Prepare yourself… The Hot Stove hasn’t even been loaded with wood and the rumors are starting to percolate.  Newsday’s Ken Davidoff ran a column this week highlighting three “big” names who could be dealt this winter.  The three:

Carlos Beltran
Matt Kemp
Zack Greinke

With the money quote on our man, Greinke:

The Royals aren’t positive they’ll be highly competitive by 2012, so they would be open to a good offer for him, a person familiar with their thinking said. Plenty of teams — the Yankees, Texas, Detroit, maybe even Washington — would be interested.

Deconstructing this quote, the source is “a person familiar with their thinking.”  Hmmm… not exactly a heavy hitter there.  This means the source could be a fellow writer, just bantering in the press box between innings.  Or maybe a radio or TV guy, with whom he had a pregame meal.  You know what… I write a Royals blog and I’m pretty familiar with how the Royals operate…

I’ll go on record now: I’m not the source.

I suppose given the way he was identified, I could be.  And so could any number of us.

Still, the point isn’t to discount what was in Davidoff’s article.  The point is Greinke’s name will begin popping on these “rumor” reports from now until he either: a) actually gets traded, b) leaves as a free agent after 2012, or c) signs an extension.

Besides, Davidoff missed the best fit for everyone involved:  Tampa.  It’s perfect for Greinke because he gets to play for a winning organization in a low-pressure (have you seen those attendance figures?) environment and is close to home.  It’s perfect for the Royals because the Rays have the prospects to package in a deal.  And it’s perfect for Tampa as it would make their rotation the best in baseball.

Anyway, just be prepared.  The Greinke rumor mill is just now firing up.  There’s going to be a ton of talk on this topic over the next 12 to 24 months.

———————————————————————————————————–

The whole “Billy Butler Series Streak” extravaganza has me completely captivated not interested.  Butler is a good hitter.  We all know that.  Over the last two seasons (where the Royals have left him alone and hit him mostly in the third spot in the order) he’s put up a combined line of .308/.373/.481 with an OPS+ of 129.  His offensive WAR for those two seasons is a total of 6.4.  I mean, it’s impossible to break new ground here… Butler is a solid – if unspectacular – major league hitter.

As such, we should probably expect him to get at least one hit in every series.  At least. In an average three game set, hitting third Butler will come to the plate somewhere between 12 and 15 times.  This year, he’s walking about 10% of the time and he’s also striking out about 10% of the time.  He’s making contact in around 80% of his plate appearances.  So in a typical series where he has 12 plate appearances, he’s putting the ball in play in close to 10 of those PAs.  Since the dude is a .300 hitter, if everything played to averages he would collect three hits in those 10 at bats.

What this streak says is Butler is a consistent hitter.  He doesn’t go through a prolonged slump.  Check his monthly splits for 2010.  May was a very good month and July wasn’t so great.  Neither were exceptional months, though.

So he’s hit in 100 consecutive series.  The last series where he didn’t get a base hit was the opening series of 2009 against the White Sox.  If he has any sense of baseball history, he should stop now…  Because we love round numbers.

————————————————————————————————————–

Would you be surprised to learn that according to Defensive Efficiency, the Royals are the worst defensive team in the American League?  They are just one-hundredth of a point away of knocking Pittsburgh out of the cellar.

It’s a total team effort.  The worst fielders according to Baseball Reference’s Runs from Fielding metric are:

Wilson Betemit -10
Mike Aviles -8
Rick Ankiel -6
Yunigma -4

John Dewan’s +/- system is a little kinder to Aviles and Ankiel.  They both score a 0 defensively.  Betemit is a -14 and The Yunigma is a -18.  UZR is similarly unkind to our shortstop and third baseman.  Betancourt ranks the worst starting SS in the AL and Betemit is the second worst 3B according to UZR.

I know there are a ton of quibbles with defensive metrics, but I just presented three of them that all say the same thing – the left side of the Royals infield is the worst defensively in baseball.   And it’s not even close.

Certainly, the Royals team defense took a loss when David DeJesus got injured a couple of months ago, but the moves Dayton Moore made to allegedly improve the glove work mostly fell flat.  Scott Podsednik was worse than even I imagined in the outfield, taking bizarre routes and looking a few steps too slow in reacting.  Chris Getz may be a good defender, but his bat prevented him from ever gaining much traction prior to his concussion.  Ankiel was predictably awful and we never got to see much of Fields. (Although from what limited play I’ve seen, I’m not impressed.)

Here’s what GMDM had to say before camp opened way back in February:

“I love the moves that we’ve made this offseason.  We wanted to get more athletic, and we wanted more team speed and guys who could play better defense.”

The only place where the Royals have a positive UZR is first base.  First base!  If I had told you that last winter, you would have laughed.  However, Butler has made himself into an awkward, yet serviceable first baseman and Kila Ka’aihue looks decent enough with the glove.

The Royals will probably attempt to dress this pig up as they are prone to do from time to time.  Last year, the Royals allowed 77 unearned runs to score.  This year, they’ve allowed 49 unearned runs to score.  But really, is that the best way to measure defense?  (Rhetorical question… The answer is NO.)

The Royals entered the off season with a stated desire to get better defensively.  They didn’t.  And given who they brought into this team, the front office shouldn’t be surprised.  This whole things reminds me of the time when GMDM said he was going to place an emphasis on OBP and then acquired Mike Jacobs and Miguel Olivo.

While we still look forward to Project 2012 and the eventual influx of young talent from the minor leagues, the Royals continue to fail at evaluating major league talent.  Going forward, this will continue to be a concern.