Buster Olney: Kansas City Royals

10 days, 10 burning questions 

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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Jon Lester, Matt Shoemaker, and Norichika AokiAP ImagesA trio of key cast members for the production of the season's 10 final days.
KANSAS CITY -- Ten days left in the regular season. Ten burning questions.

1. Will Oakland pull out of its flat spin?

The Athletics have surrendered 15.5 games in the standings to the Angels in 39 days, which might otherwise seem impossible if you weren’t watching the Athletics play. Oakland faced a possible sweep Thursday, with Nick Martinez on the mound for the Rangers -- this is a pitcher who allowed 52 walks in 122 1/3 innings going in. After Texas scored four runs in the top of the first against Sonny Gray, the Athletics saw a total of 19 pitches in the first two innings against Martinez.

When stuff like this is happening

Time off was transformative for Duffy 

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
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Danny Duffy Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesAfter previously trying to overpower hitters, Danny Duffy now displays more nuance to this game.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Rehabilitating an elbow after Tommy John surgery can be the working definition of monotony, and Danny Duffy's experience was no different than that of many who preceded him. When he was going through the process at the Kansas City Royals' facility in Arizona, he would arrive at the ballpark by 9:30 a.m., finish all the work he was allowed by midday, and then hang out by the pool.

The early evenings presented the best part of Duffy’s groundhog days; he would head to the same restaurant for Mexican food, always ordering carne asada to enjoy from the same seat, and he would watch the other Royals do what he couldn’t wait to do again: play baseball.

“I didn’t miss a game,” Duffy recalled. “As painful as it is to watch knowing you can’t play, it’s important to stay on that learning track.”

This was a crucial part of Duffy’s mental and physical makeover, and when he takes the mound against Cleveland on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 ET on ESPN and WatchESPN), the Royals will either be a half-game ahead or behind Detroit in the AL Central. Duffy is well-suited to bear the responsibility of the moment.

Duffy ranks fifth in ERA (2.47) among all MLB pitchers with at least 130 innings. That's a little ahead of Corey Kluber and Jon Lester, a shade behind Johnny Cueto.

He absorbed a lot while eating rice and beans in baseball purgatory. Before that, Duffy was renowned for his big arm, but also for what he did not know about pitching efficiently, about controlling his effort.

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K.C. bullpen overwhelms, as a routine 

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
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Wade Davis, Salvador PerezAP Photo/Charlie RiedelNow a member of the bullpen, Wade Davis brings extra velocity.

The Royals' bullpen got some needed relief Sunday, in the form of 12 runs of offense. So Greg Holland wasn’t required to crank up and do the thing that's his equivalent of Superman jumping into a phone booth, and Wade Davis didn’t have to ease his way into his work. Kelvin Herrera, who hasn’t allowed a run in almost two months, did take an inning, his fastball reaching 100.2 mph, his sinker averaging about 95 mph.

“These guys are something to watch,” Royals bullpen coach Doug Henry said Sunday morning, and Henry gets to see them up close, all of their habits, their different routines.

The Kansas City bullpen is probably the difference

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Why team-friendly deals make sense 

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
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Matt MooreAP Photo/Orlin WagnerRays starter Matt Moore left Monday's game early with elbow soreness.
The Rays aren’t sure whether starter Matt Moore will need surgery, as Marc Topkin writes. But given what we saw the other night, with Moore recoiling from a pitch the way that Braves starter Kris Medlen did in March, it would surprise no one if it turns out he faces Tommy John surgery, and an uncertain future.

Looking back, it’s a good thing Moore signed that $14 million deal back in 2011.

Many of baseball’s best young players have been taking deals that buy out their first or second years of free agency, with an option year or two attached. Chris Archer did this recently, locking himself into a six-year deal that could become an eight-year deal and guarantees him $25.5 million. So did the Pirates' Starling Marte, who signed a six-year, $31 million deal.

This has spurred a lot of debate within the industry if the players are conceding too much, if they are leaving money on the table.

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Ervin SantanaAP Photo/Ben MargotThere really isn't a logical fit for free agent Ervin Santana at this point.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Ervin Santana fired agent Bean Stringfellow, according to Dionisio Soldevila of ESPNDeportes, and he will represent himself. It's hard to know exactly what will come out of this at this stage in the winter, with so many teams essentially operating with a closed budget.

There were teams interested in Santana in a moderate-sized contract early in the offseason -- something in the Ubaldo Jimenez salary range, three years at $35-plus million or four years at roughly $50 million -- but at that time, the asking price for Santana was over $100 million.

The Kansas City Royals, who had approached Santana about an extension in September, loved him last season, but it's unclear whether they have enough dollars to woo him back.

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Tanaka deal won't set off FA dominoes 

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
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Ubaldo JimenezBrace Hemmelgarn/Getty ImagesIt's looking more likely that Ubaldo Jimenez's best offer will come from the Indians.
Masahiro Tanaka has reportedly agreed to a record-setting deal with the New York Yankees, and the expectation will be, in some circles, that the winter freeze will finally end and the phones will start to ring for Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and others.

But what if this isn't the case? What if the bidding on Tanaka is almost completely isolated from the rest of the pitching market, as some team officials strongly suspect?

"I'm not in the camp that thinks [Tanaka] is related to the others," said one evaluator. Rather, he said, what will generally happen is that it will come out that "most of these guys were asking for too many years, and too much money."

The Los Angeles Dodgers, who wanted Tanaka, have a spot to fill in their rotation, but they might well pass on Garza, Santana and Jimenez.

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Top 10 teams in the majors 

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
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Miguel CabreraMark Cunningham/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesWith Miguel Cabrera no longer out of position, the Tigers should be even better in 2014.
As 2013 becomes 2014, here's a look at the top 10 teams in MLB.

1. Detroit Tigers

Some of the teams that employ advanced metrics determined at the end of the last regular season that the Tigers were the best team in the American League -- by far. This, in spite of a bullpen that repeatedly went through changes at closer, and in spite of what was widely regarded as the worst defense in the majors. The Tigers won the AL Central for the third straight year, and again they couldn't win the World Series, losing to Boston in the ALCS. And since the end of the season, Detroit GM David Dombrowski has gone about the business of plugging the holes.

He allowed Jhonny Peralta to depart, cementing Jose Iglesias' spot at shortstop.

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Top 10 defenses in the majors 

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
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Manny MachadoMitchell Layton/Getty ImagesBaltimore's Manny Machado earned the American League Platinum Glove Award last season.
There probably has been more focus on evaluating and maximizing defensive efficiency than any other part of baseball in the last five years. If we're looking for explanations about why offensive production has been declining, increased defensive production might be responsible.

In Part IV of our series, we look at the top 10 defenses in Major League Baseball.

1. Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles posted pictures of their Gold Glove winners in their spring training facility, and with good reason: Buck Showalter’s club has continued the organizational tradition -- fostered by the likes of Paul Blair, Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger, Cal Ripken Jr. and others -- of strong defense. The best of the group is third baseman Manny Machado (“The best at his position, and it’s not close,” said one evaluator), although we don’t know what condition he'll be in during his first months back on the field since having knee surgery.

They have Gold Glove defenders at shortstop (J.J. Hardy), center field (Adam Jones) and at catcher (Matt Wieters). Right fielder Nick Markakis and first baseman Chris Davis are solid defenders, and newcomer David Lough posted one of the best UZR/150 ratings among outfielders with at least 650 innings last season.

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10 biggest holes on contenders 

November, 13, 2013
11/13/13
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A year ago, Marlon Byrd was coming off a season in which he had been suspended for the use of performance-enhancing drugs and was limited to just 47 games, and he eventually settled for a make-good minor league deal with the New York Mets.

Now he's 36 years old and getting a $16 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, which speaks to the level of desperation in play for teams wanting to get better, needing to get better.

As baseball executives meet in Orlando this week for the GM meetings, these are the 10 biggest holes that have to be filled among would-be contenders:

1. Texas Rangers: middle-of-the-order bats

Josh Hamilton walked away a year ago, Nelson Cruz is prepared to walk away now, and the Rangers -- who have historically posted top-notch, productive lineups in the way Duke has had good basketball teams -- have a problem. With Cruz, they clubbed 176 homers last season, and without him, they will lack thump.

This is why Brian McCann could make sense for them, or Carlos Beltran, or both. This is why they could be the best match for the Dodgers for an outfielder trade. This is why rival executives believe that if and when Giancarlo Stanton is traded, the Rangers will be at the front of the line and sticking their elbows out.

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Mets' struggles creating value 

September, 28, 2013
9/28/13
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Sandy AldersonRich Schultz/Getty ImagesThe Mets' disappointing season has likely earned Sandy Alderson's club a protected draft pick.
The New York Mets’ loss Friday was the 87th of their season. And it was a really important loss.

With that defeat, the Mets moved back into position to have the No. 10 pick in the 2014 draft -- and if this holds over the last two days of the regular season against the Milwaukee Brewers, the Mets’ first-round pick would be among those 10 that are protected against draft-pick compensation.

This past winter, the Mets’ pick was not protected, which affected their aggressiveness in trying to sign Michael Bourn and others. If they finish the year lined up for the No. 10 pick (or better), it could nudge them into pursuit of one of the better free-agent position players who will be available this winter. If they signed a Shin-Soo Choo or a Jacoby Ellsbury, the Mets would have to surrender only a second-round pick in compensation.

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Gold Glove winners, by the numbers 

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
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Manny Machadooy R. Absalon/USA TODAY SportsHis bat has been the revelation. Everyone knew Manny Machado's glove would be good.
This is about the time of year when Gold Glove ballots are dispensed to coaches and managers, and based on my own experience in collecting the votes in past years, I’d say there are two different types of voting styles.

1. Some voters are devoted to turning in the best ballot possible, and will give lots of time and lots of thought to the process before picking their winners.
2. Some voters just want to get it over with and will pick out the first decent name that pops into their heads.

So, in other words, the Gold Glove voters are like the rest of the electorate in this fine democratic society.

Every week, I get an email from Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information noting the results of a conference call specifically held to talk about defensive metrics. He’s all over this kind of stuff, so I asked him to give me a pure statistical evaluation of who he thinks should be the Gold Glovers at each position, in each league.

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Mike Trout is ending the debate 

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
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Mike Trout AP Photo/Alex GallardoMike Trout was loved by front-office types last year. But this year, the players also see it.
Before the season, Mike Trout talked about wanting to be more patient at the plate, about drawing more walks, because in his first full season in the big leagues he had shown some impatience and, naturally, he wanted to get better.

Well, a year later, Trout has increased his walk total -- by about 50 percent. He is on pace to draw 102 walks this season, as well as 203 hits, 78 extra-base hits, 110 runs, 95 RBIs and 36 stolen bases.

A longtime player was asked last week about the MVP vote in the American League. “Trout’s going to win it, isn’t he?” he responded. “There isn’t really any question about it -- he’s the best player in baseball.”

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Why MLB must ban plate collisions 

September, 7, 2013
9/07/13
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Prince FielderAP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezA hard collision at home plate caused Giants catcher Buster Posey to miss much of 2011.
A talent evaluator who works in baseball imagined the future testimony aimed at a team -- or all of Major League Baseball -- in a lawsuit filed by a catcher seriously injured while blocking home plate.

"'I was told in spring training by my catching instructor that this is something I need to do,'" the evaluator said, imitating the words that any catcher could say. "'I didn't block home one day and he called me a -----, and he said that blocking home plate is something that every catcher is expected to do.'"

The evaluator jumped into another role, imagining himself as the catcher's lawyer: "'What happened next?'"

Evaluator as catcher: "'I blocked home plate, as I was instructed to do, and now I can't walk.'"

This testimony could be especially effective, the evaluator noted, if it comes from someone sitting in a wheelchair, and if you think that can't happen, maybe you should watch this video of the hit that Harrisburg catcher Brian Jeroloman took in a Double-A playoff game the other night, when he was run over by Erie's Brandon Douglas.

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An early preview of MLB free agency 

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
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Ervin SantanaJamie Squire/Getty ImagesErvin Santana has pitched well for the Kansas City Royals this season.

WASHINGTON -- A lot of players will wait a decade for their shot at free agency, after being drafted and signing as an amateur, and then playing some years in the minors before accruing the six years of service time that makes them eligible to test the open market. Along the way, some have worked through injuries, had failures along with the successes and have seen their service time manipulated by teams looking to maximize their investment.

Reaching free agency, then, is a big deal, a right that the players like Curt Flood fought for. Some players never get to free agency because they’re not good enough or because they choose to sign as a very young player, and some, like Albert Pujols, get there only once.

For a lot of those players set to become free agents in another two months, the hope of spring training has been washed away. For others, the hope has been realized.

Here are 10 would-be free agents who have helped themselves so far in 2013:

1. Ervin Santana, P, Royals
At the time that Kansas City traded for him last fall, there was a lot of surprise within the industry that the Royals had been so aggressive, given Santana’s diminished velocity and brutal 2012 performance for the Angels. But Santana bounced back in a big way, lowering his ERA by almost two full runs. Now he’s 30 years old and is in position to get paid.


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Where Robinson Cano could go 

August, 25, 2013
8/25/13
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CanoAP Photo/Gail BurtonYankees second baseman Robinson Cano's 4.8 WAR is among the best in baseball.
LOS ANGELES -- If the Yankees don't make the playoffs, then as of this morning, there are 33 games left in the career of Mariano Rivera.

But everybody saw that coming. There may also be only 33 games remaining in Robinson Cano's tenure with the Yankees if he leaves as a free agent when the season is over. He is their best player and they need him, and yet in recent years, teams have held the line with their own superstars -- for instance, the Cardinals with Albert Pujols and the Rangers with Josh Hamilton -- and those choices have been quickly vindicated.

The Yankees have their own experience in deciding whether to invest in a long-term star (Alex Rodriguez), and that hasn't turned out so well.

Cano is represented by Jay-Z and CAA, and the expectation among executives is that they will be looking to plant a flag with their contract -- something in the A-Rod/Pujols neighborhood.

But a big question that has come up among some rival officials is this: What teams will compete against the Yankees to sign him to create that leverage?

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