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Royals Rumblings - News for December 15, 2023

Our final Asian Baseball Wrap: NPB

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Do not do this!
Photo by STR/JIJI Press/AFP via Getty Images

Busy week, huh? First, Will Smith comes back. Then the Royals splash some cash at Seth Lugo. To make room, they traded Taylor Clarke to the Brewers and get some minor leaguers back in return. They also signed Chris Stratton (and have not yet made a corresponding move).

I don’t think we’ve linked to this story yet. At The Athletic, Keith Law writes up a bunch of those moves:

Lugo’s a fastball/curveball guy with some of the highest spin rates ever seen on his breaker, but he works with a big assortment of pitches and doesn’t rely too much on any one pitch. He’s very deceptive, with the four-seamer and curveball looking similar out of his hand and then breaking in opposite directions as they approach the plate, and unlike a lot of starters on this market, he doesn’t have much mileage on his arm — last year’s 146 innings was by far his career high. I had him pegged for more like $10-12 million a year, but I don’t think $15 million is exorbitant, and he’s as big an upgrade for the Royals as he would have been for any team. If he can give them 150-160 innings, he might be a three-win improvement over whichever 5.50 ERA guy he’s replacing.

Stratton also fits the Royals well because he’s shown he can handle some innings out of the bullpen, including multi-inning stints, and be a little above average at run prevention. Over the last three seasons, he’s been worth 1.6 rWAR/1.4 fWAR while throwing 225 1/3 innings with a 3.91 ERA and 3.55 FIP. Building on a theme here, the Royals didn’t end the season with a reliever on their roster who threw at least five innings in the majors last year and had an ERA under 4.40. Stratton gives them length, and some quality, too.

They also added left-handed reliever Will Smith on a one-year deal worth $5 million plus potential bonuses. Smith had an ERA of 4.40 exactly while pitching for Texas this year in what was his worst season since he bombed as a starter in 2012 … for the Kansas City Royals. The bullpen is already better than it was. I won’t pretend these moves make the Royals a contender, but they are already more competitive than they were a month ago.

We have a bunch of stories about these various moves.

At MLB, Anne Rogers writes about Seth Lugo:

“In my mind, if I proved myself over and over in the bullpen, I could have a chance to start.” Lugo said. “A lot of relievers go through that. … Some people tend to lose that goal. And speaking with guys who have been in the league for 10-15 years, it’s easy to be OK where you’re at. I was proud of myself for not letting my mind get to that point.”

At The Star, Jaylon Thompson writes about both the Lugo and Stratton additions:

Lugo signed two-year deal with a player option for the 2026 season. Reports indicate the deal is worth $45 million. Meanwhile, Stratton agreed to a one-year, $3.5-million deal with a player option for $4.5 million, reports. The Royals officially announced the Lugo deal on Thursday.

Lugo, 34, was linked to the Royals for a while. KC reportedly showed interest last offseason before Lugo signed with the San Diego Padres. A year later, the Royals were able to secure him on a multiyear deal.

He also profiles Lugo:

“Right before I got to the big leagues, it was the Royals and (New York) Mets in the World Series,” Lugo said. “Just seeing what the organization has, it just seemed like a great fit for us.”

“We talked last night at dinner about how we were interested last year in signing him,” Picollo said. “But we weren’t sure about the starting role just because he hadn’t done it in the major leagues. Now, when you look back at what he did this past year, that transition was really easy.”

This is probably the biggest news from yesterday, but I just didn’t want to talk about the stadium situation. Sigh. Also at The Star, Mike Hendricks:

The chairman of the Jackson County Legislature has introduced legislation that would have voters deciding in April whether to pass a countywide 3/8-cent stadiums sales tax that run out in the year 2071, 40 years after the current tax expires in 2031.

The county has yet to negotiate new leases with either the Chiefs of the Royals, which means chairman DaRon McGee’s proposed ordinance is unprecedented. The current leases were signed before the county legislature in 2006 voted to put the current sales tax up for voter approval that year.

While the language in the ordinance notes ongoing lease negotiations, nowhere does it say that signed leases must be in place before the tax measure is put before the voters.

So, no location decision and no signed lease, but vote for it!

However, 610’s Alex Gold is disputing this:

How about something more fun? This one from a non-standard news source. Anyone know where Mahomet, IL is? I didn’t either, but Blake Wolters, the Royals 2nd round pick in 2023 does. Fred Kroner of the Mahomet Daily did a profile on him that’s longer than your average small town newspaper talking about Wolters and his connection to Royals coach Nate Adcock.

Few people know and fully embrace that philosophy better than Nate Adcock, who was among the coaches that worked with Wolters throughout the summer and fall during his time in Surprise, Ariz., at the Royals’ spring training complex.

Now 35, Adcock was in Wolters’ situation in 2006.

“I was drafted out of high school by Seattle in the fifth round,” Adcock recalled. “I had hardly ever been out of western Kentucky.”

Transitioning to a game played by adults, who are intent on making their living in that manner, and immediately adjusting to time away from home is unlike taking a Spring Break vacation for a week. Just days after being under their parental supervision, these teen-agers are asked to look after themselves, take care of their own laundry, get up early for daily team meetings or workouts, and handle the other responsibilities that come with being on their own.

“It’s life-changing,” Adcock said. “Kids have to learn to take care of themselves like I did when I was 18. Blake was very mature and handled it with grace.”

Alex Duvall and Royals Farm Report are back for a day!

At a minimum, the Royals are sending a message

For years, the Kansas City Royals have operated with far too much patience and blind faith in their homegrown “talent.” After a rough 2021 campaign, Brady Singer was brilliant in 2022, but then was pretty bad again in 2023, but the Royals rode him for 29 starts and his spot in the rotation never appeared to be remotely in jeopardy. In 2022, Daniel Lynch made 27 starts with an ERA over 5.00 and appeared to be locked into a rotation spot in 2023 before an injury ended his season. The same could be said for Kris Bubic after his 27 start, 5.58 ERA season in 2022, though he seemed to have turned a corner before Tommy John Surgery ended his year. Jonathan Heasley was also given 20+ big league starts that year with an ERA over 5.00 and had every opportunity to earn a role in the big league rotation in February. Back in 2021, Brad Keller was given 26 starts with an ERA over 5.00 and was penciled right into a rotation spot again when the 2022 season rolled around.

I don’t believe The Royals Reporter (Kevin O’Brien)’s take on the pitcher signings has been linked yet:

If the Lugo deal was made a couple of weeks ago, I think Royals fans would be more enthusiastic.

However, after news broke that the Royals have been in talks with Lucas Giolito, Marcus Stroman, and Jack Flaherty this offseason, I get that Lugo, who just transitioned to the rotation last year, doesn’t inspire a great deal of enthusiasm among the more jaded Kansas City sports fans.

Even though Lugo may not have the pedigree of Giolito, Stroman, or Flaherty, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Lugo, both in terms of what he brings to the mound, as well as to the Royals roster financially in the short and long term.

There’s no question that at 34 years old, Lugo’s age may worry some Royals fans.

Blog Roundup:

Going to throw in a small MLB section today.

Former Royal and Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer is named 2023 MLB Coach of the Year by Baseball America:

The 2023 Braves had one of the greatest offensive performances in major league history. By the metric weighted runs created plus, Atlanta produced runs at a rate 25% above league average, equaling the legendary 1927 Yankees for the best wRC+ ever. Atlanta’s 307 home runs tied the 2019 Twins for most ever in a single season. The Braves’ collective .501 slugging percentage was the highest all time—and the only one to equal or exceed .500.

It’s only appropriate, then, that the individual who oversaw that output is recognized. Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer is the 2023 BA Major League Coach of the Year.

“When (Braves public relations) told me, I said, ‘Well this has to be a mistake, because I just got to coach the offense of the year,’ ” Seitzer said. “I had some really good players who I got to coach, and I give them all the credit—and everybody else who goes into it. It’s a stinkin’ team effort, man. But it’s very cool. Very humbling. I don’t feel worthy at all. Hitting coaches just show up, grind and get after it and try to keep the ship afloat the best we can.”

MLB is creating a prospect showcase called “Spring Breakout”:

Major League Baseball today announced that its 2024 Spring Training schedule will feature a new four-day event called “Spring Breakout,” an effort that will showcase baseball’s future and the current stars of Minor League Baseball. As part of the new initiative, each Major League Club will field a team of their top prospects to play exhibition games against another Club’s top prospects while also creating in-park fan engagement opportunities centered around their up-and-coming players.

The inaugural Spring Breakout, slated from Thursday, March 14 through Sunday, March 17, 2024, will feature seven-inning games for the prospects. Each team will be comprised of an organization’s top 20-25 prospects from all levels of Minor League Baseball, with these players now performing in Major League Spring Training at an earlier point in their careers. Twelve contests will be played as part of doubleheaders that are paired with a Major League Spring Training game. Twenty-eight (28) Clubs will play one Spring Breakout exhibition game, while one Florida-based Club and one Arizona-based Club will play two Spring Breakout exhibition games within their respective regions, thereby ensuring the participation of all 30 Clubs. Spring Breakout also will highlight various on-field innovations that are in place in Minor League Baseball.

The Dodgers are adding Tyler Glasnow from the Rays and, in theory, signing him to an extension (though that hadn’t been agreed upon when I typed this up):

The Dodgers and Rays are in agreement on a trade that would send right-hander Tyler Glasnow and outfielder Manuel Margot to Los Angeles, with right-hander Ryan Pepiot and outfielder Jonny Deluca going to Tampa, reports Jeff Passan of ESPN. The deal is contingent on Glasnow signing an extension with the Dodgers, which Passan says is expected. Jon Heyman of The New York Post had earlier relayed that a Glasnow extension may be in the works. The Rays would also send $4MM cash to the Dodgers, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Heyman reports that the deal will go through, implying that an extension of some kind has been agreed to.

Finally, in rich folks pouting news... the Tampa Bay Rays, formerly Tampa Bay Devil Rays, have played at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg Florida since 1998. The Tampa–St. Petersburg–Clearwater Metropolitan Statistical Area boasts a population of over 3M people with Tampa having an official population of 398K and St. Pete at 261K, as of 2022 (estimates). Since the new stadium will be in the same place as the current stadium in St. Pete and their county and city are contributing more money to it, city officials think the team should consider changing their name. Rays management is balking at this and throwing a fit:

It is not something the Rays want, team co-president Brian Auld told the council, suggesting such a requirement could torpedo the entire $6.5 billion ballpark and downtown redevelopment project that includes affordable housing, a Black history museum, a hotel, retail and office space, bars and restaurants.

“We are the Tampa Bay Rays. Our name is deliberately inclusive. Our fans live throughout Tampa Bay and central Florida,” said Auld, noting that other local professional sports teams are the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL. “There will not be a new ballpark nor development project if there’s a requirement to change our franchise’s name.”

Really? The name is “deliberately inclusive”? Yeah, uh huh. Let’s scramble the entire deal because of this.

This week, we’ll finish up our 2023 Asian baseball roundup. The last two weeks, we’ve done Taiwan’s CPBL and South Korea’s KBO. This week is Japan’s NPB.

Here are the two previous entries for 2023: Season Preview; Mid-Season

We’ll start by talking about the players potentially coming to the MLB. Last week, we talked about Jung Hoo Lee from the KBO. MLB Trade Rumors’ Top 50 Free agent list included #3 Yoshinobu Yamamoto, #10 Shota Imanaga, and #43 Yuki Matsui. I’m not including free agents like Shohei Ohtani, Kenta Maeda, Hyun Jin Ryu, or even Nick Martinez as their recent play has been in MLB. #28 Yariel Rodriguez is a curious case - he pitched in Cuba for 6 seasons before going to the NPB for 2020-2022. However, in 2023, he only played for Cuba in the WBC and then stayed in the Dominican Republic; but that means he’s also not a part of the 2023 NPB story. Let’s see how well I can weave those threads in with the story of the season.

Actually, not all that well. Matsui had another fine season as closer of the Rakuten Golden Eagles. He led all of NPB with a career high 39 saves, but the team finished below .500 in the Pacific League and missed the playoffs. Also missing the playoffs in that league were the Seibu Lions, who signed former Royal Franchy Cordero last week. In the basement, for the second year in a row, was “Big Boss” Tsuyoshi Shinjo and his Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Though he is on the hot seat, his contract was picked up for a third season:

“I am willing to take off this uniform if our results look like this year’s,” Shinjo said via Kyodo News. “I want to compete while developing players and will fight to the death to do so.”

“Tsuyoshi Shinjo is not going to end this way,” Shinjo told reporters. “I want to show that he is a man capable of producing miracles.”

Just missing the playoffs in the Central League were the Yomiuri Giants. Kazuma Okamoto hit 41 home runs, 15 more than anyone else in NPB. However, their pitching got thin after their top 3 starters: Shosei Togo, Iori Yamasaki, and former Royal Foster Griffin. After a “fierce” season-long battle, the Chunichi Dragons edged out our rooting interest, the Yakult Swallows, for the worst record in the NPB. They were just not good. Um... former Royal Orlando Calixte is 31 and hit .233/.265/.374 for them. That’s something, right?

Our Swallows had a rough season. Remember back in 2021, they won the Japan Series for the first time since 2001. Last year, they lost in the Japan Series to the Orix Buffaloes. This year, they barely avoided the cellar. Two-time MVP (and likely future MLB player) Munetaka Murakami had one of the worst season of his career with “only” 31 home runs and .256/.375/.500. I mean, I’d still take that in the middle of my lineup but that’s 25 HR and nearly .300 fewer points of OPS than 2022. Nori Aoki hit .254/.371/.332 in his age 41 season, bringing his career NPB average “down” to .315. He has 1929 hits but probably won’t make 2000 as he only has 55 each of the last 2 seasons. I have to think he’s seriously considering retirement.

But what about the winners? The 2023 NPB season was dominated by two teams. In the Pacific League, the Orix Buffaloes went 86-53-4 and won the league by 15.5 games! In the Central League, the Hanshin Tigers were a nearly identical 85-53-5 and won the league by 11.5 games. And, spoiler, those teams would meet in the Japan Series.

In the Central League Climax series first stage, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp defeated the aforementioned Shota Imanaga’s Yokohama DeNA BayStars 2 games to none. The Carp won the first game 3-2 in 11 innings. Imanga pitched the second game and gave up a pair of solo home runs in the 1st and 6th before departing. The BayStars scored 2 in the 7th to tie but the Carp got 2 in the 8th to win.

The Tigers quickly dispatched the Carp 4-0 in the Final Stage of the Central League Climax series. The Tigers started out the series with a 1-0 advantage by virtue of their 1st place finish during the regular season. The games were close, but the Tigers won them all. 2023 Central League ROY and MVP Shoki Murakami won the first game, scattering 3 hits and 3 walks across 6 innings. Hanshin walked off game 2 and then won 4-2 in Game 3. It was the Tigers first pennant since 2005.

The Pacific League Climax series first stage featured one of the players we talked about in the season preview, young ace Roki Sasaki of the Chiba Lotte Marines. Last week, he asked to be posted to MLB, but it likely won’t happen for another couple of seasons. He was limited by injury this season but started game 1, an 8-2 win by the Marines. The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks won the second game, 3-1, behind former Texas Ranger Kohei Arihara.

The winner-take-all Game 3 was an instant classic - check out the couple of linked clips! The teams traded 0s. Scoreless through 5, then 6, then 7 and 8. Still scoreless after 9. In the 10th, the Hawks plated 3 after a series of hits. In the bottom of the 10th, the Marines put 2 on against young righty Yuki Tsumori. And then light hitting infielder Yudai Fujioka did this. It wasn’t the most majestic home run you’ll ever see, but it tied the game. With the speedy Hiromi Oka at first with two outs, Hisanori Yasuda doubled and Oka raced home. It was close enough to go to replay, but he was confirmed safe, to the delight of 29,050 screaming fans at ZOZO Marine Stadium.

However, the Marines were no match for the Buffaloes in the Pacific League Climax series Final Stage. As with the other league, the league winner had the 1-0 advantage to start. In game 1, Yamamoto yielded 3 runs in the top of the first but battled long enough to earn the win as the Buffaloes bats battered Marine pitching. An 8-5 win put Orix up 2-0. The Marines rallied with 2 in the top of the 9th to win the next game 6-5. However, they were no match for The Bufaloes young starters. 23yo Kohei Azuma and 21yo Hiroya Miyagi combined for 11 scoreless SP innings as the Buffaloes won 2-0 and 3-2 to advance to the Japan Series.

With the two teams only 12 kilometers apart, “the series was dubbed ‘The Great Kansai Derby’ and the ‘Namba Line Series’ for the train line that helps connect the two stadiums”.

Per wiki:

Despite Orix’s recent success, Hanshin has a much larger cultural presence. Founded in 1935, the Tigers were formed during the earliest days of professional baseball in Japan. Additionally, the team plays in historic Koshien Stadium, the oldest stadium in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). The team’s championship struggles also add to its storied history. Conversely, the Buffaloes were formed from a merger between the Orix BlueWave and the Kintetsu Buffaloes during the contentious 2004 Nippon Professional Baseball realignment.

Game 1 was a matchup of the two players who would be named their respective league MVPs after the season, Yamamoto and Murakami. Yamamoto was roughed up while Murakami only gave up 2 hits in 7 innings and the Tigers got an easy 8-0 win. Miyagi returned the favor for the Buffaloes in Game 2 as they won 8-0 to even the series. Hanshin scored first in Game 3 but Orix took control in the middle innings and held on to win 5-4 behind Azuma’s strong start. Game 4 was a seesaw affair with the score tied 3-3 going into the 9th. Former Blue Jay Jacob Waguespack walked Koji Chikamoto and the uncorked two wild pitches before giving up a walkoff RBI to Yusuke Oyama that evened the series.

Hanshin dominated Game 5 and won 6-2 behind strong pitching by Atsuki Yuasa. “[Marwin] González became the fifth player ever to hit a home run in both the World Series and the Japan Series”. Yamamoto came back off his disappointing first game to dominate Game 6. He threw a 138-pitch complete game and set a Japan Series record with 14 Ks. Game 7 was anti-climactic. Sheldon Neuse hit a 3-run homer in the 4th, the Tigers plated another trio of runs in the 5th, and would coast to a 7-1 win.

We mentioned the Curse of the Colonel back in the season preview - you might want to re-read it again because it’s broken now! The Tigers won their first title since 1985!

So, across the three leagues, we had droughts of 24 years (CPBL’s Wei Chuan Dragons), 29 years (KBO’s LG Twins), and 38 years (NPB’s Hanshin Tigers) all end this year. Congrats to those long suffering fans.

As we’re almost to 4000 words, I’m just picking an Animal Crossing hour out of a hat. Looks like this week’s music will be 10 AM from the original game: