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With the Royals’ position players officially reporting today, the excitement of spring training games looming on the horizon is starting to build. (I mean that sincerely, not sarcastically, by the way)

I don’t intend to rain on that parade and let me preface this very short column by saying I like Chris Getz and really hope he becomes a fixture at second base for the Royals, but how easily could the names that are due to report today be different? And, if so, might the Royals be better if they were?

Of course, I am not talking ‘contender’ better, but certainly ‘intriguingly’ better. There are players out there right now, without jobs or who recently just got them, that one could realistically see fitting into the Royals lineup this year. It is a nasty game of hindsight as no one could really predict how the free agent market would go this year, but we’ll play it anyway.

What if Dayton Moore had not traded Mark Teahen for Chris Getz and Josh Fields? Or signed Scott Podsednik and/or Rick Ankiel?

Instead, what if the Royals had signed Felipe Lopez in their thirst to not have to watch Alberto Callaspo attempt to field ground balls? What if they had signed Russell Branyan and Johnny Gomes?

Currently, Gomes has yet to come to terms with the Reds. No one seems to want Lopez and Branyan just finally found employment last week.

Sure, Gomes is a butcher in right field, although certainly no worse than Jose Guillen. Would an outfield of Teahen-DeJesus-Gomes and an infield of Gordon-Betancourt-Lopez-Butler, with Branyan as your DH be more or less likely to win than what is probably going to take the field in April?

There have been some over/under type topics on other websites and comments, so apologies to anyone who thinks I stole their idea (it’s possible that I did!).

Here are ten numbers that I think will have a very distinct impact on what the Royals’ 2010 season might become. Hitting the overs on these would, without question, surpass all expectations anyone has for the team this coming season.

  • Zack Greinke’s Win Total

Wins are a horrible indicator of how good a starting pitcher really was (see Zack Greinke circa 2009), but if the Royals are going to have at least an acceptable season, Zack will need to pitch well and be rewarded for it. How many games did he leave last year after giving up two runs or less in six plus innings of work and not get a win? EIGHT.

The over/under for Greinke wins: 18

  • Gil Meche’s Innings

Another key to the Royals’ in 2010 is simply a healthy Gil Meche. You can spin it anyway you want to (and there is major portion of the Royals’ fanbase that simply refuses to believe Meche is good), but not a lot of pitchers can match Meche’s two year run through 2007 and 2008 for innings and performance. Comfortably settled in as the number two pitcher and hopefully healthy, Meche grinding up major innings with an earned run average in the upper threes is a necessity and a very real possibility.

The over/under for Meche innings: 200

  • Alex Gordon Home Runs

Will 2010 be the year that Alex actually breaks out? If not, the chances that there ever will be a breakout season will pretty much be gone. There are a lot of factors that define ‘break out’: on-base percentage, lower strikeouts, a decent average, but if Gordon hits with power and posts a big number in this area, I have to believe all those other things will have fallen in line, too.

The over/under for Gordon home runs: 27

  • Mike Aviles Games Played

Unlike so many other players, Aviles will not get to play unless he is actually performing (a novel concept, I know). Plus, playing in a number of games will mean he is truly healthy. Given that a number of organizational favorites that are between Mike and playing time, he will truly earn whatever appearances he is granted. The more Aviles the better, in my book.

Over/under on Aviles games played: 105

  • Chris Getz On-Base Percentage

I am on the Getz bandwagon, for better or worse. Assuming he is the everyday second baseman, which I think is almost pre-ordained, his ability to get on-base is key.

Over/under on Getz OBP: .360

  • Rick Ankiel Slugging Percentage

Ankiel is going to play, barring injury, and his calling card will be power. I don’t care if it’s doubles or home runs and I think we would be be delusional to believe whatever power Rick hits with would be accompanied by batting average and on-base percentage.

Over/under on Ankiel’s ‘Slug’: .500

  • Joakim Soria’s Saves

Again, in the world of pitching, saves is not a tremendous indicator of performance. When taken in terms of the team concept, your closer getting major numbers of saves is an indicator of good starting pitching, solid setup and at least enough offense to keep you in the game. In this case, Soria getting enough save opportunities (that he converts them is as safe a bet as there is) will mean that void that existed in innings seven and eight last year has been filled.

Over/under on Soria’s saves: 40

  • Billy Butler’s Doubles

We expect a lot out of Billy this year and with good reason. He might have ‘batting title’ potential. He might hit a ton of home runs. He might be the total hitting package. In the end, if Butler has a ton of doubles, everything else will likely take care of itself.

Over/under on Billy’s doubles: 55

  • Luke Hochevar’s ERA

How nice would it be for Hochevar to simply become solid? I’m not asking for the moon here, just for the former number one pick to settle as a nice middle of the rotation guy. We will assume that Hochevar will get the ball every fifth day this year, so posting something reasonable in this category would be big for the Royals.

Over/under on Hochevar’s earned run average: 4.30

  • Jose Guillen’s Games Played

You can hope that Jose is healthy, content and gets off to a good start, making him tradable or at least tolerable. However, since I tend to live in the real world, I think the best thing that can happen is that Jose simply does not play a lot for whatever reason. Unlike the other nine over/unders, this one is all about hitting the under.

Over/under on Guillen games played: 24

Make the first nine overs and hit the last under and Kansas City might not be a contender, but they at least will be interesting.

Playing revisionist history with a professional draft, while fun, is unfair. Redraft the new version of the Cleveland Browns and you can get close to having a Pro Bowl player at all twenty-two positions on the field. No general manager can hit on every pick.

That fact is especially true when it comes to Major League Baseball’s draft. Despite all the scouting and all the work, every team passed on Albert Pujols TWELVE times, some even did so thirteen times. Forty-eight players were drafted in front of Carlos Beltran. Zack Greinke was considered a ‘signability’ pick when he went sixth overall in 2002. You get the picture.

So, it is unfair to look back at the Royals’ rather hideous draft record and say “they should have done this here and that the next year and taken these two guys in the 14th and 20th rounds in 2003 and we would be in the World Series”. We are not going to do that sort of exercise today, but I am going to look at one, just one, pick that might have changed the direction of this franchise.

The 2001 draft is one that will life in infamy for the Royals forever. It was headed by Colt Griffin in the first round and Roscoe Crosby in the second round: both unmitigated disasters. Worse, the brief major league appearances by Angel Sanchez and Devon Lowery are the only contributions on the big league level the Royals ever got out of the fifty picks they made that year. This draft stands as the crown jewel of crap among an array of pretty awful drafts in the early part of this century.

Obviously, it also lends itself handily to us revisionists.

The first round of 2001 had Joe Mauer going number one and Mark Texiera going at six, but there are not names that leap off the list after the Royals picked Griffin that make your stomach hurt. Until you get down to the supplemental phase of that round and find David Wright going at pick number thirty-eight and signing for $960,000.

Sure, thirty-eight is a long way removed from nine, but it would not be unheard of for the budget conscious Royals to take a ’30 to 50 level talent’ to save money (Chris Lubanski anyone?). What if the Royals would have picked David Wright instead of Colt Griffin?

First off, Kansas City would have enjoyed a third baseman who has a career line of .309/.389/.518 who has played 144 or more games in every season between 2005 and 2009. He has pop, he can run and has made himself into a decent defender. Wright signed a six year/$55 million dollar extension near the end of the 2006 season, which might have been doable for the Royals – albeit probably in 2007 as Mike Sweeney’s contract was about to come off the books.

Just having David Wright at the hot corner obviously makes the Royals much better, but what else would it have done?

Well, Wright came up with the Mets midway through the 2004 season, right about the time Allard Baird was demanding a major league ready third baseman and catcher for Carlos Beltran. With Wright ready to go at third, Baird’s demands would not have included a third baseman (Allard suffered from tunnel vision, but he wasn’t an idiot).

As the Beltran sweepstakes heated up, the Yankees offered Robinson Cano and Dioner Navarro for the Royals’ centerfielder (also reportedly offered at the same time by the Red Sox were Kevin Youkilis and Kelly Shoppach, but that’s a story for another scenario). Would the Royals have pulled the trigger on that deal if Wright was ready to take over at third base? Let’s say yes.

Okay, so now the Royals have David Wright at third base and, beginning in 2005, have Robinson Cano and his career line of .306/.339/.480 at second. Cano signed a four year/$30 million extension before the 2008 season, but even if the Royals were not prepared to do so, they would still have Robinson under control for the 2010 season. Assuming Kansas City did get Wright signed to a Met’s like extension in 2007 and signed Cano, too, they would be paying $19 million for their second and third basemen in 2010.

Navarro has had a choppy career at best and might not have prevented the signing of either Miguel Olivo or Jason Kendall, so we’ll just leave the catching position as is in this scenario.

Now, with Wright playing third starting in mid-2004 and Cano manning second starting in 2005, it is pretty hard to believe the Royals would have chosen Alex Gordon with the second overall pick in the 2005 draft. In fact, they probably would not have considered Ryan Zimmerman or Ryan Braun, either, but they might well have looked at a shortstop considered the most ‘major league ready’ player of that draft: Troy Tulowitzki. Beginning in late 2006, Tulowitzki has hit .283/.357/.474 as the Rockies’ everyday shortstop. He had an injury plagued 2008, but a big year last season (.930 OPS). Sure, those numbers are inflated by playing in Denver half the time, but tell me you don’t want him in a Royals’ uniform.

So, beginning in 2007, Kansas City could put an infield of Cano, Tulowitzki and Wright….and Ross Gload on the diamond. At that time, all three players’ salary load was low enough that I do not think it would have prevented the Royals from signing Gil Meche. As an aside, how many wins does Meche get in 2007 with those three guys hitting for him? Or how many does Greinke get in 2009? Twenty-eight?!

Fast forward to 2008 and assume that Wright and Cano have signed the extensions referenced above, plus Tulowitzki has signed his six year/$31 million dollar deal at the same time as Cano. That would almost certainly have kept Kansas City from pursuing Jose Guillen…or at least have kept their offer considerably below the three year/$36 million mark! By the way, with Tulowitzki in the fold, the Royals would be paying the Cano-Tulowitzki-Wright combo $22.5 million in 2010. Take Guillen’s $12 million out, plus the four to Kyle Farnsworth and that gets pretty doable.

Throw Billy Butler into the mix at first base and the Royals would be looking forward to 2010 with arguably the best infield in baseball. Sure, the Cano-Butler combination on the right side of the infield is not a defensive strongpoint, but Tulowitzki-Wright is above average.

The Royals would not have any real money to play with this off-season, which might have precluded the Kendall signing (boo-hoo!), but probably would not have kept them from getting Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel. The pitching staff, probably minus the Farnsworth albatross, would be the same (actually better in the addition by subtraction way of thinking) and the spectre of Jose Guillen would not be an issue.

Maybe all this still does not make the Royals championship contenders, but I would wager it certainly puts them in the mix for the playoffs. It is all an exercise in fantasy without question, but it does point out how just one pick…ONE PICK…might have changed the course of a franchise.

This morning, I am going to run through a quick exercise in constructing the Royals’ twenty-five man roster for the coming season. My guess is that almost everyone who reads any Royals’ blog has already done this in one form or another, but I have serious doubts that the Royals’ front office has.

Okay, sure, we know that is total sarcasm, but seriously I think the Royals have a firm idea on the 40 man roster, but only a vague ‘things will work themselves out’ idea as to the 25 they will break camp with. You can make an argument that this is the perfect way to go into spring training and I would generally agree, but I do wonder if a ‘small budget’ club like the Royals can assemble and pay for 30+ guys to compete for their 25 spots?

The catching position is pretty simple: Jason Kendall starts, Brayan Pena watches. The hope is that Kendall is an upgrade defensively and in handling the pitchers, while not just destroying you at the plate. If he can get on base at even a .340 clip, throw runners out and get along with Greinke and Meche, he might be tolerable. In Pena, the Royals have a switch-hitter who might log some time at DH. I wish the team had given Pena two months of everyday duty last year to find out if he really is THAT bad behind the plate, but that ship has sailed. Manny Pina, acquired from Texas last year, is the next in line, but his bat is not ready for the bigs (and may never be). He is, should everything go to hell, probably the best defensive catcher in the organization. At any rate, it’s Kendall and Pean: that’s two.

The corner infield positions are pretty clear: Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. What happens after that is a mystery. The Royals acquired Josh Fields as part of the Mark Teahen trade, making rumblings about Fields playing a corner outfield spot, but that has gone by the wayside with the signings of Podsednik and Ankiel. Out of options, Fields will be on the 25 man roster come April, likely as the backup third baseman and part-time designated hitter. That’s three more guys, for a total of five.

We will jump out to the outfield at this point. I shudder to think how the team is going to actually arrange David DeJesus, Rick Ankeil and Scott Podsednik defensively, but we all know that those will be the three outfielders and that they will play everyday. The signing of Ankiel brought out the semi-public announcement that Jose Guillen would be the club’s primary designated hitter – something Jose probably has not yet heard and won’t like when he does. While the ‘just cut him’ plan of action is certainly appealing and maybe even logical, it is hard to see the Royals doing so. There’s four players, four veterans mind you, that will be on the team in April, bringing us to a total of nine on our roster.

Okay, middle infield will be…deep breathe…Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop and somebody else. Of course, the Teahen trade also brought Chris Getz over and the expectation is that he will be an upgrade defensively at second over Alberto Callaspo. However, with Guillen moving to DH (not to mention Fields), playing Getz at second leaves few places for Callaspo to play. As much as I hate watching Alberto field, I do love watching him hit. The other glaring problem is that keeping Betancourt, Getz and Callaspo leaves no room for Willie Bloomquist. We all know that’s not going to happen (besides, Willie is the only one who can play short). The wild card in this equation is Mike Aviles. My guess is that Aviles will not be ready at the start of the season and will open the year on the disabled list.

We will assume that the Royals will open the year with a 12 man pitching staff or move to that sooner rather than later. Although he has options left, it is hard for me to believe Dayton Moore traded Mark Teahen for a bench player and a guy who is going to play in Omaha. That leaves Getz on the roster, with Callaspo and Bloomquist who, for all his faults, can fill the role of both fourth outfielder and utility infielder. With Betancourt, that makes four for a total of thirteen.

That means Brian Anderson, all $700,000 of him, is in AAA and Mitch Maier, out of options, might be somewhere else come April. The schedule might allow the team to open with eleven pitchers, so it could be Mitch and the organization a couple of weeks to sort out what to do, but by the end of April, barring a trade or simply cutting bait with Guillen, Mitch will be off the Royals’ big league roster.

Now, onto the pitching staff. The starting rotation right now will be Greinke, Meche, Bannister, Hochevar and either Kyle Davies or Robinson Tejeda. There are rumblings about the Royals fishing for a veteran, which would likely be the end of Davies and push Tejeda back to the pen. Right now, though, my money is on Tejeda as the number five starter. At any rate, that’s five guys, so we are up to eighteen total, now.

The bullpen will have Joakim Soria and Juan Cruz at the backend, with Kyle Farnsworth available for blow-out work (what a fine use of funds, by the way). Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna is all but guaranteed a spot, which fills four of the seven spots.

I would be pretty amazed if veteran journeyman Matt Herges does not get a spot. Just a hunch, but I think he will trade it that number 77 for a real baseball number by April. I am also hoping beyond all hope that the Royals give and Carlos Rosa earns a spot in the bullpen this year. Rosa, performing as I hope he might, is the guy who makes what Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth do irrelevant.

That leaves one final spot (assuming Tejeda is the fifth starter) up for grabs between Ramon Colon, Victor Marte, Dusty Hughes and all the non-roster invitees. Throw Herges into this mix if you want and say this group is fighting for two roster spots. It doesn’t much matter how it ends up, but that’s seven relievers, twelve pitchers and a 25 man roster.

Now, in reading all this, how likely do you think it is that all of Chris Getz, Jose Guillen and Alberto Callaspo break camp with the Royals? You could throw David DeJesus into that mix as well as he is likely the most tradable of all the Royals’ position players. Barring trades or another free agent signing, I would put pretty good money on the 25 players outlined above.

Part of me is pretty certain Dayton Moore has two more moves on his agenda that will make the real 25 man roster different from the above. All of me is hoping that is the case.

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