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What’s The Worst That Could Happen?

I talked a few weeks ago about ways the Royals can compete in 2011. I think I came to the conclusion that there wasn’t a whole lot that could happen to make the Royals a playoff contender but a few breaks their way could make them a .500 team. I don’t think that’s likely, but all the things it would take are within the realm of possibility if only barely. I’ve also talked a lot about how I don’t think the 2011 Royals will be that bad. Yes, they will lose some games. Yes, there will be games where they will be embarrassed and fewer games where they will do the embarrassing. But I don’t think they’ll be historically awful. I think there will be eight teams worse than the Royals in 2011. That’s not exactly a glowing endorsement of the upcoming season, but it’s better than some prognosticators are indicating and expecting.

What if I’m dead wrong about that, though? What if the Royals are terrible in 2011? This post is about how that would happen and what ingredients it would take to turn the Royals from a team I think will win between 70 and 75 games to a team that wins 55-60. This is probably the last bit of pessimism you’ll read from this blog for awhile as spring brings optimism and stories about players in the best shape of their lives and guys who have added 15 extra pounds of muscle that they think will help their warning track shots go over the fence. And before you get too upset that I’m thinking in these terms, it’s not exactly a long shot that this season absolutely blows up on the Royals and they get the top pick in the draft…again a year too late.

If pitching and defense win championships, then it follows that without pitching and defense you better have an outstanding offense in order to compete. Without an outstanding offense, bad pitching and bad defense can be a death knell for teams. We’ll start there because there is potential on this pitching staff to be among the worst ever. I feel like I’m in the minority, but I feel like Luke Hochevar is going to break out in 2011, but if he doesn’t that spells very bad news for the Royals. Like it or not, Luke is the leader of the Royals starting staff and him not taking that step forward that I expect will cause huge ripple effects in the rotation. Beyond Hochevar, there are no sure things at all. Jeff Francis used to be a very good pitcher, and now he’s coming back from an injury. Bruce Chen has had one good year. Kyle Davies has never harnessed his stuff that Bob McClure calls the best on the team. And Vin Mazzaro may be a fantastic number three starter or he may be a product of that spacious park and great defense in Oakland. This is the part of the equation that’s the easiest to imagine. Even if the Royals win 80 games in 2011, their rotation will likely be their downfall.

Moving to the bullpen, it’s a little harder to predict a collapse because of the talent that will be out there, but it’s not impossible. Any idea of a bad bullpen has to start with the premise that Joakim Soria gets injured and misses significant time. If that happens, then all bets are off for the Royals. His supporting cast has a chance to be great, but in their role as supporting cast. There might be some younger guys who could step into the closer role eventually, but putting a rookie there is a bit scary. Even with Joakim Soria, the Royals had Octavio Dotel in the role in order to allow Soria to get acclimated to the Majors. As it turned out, he didn’t need it, but he’s a special case. To imagine the rest of the bullpen collapsing around Soria is not difficult. Relievers vary from year to year and with so many young players having to deal with the pressure of replacing Soria, the bullpen could very easily falter. The only other veteran I foresee in the bullpen is Robinson Tejeda, and while he can be flat out dominant at times, we all know he’s prone to bouts of ineffectiveness.

Offensively, I think the Royals will actually be about average, but they have huge bust potential as a unit. Let’s start off with the catching position. The worst possible thing that can happen here is if Jason Kendall actually is healthy to start the season there. If he’s on the roster from Opening Day, forget good numbers from behind the dish. The first base/designated hitter position is probably the best bet to produce, so an injury here to Butler is probably the only way we’re going to see below average production from his spot in the lineup. Kila Ka’aihue is another story. While I think he’s going to be great, there’s every chance that he hits around .220/.310/.390 which just doesn’t play from either first base or DH. He’s unproven, so it’s a very real possibility that this could occur. At second base, I don’t have a ton of confidence in Chris Getz, so that explains itself. At shortstop, Alcides Escobar had a very rough season offensively with the Brewers in 2010. If that line repeats itself in 2011 with an OBP under .300 the Royals will have somehow replaced Yuniesky Betancourt with someone worse offensively.  At third, we have Mike Aviles and Mike Moustakas. Aviles spent the better part of three months last year hitting for absolutely zero power. While he maintained a nice batting average, the Royals need him to be much better than that, and there’s always the chance that he won’t be. When Moustakas comes up, I think there’s a real chance he has a very rough go of it for a few months before adjusting to be the great player we all think he will be.

In the outfield, it’s not hard to imagine terrible numbers out there. Alex Gordon has seemingly been getting worse, and the retooling of a player’s swing is often a last resort. If this experiment doesn’t work for him, there’s every chance that he becomes a poor man’s Mark Teahen. That’s not good. In center, it looks increasingly likely that Melky Cabrera will be out there at the start of the season. Enough said. Right field is where Jeff Francouer will patrol. If we get the Francouer who has been masquerading as a Major League player for the last few seasons, well we’ll be longing for the offensive prowess of Jose Guillen by May.

There’s hope on the way, but this season could be an absolute disaster. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but it’s not that far out of the realm of possibility. More than likely, this team is just bad rather than horrifically, historically putrid, but you never know. The thing that concerns me even from an optimistic standpoint is that rotation. It’s not hard to imagine that thing absolutely falling apart. The key, though, is for the Royals to take their lumps in 2011 and not rush any of the pitching prospects because they need to be handled incredibly carefully as they are the true future of winning in Kansas City. Okay, pessimism is out of the way. Time to psych myself up to believe the Royals can win the division.

***********

Just a quick note for our friend, Joakim Soria. He’s looking for a new nickname. At first glance, that seems a bit narcissistic, but it does make quite a bit of sense. With all the violence going on in Mexico right now, the name Mexicutioner denotes something that Soria doesn’t want to be part of. I’ve heard some good suggestions, and my inclination is that if he’s unhappy with his nickname (for excellent reasons) that he doesn’t need one. He’s that good. Just something to think about.

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  1. Joe
    February 23, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Very astute comment about Soria NOT needing a nickname. His name alone should strike fear into the opposition. The fire showing up on the walls around the stadium when he comes into a game says it all.

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