A week ago today, I wrote a column speculation on how many players the Royals would need to add right now to become a contender.   The number I came up with was eight.   Some commenters suggested nine (the ninth being a catcher) was the more reasonable number and that may well be true.

Be it eight players or nine players, I summarized that column by pointing out that it is possible that maybe all but one of those positions could be filled by the ever improving farm system.   There are two big problems with that sentence however:

  1. Not all prospects reach their potential.
  2. While prospects develop the major league roster changes.   You might fill one spot, only to have another open up due to contract issues, age, etc.   Basically, it is all fine and good that Mike Montgomery might well be an ace-type pitcher in 2013, but that won’t make the Royals any better if Zack Greinke left via free agency after the 2012 season.

In my mind, Greinke is the crux of the issue.   Unlike Carlos Beltran or Johnny Damon, it is not a lock that Zack will leave the Royals once his current contract expires.   If Kansas City is beginning to look like a winning organization during the 2011 and 2012 seasons and IF management is judicious in allocating salary, the possibility of resigning Greinke is relatively high in my opinion.      

Should the Royals still be floundering along at 70-92 and Greinke is still getting less run support than a college softball pitcher, what would be his incentive to stay?   Sure, he may not want to pitch in New York, but they score lots of runs in Anaheim, Texas, Tampa and Chicago.     

If you want to keep Greinke, then The Process has to be showing real signs of coming to fruition no later than the start of the 2012 season.   In fact, the Royals probably need to be at least looking like contender if not actually contending next season.   

The message:  don’t abandon The Process, but let’s get focused and hurry up.

Now, back to last week’s column.   The eight players that I thought the Royals needed were:

  1. Number two starting pitcher
  2. Number three/four starting pitcher
  3. Middle reliever
  4. A second middle reliever
  5. Impact, corner infield bat
  6. Good defensive middle infielder with an average-plus bat
  7. Good defensive centerfielder with an average-plus bat (or better)
  8. Impact, corner outfield bat

Where can the Royals afford to build from within and where do they need to be aggressive and go find someone to fill those spots from outside the organization?

If the Royals were a better offensive team and Gil Meche was healthy, they probably have a good enough starting five as it is.  That said, better than ‘good enough’ is preferable.  With the return of Danny Duffy (even if 2010 is pretty much a lost year), you have to like the idea of having him, Mike Montgomery and Aaron Crow all within hailing distance of the majors.   I am content to wait for one of those three to emerge as that number two starter by the end of 2011.

The key to making that happen, however, is getting Gil Meche healthy and here’s why.   Meche has zero trade value right now.   The Royals would be wise to take months making sure Gil is really at full strength before running him out to the mound.     There would be nothing wrong with a healthy Gil Meche being your number two starter for the first three months of 2011.    When healthy and right, as he was in 2007 and 2008, Meche truly is a number two starter.   He would buy time for Montgomery and company.   Can he get healthy and right?  Hard to say, but you might as well keep Meche around to find out as opposed to dumping him for little or no value this year.   So, the plan for the number two starter is keep Gil Meche, while you wait for Montogmery, Duffy or Crow to take his spot.   Keep in mind, if this scenario plays out, Meche will have real allure as a trade chip next July.

As for the number four type starter, I again am content to wait for the three guys above to come to the majors.   Behind them comes the John Lamb, Chris Dwyer, Tim Melville, Kelvin Herrera, etc. group of arms, who will also come into consideration as Hochevar, Bannister and Davies begin to become contract issues (or get worse, instead of better).

Truthfully, I like the Royals rotation of the future.   A 2011 crew of Greinke, Meche, Hochevar, Bannister, Montgomery/Davies would morph into a 2012 rotation of Greinke, Montgomery, Hochevar, Crow/Duffy, Bannister/Davies and frankly, if you resign Greinke, get better from there.   That statement allows for one of the Crow-Duffy-Montgomery trio to wash out and really counts on just one of the next group of young arms to truly develop into a major league starter.

Anyway, when it comes to the two starting pitchers the Royals need, I will ‘Trust The Process’ and do so without any hint of sarcasm.

When it comes to the two bullpen arms I believe this team needs, Robinson Tejeda might have already filled one of those spots, but let’s be greedy and add two more arms anyway.   Again, I like what the system has to offer in Greg Holland, Louis Coleman, Blaine Hardy among others.   Heck, considering I am talking about your fourth and fifth best bullpen arms, I might be willing to see if Dusty Hughes can continue to develop.  

Although Dayton Moore has done a lot the last two years to test my faith that ‘you can always find a competent middle reliever’, I am still going to stick with the organization to fill these roles or a low-cost veteran arm when the time comes.

Whether it is in July or October, the Royals are going to lose Jose Guillen and gain $12 million dollars.   When they do, someone should pin Dayton Moore down and tattoo ‘Kila Kaaihue is my designated hitter for 2011′ on his hand.   It is very possible that Kila might be only a modest (if that) improvement over Guillen, but Kansas City has to finally find out.    Spending time and money to fill this spot is simply a waste, given that one of your number one picks (Eric Hosmer)will be playing first base in AA come 2011.    While Kila is not really fill one of ‘the eight’, he fills a spot so that the organization can actually focus on ‘the eight’.

Mike Moustakas, on the other hand, IS one of ‘the eight’.   Is there anyone out there that is not hoping for a mid-season promotion to AAA, followed by an early season call-up to be the everyday third baseman sometime in 2011?   In the interim, Alberto Callaspo still hits and seems to annoy me a lot less in the field at third than he did at second.   The Royals can take their time with Moustakas, but they don’t have to be deliberate about it either.  I am content to rely on Moustakas to be my impact, corner infielder.

Since we are talking about impact bats, let’s move to the outfield corner.   Do we believe in Alex Gordon here or not?  Do we have a choice?   At some point this year, the Royals will bring Gordon up to play either right or left field.   When they do so, they had better be ready to give him 2011, too.     Kansas City pretty much has to give Alex one more chance to become that impact bat because there is no other outfielder anywhere close in the system that can fill this role.  

The downside to this year and one half commitment is pretty limited in my opinion.   Not only does Guillen salary come off the books this year, Meche’s will be gone after 2011.   Sure, other players (Greinke notably) will be getting paid more, but the Royals could still have some serious spare change in the cushions to go get an established free agent outfield bat after the 2011 season if Gordon washes out.

Okay, so now I am running the risk of being a Dayton Moore apologist, as I have filled six of my eight spots with homegrown talent.   I have done so, however, without counting on every pitcher to develop or speculating on a dramatic rise through the system by Eric Hosmer or Wil Myers.   I may be optimistic, but not euphoric…I don’t think, anyway.

Let’s stay in the outfield for a moment.   As I write this, it becomes clear to me that the Royals should keep David DeJesus and pick up his option for 2011.   We know what we will get from DeJesus and it is, frankly, pretty good baseball.   Having him around in 2011 gives Mitch Maier, David Lough and Jordan Parraz a little extra time to become, well, the next David DeJesus.   Hey, there is nothing wrong with one DeJesus in an outfield – two, however, is one too many.  That takes us to player number seven in our ascension to contention, who happens to be a centerfielder.

I am intriuged by Derrick Robinson, who spent four seasons proving to us that he could not hit, only to revert to his high school batting stance and suddenly pop the ball to the tune of .302/.394/.390 so far this year in AA.  Robinson brings tremendous speed and defense to the table, but two months in a hitters’ league does not a surefire prospect make.

That said, the free agent market the next two years is not exactly ripe with possibilities.   Next year, in fact, is pretty much without any real solution.   After the 2011 season, how do you feel about a 35 year old Carlos Beltran?   What about Nate McLouth or Grady Sizemore, assuming their options don’t get picked up?  I don’t know, man, I just don’t know.

This is a position that I think you go out and try to trade for a prospect or younger player that is, basically, a better prospect than Derrick Robinson.   That takes us back to getting Gil Meche healthy and a viable tradeable commodity at the deadline in 2011.   Perhaps you could package a Brian Bannister and Alberto Callaspo to fill this spot or do you same them for….

….player number eight:  the middle infielder.  

Again, I don’t see a ready solution in the system.  Somewhere between Mike Aviles, Chris Getz (yes, I said CHRIS GETZ), Jeff Bianchi and Johnny Giavotella, you have one solid middle infielder, but I’m not sure you want to base your playoff run on having two of them up the middle.   Maybe, but maybe not.

Truthfully, there is enough potential there that the Royals don’t have to panic (you know, go out and trade for Yuniesky Betancourt or something), but they ought to be looking around.   A guy like Yunel Escobar comes to mind, although his current mental state is pushing him closer to a Betancourt-type player than a real solution-type player.

In a stream of consciousness type of writing style, I find myself wondering what type of young player a team could net if the trade package was Meche (healthy and effective, mind you), Bannister AND Callaspo?   If the Royals made that trade in mid-2011 and the return was a potential star player in centerfield then maybe they can contend with a middle infield of Aviles and Bianchi in 2012.   Or, in the alternative, maybe they could live with Robinson or Lough in center if they had a star shortstop in the making.

Is it possible the Royals are six internal players, one star acquisition and a year and one-half away from contending for a period of years?   If so, is a healthy Gil Meche the single most critical piece of the entire puzzle?  

Honestly, all six of the prospects I am counting on to fill these positions won’t come through.  I think five is more likely, which puts this team one big, good trade and one rather expensive free agent away and all that without dealing with the catching situtation.   That said, I can actually see the future and, rose colored glasses or not, it looks promising. 

I am interested to hear what some of you think about the above scenario or feel free to propose one of your own.   Also, check back for the Royals Authority Annual Mock Draft coming this weekend.