Category Archives: Royals Jerseys 2020

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The Texas Rangers and veteran pitcher, Edinson Volquez, are reportedly working on a minor-league deal, bringing Volquez back with a shot at the MLB roster.
With much of the Texas Rangers brass in the Dominican Republic for the opening of the organization’s new baseball complex, TR Sullivan tweeted out Friday morning that the club and veteran Edinson Volquez are working on a minor-league deal.

Volquez, a 14-year veteran, spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons with the Rangers organization, missing all of 2018 and the majority of 2019 due to injury. The hopes for his initial deal in Texas is that he could help bolster the rotation. With injuries considered, Volquez made 11 appearances for the Rangers last year, four as a starter. He posted a 6.75 ERA throwing 16 innings.

During the season, Volquez made his plan known to retire at the end of the season but it appears that plan could be put on hold. The Rangers are looking to bring Volquez back on a minor-league contract with a Spring Training invitation. This would give Volquez the opportunity to compete for a spot in the Rangers bullpen as his days as a regular starter are probably behind him.

The 36-year old has bounced around a bit in his career, not because of ineffectiveness but rather a consistency with his pitching. Volquez started his career with the Rangers back in 2005 and was the main piece of the deal with the Reds that brought Josh Hamilton to the Rangers. He would go on to be an All-Star with the Reds in 2008 and then later, won a World Series in 2015 as a part of the Kansas City Royals.

If the two sides do come to an agreement, I wouldn’t expect to see Volquez change the Rangers offseason plans at all. They still will be in the market for starting pitching. If Volquez makes the roster out of Spring Training, his veteran presence would be a plus. If he doesn’t, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him move forward with his retirement and maybe join the Rangers in another capacity.

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Jorge Soler has fired ACES and moved to Casey Close of Excel. What effect does this change in representation have on the Kansas City Royals’ ability to negotiate a contract extension with the breakout AL home run champion?
What an incredible breakout season Designated Hitter/Outfielder Jorge Soler had for the Kansas City Royals in 2019.

Soler shattered the Royals franchise record for home runs in a season and he established himself as one of the most feared hitters in the American League, putting up a second half stat line of .299/.411/.665, with 15 doubles, one triple, 25 home runs, and 45 walks (+3 IBB) vs 70 Ks.

Career: .255/.336/.478, 91 2B, 3 3B, 86 HR, 10/13 SBs – 469 games in 6 years (79 games per year)
2019: .265/.354/.569, 33 2B, 1 3B, 48 HR, 73 BB (3 IBB), 178 Ks, 3/4 SB (589 ABs) – 162 games
Soler’s biggest breakout in 2019 isn’t found in his stunning production, but it was with his health. For the first time in Soler’s career he played in all 162 games.

Soler showed glimpses of a breakout in 2018 before succumbing to injury after 61 games. The work ethic Soler has shown since being traded to the Royals before the 2017 season finally paid off in 2019 when he was able to show his full potential as prodigious power hitter. The Royals have never had a player with this much power potential outside of Bo Jackson, whose career was cut short by injury.

Soler has taken advantage of his massive breakout season and opted out of his team friendly contract he signed out of Cuba with the Chicago Cubs for 9 years/$30 million. Soler will be subjected to arbitration this off-season, which will dramatically increase his paycheck from $4 million to a projected $11.2 million.

Soler will have one more year of arbitration eligibility for 2021 season where his projected paycheck will be above $14 million if he produces similar numbers to his 2019 season in 2020.

Royals star Jorge Soler has fired ACES and moved to Casey Close of Excel

— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 12, 2019

Soler has decided to change his agent representation as a result of his breakout. He has hired Casey Close of Excel Sports Management to be his representation for the 2020 season. Close has represented players Alex Gordon, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Derek Jeter, Ryan Howard, Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Derrek Lee, Ben Sheets, and Josh Hamilton.

According to the references on Close’s Wikipedia page,

Some of the larger deals negotiated by Close for his clients include: a five-year, $125 million contract extension for Ryan Howard in 2010; a 10-year, $189 million deal for Jeter in 2000 (at the time the second richest contract in baseball history); a three-year $51 million deal for Jeter in December 2010; a five-year $65 million deal for Derrek Lee in 2006; and a one-year $10 million contract (with $2 million in performance bonuses) for Ben Sheets in 2010.

What kind of offer would Casey Close and Jorge Soler need from the Royals to accept an extension keeping the power hitter in the Royals lineup for the next competitive roster?

Jorge Soler finally had the breakout industry experts expected when he signed with the Cubs in 2014. He has always had the talent to be a prodigious power hitter, but has had issues remaining healthy with his violent swing. Oblique injuries hampered his development early in his career.

Entering into his prime years, Soler looks ready to take off as one of the premier sluggers in the MLB. At times he flashes average defensive ability in right field with a powerful arm. However, most times he is a liability in the field and this hurts his value going forward as he will likely be relegated to designated hitter duties.

Soler hasn’t had a healthy track record and that may limit his and Close’s negotiating leverage. If Soler is able to duplicate his performance from 2019 in 2020, then the Royals will be in a disadvantage in terms of negotiating leverage. The time is ripe to negotiate for all parties involved to negotiate a long-term extension as Soler turns 28 years old in February.

Prediction

If Soler remains healthy, he can carry over his second half of 2019 into 2020, which would be an even more ridiculously stunning season statistically. Soler is capable of hitting .280/.400/.600 with +40 home runs leading the Royals as the middle of the order power bat they’ve long desired.

If the Kansas City Royals believe in his breakout and development, they should make an extension offer to Soler for 4 years/$62 million (2020 – $12 million, 2021 – $14 million, 2022 – $18 million, 2023 – $18 million, team option for 2024 – $23 million).

Accepting the offer would solidify the middle of the Royals lineup for the future and guarantee Soler some security if injuries come back. This deal is similar to the contract extension Alex Gordon and Casey Close negotiated with the Royals in 2016 (4 years/$72 million).

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While we probably shouldn’t expect the Royals to be too active this off-season considering they are still rebuilding, we don’t really know what direction they will got under new owner John Sherman. The outfield is still a fluid situation with questions over whether Alex Gordon will return. Young outfielders like Brett Phillips and Bubba Starling show some potential, but have yet to lock down a roster spot. Whit Merrifield may end up in the outfield again, and prospect Khalil Lee could be ready before very long.

The Royals could look to solidify their open outfield situation through the free agent market. Let’s look at who will available.

Solid starters in their prime
J.D. Martinez can opt out of the final three years and $62.5 million on his deal, but he still seems likely to return to Boston on a new deal.

Nick Castellanos caught on fire once he was traded to the Cubs and the 27-year old should be one of the more sought-after hitters after posting back-to-back 120+ wRC+ seasons.

Starling Marte will likely have his $11.5 million option picked up, although don’t be surprised if the Pirates move him in a trade after a solid 3.0 fWAR season.

Marcell Ozuna has slammed 89 home runs over the last three seasons and has been a solid run producer, but the 28-year old has not been able to replicate his big numbers from 2017, instead putting up a 107 OPS+ over the past two seasons.

Kole Calhoun hit a career-high 33 home runs this year, but has a .315 on-base percentage over the last three seasons, making it a difficult decision for the Angels on whether or not to pick up the $14 million option for the 32-year old former Gold Glover.

Adam Eaton will likely be returning to the Nationals on a $9.5 million club option after a solid 2.3 fWAR season.

Jason Heyward seems unlikely to opt out of the four year, $86 million remaining on his deal, even after putting up his best offensive numbers since 2015.

Avisail Garcia was non-tendered last winter and bounced back to have a solid 1.8 fWAR season with 20 home runs at age 28, but his poor defense could be a concern in Kansas City.

Corey Dickerson has hit over .300 in each of the last two seasons and the 30-year former Gold Glover put up his highest OPS+ since 2014, although in just 78 games.

Yasiel Puig hasn’t been the 5 WAR player he was early in his career, but he is still just 28, has hit 20+ home runs in each of the last three seasons, and has been worth nearly 6 fWAR of the last three seasons combined.

Older veterans
Hunter Pence won AL Comeback Player of the Year at age 36 by hitting .297/.358/.552 with 18 home runs with the Rangers.

Brett Gardner hit a career-high 28 home runs at age 36 and has been a solid player the last few years, but he is hoping to return to the Bronx.

Alex Gordon will certainly have his $20 million option declined, and he has said he will decide this off-season whether or not he wants to continue playing.

Jarrod Dyson continues to steal bases (30 last year) and play great defense (15th among all outfielders in UZR/150 and 8th in DRS), even at age 35.

Nick Markakis would still be a good bargain on his $6 million club option, but the Braves may decide to go in a different direction and part with the 35-year old who hit .285/.356/.420 this year.

Ben Zobrist faced some personal issues this summer but returned late in the year and hasn’t decided if he will retire at age 39.

Adam Jones was below replacement level last year at age 34 mostly due to a significant decline in defense and on-base percentage that was 18th-worst among qualified hitters.

Melky Cabrera can still hit for average, but he has little power, was an atrocious defender last year and should probably be limited to a bench role.

Others: Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Kemp, Curtis Granderson

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Free agency preview: Relief pitchers
Role Players
Lonnie Chisenhall has only played in 29 games the last two seasons but the 31-year old has been a decent left-handed bat when healthy.

Cameron Maybin has played for five teams in the last two seasons, but enjoyed a renaissance with the Yankees, hitting .28/.364/.494 in 82 games this year.

Leonys Martin is a solid defender in center, and while the 31-year old had an atrocious season offensively, he could be a bounce-back candidate.

Gerardo Parra has had a moment with his Baby Shark walk up music during the playoffs, but the 32-year old has been a replacement-level outfielder the last two seasons.

Billy Hamilton didn’t exactly set the basepaths ablaze with the Royals, stealing just 18 bases in 93 games, but perhaps he can run more in a second stint in Kansas City.

Juan Lagares is also a glove-first, no-bat outfielder, but the former Gold Glover is just 30-years old and could fill out a bench.

Jon Jay dealt with a lot of injuries in 2019, and at age 34, he’ll have to prove he can still get on base as a role player.

Carlos Gomez has declined prety rapidly the last two seasons and at age 33, is probably in line for a minor league deal.

Aaron Altherr showed some promise with 19 home runs and a 122 OPS+ in 2017 but has struggled to hit since then and the 28-year old was designated for assignment by the Mets in August.

Others: Chris Owings, Peter Bourjos, Austin Jackson, Gorkys Hernandez, Charlie Tilson, Cesar Puello, Jace Peterson, Blake Swihart

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Royals Rumblings – News for November 18, 2019

In his Friday notes, David Lesky is okay with the Royals having a limited budget….for now.

Paying the bad team tax isn’t worth it yet. What’ll bother me is if all that does happen and it looks like the Royals are, let’s say, a center fielder and a reliever away going into 2021 (just go along for this ride with me, don’t argue the dates) and they don’t even check in on someone to trade for or sign then I’ll be upset. And yes, I very much hope this new ownership group is willing to eat some money on deals to bring back better prospects in trades and all that, but I can’t even begin to get worked up about payroll discussion. And add to that the fact that almost any public quote about payroll is going to err on the low side because it keeps some leverage and doesn’t lend itself to disappointing fans if and when they can’t make good on their promise. Think about the White Sox last year, throwing all sorts of money around, or at least talking about it. How disappointing is that when they got Yonder Alonso and Jon Jay in the end? Let’s just see how this plays out.

Jordan Foote at Kings of Kauffman is also okay with a low profile in free agency.

Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors writes about how the Royals may look to lock up young players.

Though they won’t be spending to add from the outside, the Royals will consider plunking down cash to secure the services of existing players into the future, according to MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan (via Twitter). He lists Jorge Soler, Hunter Dozier, and Adalberto Mondesi as conceivable extension candidates. One might speculatively add hurler Brad Keller to that group as well.

Of that slate of possibilities for long-term deals, only Soler is nearing the open market. While the 27-year-old has finally hit his stride, it’s debatable how wise it would be to lock into a bat-first corner outfielder. But there’s certainly merit to pursuing a deal at the right price. The other players listed have even more still to prove, though Mondesi does offer tantalizing upside as an extension candidate.

MLB.com lists the best athlete in each organization.

Royals: Bobby Witt Jr., SS (No. 1/MLB No. 8) – The No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft can do everything very well on the baseball field. He has 20-20 potential given his power and speed. That quickness also allows him to be a plus defender at shortstop with outstanding range and a cannon for an arm. As a bonus, his makeup and passion for the game allow his athleticism to play up.

Emails show Astros executives asked scouts for advice on how to steal signs.

Baseball is proposing to sever ties with 42 minor league affiliates, including clubs like the Royals’ Lexington Legends.

The star free agents that departed championship teams.

Kenta Maeda is not happy with how the Dodgers have handled him.

Why the Reds hired Kyle Boddy of Driveline.

You may have forgotten about these Nationals players, but they will receive championship rings.

White Sox GM Rick Hahn wanted Rafael Devers for Chris Sale.

Doug Mienkiewicz wasn’t enough of a yes-man to be a coach in the Tigers organization.

The Rangers unveil a new $12.5 million academy in the Dominican Republic.

Historian John Thorn writes about the three true outcomes, and a possible fourth.

USA Baseball fails to secure a bid to the 2020 Olympics in the WBCS Premier 12 tournament, but will have two more opportunities.

Analyzing the top 2020 NCAA baseball recruiting class.

Vera Clemente, widow of baseball legend Roberto Clemente, dies at age 78.

Why NFL backup quarterbacks are succeeding more than ever.

How Tua Tagovailoa’s season-ending injury could impact the 2020 NFL draft.

The world’s most profitable company is about to go public.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is filled with gonk droids.

An ode to Ford v. Ferrarri and dad cinema.

Your song of the day is Joe Jackson with I’m the Man.

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As expected, the Royals will decline a $23 million mutual option for Alex Gordon, instead opting to buy him out for $3.5 million and making him a free agent, according to reporter Jon Heyman. (Update: The Royals have made it official). Gordon could still return on a new contract. He has said he plans to decide this off-season whether he wants to play another season. The Royals have not given an indication whether they would want to bring him back.

Gordon rebounded with the bat in 2019, posting a 96 wRC+, his highest number since 2015. The 35-year old hit .266/.345/.396 with 13 home runs, 31 doubles, and 51 walks in 150 games. He has been a disappointment offensively since signing his four-year, $72 million contract before the 2016 season, hitting .237/.320/.366 over that time.

Despite a slumping bat, Gordon has still contributed with his glove. He is fifth among all outfielders in UZR since 2016 and has been worth 2.9 WAR combined over the past two seasons, according to Fangraphs. Gordon has won six Gold Gloves, including awards the last two seasons, and is a finalist again this season.

If the Royals bring Alex Gordon back, it will probably be on a one-year deal worth between $4-8 million. He has already said that the Royals are the only team he wants to play for, which cuts his leverage quite a bit. But he is also very close with General Manager Dayton Moore – Alex wrote the forward for Dayton’s book More Than a Season – so I would not expect much of a stand-off over salary.

The Royals already have Jorge Soler, Whit Merrifield, Brett Phillips, and Bubba Starling in their outfield, and prospect Khalil Lee could be ready at some point next season. Alex Gordon could provide a good role model for the younger players, although he has never been known as a hands-on leader in the clubhouse. And any at-bats given to Gordon next year might be better used on evaluating younger players who are more likely to be part of the future in Kansas City. Gordon has not given a timetable for his decision, and earlier this summer he said he was leaning towards returning.

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Now that the all-star catcher will return to his spot behind the plate, the Kansas City Royals will have to find a backup to fill in as needed.
Kansas City Royals fans can rejoice in knowing that the beloved all-star, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, catcher, Salvador Perez, will be back behind home plate for the 2020 season. After sitting out for all of 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery, Perez will hopefully get back to work, calling great games and hitting into the stands.

When thinking about a positional battle that may take place for the Royals in spring training, it’s likely that many fans wouldn’t think about the catcher’s spot first. This is understandable, as there is nobody in line to take Salvy’s spot.

One question that will have to be answered, though, is who will be the backup for Salvy when he returns to Kauffman. With Salvy out in 2019, the Royals had a great chance to look at the young catching talent they have in the organization. While veteran catcher Martin Maldonado was initially picked up as the starter, a trade and an injury to backup Cam Gallagher had the Royals going deep to see what their minor league players could do.

As the organization got to see much of what they have in line for the catching position, it is likely the backup role will be filled by one of these players. All three in-house players put up decent numbers in 2019, but two of them continue to run similar in both offensive production, and defensive ability. So the question remains, which option deserves to be the backup?

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THE APPEAL of baseball for me has always been as much about its past as its present. No sport embraces its history as much as baseball. The boys of summers past were heroes, and the older we get, the better they were.

Major leaguers play on beautifully manicured fields of green. They dazzle with their talent. They fill our summers — and our winters — with endless and unresolvable arguments about who was the best we ever saw.

Who you got, Mantle or Trout? How would Ty Cobb fare against Max Scherzer? That sort of thing.

Unfortunately, what the game does not provide so much anymore are the characters, the guys who intentionally or unintentionally stood out from the crowd with their humor, their quirks, their idiosyncrasies, their malaprops.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders calls himself a Democratic socialist, but is not a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.
Tom Troy
Socialists brought technology to Lucas County’s Dem debate party
Today’s players are businessmen first, ballplayers second, and the game is poorer for it. Long gone are the guys with the colorful nicknames: Catfish, Oil Can, Pumpsie, and the Goose.

Most fans know about Yogi Berra’s flair for a funny line. Speaking of a restaurant in New York, Yogi once said “nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

On another occasion he observed that “we made too many wrong mistakes.”

He said of a player who batted both right-handed and left-handed: “he’s amphibious.”

Trying to explain the afternoon shadows in Yankee Stadium, Yogi noted that “it gets late early out there.”

I think old Yogi knew exactly what he was saying and did it for laughs. I’m old enough to miss him.

Yogi may have given the game its most memorable lines, but he was hardly alone.

President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he arrives on Air Force One at Pitt Greenville Airport, in Greenville, N.C., Wednesday, July 17, 2019.
Mike Sigov
Mike Sigov: Trump should ‘go back’ to Russia
Relief pitcher Dan Quisenberry might have been a close second.

Here are a few Quisenberries:

“I’ve seen the future, and it’s much like the present, only longer.”

“Our fielders have to catch a lot of balls, or at least deflect them to someone who can.”

Of an articulate teammate, Mr. Quisenberry noted that “he didn’t sound like a baseball player. He said things like ‘nevertheless’ and ‘if, in fact.’”

Casey Stengel also deserves a spot on the leaderboard here.

During his years managing often difficult Yankee players, he warned his barber, “Don’t cut my throat. I may want to do that myself.”

Of one of his young players, Casey observed that “he’s only 20, with a good chance in 10 years of being 30.”

Lefty Gomez was asked once if he threw a spitter, an illegal pitch. “Not intentionally,” he replied, “but I sweat easy.”

Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee had one of baseball’s most fitting nicknames — the “Spaceman” — back in the 1970s. It was richly deserved. Defending his diet at the time, which featured bananas, he made a good point: “Did you ever see a monkey with a cramp?”

Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax reflected on playing games outdoors in Houston before the Astrodome was built: “Some of the bugs there are twin-engine jobs.”

Another Hall of Famer, pitcher Garry Maddox, was asked to describe a grand slam home run he had surrendered. “As I remember it, the bases were loaded,” he said.

Pitcher Bill Terry bragged facetiously about himself: “I had great control. I never missed the other fellow’s bat.”

Slugger Reggie Jackson explained that whenever he was in a hitting slump, he would be inundated with well-meaning suggestions for snapping out of it. “You want to try them all, but you can’t. You’re like a mosquito in a nudist camp. You don’t know where to start.”

The legendary Babe Ruth, questioning the umpire’s judgment after the ump called a blazing fastball a strike: “That last one sounded kinda high to me.”

Umpire Ron Luciano said throwing players out of the game was like riding a bicycle. “Once you get the hang of it, it can be a lot of fun.”

It was also Mr. Luciano who observed that whenever an umpire reminisces about his career, he inevitably begins every story with the same line: “It wasn’t funny at the time.”

Speaking of pitcher Phil Niekro’s unhittable knuckleball, outfielder Rick Monday observed that “it actually giggles at you as it goes by.”

Kansas City shortstop Fred Patek was asked how it felt to be the shortest player in the major leagues at 5 feet, 5 inches. “A heck of a lot better than being the shortest player in the minors,” he replied.

The Tigers’ great Hank Greenberg insisted that “the only way to get along with newspapermen is to say something one minute and something different the next.”

Wait. What?

A San Diego second baseman named Tim Flannery acknowledged he was superstitious during a 14-game hitting streak. “Every night after I got a hit, I ate Chinese food and drank tequila. I had to stop hitting or die.”

All of these players are of an earlier era in baseball, and all these quotes have been culled from a variety of sources. They still make me laugh.

Perhaps my favorite is a quote from team executive Clark Griffith, bemoaning the haplessness of his pitchers. “The fans,” he said, “like to see home runs. So we have assembled a pitching staff for their enjoyment.”

They say that major league baseball attendance is down again this year. Maybe we need more characters like Yogi and Bill Lee.

But as Yogi himself once explained, “If people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody’s going to stop them.”

Thomas Walton is the retired Editor and Vice President of The Blade. His column appears every other Sunday. His radio commentary, “Life As We Know It,” can be heard on WGTE public radio every Monday at 5:44 p.m. during “All Things Considered.” Contact him at [email protected]

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The Royals have announced they have signed infielder Matt Reynolds to a minor league contract. The 28-year old has three years of Major League experience with the Mets and Nationals, appearing in 127 games and hitting .223/.295/.340 with four home runs in 240 plate appearances. The right-handed hitter spent all of last year in Triple-A with the Nationals, hitting .295/.401/.521 with 16 home runs in the offensive-friendly Pacific Coast League.

Reynolds is a Tulsa, Oklahoma native who attended the University of Arkansas. He is capable of playing all over the field, appearing at first base, second base, shortstop, third base, and left and right field. He will likely compete for a job as a reserve infielder with Humberto Arteaga and Erick Mejia, among others. Reynolds could fill the same role that Chris Owings did last year, although with perhaps less upside, and if Reynolds is as bad as Owings was last year, at least the Royals won’t be out much money by removing Reynolds off the MLB roster.

This is the opposite of a sexy move by the Royals, but if they’re going to add players this winter, this is the way to do it. Find players that can fill holes and supplement the roster, but use minor league deals to maintain roster flexibility.

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In baseball parlance, the word “Ace” was used to describe a team’s number one starter. A guy that could be counted on to give 7+ innings every time out and stop losing streaks before they got out of hand. The Royals have had a few Aces in their past, guys like Steve Busby, Dennis Leonard, Bret Saberhagen, Kevin Appier and Zack Greinke. You can make a lessor case of David Cone, who was a true Ace, but unfortunately spent many of his best years in Toronto and New York. Cone posted a 27-19 mark in a little over two seasons with Kansas City, including winning the 1994 Cy Young Award. Despite his potential, and later production, the Royals brass felt it necessary to trade Cone, not once, but twice, for what was essentially a bucket of used baseballs. Their return included players with the names of Anderson, Gozzo, Hearn, Medrano, Sinnes and Stynes. I wish I were joking, but I’m not.

To take the Ace concept to a higher level, there are also true Aces. Hall of Fame Aces. Guys like Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver. If a franchise can have one of those guys every generation, they are blessed.

When the Royals began operations in 1969, they spent heavy draft capital on young arms, looking for a guy who might be their Ace. Guys like Roger Nelson, Jim Rooker and Wally Bunker had potential to be that guy. From 1969 to 1973, the player who emerged from that draft and filled the role of Ace for the Royals turned out to be Dick Drago, who was selected with the 31st pick in the draft. Drago had narrowly missed making the roster of the Detroit Tigers in the 1968 campaign, which saw the Tigers defeat the St. Louis Cardinals for the World Series championship.

Drago grew up in Toledo, Ohio where as a youth, he was a Connie Mack All-Star. He caught the attention of scouts and the Detroit Tigers signed him to a free-agent contract in 1964. It was a dream come true for Drago, who rooted for the Tigers as a youth. In 1966, while pitching for the Tigers affiliate in Rocky Mount, N.C., Drago threw a seven-inning no-hitter against Greensboro. In the nightcap of the doubleheader, his roommate, Darrell Clark, threw another no-hitter. Based on my research, I believe this is the only time in baseball history where no-hitters were thrown in both games of a double header.

By 1968, Drago was pitching for his hometown team, the Toledo Mud Hens, where he won 15 games for the third consecutive season. The ’68 Tigers were loaded with pitching including 31 game winner Denny McLain and star lefty Mickey Lolich. Also, on that Detroit staff were future Royals Jim Rooker and Jon Warden as well as 40-year-old Roy Face, a late season acquisition who went 18-1 for the Pirates in 1959.

Detroit left Drago exposed in the 1968 expansion draft and Cedric Tallis selected him with the 31st pick. Said Drago, “I was playing winter ball in Puerto Rico when I found out I was going to Kansas City. I was shocked and disappointed. All I ever wanted to do was pitch for the Tigers. I was heartbroken. At the time I didn’t even know where Kansas City was. I fell in love with Kansas City. It was a beautiful place and it was a bunch of guys starting a whole new team. It really didn’t feel like you were on a big-league team, other than you were traveling and playing big league teams.”

Drago started the 1969 season in the bullpen, but soon moved into the starting rotation and became a workhorse for the Royals. He threw the first complete game in Kansas City history in his first start, a five hit, 3-2 win against the Angels on May 2nd, 1969. Drago threw nine complete games in that inaugural season and threw 53 complete games in his five-year Royal career, which still ranks as fifth best all-time. To show you how much times have changed, the Royals have had 54 complete games thrown in their last 15 ½ seasons. The high-water mark for pitchers has been the six complete games thrown by Zach Greinke in 2009.

Baseball people are obsessed with pitch counts, and probably for good reason. Has adhering to a strict pitch count helped save arms? I think it’s still up for debate. There still seems to be a fair number of pitchers who have Tommy John surgery in today’s game. Pitchers had arm trouble in the old days too. But there were also workhorses like Bob Feller, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan who between the four of them threw an astounding 987 complete games in their careers. I can almost assure you that had Ned Yost tried to remove Bob Gibson in the middle of the seventh inning to bring in someone like Brad Boxberger, Gibson might have assaulted Ned on the mound. Those pitchers were tough as nails and wanted to finish what they started.

The same can be said for Dick Drago. Drago was known for his great control. At one stretch in his career, from 1969 to 1973, he only threw 12 wild pitches in 921 innings. Drago said his philosophy was “to give seven strong innings every time out. I’m not trying to walk anybody. When I get to a 3-1 count, I didn’t try to finesse anyone. I won’t just lay the ball in there, but I might give up more of the plate and try to throw a little bit harder. I give up some singles that way, but not many long balls. Singles are no worse than walks. When they’re hitting the ball your defense at least has a chance to get the hitters out.”

Drago’s best year with the Royals came in 1971 when he went 17-11 in 241 innings pitched with a 2.98 ERA and 15 complete games. That was good enough to earn him a fifth-place finish in the Cy Young voting. The competition in 1971 was tough. Vida Blue won the Cy Young with his seminal 24-8 season, followed by Mickey Lolich, Wilbur Wood and Dave McNally, all 20 game winners.

Drago pitched nearly as well in 1972 with a 3.01 ERA and 11 complete games over 239 innings, but his won-loss record dropped to 12-17. As many baseball statisticians have pointed out in recent years, the reliance on won-loss records can be misleading. In that 1972 campaign, Drago lost six consecutive starts in which his teammates only scored nine runs. In fact, his run support was terrible the entire season. In those 17 losses, the Royals could only muster 30 runs for Drago. Hard to win with that kind of support. In fact a case can be made that Drago pitched as well in 1972 as he did in 1971. His innings pitched were nearly identical, yet he gave up 21 fewer hits in 1972 and struck out 26 more batters than he had in 1971. In those days, everything spun on the won-loss records and the Royals brass quietly speculated that Drago’s best days were behind him.

The 1972 season wasn’t an entire waste. On May 24th, Drago threw arguably the best game in Royals history, a game in which he lost, 1-0 to the Twins and Jim Kaat, who matched Drago pitch for pitch. Only 8,381 were in attendance at Municipal to see Drago throw 12 brilliant innings. Drago limited the powerful Twins to six hits while striking out 13 and only walking one. The Royals had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the 10th when Paul Schaal led off with a double. Manager Bob Lemon yosted himself by having the next batter, John Mayberry, sacrifice Schaal to third. Mayberry, who was just coming into his prime as a slugger, was successful with the bunt attempt, but the next two hitters, Ed Kirkpatrick and Drago, were unable to score Schaal. The Twins finally pushed across a run in the 12th when Danny Thompson led off the inning with a double and Rod Carew nicked Drago for a single to right field, scoring Thompson. The Royals had no answer in the 12th. The game scored a 98 which remains the highest scoring pitching game in Royals history. To illustrate how dominant Drago was that night, he had eight innings of three-up, three-down.

On September 1, 1972, Drago held Boston hit less for the first three innings before he took a line drive off the jaw from Carl “bleeping” Yastrzemski. Drago suffered a hairline fracture of his jaw and lost a tooth. Yastrzemski eventually scored in what became a 1-0 Royals loss. Drago missed one start, then came back to throw a complete game win on September 10th against the Twins.

Drago grew one of the all-time great mustaches while with the Royals. His teammates nicknamed him the Godfather. In 1973, Kansas City acquired another free spirit, Kurt Bevacqua. Drago and Bevacqua, in all of their ‘stache glory, quickly became known as the Bolivian Bandits, a nod to the popular movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

In 1973, Drago was one of many Royals to clash with new manager Jack McKeon. Drago was traded to the Boston Red Sox in October of 1973, straight up for another character, Marty Pattin. The trade was basically a wash in statistical terms. Drago pitched nine more seasons, mostly in relief, going 47-47 with 8 WAR. Pattin gave the Royals seven productive years, going 43-39 with 8.4 WAR. Drago did find success in the Red Sox bullpen, where he became their key fireman for the 1975 pennant winners. He also pitched the ninth, tenth and eleventh innings of the classic 1975 World Series game six, only allowing one hit to the powerful Cincinnati Reds. The Sox of course, won that game on a Carlton Fisk home run. You’ve maybe seen a replay of it.

Drago closed his Kansas City career with a record of 61-70 with a 3.52 ERA and 13.5 WAR. He still holds a place in the Royals top ten all-time in innings pitched, walks-per-nine innings, complete games, games started, shutouts thrown, career ERA, batters faced and FIP. He also holds the club record for most complete games without issuing a walk with five in his 1971 season. Drago also holds the distinction of giving up Hank Aaron’s 755th and final career home run in 1976. He said the toughest hitters he ever faced were Tony Oliva and George Brett. He had the most success against Milwaukee slugger Gorman Thomas, who went 0-22 against the Godfather.

Drago, always a fan favorite in Kansas City and Boston, retired after his 1981 season with the Seattle Mariners.

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Ian Kennedy spent last offseason training to return from injury as a starter, having held that role throughout his MLB career. He entered the spring in a good physical place despite recent hamstring and oblique strains.

But the 34-year-old received news he didn’t expect — or want to hear — when he arrived at Royals camp. General manager Dayton Moore, manager Ned Yost and pitching coach Cal Eldred informed him he would serve as a relief pitcher moving forward.

From an organizational perspective, it made sense for Kansas City to try something else. Kennedy had pitched to a 5.06 ERA the previous two years, and his durability waned in that time. The rebuilding Royals were eager to provide more starts to younger pitchers.

Still, Kennedy felt an initial wave of hurt. He had served one function his whole career, and he had been good at it for long stretches. His team was telling him to give up his identity.

“I was going back and forth,” Kennedy told Sporting News. “It was a mental battle more than anything.”

MORE: Twins’ playoff success tied to Jose Berrios

That Eldred once made the same transition from starter to reliever helped Kennedy eventually agree to the change. He realized joining Kansas City’s bullpen was his only sure path to continued big league security. The Royals also had a strong track record of molding lockdown closers from lost members of their rotation.

As long as the club helped him learn his new responsibilities, giving him specific pointers to smooth the process, Kennedy would follow what his higher-ups requested.

“When you know you’re not really in control of it,” Kennedy said, “you’ve got to surrender and just kind of be like, ‘OK, this is what I’m going to do. If this is where I’m going to pitch, then OK. I’m going to do the best I can.’”

That acceptance has worked out pretty well for him.

Kennedy won the closer’s job for good in June by performing well in seventh- and eighth-inning appearances. He has recorded 30 saves so far this year. He boasts a 3.28 ERA this season, his best mark since 2011, and is striking out a career-high 10.4 batters per nine innings.

The right-hander’s mindset toward late-inning outings is different now. He said he feeds off an energy level he never used to reach as a starter, which minimizes the pressure of ninth innings by keeping him too amped to consider what could go wrong.

An important part of Kennedy’s success has been condensing his large collection of pitches into a potent, streamlined power surge. He upped his fastball usage, and because short appearances let him give max effort each pitch, the heater has crept from the low-90s to mid-90s on the radar gun. He does not have to get tricky or shuffle through an array of offerings anymore. He ditched his changeup to simplify his approach.

“You’re not trying to get Matt Chapman out three times in a game,” Kennedy said. “You’re just trying to get him out once. Just do that.”

Kennedy watched from afar when the Royals turned middling starter Wade Davis into the league’s best closer earlier this decade. One of his best friends, Luke Hochevar, also improved his stock by making the transition to the bullpen.

Now a part of the relief pitcher experience, he said he’s hooked on the position.

As he tried to describe why he enjoys it so much, and why he hopes to spend the rest of his career out of the bullpen, his mind wandered to his ninth-inning perspective from the mound. He mentioned the urgency apparent from opponents in the batter’s box, and the way crowds seem to expand or deflate with each pitch. He noted how fans stand up whenever he’s a strike away from completing a save.

“It’s a totally different adrenaline rush,” Kennedy said. “I really, really like it.”