Tag Archive | "Free Agents"

Should The Cardinals Go Holiday Shopping?

The baseball week will be dominated by the annual Winter Meetings, which bring together a marriage of front offices, agents, players and media types that usually is the base of operations for player movement and acquisitions for the year. However, unlike any other year, teams have been active in addressing their needs very early, with many clubs having already addressed the majority of their major needs.

Axford_

Among the top tier of teams, the Cardinals have perhaps most comprehensively addressed their major needs already. John Mozeliak has stated in multiple ways in the last month that he feels the team is nearly in Opening Day shape as is. However, is there more that they could stand to do to be ready for the spring? And would walking away from Orlando with a new Cardinal be in the best interest of security for the year to come?

The additions of Jhonny Peralta and Peter Bourjos decisively addressed the club’s clearest everyday issues, and subsequently provided depth via the parts in place as well. Also, the team elected to not resign any of its free agents, instead replacing them with the new additions and promotions within. When the decision to not tender John Axford a contract was made last week, Mozeliak stated that he did not anticipate the club adding another reliever, and that he “did not see where one would fit”.

This places the emphasis of the club’s pitching depth onto the internal options that guided it last year, which is a solid logic, and with the excess of starting options (which currently sits at a robust eight for the five man rotation), it is also one that is made from necessity. However, if last year proved anything, it is that the best laid plans can often not come to fruition as intended. The early season loss of Jason Motte rocked the balance of the bullpen, and steadying it took the better part of a quarter of the season. The team was fortunate in that so many of its minor league arms were ready to contribute immediately and in high leverage situations.

Yet, can lightning strike twice there? If there is any regression in year two, would having another veteran option could provide a smart investment. The return of Motte is seemingly assured from a calendar respect; however what his immediate effectiveness will be an unknown quantity. Likewise, despite a promising October run in the setup role, can Carlos Martinez maintain that throughout a full-year? And if he performs at a level that earns him a place in the starting rotation, what then? There could be an immediate need at the back end of the bullpen that does not have a clear answer, especially with the promotion of Trevor Rosenthal out of the eighth inning, where he had 29 holds in 2013, and into the closer role full time.

The great strength of the Cardinal organization is its young pitching depth. But there is still a place for a known quantity within the mix as well, similar to what Randy Choate represented a year ago. And with the free agent swap meet of the upcoming week pending, there could be plethora of mid-to-late game bullpen options that could provide that needed security in an exact role. Veterans in the mold of Matt Albers, Brandon Lyons or even Carlos Marmol represent likely low cost/short term security options that can come to Spring Training and to see where they could fit into the ever-evolving pitching scene. If they fit, they provide that needed backup, but if they don’t, the cutting the team’s losses is not a detrimental problem either.

At this point, the club is in finishing touches mode, which is encouraging. However, resting too exclusively on the laurels of a talented mix that still has more to prove exclusively could be questionable approach to take for a season where the next step for the franchise is so clearly defined.

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Triple Play: Postseason predictions edition

In this week’s edition of the Triple Play, I take a look back at how well (poorly?) I fared with my second-half predictions, plus I make some postseason predictions (because why not?), and more, including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch. Without further ado:

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Second-half predictions, revisited

AL MVP – Who I predicted: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit. At the All-Star break, he was having an even better season than his Triple Crown MVP 2012 season. He still is, although he has fallen off drastically this month. Two months ago, I wrote that Chris Davis was Cabrera’s primary competition. Davis still leads the American League in home runs and total bases, but he, too, has slowed down his unbelievable production as the season winds down. The third player I noted has not only ramped up his play, but he has carried his team all season as the big-money free agents and pitching staff crumbles around him. That player is Mike Trout. In my mind, he is the front-runner to win the AL MVP. But, just as last year, it will not be an injustice of Cabrera wins again.

NL MVP – Who I predicted: Yadier Molina, St. Louis. Buster Posey is an outstanding player, but I stand by my statement earlier this season that Molina is the best catcher in baseball. His balky knee (and the usual wear and tear of an everyday catcher’s workload) has led to a slowdown at the plate, but Molina’s value to the Cardinals remains undeniable. However, as Andrew McCutchen leads Pittsburgh almost certainly to its first postseason appearance in 21 years, I believe he will win the MVP award over Molina and Paul Goldschmidt.

AL Cy Young – Who I predicted: Yu Darvish, Texas. I still think he is the best starter in the AL this season, but there’s one number that will likely work against him in the voting. The number 20 – as in the number of wins for Detroit’s Max Scherzer. While Crazy Brian Kenny will stamp his feet and yammer incessantly about the win statistic, the fact remains that Scherzer has been consistently great this season. The award will go to him. Deal with it, Brian.

NL Cy Young – Who I predicted: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles. Didn’t exactly go out on a limb here, but why would I? This was spot on. The best pitcher in baseball.

AL Rookie of the Year – Who I predicted: Jose Iglesias, Boston. I’m calling this one a win, even if Iglesias was traded to Detroit eight days after I made this prediction. If anything, it’s a slam-dunk case now. Iglesias was acquired to replace Jhonny Peralta, who was suspended as part of the Biogenesis matter. He did far more than that; he made Peralta obsolete. Wil Myers should get some votes too, but Iglesias was thrown into a tough situation and flourished.

NL Rookie of the Year – Who I predicted: Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles. Puig might have been the one who really kick-started the Dodgers’ turnaround, but Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Zack Greinke and Kershaw have been the true anchors of the team. That said, Puig deserves serious consideration for the award. I’m not one of the cranks who thinks Puig should be banished to the bench because of the occasional baserunning blunder or overthrow. However, Miami’s Jose Fernandez should win this award in a landslide. He is the most electric 20-year-old to take a major-league mound since Dwight Gooden.

American League division winners – Who I predicted: Boston, Detroit, Texas. Two out of three ain’t bad.

AL Wild Cards – Who I predicted: Tampa Bay, Oakland. This one is still too close to call. I think the Rays will hold on, but the Rangers are clearly running out of gas down the stretch here. Cleveland is going to hang on and grab the second wild-card spot. And if the Indians win that game, they could give Boston some trouble in the division series.

National League division winners – Who I predicted: Atlanta, St. Louis, Los Angeles. Again, two out of three, with potential for a clean sweep. The Cardinals just have to hang on while the Reds and Pirates beat each other up over the season’s final week.

NL Wild Cards – Who I predicted: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati. Lookin’ pretty good here too.

Postseason predictions

Wild Card games – Pittsburgh over Cincinnati, Cleveland over Tampa Bay.

ALDS – Boston over Cleveland in four, Detroit over Oakland in five

NLDS – Los Angeles over Pittsburgh in five, St. Louis over Atlanta in four

ALCS – Detroit over Boston in seven (MVP – Miguel Cabrera), Los Angeles over St. Louis in seven (MVP – Hanley Ramirez)

World Series – Los Angeles over Detroit in seven (MVP – Clayton Kershaw)

Random Thoughts

  • Not that it did the Texas Rangers any good, but I was correct in predicting that they would acquire Matt Garza.
  • Turns out they would have been better off with Jake Peavy.
  • Predictions on which I completely whiffed: Francisco Rodriguez-to-the-Tigers and Alex Rios/Alexei Ramirez-to-the-Pirates.
  • The Orioles have been satisfied with K-Rod in their bullpen though.
  • Pittsburgh went two different directions, acquiring Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau. You could quibble that they need a shortstop, but you can’t argue with the results of what the Pirates have done this season.
  • Wainwright Walk Watch: Once Adam Wainwright started the 2013 season by pitching 37 innings before allowing his first walk of the season, we started a weekly tracker to keep track of how few free passes the Cardinals’ ace hands out this season. Last Wednesday, in Denver, Wainwright was a regular one-man gang. In addition to tossing 7 2/3 innings of three-hit ball, he went 3-for-3 at the plate with a double and two RBI. For the season, Wainwright is 17-9 with a 2.98 ERA, 1.081 WHIP, 209 strikeouts and just 34 walks. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 6.15, good for 2nd in the National League (Matt Harvey is juuuuust ahead of Wainwright at 6.16). Wainwright will next start against the Washington Nationals, where he will have perhaps his last chance to pass Harvey’s mark.
  • Not only have the Athletics blown past Texas, but they are only two games behind Boston for best record in the AL. It’s time to stop thinking of Oakland as baseball’s Island of Misfit Toys.
  • Their stadium (and the plumbing), on the other hand…..YIKES.
  • Something for future Indians opponents to consider: with their 9-2 steamrolling of the hapless Astros yesterday, Cleveland became the first team in 52 years to sweep a four-game series six times in the same season.
  • The last team to do that? The New York Yankees, who won the World Series.
  • Incidentally, the Indians are 16 games above .500 for the first time in six years (when they reached the ALCS).
  • Where they blew a 3-1 lead to Boston, which was managed by their current manager, Terry Francona.
  • Little coincidences like are part of what make baseball so much fun, if you ask me.
  • I’d also love to see Cleveland get a little payback, but I digress.
  • There’s always a worse-case scenario: after watching that bee delay in the Mariners-Angels game, I vow not to grumble the next time I get rained on at a baseball game.
  • Sure was nice of former Royals closer Joakim Soria to groove that fastball that Justin Maxwell crushed for a game-winning grand slam to give Kansas City a 4-0 win over imploding Texas.
  • Watching the Rangers this month, I wonder if their window is closing or if this is a nasty pothole in the road.
  • Then I looked at the standings again and realized that Texas is only a game out of the wild-card race.
  • Baltimore is about done, though. Just not enough pitching. Manny Machado can’t do EVERYTHING.
  • Jeff Locke has had an unexpectedly good season for Pittsburgh, but he is absolutely killing them right now. The Pirates cannot afford to start him again this season if they want to win the NL Central or even host the wild-card game.
  • Given the dearth of steals in fantasy baseball these days, Billy Hamilton might be worth a first or second round pick next year.
  • Why did the Reds wait so long to call him up?
  • News: Scott Boras wants the first two games of the World Series played at a neutral site. Views: Scott Boras is an idiot.
  • How do you know it’s been a bad year for the Cubs? When a former player gets hired as manager of the Phillies.
  • How do you know it’s been a bad year for Marlins baseball? When one of their wins clinches a postseason berth for two other teams.
  • Watching Andy Pettitte pitch yesterday (seven innings, two hits, two runs, six strikeouts), I wonder how many general managers thought to themselves, “we sure could use a good lefty like that?”
  • It’s truly unfortunate that the Yankees couldn’t muster more than one run against those tomato cans the Giants sent out there yesterday. Enter Sandman would have been much more enjoyable to hear if Mariano Rivera had been entering a save situation.
  • Finally, farewell to the great Rivera. Of all the things that have been said or written about him in his career, I think this stands above all: he will be the final major leaguer to wear the number 42 and there is no one for whom that is more suitable.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Cards’ Past Could Predict Wainwright’s Future

Adam Wainwright made his first “start” in what could be a year full of both starts and stops. Of course he’s still over a month away from his first meaningful appearance of the year, but these days, not much he says or does is without meaning.

Adam  Wainwright

With the high stakes nature of his ongoing contract negotiations hanging over his 6’7” frame, the comparison machine is going crazy in a wild attempt to get a grasp on what a long-term extension for the Cardinals’ ace would look like. Would it be a rather short-term, balanced money deal in the nature of the one Yadier Molina received last spring? Or would it be an extensive, full career (and then some) style deal, such as the one Albert Pujols ultimately received…elsewhere?

The expectation that the pact would be the largest team history isn’t a far fetched idea. In reality, it’s very much a fact. And the best comparison possible is one that is drawn from the terms that the current holder of that distinction agreed to: Matt Holliday.

Holliday turned 29 just days before signing his seven-year, $120 million deal back in 2009. This is was a mid prime deal for him that also would carry him likely through the remainder of his career. It also became the winter’s biggest deal, despite him likely passing on more lucrative offers from the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox. It also came during a time when there was rapid contract growth around him, with Jason Bay, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez all recently receiving long-term deals.

This is nearly the exact scenario that Wainwright is placed in right now. He is 31 years old right now, and would be 32 by the end of the year. Yet, the starting pitching position is the middle of a massive salary push, with large scale deals going out to Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez over the past year. If he was to hit the free agent market, he would instantly become among the most sought after free agents available. He stacks up very well in a class that features Matt Garza, Josh Johnson and Tim Lincecum, each of which will also be over 30 years old by the winter. Basically, Wainwright is running out of contractual obligation at a perfect time for his causes.

But what does the organization have to consider? There is much to be considered in how the team has approached its recent dealing, but also many parallels to pull away as well. The differences from the Pujols deal are numerous. In Pujols’ case, he had been playing a far lower rate than his performance would indicate for many years. And while he entered the market a similar age, his value took on historic connotation, not a superb prime for a top-tier performer, which is what Wainwright is, much like Holliday was. In the case of Molina, he took a shorter term extension, which will carry him into his late 30’s. Yet he still didn’t push for every dollar that he could have on the open market, and likely would have earned if he waited a few months.

The differences between the Pujols and Molina deals are clear, but there some similarities as well. All indications are leaning towards Wainwright wants a guarantee on the length of the deal, which was something they balked at with Pujols. The Cardinals have taken a pretty strong stance against signing over the low-to-late 30’s bridge. It was a balk in their offer to Pujols, and both Molina and Holliday’s deals would expire at ages 35 and 37, respectively. If Wainwright is seeking a deal that is comparable in length to either Cain or Hamels, the balance in length would be six years. This would carry him to his 38th birthday, and most likely into a scenario where is paid past his prime and into his decline years. The ability to avoid doing this; and have been able to sign many players to their exact prime years and escaping the decline as it approaches. This is a primary factor for what has kept the small market Cardinals with the ability to field the financially flexible roster it has for so many years.

It doesn’t seem that Wainwright would push to hamstring the financial competitiveness of the team, but he has acknowledged that a lowered value deal isn’t likely. In comparison to his last deal he signed at age 26, his focus has changed, “I’m in a different place from last deal. My family is set up, and I’m looking at different things,” he stated last month regarding his desires for this contract. These are the words of a man that is looking towards the future, his own.

And as always, the organization will do what’s best for its future as well, financially and competitively. Both sides will be forced to concede a portion of their absolute interests to find a deal here. While the Cardinals have proven to be resistant to extreme concession (as the Pujols dealings showed), and prefer shorter term commitment (as they proved with Molina) they also have shown that when the situation requires it, as proved with Holliday, they will throw caution to the wind and compete over the long term.

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St. Louis Cardinals might be smart to re-sign Kyle Lohse

The St. Louis Cardinals have a solid starting rotation that includes two ace-caliber pitchers, a couple of decent No. 3 and No. 4 starters, and a bevy of young flamethrowers. However, they might be in better shape if they re-sign their best starter from last year – Kyle Lohse.

Photo By Erika Lynn

Photo By Erika Lynn

Lohse posted a 16-3 record with a team-leading 2.84 earned-run average and was a strong candidate for the Cy Young Award in 2012. His contract expired at the end of the season, but no team has shown any strong interest in signing the 34-year-old righthander.

Part of the problem for Lohse could be a new system put in place by Major League Baseball in 2011 that gives teams compensation picks if they make qualifying offers to their free agents and those players are signed by another team. Teams have recently been more reluctant to sign a high-priced free agent because they’ll have to give up a draft pick and a portion of their draft money.

Perhaps his asking price is simply too high. Scott Boras represents Lohse, and Boras is known to try any imaginable tactic to drive up the price for teams to sign his clients. This strategy cost Lohse the last time he was a free agent.

Lohse put together a 9-12 record in 2007 with the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies, but he hit the open market that offseason looking for a big, multi-year contract. As Spring Training camps opened in 2008, Lohse was still hunting for a job when the Cardinals signed him to a one-year, $4.25-million deal that was designed to be an opportunity for Lohse to try to maximize his value for the following offseason.

It worked. Lohse went 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA in 2008, and the Cardinals re-signed him to a four-year, $41-million extension later that season.

The Cardinals might be reluctant to sign Lohse because they want the compensation draft pick, which would be cheaper to sign than a free agent pitcher. But, the franchise could find short- and long-term benefits if they re-sign Lohse.

Lohse could return to the Cardinals with a fairly reasonable deal since no other teams have stepped forward with an offer, and the move could help them beyond next year if Adam Wainwright decides to leave as a free agent. Wainwright is going to command at least a near-record contract if he has a good season, and he is almost certainly going to be more expensive than Lohse.

Theoretically, the Cardinals could sign Lohse to a contract in the neighborhood of four years and as much as $70-80 million. That would still likely be less than half of what Wainwright will make in his next contract. Plus, the Cardinals have several young pitchers who could fill rotation spots if Wainwright decides to leave.

If all that were to happen, the Cardinals could open the 2014 and 2015 seasons with a rotation led by Lohse, followed by Jaime Garcia, Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller. That also doesn’t include pitchers such as Trevor Rosenthal or Carlos Martinez.

Granted, that would be a very young rotation, and Garcia’s shoulder problems remain a question at this point. But, there is undoubtedly enough talent in that rotation for the team to be successful, and it would be a heck of a lot cheaper than keeping Wainwright.

Some people might say re-signing Lohse this year is unreasonable, but it could pay off in the long term. The Cardinals would have much more money to spend on a solid middle infielder and veteran players who often play key roles that help win games late in the regular season and playoffs.

Although Lohse’s contract this year could create some sticker shock, it would be minimal compared to the gasping-for-air feeling Cardinals fans could experience if the team tries to sign Wainwright to a long-term contract next year.

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Cards Reds Rivalry May Be Best Of 2013

As the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels spent unprecedented amounts of money during the offseason to try to establish dominance, a battle between rivals in the Midwest could be the most intense race of the 2013 season.

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The St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds have won the National League Central Division in three of the past four seasons, and each team has made moves this offseason to bolster their chances to do so again next year.

The Cardinals haven’t added much, but they also didn’t have many holes to fill. They signed left-handed relief pitcher Randy Choate to a three-year, $7.5 million contract to fill the team’s biggest need in the bullpen. They also signed bench player Ty Wigginton to a two-year, $5 million deal, but unless Wigginton comes up with a late-inning homer against the Reds, that signing is negligable.

The Reds, who beat the Cardinals by nine games last year to win the division, made more substantial moves. They resigned reliever Jonathan Broxton to a three-year, $21 million contract to be the team’s closer for the foreseeable future and resigned leftfielder Ryan Ludwick for $15 million across two years. The Reds also traded for outfielder Shin-Soo Choo from the Indians to be their centerfielder and leadoff hitter next year.

The Broxton signing should allow flamethrower Aroldis Chapman to be in the starting rotation next year, and the trade for Choo fills a massive hole at the top of the lineup.

Drew Stubbs, who went to the Indians in the trade, held that spot last season, but he hit just .213 with a .277 on-base percentage and 166 strikeouts. By contrast, Choo hit .283 with a .373 on-base percentage and struck out 150 times. That’s still a lot of strikeouts for a leadoff hitter, but Choo provides more power and is certainly an upgrade in a spot the Reds tried to improve at last season’s trading deadline.

Although neither team has made nearly as many moves as several other teams so far in the offseason, the Cardinals and Reds have fortified their rosters to stage quite a battle throughout the 2013 season. They’ll do so without handing out contracts worth more than $100 million, as the Dodgers did by signing pitcher Zack Greinke and Angels did by signing outfielder Josh Hamilton.

The Cardinals and Reds have a recent history full of intense games that have at times led to shouting matches and even a full-out brawl in 2010. With both teams loaded and ready for battle heading into the season, one might think this could be a season series full of more temper tantrums and games that will leave blood boiling for both teams and both fanbases.

But this year’s rivalry might take a more professional turn. Both the Cardinals and Reds know each organization has a good team, and they will likely be the two strongest contenders for the NL Central Division title.

In past years, the Reds were an up-and-coming team that felt it had to rough up the more established Cardinals to gain entrance to the top of the division. Those days are gone. General manager Walt Jocketty has built a roster with a good starting rotation, solid bullpen and increasingly potent lineup filled with stars such as Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce.

This year’s Cardinals-Reds rivalry could be similar to recent battles in the AL West between the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Both teams had some of the most talented rosters in the league, and they stuck strictly to playing solid, intense yet not over-the-top baseball games.

Although it might be fun for fans to watch for extracurricular activities on the field and in the dugouts similar to a playoff hockey game, it might be even more impressive to watch a season series that has good, high-quality baseball.

So while big-market teams on the West Coast battle each other with dollar bills in the offseason, actual games between the Cardinals and Reds next season could create the most interesting division races in all of baseball.

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Wil the Royals trade Myers away for starting pitching?

The Royals need another front of the rotation starter, even after acquiring Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie. With a $70MM “soft” salary cap (which many argue is too low), the Royals say they’re willing to trade top outfield prospect Wil Myers for starting pitching. Names such as Tampa Bay’s James Shields and Boston’s Jon Lester have come up, but so far they’re nothing more than rumors. But is trading a top offensive prospect for starting pitching a good idea in the first place?

If it’s for Shields or Lester, no. Yes, they are good pitchers and better than anyone in the Royals rotation, including Santana and Guthrie. But they’re not worth Wil Myers trade value.

Both Shields and Lester will be free agents in 2014. If Myers stays with the Royals, he’ll likely be a free agent until 2019. Then there’s money. Shields will make $9MM in 2013 and has a $12MM team option. Lester will make $11.6MM in 2013 and has a $13MM team option. Myers will make much less.

Shields pitched 227.2 innings in 33 starts, had a 3.52 ERA with a 3.84 strikeout to walk ratio. Lester pitched 205.1 innings in 33 starts, had a 4.82 ERA with a 2.44 strikeout to walk ratio. Shields is 30 and Lester is 28, but between the two, Shields appears the one most likely to improve. Both pitchers are good and would be an asset to the Royals rotation, but not for Myers.

Now if the Tampa Rays are willing to deal David Price or Jeremy Hellickson for Myers, that might be a good trade. Price is a Super Two player, which makes him arbitration eligible in 2013 and a free agent in 2016. Hellickson is arbitration eligible in 2014 and a free agent in 2017.  Price made $4.35MM in 2012 and Hellickson made $489,500 in 2012, so they’re very affordable and would be under club control for at least a few years.

But I don’t see a trade like that happening. Price was a 20 game winner, pitching 211.0 innings over 31 starts with a 2.16 ERA and a 3.47 strikeout to walk ratio. And he was the American League Cy Young Award winner for 2012. Hellickson was no slouch, pitching 177.0 innings over 31 starts with a 3.10 ERA and a 2.10 strikeout to walk ratio. He was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2011.

Of the two, the Rays might trade Hellickson for Myers straight up, but to get Price the Royals would probably have to throw in another high level prospect like a Jake Odorizzi or Jason Adam. And the Rays aren’t rebuilding, so there’s no good reason for them to give up starting pitching for prospects.

If the Royals are so bent on trading for a starting pitcher, maybe they should consider Chicago Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija. Jeff Samardzija? To be honest, I didn’t know much about him either. But Samardzija was the ace of the Cubs, pitching 174.2 innings in 28 starts with a 3.81 ERA and a 3.21 strikeout to walk ratio. Sure, being the ace of the 61-101 Cubs isn’t that impressive. But Samardzija made $2.64MM in 2012, is arbitration eligible in 2013 and a free agent in 2016.

And the best thing is the Royals won’t have to trade Myers to get Samardzija (unless they’re very stupid, which is possible). The Royals could give the Cubs someone like Mike Montgomery or Cheslor Cuthbert for Samardzija and jettison or trade Luke Hochevar to pay Samardzija’s salary. The Royals still have money left to get a free agent pitcher like a Shaun Marcum or Anibal Sanchez. And Myers can take Jeff Francoeur‘s place in right field in 2013. Sounds like a good deal to me.

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Jeremy Jeffress, Tommy Hottovy and Jason Bourgeois, we hardly knew ye

Offseason news is dominated with big trades (like the Miami Marlins shipping a part of their roster to the Toronto Blue Jays) and wondering where star free agents like Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton will sign. But there’s a lot of small moves Major League clubs make in an effort to improve their teams and the Royals are no different.

Last week, the Royals traded reliever Jeremy Jeffress to Toronto for cash and reliever Tommy Hottovy to the Texas Rangers for cash and our old friend player to be named later. And on Monday outfielder Jason Bourgeois elected to become a free agent. Earlier this month, the Royals designated the three players for assignment to clear space on the 40-man roster.

Jeffress, 25, appeared in 13 games with the Royals with a 6.75 ERA. He’s out of options and the Jays will give him to opportunity to make the team. Kansas City native and lefty specialist Hottovy, 31, appeared in nine games with the Royals with a 2.89 ERA and hopes to be a part of the Ranger’s bullpen. Bourgeois, 30, had a .258 average in 30 games with the Royals and has yet to sign with a team.

With their limited roles, Jeffress and Hottovy were the odd men out in an already solid bullpen. And Bourgeois was expendable since the Royals already have speedy outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson on their roster.

To be honest, Jeffress, Hottovy and Bourgeois had a small role with the Royals and they weren’t going to be a part of the team’s future. These minor moves in the middle of November will be a fading memory as the 2013 season commences. But it’s the business of baseball and I hope Jeffress, Hottovy and Bourgeois have good luck with their new teams.

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Hispanic Heritage in KC: Royals Are Now a Player in Latin America

A quick perusal of the Royals All-Time Hispanic Heritage Team is enough to realize that the team has not had much of a history in Latin America. The team’s system produced just one true star of Hispanic decent – Carlos Beltran – in its first 42 years.

You would think when they watched Beltran quickly bloom into a dynamic five-tool star that they would have begun searching high and low for other such talents.

But they didn’t. A few good Hispanic players came along, most of them acquired via trades. But the number, documented in a previous article, was shockingly low.

Mining Latin America for young talent just wasn’t a part of the plan. While the percentage of Latin players on major league rosters climbed to 27% last year, the Royals lagged behind.

But under Dayton Moore, that approach has changed. Signing players from Latin America is a way to augment annual draft classes and quickly bulk up a minor league system. The Royals are now one of the primary players in Latin America, competing to sign the top free agents and fill their system with dynamic prospects.

It is significant that two of the brightest hopes for the Royals future were signed in Moore’s first year on the job. Salvador Perez, from Venezuela, and Kelvin Herrera, from the Dominican Republic, shot so fast through the minor leagues that they never even showed up on rankings of top prospects.

Since then, other top Hispanic prospects have joined the organization, and the minor league system is filling up with Hispanics following in the footsteps of Perez and Herrera.

Not all will work out, obviously. The Royals dug deep into their pocketbooks to ink Noel Arguellas at the same time the Reds broke the bank to sign Aroldis Chapman. Sad to say, the Royals have not had the same success with Arguellas.

2006:

Sugar Ray Marimon (23): During the same off-season that KC signed Perez and Herrera, they also added this right-handed starter from Colombia. Shoulder problems have slowed him, but he advanced to Double-A mid-season.

2008:

Robinson Yambati (21): The Dominican righty received a mid-year promotion to High A Wilmington for his solid relief pitching. He may be following in the footsteps of Herrera.

Yordano Ventura (21): This Dominican got the start for the international team in the Futures Game, heralded as one of the hardest throwers in the minor leagues. Boasting a 100 mph heater, Ventura tore up Carolina League hitters (98 Ks in 76 innings), adjusted slowly to Double-A.

2009:

Cheslor Cuthbert (19): A pup who’s been slowly climbing the minor league ladder, Cuthbert gets rave reviews, but has yet to explode on the field. The Nicaraguan remains a top third base prospect, but hit just .240 with 7 homers at High A Wilmington.

Jorge Bonifacio (19): The Dominican outfielder rocketed out of the blocks last spring at Low A Kane County. He slowed over the season, but finished with a .282 average, 10 homers and 61 RBIs in 105 games.

2010:

Orlando Calixte (20): Looks like he has all the skills necessary to play shortstop. Hit well enough at two levels of A-ball to inspire hope for the future.

Noel Arguelles (22): This signing has been disastrous for the pitching-starved Royals. After giving the Cuban defector $7 million, the Royals had to wonder if Arguelles would ever take the field. After about a year on the sidelines nursing arm troubles, Arguelles has been essentially a batting practice pitcher at Wilmington and Northwest Arkansas. Don’t check out his numbers if you have a weak stomach: 4-14, 6.41 ERA, 1.777 WHIP.

Humberto Arteaga (18): Could follow in the footsteps of fellow Venezuelan shortstop Alcides Escobar – a tall, lanky line-drive hitter. He hit .274 for Burlington last season, but struck out a ton.

2011:

Eliar Hernandez (17): Signed for $3 million, expectations are high for the Dominican outfielder. He is tall and athletic, but failed to hit in his first professional season – .208 with no homers at Idaho Falls. The Royals hope he’ll develop into a Wil Myers-type outfielder.

Adalberto Mondesi (17): Yet another shortstop at the low minors, the son of Raul Mondesi doesn’t exactly fit the criteria for this article. Though he was signed out of the Dominican, he was actually born in Los Angeles. Mondesi spent the season at Idaho Falls, even though he didn’t turn 17 until the end of the summer.  He was solid enough considering his age; he hit .290 with 3 homers in 50 games.

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Is it time to trade Wil Myers?

If you are ever looking for the definition of forcing an organization’s hand, you need look no further than Wil Myers. Myers is doing his best Eric Hosmer impersonation in 2012 and at some point this season the Kansas City Royals are going to have a decision to make. The options are numerous, but unfortunately none of them will be easy.

Option 1: Free Wil Myers!

Bringing Myers’ hot bat up to KC is probably the favorite option amongst Royals fans, but the question is, where? Jeff Francoeur and Alex Gordon are both under contract for at least the next two years and the club still has no idea what it has in Lorenzo Cain. Mike Moustakas is firmly entrenched at third. The only real option this season would be to send Eric Hosmer down for seasoning and bring Myers up to DH and spell outfielders while Billy Butler plays first. I don’t like the idea of Hosmer in Omaha or Billy Butler playing first base.

Of course you could avoid that whole mess by trading one of these big leaguers for starting pitching help…but who? I doubt anyone wants Gordon’s new contract until he proves last year wasn’t a fluke, and then Dayton Moore wouldn’t trade him anyway. Francoeur is coveted by no one as much as he is by Dayton Moore. Lorenzo Cain is injured. So that leaves Mike Moustakas…but really, if you’re going to trade Moustakas why wouldn’t you just…

Option 2: Trade Wil Myers

There is something to be said for trading players at their peak values, but this is not something the Royals have excelled at. Myers would probably bring a nice haul of prospect arms, but the Royals have shown that prospect arms rarely turn into starting rotation arms. Trading Myers for a starting pitcher would prove even more difficult. Most of the pitchers available on the market are free agents at the end of this season. Why in the world would you trade a prospect that you control for the next 6 years for a rent-a-starter when you are 10 games under .500?

So that leaves the only option as packaging Myers with other prospects for a pitcher you can control for 2+ years. Honestly, the list of good young pitchers locked up for 2+ years and available is ridiculously short. Of course, that lack of supply makes demand ridiculously high, which to me means trading Wil Myers is probably a bad solution.

Option 3: Platoon Wil Myers

I kid, I kid. I assume the Royals will not give Myers the Johnny Giavotella treatment. However, as much as this organization loves utility infielders, can we completely rule out the utility slugger? Myers can conceivably play all three outfield positions, third base and first base. Obviously he could fill in at DH as well. I wouldn’t put it past this organization to bring Myers up and play him 5 days a week at a different position each day.

Honestly, I am not sure I have the solution. Even though I hate option three, it would at least help the lineup. Best case scenario? Frenchy keeps up his current streak and we trade him and Broxton for a couple of AA All Stars in July, freeing up Wil Myers to play RF and Kelvin Herrera to get a chance to close. Of course, the idea of Dayton Moore trading Frenchy is like asking my 10 year old to give up his Xbox…you can’t fight love.

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Last Minute Anxiety: What If It All Goes Horribly Wrong for the Royals?

With the Kansas City Royals officially opening their 2012 season this Friday, the optimism for some fans is now being replaced with nervousness.

For a baseball fan, it is only natural to be optimistic during the off-season. The disaster of the previous year is in the past, free agents have been added, that overpaid free-agent’s contract finally expired, and well…somebody has to win next year, right? And for fans of most teams, eventually the optimism pays off. Your team comes from out of nowhere to qualify for the playoffs, and whether they advance or not, that can be considered a successful season (unless you’re the Yankees or Red Sox). But for longer than any other organization in baseball, Royals fans have had their off-season optimism shoved down their throat in the form of embarrassingly bad baseball. The Royals have the longest playoff drought in all of MLB. So one can understand why a Royals fan might eventually decide not to even bother with the positive thoughts.

Until the 2010 season, it was hard to envision a scenario in which Royals fans would be given any reason to believe they would see a winner in the near future. It was during that season, that things began to come together at the minor league level. Former first-round draft picks Mike Moustakas(3B) and Eric Hosmer(1B) began to emerge as two of the top prospects in baseball. 19-year old 3rd round draft pick Will Myers began to turn heads in A-ball. Other prospects began giving people to take notice as well, and before long, the Royals farm system was the talk of baseball. All of a sudden, that dark tunnel that Royals fans had peered into for so long started to show a faint light at the end. After the 2010 season, all the talk was about the Royals farm system. Not only was it considered the best in all of baseball, but some were calling it the best farm system that they had ever seen. And while the expectations for the 2011 Royals season weren’t great, fans were, for the first time in a very long time, allowed to feel legitimately optimistic for the future. 2011 saw the arrival of Hosmer, Moustakas, Salvador Perez(C), Johnny Giovatella(2B), Danny Duffy(SP), and a whole crop of young bullpen arms.

For the most part, all signs were positive. Hosmer impressed from day one. Moustakas went through his struggles, but by the end of the year, looked like he was figuring things out. Perez was very impressive, and while Giovatella and Duffy both struggled at times, both showed definite signs of promise. On top of this, Alcides Escobar(SS) emerged as arguably the best defensive SS in all of baseball. Lorenzo Cain came up for an impressive September call-up. Free-Agent Jeff Francoeur(OF) pulled his career out of the toilet with a fantastic year, and former top prospect Alex Gordon(OF) finally showed the promise he was thought to have when he was drafted in 2005. Looking at things from a long-term perspective, it is hard to imagine things going more positively in 2011. Everyone has pointed to 2012 as the year when the Royals will begin to ascend back to relevance for the first time in almost 20 years.

But what if it all goes wrong? This is a question that Royals fans are conditioned to ask. While Hosmer is as close to a sure thing as there is, would it surprise anyone if Moustakas never fully came around? If Duffy can’t keep his pitch count down? If Francoeur returns to being a near useless hitter? What if Gordon also finds himself with an extended stay on the DL? Center-fielder Lorenzo Cain is thought to be ready to break out, but what if that doesn’t happen? Salvador Perez has already been injured and is out until June. Closer Joakim Soria is out for the year with Tommy John surgery.

Each of these things individually is a very realistic possibility. But what makes this year different from past years, is that rather than considering all of the things that would have to go wrong for things to go bad, Royals fans were forced to point out all of the things that COULD go right to help them contend.

This year may not go as Royals fans hope. Every single thing listed above could take place. But it sure beats sitting around hoping Juan Gonzalez regains his MVP form, Mike Sweeney‘s back finally holds up, and Benito Santiago and Reggie Sanders discover the Fountain of Youth.

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