With that in mind, I started thinking of my five most significant moments while following the team this year. These aren’t necessarily my favorite moments (really, more like storylines), but the ones that stick out as what I’ll remember most.
5. Spring training injuries, an ominous sign
The 2011 Royals were mostly free from any significant injuries. Bruce Chen hit the disabled list and Matt Treanor was gone after a concussion but otherwise, there weren’t any other injuries that impacted the team much.
Not so in 2012.
It started early with Salvador Perez in the middle of March. A torn meniscus required surgery that kept him out until June. Manny Pina suffered a torn meniscus of his own, which left the Royals with Brayan Pena as the only catcher on their 40 man roster. That led to the trade for Humberto Quintero, a disaster that sent two reasonable prospects to Houston for a catcher who wouldn’t make it to July before being designated for assignment and Jason Bourgeois, who wasn’t much more useful.
Five days after the Perez injury, Joakim Soria felt pain in his right elbow and an MRI later showed damage to his UCL. He was shut down after Tommy John surgery. Gone was the team’s long-time closer and a potentially valuable trade chip in July. Blake Wood had a similar injury at this time, but the Royals had depth in the bullpen so his injury wasn’t as devastating as the Perez injury.
Towards the end of spring training, Felipe Paulino felt tightness in his right forearm and was placed on the disabled list. He eventually returned in May and made seven starts before hitting the DL again with a groin injury. Then, while rehabbing from that, he ended up with a torn UCL of his own. In a May 13 start, Danny Duffy was hurt after 13 pitches and he ended up needing Tommy John surgery as well.
Lorenzo Cain made a running catch in the fifth game of the year on wet grass in Oakland and strained his groin but also ended up with a hip flexor. He was out until July. Other small things popped up. Mike Moustakas twisted his knee. He didn’t miss more than a few days, but it seemed like it bothered him all year. Right at the end of the year, Eric Hosmer dove for a ball and ended up with a slight tear in his rotator cuff.
4. You get an extension! You get an extension! YOU. GET. AN. EXTENSION!
Dayton Moore has been more than happy to offer extensions to his players. He’d locked up Billy Butler, Zack Greinke and Joakim Soria in the past. Before 2012 even started, he finished off three big extensions for players that look to be significant parts of the next contending Royals team.
February 27: The Royals extend Salvador Perez. First, they bought out his arbitration years by giving him a total of $7 million over the 2012 through 2016 seasons. Team options could keep him in Kansas City until 2019, all for a total of $21.75 million. It’s a fantastic deal, and if he becomes a regular All-Star, it could rival the first Evan Longoria extension as one of the best values in recent baseball history.
March 15: The Royals extend Alcides Escobar. When they got him in the Greinke trade, Escobar had been one of the best shortstop prospects in the game for a while and for year was Milwaukee’s number one minor leaguer. They saw a guy with potential to be one of the best in the game, and they’ve got him until 2017 after options. It’s another affordable deal, a great move for a small market team. The total value of the contract (without award bonuses) would be $22.25 million through 2017.
March 30: The Royals extend Alex Gordon. At the time, this deal looked a bit like a risk (though a worthy one). Gordon’s inconsistencies have been well-documented over the years and his 2011 looked like the outlier. But after a fully healthy season where he looked more comfortable than ever, the Royals were convinced. He signed a deal that could keep him in Kansas City until after 2016 for a total of $50 million if Gordon exercises his 2016 option year. He’ll be set for a $12.5 million salary that year, which, by that time, might be well below his value if he’s still productive.
3. The Streak
Oh, It started out fine while the Royals were on the road. The Royals won a series against the Angels, were set to win the series against Oakland and could have landed in Kansas City for the home opener with a 4-2 record.
Instead, Jonathan Broxton walked two after a strikeout and an error, then, after a run scored to tie the game, beaned two batters to load the bases and drive in the winning run.
Then, in the home opener, Luke Hochevar allowed seven runs in the first inning as the Royals, putting them out of the game right away. It was fitting, then, that the Royals ended up losing their next ten games, a stretch which put them out of the division pretty much right out of the gate. It was often pointed out that “without the streak” the Royals would have a much better looking record. And sure, if they go .500 in that streak instead of 0-12, they’d have finished 78-84, which would be the best record the Royals have had under Dayton Moore.
But that month. Oof. Just awful.
2. Free Wil Myers – Wil Myers Has Been Freed
Wil Myers had a rough 2011. A random gash on his knee (suffered while running from his car to his apartment) became infected. He struggled after starting strong in 2009 and continuing the momentum in 2010. A very good showing in the Arizona Fall League showed that he had shaken off any injury issues and he started 2012 strong.
Starting out in Double A, hitting 13 homers in 35 games. He was hitting .343 when he was promoted to Triple A. The bombs kept coming. He added 24 more homers, kept getting on base and finished with 37 homers.
Meanwhile, in Kansas City, Jeff Francoeur was struggling at the plate and slow in the field. For all the discussion about his leadership, he wasn’t contributing much in the field. After April, he had a .574 OPS. He heated up in May, but he wasn’t able to sustain the momentum. It was about June that Wil Myers was crushing Triple A pitching and Frenchy was floundering. Every day, discussions popped up about Super Two deadlines and if Myers would be outside the service time range if called up on this day or that. The major league right fielder was stinking up the joint, but their top prospect – who happened to play in the outfield as well – was rolling.
It seemed like an obvious move, but not one the Royals ever made.
By the All-Star break, it was starting to look like the Royals weren’t going to promote Myers to the big leagues. He received a rousing ovation in the All-Star Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium with every at bat. But by August, it was pointless to start his service time for two months while the Royals were headed for another losing season. Resigned, Royals fans looked toward 2013.
We know how this story ended, though, as Myers is now free – but he’ll make his major league debut as a Tampa Bay Ray rather than a Kansas City Royal.
1. The All-Star Game
I hope you were able to get to Kansas City for any part of the All-Star Game festivities. I really do.
For me, it was my favorite baseball week since I’ve been a fan. From the way the city got behind the event, to the events going around besides just the games, everything was memorable.
It started out with a Thursday preview event where I got to tour the FanFest setup as they were putting it together at the Kansas City Convention Center. By this time, all the fountains in the area were dyed with blue and the city came together to put on a show. We talked with Bob Kendrick of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum about their events for the week as well.
On Saturday, I started with a morning baseball history tour that took me by the locations of many of the old fields for various teams who played in Kansas City like the Blues, the A’s the Monarchs. We stopped at Satchel Paige‘s grave and his old neighborhood. As usual, many had left baseballs for him, and it turned out that we had visited on his birthday.
Then, I went out to FanFest. I’d originally thought it would just be one of those things that you do if you have kids. But it was far more than that. Right when I first arrived, I heard that Andre Dawson was talking in one area, so I went and listened to Andre Dawson. Then I looked through the Hall of Fame exhibits which included items from Royals history and Major League Baseball History. I saw the World Series trophy from the 1985 team. There was the Pine Tar bat. It was all there.
Everything had convened into this one baseball mecca, a combination of booths, former players, speakers, presentations, exhibits and even activities for everyone. I did a baserunning simulation and stole a base. I made my own baseball card. Cal Ripken and Barry Larkin ran teams through fielding drills. I listened to Bob Motley, former Negro Leagues umpire, talk about bus confrontations and calling games for Satchel Paige.
Sunday was busy, as I was part of a Baseball Prospectus event that put writers like Jason Parks, Kevin Goldstein, Rany Jazayerli and Rob Neyer in the line of fire as they answered questions from BP readers at the historic Gem Theater. The next panel was a group of executives and agents, including Dan Evans, former GM of the Dodgers and Tyrone Brooks, part of the Pirates front office. Then the Royalman Report took over.
We took Royals questions for an hour along with Craig Brown of Royals Review and it was an honor to be included as part of the event in any way.
Across the street, Dave Winfield, Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron were talking at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. The place was packed. Aaron talked about hitting bottlecaps with broomsticks and Robinson talked about traveling and being a player-manager. The place was packed to listen to the three Hall of Famers and it was an awesome sight (and that’s the true meaning of awesome in this case).
That evening the Futures Game was the big attraction and with Jake Odorizzi, Yordano Ventura and Myers all starting, it was packed with Royals fans. It was a lopsided game, but fans stuck around to the end. Following that, the Celebrity Softball game started up (though I didn’t stay for that part). We recorded another podcast that night from the Flying Saucer, just because.
On Monday, Robinson Cano was the big story at the Home Run Derby as he was booed mercilessly for snubbing Billy Butler for the event. Mark Trumbo put one on the roof of the Hall of Fame. Prince Fielder stole the show, winning the Derby for the second time. Some painted Kansas City in a bad light with their commentary, though most really just missed the point.
Then, the finale. The All-Star Game.
Billy Butler was announced and received a standing ovation. While there’s been some said about how many fans haven’t quite embraced him (he’s too slow, he doesn’t hit enough homers, etc), it changed for a lot that week and that day. Chants of “BIL-LY BUT-LER” filled the Kauffman Stadium night. In the stands, towards the end of the game, fans were counting batters to see if Butler would get another at bat. He finally did in the bottom of the ninth but struck out.
After the game, a video ran that showed all of the week’s moments from all around the city. It was special to be in Kansas City at that moment, with countless fans showing excitement for the team. I got the feeling of what it might be like to be inside Kauffman Stadium someday when the team is competitive or playing in October. It was electric.
Bob Dutton put it best in remembering the All-Star break: “This city wants to love this team. All it wants is to be loved back.”