The Kansas City Royals are one of professional sports' most disappointing franchises over the last 20 years.
Following winning seasons across much of the 1970s and 80s, the Royals have stagnated in the trenches of the American League Central since the mid-1990s.
In the 17-year history of the AL Central, Kansas City have only one winning season; an 83-79 mark in 2003.
The poor handling of prospects and trading away of impact players have caused the once-proud franchise to struggle. But, it appears the Royals are ready to make a push to contend in the weakest division in the American League.
Once Alcides Escobar struck out to end their season on Oct. 3, general manager Dayton Moore worked to put the Royals into a position to contend in 2013.
The first move was a trade with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at the end of October in which Kansas City received Ervin Santana for minor league left-hander Brandon Sisk.
Santana was one of the most ineffective pitchers in baseball during the 2012 season. He compiled a 9-13 record with a 5.16 E.R.A., along with surrendering a league-high 39 home runs,
Santana's poor performance in 2012 could be an outlying season in his career. In the three seasons in which he made at least 25 starts between 2008 and 2011, the Dominican-born starting pitcher did not have a season in which his ERA was over four.
The former Angel also has a career 8.5 K/9 at Kauffman Stadium, the highest ratio he logged in any park where he pitched more than twice.
Considering his history, along with results over his final 10 starts, when he had a 5-2 record and a 3.92 ERA, Santana's problems could be solved.
The second move Moore made was to further reinforce the rotation by re-signing Jeremy Guthrie.
The former Rockie was reliable against the White Sox during his two months with the Royals. The former Oriole ace allowed just one earned run in 29.2 innings last season against the Pale Hose.
Nevertheless, by no means is Guthrie an elite arm. A pitcher who has a 55-77 record with a 4.28 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP over his career is indicative of mediocrity.
The Royals cannot rely on a pitcher of his caliber if they expect to be a playoff team.
For this reason, Kansas City made the biggest move of this offseason to date by receiving James Shields and Wade Davis in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. However, the Royals gave up top prospect Wil Myers in the transaction, along with right-handed starter .
Shields was one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball over the last five years. He won at least 11 games over each of those seasons and finished third in the AL Cy Young voting in 2011.
His Rays reached the playoffs in three of those five seasons.
Acquiring Shields gives Kansas City a No. 1 starter who could pitch in significant games. Although Shields may not stay with Kansas City after 2014, he should have a large effect in influencing the Royals' 2013 campaign.
The Royals are further aided with the addition of Davis, who could either relieve or start. With the signings of veteran relievers George Sherrill and Dan Wheeler, Davis will probably be a starting pitcher in 2013.
In 2010 and 2011, the last two years in which he started, Davis had a 23-20 record with an ERA slightly above four. The Florida native had a WHIP in the 1.3 range.
Considering how poor the Royals pitching staff was in 2012, Davis will probably find himself in the starting rotation next year.
If the Royals have a starting staff with Shields, Santana, Davis, Guthrie and either Bruce Chen or Luke Hochevar, they will be a more legitimate threat to contend.
This new Royals rotation could produce at least 10 more wins next season, if not more. Consistency will be this rotation's biggest problem, considering the seasons Santana and Guthrie had last year.
Outside of the starting rotation, right field could be the spot that harms the Royals the most. Although Jeff Francoeur has one of the best outfield arms in baseball, his 2012 batting performance must be replaced.
Francoeur had an abysmal .287 on-base percentage (OBP) in 2012, along with a .235 batting average. His WAR rating of minus-2.7 was the worst by any position player in baseball.
The trade for Davis and Shields did bring two new starting pitchers to Kansas City, but it also took away the player who would have replaced Francoeur: Wil Myers.
There are multiple right fielders available in the free-agent market who could help the Royals, namely Cody Ross, Ichiro, Matt Diaz and Nick Swisher. Kansas City has slim odds to pick up an additional right fielder due to the Royals' financial situation.
According to Baseball Prospectus, the Royals will have at least $68 million in salary for the 2013 season.
This is the highest total salary that the Royals have used on their players since the 2007 season, when they paid over $70 million to win 69 games and finish last in the AL Central.
The spot where the Royals finish could be based upon whether they can get a strong performance from whoever plays in right field.
In the case of Francoeur, he has registered a positive WAR in all but two years of his career. If Kansas City is to contend, they cannot have any player register a WAR of negative two or worse.
The play of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will also determine whether the Royals will contend.
Last year, Hosmer had a 61-point drop in his batting average from his rookie season. He also had fewer hits (124), home runs (14), RBI (60) and OBP (.304) in his sophomore season when compared to his rookie year.
Moustakas had a solid second year, with 20 home runs and 73 RBI, though his batting average was under .250 and his OBP was under .300. His WAR did increase from .8 to 2.9.
The Royals should have their first winning season in a decade in 2013. They do show signs of being a strong contender in the Central, but they will need their starting pitching to be at its best if they are going to overtake the Tigers.
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