For the fifth straight year, Playing Pepper returns to C70 At The Bat. If you aren't aware, this series helps get a feel for the other 29 teams in baseball by asking those that follow them the closest--their bloggers. We've got spring training action going, so it's time to play a little pepper.
Kansas City Royals
72-90, third in the AL Central
"Our Time" was delayed.
With the fruits of a much-vaunted farm system making their way to the big leagues, there were high expectations for Kansas City last year. It seemed quite reasonable that they would be a plus-.500 team with an eye on October. It was, as their marketing department termed it, "our time".
Instead, things went in the fashion that, unfortunately for Royals fans, you have come to expect out of Kansas City. The team was 6-15 after the first month of play and, to add insult to injury, didn't win a home game until May 3. While the team was able to finish in the middle of the division, that might say more about Minnesota and Cleveland than it did about the boys in blue.
So now what? The Royals definitely weren't quiet in the offseason, but will that be enough to get them back to where they thought they should be?
Kansas City is known for its baseball writing and the crew that has answered my call are no exception. First off, we have Brian McGannon, who can be found writing at Royals Kingdom and Tweeting @BrianMcGannon. Following him is Bill Ivie of I70 Baseball, who needs no introduction to Cardinal fans of this site as he's usually writing about the Redbirds, but can switch-hit from time to time. You'll find him on Twitter @poisonwilliam.
RK: C-. I'm glad we finally addressed the rotation, but was not glad with the way we did it. Trading Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi for James Shields and Wade Davis was a desperate move. Myers would have been a VAST upgrade over Jeff Francouer and probably would have been a better option for the long term. Then you have the Ervin Santana trade. Most people will argue that we gave up nothing in the trade, but you have to look at this with an economic eye. Santana is one of the most overpaid pitchers in the game and the Royals will be paying $11 million dollars for a wild card, a luxury that KC cannot afford. I loved what Jeremy Guthrie did in the second half of last season and we got him at a market-friendly rate, but he's not established enough for me to fully agree with the deal. You look at what the Cubs did in the offseason and they pretty much got the same return the Royals did without giving up any prospects and spending the same amount of money. It is obvious that Dayton Moore is feeling the heat from the Glass family and the fans and feels as if he must win now to keep his job. My logic is that you never employ a GM that's going to put himself in that kind of position to sell the farm, literally, in order to save his own hide. There's no possible reason for a rebuild to take 7+ years and I believe this regime has overstayed its welcome. Dayton Moore is lucky to still have a job, in my mind. I do however like the additions of George Kottaras, one of the most underrated offensive catchers in baseball.
I70: Depends on what you were trying to accomplish. Honestly, I have to give it a solid B. They lost some high level prospects, which may hurt in the long run, but they filled almost every need they had. If they could have landed a major league quality second baseman or a more clear cut centerfielder, I would give it an A. As is, they plugged some holes and look poised to show that they "Came To Play".
KKJ: B-. They needed to upgrade the rotation, and they did, but the cost in prospects and salary was just too high. Question marks still exist at centerfield, second base and right field. All in all, Moore didn't build a team capable of playing meaningful baseball in September.
KKM: The Royals came into the offseason with one goal in mind - to improve the starting rotation. They accomplished that goal. I really like James Shields, have always kind of believed in Ervin Santana, and I liked what I saw out of Jeremy Guthrie late last year.
That being said, it cost a lot to get all of that accomplished. The money tied up for Santana may have limited their ability to go after some other players, and of course trading Wil Myers (and more) for Shields was a hefty price to pay. I think they paid full retail when they probably could have gotten a better price or return.
That's a big price to pay when Myers is considered a solid prospect with a high ceiling, and that he'd be the obvious replacement for Jeff Francoeur in right field. All things considered, I'd give them a C. I think Myers was too much to give up when other options were out there, and other depth options eluded the Royals as well. But they did what they set out to do.
RR: How low can you go here? If we're talking letter grades, I'm going to go ahead and say an "F." That's certainly the first letter of the expletive that comes to mind when thinking about what Dayton Moore has done this offseason.
Once again, Dayton Moore proved that he's been promoted about three positions past his abilities. I'm sure he was a very-good-to-great scout. I'm sure he is a nice person. Unfortunately he has proven to be a [and I'm self-censoring here] poor General Manager. He comically misread the market once again, fixated on a starter who he deemed an "Ace" (or whatever other entrenched term from the baseball orthodoxy you might prefer), moved towards shoring up the rotation as early as possible, and completed his significant offseason moves with roughly two months to spare. In the course of "The Process," the ace he targeted happened to have been aided by what is routinely one of the best defenses two in baseball and a pitcher-friendly park. Shields will have neither of these factors playing in his favor in Kansas City and realistically was only a #2 starter. Moreover, Shields (and Wade Davis, who will only have value if he can stick as a starter, something Royals fans shouldn't be planning on happening) ended up costing the Royals a ML-ready starting pitcher with the potential of six years of club control and two more prospects. Oh, and the reigning Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year, Wil Myers. Nevermind that Myers should at least have yielded something akin to the six years of club-controlled pre-injury Michael Pineda that Jesus Montero yielded the Yankees just one offseason earlier, Myers provided an instant upgrade at a position of dire need. Of course that position was right field, and nobody puts baby--er, Jeff Francoeur in the dugout. It is very possible that the simple move of putting Myers in the line-up from May through the rest of the season would have netted the Royals as many wins (WAR, of course) as the difference between James Shields and the in-house back of the rotation starter. Making that prudent move, would have allowed the Royals to sign someone like Ryan Dempster (it was widely reported that he would sign with the first team that offered him three years) for something along the lines of three years at $12-$13MM per annum.
If they had waited out the market a bit, guys who went for bargain prices like Brandon McCarthy, Shaun Marcum, Scott Baker, Bartolo Colon, Erik Bedard, Jair Jurrjens, or presumably Kyle Lohse could have filled out the Royals rotation. Instead, they traded for Ervin Santana--taking on his contract coming off a Hochevarian 2012 season rather than letting him enter the market as a free agent and attempting to sign him for what would likely have been half the price that they ended up paying him--and signing Jeremy Guthrie to a bad three-year deal.
The rotation is better, but this team could very easily have been improved [more] without losing nearly seven years of a likely upper-division corner outfielder or pissing away $12MM on the likes of Ervin Santana, $4.56MM on Hochevar, and at least one too many years on Jeremy Guthrie.
Most importantly, the Royals made these moves under the misbegotten notion that they can be competitive in the next two seasons. A quick look at the lay of the land in the AL, and more importantly the AL Central, would indicate that contention is unlikely. They jumped into the market too soon, as Moore has done every year he's dabbled in acquiring significant personnel over the course of the offseason. As a result, the Royals married themselves to players and contracts that ended up looking bad almost instantaneously and certainly by the time the market began to play itself out, while the teams that took a more measured and cautious approach ended up having much better offseasons. It's hard to imagine the Royals executing the 20-game swing from 2012 to 2013 necessary to actually contend in the division, and it doesn't take a huge stretch of the imagination to see the Royals finishing behind not only the odds-on favorite to win the Central, Detroit, but also the White Sox, who were 13 games better than the Royals last year, and the Indians, who look to have improved themselves significantly this offseason.
Going "All In" and finishing fourth would be an unmitigated disaster. Unfortunately, the likelihood of that happening is too great to have much hope.
Is it too late to change the grade from "F" to "Unmitigated Disaster?"
RK: Moustakas has the most raw power out of the group and I think if he's going to take a step forward and become a star, it's going to be this year. He struggled in the second half of last year as he wasn't quite healthy. But Gordon and Butler are obviously going to be the safest bet to supply the power in the Royals order this season. Butler's power finally developed last year and I think he only builds on his 29 homer season last year. Gordon is probably going to be moved down in the order this year, despite being one of the best leadoff men in baseball the last two years and I think we see a jump in his homer total. But my bet is still with Moose. He might hit around .260, but the ball jumps off of his bat. If he's healthy, I can see him eclipsing 30 home runs this year.
I70: Butler is still the one hitting bombs for this team. I expect it to be closer between him and Moose this year, but for the immediate future, it's still Billy.
KKJ: Of those three I'll go with Butler but it wouldn't shock me to see Eric Hosmer lead the team in home runs. I think Moustakas is still a few years away from being a 30 home run guy, if he ever gets there. I'm not as high on him as others are.
KKM: Moustakas showed he could bring the power he'd shown in the minors to the big leagues with a big first half last year, but in the second half he hit a wall and a knee injury nagged at him and he wasn't very productive at all. With a full season, he might be the guy to choose. But with question marks around him, I'll say Butler. He's in his prime and he's the best hitter on the team.
RR: Billy Butler.
C70: What are the odds that Jeff Francouer gets 500 AB in a Royals uniform this year?
RK: Absolutely, 100% yes. The blind faith that Dayton Moore and Ned Yost have in Francouer is probably what is going to do the both of them in whenever their tenures come to an end in KC. Francouer's flash-in-the-pan 2011 season was a nice surprise, but he still ranked in the bottom half of fWAR amongst AL right fielders that season. It's impossible to think that a player can peak at 22 years old, but I that's the case with Francouer. He'd be great as a platoon player, but he is Moore's golden boy and will be given every opportunity to succeed, despite the odds being stacked against him. Now without a player in the organization like Wil Myers to push him, the Royals have gone all in on Francouer.
I70: Dayton Moore and Ned Yost love the guy, so the odds are probably in his favor. However, if this team is actually competing, that could change that dynamic. I would give it about a 60-65% chance that Frenchy gets 500+ at bats, but don't be afraid to bet the under.
KKJ: I'll say there is a 100% chance he gets 500 at bats. I'm not buying that his job is hanging by a thread because if that were true Moore might have been inclined to keep Wil Myers. I'll even go one step further and suggest there's a 50% chance he receives 500 at bats in 2014.
RR: Sadly, it is a near-certainty, assuming he doesn't end up on the DL for an extended period of time. The parade of outfield retreads (Willy Taveras, Xavier Nady, and Endy Chavez) brought into camp are just an attempt to make it look like there was sort of a competition for Francoeur, who is coming off a predictably horrendous season.
C70: What rookie will make the biggest impact in 2013?
RK: The minor leagues are bottom heavy this year for KC. But I expect Yordano Ventura to be a special player in the bullpen come mid-season. The only problem is that the Royals bullpen is already stacked and it will probably take an injury for him to get his chance with the big club. Christian Colon is another bet to make some kind of impact this year, but he's buried behind Johnny Giavotella, Chris Getz, Irving Falu and Alcides Escobar on the Royals middle infield depth chart. If he starts out hot in Omaha and Giavotella and Getz aren't performing at second base, he may get his shot. Other than that, last year's first round pick, starting pitcher Kyle Zimmer could very well move up quickly through the organization, especially as the season wears on. John Lamb is also coming back from surgery this year and will hopefully make an impact some time this year on the mound.
I70: For the first time in a long time, this question is hard to answer for the Royals. The farm system is still strong and there will be contributions made at the major league roster. Looking at the 40-man, there are not many "rookies" hanging out there. There will be rookies that see playing time, but saying any of them make an "impact" may be a bit of a stretch.
KKJ: If any rookie makes an impact it'll likely be in the bullpen. Donnie Joseph seems as good a candidate as anyone.
KKM: There aren't a lot of rookies available or ready to make an impact for the Royals. There have been some hints that Christian Colon might get a quick bump this year, but so much depends on how either of Getz or Johnny Giavotella are doing at second. If either is productive, the Royals probably won't rush Colon unless Alcides Escobar got hurt.
Yordano Ventura might be up around September or earlier, but he's only made six starts above A ball, and wasn't great in them either. Kyle Zimmer may be on a fast track too, but it's tough to see him reaching the big leagues before September if at all.
Donnie Joseph could be a lefty specialist out of the bullpen or David Lough could fill in for Francoeur if he does manage to get let loose, but there really isn't an impact rookie this year. Next year, I'll have about six or seven answers to this question.
RR: Honestly, there aren't any who will make much of an impact. There are only about five prospects with a realistic shot at making the ML-roster at any point during the meaningful part of the season. The only rookie who I'd say has a shot of getting meaningful playing time is Donnie Joseph. When a middle-reliever has the best shot at making an impact, you're not looking at getting much production from surprising sources.
C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?
RK: This is a tough one. While I want the Royals to win now, I would also like Dayton Moore to no longer be the GM of the team. I'd put this team somewhere around 80-85 wins. Will that be enough to win the Central? Probably not. I'm going with 84-78, 2nd place in the Central after the Boys in Blue fade in September. It might be a fun season, but the long-term cost may not be worth it.
I70: A lot has to go right for this team to achieve what I think they are possible of achieving, but the possibility is there and I'm willing to play fair weather analyst here. The team will finish at 88-74 and in second place in the division.
KKJ: Moore tried to build a team win now, but as I mentioned earlier, I don't believe he accomplished his goal. I think they'll go 80-82, which should be good for third place behind Detroit and Chicago.
KKM: I've been optimistic and thought 84 wins, but I'll back off and say 82. Way better than Kansas City has seen in a long time, but still not all that great. There are still a lot of questions, and Cleveland has had a busy offseason and have improved in multiple areas. I'll say the Royals finish in third again.
RR: Optimistically, they're probably looking at 82 to 84 wins. My guess is 78 - 84, which will be good for fourth place ahead of only the Twins.
C70: What one thing from your team are you most looking forward to watching?
RK:Salvador Perez playing a full season at catcher. After his spring training knee injury last February, my heart was broken for Sal. He's my favorite player and perhaps the best young catcher in baseball right now and perhaps the best defensive catcher in the game next to Yadier Molina. He broke the Royals CAREER put-out record in his first two seasons and has some of the most amazing power I've ever seen. He can turn on a pitch and go up the middle too. He's not a strong OBP guy, but he hits the ball hard almost every plate appearance. He is an amazing, amazing talent. Dayton Moore deserves credit for locking him up long term for an absolute bargain price. He is a monster and an absolute joy to watch.
But I'm also looking forward to potential bounce-back seasons from Eric Hosmer, Danny Duffy and hopefully Felipe Paulino. Hosmer was so much fun to watch in his rookie year, but just wasn't right last season. After Tommy John surgery for Duffy and Paulino, the two most prolific Royals strikeout starters should return mid-to-late season, but Paulino might not even pitch this year as his injury came late in the season. Hopefully, the Royals are in the race at that point and both can return to what they were last year before going down. Duffy is a fan favorite and Paulino might darn well be the most underrated pitcher in the AL Central the last two seasons.
I70: The continued development of players with a bright future. The storylines that will be most intriguing will be: Hosmer's bounce-back from sophomore slump, Moustakas continued development, the return of Danny Duffy, and the aforementioned Why is Frenchy still here.
KKJ: A full season of Salvador Perez. In 115 games the last two seasons he's put up a 121 OPS+ while flashing gold glove defense. He's the real deal.
KKM: I want to see a full season of Salvador Perez. He's approaching folk hero status already among a lot of Royals fans and to have him all season would be a big benefit to the team.
RR: Honestly, it's getting harder and harder to look forward to anything this team does as long as Moore is at the helm. The likelihood of long-term success under his watch is nil. Player development, especially pertaining to but not limited to developing starting pitching, is suspect. Talent evaluation of Major League players via trade and free agency is inept. An aptitude for roster construction is a nightmarishly bad. Philosophically, the organization holds fast to outmoded ways of thought and play. If the Royals fail to get to .500, I guess I'll be looking forward to Dayton Moore getting fired and freeing this team from his ineptitude, though the Glass family will probably just hire an equally inept replacement.
My thanks to all these wonderful writers and their thoughts on their team. It would seem like Kansas City's future is still bright, though how close it is seems to be subjective. We'll see what the season holds!
The BBA has, as a secondary aim, the goal of producing year-end
awards in a similar fashion to the Baseball Writers of America. These
awards can be found at the official site in October with links back to the voters,
ensuring transparency and, most likely, the onset of some good baseball