What went wrong: Kansas City Royals

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The following is the latest in a series profiling some of 2009’s biggest disappointments:

Two weeks ago: Cleveland Indians

Last week: Cincinnati Reds

This Week: Kansas City Royals

Record: 60-87 (5th in AL Central)

How It Happened:

It
seems like forever ago, but the Royals sat atop the AL Central on May 7
with an 18-11 record. In the midst of a six-game winning streak, ace
Zack Greinke graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in an article by
Joe Posnanski
that proclaimed he was “The Best Pitcher in Baseball.”
That might be true, but it wasn’t long before it all came crashing down
for the Royals. They haven’t seen the .500 mark since May 22 (21-21).
In fact, since May 22, the Royals are 39-66.

A
lot went wrong with the Royals this season, but that shouldn’t surprise
you. Alex Gordon went down in mid-April with hip surgery. He struggled
upon his return to the majors in July, and the club decided to demote
him in August. Though they said the demotion was performance-based, the
dirty little secret is that the move delayed his free agency until
after the 2013 season. Managing just a lousy .215/.324/.347 line with
four homers and 13 RBI, 2009 marked another lost season for the former
first-round pick.

Limited to just 81
games, Jose Guillen hit just .242/.314/.367 with nine homers and 40
RBI. Counted on to be a mainstay of the Royals’ offense, Guillen got
off to a late start due to a sore right groin. Then he missed six weeks
with a torn ligament in his right knee. And just recently, completing
the trifecta, Guillen was grounded for the rest of the season with a
strained right hamstring. Good thing the Royals still owe him $12
million for 2010.

If the
above two examples didn’t show it, the Royals have struggled for
offense, ranking in the bottom three in the league in batting average,
runs scored, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and home
runs. The pitching hasn’t been much better, ranking third-worst with a
4.66 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP – and that’s with Greinke. No other qualified
starting pitcher on the Royals staff has more than eight wins (Kyle
Davies) or an ERA under 4.00 (Brian Bannister – 4.73).

And
then there was the trade. You know what I’m talking about. On July 3,
the Royals acquired Yuniesky Betancourt from the Mariners in exchange
for Derrick Saito and Dan Cortes (No. 3 prospect, according to Baseball
America). The move brought on a firestorm of criticism for general
manager Dayton Moore, who then committed a cardinal baseball sin by
saying, “The defensive statistics – I still really don’t understand how
some of those statistics are evaluated, I really don’t. When you watch
baseball games every single day, its very apparent who can play
defensively and who can’t.” Ugh.

Silver Linings:

Though
Royals fans suffered through their sixth straight losing season, they
were fortunate enough to witness one of the most dominant individual
seasons in recent memory. Through his first 30 starts this season, Zach
Greinke is 14-8 with a 2.14 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 224/44 K/BB ratio in 210
1/3 innings. Greinke is second in the league with 25 quality starts.
There’s been a lot of talk about if Greinke will lose out on the Cy
Young because he has only 14 wins, but realize that he ranks 123rd
among American League starters in run support (4.71) – 100 IP mininum.
Only two other starters (Tim Redding and Justin Masterson) have
received less.

The Royals may
not have gotten much return out of their 2005 first-round pick
(Gordon), but Billy Butler has emerged as a legitimate
middle-of-the-order threat. The 23-year-old first baseman is batting
.301/.358/.482 with 17 homers and 82 RBI. Butler ranks ninth in the
league with 65 extra-base hits.

Long
known as a guy who couldn’t find the strike zone, Robinson Tejada has
surfaced as a candidate for the starting rotation in 2010. His overall
line — 3.09 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 11.42 K/9 — is impressive enough, but
he has allowed just one run over his first three starts since being
moved to the rotation.

Looking Ahead:

The
same cast of characters will be back for at least next season, with
manager Trey Hillman assured of a job, and Moore given a contract
extension through 2014.

The
Royals have about $58 million in contract commitments for 2010
including $12 million for Guillen, $12 million for Gil Meche and $4.5
million for Kyle Farnsworth. They could elect to bring back Coco Crisp
for $8 million or Miguel Olivo (leads the team with 22 home runs) for
$3 million.

The Royals will not
be a contender in 2010, and they shouldn’t pretend to be, either. They
need to stop jerking Gordon around. And as our own Matthew Pouliot
suggested earlier this month, the Royals need to promote on-base
machine Kila Ka’aihue to be the team’s designated hitter.

Finally,
if the Royals aren’t going to consider moving Joakim Soria to the
rotation, they should trade him. He’s being wasted in the bullpen right
now. If Soria could complement Greinke alongside a high-risk,
high-reward guy like Ben Sheets or Erik Bedard and a fine rebound
candidate in Meche, they could have the groundwork for a long-term
competitive ballclub. And if they trade him, they would be able to plug
a few holes in a roster that resembles small-market swiss cheese.

Noah Syndergaard: ‘I feel like I’m going to bet (on) myself in free agency’

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Yankees starter Luis Severino and Phillies starter Aaron Nola both signed contract extensions within the last week. Severino agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract with a 2023 club option. Nola inked a four-year, $45 million deal with a 2023 club option.

While the deals both represented significant raises and longer-term financial security for the right-handed duo, some feel like the players are selling themselves short. It has become a more common practice for players to agree to these types of deals in part due to how stagnant free agency has become. Get the money while you can.

Mets starter Noah Syndergaard is in a similar situation as Severino and Nola were. He and the Mets avoided arbitration last month, agreeing on a $6 million salary for the 2019 season. He has two more years of arbitration eligibility left. A contract extension with the Mets would presumably cover both of those years plus two or three years of what would be free agent years. As Tim Britton of The Athletic reports, however, Syndergaard plans to test free agency when the time comes.

Syndergaard said, “I trust my ability and the talent that I have. So I feel like I’m going to bet (on) myself in free agency and not do what they did. But if it’s fair for both sides and they approach me on it, then maybe we can talk.” He clarified that he would be open to a conversation about an extension, but the Mets thus far haven’t approached him about it. In his words, “There’s been no traction.”

Syndergaard, 26, has been one of baseball’s better starters since debuting in 2015. He owns a career 2.93 ERA with 573 strikeouts and 116 walks in 518 1/3 innings. Among pitchers to have logged at least 400 innings since 2015 and post a lower ERA are Clayton Kershaw (2.22), Jacob deGrom (2.66) and Max Scherzer (2.71). Syndergaard made only seven starts in 2017 yet still ranks seventh among pitchers in total strikeouts since 2015.

If Sydergaard doesn’t end up signing an extension, he will be entering free agency after the 2021 season. The collective bargaining agreement expires in December 2021 and a new one will likely be agreed upon around that time. Syndergaard will hopefully have better prospects entering free agency then than players do now.