Two more weeks. We can do this. Two weeks from today, pitchers and catchers report, and all is right with the world again as there’s actual baseball going on. I guess that’s not entirely true. Day one is more of a meet and greet, or as Rex Hudler said on this week’s podcast, a chance for the team to size up the players and see who made it into camp in shape and who might need to run a few (dozen) foul poles. It’s not surprising that as we close in on the season, there’s actually some things to talk about. The Royals even signed a free agent starting pitcher yesterday. So that happened.
- The signing of Bruce Chen to me doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in terms of the overall makeup of this team. I mentioned this on Twitter, but I’ll repeat myself because that’s what the cool kids do. Or something like that. Basically I think Bruce Chen is perfectly fine to have on a roster. Even his salary of $3 million with a $1.25 million option buyout without context isn’t that bad. He’s been 6.4 wins above replacement (according to Fangraphs) in his four full seasons with the Royals, so that averages out to about 1.6 WAR per season. With the cost of a win at about $5 million, as far as value is concerned, this signing is pretty solid. The issue that I have isn’t with Chen. It’s with the team as a whole. I just don’t see how he fits into the big picture. Three guys are already locks for the rotation, and I think Duffy is about as close to a lock as you can get. So that leaves the fifth starter spot in the rotation that’s up for competition. Before the Chen signing, I think the guys vying for that were Wade Davis, Luke Hochevar, Brad Penny and Yordano Ventura. While I think Chen is probably an upgrade in the rotation over Davis and Hochevar and it’s very likely he’s an upgrade over Penny. Maybe I’m crazy, but I’d ride Ventura early because you don’t know what you’re going to get out of him late. As Clint and I have discussed on the podcast, you don’t need to work the service clock with him and he probably has the best stuff out of anyone in competition for that fifth spot. I just feel like that $4.25 million would have been better served as being held for a mid-season acquisition.
- As for the payroll implications, this is where I get frustrated. The Royals are already paying Hochevar and Davis an average of about $5 million to pitch out of the bullpen (probably). Combine those two with Chen (and his buyout) and you have $14.26 million tied up into three average at best values. Now, Davis was under contract already and after the season Hochevar had, the Royals weren’t going to DFA him (nor should they have), which means that there was some work to be done. Maybe they exhausted all efforts to trade those two early in the off-season, but I find that hard to believe considering the cost of relievers this off-season. I can think of a few ways that $14 million plus could be spent better on this team. I feel like there’s that one gaping hole that could prove to be detrimental to this team as they attempt to do what no Royals team has done in almost 30 years. They’re not filling that by picking up 1 win players, no matter how good their value is based on the price of a win.
- It’s good to see that Sean Manaea is progressing very well and is apparently scheduled to start the 2014 season in Wilmington, according to an article on Fox Sports Kansas City’s website by Jeffrey Flanagan. In talking with someone who knows pitching and whose opinion I respect greatly, I’ve heard some concerns with his mechanics that could impact him long-term, but I think the talent is there for him to really climb through the system pretty rapidly. Again, this is something Clint and I talked about on the podcast, but he could be a fast riser through the system and could make an impact very, very soon. As Flanagan’s article indicates, he was thought to be a potential number one overall pick before some injuries sidetracked his season and the Royals were able to grab him with their compensatory pick. The talent is undeniable and I’m really excited to hopefully get a chance to see him pitch this year.
- I make fun of “best shape of his life” stories that we’ll start to see here in a couple weeks, but I’m very interested to see what Mike Moustakas looks like when he reports to camp. Let’s go on a trip down memory lane to spring training of 2012. Mike Moustakas had just finished the 2011 season with lots of talk about how soft he was and how he just didn’t look like a baseball player. Then he came to camp in 2012 and he was looking slimmer and trimmer and like he’d actually gone through a training regimen in the off-season. And what happened? It isn’t that he put up any kind of special numbers in 2012, but he put up the best numbers of his career and was actually having a really good season before his knee injury. His defense was fantastic after we’d heard that it would likely be a huge liability. And then this past season, he looked better than he did in 2011, but he still didn’t look like you’d want a guy who was counted on to be a cornerstone to look. After working out in Venezuela with reports that he looks good, I’m very interested to see if that plays a role in how Moustakas performs this season. On the podcast, Hudler talked about how some players need a little extra weight. I don’t think Moustakas is one of those players, and I do think this is a make or break season for him.
- A lot of people talk about the keys to the 2014 season and they mention Moustakas or the young pitchers stepping up or Cain staying healthy or Escobar actually hitting his way out of that paper bag. One person you never hear about is Alex Gordon. I mentioned him a couple days ago in my article about some concerns with this team, but I think he’s a huge key for the 2014 season. With the additions of Aoki and Infante, Gordon is going to slide down to the middle of the order. I’m not a huge fan of that, but that’s a topic that’s been discussed more often than whether or not Rachel and Ross will get together (too dated of a reference? I watch a lot of Friends, sorry). He got off to that insanely hot start hitting .340 with power and all that. His decline coincided exactly with the day George Brett started as hitting coach. Yes, I think that’s a 100% coincidence, but it’s an easy way to remember the date. If Gordon doesn’t rebound and puts up similar numbers to what he did over the last four months (.233/.306/.388), he would be a liability in a spot where the Royals can’t afford one. Gun to my head (no, not seriously, stand down you guys), I’d say Gordon is more like his 2012 self (.294/.368/.455) than his 2011 or 2013 self, which would be great and he’d be a valuable cog in a lengthened lineup from 2013.
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