The Royals sailed through the weekend taking three of four games from the Mariners and find themselves having won two-thirds of the games they have played at basically the one-tenth mark of the 2011 season. Somewhere there is a column or comment that will certainly detail that 15 baseball games is the equivalent of a game and one-half of an NFL season, ‘x’ amount of an NBA season, roughly equal to the beginning of the Battle of Britain of World War II and somewhere between the first and second plastic surgeries for Pamela Anderson. Hey, we all know it’s early and we all know that baseball is long season.
That said, Dayton Moore and the Royals could have some interesting situations to ponder as this season moves forward. If this team had come out of the gate at a much more expected pace of 5-10 instead of 10-5, the when and where of a variety of roster moves would be a pretty simple equation. Winning, however, makes the scenarios much more complex.
On the one hand, Moore does not want to sacrifice 2013 and beyond by forcing the issue in 2011. Conversely, he also does not want to lose a chance at a playoff run in 2011 (however unlikely) by playing only for the future. You know, the old ‘bird in the hand’ principal.
So, for some Monday morning brain work, let’s take a look at several potential issues and scenarios and get your opinion on when to believe and when to pull the trigger.
- When are the Royals for real?
The 2009 team stood at 18-11 on May 7th and was still tied for first place as late as May 15th, but still lost 97 games that year. So, right there, is a cautionary tale for all of us to remember. The Royals play seven of their next ten games against Cleveland, sandwiched around a three game set at Texas. That stretch if followed by a nine game homestand with Minnesota, Baltimore and Oakland. If the Royals are 20-14 after all that, go to New York and Detroit and split the six game road trip, would you consider them a contender?
My gut reaction is yes, except it is still just May 15th when that is all done. Surely, a team with a starting rotation like the Royals have would have to play winning baseball into at least some point in June to be considered a contender, right?
Maybe the better way to approach this question is to look at it as ‘when to you consider the Royals a contender AND start making moves because of it?’. Now, I will be watching the standings and the out of town scoreboard well in advance of June 9th (heck, we’re all watching them now), but somewhere in that time-frame, should Kansas City be in first or within three or four games of first, I think Dayton Moore has to consider making moves to win now. Not ‘mortgage the future type move’, but move that make the 2011 team stronger.
Why June 9th? That will be the end of an eleven game homestand against the Angels, Minnesota and Toronto, 64 games into the season, and right in front of a nine game road trip to LA, Oakland and St. Louis.
- How long do you stick with Kila Ka’aihue
I think it is funny how there is this ‘anti-Kila’ group of fans that are apparently irritated by the long standing call for Kila to get a shot in the majors. I mean, isn’t that the point of having a farm system? Have guys perform at a high level and then give them a shot?
Anyway, after going one for three with a walk on Sunday, Ka’aihue’s line stands at .174/.304/.283. He is second on the team in walks with 9 (good), but leads the team in strikeouts with 15 (bad). Thirteen games played in 2011 and a whopping total of 286 major league plate appearances is certainly not a big enough sample to know if Ka’aihue can hit or not, but there will come a time when the Royals will have to make a decision.
Again, if this team had stumbled out of the gate, there would be no harm in simply sticking Kila in the five hole and giving him 600 plate appearances this year. Should they keep playing well, the Royals will reach a point in time when they cannot afford to have a .200 hitter batting behind Billy Butler…or batting at all.
Now, I might offer that it is unlikely that the Royals are going to be over .500 in early June without Ka’aihue giving them something at the plate. In a way, the situation might solve itself. With Eric Hosmer and Clint Robinson both off to hot starts in Omaha and Billy Butler reliably banging away, Dayton Moore can afford to have a quicker hook on at this spot than at other positions. Basically, we’re not going to care if Kila goes somewhere else and hits 30 home runs if Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer are All-Stars.
While I have been and remain a big proponent of giving Ka’aihue a pretty large chunk of at-bats to once and for all see what he can do, I would be thinking about possibly sitting him against left-handers if the situation does not improve over the next two weeks or so. After that, I think you are looking right at that mid-June date again. Should the Royals be near the top of the standings and Kila is still flailing at the Mendoza line it is going to be really hard to not call up Eric Hosmer. If not Hosmer, maybe Mike Moustakas if he recovers from a slow start with Wilson Betemit sliding into the DH role full-time.
Jeff Francis, Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen have allowed 26 runs over 73 innings to start the season. That is a pace they likely won’t maintain, but is seems to point that those three could be competent starters. The fifth starter spot, as it is with most teams, will be a rather inconsistent event with Sean O’Sullivan and Vin Mazarro, but the real sticking point is Mr. Davies.
While the organization remains hopeful, citing Jorge de la Rosa as their prime example, the rest of us have become tired of Kyle. In the past, Davies has strung together enough decent six inning outings to be useful and Kansas City could certainly use a solid month from him now. Assuming that Kyle does not produce a string of good starts, how long does the organization wait before promoting Danny Duffy or Mike Montgomery.
Again, should Kansas City lose nine of the next twelve, then there is no point in rushing any of the young pitchers, but if they don’t? I know that my trigger on Davies is considerably quicker than that of Dayton Moore’s, but making a move to hopefully bolster the rotation as early as mid-May would be my timetable.
- There’s good defense and then there is great defense
Through fifteen games, Alcides Escobar has played some of the best defense I have ever seen at shortstop. He needs to hit more than .233/.270/.267, but not a lot more. Something along the lines of .250/.305/.340 might be enough given just how truly great Alcides appears to be in the field.
That, however, is not really the question. Contention or non-contention, Alcides Escobar is going to play shortstop the entire 2011 season. The question is, after going 1 for his last 14, how long do you stick Chris Getz at second base. With Mike Aviles showing signs of life (5 for his last 12) and Wilson Betemit simply smacking the ball, there will be some point where Getz is going to have to hit.
As the topic heading indicates, Escobar has thus far been a GREAT defender. In my opinion, Getz is a GOOD defender and a slightly less critical defensive position. His current line of .269/.333/.288 is not enough to justify keeping a good, not great, glove in the field at second. Again, small sample sizes and no rush….yet, but this is a place that you could amp up the offense by inserting Aviles everyday (theoretically anyway) and providing the pitching with a little more run cushion with which to work.
- What if it really, really gets real?
Okay, it is the second week of July and your Kansas City Royals lead the Central Division by one game. Regardless of what the team has done with Kila, Kyle and Chris, this team is in contention. How aggressive should Dayton Moore get?
Do you offer one of the big four pitching prospects (Montgomery, Duffy, Lamb or Dwyer) or one of the big four hitting prospects (Hosmer – no, by the way – Moustakas, Myers or Colon) for a player that can provide the 2011 team a real boost. Basically, you are trading a potential 2013/2014 star for a 2011 good, but probably not star type player.
Obviously, there are a lot of variables to that equation: who’s available, what’s their contract situation to start. Still, if you believe this organization’s farm system is THAT GOOD, could you sacrifice one or two of your top ten prospects for a player(s) that can put the Royals over the top in 2011? I might, or at least I would seriously consider it.
There are just a few of what could be many decisions to be made over the next three months. While the questions are not easy, it would certainly be fun if we really had to answer them.