A once proud and feared team in the 70’s and early 80’s, the Kansas City Royals have been looked upon as a cheap spending, small market team for many years now. Hard to believe, but it has been 23 years since the Royals have made the playoffs.
There is no question that the Royals are an improved team, but there are still questions that need to be answered before they are ready to compete for the American League Central title.
1. Who’s on second?
Mark Grudzielanek has patrolled second base for several years and made it a position of strength for the Royals. Primarily because of his age and increasing injuries, the Royals will have a new second bagger this year.
Willie Bloomquist was signed from Seattle and is presumed to be the leading favorite to start opening day. Bloomquist brings much needed speed and a high on base percentage (.377 last season) but has about as close to zero power as you can get. In 165 at bats last year, Bloomquist had one double serve as his only extra base hit.
Other options are the slower but better hitting Alberto Callaspo, a declining Esteban German and if you believe off season rumors, Mark Teahen. The ideal option would be Mike Aviles as second is his natural position, but he is needed at short for now.
2. Who will sit in the pen?
The Royals traded away hard throwing Leo Nunez to Florida in order to acquire Mike Jacobs. Ramon Ramirez, who was very effective as the primary set up man, was dealt to Boston in the trade for Coco Crisp.
Come on down Kyle Farnsworth, who was signed for two years at $9.25 million. Doug Waechter was signed for a possible middle reliever spot. Ron Mahay, Jimmy Gobble and John Bale will compete for lefty duties.
With 19 pitchers on the 40 man roster and 12 others invited to camp, the list of possible starting day relievers goes on and on.
What we do know is Joakim “The Mexecutioner” Soria will be the closer. It is presumed that Kyle Farnsworth will be the primary set up man. Everything else is up for grabs.
3. Where is Mark Teahen?
Once thought of as the future third baseman for the Royals, Teahen was moved to right field to make room for Alex Gordon. Finding success in right field, Teahen was moved to left to make room for Jose Guillen. Coco Crisp has been signed to play centerfield which forces Teahen out of left field to make room for David DeJesus. The logjam at first base will likely take up the DH spot, so no opening for Teahen there.
Having run out of starting positions, Teahen now finds himself as the primary back up at left, right and third base. Teahen starting at second base would be a bad move. A spring training or early season trade is a possibility.
4. Who’s on First?
On the surface this may seem like an easy answer. The Royals traded for Mike Jacobs and his much needed 32 home runs. However, Jacobs will admit he has a ways to go defensively. With that in mind, expect Jacobs to spend some time at DH, opening the door for someone else at first base.
It was a trimmed down Billy Butler who showed up to the Royals FanFest several weeks ago. Last years primary starter Ross Gload is the best option defensively and still hit for a .273 average. Fan favorite Kila “Kid Kila” Ka’aihue hit 37 dingers in the minors before a September call up.
5. Will the offense produce enough to win?
Royals 2008 offensive rankings out of 14 American League Teams:
14th in walks (392)
13thin Homeruns (120)
12th in RBI (650)
12th in On Base Percentage (.320)
12th in Slugging Percentage (.397)
11th in Total Bases (2226)
11th in Stolen Bases (79)
9th in Strikeouts (1005)
6th in Average (.269)
So the Royals struggled to get on base, they didn’t steal a base once on, and they didn’t hit for power to bring anyone home.
Think about this; On a team with little power, the biggest Home Run threat the Royals had at first base was Billy Butler who ranked 6th on the team with 11. Problem!
The Royals need to find the answers on offense to have any shot at success.