Notes: How much longer before Royals shake up dugout, front office?
I’ll grant the Royals this — a year ago, they were even worse.
That, however, is about the only consolation from the team’s 24-26 start. And at this point, I’m not sure it’s enough.
The news only got worse Monday night, when prized right-hander Yordano Ventura left his start with elbow discomfort. Yet, as discouraging as an injury to Ventura would be, the issues with the Royals go far deeper.
Earlier in the day, general manager Dayton Moore put the onus on the players, saying in a telephone interview that they need to produce — and that they would. Moore described manager Ned Yost as "a very consistent leader," his coaches as "tremendous." A hot stretch or two, Moore said, and the Royals would be fine.
I appreciated Moore’s restrained, reasonable take. I could see where he might be proven correct, even without Ventura. I seriously don’t expect the Royals to be near or at the bottom of virtually every significant offensive category all season.
Then again, if ever a team appears in need of a fresh voice, it’s this one.
I’m not sure what that voice should sound like, though at this point, screeching probably would be preferable to soothing. The entire organization seems almost too comfortable, waiting for a surge that might never come.
Yost, who previously managed the Brewers and took over the Royals 36 games into the 2010 season, owns the third-lowest career winning percentage (.472) among managers with a minimum of 1,500 career games, according to STATS LLC.
Considering the Royals’ talent, can anyone say he is getting the most out of this club?
True, teams often look dull when they can’t hit, and the Royals can’t hit. Moore says the problem is the team’s performance with runners in scoring position. Actually, the Royals don’t put enough runners on base to begin with. And heaven knows, they don’t hit for power, as evidenced by their major-league low 20 home runs — just four more than the individual leader, Nelson Cruz.
A year ago at this time, the Royals were in the middle of a 4-19 stretch. They changed hitting coaches on May 30, hiring George Brett as an interim to work with Pedro Grifol. Five days later, they sunk to a season-worst nine games under .500 before rallying to finish 86-76 — and miss the playoffs for the 28th straight year.
This season, I thought the Royals would be better, banking on Moore’s offseason additions of right fielder Norichika Aoki, second baseman Omar Infante and left-hander Jason Vargas, plus the emergence of Ventura in spring training.
Thanks to the Tigers’ recent, somewhat bizarre slide, the Royals are only 5 ½ games out of first place in the AL Central, three games back in the race for the second wild card. As Moore noted: "Based on how we’ve swung the bats, it’s amazing we are where we are, really."
Fair enough, but what if the Royals do not snap out of it? What if they go bust with a club-record $92 million payroll? What if it turns out that Moore misjudged his talent, misjudged his manager, misjudged everything?
I’m not saying he has — not yet. But if I were running a team and facing those questions, I’m not sure I could wait much longer for things to turn around.
AND THEN THERE ARE THE METROPOLITANS . . .
The Mets dumped hitting coach Dave Hudgens on Monday, a move that some will view as a precursor to firing manager Terry Collins.
Such an act would be a terrible injustice, considering the poor quality of the club that Collins was given. And frankly, I don’t think the Mets have the guts to do it.
While the Mets often are tone deaf regarding public relations, they surely must know that the scapegoating of Collins would fool very few in their disgruntled fan base.
Collins, who signed a two-year extension last Sept. 30, squeezes every win he can out of limited talent. The problem is that the Mets don’t spend enough money, particularly for a New York club. And when they do spend, they rarely make inspired choices.
Their $89 million Opening Day payroll, essentially unchanged from last season, ranked 22nd in the majors according to the Associated Press, just below — ahem — the low-revenue Padres.
Oh, the Mets did invest a combined $87.25 million in free-agent right-hander Bartolo Colon and outfielders Curtis Granderson and Chris Young last off-season, but none of those players is performing well. The team still needs a shortstop, a first baseman, better late-inning relievers . . . shall we go on?
It’s clear that commissioner Bud Selig is not going to confront his good friend, Mets owner Fred Wilpon, about the team’s approach. Selig again said recently that he has "no concerns" about the Mets and that he is "very optimistic" about their rebuilding plan.
The club’s fans are less patient.
Attendance at Citi Field has declined every season since the park opened in 2009. The crowds are up slightly this season over the ’13 average, but could diminish markedly in the second half if the Mets again fall out of contention.
Firing Hudgens and releasing reliever Jose Valverde were predictable moves for a struggling team.
Dismissing Collins would be a much greater affront.
HEY PADRES! LEAVE BUD ALONE
The Padres, no matter which ownership they are under, too often worry about alienating their fans rather than making the right decisions for a low-revenue club.
Speaking of managers who deserve better, the Padres’ Bud Black actually might want a get-out-of-jail-free card in San Diego — especially if the team’s ownership can’t understand his value to the club.
The Padres are yet another team flopping with a club-record payroll, making their new owners impatient, according to a recent report in the San Diego-Union Tribune.
The owners are entitled to their frustration. But the Padres have six starting pitchers on the disabled list. And their offense inexplicably has gone backward despite the addition of Seth Smith, ranking last in the majors in runs per game.
I guess I could say the same about Black that I said about Yost — that he is not getting the most out of his club. Black, though, is more highly regarded within the industry. And the Padres, no matter which ownership they are under, too often worry about alienating their fans rather than making the right decisions for a low-revenue club.
Case in point: The Padres’ decision not to move third baseman Chase Headley after his breakout 2012 season. Headley’s trade value since has dropped considerably, and now he is a potential free agent with a .644 OPS earning $10.525 million.
While low-revenue teams such as the Rays and Athletics aren’t perfect, they often display a knack for moving veterans at the right time. The Padres, on the other, hand, might need to dump Headley to get under budget, and their other trade candidates include closer Huston Street ($7 million), right-hander Ian Kennedy ($6.1 million) and outfielder Chris Denorfia ($2.25 million).
A TEAM STACKED WITH MIDDLE INFIELDERS
The Rangers, winners of five of their past six games, are 6-3 since losing Prince Fielder. Regardless of whether they continue this pace — and the odds are against it — the evolution of their middle infield will be fascinating.
Second baseman Rougned Odor, 20, joined the club on May 8 with only 282 plate appearances above Class A. Seventeen days later, he became the second youngest player to hit two triples in a game, after Jimmie Foxx.
Could the confident, aggressive Odor supplant the injured Jurickson Profar and develop into the Rangers’ version of Dustin Pedroia?
"He’s 5-foot-8, the youngest guy in the big leagues — and he doesn’t know that at all," general manager Jon Daniels says.
Luis Sardinas, who recently turned 21, began his second stint with the club on the same day as Odor, and also is a highly regarded prospect.
"They’ve got more talent than Profar," Rangers manager Ron Washington said of Odor and Sardinas. "But Profar has got that ‘it’ — and I can’t explain what that ‘it’ is.
"He’s almost in the category of Elvis [Andrus] when he came up. He sees things you wouldn’t think a young kid would see."
The Rangers signed Profar out of Curacao on July 2, 2009, the same day they landed Sardinas, another switch-hitting shortstop, out of Venezuela. The two received almost the exact dollar amount — $1.55 million for Profar, $1.5 million for Sardinas.
Sardinas had more natural ability, Rangers officials say, but lost time due to injuries. Now it’s Profar who is injured, and Sardinas getting his chance.
A number of other middle infielders also are rising through the system, potentially enabling the Rangers to entertain trade offers for shortstop Elvis Andrus, just as they did last offseason.
Many view Andrus as overpriced — his eight-year, $120 million extension begins next season — but since 2011 he ranks second among shortstops in baseball-reference’s version of Wins Above Replacement and sixth in Fangraphs’.
NOW PLAYING SHORTSTOP FOR THE YANKEES . . .
An agent, of all people, suggested a perfect replacement for the retiring Derek Jeter: Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, who is eligible for free agency at the end of the season.
The agent, who has no affiliation with either player, made an excellent point: Hardy is steady and unassuming, and his low-maintenance personality would make him well-suited to replace a legend.
Hardy, who turns 32 on Aug. 19, missed a week with a strained left oblique earlier this season. He’s batting .304 with a .701 OPS, albeit with no home runs, in 158 at-bats.
His defense remains solid. And his transition could be relatively seamless, considering that this is his fourth season in the AL East.
A WAIVER CLAIM WHO MADE GOOD
All teams welcome unexpected contributors. Red-hot outfielder George Springer doesn’t necessarily qualify for the Astros; he was one of the game’s top prospects. Right-hander Collin McHugh is another story.
The Astros first tried to grab McHugh from the Mets last summer before the Rockies acquired him for infielder/outfielder Eric Young Jr., general manager Jeff Luhnow said.
Luhnow said that while the Astros’ scouts projected McHugh as little more than a long man in the majors, their statistical analysts liked McHugh’s performance in the minors with the Mets in 2011 and ’12.
McHugh, 26, struggled with the Rockies, and the Astros didn’t pass on their chance to claim him on waivers last Dec. 18. He failed to make the club out of spring training, but everything lined up when the Astros needed a starter on April 22, and McHugh got the call.
"I can try and take credit for some great vision, but the reality is, he was the guy who was available, on the roster and pitching reasonably well," Luhnow said. "We were half-expecting it to be a spot start. But here he is, a solid part of our rotation now."
McHugh has a 3.32 ERA after six starts, with 41 strikeouts and 12 walks in 38 innings. As I reported in my Full Count video last weekend, Luhnow said he has no intention of trading McHugh or the Astros’ breakout lefty, Dallas Keuchel.
THE NEW FORDHAM FLASH
As the amateur draft approaches, remember it’s not all about first-rounders. Right-hander Nick Martinez, the Rangers’ 18th-round pick in 2011, was mostly a second baseman at Fordham, for goodness’ sake.
So how is it that less than three years later, Martinez shut down the mighty Tigers on Saturday for his first major-league victory?
Martinez is from South Florida, and a Rangers scout in that area at the time recommended him to Jay Heafner, who was then the team’s amateur scout in the Northeast.
Heafner said he saw Martinez pitch for only about nine innings in his junior season — Fordham mostly was closing with a freshman All-American, Tim Swatek.
Martinez told Heafner that he still could hit, still could make it as an infielder. Heafner gently said no, we see you as a pitcher. But he liked that Martinez had a chip on his shoulder, thought it would help him persevere through the minors.
Of course, Martinez still thinks he can hit.
"I take my pitcher’s BP pretty seriously," he said, smiling.
AROUND THE HORN
*The Mariners remain an obvious fit for free-agent first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales — the team ranks next-to-last in OPS at DH, and Corey Hart is expected to be out until mid-June with a left hamstring strain.
Rival executives, however, say the M’s are again signaling that they lack the payroll flexibility to make such a move. Money was an issue at various points for the team last offseason after it signed free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano for 10 years, $240 million.
*Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. on the possibility of trading Chase Utley, who would need to approve any deal as a player with 10 years of major-league service, five with the same club:
"It’s such a moot point, there’s nothing to discuss. I don’t know if we’ll completely ‘sell’ ever. We can revamp, but we can’t completely sell out. We have to have a contending team in 2015 or ’16 — or at least a competitive team.
"Probably the only way it would ever happen is if he comes to me and says, ‘Dude, what are we going to do here?’ My understanding is that Chase wants to be here, finish out his career here, win here. I hope we can do all of those things with him."
It was only last Aug. 8 that Utley signed a two-year contract extension with three club options after the Phillies told him they would trade him if he preferred.
*Former Yankees right-handers Phil Hughes (Twins) and Joba Chamberlain (Tigers) have combined for 72 strikeouts and 12 walks this season.
Hughes’ 47-6 ratio ranks as the third-best in the majors, behind those of the Rays’ David Price (84-8) and Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka (79-10).
*Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand on Miguel Cabrera’s toughness during the 2013 postseason, when the first baseman played through pain, knowing that he would require core-muscle surgery:
"There aren’t very many players in the game who would have played. I’m not sure anyone in the game would have played through all that."
*Shin-Soo Choo is well-liked and respected in every corner of the Rangers’ clubhouse.
Left-hander Derek Holland said: "He’s the best teammate in the whole world . . . not a vocal leader like Michael Young, but a leader."
Bench coach Tim Bogar added: "Usually, when he takes a pitch, it’s a ball. There are not many guys you can say that about."
*Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter said that designated hitter Victor Martinez’s plate discipline reminds him of Bobby Abreu, Hunter’s former teammate with the Angels, and Joe Mauer, Hunter’s former teammate with the Twins.
In Hunter’s view, Martinez is "up there with those guys — and maybe even better." Martinez’s discipline has indeed reached new heights this season. He is on pace to finish with more walks than strikeouts for the second time, and his average of 4.17 pitches per plate appearance would rank as the highest rate of his career.
*Outfielder Rajai Davis gave me stock answers when I asked him about choosing the Tigers as a free agent, but his face lit up when the conversation turned to his former team, the Blue Jays.
"They’re loaded," Davis said, referring to the Jays’ lineup. "They’re so loaded, it’s unbelievable."
The Jays are averaging a major-league best 5.36 runs per game in May.
*Rangers catcher Chris Gimenez caught Yu Darvish for the first time on Thursday, and told me that he was "literally panicking . . . a bit freaked out."
Gimenez said he watched a ton of video to prepare for Darvish’s nine-pitch repertoire — and evidently, his studying worked.
Not only did Gimenez catch a 9-2 victory, but he also had four hits. He said he was so worried about catching, he didn’t think about hitting — and that he now plans to take that approach more often.