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View from the other side: Royals questions for Max Rieper of Royals Review

Chicago White Sox v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

We start a three game series with the Royals tonight at Rogers Centre (so at least we know we will actually play).

The Royals have started the season 3-10. Their Sunday game was cancelled because of ‘frigid weather’ (it was below 0 C). April’s been terrible everywhere.

I sent off some questions to Max Rieper of Royals Review

The Royals were one of the few teams to have a fairly active off season. What are you expecting from the team this year? They aren’t off to a great start.

I think everyone understands it is a rebuilding year. The team was a bit disappointing in their post-championship seasons, and they lost their two best hitters (Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain), their best starting pitcher (Jason Vargas), and their best reliever (Mike Minor) via free agency. They traded away three more relievers to get young starting pitching prospects.The problem is, they didn’t really have much in the upper minors to replace those players, as the farm system has atrophied badly in the last few seasons. So they took advantage of a slow market and signed some stop-gaps like Jon Jay, Lucas Duda, and the biggest surprise, bringing back Mike Moustakas on a ridiculously cheap deal.

That still doesn’t make them very good of course. Most projections had them as one of worst teams in baseball, and they have lived up to that so far. The lineup will struggle to score runs all seasons, as the stop gaps can’t really carry offensive black holes like Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon (out with a hip injury). The loss of Salvador Perez to a knee injury has been a blow to a lineup with little depth, although he should return soon. The club hopes some younger bats like Cheslor Cuthbert, Jorge Soler, and Jorge Bonifacio, but Soler has struggled badly and Bonifacio is suspended for the first 80 games for testing positive for a horse steroid.

Can you tell us about some of the new Royals added this winter?

If you compare the offensive numbers of Lucas Duda and Eric Hosmer from the last few seasons side by side, there isn’t a ton of daylight. Duda hits for a much lower average, but draws a lot more walks and has more power, and yet had to settle for a one-year deal while Hosmer got a nine-figure deal from the Padres. However, Duda is clearly near the end of his career, and injuries, defense, and ineffectiveness against lefties will hurt a lot of his value. Jon Jay has been an on-base machine for the Royals, the kind of leadoff hitter they have never really had, considering they batted Alcides Escobar leadoff in their World Series days. He has mostly played centerfield in his career, but the Royals clearly don’t see his defense playing there anymore, having put him in the corners all season in favor of a hodge-podge of starters in center that include Alex Gordon, Paulo Orlando, Abraham Almonte, and even Whit Merrifield.

Can we have scouting report on the starting pitchers the Jays are likely to see?

Eric Skoglund had a brilliant MLB debut last year, tossing seven shutout innings against the Tigers. He has given up 24 runs in 15 2/3 innings in the big leagues since then. He has some promise as a potential fifth starter, but he doesn’t throw particularly hard and he is probably about to lose his rotation spot to Clay Buchholz whenever the veteran establishes he is ready.

Danny Duffy has finally put his career together the last two seasons, and since 2016 he is in the top 25 of all starters in strikeout rate, ERA, and FIP. He has struggled a bit to start this year, struggling with command at times, although he seemed to figure things out after a rough first inning in his last outing. He had the lowest home run-to-flyball ratio in baseball last year, and that good luck may be catching up to him this year. But he is still the Royals ace and probably their most attractive trade asset should they consider dealing him this summer.

Ian Kennedy was having a good 2017 season until he was hit with a hamstring injury he never really recovered from, giving him some of the worst numbers of his career. The home run spike hit him hard, as he is a flyball pitcher who had the second-highest home run rate among starters with at least 150 innings pitched last year. But the cold weather and an improved changeup have helped him get off to a good start this year, although pitching in the Rogers Centre could be a dicey proposition.

The Jays have been scoring runs and winning games in the late innings. Who are your late inning relievers? Do you feel confident with a late inning lead?

The vaunted “H-D-H” trio of Kelvin Herrera/Wade Davis/Greg Holland is long gone. Herrera is still here, but he has struggled as the closer, temporarily losing the job late last season. What was once a strength for the Royals is now clearly a weakness, as they are dead last in the American League in bullpen ERA. The pen is mostly a collection of has-beens (Blaine Boyer) and never-weres (Brian Flynn). It says something that the most dependable reliever is a Rule 5 pick - Brad Keller - a shrewd pickup from the Diamondbacks who had never pitched above AA ball before this year. Tim Hill is the rare left-handed submariner who provides some interesting angles for hitters. Justin Grimm has had some decent years with the Cubs, but he has struggled a bit so far this year in an eighth inning role.

Salvador Perez is on the DL. How long will he be out? Who is taking his spot? I’ll admit I’m not sad that he won’t be playing, our TV broadcast team spends most Royals games drooling over him.

Salvy hurt his knee in a bizarre injury on the eve of Opening Day where he just slipped while carrying his luggage. However he is one tough son-of-a-gun and has already begun his rehab assignment, meaning he could be back by next week. In his place is Drew Butera, a pretty replacement-level career backstop who exploded for a good offensive season in 2016, but has put up a hitters’ line seen on a pitchers’ Baseball-Reference page. Young Cam Gallagher is his backup, a player many Royals fans would like to see more of, but who Ned Yost probably doesn’t trust as much as Butera.

Ned Yost has been manager of the Royal forever (in manager years). What do Royals fans think of him?

Winning a ring inoculates him against a lot of criticism, but it doesn’t make him immune at all. I feel like Ned is probably one of the most criticized managers who has ever won a championship - and it may not all be undeserved. It was a bit surprising he wanted to stay with the team through a rebuild, but he’s not really that old and being a MLB manager is a pretty comfy job. Ned has seemed more receptive to analytics this year - they are shifting a lot more, something they rarely did before. He has said he wants to get guys who walk at the top of the lineup. But he was a bit hard-headed about putting in struggling relievers like Blaine Boyer and Brandon Maurer (now in the minors) in tight situations. And he has sat some young players like Cuthbert a bit more than some Royals fans would like.

Who is your favorite Royal to watch?

I know this will anger at least one of the writers on my site, but I really enjoy watching the way Whit Merrifield plays. He’s not the most sabermetrically-favored player since he relies on putting the ball in play and hitting for average, but he does do a lot of the “little things” that old school guys love while also hustling and playing solid defense. And he is probably the most unheralded stolen base champion of all-time. He seems to love playing the game, and by all accounts is a great teammate and good guy to root for.

Anything else we should know about the Royals?

The Royals are going to be bad for quite a few years - their minor league system is considered one of the worst in baseball. They will have four of the top 40 picks in the draft this June, are expected to be one of the most aggressive teams in the international market this summer, and will likely trade Herrera, Moustakas, Duda, and possibly even Duffy by the deadline. They could help their rebuild quite a bit this year. But they are still at the very beginning of a process that could take years to complete. We may be re-watching our 2015 Championship DVDs a lot this summer.

Thanks Max.