It’s our first Friday without Royals baseball, so what exactly do we do? I’ll tell you what we do. We talk Royals baseball. I have to admit that while I’d much prefer the Royals actually be in this little tournament that’s being played right now, I don’t mind watching postseason baseball without stress. The last two seasons have potentially expedited the graying process for my hair, so it’ll be nice to have a bit of a break. But still, it feels weird after just two seasons of deep runs in the playoffs to not be putting everything on hold to either watch or attend a game.
- I’ve been thinking a lot about the Royals season and how to sum it up. Was it a disappointment? Yeah, probably. Was it a bad year? In a way, sure. Were there good things to come out of it? Not as many as you’d like. But one thing I keep coming back to is just how many things went wrong for this team and how they still finished the year at .500. Some were their fault, no doubt about it. The revolving door of fifth (and fourth) starters gave the Royals all sorts of trouble. Underperformance from members of the bullpen led to some issues at various times throughout the year. And the offense was, to me, the single biggest reason the Royals didn’t make the playoffs. And then there were the injuries. The Royals lost their number two hitter, their number three hitter and their franchise left fielder for extended periods of time. I’m not making excuses for the down year of Eric Hosmer or the months where Kendrys Morales disappeared, but when you have a lineup that has only a couple spots of fear for a pitcher, it makes it a lot easier to navigate. The Royals offense in 2015 was good, no matter what someone else might try to tell you, and part of the reason was that it was deep. From the two spot through the eight spot, the pitcher had to keep focus. That’s how you have a lineup with zero stars finish seventh in baseball in runs per game. It’s a leap here, but assuming Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon are all healthy next year or at least two of them can give 130-150 games, the Royals offense not only gets better because of their contributions but because of their presence. Add in maybe not taking four months to find a fourth or fifth starter who can get through five innings and that’s why I’m optimistic about 2017.
- There’s been a lot of talk about the payroll, including by our very own Craig Brown. I want to echo his sentiment that I don’t see a real way they can reduce the payroll. They already have so much committed that if they wanted to really make a difference, they’d be breaking up the core of the team in a year that they think will be the last year of the core of the team. I don’t buy it. One person, though, who could be dealt and I actually think will be dealt is Wade Davis. He has a $10 million option which will get exercised, but that money can be used effectively elsewhere. There’s a few closers out there on the free agent market, including Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon, but there are far more teams who would upgrade if Davis was their closer. I know there’ll be a market, so I think that’s one way the Royals could potentially fill one of their offensive needs. I’m not so sure you’ll be able to see a starting pitcher in return for Davis, not one ready to contribute now anyway. It’ll hurt to see Davis go, but I think that’d be a big help to the team. I still maintain that Greg Holland and Luke Hochevar have a very good shot to be back with the Royals next year. Add them to Kelvin Herrera, Matt Strahm and what I think will be a better Joakim Soria (I’m sure nobody will have any thoughts on this point) and that’s still a very strong bullpen.
- With Cheslor Cuthbert heading to the instructional league for the Royals to get a 10-day look at him at second base, there’s been a lot of discussion out there about him. The issue is that there’s a better player in the organization to play third base and Cuthbert is out of options. So the Royals are naturally trying to put him at a position of need that maybe his skillset could allow him to play to see if they can maintain their roster inventory to help the club in future seasons. But here’s the issue. I will be shocked if Cuthbert is anything more than a bad second baseman. I mentioned this on the radio the other day, but I don’t think he can be as “good” as Alberto Callaspo was at second base. He’s not quick enough, he doesn’t have enough range and his footwork isn’t good enough. The footwork part could absolutely get better, but it won’t make up for the other shortcomings. Plus, let’s not forget the issue he had with throws late in the season at third. I’m at least a little worried about what kind of throws we’d see from him with a runner bearing down on him as he’s trying to turn the double play. Personally, I think the play here is to feign flexibility with him to add to his trade value and ultimately send him to a club in need of a third baseman. Just off the top of my head, the Angels, Mets, Braves, Reds, Dodgers and Giants all could be looking for a young third baseman in the offseason. There’s plenty of potential suitors. I’m not sure what the return could be on a guy like Cuthbert, but I think prospect fatigue and him hitting a wall in the last month makes his value seem like less to Royals fans than it probably is around the league.
- I know I’m like three days behind the news cycle with this one, but what was Buck Showalter doing on Tuesday night? Managing by the book is something that basically every manager does, so I guess I shouldn’t be so quick to criticize Showalter as much as the profession of managers in general. The idea that you don’t use your closer in a tie game on the road is one that I can live with during the regular season even though I strongly disagree, but just can’t understand in a winner-take-all game like we saw on Tuesday night. The argument is that if the Orioles had the lead at some point later, who would be there to close it out? And my answer is this: Who cares? There’s no guarantee that Zach Britton would have shut the door on the Blue Jays, but the odds were much greater that he would than Ubaldo Jimenez, no matter how well Jimenez had been pitching. And while all the people out there are wondering who would have closed the game out if the Orioles got a lead and Britton had already pitched, the Blue Jays were flying to Texas because they had moved on and the Orioles were heading home. And one more thing I saw that was interesting to me. The Orioles were worried about protecting a one-run lead (or two runs or whatever), so they saved their best reliever for a situation where a mistake might not end the game. While they were saving him, they went to an inferior pitcher in a situation where he had no margin for error at all. There will always be some that argue for saving your closer, but those people would be wrong. Unless of course logic isn’t their thing and then they can feel however they want to feel.