Don’t look now, but all around baseball, there are baseball activities happening. Pitchers and catchers are stretching. Catches are being had. Even some cracks of the bat can be heard in Arizona and Florida where position players have reported early. In fact, a lot of the Royals seem to have reported early, which seems par for the course with this group. We’re a little more than a week away from a game that doesn’t count being played, but you know we’ll eat it up like it’s a July game with first place on the line. The monotony of spring training will be here soon, but for now, baseball!
- I didn’t see the discussion on MLB Network, but I saw the fallout on Twitter between Ken Rosenthal and Brian Kenny. What I surmised is that Rosenthal was talking about how important chemistry is while Kenny seems to believe that it sounds like something that would have and should have been written 40 years ago. I like stats. I think stats are extremely important. I like to study even the most complex ones to try to gain a better understanding of the game. Maybe eight to 10 years ago, I was basically only about the stats. Sure I watched the games intently, but I was all about citing OPS+ or whatever was cool at the time. I still love stats and I love digging into ones like DRA and TAv and I really enjoy diving into the PECOTA rankings, as wrong as I think they are. But stats aren’t all there is. I’ve learned that. Chemistry matters way more than I used to think it did. I probably would have gotten to this conclusion anyway, but following the 2013-2015 Royals and getting a chance to be in that clubhouse a few times taught me the lesson even quicker. Yes, it takes talent to win. I don’t care if all 25 guys love each other if they aren’t especially good at baseball, but if you show me two teams with honest to goodness talent and one has so-so chemistry and one is the Royals, I’ll take my chances with the Royals. It’s not that the statistics of the game aren’t important, boy they are. But these are human beings playing a game and that’s easy to forget sometimes. There is a human element.
- I’m going to say something here that I’m not sure I’ve ever actually written. I’m intrigued by Christian Colon. Prepare yourself for a reference to him being in great shape, maybe the best of his life. He apparently worked with Alex Gordon this winter. I think we can all agree that was something of an issue for Colon before. While he will never be confused for a gold glover, he did do some very solid work at second base last season in 247 innings and I think there’s more in his bat than he’s shown at the big league level. In his first 168 plate appearances, he hit a solid .303 with a .361 OBP. What intrigues me is the walk rate – 8.3 percent – for a guy who isn’t playing every day. He’s never shown much pop in the minor leagues, but he has shown more than we’ve seen in the big leagues. He has a .100 career ISO in the minors, but does at least have 132 extra base hits in 561 games at the minor league level. Maybe with a new physique, he can keep up the plate discipline (he swung at 28.5 percent of pitches outside the zone last year), add a little pop and continue to play solid defense at second base. I know a lot of people loved Merrifield last year. He was fun to watch. But I wonder if, given his age, pedigree and physical condition, we might be in for Christian Colon’s career year. I hope he gets a legitimate shot to win the job.
- I haven’t really given my thoughts on the Travis Wood signing yet, so I’ll get them out of the way here. I think Wood is an average big league pitcher, but I do believe he makes the 2017 Royals better, and probably the 2018 team as well, though that’s of less importance. He doesn’t strike out enough hitters and he walks too many, but he provides versatility to the pitching staff that they greatly need. I know you could argue that Chris Young does the same thing, but I’m not exactly counting on anything from Young this season. What Wood can do is be a really good bridge guy in the middle of that bullpen to get to the back end, no matter who it is in there. He’s going to be given a shot to win a job in the rotation. I hope he doesn’t win it because I don’t think he’s that good as a starter. I also believe that if the Royals are going to win, they’re going to need some pitcher to step up and provide middle of the rotation or better numbers. I don’t think Wood can do it. Nate Karns would be the guy he’d beat out if he does make the rotation, and I think Karns is a far better option to give that. So I like the signing. The money makes sense. But I also hope he doesn’t start many games for the Royals this year.
- I feel like I talk a lot about payroll in this space, but it’s interesting to many, so I guess that’s okay. We all know that the Royals have stretched the payroll in 2017 already to what will be a level never before seen on opening day. They’re now projected to be over $140 million, and that’s an awful lot of money. What I find interesting is that after this offseason’s activity loaded with backloaded contracts, the Royals 2018 payroll is shaping up to be actually somewhat similar to this year’s. As it stands now, the Royals have $80.75 million guaranteed to nine players. There are a couple tricky situations here. Jorge Soler is guaranteed $4 million in 2018, but he can opt in to the arbitration process. I’m betting he does that because I think he can earn more. And Ian Kennedy has an opt-out in his deal, but if he doesn’t opt out (and I don’t think he will), he gets paid $16 million. So in my mind, I’m taking Soler out and putting Kennedy in and getting to $92.75 million for nine players already committed. Kelvin Herrera, Jorge Soler, Nate Karns and the aforementioned Colon are in the arbitration process, so with those 13 players, I have payroll estimated at $111.25 million with 12 spots needed to fill. Obviously things could change. Players could be dealt and all that, but the idea of a payroll collapse after the 2017 season doesn’t seem as likely as many had believed when this offseason began.