2015 Kansas City Royals preview: left field

This is the eighth installment in what will be a comprehensive preview of the American League champion

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America

Alex Gordon is the face of the Kansas City Royals and in 2015, they need that face to shine more than ever. His career wins-above-replacement value already ranks in the franchise’s all-time top 20, and in a season when it’s uncertain who will drive the runs in, that 28.6 career WAR may need to actually bump up a few notches.

Key loss

None

Incumbent role players

Alex Gordon – Toiling for some time as an under-appreciated star on a bad team, winning ways for Kansas City finally are getting him his due. This 31-year old leftie is a two-time All Star, the American League Gold Glove at left field for the past four seasons, and in 2014 won his first Platinum glove. In 2014 he led the American League in total zone runs, fielding percentage, range factor in left field and defensive games at left field. His bat is no slouch either, as he has averaged 19 home runs, 39 doubles and 79 RBIs the past four seasons. During that stretch, his batting average is .283 and his lowest OPS was .749. In fact, only only four other position players in all of baseball have posted at least four WARP in each of the last four seasons. Those are Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Andrew McCutchen and Adrian Beltre. To say that he is the Royals’ most valuable player is an understatement. That looms large, as technically Gordon is in a contract year. Kansas City does have a team option for 2016 at $12.5 million, which if they can’t get a deal done during this season or before they have to pick it up, they probably will do to give them more time to negotiate with Gordon. Despite the fact that he had surgery on his right wrist during the off-season, the Royals expect him to be ready for Opening Day.

Rob Carr/Getty Images North America

Rob Carr/Getty Images North America

Jarrod Dyson – Primarily used as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner, Dyson also made two starts in left field last season. Altogether, he appeared in three games, playing one complete, at this position in 2014. Despite starting a mere 66 games total, he ranked among the AL leaders at producing runs with his legs. He probably will never have the bat consistency to be an everyday player, but this 30-year old left-hander presents a rare luxury off the bench for Kansas City. Dyson may push for more playing time this season, as he will be first-time arbitration eligible next off-season. He may be more likely to find that in right field, however, as long as Gordon remains healthy.

Terrance Gore – This 23-year-old rightie logged four innings in left field last season. There are large questions about whether or not he will ever be able to secure even a fourth outfield spot in the bigs because of his light bat. He has speed to equal, maybe even surpass Dyson’s, but if he can’t get on base it’s largely irrelevant. If Gore is going to keep a roster spot, he is going to have to show that his bat isn’t enough of a detraction to outweigh his speed, even on a team that values that attribute perhaps more than any other in baseball.

Veteran addition

None

Young upstarts

Jorge Bonifacio – Currently listed at No. 7 in the Royals’ system, he is the younger brother of Emilio Bonifacio, but couldn’t be much more different. His build is prototypical for a corner outfielder, and he has a potential for power that is being developed. In 505 at-bats for Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2014, the 21-year-old right-hander posted a line of .230/.302/.309. Jorge projects better in right field, and Kansas City is probably more likely to use him there if he gets called up this season.

Elier Hernandez – This 20-year-old product of the Dominican Republic has a ton of offensive potential that the Royals believe he is just beginning to tap into. This rightie has shown better mobility than Bonifacio and an equally powerful arm, but his bat is still developing. In 420 at-bats for Single-A Lexington in 2014, his numbers were .264/.296/.393. Kansas City currently lists his estimated time of arrival as 2016 and has him ranked at No. 18 in their system. Like Bonifacio, Hernandez projects better in right field than in left.

Summary

Gordon’s production is essential to the Royals having any chance to have a winning record for a third consecutive season. If Kansas City is to return to the playoffs, however, they will need their clean-up hitter to be closer to an 100-RBI-guy than an 80-RBI-guy. His health is imperative for more reason than just his bat, however, as it enables Dyson to retain his role in which he excels. The chance for either a contract extension or a free-agent deal sometime in the next two years should provide all the extra motivation that Gordon needs to stay healthy and achieve.

What if?

What if Gordon is determined to test the market and declines to sign an extension with the Royals before the 2016 season ends? That doesn’t necessarily mean that Kansas City would lose Gordon, but it increase the price that it would cost to re-sign him significantly. It could be a situation similar to what we saw with Billy Butler this off-season. If that were to happen, what route the Royals would take would largely depend on the progression or lack thereof of Bonifacio and Hernandez. If neither are ready for the bigs in Kansas City’s estimation, they may have to look elsewhere to fill the void in left field.

Check out the other installments
Shortstop
Third base
Second base
First base
Catching
Relief pitching
Starting pitching

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Wainwright may miss Opening Night in Chicago

WainwrightThe St. Louis Cardinals may not have their ace on the mound when the 2015 season opens in Wrigley Field on Sunday, April 5.

According to the team, Adam Wainwright was putting a 45-pound weight back on a rack on Monday, Feb. 23 and strained his lower abdominal muscles. He returned to St. Louis and was examined, where the injury was diagnosed. The strain was identified as belt-high and while it will hamper his ability to lift and run, it should not affect his ability to throw.

Cardinals’ general manager John Mozeliak went on the record saying that the team would lighten Wainwright’s work load, but he will still need three or four starts during the spring to be ready to take the ball on Opening Night against the Chicago Cubs.

Whether or not Wainwright makes the Opening Night start will depend on his recovery from the injury. If Wainwright is unable to go, expect St. Louis to put either John Lackey or Lance Lynn on the mound to start the 2015 regular season.

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Start thinking about 2016: Cleveland Indians edition

This is the eighth installment in what will be a series of articles that will cover all 30 teams, going in alphabetical order.

Recently Idaho state representative Vito Barbieri asked if a pill containing a camera could be swallowed by women to allow gynecologists to do exams remotely.

As laughably stupid as that is, the Cleveland Indians defense is just as hilarious.

Moving shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to the Washington Nationals last season and replacing him with Jose Ramirez did result in some improvement. However, the rest of the culprits that played major roles in leading the Indians to the most errors in the league in 2014 remain. Lonnie Chisenhall will still be throwing balls away at third base. Jason Kipnis and his Corgi-esque legs figure to be a fixture at second base if he can stay healthy. Yan Gomes‘ proficiency with the bat and ability to call games makes the management accept his defensive liability behind the plate. Nick Swisher figures to see time at first base, despite the fact that his mobility makes Kipnis look like 16-year-old Freddy Adu (remember him!?!).

What makes that infield even more like thinking that pills that women swallow end up in their vaginas is the fact that these are Cleveland’s best. It makes the idea of some of them being injury-prone scary for an Indians fan. That fact is true, however, and it’s understandably a hard pill to swallow (see what I did there?).

Nick SwisherSwisher has bum knees. Kipnis had hamstring, finger and quad issues in 2014. If you add that to the hamstring troubles of center fielder Michael Bourn, the knee and wrist issues of designated hitter Ryan Raburn and the fact that newly-acquired Brandon Moss is coming off hip surgery, the possibilities of having to plug in less-experienced players who could be even more of a defensive liability in 2015 becomes hauntingly real.

This team was able to set one American League record in 2014; pitching changes. Manager Terry Francona made 573 of them last season. Francona could see when the frustration of executing a pitch and getting the ground ball wasted on a circus performance of calamity was getting to his pitchers and promptly replaced them. That helped lead to Cleveland being attended about as well as the circus. The Indians were dead last in MLB in total attendance in 2014. Yes, more people went to Marlins Park last season.

The plan for 2015 is simply to hope the infield gets better and stays healthy. If those two things don’t happen, the Cleveland fans that already aren’t showing up will be further deterred out of embarrassment, like the people who live in Barbieri’s district. Start thinking about 2016.

Up next: the Colorado Rockies. Interested in the Cincinnati Reds edition?

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Making a Baseball Connection to the Seahawks Fateful Decision

January 29, 2015 - Source: Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)

January 29, 2015 – Source: Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)

Being a lifelong Seattle sports fan, I was as perplexed as the rest of America on the infamous 2nd down and 1 call during the final moments of the Super Bowl.  Do you put the ball in your best player’s hands to finish the biggest game of the season or do you try to use the element of surprise?  Unfortunately for Hawk fans, we all know how that line of thought worked out.  One yard would have vaulted a team from just another Super Bowl winner to the all-time great conversation.  Instead history would be decided by squeezing a quick slant into coverage to of all people Ricardo Lockette.  A guy best known as a special teams gunner and getting into a bit of a sticky situation with Colin Kapernick in the offseason.

What could have been going through the mind of Pete Carroll and his offensive coordinator?  Why wasn’t someone imploring them to use the KISS method of thinking (Keep it Simple Stupid)? It’s all water under the bridge now, but it wasn’t the first or last time that someone in a critical situation will try to get “too cute” or out think themselves.

Take the job of any closer in baseball.  The last three outs are without a doubt the most difficult to get.  So much is riding on each pitch to finish off the contest.  Because of that, the phrase don’t get beat by your second, third or fourth best pitch comes into play. I am taking some leeway with that saying, but you get the point.  If a hitter is going to beat you, make him beat you with your best.

The elite closers over the years always had something special about them.  Mariano’s cutter, Hoffman’s change up, and now Kimbrel’s fastball, all of those guys use their best in the most critical situations.  On the rare occasion when their best wasn’t good enough at least they could put their head on the pillow knowing the other team earned it.

Pete Carroll looked down at his playbook and saw his best pitch (Lynch), shook it off and decided to go away from it.  That may be ok in the 2nd quarter of a regular season game, but it’s not ok to close out a championship moment.   

Ask Mark Wohlers if he would like to have the cement mixer he threw to Jim Leyritz back in the 1996 World Series.  His previous pitch was a 99 MPH fastball and the announcer was expecting the next pitch to hit triple digits.  If Leyritz had caught up to his blistering heat, then tip your cap and move on.

So is life, so is sports.  Seattle fans, me included, will have to get over it in our own way and in our own time.  Just don’t expect to find us anywhere near a TV as they replay the final moments over and over again.

K-Rod rejoining Brewers

sportstalkflorida.com

sportstalkflorida.com

The Milwaukee Brewers have re-signed relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez to a two-year deal with a team option for a third season.

According to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the total value of the deal is $13 million. The contract pays Rodriguez $3 million in 2015, $6 million in 2016 and the remaining $4 million is deferred. In 2014 Rodriguez made 69 appearances for Milwaukee, saving 44 games and posting a 3.04 earned run average as a National League All-Star.

The move ends the rumors of the Brewers making a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies for Jonathan Papelbon, and leaves Rafael Soriano as the biggest name in relief pitching still available on the free agent market. For Milwaukee, it not only solidifies their closer role but all the other roles in their bullpen as well. It also means that other teams who were courting Rodriguez will have to go in other directions for the roles that he would have played for them.

For the Miami Marlins, for whom Rodriguez most likely would have filled a setup role for closer Steve Cishek, that setup job will now be more of an open competition between the likes of A.J. Ramos, Aaron Crow and Bryan Morris. The Toronto Blue Jays were also rumored to be in the mix, and for them it looks like Brett Cecil will be the favorite to retain the closer job.

Rodriguez should be able to reproduce his 2014 numbers if given the opportunity. Being in position to get saves will require the Brewers to hand the ball to him with a late lead, however. At the least, Milwaukee has solidified the roles that all of their bullpen pieces will enter 2015 occupying, and that makes getting ready for the season easier.

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Future unclear for Josh Hamilton

Yesterday the Los Angeles Times broke the story about Josh Hamilton meeting with officials at the league offices about an undisclosed disciplinary issue. Later in the day, Ken Rosenthal sent out a tweet that added another dimension to the discussion.

worseThe 33-year-old outfielder has a history of substance abuse, which nearly ended his career. Hamilton was able to overcome those issues and put together three stellar seasons with the Texas Rangers that garnered him the 2010 American League MVP and the lucrative deal that he currently has with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

On Friday, Feb. 27, the Los Angeles Times ran a report confirming that Hamilton had relapsed. Because of Hamilton’s past, this creates a unique situation.

 Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images North America

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images North America

Hamilton’s case is unique because he will be treated as a first-time offender under the current collective bargaining agreement. The first offense of abuse of illegal drugs does not carry a specific punishment that is required to be administered. It is likely that Hamilton will have to enter the league’s rehabilitation program and Rosenthal further reported that he will probably be suspended for 25 games. Hamilton was already expected to possibly miss most of spring training because of shoulder surgery.

It’s quite possible that the Angels could be without him for some time, and that means Collin Cowgill and Matt Joyce will probably both get good, long looks in left field for the Halos. However, this situation is bigger than baseball.

Unfortunate situations like this arise too frequently, but the very dim silver lining is that they remind those of us in the media and spectators that underneath the cap and uniform is a human being. Those who have careers in professional baseball may be able to perform seemingly god-like feats on the diamond that mere mortals could never replicate, but they are not immune to the frailty and vices of humanity.

The top priority for Hamilton right now should be on resolving this off-the-field issue, no matter what it is. Even if he isn’t suspended, that’s where Hamilton’s focus should be for the indefinite future. All of us at Outside Pitch wish him the best as he tries to put this situation behind him and hope that he lives many more productive years, whether that involves baseball or not.

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Hiring of Ramirez exposes hypocrisy of Rose ban

A move was made yesterday in Major League Baseball that went relatively undiscussed as opposed to other transactions that occurred this off-season. The implications of it are intriguing, despite its lack of controversy at face value.

Manny RamirezThe Chicago Cubs hired Manny Ramirez, of former Boston Red Sox lore, as a hitting consultant. The former big-league outfielder was a laughable defender, playing up his fielding ability as comically terrible like a Michael Bay-directed movie. The guy could always hit, however. If he can teach the Cubs’ young sluggers to replicate the proficiency at the plate that he demonstrated over 19 seasons, the return will be well worth the team’s investment.

The fact that makes this story interesting is that Ramirez used substances that are on MLB’s banned list during his career, was caught and suspended on two separate occasions. Now just four years after his second suspension, he is working in baseball again. While he won’t be stepping into the batter’s box, he will have influence on several players who will.

Meanwhile, MLB’s all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, goes unknown to a whole generation of young fans because he is under a life-time ban. The marketing people from the league say that they want to increase offense in the game, while the man who maybe more than anyone else alive is qualified to teach people how to hit is barred from doing so. He bet on baseball. He lied about it. No one is disputing those facts, not even Rose.

This isn’t about equating using banned substances to gambling. That’s too subjective of an argument to have. This is about that exact issue: subjectivity. How does baseball justify letting Ramirez work in the industry while simultaneously preventing Rose from doing the same thing? How does baseball balance out a 100-game suspension for getting caught with banned substances a second time, and a lifetime ban for placing bets and trying to cover it up, as punishments that fit the crimes in both cases? Perhaps more importantly, why is no one in the industry asking these questions?

Perhaps someday Rose will be reinstated, perhaps not. What’s clear is that every time a player who was suspended during his career gets a job in the industry, the ban on Rose will seem a little more out of place.

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Tigers re-sign Joba Chamberlain

Getty Images

Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers have re-signed pitcher Joba Chamberlain to a 1 year deal worth $1 million plus incentives, tweets Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com tweets that Chamberlain’s incentives are $100,000 for his 35th, 40th, 45th, 50th, and 55th appearance of the year, and if he somehow becomes the first middle reliever to win the Cy Young Award, he will get an additional $100,000.

Last year with the Tigers, Chamberlain went 2-5 with two Saves and a 3.57 ERA, 1.286 WHIP in 69 games, throwing 63 innings, striking out 59 batters and walking 24 batters.

He was much more efficient in the 1st half of the year. In the 1st half of the season, Chamberlain had a 2.63 ERA, a 1.142 WHIP, and a 3.33 K/BB ratio. In the 2nd half, Chamberlain had a 4.97 ERA, 1.500 WHIP and a 1.58 K/BB ratio.

His biggest disaster happened in the 2014 ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles. In his two relief appearances in Games 1 and 2, he faced 6 batters and retired only one. He allowed Five runs, four earned, in just 0.1 innings for a 108.00 postseason ERA.

Nevertheless, for $1 million + low incentives and in need of more bullpen help, this seems like a solid signing for the Tigers who are hoping his first half performance repeats itself for the entire 2015 season

Marlins pitcher Latos takes stab at Reds

When the Cincinnati Reds traded Mat Latos to the Miami Marlins this offseason, I for one, was disappointed. Latos is a solid pitcher who had a great couple of seasons with the Reds. On Sunday, while speaking with Fox Sports Ken Rosenthal (story here), Latos had some strong words about his time with the Cincinnati Reds. Latos criticized the Reds Medical staff for rushing players back too soon, including himself and also took a shot at the leadership once Scott Rolen and Bronson Arroyo left.

Mat Latos (www.therepublic.com

Mat Latos (www.therepublic.com)

I have always been a fan of Latos and truly appreciated what he brought to this Reds ballclub. The problem now lies with how Latos handled this interview. He now comes across as a player who is just upset that he is gone from a team and will do anything he can to get back at them. In other words, acting like a teenager. Reds players have handled his interview perfectly. They aren’t letting his words bother them and affect their spring.

They shouldn’t.

The words were spoken by a player who is no longer with the team. A player who has been gone for a couple of months. The Reds are just going about their business and brushing it off, as well they should. However, with words from a former player blasting numerous aspects of your organization, including the clubhouse leadership, how will that help this club moving forward? Sure the players are just brushing it off as if it’s nothing, but will they rally around something like this? In some instances like this, teams rally around things like this. For Reds fans and management alike, they hope for the same.

I do wish Mat Latos the best of luck in Miami and hopefully he will get paid, like he deserves to be. He will certainly add some swagger to that Marlins clubhouse, I just wish he would have handled this situation a little better.

Rangers pick up option on Beltre, get bad news on Profar

MLB: Texas Rangers at Tampa Bay RaysThe Texas Rangers will be without their former top prospect for a second straight season, but have secured the services of third baseman Adrian Beltre through the end of the 2016 season.

Jurickson Profar had season-ending surgery on his torn labrum yesterday. He missed all of 2014 due to injury, and the time table for recovering from this procedure is nine months. It could be as much as a year before he is ready to resume baseball activity full-time. While Profar does have youth on his side at 22, the development time that he has missed can’t be replaced. At some point Texas may have to chalk it up to bad luck and move on. Profar got into 32 games for the Rangers in 2013, making 16 starts at shortstop.

In other news around Texas’ infield, the team has exercised its option for 2016 on Beltre. Beltre will make $18 million in 2016, at which point he will be nearing 37 years of age. The product of the Dominican Republic has career averages of .285/.337/.479 and is entering his 18th big-league season. In 2014 he was an All-Star for the fourth time and won his third Silver Slugger, starting 136 games at third base for the Rangers.

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