Saturday, March 31, 2012

Prospect Countdown: #7 Kelvin Herrera

#7 Kelvin Herrera

Age: 22
Position: RHP
Height: 5-10
Weight: 190
B/T: R/R
Acquired: Signed as International Free Agent on 12/13/06
From: Tenares, Hermanas Mirabal, Dominican Republic

Few prospects have dominated the minor leagues quite like Kelvin Herrera. Despite losing nearly two full seasons to elbow issues, Herrera surfaced for the first time in Kansas City as a twenty-one year old. Entering 2012, it appears that Herrera has overcome some pretty intense odds to win one of the final bullpen spots.

This summer in Kansas City fans can look forward to triple digit heat, a solid curve, and a plus change up. The combination proved too much for minor leaguers to handle and now the former Futures Game participant will test his skills at the highest level.

Last fall the Royals commented that they didn't believe Herrera's career was over as a starter. Yes, he does have the arsenal to be the front line starter that the Royals so desperately need. However, I believe we've reached a point with Herrera that the Royals should be thankful for what they have. They shouldn't play with fire. Understand that while the potential reward is great, the possibility of Herrera's career coming to a tragic end after the result of a starter's workload is equally great.

Odds are the Royals were paying lip service to the possibility. It goes without saying that the front office will have an enormous amount of information at their fingertips while moving forward. I would be shocked if Herrera ever attempts the transition to the rotation. As a result his upside to that of a closer, but  one year ago, I think all of us would have been more than happy with that result.

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Royals Extend Alex Gordon

Dayton Moore has done it again. For the third time this Spring the Royals have reached a contract extension with a core player. Finally, the deal announced was for the player we all expected to sign on the dotted line: Alex Gordon.

There are so many things that could be said about Alex Gordon. His career has saw him play the role of the chosen one, the rookie disappointment, the potential breakout, the bust, and eventually the Gold Glover and Royals player of the year. Through it all Alex Gordon's work ethic has never been questioned. In fact, over the years it is amazing how many off hand comments have been made regarding Gordon's work ethics. It is normal for players to praise a teammate's work habits when asked directly, but in Gordon's case players often go out of the way to emphasize how impressive is his focus.

After Gordon's awesome 2011 campaign, a contract extension was at the top of the off season to do list. The bullet point was highlighted, underline and in bold. Yes, Gordon was coming off his first star caliber season, but the fans and organization had bought in. Given the Royals payroll, it was imperative that the Royals strike quick, considering another season like 2011, would price a potential Gordon extension out of the price range.

Initial speculation often penned a potential Gordon extension somewhere around four years, $36 million. However, some time had passed we heard that the Gordon camp was seeking a much larger figure. In the end, the sides met somewhere in the middle. The Royals wound up guaranteeing $37.5 million to Gordon over a four year period, but took on more risk by granting Gordon a player option that could push the total value of the deal to $50 million. Here is the year by year breakdown:

2012: $6 million
2013: $9 million
2014: $10 million
2015: $12.5 million
2016: $12.5 million*
*denotes player option

It is hard to predict what Alex Gordon will do over the next 4-5 seasons. Baseball Reference most likens him to players like Eric Hinske, Larry Hisle, Milton Bradley, Ray Lankford, Nate McClouth. If Gordon could replicate Hisle's, Bradley,s or Lankford's age 28-31 seasons it would be easy to call the extension a success. If Gordon turns into Hinske 2.0 at least there would be some production back, and if Gordon turns into the second coming of Nate McClouth, well this will probably go down as the worst contract in team history. 

It doesn't take a genius to recognize that the most dangerous part of this deal is the 2016 player option. It is the first option of its kind given out by Dayton Moore, and I have to wonder if the option was the final sticking point between the two sides. The option is hazardous because it is very rare that a player picks up the option when the option is fair market value, it is almost never occurs that the player exercises the option when the option is team friendly.

In the typical situation a player option is only going to be exercised, if the player knows he won't fetch a similar amount on the open market. Alex Gordon has already been quoted as saying he views the contract as a five year deal, but if Gordon continues to produce as he did in 2011, there is no way he exercises his player option. This isn't a bad thing, but worst case scenario isn't that Gordon's flops and the Royals are out the guaranteed $37.5 million. From the Royals perspective they just guaranteed $50 million to their lead off man and gold glover.

At the moment, I can tell you that I'm thrilled to be able to go to bed tonight knowing that Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas now have the opportunity to be a part of the same lineup for the next four seasons. Recently, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus wrote a piece discussing the difficulty that the Royals would face in turning young talent into a winner. One of the things discussed was the alignment of windows. The Gordon extension doesn't turn the Royals into a winner in 2014 and 15, but it sure does align the windows closer together. 

I could take this opportunity to break down the WAR that Alex Gordon would need to accumulate on a year to year basis in order to justify this contract in the current market. However, I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to do it because I think all of us have our own opinions on what Alex Gordon will need to do in order to prove his worth. I'm not going to do it, because I believe that whatever the production Gordon needs to achieve, he can surpass. 

Gordon finished 21st in the MVP balloting last season and quite frankly, the argument can be made that he deserved to finish higher. It hurt Gordon playing in Kansas City for a team that finished just 71-91. But if the Royals are to take the next step forward, and if the Royals shock baseball in the near future, they won't do so without an MVP candidate. At this moment, Gordon is most logically that guy. 

I know there are statistics to point to Gordon overachieving in 2011, and maybe I'm setting myself up for disappointment. However, I truly believe that Gordon is capable of taking another step forward. In 2011, he turned himself from potential bust, to should have been All-Star. In 2012, can he turn himself from reigning Royals MVP to American League MVP candidate? I hope so. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Prospect Countdown: #8 Elier Hernandez

#8 Elier Hernandez

Age: 17
Position: OF
Height: 6-3
Weight: 200
B/T: R/R
Acquired: Signed as International Free Agent in 2011
From: San Cristobal, Dominican Republic

The Royals made a huge splash in the Latin American market last July, when they signed top prospect Elier Hernandez to a $3.05 million bonus. According to Baseball America, Hernandez possesses some of the best bat speed that has been seen of a player his age in recent years. Thanks to this awesome bat speed, Elier projects to hit for above average power and contact abilities.

Despite being just seventeen years old, Hernandez already has a man's build at 6-3, 210. Even with this size, Hernandez runs with average speed and excellent quickness. Early in his development he could receive time in center, but eventually he should win up in right, where his plus arm should play up.

Hernandez will open 2012, in extended Spring Training. When the Arizona League begins, he should be playing for the AZL Royals. Although, it is possible that if the Royals are extremely impressed, he could get an opportunity at a more advanced Rookie League stop.

Prospect Countdown: #9 Chris Dwyer

#9 Chris Dwyer

Age: 23
Position: LHP
Height: 6-2
Weight: 210
Acquired: Drafted in the 4th Round of the 2009 Amateur Draft
From: Boston, MA

Entering last season Dwyer represented 25% of the fabulous quartet of left handers. However, a season later he may be coming off the most disappointing season of the bunch. Yes, Dwyer was often considered the fourth best of the group, but I'm not sure there is a prospect that has fallen out of Royals fans collective conscience more than Chris Dwyer.

Yes, Dwyer's ERA ballooned to 5.60, but as Baseball America points out he was much better down the stretch posting a 3.53 ERA in his final 9 starts. Dwyer still has the low 90s heater, devastating curve ball, and average change-up. His potential is that of a #3 starter, but 2012, is obviously a big year for him.

Dwyer has difficulty repeating his delivery and as a result the ball gets up in the zone and becomes less effective. Hopefully, with another year under his belt his mechanics can continue to improve, if not he could still wind up as a set up man. He should open 2012 in the Naturals' bullpen and I hope that he can take the next step, because the Royals already have the arms in the bullpen. What the Royals need is starting pitching.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Prospect Countdown: #10 Yordano Ventura

#10 Yordano Ventura

Age: 20
Position: RHP
Height: 5-11
Weight: 160
Acquired: Signed as International Free Agent on October 8, 2008
From: Samana, Dominican Republic

There is no doubt that Dominican righty Yordano Ventura has some of the most electric stuff in the system. In fact, in a couple years time we may look back and wonder how such an awesome arm could have been so underrated. Ventura's dynamite stuff features a fastball that can hit 100 mph, while maintaining good late life, a curve that flashes plus potential, and a change up with late fade. Thanks to his arsenal, Ventura's upside could go toe to toe with any pitcher's upside in the organization. The possibility exists that one day Ventura could head a Major League rotation.

In 2011, Ventura took his talents to full season ball for the first time. He may have posted an ERA of 4.27, but make no mistake he was a dominate force on the circuit. Ventura's K/9 of 9.39 ranked 14th on the circuit, with only two of the pitchers in the top 13 being younger than him. His K:BB ratio of 3.67 ranked 19th in the Midwest League, with no pitcher ahead of him being younger.

As Rany Jazayerli has pointed out age is of the utmost importance when evaluating prospects, and when prospects are just beginning their professional careers even months are significant. In 2011, Yordano Ventura was not only one of the top starters in the Midwest League. He was one of the top starters in the Midwest League, while also being one of the youngest.

Of course if Ventura was so dominate, why was his ERA 4.27, nearly half a run higher than the Midwest League average? Well, keep in mind that Ventura's FIP came in 0.21 lower than the league mean, while his SIERA was 0.77 below the average mark. An explanation offered by Baseball America was that Ventura would often over throw in an attempt to light up the radar gun. As a result his stuff would flatten and opposing hitters would square him up more than the average pitcher. This theory is supported by an opponents line drive percentage of 20% (league average=14%).

Throwing harder when thing get tough is a common problem for young starters. Hell, Luke Hochevar has even admitted that in the past he has failed with such a tactic. Ventura is one of the most exciting prospects in the system and he has incredible breakout potential. His small frame is a bit concerning. In fact, look no further than Kelvin Herrera for an example of a potentially dominate hurler limited to the bullpen due to his frame.

Hopefully, for Kansas City Ventura can avoid the arm troubles that Herrera could not, and Ventura can develop into the front line guy that the Royals so desperately need. Ventura will have all the opportunity for an eye popping 2012 campaign with an assignment to pitcher's paradise Frawley Stadium in the Carolina League.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Whispers from Surprise 3/21/12

Here's a bullet point list of my thoughts from my last day in Surprise. 
  • I arrived at minor league camp, planning on rotating pretty evenly among the four fields. What actually happened, was I took a few minutes to watch each field and get a feel for the players at each level at the moment, and then got hooked on watching the youngsters. I love the quantity of high end talent the Royals have assembled deep in the depths of the Minor League system thanks to hard work on the Latin American front over the past three seasons and last year's draft. (It helped that on the other fields, I had seen most of the players at one point or another.)

  • Michael Antonio worked on third during fielding drills. Antonio was drafted as a short stop and the field is pretty split on where he should play in both the short and long run. Some argue that he can handle short and his value is higher at that position. Others would combat that by saying he'll wind up too thick for the position and his bat is good enough to play at third. What I found interesting today, was that during fielding drills Antonio lined up at third, but during batting practice Antonio went to Shortstop. Purely speculation here, but I wonder if the coaching staff is planning on moving him this season, and he is a bit resistant to the change.

  • During some throwing drills, there were a couple outfielders whose arms stood out to me. First, was Bubba Starling. The ball had a whistle to it, that you didn't sense from the other outfielders. The other guy that most impressed me with the hose was Jorge Bonifacio. Bonifacio, also was a bit thicker than I imagined him to be. He isn't fat by any stretch, but he does have a very impressive muscular build. 

  • Starling, was also very impressive with bat. Well except for when the coach blew a batting practice pitch right by him. Of course this caught the attention of the rest of Starling's hitting group, prompting one player to ask the coach what he kind of dirty pitch he was throwing today. Starling had to take a moment to regain his composure before finishing his cuts for the day.

  • The guy that really caught my eye was Cam Gallagher. During the time I was watching Gallagher, he squared up the ball on nearly every pitch and sprayed the ball around the park.

  • Batting practice pitches are pretty rapid fire, so if you take the time to follow each and every ball, you'll sometimes miss a subsequent pitch. With that being said the only home run I saw during batting practice on the youngster field was hit by Jorge Bonifacio to dead center. Don't read anything into this all of the players are focused on lining the ball around the field and not creating the lift that is typically necessary for batting practice homers. Nonetheless, I wanted to mention Bonifacio's homer.

  • I want to talk about the "good-face." The good-face is a scouting term that was mocked a bit in Moneyball, and generally I agree it is unwise to stereotype a player simply based on appearance. Not to mention the idea of picking out a prospect simply by looking at his face is absurd. Nonetheless, Starling, Hernandez, Gallagher, Lopez, Leonard, all these guys have what I would qualify as the "good-face." It is something you can't describe, but when you see it you know.

  • I expect improvement from Alcides Escobar on the offensive side of things in 2012. At this point I am beginning to wonder if he could be the best fit for the two hole to open the season. Giavotella just hasn't gotten it done this Spring and if Alcides Escobar can continue to show the hitting ability he has this Spring he'd be a good rabbit to have on the bases in front of Hosmer, Butler, Francoeur, and Moustakas. 

  • I was really looking forward to watching Mendoza for awhile, unfortunately he took a liner off the back of the leg in the first and so I didn't get to see much of him. Word is that it is just a bruise so hopefully Mendoza can shake it off and jump right back into the fray.

  • For a split second, it did look like Giavotella was about to kick start his Spring with a blast out to left. Instead, he jumped the gun by just a split second and the ball curved foul at the last moment. I feel for Giavotella, because a bomb like that was just what he needed to alleviate some of the pressure that he has mounted on himself.

  • Greg Holland was absolutely dominate in his first inning of work, however, in his second inning the A's jacked a couple of balls deep down the left field line but foul. Holland, who is one of the few relievers guaranteed a spot entering camp, has stated that he is working to refine his command on the inside half and is working on his curve ball and change. Both of these exercises would easily explain why A's hitters were able to turn on Holland's pitches so easily.
That's all I've got to report on from Surprise this season. Unfortunately, the 21st was my last day in town. Hopefully, you've found something in my ramblings that made reading this mess worth your time.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Royals Trade for Humberto Quintero

The Royals addressed their catching hole today, when they acquired Houston back stop Humberto Quintero and 30 year-old back up outfielder Jason Bourgeois for lefty reliever Kevin Chapman and a Player to be Named Later. You can read more about Kevin Chapman here.

The Royals have been searching for catching depth since catcher Manny Pina went down with a knee injury in the first week of camp. Of course, that search heightened last week when Salvador Perez tore his meniscus while warming up Jonathan Sanchez. In fact, according to Ken Rosenthal, despite their acquisition of Humberto Quintero the Royals are done in their search for a back up catcher.

I'm pretty indifferent to this trade. At first, I was pretty blah to the acquisition of Quintero. Then I was a bit disappointed that the Royals would be parting with a prospect of value. Then I was confused why the Royals insisted on the addition of Jason Bourgeois. Then I was frustrated when I found out that the Player to be Named Later was the key of the deal in the eyes of Astros GM Jeff Luhnow. Then I read a bit about the defensive prowess of Quintero and am back to feeling alright about the exchange.

Let's get this out of the way. Humberto Quintero is atrocious with the bat. He is among a handful of players that have received over 1,000 Major League at bats that would be included in the discussion of worst Major League hitter. His power is going to disappear in Kansas City. His plate approach could benefit from learning a thing or two from Yuniesky Betancourt. But defensively the dude can pick it.

In fact, advanced metrics that attempt to detail catcher's defensive value love Quintero so much that I wonder if his acquisition was driven as much by the analytic side of the Royals' baseball operations department as the scouting side. Based off Mike Fast's study on pitch framing Humberto Quintero is one of the top backup catchers in baseball in the art of framing a pitch. According to Fast Quintero's catching mitt has been worth about 5 runs above average per 120 games over the last five seasons.

But that's not all for Quintero. In fact, he appears to be a bit of a sabermetric defensive darling. According to this study here, conducted by Bojan Koprivica, Quintero is actually the best catcher in baseball in terms of blocking errant pitches. Koprivica calculates that Quintero's skills could be worth 5-6 runs per season. When you consider just these two defensive skills Quintero could save the Royals 10+ runs in 2012. In fact, despite Quintero's offensive short comings he has been worth positive fWAR in five of the past six seasons as a result of his defensive studliness.

I imagine Royals personnel sat around a table discussing their options in the wake of Salvador Perez's injury. The scouts spitting tobacco into empty diet coke bottles professed their desire for a defensive first catcher that could handle the young pitching staff and provide the grit that the Royals lacked. The stat heads, pushing their glass up comfortably on to their noses, feared that once again they would be useless in the player acquisition process.

Until one extra clever stat head, decided that he was going to make sure that if the Royals were to acquire a catcher for defensive purposes he was going to make sure that the Royals acquired a catcher that truly was a defensive stud. Eventually, he made his case for Humberto Quintero, the scouts vehemently agreed and the rest was history.

There's a good chance the Royals could've gotten Quintero or a similar player for next two nothing at some point over the next couple weeks. Instead they identified their man and aggressively pursued him. What struck me as odd, were the comments made by both general managers post trade. Let's start with Dayton Moore, who claimed that without the inclusion of Jason Bourgeois this deal doesn't get done.

Jason Bourgeois is thirty years old. (Have I said that already?) He has 431 plate appearance under his belt and his ceiling is that of a fourth outfielder. So why the insistence on him? He's got a decent skill set for a fourth outfielder, and he has a bit more versatility than Mitch Maier, in that he has logged a decent amount of time at second base.

According to Bob Dutton, the Royals may have acquired Bourgeois, because they believe Jarrod Dyson's ceiling could be as a starter and they are hesitant to stunt his growth by using him exclusively as a defensive replacement and offensive closer for 2012. If this is the reason of the Bourgeois acquisition, that's fine. But the Royals could have opted to include Kevin Kouzmanoff or even Clint Robinson on the bench instead and could have added some late game pop to their roster.

Bourgeois does have an option remaining so maybe he was acquired simply for depth? That doesn't really make sense either because the Royals have Major League ready players in David Lough and Jarrod Dyson already. (Not to mention Mitch Maier.) This leads me to my final thought, the Royals are going to give Jason Bourgeois an opportunity to compete for the starting second base position.

Entering camp the Royals obviously hoped that Johnny Giavotella would grab the spot by the throat. They hoped he would show the bat he displayed in the Minors, while showing improved defense at second. So far neither of those things have happened. Chris Getz, the primary competition for Giavotella, has had a strong Spring. However, he still hasn't shown any power and years worth of data already exists at the Major League level. Odds are we already know what Getz is: a slightly above average fielder, with no pop and not enough on base skills to compensate.

As of a couple of days ago, even Yuniesky Betancourt surfaced in the competition thanks to some Ned Yost comments. None of us want to see Betancourt play everyday, and my guess is the Royals realize that they Betancourt is more valuable to the current roster in a utility role than as the starting second baseman.

I could be totally wrong on Jason Bourgeois' inclusion in this trade, but I can't come up with any other reason that makes sense. The only other option I can imagine is that Bourgeois and Chris Getz will platoon at second base, while Yuniesky Betancourt and Mitch Maier serve as the other two bench players, with Jarrod Dyson playing everyday in Omaha.  Bourgeois posted a .925 OPS against left handed pitchers last season and would be an ideal half to a platoon, however, Getz has also been stronger against lefties. The Royals may try it, but I'm not sure it would make a ton of sense.

Finally, I'd like to touch on the other strange post trade comment, when Jeff Luhnow stated that the PTBNL was the key piece for the Astros in the deal. The player to be named could go in one of two ways in my mind. The player to be named could be the Royals submitting a list of out of options players and the reason for the wait is to see, which players don't make the Royals roster. Or the player to be named was drafted last June, and thus not eligible to be traded until this coming June.

I was optimistic that the Royals would be able to fill their catching void without dipping into their own pool of assets. When I found out the Royals had to part with a decent relief prospect I was a bit disappointed, but could see why they made the move. If the Royals wind up parting with two solid prospects, it is hard to be on board with this deal. In the end, I bet that the other player going in Houston's way isn't a game changer. I'm sure Houston feels like the player is a decent addition, but then again we are talking about Houston.

Believe it or not the Royals 2012 contention chances are now stronger than they were this morning. They aren't near the point they were at a week ago, but the Royals have found a catcher that not only passes the eye test defensively, but also has the number to back it up. The Royals have a young pitching staff and the key to success in 2012 will be the performance of the rotation. If Humberto Quintero can make the pitchers even marginally better with his receiving and/or pitch blocking skills, then this deal will be totally worth the cost.

Whispers from Surprise 3/20/12

Here's the round up of my thoughts from day three in Surprise:

  • Felipe Paulino had a good start today, despite not getting much help from the defense. He finished the day with 4 innings pitched, 3 hits allowed, 0 walks and 4 strikeouts. Mendoza has been perhaps the most impressive pitcher this Spring, but Paulino was perhaps the best starter for Kansas City in 2012. If the Royals want to open 2012 with the best rotation possible, I still believe Duffy and Paulino should be the 4 and 5 starters.

  • The 1 run that Paulino did allow came as a result of your classic Little League style double steal. Men on first and third and when the throw goes to second the runner on third breaks for home. It is an almost indefensible play in Little League, but for a Major League team to get beat by it is somewhat disappointing. I hate to use hyperbole, but I couldn't help but log it as another example for why Pena simply isn't going to cut it as a starter behind the plate.

  • Lorenzo Cain has impressed me more than any other player the last few days. All offseason I've chalked him up as a guy that could hopefully be a solid regular. A role player that provides good defense and passable offense at the bottom of the order. At this point, I'm wondering if I am selling him short. Cain may never be an All-Star but I'm beginning to wonder if he couldn't develop into an above average hitter and stud defensive center fielder. The key for Cain will be strikeouts. He has a long swing, but if he can keep the strikeouts down look out.

  • Jonathan Broxton got hit hard today. A day after we find out that Soria is likely done for the season, Broxton pitched 1 inning, giving up 3 hits and 1 run. The inning could have been much worse, but one hard hit ball was hit straight at an outfielder, and saw Yuniesky Betancourt make a great backhanded play at the line.

  • I know a lot of people are questioning why Cody Clark isn't going to be given a shot in Kansas City. Today he made a fantastic throw to nail Mike Trout at second base. (Trout of course is no slouch.) From what I've seen Cody Clark, simply wouldn't be able to cut it at the Major League level with the bat. Humberto Quintero is bad, but I wouldn't wager on Clark doing much better. Of course Quintero is hands down the better defensive catcher between the two. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

(Unfortunate) Regression to the Mean

Last season the Royals were incredibly fortunate on the injury front all season long. Sure several players hit the disabled list for short periods of time, but overall the Royals were perhaps, the most fortunate team in all of baseball in terms of the injury bug. Several weeks into Spring Training 2012, the Royals have effectively regressed to the mean.

First, back up catcher hopeful Manny Pina went down with a knee injury that would sideline him up to two months. Not long after starting catcher and recipient of an eight year contract that still hasn't had the ink dry, Salvador Perez went down with a torn meniscus. The injury will likely keep Perez out until mid-June, or July and then see him only catch four times a week for the remainder to the week.

Then in just the last couple of days, Blake Wood was shut down due to some elbow inflammation and today word comes that there is a good chance Joakim Soria will require his second Tommy John surgery. If Soria is done for the season, it seems extremely unlikely that he'll pitch again for the Royals. Next season the club owns an $8 million option and even if Soria were healthy it would be hard to justify paying a closer that kind of coin with so much bullpen depth on the roster.

For a team that needed everything to go right to have a shot at contention, they are having one of the worst Springs in all of baseball. The upcoming catcher out for the year. The closer gone (Denny Matthews voice). Giavotella, whom the organization clearly hoped would grab the second base job, has been a disappointment.

The Joakim Soria injury two years ago would have been catastrophic to the bullpen. Today it could almost be spun as a positive. The depth of this bullpen is outstanding and there are multiple guys that should be able to nail down the 9th. They may not be as dominate as Soria was in the "Mexicutioner" days, but they should be more than capable of getting the job done. Johnathan Broxton has been an elite closer before, Greg Holland was one of the dirtiest pitchers in baseball last season, Aaron Crow was an All-Star in relief, and Kelvin Herrera could have the best stuff of the bunch. It is possible, that instead of having to suffer through a month of Soria struggles the Royals will now be able to cut straight to the chase and find their closer for the future.

Of course that isn't the frustration among Royals fans. The frustration is that once again the Royals failed to cash out on an asset while value still existed or while the value was at its highest point. This off season Soria wouldn't have brought back much in the way of a trade, but just a couple of offseasons ago the Royals supposedly could have had Jesus Montero. Sure the Royals wouldn't have a spot for Montero in the lineup and obviously history wouldn't have shaken out in the same manner had he been a Royal, but this offseason showed he could have been a much more valuable trade asset than Joakim Soria.

The Perez loss is much more painful. Entering 2012, the excitement finally existed because even if it wasn't our time to win the division, it was our time in the sense that the vaunted farm system had finally over taken the Major League roster in full. Instead we are looking at the possibility of another season of Chris Getz or Yuniesky Betancourt playing everyday and of a journeyman catcher leading the young pitching staff.

The Royals aren't going to find anyone near the quality of Salvador Perez, but let's hope a viable, reliable option exists. I hope Opening Day can get here soon, because I'm not sure how much more Mission 2012 can take this Spring.

Whispers from Surprise 3/19/12

Just some things I saw today in Surprise.

  • First off there was no Major League game so I had the privilege of hanging out on the clover. Since there was no Major League game, Jonathan Sanchez, Everett Teaford, and Mike Moustakas were getting their work in the Minor League games.

  • Sanchez was pretty dominate. His final line was 4 innings pitched, 61 pitches, 4 strikeouts, no hits allowed, and two walks. He was going against Texas League AA and AAA players, but it was a very Sanchez like performance. His pitches definitely get a ton of movement and isn't hard to see why opponents struggle to square him up so much.

  • Everett Teaford pitched in the AA game. He pitched at a very quick place and several minor leaguers were discussing how nice it would be playing behind him. He also varied his arm angles a ton, often switching looks from pitch to pitch. Most view Teaford as a swingman type, and that is probably his best role. However, I could see him as a solid 4 or 5 starter. At the moment though, the Royals have plenty of back end guys. What the Royals need are front end starters.

  • Mike Moustakas got a ton of at bats today. He basically rotated back and forth between the fields and probably wound up with a bat 15 at bats. Moustakas, as you probably know, has been slumping a bit of late. By personal choice he decided to get a series worth of at bats today on the Minor League fields. He was a bit rough at first, but as the afternoon progressed he started looking better. I saw him get going with a ground ball single up the middle and eventually a home run over the right field wall. He also ripped a liner, but was robbed of a hit by the Texas first baseman. 

  • Christian Colon impressed me with the bat today. I never got to see him tested much in the field, but I did see him double off the left field wall and hit a solid single. The upcoming season is a big one for the former first round pick, he has yet to show much at the professional level and the Royals can't afford to whiff on the #4 overall selection. 

  • Nate Adcock looked very strong today. Last season he learned how to get out professional hitters and I really believe that the organization thinks they have found something in him. Why else would be so stubborn about keeping him on the Major League roster all year last season? Today, Naturals Larry Carter couldn't help but rave to all who would listen about how nasty Nate Adcock's sinker was. I'm not a scout, but even I was in awe of the movement it had this afternoon. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Whispers from Surprise 3/18/12

Today was my first day in Surprise this Spring. Unfortunately, due to the weather I was only able to watch the Major League game and about an inning and a half of the intrasquad game in the Minor League camp. I tweeted all day long, but I thought I'd go ahead and put all my thoughts into a post here.
  • First off, today Cody Clark got the opportunity start for the Major League team. Greg Schaum decided to start the #TeamCody movement on twitter for those hoping to see Cody Clark get a shot in the Majors. Personally, the organization is lucky to have a player such as Cody Clark. The guy is an organizational warrior and every Spring he provides depth for Major League camp. I've always thought that was all he was and nothing more. However, after a couple of injuries the Royals depth is in question. The fact is, if the Royals don't make a move for a guy outside the organization the back up catcher spot is going to be a competition between Cody Clark and Max Ramirez.

  • In the first inning Hosmer fielded a ball deep in the hole between first and second. It was a spectacular play, as he was positioned well off the line. Perhaps, this is the result of improved positioning for Hosmer entering 2012. Anyway, after the stop Hosmer decided to go with a long underhand throw to Hochevar. As a result, Hochevar was pulled off the bag and the runner was safe. Hopefully as Hosmer fields more and more balls in the hole, he'll get more comfortable firing the ball to the pitcher covering the bag.

  • Speaking of Eric Hosmer, the dude was really on the top of his offensive game today. He finished the game 3-3 and was a triple short of the cycle. His home run was a no doubter to straight away center, his double was a beautiful piece of hitting that saw him take the ball the other way when he hit a laser down the left field line, and his single was a nice pull right through the second and first base hole. 

  • Another guy that impressed me with that bat today, was Alcides Escobar. Escobar crushed a ball off the top of the wall in left center and had he not began to coast into second just momentarily, he would have had an in the park home run. Later in the game, Escobar did a magnificent job of going with a pitch on the outside part of the plate. The result was a line drive to right for a single.

  • On the opposite side of the bag and spectrum was Johnny Giavotella. Giavotella's first two at bats weren't pretty and when he made a diving stop in the field he bobbled the transfer. Meanwhile, Chris Getz came in and almost immediately made a great play deep on the outfield grass for an out. 

  • For the first time, I got the opportunity to see Chris Getz new batting stance in action. Ned Yost and Kevin Seitzer are both extremely happy with the way Getz is swinging the bat as a result. They site the ability to create more power and an altered swing path as reasons for optimism. Here's a picture I took of the stance:

  • Joakim Soria probably looked the worst out of an Royal today, but then it turned from bad performance to bad sign as he signaled for the trainer to meet him on the mound. Ultimately he left the game and judging by the quotations I've read since, I can't help but to be pessimistic. Luckily for the Royals, the bullpen has so much depth and so many quality arms they can probably overcome such a problem as well as any team.

  • After the Major League game, I strolled to the Minor League complex. I didn't get to see much action, but I did briefly get to watch lefty Stephen Lumpkins. Lumpkins is an imposing presence on the mound. He's 6-8. I was impressed with the smoothness to his delivery. He's twenty-one years old, and he walked almost as many as he struck out last season in the Arizona League. He may not develop into anything, but he caught my eye today nonetheless. I took some video of him, so I'll see if I can get that posted before the week is out.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Royals Extend Alcides Escobar

Just two and a half weeks ago the Royals signed catcher Salvador Perez to a five year contract extension that also included three option years. At the time of the deal I commented that over the offseason there were two players that made a ton of sense as extension candidates, that no one was talking about. Today the Royals signed the second of those two players to a long term deal.

Here's the breakdown of the extension that Alcides Escobar and the Royals agreed to this morning:

2012: $1 million
2013: $3 million
2014: $3 million
2015: $3 million
2016: $5.25 million club option with  $500K buyout
2017: $6.5 million club option with a $500K buyout
*Award bonuses could push total contract value to $21.75 million.

At the time of the Perez deal I wondered aloud if the same terms would make sense for an Escobar extension. Ultimately, what we see is that Escobar gets more guaranteed money than Perez. This is thanks to his final arbitration year being guaranteed, unlike Perez's deal. However, the potential value of the deal is less. Part of the reason for this is that Escobar's deal encompasses six seasons as opposed to the eight that Perez received. Another reason could be that Escobar is further along in his career and thus his upside slightly more limited.

Another interesting similarity between the two deals is the subtle way in which Kansas City has attempted to front load the contracts. Obviously, in deals involving arbitration years and club options the contracts naturally will escalate in salary. What you'll notice in Escobar's guaranteed years is that instead of a breakdown along the lines of $500K, $1.5 Mill, $3.5 Mill, $4.5 Mill, as would be typical in this type of contract; the Royals elected to double Escobar's 2012 salary and spread the remainder out evenly over his three arbitration seasons.

Look for example at the contract Elvis Andrus signed with the Texas Rangers on February 8. Andrus was entering arbitration for the first time, which undoubtedly cost the Rangers some money in comparison  to the Royals who locked up Escobar a year prior to arbitration. Andrus, like Escobar, is considered one of the top fielding short stops in all of baseball. But, like Escobar, has a career sub .700 OPS. Don't get me wrong, Andrus has been a bit better hitter than Escobar during his brief career. But he also plays in Texas and the numbers are comparable.

The Rangers signed Andrus to a three year deal worth $14.4 million. The deal guarantees Andrus 41% more than the Royals guaranteed Alcides Escobar. Not to mention that the Royals have the ability to control Escobar twice as long, as the Rangers contract controls Elvis Andrus. The two players are about a year a part in service time. So ultimately, the Royals, by agreeing to a contract one year earlier than the Rangers have saved themselves $4 million in guaranteed money, while also obtaining two additional years of team control.

Alcides Escobar could not improve at all and this deal could wind up being a steal. Just like the Perez extension the risk is minimized due to Escobar's defensive prowess. Of course Royals personnel and fans alike are hoping for more from Alcides. Optimists would surely point to Escobar's career minor league average of .293, his .304 rookie average, his .305/.353/.432 July, or his .324/.367/.459 September. To be certain, Escobar has shown for stretches that he could be an above average offensive performer at the short stop position.

Using Baseball Reference's comparable players through age 24, we find that Royce Clayton and Jay Bell most closely resemble Escobar's current career arc. Clayton over his age 25-30 seasons posted a .261/.315/.384 line with an OPS+ of 81. If Escobar is this kind of hitter throughout the contract the Royals accept his defense for four years and evaluate where they are, and their alternatives before exercising the club options.

If Escobar follows the Jay Bell career arc it is a different story. In Jay Bell's 25-30 seasons, he posted a .272/.343/.413 line with an OPS+ of 104. If Escobar can develop into this type of hitter the deal quickly becomes an absolute steal for the Royals. My guess is that Escobar settles in somewhere in between, something along the lines of a .270/.320/.395 hitter. In today's offense depressed environment this is good production out of a short stop and 9 hole hitter. 

If Escobar can stay healthy and continue to do what he does now, the downside is minimal. The Royals would have a top notch defender for the next 4-6 seasons and at times grow frustrated with the lack of offensive production. Escobar was a 2.0 brWAR player in 2011. If he can maintain that production the guaranteed portion of this contract is well worth it. If his production can increase even just a little, the option years become no brainers. 

I love the Royals aggression in handing out extensions over the past few years. This is their second in the past month, and with Alex Gordon two years away from free agency, many believe another is on the way. Eric Hosmer said that Perez's extension make him want his own even more. Danny Duffy wants to be buried a Royal. Let's hope the Royals aren't done getting their future to put pen to paper.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Prospect Countdown: #11 Jason Adam

#11 Jason Adam

Age: 20
Position: RHP
Height: 6-4
Weight: 225
Acquired: Drafted in the 5th Round of the 2010 Amateur Draft
From: Overland Park, KS

Drafted in 2010, Jason Adam required an $800K signing bonus from Kansas City to stay off the University of Missouri's campus. The Royals love Adam's upside. In high school and the Instructional League he routinely displayed a 93-97 mph fastball. His curveball has shown signs of being a plus pitch and his change could one day be another above average offering.

In his first professional season, Adam's fastball dipped to the upper 80s and low 90s range once he had to pitch every fifth day. Hopefully the dip in velocity is a result to a new routine and more innings, and it will rise as Adam adjusts to professional life. The other concern with Adam in 2011 was his delivery which was called "glacially slow to the plate" by Baseball America. In fact, Adam allowed 27 of 30 base stealers to achieve their goal.

Adam wasn't dominate in the Midwest League, but he did enough to show Royals prospect hounds why the organization was so exited about his future. Particularly of my liking was the .235/.288/.370 slash line that Adam yielded to opposing Midwest League hitters. Adam has mid rotation potential and he should open 2012 in Wilmington's bullpen.

Photo taken from

Prospect Countdown: #12 Christian Colon

#12 Christian Colon

Age: 22
Position: SS
Height: 6-1
Weight: 180
Acquired: Drafted 4th Overall in the 2010 Amateur Draft
From: Cayey, Puerto Rico

In the 2010 Amateur Draft there were three top-notch bonifide prospects: Bryce Harper, Jameson Taillon, and Manny Machado. Unfortunately, the Kansas City Royals selection came fourth. After hearing rumors that the Royals were leaning toward Chris Sale, and then hearing the Royals had a pre-draft agreement with Yasmani Grandal. Eventually, the dust settled and Christian Colon was a Royal.

One benefit of the Christian Colon selection was that he agreed almost immediately to the recommended slot bonus. Thanks to the speed of the negotiation, Colon was able to get sixty professional games under his belt in the 2010 season. Colon didn't dominate in his first professional stint, but considering he was fresh out of college and playing in Frawley Stadium his numbers weren't a disappointment.

The 2011 season was a different story. Christian Colon, who many already believe to lack the range to be an adequate big league shortstop, posted 18 errors. What was more concerning though, was Colon's bat. Christian Colon has pretty average tools across the board, but his bat had always been considered plus. When your bat is supposed to be the tool that carries you to the show, and you hit .257/.325/.342, it becomes a cause for concern.

The good news is that Colon, put his problems behind him in the Arizona Fall League. There he hit .299/.365/.429, while playing almost exclusively at second base. The Royals will continue to play him at short stop, but as a second baseman, Colon's displays above average range. Long term Colon should stick as either a second baseman or utility infielder.

Colon will return to Northwest Arkansas in 2012, but given his supposed polish, he could be ready extremely quickly. At the moment Giavotella is the second baseman of the future for Kansas City, but if Colon hits like scouts initially anticipated his defensive upside and bat could eventually unseat him.

Photo taken from Around the Horn KC

Monday, March 12, 2012

How Poker and Baseball Compare in Excitement

Just like with Baseball, the games of poker is sometimes filled with hours of boredom followed by moments of pure excitement.  Deal the cards, someone raises, and everyone folds.  Rinse, lather, and repeat.  Sounds very similar to the game of baseball.  The players take the field.  Throw to the players, three of them strike out, pop or ground out, and switch for the other team to have their time at the plate.  However, as you will see below, both games also have moments of thrilling excitement, and those are the moments that fans of both live for.

Take for instance baseball.  It is the bottom of the sixth inning and the game is notted up at 0-0.  So far, the game has been a pitchers duel with both teams only giving up a couple of singles each.  The number six hitter is up with a .273 average and 12 homers on the season.  Not a big power threat.  The pitcher makes a mistake and hangs a curveball that the batter launches to deep right.  Fans are now on their feet and erupt into a frenzy as the ball goes sailing over the fence.  Their team is now up and the place is rocking. 

Now let's look at the World Series of Poker.  You are watching the feature table with several well known players, but there hasn't been any real action for quite a while.  Suddenly, there is not only a pre-flop raise, but now a re-raise.  That raise is called and a flop comes down.  The initial raiser puts about 30% of his stack in on the flop and his opponent shoves all-in.  Fans are rising to their feet as the initial bettor calls. 

Now every is up on their feet to see what the two players have.  The players that moved all-in is actually behind and his fans are now all screaming for his needed card to win.  Fans of the player ahead are now chanting for his hand to hold.  This continues through the turn that happens to miss both.  The river card falls and the behind player hits his card.  His fans go crazy and the player that wins the hand runs over to celebrate with his buddies after not being knocked out of the event. 

As you can clearly see, both poker and baseball have elements similar to one another.  It is no wonder that many sites like and many TV stations, including ESPN, now cover poker.  Granted, both games have their similarities, but you cannot doubt that both are games with long periods of boredom followed by moments of absolute excitement.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Luis Mendoza and Pitching Lines

Yesterday, I made the comment that if Mendoza can post similar lines throughout 2012, he can find success. I want to be clear on the meaning of that statement. So let's take a look at the line that Luis Mendoza posted yesterday against the Colorado Rockies: 4 innings pitches, 2 hits allowed, 0 runs allowed, 0 walks allowed and 3 strikeouts. He threw 48 pitches, 36 of which were strikes, while recording eight ground outs to just one air out. Not to mention that both hits were also ground balls.

Make no mistake about it this is a heck of a line. The reason for my comment was to illustrate that if Mendoza was this kind of pitcher during his brief two start call up, and during his breakout in 2011, I would be much more optimistic about his potential moving forward. However, this isn't the case.

Last season in Omaha, Mendoza posted a 5.05 K/9 to a 3.37 BB/9, and a league average ground ball percentage of 43%. Where Mendoza did find some success was his slightly above average pop up percentage. In his two September starts Mendoza was virtually the same guy, with virtually the same flukey success. Yes, Mendoza reworked his delivery. Yes, Mendoza put together a great 2011. No, it isn't sustainable.

This brings me back to my comment from yesterday. Even in Mendoza's first Spring start he posted the same type of line as he did in 2011. If Mendoza continues to post roughly as many walks and strikeouts and an average ground ball rate, he could have a perfect ERA and I would still believe it a mistake if he opens in the rotation. However, if Mendoza's line can change and he keeps his ERA down, my interest will grow.

Yesterday, for the first time since Mendoza has been on the rotation radar, he actually posted a quality line. The guy was dominate. It will be these type of lines that Mendoza will need to post in order to be a legitimate candidate for the rotation.

It must be said that it is likely much more than coincidence that the first time Mendoza's line correlates with his earned runs, he was facing the Colorado Rockies' less than normal lineup. No Tulo. No Car-Go. My comment was in no way emphasizing Mendoza's line as a turning point. I merely wanted to point out that it was that kind of line that would be necessary on a regular basis in order for me to take Mendoza seriously as a rotation candidate.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

That is NOT a Good Idea

 "I think Yuni will start three or four times a week," Yost said. "and we'll be able to keep everybody strong in that infield. I don't think we're going to lose a beat. It's a perfect scenario."
 Perfect? Have I forgotten the meaning of the word? Here's the definition of perfect from

  1. conforming absolutely to the description or definition of an ideal type.
  2. excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement.
  3. exactly fitting the need in a certain situation or for a certain purpose.
  4. entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings.
  5. accurate, exact, or correct in every detail.

Nope. That's exactly what I thought perfect meant. So what does three or four starts a week mean in terms of games for Yuni this season? I counted up the number of weeks that the royals play six or seven games and there are twenty-four weeks. The first couple of days, the All Star Break, and the last day weren't counted, but collectively they would make up another weeks worth of games so let's round it off at twenty-five weeks in the season.

If Betancourt starts three games per week, here's the potential impact on the starts for each of the affected players (I'm going to assume that those starts aren't evenly taken and that Escobar is spelled less often than Giavotella and Moustakas.):

Yuniesky Betancourt: 75 starts
Mike Moustakas: 132 starts
Johnny Giavotella: 132 starts
Alcides Escobar: 147 starts

Here's the breakdown for Betancourt getting 3.5 starts a week or 7 every two weeks:

Yuniesky Betancourt: 87 starts
Mike Moustakas: 127 starts
Johnny Giavotella: 127 starts
Alcides Escobar: 145 starts

Finally, here's the breakdown for 4 starts a week:

Yuniesky Betancourt: 100 starts
Mike Moustakas: 122 starts
Johnny Giavotella: 122 starts
Alcides Escobar: 142 starts

When Betancourt was signed this offseason one of the primary defenses was Ned Yost's use of the bench. He'll hardly ever play. He'll get less than 200 at bats. His impact will be minimal. Let me be blunt here. If Betancourt starts 75 games, his impact will not be minimal. Based off Ned Yost's comments Betancourt is going to be due 350-450 at bats for 2012.

The Brewers may have won the division playing Betancourt every day in 2011, but there is a reason the guy had to accept a bench role in 2012. Betancourt's signing was an annoyance, but most of our annoyance was tied up in the symbolism of the move. We believed that in actuality Betancourt would suffice for a back up infielder.

If Betancourt starts 3-4 times a week this no longer is true. That much playing time turns Betancourt from a potentially useful bench piece to a detriment on this team's chances to win the division. It's early in Spring and I want to believe that should Betancourt play like Betancourt he'll quickly see his playing time decrease, but the comments from Ned Yost are scary nonetheless.

Of course the possibility exists that Giavotella, Moustakas, or Escobar totally flounder in 2012, making Betancourt a more viable option, but if this were true contention most likely wouldn't be possible anyway. The Royals absolutely have to maximize their roster in 2012, if they are going to be the surprise of baseball. Starting Betancourt 90 games would absolutely kill the opportunity.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Few Thoughts on ST Opener

We are just one game in and obviously I don't plan on writing after every game this season, but considering today was the first game in months I felt compelled to jot down a few thoughts. Keep in mind that these thoughts are after one game of Cactus League play.

  • In the top of the first, Johnny Giavotella drew a one out walk getting on board for Eric Hosmer and then Billy Butler. It is critical that Johnny Giavotella produces in the two hole in order for this team to be the surprise of the American League. Last year Melky Cabrera raked in the position and if Johnny Giavotella doesn't hit there is no one to fill the hole in the order. Giavotella went 1-2 today with a walk and two runs scored.

  • After Giavotella's walk Billy Butler put a charge into a ball, grabbing his first home run of the Spring. For a long time Royals fans have heard that the power will develop, here's to hoping that the second half of 2011 was a sign of things to come.

  • In the bottom of the first Josh Hamilton got a hold of a ball. At the time I was listening  on radio and from the sound of Denny Matthews' voice I thought it was extra bases for sure. Instead Cain ran the ball down. Watching Cain play center is one of the things I am looking most forward to entering 2012.

  • Luis Mendoza got four ground out to one air out in his two inning stint. In fact, the only hit he did allow was a infield single to Nelson Cruz. Grounders are the key to Mendoza's success, so that'll be one thing to keep an eye on in the box scores this Spring.

  • Speaking of ground ball pitchers, Nate Adcock was impressive during his two innings of work as well. Adcock got four ground outs, and two strike outs in his two perfect innings.

  • Mazzaro wasn't dominate during his two innings, but he did pound the zone and not allow a runner to cross the plate.

  • I loved Kelvin Herrera's 9th. He didn't throw quite as many strikes as I would've liked but he did post a 1,2,3 inning with two Ks. Against Luis Hernandez, Herrera threw all fastballs between 96 and 97 miles per hour.

  • Other performances of note: Lorenzo Cain (2-2), Mike Moustakas (2-3), and Alex Gordon (1-3). You can see the whole box score here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Kila had his Chances

"In Kansas City, they always had someone else they wanted. They never really wanted me there. I always did well enough to hang around but was always passed up." -Kila Ka'aihue. You can read the entire article here
Kila Ka'aihue may very well have a valid complaint here, but for some reason this quotation really rubs me the wrong way. Entering 2009, Ka'aihue probably deserved a shot to be the everyday first baseman. Instead that privilege went to the recently acquired Mike Jacobs. The Jacobs acquisition was incredibly frustrating for many Royals fans, who believed Ka'aihue had really found something with that bat. However, according to some the organization believed Ka'aihue had "slider" bat speed.

Even if the organization felt that Ka'aihue could be a Major League regular, Ka'aihue had only played in 33 games at the Triple-A level. Sure he mashed, but for a guy that wasn't a top prospect, I don't blame the organization for wanting to see more before handing him the first base position.

In 2009, Ka'aihue put together a fine season, but didn't set the world on fire in 2008. He probably did enough to deserve a September call up, but instead he was left to finish the season in Omaha and go home. Not happy with his 2009 showing the Royals once again didn't feel the need to name him the starter for 2010.

 The following season, Ka'aihue went back to Omaha and returned to 2008 form. Eventually, Ka'aihue played in 52 big league games that season, but hit a paltry .217/.307/.394. Despite these struggles the Royals allowed him another shot in 2011. Ka'aihue opened the season as the first baseman and his line was even more putrid. In his 23 games Ka'aihue hit a measly .195/.295/.317.

I know it was a small sample, and Eric Hosmer was breathing down his neck, but if Ka'aihue would have hit he would have stayed. At this point he has played in 87 games and posted a .216/.309/.317 line. He is already 27, and it would seem he is going to get another shot with Oakland, while Manny Ramirez serves is 50 game suspension.

I think it is obvious that Kansas City was never confident in Ka'aihue like they were with the new wave of prospects. But at this point can we really point a finger and say they were wrong? Ka'aihue had a shot in 2010 to hit. He had a shot again in 2011. Both times he failed. Really, had he raked in Omaha in 2009 he would've had another shot at some point that season.

Really Ka'aihue says it best himself. He always hit well enough to hang around. But he wasn't passed up because a vendetta. He was passed up because ultimately he couldn't perform at the highest level of competition.

 I was a huge Ka'aihue fan. I really hoped and at times believed that Ka'aihue would be the kind of prospect that comes out of no where and dominates. I really hoped that he could be the Royals Travis Hafner. Unfortunately things don't always go the way we plan, but we should remember that bitterness doesn't look good on anyone.