Coming off their first postseason appearance in 29 years, people expected the Kansas City Royals to be active spenders over the offseason. For the most part, however, people around the game were underwhelmed with what the defending American League Champions did despite increased revenue received from their thrilling postseason run.
While Dayton Moore may not have handed out any contracts that jumped off the page, he quietly had the best offseason of any executive in the game.
He replaced Shields with Edinson Volquez, who garnered a two-year, $20 million deal with a $10 million team option for 2017 after posting arguably the best season of his career with the Pirates and their excellent pitching coach Ray Searage. He went 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA over 192.2 innings. But prior to that season, Volquez has had trouble throwing strikes thought his career. His BB/9 rate was 4.8 from 2005-2013 and his ERA over that time period was 4.75. In fact, only three seasons ago while a member of the Padres, Volquez led all of baseball with 105 walks. But something clicked last year for Volquez, and his BB/9 rate dropped to a career best 3.3. He has been much more consistent since working with Searage in Pittsburgh, who has a reputation for turning around pitchers’ careers (A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano).
The Royals took a chance with Volquez, and so far he has been excellent. His BB/9 rate is on par with last year’s, and he is 8-5 with a 3.28 ERA over 112.1 innings. His strikeouts have also increased, as he is striking out more than two batters per walk for the first time in his career. Shields is 8-3 with a 3.92 ERA and could possibly be traded by the Padres before the deadline. He also is making $21 million a year for the next three years and has a $16 million team option for 2019.
Kendrys Morales had a lost season in 2014. He did not sign until after the First-Year Player Draft, because he was tied to draft pick compensation. He did not have spring training, and his numbers suffered as a result. This year, he replaces Billy Butler in the lineup and his production has been excellent. Morales, who signed a two-year, $17 million deal with an $11 mutual option for 2017, is hitting .281 with 11 home runs and 62 RBI, which ranks second in the American League. He brings some power from both sides of the plate, and he fits right in with this lineup. This was one of the best hitters in the game before he injured his ankle celebrating a walk-off home run, but he has rediscovered the swing that made him one of the most feared hitters in the game. Butler, on the other hand, signed a three year, $30 million deal with the Oakland A’s and is currently hitting .252 with nine home runs and 44 RBI.
Chris Young won the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award with the Mariners after going 12-9 with a 3.65 ERA in 30 games (29 starts) with them. While he was a fantastic story in 2014, he has battled many elbow issues throughout his career, and health has always been an issue with him. This may have shied teams away from him last offseason. He was still unemployed in March and Dayton Moore took a flier and signed him to a one year, $675,000 deal with incentives that could push the deal to $5.325 million.
Either way, Young has been vital to the Royals in 2015. With their rotation full, the Princeton grad was stored in the bullpen as a long man and rotation depth. But with injuries and rotation struggles, Young has been a big part of the rotation. He has appeared in 20 games (14 starts) and is 8-5 with a 3.03 ERA over 92 innings. Both Young and Volquez were off the radar signings and have both been nothing short of spectacular for the Royals’ rotation in 2015.
Ryan Madson was one of the most dominant relievers with the Phillies from 2007-2011. His ERA+ over that six year span was 146 (100 is league average). In 2011, he became the Phillies’ closer and saved 32 games for them before leaving as a free agent. He signed a one year deal with the Reds, but he injured his elbow during Spring Training in 2012 and required Tommy John Surgery. He then declined his option at the end of the 2012 season and signed with the Angels as a free agent, but was released in August 2013. He thought his career was likely over.
Madson was home in California working with a prospect in the area when Jim Fregosi Jr., who scouted Madson when he was in high school, saw him throw and decided that the Royals would give him one more shot. Madson agreed to a minor league deal with the Royals in January 2015, and he made the team’s Opening Day roster. He threw the ninth inning for the Royals on Opening Day against the White Sox and he has become a vital cog in a bullpen that is better than it was a season ago because it is deeper than it was a season ago. Through 40 games, the right-hander owns a 1.91 ERA over 37.2 innings. He has walked 9 batters, struck out 33 and has an ERA+ of 211. When I wrote this story back in January about the Royals bullpen, I had no idea that Madson would make this much of an impact. It has been four years since Ryan Madson has thrown a pitch in a Major League game. Now, he is a key part of one of the best bullpens in baseball history.
Franklin Morales has been up and down throughout most of his career. But he has been solid for the Royals out of the bullpen this year as their primary left-handed reliever. The 6’1” southpaw has posted a 3-0 record with a 2.41 ERA and walked 9 batters over 37.1 innings. While he does have 47 career starts, he is a better fit for the bullpen and has done a nice job there for the Royals in 2015. He was also signed to a minor league deal. Even Kris Medlen is about to return from his second Tommy John Surgery and he could definitely make an impact for the Royals down the stretch. Medlen was signed to a two year, $8.5 million deal with an $11 million mutual option, so the Royals control him for 2016-2017 as well. If he comes back healthy and is anywhere near the pitcher he was with the Braves, that would be just another brilliant move made in the 2014-2015 offseason by Dayton Moore.
The early favorites for the Executive of the Year Award were A.J. Preller of the Padres, Ben Cherrington of the Red Sox and Rick Hahn of the White Sox. All three of those teams entered the season with high expectations, and all three of them have been disappointments. It is not about how much money one spends, it is about how wisely the money is spent.
Nobody thought of Edinson Volquez or Kendrys Morales as impact players. People had doubts that Chris Young could stay healthy and contribute for a full season. It had been four years since Ryan Madson last threw a pitch in a major league game. Franklin Morales’ name does not jump off the page. But all of these guys have been excellent for the Royals. Kris Melden is about to return from his second Tommy John Surgery and could play a big role down the stretch for the Royals as well. With the additions that were made, the Royals bullpen from a season ago is even better in 2015 because of the depth that was added with Madson, Morales, Luke Hochevar, and soon, Kris Medlen.
People criticized Dayton Moore for having a lackluster offseason. It turns out that he had the best.