Kansas City Royals: Early Season Notes

Books, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors

Because it’s unquantifiable on their spreadsheets many stat people ridicule the concept of “veteran presence.” The most prominent player whose intangibles are scoffed at is Michael Young. Young has been a very good hitter for his career and a leader in the clubhouse. Why that’s something to try to use as weapon to hammer him with is hard to understand. Much of it, I believe, is due to the likes of Keith Law and his combination of arrogance and obnoxiousness regarding the concept followed by the gang mentality of others who, in trying to garner favor from Law (for inexplicable reasons), provide the sycophantic, “HAHA!!! Veteran presence?!? Absurd!!” as if they have any clue about what it entails in the first place. I’d venture to guess that the majority of these people never participated in team sports and haven’t the faintest idea of how important it is to have leaders in the clubhouse and people who know the terrain of crafting a winner. It’s not simply about having good players. It’s about having people who’ve been there before and can be trusted not to panic regardless of the circumstances.

It was the same Law-style, self-proclaimed “experts” who, last December, abused Royals GM Dayton Moore for trading a large package of youngsters including top outfield prospect Wil Myers to the Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis. The trade was seen as a panic move on the part of Moore in an attempt to have short-term, on-field gain in order to save his job. The opposite argument asks how many years they were supposed to try and rebuild before taking a gamble to move up. They needed pitching and, yes, veteran presence to facilitate taking the next step. Shields was a key part of a Rays team that made a similar rise with homegrown prospects. That franchise was the object of an endless stream of jokes because of their consistent ineptitude. It’s not simply that Shields is standing in the middle of the clubhouse saying, “I’m the leader,” but that he shows it on the field with innings, complete games, and gutting his way through when he doesn’t have his best stuff.

Most young players need a “this is how you do it” guy to teach them. The vast majority of the Royals’ roster is a group of youngsters who’ve never been part of a big league winner. The 2008 Rays’ leap into contention was, in part, brought about by the young players they’d drafted during their years of being atrocious and some savvy trades, but another significant part was due to their acquisitions of veterans Cliff Floyd, Troy Percival, Dan Wheeler, and Jason Bartlett who’d won before and knew how winning clubhouses functioned.

The Royals are currently 10-7 and are teetering like a child learning to walk. They’ve accomplished that record with good starting pitching; a bullpen that has the potential to be devastating; and are leading the American League in runs scored in spite of Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer being off to slow starts.

The Royals were roundly savaged when they traded Myers; they were waved away when they posted a 25-7 record in spring training; and since most of their analysis isn’t based on being accurate, but accruing the perception of having been accurate no matter the amount of twisting required to do it, the “experts” are quietly hoping that the acquisitions of Shields and Davis along with the re-signing of Jeremy Guthrie fail so they’ll have been “right.” If they have the tiniest flicker of baseball intelligence, they’re seeing the reality of the 2013 Royals: they’re very dangerous and have shown the resilient signs and growing confidence of something special happening in Kansas City for the first time in almost 30 years.

Essays, predictions, player analysis, under the radar fantasy picks, breakout candidates, contract status of all relevant personnel—GMs, managers, players—and anything else you could possibly want to know is in my new book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon.comSmashwordsBN and Lulu. It’s useful all season long. Check it out and read a sample.

2013 Book Cover 3

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Perceptions Of Pujols

Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

The stat people imply that a lack of evidence contradicts the “free agent year boost” in performance. They intentionally ignore the fact that—as with most things—it happens in some cases, doesn’t happen in others.

It’s happening for Jose Reyes right now.

For Albert Pujols, it’s been the opposite.

Because he’s this era’s equivalent to Joe DiMaggio in both performance and stature, he’s being judged to have an “off” year.

By the standard he’s set for himself, he is having an off-year; but 17 homers in by June with an .855 OPS would be perceived as a contract-year “boost” if it were a normal player who’s been good but not great.

Pujols hasn’t been “great” in his career; he’s been historic.

Along with that comes criticism when he’s not Superman. Because the public has become so accustomed to projecting ridiculous numbers for Pujols—numbers he’s achieved them with ease—his struggles are all the more glaring.

Now he’s hurt and out for 4-6 weeks with a fractured bone in his left arm resulting from a collision at first base.

Pujols has been remarkably durable and resilient so I’d assume he’ll be back before the worst-case scenario 6 weeks; he’s also been lucky because the play in which he was injured could have ended his career. Cliff Floyd collided with a runner in that way and it cost him most of the 1995 season and stunted his development for several years.

Pujols’s free agency has been a popular topic of discussion and his subpar season and now injury are said to affect it negatively.

I don’t think it will because I don’t think he’s leaving the Cardinals.

Nor do I think he was ever going to get the reported asking price of $300 million for the simple fact that there’s no one to pay it. Even if the Yankees and Red Sox had the opening in their lineups for Pujols, they weren’t giving him $300 million.

Who then?

No one.

Pujols has earned a pass for one season in which he doesn’t reach the ridiculous bar he’s set for himself. He’ll get a deal similar to the ones that Joe Mauer and Mark Teixeira received from the Twins and Yankees respectively and be happy with that.

The only ones who’ll be displeased are the MLB Players Association overlords who were pressuring Pujols because they want the trickle-down of dollars from his money and his accomplishments.

It’s not going to happen.

Pujols’s whole demeanor dictates that he should stay in St. Louis. It would sully his image to become an Alex Rodriguez-style mercenary and go for every last penny on the open market at the expense of his aesthetic, desire and image.

It could be that the injury and “bad” year (by Pujols-metrics) turns into a blessing in disguise because it clears the path for him to stay with the Cardinals—the club he has no interest in leaving in the first place.

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The Seattle Zoo

Hot Stove

Despite his arrest on charges of threatening a woman, Mariners outfielder Milton Bradley will be brought to camp this spring—Seattle Times Story.

This is on the heels of a hellish 2010 season; a season that was incomprehensible in terms of everything that could have gone wrong not simply going wrong, but going beyond wrong into the ludicrous and felonious.

Oh, and non-roster invitee Adam Kennedy was arrested for DUI Wednesday night.

Individually, the events that have befallen the Mariners organization in the past year can be chalked up to humanity and “stuff” happening; but as a whole, the team appears to be a dysfunctional, enabling, morally and ethically challenged zoo poisoned by a culture of subterfuge and semantics and protected by those who have a stake in the current regime’s success.

The suggestion that I’m harping on the negatives of the tenure of GM Jack Zduriencik as some means of advancing my own interests is nonsense. Since he took over, I’ve taken great steps to do two things: One, I’ve said that he’s a smart man and qualified baseball executive; two, I’ve emphatically suggested that the appellation of “genius” after one season on the job was not only hasty, but unfair, inaccurate and potentially damaging.

It’s not a mystery as to why those who are so immersed in their own agendas are clinging to the notion that Zduriencik—with an affinity for stats and information along with a background in scouting—is destined to lead the Mariners to glory. But there comes a time for reality—objective reality that is so often trumpeted as the true way to run a club effectively.

And the objective reality is that the Mariners have degenerated into a laughable nightmare on and off the field.

No one could’ve lived up to the hype that Zduriencik has endured in his rise and ongoing fall. Much like the Moneyball crowd has altered their rhetoric and the participants and facilitator—Michael Lewis—adjusted to account for the book’s inaccuracies in theory and practice, the goalposts are being moved for their beloved Jack Z.

None of that is relevant.

Had the Mariners gone from an 85 win club and rising force to 100 losses, it would’ve been tolerable and chalked up to happenstance. Everything that went right in 2009 went wrong in 2010. Fair enough. But the off-field incidents and allegations of malfeasance on the part of the GM are getting to be too much to withstand.

The way in which the Mariners backed out on a supposedly agreed upon deal to send Cliff Lee to the Yankees was shady but explainable. That the deal they did make brought them Josh Lueke, who’d pleaded no contest to a sexual assault while in the Rangers minor league system, and the subsequent spin doctoring and misleading statements from the club were indicative of the disconnect that’s still going on.

The Ken Griffey Jr. napping episode; Chone Figgins‘s near fistfight with then-manager Don Wakamatsu; the firing of Wakamatsu as an exercise in “here, blame him”; the Bradley drama that never ends—it’s all within the confines of criticism for those who are running the organization.

And they’re bringing Bradley back.

The Mariners are giving the impression of disinterest in the behavior of their employees. That would be somewhat acceptable if Bradley could still play!!!If he’d done anything last season on the field to warrant being given another chance!!! If there was a reason to keep him apart from his $12 million salary for 2011!!!

Bradley batted .205 last season; his on base percentage was .292; he hit 8 homers and struck out 75 times in 278 plate appearances.

What use is he other than as an explosion waiting to happen?

If the Mariners are keeping Bradley because of his salary or through some misguided notion that he’s still able to contribute, then they need to re-think their analytical skills. The money is gone; maybe they can reach a financial settlement rather than go through a legal avenue to void the contract based on morals clauses and habitual offenses—that’s debatable—but he’s useless to them.

The theme is recurring.

And it has to stop.

For all the success they’ve had in the past four seasons, I’m convinced that the Rays turnaround stemmed not  from the name change of “Devil Rays” to “Rays”; not from the number one draft picks and prospects accumulated by the current and prior regimes; not from their luck changing, but because of the conscious decision after the 2007 season—which had eerie similarities to the Mariners 2010 season—to dispatch of any and all malcontents and misanthropes in the organization.

The Rays dumped the gifted Josh Hamilton; traded former number one draft pick Delmon Young; and traded Elijah Dukes. Pitching coach Jim Hickey’s DUI appeared to be the final straw for the club in 2007; after that, they didn’t tolerate any more off-field garbage. Bringing in character players like Eric Hinske, Troy Percival, Carlos Pena, Dan Wheeler and Cliff Floyd helped; but it was the “no…more….crap” edict that I believe altered their fortunes.

It doesn’t matter than Hamilton has blossomed into a star; that the Young deal was a terrific one for the Rays; nor that they were right about Dukes—the results with those players means nothing. What was important was the message that if these players and employees didn’t want to adhere to a reasonable code of personal conduct, they could go elsewhere.

The Mariners need to do this.

The statement, “If you don’t want to be here, we will accommodate you” isn’t a threat; it’s not a warning; it’s a fact.

If Milton Bradley hit like Albert Pujols, I’d understand and agree—put up with it—but he doesn’t.

Have the Mariners, after the last year, not reached that threshold?

The broken window policy is a key to regaining respect as an organization. What happens on the field is secondary to the perception that the Mariners are a place where you don’t want to be if you’re a player.

I was of the opinion that the Mariners, regardless of their on-field results, had to act appropriately off the field if Zduriencik is going to survive as GM. It’s January and already they’re in the front part of the newspaper rather than the back where they belong—twice.

It’s not a good start to a new year.

Not at all.

How much are they willing to take? And when’s it going to stop?

When?