We start a four game series with the Royals tonight. The Royals have the best record in the AL, at 61-39 and they've added a couple very good players this week.
The Royals are 5th in the AL in runs score per game (4.35) and best in the AL in runs allowed per game (3.59).
I sent off some questions to Max Rieper, who runs Royals Review, SB Nation's KC Royals blog. Here is what he had to say.
I imagine you guys are thrilled with the trades for Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto. Can you tell us about the players the Royals gave up to get them and how you think the team will use Cueto? Do Royals fans think that the trades will win them a World Series?
We are on cloud nine. These aren't slam dunk "we won the trade"-type deals, I think Oakland and Cincinnati got fair value for two players that are only signed through the end of the year. But these are the kind of deals serious contenders make to give them the best chance to win in October. We saw last year how thin the margin can be between winning and losing, so to add one of the best pitchers in the game and one of the better players in the game just further improves their odds of success this fall.
The package of prospects in the two deals are an interesting contrast. Oakland got the guy with the best upside in Sean Manaea, a left-handed pitcher who at one point was considered one of the top pitchers in the 2013 draft until a shoulder and hip injury and high bonus demands had him fall to the Royals in the supplemental round. He's continued to have a variety of minor injuries, missing most of the year with an abdominal strain and groin injury, but he's shown good velocity and a solid slider and hides the ball well with his delivery. He's already at AA, but the main concerns will be throwing strikes and staying healthy.
The Reds appeared to go for quantity over quality, getting three decent prospects, all of which are low-ceiling guys. Brandon Finnegan made a name for himself with the Royals last year after skyrocketing from pitching for TCU in the College World Series to being put on the Royals post-season roster and pitching against the Giants in the MLB World Series. However he showed up to camp overweight this year and his secondary pitches haven't developed so there is some doubt as to whether he can succeed as a starting pitcher. John Lamb was a top prospect four years ago, but had Tommy John surgery and hasn't been the same since until this year when he put up eye-popping numbers for AAA Omaha. However he's 25 and an injury risk so he wasn't really on the prospect radar screen. Cody Reed could end up being the key to the deal. He's a former second-round pick out of junior college who was terrible in his first two pro seasons, but finally learned to throw strikes this year and has advanced quickly to AA with good numbers. He's a hard-throwing lefty, so there is some upside there as long as he can continue to throw strikes.
I asked you about Dayton Moore last time around, I imagine your opinion of him has improved after this week?
There were some concerns that Dayton Moore would be passive at the deadline since the team was so good already and had a large lead, and because he had never made any waves at the deadline before. But he's also never been in this position before, so it didn't surprise me at all to see him aggressive. I didn't quite expect he'd be THIS aggressive, but I am thrilled that his strategy is to cash in some of these prospects for quality Major Leaguers to give the team the best chance to win. A lot of Royals fans have grown an attachment to prospects because we've been trained, as small-market fans, to believe the pipeline of prospects is a must. While that's true, we can't also be afraid to let go of those prospects because the fact is, many of these prospects will bust and never become what we expected. Its good to see Dayton Moore clearly understands this and identified two of the best players available to acquire.
This question is just an excuse to embed the video of that amazing play by Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar....but do you think the Royals have the best defensive middle infield in baseball? Best middle infield in the history of the Royals, or would Frank White get angry if you suggested that?
That play was something, huh? Alcides has been making highlight reel plays for years, but the metrics have never really loved him until this year, I think because he still flubbed far too many routine plays. This year he has put it all together and while Esky has been passed over for Gold Gloves in the past, he has a pretty good shot at one this year. Omar wasn't all that great last year, but that was probably an aberration as he had a shoulder injury. His glove has really kept him in the lineup since he hasn't hit at all this year, and while he's typically not all that flashy, he does make the routine plays and seems to have a good rapport with Escobar. Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias would probably have a pretty good claim for best defensive middle infield pair, but Omar and Esky would certainly be in the conversation.
Frank White and Freddie Patek made for a pretty good double-play combo in the late 70s, although I wasn't around to personally watch them. I do remember Greg Gagne and Jose Lind making up a very solid pair in the mid-90s. Because of the ballpark, the Royals have long made defense - particularly defense up the middle - a priority, so we've had a lot of terrific defenders to choose from. Omar and Escobar are certainly doing a great job carrying that tradition.
Who would you pick as team MVP at the moment?
Lorenzo Cain is on pace to have the best season by a Royals position player not named George Brett. He's really been phenomenal. The defense we've known about for a few seasons - he's second in the league in dWAR and third in baseball since the start of the 2013 season. But the offense has really come around at age 29, which seem unusual until you learn how new he is to the game of baseball - he picked it up in high school after getting cut by his basketball team. Cain is hitting for more power this year, driving the ball with authority, which gives him a complete package as a ballplayer. Only three position players in baseball have more rWAR than him this year, and if there was an award for "Non-Mike Trout MVP", I'd give the edge to Lorenzo Cain, although Jays fans may see differently with Josh Donaldson's season.
What is happened with Yordano Ventura this year? He doesn't look like the same pitcher as last year, is he doing something different?
The ERA is up, but the peripherals are all pretty much the same. His strikeout rate is down a tad, but he's walked far fewer hitters this year. He's been BABIP unlucky (.317) and has a high left-on-base rate. Some of that may be luck, although the team thinks perhaps he has not been mentally tough with runners on base. In any case, he looked very sharp his last time out on Sunday against Houston after his brief 12 hour demotion to the minors, so my guess is we'll see the Ventura of old down the stretch. The Royals will need it too, because after Cueto, the starting rotation has not pitched particularly well this season, and the Royals could really use a solid #2 in a short series in October.
The Royals have some great players in their past, I was always a fan of Dan Quisenberry....Who is your favorite all-time Royal?
Quiz was great not only because he was a submariner (who doesn't love submariners? Former Jay Mark Eichhorn was one of my faves) but because he was such a thoughtful guy, writing poetry in the off-season. This short excerpt from "Baseball Cards" always gets me.
I look back
at who I thought I was
or used to be
now, trying to be funny
I tell folks
I used to be famous
I used to be good
we thought you were bigger
So Quiz was always one of my favorites as well. Carlos Beltran is probably the most complete player I ever saw in a Royals uniform. Zack Greinke was a delight to watch on the mound and I loved his oddball style. But we typically fall in love with players as children, and for me, no one could ever match the legend of Bo Jackson.
There are so many great stories - his opposite field home run in the third deck of the Metrodome, his first MLB home run is still the longest home run hit at Kauffman Stadium that landed at the top of the grassy embankment, the fact his first hit was him beating out a routine grounder to second, his amazing throw to get Harold Reynolds at the Kingdome - AND THEY WERE ALL TRUE. He was really an amazing player - not the greatest player - but amazing in every sense of the word, in that everything he did - from launching 450 foot home runs, to running up the wall, to totally missing a routine fly ball, to breaking a bat over his knee - left you amazed an bewildered. Its safe to say we will never again see a player like that.
Thanks Max, great job.
Editor's note: SB Nation partner FanDuel is running a one-day fantasy baseball game. Today's prize is $100,000 and it costs just $5 to play. It is fun, give it a try.