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What’s Next?

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.

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