- In the coming offseason, the Royals will discuss how best to use righty Joakim Soria and lefty Matt Strahm, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan writes. Soria signed a three-year deal last winter and has had an uneven first season in his return to Kansas City, posting a 4.12 ERA with 9.1 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9. It sounds like he’ll be back in the Royals’ bullpen next year, although the team isn’t sure in what capacity. “[W]e’re going to be very active trying to make sure our bullpen gets back to what it has been. Joakim can be a big part of it,” says GM Dayton Moore. “I know it hasn’t been the type of year that he expected.” Strahm, in contrast, has had an outstanding rookie season in the bullpen, allowing just two runs while striking out 26 batters in his first 19 big-league innings. Strahm spent part of the season as a starter at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, though, and the Royals say they’ll continue to consider him as a starter and that it isn’t guaranteed he’ll break camp with the team.
We’ll keep tabs on today’s minor moves right here:
- The Marlins announced that right-hander Bryan Morris has been outrighted to Triple-A New Orleans. Morris was designated for assignment two days ago after missing the majority of the season due to back surgery. Because of the Major League service time he’s accrued — four-plus year — Morris will be able to elect free agency this winter and hand-pick the best environment and the best offer from interested teams. The 29-year-old (30 next March) has a 2.30 ERA in parts of three seasons with the Fish and a 2.80 career ERA in 215 innings between Pittsburgh and Miami. He’s also sporting one of the league’s best ground-ball rates (58.4 percent) among pitchers with at least 200 innings dating back to the 2013 campaign.
- The Royals have released righty Chien-Ming Wang, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports on Twitter. Wang had been designated on Saturday, and with the minor league season in the books, that all but assured that the veteran would end up being released. It’s remarkable, really, that the once-excellent starter was able to last as long as he did in the big leagues this year given all the arm troubles and failed comeback attempts already in his past. Now 36, Wang managed to put up a 4.22 ERA with 5.1 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 to go with a 49.3% groundball rate over his 53 1/3 innings in his first major league action since 2013. This was also his first season as a full-time reliever.
Royals righty Edinson Volquez says that he hopes to stay with the Royals past the present season, Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star reports (Twitter links). The veteran hurler suggested that he is tempted to exercise his end of a $10MM mutual option, though he said he’ll need to assess the market and discuss the matter with his agent after the season.
It would be fairly surprising if Volquez does elect to trigger the mutual option, which would force K.C. to decide whether to pay him a hefty $3MM buyout or take on the full $10MM obligation. We’ve heard suggestions, after all, that the club is weighing whether to issue Volquez a $16.7MM qualifying offer — which would certainly presume that he has already passed on the option.
Both of those possibilities tee up the question of how to value the 33-year-old, who is fresh off of a solid outing yesterday but has otherwise been dreadful for quite some time now. Volquez’s earned run average last sat under 4.00 when the calendar flipped from May to June, and it has steadily risen ever since as he has coughed up 78 earned runs and allowed a .294/.360/.472 batting line over his last 114 1/3 innings. As things stand, Volquez owns a 5.25 ERA over 181 2/3 total frames on the season, with 6.6 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 to go with a 52.1% groundball rate.
That’s not exactly a sterling platform for free agency, but there are some silver linings. First and foremost, Volquez has been a rock, making over 30 starts in each of the last five seasons. And his average fastball velocity is holding firm at over 93 mph. ERA estimators have never really been in love with him, even when he was posting strong results in each of the last two seasons, but they largely view his current season as a continuation — with variances in strand rate, BABIP, and home run susceptibility largely explaining the different bottom-line marks.
It also bears note that the coming market lacks for rotation talent, not just at the top but also in the depth department. Clubs in search of solid innings will be lining up for arms like Volquez, who seems rather likely to find guaranteed money that exceeds the value of his mutual option. That being said, the qualifying offer could prove tempting, if issued, particularly since declining it would mean entering the market with draft compensation. It remains to be seen whether the Royals will be willing to risk that large a chunk of the organization’s payroll.
SEPTEMBER 21: Cain likely will not return this year, manager Ned Yost said during an appearance on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM (Twitter link). Yost explained that Cain’s “wrist has been slow to heal,” with the team feeling there is “no sense trying to push it.”
SEPTEMBER 11,10:59am: Cain now seems to agree with the Royals that shutting him down for a week and then re-evaluating is the best course of action, tweets Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star.
8:24am: The Royals are reluctant to shut down Cain for the year, according to ESPN.com. A team spokesman said after Saturday’s game that Cain received a stem cell shot on his wrist that didn’t work, and the club will now wait a week to see if the injury heals before deciding his fate.
SATURDAY: Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain has been dealing with a sprained left hand, an injury that has made it difficult for him to swing a bat, since August. As a result, Cain is likely to shut himself down for the season, he told FOX Sports on Saturday (via Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com). Cain had been out of the Royals’ lineup since Aug. 30 until returning Friday, when he reached base four times, but he’s sitting Saturday. The 30-year-old offered a discouraging assessment of his health after Friday’s game.
“Every swing, it doesn’t feel good. I don’t know what to say,” stated Cain, who also revealed that he was playing through with a tear.
Injuries have been highly problematic this year for Cain, who missed nearly all of July with a hamstring strain. When on the field, Cain has once again been a key cog for Kansas City, though he – like his team – hasn’t been as effective as he was in either the Royals’ American League pennant-winning 2014 season or their World Series-winning 2015 campaign. In those two seasons, Cain combined to slash .304/.351/.447 with 21 home runs and 56 stolen bases across 1,106 plate appearances. His output at the plate, on the base paths and in the field led to a stellar 11.2 fWAR total – tied with Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo for fifth in the majors. Thanks largely to further defensive excellence, Cain’s at a still-solid 2.5 fWAR this year, but his .287/.339/.408 line through 434 PAs represents a step backward.
The Royals entered Saturday four games behind the AL’s second wild-card spot, and losing Cain should only further damage their slim playoff chances. They could face an offseason decision on whether to shop Cain, who’s due $11MM in 2017 – the final year of his contract – or take another run at a championship with a healthy roster full of core contributors on expiring contracts. In addition to Cain, first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, left-hander Danny Duffy and closer Wade Davis are scheduled to hit free agency after next season.
The second season of Kendrys Morales’ two-year, $17MM deal with the Royals looked to be a flop as late into the season as mid-June. An 0-for-4 showing on June 10 dropped his OPS below the .600 mark (.592), and his overall batting line sat at .200/.265/.327 at that point. Fast-forward three-plus months, though, and Morales just belted his 29th homer of the season and has hit well enough that Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star saw fit to raise the question of whether the Royals should tender their designated hitter a qualifying offer this winter. I’ll delve into that in a bit, but first and foremost, the last three months of Morales’ season can’t simply be glossed over.
Morales went 1-for-3 with a homer on June 11, which represented a rare bright spot in a bleak season for him to that point. However, that fairly innocuous performance kicked off an eight-game hitting streak during which the switch-hitter was on fire, and Morales never really looked back. In 85 games (81 starts) between the onset of that minor hitting streak (and before tonight’s action), Morales batted an exceptional .303/.370/.563 with 22 homers and 13 doubles. He’s walked at a 9.1 percent clip and struck out at a 19 percent clip.
That Herculean stretch of games has boosted Morales’ season batting line to a plenty respectable .262/.329/.473. Those numbers grade out at about 10% above league average, with the lower OBP offsetting the pop, but they’re a far cry from his terrific debut in Kansas City when he slashed .290/.362/.485 in 639 plate appearances with the Royals last year. A strict designated hitter — which Morales is, despite the fairly stunning decision to play him in the corner outfield a bit during interleague play — with an above-average but not quite outstanding bat, however, isn’t necessarily a commodity for which teams will pay a premium price.
Morales’ value this winter, then, will in many ways hinge on whether teams are willing to simply write off the first two months of the 2016 season as an anomaly, instead choosing to focus in on the tremendous production that Morales provided throughout the 2015 season and for the bulk of the 2016 campaign. And if the 2016 season were the only time in recent history Morales looked lost at the dish, perhaps they’d be willing to do just that. However, it’s hard to imagine that clubs won’t be wary of a bat-only player that has now gone through prolonged stretches of not just below-average production but disastrously poor offensive output.
Morales, as many recall, received a qualifying offer from the Mariners on the heels of a solid 2013 season. That Seattle even tendered a QO to Morales was a surprise, but the fact that Morales and agent Scott Boras elected to decline the offer was even more shocking. Morales languished in free agency all offseason, unable to find a team willing to part with a top draft pick in exchange for his services. Ultimately, he waited until after the June draft to sign a one-year deal with the Twins that afforded him the pro-rated portion of a $12MM salary (about $7.5MM through the end of that season). Morales did virtually nothing to bolster his stock that year, batting just .218/.274/.338 with eight homers in what was unequivocally the worst season of his Major League career.
While Morales’ camp can argue that the lack of a Spring Training to get up to speed derailed any chances of having a productive year, those three and a half months, paired with the two-plus months for which he provided virtually no value to the Royals in 2016, total about a full season’s worth of considerably below-replacement-level production for Morales in the past few calendar years. He’s balanced them out with some excellent production as well, but the lack of consistency for a player whose lone job is to consistently provide offensive value serves as a red flag — especially in an age where many teams utilize the DH spot as a revolving door to play matchups and to keep various hitters fresh.
What’s clear is that Morales’ mutual option is all but certain to be torn up. Such options are virtually never exercised by both parties — either the player performs well enough to leave no doubt that he can top the option’s value in free agency, or he performs poor enough that the team doesn’t want him back at said price — and Morales’ shouldn’t be an exception. He’s performed well enough to reasonably expect that he can surpass $11MM in free agency, but has he performed at a high enough level for the Royals to risk tendering a one-year offer in the vicinity of $16.8MM? I lean toward no.
Last winter alone, we saw teams show extreme reluctance to part with draft picks to sign Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler, Howie Kendrick and Yovani Gallardo. Meanwhile, bat-only players like Pedro Alvarez and Mike Napoli landed one-year deals worth $5.75MM and $7MM, respectively. Certainly, Morales has had a better season than Desmond, Alvarez and Napoli did in 2015, but reluctance to surrender a draft pick for players that can provide definitive defensive value and come with the offensive upside of Desmond, Kendrick and Fowler was surprising to see. Furthermore, Morales has been through this process once before and undoubtedly considers free agency when burdened by draft pick compensation to be a negative experience. Extending a QO to a player with his past experiences when it roughly amounts to the same financial guarantee he just received on a two-year deal seems like a recipe for a quick acceptance.
It seems reasonable to believe that the Royals will forgo a qualifying offer for Morales, who is all too familiar with what the QO does to a DH with an above-average but not elite bat. Assuming, then, that he’s unencumbered by draft-pick compensation, another two-year contract for Morales is a reasonable expectation — and probably one at a higher annual rate than his current agreement. Morales’ new representatives at Wasserman (he switched agencies last October) could very well see fit to push for a third year. Billy Butler, after all, got three years coming off a worse season than the one Morales is wrapping up.
Morales, though, is much older than Butler was when he signed his deal. He also hasn’t demonstrated the consistency nor the elite levels of offense that Victor Martinez did leading up to his four-year deal. Beyond that, Morales will face a slew of competition in terms of first base/DH/corner outfield types. In addition to Edwin Encarnacion (the top name in this group), the free agent market includes Alvarez, Napoli, Brandon Moss, Adam Lind, Logan Morrison, Carlos Beltran and potentially even Jay Bruce (depending on the status of his own 2017 option).
Ultimately, the third year for Morales, who will turn 34 next June, doesn’t seem likely but shouldn’t be considered impossible. However, even a solid raise on a new two-year pact would be a remarkable feat for a designated hitter that had a sub-.600 OPS through his first 56 games of the season. Morales probably won’t break the bank, but he’s salvaged his 2016 season and his offseason earning power.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Royals have designated Chien-Ming Wang for assignment, the team announced via Twitter. The move clears roster space for Jason Vargas, who was activated from the disabled list to start tonight’s game.
[Updated Royals roster at Roster Resource]
Wang was himself on the DL recovering from biceps tendinitis. Before being sidelined at the end of August, Wang posted a 4.22 ERA, 5.1 K/9, 1.67 K/BB rate and 49.4% ground ball rate over 53 1/3 relief innings for K.C. this season. It was Wang’s first taste of big league action since 2013, as he spent the previous two seasons bouncing around the minors with the Reds, White Sox, Braves and Mariners. Never a big strikeout pitcher even his heyday as a starter with the Yankees, Wang allowed too much contact in the form of hits and homers over the last several years, though his modest numbers in those categories this season (1.01 HR/9, 10.1 H/9) still represented some improvement. Wang also averaged 91.1 mph on his fastball, his highest velocity since 2009.
The 36-year-old signed a minor league deal with the Royals last season that guaranteed him a $1MM salary if he cracked the Major League roster. Another $250K was reportedly available for Wang to earn via relief appearance bonuses, and one would think he likely surpassed or came awfully close to unlocking those bonuses given his substantial workload.
Vargas is making his first start since undergoing Tommy John surgery in July 2015. Since signing a four-year, $32MM deal with Kansas City prior to the 2014 season, Vargas has a 3.76 ERA, 2.92 K/BB rate and 6.1 K/9 over 230 innings as a Royal.
The Royals have outrighted right-hander Nick Tepesch and released outfielder Reymond Fuentes, Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com was among those to tweet. Both players were recently trimmed from the 40-man roster and had been in DFA limbo.
Tepesch will remain under team control, assuming he clears waivers. He has been claimed several times already this year, most recently by Kansas City. Though Tepesch had enough service time in 2016 to qualify for arbitration as Super Two, and could again next year, he only appeared in one major league contest this season and thus doesn’t have the 86 active roster days needed to qualify.
All told, the 27-year-old Tepesch has completed 116 innings on the year at the highest level of the minors. He owns a 3.96 ERA with 4.8 K/9 against 2.2 BB/9. That’s not a particularly exciting stat line, but Tepesch has at least been healthy and could represent a swingman option for 2017.
The 25-year-old Fuentes will be allowed to find another organization after posting a less-than-inspiring .254/.325/.317 batting line in his 272 trips to the plate this year at Triple-A. He was much better there last year, but he failed to continue the minor power outbreak (nine home runs, .422 slugging percentage) that he showed in 2015.
- The struggles of Joakim Soria could make the bullpen an offseason priority for the Royals, writes Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. Soria’s 4.19 ERA is the worst mark of his career, and the seven blown saves he’s suffered this season are also a career-worst. Manager Ned Yost attributes much of his team’s 2016 struggle to the fact that, “we’re not the same bullpen we were last year.” Indeed, Yost noted that the club knew what it could expect on a nightly basis from the likes of Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera. The 2016 season is another story entirely. Holland underwent Tommy John surgery late last year and had to be non-tendered, while Davis has missed time on the DL due to a pair of forearm injuries and Luke Hochevar has been shut down due to thoracic outlet syndrome. The signing of Soria was supposed to deepen the ’pen, but the right-hander’s return to the Royals organization has gone poorly, making his three-year, $25MM contract look even more questionable than it did at the time of the signing.
Here are today’s minor moves from around the league…
- The Royals announced that they’ve requested unconditional release waivers on outfielder Reymond Fuentes, who was designated for assignment six days ago. Fuentes, 25, made Kansas City’s Opening Day roster after Jarrod Dyson opened the year on the DL due to an oblique injury and batted .317/.364/.341 in 44 plate appearances. His work at the Triple-A level, though, left plenty to be desired, as he batted just .254/.325/.317 with no homers and 17 steals in 65 games. The former first-round pick (28th overall by the Red Sox in 2009) was a key piece of the trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego to Boston (though Anthony Rizzo was the headliner) and does have a history of performing well in the upper levels of the minors prior to this season.
- The Orioles will select the contract of slick-fielding shortstop Paul Janish prior to tomorrow’s contest, reports Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. Baltimore will need to make a 40-man roster move in order to accommodate the 33-year-old Janish, who has batted .248/.333/.280 at the Triple-A level this season and a combined .242/.282/.303 in 71 PAs with the Orioles over the past two seasons.
- Righty Kris Medlen hopes to return to the Royals in 2017, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports on Twitter. The former standout hurler struggled badly in limited action this year, and hasn’t pitched since May owing to shoulder issues. That makes it an easy decision for the team to pay him a $1MM buyout rather than picking up his $10MM option, but something else could be worked out if Kansas City sees cause for optimism. “I feel like I’m not done yet with this team,” said Medlen. “I feel like I owe them something.”