The Long, Cold Winter: The Kansas City Royals

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By: Monty

Well think of the bright side, at least they have one sweet looking ball park.

Too bad they can’t put together a legit, contending team for it.

The Kansas City Royals looked good for a few weeks of last season, taking first place in the AL Central, but then dismantling as they are known to do so well, finishing 71-91 and 4th in the division.  With a lineup that seems to devalue the long ball, Alex Gordon hit 23 last year to top the club, and stolen bases, Alcides Escobar had a moderate season with 26, it seems that the Royals have stalled once again and find themselves struggling to find an answer.

Adding Jonathan Broxton, an unorthodox move that had a majority of baseball writers and fans scratching their heads, is a first step.  You take a lineup that lost Zach Grienke in the 2011 offseason and whose primary starters are now Luke Hochevar, who finished the year with an 11-11 record and 4.68 ERA and the recently re-signed Bruce Chen, who finished 12-8 with a 3.77 ERA and add a closer instead of starter, things may not bode too well. 

The best thing about Broxton is that he is a dependable, solid man to have in the sixth and seventh if needed and as a result the team can utilize their red-hot closer Joakim Soria for the next three years with his $20+ Million contract, but the problem for the Royals is how are they going to get those outs in the beginning of the game and now, the coaches are going to have to make a daily call towards which of their two incredibly talented closers to use in a game-saving situation.

That answer is going to come with Jonathan Sanchez.  The former Giants wheeler-and-dealer came to the Royals on via trade for Melky Cabrera, where he hopes to rekindle the talent that got him a ring back in 2010.  Sanchez maintained the status quo last year, finishing with a 0.1 wins above replacement after going 4-7 during an injury-plagued season.  His 13-9 record with a 3.07 ERA that he saw in 2010 are what he and the Royals need and will most likely get, given that the fire-baller comes back healthy.

The primary question is where the Royals are going to get help on the offensive end.  Alex Gordon, the outfielder and former No. 2 overall pick in 2005 lived up to expectations next year with a .303 batting average, 185 hits and 87 RBIs, but gave a lot of outs to the opposition, leading the team with 139 strikeouts.  For the Royals an unexpected lift may come from first baseman Eric Hosmer, the 22-year old that looks to have a major role in the Royals organization for years to come.  Although his numbers from 2011 may not show It (.226/3 HR/21 RBI) the potential is outstanding for Hosmer to quickly develop, especially when playing a 162 game schedule in KC.

The Royals still aren’t going anywhere, the AL Central is a division every year that simply tears itself apart, and there are always two pieces of road kill left over.  Regardless of who the other team is, the Royals will most likely be at the bottom of the pile again this year.  The future looks bright, but the lack of a major bat at the plate gives way to more player development in hopes for a playoff run in the near future.

The Long, Cold Winter: Chicago Cubs

The streak will be broken.

But not in 2012.

Now that I’ve wet your mouths to the future of the Chiacago Cubs, I can work to justify my bold, nay, beligerant statement that the Chicago Cubs will (soon enough) be World Champions. Of baseball. Major League Baseball.

If you look at the 2011 Cubs, they were, well, shitty. They finished 71-91 in a less-than-awesome division (but not the worst), and generally awful to watch. Bright spots included Darwin Barney and the emergence of Starlin Castro’s bat. Other than that, we saw the repeated lunacy of Carlos Zambrano (now a Flamboyant Miami Marlin, fittingly), the painfully awful defense of LOLfonso Soriano and Starlin Castro and the devastatingly atrocious managing of Mike Quade (long “a”).

It was a bad year for Cubbies fans, but hope is on the way. After one last crippling trade from Jim Hendry, he was out. Quade was out. Epstein, Hoyer and new manager Dale Sveum are in.

Things change, and unlike the Orioles, Twins and Astros, this is one team on it’s way out of the cellar, skipping every second step up the stairs.

Yet, with any good basement analogy, you’re bound to trip up a bit.

Perennial albatross Alfonso Soriano’s (2014, eep) contract is still there. Ryan Dempster (off the books in October) is getting paid significantly to be an average pitcher. With an average rotation and improving bullpen, 2012 will not be the Cub’s year to compete.

They will, however, be competing in the Central. Soon.

The Cubs currently have a reasonable outfield of Soriano, Byrd, Dejesus; backed up by Tony Campana and Reed Johnson. Decent, not great. Give it a few seasons, the possibly movement of LOLfonso Soriano to a terrible GM, some surprise prospects, and the Cubs outfield could look completely different by 2014.

The infield is strong. Beautiful, almost. The potential is palpable. If Castro learns to field a ball like a baseball player and not an MMA jock, his combination with a league average+ 2B in Barney will be a great combination in the coming years. While Brandon LaHair will likely man 1B on opening day, Anthony Rizzo will emerge, and as I suspect, play above average 1B with the glove and bat for half a Cubs decade. Third base is a little iffy – Ian Stewart can mash, however inconsistently, but his defense is non-existent (kind of a developing theme, here) and Josh Vitters might still be a year away, as he is yet to play above AA, but projects to be a solid MLB  option someday.

Bottom line is this team is going to compete in a few seasons, but 2012 may still be a year of growing pains.

Hang in there, Cubs fans.

#theghostofharrycarayhauntstheleftsideoftheinfieldinwrigley

The Long, Cold Winter: San Diego Padres

When it comes to the Long, Cold Winter series of posts, some teams are just too easy.

Then there are teams like the San Diego Padres. Sometimes they look great, and they end up finishing last in weak National League West seasons (see: 2011). Then, when the teams looks benign and hopeless for a title, they win 90 games (see: 2010.)

I may be beginning to figure this out: in years in which the NL West is strong, such as 2010 – the Padres are strong. It seems like a classic case of playing to your competition. Or maybe it’s El Nino, I don’t know.

Last season, the Diamondbacks stole the NL West from banged-up Giants, playing-under-their-ability Rockies, broke-ass Dodgers and the Padres – who were just kind of…there.

The Padres finished 23 games out of first…behind the 94-win Diamondbacks, the (second) worst record of any playoff team (don’t worry about those 90-win Cardinals, guys…)

Twenty-three games in the NL West can be made up overnight it seems.  The division is a carousel of first-place teams (11-Diamondbacks, 10-Giants, 09-Dodgers, 08/07 Dodgers, 06-Diamondbacks/Rockies).

Any team can win, any year. Except, it seems, the Padres. We’ll admit it is hard to score runs in Petco. We won’t partronize, though. It should be hard for everyone to score runs in Petco. Yet, a significant part of the Padres games will be played in Colorado, Arizona, Houston, Cincinnati, Philadelphia…there are plenty of places and time to hit home runs, score runs, and support a decent pitching staff. The Padres just aren’t that bad, and they improved significantly in the ’11-’12 offseason.

The Adrian Gonzalez trade of ’11 netted them Casey Kelley and Anthony Rizzo (who in turn, netted them hard-throwing Andrew Cashner). Mat lLatos turned into a significant haul of Yonder Alonso (one of my favourites since his CWS days), Yasmani Grandal (possibly a stud catcher, and only 23 years old).

Aside from the yet-unproven prospects, the San Diego Padres lineup…really isn’t that bad. A decent catching tandem in Hundley and Baker, Hundley/Bartlett/Hudson (getting old, though)/Alonso across the infield. Their outfield, outside of Petco, is actually a quite good one. If Quentin can come back to normal, Cameron Maybin breaks out, Venable stays good, they can be even better with their backups of Kyle Blanks, Mark Kotsay and Chris Donorfia. [It's funny that the first two images on Bing search for Mark Kotsay...are very much NOT Mark Kotsay. Well done, Mark.]

How about that rotation? Well, Cashner and Kelley cannot arrive quick enough – as an opening say starter of….Tim Stauffer is just not intimidating. Nothing against Stauffer, but “the ace” of a staff is more psychological than anything, and you want a true number one in there, and Stauffer is not it (prove me wrong, Tim). After Stauffer, you have Luebke, Edinson Volquez, and two of Cashner/Moseley/Richard.

I’ll save you the trouble, Bochey:

Volquez, Luebke, Stauffer, Richard, Cashner. Make it happen.

In short, don’t ever, ever, ever, discount the Padres.

#bringbackthebrown
#stopnotchangingyourlogo

The Long, Cold Winter: Baltimore Orioles

It was so, so hard to not write OriLOLs in the header. Must. Remain. Professional.

Nevermind. Word just broke that the Orioles have traded Jeremy Guthrie to the Colorado Rockies for Jason Hammel (who has shown flashes of brilliance with zero consistency) and Matt Lindstrom (who is…well, decent, I guess.)

What the hell is going on in Baltimore? Aside from the acquisitions of Wada and Chen, the Orioles have done nothing to improve themselves this offseason. And no, the Guthrie trade…does not help.

The Orioles were humiliated by the American League East last season (aside from game 162). They will be humiliated again in 2012. The Red Sox will kill them. I’d be surprised if they beat the Yankees at all in 2012. The Jays are better than last season. And there’s always the Rays, always beating the Orioles.

The AL East isn’t fair. The Tampa Bay Rays, however, have learned to play the system. The Jays under the reign of Anthopoulos are figuring it out. The Orioles are going backwards.

What looks like a solid rotation simply is not. Now their star and favourite is gone, placing the weight of 162 games on Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter and Asian imports Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen.

Orioles GM Dan Duquette has pushed the Orioles even farther away from competing by not trading Adam Jones at the peak of his worth, and his lack of improvement beyond 2010 will not help.

Everyone else, you know the story. The falls of Markakis and Reimold after impressive big league starts. JJ Hardy and his towering shots…without anyone on base. Brian Roberts is almost certainly busted. Matt Wieters not quite matching up to sliced bread. Josh Bell? We’ll see. We’ve been waiting for a while.

The bottom line is the Orioles are the silhouette of an El Camino in a junkyard sunset. Beautiful from a far, but once you’re up next to it – it smells like urine, the gas tank has rusted out and there’s a mummified cat in the passenger seat.

Long, Cold Winter in Baltimore? More like long, cold decades.

Please, please make it stop.

The Long, Cold Winter: Seattle Mariners

Ya’know, this team isn’t that bad. At least, not as bad as their 2011 67-95 season would make them look. Although there has not been an extreme makeover from 2011 to 2012, the changes being made in Seattle will make more of a difference than some of the obnoxious trades and free agent signings of the larger-market teams this offseason.

The Mariners have had a rough go of it in recent years. Win 90 games, Oakland wins more. Then lose 101. Then win 88, twice, and lose all the other games in between. Being a Mariners fan must be a constant roller coaster ride – but even I, born and bred into east-coast megafandom, can see the shape of the Mariners taking place in the West, and I see something wonderful.

No, the Mariners (and Athletics, for that matter) will not compete in 2012. Or 2013. They’ll get better every year, but do not expect them to compete for real until at least 2014, or make the playoffs until ’15.

Zduriencik (which I spelled right, first try) is not building this team to win now, simply to just be better now, and get through the next few years until their top prospects can blossom as big leaguers.

Pineda was great, but the M’s needed a batter. Chances are, Seattle saw something in Pineda no one else saw. Some sort of flaw. Z took this as an opportunity – take a strength (well, sort of) and fix a weakness. Pineda and Campos are gone, which yes, is a big hit now and likely could be in the future, but Montero and Noesi are in. Compare Noesi’s and Pineda’s numbers in August. I assure you, you may be alarmed.

Montero is not el tercera llegada. He might not be a true catcher, but he’s going to mash for a while, get figured out, and mash again. Noesi is a very solid option in a rotation featuring Felix, Vargas, Iwakuma and…someone.

Figgins played the game, got paid, and hasn’t played since. It is now the first Italian-born MLB player’s time to shine. Expect Alex Liddi to light up the west soon enough. Liddi, Smoak and Ackley are a hell of a infield. Brendan Ryan, not so much. If Jack Z has any assets at the deadline, M’s should address this hole at SS.

Given proper health from Frankie Gutierrez and Ichiro rebounded from a mediocre 2011, the Carp/Wells/Saunders/Robinson platoon in LF; their outfield really isn’t that bad.

Yet, the two monster in the room remain. The Angels and Rangers will be strong for a while. But give them three years, and they’re the Phillies. I see all the stars, but they’re squandering. Aging. Backs breaking from too much money, too much stress from expectations and falling short in the playoffs and World Series.

Give it time, Seattle. The West will be your’s again.

Fact Checking: You’re doing it wrong

Ugh. I understand that doing a team-by-team analysis of every team for the 2011 can be tough on sports writers. Especially when you have to split it between a slew of other guys (wait, what?), but Yahoo! made a very careless mistake in their rundown of the 2011-2012 Jays, captioning a jedi-glare Brett Lawrie as….”Brett Lowrie”, further pushing North America into mispronunciation of the rising star’s name.

Although, Tim’s Blue Jays in Haiku is quite great:

Tested 16 times,
For him a frequent anthem,
Jose, can you pee?

The Long, Cold Winter: Minnesota Twins

If it were nto for the ongoing theme of the Long, Cold Winter post titles, this post would have been called “How to dick over a franchise.”

Hoooookay, so maybe that is a bit harsh. But how often do you see a baseball franchise take such a dive, so quickly, and spend the offseason….not improving? Even the Astros 2006-present fall from grace was a bit more gradual. However, in 2010 the Minnesota Twins had a record of 94-68 (.580). In 2011, they managed a 63-99 (.389).

Twenty-nine games. The Twins won 29 more games in 2010 than 2011, much of which can be attributed to the loss of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and the less-than-well, good pitching on the team. Joe Nathan was still clawing his way up from a terrible arm injury – yet still highlighting not the worst – but certainly one of the more flaccid and boring bullpens…ever.

So, of course, GM Bill Smith was fired and the Minnesota brass brought in young-and-up & coming hotshot GM Terry – wait….what? Terry Ryan? The Red Foreman of baseball GMs?

In an articles I read researching this one, the Twins were described as “the most conservative franchise in baseball”. Well, I suppose so. But being conservative simply doesn’t work in today’s game.

Sure, sign the hometown hero quarterback Joe Mauer. Extend Justin Morneau. And then – fire the GM when they get hurt? Really? And bring in a more bull-headed, old-school GM in Terry Ryan?

Come on, Minnesota. Forget 2011 happened. If Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau can play in 2012, you should compete.

But then, there is the loss of Twins mainstays Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan. All of whom can be replaced, yet the Twins payroll, sagging under the Morneau and Mauer contracts, has only managed to support the additions of Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll (puke), Ryan Doumit and Joel Zumaya.

While on paper, these additions look as though they could easily fill the void, err, compact parking space left by Kubel and Cuddyer – the health of Zumaya is always in question – along with the presence of Ryan Doumit’s clandestine bat. Jamey Carroll was a meaningless addition – hardly an upgrade over Alexi Casilla and certainly a downgrade from Nishioka in full health and form (yes, he is a good player – give him a chance!)

And while the Twins pitching staff isn’t necessarily bad, they’re not all that good, either. Or interesting to watch. Yes, occasionally we see glimpses of brilliance from Francisco Liriano and gritty, inspiration complete game 12-hit 2-run games from Carl Pavano, there just isn’t anything to get excited about in Minnesota this season.

Which is why, of course, this team may surprise us. Last season, they were the whipping boy of the American League. This season, with a healthy Morneau and Mauer splitting DH and 1B time, Doumit behind the plate and Willingham in RF, this might not be such a terrible team. They won’t however, be a great team. I see them in the 75-80 win range, but certainly not a repeat of 2011.

#signsomedecentstarters