With spring training finally in full swing and Opening Day still a month away, there’s a lot of baseball to think about. Here are a few midweek thoughts about the KC Royals.
February is about to become March, which means Opening Day is within sight. The KC Royals begin the season March 26 against the White Sox and are consumed now by the business of spring training, pondering their roster, honing their skills to game sharpness, and anxiously awaiting the season. There are a lot of things to think about; here are just a few.
The Astros are coming to town. The Houston Astros, the most talked-about franchise over the winter and the team that made trash cans newsworthy, will pay an early visit to Kauffman Stadium this season. They’ll be the second team in and–presumably sans trash can–and will play a three-game set beginning April 4. The reception they’ll receive should be one of the most interesting happenings of the year.
Jason Vargas needs a team. If you monitor free agency closely, you probably know many free agents remain unsigned. Assuming Yasiel Puig is still among that group at this writing, I do not plead for him to take up residence at Kauffman Stadium; he’d be too expensive and probably wouldn’t like the current Royals’ rebuild.
A former Royal, however, might welcome the chance to return–Jason Vargas is still searching for a place to play. Vargas was good for the club–despite the torn UCL and corrective surgery that stole most of his 2015 and ’16 seasons, he won 29 games across 2014 and 2017, including a league-high 18 in ’17. Vargas then left the KC Royals for a two-year deal with the Mets, injured his hand and missed part of 2018 and then, with a 6-5 record, found himself shipped to the Phillies just before last season’s trade deadline.
The Phils were 6½ games out of first when the deal was made and hoped Vargas could help them close in on a playoff spot in the 57 games they had left. He didn’t, going 1-4 in a painfully unproductive run masterfully chronicled by FanGraphs’ Justin Klugh. Coming off such a debacle and now 37, a shaky age for big-league hurlers, Vargas is unsurprisingly unsigned. Should the KC Royals solve that problem for him?
Vargas may have something left in the tank (it won’t be gas, as he’s rarely–if ever–touched 90 mph with his fastball), but that isn’t for the Royals to find out. Vargas might be able to hold down the fifth spot in the rotation for a while, but there are better risks for the club to take. More importantly, adding Vargas to the staff would block a younger pitcher. And because he’s not really a reclamation project, he might not attract enough of General Manager Dayton Moore’s attention.
How about minor league free agents who used to be KC Royals? Thinking about Jason Vargas brought to mind the piece I wrote here in mid-November about former Royals who were then minor league free agents and who might help the club. So I checked in on the more notable ones to see how the market treated them.
Greg Holland, of course, returned to the Royals and is trying to earn a bullpen spot. I said in November the club should consider Holland only if it moved Ian Kennedy in the offseason or contemplated moving him in July (he’s in his last contract year), and then only if the price was right.
The Royals didn’t move Kennedy over the winter, and didn’t appear inclined to; although they’ll likely trade him by midseason if a suitable trade partner can be found, and might not if one can’t, the club had the chance to bring Holland back on team-friendly terms and did so. He’s on a minor league contract that will pay him $1.25 million if he’s a Royal on Opening Day, and a possible $1.25 million more in incentives. Holland’s working in camp via invitation and pitched a 1-2-3 inning in his only outing so far.
Christian Colon, a handy KC utility infielder from 2014-2017, spent most of 2018 and ’19 in the minors after leaving Kansas City. He might have filled the same role had the Royals pursued him in the offseason, but the club has enough infielders in, or close to, The Show. Colon is in the Reds’ spring camp as a non-roster invitee; our friends at Fandsided’s blogredmachine.com aren’t optimistic he’ll make the club, but he’ll join former Royal Mike Moustakas if he does.
Necessarily on the agenda of new manager Mike Matheny this spring is the 26th man, the additional roster spot baseball is affording every team this season. I recently counted former Royal Terrance Gore among possibilities for the job but, believing the club should fill the spot with a player who can do more than steal bases, discounted him as the ultimate choice. He’s in the Dodger camp on a minor league deal. I watched him bat in LA’s televised game Sunday; he tried unsuccessfully to beat out an infield hopper. It looked like he’d lost half a step.
Former KC Royals reliever Tim Collins is a non-roster invitee in Colorado’s camp; Ervin Santana, a starter on the club’s breakout 2013 team, hasn’t signed; and Brandon Maurer, unfortunately a key ingredient to a Royally disastrous trade, is unsigned and likely to remain so.
A reunion for Mike Matheny. Because the KC Royals train in Arizona, and the Cardinals in Florida, new KC manager Mike Matheny won’t face the club that fired him in 2018 until the Royals host the Cards in night games August 4-5. (It will also mark the first meeting KC coach John Mabry has with his old team–he’s the only member of Matheny’s staff who worked with him in St. Louis).
Revisiting some Kansas City baseball history. My father and grandfather afforded me my first look at baseball when we watched some of the 1963 World Series together on a black and white TV. My “live” introduction to baseball came the next year; as I’ve mentioned before in this space, I spent some of my childhood in Lawrence, Kansas, a short drive from Kansas City’s old Municipal Stadium, home of the A’s until Charlie Finley took them away after the 1967 season. The A’s just couldn’t win, but they were captivating nevertheless, and in their own special way.
I recently acquired, and have just started reading, John E. Peterson’s “The Kansas City Athletics: A Baseball History 1954-1967.” If you were an A’s fan, and spent as much time at the old ballpark as I did, you no doubt appreciate how hard this book is to put down. I’ll let you know what I think of it.
The KC Royals always provide much to think and talk about. I’ll share more of my “midweek musings” in the future.