By Jeff Montgomery
When the Royals scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s game against the Washington Nationals, it could have been just what this struggling team was looking for. After being shut out in three of four losses going into the game, it had seemed as though the defending World Series Champions had lost their swagger.
Even though it was only 25 games into the season it felt like the 8-2 start the team had was so far in the past it might never get back to playing “Royals Baseball”. The same baseball the fans had grown accustomed to seeing going back to October of 2014 when they pulled of the ultimate comeback in their Wild-Card victory over the Oakland A’s. The same “Royals Baseball” that had provided so many dramatic victories during the championship run to the World Series title last year that one could hardly keep track.
All teams hit the skids during the course of a long and grueling season but almost everyone who watched Royals baseball in 2015 felt as though a stretch like this team has experienced over the past few weeks was impossible. With the offensive depth it demonstrated last year, it almost felt as though this team would be slump proof as it had not shown any signs last year and it returned 8 of 9 in the starting lineup from last year's Opening Day lineup.
We have learned that it is possible that seven or eight can go cold at the same time. We have learned that one hot hitter cannot carry a team every night. We have also learned that this team still has the ability to come back against even the best of teams. Before Tuesday’s victory, the Nationals were 16-0 when leading after 8 innings and they took a 2-run lead into the ninth with Jonathan Papelbon on the mound and the Royals proceeded to “keep the line moving” and scored 3 runs on 5 hits before it was all over.
It seemed as though it was going to be another night when the lights would go off and the focus would be on tomorrow and finding a way to get a victory. However, Alex Gordon got things going with an “excuse me” base hit and the flood gates opened from there with Lorenzo Cain closing the deal on the comeback with a single in the gap which scored Mike Moustakas who had driven in the tying runs with a 2-run, pinch-hit single of his own.
As the Royals move forward, it will be very interesting to see what kind of impact this single victory has on the team. A team that certainly needs no reminder of just how good they can be. A team that had sort of lost its swagger, an intangible that is very difficult to measure. An intangible that is so important to playing “Royals Baseball”.
By Jeff Montgomery
After the first week of Royals baseball it appears that all is still good in Royals Land. The team seems to be essentially the same team that just last season won their first divisional title in 30 years, won their second American League title in as many years, and won their second World Series title in franchise history.
There were some legitimate concerns about the starting rotation coming into the season. While the Royals gave Ian Kennedy the largest pitcher's contract and the second largest overall contract in team history at $70 million, the most common comment was that they overpaid for the right-hander. On Saturday night at Kauffman Stadium, he gave Royals fans a glimpse at why the Royals wanted him so much. He has always been a consistent performer that is know as an inning eater but Saturday he was much more than that. He turned in a brilliant performance and the Royals beat the Twins, 7-0. Edison Volquez has been Edinson Volquez in his first two starts and the Royals have won both of his starts. The first win coming on Opening Night in front of a national television audience. Through the the first five games the Royals rotation has an ERA of 1.91 which is a small sample size and doesn't have any duds factored into the numbers but still quite impressive for a department that was certainly under the microscope going into the 2016 campaign.
The offense has demonstrated the same ability to score runs from top to bottom in the order. In the Royals win on Friday night, all four runs in their 4-3 victory came from the bottom four in the lineup. It also featured newcomer Raymond Fuentes collecting his first hit in in Royal Blue which provided two critical RBI's. In my opinion, their deep and balanced lineup was one of the biggest keys for their offense in 2015 after adding Kendrys Morales into the designated hitter's role.
Even though defense doesn't always get the same credit for winning as offense, the early part of this season demonstrates exactly how important defense is to this team's ability to win games. The weekend series which the Royals swept from the Twins is a great example of how important defense can be. Yes, the Royals are the only team in Major League Baseball to not commit an error through the first week of baseball but that is only part of the reason defense is so important. The Twins committed three very costly errors which allowed the Royals to sweep the series. Over the past three seasons, the Royals have +192 Defensive Runs Saved - which is the best in all of baseball. And, it's not always the highlight reel play that makes a difference, sometimes it's just good baseball instincts taking over allowing a great play to be made.
The Royals bullpen has the makings of being one of the best in the game again this year. As Wade Davis slides into the closer's role to begin the season, everyone else slides up a notch in the bullpen ladder. It will also require Joakim Soria to settle in and pitch consistently (which I am confident that will happen). The pen is full of power arms which include Kelvin Herrera and new "fireman" Luke Hochever who has excelled in stranding the inherited runners which he comes in to prevent from scoring.
The other intangible element this team has shown that it possesses in the ability to come from behind regardless of how unlikely it may seem. It has picked up where it left off from the past two postseasons and won games already in the early part of 2016 that many had written off to the loss column.
Overall it appears the summer at the "K" will be full of excitement. Let's just hope the fall is just as action packed!
By Jeff Montgomery
No two words are normally more welcome in early April than Opening Day. That certainly is the case this year as the Royals kick off their World Series title defense. Although their was enormous hype over last year’s Opening Day it is different this year after the team won it all and gave Kansas City a huge boost in the pride department. Now it has been proven that what our Boys in Blue have accomplished is not a fluke.
The Royals had 95 wins in 2015, which was the best in the American League. If you go back to the start of the 2013 season, the Royals are 270-216, which is the best in the American League during that 3-year span.
In looking at this year’s team it reminds me of last year’s team, and the 2014 team, and even the 2013 team. It is a team made up of many solid players that doesn’t necessarily have a super star. At least not a super star that almost everyone in the baseball world would point to as the best player in the game. It does however, have a long list of players that almost everyone in baseball would lave to have on their respective team.
It is a team that started learning how to win together in the minor leagues going back several years ago. A team that also took some lumps together when the core of young players arrived on the Major League scene. A team that was given the ability to fail at times without those failures defining their future but instead allowing them to grow into success by learning from their failures.
In looking ahead, the 2016 version of the Kansas City Royals will be exactly what it has been over the past 3 or 4 years. It will be a team that has to win more games with sometimes less than others. It will be a team that likely won’t have a Cy Young candidate in its rotation. It will be a team that has to grind out 9 innings every night in order to win a game. It will be a team that will rely on its defense more than anyone believes can factor in to as many wins as this team’s defense will factor into. It will be a team that will utilize its bullpen often and effectively. It will be a team that uses its athleticism more effectively than most have ever seen done on a baseball field.
I guess what I’m saying is that we could be very bored, but we could be very excited. Bored because this is what we have seen for a few years now. Excited because its what we have seen for a few years now. If I had to bet, I would be that we would be more excited than bored over the next 6 or 7 months. Let’s hope it’s seven.
Good luck Royals!!!!
By Jeff Montgomery
As the Royals open their 48th Spring Training camp in Arizona, it is the time of year when all thirty teams in baseball dream of doing exactly what the Royals did in 2015. To be more specific, everyone wants to be that one team left standing at the top of the mountain looking down on everyone else in the baseball world. In the Royals case, it was that one team left looking out at a sea of an estimated 800,000 baseball fans that were mostly clad in Royal Blue after a World Series Championship parade around the streets of downtown Kansas City.
The Royals were 90-feet away (some might say they were a Madison Bumgarner away) from accomplishing the feat of a World Series Championship in 2014. The Royals made it clear they were driven in 2015 by coming up just short in 2014. Another factor seemed to be the lack of respect they were given by most of the experts who were picking them to fallback significantly in 2015. Well, don’t look now, but the experts are calling for the same regression in 2016 they expected in 2015.
Can this be somewhat of a motivational tool for the upcoming season? Do the Royals need any motivation after winning the Series last season? I think that only players truly know the answer to those questions. I do feel confident that once again they will be asked repetitively if they have heard about what the experts think they will do in 2016.
One of the beautiful aspects of the game of baseball is that you don’t have to be an unusually gifted physical specimen to play at a high level. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be a freak of nature physically but not essential to success. I think this is sort of why the projection systems don’t give the Royals the same level of respect as many other organizations. It’s because the Royals are not the freak of nature in the baseball world. Although some may argue that players like Lorenzo Cain or Eric Hosmer could/should win and American League MVP at some point in their career, so far the team’s success has been built around depth and not relying on just a few great players. The benefit to winning with a deeper, more balanced team is that you can afford to lose one of your best players and still not miss a beat. Last year the Royals lost Alex Gordon for about two months and actually had a better winning percentage in his absence that when he was active. They also lost an All-Star closer in Greg Holland for the post season and the bullpen still performed almost flawlessly.
As training camps open and we experience some nice early spring weather here in Kansas City, it will be interesting seeing how the Boys in Blue respond to the projections and simulators that think they will be a sub-.500 team again this year. Not that I expect the Royals to defy incredible odds and repeat their run to the top again, it just won’t surprise me if they do it again. It should be a fun spring…and summer of baseball for everyone who bleeds Royals Blue!
By Jeff Montgomery
In an era where Major League Baseball contracts normally spark discussions based on the significant number of commas and zeros associated with the deals, lately we have heard more and more talk about the 5-year contract Salvador Perez signed in 2012 which lacked the commas and zeros one would expect to see in a contract for an All-Star and Gold Glover.
It is very likely that Salvador Perez was one of the happiest guys on Earth when he signed the $7 million dollar deal back in 2012 (he actually seems to be one of the happiest guys on Earth every day). Many were critical of his decision to trade the long-term earning potential for the financial security his contract provided him and his family at that time which was very early in his career. Remember, he made his Major League debut in August of 2011. To Sal’s credit, there has been very little discussion or distractions during the past few seasons about his contract other than a small amount of press it received last summer. He has also performed on the field without allowing the contract to be any issue at all.
Now, as Perez is about to begin the last guaranteed season of his 5-year deal, there has been some discussion that a restructuring or extension of his deal could occur soon and for good reason. It is important to remember that Perez has only accumulated a little over 4 years of Major League service and would not qualify to become a free agent until after the 2017 season if the Royals would not exercise their options on his contract. It is also important to point out that Salvador’s salary during the 2012-2014 seasons was significantly more than he would have made without salary arbitration rights which provided the incentive for him to sign the contract.
One only needs to look across the state to the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina to find a very comparable player at the catcher’s position. The two have been compared on numerous occasions as potentially the best in their respective leagues when looking at their entire skill sets. However, when looking at their contracts, there is no comparison. Perez signed his 5-year/$7 million deal on 2/27/12 and three days later on 3/01/12 Molina signed a 5-year/$75 million extension with the Cardinals.
There is no doubt that Yadier Molina is an elite player but it is obvious that he is not worth ten times more than Salvador Perez, which is why it makes sense for the Royals to extend Perez’s contract beyond the 2019 season when the current options will have exercised.
Teams have to be very cautious about precedents that are set when renegotiating or restructuring contracts to avoid an epidemic of players asking to redo their deals. And, contracts need to work for both parties to make good business sense. I think everyone would agree that Sal’s deal has made good sense for both him and the Royals. I also think that everyone would agree that an extension of his contract would make good sense for both him and the Royals.
By Jeff Montgomery
It didn’t take long for the Champaign on my clothing to dry after the Royals defeated the Mets to win their second World Series Championship for people to start asking the two most asked questions of the off season: 1) Will we be able to sign Ben Zobrist? and 2) Can we afford to keep Alex Gordon?
My response was “I think we have about a 51% chance of signing Zobrist and about a 2% chance of keeping Alex.” I was obviously wrong on Zobrist as he signed early in the off-season with the Chicago Cubs and I hope I am also wrong on keeping Alex Gordon.
My reasoning on Zobrist was that he seemed to be such a good fit for Kansas City. Not just the Royals, but for our city too. He’s one of the most down to earth super stars one could ever have the pleasure to get to know. And yes, his new daughter’s middle name is Royal. However, based on his incredible post-season performance, he elevated his market value to a level that was simply out of reach for the Royals. Plus, he was able to reunite with his first Major League manager in Joe Madden.
Based on his career performance, I thought Alex Gordon’s value had already been established at a level that would be too rich for the Royals to contend for his services. I felt that at least one high revenue team would make it an easy decision for Alex to part ways with the team that drafted and developed him into one of the games best left fielders.
At the time of this writing, Alex has still not signed a new contract so there is a chance that he will be back as a Royal under a new long-term deal. Regardless, it is important to trust that Dayton Moore and his baseball operations department will do everything necessary to make sure the Royals have an outfield that will cover the spacious grounds of Kauffman Stadium.
One thing we have learned about Dayton Moore is that it is not his style to make comments on negotiations with potential signees. Another thing we have learned is that he has a pretty good idea of what it takes to field a team that is right for the Royals and one that will play hard and compete for 9 innings each and every game.