Saturday, April 09, 2005

Perspective

Doesn't 2-2 seem about 45 games better than 1-3? It is all in how a team is perceived and right now the 2-2 Royals are a decent young team as opposed to a 1-3 struggling AAA team (to steal from a popular lament on the chat boards).

Great outing by Bautista. What you really have to like is 8 strikeouts and no walks. One good start, however, is simply just one good start and not a star does it make. How will the young man react when his command is hit and miss? Or the defense plays like...well, like it usually plays? Here is a better question: how many outings like last night will Denny produce for us this year? My over/under is 5.

I have to admit I did not catch the last two innings (it's hell getting old), but the play by play summary in the 9th shows Affeldt giving up a single, two ground balls, and then a run scoring single. Not sure if the ground balls, particulary the first one to Berroa, were played correctly or not. However, Affeldt needs to come in and SLAM THE DOOR on people.

Question of the day: how will Pena get Graffanino in the lineup tonight? Graffy might just hit .300....if you limit his at-bats to about 275 for the season. If you play him everyday you get, well, you get Desi Relaford in 2003.

Omaha Royals note: Jimmy Gobble pitched well in the opener, 1 run in 6 innings. Ken Harvey had a two run SINGLE. More interesting, however, is that Dennis Tankersley was used in relief and Byron Embry was the closer.

Now, if one of our veteran innings eaters can eak us out a win this weekend, I will really be happy. Winning 2 of 3 from a team that absolutely pummeled us last year (37-15 in 3 games in Anaheim last season) would really be a nice momentum boast going into the home opener.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Problems, problems.

I have had a horrendous time trying to get onto Blogger and get my posts to upload the last few days. Apparently others have this same problem from time to time. Anyway, perhaps the Blogger/Baseball Gods were playing a hand yesterday when my rant on Tony Pena and his lineup selection would not upload.

As it was, Matt Stairs was not in the lineup due to a hamstring problem - he's almost as old as I am, no wonder he has problems, and Pickering was not with the team due to his wife having a baby (damn, that marital loyalty). Bottom line, Pena's apparent idiotic lineup was not as idiotic as it originally appeared due to those two issues. I am just going to save my Graffanino rant for a later time as I am sure Pena will provide all of us many opportunities to go off on his lineup selection.

However, HERE IS A REAL PROBLEM, and one that haunted us last year. In the first three games of the series, we have blown at least two hit and run plays - both resulting in runners thrown out at second. Best I can tell (and this is difficult - and I did thankfully miss the last three innings of yesterday's debacle) the Royals have called THREE hit and runs total, so blowing two is not exactly playing solid fundamental ball.

Further, in the field, we have muffed, bobbled or otherwise misplayed FIVE potential double play balls. Some of these turned into at least one out (Graffanino's gaff yesterday was just awful by the way), but nonetheless we need to convert these into double plays and get our pitchers out of harm's way.

In the fielding vein, I am trying to remain hopeful that Mark Teahen is just a little shell-shocked right now about being in the major leagues. To his credit, Mark has looked 'okay' at the plate, but in the field it has been another story. Although credited with just one error, he's not made plays on at least three ground balls that probably most major league 3rd sackers make and I know Joe Randa would have made (I threw that in for my wife - she's a big Randa fan, just bought a Red's jersey). I am certainly not advocating Joe McEwing at this point, but I am hopeful by this time next week, Teahen will have shown signs of settling in at third.

As one final parting shot - if Ruben Gotay does not start at least two of the three games in Anaheim, then I will officially be on a Tony Pena headhunting mission. I actually understand putting Tony G. in the lineup yesterday (he was 4-4 on Wednesday), but you have to play Gotay and Graffanino can play third, by the way. He could have even DH'd - sure you run an injury risk, but I don't really need to see Eli Marrero batting cleanup against a right handed pitcher any more than once.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Minor League Update

Just a note that I have added the minor league affiliate links over on the right. Once they get their statistics up and running, I may get ambitious and add a link straight to each team's stats for those of you who are interested.

I am not sure if any of the guys on Omaha's roster (with the exception of Snyder) will ever pan out in the majors, but I would think the ORoyals would be a juggernaut in AAA. Of course, at that level a lot depends on the attitude of the more veteran players: Harvey, Hocking, McEwing, Guiel, Brown, George, Tankersely, et.al.

Not sure what to make of the AA Wichita Wranglers, although an infield that includes Justin Huber (kicked down to AA when Harvey was sent to Omaha) and Donnie Murphy should be decent at that level. With Burgos and Colt Griffin on the pitching staff, opponets will see some serious heat - strikes, maybe not, but heat nonetheless.

High Desert is the Upper Level A league and that is probably where most of the players fans are going to be wondering about are located. The opening day roster for the Mavericks include: Billy Butler, Mitch Maier, Chris Lubanski and J.P. Howell. Good early season starts by any of those guys will probably have them in Wichita by July 1.

Anybody else feel pretty good about having Greinke going for the series win today versus Jason Johnson? Probably we feel as confident as Detroit did on opening day with Bonderman versus Lima.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A Better Showing

Baseball is a funny game. One that can make you look inept on day and brilliant the next. In my comments after the opening day disaster, I referred to 50 game you are destined to win, 50 games you are destined to lose and the remaining 62 that decide your season. The Royals now have use one of their 50 losses and one of their 50 wins.

Still, a great showing by Runelvys Hernandez. It was nice to see somone breaking bats for a change. Even more encouraging for me (yes, the guy who has ranted about our weakness against left handers) was that we lit up a decent left handed starter today. I was particular glad to see three lefthanded hitters (Stairs, Teahen & DeJesus) connect against Maroth to ignite the top of the fourth inning.

David DeJesus is really swinging a good bat to open the season, one of the critical factors if the Royals are to be successful. Not only his he getting hits, but the majority of his outs have been hard hit. David has also shown nice selectivness at the plate. This was also the first game that I was able to see Emil Brown play. He has a quick bat and looked good, at least for today, stinging the ball well. I was going to comment on Angel Berroa's apparent willingness to swing at each and every pitch thrown to him today, but then Angel homered in his last at-bat, so we'll just let him be. Tony Graffanino had one of those days in the sun players dream about, going 4 for 4 with a walk. I'm expecting he'll be in the lineup tomorrow at third base, at least that is what I would do - give Teahen & Gotay a day off every three to four games.

The Royals were far from perfect today (hence the designation of this victory in the '50' column). Buck was picked off and DeJesus caught stealing. Runelvys had a 'Wild Thing' moment or two in the bottom of the third and Teahen let a sharp grounder go off his glove for the second straight game. Still, all in all, a good team performance and reason to believe the sky is not physically going to fall any time in the near future.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Lock 'em up

The Cleveland Indians signed Victor Martinez to a five year contract today. A good move, but somewhat risky in that Martinez is embarking on just his third season in bigs. The deal is very similar in nature to that which the Royals inked Angel Berroa to last spring.

One, at this point in time, could argue that maybe the Royals were quick on the trigger with Berroa, but the concept is sound. Essentially the player gets long term security and an early bump in salary in exchange for avoiding the arbitration years and possibly playing a season or two under market value.

The value of a team avoiding arbitration has no better example than the Royals experience with Carlos Beltran. Had the Royals signed Carlos to a Martinez/Berroa deal after his rookie season (a bold move, but one the franchise has to take), they would not have been able to retain him any longer than they did, BUT they would have had considerably more available salary to surround him with prior to having to make the trade last June.

Keep in mind, Beltran made $9 million and $10 million his last two seasons with the Royals. I do not have the specifics of either the Martinez or Berroa contracts, but in years 5 and 6 I know they are both going to make well under half of that salary. (It sticks in my head that Berroa tops out at $3 mil maybe).

Now, the Berroa contract looks pretty bad if he hits .245 with 25 errors all the way through 2009, but again, the concept is sound - and one the Indians used 15 years ago to dominate the Central in the 1990's.

My suggestion is to attempt to make similar deals with David DeJesus and John Buck, sooner rather than later. I would also approach Zack Greinke, although my gut feeling is, at his age, he's willing to risk one year contracts and arbitration judges to get really, really big bucks. Assuming KC can get deals done with DeJesus and Buck, and assuming that Berroa rebounds to ROY form, the Royals could be set up the middle for the next six years at a dollar amount of no more than $10 million for all three in the final years of their contracts. None of them will ever hit like Mike Sweeney, but I'd take three above average players at $10 mil over Sweeney's $11 mil any day.

What this would allow us to do, obviously, is go pay a Greinke obscene dollars AND go get an established corner outfielder - no Guerroro isn't going to come here and Beltran ain't coming back - but you could step up a level and be a free agent player for the next tier of outfielders.
Going further, and making even bigger assumptions, you could approach Gotay and Teahen after a hopefully solid 2005 campaigns and move to make similar deals with them. Essentially locking down 5 everyday players who combined would not cost you more than $15 million TOTAL when they are in their prime.

From there, you would have the money to potentially sign and keep your prize pitchers: Greinke, Hernandez, Bautista, Affeldt, et.al. at market value, if necessary, and not have to invest long term dollars in pitching. The risk of signing a pitcher, any pitcher, to a 5 or 6 year deal is significantly higher than that of a positions player simply due to injury (and the fact the pitchers seem to be considerably flakier than your everyday player - just one man's opinion). The Royals really can't afford to give any pitcher 5 years of money and have him sidelined for three of them.

The final piece of this concept is that a long term contract with a core group of players would sit very well with the fragile fan base in Kansas City. I am like so many other Royal fans that remember the glory days of the 70s and 80s when there was such a great continuity (you realize that up until 1990, the Royals had exactly 3 regular second basemen, 3 regular centerfielders and only 4 regular third basemen). Knowing that the players and the team were committed to one another would do wonders for the Royals' p.r. in the next few years.

It is a two-way street, saying you want to sign a Buck or a DeJesus to a contract and him wanting to sign one are two different things, but it is a concept the merits and needs futher exploration.

A Cautionary Opening Day Tale

Last year, I was lucky enough to attend opening day in Royals stadium and watch a horrible game turn into a memorable game. Afterwards I remember thinking that those were the type of wins that propell a team to become something special. As we all know, that win did nothing and the Royals were effectively out of the race by May 1st. (insert your Villacias joke here)

My point is that we shouldn't get too high or too low after yesterday's drubbing at the hands of Jeremy Bonderman and the Tigers. In a 162 game season, there are 50 games you're destined to win and 50 games you're destined to lose. It is what you do with the other 62 games that decide your season. Yesterday was simply one of those 50 we were going to lose.

Game Notes:
David DeJesus rapped two singles and hit the ball hard his other two times up.

Matt Stairs, after two singles in his first two at-bats, had a terrific plate appearance when he worked a walk out of Bonderman after being down 0-2. If only the world was filled with right handed pitchers and flyballs were always hit right to you.

Angel Berroa drew a walk...a walk, I tell you. Actually, other than bobbling a double play ball late in the game, Angel looked pretty good.

Mark Teahen and Ruben Gotay got opening day out of the way. Now, they can relax and just play.

Pitching...well, some days you just don't have it.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Central Division Preview

Here we are on the eve of the season opener, so I thought it was time for my offering on the A.L. Central. For my preview, we will use five categories, with a rating of 1 to 10 for each. Ten being perfect (an outfield of DiMaggio, Mantle & Musial for instance). One being horrendous (an outfield that includes Ken Harvey comes to mind).

OUTFIELD
Minnesota (8) - With Torii Hunter playing defense you have a pretty good start. Stewart & Jones aren't chopped liver. This group also hits.

Chicago (6) - Podsednik is fast, Aaron Rowand is a rising star - Jermaine Dye is not the player he used to be. This rating assumes that Podsednik rebounds from his sophomore slump.

Cleveland (5) - Coco Crisp keeps getting better and Juan Gonzalez just keeps getting worse. This outfield may be better than any if Jody Gerut comes back from injury and Grady Sizemore plays well in Gonzalez's absence.

Detroti (5) - I simply just put average because who knows if Mags Ordonez can play more than 50 games and play well if he does. Craig Monroe is probably not a centerfielder either. They may hit, but who runs down anything in the gaps.

Kansas City (4) - David DeJesus is good, but not Carlos Beltran, and certainly not good enough go carry a platoon on both sides.

The Middle (Catcher/Shortstop/Second Base)
Detorit (8) - I think Ivan Rodriguez is that good. Carlos Guillen probably won't be as good as last year, but won't be bad either.

Cleveland (7) - Victor Martinez is not that good, but he's pretty good. Belliard is solid at second and Pheralta might be rookie of the year.

Chicago (5) - Nothing spectaclar and a lot of unkowns. Uribe had a nice season and A.J. is not only annoying, but a good catcher (with a last name I don't have the patience to spell).

Kansas City (5) - If Berroa rebounds, Buck keeps improving and Gotay comes through, this rating could skyrocket by next season.

Minnesota (4) - A season long healthy Joe Mauer makes this number a lot better. Otherwise shortstop is iffy and Rivas (except when playing the Royals) is really nothing special.

CORNERS AND DESIGNATED HITTER:
Kansas City (6) - There are 3 teams with the same ratings, so KC gets to be first for once. A healthy Sweeney, a solid rookie season from Teahen, and power from Pickering make this a hopeful spot...and one where defense, thankfully, is not quite as important.

Chicago (6) - If Frank Thomas comes back to form, and does so in a short period of time, this rating is low. Konerko is a serious player, Crede is good defensively but need to hit something and Carl Everett (although apparently completely nuts) is still okay.

Cleveland (6) - Travis Hafner could be on his way to becoming a monster. Aaron Boone needs to prove himself once again.

Minnesota (5) - This is giving a lot of credit to Justin Morneau and Lew Ford (DH), but maybe it is just me assuming the Twins' front office knows what they are doing.

Detroit (4) - Dmitri Young will hit some, but the ROYALS for godssake have about 5 Dmitri Youngs in the organization.

STARTING PITCHING:
Cleveland (9) - Westbrook, Millwood, Lee, Sabathia (scheduled to miss 2 starts), plus Scott Elaraton. What more do you need?

Minnesota (8) - Santana and Radke make up for some questions at the end of the rotation. Although I would take my chances that Silva, Lohse and Joe Mays can hold their own.

Chicago (7) - If you want recognizable pitchers, this is your rotation (Buerhle, Garcia, Contreras, El Duque). I downgraded them a tick simply because I don't know how many innings Contreras & Hernandez are good for.

Kansas City (6) - That's right, ABOVE average. Danny Bautista looked good today on TV, that may have tainted my rankings a little. I don't care, I like this rotation and the idea that Mike Wood and Kyle Snyder will likely be in it next year.

Detroit (5) - If I was a Tiger fan instead of a Royals fan, this group would be a (6) and KC would be a (5). Lima and Anderson's experience seperate our young guns from those in Detroit. Yes, that's right, I just paid Brian Anderson a compliment.

BULLPEN:
Minnesota (9) - If the starters can get to Romero and Nathan, you might as well head for the parking lot.

Detroit (7) - A metric ton of arms, even if they trade Urbina. Kyle Farnsworth reportedly has hit 103 mph in spring training.

Kansas City (7) - A borderline ranking that assumes Affeldt and MacDougal pitch consistently to their potential. I like the depth with Camp, Field, Cerda and Wood and the idea that they will get better (Andy Sisco) as the season goes on.

Cleveland (5) - I heard someone on ESPN radio state that you can't have a great bullpen if Bob Wickman is your closer. Riske and Bettancourt could/might/should be better, but they blew an ungodly number of games last year, so I have to see to believe.

Chicago (5) - Simply too inconsistent and Takatsu is the softess throwing closer in America. You would you hand a lead to Hermanson or Marte?

If you boil the highly scientific numbers down, here is what I project:

1st Place - Minnesota (34). 88 wins may be all it takes this year.
2nd Place - Cleveland (32). Rapidly improving, and gaining on the Twins.
3rd Place - Detroit (29). Young pitchers and Ordonez BOTH have to come through.
4th Place - Kansas City (28). The diff between 71 wins and 75 wins is the difference between 3rd and 4th.
5th Place - Chicago (26). I just don't like the makeup of this team. They could win 90, they could lose 95.

In the end, I don't see anyone other than Minnesota or Cleveland winning the division, or probably even threatening. I see Detroit, KC and the Chisox battling to stay out of last. None of these three should be horrible and all project out to win between 70 and 80 games in my mind.
My win predictions:
Minnesota 88
Cleveland 84
Detroit 75
Kansas City 73
Chicago 71