Kansas City Royals Rumors
Catcher Ramon Hernandez will opt out of his minor league contract with the Royals, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Hernandez, however, will remain with the team to work out, but can leave for another MLB job with no compensation due the Royals.
Hernandez, who signed in January to compete with Brett Hayes and Francisco Pena to be Salvador Perez's backup, batted just .208/.291/.438 in a career-low 55 plate appearances with the Dodgers in 2013, but the 37-year-old did hit three home runs showing he still has some pop left in his bat. The Eric Goldschmidt client is a lifetime .263/.327/.417 hitter in parts of 15 Major League seasons with the Athletics, Padres, Orioles, Reds, Rockies and Dodgers.
While there haven't been any extension talks (and won't be) between the Royals and James Shields, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports writes that it's not completely out of the question for Shields to re-sign their ace this coming offseason. However, in order to do so, the team will need to make the postseason, he adds. Royals executives have said that they might take a loss this year due to the team's record payroll, but they also believe that a postseason run could push them into the black, according to Heyman. That type of turnaround could keep them in the bidding to retain Shields, who will hit free agency entering his age-33 season.
Here's more on baseball's Central divisions...
- Close to 25 scouts were on-hand to watch Jeff Samardzija's start against the Mariners yesterday, writes Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com. According to Levine, the Blue Jays had three scouts present to watch the Cubs' Opening Day starter, including director of pro scouting and former Cubs GM Ed Lynch.
- Pirates GM Neal Huntington tells Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he is not interested in making a trade for a backup catcher despite the injury to Chris Stewart (Twitter link). That suggests that Tony Sanchez will open the season as Pittsburgh's secondary backstop.
- Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette looks at the Pirates' bullpen surplus, wondering if a trade of Vin Mazzaro or Bryan Morris (neither has minor league options remaining) is on the horizon. Brink writes that right-handers Stolmy Pimentel and Jeanmar Gomez (both also out of options) will open the season in the bullpen, leaving Morris and Mazzaro as logical trade candidates.
- The Twins have named former first-rounder and top prospect Kyle Gibson their fifth starter, reports La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. That means that out-of-options starters Scott Diamond, Sam Deduno and Vance Worley are out of luck. Deduno will start the season in the bullpen, while Worley has already been placed on outright waivers (the expiration of those waivers has come and gone, but there's yet to be a report on his status). It's unclear at this time what Diamond's fate will be.
- Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma is trying not to focus on trade rumors surrounding his name, he tells Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Strauss speculates that with the decision to option Tyler Lyons to Triple-A Memphis, GM John Mozeliak could look to acquire a long reliever via trade.
- Other news from the game's Central divisions today included the Tigers' acquisition of Andrew Romine from the Angels as well as the news that flamethrowing setup man Bruce Rondon will be the latest victim of Tommy John surgery. Also, Indians minor league signee David Aardsma was granted his release.
Here's the latest from the A.L. Central:
- While the picture remains somewhat unclear, it seems apparent that the Tigers are preparing to deal with life without young shortstop Jose Iglesias for some time. The club made an inquiry with the Diamondbacks about shortstop Chris Owings, tweets Jon Morosi of FOX Sports, but the discussions were not fruitful.
- Of course, one obvious possibility involves the signing of free agent Stephen Drew, which seems not to be the club's first option. While there is a seeming fit -- Drew is a solid veteran, the Tigers are a win-now club -- some pundits agree with Detroit's inclination to look internally while exploring the trade market. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs, for example, argues that Detroit is better off patching things over to start the year and evaluating as time goes on. The performance of the fill-ins, recovery of Iglesias, and developments in the market could all lead to solutions and increase clarity, and Cameron says the team is likely good enough to absorb some performance decline in the meantime.
- The Royals are expected to tab prospect Yordano Ventura to open the season in the rotation, tweets Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star. The 22-year-old has backed up his billing as one of the game's top pitching prospects with a stellar spring. Of course, if Ventura breaks camp on the active roster, the Royals will lose the chance to delay his service clock and retain control for an additional season.
- There is an increasing sense of urgency in Minnesota with ticket sales lagging, and the Twins will be aggressive with roster changes if need be in the early going, reports ESPN.com's Buster Olney (Insider piece). The club already spent the sixth-most cash in the game through free agency, and Olney says it may be willing to move up some high-end talent if it struggles out of the gate. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire admitted today that he was intrigued by the possibility of utilizing the towering Alex Meyer out of the pen for his first taste of MLB action, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
The Padres have already taken a hit to their starting pitching depth after losing Cory Luebke to a second Tommy John surgery, and now right-hander Joe Wieland could suffer the same fate. Wieland is scheduled to have an MRI on his sore right elbow today, and Yahoo's Jeff Passan tweeted late last night that there's "significant concern" throughout the organization, with a re-torn UCL being the worst-case scenario. Wieland, like Luebke, spent the 2013 season recovering from 2012 Tommy John surgery. A second Tommy John surgery has become a familiar refrain around MLB of late; Daniel Hudson underwent his second Tommy John last summer, and there's a strong likelihood that Braves hurlers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy will do so as well. D'Backs lefty Patrick Corbin could be headed for his first Tommy John surgery as well.
Here are a couple of other NL-West-related items...
- The Dodgers are currently on the lookout for bench help, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, who questions how the club could spent $225MM on payroll but enter the season with such a weak group of reserve players. Rival evaluators in Spring Training consider the Dodgers' bench to be the weakest in the division, says Rosenthal.
- Within that piece, Rosenthal reports that the Dodgers indicated to Mark Ellis early in the offseason that another two-year deal was a possibility. However, Ellis eventually grew weary of the Dodgers' indecisiveness, as they offered a one-year deal after signing Alexander Guerrero. Rosenthal adds that one potential scenario last summer was for the Dodgers to flip Zach Lee to the Angels for Howie Kendrick, then move Ellis to Kansas City for Luke Hochevar, but ownership nixed the Kendrick-for-Lee swap.
- Troy Renck of the Denver Post writes that while the Rockies initially thought right-hander Jordan Lyles would need some time in the minors when they acquired him in the Dexter Fowler trade, Lyles is forcing his way into immediate rotation consideration. He's competing with Franklin Morales for the fifth starter's role, and Lyles could benefit from the fact that Morales has bullpen experience. Manager Walt Weiss told Renck that Lyles is viewed strictly as a starter, so Morales could end up in relief with Lyles in the starting five.
The younger brother of Braves catcher Gerald Laird, the 26-year-old has seen sporadic big league time over the last three seasons with the Yankees and Astros. The right-hander slugged five home runs in just 76 plate apperances last year with Houston, but hit just .169 over the same span. In 138 total big league plate appearances, Laird has a .197/.255/.370 line.
The minor leagues have been much kinder to Laird, as he's hit .272/.323/.454 over parts of seven seasons there. While he's split his time almost evenly between first and third base in the majors, Laird has primarily been a third baseman in the minors.
Sticking with the Cubs didn't work out for Matt Garza, and now the Brewers starter wants to "kick their teeth in every time I get the chance," Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Garza isn't as angry as that makes it sound, though -- he's just an energetic player looking for motivation. Wittenmyer notes that the Cubs had previously offered Garza a five-year extension that might have been worth around $65MM, but the two sides couldn't settle on a deal, and the Cubs ended up shipping him to the Rangers in the middle of last season. Here are more notes from the Central divisions.
- The Royals offered Carlos Beltran $42.5MM this offseason, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman tweets. That's only a bit below the $45MM Beltran received from the Yankees. (MLBTR's Steve Adams recently looked back the moves the Royals were able to make in an offseason that featured the departure of Ervin Santana but the additions of Omar Infante and Jason Vargas, both on four-year contracts.)
- The Indians plan to have Justin Sellers, who they recently acquired in a minor trade with the Dodgers, start at shortstop for Triple-A Columbus, writes Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer. The Indians are fans of Sellers' fielding. Top prospect Francisco Lindor will start the season at Double-A Akron, perhaps bumping Sellers into a utility role at Triple-A if Lindor plays well enough to earn a promotion there.
The Royals announced that they have signed right-hander Ramon Troncoso to a minor league deal (Twitter link). Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star tweets that the MDR Sports Management client did not receive an invitation to Major League Spring Training.
The 31-year-old Troncoso spent the 2013 campaign with the White Sox, pitching 30 innings over the course of 29 appearances and posting a 4.50 ERA with 5.4 K/9, 4.8 BB/9 and a strong 51 percent ground-ball rate. Troncoso missed the end of the season with a case of pericarditis -- inflammation of the tissue surrounding his heart.
The Dominican hurler spent four seasons with the Dodgers from 2008-11, appearing in a career-high 82 2/3 innings and posting a 2.72 ERA as a 26-year-old in 2009. He's struggled since that time but maintained respectable velocity to go along with his ground-ball rate, averaging 92.2 mph on his heater last year in Chicago. Troncoso has an ERA of exactly 4.00 in 227 1/3 career innings to go along with 6.3 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. Left-handed batters clubbed him at a .360/.467/.620 clip in 2013, but he held opposing righties to a minuscule .179/.253/.239 batting line. He's had a noticeable platoon split throughout his career (.682 OPS vs. right-handed hitters, .822 OPS vs. lefties), but it's never been close to as extreme as it was in 2013.
The Royals enjoyed their highest win total since 1989 last season, and GM Dayton Moore issued a pair of four-year contracts to free agents in an effort to push the team into the playoffs for the first time since 1985.
Major League Signings
- Jason Vargas, LHP: Four years, $32MM.
- Omar Infante, 2B: Four years, $30.25MM.
- Bruce Chen, LHP: One year, $4.25MM
- Francisco Pena, C: One year, $500K.
- Total spend: $67MM
Notable Minor League Signings
- Jon Rauch, Brad Penny (released), Ramon Hernandez, Jason Donald, Melky Mesa, P.J. Walters, Clayton Mortensen, Brett Tomko
- Dayton Moore (General manager, two years)
- Ned Yost (Manager, two years)
Trades and Claims
- Acquired OF Norichika Aoki from the Brewers in exchange for LHP Will Smith.
- Acquired 3B Danny Valencia from the Orioles in exchange for OF David Lough.
- Acquired OF Carlos Peguero from the Mariners in exchange for a player to be named later.
- Claimed INF/OF Jimmy Paredes off waivers from the Orioles.
- Ervin Santana, Will Smith, David Lough, Emilio Bonifacio, George Kottaras, Jamey Carroll, Chris Getz
Only the Cubs received less offensive production from their collective second basemen than the Royals last year, and only three teams -- the A's, Astros and Yankees -- received less offense from their right fielders (per Fangraphs' wRC+). Naturally, those were two of Moore's biggest priorities, and he was able to fill both vacancies without breaking the bank.
The four-year deal issued to Infante raised some eyebrows, but his glove and ability to hit for average with modest home run totals have made him a steady source of two to three wins above replacement over the past four years. Dating back to 2009, Infante's .296/.332/.413 triple-slash line translates to an OPS+ of exactly 100 and a wRC+ of 101, indicating that he's been a league-average hitter in that time. League-average doesn't sound exciting, but it's a heck of an upgrade over for a team that saw its second basemen combine to hit .240/.296/.306 in 2013 (64 wRC+).
The combined efforts of Jeff Francoeur, Lorenzo Cain, Justin Maxwell and Lough produced a .256/.304/.379 batting line that should be bolstered by the addition of Aoki (pictured). Additionally, Aoki and his career .355 on-base percentage can slot into the leadoff spot for Yost and serve as an improvement over the .309 OBP produced by 2013's leadoff men.
Clearly, the loss of Santana's 211 innings and 3.24 ERA are a blow to the team, but Moore acted quickly to replace those innings by signing Vargas to a four-year deal. As I wrote at the time of the signing, most people focused on the sticker shock of four years for Vargas rather than looking at the relatively tame average annual value. Vargas' durability makes him a reliable source of league-average innings, and statistically, he's not that dissimilar from Mark Buehrle (more on that in the linked article). The contract doesn't come with great upside, but the reasonable AAV allowed Moore to add Infante with a similar line of thinking; tack on an extra year in order to lower the annual commitment.
Of course, Santana ultimately settled for a one-year deal with the Braves -- a disappointing outcome that was preceded by the firing of his agent, Bean Stringfellow. Surely, Moore would've been happy to forego the Vargas signing had he known that he could've had Santana on a one-year deal down the line. However, as was the case with other early-season deals, there was no way to know that Santana would be in such a predicament. Rather than spend $12-16MM per year on a big name early in the offseason, Moore chose to divide that annual sum between Infante and Vargas, and there's a good chance the club will receive more total production because he did so.
The signing of Infante made Bonifacio a bit redundant, and that was illustrated by the team's decision to designate Bonifacio for assignment and ultimately release him despite having agreed to a one-year, $3.5MM deal to avoid arbitration. Such contracts aren't fully guaranteed until the season starts, and therefore the Royals only paid him roughly $575K. His salary (plus a bit more) was put toward the decision to bring Chen back into the mix for a rotation spot. Chen turned in a 3.27 ERA last season and has quite a bit of experience as a swingman, should one of the club's younger starters force his way into rotation consideration.
Though they addressed the two biggest holes in their lineup, the Royals aren't without questions. First and foremost is the rotation: Santana and Chen provided a relatively unexpected 333 innings of 3.25 ERA baseball for the Royals last season. It seems unlikely that Chen can repeat that feat, and Vargas, who has pitched to a 3.97 ERA over the past four seasons, isn't likely to match Santana's level of run prevention. Kansas City did receive 39 starts of an ERA well over 5.00 from Wade Davis and Luis Mendoza in 2013, so there's some room for improvement there if Yordano Ventura and/or Danny Duffy can take some of those starts and perform well.
The real question, when it comes to the team's rotation, is how many more innings James Shields has left as a Kansas City Royal. The two sides reportedly aren't planning on discussing an extension this spring, meaning Shields is all but certain to hit free agency next November. If the Royals were unable to meet Santana's early-winter asking price, it stands to reason that they'd also be unable to meet the dollars that will be doled out to their top pitcher in free agency, unless he takes a discount. MLBTR's Jeff Todd recently chatted with Tim and I about what Shields could earn in free agency and crafted an excellent analysis on the topic. If Shields is to earn more than $70MM -- a very realistic possibility -- could the Royals make a competitive offer? They'll have more than $20MM coming off the books from Shields himself, Luke Hochevar and Aoki hitting the open market, but they'll also face large arbitration raises to core players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland. Beyond that, Alex Gordon, Infante, Vargas and Billy Butler will see their salaries rise by a combined $7.5MM.
Hosmer and Moustakas were among the game's top prospects for years, and each saw a drastic swing in his production midseason. Hosmer was batting just .261/.321/.335 on May 30 when George Brett took over as the team's interim hitting coach. For the rest of the season, Hosmer was a man on fire, slashing .317/.365/.492 with 16 of his 17 homers coming in that time. Will the improved version of Hosmer show up for the entire season? The same could be asked of Moustakas, whose OPS bottomed out at .528 on June 17 before he went on to bat a respectable .269/.314/.425 over his final 78 games.
Alcides Escobar took a big step back in 2013, though a large portion of his offensive decline was due to the fact that he batted just .555 on line-drives (league average was .690, per Fangraphs). Clearly, Escobar had some poor luck, though his 3% walk rate can't be blamed on that. Despite the lack of free passes, the 16 extra hits Escobar would have had with average luck would've boosted his average from .234 to .260 and his OBP from .259 to .284. Neither is a great mark, but paired with his defense and baserunning, Escobar could be quite valuable with better fortune.
With Gordon and Aoki locked into the outfield corners, it will be up to a combination of Dyson, Cain and Maxwell to man center field. Each is a very strong defender with some question marks at the plate, and a platoon seems like the most likely outcome. But, will Maxwell or Cain be the one to win the job as the platoon's right-handed side? Whichever ends up the odd man out would figure to be a decent trade chip for Moore.
Lastly, while it's a small question mark, the decision to guarantee Pena a spot on the 40-man roster seems peculiar. The 24-year-old is just a .236/.286/.348 hitter in his minor league career, and the club already had Kottaras and Brett Hayes in the mix. Pena may not even end up as the backup, either; MLBTR's Tim Dierkes noted in his post on out-of-options players in the AL Central that Hayes seems to be the favorite to back up outstanding young catcher Salvador Perez.
Deal of Note
When considering the tight budget with which Moore was faced, it's tough to imagine a better fit for the club than Aoki. Kansas City's new leadoff man is guaranteed less than $2MM in 2014 -- an unusually low salary for a regular player. Moore filled his need for a leadoff hitter and right fielder in the same trade, and did so without sacrificing the excellent defense Kansas City received from its right fielders in 2013.
Aoki's modest salary also allowed the Royals to spend to stabilize the rotation and provide a significant upgrade at second base for a reasonable price. That's key for this club, because while the payroll is projected to be in the low $90MMs, that's still a record-breaking commitment for the Royals. Consider that the alternative for the Royals was Carlos Beltran, who signed a three-year, $45MM pact with the Yankees. Kansas City pursued Beltran heavily, and had the Royals met his asking price, they likely wouldn't have been able to add Infante. The combination of Aoki and Infante is likely to contribute somewhere around four wins above replacement -- a mark that Beltran alone may not reach -- and do so for several million dollars less than $15MM.
Lastly, the Royals landed Aoki without surrendering any of their top prospects. Moore parted with lefty Will Smith to facilitate the deal, and while Smith had a nice season out of the Kansas City bullpen in 2013, five years of a reliever isn't a steep price to pay, especially for a team with the bullpen depth Kansas City can boast.
To call this a make-or-break season for the Royals could be an understatement. This is likely the team's last season with its best pitcher, and arbitration raises plus guaranteed raises to players on multi-year deals could prevent them from spending too freely on next year's open market. The hope is that someone such as Ventura can develop into a front-of-the-rotation arm, but there's no guarantee in that happening.
The Royals' best chance to win comes with Shields at the front of their rotation, and the front office has supplemented the current team with strong, relatively cost-effective options at second base and in right field. With a big season from Hosmer, Moustakas and/or Escobar, the Royals have the talent to give the Tigers and Indians a run for their money in the AL Central. Failing that, a coveted Wild Card spot certainly isn't out of the question. Royals fans could, at long last, see an unthinkable 28-year postseason drought come to an end in 2014.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Royals and right-hander Brett Tomko have agreed to a minor league contract, according to a tweet from Tomko's brother, Scott. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports (via Twitter) that Tomko will earn $510K if he makes the big league club. Tomko is represented by Full Circle Sports Management. Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish tweets that Tomko, who was clocked as high as 93 mph in a bullpen session today, is willing to pitch at Triple-A and did not receive any opt-out clauses in his deal.
Tomko hasn't pitched in the Majors since a brief 17 2/3 inning stint with the Rangers in 2011. The former second-round pick has accumulated 1816 innings at the Major League level, pitching to a 4.65 ERA with 6.0 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and a 42.1 percent ground-ball rate.
MLBTR's own Zach Links talked with the 40-year-old Tomko earlier in the offseason about his comeback bid. Said Tomko at the time: "I'll keep lacing it up until someone rips the uniform off of my back and says 'You're done.'"
The Royals' rotation is crowded with James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas and Bruce Chen as locks with Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy and Wade Davis as candidates for the fifth slot. The bullpen took a blow recently when Luke Hochevar learned that he needs Tommy John surgery, but Kansas City still has plenty of options with Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera, Louis Coleman, Donnie Joseph and Chris Dwyer all representing options for manager Ned Yost. Whichever two of Ventura, Duffy and Davis do not make the rotation could be slotted into the bullpen as well.
Addressing his team's sudden and successful entry into the market for starter Ervin Santana, Braves GM Frank Wren said that he did not expect to be in the market for free agent starters, but felt Santana was the best option available going into the offseason. (Video of press conference via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.) It was Atlanta's good fortune that Santana remained unsigned when Kris Medlen walked off the mound with an injury on Sunday. Wren immediately made contact, knowing that he had to catch up quickly with other clubs further down the road on talks with Santana. "Once we started talking, we realized that Ervin was very interested in us as well, thought this was a good opportunity for him, and it was a perfect fit for us."
- For Atlanta, the message to the field staff and players was clear. "[The signing] means our GM and our front office want to win," manager Fredi Gonzalez said, as MLB.com's Joe Frisaro tweets.
- The key for Santana was his desire to pitch in the National League, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca reports on Twitter. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos confirmed, saying that he was told Santana "had a strong desire to pitch in the NL and there was no way to compete with that." (MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm provides a transcript of Anthopoulos's chat with the media today.) The GM also emphasized that he was "very comfortable we did everything we could" to land Santana, who the club "viewed ... as an impact starter." Anthopoulos implied some disappointment with the way things unfolded, declining comment on several questions about reports that a deal was done last Saturday by saying that he was "trying to take the high road here."
- From the Twins' perspective, most talks were "very exploratory," assistant GM Rob Antony told Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I think what they were looking at and were looking for was different from what we were thinking," explained Antony. "... We weren't necessarily looking for a one-year guy."
- Meanwhile, the Royals' short run with Santana is now officially over, but the team feels fine about how things worked out, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star reports on Twitter. "I think Erv's going to do very well," GM Dayton Moore said, "and we're going to get the pick. And it all worked out." Indeed it did: K.C. got a valuable draft choice and excellent season from Santana, all for the low price of $12MM and the rights to minor league lefty Brandon Sisk.