Real or not? Royals are contenders, Nolan Arenado helps MVP case
Everyone wants to trade all the Kansas City Royals: Mike Moustakas to the Boston Red Sox, Kelvin Herrera to the Washington Nationals, Eric Hosmer to the New York Yankees, Lorenzo Cain maybe to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Jason Vargas to anywhere.
Those guys are all free agents at season's end (except Herrera, who is a free agent after 2018), so when the Royals stumbled to a 10-20 start and were still sitting at 22-30 at the end of May, it made sense to view them as an obvious seller, a chance for general manager Dayton Moore to wheel and deal and replenish a farm system that ranks near the bottom of the league. After two months, the Royals simply looked like a bad team. They had the AL's worst record, its worst offense and Danny Duffy had just been placed on the DL with an oblique strain.
Well, welcome to the American League, circa 2017, where one nice little stretch of baseball makes you an instant contender. After beating the Angels 7-3 on Sunday, as Vargas became the first pitcher in the majors to reach 10 wins, the Royals have won seven of eight and they're only two games out of the second wild card, only 3.5 behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians.
Of course, everybody in the AL is in the playoff race; the Oakland Athletics, last in the American League at 31-38, are just 4.5 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays, the second wild card right now with a 37-35 record. There's time for all this to sort itself out by the end of July, but it also seems likely that none of these second-tier AL teams are good enough to pull away in the wild-card race, so we'll probably still have a mass of teams hanging around .500. I would also suggest that the Indians are much better than the Royals and more likely to pull away to a significant lead than for the Royals to catch them.
This all means Moore will face some tough choices at the deadline. Do you trade all those guys or keep them and make a run at the wild-card game, where you have a 50 percent chance of being out of the playoffs in three hours? And even if the Royals do somehow make that game, are they really good enough to beat the Astros, Yankees, Indians or Red Sox?
Further complicating matters is the new free-agent compensation system, which is tied to the contract the player signs with a new team and a tiered system that splits teams into three groups (those over the luxury tax, the 15 teams that receive the most revenue sharing and everybody else). For the Royals, presumably one of those 15 small-market teams, they would receive a pick at the end of the first round if they give the player a qualifying offer and he signs a contract worth $50 million or more; they would receive a pick at the end of the second round if the player signs for less than $50 million.
Last year's qualifying offer was $17.2 million. The Royals can't afford to pay each of the free agents $17.2 million, even on one-year contracts, so then you have to play the game of who would reject and who would accept. If you don't give them a qualifying offer, you receive nothing in compensation if they sign elsewhere.
Hosmer and Moustakas are young enough and good enough that they should get $50 million deals. Vargas, probably not, given his age and what looks like more like a career year and than real improvement. Cain will be 32 next year but is having a good year and still plays a plus center field. So I'd guess they extend offers to Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain (and maybe hope to even re-sign one or two of them).
Even with this hot streak, I don't see the Royals as one of the five best teams in the league. Vargas has been crazy-good and likely will regress, and the rest of the rotation minus Duffy isn't good. They've scored the third-most runs in the AL in June, but they're still last in the AL in OBP for the season. I don't see that recipe holding up, so I think Moore trades Vargas and Herrera and at least one of the other three. Did we mention the Red Sox have the worst third-base production in the majors?
Home run of the day. Not only did Nolan Arenado hit a home run to complete a cycle, it was a walk-off, three-run homer to beat the San Francisco Giants 7-5, after the Giants had scored three runs in the top of the ninth (Greg Holland didn't pitch):
"I get goosebumps." pic.twitter.com/9y1ha4TT0g
— MLB (@MLB) June 19, 2017
What a win in a GREAT atmosphere in front of a GREAT crowd! Rox are rollin!!!
— Jeff Hoffman (@hoff_23) June 19, 2017
I love the announcers getting so excited, the fans getting so excited and the players getting so excited. It's fun when you win! It's the kind of memorable home run that can help Arenado in a close MVP vote. Arenado also became the fifth player to complete a cycle with a walk-off home run -- Carlos Gonzalez did it for the Rockies in 2010 and the others were Dwight Evans, Cesar Tovar and Ken Boyer. And, yes, the Giants are terrible, but still, an impressive four-game sweep for the Rockies. Catch Rockies fever, it's fantastic!
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) June 18, 2017
Interesting that Dave Roberts didn't bring in Kenley Jansen to face Votto there. Pedro Baez has been very good, although his 1.47 ERA overstates his dominance (he has walked 14 batters in 30 2/3 innings). And it's not like Roberts has been averse to using Jansen for four-out saves, as he has done that six times. Jansen's workload hasn't been heavy, and he's so efficient he has thrown more than 15 pitches just nine times in 29 appearances. Anyway, he came on for the ninth and struck out two batters and now has 50 K's and still zero walks.
Double play of the day. Freddy Galvis of the Phillies with the sweet glove flip:
— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) June 18, 2017
A's note of the day. Have to squeeze this in: They swept the Yankees in a four-game series, including three one-run victories. Good job, A's! The Yankees haven't won since I wrote this. Reverse jinx is working!
Logan Morrison note of the day. We need to do an in-depth examination of the Rays first baseman; Morrison hit two of the Rays' five home runs as they beat the Tigers 9-1 (Jacob Faria with a third straight one-run outing since his call-up). Morrison now has 21 home runs. Here's your update on crummy ex-Mariners first basemen:
Morrison: .245/.353/.572, 21 HRs, 47 RBIs
Justin Smoak: .292/.352/.584, 19 HRs, 45 RBIs
Baseball is a funny game.