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 6, 2013, 12:13 AM EST
The Rangers are zeroing in on catching help on the heels of A.J. Pierzynski leaving Texas for a one-year deal with the World Series champion Red Sox. While Kurt Suzuki was mentioned as a possibility earlier this week, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports that the Rangers and J.P. Arencibia are “progressing” toward a deal. Arencibia…
Dec 5, 2013, 11:15 PM EST
The Legend of Sam Fuld, it appears, will live on. Fuld was non-tendered by the Rays earlier this week, but Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the 32-year-old outfielder has received “lots of interest” since hitting free agency. He’s only been on the market for a couple of days and is still…
Dec 5, 2013, 10:40 PM EST
Last we heard, free agent second baseman Robinson Cano was reportedly on a private plane to Seattle to meet with the Mariners, who are prepared to offer him $225 million over the course of a nine-year contract. Meanwhile, the Yankees have been pretty firm about how high they are willing to go in negotiations. And as…
Dec 5, 2013, 9:50 PM EST
According to the Associated Press, Hall of Famer Dave Winfield has joined the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) as a special assistant to new executive director Tony Clark. Clark, who played 15 seasons in the majors, was officially appointed to the position of executive director this week following the death of Michael Weiner last…
Dec 5, 2013, 9:41 PM EST
UPDATE: Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports that Furcal will get $3 million plus incentives. 10:02 p.m. ET: Juan C. Rodriguez of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel hears that Furcal will receive $3.5 million on the one-year deal in additional to playing time incentives. 9:41 p.m. ET: FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports that the Marlins…
Dec 5, 2013, 9:02 PM EST
We heard earlier this week that free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran had a three-year, $48 million offer in hand from an unidentified team. Most assumed that it came from the Royals, as they have been the hottest team on him recently, but FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal hears that no such offer was made. Sources: #Royals…
Dec 5, 2013, 8:38 PM EST
The Dodgers non-tendered reliever Ronald Belisario earlier this week, but it didn’t take him long to find a new home. According to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, Belisario has agreed to a one-year, $3 million contract with the White Sox. He also drew interest from the Angels and Cubs during his brief time on…
Dec 5, 2013, 7:48 PM EST
UPDATE: The Mariners may not have offered $200 million to Robinson Cano yet, but it sounds like it’s going to happen before long. David Waldstein of the New York Times and CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman are both reporting that the Mariners plan to offer nine years and $225 million to Cano. This is a slightly…
Dec 5, 2013, 7:30 PM EST
The Nationals are on the lookout for a left-handed reliever and Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reports that former Braves reliever Eric O’Flaherty is their latest target. O’Flaherty required Tommy John surgery on his left elbow this May and is expected to miss at least the first month of the 2014 season, but that…
Dec 5, 2013, 5:47 PM EST
Texas announced some non-roster spring training invitations and there’s a familiar name on the list: Jose Contreras. Contreras is 42 years old and pitched just five innings for the Pirates this year after coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery. He hasn’t been healthy and effective since 2010, but on a minor-league deal … why…
Dec 5, 2013, 4:21 PM EST
Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes reports that Robinson Cano flew to Seattle to meet with the Mariners today and they’re willing to offer him a 10-year contract worth as much as $240 million. Previous reports claim the Yankees aren’t willing to go as high as $200 million, so if Rojas’ information is correct the money…
Dec 5, 2013, 2:44 PM EST
Brian Wilson and the Dodgers have agreed to a one-year, $10 million contract that includes a player option for 2015, according to Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports. That’s a nice payday for Wilson, who looked great in 20 innings down the stretch and into the playoffs after missing all of 2012 following Tommy John elbow…
Dec 5, 2013, 1:30 PM EST
Miguel Cabrera isn’t the only MVP changing positions. As part of the Norichika Aoki trade the Brewers announced that Ryan Braun will move from left field to right field for 2014, opening up left field for Khris Davis after he showed a ton of power in a 56-game debut. Moving from one outfield corner to…
Dec 5, 2013, 11:55 AM EST
Edward Mujica‘s late-season struggles (and arm/back problems) caused him to go from the Cardinals’ closer to out of their playoff plans, but it hasn’t stopped him from getting a nice payday. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports that the right-hander has agreed to a two-year, $9.5 million deal with the Red Sox. St. Louis acquired…
Dec 5, 2013, 11:11 AM EST
Kansas City has a new starting outfielder, as the Royals announced that they’ve acquired Norichika Aoki from the Brewers for left-hander Will Smith. Aoki has been a tremendous bargain for Milwaukee since coming over from Japan two seasons ago, playing nearly every day and hitting .287 with a .355 on-base percentage, 50 steals, and quality…
Dec 5, 2013, 10:40 AM EST
Washington has been linked to basically every left-handed free agent reliever and now Bill Ladson of MLB.com reports that the Nationals have “expressed interest” in Scott Downs. Downs was traded from the Angels to the Braves in July and then left off Atlanta’s playoff roster, but he pitched well overall with a 2.49 ERA and…
Dec 5, 2013, 10:01 AM EST
When the Reds fired Dusty Baker and hired Bryan Price as their new manager there was speculation that it could lead to Aroldis Chapman moving from the bullpen to the rotation, as Price had previously indicated he’d be in favor of getting more innings out of the stud left-hander. However, now that Price actually has…
Dec 5, 2013, 9:15 AM EST
Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald reports that the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami has charged three people with smuggling Cuban prospects into the United States, including smuggling, kidnapping, and extortion charges specifically related to Rangers center fielder Leonys Martin. According to Weaver two of the accused–Eliezer Lazo and Joel Martinez–are already serving prison sentences…
Dec 5, 2013, 8:32 AM EST
From MLB.com’s Rangers beat writer, T.R. Sullivan: The Rangers had serious trade discussions with the Blue Jays about catcher J.P. Arencibia before he was non-tendered on Monday, according to industry sources. A trade was close to being completed but the Rangers were reluctant to add another arbitration-eligible player. The Rangers were willing to do a…
Dec 4, 2013, 11:05 PM EST
A bullpen pickup for the Cubs, via USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale … The #Cubs signed left-handed reliever Wesley Wright to a one-year contract believed to be for $1.425 million. — Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 5, 2013 Wright had a 3.69 ERA and 55/19 K/BB ratio in 53 2/3 innings this summer between the Astros and…
- UPDATE: Mariners planning to offer nine years, $225 million to Robinson Cano 76
- MLB, NPB nearing new posting system agreement 9
- Report: Talks between the Mets and Curtis Granderson have “intensified” 31
- Yankees agree to seven-year, $153M contract with free agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury 159
- Marlins sign free agent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to three-year, $21 million contract 44
- Yankees agree to seven-year, $153M contract with free agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (159)
- Report: Mariners willing to offer Robinson Cano a 10-year, $240 million deal (143)
- When will the Yankees regret the Jacoby Ellsbury contract? (98)
- Robinson Cano met with the Mariners in Seattle (87)
- UPDATE: Mariners planning to offer nine years, $225 million to Robinson Cano (81)