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What’s Next?

We’ve passed Independence Day and the halfway point of the season at about the same time, and the Royals find themselves in a familiar position. They are in last place by a familiar margin, and every night seems like an uphill battle just to get the occasional win. We’ve been here before as fans. This is the time when fan attention usually shifts to next year. Maybe some pundits start talking about the draft while others take a look at who might be prime for a September callup. Most of all, though, people are talking which of the Royals pieces who are not a part of the future can be traded for pieces who may be. That’s much easier said than done, of course, because in order to trade for someone good, a team typically has to give up someone good. There are exceptions like trading Farnsworth and Ankiel and getting Tim Collins in return, but even then it is hard to argue that Farnsworth was having a nice season.

After promoting two of the top hitting prospects, one of the top pitching prospects and a slew of young relievers, the farm system is coming down a bit from its lofty status at the beginning of the season. Still, there is talent in the minors, and the rest of the season should be devoted to getting that talent moving through the system. Things already started when the Royals promoted Jake Odorizzi to AA where he’ll make his first start tonight. If he does well in AA, he becomes a candidate to be a member of the 2012 staff at some point. If he struggles, then his timeline stays at 2013. Either way, that movement is good. It allows the Royals to get a look at him at a higher level and see what they truly have in him. I’d love to take a drive down to Northwest Arkansas and see him pitch sometime myself.

Of those who could make the jump to the big leagues, the major players in this game are Lorenzo Cain, Johnny Giavotella and Mike Montgomery. Cain and Giavotella appear ready while Montgomery needs to show me a few starts like the one he had on Friday before I feel good that he’s completely ready. I’ve rallied for Giavotella many times in this space. Why I want him in the big leagues isn’t entirely because of my love for him, though I am quite enamored with him as a prospect. It’s more for who he would be replacing in the Royals lineup. When your second baseman is Chris Getz and the second baseman you have in the minors is hitting .321/.376/.456 it’s sort of a no-brainer to most teams. There are those out there who believe Giavotella isn’t ready for the big leagues. Realistically, many of these people are much smarter than me, but I just strongly dislike Chris Getz and don’t see Giavotella as a guy who will wilt under the pressure. I could be wrong. It’s happened before. Anyway, I’d like to see Giavotella up here ASAP and plugged into the starting lineup at or near the top. But then, if you’ve read this blog in the past, you knew that already.

Lorenzo Cain is a different story. I haven’t seen him play in Omaha, but assuming his strikeouts are something that just won’t be changed, he’s ready for the big leagues. He hit well in his Major League debut last season and is hitting extremely well in AAA to the tune of a .311/.377/.524 line. The one aspect of his game that he had not yet really displayed prior to the trade is power and he’s got a .213 ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average). That’s excellent, and just furthers the comparisons to Torii Hunter. Right now Hunter is overpaid significantly, but if the Royals had him in center field for the last ten years, I don’t think anyone would be complaining too terribly much. Cain supposedly plays very good defense and is a great guy in the clubhouse.

The problem is not so much of a problem as it is a roadblock. The Royals outfield is full right now. While I did not support the Melky Cabrera signing, and I maintain that his play of late is pretty fluky, he’s playing well right now and might be worth something on the trade market. Because of that, the Royals have to play him. I’m just hoping they don’t see him as the center fielder of the future and decide to trade Cain. Well, that’s not true. If the Braves are still enamored with Cain and are willing to give up Minor or Beachy, then that’s a trade I’d support fully. Short of something like that, I think Cain is the future in center for the Royals and will be a very big part of the next good Royals team.

The other roadblock for Cain is Jeff Francoeur. More and more, I’m liking the idea of trading Francoeur for whatever the Royals can get in return and shifting Cabrera over to right while Cain comes up to play center. That is, of course, if the Royals can’t get anything good in return for Cabrera. The thing about Melky is that the Royals have him under team control for next season if they so choose, and they don’t really have a right fielder in the pipeline who will be ready to come up before mid-season. Wil Myers may have been ready for Opening Day next year before injuries carved up his first half in AA. It’s no secret that I dislike Francoeur. I love what he brings to the table defensively, but I think that value could be replaced by Cain. If the Royals trade both, I wonder if they’d bring up David Lough and plop him in right field or if they’d go with Dyson in center and Cain in right. I hope they wouldn’t jerk around the organization’s center fielder of the future like that.

And the last piece who I mentioned above is Mike Montgomery. After struggling for much of the season, he came out on Friday with a performance worth noting. Greg Schaum had mentioned a couple weeks back that he was working on some things and in two more starts would be back to the Montgomery who was shooting up the prospect charts. Well, he was dead on. Let’s hope he continues to be right because I think four or five straight good starts gets him to the big league rotation. There are a few trade candidates in the rotation and some dead weight that needs to be dropped. I think it’s vital to get Montgomery to the big leagues for at least six weeks this season in order to get him acclimated to the Majors. If the Royals are going to be good, he’s going to be a number one or number two starter by 2013. Six weeks this year plus all of next season will go a long, long way toward making that happen.

Sometimes when the big league club is struggling so much, it’s very difficult to see the forest through the trees. I’m guilty of that as much as anybody. When I see a guy like Eric Hosmer swing at the third high fastball in a row to strike out, I think that the Royals can ruin anybody. It’s helpful to take a step back and look at the big picture, though. The talent is there. There’s money to be spent on pitching. I still believe this team is going to be good, and it’s going to be pretty darn soon.

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