Additions Rios, Morales are key to Royals’ offense

Royals-Rios-Morales

JANUARY 2015 – Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales are coming off a gloomy season, but both have feasible reasons on why 2014 was a down year.

The Kansas City Royals are counting both free agent signees having a bounce back season. Rios, who turns 34 in February, was signed for $11 million for one season with a mutual option for 2016. Morales signed a two-year contract for $17 million. He will pocket $6.5 million in 2016 and $9 million in 2016 with a $1.5 million buyout for an $11 million option for 2017. Plus, he could earn another $750,000 each year on bonuses based on plate appearances.

Rios will replace Nori Aoki in right field, while Morales will be the primary designated hitter, succeeding Billy Butler, who signed with the Oakland Athletics.

How Rios and Morales recuperate after sickly seasons will go a long ways on whether the Royals repeat as American League champions.

Rios hit .280 with a .311 on-base percentage and a .398 slugging percentage in 521 plate-appearances last year. He only hit four home runs, the same number Madison Bumgarner hit for the San Francisco Giants. That, however, is a low blow as Royals’ fans do not ever want to hear Bumgarner’s name again after the World Series. Rios stole 17 bases, but was caught nine times, which is certainly not a good percentage.

Let’s scrutinize those numbers more closely.

Rios hit .305 with a .440 slugging percentage and 16 stolen bases in the first half of the season, but those numbers ebbed to .211, .281 with one stolen base the second half. Rios was setback by ankle and rib injuries, causing him to miss 31 games. He did not play after Sept. 4 because of a thumb injury.

Sponsor-Royals“That’s one of the most important tools that a ballplayer has, his hands,” Rios said. “When you have an injured hand, I believe that it does affect the way you swing and it affects the way you go about your business every day. Now I’m 100 percent, and I think that that’s going to get me back to my original form.”

The Royals are optimistic a healthy Rios, a 1999 Toronto Blue Jays’ first-round draft pick, will put up numbers like he did in 2012-13. In 2012 with the Chicago White Sox, Rios hit .304 with a .510 slugging percentage, 37 doubles, 25 home runs and 91 RBIs. In 2014 with the Texas Rangers and White Sox, Rios hit .278 with 33 doubles, 18 home runs, 81 RBIs and 42 stolen bases.

“He fits our ballpark and our style of play,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “He is going to be able to range well for us in the outfield. He is going to give us more power. Again, the athleticism really fits our style of play.”

Morales had a different excuse for his off-year.

He did not play until June 9 when the Minnesota Twins signed him. After declining a qualifying offer from Seattle, where he hit .277 with 23 home runs and 80 RBIs in 2013, he sat while waiting for a big contract that never came. Plus, teams signing him before June would forfeit a first-round draft pick to the Mariners.

The Twins dealt a struggling Morales, a switch hitter from Cuba, back to the Mariners on July 24. In 98 games with the two clubs, Morales hit a horrid .218 with 20 doubles, eight home runs, 42 RBIs and a putrid .612 on-base plus slugging percentage in 401 plate appearances.

The Royals believe Morales’ inactivity and no spring training to prepare for the season led to his poor 2014 and he would put up improved numbers in 2015.

“Last year was obviously tough for him breaking in after missing spring training, but he is a pro,” Moore said. “He never made excuses. We’ve got a lot of people who are close to him and have followed him in his career, and certainly when a player has this much history, his body of work is very important.”

Morales’ best season was 2009 when he hit .306 with 34 home runs and 108 RBIs, finishing fifth in the American League MVP balloting. He started 2010 hitting .290 with 11 home runs and 39 RBIs, but his season ended on May 29 when he broke his ankle while jumping on the plate after a walk-off grand slam. The injury also robbed him of the entire 2011 season.

Then there was the layoff to begin last season.

“The biggest thing that affected me was my timing, to get my timing down,” Morales said. “At the end of the day, that was the biggest (bearing) of the layoff.”

Assuming Rios and Morales can return to form in 2015, the Royals will still miss No. 1 starter James Shields, who in two years with Kansas City went 27-17 with a 3.18 ERA while striking out 376 in 455 2/3 innings over 68 starts. Shields’ clubhouse leadership will be missed as much as his mound presence.

Edinson Volquez was signed to a two-year $20 million contract to take Shields’ spot in the rotation.

Volquez, 31, was 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA in 192 2/3 innings last year with the Pittsburgh Pirates, while walking 140 and striking out 71. He had a 5.71 ERA with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres in 2013.

In 191 games, 185 of them starts, in the majors, Volquez owns a 6-59 record with a 4.44 ERA. His fastball works in the mids-90s and can reach the upper 90s. Control – 4.5 walks per nine innings over his career – has been a problem, but he did cut that to 3.3 last season.

The Royals also added Kris Medlen to a two-year contract, but he will likely not join the rotation until at least June and after the All-Star break is a more realistic timetable. Medlen, who was the Atlanta Braves, is attempting to come back after his second “Tommy John” surgery.

Medlen was 15-12 with a 3.11 ERA in 2013, going 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA in his final five starts, before the elbow surgery last year.

“When players get injured, one of the common denominators in coming back successfully is desire to compete and work hard and rehab to the best of their ability and take it very seriously,” Moore said. “We obviously believe in Kris’ makeup a great deal. He is a winner. When you watch him compete on the mound, you see that right away. He works quickly, he gets in a rhythm, he throws strikes, and he gives his team a chance to win every time he goes out there and pitches.”

The Royals also picked up Yohan Pino as insurance. Pino went 2-5 with a 5.07 in 11 starts last season with the Minnesota Twins. He went 10-2 with a 2.47 ERA with Triple-A Rochester.

The Royals’ bullpen three-headed monster of Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland remain intact, so the starters will not have to be concerned about throwing a complete-game. Just get into the seventh with a lead and the bullpen can take over.

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