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Quiet Times

December 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Action around Major League Baseball has slowed to a crawl over the last few days, and that’s typical of this time of year. The lower level free agent signings aren’t in any way urgent, and most of the big time free agents have already found homes. Adrian Beltre hasn’t, but I am still trying to figure out who aside from the Angels has serious interest in him. There are teams out there in need of a third baseman, but many of them are either too cash strapped or too intelligent to sign Beltre to a long-term deal. Ask his former employers in Seattle how that worked out. They didn’t even get the good contract year push that the Dodgers or Red Sox got. The Rangers have inquired, but they’d have to do some shuffling of their lineup that I’m not sure would be better than simply signing one of the DH free agents to a short-term deal. Anyway, the point is that this is a very quiet time around baseball.

This is the time when teams are speaking internally with their own players about extensions. Trade discussions are going on, so it’s not exactly quiet within front offices. I’m not sure what time is quiet there, but it does provide a lack of news for the fans. The good news is that pitchers and catchers report in just 46 days (if you don’t include today, which I don’t because it makes it shorter).

This post went on way longer than I originally intended. I sort of babbled on and on as I am wont to do. Here’s the real message – thanks for coming to my blog daily, weekly, once or whenever you have. I hope you keep it up, and I hope you’re enjoying the content. I hope everybody has had happy holidays and has a fantastic 2011!

The Voice of the Royals, Denny Matthews

December 29, 2010 3 comments

I had mentioned awhile back that I was priming up for a post on Denny Matthews, and here it is. By December 29 every year, I’m in dire need of a baseball fix of any kind. The MLB Network is awesome and it allows me to keep baseball on the television year round, but there’s only so much they can say in the studio about Adrian Beltre or Manny Ramirez. Beyond baseball, I really need my Royals fix and there’s typically not too much discussion about the Royals on the offseason programming as they are generally not players of any real significance in the free agent market. In order to get my Royals fix, I do any number of a few things. One of them is write this blog. This is about as long as I’ve ever gone without getting the offseason blues, and I think it’s because I’m writing daily about the Royals. Hopefully my readers are enjoying it and we all benefit.

The two other things I do are both a little nerdy, but we’re all friends here, so I’ll go ahead and admit them. Every so often, I’ll crank up Welcome to the Jungle by Guns ‘N’ Roses and close my eyes. In my head, I can envision the scoreboards at Kauffman Stadium lighting up with flames and Joakim Soria beginning his perfectly paced jog from the bullpen. My favorite part of the scoreboard graphic is when Soria claps two baseballs together and they erupt in flames. It’s cheesy, but awesome and it is definitely something I do multiple times during the offseason.

The other thing I do is watch old Royals clips. You can find them on YouTube or iTunes or any number of different websites. I like to find the ones with Denny Matthews’ voice because, to me, he is a symbol of summer and baseball. It’s also really interesting to me to hear how his voice has changed over the years. Now he’s much more raspy than he was in the early days, but there’s a sense of calm that comes over me when I get the opportunity to hear his voice in the off-season.

I may have mentioned this before, but one of my favorite things about Denny Matthews is the way he says things and sometimes even what he says. Of course everybody loves his “No outs to go!” call, but one of my favorites is when an especially long home run is hit and he just says, “There she goes!” There’s one particular time I can remember. I don’t remember exactly what year, but the Royals were in Detroit. I was six years old and in my sister’s car driving somewhere and I convinced her to let me listen to the Royals game. George Brett came to the plate and Denny was talking to Fred about how this ballpark was just tailored to George and how he might hit 40 homers a year here and on cue Brett just drilled one and that led to one of my favorite “There she goes!” calls. The ball went on top of the roof as balls often did at old Tiger Stadium. To me, that was pretty cool.

One of my other favorite Denny Matthews attributes is the word choice. My absolute favorite is one that I haven’t heard in awhile, but I just love it when a batter hits a line drive and he calls it a trolley wire. For some reason, that just tickles me. I think, though, what makes Denny Matthews so iconic to me is that he is the Royals. He’s been there since the very beginning. While he doesn’t do a full slate of games anymore, he’s still the voice of the Royals. Being around a single franchise for so long allows him to have stories and anecdotes that give listeners a bit of an inside look into the Royals organization. While he’s great at announcing baseball, I sometimes find myself rooting for a blowout so we can get into Denny Matthews story mode and hear about something that Freddy Patek did in the 70s or a story about Jamie Quirk in the 80s. It’s the obscure stuff that you’d never hear anywhere else.

Something I’ve learned about Denny over the last couple of years is that his partner does make a difference in the quality of the broadcast. Say what you want about Ryan Lefebvre, but he and Denny made a very good team as two broadcasters who combined vast baseball knowledge with likable personalities. Denny is at his best when he has a partner to play off and make baseball chit chat. Baseball can be a very slow game at times, but a good announcer can make the down time even more enjoyable than when the play is happening. In my opinion, the hard part about announcing aside from the actual knowledge of the players and the game is knowing when to keep quiet and when to talk. The good announcers, like Denny Matthews, have that down to a science. He’s just a joy to listen to and listening to him is one of the ways I get through the long offseason.

How to Compete in 2011

December 28, 2010 3 comments

It’s the holiday season, so I thought I’d infuse a little extra optimism into today’s post by looking at what needs to happen for the Royals to compete. Before anybody jumps out of their chair, I’ll bring things back to reality before we go into dream world. I don’t think the Royals can win the division in 2011. I don’t think they will finish at .500 in 2011, but that’s not what this post is for. This post might help you dream about the Royals and them matching the team across the street with a surprise playoff run.

Offense

No matter how optimistic you get about the Royals, they’re going to need to score some runs if they expect to contend and win the division. In order for good things to happen, Billy Butler and Kila Ka’aihue need to become a feared middle of the order duo. I don’t think homers are the be all, end all of offense, but if these two could hit 50 between them, that’d be a huge start to helping this offense hum. They also need a guy at the top of the lineup to get on base, and the Royals best hope for that is that Lorenzo Cain wins the center field job out of spring training and hits leadoff. For this to be successful, he’ll need at least a .350 OBP, which I think is reasonable.

The two big players in the lineup who need to step forward like nobody’s business are the former top prospects who will flank Cain, Gordon and Francouer. Nick Wright said something on Twitter on Sunday about Matt Cassel and how he’s never been more happy to be wrong or something along those lines. I responded to him by asking who the Royal equivalent would be and then came up with a pretty good answer myself – Jeff Francouer. Him hitting .290/.350/.500 or so would just about be the perfect answer from the Royals for Matt Cassel. If the Royals want to compete, that needs to happen. Alex Gordon also needs to finally put up numbers close to what we all expected from him or at least numbers similar or better to his 2008 season (.260/.351/.432).

The final big thing that has to happen offensively is the infusion of young talent as the season goes on. I’m pretty confident that Mike Moustakas will make his Major League debut at some point in the first half. For the Royals to compete, he needs to join Butler and Ka’aihue and make a big impact in the middle of the lineup. I’m talking .270/.340/.500 or so with 15 homers. If he does that, the Royals offense will be more than respectable, it’ll be good. Add in improved offense from Alcides Escobar, Chris Getz (until Moustakas is called up and Aviles slides over to second) and a potent bat off the bench in Wilson Betemit and the offense could provide fits for opposing pitchers.

Pitching

The offensive improvement is a bit of a stretch (especially the Francouer part), but it’s all at least somewhat believable. The pitching staff is where real dreaming can take place. I’m a fan of Luke Hochevar. I don’t think he’s the bust everybody thinks he is and I’m incredibly encouraged by how well he pitched after Ned Yost took over and before he went down with an injury. All that said, when he’s your ace, things are looking dicey for the starting rotation. I’ve mentioned this before, so I won’t go into great detail here, but I think the improved defense the Royals will field next season will do more to help Luke Hochevar than perhaps any other pitcher on the roster. I’m not predicting a Zack Greinke 2009 season from him or anything, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him with an ERA in the mid-3’s next year. He’s a groundball pitcher and a defense of Aviles, Escobar, Getz and Ka’aihue is much more encouraging than Betemit, Betancourt, Aviles and Butler. For the Royals to compete, he has to pitch to the level that I can honestly see.

The rest of the rotation is where things get dicey. It seems like every sentence with Kyle Davies begins with the word “if,” but it’s because he has very good stuff and just needs to harness his command. So, for the Royals to compete, that’s what he has to do. The improved outfield defense will be beneficial to him as well because he’s a flyball pitcher. The outfield won’t be as good as the infield, but it’ll certainly be better than next year. Beyond him, Vin Mazzaro has to continue to outpitch his peripherals and post an ERA of around 4.00. There’s some talk of the Royals looking into a guy like Chris Capuano, and I wouldn’t have a problem with that as I think he’s a solid bet to be average.

The players who really need to step up for the Royals to have a competent rotation are the young guys. Everett Teaford needs to both win a spot in the rotation and be good from the get go. The same can be seed for Danny Duffy. Sean O’Sullivan in the rotation is not a good thing. No amount of optimism can get me to believe he can even be an adequate fifth starter. And, like the offense, the young guys coming up throughout the season will have a big impact. Mike Montgomery needs to provide the same impact of Mike Moustakas and slide into the second or third spot in the rotation by August. The person who has an opportunity to make an even bigger immediate impact is Aaron Crow. He undoubtedly has the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter in the majors. If he can figure things out, he can become the Royals ace pretty quickly. I know it’s a stretch to think about that from a guy who got demoted to A-ball last year, but he really does have the stuff to do it.  

The bullpen doesn’t take quite as much dreaming as the rotation. When you have a guy like Soria at the back end, it makes filling things out in front of him a lot easier. Gil Meche just needs to show that his bullpen work at the end of the season can be extended out over the length of the entire season and Robinson Tejeda needs to continue his work as the stopper out of the pen. Beyond that, the Royals have a lot of intriguing arms. A guy I’ve talked up a little in this space is Greg Holland who strikes tons of guys out. I’m not sure I’d like to see him in an eighth inning role, but for a guy who comes in when the team has to have a strikeout, I think he can be a HUGE contributor.
Beyond those four, the young guys will again rule the roost here in determining whether this is a good staff or not. Tim Collins has the opportunity to be a dominant arm from the left side while Louis Coleman just keeps putting up dominant seasons in the minors. The Royals bullpen may also be the initial destination for a few of the starting pitching prospects to get their feet wet. Aaron Crow was mentioned above, but if he doesn’t play a prominent role in the rotation, he could be a star in the bullpen. This pen has a chance to turn games into six inning affairs which will really help a shaky rotation.

Is all this likely? Not especially, but like I mentioned above – this is the time to dream a little and be optimistic about the season. Soon enough, spring training will start and then the season and the odds are pretty good that optimism will wane quickly. For now, though, we can dream a little. And who knows? Maybe it could happen. The Royals are due a little luck.

Is Kansas City Still a Baseball Town?

December 27, 2010 1 comment

The short answer to that question, in my opinion, is yes. The Royals have been really bad for quite some time now. Their period of futility is not unmatched and not terribly rare, but for a city and a franchise that had known very little failure until this stretch of about 15 seasons, it is a wonder that there is still as much interest in the Royals as exists. While the team consistently ranks near the bottom of the league in attendance, the resilience of the fans is amazing. The team has averaged over 20,000 the last two seasons, and the fans have come to see some truly bad baseball. Part of that was aided by the strong start in 2009 and then Zack Greinke’s Cy Young quest, but I think the fans in Kansas City just love baseball, no matter the quality.

The reason this question popped into my head is because of some events across the street from Kauffman Stadium yesterday. I know this is a Royals blog, but I’m sure many of my readers are Chiefs fans, so I thought I’d devote a little time to them today while still keeping with a baseball theme. As you probably know by now, the Chiefs came into the day yesterday controlling their own destiny. If they won their last two games, they’d be in the playoffs as the champion of the AFC West. To put it in baseball terminology, their magic number was two meaning that any combination of Chiefs wins and Chargers losses that total two would give the Chiefs the division title. Well, they won yesterday against the Titans in resounding fashion and then waited for some help. The Chargers were in Cincinnati, though, so I’m guessing most of the players didn’t think it would be possible for them to lose. Well they did, and the Chiefs are now the division champions and will have a home playoff game in two weeks.

If you’re not a Chiefs fan, then you probably don’t care about all this, but someone mentioned how Kansas City is a football town and how the fans deserve this. I wish I could remember who said it, but it’s fairly irrelevant at this point. I agree with his assessment, though. This city loves the Chiefs, and the Chiefs have been bad for as long as the Royals in NFL standards where worst to first is standard operating procedure. Prior to this season, the Chiefs had won 10 games in three seasons. They’re 10-5 now in 2010. It’s big news and a fan base that consistently pays good money* to fill Arrowhead is going to get a playoff game it deserves. I guess I’m just sort of curious if there would be the same media reaction if and when the Royals win the Central and make the playoffs for the first time since I was just a wee lad.

*People complaining about NFL ticket prices aren’t necessarily wrong, but they really need to put things into perspective a little bit. If the average ticket price is, say, $70, they will pay $700 for a season ticket for that particular seat. Let’s say they buy two and add parking at $25 or so for those ten games. They’re now paying $1,650 for a full season of two tickets and parking privileges. A decent seat at Kauffman Stadium runs about $25 for a season ticket price. Because all 81 games is tough for most people to attend, let’s give our fictional season ticket holder a 41 game package with two seats apiece and parking at $8 a pop. A half season costs $2,378 for two tickets and parking. NFL ticket prices are a product of a short schedule. If that’s what you’re into, you’re not getting ripped off, I promise. Personally, I’m happy to watch on my plasma television where it’s warm, but that’s my choice.

It’s been well documented that the Royals and Chiefs have a hard time being good at the same time, but for the Royals sake, they better buck that trend. Kansas City is a great sports town. I’d argue that we have some of the best fans in the entire country in terms of knowledge and passion. To support two really bad teams as well as this city has is astounding. If and when the Royals start to win, fans will come out. Attendance will rise. I’d wager that the Royals will average about 30,000 per game if they win 90 games, whether or not they win the division. The difference between baseball and football, though, is that turnarounds don’t happen nearly as quickly. Sure the Royals could go 93-69 next season and take the Central, but it’s way less likely than the Chiefs turnaround was for a couple of reasons. One is that the short schedule leads to increased variance. If the season were 32 games, I’d bet the Chargers would run away with the division by four games. Also, young players make an impact much quicker in the NFL as there is less development time. I digress.

The point here is that Kansas City is still a baseball town as well as a football town. If the Chiefs keep winning for a couple more years and the Royals keep losing at ridiculous paces, you might see a portion of the fan base move from the Royals to the Chiefs for their season tickets. Like it or not, the Royals are in indirect competition with the Chiefs for the hearts of their fans and now that the Chiefs have turned things around, the Royals need to do the same pretty quickly in order to keep the interest. The real fans will always be around. Even if the Royals go 61-101 in 2011, I’ll still be writing about them and going to more games than I probably should. And if and when the Royals start winning again, the fans will come back, but it’s important for them to not ever leave. So, the long answer to the question initially posed is yes…for now.

Butler and His Comments

December 23, 2010 2 comments

I’m sure you all heard what Billy Butler had to say on XM Radio the other day and then essentially repeated on Nick Wright’s show on 610. Originally, I didn’t want to discuss it because there wasn’t a whole lot to it, but it’s been on my mind. Add to that the fact that there’s just not much going on in Royals land and it seems like a topic that should get some attention. For those who missed it, his comments were essentially verbalized in an MLB.com article where he talked about his displeasure for some of the comments Greinke made upon leaving and some of the comments he made in season that made us as fans realize that he was probably on his way out of town.

He went beyond those comments on the radio mentioning that he felt that Greinke should have been more thankful to the organization that stood by him through all of his issues. That alone is sort of a debate among Royals fans these days. One school of thought is that the Royals saved his career and stood by him in his toughest time. That can’t be argued, though, it could be argued that it was his immense talent that caused the organization to make the decision to stand by him. If someone like Rowdy Hardy had these problems, would the Royals do the same thing? Maybe, but not nearly to the extent they did. The counterpoint, though, is that Greinke has paid his debt to the organization. He won a Cy Young Award. He put fannies in the seats in a 2009 season where the team was going nowhere and the fan base was especially bitter about it because they were in first place in May.

Personally, I fall somewhere in between. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this in this space or on another forum, but it isn’t the fact that he requested the trade that bothers me. Okay, that’s not true. It bothers me as a fan of my team. It’s the phenomenon that I can joke about how bad they are, but you can’t. That peeved me, but as a fan, not when thinking rationally. I get why he wanted out. I wish he didn’t, but I can understand why a guy who had been here for parts of seven season and his team never won more than 75 games would want a chance elsewhere. I even understand that there’s a chance he was misled and was made to believe the Royals would be more active in free agency in trying to build a strong team before the young guys made it up to the majors. I digress. What I was angry about was the way it was handled. I wish Greinke would have gone about things more professionally and not made his wishes public. I wish that he wouldn’t have strong armed the organization into having to make a trade for him that potentially cost the team valuable pieces (though from all reports, I doubt there was a better package out there from a team to whom Greinke would have approved a trade). I also wish that upon his first meeting with the Milwaukee media that Greinke wouldn’t have said that he was as happy now as he’d been since he was drafted. That was sort of a knife in the back comment.

I’m also not happy that Greinke made the comments he did during the season. At a time when the roster was beginning to get younger and younger and more impressionable, Greinke essentially came out and said that he wasn’t interested to find out what this group of kids could do. Again, I understand the sentiment, just not how he went about expressing it. My understanding is that the organization handled that properly, but I can’t imagine it fostered too many good feelings between the player and the organization. Overall, this situation was never going to be a good one, but the player and his representation did a fine job of making it messy. In the end, though, Greinke has actually made this trade easier on Royals fans. The prevailing thought is that if he didn’t want to be here then he should be gone and it’s calmed down the portion of the fan base that would typically be up in arms over the Royals losing yet another star player.

And we come back to Butler’s comments. I’m not so much interested in talking about what he said than I am in talking about what it means for the organization. It can’t be bad, that’s for sure. In Billy Butler, the Royals have a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat. Sure, his home run totals aren’t what you’d like from a first baseman, but I have a feeling that had a lot to do with his hand and I think 2011 is going to be a HUGE year. Now, in addition to a big bat, the Royals have a leader who doesn’t seem to be too afraid to speak his mind. I have a feeling (no source, just a feeling) that after Greinke’s comments were made late in the season that Butler had a little conversation with him about the ramifications of them on the entire team. He’s becoming a leader. Strangely enough he’s one of the longest tenured Royals trailing, by my count, Alex Gordon, Joakim Soria, Gil Meche and Mitch Maier. Let that sink in.

Over the last few years, Dayton Moore and his team of scouts have drafted extremely well. Well enough, in fact, to boast the best farm system in baseball by a GIANT margin. Some are calling it the best of the generation and some are even saying it’s the best they’ve ever seen. In that farm system are a couple of players who are commonly referred to as born leaders. Mike Moustakas and Christian Colon are players who receive rave reviews for their ability to motivate, get in people’s faces and generally do whatever is necessary to carry teams on their backs. If I had to choose talent or leadership, I’d choose talent every single time, but when the opportunity is there to have a player who is a natural leader and be someone who can energize a team and he had talent, well, that’s someone I’d love to have on my team.

With Butler’s comments, it appears he’s becoming a leader of the Kansas City Royals. Mike Moustakas will be here soon. Christian Colon, now a second baseman, will probably move quickly* and be here soon, too. Lorenzo Cain is someone who, by all accounts, is about as good a teammate as there is. I’m not sure about leadership on the pitching side of things. Maybe one of my loyal readers can chime in with something they know about the personalities from the rubber.

*I think we’re in for a HUGE season from Colon in 2011. He’ll be playing in a hitter’s league in a hitter’s environment and moving to a position that should be very little challenge to him. He can focus entirely on his bat. I would not be surprised to see a .330/.420/.500 season out of him. I think that will probably lead to increased expectations that he won’t fulfill at the big league level, but it will put him on the prospect map and get him in Kansas City early in the 2012 season if not sooner.

I’ve talked a bit in this blog about intangibles and what they mean to a team and came to the conclusion that intangibles are silly if there’s not talent. When Scott Elarton called the team out a few years back, that was ridiculous because he was terrible. But if a team has good players who are willing to lead, that’s when intangibles become important. That’s one of my hopes for the future Royals. We all know there’s talent there. Some of these prospects will, of course, not pan out, but there’s enough that the team will be talented. Sometimes it just takes some leadership to get the breakouts. That’s the difference between the soon-to-be Royals teams from the ones we’ve seen recently. Good leaders aren’t going to make a 75 win team win 95 games, but they could help a 92 win team get those extra three wins to take the division. And from all accounts, it looks like the Royals are building a base of talent who also happen to be good leaders. Things could get fun quickly.

What’s Next?

December 22, 2010 Leave a comment

With the trade of Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt on Sunday, the Royals off-season went from fairly quiet to quite busy. A team that was going to look different, but not dramatically from how they finished the season will now take on a much younger, more athletic look. The infield has gone from Butler, Getz, Betancourt and Callaspo at the beginning of 2010 to what looks like Ka’aihue, Getz, Escobar and Aviles at the beginning of 2011. When Chris Getz is a constant, your team still clearly has some work to do, but I think most believe that he is just a stopgap there until Moustakas arrives. At that point, either Getz is playing well enough to keep his job or Aviles slides over from third base to keep his bat in the lineup.

The outfield has shifted entirely from Podsednik, Ankiel and DeJesus from left to right to presumably Gordon, Cain and Francouer. As I discussed yesterday, that’s a gain defensively, but probably a wash offensively. Though this threesome, along with fourth outfielder Melky Cabrera, has considerably more offensive potential than the group that started the season last year. The team will miss the bat of David DeJesus, but will not miss the inconsistency of Rick Ankiel. Scott Podsednik was better than I expected, but not nearly as productive as his traditional numbers suggested, though if you could promise me that he’d put those numbers up again I’d take him back in a heartbeat. That said, Gordon could put up a .280/.370/.500 season and Francouer could find his power stroke again and do something like .275/.315/.480. I’m not sure how likely either of those scenarios are, but they’re more likely than Podsednik doing that. DeJesus with Gordon’s line isn’t a giant stretch, but I think most could see Gordon doing that before DeJesus because of the slugging percentage.

The catching position will be in flux until Jason Kendall can return at which point they will go back to having the least productive catcher in baseball. Until then, though, things should be better offensively with Pena and May behind the plate. Defensively, we’ll probably see a few more passed balls and wild pitches, but not to an Olivo level. The pitching staff will have changed over almost entirely with what appears to be just Luke Hochevar and Kyle Davies as the holdovers in the rotation and Joakim Soria and Robinson Tejeda in the bullpen.

So now that the team has changed so dramatically from one season to the next, what is on tap for the Royals? Some have suggested that the Royals use the money saved in the Greinke deal to pursue a free agent starting pitcher. Names I’ve seen mentioned include Jeremy Bonderman, Jeff Francis, Kevin Millwood, Brad Penny, Brandon Webb and Chris Young. For the right money, I’d certainly take a flyer on any of them, but it appears that they’re all looking for at least decent base salaries with incentives. From a pure baseball perspective, I can understand and almost even agree with some arguments. There’s no bad in a one-year deal, even for something like $7 or $8 million because it’s such a short-term committment. If they do well, they can be flipped at the deadline for prospects or could even be extended and become a valuable veteran member of what’s about to be a very young pitching staff. They could flame out and the organization is out a few million, but nothing crippling. I get that, and if they chose to go this route I would almost certainly support it as long as there wasn’t a second year tacked on.

If they were to go the free agent starting pitcher route, I’d like them to consider Bonderman, Penny or Young from the list above and I’d also look into Dave Bush or Ian Snell. To me, though, it seems silly to spend the money on this season. That’s with the caveat that the money will not just go directly into the owner’s pockets. I’d like to see the team save the money this offseason and put it toward the final piece when all the prospects are here. Imagine that the team has put together a strong nucleus and next offseason it looks like they’re just a couple of players away from being a serious power. The team is about to be incredibly inexpensive because of all the young players, but they really need a pitcher and an outfielder to put them over the hump. I haven’t taken a look at the market for next offseason, but the example holds true in two years or three years also. If they have this extra money, they can go out and sign a guy like Carl Crawford.

The other thing I’d do with the money is start to give extensions to the players who deserve them. This isn’t intended to start an argument over whether Billy Butler deserves an extension, but if they feel he does, well, they have some extra money now. If all things go well, the Royals will have minimum salary players patrolling the field and on the pitching staff, so they will have some money to play with. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a little concerned about Dayton playing the free agent market, but I’m willing to give him a shot with a nucleus of players like they are cultivating.

So to answer my original question, I’m not sure what’s next. I don’t think anything other than a low-level signing. I’d love to see them do what they did last offseason and collect minor league free agents. You never know when one will break out and prove to be a vital part of a championship club. Look at what the Phillies did with Jayson Werth. They took a gamble on a guy with tools, he produced and helped them win four division titles, two National League pennants and a World Series championship. I’d say the offseason’s been pretty active. It’s not time for Dayton to rest or anything, but I’m perfectly fine with him pumping the breaks and seeing what we have now.

Are the Royals Better Now?

December 21, 2010 1 comment

It seem preposterous to even entertain the notion that the Royals are a better team in 2011 without Zack Greinke than with him, but I’d like to examine it a little bit closer. While I enjoy statistics and like to make sense of players through their stats, I’ll admit to being a little murky on defensive statistics, which is the bulk of why I think this trade has a chance to improve the present. Still, though, it’d be hard to replace Yuniesky Betancourt and not get considerably better defensively. Also, a full year in center field of a guy who can play very strong defense and hit a little is something that will be a huge pickup to this team.

Let’s start with Lorenzo Cain because the more I look at this deal, the more he becomes my favorite piece of it. I was listening to the radio yesterday and a caller mentioned that what she liked about Cain was that he came up and hit everything in sight and looked for all the world like a future superstar. Then it appeared that the league figured him out and that’s the point where a player can go in one of a couple of directions. They can either be a flash in the pan like a Shawn Sedlacek was in his first few starts in the majors or they can make adjustments and get back on track like a guy like Mike Aviles did in his rookie season. Well, I looked at the numbers and she was dead on.

After getting the recall for good in August, Cain hit .333/.386/.462 through his first 12 games and was playing exemplary defense in center field. The hits stopped coming, though, and in his next 16 games, Cain hit .167/.224/.185. As I mentioned above, this was the point where he could have ended up as just a player listed in the baseball encyclopedia or he could make adjustments and begin to hit again. He started to hit again and with authority. From that point on, in his last 12 games, Cain hit .408/.431/.592. Yes, the sample sizes are small, but to watch a young player make adjustments is something that makes me believe in him more and more. I like Cain a great deal more than any of the center field options the Royals have which include Blanco, Cabrera, Dyson and Maier. He gets on base as well as Blanco, is almost as dynamic as Dyson, is as solid as Maier and is better overall than Melky. That’s a net gain in center.

Onto Escobar now – he’s regarded in the baseball world as one of the best shortstops out there. Defensive metrics from 2010 indicate otherwise, but there’s a lot of noise in a one season sample for defensive statistics, so I’m willing to look the other way somewhat and take a look at his minor league track record. That, to me, points to future defensive success. Offensively, I don’t think he’ll be a slouch either. As I mentioned yesterday, his luck was absolutely atrocious. Add to that the fact that he’s still quite young and has a chance to improve and we’re looking at a guy who I think has a reasonable shot to put up a .300/.340 line next season which, at the bottom of the order, would make the Royals offense purr.

What I haven’t mentioned in great detail is how the new defensive alignment will help the entire staff. I touched briefly on how it will help Hochevar, but adding these two players plus playing Kila Ka’aihue more often at first than Butler, Aviles at third and Getz at second makes the Royals infield defense a definite positive. In the outfield, with Cain in center, an above average Alex Gordon in left and an above average Jeff Francouer in right, the Royals starting outfield appears to be head and shoulders better defensively than the alignment of Podsednik, Ankiel and DeJesus. Dramatic team turnarounds occur more often with pitching improvements than offensive improvements and the quickest way to upgrade a pitching staff without acquiring new pitchers is to upgrade the defense.

I went out on a limb yesterday and suggested that Hochevar has his best season to date, but I also think we’re going to see Kyle Davies’ best season as well as at least one of the young pitchers make their Major League debut this season and be very successful at the big league level.

The acquisition of Jeremy Jeffress will also be a big boost to the entire pitching staff. Combined with Soria, Meche (who was surprisingly good out of the pen), Tejeda and all the potential arms, the bullpen will end up being a HUGE positive for the 2011 Royals. My breakout figure in the 2011 bullpen is Greg Holland who, at last check, was striking out something like 17 batters per nine innings in winter ball. That is an absolute unreal number, and Holland has a history of struggling initially at a new level before taking off. A solid, deep bullpen can do a lot to minimize the issues of a weak starting staff.

Overall, it’s really difficult to say with any certainty that the Royals will be better in 2011 without Greinke than with him, but the possibility is certainly there. The defense is improved, the bullpen is improved, and I think the offense will even be improved. I’m not exactly planning on a division title or even contention late into the season, but I think the calls for 100 losses are not quite realistic. Sure it could happen because young talent doesn’t always perform well, but I think we’re going to start seeing the fruits of the farm system start to make their presence known and it will provide for a fun summer and a few more wins than 2010.