By In Baseball

The Royals Celebration Tour

There’s a negotiation tactic, I don’t know what it’s called, where you give in on something big and then basically expect to be repaid for the rest of your life. For instance, let’s say two people — call them Bill and Ted — want the big office at work.They argue about it for months until finally one day Bill, out of the blue, says: “Fine, you can have the big office, but you owe me.” Ted readily agrees only to find out “you owe me” means that every single day Bill with remind Ted of his magnanimous gesture, Bill will borrow his car repeatedly, Bill will take his parking spot, Bill will expect Ted to pick up the check every time, on and on and on, endlessly.

I’m saying: The Royals are beginning to feel an awful lot like Bill, and I’m feeling an awful lot like Ted.

The Royals have, best I can tell, had an offseason right out of nightmares from Christmas past. It has seemed so absurdly bad to me — so reminiscent of the famous Royals Juan Gonzalez and Jose Guillen free-agent agonies — that I keep thinking it’s all an elaborate gag. You might remember the bit Dennis Miller used to do back before he got political; he would pretend to be setting an impression of Cary Grant acting as Ulysses S. Grant — and then he would suddenly stop and go, “No, I’m just f——— with you, I would never do that.” I keep thinking Dayton Moore will stand up and laugh and say, “No, I’m just kidding, we didn’t REALLY sign Alex Rios for $11 million. Come on, seriously, who would do that?”

So far, though, Dayton hasn’t revealed the practical joke. This leads me to believe that the Royals really have:

1. Signed almost 32-year-old Kendrys Morales to two-year, $17 million deal.

2. Signed almost 34-year-old Alex Rios to that $11 million deal.

3. Signed almost 32-year-old Edinson Volquez to a two-year, $20 million deal.

And now I’m beginning to wonder if the Royals just gave us that incredible postseason run last year so that they could spend the next few years trolling us with the sorts of signings that used to make them baseball’s laughing stock.

Look: There’s no way I can unload on the Royals after what they did in October. It was so much fun, and it felt so fresh. Using deftness and persistence and luck, the Royals built a bullpen for the ages and a young team that scrapped and played great defense. It’s all well and good to say that much of their success was randomness — after all, they didn’t win 90 games and were losing 8-3 to Oakland in the wildcard game — but much of life is randomness, and if blame comes with losing then credit must come with winning. The Royals did a lot of things right — some of them (like the James Shields trade) that i felt sure were wrong.

So, this weird barrage of free agents — I can’t in good conscience do anything but grumble quietly. The Royals were a Bumgarner away form a World Series victory. I wish they wouldn’t celebrate that magical season by paying way too much money for declining 30-something players. But, you know, winners are entitled to celebrate however they want.

There is one thing I should point out: I don’t get why the Royals are doing this and not just, you know, going all out to sign James Shields. Understand: I don’t think the Royals SHOULD sign James Shields. He’s 33 years old and, as such, will undoubtedly get way too much money for his declining years. But, then, I’m not as big a fan of Shields as the Royals are. The Royals LOVED him, I mean all caps LOVE because of his leadership and mentorship and all that. If the Royals already planned to plunk down $48 million for three old players who have been dumped by teams in the last year or two and have a combined negative WAR, why not just put that into a big-package deal to keep Shields? That would have made WAY more sense.

There are times, I think, that the Royals just get excited when anyone says they are willing to come to Kansas City to play baseball — and especially excited if it is a player who they heard of once. Kendrys Morales hit 34 home runs once, but that was 2009, which is before Instagram was even invented … last year he hit .218 with eight homers and was dumped mid-season. What possible negotiating tactic could his agent have used to get the Royals to give him a two-year deal? How could that conversation possibly have gone?

Agent: Kendrys is willing to come to Kansas City on a minor-league …
Royals: Really? Kendrys Morales? He is willing to come? That’s awesome! We’ll give him a $6.5 million!
Agent: You will?
Royals: OK, you drive a hard bargain, make it a two-year deal. We’ll give him $6.5 million this year and $9 million next!
Agent: Wait, did you say $9 million for a second year?
Royals: Fine, we’ll throw in an $11 million club option on the end with a $1.5 million buyout on the end. But he will come, right? Kendrys will come, right?

Alex Rios last year hit just about the emptiest .280 that it is possible to hit — he walked 23 times all year, hit four home runs, scored 54 runs. He was, by Baseball Reference calculations, 1.2 wins below the average baseball player. He had just finished what is widely understood to be one of the worst contracts ever given out, one of the last Ricciardis in baseball. And the Royals decided to give him $11 million.

Finally, Volquez. You might remember his best year — you also might not, that was 2008, back when George W. Bush was president. In the years since, he has a an 83 ERA+, which is awful. He’s now squarely in his 30s and while he had a surprising season with the Pirates last year, he’d essentially been released twice before signing with Pittsburgh for $5 million. His baseball card numbers say he went 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA, which is quite good, but:

1. It sure seems like he was hit-lucky — his batting average against on balls in play was by far the lowest of his career.

2. His strikeout percentage plunged.

These are two hints that the year might have been a fluke. The Royals gave him $20 million.

The Royals have earned a lot of goodwill. They were way shrewder than appeared. They found and developed Yordano Ventura into one of the more exciting young pitchers around. They have been patient with another promising young pitcher, Danny Duffy. They put Wade Davis into the bullpen, where he became a superhero. They were essentially forced to trade Zack Greinke, and they got Alicides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain, who anchored their superior defense. They sent Alex Gordon back to the minors to learn how to play left field, and he has become one of the best defensive left fielders in memory. They found catcher Salvador Perez in Venezuela, locked him up through his 20s when they realized just what a special player he would become.

And none of the recent signings they have made in their celebration tour are club-crippling gambles the way, say, the Jose Guillen signing was. They’re all short term. If Morales can’t hit, they’ll work around him like they did for Billy Butler last year. If Rios has a terrible season, they won’t resign him. If Volquez’s season was a fluke, well, the Royals won’t be the only team around with an overpaid fourth or fifth starter. The Royals haven’t burdened their future with any of these deals. And, who knows? Maybe they get lucky. Hey, it’s happened before.

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38 Responses to The Royals Celebration Tour

  1. kcshankland says:

    Hmm, well I think it very likely Rios and Morales will put up better numbers in ’15 then Aoki and Butler did in ’14, and Rios has to be an upgrade on defense. Shields to Volquez is a definite downgrade, but hopefully 100 IP from Finnegan/Manaea later in the year will help to offset that loss. If the Royals went all in for Shields we’d be looking at… what, Paulo Orlando in RF and Pegeuro at DH? No thanks.

    I don’t really care about the $$$ – it isn’t mine. Ownership has opened their wallet and isn’t really getting any credit. I would have preferred Morse at DH but he apparently wants to play in the field and that would be a problem.

    • Nick says:

      How are you inside my mind???

      I would add that Rios and Morales are not Guillen and Gonzales, primarily because they are not being asked to be the savior of the franchise.

    • Jeremy says:

      Can’t tell if serious… Rios is an upgrade on defense? That’s a joke, right? And you’re very optimistic about their offense. They probably could have brought Billy and Aoki back for less money and that might have allowed them to sign a pitcher that doesn’t suck

  2. Faye Schlift says:

    These signings happened because Dayton Moore, like the proverbial leopard, can’t change his spots.

  3. Larry Watts says:

    Joe we won the AL Championship last year and to do that all teams must have some luck. The signings did not mortgage our future and plugged holes. Why so pessimistic?

  4. Randy Farris says:

    The difference between this and the Jose Guillen et. al. signings is that the core is in place. The three we signed this time around need to contribute, not be a savior.

  5. Joe, you covered the Royals throughout my youth – you were beaten down by the team harder than anyone. I mean, I was beaten down as a fan, but I wasn’t as close to the team as you were. So I do understand why you keep attributing last year to luck – you simply can’t believe the Royals went to the Series with a team that defies recent conventional logic. I would never accuse you of rooting against them, but I do wonder if some part of your subconscious wanted them to lose because you felt their winning was random and you just didn’t want to accept that randomness holds enough power to get a team all the way to a Championship. I feel the same way! I’d never want to invest myself in a sport where the road to the champtionship is chaos theory. It’s like that kid’s game UNO – you just flip cards and see where you end up. Who likes that? No, I too want to believe the champions are those who used smarts to put together a good team.

    Let’s entertain the possibility that the 2014 Royals were well put together. Maybe this happened by accident (which is a form of randomness I realize), but maybe there’s something to the theory that in an era where strikeouts dominate the game, not striking out (even if you don’t walk), is a competitive advantage. You combine that with a heightened ability to strike your opponents out, and a keen ability to turn their balls in play into outs, and suddenly you’re making fewer outs than they are. You’re forcing the other team to have to make defensive plays that you yourself pretty much always make. It’s like the Michael Chang tennis game, you just keep getting the ball back over the net and wait for your opponent to screw up. Hey, it’s a strategy.

    More than lucky, the 2014 Royals got hot. Hot streaks are not simple luck – I’m certain that some study shows that hot streaks tend to happen more with good teams. They were a good team. They were the type of team that could get hot. They got hot. Somewhere in there there’s some credit due.

    Are the recent signings potentially awful? Yeah, absolutely. But Bill made his big concession to Ted only two months ago! The Giants’ uniforms are still wet with beer. I think the team gets benefit of the doubt for at least one entire offseason. Isn’t this written somewhere?

    • Anon21 says:

      “Let’s entertain the possibility that the 2014 Royals were well put together.”

      Then why did they produce like a .500 team?

      “Hot streaks are not simple luck – I’m certain that some study shows that hot streaks tend to happen more with good teams.”

      So first, “I’m certain that some study shows X” isn’t evidence, it’s a wish.

      Second, if “some study” does show that, and assuming by “good teams,” you mean “winning teams” … that’s sort of a tautology. Obviously winning teams will have more streaks of winning than losing teams, on average, because the losing teams have fewer wins to randomly distribute into streaks.

      • invitro says:

        My kudos to Anon21’s points.

        “you just didn’t want to accept that randomness holds enough power to get a team all the way to a Championship.”

        JoeP has written many times that the MLB playoffs are a crapshoot. He doesn’t just accept this, he reminds people that it’s true.

        “I feel the same way! I’d never want to invest myself in a sport where the road to the champtionship is chaos theory.”

        I disinvested from MLB several years ago because of the playoff randomness. Apparently there are not too many others who have. (I reinvested in the NBA, which I’m now enjoying almost as much as I ever enjoyed MLB.)

        • Marc Schneider says:

          Invitro, although I haven’t given up on MLB, I largely agree with you about the playoffs. They have designed an arbitrary and unfair playoff system to provide a way of pretending that there is true parity in baseball. Watching a World Series with two 80+ win teams that weren’t even close to being the best in their respective leagues is not my idea of championship baseball. (And the games weren’t that good except for Game 7.) It makes the regular season utterly meaningless and allows Giants fans to pretend that the Giants are somehow a great team.

          I realize this is unrealistic but Increasingly I pine for the pre-1969 days where the World Series actually matched the best teams-or at least pre-1995 where the playoffs weren’t quite so random.

      • KHAZAD says:

        The Royals did not produce like a .500 team. Base runs predicted they would produce like a .500 team, but base runs is very limiting.

        Base Runs specifically ignores some things the Royals were good at. For one thing, it ignores their ability to limit strikeouts and make contact. Most offensive metrics pay little or no attention to this, while in most modern pitching metrics the ability to induce strikeouts is the main part of the formula. This doesn’t really compute.

        In part because of that ability, the Royals were at or near the top in alot of smaller categories. Scoring a runner from third with less than two outs, productive outs, moving runners up a base in other situations etc. The sum total of those things work out to the fact that, when you take away runners who scored ahead of home runs (something that is at least estimated by every offensive metric) the Royals scored a higher percentage of their baserunners than any other MLB team by a wide margin, despite not seeming to have the offensive prowess to do so. Also, in part because of this and perhaps in part because their aggressiveness caused mistakes by other teams, the Royals scored a much higher percentage of their runs without an RBI than any other team.

        It also doesn’t take defense into account on the pitching side, another category the Royals excelled in.

        Their Pythagorean number of wins (A results based predictor, based upon the runs actually scored and allowed) was 84. However, it is limiting as well. The Royals are a poster child for the type of team that should beat their Pythag. Teams that struggle to score runs often beat it, because they are less likely to put up a crooked number in as many games as they allow the other team to do so, and even less likely to make those games close. Also, the bullpen pieces that were likely to pitch in a game the Royals were behind in often made the margin even bigger. The entire Royals bullpen other than HDH had a 4.86 ERA, which in last year’s run scoring environment (3.81 AL ERA, 3.63 in relief) is quite hideous. On the flip side, when the Royals were leading or in a game, HDH had a combined 1.28 ERA, making it possible for the Royals to win a little higher percentage of those games.

        It would have been a huge surprise, almost an unexplainable one, if the Royals had NOT beaten their Pythag and beaten the crap out of their base runs. It’s all about context, and knowing what factors into the stats you quote, and also what does not.

        Stats and metrics are more complex now than ever, but ALL of them have predispositions and limitations. Quoting a popular one and using it as “proof” without understanding this is really not much different than a guy 40 years ago saying player A was better than player B because he had more RBI.

        I hope I answered your question.

        • Marc Schneider says:

          You say the Royals predicted Pythagorean win total was 84. Well, they only won 89, a difference which can be chalked up to randomness. It’s not as if the Royals were a powerhouse. Admittedly, they played very well the last couple of months but lots of teams do that.

          This is not an attack on the Royals per se-I would say the same for the Giants. But they were not a particularly good team.

          • KHAZAD says:

            Marc- My original reply was to Anon21, though it appeared below your comment due to the format. He asked why the Royals produced like a .500 team according to base runs. My intent was to provide an example of the limitations of base runs as an estimator, and I also included the rather simplistic pythagorean total.

            People love simple estimators, and they are fun. But taking a step beyond that and saying that the performance over the estimator is explained by luck ignores the limitations of the estimator itself. In the Royal’s case, by looking a little deeper, it is easy to see why they would outperform simplistic estimators.

            They were not a powerhouse, ( There are very few teams that are in this day and age) but they were a a much better team than the estimators give them credit for.

    • The Royals won 89 games. Their Pythagorean win/loss was 84-78, which means their production was that of an 84 win team. They squeaked into the playoffs, had some improbable wins, and since the playoffs are a total crapshoot, almost went all the way. Time for the regression to the mean.

  6. Jeremy says:

    I am going to disagree with the general sentiment here. Winning a pennant does not give you free reign to make bad acquisitions. These 3 players are not good. The remaining guys will have to get better by about 4-5 wins to replace what we’ve lost this offseason.

  7. Mark Daniel says:

    Maybe the message is how expensive it is to sign free agents. $10M a year for Edinson Volquez? Cripes.

  8. MikeN says:

    And if the Royals do well next year, people will say it was despite these signing, not because of them. If these players do well, we’ll be told it was just luck, the stats say they are actually not good.

  9. Unvenfurth says:

    When I heard about the Rios signing the first thing that came into my head was ” Juan Gonzalez” then, If Alex Rios gets hurt in spring training, will he spend the entire year on the DL and then skip town?

  10. Paul says:

    Defending the moves the Royals have made so far is like trying to boil spaghetti noodles in mountain dew: impossible.

  11. It’s very, very hard to accept that success can come via luck as well as design, especially AFTER the success. When the 1969 Mets shocked the world, it seemed quite reasonable to expect similar success in the years that followed. What Met fans got, instead, was four years of 82-83 win seasons, followed by a drought that lasted almost a decade.

    If the Mets had won 83 games and finished third in 1969, their fans would have been thrilled (they had never won more than 73 games before) but their management would have understood that more was needed to make them a championship caliber team. As it was, they assumed they WERE a championship caliber team because, after all, they had just won the World Series. That they had only three players who batted more than 400 times (one of whom hit .211 with one HR) didn’t enter the conversation. Instead, they traded away players like Amos Otis and Nolan Ryan because, after all, they had won a championship without much from those guys.

    If Jon Lester had been pulled an inning earlier, the Royals fan base would understand that 2014 was a good year but there was still a ways to go, especially since other teams in their division are beefing up, and silly moves like signing guys in their mid-30s with declining talents is trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Just because you caught it once, Royals fans, doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to do it again. Enjoy the marvel your team just wrought, and get ready for a long, tough road before it happens again. Because although it’s commonplace for fans to confuse talent with luck, but management is supposed to know better than that.

  12. Dave says:

    I’ll interject another wrinkle. ESPN is reporting that the Royals have signed Kris Medlen for two years, with a third year option. Yes, there’s risk there–not all TJ surgeries work. But there’s the potential for high reward too. All things considered, I believe this is a good risk for the Royals to take.

    • I loved Kris Medlen’s in Atlanta. But Kris just had his second Tommy John surgery. He had one career full season as a starter. Other than that, he was either in the bullpen, or hurt. I believe the stats say that one pitcher ever, Chris Capuano I believe, ever came back from two Tommy Johns to be an effective starter. So, your best case scenario is Chris Capuano. Work backwards from there.

  13. tombando says:

    Typical Poz: Wahhhhhhhh KC idjits traded Wil Myers never win 70 games again wahhhh….crissakes your golden boy tanked in TB and is now a Padre. Lighten up.

  14. Bill says:

    Joe, you’ve been avoiding me for many years now. Come to KC for BBQ and a Chiefs game and I will explain why you are so FOS !!


    (You have the number)

  15. Aron says:


    What would you have done?? None of these acquisitions are expected to carry this team.

    I am disappointed that you would compare these signings to some of the free agent disasters of the past. The free agent market is ridiculous. This is what it cost to plug holes via free agency. The Royals have to take these kinds of risks and hope for bounce backs from guys. Also, can you point out a free agent contract from this off season where a team didn’t overpay?? Billy Butler got 3 years/30 Million!! Ervin Santana is going to make more than all three of the guys you blasted… combined!!

    I am sad to say that I have never disagreed with something you have written more than this. I am genuinely curious to hear your realistic alternative. I think you are being short sighted.

    Am I over the moon for any of these guys? No. But they are legitimate Major League players who have have played at a very high level in their careers before. And you are acting like they are all 38 years old. Morales and Rios produced in 2013. And Volquez was the best pitcher on a playoff team last year. You think his BABIP is going to go down with this defense?? You are cherry picking stats, dude. They are all low risk, high reward type signings.

    Have some egg nog and get used to the fact that the Royals are not the club you remember covering for the Star.

    Happy Holidays, Joe!!

    P.s. Can we start a petition for the Royals to retire our late friend Buck’s number??

    • Rios hit .280/.311/.398 in an extreme hitters park for an OPS+ of 99. He’ll be 34 years old.

      Morales hit .207/.285/.347 with an OPS+ of 83.

      Volquez had a pretty decent year and maybe he’ll be OK.

      But overall, these signings are underwhelming.

  16. Jim says:

    As has been pointed out, the Royals won 89 games in 2014 and made the postseason as a wildcard. The offense worked only in spurts and lacked power. With the excitement and additional revenue that will come from their success, it was time to make a big move — a Justn Upton, for instance — that could upgrade this team to the status of solid playoff contender. Instead, they signed placeholders. And failed to really address the lack of power!

    These opportunities, in Kansas City, come once a generation.

  17. Ricky Cobb says:

    I know complaining has long been the (mostly justified) default position for Royals fans, but you are the American League champs. That should meant at least one year of no griping. Just stop.

  18. Allen Phillips says:

    The Royals upped prices.
    The Royals dissolved the “off”,”wild” unusual to baseball people act that worked in the playoffs, by dumping Aoki and Butler. I don’t think the personalities of Rios and MOrales will foster the ‘fun’ aspect like the crazy stuff Aoki and Butler did. I’m afraid we imported more Moosi, more Yosti. It was the drug crazed antics of a former MVP that injected any fun into the team at all in ’13. They crazy legs of Aoki and the smile of a country breakfast that gave this team a ‘who cares’ how we do it, go all out style. Then somehow in the WS they went back to being the old button down Yosti and the brooding Moosi. The little fast guy disappeared too. Everybody wanted to see the ‘run run Royals’. Gordon dead at 3rd, explains why they didn’t win the WS. Send him, use his linebacker body and do for it. Maybe it would have been a Lester repeat. At least a memorable ending. Instead, we ‘Cubbylike’ KC fans are pissed off.

    FYI – I’m not buying tickets at the beginning of the Spring – I’m not buying a jacked-up ticket package. I’m going to wait and buy 1/2 price Stub Hub tickets that are going to be flooding the market by June 1.

  19. jim louis says:

    Joe, I’m WAY more optimistic about the Royals signings and the 2015 Royals season, but you make a fair point or two. I think Moore wanted Melky Cabrerra badly, but couldn’t pull the trigger on anything that pricey more than 2 years. I think Moore and Yost truly believe that Moose and Hosmer will finally have seasons they are capable of. To me, those 2 MUST be very good next year for KC to have a chance offensively. It’s a big, maybe dumb, gamble. But as a lifelong Royals fan, I like it. I wanna see if our home-grown guys can blossom into great players.

    Now, how about writing similar snarky, sarcastic articles about 2 other AL Central teams? The White Sox supposedly are gonna be the Kentucky Wildcats of the 2015 season with their 6 new players. But 5 of those will be 30+, including 36 year old Laroche. The Twins made a couple “good” signings, one a 32 year old pitcher and the other a 39 year old outfielder.

    • Bono says:

      But wouldn’t they have been better off taking the money for Rios and Morales and giving that to Melky? I’m skeptical about him to be sure but he’s a better bet to give you above average production than either of those two combined.

      And it’s not about him. The Royals need hitting and had money, but chose to disperse it to players who, at best, might be appropriately paid but still about average.

  20. jim louis says:

    I’d rather have the 2 players the Royals got than the one player (Melky).

    Dayton Moore seems VERY skittish about committing to more than 2 years with players near 30 or older. Maybe it’s not so dumb, especially considering the Royals are small market.

    Time will tell.

  21. I’m late, and no one cares, but:

    “He had just finished what is widely understood to be one of the worst contracts ever given out …”

    Fangraphs estimates that Rios was worth slightly more, in WAR-based value, than the $65.3MM he was paid. So call it roughly a worth-the-money deal. Fangraphs isn’t gospel, but they show their work. You might do the same when making such heavy claims.

  22. Jason says:

    None of these three signings will cripple the Royals in the long term. Would I just have kept Shields, too? Yes. But it’s not a waste.

    Joe’s broader and better point is that signing Morales and Rios moves the Royals away from the speed-and-defense mentality (reminiscent of the Whitey Herzog era Cardinals) that they successfully cultivated last year.

  23. Christopher says:

    Nine months later, Rios is the only bust.

  24. Destiny says:

    Thee’rs nothing like the relief of finding what you’re looking for.

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