It’s the end of an era for Baltimore (and Kansas City too) after the Machado trade

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After hanging out at the All-Star game, Manny Machado (left) and Matt Kemp will be teammates in the 2nd half of the 2018 season. (Photo Credit: USA Today)

Manny Machado is one of my favorite players in baseball, not easy to do since commissioner Rob Manfred feels some MLB’s stars don’t “engage enough” to be marketable. (To be fair to Manfred though, Mike Trout can be as engaging as Colton Underwood from this season’s “Bachelorette.”) That being said, most of my affection for Machado stems from having him on my fantasy team for almost seven years now. I was able to acquire Manny Machado in my fantasy league off of waivers when he debuted for the Orioles in August of 2012. The rush for him from other league owners was insane, as nearly every team in the league put in a waiver bid for him. It made sense. He was not only the top prospect in the Orioles system, but he was considered one of the top prospects in baseball at the time, some characterizing him as the next Alex Rodriguez. Machado had the size (he stood six foot, three), the youth (he broke into the Majors not too long after his 20th birthday), the defense (many projected him as a perennial Gold Glove player; they weren’t wrong) and the rare combination of ability to hit for average and power that most middle infielders could only dream of.

I named my fantasy team “Machado, Machado Man” (a play on this famous song) in honor of him for a couple of seasons (before I eventually settled on my current name: “(Chien) Ming Dynasty“; a combo of the Ming Dynasty of China and Chien Ming Wang, a pitcher formerly of the Yankees). And for Orioles fans, baseball fans in general, and me as a fantasy owner, Machado hasn’t disappointed.

Over his seven seasons, Machado has accumulated a WAR of 30.9, has four All-Star Appearances, and two Gold Gloves to his name. He’s hit 162 home runs in his career thus far, an average of 31 dingers per season. And most importantly, he’s helped make the Baltimore Orioles relevant, no small feat considering they’re in a division with traditional MLB powers such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

After back to back ALCS appearances in 1996 and 1997 (which included young Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier interfering with play and robbing a home run at Yankees Stadium which supposedly turned the tide of the series), the Orioles fell into a tremendous rut of mediocrity that probably should’ve been profiled in some way on “The Wire“. The successful days of Mike Mussina and Armando Benitez on the mound, Cal Ripken in the infield, and Brady Anderson and Geronimo Berroa in the outfield became a ghost of the recent past, as the Orioles and the fans in Baltimore suffered through 14 consecutive losing seasons from 1998-2011. The Orioles became a roundhouse combo of lousiness: they overpaid for veterans who had no impact (Rafael Palmiero and Miguel Tejada), picked poorly in the draft (Wade Townsend, Billy Rowell, Matt Hobgood to name a few), and failed to have any stability in management, whether it was in the dugout or front office.

After drafting Machado in 2010 with the third overall pick, the Orioles fortunes began to change. Just two years after drafting Machado and hiring Buck Showalter as field manager and Dan Duquette as General Manager (both moves were criticized by experts around the league; as many felt they were retreads in baseball circles, failing with the Diamondbacks and Red Sox before, respectively), the O’s made the playoffs with a 93-69 record, which included a win in the AL Wild Card play-in game over the Rangers, and an exciting five games series with the rival Yankees (they lost 3-2). 2012 in many ways could be likened to the 2014 Kansas City playoff run in which the MLB team captured the attention and endearment of the city. Baltimore was no longer dominated just by the Ray Lewis and the Ravens. For a brief glimmer of time, Baltimore became a baseball town again, and Machado was front and center leading the charge.

For five more seasons, the Orioles remained competitive, making the playoffs two more times (2014 and 2016; they were ironically swept by the Royals in 2014, though Machado didn’t play that series due to injury), and only having one losing record in that time span (in 2017, where they went 75-87; most of that was credited to a late-season swoon where injuries hurt the club). As the Orioles became more competitive, Machado developed as a player. He didn’t quite maintain the defensive prowess he displayed early on in his first two seasons, but he did display a stronger power stroke, as he posted three straight seasons of 30+ home runs from 2015-2017. Debates in baseball circles fluttered about what position Machado really should’ve been playing. (Was he a shortstop or a third baseman?) However, as Machado entered his Age 25 and final season of club control, there was no debate that he was one of baseball most high-profile stars.

Orioles fans probably knew that the shoe of this competitive run was going to drop sooner or later. After all, it is Baltimore, where “The Gods will not save you.” Despite Machado being in the midst of one of his best offensive seasons yet (he has 24 home runs, a .963 OPS, and an OPS+ of 164), the Orioles have rekindled their early 2000’s selves (i.e. shitty), battling in the basement of the American League along with the Royals, both on pace for nearly 120 losses. (Such a far cry from their 2014 ALCS matchup, right?) With Machado going to command a big payday in the offseason, and a dire need to rebuild the farm system (the farm system has ranked below league average since 2014, according to Baseball Prospectus), Machado was finally traded, after weeks of rumors, to the defending NL Champs, the Los Angeles Dodgers, for an impressive haul of prospects.

It sucks. I grew up a San Francisco Giants fan living in Northern California, where hating the Dodgers came as natural as voting for a Democratic candidate in an election. To see Machado, one of my favorite players and the lynchpin of my fantasy baseball team for seven years (because I got him as a rookie keeper, he started off as a 20th round draft pick his first full year and has gone up one round every year since; yes, it’s the deal of the century) now wearing Dodger blue makes me sick. He should’ve been an Oriole for at least one more contract (like five-seven years). He should be up there with legends like Brooks Robinson and Ripken. Instead, he’ll just be another cog in the Dodgers long history of “irritating players of greatness,” while the Orioles and their fans have to suffer undoubtedly through another stretch of losing, hoping that another Machado will come around to save them sooner rather than later.

(To get a sense of the Orioles fan perspective, I embedded this link I found on Twitter. It was tough to watch this video below of Mallory Rubin of the Ringer say goodbye to Machado; it just goes to show you how rough it is for Orioles fans to be the black sheep of the AL East.)

And to make matters worse, Machado’s trade and the Orioles’ decline most likely is a sign of the lean years in store for Kansas City as well.


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First Machado (right, orange) left the Orioles; Is the Royals’ Mike Moustakas next?

 

Strangely enough, the Orioles and the Royals have been joined at the hip when it comes to their standing in Major League Baseball since the early 80’s. As the Orioles have risen to competitiveness in the 2010’s, the Royals have followed. The Orioles won a World Series in 1983. The Royals won two years later in 1985. The Orioles made the playoffs in 2012 after a 14-year absence. The Royals made the playoffs in 2014 after a 20-year absence. In their first playoff game after a lengthy absence, the Orioles won the Wild Card play-in game in dramatic fashion over an AL West foe (the Rangers). In their first playoff game after a lengthy absence, the Royals won the Wild Card play-in game in dramatic fashion over an AL West foe (the Athletics).

And of course, don’t forget the epic fight between the two clubs in 2016 which started with Machado and Royals pitcher Yordano “Ace” Ventura (RIP).

To further demonstrate the close Orioles-Royals connection in the 2010’s, baseball fans have to look no further to the 2010 MLB Draft. In what many people considered a three-player draft, the Orioles selected Machado with the third pick after Bryce Harper at 1 (to the Nationals) and Jameson Taillon at 2 (to the Pirates). Who had the fourth? No other than the Royals, who selected Christian Colon, a light-hitting, defense-first shortstop out of Cal State Fullerton. Unlike Harper or Machado, Colon has failed to stay in the Big Leagues, as he was waived by the Royals last season, and currently is in the minors in the New York Mets organization.

Strange how baseball works sometimes, huh?

In the coming days, much like the Orioles, the Royals will lose their third baseman (Mike Moustakas) for a bunch (fingers crossed) of prospects (though the haul won’t be as impressive as the Orioles’ package). And like Machado was the last major remnant of the Orioles’ competitive stretch, Moustakas leaving will also signify that somewhat as well. Instead of being side-by-side competing for an American League title like in 2014, it will instead be a battle for top draft picks on an annual basis, similar to what it was in the 2000’s for both clubs.

It will be different for Royals fans of course. The Orioles got a shot in the head with the Machado trade. It was obvious, high-profile, and expected. By June, Machado’s time in Baltimore was up, and thus, the club and fans have been in this rebuilding mindset for quite some time.

The process to the Royals’ rebuild, on the other hand, has instead been a slow one, not to mention painful. First James Shields…then Ben Zobrist…then Wade Davis…then Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain…and soon to be Moustakas and maybe Salvador Perez, should the price be right (though the latter may not happen this year). For Royals fans, they would have definitely traded places with Orioles fans and their more publicized loss of their beloved superstar.

At least the pain and agony came all at once and they can move on quickly.

Unlike Orioles fans with Machado, Royals fans are still waiting for that final shoe to drop. And like most baseball moments over the past decade between the two clubs, it always comes a little bit slower for Kansas City than Baltimore.

 

 

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How did “The Roto Royal” come to be?

It’s been a while since I’ve regularly written about baseball. The last time I wrote about baseball was in 2012 when I ran the blog “Optioned to Fresno,” a blog on the San Francisco Giants farm system and prospects. That being said, I also wrote about the San Francisco Giants religiously on my first major blog, Remember ’51 and on Bleacher Report, during it’s early days when they relied on the free labor of starry-eyed journalism majors and journalism graduates who were looking for exposure.

Other than Euroleague Jam ( A European Basketball blog), my San Francisco Giants blogs were the most substantial writing projects I ever maintained. Plus, they were projects I poured immensely into, spending many summer days and nights not only watching the Giants on the tube but also writing about them on Blogger, which I’m not even sure exists anymore as a blogging platform. From 2009-2012, I knew the San Francisco Giants inside and out, from their major starts at the Major League level like Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum, and Pablo Sandoval to even the most anonymous players in the Arizona Rookie League who were in Scottsdale for Extended Spring Training. For that three-year period, I loved no team like the Giants and loved writing about professional baseball more than any other sport.

However, after a move to Kansas City, my following and love for Giants and baseball declined. Part of it was due to proximity and friend group. Not only was I far away from California, but in my move to Kansas City, I surrounded myself with people who didn’t care about baseball. Even when I lived and worked in South Dakota for two years, my main friend group consisted of baseball nerds. We all had our fan allegiances and various relationships with the sport of baseball: one was a Jesuit priest who loved the Milwaukee Brewers; another was a die-hard Rockies fan who played stratomatic on his computer; another was a Phillies Fan who ran his own fan section, creating fan groups that were puns on famous players (Jose Mesa’s “Tables” was his favorite). During our fantasy baseball draft, we held in the basement of the high school in the computer lab so we could simulate a draft “war room” like you would see from MLB teams during their respective Amateur Drafts.

Yes, we were fucking baseball nerds. But it satiated my passion and writing for baseball. Unfortunately, while I was able to keep my membership in my fantasy baseball league with the glorious invention of Yahoo! and the internet. However, when I moved to Kansas City, my baseball attention faded, which was surprising because one of the reasons that stoked me about moving to Kansas City was the fact that I would have regular access to Major League baseball through the Royals whether through live games, television or radio. I figured I would become more into baseball, and really get into the Royals, whom I always had a soft spot for as a youth. (I actually owned a KC Royals hat and played with the regularly in Dynasty mode in MVP Baseball 2004; This was perhaps due to their perennial underdog status; much like the Korean Royals Fan!) I figured tickets would be easy to get because they were mediocre, and I would suddenly get into the Royals like I did with the Giants from 2009-2012.

But lo and behold, that did not happen.

As I moved into Kansas City, I got more into basketball, and I began writing and watching more NBA and college hoops, and thus baseball writing went out the window. No more Giants. No more Royals. No more prospect write-ups. No more anxious, inning-by-inning live diaries of crucial playoff games. Despite my close proximity to Kauffman Stadium, I was unable to keep the momentum I developed while writing on the Giants during that three-year period.

It’s been about six years since I’ve written about baseball, but I’ve suddenly gotten the urge to do so again. There were a couple of reasons for this sudden itch.


First, I felt burned out when it came to writing about basketball. As much as I loved blogging on Euroleague and everything in between, I just felt like I couldn’t offer any different perspectives than what was already out there. Euroleague Adventures and Courtside Diaries do a great job covering the European scene, and as we all know, the NBA Blog scene is like no other out there. With the Ringer and NBA Twitter, it’s just hard to find a place as an aspiring blogger, especially when you come relatively late to the game, and don’t have an NBA team to follow nearby.

Second, I just found myself not having the time to write about basketball in a timely manner. As a high school teacher and basketball coach, there’s just not a time in my schedule to write consistently on basketball. By the time I can, the season is over, and the only things I can write on is either free agency, the NBA draft, summer league, and other stupid bullshit that has nothing to do with actual basketball on the floor. While I enjoyed sharing my thoughts on such topics, it didn’t feel right. I wanted to write about a sport in-season, and that was just never going to happen with basketball. So despite a 2-3 year process to really make my way as a basketball blogger, I found the approach futile, and I decided that while I still love the game, I needed to leave the basketball blogging to those who had more time and expertise to do so.

Another thing happened as I began to ponder what to write this late Spring and Summer: I really got into my fantasy baseball team. Since leaving for Kansas City, not only did my baseball writing suffer, but so did my participation in my fantasy league. When I first started playing in the league, I was competing for a fantasy title, making moves, pissing people off with lopsided trades with people who didn’t pay attention nor care about their fantasy team. Since moving to Kansas City, for the first four years, I was a non-participant, active in the draft and maybe the first few weeks before my team went the way of the dodo (as did my 20 bucks).

This year was an exception. I began paying attention to my team on my smartphone via the Yahoo Sports app. I began researching Fangraphs again. I began reading fantasy and general baseball blogs. I added like 8 teams to my MLB At-Bat app to follow. Now suddenly, I am back as a contender in my fantasy baseball league, not only making my 20 bucks worth it for once, but also rekindling my passion for baseball that had been dormant for almost four years.

And it swooned on me: I needed to write on baseball again.


This time, I wanted to focus on two things: 1.) Fantasy Baseball and 2.) the Kansas City Royals. And that’s where “The Roto Royal” came in.

I wanted to write about fantasy baseball from a fan perspective, from the viewpoint of someone who obsesses over their league and players, both on their roster and on the free agent list. We see fantasy football blogs, sites, etc. all the time. People love talking about fantasy football. But fantasy baseball? Not so much. In fact, most fantasy baseball people are just playing it as a side game until fantasy football starts. I don’t give a shit about fantasy football. I wanted to write about fantasy baseball solely, and I figured my perspective as a fan who is active in his league and also has an affinity for sabermetrics would help me in my posts here on this blog.

That being said, I didn’t want this blog to be solely about fantasy. I have done that before, and the results usually were futile. Without a specific team to focus on, my attention and focus would wane. My writing always did best when I focused on one specific niche. My best writing came from focusing on the Giants. So…what about focusing on the Royals? My local MLB team? And doing so not just from a fanboy perspective, but from a “fantasy baseball” fan perspective?

I thought about going back and doing a Giants one. But, to be honest, I probably follow the Royals more than I do the Giants these days. I blame my first year in KC when in 2013 they actually showed signs of being competitive and legitimate (which paved the way for World Series appearances the next two years). Yes, I didn’t follow baseball as passionately as I did during the 2009-2012 Giants run. However, when I did follow baseball, it was the Royals. Much like most of the KC Metro, I got caught up in Royals fever: watching playoff games late on a weeknight in Midtown bars;  feeling turmoil and at-odds during the 2014 Giants-Royals World Series (because I truly liked both teams);  at-ease when the Royals finally got their much deserved World Series title. I was there at the parade that flooded Union Station and Liberty Memorial (and canceled school/work for me that day), and I became a regular tailgater at Kauffman, enjoying Miller Lite, cornhole and LC’s BBQ before entering to watch nine innings of America’s pastime.

Maybe I didn’t grow up a Royals fan. But for the past few years, I probably followed, watched and knew more about the Royals than the Giants. Yes, the Giants were in my blood, but the Royals had suddenly taken over my fandom as I became more entrenched in Kansas City as a resident.

So, it made sense to combine these two passions: Royals baseball from a fantasy baseball fan’s perspective. This blog will try to hit those two things: most of the time it will be about the Royals, and profile the pros and cons of what has been a rough season. But, it will also be flexible enough to cover other fantasy baseball topics outside the Royals. After all, a successful fantasy team requires a fan to go beyond his or her favorite team.


The Roto Royal will be about analytics and stats. The Roto Royal will be about a fan trying to understand where he stands in the Royals fandom universe. The Roto Royal will be about trying to find the diamonds in the rough in the Royals organization that could emerge down the line and give fans hope. And the Roto Royal will try to give advice and perspective to fantasy baseball players who are looking for other perspectives and viewpoints on players.

But more importantly, the Roto Royal is about baseball. Baseball blogging.

I’m back at it after nearly five years. It feels good to be writing about baseball again, even if it is about the blue and white of Kansas City rather than black and orange of San Francisco.

(At least it’s not the blue and white of Los Angeles, right?)