Ball Star

Andy McCullough blogs about the Royals and baseball

Royals mailbag: Can Kelvin Herrera close? Will Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas stay hot?

08/08/2014 9:26 AM

08/08/2014 2:23 PM

Greetings from Sky Harbor Airport, the site of my flight back to Kansas City. If the season ended today, there would be mass confusion, due to the season’s early end, but the Royals would lay claim to the American League’s second wild card. To get here, they have won 12 of 15 to vault past Toronto and pull within 2 1/2 of Detroit.

The trade deadline has passed, but more deals are still possible. In the interim, there are plenty of other questions to consider. Let’s answer some.

A refresher: The Royals possess a $7 million team option on Wade Davis for 2015. Through arbitration, Greg Holland will likely cost around $8 million. That’s a $15 million paycheck, give or take some arbitration tomfoolery, for a pair of one-inning relievers. For a budget-conscious group like the Royals, this is a hefty sum.

So the late-season revival of Herrera is critical to their long-range planning. Kansas City does not need to trade either Davis or Holland, but it would make plenty of sense to do so. Herrera could slide into the void in the eighth inning. His peripheral numbers are a bit shaky, with a 1.90 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but his actual run prevention has been solid.

It is unlikely the team can recapture the bottled lightning of this Davis-Holland duo. But they can still fashion a solid bullpen in 2015 if one of them is closing elsewhere. Herrera aids that cause.

The consensus among both Royals officials and rival evaluators — or, at least the ones I’ve spoken with — is Butler is the proverbial “too good of a hitter” to stay this cold for this long. There is no grand explanation for his decay here in 2014, besides the facts: He has been less patient at the plate (swing at a career-high 32.6 percent of pitches outside the zone, according to FanGraphs) and shown little power (a career-worst .102 isolated slugging percentage).

What is Butler doing wrong? He is swinging early in the count as fastballs inside and offspeed stuff away. The combination creates the same result: Balls on the ground. What does Butler not do well? Run. So even though he often makes solid contact, his grounders are gobbled up by the opposing infield with plenty of time to make an easy throw.

Within this analysis lies reason for hope, at least for the next two months of his career. Scouts still believe his bat speed is there. His timing was merely upset from the start of the season onward, and he has been trying to find his groove ever since. His technical skills remain apparent.

So maybe his recent surge — a 1.000 OPS in a 12-game stretch from July 24 to Wednesday — is a sign of a renaissance. I doubt he can do enough to alter his future with the club. There is a minimal chance the organization picks up his $12.5 million option for 2015. Even at a lower rate, the team is wary of jamming up the roster with a permanent DH.

With Moustakas, it will always be a day-to-day proposition. He has yet to prove he can consistently punish opposing pitchers in the majors. But he can do so sporadically, and he plays good enough defense to stay useful. He may not be the long-term solution at third base for the Royals, which is a disappointment for a club that drafted him No. 2 overall back in 2007. But he still shows flashes of potential.

He is still only 25. His cost in arbitration will not be prohibitive, one figures. So the Royals can continue to stick with him.

Let’s handle this in two parts:

1. They weren’t sellers because they believe this club can make the playoffs. That holds tremendous value for an organization that has not played postseason baseball since 1985.

2. The day of the deadline, The Star detailed various reasons why the club could not make any additions. They were active, calling on players like John Lackey and Marlon Byrd and A.J. Burnett and Alex Rios and dozens more. But they lacked the financial flexibility to add much salary. Both Byrd and Rios possessed no-trade clauses that blocked any potential deal to KC and provided them with leverage. Plus, opposing clubs sought big-leaguers, not minor-league prospects, and general manager Dayton Moore was reluctant to deal potential cornerstones like Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura.

Baseball Prospectus gives them a 17.6 percent chance to pass Detroit. Sounds about right, to me.

I asked this same question to David Glass during a conversation last month. Here is his response:

“I would prefer that we develop really outstanding players at every position, including pitching. To the extent that we have a deficiency, or a hole, then you go out and fill that, with the best player that you can find. And that’s exactly what Dayton did this offseason. He replaced (Ervin) Santana with Vargas. We needed a second baseman. He went out and got Infante, who all of us have admired for a long time.

“What you want to do is you want to do it with your talent, that you’ve put together, and you’ve developed and you’ve taught how to play the Royals way. To the extent that you can’t do that, you fill the holes with free agency.”

So, answer would be: “No.” The team’s payroll constraints are certainly a frustration. The lack of flexibility limited the front office’s options during the most recent trade deadline. I would remind, however, how rarely these long-term deals for free agents work out, especially for pitchers, but even for position players.

Think about the offseason the Yankees had. They spent a combined $283 million on a trio of free agents: outfielder Carlos Beltran, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and catcher Brian McCann.

Beltran: 107 OPS+ through 80 games, 0.3 bWAR.

Ellsbury: 109 OPS+ through 110 games, 2.3 bWAR.

McCann: 88 OPS+ through 102 games, 0.8 bWAR.

Ellsbury is having a decent season. He is by far the best of the bunch. To put this in perspective, the Yankees are paying a little more than $53.4 million for a pair of near-replacement-level players and a brittle outfielder having an OK campaign. And this is for the early years of the deal, before the inevitable decline phases.

We have been over this several times. Dyson is an interesting case. His WAR is nice and flashy. His counting statistics are not. He entered Thursday’s game hitting .273/.325/.326. His power is minimal. His on-base skills are not ideal. Since July 1, his OPS was .575. He also cannot hit left-handers (.550 OPS in 2014).

When Nori Aoki provided little production, it was reasonable to consider Dyson as the best option for the third outfielder each day. A platoon made more sense then, as we wrote at the time. Ned Yost didn’t listen, because he says he only checks MLB.com for the daily scores and then he reads about NASCAR. To each his own.

ANYWAY: With Dyson slumping and Aoki looking a little more lively, the current arrangement makes more sense. Dyson still has plenty of value as a fourth outfielder, late-game defensive replacement and pinch runner.

I would not be shocked to see an influx of new relievers, although I doubt many of them will pitch in either high-leverage or even medium-leverage situations. Yost has said he expects Tim Collins and Louis Coleman to return then. Casey Coleman is also an option.

A September call-up is often reward for a successful minor-league season, and players like catcher Francisco Pena, and starter John Lamb fit the bill. The trouble for players like Matt Fields, Whit Merrifield and Buddy Baumann is they are not on the 40-man roster.

I am a believer in Bo. I enjoy his shtick. I also enjoyed Bray’s shtick, until it became somewhat exhausting during that interminable feud with Cena. I will say this: I would much rather watch Luke Harper work a match than I would Bray. Harper was quite impressive at Battleground. The Superkick into the Lariat spot was my personal favorite (go to 18:26 here).

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4370 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @McCulloughStar

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