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Royals Rumblings - News for December 8, 2023

The KBO always looks like the most fun baseball league

LG Twins v KT Wiz - Korean Series Game 5
Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

The Royals wished everyone a Happy Hanukkah as the festival started yesterday:

For The Star, Jaylon Thompson writes about the end of the Winter Meetings:

“I think we’ve seen some markers in the starting pitching, but then there’s a big gap between what potentially could happen at the top in the market and what’s happened so far,” Royals general manager J.J. Picollo said. “A lot of the players we have interest in (are in) that gap. So that’s what we’re still trying to establish.”

Meanwhile, Sam McDowell looks at the flaws in the lottery system (much like Max did):

On the heels of a season in which they lost 106 times, as many as any other in team franchise history, the Royals took their biggest loss of the year on a random weekday in early December.

Better news?

Here’s a story about the event from MLB:

Highlighting the 2023 class are six players, two of which had successful Major League Baseball careers and whose successes were shaped at the college level: Alex Gordon, three-time MLB All-Star and World Series champion with the Kansas City Royals, and Ron Darling, MLB All-Star, World Series champion and Gold Glove Award winner with the New York Mets. The class also includes four coaches and two former umpires with storied histories in the college game. Three inductees will be honored posthumously.

Some minor move news still floating around.

Fangraphs gives their scouting reports on players picked in the Rule 5 draft:

2. Kansas City Royals (39)

Matt Sauer, RHP, from New York Yankees

A high-profile high school pitcher and second rounder from the 2017 draft, Sauer has persevered through myriad injuries and mechanical tweaks during his six-year pro career. His 2023 got off to a delayed start, as the Yankees were cautious in bringing him back from surgery to remove bone spurs in his elbow. When he returned, Sauer pitched pretty well at Double-A Somerset, amassing 68 innings in 14 appearances (all but one as a starter) while striking out 29.5% of opposing hitters and walking 10.5%. The Yankees then sent Sauer to the Arizona Fall League, where he mostly sat 93-95 mph and touched 96 from his now due-north arm slot. His most-used secondary pitch is a firm 84-87 mph slider with two-plane bite. Sauer commands this pitch better than his fastball and could stand to throw it more. There’s a tertiary curveball here, too, but in all likelihood, Sauer will shift to Kansas City’s bullpen and work heavily with the fastball/slider combo in a multi-inning relief role. If he sticks on the Royals roster, they can still increase Sauer’s innings load in a role like this and prime him to start in 2025. But it’s perhaps more likely that Sauer will just be a single-inning reliever in the long run. His fastball doesn’t have a ton of life and he needs every bit of velo he has for it to be effective. If he could sit 96-plus airing it out an inning at a time, it would probably give him the best chance of sticking on a big league staff for the long haul.

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette gave their profile on “Popular WooSox player Ryan Fitzgerald”:

“The WooSox and the city of Worcester have been nothing short of incredible,” Fitzgerald wrote in a text message to the T&G Wednesday night. “I don’t think I could have imagined a better place to play. As I’ve said before, the WooSox treat their players better than any other minor league team out there. Everyone from the grounds crew to the front office is the best in the business. The city itself is a hidden gem. When I first heard of Worcester, I didn’t know where it was and couldn’t pronounce it. After living there for over (two) years, it is the best place I have ever played. Worcester will always have a special place in my heart.”

We also got this nugget from, you guessed it, the Rutgers wire:

On Monday, former Rutgers baseball Chris Brito signed with the Kansas City Royals of Major League Baseball (MLB). After signing his contract with the Royals, Brito became the third player from Rutgers 2023 team to sign with an MLB team, joining outfielder Ryan Lasko (Oakland) and right-handed pitcher Drew Conover (Oakland).

Blog time

Craig Brown wrote about the moves around the Rule 5:

My favorite Coleman outing of the year came in August against the Cardinals when the Royals deployed him as an opener, in what was a questionable strategic move. Coleman faced six batters, allowed four to reach and pitched a scoreless frame. He hit the first batter of the game with a pitch and then walked the second. After inducing Nolan Arenado to ground into a double play, Coleman then walked the next two batters. He escaped unscathed when Tyler O’Neill flew out to left to end the inning.

David Lesky also wrote about the winter meetings:

But first, I continue to be absolutely floored by how slow these meetings were this season. I truly can’t remember anything like it. We were captivated on the first night by news that Erick Fedde, of all people, was nearing a decision to sign. Look, Fedde is someone I wanted the Royals to sign, but that doesn’t mean he should be the biggest news of a day. Tuesday night’s excitement came in the form of a trade of an outfielder with one year of team control who has been worth about 2.2 fWAR per 600 plate appearances. Alex Verdugo is a bit above average. There’s nothing wrong with that. You need that. But he shouldn’t have been the biggest news of the day.

Blog roundup:

As promised, we’re going to continue our 2023 Asia baseball roundup. Last week, we started with the CPBL. This week is the KBO. Next week, we’ll conclude with the NPB.

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

I always get a little nervous when writing about the KBO and NPB. There’s not a lot of people that follow the CPBL in the US, but the other two leagues have more substantial followings. Not a scientific poll by any stretch, but here’s the best quick thumbnail I could come up with. On Reddit, the CPBL sub-reddit has 7K members, KBO has 12K, and NPB has 19K. That’s actually closer than I thought but still shows a very distinct stratification.

There are a number of NPB free agents coming to MLB and we’ll highlight them next week. However, for the KBO, there’s one big name this year: Lee Jung-Hoo. To give you an idea on expectations, he’s ranked 13th on the free agent list nestled between Jorge Soler, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Lourdes Gurriel.

I love this in his wiki intro: “He is the son of former KBO League MVP Lee Jong-beom. nicknamed ‘Son of the Wind,’ so he is called ‘Grandson of the Wind.’” That is a great nickname. He won Rookie of the Year 2017, an MVP in one of the 2019 playoff series, the 2022 league MVP, and 5 gold gloves (2018-2022). He was 6 for 14 in the WBC with a triple slash of .429/.500/.571 in Korea’s short-lived pool play stay. In 2023, he was hitting .319/.407/.456 before a fractured ankle ended his season prematurely. His Kiwoom Heroes finished 10th out of 10 teams a year after losing a heartbreaking Korea Series to the SSG Landers in 2022.

Coming in 9th? Our Hanwha Eagles! After 3 straight years of last place finishes, our rooting interest climbed out of the cellar! They were last in the league with a .241 batting average (woof) and .674 OPS. The league leading LG Twins came in at .279 and .755. But they were only 8th in ERA at 4.38, ahead of Kiwoom and the 8th place Samsung Lions. Once again, LG led the league at 3.67. The Lotte Giants (7th place) and Kia Tigers (6th place) also did not make the playoffs.

Looking at that, it should come as no surprise that the Twins won the league going away at 86-56-2. Only the KT Wiz (6.5 GB) and SSG Landers (9.5) finished within 10 games of the leaders. The 4th place NC Dinos won the Wild Card series against the 5th place Doosan Bears. The Dinos were led by Erick Fedde, who won the 2023 KBO MVP. He accomplished the triple crown of pitching with 20 wins, a 2.00 ERA, and 209 strikeouts. The former Nationals pitcher came back to the MLB this week, signing a free agent contract with the Chicago White Sox for $15M over 2 years.

The NC Dinos won the first two games of the Playoff (think LCS) at Suwon Baseball Stadium, the home park of the 2nd place KT Wiz. They only needed 1 more win to close things out. However the Wiz took two straight on the road at Changwon NC Park, setting up a winner-take-all Game 5. The road team struck first with runs in the top of the 3rd and 5th to take a 2-0 lead off of former Jayhawk and Texas Ranger Wes Benjamin. However, Dinos starter Shin Min-hyeok faltered in the 5th, giving up 2, and the bullpen allowed the series-winning run in the 6th. A trio of KT Wiz relievers slammed the door and the team was off to the Korean Series.

I’m pretty sure I’ve explained this before, but the KBO has a ladder playoff. The 4th and 5th place teams play each other in a “best of 3” series and the team with the better regular season record starts with 1-0 lead. It’s not an insurmountable lead, but it’s a reward for doing better over the long haul of the regular season. Then the winner of that series plays a best of 5 against the 3rd place team and the winner there plays a best of 5 against the 2nd place team. In short, there are significant advantages to being better in the regular season. Yes, there are some quirks like the potential for a team being “rusty”: the LG Twins played their last regular season game on October 15th and their first postseason game on November 7th in the Korean Series. You think the Braves or Orioles would have taken the tradeoff of being rusty vs going straight to the World Series. Also, there’s an odd marketing concern as the 2nd place KT Wiz played the most games in the playoffs (11 between the Playoff and Korea Series) and the 4th place Dinos played the second most (9, between the Wild Card, Semi-Playoff, and Playoff round). The league best Twins only played 5 games.

The Wiz rallied to win the first game 3-2 and took a 4-0 lead in the first inning of game 2. However, the game and series were not over. Park Dong-won started in the KBO in 2010 and has hit 134 home runs in his KBO career. It was the veteran slugging catcher’s first year with the LG Twins and a chance for redemption after being 3 for 24 in his Korean Series career:

With his team down 4-3 and facing the prospect of going down two games to none in the best-of-seven series, Park blasted a go-ahead two-run homer off reliever Park Yeong-hyun in the bottom eighth at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul.

Game 3 was a seesaw affair. The Twins scored 3 in the top of the 3rd and the Wiz answered with 1. Then the Wiz took the lead with 3 in the bottom of the 5th. The Twins wrestled it back with 2 in the top of the 6th. I’ll let the Yonhap News Agency take it from here:

With the Twins down 7-5 in the top of the ninth inning in Game 3 at KT Wiz Park in Suwon, just south of Seoul, [LG Twins captain Oh Ji-hwan] stepped in with two outs and two men on. The Wiz had just scored three runs in the bottom eighth to turn a 5-4 deficit to a 7-5 lead. They had their closer Kim Jae-yoon on the mound making his first appearance of the series.

And after Kim’s first-pitch forkball missed the zone, catcher Jang Sung-woo had a little chat with the pitcher on the mound. And Oh jumped on the very next pitch, a middle-middle fastball, and sent it over the right field wall for a three-run bomb, giving the Twins an 8-7 lead that they didn’t relinquish.

From there, the Twins controlled the series, never trailing the rest of the way, winning 15-4 and 6-2. The club ended a 29-year championship drought and Oh Ji-hwan was named series MVP. There are actually a number of droughts in the league. Our chosen Hanwha Eagles haven’t won since 1999. However, the longest goes to the Lotte Giants. Like the Twins, they are one of the original six teams in league history, and they haven’t won since 1992.

One last thing. Remember this back in the season preview?

“On Wednesday, the Kia Tigers fired their general manager Jang Jung-suk for allegedly asking the team’s former catcher Park Dong-won for a kickback during contract negotiations last offseason.” The GM claims he only made the offer “in jest” but the team took it seriously enough to fire him instead of letting him resign.

How’s that going? Well, this new story was on the front page of the Korea Times a couple of days ago:

Prosecutors raided the home of a former general manager of the professional baseball team Kia Tigers on Thursday on suspicions of asking a free agent player for a kickback during contract negotiations last year. The Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office sent investigators to the home of Jang Jung-suk, the Kia Tigers’ previous general manager, and other locations to seize evidence in connection with an investigation into the case, officials said.

I had forgotten that I had mentioned the Trans-Siberian Orchestra tracks on Rocksmith a couple of years ago (Friday 1) (Friday 2) (Friday 3).

Well, I’m going to see TSO in Houston on Sunday, so here we’ll get another does. This one is the O Come All Ye Faithful/O Holy Night mash up from Christmas Eve and Other Stories.