Tag Archive | "Position Player"

St. Louis Cardinals maintain long-term focus with limited deadline deals

The St. Louis Cardinals moved two pitchers during this season’s non-waiver trading period, but neither were one of the team’s vast supply of pitching prospects that could be the foundation of the team for much of the next decade.

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General manager John Mozeliak traded relievers Mitchell Boggs and Marc Rzepczynski for international signing money and a minor league position player, but he kept everybody else.

Sure, the Cardinals could have improved at shortstop, rumors leading up to the July 31 deadline had them linked to Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim shortstop Erick Aybar, or they could have got a starting pitcher such as Jake Peavy from the Chicago White Sox or Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies. They even could’ve gone after a catcher with Yadier Molina on the disabled list.

But all of those options would have been short-term fixes that could have helped the team win the World Series this season since the Cardinals will likely enter the playoffs with an extremely young team, particularly on the pitching side, but those moves would have also mortgaged the team’s equally as bright future.

The Cardinals have a treasure trove full of young pitchers that includes Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, Michael Blazek, Keith Butler, Kevin Siegrist, Tyler Lyons, Seth Maness and John Gast, not to mention injured closer Jason Motte, who closed out the 2011 World Series but is just 26 years old.

That group could be an entire big-league pitching staff in itself if everyone stays healthy and continues to progress as they have thus far through the minor leagues, and for many, their first season in the majors.

Those 12 pitchers, excluding Motte, had made a combined 209 appearances up until the trading deadline and were a large part of a staff that has the fourth-best earned-run average at 3.42. The Cardinals have possibly never had that kind of young talent in their system at one time.

But, that youth also leaves a distinct possibility for problems in the immediate future. Yes, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook are veterans with great leadership skills who are vital to the development of the young pitchers, but mentorship only goes so far in terms of wins and losses in October.

Most of this young pitching corps has never experienced postseason play and just recently got a taste of high-leverage games on the current road trip through Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Unfortunately, they went 1-7 in the first two stops before they won two of three over Cincinnati.

Maybe those intense games will give the young players experience that will benefit them in the playoffs, but then again, postseason games are yet another notch higher on the intensity and pressure dials.

Still, Mozeliak made the correct decisions at the trade deadline even if the Cardinals lose in the wild card game or are knocked out in the first playoff series. Trading some of the team’s young talent might have helped this season, but keeping it has greatly enhanced the chances the Cardinals will go deep in the playoffs for the next several years.

Yes, it might hurt if one of the young pitchers gives up a back-breaking home run or young position players Pete Kozma, Matt Carpenter or Matt Adams make a crucial error that ends the team’s 2013 season, but sometimes wisdom isn’t revealed until years later.

Mozeliak might have just set the Cardinals up as a potential powerhouse team for years to come by saying, “No,” to trade offers and setting down the phone.

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Triple Play: Oakland A’s, Rick Ankiel, Vernon Wells

Welcome to this week’s Triple Play. This week, we examine the hottest team in baseball, take a look at what could be the end of one of the most fascinating careers in recent baseball history, and more (including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch). Off we go:

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Who’s Hot?

Oakland Athletics

Here they go again. The A’s are on another one of their white-hot streaks. Since last losing two games in a row on May 14-15 versus the Rangers, the A’s have gone 18-5 and now sit a half-game behind first-place Texas in the AL West. It’s not just a home-field advantage, either; Oakland has played 15 road games during this stretch. Whereas previous A’s teams have had dominating starting pitching, it is the bullpen that has been the most dominating feature of the 2013 team. Closer Grant Balfour and setup men Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook have slammed the door on the opposition, each boasting an ERA below 2.00 and park-adjusted ERA+ numbers over 200. The rotation is anchored by 40-year-old Bartolo Colon, who has walked six batters in 77 innings this season. He doesn’t strike out batters the way he used to, but he adapted quite well, as demonstrated by his two complete-game shutouts. Everyone else in the A’s rotation is 26 or younger. The oldest position player is 33-year-old outfielder Coco Crisp, who serves as the team’s spark plug, with a .383 on-base percentage, 13 steals, 40 runs scored and 22 RBI. The blossoming star of the team, though, is outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who leads the team with 13 home runs, despite hitting only .236/.305/.492. The flashes of brilliance from the 27-year-old Cuban defector are tantalizing, to say the least. But the real revelation this season has been third baseman Josh Donaldson, who we discussed in last week’s Triple Play. His .328/.395/.528-9-42-2-33 hitting line has deepened the A’s lineup and eased pressure on Josh Reddick, who has battled injuries and an awful slump so far this season. Obviously, the A’s won’t continue to play at a .750-plus clip, but even if with the inevitable regression to the means, they have a strong enough team to be the challenger to the Texas Rangers that most analysts expected the Los Angeles Angels to be. Underestimate the Athletics at your own risk.

 

Who’s Not?

Rick Ankiel, New York Mets/???

Unfortunately, it looks like this might be the end of the line for one of the most intriguing players of the past 12-15 years. The Mets, desperate for competent outfielders, designated Ankiel for assignment prior to Sunday’s game against the Marlins. If this is in fact the end for Ankiel, Saturday’s game was not a satisfying conclusion: four at-bats in the 20-inning marathon, three strikeouts. Between his time this season with the Astros and Mets, Ankiel did manage to bash seven home runs and drive in 18, but he hit just .188/.235/.422 with 60 strikeouts in 136 plate appearances and drew only eight walks. His combined OPS+ was 79. That was just too far below replacement level for any team to accept. Since leaving the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2009 season, Ankiel played for the Royals, Braves, Nationals, Astros and Mets. He was a serviceable part-time player with Washington in 2011, but was overexposed due to too much playing time. Since then, his strike zone discipline, never great to begin with, has further deteriorated. The Mets are going nowhere this season and are much better served to give Kirk Nieuwenhuis, 25, and Juan Lagares, 24, a chance to stick in the majors. If it is in fact the end for Ankiel, he can look back at two distinctly different career paths – both of which ended up in the major leagues. From the dominating rookie year, to the shocking meltdown in the 2000 playoffs, to the switch from pitcher to outfielder, to the legendary home run in his first game back in the majors as an outfielder (all with the Cardinals), to the journey around baseball as a part-time player, Ankiel has had one of the most fascinating careers of any professional athlete. He will, and should, be remembered as one of the most unique baseball players of his generation.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: 4-6, 5.82 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 78 ERA+

Player B: 2-4, 6.30 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 72 ERA+

Talk about ugly. Player A is Jon Garland, who was designated for assignment Saturday by the Colorado Rockies. Player B is Jeff Francis, who replaced Garland in the rotation Saturday and pitched four largely ineffective innings in his return. Remember that scene in The Last Boy Scout, where Bruce Willis’ character catches his best friend hiding in his bedroom closet and asks him “head or gut?” That’s the kind of choice that Rockies fans have to endure with these two pitchers. Frankly, neither one has any business being on a major-league roster. Garland was tolerable in April, but has been shellacked regularly since then. Francis, who barely throws harder than knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, is hopefully just holding a place in the Rockies’ rotation until Roy Oswalt is ready to go (he is scheduled for two more starts at Double-A Tulsa). If you are a fantasy owner who actually had Garland or Francis on your team, your first move isn’t to dump them from your roster – it’s to ask yourself whether you should even be playing fantasy baseball in the first place.

Player A: .241/.285/.409, 10 HR, 25 RBI, 4 SB, 25 runs

Player B: .220/.364/.429, 10 HR, 31 RBI, 1 SB, 26 runs

Player A is the Yankees’ Vernon Wells. Player B is Josh Willingham of the Twins. Remember Wells’ fast start, where he smacked six homers and slugged .544 with a .911 OPS in April? Yeah, that’s just a fond memory now. Wells may as well be wearing concrete shoes with the way he is sinking. It started in May, when his average slumped to .221, but he hit four more homers and ended the month with 24 RBI. He was still being reasonably productive, especially considering what had been expected of him before the season started. The wheels have completely come off the wagon now. Wells is hitting a pathetic .115 in June with no extra-base hits. If fantasy owners haven’t dumped him yet, the time has probably come. Willingham, on the other hand, might be snapping out of a funk that dogged him the entire month of May. Since the calendar flipped to June, though, Willingham has hit a home run and driven in six. Despite the poor May, Willingham is still on pace to hit 28 dingers and drive in close to 90. Hopefully you weren’t expecting the 34-year-old to repeat the 35-110-85 line he put up in 2012, as that was clearly an outlier compared to the rest of his career. Isn’t it interesting, though, how similar these two stat lines are for these two players? One is slumping his way to the bench, while the other is showing signs of heating up.

Random Thoughts

  • Time for our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch. All season long, we are keeping track of how stingy the Cardinals’ ace is being with the free passes. In his most recent start Friday night against the rival Reds, Adam Wainwright tossed another seven brilliant innings, striking out seven Reds and issuing just one walk. That brings his season total to seven walks (in an NL-leading 96 innings), versus 91 strikeouts. His K/BB ratio is 13-to-1, still tops in either league. He has also allowed only two home runs this season.
  • Kyle Blanks, who looks like a defensive end trying his hand at baseball, is giving San Diego’s lineup a much needed jolt of power (6 HR, 21 RBI, 17 runs) since being recalled in mid-April. Chris Denorfia and Will Venable are acceptable 4th outfielders, but neither has any business playing regularly ahead of Blanks.
  • I don’t understand all the surprise about Jeff Baker and his 8 home runs for the Rangers this season. He’s not an unknown rookie, folks. In 2008, he thumped 12 long balls with the Rockies. He held the utility job with the Cubs from 2009-12 (until Theo Epstein started his Windy City rebuilding project). Always had some pop in his bat; now he’s in a great hitter’s park. Perfect situation for Baker.
  • Speaking of puzzling fantasy analysis, what’s with all the love for Casey Kotchman in Miami? He was the Opening Day first baseman, but was injured April 3 spent two months on the disabled list. Upon his return, he’s gone 0-for-16. He doesn’t have a hit this season. All he was doing is filling a roster spot until the REAL first baseman of the Marlins’ future returned: Logan Morrison (who was activated Sunday). That’s the name that smart fantasy analysts should have been filing away.
  • Tell me whether you recognize this feeling: you see a slugfest, like the Padres-Rockies 11-9 game Friday night and you think to yourself “Sweet! Lots of fantasy goodness here!” Then you check the boxscore and…..nothing. Your fantasy player contributed a big fat ZERO to the game (coughChaseHeadleycough). If there is a more annoying feeling in fantasy sports, I don’t know what it is.
  • Is the Frenchy love-fest finally over in Kansas City? It should be. Jeff Francoeur has been as terrible the past few weeks as well (one measly homer, four extra-base hits, five RBI since May 1). Never a player interested in drawing a walk, Frenchy has seen his OPS drop to a ghastly .375 in June. At least fans can take solace knowing that Wil Myers is on the way….er, um, wait. Never mind.
  • The 18-inning game, 5 ½-hour tilt between the Rangers and Blue Jays on Saturday was the longest game in the history of either franchise.
  • Here are some notes from the longest game of the season, the 20-inning marathon endured by fans Saturday between the Mets and Marlins (won by the Marlins 2-1):
    • The two teams combined to leave 32 men on base (22 by the Mets!) and whiff 35 times.
    • Four pitchers turned in quality starts: original starters Jose Fernandez (6 IP, 1 ER, 7 Ks), Matt Harvey (7 IP, 1 ER, 6 Ks), plus Miami’s Kevin Slowey (7 IP, 8 hits, 8 Ks) and New York’s Shaun Marcum (8 IP, 5 hits, 7 Ks). Despite his yeoman’s job out of the bullpen, Marcum was charged with the loss.
    • Daniel Murphy had two of the most eventful outs of the game: first, he was thrown out at home to end the 12th inning, then his potential game-tying homer was caught on the warning track to end the game.
    • Marlins’ rookie outfielder Marcell Ozuna’s throw to gun down Murphy at the plate was part of a beautiful double play to end the 12th. Ozuna sprinted to the right-field line to rob Marlon Byrd of a hit, then he fired a strike to catcher Rob Brantly, who held on to the ball despite a ferocious collision with Murphy.
    • Entering Sunday’s game, Ozuna is hitting .328 in 35 games since being called up. At 22, he is giving Marlins fans (all six of them) another reason to keep watching while Giancarlo Stanton is on the DL.
    • Mets fans have got to be holding their breath after their ace, Harvey, depart the game with back pain. Harvey and David Wright are all that separates the Mets from being Marlins Part 2.
  • How the Rockies remain above .500 is beyond me. In addition to trotting out Garland and Francis far too often this year, their bullpen (other than Rex Brothers) has been putrid. Friday night, some guy named Rob Scahill allowed five runs without retiring a batter, as the Rockies twice gagged away a six-run lead. I was there. It was one of the worst relief performances I have ever seen in quite some time. Sunday was just as bad. Juan Nicasio was perfect for 5 1/3 innings before tiring. By the time the bullpen finished pouring turpentine on the fire, the Padres had gone from trailing 4-0 to leading 7-4. Even with help on the way (Roy Oswalt, Tyler Chatwood), it’s probably time to start searching for relief help. If the bullpen doesn’t get upgraded soon, all the hitting heroics in the world won’t save the Rockies season.
  • Sending good thoughts to Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy. Already on the DL with shoulder inflammation last week, McCarthy suffered a seizure that doctors said was related to his head injury last season. Scary stuff. McCarthy has told reporters that he is fine now. I hope that is truly the case.
  • Finally, heartfelt condolences to the family of legendary Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, whose wife lost her battle with brain cancer last Thursday. She was just 64.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Furcal Should Concern Cardinals

In a spring training that has included worries about contract negotiations and the health of starting pitchers, the stability of a right elbow ligament for a position player could be the St. Louis Cardinals’ biggest problem as games get underway.

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Shortstop Rafael Furcal received an anti-inflammatory shot in his injured elbow Friday to help ease discomfort created by a bone spur, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Furcal tore a ligament in the elbow Aug. 30 in a game against the Washington Nationals, and he chose to forego surgery in favor of rehab during the offseason. But that decision could come back to haunt Furcal and the Cardinals for the 2013 season.

Furcal has yet to throw or take lefthanded at-bats during camp, and he didn’t sound optimistic about his condition Thursday.

“It still hurts, a lot, when I’m throwing,” Furcal said.

That is very bad news for a Cardinals team that doesn’t have a solid backup option at shortstop.

Pete Kozma played well at the end of last season, but that was a flash of brilliance in an otherwise mediocre career spent languishing in the minor leagues, and the Cardinals have been reluctant to put much faith in Kozma as a major part of the solution at shortstop.

But other than Kozma, the Cardinals are in a world of hurt in one of the most important positions on the field. They signed Ronny Cedeno during the offseason, but he has a career batting average of .247 and hasn’t been able to stick even with bad teams such as the Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners, Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets.

The Cardinals looked at making a move for a shortstop during the offseason and reportedly inquired about trading for Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.

Cabrera would be an excellent fit with the Cardinals and would fill a position of need, but other teams know the Cardinals are loaded with good, young pitching, and their asking prices are very high.

The Cardinals understandably don’t want to park with their treasure trove of pitching. Pitching and defense are what generally win championships, and decent hitters are usually easier to find than pitchers who can provide productive innings.

But because Furcal didn’t undergo surgery when he first injured his elbow, the Cardinals are in quite a bind just a month before the regular season begins.

Obviously, the decision to have surgery is ultimately that of the player, and the team likely has significant input, but right now the decision to try and rehab rather than have surgery is creating some anxious moments in spring training camp as Furcal struggles to heal enough to play.

Furcal also has a history of injuries that threatened to derail his career. He was an all-star-caliber shortstop with the Atlanta Braves during the first six years of his career, but he has not played more than 100 games in three of the last five years because of various injuries.

The Cardinals knew they were getting a fragile player when they traded for Furcal at the 2011 trading deadline, and they got quite a bit of production from him before the injury. Furcal has been a .259 hitter with 176 hits in 171 games played in the year and a half he’s been a Cardinals player, but the elbow injury is looking like it could be a problem longer than just the next couple of weeks.

So if Furcal can’t start the season, the Cardinals will have to make a decision just as important as Furcal’s decision about having surgery. They will have to make a deal to get a shortstop, which likely would cost highly regarded pitching prospects, or they’ll have to hope a Kozma-Cedeno platoon at shortstop is good enough to make the playoffs.

Otherwise, the Cardinals could have another one of those incredibly frustrating situations when they count on a player to eventually get healthy, and he never does.

That has happened repeatedly with Cardinals pitchers throughout the years, and it usually results in a not-so-great season because the team didn’t make necessary changes while hoping the injured player would return.

Hopefully, shortstop isn’t the Cardinals’ downfall this year, but it is already the position that will cause the most anxiety this spring.

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St. Louis Cardinals have needs at two of baseball’s most talent-thin positions

The St. Louis Cardinals entered the offseason with a shopping list that includes a shortstop and a left-handed relief pitcher. Unfortunately, those are currently two of the most talent-thin positions in Major League Baseball.

The Cardinals’ regular shortstop for the 2012 season, Rafael Furcal, hit .264 and had an on-base percentage of .325 in 121 games before he tore an elbow ligament that ended his season. Those certainly aren’t terrific numbers, but he ranked 11th in baseball in batting average and eighth in on-base percentage. He also played his typically solid defense throughout the season.

Furcal expects to be healthy by Opening Day, so the Cardinals will have to either be satisfied with his production, take a chance that late-season star Pete Kozma will continue his remarkable play or try and find an upgrade elsewhere.

Various rumors say the Cardinals are interested in Cleveland Indians’ shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who ranked eighth in batting average and fifth in on-base percentage last season. That could be an option, but the Cardinals would likely have to part with at least two young pitchers and a position player.

That’s a high price to pay when the team already has serviceable players on its roster, especially when the list of above-average shortstops who might be available is likely limited to Cabrera and Texas Rangers’ shortstop Elvis Andrus.

The biggest problem is simply a shortage of very good shortstops. Cabrera and Andrus have spots in most top-five lists of shortstops, along with Derek Jeter, Troy Tulowitski and Jose Reyes. Starlin Castro would also receive consideration.

The next tier might include a veteran player such as Jimmy Rollins or a young player such as Alcides Escobar who has played well for a year or two, but has yet to establish themselves as a consistent all-star caliber player.

The lack of supply at the shortstop position also means demand is high, which could cost the Cardinals dearly in terms of young players and prospects if they make a move for a shortstop this offseason.

Pitching, particularly hard-throwing, young pitching, is currently a position of strength for the Cardinals, except for left-handed relievers.

Although there aren’t many high-quality shortstops currently roaming infields at big-league stadiums, there might be fewer left-handed relievers.

The Cardinals have lefty Marc Rzepczynski in their bullpen, but he had a 4.24 ERA last season and certainly can’t carry the load alone, as the Cardinals found out in the National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants when Rzepczynski posted a 6. 75 ERA and the Giants faced right-handers when Rzepczynski wasn’t available.

But, the same problem faces the Cardinals for left-handed relievers as it does for shortstops. There aren’t many available, especially at a relatively moderate price.

Left-handed reliever Jeremy Affeldt recently signed a three-year, $18 million deal with the Giants, and the best options in free agency are pitchers such as Brian Fuentes, Will Ohman and Wesley Wright.

Those aren’t exactly household names. While that isn’t a requirement for the position, the Cardinals would be foolish to think they would be much better off heading into the 2013 season with one of those pitchers as their second left-handed option in the bullpen.

Rumors also link the Cardinals to non-tendered pitcher Tom Gorzelanny, who threw well for the Washington Nationals last year, posting a 2.88 ERA in 46 innings. Gorzelanny could be a better option, but he is sure to draw interest from several teams and command a fairly high price given the weak market at the position.

Fans can yearn for the Cardinals to make moves to address both positions, but there just isn’t much talent in stock at either spot.

Thankfully, a better shortstop or left-handed reliever isn’t going to determine whether or not the Cardinals will be good next season. The Cardinals have enough talent to be a good team, but those spots could be important factors when the team has to beat other playoff-caliber teams late in the season or the playoffs.

But given the current market at those spots, many other teams could be in similar positions.

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St. Louis Cardinals coaching changes might be most-notable offseason moves

The St. Louis Cardinals made several changes to their coaching staff this week before free agency gets started. That’s not huge news, but it might be more than the team changes to its player roster during the offseason.

Hitting coach Mark McGwire said Friday he will take the same position with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Cardinals also announced earlier in the week that bullpen coach Dyar Miller had not been offered a contract to stay with the team.

The team will replace Miller with Blaise Ilsley, who had been the pitching coach for the AAA-affiliate Memphis Redbirds, and it is expected to promote John Mabry next week from assistant hitting coach to McGwire’s old position as hitting coach, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The team will likely fill the assistant hitting coach position with someone already in the organization.

But don’t expect a similar amount of changes to the Cardinals roster during the offseason.

The Cardinals offered a $13.3-million qualifying offer Friday to starting pitcher Kyle Lohse, but it would be shocking to see Lohse accept that offer or remain with the team heading into 2013. Lohse’s value is very high right now given his 16-3 record in 2012 and a weak free agent class.

But other than Lohse, the Cardinals will likely trot out a team very similar to the 2012 squad. Lance Berkman won’t return, but every other position player on the team’s regular postseason lineup is under contract for next year.

Following the Cardinals disappointing seven-game loss to the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series, many people have trumpeted the need for improvements at the shortstop and second-base positions.

However, those yearnings for new faces up the middle might be misguided.

Assuming his elbow is healthy heading into Spring Training, Rafeal Furcal should be back for the start of the 2013 season. Regardless if people think he is the best possible solution, he is an accomplished veteran who can handle the position. That takes care of shortstop, and Pete Kozma can be Furcal’s back up.

Many also seem to think Kozma was a one-hit wonder down the stretch last season, which he very well might be, but he certainly played well enough while in the big leagues to earn serious consideration as the team’s back-up shortstop.

That is also a much cheaper scenario than signing a mid-level free agent such as Stephen Drew or Alex Gonzalez.

Second base is a tad more tricky. Skip Schumaker did not play well in the second half of the season, but he is still under contract for next season and has proven in the past that he can be an everyday starter. Daniel Descalso is the best fielder on the team besides Yadier Molina, but his surge at the plate in the postseason will have to become his norm for him to hold the second-base job for an entire season.

The Cardinals also have highly touted prospect Kolten Wong, who will have a shot to play second base for the Cardinals, perhaps as soon as 2013. Even if he needs more time in the minor leagues, he figures to be the team’s long-term plan at that position.

Maybe a veteran could fill the spot until Wong is ready, but this year’s free agent class at second base includes players such as Placido Polanco, Marco Scutaro and Adam Kennedy. The Cardinals have already had Polanco and Kennedy earlier in their careers, and both are surely in the final steps of their careers.

Scutaro might be an option. He played great for the Giants this year, hitting .362 in 61 games after he was traded mid-season from the Colorado Rockies, but he is a career .276 hitter. That’s not bad, but Schumaker is a career .288 hitter and does a fine job defensively.

All of that means the team that sneaked into the playoffs, made a miracle comeback to win the division series in the playoffs and missed the World Series by one game will likely be the same team that takes the field on Opening Day 2013.

Changes are always interesting and exciting, but St. Louis fans probably won’t have many of those feelings this winter.

The current team, with supposedly full seasons from Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter and a large group of talented, young pitchers, already has the pieces to create expectations that it should at minimum be in strong playoff contention at the end of the season.

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Yet another scapegoat

Baseball is a performance driven business and as such it was really no surprise that the Kansas City Royals let hitting coach Kevin Seitzer go following the 2012 season. Eric Hosmer regressed, Mike Moustakas didn’t improve as much as the club had hoped and Jeff Francoeur ran out of pixie dust, so of course, the team fired the man in charge of their development (or in Francoeur’s case, salvation). While I agree with manager Ned Yost that I’d like to see our power hitters pull the ball more, there’s no way you can blame the 2012 Royals’ failures on Seitzer. What’s more, the factors that are most responsible are still in place.

First, we’ll start with the announcement that was made the same day, Luke Hochevar will likely be returning. If any one player could be blamed for the Royals failures over the last six years, it may just be Hochevar. The 29 year-old right hander has never been even a league average pitcher, and in 2012 he was far from it. With an ERA+ of 72, Hochevar was arguably the worst starter in the major leagues this year, but Dayton Moore and Ned Yost still think he’ll figure it out.

Even more absurdly, Jeff Francoeur, the player mentioned most prevalently in the press conference announcing the firing of Seitzer, will by all account be given a chance to start in right field again in 2013. Francoeur’s -1.3 WAR was the worst in the majors in 2012, barely edging out Eric Hosmer. While Francoeur does bring a great arm, in the field he was subpar, and at the plate he was simply atrocious.

Most importantly if you have the worst pitcher in baseball and the worst position player in baseball, and you choose to bring both players back, does that make you the worst general manager in baseball? Dayton Moore is brilliant at building a farm system, but his ability to handle a major league roster is no longer in question. He has made it clear he is absolutely terrible at it. Want proof? Just look at last year’s offseason:

November 7,2011 Traded Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Verdugo- Sanchez went 1-6 with a 7.76 ERA and finished with a Wins Above Average (WAA) of -1.8

November 23, 2011 Signed Bruce Chen to a 2 year/$9 million contract- Chen went 11-14 with a 5.07 ERA and finished with a WAA of -1.6

December 20, 2011 Signed Yuniesky Betancourt to a 1 year/$2 million contract- Yuni hit .228 with a .656 SLG % and finished with a WAA of -1.9

March 20, 2012 Traded prospect Kevin Chapman for Humberto Quintero and Jason Bourgeois- The two players combined for a WAA of -0.9

Yes, you can clearly point to Jonathan Broxton or Jeremy Guthrie as Moore’s better moves, but the Moore spent over $20 million this season on Bruce Chen, Jonathan Sanchez, Luke Hochevar, Jeff Fancoeur and Yuniesky Betancourt. $20 million!!! Those five players combined to cost the Royals 13 wins in the Wins Above Average category. They had a combined WAR of just below 0. Good thing we fired the hitting coach.

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At least we aren’t Pirates fans…right?

The Pittsburgh Pirates today clinched their 20th consecutive losing season, a mark that surpasses even the futility of our Kansas City Royals. That brought to my mind a pretty good question, which franchise is really more hopeless? To start I’ll look at the recent performance of the two clubs, as putrid as it is, and then I’ll finish with the future prospects.

While it’s true that the Pirates haven’t had a winning season in 20 years, it’s easily arguable that they’ve been more competitive than our Royals. For one, they’ve only lost 100 games twice in the last 26 years, while the Royals have done it four times in the last eleven. However, in terms of actual wins, it’s ridiculously close with the Pirates averaging 68.2 wins to the Royals 67.7 since 2000. The Pirates have a more recent playoff appearance, with three straight from ’90-’92 but they’ve gone six years longer without a championship winning their last in 1979. Trying to compare these teams based on their past performances is like a race between a Prizm and a Sunfire, so let’s move on to what the future looks like.

It might be easy to think that since the Pirates have won more games in 2012 they’re better set up for next year, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily the case. For one thing, the Royals are much younger. The average position player for the Royals is a full year younger than the Pirates and their pitchers are an average of three years younger. The Pirates best two pitchers, A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez, are 35 and 33 respectively and it seems unlikely they’ll match this year’s performance. On the other hand, their best offensive players, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, are both under 26 and just entering the prime of their careers. Whit the Royals having club control of virtually their entire line up, and most of them at an age where improvement is expected, I think you’d have to give the position player advantage to the Royals. I’m not sure anyone has a worse prospective starting rotation in 2012 than the Royals though, so until David Glass actually opens his pocket book this winter, the starting pitching edge goes to the Pirates. Although the bullpen may be an advantage for the Royals, I’m not sure it’s enough to put them over the top.

Looking at the minor leagues doesn’t offer a much clearer picture. Wil Myers is the best prospect in either organization, but the Pirates probably have the next three best is Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Starling Marte. While both clubs have exceptional talent in the minors, if anything I’d give the edge to the Pirates if only because their top two prospects are pitchers and we’ve all seen what a need that is for small market clubs.

Essentially there’s no separating these two clubs because they’re almost mirror images. Young players, hungry fans, embarrassing recent history and cheap owners. I guess you could call them our sister club in the National League, and that should be depressing enough for both fan bases.

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Injuries Make It Difficult To Judge These Royals

If you had been asleep since March and woke up and looked at the Major League Baseball standings, you would see that the Kansas City Royals are currently sitting in 4th place with a record of 24-34, 1/2 game out of last place in the American League Central, with only the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres having fewer wins in all of Major League Baseball. And if this was all you saw, your reaction would be “same old Royals”. However, it isn’t quite that simple.

In 2011, the Royals as a team stayed remarkably healthy. No everyday position player spent any considerable amount of time on the Disabled List. Danny Duffy got shut down early, but otherwise the starting rotation stayed relatively healthy.

2012 has been an entirely different story. 2 key position players that were penciled into the starting lineup for the entire season, Catcher Salvador Perez and CF Lorenzo Cain, have been out all and most of the season respectively. Starting 2nd baseman Chris Getz has been on the DL for about a month. Closer Joakim Soria was diagnosed with a torn elbow ligament in Spring Training and is out for the season with Tommy John surgery. SP Danny Duffy was diagnosed with the same a month ago and is finished for the year. SP Felipe Paulino, sandwiched around a very impressive month in the rotation, has 2 stints on the DL, the 2nd of which he is currently serving. And even though he wasn’t very good before the injury, SP Jonathan Sanchez is also serving time on the DL.

Even in their worst of nightmares, Dayton Moore and Ned Yost couldn’t have planned for this sort of contingency. 4 out of every 5 nights (Bruce Chen‘s outings being the lone exception), the Royals are bringing a knife to a gun fight with the starting pitchers they are sending out there. Of the 5 pitchers in the Royals current starting rotation (Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Vin Mazzaro, Nate Adcock, and Luis Mendoza), only Chen figures at this point to be a sure thing in next year’s rotation, and none of the 5 would figure to be in the rotation beyond next year unless something goes terribly wrong. So what are we supposed to be watching? This is basically a competition between a bunch of guys who would all figure to be 5th starters at best, to determine who is worth keeping around at AAA for an emergency spot start in 2013.

So Royals fans, it is time to quit paying attention to the standings. Things to pay attention to going forward would include:

-Eric Hosmer‘s ability to continue to break out of his extended early season slump
-Alex Gordon as he continues to recover from his slow start to the year
-Mike Moustakas as he emerges as one of the best offensive and defensive 3rd basemen in the game much earlier than anyone anticipated
-Salvador Perez as he returns from the Disabled List this week
-Alcides Escobar as he continues to establish himself as the premier defensive SS in the game
-The development of SP Jake Odorizzi as he continues to excel at AAA Omaha
-And of course, the inevitable call-up of the later “golden boy” of the organization, Wil Myers.

There are plenty of things to be excited about the rest of this Royals season. Unfortunately, contending for the playoffs is no longer one of them. Perhaps 2013 will be “Our Time”

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Royals sign first-round pick Kyle Zimmer

ROYALS SIGN FIRST-ROUND PICK KYLE ZIMMER

Kansas City, MO (June 7, 2012) – The Kansas City Royals today announced the club has signed first-round draft choice Kyle Zimmer, the fifth overall selection in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.  Consistent with team policy, terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

The 20-year-old Zimmer, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound right-handed starter, went 5-3 with a 2.85 ERA in 13 starts, including three complete games, for the Dons in 2012.  In 88.1 innings, he allowed 76 hits, 28 earned runs and 17 walks, while striking out 104.  Zimmer led the West Coast Conference in shutouts (2), strikeouts and strikeouts per nine innings (10.6).  Baseball America rated Zimmer as having the best fastball among all collegiate prospects and his curveball as the third-best in the collegiate ranks.  He was named a preseason second-team All-American by Baseball America entering 2012 and to the 2012 Midseason USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award Watch List last month.  Zimmer was also a member of the 2012 WCC All-Academic team, posting a 3.72 GPA.

Born in San Francisco, Calif., he attended La Jolla (Calif.) High School in the San Diego area where he played four years of baseball, mostly as a third baseman, while also competing in water polo and basketball.  Serving mostly as a position player, he pitched a total of 21.1 innings during his high school career.  Zimmer converted to pitcher his freshman season at USF, but only made five appearances that year.  He then posted a 6-5 record with a 3.73 ERA last season, including outdueling 2011 first-overall selection Gerrit Cole and the UCLA Bruins, 3-0, in a four-hit complete-game shutout with 11 strikeouts in a NCAA regional game on June 3, 2011.

Zimmer is the 23rd pitcher to be selected by the Royals in the first round and the first since 2011 All-Star Aaron Crow in 2009.

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Early season fun is over for St. Louis Cardinals

Almost all of the preseason fears have been realized in the last three weeks for St. Louis Cardinals fans as the team eventually fell from its perch atop the NL Central.

Aside from shortstop Rafeal Furcal, every older position player has experienced an injury that either placed them on the disabled list or kept them out of the starting lineup for multiple games. And those injuries are quickly taking their toll on the team.

First baseman Lance Berkman had knee surgery this week to repair meniscus damage that will likely keep him on the shelf for about two months. On top of that, center fielder Jon Jay, man-without-a-position Allen Craig and reliever Kyle McClellan are all biding their time on the DL, not to mention starting pitcher Chris Carpenter, who has been out since Spring Training.

The Cardinals entered play Friday in second-place for the first time this season, one half game behind the Cincinnati Reds. Then they lost again to the Philadelphia Phillies 5-3 in 10 innings.

Granted, the Reds are 7-3 in their last 10 games, but heading into play Saturday the Cardinals haven’t beaten a team above .500 since May 16 when they beat the San Francisco Giants 4-1.

However, the most troubling aspect of this May slide is that it is tough to find silver linings for the near future. Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright finally pitched like the Wainwright everyone remembers Tuesday by shutting out the San Diego Padres on three hits. Other than that, the bullpen has been a mess, other starters haven’t gotten deep into ballgames and the offense has failed to come through in key spots late in games with runners in scoring position.

The latest example was in the ninth inning Friday when second baseman Tyler Greene and left fielder Matt Holliday both struck out with runners on second and third. One base hit would’ve one the game, but Greene watched strike three and Holliday swung threw the pitch from Raul Valdez.

Yes, the Cardinals offense ranks near the top of the league in several categories, but they are hitting .258 with runners in scoring position. That puts a lot of pressure on the pitching staff to consistently put up zeroes late in games.

Now that’s not to say the pitching staff doesn’t deserve a substantial amount of the blame. The bullpen, in particular, has sucked the life out of several potential late-inning rallies by giving up an extra run or two in the sixth inning or later.

Closer Jason Motte gave up the back-breaking two-run homer in the 10th that won the game for the Phillies, but the double reliever Mitchell Boggs gave up to Juan Pierre in the seventh to tie the game at three played just as much a part in the Cardinals losing that game.

The Cardinals had made winning baseball games look relatively easy at the beginning of the season, and they very well might get on a similar roll late in the season when several key players are back on the field recovered from their injuries.

But, fans might have to temper their expectations for the next month or so to hope the Cardinals play .500 ball and simply remain close to the Reds in the standings.

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