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Browsing Posts tagged Yuniesky Betancourt

Tuesday’s game was almost as epic as the Royals-Rangers tilt back on May 6.  You know… The game officially known as “The Last Time Joakim Soria Blew a Save.”

Yunigma Update

Yuniesky Betancourt walked twice last night.  That’s happened only eight times in his career.  (He’s never walked three times in a game.)  The last time he walked twice in a game?  Try May 6 against the Rangers.

Please remember, Yuni is not the team leader in home runs.  Jose Guillen is still two ahead of the Yunigma.  However, Yuni is tied with Billy Butler for the team lead in RBI… If you’re into that sort of thing.

Feast or Famine With Alex Gordon

Typical night for Gordon.  At least it felt that way.  A single and a double against Cliff Lee drove in a total of three runs.  That was good… Then he struck out three times, twice looking.  That was bad.

You know my stance on strikeouts – they’re just another out – but those looking, called third strikes are beginning to try my patience.  We’ve been over this before… Oftentimes, Gordon doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt.  Reputations are difficult to shake and he certainly has the reputation of a complainer… At least at the plate.  Of all of Gordon’s third strikes, 36% of happen when the bat doesn’t leave his shoulder.  That’s a high percentage.  Major league average this season is 25%.

Plus, who is he?  Nobody outside of Nebraska and Kansas City gives a damn about Alex Gordon.  Not now, anyway.  So when you’re up against a pitcher like Cliff Lee and you have two strikes on you, you damn well better expand that zone.

Of course, I’m probably picking the wrong time to go off on a “swing the bat, meat” tangent.  Both his called third strikes on Tuesday were against left handed pitching.  And he certainly showed what he could do against Lee, ripping a couple of hits.  Go back to his at bat against Lee in the fifth.  Two outs, two runners on and Lee tries to get him to chase a couple of cutters out of the zone and falls behind 2-0.   Lee is struggling to get out of the inning, so he’s not going to screw around.  Everyone knows this… And Gordon takes a strike down the heart of the plate.  My first reaction was, I couldn’t believe that Gordon didn’t take a rip at that pitch.  Typical Gordon… Missing his pitch in a hitter’s count.

These are situations he has to take advantage of if he’s going to be successful.  When pitchers jump ahead of Gordon with the first strike, he’s hitting .138/.198/.150.

Then I thought Lee wouldn’t want to fall behind 3-1, so I figured Gordon would get another pitch to handle.  He did – a fastball, belt high and on the outer half of the plate.  Gordon really turned on the pitch and ripped it for a two-run double.

So maybe he knows what he’s doing after all…

I’m still rooting for Gordon.  Probably more than anyone on this team.  (And probably because I HAVE to.  Gordon’s success means this franchise moves up the MLB food chain a notch or two.)  So it was a typically crazy night… A couple of hits and a handful of strikeouts.  Just another day in the development.

Yosting the Bullpen

Chew on this for a moment…

– Joakim Soria is having another dominating season.
– After a rough April (and a stint on the DL) Robinson Tejeda has been awesome.
– Kyle Farnsworth had an excellent season for the Royals.
– The Royals bullpen ERA is 4.64 – worst in the AL.

How is that remotely possible?

Step forward Jesse Chavez.  Take a bow Victor Marte.  Is that Brad Thompson in the corner?  Hey, there’s Josh Rupe.  Has anyone seen Luis Mendoza?

It’s really difficult to believe the Royals got solid seasons from three relievers, but the rest of the bullpen has been so putrid, it’s pulled the collective reliever ERA into the abyss.

I know the Royals won last night and I know at this point in the season we’re looking at the “young” guys, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to hang seven runs on Cliff Lee and then see Chavez cough up a lead in 16 pitches.  Followed by a Blake Wood escape act in the eighth when he got Vladimir The Royal Killer to ground out with the bases loaded.

On Wilson Betemit

I know a couple of weeks ago, Fangraphs speculated that Betemit may price himself out of Kansas City on the back of a strong finish.  I suppose anything is possible, but seriously… The notion that Betemit will break the Royals bank (or stretch the budget) is laughable.

He joined this team on a minor league contract last November.  A minor league contract… It wasn’t even a split contract, promising a certain amount if he got called up.  According to Cot’s, the most he’s ever made in a season is $1.3 million back in 2009.  That contract was really just a carryover from the $1.165 million he made in his first year of arbitration eligibility.  At that point, he had been a semi-regular for three years.

The point is, his last two contracts (before signing with the Royals) were reasonable, given his playing time, production and economics of the time.

He will certainly stand to make more than his $1.3 million.  However, we’re talking about a guy who will have less than 350 plate appearances and wasn’t a regular until the team jettisoned Alberto Callaspo at the end of July.  I figure he’ll earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million.  And that’s my guess at an absolute ceiling.  I know outsiders think of our team as cash poor, but that’s an acceptable contract.

Of course, there’s the other issue:  Mike Moustakas.  Hey, did you hear about his three home run, 11 RBI game?  Of course you did.  (Great game… Largely irrelevant in the big picture.  It’s simply the cherry on top of the sundae that is his outstanding season.)

Does signing Wilson Betemit for next season block the promotion of Moustakas?

I don’t think it does.

Moustakas needs to open the 2011 season in Triple-A.  For two reasons.  One, the Royals need to make sure he picks up where he finished.  This, in my mind, is a huge deal.  We know he’s been raking all season, but the Royals need to make sure he remains sharp during the off season.  (Rumors of him playing in the Dominican League are encouraging.)  I’m not going to draw parallels between Moose and Gordon on the “rush a prospect” front… Every player is different.  However, if the Royals are serious about this batch of prospects and aiming for 2014, they need to make absolutely certain Moustakas is ready.

Second, (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) is they need to take advantage of his service time.  If this kid is truly this good, I’ll gladly take a half year of his production in 2011 in exchange for at least six full seasons.  I’ve always kind of laughed at this kind of roster manipulation, but other teams are doing it.  The Royals need to join this parade.

And that means no September call-up.  I’m fine with that.  Have him finish the season with Omaha, take some time to recharge and then play some winter ball.  Sounds like a plan.

Back to Betemit… If the Royals follow this plan, they’ll need him to return.  That takes the pressure off of everyone involved.  Then, if Moose is abusing Triple-A pitching through the first three months of 2011, the Royals can flip Betemit and we can begin the new era.

It will be worth the wait.

In my other gig at Baseball Prospectus writing about fantasy baseball, I’m always on the hunt for interesting (or unique) players to profile.  I generally look for players who have altered their output (for better or for worse), try to identify the root causes and then speculate whether it’s sustainable or not.

It was with this approach in mind I decided write about our own Yuniesky Betancourt.

(Groan.  I know.  Another Yuni post.  We are all guilty of flogging this horse to death.  This will be the one and only time I weigh in on this.  Unless he wins the MVP.  Which, according to some PR flacks and assorted media fanboys, seems like a better than 50% shot.  Anyway, keep reading… Hopefully, you’ll find something new.)

We all know that Yuni is something of a free swinger at the plate.  A true grip it and rip it approach.  Only he’s pretty light on the rip it part of that cliche.  Until recently.  What gives?

For the season, Betancourt is expanding his strike zone and swinging at pitches deemed by Pitch f/x to be outside of the zone over 40% of the time.  That’s an astronomically high number – and a career high for Betancourt.  According to Fangraphs, here are the hitters who swing at the highest percentage of pitches outside the zone.

Vladimir Guerrero – 46.7%
Pablo Sandoval – 43.7%
Jeff Francoeur – 43.2%
A.J. Pierzynski – 42.9%
Delmon Young – 42.2%
Brennan Boesch – 42.1%
Alfonso Soriano – 40.8%
Alex Gonzalez – 40.2%
Yuni Betancourt – 40.1%
Adrian Beltre – 40.0%

I present that list without comment.  Mainly because, I don’t know what to make of this collection of players.  We all know that Francoeur isn’t good at baseball, but Guerrero is still capable of crushing a pitch.  Beltre is having a great season and Young is having a breakout year, but Boesch is back in the minors and Pierzynski is just horrible.  OK… maybe I lied about the “without comment” part.  The point is, there are good hitters on this list and there are bad ones.  Discipline isn’t exclusive to the best.

Just like other aspects of the game, the approach of one successful player won’t necessarily translate to the success of another player.  Francoeur and Guerrero swing at everything.  If I asked you which one you’d rather have on your team, I suspect I know the answer.

Let’s put Betancourt into the Francoeur category of those who swing at everything when they would be advised to modify their approach and narrow their strike zone.  It’s not a huge stretch. We’ve all seen Betancourt play.  And we’ve all seen him hit a soft pop up or a weak ground ball more than he’s made what I would call solid contact.  That’s likely because when he goes outside the zone and makes contact – which he does 77% of the time he swings at a pitch outside his zone – the contact he makes is generally weak.

Would it surprise you to learn that Betancourt has a career infield flyball rate of over 15%?  Almost one-fifth of all fly balls that leave his bat don’t travel to the outfield.  That’s embarrassing.  His 17.6% IFFB rate led the majors last year.  Because he doesn’t make good contact.  Because he’s swinging at bad pitches.

In games through August 2, Betancourt was hitting .253/.275/.383.  A little more power through than last year, but the OBP remained distressingly low.  Basically, it was more of the same for Betancourt.

Starting on August 3, Betancourt began his assault on American League pitching.  Since then, he’s had 61 plate appearances, crushed six home runs and hit .373/.383/.712.  Just an extraordinary and unforeseen turn of events.

It’s because he’s improved his plate discipline.

Take a look at the pitches Betancourt swung at in June of this year.  This is just one month, but it’s representative of his entire career.  (Believe me, I looked.  After awhile it’s like reading Green Eggs and Ham for the 215th time.)  If you’re a pitcher, you have to like what you see… There are a ton of ways to attack.  Sliders low and away.   High heat.  Anything inside.  Change-ups down.  It’s as if Betancourt approaches each plate appearance without the slightest idea of a plan of attack. From Texas Leaguers:

Compare that to the pitches he’s swung at during his hot streak.

He’s still offering at the high heat, but he’s not swinging at the inside pitch.  Nor is he chasing the low pitch.  Betancourt will still offer at the slider that’s down and away, but nowhere near as often as he has in the past.
We are all aware of the results.

Now the question is, will this new approach stick?  A couple of things make me skeptical.  For starters, since Betancourt went on this tear, he’s drawn a total of one walk – and it was intentional.  He’s already walking at a career low rate of once every 50 plate appearances, so ignoring the fact he did nothing to earn the solitary walk, he’s even worse than his current rate during his hot streak.  It’s curious that he seems to have improved his discipline, yet has seen his walk rate decline.

This means his lofty OBP is thanks to his inflated batting average.  Once the hits stop falling, the OBP is going to plummet. So will his value.

The second reason I doubt we will see this new and improved Yuni much longer is because the guy has over 2,900 plate appearances in his career.  He’s walked in just 3.2% of those while swinging at pitches outside the zone 32% of the time.  As the cliche goes: Old habits die hard.  Can a 28 year old major league hitter (I use that term loosely) with six years of experience under his belt, suddenly adjust his approach in such an extreme manner to the extent he alters his entire career?  Jeff Francoeur hit .284/.355/.531 in his first 93 plate appearances this year with nine walks.  Nine!  That gave him a 10% walk rate.  New York media was all over this.  It was a new day for Frenchy!  He turned it around, figured it out and was going to be awesome from now on!  This, from a guy who never walked more than 6% of the time in any full season in his career.

How’s that working out?

Since then, he’s hitting .214/.269/.322 and walked 19 times in 324 plate appearances.  Plus, seven of those walks were intentional.  Remove those intentional walks and he’s walking in just under 4% of his plate appearances.  This is the Frenchy everyone knows and loathes.

Eventually, Betancourt will have a couple of games where the hits won’t fall.  He’ll start to press.  The strike zone will expand.  And we’ll be right back to square one.

So I’ll go on the record right now and say there’s no way Betancourt continues his torrid pace for the rest of the year.  I’ll even go out on a limb and predict a line of .255/.262/.356 over the final month plus of the season.  This isn’t a stretch.  This is because we’ve all seen Betancourt play, and we all know exactly who he is.

Hey, I’ve enjoyed this offensive explosion from the man I dubbed the Yunigma as much as anyone.  I’m blogger enough to admit I never thought I’d see anything like this and it’s caught me off guard.  (Fun Yuni fact: eight of his 13 home runs have tied or given the Royals the lead.  I fully expect a barrage of PR Tweets telling me Betancourt is clutch.)

When a player has the tenure of Betancourt, to draw long-term conclusions based on less than one month of production is ill-advised.  Plus, understand that I’m not saying “Betancourt sucks” or the Royals should bench their shortstop.  It’s clear to everyone he’s been more productive at the plate than Mike Aviles, Chris Getz, Willie Bloomquist and anyone else you may think the Royals could use up the middle on the infield.  That speaks more to the cast of characters assembled by Dayton Moore than the talents of Betancourt.  It’s all relative.  While I advocated for Aviles to get more reps at short earlier in the season, he’s had a terrible last couple of months.  Betancourt deserves his time in the lineup.  There’s no one on this team who can dislodge him from his role.

However, by looking at the charts, I understand how this hot streak by Betancourt is happening.  And I understand how it’s going to end.

Old habits…

Well, that was bound to happen sooner rather than later.  Frankly, I’m surprised Blake Wood hasn’t coughed up more leads.  Thursday was only the fourth blown “save” in 40 appearances this year.

(I put save in quotes because we all know Wood isn’t the closer, so it’s not up to him to earn the save.  Although by pitching late and in close games, he often enters the game in save situations.  Thus, the blown save stat.)

A couple of things stood out to me about his appearance:

-  That was only the third time all year Wood appeared in three consecutive games.  The  other time was way back in Trey Hillman’s last game and carried into Ned Yost’s first two games in charge.  Perhaps not so surprisingly, Wood gave up two hits and a run in blowing a lead in that third game.

To be fair, it wasn’t like he had been overworked the previous two appearances.   He threw 10 pitches on Tuesday and just two pitches on Wednesday.  Still, something has to be said for getting a pitcher up three days in a row, warming him up in the bullpen and then bringing into a game.  There’s a certain amount of stress involved in this routine, pitch counts be damned.

–  In the match-up against Asdrubal Cabrera (which tied the game), Wood threw eight pitches – all fastballs.  The fastest was clocked at 98 mph and the slowest was 96 mph.  These eight pitches were essentially identical.  The result was predictable.

For some reason, Yost trusts Wood in these high leverage situations like the one we saw on Thursday.  Here are the Royals leaders in Leverage Index who are currently on the roster according to Baseball Prospectus:

Joakim Soria – 1.97
Jesse Chavez – 1.68
Blake Wood – 1.44
Bryan Bullington – 1.01

In many ways, it’s good to see Soria at the top of the list.  It underscores the importance of the closer – something I have mocked in the past.  Of Soria’s 35 saves, 19 have been of the one run variety while eight have been in games with two run margins.  Pretty tight.

It’s a little surprising to see Chavez so high.  However in his seven appearances, he’s entered with the game tied twice, with the Royals ahead by one or two runs three times and with the team down by a run twice.  He’s not coming into the game in blowouts.  That’s not going to end well, either.  Chavez just doesn’t possess the command to be reliable late in close games.

And Bullington is now in the rotation.

Yost doesn’t have a ton of options in the bullpen.  Maybe that’s why he keeps turning to Wood.

By the time Yost turned to Dusty Hughes (who couldn’t get the left handed hitting Travis Hafner out) and by the time the inning was over, a three run lead turned into a two run deficit.  Ballgame.

It’s too bad because Kyle Davies awesome through seven innings.  Not being able to see the game (not on TV?  What’s up with that?  Maybe that’s a good thing… The Indians commit five errors, but win with seven runs over the last two innings?  It’s possible I would have chucked my Boulevard through the screen.) but knowing Davies threw only 84 pitches entering the eighth and had surrendered only four hits, it was probably the correct call by Yost to send him back to the mound.  According to Pitch f/x, his velocity was fine at that point and he had been effectively changing speeds all evening.  Plus, as  the fact he didn’t walk a batter all evening will attest, he was working in the zone.

And with the current state of the Royals bullpen, why not see if Davies can go eight before turning it over to Soria in the ninth?

Unfortunately, when Davies got into hot water, Yost didn’t have a reliable Plan B waiting in the bullpen.

———————————————————————————————————————

– Yuniesky Betancourt came to the plate four times and saw a grand total of nine pitches.  Stop with the “Betancourt is pretty good” talk.  Please.

Yes, it’s great he’s hitting for power.  That’s something no one saw coming this year.  And his home runs have been timely – seven of his 12 have given the Royals the lead or tied the game.  There have been times where I have been surprised at his ability to deliver in key situations.  Although I think Betancourt’s positive moments stand out because they’re infrequent and expectations couldn’t be much lower to start.  When the D student turns in an A paper, it kind of gets noticed.

What I fail to understand is how certain people around the Royals seem to delight in pointing out his offensive “excellence” while ignoring the fact his .290 OBP is the fifth lowest in the league this year and he continues to exhibit next to no discipline at the plate.  Last night was Exhibit A. The guy goes up there hacking, with no feel for the situation and with no ability to employ strategic situational hitting.

However, his defense is still in the bottom of the league among shortstops.  And don’t forget to factor Betancourt’s defense into his overall performance on the season.  He remains terrible by any metric you choose – UZR, +/- – you name it.  According to the Fielding Bible’s plus/minus system, Betancourt is currently a -9 on fielding plays.  Not good.  Especially for a shortstop.  Going a step further, the Bible has Betancourt at -7 for runs saved with his glove.  Again, not good.  That ranks him 32nd out of 35 shortstops.  Plus, his double play efficiency has really declined this year.  After converting about 62% of all double play opportunities over the last couple of seasons, he’s converting roughly 45% of all double play opportunities.  That ranks him 35th.

Of course, looking at (less than) a single season while using defensive metrics is sketchy.  Those in the know say you need to look at at least three seasons of defensive data before you draw a conclusion.

Going back to 2008, Betancourt has ranked dead last in the AL among shortstops in UZR.  My eyes see a lack of mobility and range.  While Betancourt can occasionally make a stellar play, for every one Web Gem, he neglects three or four makable fielding chances.  The numbers back this up.

Focus on the big picture.

Apparently, it is not just chicks that dig the long ball.

Last night, Yuniesky Betancourt hit his 12th home run of the season and ignited a wave of love and affection throughout the world of Twitter and beyond.   We were instantly told how Yuni is now third among American League shortstops in slugging and fifth in OPS.      To be fair, those numbers do mean something and Betancourt has been on quite a streak at the plate as of late (.406/.406/.813/1.219 over his last 9 games).      The educated, unbiased, in-the-know followers (or maybe that should be contrarian or organizational employee) of the Royals will tell you that Betancourt has been unjustly skewered, that those defensive metrics really are a lie and, besides, who else is going to play shortstop better for the Royals right now?   C’mon everyone, love Yuni!

Well, I cannot argue with the second to last statement above:  there really is no one else to man the position at the current time.   Mike Aviles v.2010 is not the same guy who patrolled short in 2008.   That, by the way, is the answer to the ever more prevalent question ‘how long has it been since the Royals had a shortstop play as well as Betancourt?’.  It’s has been exactly two years – you know the year Aviles posted a WAR higher than any Royals since Beltran (yes, I know I have used that line five times this summer).

Let me digress I minute and offer a thought on Aviles.  In the field, he has reminded me of Mark Teahen prior to his shoulder surgery.   You might remember, Teahen was a mess at third base (Bill James’ words not mine) in 2005 and 2006.   His arm was erratic, there was a hitch in his throwing motion – both of which can be attributed to a bad shoulder, but Mark also had horrific footwork.   Sometimes he looked to me to be playing the game on skates out there.   While Teahen did not play a ton of third base once he returned from surgery, I thought he did look, if not better, at least more fluid in the field.

Flash forward to Aviles this year, coming back quickly from Tommy John surgery.  What had been an above average defensive shortstop in 2008 no looks like a BELOW average second baseman in 2010.   The errors, like Teahen, are no all with the arm, but also with the glove.   Is Aviles rushing, knowing or at least not trusting that he has the arm strength to the make the play?  Is that causing booted grounders and bad decisions?   Hey, I don’t know, just a thought.

Okay, back to Betancourt.   Let’s get a feel for what being 3rd in slugging and 5th in OPS among AL shortstops really means.   There are thirteen players who have logged 300 our more plate appearances while playing shortstop this year.   Here they are in order of OPS:

  • Alex Gonzalez
  • Alexei Ramirez
  • Derek Jeter
  • YUNIESKY BETANCOURT
  • Cliff Pennington
  • Marco Scutaro
  • Jhonny Peralta
  • Erick Aybar
  • Elvis Andrus
  • Ramon Santiago
  • Miguel Tejeda
  • Jason Bartlett
  • Cesar Izturis

What the heck has happened to the shortstop position?!!   Ranking high statistically among American League shortstops is much like, well, leading the Royals in home runs or being the fastest guy on your slow pitch softball team.   It’s nice, but it does not mean much.   Trust me, I was the fastest guy on my slow pitch team and no matter how many people I told that to, not one of them seemed to be impressed!  What are the odds?

Sarcasm aside, it truthfully is better to rank high in a bad pool than not.  However, it should be noted that Betancourt’s on-base percentage is second worst only to Izturis and his OPS+ is still a below average 93.   That number, by the way, is equal to his career high set in 2007.   Five and one-half seasons into his major league career, Betancourt has  never posted an OPS+ that is even close to average.

Here is another way to look at Betancourt’s production.   Let’s compare Betancourt’s 2010 batting line prior to the birth of his child to that of Angel Berroa in 2004 and 2005 (the two years after his ROY campaign):

  • Berroa 2004 – 262/308/385
  • Berroa 2005 – 270/305/375
  • Betancourt 2010 as of Aug 4 - 257/281/393
  • Betancourt 2010 total – 269/290/426

Hey, at least we finally found the next Angel Berroa.

Okay, I know I am being overly cynical.  Especially since the Royals are on a three game winning streak and Yuniesky Betancourt has been a major part of that.   However, can we at least admit that this ‘game saving’ play two nights ago came with a gigantic assist from Kila Ka’aihue on the other end?   And can we also remember that for every ‘great’ play in the field, we can all remember a botched double play ball or simply lack of range that led to a ‘bad inning’.     You can debate defensive metrics, but this is a shortstop with close to six years of everyday play who does not own a defensive number that does not begin with a negative sign.

In the end, I can live with Yuniesky Betancourt:  he really is the best option the Royals have at the current time.   Chances are, he might well be the everyday shortstop for the entirety of 2011 as well.        Betancourt will likely give the Royals something very close to his career line of .274/.297/.396 with spectacularly inconsistent defense.  

There is nothing on his resume to make you think this hot streak is a precursor to great things.   This is a player who has not been jerked up and down between the majors and minors.  He has not had a catastrophic injury, nor has he been moved around the infield.  For six years, Yuniesky Betancourt has been an everyday shortstop and, for six years, has virtually the exact same player.       His 23 doubles and 12 home runs this year is not really all that different from the 38 doubles and 9 home runs he slugged in 2007.

Betancourt is how he is and right now he is a player on a great hot streak.   Enjoy it, give him credit for it, but let’s not get carried away.

You may look at the box score and see that Zack Greinke gave up one run in six innings and think he had a good game.  Hmmmm.  Certainly, it’s good anytime a starter hold the opposition to one run, but this felt like a battle almost every step of the way.

Three walks against just four strikeouts and Greinke needed every ounce of the 105 pitches he threw in the six innings.  Greinke just didn’t have his command.  Of the 105 pitches he threw, only 57 of them were strikes.  That’s 54%, a percentage is far too low, given our ace starter normally throws a strike 64% of the time.

His fastball showed some life and averaged 94.6 mph, which is above his seasonal fastball average of 93.2 mph.  That’s a relief. (Although I remain skeptical about the Kauffman Stadium radar gun.  Seems like it still runs a little hot.)  While the velocity was there, the swing and misses were… Missing.  He threw 61 fastballs and got only four swing and misses.

Of course, we all know the slider is his out pitch, but the Indians showed patience in not offering.  Of the 23 sliders Greinke threw on Tuesday, only 11 were strikes.

It was just a grind last night.  One of those games where I was on the edge of my seat because I was just waiting for Greinke to give up a string of hits and basically throw in the towel.  Fortunately, his defense bailed him out more than once.  That’s something you don’t hear everyday.

So Zack is still scuffling.  He pitched a great game in his previous start in Los Angeles, but couldn’t really find the rhythm or his comfort zone last night.  That’s kind of been the story of his season.  We’re all waiting for that “eureka” moment, but I’m not sure we’re going to get that.  Instead, we may have to settle for inconsistency.

That’s a bummer.  I want the 2009 version of Greinke back.  On a consistent basis.

– I can’t possibly be the only person who, when watching Kila rip a couple of fastballs to right, thinks, “Slider bat speed, my ass.”  The guy can flat turn on a pitch.  I have absolutely no idea where the myth developed that he doesn’t possess the bat speed to handle a fastball.  Looked fine to me last night.

– Speaking of Kila, he turned in a pair of nice defensive plays at first last night.  And both came in key situations.  The first was with two down in the second with a run already in and two runners on base.  Jason Donald hit a weak grounder to third and Wilson Betemit had to rush his throw.  Kila made a nice stretch to get the out.  That was a fine play, but the one that really stood out was in the ninth.  Asdrubal Cabrera hits a grounder to the hole between short and third.  Yuniesky Betancourt ranges to his right and makes a strong throw, but Kila really saved the day with another excellent stretch.  Billy Butler is much improved defensively at first, but I’m not sure he makes that play in the ninth.

– Maybe the opposition will begin to respect Kila.  An intentional walk to Butler in the fifth?  This really is a rivalry.

– Betemit put a charge in his home run, but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone crush a pitch this year like Jim Thome did last night in Minnesota.

– It makes me incredibly sad that Yuniesky Betancourt is second on this team with 11 home runs.  This sudden burst of power is the only thing keeping his OPS+ hovering around the 90 point mark.  Ugh.

– The Royals bullpen will provide antacid moments for the rest of the season.  Guaranteed.  No clue what Jesse Chavez was doing in the seventh.  And Blake Wood in the eighth only works because the Indians are a woeful offensive team.

– Did the Indians have a legitimate beef at the end of the game regarding Kerwin Danley’s strike zone?  Perhaps.  However, Danley was calling the high outside strike all night – that was the pitch that sent Shin-Soo Choo packing in the ninth for the second out.  The cutter Soria delivered a couple pitches prior was in almost the exact same location and it was called a strike.  Having said that, it would appear Travis Hafner has a legit reason to complain.  That final strike was way off the plate.  Here’s Danley’s called pitches for the night.  The final pitch of the game is easily identifiable:  It’s the red square way off the plate.

The battle for fourth place rolls on…

After two rain delays and three losses in New York, how many of you are tired of hearing that song?  Anyway….

On Sunday afternoon, Royals’ fans got their first look at newly acquired Sean O’Sullivan:  five innings, seven hits, five runs, no walks and three strikeouts.   O’Sullivan was a bit unlucky in the four run Yankee third inning as Mark Teixeira’s desperation reach went from foul ball to infield single and Scott Podsednik struggled with a ball in the left field corner that combined to lead to two more runs.   Of course, O’Sullivan also surrendered three early shots to the warning track in deep right center as well that happened to stay up long enough to be caught.

I saw a lot of what prospect reports had indicated we might see out of O’Sullivan.   Baseball America two years ago wondered if Sean’s lack of an ‘out pitch’ would make it difficult for him to succeed at the higher levels and there were several reports recently that O’Sullivan’s stuff becomes less effective the second and third times through a batting order.  We saw evidence of both on Sunday.

That said, O’Sullivan has some decent movement on all three pitches and seemed willing to throw fastball, curve or change in just about any count.   His fastball topped out at just under 93 mph and he tossed in some off-speed offerings as low as 74 mph, so O’Sullivan has the ability to mess with a hitter’s timing (his change-up averaged 78 mph, twelve less than his average fastball).   Keeping in mind that he was facing the Yankees for the second time in a week, Sunday’s performance was not totally discouraging.

However, Sunday was another discouraging outing for reliever Blake Wood.   As Craig astutely called about four weeks ago, Wood was simply not getting enough swings and misses to survive in the bigs and yesterday he could not find the strike zone either.   In his last ten outings spanning just over eight innings, Wood has allowed 17 hits and 11 runs, while walking 5 and striking out just 4.   Excluding the intentional walk to Jeter, Wood threw sixteen pitches on Sunday and fifteen were fastballs.    Nobody has that good a fastball.

With three young relievers pitching well in Omaha (Blaine Hardy, Louis Coleman and Greg Holland) it may be time to give Wood some time to work on a secondary pitch in AAA and give one of those three a chance in the bigs.   Such a move would also allow the Royals to stagger the experience of their future bullpen so they don’t suddenly find themselves relying on three rookies in the middle innings or, in the alternative, spending money on a veteran middle guy because they don’t want to rely on three rookies in 2011.

Onto the curiosity of the afternoon.   Ned Yost played Yuniesky Betancourt for the tenth consecutive game since coming out of the All-Star Break, while sitting Billy Butler and resting Mike Aviles on Saturday.   In doing so, he managed to basically play three of his four infielders out of position.   Now, Wilson Betemit is fine at first if you want to give Butler a rest, but why not Getz at second (his natural position) and Aviles at third (given that Mike has not played his natural position of shortstop more than a handful of games as it is)?     Just me being critical, I’m sure.

Okay, if you get all agitated about trade rumors and the fact that most never come true, then stop reading now.  

MLBTradeRumors had some juicy morsels this weekend starting with the Royals interest in Jeff Francouer.    That then expanded into a crazy jumble of Mets-Royals potential dealings that I am simply calling ‘five guys I hate and Gil Meche’.   In some combination, the Mets were reportedly discussing Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez and Francouer while the Royals were talking about Jose Guillen, Kyle Farnsworth and Gil Meche.      Some of the commenters over at Royals Review were trying to make some sense of how all that might work out, but I decided to just start drinking instead.

Also out in the wind is some Zack Greinke to Tampa talk.    If you look at the haul that the THREE Cliff Lee deals and the Roy Halladay deal generated (not to mention Erik Bedard a few years back), then this gets interesting.  However, the rather modest bounty paid by the Angels for Dan Haren certainly put a damper on any speculation that this is something the Royals should pursue.

Another nugget that has been rumbling around put got some more juice early this morning was Jon Heyman’s note that the Yankees made a ‘major proposal’ in an attempt to nab Joakim Soria.   I don’t know what to make of this other than New York’s top prospects are mostly all catchers (if you are willing to believe Jesus Montero can actually stick there) or pitchers who certainly would not crack the top five in the Royals’ system.     

Speaking as a guy who has written a trade Soria column or two in the recent past, it would seem to me that the Yankees would have to offer someone off their current major league roster in addition to Montero or Romine, plus an arm for this deal to make sense to the Royals.   That is a hefty price to pay for a closer, even one as good as Joakim Soria.

Without question, this will be a wild week of speculation and rumors.   It will be interesting to see what actually ends up happening by Saturday.

All-Star Break time… The artificial midpoint in the baseball season.  We’re fairly close, I guess – the Royals have played 88 games this season – just seven past the midpoint.  That means it’s time for my annual exercise where I grade the team.  Hitters today, pitchers and management on Friday.

We’ll travel around the horn…

Jason Kendall
.271/.333/.320
WAR: 0.8

Despite my persistent Kendall bashing, our backstop (is there anyone else on this team who catches?) has gone on a mini hot streak of late.  Since June 23, he’s raised his OBP 18 points and even had a game where he hit two doubles.  Two!  That’s help raise his slugging almost level with his on base percentage.

Look, we knew Kendall would get most of the reps behind the plate, but this is insane.  The old man has been behind the plate for 92% of all Royal defensive innings.  Poor Brayan Pena has to be wondering what he has to do to get some time… Steal Kendall’s cup?

I guess my problem isn’t with Kendall per se, but with an organization that seems to think he has some value.

Fun fact:  Since Ned Yost took over as manager, Kendall is 2-8 in stolen base attempts.  Hmmm… A 25% success rate is… Not good.

GRADE: D
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Billy Butler
.322/.389/.483
WAR: 2.8

Butler leads this team in OPS (.873), OPS+ (137)

The downside of Butler’s season is his continued insistence on hitting balls on the ground.  Over 46% of all of Butler’s batted balls have been grounders.  That wouldn’t be so bad, but the guy isn’t exactly a speed merchant. When he puts the ball on the ground, he’s batting just .219.  When he hits a fly ball, his average is .295.  On line drives?  Try .857.

We’ve said it time and again – for Butler to become the dominant hitter we think (and hope) he can become, he’s going to have to alter his approach and try to drive more balls in the air.  He’s obviously mastered the art of hitting the double, now he needs to turn a few of those doubles into home runs.  The scary thing is, he’s improved his contact rate from last season and has bumped it to above 90%.  He’s a hitting machine with room for improvement.  Excellent.

It’s going to only get more difficult for Butler.  The dude has zero protection in the Royals lineup.  He already has nine walks this month (one intentional) after walking just eight times all of June.  That’s what happens when you have a singles hitter batting fifth.

Defensively, it seems like he’s better.  His UZR is a fat, round 0.  That may not sound like much, but given his negative rates the last two seasons, I’ll take it.  According to the Fielding Bible’s Plus/Minus rating, Butler is a 0 here as well.  Again, improved on his negative numbers from the last two seasons.  The Fielding Bible data says he’s a +3 at ground balls to his right, which in the past has been one of the weaker links of his fielding.

GRADE: A-
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Mike Aviles
.305/.332/.386
WAR: 0.7

Aviles has done well in his return from Tommy John surgery.  The Royals were being cautious in sending him to Omaha early in the season, although many of us thought they were looking to bury him.  Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.  The Royals are a better offensive team with Aviles in the lineup.

One thing still missing – his power.  He hit 10 home runs and 27 doubles as a rookie in 441 plate appearances.  In 220 plate appearances this year (almost exactly half… Yay!) he’s down to just two home runs and nine doubles.  As you would expect, his ISO is roughly half his final total of 2008.  He currently has a .081 ISO compared to his .155 ISO in 2008.    As a result, his slugging percentage is a full 100 points lower from ’08.

Defensively, he’s shown some decent range at second and looks comfortable turning the double play from that side of the bag.  I look forward to the day he can shift back to shortstop, though… For obvious reasons.

GRADE: B-
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Yuniesky Betancourt
.258/.282/.391
WAR: 0.2

Don’t buy into the school of thought rolling around the Royals that Yuni “isn’t really that bad.”  Admit it.  You’ve probably said those exact words at least once this year.  That’s probably because Yuni has gotten a timely hit or two, something he absolutely never did last summer.  Then ask yourself this:  Why do you remember the timely Betancourt hits?  It’s because you have such low expectations, you expect him to fail and you’re surprised on those rare occasions where he manages to come through.

Stop it.  He still sucks.
Offensively, he’s fifth from the bottom in on base percentage and jsut outside the bottom ten in OPS+ (his OPS+ of 81 has him tied for 11th) The good news:  He’s no longer the worst everyday player in baseball.  In fact, he’s not even the worst everyday player on the Royals. (We’re mailing Jason Kendall his “prize.”)  Defensively, the guy is still a train wreck.  For every difficult ball he catches, he let’s three under his glove.

GRADE:  D-
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Alberto Callaspo
.274/.307/.418
WAR: 0.9

Callaspo is not having a good year.  In trying to figure out where it’s going wrong for him, I found three things:

1- He’s striking out more than he’s walking for the first time since arriving in Kansas City.  His SO/BB ratio from the previous two seasons was 0.92.  This year, he has a 1.6 SO/BB ratio.

2- Part of his on base struggles are poor luck.  He has a .276 BABIP, down from a .316 BABIP the previous two seasons.

That’s really about it.  He’s swinging the same number of times and making the same rate of contact.  He’s hitting slightly fewer line drives, but it’s not enough of a difference to explain his lower batting average or on base percentage.

Defensively, he’s doing fine at third.  Callaspo has converted 88% of all fielded balls into at least one out as a third baseman.  League average is 87%.  I can live with that – especially if he can get his bat going.

I think Callaspo will have a much better second half.

GRADE: C
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Scott Podsednik
.301/.347/.369
WAR: 1.2

I wrote a piece at Baseball Prospectus last week, where Pods was mentioned as a fantasy asset.  I know.  It sounds just as weird to write that as it is to say it.

Still, the guy is hitting for a fine average, getting on base and stealing bases almost like it’s the mid-1980’s all over again.  Color me shocked that he’s coming extremely close to duplicating his 2009 season where he finished at .304/.353/.412 with 30 steals.  Hell, he’s just five steals away from last year’s total, so you know he’s going to fly right by that.

Having sung his praises, there are still a few issues.  Namely his base running.  While he’s  stolen 25 bases, he’s been caught a league high 11 times.  That’s a 69% success rate, which means in the big picture, his running is hurting the team.  He’s been picked off three times and made a couple of other outs on the bases.

His .341 BABIP is extremely high, so don’t be thinking he’s going to finish the season above .300.  This means his OBP will drop as well, especially because he still won’t take a walk.

This grade may seem low, but I just can’t overlook the number of outs he gives away on the bases.

GRADE: C
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Mitch Maier
.251/.328/.367
WAR: 0.8

To those media types who call David DeJesus a fourth outfielder… This is your fourth outfielder.

I’m glad Maier is getting another chance.  He doesn’t do anything really well, but he doesn’t seem to hurt the team, either.  He’s shown improvement from last year, but it’s not a huge – or even really noticeable – improvement.

He leads the team with a 10% walk rate, so that gets a thumbs up from me.

GRADE: C+
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David DeJesus
.326/.395/.460
WAR: 3.1

He should have been the Royals All-Star.  And that he wasn’t on that “Fan Choice” ballot of trickery would be an outrage if I could only muster the requisite emotion to care.

Hands down, the MVP of this team in 2010.

GRADE: A
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Jose Guillen
.279/.340/.467
WAR: 1.5

Since June 1, Guillen has a grand total of seven extra base hits and eight walks.  That may be the craziest stat I’ll find all season.

Even with the power outage, Guillen is the third best hitter on the team this year.

GRADE: B-
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On to the bench, in order of number of plate appearances:

Chris Getz
.232/.301/.268
WAR: -0.2

I know some have hopes for Getz to turn into a serviceable bat to go along with a decent glove, but I just don’t see it.  He makes enough contact, but he’s just not good enough to make solid contact.

GRADE: D
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Willie Bloomquist
.229/.270/.361
WAR: 0.1

My least favorite moment of 2010 was probably when I learned Bloomquist was DHing against the White Sox last weekend.  The justification (Wee Willie was 13-33 against starter Mark Buehrle in his career) was borderline insane.  Although it is just like the Royals to determine their lineup against a sample size so minute to call it “small” would be overstating it.

To be fair, Bloomquist’s .239 BABIP suggests he’s been the victim of some really bad luck.  And I’m extremely pleased one year after giving Wee Willie 468 plate appearances the Royals seem to figured out how to use him.  He’s on pace for around 175 plate appearances this year.  Much better.

GRADE: D
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Rick Ankiel
.210/.275/.419
WAR: -0.1

So Guillen had blood clots, almost died, and the Royals decided they needed to sign Ankiel.  Ugh.

You know all the Lebron bashing happening right now… How Jordan would never have joined another team and played second fiddle to another established star… How Lebron will never be an alpha dog because he made this decision?  That’s kind of how I feel about Ankiel turning down an opportunity to play for the Yankees when the Royals promised him center field. It told me everything I needed to know about Ankiel.

Yeah, I’m still sore about that.

Ankiel is another dud in the Royals attempts to sign a veteran with the intent of dealing him at the trade deadline.  Not to wish continued injury on someone, but I don’t think he needs to come back.  The Royals are a better team with him not in the lineup.

GRADE: D-
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Wilson Betemit
.389/.441/.722
WAR: 0.9

Those are some impressive numbers, but he’s done that in what is basically two and a half weeks of regular work.

The hope is the Royals realize Betemit can handle the DH duties and finally jettison Guillen.  (Yes, I know Guillen has no value, but I’m just ready for his time in KC to end.  Sometimes, it’s just better to move on… Quickly.)

Still, it’s nice to see the Braves pipeline actually you know… work.  Even for a little bit.

Grade: A-

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Alex Gordon
.194/.342/.323
WAR: -0.3

2009 was supposed to be the key year.  Then it was 2010.

Now it’s 2011.

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it’s for another team.

Although I will hold out hope the Royals can trade Podsednik and make room for Gordon on the roster before August.  I’d like to see at least two months of Gordon everyday.  Please.

GRADE: I
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Brayan Pena
.172/.286/.207
WAR: -0.2

Who?  This grade is more a reflection of Hillman and Yost.

GRADE: D

As always, thanks for reading all the way through.  Now it’s your turn to weigh in on the comments.  Too harsh? Not harsh enough?  Or just right?   Fire away…

Well that was certainly interesting.

A lineup that not only features Jason Kendall hitting second… But Chris Getz, Yuniesky Betancourt and Wilson Betemit in the lower third.  Somehow, they scrape together nine runs.  Nine runs!

Then somehow, Bruce Chen kept the Royals in the game with a masterful six innings.  Somewhere Zack Greinke is asking his teammates why they can’t score eight runs while he’s on the mound.

Before the game, I thought that lineup was awful.  Literally the worst combination you could possibly arrive at given the players.  No Billy Butler?  No Mike Aviles?  While I’m certain if you handed in that lineup card 100 times, they would struggle to score more than five runs in 95 of those games, Ned Yost struck gold last night.

That’s why they play the game.

A couple of quick thoughts from the second craziest game of the year.

– Although my self-proclaimed Gauntlet of Suck (Getz, Betancourt, Podsednik and Kendall – number 8, 9, 1 & 2… get it?) was a combined 3-18 with two walks, they each scored a run, which was useful.

– Jose Guillen is still on his current tear… three hits, one of which was a triple.  Just be prepared for the upcoming Guillen Winter, which should start in about a week.

– This is not a team that will hit many back to back home runs.  The combination of Mitch Maier and Betemit isn’t even close to the most unlikely duo.  I’d go with Getz and Wee Willie.  Or Pods and Kendall.

–  What can you say about Betemit offensive performance last night.  Two home runs, the last of which was the difference in the game.  Plus, he drew a walk.  Overall, he saw a team high 30 pitches last night – no small feat against the Twins pitching staff.

– According to Brooks Baseball, Chen relied on his change-up and slider last night while mixing equal parts of a two seam and four seam fastball.  He was also dropping his arm angle from time to time, which made things extremely difficult for the Twins hitters.  His final line won’t look impressive, but if Yost had pulled him after six, it would have looked completely different.  It didn’t help that Robinson Tejeda gave up hits to his first two hitters he faced, which allowed both his inherited runners to score.

– That ninth inning was a thrill ride, wasn’t it?  Mauer and Morneau are just awesome.  That’s all.  Swinging at the first pitch – because they know that’s how you attack Soria – and they both rap run scoring base hits.  Thankfully Cuddyer isn’t in the same class as his first pitch swing ended as a long fly ball out.

Whew.

Now the draft is complete, we can focus on the next date on the Royals calendar… The trade deadline.

My task for you is to rank the top three in order, from most likely to be traded to least likely.  Here are the candidates:

Jose Guillen

No one runs hotter or colder than Guillen.  He’s been decent of late, with a line of .246/.367/.523 over his last 19 games. Of course, that only means that starting about June 15 or so, he’s going to go into hibernation until the All-Star Break.

And whether you like it or not, Guillen is the premier power threat on this team.  He leads the Royals with a .229 ISO and his 13 home runs are almost double the second place hitter (Alberto Callaspo has seven.)

The Royals would have to eat the balance of his salary and would probably net a B-level prospect at best.  I don’t think GMDM has the stomach to get so little in return.

The downside to all of this is that under the current Elias rankings as provided by MLB Trade Rumors, the Royals wouldn’t get any compensation for Guillen when he departs as a free agent this winter.  Not that they would anyway… Even if Guillen were classified as a Type A or B, the Royals would have to offer arbitration.  And since there’s no way Guillen will top $10 million in salary next year, there’s no way he’d turn that down.  This is the ultimate lose-lose situation.

David DeJesus

The Royals hold the option on DeJesus next year at $6 million.  He’s already a two win above replacement (WAR) player this year, so at that price tag, if he can maintain his level of performance, he’s a bargain.

Here’s an interesting thought.  Currently, DeJesus is a Type B free agent.  Suppose he goes on a tear and pushes his ranking to a Type A.  Don’t you think it would be possible the Royals decline the option and offer him arbitration instead?  If DeJesus rejects arbitration, he becomes a free agent at a time his value really couldn’t be higher.  That would be the smart play for DeJesus… He could get a three year deal at $20 million, couldn’t he?  Then, the Royals could snag an extra first round pick in a draft that is supposed to be much, much deeper than the one just completed.

Hmmm…

Zack Greinke, Joakim Soria

I listed them together because I can just imagine the riots at the K if either one of them were dealt.  We’ve hashed this out before, but Soria has club options through 2014 so there’s absolutely no way the Royals are sending him anywhere.  2013 and 2014 are the new 2008 and 2009… Years when the team is supposed to contend.  As the only current member signed through those years, he’s going to stick around.

Rick Ankiel

Isn’t this always the way… Do Royal general managers walk around the Winter Meetings with a “kick me” sign taped to their back?  It’s like Reggie Sanders all over again… A “veteran” spare part with no value to a good team, signed to a deal in the hopes the team can spin him to a contender at the deadline, only to miss a huge chunk of the season with an injury.

Albatross.

Yuniesky Betancourt

I wish.  The only GM who thinks he’s any good already has him on his team.

Kyle Farnsworth

His name never comes up in these discussions.  Probably because we like to pretend he isn’t on the team.  I suppose he could net a C level prospect from a team desperate for relief pitching.

Prediction: Whoever trades for him won’t make the playoffs.

Brian Bannister, Kyle Davies

Both are coming up on their third year of arbitration eligibility.  Both are serviceable, back of the rotation starters.  Either one has some (limited) value.

However, I don’t think the Royals will deal either one.  When you have to bring Bruce Chen into your rotation when one of your starters goes down, that’s a serious indication you lack starting pitching depth.  Those guys will stay at least another year until the young arms are ready.  GMDM is keeping his fingers crossed this will be in 2012, because there doesn’t appear to be a backup plan in place.

Willie Bloomquist

Ha!

I left Billy Butler, Mike Aviles and Callaspo out on purpose.  These three aren’t going anywhere.  I could be wrong, so if you disagree, let me know why.

If you forced me to rank the top three, here’s my list:

Guillen
Farnsworth
???

Kind of lame, but I really have no idea.  That’s probably because I put the odds of the Royals making a deal at less than 25%.
Get to ranking.  I’m interested to see what everyone thinks.

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.