This site and many others has spent a lot of the off-season talking about the future and with good reason. The Royals were bad last year and the year before and probably will be again in 2011. As misery laden as the club has been at the major league level (and misery is exactly the right word – I mean, when your PR department’s primary focus during the season is pointing out that Yuniesky Betancourt isn’t the worst player in baseball, well what would you call it?), the organization is getting raves throughout the baseball world for the tremendous potential its farms system holds.
So sure, we write about the future a ton. You know, the future where Mike Montgomery and John Lamb are throwing shutouts while Moustakas, Hosmer and Myers form a fearsome middle of the batting order. There is much to discuss, analyze and speculate about when it comes to 2012 and beyond. Unfortuneately, there is a little thing called the 2011 season between now and then.
While much can transpire between now and Opening Day, the composition of the 2011 Royals is pretty much already known. There might be a not all that exciting free agent starting pitcher to add and possibly a reliever (because I don’t think Dayton Moore can help himself). Who will open the season in centerfield is up for debate and exactly which two of Wilson Betemit, Mike Aviles and Chris Getz will man second and third is not certain yet, either. None of those things, however, are going to materially change what the 2011 Royals will accomplish.
Or maybe not accomplish, is the correct phrase.
Right now, Luke Hochevar is your Opening Day starter followed by Vin Mazzaro, Kyle Davies, Sean O’Sullivan and somebody. That somebody could be a Kevin Millwood type or Everett Teaford, maybe even DannyDuffy (but I doubt it). Unless that somebody is the second coming of Felix Hernandez, that is not a rotation that is going to strike fear in anyone.
While I hold out hope that Hochevar, Mazzaro and O’Sullivan have their best days still ahead of them; it is tough to project any as a number one or number two pitcher. Given that Mike Montgomery, Duffy, John Lamb and Aaron Crow (among others) are unlikely to make much, if any, impact until at least the All-Star Break, the Royals could quite possibly have the worst starting rotation in the American League.
Although the bullpen, which will be the first to get an infusion of The Process in the form of Tim Collins, Louis Coleman and others, might be above average or better, they might be coming in early, often and with their team already behind. Good bullpens win games for good teams. Good bullpens keep bad teams from being embarrassed. The latter, unfortunately, probably describes the 2011 corps of relievers.
With a bad rotation and a good bullpen, the Royals will spend much of early 2011 battling to come back from an early deficit. The question will be does this group have the firepower to do so? Given that Ned Yost will have question marks in his batting order named Alex Gordon, Alcides Escobar, Kila Ka’aihue, Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francouer (actually he may not be a question mark, we may know the answer, but I’m being charitable this morning) and either Chris Getz or Wilson Betemit (maybe both), I have no idea if the Royals will be able to score enough to keep things interesting.
It is a little funny that given the number of unknowns, one of the two guys on the roster that we know can actually hit (Mike Aviles) may not even be in the everyday lineup. It is even funnier that this fact does not make me all that mad….yet.
By sometime in June, maybe sooner, we will certainly see Lorenzo Cain in center and Mike Moustakas at third. They will make the lineup more exciting if not immediately more productive, but a lot of good things will have to happen for the Royals to be even average offensively.
If Escobar holds his own (.330 on-base percentage) and let’s just say for fun Alex Gordon actually DOES break out, would that be enough to make the Royals average? What if Ka’aihue gets on base and hits for power, say .360 OBP and 25 home runs? What if Jeff Francouer is not horrible? This lineup could be okay and, depending on whether Billy Butler adds some power to his already solid resume, even better than ‘okay’. That would not be enough to outweigh a poor rotation, but it would be enough to go from 62-100 to 72-90….maybe.
Defensively, the Royals almost have to be better and quite possibly could be a lot better. Escobar is expected to be and, frankly, has to be a very good defensive shortstop. Getz, if his bat can play at all, would seem to have the skill set to be a solid second baseman. Aviles, either at second or third, is solid defensively as well. In the outfield, while Alex Gordon made me cringe at the plate, he looked pretty good in left, while Francouer, for all his faults, is a good defender in right. None of the this makes the Royals a great defensive team, but they might well appear to be to those of us who have endured Betancourt, Callaspo, Berroa, Guillen, et.al. for years.
Taking all the hope out of the equation and ignoring the excitiment we will be feeling as the young players begin their Royals careers, just how bad will 2011 be? Pretty bad, but maybe not exactly horrible.
A couple of step forwards offensively, coupled with a least league average starting pitching from Hochevar and Mazzaro would be enough to keep the Royals from being laughingstocks. Truthfully, and I know this sounds a little defeatist, not being laughed at in 2011 would be enough.