Welcome back to “Judging the Royals.” Every Monday I’ll post a baseball-related column and the rest of the week we can use the web site as a chat room. I’ll check in daily and respond to comments. This allows us to keep a conversation going all winter. Of course, that assumes you want to keep a conversation going all winter, but what else are you going to do? The Chiefs only play once a week and, most of the time, we should be grateful it’s not more often.
So what’s happened in the offseason so far?
Frank White’s firing: I don’t know how much I can add to the subject, but that won’t keep me from talking about it. Frank was one of the first people to encourage what I was doing on this site and I appreciated the vote of confidence. As you’ve all heard, the supposed reason for Frank’s firing is that he was ‘too negative’. If that refers to what he was saying during broadcasts, I can’t agree.
If anyone covering a team is constantly positive, they’re not being honest. If anyone covering a team is constantly negative, they’re also not being honest. And I thought Frank was honest: He pointed out mistakes, but praised good play.
If being “too negative” refers to what Frank had to say about the organization off the air (a possibility the Star’s Sam Mellinger pointed out), I guess the Royals could make a case. Frank had some well-publicized differences with the front office. On the other hand, if The Kansas City Star fired every employee who said something negative about the organization, it wouldn’t have enough people left to put out a paper tomorrow morning. I think complaining about your employer ought to be a constitutional right.
I’ve read a variety of opinions on Frank’s dismissal. Someone complained about the way he read the promos. It never occurred to me to care. A lot of people can read promos. But there’s a shortage of people who can tell you that a batter wearing a shin guard tells the pitcher that he chases the down and in pitch.
Lost in all this is the firing of TV producer Kevin Shank. Kevin had produced Royals broadcasts for 17 years and was considered a good guy by everyone I know. Shank was the one who suggested I go on the pregame show (OK, so he made at least one bad decision). Kevin invited me to cover a game from inside the truck so I could watch what went on during a broadcast. I intended to take him up on the offer, but never did and now I’m sorry I missed the opportunity. Kevin would yell at me as I walked to my car after games and invite me over to the truck to talk about the game and what happened that night.
As always, I assume there’s stuff we don’t know, but I’m sorry to see them both go. I learned a lot of baseball from Frank and enjoyed hanging out with Kevin. These guys aren’t going to be easy to replace.
The new guys: Johnny Giavotella was making his debut at Kauffman Stadium last season and was surrounded by reporters. I was watching the scene from the other end of the clubhouse with Chris Getz and Mitch Maier when Chris wistfully said, “I remember when I was a prospect,” which made us all laugh. I then said, “I know I’m not supposed to have favorites, but I want you guys to play. I don’t want to have to get to know a bunch of new people.” Many a truth is told in jest. (Someone should write that down.) It takes a while to get to know players and it takes players a while to trust reporters. When I asked Mitch how long it had taken before he trusted me, he smiled and said, “I’m still working on it.” (Mitch is actually pretty funny.)
Getting to know new guys is a pain. I just wish the team would check with me before bringing in different players and coaches without regard for my personal convenience. Here’s a rundown of some of the new guys I’m going to have to deal with in 2012:
Lorenzo Cain: I prefer Melky Cabrera in center field. Not because I knew Melky all that well — he didn’t speak English. (Supposedly… there were rumors to the contrary, but if he got away with pretending he couldn’t speak English for an entire year, that’s brilliant.) So Cabrera didn’t speak English and mi espanol es muy malo. (See? I told you.) I prefer Melky simply because he’s shown he can perform at the big league level and Lorenzo is still in the process of proving that.
I don’t get how people who didn’t predict Melky’s outstanding performance in 2011 are now confidently predicting that he’s sure to fall off in 2012. Maybe, but nobody really knows. (More on playing GM in a future posting.)
Melky’s downside was lack of true center field speed, but outfield coach Doug Sisson thought Cabrera was making up for that with improved positioning and jumps. I haven’t seen Cain enough to have a worthwhile opinion and by the end of 2012 maybe I’ll think he’s terrific. Keep your eye on balls in the gap and over Lorenzo’s head. If he’s going to outplay Melky defensively, those are the balls he has to catch.
Jonathan Sanchez: The reports are “good stuff, doesn’t throw enough strikes,” which is kind of scary for a team that fired its last pitching coach because the staff didn’t throw enough strikes, enough low strikes and pitched behind in the count too often. Pay attention to whether Sanchez throws strikes early in the count and whether those strikes are low in the zone.
Jonathan Broxton: When he’s healthy, he’s a beast. It’ll be interesting to see where he fits in and who he shoves out. I know there was concern about lefty Tim Collins, another ‘good stuff, doesn’t throw enough strikes’ guy.
Last season there was a late-inning situation tailor-made for a left-handed reliever and Ned Yost skipped Collins and went right to Greg Holland. The next day Ned told me he made the move because he didn’t want Collins to come in and put the other team back into the game with a couple of walks.
Obviously, the right-handed Broxton doesn’t do anything to improve the bullpen from the left side, (although a relief pitcher doesn’t necessarily have to be left-handed to be effective against lefties). So keep an eye on the left-handed reliever situation.
Once again, Sam Mellinger had an interesting column (Sam, you need to start paying me for all this promotion) on finding more wins in the bullpen instead of the starting rotation. Blow 10 fewer saves last year and you’ve got a .500 club.
(Interesting that Broxton was lobbied to sign while on a hunting trip with Ned Yost and Jeff Francoeur. Somebody trusted Frenchy with a gun?)
Jason Kendall: He’s still around town. Nobody expects to see him on the field anytime soon (still rehabbing his shoulder), but that’s an awful lot of baseball knowledge just sitting on a couch drinking Bud Light. When I asked Yost if the team missed Jason’s presence, Ned said yes.
Here’s a story that explains what we’re talking about: The Royals were winning a game and brought in a reliever who pitched poorly. The reliever then went up to the clubhouse and trashed a chair. After the game, Kendall expressed admiration for the pitcher’s ability to beat up furniture and then told him he was being a jerk (and I’m pretty sure he didn’t say jerk). Jason pointed out that the Royals had won the game and the pitcher was sending the message that what happened to him was more important than what happened to the team. The pitcher apologized to Jason. Jason said he should apologize to the team.
So he did.
That’s what a guy like Jason Kendall can do for a baseball team. There aren’t a lot of players who command that kind of respect. There also aren’t a lot of guys who have the guts to confront an angry teammate and tell them that they’re out of line. You can’t measure the importance of this kind of leadership with numbers.
I wonder if the Royals will find some role for him.
Yamaico Navarro: I don’t know all the factors involved in his trade, but the Star’s Bob Dutton says part of it was his defense. Last season there was a play against the White Sox that seemed to irk Ned Yost. Alexi Rameriz was on first, a ball was hit to Alex Gordon in left and Mike Moustakas headed for the middle of the infield to act as the cutoff man.
Gordon came up ready to throw out Ramirez, who was going first to third, but Navarro had failed to cover third. It gave the Sox an extra out in the inning and they took advantage with a three-run home run. After the game I asked Ned about it and he said Yamaico’s mental lapse changed the whole game.
I doubt he got traded over one play, but it didn’t help. Fans love offense, but most pros think pitching and defense are more important. The Royals appear to be taking defense seriously, so don’t be surprised if that factors into whatever they decide about Johnny Giavotella.
The new media dress code: Media representatives can no longer wear muscle shirts to the ballpark. I wonder why they don’t tell us we can no longer distract players by bringing our hot super model girlfriends to work, because that isn’t happening either.
Really? No more muscle shirts? Who the hell is wearing muscle shirts in the press box? I know it’s not a media representative, because a muscle shirt requires muscles.
The funniest GM I know: The Angels’ new GM, Jerry Dipoto, is a buddy of mine — we met when he was a pitcher for the Indians. When Jerry lived here in KC, he’d spend the winter striking me out to get ready for spring training. Jerry is one of the smartest, funniest guys I know, but he’s definitely got a unique view of the world.
When he and mutual friend Tim Bogar both played for the Mets he told me he was mad at Bogie for playing too much: “Overexposure, fastest trip out of the big leagues.” Jerry believed that if you never played, you might be good. Why go on the field and ruin the illusion?
He was thrilled when he got traded from the Mets to the Rockies: “Do you know how lousy I can pitch and they’re still going to want me?”
He got mad at his agent for getting him too generous a contract: “Hey, for this kind of money they’re going to expect me to get someone out.”
Now mostly that was just Jerry being funny, but for a guy who believed the key to a long major league career was not making too much money and avoiding playing time, he’s put a big target on his back with the Pujols and Wilson deals. More on Jerry in future posts.
OK, that’s it. This post was longer than normal — a lot’s happened in my absence.
But it’s nice to be back.