It had been two months since the accusations were levied against the Astros in the digital pages of The Athletic and Rob Manfred finally handed down his punishment in a nine-page document that was actually quite interesting. Like scandals before this, I believe it was a historical decision made to suspend Jeff Luhnow and AJ Hinch for the year and I’ll get to my thoughts on the severity of the punishment, but it definitely spiced up what had been a boring January in baseball, though not necessarily for the better. I think from a Royals perspective, you have to wonder what the Astros were doing in 2015 when they took Kansas City to the brink. And you almost have to look at that series and be maybe even prouder of what they overcame to win that series and ultimately get to the World Series. Regardless, what a crazy week in baseball that you don’t typically see this late in the offseason, even in the past couple years when free agency was slow as molasses.
- There has been quite a bit made of the punishments and whether they were enough. For starters, the $5 million is the most allowed for punishment, so whether that’s enough or not is kind of irrelevant. The rest is up for debate. Would a team trade their manager, general manager and four top draft picks over two years for a World Series title? And I think the answer is an unequivocal yes. So in that respect, you could argue the punishment was too light. But I don’t think the punishment was actually about punishing the Astros (or the Red Sox coming up), but rather to be set as a deterrent for future organizations to do it. In hindsight, the Astros may prefer to have won the World Series and not be seen as tainted, but that title still exists, no matter what people think of it. Looking ahead, knowing that you could lose all those draft picks and the slot money that comes with it, along with your leadership, I think that’s a pretty decent deterrent. Think about a scenario where a pretty good team decides to use technology to cheat. Let’s even look at a team like the 2018 Rays. They were a good team. They won 90 games, but finished seven games out of a Wild Card spot. Would it be worth it to them to add a few wins through cheating only to still come up a game or two short of a postseason berth and then lose everything the Astros lost as well? I don’t think so. Some might disagree with that, but I think the punishment was maybe a little light as after the fact, but set a precedent that teams won’t want to risk moving forward, which I really believe was the whole point of it all. Now we see where the rest of the fallout leads. Alex Cora has already “resigned” and now Carlos Beltran has too. But I think this punishment was enough that teams will be very hesitant to try this again, at least for the time being.
- Sometimes I fall into the trap of being a baseball romantic and with that comes optimism for a new season. Sure, I know that the Royals aren’t likely to win many more than 70 games and if they even win that many, a lot will be surprised. But I also see the work going in right now with Maikel Franco with the Royals new offensive development staff, including Mike Tosar, and I can’t help but feel at least somewhat optimistic that maybe he’ll turn things around and be a productive player. Some of that comes from the work Jorge Soler did. The results were obvious and while not every player will end up with the same resume in the end, there’s at least proof it works. And one of the things that gets me the most excited about a player is actually knowing they’re working on things after not succeeding. It’s why I always believe there’s a possibility that a pitcher has more when he adds a new pitch or why I think a hitter might be able to unlock more power if they alter their swing, even if just a little bit. The awareness to actually recognize a problem and then do something about it is appealing to me as a fan, and I appreciate that Franco is trying to do something about his issues. I still maintain he gets a BABIP boost from Kauffman Stadium without changing a thing, but maybe, just maybe, he can tap into some of that potential that was there a few years ago and put up something like a .265/.330/.480 season. Hey, you never know, it’s only January.
- I think it sort of gets lost in the championship shuffle of 2014 and 2015 that the timing for those runs worked out, well, royally. The Tigers run at the top of the division was ending while the Indians were still just on the cusp and the White Sox and Twins were just sort of there. That’s not to take anything away from their run in those years because plenty of teams don’t take advantage of those opportunities, but it’s just the fact of how things are. As they continue their rebuild and look to sometime in the 2022-2026 range for their competitive window with the 2018 pitchers, they may not be quite as lucky. The White Sox are clearly in the midst of their crescendo and have started to add high priced talent. With guys like Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech, they have five guys to build around that any team would welcome. The Tigers are dreadful now, but they have similar starting pitching talent working their way through the system, so if they can find some bats to pair with them, they might be quite good in a few years. And the Indians are so well run that even with their looking to trade Francisco Lindor and maybe Mike Clevinger, I have faith that they’ll at least be good enough to cause problems. The Twins are the one team that might be primed for a downturn, but even that’s no guarantee because they’re run well now with their new front office. They are definitely the most built to win right now. Just look at their free agent signings with not a single one from outside their organization younger than 32. But they also have young offensive talent and should have the funds to go out and acquire pitching if they need it to supplement those bats. I’m not saying the Royals can’t rise to the top, but there’ll be more obstacles this time than last.
- It’s always a fun time when the Royals put out their non-roster invitees for spring training. This is the first spring I’m going to miss in a few years, so I’m disappointed I won’t get to see the big four from the 2018 draft (I’m a little surprised Jonathan Bowlan wasn’t included actually), but Kris Bubic, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch and Brady Singer getting big league spring innings in late February and early March is going to be something to watch, just for the fun of it. I’m also very excited for Kyle Isbel’s first big league camp and Khalil Lee to make (I think) his second appearance on the list. I think on the position side, the only real opportunity to make the club is going to be for Matt Reynolds, who was signed to a minor league deal this winter. He could be a utility player, but even with the 26th man, the addition of Franco and the seemingly impending signing of Alex Gordon probably means they won’t roster a traditional utility player since Nicky Lopez and Whit Merrifield provide so much versatility. On the pitching front, three relievers have a real chance to break camp with the big club. I’ve talked quite a bit about Daniel Tillo, and I think he’s going to get an honest to goodness shot but end up in Omaha for a few weeks. Tyler Zuber is probably in the same boat, but I’d expect to see them before the break if they pitch well in the minors. And then there’s Trevor Rosenthal, who I think would have to be horrible to not make the team. As I always say with so many of these guys, listen to how the organization speaks of them during spring. I think back to 2011 and realized Salvador Perez, a catcher many had never heard of, was going to find his way to the big leagues with the way Ned Yost spoke of him. Similarly, Matt Strahm was talked about in such a glowing way in the spring of 2016 that you just knew he’d make an impact at some point as well. A guy may throw three innings in spring and be totally non-descript, but how the organization talks about him will give you all the clues you need to know how they feel.