Sam Mellinger tweeted the other day that a baseball guy summed up the Royals rather accurately and succinctly: their good players aren't good enough.
That is a sentiment we have offered more than once on this site and on many others, too. David DeJesus could be a regular on a contender, but he cannot be your best or second best hitter. Same could be said for Alberto Callaspo (we'll ignore his defense for now) and maybe even Mark Teahen.
Since trading Carlos Beltran, the Royals have been without an offensive star. A supporting cast—sometimes not a very good cast at that—with no marquee name.
As bad as 2009 has been for the Kansas City Royals, two good things have happened: Zack Greinke has emerged as possibly the best starting pitcher in the league and Billy Butler has laid the groundwork to become an actual offensive force.
For the year, Butler's OPS+ of 122 ranks 30th in the American League. While that may sound (and is) rather modest, it is worth noting that only one player ranked above Butler is his age. At 23 years of age, Butler and Evan Longoria are the two youngest players in the top 30 and are, in fact, two years junior to Adam Lind: the next youngest player in the top 30.
While Billy's overall batting line of .302/.355/.486/.842 falls closer to the "solid" category than the "star" category, his post-All Star line of .321/.380/.549/.929 certainly has "star" written all over it. His post-All Star OPS ranks 12th in the American League.
For players 24 years of age and younger, it is Evan Longoria and Billy Butler and then a big gap down to Asdrubal Cabrera and Gordon Beckham. While Longoria certainly has received and earned more national recognition, the batting lines of the two players is remarkably comparable:
Butler: .302/.355/.486, 42 doubles, 17 home runs
Longoria: .281/.359/.541, 41 doubles, 30 home runs
I doubt that Billy will ever match Longoria's home run numbers, but he might well blow past the Rays' star in on-base percentage over the coming seasons.
When was the last time the Royals could lay claim to having one of the best players of any age group? Beltran is obviously the answer, so it has been almost six years.
Is it out of line to expect Butler second half numbers of this season to be his full season numbers for 2010? And probably with more power yet? I don't think so. In fact, I would be willing to bet on it.
Is Billy Butler becoming a star enough to make the Royals contenders? Nope, not even close.
Butler will be a hitting star, but he won't be Joe Mauer and even teamed with Morneau and Kubel, that is probably not enough to get the Twins into the playoffs. Still, one offensive star is closer to respectability than zero, so in that respect, Kansas City is one step closer to competing than they have been since 2003.
The Royals have a myriad of problems. They are poorly coached and managed. Their front office has bumbled their way through the season and spent the majority of the summer in "cover your *ss" mode instead of addressing the problems of the organization.
That said, Kansas City has Zack Greinke, Joakim Soria, and Billy Butler: three players that would play for every team in baseball. While that is not enough to compete in 2009 or 2010, it is progress.