*From Protect the Plate
The Kansas City Royals have been far from the national spotlight for what seems like forever, and are coming off their fifth-straight losing season. The franchise had its best run from 1976-85, making seven playoff appearances, capped off by a World Series championship in 1985.
The Royals haven't made the playoffs since, and while a postseason birth may be out of reach again this year, there is reason for increased expectations in KC this season.
Kansas City has increased its win total from 56 to 62 to 69 and up to 75 last season. While they haven't exactly improved by leaps and bounds, the steady four-year increase has to have a positive impact on the franchise.
The team even ended 2008 on a high note, going 18-8 in September. On top of every thing else, they enter the 2009 season with a payroll over $70 million for the first time in team history.
NEW COMERS ADD OFFENSE
The Royals front office added some fire to the offense this offseason, adding speedster Coco Crisp and slugger Mike Jacobs. Crisp had been platooning in Boston, but is a career .280 hitter and has shown flashes of brilliance over his seven-year career.
Crisp will start in center and hit leadoff.
Mike Jacobs is a one-dimensional player—his power is his only real asset—but he did pound 32 home runs with the Marlins last season. The Royals have plenty of other options at first base and DH—Billy Butler, Ryan Shealy, Mark Teahen, Ross Gload and Kila Ka'aihue—so Jacobs may end up sitting against lefties.
With excellent numbers and one of the best nick-names in baseball Joakim, The Mexicutioner, Soria would surely be a star if he was pitching in a bigger market or for a better team.
In his first two seasons in the majors, Soria has 59 saves (42 last year), a 2.05 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 141 strikeouts in 136 1/3 innings pitched. Kansas City added Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth to bolster the bullpen and hopefully ensure Soria gets plenty of save opportunities.
Not much was expected of shortstop Mike Aviles when he made his Major League debut as a 27-year-old last season. Aviles exceeded expectations and then some, hitting .325, which was a Royals rookie record.
Had he accumulated enough plate appearances to qualify, Aviles would've ranked third in the AL in batting average.
Most baseball experts thought the Royals grossly overpaid for Gil Meche before the 2007 season. While his record could be better (23-24), Meche has pitched over 200 innings and has posted an ERA under 4.00 in his first two seasons with the Royals.
Zach Greinke overcame social anxiety disorder that cost him the 2006 season, and ranked fifth in the AL with 183 strikeouts last year. With a solid top of the rotation in tact, the Royals are hoping Kyle Davies can establish himself this season.
The 25-year-old had an exceptional August, going 4-1 with a 2.27 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. The trio of Meche, Grienke and Davies combined to go 36-28 last season.
Acquisition Horacio Ramirez, who didn't start a game in the majors last year, is expected to be the No. 4 starter and the only lefty in the Royals rotation.
The fifth spot is being decided between Brian Bannister, who went 12-9 with a 3.87 ERA in 2007 but regressed last year (9-16, 5.76 ERA), and former No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar.
Former No. 2 overall pick Alex Gordon hasn't been a bust, but the team expects him to post better numbers in the years to come. After failing to add a middle infielder, second base will come down to light-hitting Alberto Callaspo and veteran utility player Willie Bloomquist.
David DeJesus had a career-high .307 average last year, and will shift to left field and hit third due to the arrival of Crisp.
Jose Guillen was quietly productive, hitting 20 home runs with 97 RBI. Mark Teahen has fallen fast since hitting .290 with 18 homers in 2006. He enters '09 without a starting spot, but can play all four corner positions and has taken grounders at second base this spring.