If you’re expecting a Groundhog Day joke, I might recommend you look elsewhere because you won’t find it here. If you’re expecting a Groundhog Day jo…fine, I lied. Soon, pitchers and catchers will have reported and all will be right with the world again. The team of free agents is still better than like half the rosters in baseball, though, so there’s plenty of news to be made. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet there’ll be more money spent in free agency this March than in any previous March. So I suppose that’s something. I think I’m most looking forward to the canned video shots of players stretching. That’ll hold us over for about two minutes.
- I really like the Royals trade of Brandon Moss and Ryan Buchter to the A’s for Jesse Hahn and Heath Fillmyer even though I was a Buchter fan. As of right now, it clears up a logjam on the big league roster to get young guys the at bats the Royals need them to get in 2018. Hunter Dozier, Cheslor Cuthbert, Jorge Bonifacio and Jorge Soler now currently all have a clear path to playing time at first, third, right and DH. Alex Gordon will get the bulk of the time in left field and maybe some center, so that means the Royals can really try to figure out what they have in their younger, right-handed bats. To me, that’s important because, as I’ve said before, I see 2018 as a great opportunity to evaluate some of the guys who look like role players to see if they are at least that, if they can be more or if they need to find someone else for the job before the next window of contention. The Royals have plenty of team control over all these guys. Dozier has through at least 2023, Cuthbert through 2021, Bonifacio through 2023 and Soler now through 2021 (I know some have questioned this; trust me when I say the Royals have an extra year of service time, I have gotten that confirmed). In my mind, it’s very important for the Royals to give all of these four a real shot in 2018 to determine what they have and what to do next.
- Another reason I’m a fan of the trade is because I think the Royals may have found some solid pitching depth in the deal. I’ve been a fan of Hahn for awhile, but it’s sort of been a story of two careers with him already. In his first two years, he threw 170 innings with the Padres and A’s and posted a 3.23 ERA while allowing just 145 hits, walking 57 and striking out 134. In 2016/2017, he threw 116 innings with a 5.59 ERA to go along with 135 hits allowed, 46 walks and just 78 strikeouts. He’s had a triceps issue and a shoulder issue, which gives me cause for some real concern about him, but I believe he could be a really solid reliever, if given the opportunity. Craig mentioned after the trade that he ditched his four-seam fastball for a sinker and has seen his velocity kick up in the last couple years. Combine that with a spin rate on his curve that ranked seventh in baseball last year at 3,015 RPM. In 2016, he also ranked seventh with a spin rate of 3,014 RPM. That’s pretty darn good. With a hard two-seamer or sinker and that kind of spin on the curve, I feel like Hahn could turn himself into a good reliever if he’s healthy. To me, that’s the biggest question, so I guess that’s something to watch in spring training this year.
- After a few moves since we’ve last discussed payroll, I suppose we should chat about it again. With Kelvin Herrera and Nate Karns avoiding arbitration and the signing, for some reason, of Alcides Escobar, the Royals now have 11 players under guaranteed contracts for 2018 at a total of about $87 million. Let’s give Brandon Maurer an arbitration win at $3.5 million and then throw in the pre-arbitration guys along with money the Royals are paying for Moss and Travis Wood to not play for them and the payroll is sitting right around $108 million or so. Dayton Moore had said they were planning to be in the $110 million range this year, which means they’re really going to be in the $120 million to $125 million range, given history. That’s a lot of money to spend on what looks like a pretty rough team, but that’s what happens when you have long-term deals on the books that aren’t working out. My guess is that with the acquisitions of Trevor Oaks and Hahn to go along with guys like Eric Skoglund and maybe even someone like a Brad Keller from the Rule 5 draft, the Royals aren’t done trading away players. Jason Hammel seems poised to be the next to go. At $9 million for 2018, I’m guessing they’d have to eat about $3 million of it to save another $6 million. At that point, I’m thinking you can connect the dots on how they’ll spend another $18 million to $23 million. I’m not writing his name in this edition of Friday Notes, though. I just won’t.
- I’ll be heading to Arizona for my annual Spring Training trip on March 3rd and will get out to see the team on the 4th (I think, unless the chilaquiles at The Mission call to me). I have a feeling it’ll feel a lot more like spring training in 2006 did, when I went the first time. While I’m pumped to be going to games all that week I’m there, I’m probably most interested in getting to the back fields to see the instruction. The position players on the 2018 team aren’t terribly interesting to me, at least not yet, but the composition of the pitching staff really is, and if you head out to the very back of the back fields, you can see all the work they do, so that’ll probably be my non-game focus while I’m there. And, let me tell you something, if I see something, there’s a good bet it’ll come true during the season. After all, I was convinced Kyle Zimmer would have a good and healthy season in 2017 after watching him work out in spring training, so my track record is basically unblemished. But in all seriousness, that’s my biggest focus this spring because I think that’s where the most intrigue on the roster lies. That is, of course, until they sign J.D. Martinez, Carlos Gomez, Mike Moustakas and (name redacted).