The Royals look to climb out of the cellar this season but getting past the 70 win barrier might be a hard climb.¬† The lineup is mediocre, the pitching a question mark, but this still might be the best Royals team since 2004.¬† They won't overwhelm anyone, but they have pieces that could possibly fall together and allow the team to outperform expectations.
2009 Regular Season Record: 65-97
How much run support will Zack Greinke get from the Royals offfense?
Rank: Tied for last in AL Central 21.5 Games Back
Home Park: Kauffman Stadium
Of the Blood:
C - Jason Kendall (Free Agent from Brewers)
2B - Chris Getz (Trade with White Sox)
3B/OF - Josh Fields (Trade with White Sox)
OF - Rick Ankiel (Free Agent from Cardinals)
OF - Brian Anderson (Free Agent from Red Sox)
OF - Scott Podsednik (Free Agent from White Sox)
LHP - Edgar Osuna (Rule V draft pick from Braves)
RHP - Gaby Hernandez (Waiver Claim from Red Sox)
C - Miguel Olivo (Free Agent Signed with Rockies)
C - John Buck (Non Tendered, signed with Blue Jays)
1B/DH - Mike Jacobs* (Non Tendered signed with Mets)
IF/OF - Mark Teahen (Traded to White Sox)
OF - Coco Crisp (Free Agent signed with Athletics)
LHP - Bruce Chen (Free Agent, unsigned)
LHP - John Bale (Free Agent signed in Japan)
RHP - Doug Waechter (Free Agent unsigned)
RHP - Jamey Wright* (Free Agent, signed with Indians)
*Signed minor league contract.
Strengths:¬† A top closer, a lineup that seems built for small ball, absolutely no expectations and no pressure.
Joakim Soria is one of the elite closers in the game.¬† He'd be even better if the Royals were capable of holding more leads into the ninth inning.¬† Not much more than that need be said except that he's locked into a contract, so the Royals probably have no reason to move him anytime soon.
The team doesn't have the power to play any style of baseball other than small ball if they really want to compete -- and the first two thirds of the lineup seems to be a decent one for playing that kind of game.¬† The addition of Scott Podsednik fills a desperate need the team had for a leadoff hitter while greatly increasing the speed of the team.¬† They'll use that to generate runs and hope that Rick Ankiel can regain his stroke and provide the team with 25 home runs.
The Royals have no pressure on them when it comes to performance.¬† They aren't expected to compete. Most experts and metrics don't expect this team to finish anywhere except the cellar and that.¬† Right from the get go takes a lot of pressure off.¬† That means the team can have fun and just try to steal the games they can -- and they have a couple of players who are capable of taking some big steps up.¬† That could lead to some pleasant surprises.
Weaknesses: Back end of the rotation, main body of bullpen, lack of power, bottom third of the order.
After Zach Grienke and Gil Meche the starting rotation is a mess.¬† Luke Hochevar (6.55 ERA last season) has ace potential but hasn't lived up to it yet but barring a collapse of monumental proportions the Royals will be trotting him out there every five days despite his propensity to give up the big inning.¬† After him it's hard to know for sure.¬† Brian Bannister (4.73) and Kyle Davies (5.27) are probably the most seasoned of the contenders for the final two spots, but a host of lesser known pitchers and non-luminaries including Noel Arguelles, Aaron Crow, Gaby Hernandez, Anthony Lerew and Robinson Tejada will be competing.¬† Tejada is probably the best of the bunch.
With the exception of Joakim Soria, the bullpen was far from automatic last season and the Royals made little effort to bolster it with a quality arm or two during the offseason.¬† Last year that cost them at least half a dozen wins, and it could do so again.¬† However they do hope to convert some of the pitchers who don't make the rotation into relief help.
Offensively this team will find itself challenged when it comes to power.¬† Team leader Billy Butler just barely squeaked into the 20s (and finished with 21) when it came to home runs, and no one else with the exception of Rick Ankiel (or maybe the 36 year old Jose Guillen) have the ability to hit anywhere close to that number.¬† That will force the team to play a lot of small ball to generate runs (one of the reason they added Scott Podsednik and his speed).
That could hurt a bit, especially since the last three spots in the lineup will be lucky to hit .245 combined, a sure rally killer once any team reaches, and then walks, Alex Gordon to get to Betancourt, Getz and Kendall.¬† One of those hitters (Betancourt) will eventually be pushed to the bench as soon as Mike Aviles is recovered enough from his Tommy John surgery to resume full time baseball activity.
LF - Scott Podsednik
RF - David DeJesus
1B - Billy Butler
CF - Rick Ankiel
DH - Jose Guillen
3B - Alex Gordon
SS - Yuniesky Betancourt
2B - Chris Getz
C - Jason Kendall
One question that need answering:
What will the Royals get out of Luke Hochevar?¬† The former first round pick has shown flashes of brilliance but he's been wildly erratic and could take a step forward or continue to struggle with consistency.¬† He could add or subtract seven or so wins from this team's total depending on how he pitches.
Despite PECOTA projections which have this team finishing dead last in the AL Central this doesn't seem like a team with a cellar mentality or a lock on cellar level talent.¬† I think the Royals could surprise a lot of folks.¬† Still predicting a .500 season would be far too optimistic, but I could definitely see them finishing fourth, and maybe taking a run at third if the Tigers fall apart too.¬† 70-71 wins and a step in the right direction is where I'd see this team.