three-year deals, but it’s not that good. While Hammel was one of the Orioles’ best starters in…
Dec 9, 2013, 6:43 PM EST
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto has routinely downplayed a potential trade of Mark Trumbo so far this offseason, but things are heating up at the Winter Meetings in Orlando. Sources: Chances of Trumbo trade increasing. #Angels more open. #Dbacks pushing. Other teams in, all with improving offers.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 09, 2013 The Diamondbacks…
Dec 9, 2013, 6:29 PM EST
The Cubs are one of a handful of clubs without a closer and it appears that they could turn to the trade market to fill the role. According to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cubs are eying deals for Nationals relievers Drew Storen or Tyler Clippard among other possibilities. Adam Kilgore of the…
Dec 9, 2013, 6:15 PM EST
Danny Espinosa lost his starting second base job to Anthony Rendon this past season and now he could be on the move. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, the Nationals are listening to offers on the 26-year-old infielder. Espinosa attempted to play through wrist and shoulder injuries in 2013 while batting just .158/.193/.272 with…
Dec 9, 2013, 5:49 PM EST
According to FOXSports.com’s Jon Morosi, the Blue Jays and Rangers were involved in a three-team deal last month that would have sent reliever Sergio Santos to Texas, but that the deal fell apart because another player failed his physical. Santos would have helped make up for the loss of Joe Nathan to Detroit. He missed…
Dec 9, 2013, 5:30 PM EST
A’s starter Brett Anderson is the subject of a lot of rumors lately. Brett Anderson is also a pretty heavy Twitter user. That leads to things like this: .@Joelsherman1 so I’m like the morning-after pill? — Brett Anderson (@BrettAnderson49) December 9, 2013 Pretty slick, Brett. I also feel like if I were the subject…
Dec 9, 2013, 5:15 PM EST
After two seasons as a below average starter, Wade Davis broke through as a reliever for the Rays in 2012, amassing a 2.43 ERA and striking out 87 in 70 1/3 innings. The Royals plan after picking him up in the James Shields-Wil Myers trade? Move him back to the rotation. Luke Hochevar was a…
Dec 9, 2013, 5:03 PM EST
The guy works for George Steinbrenner’s son and, I assume, he also happens to believe it. But know that Yankees president Randy Levine says that The Boss should be in Cooperstown. From Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York: “I think it was a mistake,” Levine told ESPN New York by telephone. “I congratulate Joe Torre, Bobby…
Dec 9, 2013, 4:50 PM EST
Eric Thames was once a decent prospect for the Blue Jays, but he’s bounced around with four different teams in the past two seasons and now the Astros have released the 27-year-old outfielder so he can go play in Korea. Thames hit .262 with 12 homers and a .769 OPS in 95 games for the…
Dec 9, 2013, 4:33 PM EST
First the good news: Three managers, all deserving and perhaps even overqualified, were elected into the Hall of Fame on Monday. If you are going to have managers in the Baseball Hall of Fame — and you are — then Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre are all obviously deserving Hall of Famers.…
- Roy Halladay is retiring 53
- Tony La Russa Bobby Cox, Joe Torre all unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame 43
- Tony Blengino says recent report on Seattle front office is “just the tip of the iceberg” 60
- Rakuten Golden Eagles appear likely to allow Masahiro Tanaka’s departure to MLB 49
- 2013 Winter Meetings Preview 23
- Robinson Cano agrees to $240 million deal with Mariners (260)
- Yankees agree to seven-year, $153M contract with free agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (160)
- Report: Mariners willing to offer Robinson Cano a 10-year, $240 million deal (143)
- Report: Yankees have agreed to a three-year deal with Carlos Beltran (125)
- Brett Gardner is drawing “significant” trade interest (112)