Welcome to Ask Andy, the Friday feature formerly known as The Star’s Royals mailbag. The Royals are in first place, grinding away and keeping the Tigers at bay. They host another first-place club, the Yankees, this weekend at Kauffman Stadium.
To get you through the day before first pitch at 7:10 p.m. on Friday, let’s tackle some of the pressing issues facing the club.
I posed this question to manager Ned Yost during the week. He said, in essence, no. So I asked why Colon wouldn’t play more.
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“I don’t have any problem with what Omar’s doing,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a better option.”
This is a very, very simple way to say something a lot of fans refuse to accept: The Royals feel Infante is a better player than Colon. Even after a brutal 2014 and a rough start to 2015, Infante will get the at-bats.
Until, of course, he doesn’t. We shall see when, or if, that day arrives.
Yost continued, “Omar is a veteran guy. He’s going to get hot. When he does, he’ll carry us for a while. I mean, I’m pleased with the way Colon’s been playing, filling in here, filling in there.”
I am merely the messenger.
It is too early to say, definitively, that the Royals require outside help for their rotation to stabilize. The club can present compelling cases for upcoming rejuvenation from all their troublesome starters.
To wit: They say Yordano Ventura looked better in his last outing, even if fastball velocity is down a tad (95.8 mph in 2015; 97 mph in 2014, according to FanGraphs) and rival scouts worry about the consistency of his curveball.
Danny Duffy’s issues are self-inflicted, which means they are correctable with few tweaks. Edinson Volquez has been fine despite a nasty blister on his right thumb. Jeremy Guthrie pitched well in his last two outings. Chris Young has been a revelation.
But the concern is real. The group ranks No. 23 in ERA (4.64), No. 22 in FIP (4.37) and No. 28 in strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.85). This is not good. The Royals have been able to overcome the stumbles by the starters thus far. But it is very, very difficult for a club to survive without quality starting pitching. We’ll see how the team addresses it — if they can.
Here are two points, followed by a one-word answer.
The two points:
1. Luke Hochevar has a 5.44 ERA as a starter. He has a 2.10 ERA as a reliever.
2. Luke Hochevar underwent Tommy John surgery in March of 2014.
The one-word answer: No.
If you look at the entire Royals organization, the only player who would be considered “untouchable” is Salvador Perez. Everyone else is, theoretically, available. Understand what this means: If another team makes an preposterous offer — something irresponsible like Bryce Harper for Alex Gordon, for one ridiculous example — the Royals would not hesitate. This makes them no different than the 29 other clubs.
Now, here is a partial list of prospects the Royals would not like to part with: Raul Mondesi, Miguel Almonte, Brandon Finnegan, Kyle Zimmer, Sean Manaea. Trades tend to be painful. To acquire something good, you have to give up something good. So all of these players would be considered available in a deal. The return from the other club must be sizable. This is how trades work.
Absolutely they should. But they almost certainly won’t be able to do that.
Let’s get the Infante stuff out of the way. He is 33 and, in the words of one rival scout, “he got old fast.” He has stopped hitting (a .236/.243/.345 slash line heading into Friday). To borrow the parlance of Matt Pryor and Jim Suptic, his fielding is nothing to write home about (though he made some nice leaping catches on Thursday). He is also expensive: The team owes him $17.75 million for 2016 and 2017.
So why on Earth would another team try to acquire this player? And, why on Earth would another team give up a better player to acquire this player? And, to finish off the point, why on Earth would another team give up a better player who plays the same position to acquire this player? Unless a team is attempting to sabotage their present and their future, there is no sensible reason to do this.
To further complicate this scenario, there is no Second Base Tree. St. Louis will not trade Kolten Wong to Kansas City because it seems like a nice thing to do. The Marlins will not flip Dee Gordon because they think Kansas City deserves a batting champion. Houston will not send Jose Altuve to the Royals because Kansas City claimed copyright infringement on the phrase “The Process.”
And so on.
The Holland suggestion is more interesting. Which leads to the next question…
A disclaimer: The Royals have given zero indication (as in none) that they intend to trade a reliever. Dayton Moore stresses, over and over, the importance of depth. The club would prefer not to part with their star relievers, even if it is a surplus.
But if you had to choose between Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera, trading Holland makes the most sense.
Herrera is the youngest of the three. He also is the cheapest. Given his chances for regression, he also figures to merit the smallest return package. Davis is the best of the three. He also is under contract for a year longer than Holland, and at a lower rate.
Holland should earn more than $10 million (perhaps as much as $12 million) in his final year of arbitration. As long as he stays healthy, he should strike a sizable contract as a free agent after 2016. Barring a philosophical change, that deal won’t be with the Royals. So the team’s window to deal Holland and receive credible value is shrinking.
I don’t think they’ll trade him, though. Just answering the question.
As for your second question, let’s look at the three candidates:
1. Shelby Miller: He has been a beast since arriving in Atlanta. He is not even eligible for arbitration. The Braves already unloaded their closer this spring, and they aren’t contending in the immediate future. Why would they take on Holland’s salary?
2. Jake Arrieta: He is a tad more feasible, because he’s 29 and closer to free agency. Holland would be an upgrade over closer Hector Rondon. But it’s hard to see Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer giving up a good starting pitcher for a great reliever.
3. Jake Odorizzi: Like Miller, Odorizzi has been awesome and he’s been making the minimum. Why would Tampa Bay trade that for 1.5 years of a closer?
Trades do not work like this.
The Royals led the majors in stolen bases in 2013 and 2014. Their speed powered their offense into October. Here in 2015, they rank ninth in the majors. Yost pointed to a slew of slide-steps from opposing pitchers as one deterrent. But there are other factors at play.
For a lengthy explanation, we turn to Rusty Kuntz, the team’s Guru of Go:
“I think, personally, the way we’re set up now is a little different than we were last year. Number one, last year, we had more team speed on the field. And the guys who could run were getting on. So our table-setters were doing a better job of getting on, which meant we had more opportunities. The lineup now, the way the team’s built this year, is a little different, because we’ve got more power — Moustakases, the Hosmers, the Morales’, when Rios was in the lineup.
“Realistically, we’ve got like Cain, Esky and Dyson. Well, Dyson’s not a full-time player. He’s playing more since Rios has been out. You’ve got three guys that are legitimate base-stealer guys. And if they don’t get on, the chances don’t rise. You can’t steal first.
“At the beginning, we were slugging. And then we went through a period where we had to steal some bases. And now we’re going through a lull where we’re not hitting the ball or getting on base as much, with anybody. But that’s the way stolen bases work. You can go through three games and get none. And then, all of a sudden, you get six. It just depends on the matchup and the combination and how the club is hitting.”
Orlando has not, necessarily, fallen out of favor with manager Ned Yost or the coaching staff or the Royals front office. He’s done nothing wrong. He’s just been playing like the sort of guy scouts project him to be: A fourth outfielder. And when a fourth outfielder gets the playing time of a starter, they often go into slumps. It’s the nature of the game.
Since Alex Rios went on the disabled list, Orlando is hitting .212 with a .534 OPS. He hit five triples in seven games. In the next 14 games, he posted a .454 OPS. Then again, Jarrod Dyson isn’t hitting much better. He is hitting .196 with a .523. The Royals really could use Alex Rios.
Despite what is said about me on Twitter, I hope readers understand I’m not nearly conceited enough to subject you kind folks to a collection of my own work. But here are four of my favorite ledes from four of my favorite stories:
Adam Kilgore, The Washington Post, May 12, 2013: The realization came to Rick Schu this spring as he sat in front of a screen, collecting baseball swings. All winter, Schu, the Washington Nationals’ hitting coordinator, had been watching “Baseball” by Ken Burns, a Christmas gift from his wife. He burned clips from the DVD and compiled classic swings — Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth. As he watched Ruth, Schu paused the video and asked himself a question: Didn’t Bryce Harper have a swing just like that?
Gary Smith, Sports Illustrated, Jan. 11, 1993: He entered the Arena with his wife on his arm and a container of holy water from Lourdes in his black leather bag. His back and hips and knees ached. That was the disease, they told him. His ears rang and his stomach turned and his hands and feet were dead. That, they said, was the cure. Each step he took brought a rattle from his bag. Twenty-four tablets of Advil were usually enough to get him through the day.
Joe Posnanski, The Kansas City Star, Spring 2003: On the road to Villa Vasquez, Tony Pena cried, not for the first time that day and not for the last.
Rick Reilly, Sports Illustrated, Sept. 26, 1988: What is it the poet said? Like muffled drums, our hearts beat a funeral march to the grave. And so it is that Bryant Gumbel, a man who is nothing if not prepared, keeps a list of his pallbearers. Who has been true? Who has transgressed? Though only 39, he has done it many times. Gumbel hates surprises. The list changes every few months or so. He keeps track.