Tag Archive | "Position Players"

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.

Mitchell-Boggs

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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St. Louis Cardinals got 5 all-stars, but Edward Mujica also deserves honor

St. Louis Cardinals fans haven’t had much to gripe about so far in the 2013 season and should be thankful five of the team’s players made the National League all-star roster, but they can also make a strong case the Cardinals should have one more representative.

EdwardMujica

Catcher Yadier Molina, rightfielder Carlos Beltran, right-handed starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, second baseman Matt Carpenter and first baseman Allen Craig were named to the National League all-star team Saturday, but closer Edward Mujica deserved to join them for the Midsummer Classic on Tuesday at Citi Field in Flushing, N.Y.

At least his omission wasn’t the fans fault.

Fans throughout the game had their say in which position players start the game, and they deemed two Cardinals players worthy of a spot in the lineup. Molina received the most votes of any National League player and will start behind the plate, and Beltran will start the game in right field.

Wainwright’s 11-5 record and 2.36 earned-run average heading into play Tuesday might have been good enough for him to start the game, except Cardinals manager Mike Matheny recently shuffled his rotation around so Wainwright will start the final game of the first half Sunday against the Chicago Cubs.

Wainwright will still have the honor of being on the roster, as will second baseman Matt Carpenter and first baseman Allen Craig.

Carpenter was a lock to make the team. He has been arguably the best leadoff hitter in baseball this season with a .316 batting average to go along with 25 doubles and 37 runs batted in. His 106 hits are also tied for the ninth-most in baseball.

Craig, on the other hand, has one of the more unique resumes of any all-star. A first baseman with 10 homeruns usually doesn’t make an all-star roster, but Craig has a .325 batting average and his 69 RBIs are second in the National League. Plus, he leads all of baseball with a .476 average when he comes to bat with runners in scoring position.

Those three Cardinals hitters certainly deserve their spots on the all-star roster, but they are the only three. Traditional powers such as leftfielder Matt Holliday and David Freese are hitting .270 or below and don’t have more than 12 homeruns or 43 RBIs heading into play Tuesday. Matt Adams is hitting .319 and has seven homeruns in 49 games, but his limited playing time has him qualified as nothing more than a bench player, yet. His time will come.

On the pitching side, right-handed starters Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller each had an outside shot of making the all-star team, but they have both had too many rough outings in the last month.

Lynn is tied with Wainwright with 11 wins, which is fifth-best in baseball, but he also has the highest ERA among National League pitchers who have 10 or more wins. Plus, he gave up four or more runs in four of his last six starts.

Miller started the season as well as any pitcher in the game. He had five wins by Mother’s Day and carried an ERA under 2.00 into mid-June, but he never made it past the sixth in any of his next five starts while his ERA rose to 2.80. That’s still a good number, but similar to Lynn, Miller has given up four or more runs in three of his last five starts.

The only Cardinals player who could legitimately earn the “all-star snub” tag is Mujica.

Mujica has been as good as any closer in baseball aside from Oakland A’s closer Grant Balfour, who has yet to blow a save in 23 opportunities. Mujica has converted 23 of 24 save opportunities and posted a 2.41 ERA. He’s allowed at least one run in just eight of 37 appearances.

It is difficult to make an all-star roster as a closer partly because starters receive so much more attention. The National League will have 10 compared to three closers.

Jason Grilli, of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Craig Kimbrel, of the Atlanta Braves, and Aroldis Chapman, of the Cincinnati Reds are the National League’s only relievers, while starters such as Miami Marlins right-hander Jose Fernandez and Chicago Cubs lefty Travis Wood made the team largely because their teams didn’t have another worthy representative.

So Mujica unfortunately won’t be rewarded for his terrific first half with an all-star selection, but maybe he’ll receive the ultimate team reward, the Commissioner’s Trophy, after closing out the 2013 World Series.

That would ease any lingering disappointment.

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I really like this Lorenzo Cain fellow

In a way, the 2013 performance of center fielder Lorenzo Cain is bittersweet. On one hand, I’m glad he’s playing well, especially with the struggling Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas in the lineup. But if Cain stayed healthy last year, would he play as well in 2012 as he is now? It’s hard to say, but Cain played well before various leg injuries limited him to 61 games, ending up with a .266/.316/.419 line with 222 at-bats, 31 RBI, nine doubles, seven home runs, striking out 56 times, drawing 15 walks and stealing 10 bases.

Lorenzo_Cain

Cain knew a good 2013 performance would decide if he was the Royals center fielder of the future or another has-been. In the offseason, Cain worked on strengthening his legs to avoid the leg and hip injuries that plagued him last year. And so far, it’s paying off. He’s played 17 of 18 games with a .350/.420/.483 line, 60 at-bats, nine RBI, five doubles, a home run with 14 strikeouts, six walks and two stolen bases.

Against lefties, Cain has a .357/.500/.357 line with 14 at-bats, four RBI, two strikeouts and three walks. Against righties, Cain has a .348/.392/.522 line with 46 at-bats, five RBI, five doubles, a home run with 12 strikeouts and three walks. He’s hitting and scoring well against left and right handed pitching, though he’s faced more righties than lefties.

Among regular staring position players, Cain leads the team in batting average (.350), on-base percentage (.420), on-base percentage with slugging (.904) and he’s got caught stealing three times. Actually, he leads the American League in being caught stealing, so his running game needs some work.

Cain has a .970 fielding percentage in center field, with the league fielding percentage being .990. His range factor per nine innings as a center fielder is 2.41, with the league range factor per nine innings is at 2.66. He’s only committed one error in 119.2 innings of play, so while his current defense is below league average, he’s far from a defensive liability in the field.

It’s unlikely Cain will keep up his high batting average and he won’t hit a lot of home runs. But so far, Cain is a good center fielder who can hit, get on base and play average defense. If he stays healthy (and there’s still a question if he can) and works on his running game, Cain will be a solid center fielder for the Royals. And at 27, he’s got the potential to improve. With the Royals offense being what it is, let’s hope he does improve.

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St. Louis Cardinals could win with Pete Kozma, Oscar Taveras in lineup

Spring training is generally the time of the year to focus on prospects that might have a shot to help the club in the future, and the St. Louis Cardinals might have already found two position players who can step into the regular lineup and fill important needs.

PeteKozma

And those players are shortstop Pete Kozma and outfielder Oscar Taveras.

Kozma  isn’t necessarily a prospect anymore after his 27-game stint with the Cardinals last September, but the team has thus far been reluctant to place much confidence in the 24-year-old shortstop.

However, Kozma hit .333 after he was called up to the big club last season, and he is hitting even better, .353, through the first week of spring training while also playing solid defense, especially compared to the other shortstop in camp, Ronny Cedeno, who had two awful throwing errors in Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the Washington Nationals.

The Cardinals also might desperately need Kozma once the season starts because of Rafael Furcal’s ongoing arm problems.

Furcal was hoping to return to game action Saturday, but his throwing arm still hasn’t recovered from a ligament tear he suffered Aug. 30 and bone spurs that also cause him discomfort. Right now there is no timetable for his return and nobody is willing to speculate about whether or not he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

When teams shuffle around that question, it usually means the player is pretty unlikely to start the season on the field instead of the disabled list, and that makes Kozma’s presence all the more important.

It is puzzling why the Cardinals don’t want to commit to Kozma. The team tried to find an outside option at the position during the offseason, but no team was willing to make a satisfactory deal that didn’t pilfer the Cardinals loaded young pitching staff.

So as the situation stands now, the Cardinals might be forced to give Kozma a real shot at the everyday job.

Now that might cause panic in the hearts of some Cardinals fans who remember Kozma as a high draft pick who produced next to nothing in the minor leagues. In fact, he was so bad the Cardinals considered releasing him four times while he was in the minors.

But considering the Cardinals have won with players such as Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumaker up the middle, they certainly have enough talent (and arguably better pitching) to field a winning team with Kozma at shortstop, and Daniel Descalso or Matt Carpenter at second base.

The outfield is a bit of a different story, however.

Taveras has been hitting the tar out of the ball so far in spring training, batting .318 with a grand slam and six RBIs. But the Cardinals don’t have nearly the same need for a player to come along and become a regular starter.

Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and Carlos Beltran make up a very solid outfield lineup, but there could be other ways to make Taveras productive without stunting the 20-year-old’s growth by stashing him on the bench.

All three of those outfielders will likely need consistent rest throughout the season to stay fresh, so Taveras could easily slide in as an excellent fourth outfielder. Plus, the Cardinals can play him in the field and use Beltran as the designated hitter during interleague games, which occur more often this year than in the past.

In any case, the Cardinals have accomplished one of the biggest goals of spring training. They have found young players who can potentially fill important roles on the team this year.

Now the team just has to follow through and actually use them.

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The Royals “Come To Play,” but will they have “game” this season?

In a few days, the Royals begin their 2013 season in Surprise, Arizona. The pitchers and catchers report early next week and the position players a few days later. While there was optimism last year, the team believes 2013 is the year they will contend in the American League Central.

Come To Play 2013

The Royals focused their offseason on starting pitching, trading for starting pitchers Ervin Santana, James Shields and Wade Davis. Jeremy Guthrie stayed with the team and signed a three-year, $25MM deal. Except for signing a few veteran position players like Miguel Tejada, Xavier Nady and Endy Chavez to Minor League contracts, the position players are pretty much set. Despite these moves, there’s still some questions coming into Spring Training.

How much will the starting rotation improve? Last year, the Royals starting rotation was the weak link with a 5.01 ERA and 890 total innings pitched, which was 13th in the American League. The Royals bullpen had a 3.17 ERA and pitched 561.1 innings, making them the most worked bullpen in the A.L.

General Manager Dayton Moore wants the starting rotation to pitch at least 1,000 innings this year, an 110 inning improvement. Last year, only two teams had their starting rotation pitch at least 1,000 innings, the Seattle Mariners (1002.2) and the New York Yankees (1001.1).

If Shields pitches like an ace, Guthrie pitches like he did the second half of 2012, Davis and Santana find their starting pitching mojo and Luke Hochevar finds some consistency, it’s possible the starting rotation pitches 1,000 innings. But that’s a lot of if’s and if there is long-term or season ending injuries, the Royals season could be in jeopardy.

Will Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer improve in 2013? Moustakas played pretty well the first half of 2012, but ended up with a .242/.296/.412 average. His defense was good, but his offense fell short. Hosmer struggled all season, ending up with a .232/.304/.359 average. During the offseason, Hosmer worked with his brother to help improve his swing, so there’s hope for improvement. The Royals need Moustakas and Hosmer to live up to their potential if they want to contend this season.

Will Jeff Francoeur bounce back from his dismal 2012? Frenchy is the player fans love to hate, but like it or not, he’s the starting right fielder this season. He has good outfield defense, and if he just plays league average offense, he’ll be better than last year. But if his downward spiral continues, we’ll be seeing Jarrod Dyson, David Lough or someone else patrolling right field.

Can the Royals keep their key players from long-term injuries? Every team has to deal with injuries, but long-term injuries are especially painful for teams like the Royals. Part of the disappointing 2012 season were the injuries to catcher Salvador Perez, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and pitchers Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino. Perez and Cain missed the bulk of the 2012 season and Duffy and Paulino won’t return until the middle of the 2013 season. Injuries happen, but the Royals can’t afford to have injuries like they had last year.

Can the Royals stay away from losing streaks? We all know about the 12-game meltdown last April, but the Royals also had a five-game losing streak in July and a six-game losing streak in September. That’s 23 games worth of losing streaks. If the Royals went 11-12 in those games, they would finish with an 83-79 record, which they haven’t done since 2003. Yes, they wouldn’t make the playoffs. But we’d be talking about the improvements the Royals made in 2012 and the moves the Royals made this offseason would be met with more optimism. And if the Royals have another 12-game losing streak in April, Ned Yost and Dayton Moore might be out of a job by May.

The Royals are a better team than last year, but they have to stay away from long-term injuries and multi-game losing streaks. Moustakas and Hosmer have to improve and Francoeur can’t repeat his 2012 performance. There’s more reason to hope than ever, but the Royals are still a young team and they have their work cut out for them this season.

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David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals arbitration talk shouldn’t raise concerns

One of the men most responsible for the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2011 World Series championship is currently locked in a battle with the team to be paid more like the star he is becoming, but this isn’t the type of battle that should raise serious concerns.

DavidFreese

David Freese is one of the most talented young position players the Cardinals have, and he has plenty of potential to grow into another St. Louis baseball superstar. So far, the team has gotten an incredible bargain with Freese, who has made just $1.7 million total in his four-year career and is currently the 16th highest-paid player on the team.

It’s time for Freese to start earning more money. In his four years with the club, Freese has hit .296 and his power numbers have increased exponentially each year. He finished with career highs in hits, homeruns, doubles, runs scored and RBIs in 2012. And don’t forget he has a career .345 postseason batting average and was the MVP of the 2011 National League Championship Series and World Series.

He could fairly easily make a case that he deserves more than the $3.75 million he is asking for this offseason. The Cardinals have countered with a $2.4-million offer. The case will go to arbitration sometime between Monday and Feb. 20 if the two sides can’t strike a deal.

Now, while all of this sounds as though Freese and the Cardinals can’t see eye-to-eye on his worth, this is more of just a typical baseball business deal. Nobody will have their feelings hurt too no matter how the case finally plays out. The Cardinals have already finalized similar deals with relievers Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Edward Mujica and Marc Rzepczynski.

Even if the case goes to arbitration and the Cardinals win, Freese will be in line for a big-money contract within the next three years. He won’t be a free agent until 2016. By that point the Cardinals will know whether Freese is going to be a franchise cornerstone at third base or if he will succumb to his substantial injury history that has kept him from playing 100 or more games in all but one season.

However, the Cardinals would still be smart to lock Freese up with a long-term deal as soon as possible because player salaries will only continue to rise throughout Major League Baseball.

The Cardinals made a smart decision early in Albert Pujols’ career to sign him to a 10-year, $110-million contract in 2001, and that deal was considered a bargain by the time it expired at the end of the 2011 season. Pujols’ next contract was worth more than twice that amount when he signed a 10-year, $240-million deal last year with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Freese and the Cardinals would both be in better positions if they could work out a long-term deal sometime soon, but right now the organization has other pressing matters. Namely, Adam Wainwright’s contract.
Wainwright is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season, and his asking price will likely be astronomical if the Cardinals can’t sign him to a contract before he hits the open market.

The Cardinals did sign catcher Yadier Molina to a five-year, $75-million contract last offseason, so they will have a strong core group of position players for the next few years.

And that’s what makes Freese’s contract situation a tad bit irrelevant. The difference of little more than $1 million this year shouldn’t have much of an effect on future negotiations.

Freese will get paid what he is due at some point. How soon the Cardinals will be willing to make that commitment is what will be the most interesting part of this situation.

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Royals Fans Need To Embrace A Chance

We have all been embarrassed by our own family. Whether it’s an overzealous parent, a misbehaving kid, a drunken uncle, or a senile grandparent…we all know the feeling. It’s uncomfortable because we love our family and we understand them better than anyone. It’s also uncomfortable because it usually happens in public, in front of people that don’t love or understand the offending party. That’s exactly how I’ve felt on Twitter the past 24 hours.

I get it, I really do. Wil Myers is going to be Dale Murphy, at least. Just like Alex Gordon was George Brett (I wrote that), Eric Hosmer was Albert Pujols (me again), and Luke Hochevar was a right handed Tom Glavine (okay, no one really said that). Baseball loves prospects and nowhere is that more true than in Kansas City. There are several reasons for that, not the least of which is the fact that prospects are seemingly all we ever have.

Another reason is that we have an incredible network of bloggers in this town that have a great grasp on talent evaluation and advanced metrics. This reason gets overlooked because for the most part these bloggers are looked down upon. They’re seen as cynical, all-knowing nerds that eat pop tarts in their parent’s basement. I’m obviously not in the business of disparaging bloggers, and I love reading what they write. I truly believe we have one of the most knowledgeable networks of baseball bloggers in MLB. That being said, their reaction to the Kansas City Royals’ trade for James Shields has been embarrassing.

For 25 years now we’ve watched and bemoaned the fact that the Royals are always on the opposite side of this trade. Even as recently as two years ago we were trading away Zack Greinke for a wheel barrow full of prospects and jokes about this franchise as a farm club for the rest of MLB remained alive and well. Well, that farm club has been extremely productive recently and we find ourselves with an abundance of position players with potential and nary a pitcher.

The obvious answer in a small market like Kansas City is to turn those prospects into the missing piece(s) for your ball club. Dayton Moore did just that…and he’s being crucified for it. Now I know my community of bloggers and I know that they value being right more than just about anything else. The whole pursuit of advanced statistics is just a pursuit to see who can find the truest “right”. Unfortunately, Dayton Moore has been wrong so many times that in second guessing him, we now always think we’re right. Here are the three main arguments, and my problems with them.

James Shields is not an ace. This is the one that’s gotten me most fired up this week, but it’s also the easiest to debate. After all, what is an “ace”? There is no standard definition. You could say that it’s the #1 starter for a major league team, but that would mean that Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar have both been aces. You could say that it’s an exclusive club of Cy Young winners I suppose, but that seems too stringent. I don’t really care how you choose to define it, Shields is an ace. John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press thinks so. So does Jeff Passan at Yahoo! Sports. Whether he fits your definition of ace or not, there’s no denying he’s one of the 20 best pitchers in baseball, meaning for the first time since Greinke left our ace would also be an ace on several other teams.

We gave up too much. Wil Myers may be a Hall of Famer…but the odds are against it. Jake Odorizzi may turn into James Shields, but no one is predicting that. The Rays are going to fix Mike Montgomery…well we sure couldn’t. The fact that all of these things are still possibilities is precisely because none of these players have done anything at the major league level. We may one day come to find that we did give too much, but it’s ridiculous to presume you know that now. How many times have we been on the flip side of this? How many times have we complained that we’re always giving up something real for something hoped for? We got the real side this time guys, get excited!

We can’t compete with the Tigers even after this move. This may be the most reasonable of the arguments, but it still irks me. If you truly believe this (of course I don’t) then nothing Dayton Moore does matters. The Royals weren’t going to compete with Wil Myers, no matter how awesome he is, and the current pitching staff. Jake Odorizzi could have maybe been a #3 starter, Mike Montgomery was going nowhere fast in this organization. I’ve heard several say we should have picked up Anibal Sanchez and kept Myers. That works except Sanchez is MUCH more expensive, may not even want to play in KC, and IS NOWHERE CLOSE TO THE PITCHER JAMES SHIELDS IS!

The fact is we gave up a lot of potential for two starting pitchers. One of those starting pitchers ranks ninth in WAR over the last two seasons (slightly ahead of Zack Greinke) and struck out 15 batters while walking NONE in the last game he started. This same pitcher has postseason experience, eats up innings like Prince Fielder eats bratwursts, and seems genuinely happy to be a Royal. We also go a guy that just turned 27 that is markedly better than Luke Hochevar will ever be.

The other fact is we reacted as if Dayton Moore had just traded Ed Hearn for David Cone. While some national pundits are praising Moore for taking a chance…While baseball executives are saying they liked the deal for the Royals…we threw a hissy fit for everyone to see. We diminished Shields’ possible impact to the point of saying that Wil Myers would have made as much of an impact as Shields will….in 2013!

I’ve often said that Kansas City is a great baseball town, and that if we built a winner we would support them as well as any city in America. Well, David Glass has spent the money. Dayton Moore has put his job on the line. Are we going to sit around and complain about losing a prospect or get excited about our new ace? There’s been plenty of time to complain and second guess. We’ve been right plenty of those times too. Now it’s time to support our new pitcher, support our new contender, and go win a damn division!

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Why I’m thankful I’m a Royals fan

I believe the Royals are a team on the way up. It’s hard to see that sometimes, especially with all the losing over the years, a disappointing 2012 season and the sometimes questionable moves of General Manager Dayton Moore. But the team is much better than it was just a couple of years ago and there’s plenty to be thankful for.

Except for second base and right field, the position players are in good shape: Yes, Eric Hosmer had a down year and Mike Moustakas cooled off after a good first half of the season. And Lorenzo Cain‘s injury-plagued season featured a just serviceable Jarrod Dyson in center field. But solid contributions by Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Alcides Escobar and the limited playing time of Salvador Perez showed promise. If Hosmer, Moustakas and Johnny Giavotella improve, Cain stays healthy, Wil Myers takes Jeff Francoeur‘s place in right field, and the lineup hits for more power, the Royals will have a young, potent lineup. There’s still a lot of ifs, but there’s less ifs than just a few years ago.

The Royals have one of the better bullpens in the American League and they’re young: The Royals bullpen ERA in 2012 was 3.17, which was sixth overall in the Majors. They were second in the Majors with 535 strikeouts, just behind the Colorado Rockies with 589. They also pitched the second most innings at 561.1, just behind the league leading Rockies at 657.0 innings. Throwing that many innings showed the weakness of the starting rotation, but the fact the Royals bullpen pitched that many innings and still had a decent ERA and strikeouts shows they more than held their own.

And most of the bullpen is under 30. Joakim Soria, who’s been with the Royals for six seasons and a “grizzled” veteran, is only 28. bullpen standouts Kelvin Herrera and Tim Collins will be 23 next season. The oldest bullpen pitcher in 2012 was 32 year old Ramon Colon, but he only appeared in three games, pitching a total of eight innings. If the starting rotation were as good as the bullpen, the Royals would be a much better team.

The Royals are making the effort to improve the starting rotation: The starting rotation was bad, ranking 26th in the league with a 5.01 ERA and pitched a total of 890.0 innings, 28th in the league. The pitcher with the lowest ERA outside of Jeremy Guthrie was journeyman Luis Mendoza with a 4.23 ERA.

The team knew they had to improve the starting rotation this offseason, so they made a trade for Ervin Santana and just signed Guthrie to a three year, $25MM deal. Yes, both pitchers aren’t aces and the Royals know they need a front of the rotation starter. But Santana and Guthrie are dependable, league average pitchers who will provide innings, keep the team in more games and not overwork the bullpen. There’s little chance the Royals will sign Zack Greinke, but they might have a chance with Anibal Sanchez or Shaun Marcum. The team is also willing to trade prospects for a veteran starter. The question is what prospects are the Royals willing to give up, what pitchers they’re looking for and how much of a risk they’re willing to take. The starting rotation still needs work, but they’re already better than 2012′s rotation.

The Royals aren’t the Miami Marlins: Fans like to gripe about team owner David Glass, but at least he’s not Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. How would you like to be a fan of a team who spent almost $634MM on a stadium, most of it publicly financed? Then sign free agents Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, trade for Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Lee, which ballooned payroll to around $155MM, resulting in a 69-93 record, last in the National League East?

The Marlins traded away players Haney Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, Randy Choate, Edward Mujica, Heath Bell, Reyes, Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck for a bunch of young, unproven players, dumping a total commitment of $220MM in salary and making the Marlins a N.L. version of the Houston Astros. And don’t forget the Marlins Park $2.5MM home run sculpture that looks like the result of a Hunter S. Thompson all-night bender. Hey, at least the Marlins have outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and prolific Twitterer Logan Morrison (well, they are willing to trade Morrison). Between the two teams, the Royals have a much brighter future than the Marlins.

Finally, I have the opportunity to write about the Royals for I70 Baseball: I’m having fun writing about the Royals, despite 2012 not living up to expectations. I’ve learned a lot more about the players and coaches on the Major League roster, Royals prospects, the game of baseball and statistics. I’m thankful Bill Ivie gives us Royals and Cardinals fans the chance to write about their teams and being able to share it with other fans is an honor. And I look forward to writing about the Royals during this offseason and 2013.

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The Royals 2012 season comes to a merciful end

Many fans hoped the Royals might make the playoffs, or at least finish at or above .500. But it didn’t end up that way, finishing the season at 72-90 and third in the A.L. Central. They improved on their 71-91 2011 record, but the season was still a disappointment.

A lot of things didn’t go the Royals way. A 12 game losing streak in April killed any momentum the team had and the recent six game losing streak stopped any hope of finishing at or near .500. Pitchers Danny Duffy, Felipe Paulino, Blake Wood and Joakim Soria had season ending Tommy John surgery. Injuries to key position players Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez for most of the season made fans wonder, “what if they were healthy the whole season?”

The Royals off season acquisitions were either traded or released. The team traded Jonathan Broxton for two minor leaguers, The San Francisco Giants claimed Jose Mijares off waivers, Jonathan Sanchez was traded for Jeremy Guthrie and the Royals came to their senses and released Yuni Betancourt.

The 2012 Royals offense had some talent and potential, but failed to live up to it. Before Wednesday night’s finale against the Detroit Tigers, the Royals were fourth in the A.L in batting average (.265), 12th in scoring runs (676), 12th in RBI (643) and tied for last place with the Minnesota Twins in home runs (131). The team could hit, but not drive in runs.

A season long slump by Eric Hosmer, the regressing to the mean play of Jeff Francoeur and an up and down season by Mike Moustakas didn’t deliver the offense the Royals needed.

The offense had some bright spots. Billy Butler led the team in batting average (.312), RBI (107) and home runs (29). Alex Gordon led the team in doubles (51) and runs (93). Alcides Escobar led the team in stolen bases (35).

The Royals defense was good, especially the outfield. The Royals led the MLB in outfield assists with Francoeur leading the MLB with 19 and Gordon in second with 17 assists. Moustakas, Escobar and Chris Getz provided solid infield defense.

The Royals bullpen was an asset, with a collective 3.19 ERA, a 2.36 SO/BB ratio and opponents hitting .250. Greg Holland proved he had what it takes to be a closer and Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow were the workhorses of the bullpen.

The starting rotation was the Royals weakness. They had a collective 5.04 ERA, a 2.04 SO/BB ratio and opponents hitting .283. Only Luis Mendoza and Jeremy Guthrie had a sub 5.00 ERA and the bright spot of the rotation, Guthrie, only started 14 games.

The Royals had three winning months in May, June and August with a combined 46-37 record. But in the three losing months of April, July and September, they had a 25-52 record. if the Royals went .500 during their 12 and six game losing streaks, going 9-9, they would have 81 wins. Not enough to make the playoffs, but enough to finish at .500 since 2003.

The 2012 season is over and once again the Royals and their fans look forward to next year. But if you watched the team this season, you saw some glimmer of hope of a better future. The lineup is pretty much set, young and have room to improve. The bullpen was solid as always. And if Royals owner David Glass keeps his promise to spend money on starting pitching, the Royals may have a chance.

The Royals begin the 2013 season April 1 against the Chicago White Sox. Will 2013 be the year the Royals turn the corner and become contenders? I hope so, because it will be a lot more fun writing about the Royals when they’re winning.

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Hispanic Heritage in KC: All-Time Hispanic Team

In a by-gone era, there was a bit of a perception from the outside looking in that the Kansas City Royals were a franchise opposed to minorities.

Black pitchers were essentially unheard of in Kansas City. But John Mayberry, Hal McRae, Frank White and Amos Otis, prominent black position players in the 1970s, more than made up for it.

Hispanics, on the other hand, played almost no role with the Royals for decades. Tracing the history of Mexican-born and Latin-born Royals makes for a short story.

So to make a Royals All-Star team of Hispanic players is difficult. But in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s worth a try.

The first problem was what to do with new members of the team Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar. Perez is already the greatest Hispanic catcher in team history. He has virtually no competition. But he’s not even played a full season in KC.

So for the sake of the exercise, the team will exclude current players who haven’t played at least two seasons for the Royals. And to keep it simple, the team will only include players born outside of the U.S.

Catcher: Perez will own this spot in no time. But the Royals first All Star was Puerto Rican Ellie Rodriguez. Someone had to make the All-Star Team in 1969. Why not a guy who hit just .236 with 2 homers in that inaugural season?

He gets the sentimental nod over Dominican Miguel Olivo, who hit 35 homers and had 106 RBIs while sharing the catching duties for two seasons. Olivo was probably a lot better than Rodriguez, but he never could unseat John Buck, which tells you something.

1B: Wow. Almost no options here at all. Tempting as it is to go with Orlando Cepeda based on his Cooperstown credentials, the truth is the Puerto Rican slugger did nothing in 33 games in KC, and played strictly DH.

The nod goes to… Mendy Lopez. The Dominican played a handful of games at firstbase in 2003, when he hit .277 with 3 homers.

2B: Lots of choices here, including some decent contributors like Jose Lind, Jose Offerman and Carlos Febles. But one of the most beloved Royals ever was Cuban Cookie Rojas. The diminutive, bespectacled Rojas made four trips to the All-Star Game for KC.

SS: The one position where the Royals have employed tons of Hispanics is shortstop. Alcides Escobar will claim this honor after this season. But before that there was a host of nightmarish options to choose from: Yuniesky Betancourt? Neifi Perez? Angel Berroa? Angel Salazar? Onix Concepcion?

I’ll go with Puerto Rican Rey Sanchez because he hit .294, .273, and .303 in his three seasons in KC.

3B: Two options here, which seem basically interchangeable. I’ll go with a tie: Dominican Wilson Betemit and Venezuelan Alberto Callaspo, who both hit reasonably while in KC.

Outfield: Not a lot of options here, surprisingly, so the choices are obvious. Puerto Rican Carlos Beltran is arguably the second greatest Royal in history, and has a chance to go into Cooperstown wearing a Royals cap.

Mexican Jorge Orta played four solid seasons and was a key contributor on the 1985 World Series champs. In that series, he reached first base safely (wink) on the most important play in team history.

And the third outfielder is Melky Cabrera, who rejuvenated his career in 2011. The Dominican hit .305, socked 18 homers, collected 201 hits and played solid defense in his one year in KC. Busted for PEDs in 2012, we may never know how legit those stats were, but it was a darn good season.

DH: Like it or not, Dominican Jose Guillen claims this spot. He belted 45 homers as one of the only power sources in the KC lineup from 2008 to 2010.

Starting Pitchers:

1), Hipolito Pichardo, Dominican Republic: 42-39, 4.48 ERA, 67 starts. Not many pitchers have a plus .500 win percentage recently. Pichardo has more wins than Luke Hochevar in half as many starts.

2) Bruce Chen, Panama: 35-32, 4.59 ERA. One rotten season (1-6, 5.78 ERA in 2009) sullies his otherwise solid numbers.

3) Luis Aquino, Puerto Rico: The first Hispanic pitcher to play a significant role, from 1988-92, Aquino made 55 starts over five seasons. His career mark is 22-19. He pitched in 114 games in KC.

4) Runelvys Hernandez, Dominican Republic: Hernandez was given every opportunity to succeed. But on some teams that had almost no other option, he still wore out his welcome. Hernandez posted a 25-33 mark in 78 starts before eating his way into early retirement.

5) The options are so bleak, Hernandez makes the rotation, but no one else is worthy of consideration. (Jose Rosado and D.J. Carasco are ineligible because they were born in the U.S.)

Relief Pitchers:

1) Joakim Soria, Mexico: Without a doubt the greatest Hispanic pitcher in Royals history. Soria’s160 career saves rank third in team history, and only arm injuries keep him from being one of the best relievers of his era.

2) Roberto Hernandez, Puerto Rico: The first Hispanic closer in team history. Hernandez notched 54 saves in two seasons, but was never really welcome in KC.

If minorities were discriminated against in some form or fashion in KC, hopefully that day has passed. Salvador Perez, and Alcides Escobar are getting every opportunity today, as Joakim Soria was before he was knocked out by an arm injury. The Royals have made more effort to sign Latin talent in the past few years, so hopefully more Hispanic players will bolster the current youth movement.

But as can be seen by this “All-Star Team,” the number of Hispanic stars in KC’s history is shockingly small. Not much history to celebrate in National Hispanic Heritage Month.

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