Should the Kansas City Royals actually land Rafael Furcal, they have the makings of a really nice team heading into 2009.
I predicted similar success for the hard-charging Jays in 2009 but that was before the death of owner Ted Rodgers. I think his death will really affect their play, the decline of the Canadian dollar, and the loss of eighteen game winner A.J. Burnett to the division rival Yankees (now being reported as final). They don't have the depth to replace those wins and I think it will now be a long lost season for them.
Last year it was popular for baseball analysts to attribute the early season success of the Tampa Bay Rays to the fact that for the first time in franchise history the players could look around the diamond and see real big league players playing next to them, not kids rushed to the majors or has-been vets hoping to stay on for one last contract.
If the Royals actually sign Furcal, I think the same could be said for them. In 2009, the Royals defensive lineup should look like this:
1B Mike Jacobs .247/32/93 - Acquired from the Marlins in what I view as a steal of a trade.
2B Mike Aviles - After a promising rookie year, I think he switches to second to allow Furcal play his natural position.
SS Rafael Furcal
3B Alex Gordon .260/16/59
LF Jose Guillen .264/20/97
CF Coco Crisp .283/7/41 20 SB
RF Mark Teahen 15/59
DH Billy Butler .275/11/55 - Hopefully he can become the new Mike Sweeney without the injuries.
David DeJesus .307/12/73 - With those numbers, DeJesus is too good to release. He's much more than one dimensional talent like Joey Gathright, but with the outfield seemingly filled, where is he going to play?
Joey Gathright - At best, Gathright basically fills the same role as DeJesus without the upside. He could be good trade bait.
Ross Gload - General Manager Dayton Moore personally traded for him, so he should be here to stay.
Ryan Shealy - The Royals version of a big bopper, he's basically here for bench depth.
Starting Rotation (Which I believe is holding them back)
Zach Grienke - They say the Royals' staff ace is Meche because of his contract but he's simply not cut out for it. I think Grienke is more of a No. 2 but on this team he has to be No. 1 in my book. I think he'll go 13-10.
Gil Meche - A 3.98 ERA is surprisingly good but I think he'd win more against other team's No. 2's or 3's. They have to start him this high to justify that contract.
Kyle Davies - Another Dayton Moore coup from his days in Atlanta. He could get a ton of wins with low expectations but high talent.
Horacio Ramirez - Ramirez is another Moore find from his ATL days. Ramirez is more of a reclamation project, but he showed flashes of brilliance in 2003 by winning 12 games as a rookie and 11 more in 2005. This could be a steal or a flop which only showcases the organization's lack of depth. No. 5 could be an Achilles heel all season if Ramirez fails.
Brian Bannister - Bannister started the year 3-0, but faltered down the stretch, finishing 9-16. He's only 27 but he has shown good stuff both here and on the Mets in spot starts. For that reason this position could be one of the Royals' only flaws.
Dan Waechter - At only 27, the Rays' castoff is a nice reclamation project. He's a steal for the Royals. 4-2 3.69
Robinson Tejada - You've gotta love his age (26) and his stats in limited time. Will his numbers get better with more experience? Or would his arm tire from more work?That is the x-factor. I think he deserves a spot but I'd have the AAA number on standby.
7th Inning Relief
Ron Mahay - At 37 years old and making $4 million, this is clearly your specialist and he's got a spot on the team barring injury or retirement.
Kyle Farnsworth - Farnsworth inked a 2 year deal yesterday ($4.75M or so a year) so you know he's got a spot (unfortunately). With that big contract, I'd look for him to step into the set-up spot. Maybe hell can freeze over and he can actually mentor the Royals' kids and not screw them up. They were actually doing fine without him before. Go figure.
Joakim Soria - The 24-year-old All Star closer stud. The Royals better lock him up. 42 saves are invaluable.
That means no more Jimmy Gobble (see what they did with Jeremy Affeldt which, thank God is finally over), John Bale (0-3 .439 and an old 34 years of age), Luke Hochevar (could use another year at AAA to get his confidence back), or Tony Pena Jr. experiments.
Gone are the days of throwing junk out there. Runelvys Hernandez, Chris George, Darrell May, anyone? The Royals have come along nice and quickly considering super GM (and Wichita, KS native) in waiting Dayton Moore only began this post in 2006 after taking over the league's worst team.
He's young-41 and his extra incentive of trying to build his team-his literal boyhood team into a winner should pay dividends as it should come as more of a passion and less of a job. I could see him earn Executive of the Year along with 2nd year manager Trey Hillman winning AL Manager of the Year in 2009 for their efforts.
Hillman hasn't been around the Royals 23 consecutive years of missing the playoffs and hasn't seen the putrid teams Allen Baird put on the field so he should be immune to all the prior losing.
The Royals finished 75-87 last year, their most wins since 2003 Yet their win totals have increased from 56 in 2005 to 62 in '06, 69 in '07 before leaping to 75 thanks to an 18-8 September surge,last year so continued resurgence shouldn't be seen as all that surprising. It should be expected.
If I had to predict the AL Central as of today here is how I'd do it:
Cleveland-went 40-32 in 2nd half-when they were fully healthy. Expect more of the same now that they will be @ full strength.
Minnesota-they'll find a way to compete and win 85+ like they do every year
Chicago White Sox-Nick Swisher giveaway "trade", dumb Dye-for Bailey rumored deal, Vasquez trade--what are they doing?)
Detroit Tigers-no farm system (traded all away), high priced aged vets
Could the Royals surprise? Absolutely but it should be seen as a surprise. I think they have a brighter future than half their division which is saying something (when was the last time you could say that?).
With a weak division anything is possible but look for them to crack 80 wins but only if they stay healthy and everyone plays their roles. They don't have enough organizational depth should a Gordon or Jacobs get hurt---they'd be back to square one.
They also must improve their annual historical horrid divisional play. That is the easiest way to make up ground. 6-12 vs. White Sox, 8-10 vs. Cleveland, and 6-12 vs. Minnesota. (20-34 overall) not counting an 11-7 record against the who-didn't-beat-them Detroit Tigers.
They are still probably at least 2 relievers away from really doing anything and they need continued improvement out of the young kids-Gordon (thought he was going to be a flop personally), Teahen, and Aviles. Finally they really need a real ace instead of forcing Grienke or Meche to play the part but they are close.
Closer than they've been in quite some time. In 2003 they surprisied and got early praise for it. In 2009 should they get out of the gate quick and stay healthy—it could be three team race in the Central.