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With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Spring Training starting on Wednesday I felt like there is no better time than now to return to my blog after a few weeks away. This time of year is weird in that outside of a few minor signings and arbitration filings and signings, there just isn’t a whole lot going on. With that said there are a few key items I wanted to toss out there to get back in the groove. Call this a news and notes post or just ramblings of a bored baseball fan; either way here are a few topics of discussion to pass the time.

Shields ends up in San Diego

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One of the biggest questions over the last couple months is ‘just where is James Shields going to end up?’ . I pondered this question about a month ago and at that point basically had no clue what was going to happen. In fact with the way things were going it appeared at best he was going to end up with a 3 year deal in the $18 million a year vicinity, rather than the 5 year, $20 million a year he was shooting for. Color me shocked then when he got a a 4 year deal from the Padres in that $18-20 million range per year. Shields grew up near San Diego and is a perfect fit for their rotation of youngsters that needs a veteran to help guide them to the next level. Most of us Royals fans are familiar of how Shields helped the likes of Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy and I’m sure he will look to do the same for guys like Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner. It also seems fitting he ends up with a home ballpark that is sure to not only help some of his numbers but also hide some of the regression that I believe is on his doorsteps. Petco Park is a spacious park and, much like Kauffman Stadium, is not known for being a hitters park. Shields might have picked the best park for him at this stage in his career with the only possible downfall being his defense in the outfield(Kemp, Myers and Upton)will pale in comparison to the Royals outfield he has had behind him the last two years. With all the talk the last few weeks focused on how his agent might have hurt what he would get on the market, at the end of the day going to San Diego is probably the best place for him, both as a family man and as a baseball player. We will miss him in Kansas City but I’m glad the Royals don’t have him locked in for the next four years. He served his purpose and now he can serve that same purpose for the Padres.

Game 7 Question Answered…Maybe?

AP WORLD SERIES GIANTS ROYALS BASEBALL S BBO USA MO

The one question Royals fans have wondered all winter about has been whether or not 3rd Base coach Mike Jirschele should have sent Alex Gordon home on his extra base hit in the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series. Some people believed the team should have gone for it, especially with Salvador Perez up next and his propensity to swing at anything and everything(and the fact he had been hit by a pitch earlier and was hobbling most of the game). Some others(myself included) felt there was no way Gordon would have made it and Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford(an excellent defender) would have nailed him at home plate if he would have gone. Well, the Kansas City Star decided to test the theory out, using the Rockhurst University baseball team(a Division II school) to test out whether or not it was plausible:

Now what happened is not a 100% accurate portrayal of what would have happened, but it does appear that if they would have sent Gordon he would have been easily out. The team ran the play 6 different times with one of their fastest runners and he was nailed at home plate 5 out of the 6 times. I tend to agree with Rany Jazayerli on this one:

I get why everyone pondered this question and the possibilities of if Gordon had scored and tied the game up. But the thought of him being thrown out at home and sitting on that all winter sounded like a personal living hell for me. I would have rather taken the chance with Perez possibly wrapping the ball around the foul line at third(like in the Wild Card Game) then sit and wonder all winter why they didn’t just hold Gordon at third. People will still ask ‘what if?’ but it might now be time to just let it be, folks.

The Royals Have the Best Billboards

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If there was one thing the Kansas City Royals dominant at(besides bullpen arms and outfield defense) it would be their wonderful billboards. Above is this year’s, Jarrod Dyson taking off and burning the path behind him. Fantastic! It didn’t seem possible they could top last year’s,  which looked like this:

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…and this one as well:

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So the creative minds that put these together continue to excel with the Dyson billboard this year. Which apparently also lights up at night and makes people actually think it is on fire:

The bar is now set pretty high after two straight years of creative, out of the box thinking for their billboards. Makes me wonder what is in store for 2016.

Your Promotional Schedule is My Wet Dream

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Back in 2013 I was less than enamored with the Royals promotional schedule for that season. In fact so much so that I wrote my own ideas about what I felt they should do to improve their giveaways. One of my big beefs in 2013 was that they were doing condiment bobbleheads rather than the actual players on the field. You see, I love bobbleheads and love collecting them each season. Last year they took a step in the right direction by giving away Alex Gordon, James Shields and Salvador Perez bobbleheads(all of which sit in my house). What they are doing for this year not only tops 2014 but might be even better than any idea I could have come up with. Here is a look at the Royals bobblehead giveaways for 2015:

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Good God almighty I need all of those! The fact that the team went with key moments from the playoffs was a genius idea and made me wish I had thought of it first. You have Perez celebrating after his walk-off hit in the wild card game. You have Lorenzo Cain sprawling out and making an electric catch in the outfield. You have Yordano Ventura tossing a gem during Game 6 of the World Series…and most importantly you have Mike Moustakas making a diving catch on top of the third base dugout suite in the ALCS against Baltimore. These bobbleheads are so great that it almost puts a tear in my eye. I also fear I won’t be able to go to all of these games and will have to purchase them on ebay, which will probably cost me an arm and a leg. Good thing I only really need one of each!

And the Projections are In… 

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One of the interesting items of interest before the season starts are projections of where everyone believes the Royals will end up this season. PECOTA projections have the Royals at 72-90, which would net them 4th place, still ahead of the Twins. David Schoenfield of espn.com has the Royals at 80-82, which would net them 3rd place in the American League Central. Finally, Bovada Official in Las Vegas has the Royals at 80.5 wins for 2015, in case you are the betting type. The consensus is that the Royals will slide a bit from their 89 wins in 2014, which I can see why. The Royals key 3 free agents they lost (James Shields, Billy Butler and Nori Aoki) have been replaced on the roster by Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios. It’s not hard to see how these three are a step down from the players they are replacing. You could also factor in on whether or not you believe Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie will be solid contributors to the rotation and whether or not their young lineup stalwarts(Hosmer, Moustakas, Perez, etc.) are able to improve on their 2014 numbers. I personally have my own thoughts of how I think this season will go(which I will reveal at a later date), but it’s safe to say there is no reason to get upset about any of these predictions. These are just predictions, guesses and estimates on a season that hasn’t even started. Some guesses are better than others, but there is no real clue as to how the season will go. A team could get hit with injuries and cause a major hole in their lineup. A player could come out of nowhere to put up career high numbers and elevate the team. Yes, a players career projection normally doesn’t adjust very much season by season, but it could happen. That’s the beauty of baseball; there is no definite until the games are played. So any Royals fans that see these “guesses” and gets bent out of shape, just remember; the season hasn’t started so nothing is etched in stone. No need to get upset about these projections…yet.

Division Series - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Kansas City Royals - Game Three

So there you go. Just a few notes of interest over the last few weeks. Here before too long we’ll be able to discuss actual games and roster moves that will affect the Royals going into this 2015 season. Just the fact that pitchers and catchers are reporting tomorrow brings a smile to my face and puts a little hop into my walk. So get ready; the defending American League Champions are headed back soon. The 2015 season is just on the horizon!

 

MLB: San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants

(Editors Note: I originally wrote this piece back in 2006 for PWInsiderXTRA.com as they were looking for sports articles to post on their site. I happened to stumble onto this while cleaning out my old drafts and thought I would toss it on my blog. Enjoy and just know my thoughts on this really haven’t changed much in 9 years.)

The Major League Baseball home run record is quite possibly the most well known record in all sports. It’s a record that for years was held by an athlete who defined the sport, Babe Ruth. When it was passed some 30 years ago by Henry Aaron, many people were not happy with the record falling, with Aaron receiving many a racist letter and even death threats. The next closest person to Ruth’s 714 has been Willie Mays for many a year, and Mays sits at 660. Many felt no one would ever get close to Ruth’s old record, let alone Aaron’s 755. Then Barry Bonds came along. Bonds has always been a great athlete, but in the last 7 years he has obliterated the record books, and is sitting on the doorsteps of Ruth’s hallowed 714. He probably won’t reach Aaron’s 755, but Ruth’s is so close he can taste it…and Major League Baseball doesn’t like it.
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In 1998, baseball was still recovering from the strike of 1994 that ended the season in August, with no World Series being played that year. Fans revolted, some even saying they would never watch baseball again. But in 1998, many a fan was brought back to the great american pastime, as two athletes chased the single season home run record held by Roger Maris. Mark McGwire was Paul Bunyan with a bat, a prolific slugger who many felt was the closest to Ruth of this generation. Sammy Sosa was well known among die hard baseball fans, and the lovable Chicago fans, but outside that he was just another player. That changed in this year, as these two players chased Maris’ record, bringing baseball back into the forefront. Many feel that was the year baseball was saved. It was also the year many started hearing grumblings about steroids.
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Barry Bonds was quite possibly the best player in the game, a five tool player who could hit, hit for power, hit for average, field, and run, with a weak left arm being his only downfall. Bonds was a good power hitter, known to reach around 30 homers a year, but not a whole lot more. Bonds was more the complete player; he still stands as the only member of the 500 homerun/500 steals club. But when Barry showed up to spring training in 1999, there was a noticeable difference. He was big; very big. Bigger muscles, bigger chest, bigger head. Big all the way around. It didn’t go unnoticed; the rumblings in baseball about steroids had started years before, but it seemed no one cared. Baseball was in an upswing. No steroid policy was in the baseball collective bargaining agreement, so no testing was being done. Baseball seemed more enamored with their new-found popularity than seeing a growing problem underneath their nose. But this problem wouldn’t just go away.
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Season after season, Bonds continued to hit home runs. He even eclipsed McGwire’s single season record of 70 by slugging 73. Bonds passed many a Hall of Famer on his climb to his own Cooperstown induction that seemed to be a simple formality. He even passed his godfather, the great Willie Mays, putting Bonds in 3rd place in all time home runs. But as records began to fall, more talk of steroid use and abuse was becoming prevalent. Congress was even beginning their own investigation into baseball’s dirty little secret.
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Baseball finally implemented their own steroid policy in 2005, as Congress looked on, almost making them do something that should have been in their agreement anyway. MLB looked the fool; nothing like the government to tell you you’re not patrolling your organization like you should. Baseball now had egg on their face, and decided after putting harsher penalties under the drug policy(with more pushing from Congress) that they would induct their own investigation into players past steroid use. But at what price?
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Barry Bonds is one home run away from tying and two away from being the second most prolific home run hitter of all time. He is also the main target of MLB’s investigation. Why Barry? Could be his surly attitude, which has angered more than just a few of journalists, writers, announcers, fans and yes, baseball commissioners over the years. Could be that he is walking on hallowed ground, that of Ruth who some consider almost Godlike in baseball circles. Or it could be that with all the heavy scrutiny already surrounding him, MLB does not want to be associated with him. Commissioner Bud Selig has already said there will be no celebration if/when Barry breaks Ruth’s mark. Selig has used the phrase “we don’t celebrate getting second place.” That’s fine, and maybe even a little valid, but would they celebrate if this was Cal Ripken, Jr. breaking this number? Would someone of Ripken’s stature be made public enemy number one for this investigation and a possible fall guy? The answer is no.
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So why wouldn’t he be? The answer is baseball has looked like the fool. They allowed steroids to run rampant in their sport with no penalties, all for the mighty dollar. Now that they have been called to the floor, they don’t want to take the fall. So let’s blame Barry Bonds. Better to blame a man that is already hated by many a fan then have to admit their own mistake. The mistake of letting a substance control a game. Nothing can be gained by going back and finding out who used and who didn’t. All it will do is paint a black eye on a sport that has been forced to take the right path and should be growing off of that. Instead they want to point a finger instead of pointing it at themselves. I’m not saying Bonds is not guilty and I’m definitely not saying he’s an angel. What i’m saying is MLB allowed this; there was no policy on record when all this happened. They made their own bed; too bad they probably won’t have to lie in it.

Cleveland Indians v Kansas City RoyalsWith the inevitable news that former Royals outfielder Nori Aoki would be taking his talents out west, signing with the San Francisco Giants, it felt as if a part of me was now missing. I felt incomplete knowing that this slap-hitting savant would no longer give us the privilege of viewing his awkward approach to hitting and his scenic routes in the outfield.

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Aoki struggled early on in 2014 but would bounce back in August and by the end of September had pushed his numbers close to what he had performed at over his career. Aoki was a cog in the Royals playoff run this past October and despite some defensive hilarity he put together a solid postseason resume. But Aoki’s accomplishments are not what I will miss about him. Oh no, not at all. In fact, it is safe to say I get much joy out of his injuries. Like, to a sickening degree. Just see for yourself.

kc3Whether it was on defense…

kc4…or at the plate…

kc5…mostly at the plate…

Norichika Aoki…where he got hit by a lot of pitches…

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Toronto Blue Jays…so many that you would think he had a target on his back, and pitchers were aiming…

kc8…but defense was always an adventure…

kc9…those plate appearances though…

kc10…and those faces…

kc12…and sometimes he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time…

kc13…but most of the time it was self induced.

kc11Getting Aoki from Milwaukee last offseason was one of Dayton Moore’s better trades and one that benefited Kansas City in October. You have to wonder if the Royals will be able to replace him, at least when it comes to pure entertainment. Maybe it will be Alex Rios or maybe Edinson Volquez. But most likely we will find out that Aoki was a rare gem that can’t be replaced. Nori Aoki might be gone but he will always remain in our hearts. We’ll always have the memories. Cue the Sarah McLachlan song.

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Now that Nori Aoki has planted himself in San Francisco for this upcoming season, that leaves only one major Kansas City free agent left on the market in James Shields. It’s a bit surprising that Shields hasn’t chosen where he will play in 2015, as it seemed he would sign once Jon Lester decided on his destination. Lester chose the Cubs over a month ago and Shields is still being courted by several teams. The question now is which teams are in on the Shields sweepstakes?

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Arizona mentioned earlier last week they would like Shields to mentor their young pitchers if he ended up in the desert. Late in the week we also found out that the Tigers have had discussions with his agent, which makes sense since Max Scherzer won’t likely be returning to Motown. San Francisco, Boston, Toronto, Texas and Miami have all shown interest at one point or another for Big Game James but have all but said they no longer are interested, at least for the price he wants. A close source told ESPN’s Jonah Keri this past week that the Marlins have “zero chance” of signing Shields, which last I checked was as low as you can go. There was also word that a team had offered him $110 million (I’m assuming over 5 years) but that he didn’t want to sign with that team.

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So where will he land? Honestly, I have no clue. If you asked me this question before the season I would have told you big market teams like Boston, New York or Chicago would seem to be the frontrunners but the fact that we are sitting here in late January and there seems to be no clear winner, well, that tells me that this could go on a bit longer. As more and more time goes on, I’m glad the Royals aren’t wrapped up in these negotiations. Shields is 33 and wants a 5 year deal. I might not have enough fingers but by my math that would make him 38(almost 39) by the end of this deal. Add in his bumpy postseason performance and the amount of innings his arm has logged over his career and it makes one wonder if his regression is just around the corner.

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As much as I was initially against the trade with Tampa Bay that brought him to Kansas City, I can sit here now and say I was wrong. The trade did what it was supposed to do, which was get the Royals to the postseason. Shields was a big part of that and his work with fellow moundsmen Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura speaks volumes about how his value exceeded any numbers he accumulated on a scorecard. But at this point in his career I would say good luck to any team that signs him. Maybe Detroit wouldn’t be that bad of a destination for Shields. But with the way this winter has gone he will end up in Atlanta with no logical explanation.

Division Series - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Kansas City Royals - Game ThreeThe inevitable became reality on Tuesday when Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost(Neddy if you’re nasty!) received a on year contract extension, which makes him the Royals head honcho through the 2016 season. This wasn’t even close to being a shock, as it was expected Yost would receive more years after guiding the Royals to their first playoff and World Series appearance since 1985 while compiling an 11-4 record in the postseason.

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It was been well chronicled my dislike for Yost(seriously, just read anything from 2013 on this blog), and the Royals run in October didn’t change my opinion on Neddaniel. I do give him credit for this; during that run in the postseason Yost was smart enough to let his players just go out and play. He didn’t over-manage, he didn’t over-think anything; he let them just go out there and play the game that needed to be played. He was also smart enough to change the way he handled his bullpen most of the season and didn’t define them to set roles in the playoffs. This allowed someone like Kelvin Herrera to not just be the “7th inning pitcher” but come in earlier if he was needed:

There is hope that the postseason helped Neddeth when it comes to managerial decisions and that he has learned and grown from this experience. For the Royals sake I hope that is true.

kc3While this news wasn’t a shock to the system, the one curious part of the extension was the length of it. You would think after Yost guided the team to the World Series that management would roll out the red carpet for him and offer him at the least a 3 year extension(or a lifetime contract, one of the two). Well, there is a reason why it was only one year:

“Dayton’s got this year and next year, and that’s all I wanted,” Yost told The Kansas City Star in a telephone conversation. He added, “One extra year, I’m happy with that. And we’ll just play it out, and see what happens after that.”

There has also been talk that Yost might only want to manage another season or two as well:

If that is the case he could be setting up the team for his future replacement, which as of this time would appear to be Vance Wilson, the manager of the Royals AA club in Northwest Arkansas. The Royals still have a decent chance to get to the playoffs again in 2015(VegasInsider.com has their odds at 25/1 to win the World Series this year) and it appears that Yost still feels as if the team has some unfinished business:

“I think we’re in great shape headed into this year,” Yost said Tuesday, “We came as close as you can to winning a world championship last year and when you don’t do it, it leaves a taste in your mouth. It’s something you strive to do, and I think everyone in that locker room will tell you they want to finish this thing off.”

kc4I made the comment before the start of the 2014 season that as much as I disliked Yosty he was the devil we know ,knowing full well that he wasn’t going anywhere. I’ll never be a big fan of Yost’s work, especially if this past October didn’t sway me. Yost is what he is, which is a manager very stuck in his ways and the style of baseball he feels can win ballgames. That thinking paid off in 2014, but the real story will be whether he can keep the team in the hunt over the next two seasons. Quite often I make the comment “things could always be worse” and most the time it could be. As much as I would like Yost to wander off to that deer stand in Georgia and never come back, I also realize we know what we can expect from him as manager. The question in 2015 is whether or not Yost will be as flexible in his thinking as he was in late September and October of 2014 or will his stubbornness rear it’s ugly head? Yost has earned his extension but it doesn’t mean his work is done.