Here's part two of the Offseason Preview series I will be working on. For the second part of this series, I will preview the Royals:
The Royals have been bad for a while now, but this season's performance has to sting more than most. Kansas City was touted as being a big sleeper by quite a few analysts, with some of these "experts" even predicting them as the AL Central winner. Not to toot my own horn (but here we go), but I never bought into it, and argued against it many times. While they did add Mike Jacobs, Coco Crisp, and Kyle Farnsworth, and Juan Cruz this offseason, they forgot that those players aren't very good. Jacobs has blocked Kila Ka'ahuie from making the jump to the majors (where he could have a Cust or Burrell-like career), performing very poorly. Farnsworth has predictably struggled in the 'pen, Crisp got hurt early in the season and hasn't been a factor, and Cruz currently has a 6.17 ERA out of the bullpen. Ron Mahay, who was a popular target for a trade at the deadline in 2008, has struggled mightily out of the bullpen this year, and was recently traded to the Twins for virtually nothing. Kyle Davies has once again been a non-factor in the rotation.
Alex Gordon also suffered an injury early in the season, and was recently sent to Triple-A in what was supposed to be his breakout year. Mike Aviles had to have season-ending Tommy John Surgery in July, but he hasn't done much for them up to that point, batting just .183 in his 127 plate appearances this season. Couple this with poor trades by GM Dayton Moore (two pitching prospects for Yuniesky Betancourt, and the aforementioned acquisition of Mike Jacobs), and it's been an incredibly disappointing year all-around for the Royals.
Strengths in 2009:
Despite all the ineptitude shown by the Royals this past offseason and throughout the year, there have been a few bright spots for them this season:
Zack Greinke's story is now well known around all baseball circles. He's come back from social anxiety disorder and depression and is now a fixture atop the Royals starting rotation, after signing a 4 year/38 million dollar extension before the season (one good move by Moore).
Now some may argue that being stuck with the Royals for 4 years can't be good for somebody coming back from depression, but I think that 38 million dollars adequately pads him from the blows he'll take by being a member of this organization.
Anyway, Greinke really took the league by storm early this year, going 8-1 with a 1.10 ERA over the first two months of the season. He's continued his dominance, and is now a front runner for the AL Cy Young award this season. He's currently 12-8 with a MLB-leading 2.43 ERA through 181 innings on the year.
Billy Butler had been a highly-touted Royals prospect for a few years entering this season, and he's finally broken out for Kansas City. After hitting just .275 with 11 homers in 480 plate appearances last season, injuries to Jose Guillen and Coco Crisp opened up consistent playing time for the 23 year-old first baseman, and he's certainly taken advantage of the opportunity.
Butler has hit .296/.347/.474 (average/on-base/slugging) with 15 homers in 525 plate appearances this season, while showing improved defense at 1st base that suggests he might not have to be a DH long term, as was previously thought. While he may not ever hit more than 20 homers or so, he probably won't have to, because he will hit for a high average and will have lots of doubles to go along with it (he already has 41 this year, good for 2nd in the AL). Butler's year has no-doubt has been a big positive for the Royals this year.
Other players having nice years include Brian Bannister, Alberto Callaspo, and journeyman Jamey Wright.
Weaknesses in 2009:
I've already touched on most of their weaknesses, but the biggest problem has been injuries. As I stated above, Mike Aviles, who finished fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting last season, had to undergo season-ending Tommy John Surgery in July, and likely won't return until midseason in 2010. Jose Guillen has dealt with a myriad of injuries, most of them stemming from a bad knee. Crisp underwent surgery for a torn right labrum in June, and they're hoping he'll be back by Spring Training. Guillen is currently on the DL for a partially torn right knee ligament. Starter Gil Meche has been on and off the DL with back issues. Closer Joakim Soria has had shoulder problems. You can argue that having all these players all year wouldn't have made them a contender, but they certainly wouldn't have been as bad. Because of them, we're left to wonder what could have been.
Where to improve:
1. Starting Pitching - Despite Greinke's outstanding year and Bannister's solid season, pitching has been a continued problem this season for the Royals. They didn't bolster their rotation last offseason and it cost them, with an ERA near five for the season. They'll have to improve there if they want to contend in 2010.
Possible acquisitions: Jon Garland, Doug Davis, Justin Duchscherer, Todd Wellemeyer
Minor league watch: Most of the Royals top pitching prospects, such as Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery, are in the lower minors and likely won't be factors in 2010.
2. Catcher: The catching position is now a giant black hole in Kansas City, with John Buck being officially labeled as a bust. They've gotten decent pop from Miguel Olivo, but he's far from being a passable option.
Possible acquisitions: Rod Barajas, Bengie or Jose Molina, and Ramon Hernandez can all fit as stopgaps.
Minor league watch: The Royals drafted high school catcher Wil Myers in the first round of this year's draft. He's a highly regarded prospect, and the Royals are hoping that he develops into something special, because he's their only hope as of now.
3. Outfield: Despite what Dayton Moore might think, an outfield next year of Dejesus-Crisp-Guillen just won't cut it. Dejesus is a solid bat, but he's not much more. Guillen should be a permanent DH with his bad knees, and Crisp has a below average stick. They need offense here and have to do something to improve this offseason.
Possible acquisitions: Rick Ankiel, Marlon Byrd, and Rocco Baldelli (I still believe) would be solid acquisitions for Moore.
Minor league watch: There's not much to see here, aside from maybe 23 year old David Lough who's had a breakout season this year, hitting .324/.370/.501 combined through 3 different levels.
4. Bullpen: The signings of Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz are have been huge busts with the Royals, and they're stuck with both for the next couple years. They'll have to improve in the 'pen to get by with such a shoddy rotation.
Possible acquisitions: John Grabow, Joe Beimel, Chad Cordero, Brandon Lyon
Minor league watch: Again, most of their top-tier pitching is in the low minors, so don't expect any rookie breakout seasons a la Andrew Bailey next season for the Royals.
Outlook for 2010:
The outlook for 2010 doesn't look much better than 2009. They should be healthier, but they have to pay so much money to so many mediocre players that it might hamper them from doing anything significant this offseason, which means Royals fans might have to suffer through more of the same next year.