Royals Authority

Deconstructing The Process

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A new year means it s time to look ahead. Dick Kaegel over at Royals.com has 10 questions about the upcoming year and gives his answers. Of course, Kaegel s answers range from the absurd to the insane, so I m not going to bother to comment on those. Instead, I thought I would take those questions and give honest, unfiltered answers. The kind us Royals fans deserve.

1. Will this finally be the year the Royals can get over .500 and possibly even contend?

The short answer: No. The long answer: No way.

The Royals have only marginally improved the defense but these moves have come at the expense of the offense. If the Royals decide to jettison Alberto Callaspo in favor of Chris Getz, the lineup will be even worse. They scored the 13th fewest runs in the league last year. They ll be 14th this year.

Pitching-wise, behind Greinke there are more question marks than ever. Is Meche healthy? Can Bannister withstand the rigors of a full slate of starts? How many chances will the Royals waste on Davies and Hochevar?

I don t think Dayton Moore has done anything to make this team better and the argument can be made that he s actually made it worse.

2. Can Greinke have another Cy Young-type season, or was that just a fluke?

Greinke fulfilled the promise he s possessed since becoming the Royals first round selection in 2002. He was awesome last summer and there s no reason to think he can t replicate his success in 2010. Greinke may not win the Cy Young next season, but there s absolutely no reason to fear a decline in his performance.

Easiest question of the bunch. Next!

3. Is Butler the type of player who can be a forceful offensive leader for the team?

Forceful offensive leader? Why does he need to be forceful? He was the offensive leader on this team last year, so there s no reason to think he can t do it again.

I ve said it time and again, Butler was the Royals biggest surprise last year. His work ethic was outstanding and the payoff was apparent. As long as he doesn t get fat and happy and slack off, he ll be fine.

I can’t resist this… in his answer Kaegel said Butler didn’t resemble “the flint-eyed warrior who’ll lead the troops up San Juan Hill.” Flint-eyed warrior? Way to drop a 110 year old, Teddy Roosevelt reference on the internet.

4. Can DeJesus be the inspirational leader that every winning team seems to need?

I know I’m not supposed to answer a question with a question, but “inspirational leader?” Who comes up with this stuff?

Anyway, I ve never seen DeJesus as a leader. He just doesn t seem like the guy who will pull younger players aside and he definitely won t get in someone s face, a la Guillen. Perhaps he could lead by example, but that s hardly inspirational.

Tenure does not equate to leadership. Nor should it.

I can t believe I even discussed this.

5. If the Royals nosedive early next season, will manager Trey Hillman’s job be in jeopardy?

Clearly, the most interesting question of the 10.

Under normal circumstances, I would say yes. However, this is not your normal team. Nor is it your normal organization.

First, there s Dayton Moore and his loyalty to his troops. Part of me finds this refreshing that Moore will give his employees every chance to succeed (or fail.) We ve seen far too many pitching coaches, hitting coaches and other assorted personnel through the team s recent history. Moore has said consistency is important, and that s a concept I can certainly get behind. However, there s always the danger of sticking with someone for too long. More on that in a moment.

Second, there s the fact that this team won t be expected to contend. As things currently stand, a repeat of last year s 97 losses isn t out of the realm of possibility. In fact, it s more likely than an 87 loss season. Low expectations have saved more than one manager in the past.

Taking these two points combined, it s not difficult to see Hillman finishing the season – no matter how the team fares in April and May. Despite this, there is a danger of sticking with Hillman for too long. For the Royals and given their expectations, the wins and losses become almost secondary. Of much more importance is how Hillman evolves as a manager. That is to say, how he fills out his lineup card, handle his starters and his bullpen and use his entire roster. The first two years don t give me much hope for year three.

I don t think he gets the axe during the season. Ask me again in July if I think he ll manage in 2011.

6. Why don’t the Royals use Soria’s great talents as a starter rather than as a closer?

Ahhh, an oldie but a goodie. A couple of years ago I argued that Soria should be in the rotation given that he possesses just nasty stuff and starters are inherently more valuable than closers. However, as Soria has evolved, it s become pretty clear that he doesn t have the variety to survive as a starter. Yes, he s an excellent pitcher, but with only two plus pitches he doesn t have the repertoire needed to be a quality starter. He’s better suited as a reliever.

Kaegel cites Soria s injury history as a reason to keep him in the bullpen, but that s just an old baseball canard.

Really, the Royals should think about shopping him to a team desperate for bullpen help. Soria s value on a second division team like the Royals is negligible.

7. Will the renovated and improved Kauffman Stadium continue to be a drawing card, as it seemed to be in its first year?

There is no argument in the fact the Royals had a great year at the gate. They averaged 22,496 fans which was their best showing since 1994. In 2008, the Royals had nine games where they drew 30,000+ fans. In 2009, that number almost doubled to 17.

Impressive gains all around, but history shows that when perennially losing teams move into a new ballpark, they quickly surrender the gains they made in their first year. Pittsburgh lost 8,000 off their average from the first to second year at PNC Park. The Brewers lost 10,000 off their average. The Tigers dropped 6,000. And remember, these totals are for new ballparks. The K was renovated – and not very well in my opinion. The gotta see it factor is long gone. In fact, it probably disappeared after the first month of the season. The Royals will still draw around 30,000+ for 15 or so games, The Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals and Greinke starts along with the odd Buck Night will again be the big tickets. They’ll average around 21k.

8. Now that Teahen has been traded, who’ll take over as host of “The Mark Teahen Show” on the giant Crown Vision HD board?

I think that Zack Greinke is the player best suited to host. But I think it should still be called The Mark Teahen Show. Ken Harvey and Chip Ambres should co-host.

9. Which player will be the biggest surprise of the 2010 season?

In an attempt to surrender his last shred of credibility, Kaegel picks Betancourt. I know I said I wasn t going to discuss his answers, but this was just so crazy, I had to mention it.

Myself, I ll go for Juan Cruz. I think he bounces back and becomes a credible set-up man for Soria. Last year s top surprise was Butler. Look at the roster. Is there anyone who can possibly come close to what he did for his surprise? I don t think so.

10. Where will the Royals finish next season?

As things currently stand, they ll finish last place with 67 wins.

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Last Monday, we took a look at an ‘everything works out scenario’ regarding the future of the Kansas City Royals’ outfield. Our look into the future was not a fantastical journey in that we attempted to be realistic (if not rather optimistic) in what a player’s potential might be.

What we ended up with was an outfield that was pretty marginal in 2010, decent in 2011 and good, but lacking in star quality, in 2012. Today, we look at the infield.

Unlike the outfield, this group has two different futures or maybe, concurrent futures is more precise. The Royals can look at their projected 2010 infield and, rightly or wrongly, say their infield of the future is already in place. In our ‘everything goes right’ world, the Royals, for once, are right.

Whether it is first base or designated hitter, Billy Butler emerged in 2009 as a real impact bat: posting an OPS of .853 and an OPS+ of 124. His second half line of .314/.385/.540 might well be an indication of the kind of numbers Butler will put up for the better part of this new decade. Of all the ‘everything goes right’ scenarios we will play out in this series, Butler’s may be the most likely to come true.

The other corner is, of course, occupied by Alex Gordon. To date, Gordon has shown flashes of potential, but had his supposed ‘breakout season’ derailed by injury in 2009 (not to mention curious handling by the organization). The Royals have been waiting for everything to go right with Gordon since drafting him in 2005. It is still not out of the question for Gordon to ‘get it’ in 2010 and surge towards that .300/.400/.500 line everyone projected years ago.

Truthfully, the real plan of both Allard Baird and Dayton Moore has centered around Billy Butler and Alex Gordon both becoming feared bats in the middle of the Kansas City order. Should Gordon at last emerge, Kansas City will have their number three and four hitters for the next four years if not longer.

That brings up an interesting problem for the organization as their two best hitting prospects happen to also play first and third base. In our sunshine and roses scenario, Mike Moustakas becomes a big time power hitting prospect. To date, Moustakas has played a pretty bad defensive third base, so it will be interesting to see if he can stick at that position. Additionally, his body type is looking less and less like one that could make a move to a corner outfield spot.

Still, if Mike slugs 30 home runs in AA in 2010 and another 30 in AAA in 2011 (along with an on-base percentage somewhere north of .375) is it the worst thing in the world to bring him up to DH? In our everything goes right world, I see Moustakas being a Jim Thome type hitter (and probably a Jim Thome type fielder as well!) from 2012 through 2017. If we really are being optimistic, Moustakas becomes a competent third baseman and gives the Royals flexibility when free agency looms for Butler, Greinke and Gordon.

The heir apparent at the other corner is Eric Hosmer. His future is still all projection and no actual success (even Moustakas had a very nice year in 2008 to give us hope). The flip-side, of course, is that Hosmer has not played enough to truly discredit those projections, either. Given this column’s angle, we sure as heck are not going to do anything to change that.

There is a school of thought that Hosmer could play an corner outfield spot. Ideally, Hosmer becomes a power hitting on-base machine while exhibiting enough athleticism to slide into right field for the start of the 2013 season (if not sooner). What if Butler, Gordon, Moustakas AND Hosmer all reached the lofty potential that is or has been projected for them?

At best, the Royals would generate enough revenue to line those four up in the middle of their batting order and simply overwhelm other teams. Even if the revenue is not there, Kansas City would be in the enviable position of having four big time bats to play two or maybe three positions: allowing them to ship a rapidly more expensive Butler and/or Gordon off for multiple high level prospects while barely skipping a beat when it came to their own offensive firepower.

If the above is not enough, we have not even discussed the possibility of Kila Ka’aihue getting an actual chance at some point in 2010 and parlaying that into a .390 on-base percentage with some power. If not Kila, then maybe Clint Robinson, who has slugged 45 home runs in three minor league seasons, will emerge over the next season and one-half to push for playing time in the majors. Perhaps we might witness the organization’s highest profile Latin American signee, Cheslor Cuthbert, emerge at third base sooner rather than later, to enter the mix.

If ‘everything went right’, the Royals would be flush with hitters at the corners. While Kansas City has made a habit of collecting ‘bodies’ that play first, third and DH, they have not been overly successful in collecting bonafide hitters. Maybe, just maybe, the organization’s luck is about to change.

This post was originally going to encompass the middle infielders, too, but it has run on a little long today. Later this week, we will examine Chris Getz, Yuniesky Betancourt and the rest of the potential middle infielders.