This series will evaluate one team per day, starting on January 23, 2013, and ending on February 22, 2013 (the first game of spring training). It is based on last season's performance, offseason changes since and the author's outlook for the team in 2013. Please keep in mind that rosters can, and will, change before Opening Day. We started in the AL East, previewed its NL counterpart and now go back to the AL to tackle the Central in alphabetical order. Next up, the Kansas City Royals.
2012 finish: 72-90 (3rd place, AL Central)
LHP George Sherrill, RHP Dan Wheeler, RHP Ervin Santana, RHP Guillermo Moscoso, RHP James Shields, RHP Wade Davis, OF Endy Chavez, OF Xavier Nady, OF Willy Taveras, 1B Chad Tracy, 3B Brandon Wood, 3B Miguel Tejada, C George Kottaras
LHP Mike Montgomery, RHP Joakim Soria, RHP Jake Odorizzi, RHP Vin Mazzaro, RHP Chris Volstad, OF Wil Myers, OF Jason Bourgeois, C Brayan Pena
Why they will improve this year
The trade that sent the Royals top prospect packing to Tampa Bay really made waves (both good and bad) across baseball this winter. I, for one, loved the move. Even though Myers is as close to a proven commodity in the minors as you'll get, the Royals have an abundance of good hitters. Where they've been struggling is the rotation.
With the move, Kansas City added two impact arms to a group that already saw the re-signing of Jeremy Guthrie and the acquisition of Santana. Those two, along with Bruce Chen, James Shields and Wade Davis won't make anyone's jaw drop, but it's far and away the best rotation the Royals have fielded on Opening Day in a long time.
They even have depth in the starting pitching ranks. If any of those guys falter, they can lean on Luke Hochevar, Will Smith, Luis Mendoza, Guillermo Moscoso or even Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy (when they return) to step in for a few starts.
Did I mention the explosive offense? I have a full-grown man-crush on Billy Butler, who I think is one of the most underrated hitters in baseball right now. He leads the charge, along with a likely bounce-back 2013 for Eric Hosmer (a la Jason Heyward in his third season), Mike Moustakas, a healthy Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon.
Kansas City is on the right track, and being aggressive in the offseason may pay dividends for this team sooner rather than later. Can they compete for a playoff spot? The Tigers will have something to say about it, but fans at Kauffman Stadium should be excited.
Why they will regress this year
The pitching the Royals acquired really isn't all that special. Shields is an innings-eating, complete-game master, but he's still not at that elite level of guys like David Price or CC Sabathia. Davis might end up in the bullpen, as he struggled recently in Tampa. And the rest of the rotation is patched together by mediocre veterans and oft-injured youngsters.
If the Royals really want to compete, they have to shore up the rotation depth. We know they can hit, but if they score 10 runs per game and the other team scores 11, it doesn't matter. They are also going to be relying on some new arms in the bullpen, who definitely need to help step the game up in the later innings.
As for the offense, I'm not convinced that Moustakas won't have a Hosmer-esque slump in his second full season. Heck, I'm not convinced that Hosmer won't have a Hosmer-esque slump. If either one of those things happen and one other major bat struggles or gets hurt, the Royals are suddenly a lot less of an offensive juggernaut than they are right now.
Despite all the good, young talent on offense, the Royals will be stymied by their own lack of quality starting pitching and could find themselves in the same low to mid 70-win range in 2013. If the rotation gets hit by injuries again, it could be worse.
The outlook for 2013
I'll admit it—I have a crush on the Royals. The young lineup is incredibly intriguing, and Butler is one of my favorite players in baseball. Do I think they are ready for a playoff run? Maybe. Every offseason move they made to strengthen the pitching staff got the seal of approval from this writer. Are they good enough to improve by 15 wins this year? Only if you think they under performed in 2012 like me.
That being said, will Santana, Guthrie and Shields be enough at the top of that rotation? One of the reasons I think the Royals stay in the race this coming season is because of the stuff that those three possess. We've seen flashes of brilliance from Santana and Guthrie, and know what Shields can do. And I don't normally believe in this type of thing, but all three have chips on their shoulders that will motivate them to perform.
Imagine if Duffy or Smith steps up and becomes a game-changing starter at the back of the rotation, paired with good seasons from the top three. That's a scary thought for anyone opposing the Royals, as they already know that runs need to be scored in order to win.
Yes, I love the Royals, and yes, I picked them to sneak into the playoffs last year. They made a fool out of me in 2012, but I have reason for optimism this year with Salvador Perez back healthy and a season that can't be any worse than last for Hosmer. It's the opinion of this writer that the Royals win north of 85 games, shock the baseball world and snag the second wild card in the AL.
Potential changes before Opening Day
Not much is happening on the hot stove for the Royals, and understandably so. They made the moves they wanted to make and will go from there. If they had enough money, I would suggest at least talking to free-agent pitcher Kyle Lohse to deepen the rotation. The cost is far too high there, though.
According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (h/t MLBTradeRumors.com), the Padres might be interested in Hochevar when spring training rolls around. It would be interesting to see if the Royals can land a hitting prospect or a reliever from San Diego in a potential swap.
Biggest surprise: Ervin Santana
Biggest disappointment: Wade Davis
Bold prediction: Hosmer hits .300, 25 homers, 100 RBI
1. Alex Gordon, LF
2. Alcides Escobar, SS
3. Eric Hosmer, 1B
4. Billy Butler, DH
5. Mike Moustakas, 3B
6. Salvador Perez, C
7. Jeff Francoeur, RF
8. Chris Getz, 2B
9. Lorenzo Cain, CF
1. James Shields, RHP
2. Jeremy Guthrie, RHP
3. Bruce Chen, LHP
4. Ervin Santana, RHP
5. Wade Davis, RHP
Projected finish: 88-74, 2nd place in AL Central
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You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman.