Wednesday, October 29, 2014

In Memoriam: Oscar Taveras

While watching Game 5 of the World Series, I just like every other baseball fan learned of the tragic death of Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras.  He passed away in a car accident along with his girlfriend in his native Dominican Republic.  Taveras was only 22 years old.

Taveras was considered Cardinals' top prospects and one of MLB's overall.  Taveras was one major reason why the Cardinals decided not to resign Carlos Beltran during the off season. Taveras made his big league debut on May 31, 2014 and made it a memorable one-hitting a home run.  He later struggled some at the plate during the year and was subsequently sent back down to the minor leagues.  Taveras was back up with St. Louis for the pennant race and playoffs. One of his final at bats was a pinch hit game tying pinch hit home run versus San Francisco in the NLCS.

Whenever I see the tragic death of one baseball's young stars or prospects, I can't help but think of two others who had a similar fate- Nick Adenhart and Ken Hubbs.,
Adenhart made the Angels starting rotation out of spring training in 2009 after debuting with the team in 2008.  Hours after making his 2009 debut where he pitched six shutout innings, Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver on his way home.

Ken Hubbs was the Cubs 2nd baseman and won the Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove awards in 1962.  Even at a young age, he was well respected in the dugout but had a fear of flying.  He decided to face his fear head on and get a pilot's license. He was successful.  During February of 1964, he and a friend tried to beat a winter storm in Utah, but tragically failed.

Coincidentally all three players were 22 years old.  Each with a bright futures in baseball and whole lives in front of them.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Card of Week: 2001 Fleer Tradition Stitches in Time John Henry "Pop' Lloyd

The Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants are in the World Series.  I usually try to write something about the two teams and the history between them or some players who are linked to both.  Well, the two teams here really don't have much in previous games to recall in significance and in terms of players who played for both, only a hand full came to mind.  None really warrant a discussion.  By the way, here is who I came up with off the top of head who has played for both franchises : Carlos Beltran, Gaylord Perry, Vida Blue and Bud Black.

2001 Fleer Tradition Stitches in Time #23
Then it occurred to me that there is an old Negro League team that share a name with both teams.  The Brooklyn Royal Giants.  So I will talk about the team and specifically one of it's star players.
The ball club was one of the top negro professional teams in the early 20th century.  Brooklyn was mostly an independent team before any establishment of a professional negro league.  Much like many negro pro teams, the Royal Giants didn't last long.  Many players moved from team to team in order to make a decent living and subsequently, teams formed and folded often.
As for the Brooklyn Royal Giants, they did a field some star players.  They included OF Charles "Chino" Smith, pitchers Frank Wickware, Dick "Cannonball" Redding and Hall of Famer "Smokey" Joe Williams.  But the most well known player who suited up for the Royal Giants was John Henry "Pop" Lloyd, when he was the team's player/manager from 1918-1920.
Lloyd is considered by many as the greatest shortstop in Negro League history.  He is often referred to as the "Black Honus Wagner".  Wagner, himself, was honored to be compared Lloyd.   Babe Ruth once said Lloyd was best player he ever saw no matter the skin color.  He was a very good fielder at shortstop and could scoop up many ground balls. Because of this he was nicknamed "The Shovel".  He proved he could hit MLB pitching when he .500 in a five game exhibition against Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers.  Lloyd is credited with a career .368 batting avg.  He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977.

The trading card is part of the Stitches in Time set inserted randomly in the 2001 Fleer Tradition packs.  This set consists of 24 of the more popular Negro League stars.  I am personally working on completing this set.  Luckily for this blog, Lloyd is one of them I do have. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

KC Royals: One Year Wonder or Not?

The Kansas City Royals made the playoffs (and World Series) for the first time since 1985.  But are they built for long term success or just a one and done team?  Obviously, I can't predict the future, but lets look at the roster and see if we can make an educated guess.
First of all, Royals GM Dayton Moore did a masterful job in constructing the roster.  Drafting or signing players and staying patient with them as they develop such as Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez.  He also picked up James Shields, Wade Davis, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar in trades.
As for the team moving forward, the key free agent this off season is James Shields.  Shields is pricey and likely gone.  One interesting free agent is pitcher Luke Hochevar. He was once the Royals #1 overall pick, but failed as a big league starter and found a home as the 8th inning guy in 2013. He was basically Wade Davis before Wade Davis for KC.  Hochevar, however, missed all of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery.  Will KC resign him and hope to have him back to his old form by the end of 2015 season or let someone else take a chance on him?  Other free agents include OFs Raul Ibanez, Josh Willingham and Nori Aoki.  DH Billy Butler and pitcher Wade Davis have club options and likely will be picked up.

Here are the key position players, current age and contract status
C   Salvador Perez(24 yrs old) signed with club options thru 2019
1B  Eric Hosmer(24) signed thru 2017
2B  Omar Infante(32) signed with 2017 with club option in 2018
3B  Mike Moustakas(25) thru 2017
SS  Alcides Escobar(27) signed with club options thru 2017
OF Alex Gordon(30) signed thru 2015 with club option 2016
OF Lorenzo Cain(28) signed thru 2017

The Royals own the rights to the players for several yrs and the lineup should stay intact.  Key here is will the players continue to develop.  Will Hosmer become the power hitter he was projected to be when drafted? Will Moustakas hit on a regular basis to stay in the lineup? Will Cain become the player that looks like an emerging star in the ALCS?
I believe the most valuable player for the franchise is Perez.  I consider him the Yadier Molina of the AL.  He is already regarded one of the best defensive catchers in the league. Perez also works well with the pitching staff and could stabilize the KC pitching much like Molina does with St. Louis

Here are the pitchers:
SP  Jason Vargas(31) signed thru 2017
SP  Jeremy Guthrie(35) thru 2015
SP  Yordanno Ventura (23) and Danny Duffy(25) are rookies with club control for several yrs
RP  Wade Davis(28) club options thru 2017
RP  Greg Holland(28) thru 2016
RP  Kelvin Herrera (24) thru 2018

Shields and Guthrie are the immediate starters who will be up for free agency.  KC has to be smart who to sign as a veteran starter.  Their margin of error is lower due to a smaller overall budget.  I think Ventura and Duffy are keys to the future. Will they develop into solid starters and team can build around? or will KC have to constantly find options for their rotation?
KC's strength, of course, is their bullpen.  The three headed monster of Herrera, Davis and Holland figures to be a mainstay for KC.  This will allow the Royals have some  flexibility in signing starters as they don't necessarily need guys who have to pitch a lot of innings.  KC is also hoping for no injuries here. It could hurt them tremendously.  Other KC relievers of note with good arms and bright futures are Brandon Finnegan(21 years old), Aaron Crow(27) and Tim Collins(24).

As for top prospects in the farm system.  The top two are starting pitcher Kyle Zimmer and SS Raul Mondesi Jr.  Both considered to be several years away with Zimmer being the closest.

As you can see, the Royals can maintain success.  But GM Dayton Moore has to be smart in who to sign in free agency and trade for to compliment the core.  He has to have some luck in stay relatively injury free also.  KC doesn't have the budget to get veteran help whenever the need arises.  Moore also must draft and sign amateurs from the international market well.  The above players will eventually need to be replaced and must have players ready at the time.  Some of these minor leaguers could also be great tradebait just as Will Myers was for Shields.
Two other factors aid in KC's bright future.  One is that they play in the central division.  No New Yorks, No Bostons, No LAs to consistenly compete against.  Which is a good thing for a small market club.  The other is that the Royals are built around speed not power.  Players with speed tend to be less expensive than traditional home run hitters.  This will allow KC to get players and keep them longer.

I think the Kansas City Royals can be around as a playoff contender for some years to come.  But some smarts have to be used and luck has to be on their side.  I personally would like to see it.  Kansas City is a good baseball town and with some history too. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Random Playoff Observations and Thoughts

The 2014 regular season is over and the playoffs are in full swing.  While watching the playoffs, some random thoughts have crossed my mind.  I thought I would share some with the fellow baseball fans in cyberspace. Here they are:

-This is 2nd year in row that the mighty New York Yankees have missed the playoffs.  We are officially beyond the steroid era, where the Yankees could outspend for veteran bats and bash the ball all over the place.  Game has gone to a more athletic, younger, small ball version.  They really need to change their philosophy. Yankees have won only one World Series championship in last 14 years.

-With Kansas City making the playoffs, every MLB has made the postseason during Bud Selig's tenure as commissioner. If you been watching MLB over last a few years, there is more parity in MLB than NFL and the NFL has always preached parity.  Longest playoff drought now belongs to Toronto (1993)

-Selig isn't well liked among baseball fans, but in the future, we will look back and see how successful Selig has been.  New commish will have tough shoes to follow.

-World Series favorites Tigers and Nationals hired new managers with no prior managerial experience in 2014.  Both made no impact whatsoever in postseason.  Will this deter other General Managers with World Series aspirations in doing the same?

-Detroit is so toploaded in roster talent and salary wise, did the lack of overall depth hurt the Tigers the most? wonder what kind of impact a healthy Rajai Davis would have had.  Will be an interesting off season in Detroit with free agents Max Scherzer, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter along with tweaking a roster in a win now mode.

-Oakland went in a total freefall since the Yeonis Cespedes trade.  Cespedes isnt high on the sabermetric radar as other A's hitters.  The lack of Cespedes' presence was felt big time.  Will this cause teams take a less emphasis on sabermetrics in future? Go back to some old school philosophies? Maybe, I am hoping some here.

-I believe A's GM Billy Beane would never have pulled the Jeff Samardzija/Jon Lester trades if the Tigers didnt sweep them in Detroit in July.  Losing Cespedes and Addison Russell could come back and haunt the A's

-I find it ironic that if we get a KC/St Louis World Series in 2014, the same year instant replay is fully introduced.  The last time these teams faced each other in a World Series, Royals won it largely aided by a blown call by umpire Don Dekinger.  And if we have the matchup, how many times will hear Dekinger's name during the series?

-For the younger fans, KC was a playoff mainstay years ago. 6 divisional titles, 2 pennants and a World Series title from 1976-1985.

-KC is on the brink of a World Series appearance. Their manager, Ned Yost was a longtime coach with the Braves under Bobby Cox during the great 1990s run.  Yost making the Series the same year as Cox, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine gets inducted in the Hall of Fame.  A good year for former Braves, not so much for current ones.

-Yadier Molina strained his oblique muscle and missed his first playoff start for Cardinals in 83 games. Last Cardinal catcher to start a playoff game prior to Molina? Current Cardinal manager Mike Matheny.

-With the likely elimination of Baltimore, we will have a World Series of teams near the bottom of total home runs hit.  Small ball is back.

-Wonder what kind of ALCS we would have if Baltimore was not missing a third of their regular day lineup. Not playing: 1B Chris Davis, 3B Manny Machado and C Matt Weiters.  three pretty good players

-Will the Giants continue their trend in winning the World Series every two years? 2010. 2012. 2014?  Buster Posey is taking over as Derek Jeter's "winner" status?

-We will have no big market teams in the World Series this year. So you might read that the series will result in low TV ratings.  First thought maybe that baseball is lacking among fans interests.  It is quite the opposite. The last Saturday of 2014, the minimum attendance of all 15 games was 30,000.  The 2013 MLB attendance was the 6th highest in MLB history.   MLB is doing quite well.