Tag Archive | "Veteran"

St. Louis Cardinals will be fine, maybe better, without Jake Westbrook

The St. Louis Cardinals have used 10 different starting pitchers in the first four-and-a-half months of the 2013 season, and they will now likely have to play the rest of the season without Jake Westbrook, who started the pitching carousel when he originally went on the disabled list in May with elbow inflammation.

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However, the Cardinals have shown they can withstand injuries to just about any position outside of catcher, where Yadier Molina has an incredibly large influence on the team, and they should be able to make it through the rest of the season and playoffs without Westbrook.

In fact, there’s a decent chance they could be better.

Westbrook has been the Cardinals worst starter by far in the second half of the season. He won his first two starts after the All-Star Break, but then the proverbial wheels fell off. Westbrook allowed 28 runs in his next five starts, all of them losses except the final game against the Milwaukee Brewers when the Cardinals won 8-6 even though Westbrook nearly gave up a 7-0 lead in fewer than five innings.

Now Westbrook is on the disabled list again, this time with a back injury that could keep him out for the rest of the season and end his career with the Cardinals, because his contract has a mutual option for 2014 the Cardinals might not pick up.

Westbrook’s injury is not nearly as blatant of an excuse to remove a struggling pitcher as when Jason Isringhausen supposedly injured his pitching hand in 2008 by punching a television in the clubhouse, but it could have similarly unexpected, positive consequences.

Isringhausen had struggled to a 5.70 earned-run average with just 12 saves through 42.2 innings that season before he went on the disabled list in August, which led Ryan Franklin to the job, and he went on to save 65 games the next two seasons, including a trip to the postseason in 2009.

The 2013 Cardinals are probably in an even better situation to replace a struggling veteran because they have a pool of talented young pitchers that would easily surpass any of the team’s minor-league reserves during the Isringhausen Era that lasted from 2001-08.

Second-year pitcher Joe Kelly has already become a force in the rotation since manager Mike Matheny finally released him from bullpen purgatory and let him start July 6 against the Miami Marlins.

Kelly allowed four runs through six innings that day against Miami, but he has allowed more than two runs in a start just once since and has improved his record from 0-3 to 5-3 after another stellar performance Thursday against the National League East Division-leading Atlanta Braves when he held them to two runs through six innings as the Cardinals won 6-2.

Rookie starter Shelby Miller has also pitched well, going 11-8 with a 2.94 ERA in 24 starts, and second-year starter Lance Lynn has been in the rotation all season, posting a 13-7 record with a 3.97 ERA.

But now the Cardinals will need one more inexperienced pitcher to exceed expectations as the team enters the final month of the season in a three-way race for the NL Central title with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds.

Its first option will be rookie left-hander Tyler Lyons.

The Cardinals first called up Lyons from Triple-A Memphis in May to fill in for injured starter Jaime Garcia, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. Lyons was good in his first two starts, but his ERA exploded from 1.29 to 5.51 in his next four starts before the Cardinals sent him back to the minors.

Lyons came back to pitch the second game of a doubleheader July 30 against the Pirates and allowed three earned runs through six innings in a 6-0. It wasn’t a bad outing, and the Cardinals were in the middle of a seven-game losing streak at the time, but Lyons will get his third opportunity of the season when he takes the mound to start Monday against the Reds.

Plenty of uncertainty will surround that start and probably each of the rest of his starts through September, if the Cardinals stick with Lyons and don’t move to Carlos Martinez or Michael Wacha, but he now has both positive and negative experiences as a big-league player that should help him this time around.

And if he pitches well, he could add his name to the list of pitchers that includes Adam Wainwright and Shelby Miller who turned late-season call-ups into steady jobs at the top of the Cardinals rotation.

If nothing else, Lyons at least might be able to say he became a large contributor to a team that has a chance to make a deep run in the playoffs.

It might be an unlikely scenario, but as Tony La Russa learned in 2008, the decision to put Westbrook on the disabled list might be the best one Matheny could have made for the long-term health of his team.

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Chen making the most of move back to rotation

The Kansas City Royals continued their winning ways on Thursday night, getting a great performance from Bruce Chen. Chen shut down the best offense in baseball, the Red Sox, in 7.2 innings of dominant pitching.

BruceChen

Chen didn’t allow a run against first-place Boston. He only recorded two strikeouts, but he continually changed speeds and forced weak contact from Red Sox hitters.

Chen, a 15-year MLB veteran, has been a revelation for the Royals this year since moving back into the starting rotation. He replaced Luis Mendoza in the Kansas City rotation, with his first start coming July 12 against the Indians. Chen earned a no-decision, despite not allowing a run, and the Royals lost 3-0.

After that loss, Chen reeled off four great starts, culminating with the win over Boston. Through five starts with the Royals this year, Chen is 2-0, and the Royals are 4-1 in those games.

Chen also excelled in his role as the long-man in the bullpen earlier in the year. But he is more valuable in the rotation especially when he pitches as well as he has over the past five games.

This season, Chen is 5-0 overall, with a sparkling 1.79 ERA through 65.1 innings.

The Panamanian-born lefty does have experience as a starting pitcher in his career. He has 208 career starts, including 34 for Kansas City last year. He was 11-14 with a 5.07 ERA in 191.2 innings in 2012.

Chen has three seasons with the Royals of more than 10 wins. His best season was in 2011, when he was 12-7 with a 3.77 ERA. He also won 12 games in 2010.

The Royals are Chen’ s 10th Major League team, and his stint of five years with Kansas City is the longest stretch with one team in his career.

The Royals clearly value what Chen provides. He is a quality pitcher, whether used in the bullpen or as a starter. He is in the midst of the best season of his career and should give the Royals’ rotation a shot in the arm as they continue their quest for the postseason.

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Cardinals Position of Interest: Organizational Catcher

As our look around the Cardinals’ system, from the roof to the basement continues, we’ll move onto catcher, where the club is in a familiar situation. In Yadier Molina, the direction of the team is set with perhaps the face of the entire organization, yet even in as secure of a situation has there is, there still have to be contingencies. So what is the scenario behind Yadi? And is the future potentially as certain as the immediate past and present has been? Here’s how the current situation for the Cardinals’ backstops is playing out.

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St. Louis: The scene is set with the big league squad, and isn’t changing for a while. Molina is arguably the best catcher in baseball currently. Since inheriting the job from now manager Mike Matheny in 2005, he’s grown into the best defensive player in baseball, a winner of five consecutive Gold Gloves and two Platinum Gloves as well. His bat has also began to rise up the level of his prodigious defense as well, has he has hit .310 over the past three seasons. This balance helped him finish fourth in the National League MVP vote a year ago. At 31, he’s the cornerstone of the team, and is an unapproachable role as the team’s top catcher.

Although the opportunities behind Molina are sparse, Tony Cruz made a solid impact in his part-time work and is a fairly good athlete. He’s in a good position to hold the spot for a while, as he is low cost, young and has an ability to play other positions if needed.

High Minors: At Memphis, the club currently has some veteran backstops stashed to provide depth, and most importantly, help groom the young arms reaching the brink of St. Louis. Rob Johnson and J.R. Towles are currently lining up behind the plate. While neither is much more than an extreme fallback option in case of an injury to Molina or Cruz, Johnson did perform well in the spring.

At Double-A Springfield, 26-year- old Audry Perez has been the part-time backstop for two years, splitting the duties three ways in 2011. While not a major prospect, in five seasons through the organization, he has hit .275.

Low Minors: Cody Stanley and Jesus Montero are the prime talents at the Class-A level, both at Palm Beach currently. A former pitcher, Montero the 21-year-old hit .308 at Low-A Batavia in 33 games a year ago. Of all the catchers in the system currently, he has among the best chances of breaking through into St. Louis. While he projects favorably, but needs to get healthy to starve off his teammate this season, Cody Stanley. The 24-year-old is hitting .250, with a home run and two triples, and while he isn’t a great threat to make an impact in St. Louis, he can be a solid player in the minors.

Steve Bean, the team’s second round pick a year ago, showed some potential as well. He split his first professional year at Johnson City and the GCL Cardinals at the Rookie level. After a slow start at Johnson City, he hit .320 in 50 plate appearances in the Gulf Coast League, and at only 19 years old, he has a decent amount promise to still deliver on. He’ll continue in the GCL when season play starts June 21.

Prognosis: In a lot of ways, it’s really Yadi and then everybody else. And while that would be the case regardless of the talent behind him, it’s a rather extreme difference. From veteran backups to young, but one-dimensional prospects, there’s not a clear player that is “next” in the organization right now. While Cruz is talented, he’s not displayed himself to be a candidate for much more of a role than he carries now, for any club. And while Montero and Bean are showing potential, they are some way off from being even among the better players in the system as whole. So for the time being, in Molina’s value is even greater than is seen daily, just due to how much taller he is than the pool he’s standing in.

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The Furcal Fallout

It’s rare that a player under contract can leave a team out to dry by being a no show, but somehow Rafael Furcal has pulled it off. With the announcement Sunday that Furcal has been shutdown from all on-field activities, the Caridinals are placed in a position to scramble for answers at shortstop for the long-term, yet in the moment.

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Furcal, who had his season end last August after tearing an elbow ligament, had not been able to take to the field to perform in the field yet all at, due to not being able to make throws yet. Hitting had been something he was able to undertake lightly until this weekend, when the elbow degraded to a level where ever that was out of the question. That’s when the decision to shutdown Furcal completely was inevitable, and a search for answers hit high alert.

One answer that is out of the question is Furcal himself. With a nearly non-existent free agent market at shortstop was coupled with a high-stakes trade market to upgrade at the position, the team was backed into taking Furcal at his word regarding his progress in regards to his rehab. Furcal twice refused surgery to repair the ligament, both when the injury initially occurred and again shortly after the postseason ended. In December, he stated it was much stronger and he would be ready to play. This eased organizational concerns, and they scaled back efforts to acquire a potential full-time replacement, and instead focused on fortifying the position with role players. However, that decision came back on the club with yesterday’s development, and now the team will be faced with a major question mark in it’s everyday equation.

So with Furcal headed to Alabama to see Dr. James Andrews instead of St. Louis to see active play, where do the Cardinals turn now? Unfortunately, the despite the depth of the talent pool at virtually every other position within the organization, the team doesn’t have a particularly promising youngster at shortstop or a veteran in need of a place to fit in. There will be a definite step down in caliber at shortstop for the immediate future, and picking the correct player to fill in at shortstop will be a likely ever-changing scene.

The options on the current roster are full of question marks. The clear competition comes down to a call between Pete Kozma and Ronnie Cedeno, who was acquired to be the “in case of emergency” option in case of injury occurring. He has been a marginal full-time player over his career, which plays into the hand of Kozma opening in the capacity he finished 2012, as an everyday starter. The .385 average he’s carrying this spring won’t hurt his candidacy either. Outside of those two, the only other options would be Ryan Jackson or Greg Garcia, but trips back to Memphis and Springfield, respectively, are likely guaranteed. A potential move of Daniel Descalso over to the other side of the infield occasionally could be an option as well. Regardless, as things stand now, it will be a job that requires more than one man’s attention.

That may have to suffice, as the shortstop open market isn’t that thrilling of a vision to look on. The highlights (relatively speaking) of currently homeless middle infielders is highlighted by ex-Cardinal Ryan Theriot and former Ray and Padre Jason Bartlett, making the internal options look that much stronger. The trade waters could prove to be even more difficult for the team to look into. The facts are simple: clubs know the Cardinals are in a vice grip of a situation, and will hold them under the gun with any move they discuss. They know there’s treasure chest of prospects to dip into, and there are not many teams in need of a salvation dump due to an expiring contract on their current shortstop. Basically, the Cardinals hand will be forced if an external option is sought after, which is by far the best option. John Mozeliak, who has stated he is committed to keeping the organization’s prime prospects in house, could be pressed very far to see how dedicated he is to that mission.

 

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UCB Roundtable: The Designated Hitter and Perpetual Interleague Play

February brings Spring Training, baseball games, and baseball discussions back into the forefront of our minds.  Meanwhile, every February the United Cardinal Bloggers host their first roundtable discussions of the year.

The premise is simple, one writer asks a question and the other writers from around the UCB get a chance to answer with their thoughts about the St. Louis Cardinals.  This continues from day to day for three weeks and concludes with a question from the man himself, Daniel Shoptaw.  You can follow along over at the official UCB site by clicking here.

This year, i70baseball was tapped on the shoulder to open the discussions up.  The question I posed to the group centered around the changes in baseball this year:

This year, Major League Baseball will engage in perpetual interleague play.  For the first time, interleague games will be played throughout the season, taking away the ability to adjust rosters based off of new requirements.  No longer can the Cardinals send a pitcher out for the week to pick up an extra bat.

With players like Carlos Beltran and Rafael Furcal, the DH has been used often in the past as a way to get a veteran an extra “day off” without losing his production in the lineup.  Some players are uncomfortable with the routine of a DH, sitting and effectively pinch hitting three of four times a game, and would prefer to be more involved.

So the question is this:

Will perpetual interleague play help or harm the Cardinals this season?  Why do you feel the way you do?

The answers are displayed in the slide show below, with the author’s site logo being displayed with their answer.  Please take the time to look through all of the answers and visit the various author’s websites to read through the various voices of the UCB.

<b>Aaron Miles Fastball</b>

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Christine - Aaron Miles Fastball

My opinion is it’s not really going to affect them much either way. As Dathan said, it’s not just the Cardinals facing this in a vacuum – every other team is as well, so every other manager is going to have the challenge of balancing his lineup differently. To me that’s the key: how Mike Matheny is going to handle it. It’s more of a responsibility for him to find the right piece to plug into the DH spot on the right day for it to not be a problem. The pieces are there – it’s what he does with them that will make the difference. Supposedly weak bench or not, I certainly haven’t heard or read any of the “experts” saying the Cardinals will be weak offensively, so having to use a DH at other times beyond the previous set interleague games shouldn’t make a difference.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Cooperstown Choices: Sammy Sosa

With the Hall Of Fame election announcement coming on January 9, 2013, it is time to review the ballot, go over the names, and decide who belongs in the Hall Of Fame.

There are twenty four men on the ballot for the first time this year and we will take a look at each one individually prior to official announcements. You can find all of the profiles in the I-70 Baseball Exclusives: Cooperstown Choices 2013 menu at the top of the page.

In this article, we take a look at Sammy Sosa

 

Sammy Sosa
An eighteen year veteran of major league baseball, Sosa saw time with four teams during his career.  During his career, he would be selected to seven All Star rosters as well as be awarded six Silver Sluggers and one Most Valuable Player Award.

Year Tm G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
1989 TOT 58 183 27 47 8 0 4 13 7 11 47 .257 .303 .366 .669 89
1989 TEX 25 84 8 20 3 0 1 3 0 0 20 .238 .238 .310 .548 52
1989 CHW 33 99 19 27 5 0 3 10 7 11 27 .273 .351 .414 .765 118
1990 CHW 153 532 72 124 26 10 15 70 32 33 150 .233 .282 .404 .687 92
1991 CHW 116 316 39 64 10 1 10 33 13 14 98 .203 .240 .335 .576 59
1992 CHC 67 262 41 68 7 2 8 25 15 19 63 .260 .317 .393 .710 98
1993 CHC 159 598 92 156 25 5 33 93 36 38 135 .261 .309 .485 .794 112
1994 CHC 105 426 59 128 17 6 25 70 22 25 92 .300 .339 .545 .884 127
1995 CHC 144 564 89 151 17 3 36 119 34 58 134 .268 .340 .500 .840 122
1996 CHC 124 498 84 136 21 2 40 100 18 34 134 .273 .323 .564 .888 127
1997 CHC 162 642 90 161 31 4 36 119 22 45 174 .251 .300 .480 .779 99
1998 CHC 159 643 134 198 20 0 66 158 18 73 171 .308 .377 .647 1.024 160
1999 CHC 162 625 114 180 24 2 63 141 7 78 171 .288 .367 .635 1.002 151
2000 CHC 156 604 106 193 38 1 50 138 7 91 168 .320 .406 .634 1.040 161
2001 CHC 160 577 146 189 34 5 64 160 0 116 153 .328 .437 .737 1.174 203
2002 CHC 150 556 122 160 19 2 49 108 2 103 144 .288 .399 .594 .993 160
2003 CHC 137 517 99 144 22 0 40 103 0 62 143 .279 .358 .553 .911 133
2004 CHC 126 478 69 121 21 0 35 80 0 56 133 .253 .332 .517 .849 114
2005 BAL 102 380 39 84 15 1 14 45 1 39 84 .221 .295 .376 .671 78
2007 TEX 114 412 53 104 24 1 21 92 0 34 112 .252 .311 .468 .779 101
18 Yrs 2354 8813 1475 2408 379 45 609 1667 234 929 2306 .273 .344 .534 .878 128
162 Game Avg. 162 607 102 166 26 3 42 115 16 64 159 .273 .344 .534 .878 128
G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
CHC (13 yrs) 1811 6990 1245 1985 296 32 545 1414 181 798 1815 .284 .358 .569 .928 139
CHW (3 yrs) 302 947 130 215 41 11 28 113 52 58 275 .227 .276 .382 .659 84
TEX (2 yrs) 139 496 61 124 27 1 22 95 0 34 132 .250 .299 .442 .741 94
BAL (1 yr) 102 380 39 84 15 1 14 45 1 39 84 .221 .295 .376 .671 78
NL (13 yrs) 1811 6990 1245 1985 296 32 545 1414 181 798 1815 .284 .358 .569 .928 139
AL (5 yrs) 543 1823 230 423 83 13 64 253 53 131 491 .232 .287 .397 .684 86
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/12/2012.

Why He Should Get In
His home run (609) and runs batted in (1,667) totals speak loudly enough about a Hall Of Fame career.  Add in 2,408 hits, 234 stolen bases and 929 walks and it is easy to see that Sammy was a well-rounded player that brought more than just a big bat to the teams he played for.

Why He Should Not Get In
More than just about any other player, Sammy will feel the strain of the steroid era.  A player that was perceived to be average for most of his career, Sosa’s numbers ballooned quickly without explanation around 1998 and stayed at that level until 2002.  The voters will most likely use Sosa as an example in their voting for some time to come.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball
Follow him on Twitter here.

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Well That Didn’t Work

You can’t blame Ned Yost for trying. At least I won’t on this one.

He’s got a super athletic 22-year-old phenom, a rangy veteran with a great arm, and a run-producing doubles hitter. All of who were hitting relatively well at the time. Who wouldn’t want all three of them on the field at the same time?

And when you’re six to eight games below .500 and in danger of sliding into last place in your division, you could argue that there’s nothing you shouldn’t try.

I was nervous when the Royals announced that they would try Jeff Francoeur in centerfield, Billy Butler at first base, and allow the untested Eric Hosmer to learn on the job in right field.

I don’t think I was worried about the short-term results. What I was more worried about was that the position change would somehow unsettle Hosmer just as his bat was finally beginning to wake up.

I don’t know much about the psyche of big leaguers in general, or Hosmer specifically, but I was concerned that flailing around in unfamiliar territory would send the slick-fielding first baseman back into the funk that plagued him the first two months of the year.

Yost, on the other hand, overplayed his confidence to the media. He acted like the move was no big deal. He seemed to think that a few afternoons shagging balls in pregame would prepare Hosmer to play the position. Perhaps Yost thought, like all Little League coaches, that he could hide a poor fielder in right and he could somehow avoid having to make any plays.

But as the old saying goes, the ball will find you.

Pittsburg Experiment, Game 1: It didn’t take long for Hosmer to boot the first ball hit to him in right. “It was just a bad read on my part,” he said. That turned a single into a double, which resulted in the game’s first run.

Then in the third inning, Butler helped to botch a rundown, blindly chasing a base runner toward second while another snuck home. After the game, Yost tried to blame that one on Hochevar, but his analysis rang hollow.

Yost’s summary of the lineup after game one:

“I wouldn’t call it sloppy,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We’ve got guys playing out of position in a National League park and it’s going to take them a day or two to get acclimated.”

Pittsburg Experiment, Game 2: Ok, so on day two?  Well with the Royals leading and the bases full of Pirates, Hosmer allowed a seemingly catch-able ball to drop in, opening the floodgates to a five-run Pittsburg inning.

“I was playing pretty deep and got a bad read on it,” Hosmer said.

Pittsburg Experiment, Game 3: Stop now before we really embarrass ourselves.

The results of the experiment were so dreadful that Yost called it off a day early.

So you might argue that Yost shouldn’t give up on the alignment just because it didn’t work the first time out. After all, the logic behind it hasn’t changed, and Hosmer is certainly athletic enough to play right field.

Or you might argue that the results were so overwhelming that it should be scrapped without hesitation. Hosmer was bad in right. Butler shouldn’t be a regular first baseman. Francouer is a natural in right, not center. There’s no use trying to fit square pegs into round holes.

I’m not sure which is the right side of the argument. Yost will have six more games in National League parks to decide if the experiment is worth continuing.

All I know is that I don’t blame Yost for trying.

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To Buy or Not To Buy?

The Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline is still a couple of months away, but the St. Louis Cardinals have to be contemplating the direction this 2012 season will take. And the way things have gone so far, it may not be an easy decision.

It is fair to say there is no way the Cardinals will be sellers, even with the absurd rash of injuries they have endured. A team that sells is a team that has no hope to make it to the postseason and a few expensive, desirable players that are nearing the end of a contract. This does not describe the Cards in any way. While they may have a handful of big contracts due to come off the books at the end of this season, it does not appear like they are contracts the team would be able to move without eating significant money and obtaining an upgrade at the same time. Plus, the Cardinals are still in second place in a weak division—far from out of it.

The Chicago Cubs are already 10 games out of first and are well under .500 after a lengthy losing streak last week. But they’re in full rebuild mode, and everyone knows it. They are sellers. The same goes for the San Diego Padres and Minnesota Twins. These teams need to shed payroll, build prospects, and plan for contention years down the road. The Cardinals are still good enough to win now, and are positioned to win in the near future as well.

So will the Cards be buyers at the deadline? That’s where the tough call comes in. They do have needs: bullpen depth, starting pitching that can eat innings, veteran bench help, stability at second base and center field. But they have a problem: many of those holes can be filled by guys they already have on their roster; unfortunately those guys are currently on the disabled list.

This isn’t a newsflash to anyone who has been paying attention. The Cards’ DL looks like their active roster, and their active roster looks like their Triple A roster.

And therein lies the problem: Do the Cardinals stand pat and bet on injured players not only returning to the lineup but also returning to form and contributing to a team committed to winning now? Or do they try to acquire talent (at the expense of prospects, mind you) to keep the team up in the near-term, and deal with extra players if and when they have to? Let’s not forget the calendar just flipped to June. There’s no way this team has seen the last of the injury bug. If Matt Holliday or Rafael Furcal or Yadier Molina goes down, this team is screwed…with a capital F.

Things were a lot different last year. When dealing with ineffectiveness—such as the Cards did with Ryan Franklin, Trever Miller, Brian Tallet, et al.—and knowing they had depth, moving guys like Colby Rasmus to acquire the role players needed for success was easier. But the Cardinals are short on depth right now. The depth is in the starting lineup. And the minor leagues are nearly tapped, at least of guys who are close enough to ready for the big leagues. Who could they possibly move at this point?

Players will be available come July but the Cards must be sensible in their dealings. The injuries this year have been of epic proportions. Maybe karma has come to collect after an otherworldly 2011. Or maybe this is just a test, like 10.5 games out in late August was. Hope the Cardinals studied this year as well as they did then.

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Bruce Chen Is Saying All The Right Things

The Kansas City Royals awarded Bruce Chen with the Bruce Rice Pitcher Of The Year Award for 2011.

Bruce Chen was a floundering pitcher who seemed to have lost his way. The Royals felt that he had something left to offer and brought him to the organization in 2009. Now, with a youth movement brewing in Kansas City, Chen finds himself as a defacto leader of the pitching staff, and he is saying all the right things.

From the Royals Awards information: Chen, 34, was 12-8 with a career best 3.77 ERA in 25 starts, leading the club in victories for the second straight season. Last year’s Joe Burke Special Achievement Award winner was 8-3 with a 2.47 ERA in 14 starts against AL Central opponents. He closed the season by posting a 6-3 mark in hi final 10 starts with a 2.93 ERA and recorded a career long five-game winning streak from August 7-28. Chen became the first Royals southpaw to win 12 or more games in back-to-back season since Charlie Leibrandt (1985-88).

It is no secret that the Royals are young, in fact, they are the youngest team in Major League Baseball currently. That makes players like Chen, Jeff Francoeur and Joakim Soria all that more important to the franchise. But it is not a role that Chen takes lightly or feels he needs to actively pursue. During a conversation with i70 at the awards luncheon, Chen stated a desire to lead by example for the younger players and not force himself on them as a “leader” by title.

I like it (being the veteran)…these guys are young, full of energy, fun to be around…I feel like I’m a 27 or 25 year old pitcher. I don’t consider myself the leader, but I try to lead by example. It is an honor and a priveledge to be in the big leagues.

One of the keys to the Royals are the young players coming through the system. Chen stated that he is excited to play with guys like Wil Meyers, who he is not sure will arrive in Kansas City in 2012, and pitchers like Mike Montgomery. His true excitement lies with catcher Salvador Perez, however.

Perez is an exciting young catching prospect and Chen is excited to get to Arizona for Spring Training and start working with Perez. Developing that chemistry with his catcher is important to him as he knows he is not the easiest guy to catch.

It’s hard (working with a new catcher), you roll with the punches, you want to see who the guy is so you can develop chemistry. I’m not an easy guy to catch. I have like seven different pitches and I’m picky as to where I want them. Salvador is a very good catcher, defensively, throws guys out and blocks balls in the dirt.

With a variety of different pitches, Chen took some time to poke fun at his reputation as a breaking ball pitcher when he unveiled his work on a new pitch this off season.

I have my secret weapon, a new pitch for this year, it’s called a fastball. I plan to throw two or three a game. I still don’t have the hang of it.

Chen, who recently resigned with the Royals, thinks that returning to the organization was important to him personally. Not only does he believe that this organization took a chance on him when no one else would, making him feel some loyalty to the team, he also feels that there is “unfinished business” in Kansas City. “This town and fans want a championship”, and Chen feels that he is a vital part to this team being able to bring one home.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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One Last Look Back: Top Five Royal Stories

Today, we will take one last look back at 2011.

Photo Courtesy of Minda Haas

The season was not much different than what many expected from the Kansas City Royals. In a rebuilding year with a crop of youngsters coming through the system to keep fans excited, the Royals would finish low in the standings and surprise very few people.

There were a few bright spots and plenty of reason to be optimistic if you are a Royals fan. Here are the top five stories from the 2011 calendar year in Kansas City.

Editor’s Note: Thanks to our own Troy “KCRoyalman” Olsen for helping come up with the stories and ranking them.

Number Five: Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur
or I Thought This Was A Youth Movement
The Royals, in the middle of a youth movement, grabbed two veteran outfielders that had many fans scratching their heads. Somehow, the Royals caught a break and ended up with solid production from both of the outfielders.

Francoeur turned his work on and off the field with the young players into an extension that will keep him in Royal Blue through 2013. Meanwhile, the Royals capitalized on the rise of Lorenzo Cain through the minor league system and Cabrera’s productive 2011 into a trade that would bring promising young hurler Jonathan Sanchez to Kansas City from San Francisco.

Number Four: Royals Farm System Is The Best In Baseball
or Maybe Dayton Moore Knows What He Is Doing
After years of “rebuilding” and many fans, experts, and writers of all kinds questioning the consistent moves made by general manager Dayton Moore, the Royals farm system suddenly appeared to be stacked full of minor leaguers ready to bust onto the major league scene.

The excitement level in Kansas City grew and the team, fans, and pundits had a focus on the future. It was no longer a matter of if the team would win, it became a matter of when the team started winning. The number of prospects about to hit the big stage was overwhelming and for the first time in almost a decade, the entire nation was discussing the Kansas City Royals.

Number Three: The Countdown Begins
or The World Will Witness The Beauty Of Kauffman Stadium
With the final pitch of the 2011 All Star Game, the countdown to the 2012 Mid-Summer Classic began. Kansas City will play host to baseball’s biggest gala in 2012, but the hype began in July of 2011.

The unveiling of the official All Star Logo, the unveiling of a renovated stadium that featured some of the most attractive sight lines in all of baseball, and the excitement surrounding the city began to build towards a chance to shine in front of the world.

Number Two: Rookies Hit The Bigs
or The Youth Movement Begins To Arrive
If there was one thing everyone around the Royals was clamoring for from Dayton Moore and the front office, it was patience. Patience with the young players as they developed, patience with the team as it would hit hot and cold streaks, and patience with a fan base that may want to win now, but winning overall would be more important.

Moore was willing to give fans a sneak peak of what he had in store and two of the best the system had to offer, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, arrived on the big league scene. While Hosmer showed poise and determination, fans realized that Moustakas and others would be learning at this level to become the players they were capable of being. The field management staff did exactly what they needed to do when they simply stayed on course with Moustakas and were rewarded with a September that shows the young man is exactly what he is projected to be.

Number One: A Legend Continues To Fade
or Why Can’t The Royals And Frank White Get Along
Last season, Frank White was upset with his passing over at management’s hands but agreed to stay on as a commentator for Fox Sports Kansas City and help keep a legend from on the field in the booth with the Royals organization. Now, as the Royals prepare to move into 2012, White has been told he is no longer needed.

Tired of feeling disrespected, White has vowed to be done with the Royals and has even considered requesting that his iconic number 20 be removed from the wall and put back into circulation. It has been a public and brutal public relations nightmare that has fans steaming. A reconciliation does not seem imminent and the whole situation leaves a stain on an otherwise positive time for the franchise.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
Follow him on Twitter here.

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