https://www.mlb.com/royals/news/how-will-royals-sort-out-roster-this-spring/c-267886188 As the Royals enter into the final three weeks of camp, there are numerous lineup and roster decisions to be made as the team undergoes a significant rebuild.
With that in mind, let's take your questions for the latest Royals Inbox:
@lcfeyh: Who will win the utility infielder job?
Ramon Torres held that spot in the second half last year, and he played in 33 games. The coaching staff is still very high on him. Ryan Goins, who played in 143 games for Toronto last season, gives Kansas City a veteran presence in that role, and he probably has the edge going into the final weeks of camp. Goins, though, is a non-roster guy, so the Royals will have to make room on the 40-man roster -- expect a lot of juggling the last week of spring.
@ronn76: Is it do or die for Bubba this year?
It's not. The club is determined to give Bubba Starling a taste of the big leagues later in the season. The outfielder is having a solid camp. I see a more confident player this time around. Starling won't have to be Mike Trout at Triple-A -- if he hits .260 or .270, that will be perceived as growth. He's already a big league defender.
@DLester164: Have the Royals lost hope that Hunter Dozier is still a potential long-term solution at 1B/3B, and if so, is it because of his glove, bat or health?
Not at all. The Royals still consider Hunter Dozier a big part of their future. Keep in mind that he hardly played at all in 2017 because of three major injuries. The signing of Lucas Duda to play first base simply gives Dozier another year to develop in the Minors. Duda's one-year deal doesn't block anyone.
@LG_RoyalsBlue: What pieces are on the trading block?
General manager Dayton Moore has made it clear that there are no untouchables on this roster, though he has suggested that they'd probably never get a strong enough return for Salvador Perez to consider dealing him. Kansas City clearly is hitting the reset button and needs to restock its farm system -- to do that, you have to give up quality talent to get a quality return.
@davehamiltonpbw: which Royals OF prospect has higher upside : Seuly Matias or Khalil Lee ?
That's a tough one. Khalil Lee is the No. 1 Royals prospect per MLB Pipeline, and Seuly Matias is No. 3, so the gap isn't big. They're both five-tool guys, according to scouts, with enormous ceilings. Matias, I'm told, probably is the better defender with a big arm. Both should be fun to watch develop.
@RonPaulDisciple: Am I crazy thinking that if the starting 9 & the 5 in the rotation just perform to previous standards or just a little above, they can be competitive (wildcard) till at least September?
Not crazy at all. In fact, many of the players (Whit Merrifield, Alex Gordon, Danny Duffy, etc.) I've talked to this spring are a bit offended at the notion Kansas City automatically will lose 90-plus games. The starting nine and the rotation should be competitive. But the big question mark is the bullpen, which has so many new faces and uncertainty. What was once the hallmark strength of the Royals could be a liability now.
@UttBrian: Which young/new guy stands out most to you in the early going?
Left-hander Tim Hill. That sidearm delivery could be a unique weapon in the bullpen. The coaching staff really is intrigued by him.
@CaptVideoSCHS: What are thoughts on bringing Moustakas and Holland back on one year deals? Some would say this goes against the rebuilding process but isn't being on a competitive team important for the young players?
As much as the Royals respect Greg Holland and admire what he did for them, he's not coming back. Kansas City is basically at its payroll cap ($110 million), which also all but rules out Mike Moustakas, unless Moose would be willing to take a Duda-type deal (one-year, $3.5 million). Never say never, but a Moose reunion seems highly unlikely.
Influx of youth makes this Royals spring training more fun for manager Ned Yost
March 5, 2018 By Maria Torres/KC Star
http://www.kansascity.com/sports/mlb/kansas-city-royals/article203577709.html It’s not easy for Royals manager Ned Yost to wear down the concrete sidewalks of the team’s sprawling spring-training facility in Arizona these days.
He has spent the last three weeks zipping through the campus in a golf cart, playfully screeching to a halt on the gravel whenever he’s needed near the main building and gleefully accepting passengers on the Yostmobile’s journeys to and from the four outer fields.
By all appearances, Yost has enjoyed the vehicle he told reporters he didn’t want when pitchers and catchers held their first workout on Feb. 14.
“They gave me a cart,” Yost said then. “I’m gonna send it back. I think we’re wasting money.”
And alongside that change of heart, Yost has drawn a similar joy out of roaming the Royals’ grounds to watch young players take advantage of their time in big-league camp.
Having young players around is no new phenomenon, of course.
But for the first time since Yost began his first full season as manager in 2011, the Royals entered the spring with question marks riddling their depth chart. Who would take up the mantle at first base? What about the opposite infield corner? And center field?
One of those questions was answered by last week’s acquisition of veteran Lucas Duda, who signed a one-year contract to help the Royals bridge the gap at first base and give their prospects more time to develop.
Still, the lack of clarity during the first two weeks of camp gave Yost more liberty to evaluate the organization’s up-and-comers and to consider what, exactly, the Eric Hosmer-and-Mike Moustakas-less Royals of the future might look like.
Seventh-ranked prospect Nicky Lopez, for instance, has shown flair with his glove work up the middle in the five spring-training games he’s appeared in. Hunter Dozier, who was told to focus this spring on first base before Duda joined the Royals, has flaunted a new versatility, which he previously did when he began to play in the outfield in an effort to speed up his major-league arrival. And Erick Mejia, a gifted, switch-hitting infielder acquired from the Dodgers in the Scott Alexander trade, has further deepened the Royals’ infield stock.
In most cases, these players are at least a year away from playing in the major leagues. But unlike in years past, there might actually be an opening for them in Kansas City when the time comes.
There is, again, hope that these prospects will take center stage in the organization’s efforts to win a third World Series trophy.
And the opportunity to watch them grow under the tutelage of his coaching staff has left Yost feeling re-energized.
“It’s fun to watch them compete,” Yost said after a 3-2 win over the Reds in Surprise last week.
It’s not that Yost is bounding around the clubhouse — he can’t. Despite declaring at FanFest that he could do 500 daily push-ups relatively soon in his recovery from a November fall from a tree stand on his property in Georgia, Yost’s pelvis, which fractured in the incident, wasn’t prepared to take on the burden of spring-training camp.
But even when relegated to a chair for days at a time, he never once considered leaving the Royals in the dust.
“We’ve been through this before, we understand how to do it, and it’s easier for me to take heat, if you will, than some new guy having to come in and go through all that,” Yost told The Star in January.
A while before the free-agent departures decimated his roster, Yost knew he would have to transition the major-league club, introduce young talents into the fold and guide wide-eyed prospects through a rebuilding process.
He didn’t want to miss it.
Yost’s new normal is managing a clubhouse infused with youth. No amount of time spent on a golf cart will deter him from wanting to be part of the new landscape.
“The things that all these kids are learning right now, I think, if you asked them, it might be a little mind blowing with all the information that they’re getting,” Yost said in his office last week. “But the cool thing about it is you see them really taking to it and really retaining it, which is important.
“These kids are some kind of fired up to be here.”
Rob Riggle met Bo Jackson at Royals' camp. Guess who was star-struck.
March 5, 2018 By Pete Grathoff/KC Star
http://www.kansascity.com/sports/spt-columns-blogs/for-petes-sake/article203513189.html On his first day as the Royals' spring-training guest instructor, Bo Jackson made sure one kid got the message he was trying to deliver:
Don't miss school.
Jackson wasn't talking with a Royals minor-league player, of course. He was chatting with George Riggle, the 8-year-old son of actor/Big Slick star Rob Riggle.
Riggle, a Shawnee Mission South graduate who also attended Kansas, makes an annual trip to Surprise, Ariz., with his wife, Tiffany, and their son and daughter, Abby.
On Sunday, the trip to camp meant meeting Jackson, who is back with the Royals for the first time since he electrified fans in Kansas City during his playing days in the late 80s.
Jackson made sure George Riggle was heading back to school Monday despite spending part of Sunday at Royals camp. George's dad, who has starred in movies ("The Hangover," "12 Strong") and television ("The Daily Show," "Modern Family") was the one who seemed star-struck.
"This was one of the coolest things," Riggle told The Star's John Sleezer. "Every time I come to spring training, something cool happens. Whether it's Hall of Famer George Brett teaching my son, giving him some batting tips. Or Mike Sweeney, playing with my son, giving him some hitting tips or fielding tips from (Alex) Gordon.
"Well, today, got to meet Bo Jackson, legendary Royal. I think he was voted greatest athlete of the 20th century, so that's pretty cool and that happened today, which is amazing. So, yeah, great day."
Royals stories that entertain, inform and connect are just the beginning
One morning in the late 1990s, I sat at my family’s kitchen table and peered down at the morning newspaper. I do not recall the year, though the detail is unimportant. It could have been 1998 or 1999 or most any year in the next decade. In those days, they all seemed the same.
It was spring. The Royals were not expected to be good.
They were rebuilding, of course. They had prospects. They had good young hitters and they had hope. What they did not have was a team that could win, or a hitter that could hit 36 homers, or a bullpen. Yet there it was on the front of the sports page, a piece from long-time Kansas City columnist Joe Posnanski: The Royals were going to make the playoffs, he wrote. And here was how they’d do it.
I remember this story because I was a sports-obsessed kid from the suburbs, and because Posnanski wrote the same column every year. And I remember this because in those moments I realized what I wanted to do for a living.
I wanted to be a sports writer. I wanted to tell stories that connect. I wanted to write things that were memorable and meaningful and left readers thinking: I’m glad I read that.
Today is my first day as the Royals beat writer at The Athletic, and this is what you can expect here. You can expect insight and reporting. You can expect a peek behind the curtain of a Major League Baseball team. Mostly, we will strive to write and produce stories that entertain, inform and connect.
For the last nine years, I have worked at The Kansas City Star. I am here because The Athletic is investing in the kinds of stories and work I grew up reading. As the Royals embark on another rebuilding process, we will be here to chronicle the path forward. As the organization moves into a new era, we will seek to cover every corner.
There are reporters who will tell you they’d rather cover a World Series contender. Who wouldn’t? The mood in the clubhouse is lighter. The stories of success are richer. The audience usually grows as the wins increase.
But then again, I feel like I’ve been groomed my entire life to cover a Royals youth movement. I was born in Kansas City in 1986, seven months after a World Series parade. I spent my childhood watching the franchise wander through the wilderness.
I remember the 14-game winning streak in 1994 and the dismantling of a contender. I remember the debuts and departures of Damon, Dye and Beltran. I remember hoarding Krispy Kreme donuts and listening to Mendy Lopez’s Opening Day homer in 2004 on a radio at high school baseball practice. I remember once seeing Mike Sweeney hit a walk-off single on a Sunday afternoon and then spotting him at evening mass later that day.
I grew up here, and I made a career here, and I understand the rhythms of this city and its fans. Yet these memories and my Kansas City roots are not why you should join me here.
You should subscribe for the stories, the reporting and the clean reading experience. You should subscribe because it will give you access to the essential work of Ken Rosenthal and Jayson Stark — and a team of talented writers, on the baseball beat and off. You should subscribe because this is just the beginning.
In my time at the Star, I helped cover the Royals for seven years, including the last two as the primary beat writer. I have written about Danny Duffy’s breakout, and Whit Merrifield’s unlikely rise, and the grief that overwhelmed a clubhouse in 2017. I have written about the night Wade Davis became immortal in Kansas City, and explained why the defensive metrics hated Eric Hosmer. I once called former utility man Bill Pecota to see why he hated the Royals (he didn’t) and asked rapper Archie Eversole if he knew the Royals were inspired by “We Ready” (he wanted to hop on a plane for Kansas City.). In 2014, on the eve of the first playoff appearance in 29 years, I wrote about that lost generation of Royals fans.
These are the stories you will read here, and I hope you will stick around. But first, one more story: A few weeks ago, I arrived at spring training in Surprise, Ariz., and I walked into a clubhouse that looked completely different. So many stars are gone, the window is seemingly closed, and another rebuilding period is here. But later that day, I thought about those old Posnanski columns from two decades ago.
It is spring. The Royals are not expected to be good. Yet this is the thing about baseball. The season starts in just more than three weeks. And for now, they still have hope.
MINORS Extended Safety Netting Installed at Frawley Stadium
Screens Now Protect Fans to the Edge of Each Dugout
March 5, 2018 By Matt Janus/Wilmington Blue Rocks
https://www.milb.com/blue-rocks/news/extended-safety-netting-installed-at-frawley-stadium/c-267885912 With the start of the 2018 season exactly one month away, the Wilmington Blue Rocks have expanded the safety netting at Frawley Stadium. The protective netting now extends to the end of the first and third base dugouts. Installation was completed last week.
The Blue Rocks employed Empire Netting to spearhead the project. They in turn used dyneema netting technology, which is Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene, known in the industry as the ultimate in reliability and visibility. The fiber is used in many applications from bullet-proof vests and military applications to fishing lines, marine ropes and sports products.
"There is nothing more important to us than the safety of Blue Rocks fans," said the team's managing partner Dave Heller. "Consequently, extending the netting was an easy decision for us. This will help parents to enjoy the game without the stress of worrying about the well-being of their children, while at the same time not impacting the great sightlines and intimate setting of Blue Rocks baseball."
In February, Major League Baseball announced all 30 teams would extend protective netting to at least the end of each dugout at every MLB ballpark. Commissioner Rob Manfred stated, "This recommendation attempts to balance the need for an adequate number of seating options with our desire to preserve the interactive pregame and in-game fan experience that often centers around the dugouts, where fans can catch foul balls, see their favorite players up close and, if they are lucky, catch a tossed ball or other souvenir."
The extended netting is just one of many new upgrades to Frawley Stadium over the last three-plus years. Main Street Baseball and the Blue Rocks continue to enhance the team's home in order to maintain its status as one of the premier ballparks in Minor League Baseball.
Last week, the Blue Rocks became the first Advanced-A team in Minor League Baseball to install new LED field lights in their ballpark. The new system, built by Musco Lighting, provides unprecedented illumination to Judy Johnson Field, its concourse and seating areas, and drastically reduces the team's energy output. Musco is using its Total Light Control-TLC for LED™ technology which pairs its expertise in light control with the advancing output of LED to conserve large amounts of energy. This new system leads to a brighter field with less glare and less light pollution. That makes it better for players, fans, and, most important, the environment.
Prior to last season, the Blue Rocks and the Delaware Stadium Corporation (DSC) worked with Delmarva Power to complete an LED conversion of the parking lot lights at Frawley Stadium. In 2016, M.J. Bradley Flooring and the architectural firm Ewing Cole collaborated to install new flooring on the concourse and restrooms, which provided better and safer footing. In 2015, the DSC installed all new seats, replacing aluminum bleachers with new individual seats with armrests and cupholders.
The Blue Rocks open their season on Thursday, April 5 at Potomac and start their home slate at Frawley Stadium on Thursday, April 12 against the Lynchburg Hillcats. Individual tickets, season seats, mini plans and group packages for the 2018 season are on sale now at BlueRocks.com.
Rising star DeJong, Cards agree to record deal
Shortstop was second in '17 NL Rookie of Year voting
March 5, 2018 By Joe Trezza/MLB.com
https://www.mlb.com/news/paul-dejong-contract-extension-with-cardinals/c-267878254 A year ago, Paul DeJong spent Spring Training relearning shortstop after rising through the Cardinals' system as predominantly a third baseman. Now, his status as the club's mainstay at short is cemented for the foreseeable future.
The Cardinals and DeJong agreed to a multi-year contract extension Monday that could keep the shortstop under team control through 2025. The deal, announced at a press conference at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, guarantees DeJong $26 million over six seasons, and includes club options for 2024 and 2025. The options could bring the total value of the deal to $51.5 million, according to sources.
The 24-year-old DeJong didn't make his Major League debut until last May 28, meaning the deal covers his three remaining pre-arbitration years and three additional arbitration years before he can become a free agent in 2024.
It is the largest contract ever given to a player with less than a year of service time, narrowly edging the six-year, $25 million guaranteed extension reached between the White Sox and shortstop Tim Anderson last spring.
"There are not a ton of zero-to-one service year comparisons out there, but there are some," general manager Michael Girsch said. "We obviously used them."
The 24-year-old DeJong homered on the first swing of his first Major League at-bat last May, then spent the summer slugging his way into the Cardinals' record books. DeJong hit 25 home runs, the most ever for a St. Louis rookie shortstop, while ranking among the National League's top rookies in doubles (26), slugging percentage (.532), total bases (222), RBIs (65) and runs (55).
In all, DeJong hit .285/.325/.532 over 108 games. He finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting to Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers.
A fourth-round Draft pick in 2015 out of Illinois State University, DeJong ascended rapidly through the Cardinals' farm system on the heels of his prodigious power. He hit 22 home runs at Double-A Springfield in '16, his first full professional season, then 38 between Triple-A Memphis and the Majors in '17. He finished the year as the Cards' primary No.3 hitter and with an .857 OPS that ranked third among MLB shortstops.
"When [principal owner] Bill [DeWitt], [Michael] Girsch and I were discussing the possibility of doing something like this, one thing that stood out about Paul was his intelligence and his ability to adapt and adjust," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. "When you think of it from an organizational standpoint, we want to reward the players who have come up through our system, who have showed those types of traits we think are important to invest in. He brought all that to the table."
The deal provides both cost and roster certainty for the Cardinals at a position defined by turnover this decade. DeJong is slated to be the club's 10th different Opening Day starter at shortstop since 2008.
"During my time with the Cardinals, we've always been searching for that shortstop," Mozeliak said. "This does give us a level of comfort, that we've found a player who can play there for a long time."
It's also consistent with the club's preference to extend pre-arbitration-eligible players it sees a future with, a strategy the Cardinals have employed to considerable, if not complete success under Mozeliak.
Similar extensions allowed Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez and Matt Carpenter to develop into All-Stars while playing under team-friendly contracts, something the club now hopes happens with DeJong and second baseman Kolten Wong.
The Cardinals did not see the same type of return from a five-year extension they struck with Allen Craig in 2013, or from the multi-year pact outfielder Stephen Piscotty signed last April. Chronic lower body injuries detrailed Craig's career shortly after the extension, and Piscotty was traded to Oakland this winter following a disappointing season.
"I know how hard this game is and I'm relatively new in the big leagues," said DeJong. "For me it's more about a sense of security and going out there knowing the Cardinals are committed to me and I'm committed to them."
Putting Whit Merrifield's late breakout in context
March 5, 2018 By Eno Sarris/The Athletic KC
https://theathletic.com/261459/2018/03/05/sarris-putting-whit-merrifields-late-breakout-in-context/ In at least one way, Whit Merrifield's breakout last season was unique. In the free-agency era, only one other player has debuted over the age of 25 and then stolen over 25 bags the next season. That was Ichiro Suzuki, who was coming over from another league and shares little of Merrifield's backstory.
But that's a strict definition of what Merrifield did. What happens when you relax the restrictions, and just look for players that debuted late, had good speed, and had a breakout season? Maybe by doing that, we could get a sense of what's coming for the Royals' second baseman.
Here are the eight players in the free-agency era (since 1974) who debuted after age 26 and put up three or more wins above replacement with 30 or more steals.
Player Debut Age Season Age SB Wins
Merrifield 27 2017 28 34 3.1
Dyson 26 2014 29 36 3.0
A. Ramírez 27 2013 31 30 3.2
R. Davis 26 2009 28 41 3.4
N. Morgan 27 2009 28 42 4.8
D. Roberts 27 2006 34 49 3.1
I. Suzuki 28 2001 27 56 6.0
D. Glanville 26 1999 28 34 4.5
R. LeFlore 26 1976 28 58 4.1
There must be something in the water in Kansas City. Or maybe it was just the way the win cycle was going—recently the Royals were competitive, meaning they might have preferred more proven options in the spots that Merrifield and Jarrod Dyson would have occupied.
“We’ve gone from competing and developing to just competing,” Manager Ned Yost said earlier in this offseason. “Development went out the window the last four years.”
That meant Dyson had to sit in 2012 and 2013 because Lorenzo Cain was a pretty good player. That says more about the team's situation than the player, and that could be cause for optimism for Merrifield's ability to keep it up going forward.
In general, there are a lot of really decent players on this list, even if you take Ichiro out of it for obvious reasons. Doug Glanville, Nyjer Morgan, Alexei Ramírez, and Ron LeFlore all accrued double-digit wins, with Ramírez's 13.2 leading the way. Even if Merrifield moves to center to take advantage of his speed, there is good precedent for him to settle in as a league-average guy for a few years.
But the cold reality of the aging curve presents itself in the data as well.
The average career wins in this group is around nine, which is a career any ballplayer would be proud of, but it doesn't represent a whole lot of wins beyond the breakout season. The same group averaged nearly four wins in their breakout season; major-league average play is around two wins. That means, on average, Merrifield is likely to have two or three seasons of average major-league play left in him.
The best evidence out there is that major leaguers peak at 26 or so. There's some evidence they might be peaking even earlier in today's post-steroid environment. From Jeff Zimmerman's article on this subject:
“I examined just about every overall offensive stat (OPS and wOBA, to name a couple) and found the same thing: Hitters no longer peaked, they only declined.”
(click link for graph.)
And so, in a way, it's a minor tragedy that we didn't get to see Merrifield before his peak, so that we could see him grow and put forth the best of his best. Now it's likely (though of course not certain) that we've already missed his very best, and that his effort last year won't be repeated in its entirety.
Of course, he did have work to do in the minors.
“I don’t even think I have a natural position anymore, to be honest with you,” Merrifield told Tyler Kepner when he was called up. “I grew up a shortstop, I was a shortstop/second baseman in high school and in summer ball, and when I got to college, there was a need for a center fielder. I was relatively fast, so they tried me out in center field, and I took to it pretty well.”
The infielder/outfielder had to work to show the Royals brass that he could help the team anywhere on the diamond. His versatility finally was the cited reason for his callup, so it wasn't wasted effort. He also added some fly balls over time, so his power last year took a while to develop. The time he spent in the minors was meaningful and helped him become the player he is now.
And yet, it was major league time that was taken from him by circumstance or strategy. Let's enjoy the next few years while we can.
Eric Hosmer says lots of 'red flags' during grim offseason: 'Something is wrong with it'
March 5, 2018 By Bob Nightengale/USA Today Sports
https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2018/03/05/eric-hosmer-mlb-slow-free-agent-market-something-wrong/395247002/ Eric Hosmer's eight-year, $144 million deal with the San Diego Padres is everything he always wanted, and what every player desires.
Yet, that merely leaves Hosmer seething at the major league teams who don’t share the Padres' vision, and whose inaction has left many of his major league comrades jobless this winter.
“[Commissioner Rob] Manfred says the integrity of the game is first and foremost, that’s what we want to protect,’’ Hosmer says. “But the way the process went down this year, something is wrong with it.
“I don’t think all of the teams are trying to be competitive or doing everything they can to protect the integrity of the game. If that was the case, why are guys like Carlos Gonzalez and [former Royals teammate] Mike Moustakas still on the market? That raises a lot of red flags. When you’ve got guys that are proven at this level, and have done it for many years at this level that are still on the market looking for jobs, that just tells you something isn’t right about it.
“Carlos Gonzalez is one of the better hitters this game has ever seen. Moose is an All-Star who hit 38 homers. And they’re still looking for jobs? That’s mind-boggling. It makes you think about things.’’
Hosmer, 28, hopes Major League Baseball is listening - not just the central office, but all 30 franchises who seemingly over-corrected toward youth - efficiency trumping experience perhaps a little too much.
“That’s why it’s so hard to grasp that Moose [Moustakas] and some of these guys don’t have jobs," he says. "These guys bring that professionalism on a day-to-day basis. Nothing against young prospects, but it takes guys like this to get it done, and understand how everything works up here.
“Now, it just seems like that a lot of that has disappeared.’’
Hosmer's future is settled, but he still has plenty of questions.
“Have you heard anything about Moose?’’ Hosmer says. “Anything at all? I’d love to have him here.
“It’s just so weird.’’
After Reviving the Royals, Hosmer and Cain Try to Spark Other Teams
March 5, 2018 By Tyler Kepner/New York Times
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/05/sports/baseball/royals-padres-brewers-hosmer-cain.html Early in Eric Hosmer’s career, when it was clear he would be a star first baseman, a fan at a Rotary Club asked a pointed question to Dayton Moore, the general manager of the Kansas City Royals. For decades, the fans had yearned for a player like Hosmer with the talent and charisma to stir a dormant franchise. But this fan was worried. He wanted to know if the Royals could possibly sign Hosmer to a long-term contract.
“Just enjoy him,” Moore replied, recalling the conversation in a spring training interview last week. “Enjoy watching him play. And, no, we probably won’t be able to keep him here long-term. But that’s O.K. Just enjoy watching him play. Let’s not wish away today.”
The Royals made the most of their todays with Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain. After 28 seasons without a playoff appearance, they rumbled into two World Series in a row, losing in 2014 and winning in 2015. Every small-market franchise tries to build through homegrown talent, and most fall short of a title. The Royals actually broke through.
Now Hosmer is a San Diego Padre, after signing for eight years and $144 million last month. Cain signed a five-year, $80 million contract to rejoin the Milwaukee Brewers, who traded him to the Royals in 2010.
Other stalwarts from the World Series teams are also gone: Wade Davis, Ben Zobrist, Johnny Cueto, Ryan Madson, James Shields, Jarrod Dyson, and the unsigned Greg Holland and Mike Moustakas. A starter, Yordano Ventura, was killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic before last season. Hosmer wears Ventura’s No. 30 with the Padres, a lasting bond to a team and a town he helped change.
“They kept hearing over and over again that guys that would come in and get back to being a playoff threat again,” Hosmer said. “It took 30 years for that to happen. We had a special relationship, and the fans appreciated the way we played. We would show emotion, and they would show emotion back.”
That was not always true in Kansas City, where hopelessness had sometimes reigned. In 1999, thousands of fans walked out of Kauffman Stadium in the middle of a game against the Yankees, protesting baseball’s tilted salary structure. Some littered the field with fake $100 bills.
The Royals lost 97 games that season, just another in a sad string of gloom. Moore arrived in 2006 and finally hit on the winning formula for a team with a modest payroll and a spacious park: contact hitters, slick defenders, dominant relievers and short-term No. 1 starters acquired for prospects.
It was always supposed to be temporary. That is how it works in modern baseball, and why teams scramble to align their top prospects’ peak seasons. If a bunch of young players mature at the same time, the team will probably get a few years of prime performance at affordable rates. When the players then get too expensive, most of them disperse.
The Royals have kept some of their core players; left fielder Alex Gordon is signed through 2019, and starter Danny Duffy and catcher Salvador Perez through 2021. Duffy, who earns $14 million this season, wanted more players to join them.
“I was hoping if one guy comes back, or two guys come back, maybe it’ll spark another guy to take that and run with it, too,” he said. “But the majority of guys I came up with are in other jerseys or unsigned. It’s tough to see those guys go, but that’s the nature of the beast. You definitely wish them well.”
Cain spends his off-seasons in Norman, Okla., and attended the Oklahoma City Thunder game last winter when Kevin Durant returned as a member of the Golden State Warriors. Cain remembers the vitriol from the fans, who jeered Durant whenever he touched the ball.
“It was not fun for him,” Cain said. “There were a lot of boos. Kind of tough to see, but that’s just how it is.”
Yet when Cain returns to Kansas City with the Brewers next month, he does not expect the same treatment. Some Royals fans in Arizona have already wished Cain and Hosmer well. Cain called Royals fans “the best fans in the world, for sure,” and no one around the team believes the players tarnished their legacy by leaving.
“They did so much for the game of baseball in Kansas City,” said Gordon, who grew up in Nebraska and went to Royals games every summer. “They were a part of changing the culture. Guys are going to come and go, and it’s not always their decision; it’s just how it is. But for what they did in Kansas City, the Royals fans are always going to be grateful.”
Winning a championship does not guarantee a player a lifelong glow; Boston fans never forgave Johnny Damon for signing with the hated Yankees. But Hosmer and Cain left the American League and joined teams not known for spending.
Neither the Padres nor the Brewers had ever given such a lucrative contract in free agency. Neither team has won a championship, either — and, incredibly, Hosmer and Cain are the only players on either team’s 40-man roster who have ever played in the World Series. For both, setting an example is part of their job description.
Cain said that when Shields came to Kansas City from Tampa Bay, a regular playoff contender, “he showed us how to lead — and once he left, we all became leaders.”
“You need all 25 guys to come together and help push each other,” Cain said. “That’s what I’m trying to show these guys.”
The Brewers, at 86-76, had the best record of any team that missed the playoffs last season. In doing so, they sped up their competitive timetable. They agreed on Cain’s contract within hours of another bold move: a trade with Miami for Christian Yelich, a 26-year-old outfielder under contract for five more seasons.
The deals created a bit of a logjam for the Brewers, who also have Domingo Santana, who hit 30 homers last season, and the franchise pillar Ryan Braun in the outfield. The Brewers hope to find time for all the outfielders by sometimes using Braun at first base, where he could spell the slugging Eric Thames against some left-handers.
“You don’t really have any say over where you get traded, but I’m excited to be here,” Yelich said. “To be a part of an outfield with those guys, it’s going to be special. It’s exciting to go into the season expecting to win, hopefully for the foreseeable future.”
The Padres also added multiple veterans to their lineup, trading with Philadelphia for shortstop Freddy Galvis and with the Yankees for third baseman Chase Headley. San Diego has endured nine losing seasons in the last 10 years, but has hope in a slogan on Hosmer’s clubhouse T-shirt.
On the front, beneath a Padres logo, it says “#HotTalentLava,” with “= Major League Rock” on the back. Scott Boras, Hosmer’s agent, used those terms to describe the Padres’ percolating farm system, which MLB.com ranks as the best in baseball. For Hosmer, it is a familiar feeling.
“There’s so many similarities to what I was a part of in Kansas City, as far as a group of prospects coming up,” he said. “It’s been fun. It’s one thing to hear about all the guys, but now to finally get out on the field and see what these guys are about, it gets you fired up.”
Moore could have left Kansas City, too, if he had pushed the Royals’ owner, David Glass, to allow him to interview for the Atlanta Braves’ general manager job last fall. Before joining the Royals, Moore had spent 12 years with the Braves, who now have a thriving farm system and seem much closer to contending.
Yet Moore was content to leave the decision to Glass, who did not want to lose his team’s architect. Moore’s passion for the job has never waned, he said, even as he starts over.
“Every team is special, regardless of the win-loss record,” he said. “And if you are leading in a relentless and focused way, it becomes exhausting, it becomes tiring, but that’s the privilege of leadership.”
The Royals had hoped to retain Hosmer as their leader in the clubhouse. But the Padres made a richer offer, and even if Hosmer had returned, the Royals still probably would have struggled. Their rotation was woeful last season, and Moore has been forced to chisel talent from the bullpen.
To entice teams to take expensive veterans off his payroll, Moore had to trade Scott Alexander and Ryan Buchter, relievers who are young, effective and cheap. Alexander went to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-way deal that sent reliever Joakim Soria to the Chicago White Sox, and Oakland took outfielder Brandon Moss — who has since been cut — as a way to get Buchter.
Those deals saved the Royals $14 million, and they replaced Hosmer by giving a one-year, $3.5 million contract to Lucas Duda, the former Mets first baseman whose errant throw in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series allowed Hosmer to score the tying run in the ninth inning.
That sequence is etched in Royals lore. After Cain took a full-count slider to draw a leadoff walk against Matt Harvey, he stole second and scored on a double by Hosmer. Moustakas moved Hosmer to third with a groundout, and Perez bounced a ball to third baseman David Wright, who threw to Duda for the out at first. Hosmer charged home, knowing that both Wright and Duda had erratic throwing arms.
With a good throw by Duda, the Mets would have won the game. But Hosmer’s gamble paid off, embodying the will and urgency of a team that never cared about the odds. The Royals finished the night as champions, and their flag — planted by Hosmer, Cain and so many others in a proud alumni club — will always fly.
“They’re forever a part of Royals history,” Moore said. “We want all of our players, if they leave, to leave on a white horse.”
March 6, 2018 •.CBSSports.com http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/transactions
Signed to a Minor League Contract
Outrighted to Minors
Traded From, Tampa Bay (for future considerations)