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Playing Pepper 2012: Kansas City Royals

Posted on March 6, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Filed Under: Kansas City Royals | Playing Pepper
In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad.  Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.

Kansas City Royals
71-91, fourth in the AL Central

While the big leap forward didn't happen last season, it still is probably the best time to be a Royal fan since the mid-80s.  Not only is there young talent already on the roster and more coming up from the farm, but there's also a little thing called the All-Star Game happening in Kansas City this summer.

It's been a long time since we could say "Royals fan" and not either laugh or feel sympathy.  Those that we'll hear from today would likely say it's been a long time coming.

Brian McGannon keeps up with the boys in blue over at his blog, Royals Kingdom.  You can also catch him on Twitter at BrianMcGannon.

Nick DiCarlo is one of the many writers in Bill Ivie's I70 Baseball stable.  Nick is, of course, on the Royals side of the site.

Josh Duggan has his own site, Royalscentricity, but can also be found contributing to the SB Nation site Royals Review.  His Twitter handle is oldmanduggan

In addition to being the president of the Kansas City chapter of the BBA, Michael Engel writes his own blog, Kings of Kauffman, and hangs out on Twitter at KingsofKauffman.

Nick Scott originally put down keyboard to internet at Broken Bat Single but now you can find him at Royals Authority and contributing to the Lawrence Journal World media outlet.  You can still find him on Twitter at brokenbatsingle.

Finally, Ray Wachter III communicates his thoughts over at Royals On Radio Etc.  As with most everyone above, Ray is also a long-time BBA member.

After the jump, these six quality bloggers will tell us exactly how excited they are about 2012 and what new face to watch out for.

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C70: What was your opinion of the team's offseason? 

RK: I thought we could have done more. The trade of Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez was a breath of fresh air, as Sanchez provides some (but not a lot) of stability in the top of the rotation. Cabrera is not likely to repeat his success of 2011 and it was smart of Dayton Moore to sell high on Melky. Outside of that, it didn't seem as if the Royals did much to improve the rotation. Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt were both reportedly ok with taking one-year deals for less than market value. I understand that DM & Co. are looking to build from within and let the rebuild complete its course, using home grown players, but with so much momentum heading into 2012 and a weakened AL Central, it makes you wonder why the Royals front office wouldn't take a chance and give Jackson or Oswalt that one-year deal for seven or eight million. It's obvious that they're hoping a rookie or two can make a significant impact in the rotation, which in my mind is pretty negligent when you have a chance at your first division title in 27 years.

I70: Overall I am happy with what they have, and haven't done. Any questionable moves, like signing Yuniesky Betancourt and hanging on to Chris Getz, are not moves that should have a significant impact on the season. With the trade of Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez, they have upgraded the rotation and the defense, even if they have lost some offense. The improvements from the other young players should more than make up for the loss of Melky. And a solid bullpen in 2011 looks to be even stronger in 2012 witht the additions of Broxton and Mijares.

RC: Frankly, the Royals are not close enough to true contention in the Central to justify what many seem to have been advocating for this offseason: acquiring a starting pitcher that profiles as a top half of the rotation arm. Given that fact is seems hard to fault Dayton Moore and Company for not addressing that glaring issue for what is still largely a developmental season. If one were to look at the moves this offseason, it is easy to like the Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Verdugo trade as Cabrera was both redundant and a likely candidate for regression in 2012. If Yost can be trusted to use him purely as a LOOGY (not a safe assumption by any means), the Jose Mijares signing is decent. 

On the other end of the spectrum, the Bruce Chen signing shows questionable judgment at best. Even if one were to suppose that Chen is one of the few who may actually be able to exert some control over BABIP via inducement of weak contact, he still profiles as a back end of the rotation starter. The bigger issue is that his two-year deal was absolutely unnecessary. Either agreeing to a one-year deal or letting him go and garnering a compensatory pick as Chen was a Type-B Free Agent was the way to go as Chen is easily replaceable. Having committed $4.5MM (plus a possible bonus) to Chen in 2013--when contention may be possible and the pool of available starting pitchers is much, much deeper--seems shortsighted and adds fuel to the fire for those who question Moore's ability to properly assess the market. 

Still lying in the realm of questionable signings is the Jonathan Broxton signing. Were the Royals to trade Joakim Soria or trade Broxton at the deadline to a contender for a legitimate prospect or two, then the acquisition would make some sense. Unfortunately, Moore did not let the market play itself out a little more, and other similar relievers (see: Brad Lidge, Takashi Saito, Hong-Chih Kuo) ended up signing for significantly less money/investment) signed for significantly less. 

Then there is the absolutely exasperating return of Yuniesky Betancourt, who Moore seems to be unable to quit. While Johnny Giavotella is far from a sure thing, the field of utility infielder candidates was deep and varied enough to have not warranted bringing in Betancourt. Moreover, after having seen him first-hand for so long, to go back and get Betancourt--who can neither field the position of shortstop ably nor hit even remotely competently when other candidates who could at least do one of the two were signing for less all over the place--shows an alarming lack of objective assessment of what Betancourt actually is. 

None of these moves are disastrous or great. None of the moves damage the team in the long-term, but the questionable ones--and the hasty Francoeur extension should certainly fall into this category as well--show a continued lack of patience when it would best serve the team. Moore seems to rush into these largely unnecessary signings and then ends up paying above-market value for these players. None of them are on the books past 2013, but the trend is certainly worrisome.

KK: I had two directions I thought the Royals should go in the offseason. First was an all in push to bolster the pitching staff and cure the biggest problem from last year - starting pitching. I wanted Mark Buehrle. I wanted Roy Oswalt (still do, to an extent). 

The second direction I hoped for was to stand pat. Despite many rumors of trade discussions that involved the name "Wil Myers", the Royals recognized that their team is mostly on the field now. After graduating twelve players to the big leagues last season, now it's just taking the time to let them develop together. 

The moves that they did make are ones that I like. I don't think anybody expects Melky Cabrera to repeat his 2011 numbers, so moving him for Jonathan Sanchez was a move that I liked. It also opened up center field for Lorenzo Cain who has earned a shot at the job after spending all but two weeks of 2011 in Triple A. The Jonathan Broxton signing is a decent move, though confusing. The Royals have a lot of good bullpen arms, so I see that as Dayton Moore speculating that he'll return to his old form and build some trade value.

BBS: It was ok, I guess. They wanted to make the rotation a priority so they traded Melky Cabrera at peak value for Jonathan Sanchez (good), signed Bruce Chen to a two-year deal (meh) and then sat on their hands (boo). I think the Royals didn't really help themselves at all in the off-season and all growth will have to come from improvement. It's a distinct possibility with one of the youngest teams in baseball, but they could've and should've done more. I'm also trying to forget that they signed Yuniesky Betancourt for no apparent reason.

ROR: It was a pretty good. I would have loved to go out and get one more veteran starting pitcher besides Jonathan Shancez. But they did sign Catcher Sal Perez to a nice club friendly 5 year deal. And really bolstered their bullpen with the additions of veteran relievers Jose Mijares and Jonathan Broxtan without spending a fortune. Oh yeah and we resigned Yuniesky Betancourt for whatever that's worth.

C70: There seems to be a positive feeling about Kansas City again. Can this club break the .500 barrier this year? 

RK: Absolutely. The thought is that if everything goes right, this team can contend for a division title. The offense is sure to be potent, especially if Alex Gordon and Jeff Francouer can maintain or even improve upon their performances last year. But all questions come back to the rotation. There are wild cards all throughout. Luke Hochevar again showed flashes of brilliance on some nights, but most nights melted down in innings 4-6. Felipe Paulino K's over eight batters per nine innings, but there seems to be an issue with him not making it past the middle innings. Danny Duffy has the nastiest stuff on the staff and with some seasoning, he could turn into one of the best young lefties in the American League. 

The strengths of this team lie in the offense, bullpen and defense. If the rotation can function at even an above average level, the Royals will not only break .500, they may find themselves playing October baseball for the first time in a generation.

I70: I think if the Royals lose 90 games or more this year, then something went terribly wrong. Especially considering how down the division looks to be, I expect somewhere between 75 and 85 wins. So the answer is yes, this team can absolutely break the .500 barrier.

RC: The Royals look like a 78-win team to me. Breaking .500 is certainly possible, but 2013 seems a much more realistic year for above-.500 play.

KK: The .500 mark is definitely in play this year. Last year's team only won 71 games, but last year's team also had Kyle Davies, Sean O'Sullivan and a few rough outings by Vin Mazzaro. Despite that, a Pythagorean projection of 78-84 at the end of 2011 suggests the Royals may have been unlucky. With a full season of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, a three game improvement from that projection shouldn't be out of the question.

BBS: This team absolutely has the talent to win 82 games. I think they had the talent to win that many last year. They'll need some players to break out and the rotation has to be at least average.

ROR: I sure hope so. With the young talent this team has I'm definitely expecting a .500 team. Most likely not a whole lot more then .500, but .500 should without a doubt be obtainable. But at the end of the day this is a very young and inexperienced team, and anytime you have a young team yoked with an unproven starting rotation you can never be sure.

C70: Which young player do you expect to make the most improvement in 2012? 

RK: Either Mike Moustakas or Mike Montgomery. Montgomery is the cornerstone of the Royals minor league pitching depth. He had an awful time with his control in Omaha last year, posting career highs in just about every stat you don't want a 22 year old pitcher posting career highs in. But he's got a filthy arsenal of breaking stuff and a great fastball to complement his offspeed stuff and I'm pretty sure last season was an anomaly. 

Moustakas came on late last season after struggling post-callup. He's got absurd power and is a pure, home run hitter. In my mind, Moose should keep improving off of a strong September and solidify himself in the 6-7 spot of the lineup.

I70: In my opinion, the obvious answer here is Mike Moustakas. He struggled mightily when he first arrived with the club, and really came on strong at the end of the year. He has demonstrated a pattern of struggling initially at every level, until he eventually figures things out. I think 20 home runs and 80 RBI from him this season is not a stretch at all.

RC: This all depends on how one looks at their 2011 campaigns. Viewed in total, it seems like Mike Moustakas would be the prime candidate for taking that step forward, but I would view his late season surge as a slight indicator as to what he might be capable of this season. Honestly, I think Duffy has the most room to grow this season of the players in Kansas City last season, as his 2011 was a rough campaign all the way around. I think he can become the #3 starter Royals fans were hoping for. That said, given how far Mike Montgomery's stock has fallen in the past year, I think he can make the most improvement of all the youngsters, as he has the most sizable gap between where their stock sits currently and their reasonably possible performance level this season.

KK: I think Mike Moustakas can hit for more power this year and stay in the same range, average-wise. He did not get off to a good start after being called up but a wicked September brought his numbers back to a respectable level. He hit a homer in his second big league game, but didn't again until the last month of the season (when he hit four). 

Danny Duffy is another player I expect some improvement from. He walked too many, gave up too many hits and too many home runs. The result was a 5.64 ERA in 105.1 innings. Sure it's only spring and every player's going to be excited, but there's a confidence in Duffy's voice when he speaks about 2012. He sounds like he'd break through walls to get on the mound this year.

BBS: Eric Hosmer. He showed he was good last year. I expect him to prove that he could be great this year.

ROR: I look for all the infielders to make a big impact, Hosmer, Giavotella, Escobar, Moustakas, and Perez, should all make an impact. But I'm personally expecting the biggest impact from stud first baseman Eric Hosmer.

C70: Is there a prospect that will make an impact on the team this season? 

RK: Salvador Perez. He's my favorite player on the team. More than Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon. He's a ridiculous defender, has big-time power and it's obvious that he loves the game. He only appeared in 39 games for KC last year, so he still has "prospect" status. 

As for true prospects, there's not much to get excited about THIS year outside of Montgomery and a few others in Omaha. But around 2013 and 2014, the Royals have yet another wave of dynamite prospects ready to graduate the system.

I70: The prospect who is best positioned to have a significant impact on the team this season has to be Mike Montgomery. He will likely be battling Danny Duffy for the 5th spot in the rotation, and even if he does not break camp with the team, is likely to be the first starting pitcher called up when a need arises. He has ace type stuff and after a down year last year, should be motivated and ready to perform in 2012.

RC: Of the prospects who have not logged any Major League time yet, Mike Montgomery seems the most likely impact candidate. Kelvin Herrera should log significant time in Kansas City, but there is a significant dearth of arms in the bullpen, so his starting the season in Omaha wouldn't be shocking barring a trade. Herrera's contributions will also be tempered by the fact that he can only contribute so much as a reliever.

KK: Most of the first wave of prospects are up so they'll be the key but as far as players who might get called up this year, the big name is Mike Montgomery. He had an awful 2011 that has caused his stock to drop for some. Accounts had him fighting his control, especially with the curveball. 

In the second half last year, Montgomery improved his walk rate while keeping his strikeout rate high, but he also gave up more hits. Kevin Goldstein has mentioned that he hasn't been really dominant since the first half of 2010. After that he had some arm and elbow soreness that took him out of a regular workload. Those issues seem to be over, though. A June callup is likely, but he has a chance to break camp in the rotation - though it's pretty slim.

BBS: All eyes will be on Lorenzo Cain I think. He's going to be taking over for Melky Cabrera after a career year in center field. He'll get some slack from fans because it's highly unlikely he will duplicate those numbers. However he will be a significant upgrade defensively and that alone should be a huge benefit, especially to the guys on the mound.

ROR: I wish I could tell you but I'm not the best when it comes to prospects, but this team has more then enough young talent in the system that even though I don't have a name there could be several prospects that could end up making a big impact.

C70: Where will the team finish in their division and what are you most excited about for 2012? 

RK: 86-76. 2nd place in AL Central. I really, really, really, really want to say that this team will win 90-games and contend with the Tigers. But without the pitching, I don't see it happening. 

What I'm the most excited about is the prospects of winning baseball returning to Kansas City. KC is a great sports town and is routinely crapped on by the teams we love so dearly. I fell in love with the Royals for all the right reasons in all the wrong places. I've never seen a true winner (the best team of memory won 83 games and finished in 3rd place). I'm looking forward to shedding the stigma of 1985, starting a new era in Royals baseball and fall in love with these guys all over again. If the Royals can stick with the Tigers into August, expect the KC-faithful to come out to Kauffman Stadium in droves. We're ready for a winner and have been for a long, long time.

I70: Some may consider this ambitious, but I am expecting a 2nd place finish from the Royals in 2012 in the AL Central. The Tigers are clearly the class of the division, and the only team I think could potentially finish ahead of the Royals is the Indians. The White Sox and Twins both appear to be the worst teams in the division, if not 2 of the worst teams in baseball. As a Royals fan, I am most excited to see Eric Hosmer's ascension into stardom. It has been since Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, and Mike Sweeney that the Royals have had stars of their own come up through their system. Hopefully we can watch Hosmer and everyone else not only develop into stars in a Royals uniform, but also be a part of winning team that we can all be proud of.

RC: Having given my gut-feeling of a 78-win season, it seems likely that the Royals would finish third in the division, with the Tigers likely taking the division with a week or two left in the season, and either of the other three teams surprising and slightly out-performing expectations, edging out the Royals by less than a handful of wins. 

While I'm consciously not getting myself too excited for fear of being let down, it is hard not to be excited to watch Eric Hosmer play 150+ games this season. The Son of God could really go off this year. It's nice to have a player that is as special as Hosmer to look forward to day-in and day-out.

KK: At the end of last season, the Royals had brought up most of what the core of their team will be for the next handful of years. Everyone on the team seemed to be enjoying themselves and getting to see competent baseball was a welcome sight. When September ended, I didn't want the games to stop. 

I'm excited for everything. I'm excited to see Eric Hosmer build on a strong rookie season. I'm excited to see what Alex Gordon does to follow up on his MVP level year. I'm excited to see the bullpen turn games into 6 inning affairs. I'm excited for Danny Duffy's potential. I'm excited that Salvador Perez is going to be a Royal for a very long time and I look forward to seeing him gun down runners for most of the next decade. 

Put it all together and I think these guys have the potential to finish second. They won't catch Detroit this year, but it's only a matter of time.

BBS: Everyone is at 0-0 right now, so why not go crazy? First place. I think I'm most excited about the All-Star festivities being here, that should be a good time.

ROR: I'm going to go out on a limb with a hopelessly optimistic pick and say 2nd behind the Tigers. What I'm most excited about this year is that we actually have a core group of talented young guys that are all coming up together, and I can't remember that ever happening since before I was born. Also look around and you'll see their are no big contracts weighing us down or over aged stopgap players that we're so use to seeing in Kc. And that is why the interest in Kansas City and Royals baseball isn't going to end after the final out of the 2012 All-Star game at Kauffman Stadium.

My thanks to all of these guys for giving us a real good indication of what's going on across Missouri.  It'd be nice to see the Royals get back on the upward track after so many years of mediocrity!

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