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Looking Ahead

The future of the Royals is one that many around Kansas City and even throughout baseball are very excited about. In case you haven’t heard, the Royals were ranked with the number one farm system in all of baseball by Baseball America and just about anyone who talks about prospects on a regular basis this past offseason. In addition, they were first team to have nine players on the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list that comes out in the offseason. Needless to say, the future looks bright for the Royals. When Dayton Moore took over during the 2006 season, there was a lot of talk pointing to the 2010 season or so for when the Royals could legitimately expect to compete. As time passed, the year shifted and 2012 had become the year that Royals fans pointed to as the next time they’d see a good team on the field. On this day after an off day, I thought I’d take a look at what needs to happen in order for 2012 to be the year. For the record, many already believe that 2013 is the year, but I don’t think it’s completely fair to discount next year since it hasn’t even happened yet.

The first thing that has to get fixed in short order is the starting rotation. That isn’t news to anyone. The question is what do the Royals need to do to put together a rotation that can make a playoff run? I think the Royals need to first look in house to determine who they currently have who can be a part of things. Their opening day starter, Luke Hochevar, looks like a lock for the 2012 rotation already as he’s been solid in a weird way in 2011. He shouldn’t be the ace of your staff, but he gives you innings and keeps you in the game for the most part. I like him at the number four spot in the rotation. I think by the end of the year Danny Duffy will have figured out most of his problems and can slot in nicely in the number three spot in the rotation. I also believe that Mike Montgomery will be in the Royals rotation at some point this year and can fit nicely in the number five spot moving into next season. So, no surprises here, but the Royals need two guys to fill out the top of their rotation. Looking at the free agent list isn’t exactly inspiring unless you’re willing to throw gobs of money at C.J. Wilson, which I wouldn’t be. So it’s time to look into some trades.

The first pitcher I’d make a run at is a guy on a team with whom the Royals don’t do a lot of trading, the Minnesota Twins. Scott Baker is the guy I’d make a run at. I don’t think he’s anything terribly special, but he would instantly become the best pitcher on the Royals staff. He’s a big guy who strikes out a fair number of batters and doesn’t walk a ton of batters. The knock on him throughout his career is that he doesn’t give you 220 innings like his size would indicate he should, but he’s got good stuff and would be an excellent addition to the Royals rotation. The Twins are going to have some corner outfield needs in the next few years and are probably interested in getting back to an approach that includes more speed and defense after sitting through Delmon Young, so there is possibly a fit there with a guy like David Lough or someone of the sort. I’ll leave this question to you. Who would you give up for Scott Baker?

The second pitcher I’d make a run at is Jeremy Guthrie of the Orioles. Guthrie really slots in better as a number three, but he can help the top of the Royals rotation in 2012. He, like Baker, doesn’t walk many batters. Unlike Baker, he strikes out just a few too few to really be counted on for dominance, but the Royals actually have a good defense for the first time in ages, and a pitcher who doesn’t strike out a ton can now succeed in Kansas City. Guthrie is good for 200 innings per year, but the Orioles have tons of young pitching coming through their system and could afford to part with him. He probably wouldn’t be quite as expensive as Baker, but I’ll leave this up to you as well to see who you would give up to get him. That leaves the rotation as:

1. Baker
2. Guthrie
3. Duffy
4. Hochevar
5. Montgomery

Well that’s much better. Some might wonder where Aaron Crow is, and the more I watch him and hear about him, the more I think he just will never be a good starter in the big leagues. I do want him to get a shot, and I hope that I’m dead wrong about him and he fills a void at the top of the rotation for years to come, but I just think he’s going to have a career as a reliever, and an excellent one at that.

Now we’re on to the easy part. I think the Royals would be contenders right now if they had any semblance of starting pitching. That’s partially due to the weak division in which they play, but partially because they have a solid offense, defense and bullpen. The lineup seems to be pretty well set for next season, but with a couple of changes that we might see as soon as next month. First, I’ve been clamoring for Johnny Giavotella all season, so he has to be in my 2012 lineup. It’s the same story for Lorenzo Cain who will replace Melky Cabrera. The only potential hole in the lineup is in right field where I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I would keep Jeff Francoeur for another season. No, I don’t think he’s anything great, but he plays good defense and he hits you the occasional homer. I don’t want him in the middle of the lineup, but he can be a very good number seven hitter for the Royals. For the catching position, I don’t think Perez will be quite ready next year, so you go out and get a guy like a Rod Barajas or Ramon Castro to fill the position for a year. Either one will be a bit of a hole in the lineup, but will hit for some pop and play decent defense. Everyone else pretty much stays the same and we have a lineup that looks like this:

1. Gordon
2. Giavotella
3. Hosmer
4. Butler
5. Moustakas
6. Cain
7. Francoeur
8. Barajas/Castro
9. Escobar

I know it’s unorthodox to keep Gordon there, but I think he works in that spot and gives the Royals a top seven that’s really pretty darn good. Even in the number eight spot you have a little pop and Escobar could continue to improve at the bottom of the lineup. Some might argue with Butler hitting fourth and Moustakas hitting fifth, but for now that’s where I’d start them next year unless Moustakas does something like hit .300/.400/.550 this season. I think it’s probably a safe bet that he won’t, but I certainly wouldn’t mind. Ultimately, Cain and Gordon might be safe to flip in the lineup as well, but this is what I’d start the season with.

The final piece of the puzzle is the bullpen, and I’m not sure that I’d change a thing. The key components will be Soria closing with Crow, Collins, Holland and Coleman setting up for him. The one thing the bullpen lacks is a LOOGY (left –handed one out guy) as Collins isn’t great against lefties like you’d hope from a left-handed reliever. There are a few out there, and I’d sign any one of Randy Flores, Darren Oliver or Arthur Rhodes. Oliver might be a nice choice since his dad played in Kansas City and I think he was born here. I could be mistaken about that, but it would be a nice coming home party for the veteran. The other spot in the bullpen can be revolving among whoever is pitching well in the minors at the time. This is a bullpen that you don’t really need to worry too much about the seventh man.

I haven’t included bench, so I’ll show you my 25-man roster here:

Rod Barajas/Ramon Castro
Manny Pina

Alcides Escobar
Johnny Giavotella
Eric Hosmer
Omar Infante
Mike Moustakas

Lorenzo Cain
Jeff Francoeur
Alex Gordon
Andruw Jones
Mitch Maier

Designated Hitter
Billy Butler

Starting Pitchers
Scott Baker
Danny Duffy
Jeremy Guthrie
Luke Hochevar
Mike Montgomery

Louis Coleman
Tim Collins
Aaron Crow
Greg Holland
Darren Oliver
Joakim Soria
Blake Wood

Strangely enough, I think that team would actually contend in the American League Central. I think the fact that there aren’t a ton of changes is very encouraging for the Royals that they’re not that far off. The starting pitching is still a little shaky, especially with counting on two young pitchers, but I think it would be okay. It would be nice to have a legitimate ace like a Jered Weaver, but he can be had on the free agent market after the 2012 season. If the Royals could add him and/or Shaun Marcum, they’d be a force to be reckoned with in 2013. I usually dislike these kinds of topics, but today just seemed like a day where it would be fun to dream a little bit, and with the off day yesterday, there just wasn’t much to talk about. Feel free to leave your 2012 roster in the comments, and we can come back to this and see how ridiculously far off we all were.

  1. Daniel
    June 14, 2011 at 9:28 am

    If Mark Buehrle doesn’t get traded this year, he becomes a free agent. I’d like to make a serious run for him – we’ve got plenty of payroll room to overpay.

  2. wizscape
    June 14, 2011 at 9:54 am

    I don’t think we need to go outside for utility infielder and 4th/5th outfielder. Instead of Infante and Jones, Falu or Zawadski and probably Dyson can fill those areas. I don’t think we need to pay what Jones/Boras are going to ask and possibly promise him playing time over Cain or Gordon.

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