Mar 12, 2014, 2:48 PM EST
Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Kansas City Royals.
The Big Question: Are the Royals finally ready to contend?
Kansas City made a big jump last season, going from 76 to 86 wins while finishing above .500 for the first time since 2003 and just the second time since 1995. And yet the Royals still finished seven games behind the Tigers in the AL Central, were double-digit games out of first place on September 1, and were not within a half-dozen games of the division lead at any point after mid-July.
Gone is Ervin Santana, who departed as a free agent after a one-year stint in Kansas City in which he threw 211 innings with a 3.24 ERA. And gone is Luke Hochevar, who transitioned from awful starter to dominant reliever with a 1.92 ERA in 70 innings only to blow out his elbow and be lost to Tommy John surgery.
Kansas City is counting on Danny Duffy making a successful comeback from Tommy John surgery of his own to help replace Santana’s work in the rotation and the Royals are one of the few teams with the high-end bullpen depth to handle the loss of a setup man like Hochevar, but nearly 300 innings of sub-3.00 ERA pitching is always tough to replace even for a team that led the league in runs allowed last season.
Duffy has the upside to be an impact starter and James Shields is one of the elite right-handers in baseball entering his walk year, but the trio of Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, and Bruce Chen is severely lacking in upside. In other words, even if the bullpen remains elite the Royals figure to allow more runs in 2014 and will need the offense to step up to have any chance to surpass 86 wins.
The good news is that veteran offseason pickups Omar Infante and Norichika Aoki are solid additions atop the batting order and most of the lineup is still 27 years old or younger, including 23-year-old catcher Salvador Perez, 24-year-old first baseman Eric Hosmer, and 27-year-old designated hitter Billy Butler. The bad news is that guys like Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain haven’t shown much reason to believe in them and the middle of the lineup still lacks power.
Kansas City can absolutely improve on last year’s 648 runs scored–which ranked 11th in the league–but it’s hard to see where a huge step up would come from unless Hosmer breaks out in a gigantic way and if the offense scores 30-50 more runs only to see the pitching staff allow 30-50 more runs … well, that’s not going to lead to contention any more than last year’s version did.
What else is going on?
- One factor that could dramatically change the Royals’ outlook is the arrival of two very good pitching prospects in Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer. Counting on young arms to immediately thrive in the majors is always iffy, but Ventura and Zimmer are among the elite pitching prospects in baseball and appear to be pretty close to MLB-ready. A second-half rotation with Shields, Duffy, Ventura, and Zimmer would look a whole lot different than the group likely to begin the season.
- Of course, it’s possible that the second-half rotation won’t include Shields. He’s an impending free agent and there’s been no indication that the Royals will be able to work out an extension before he hits the open market, which makes trading him a real possibility if contenders offer up a big package of prospects. Letting him walk and collecting draft pick compensation is another option, but the Royals may decide they want more immediate help than draft picks would provide.
- Guthrie, Vargas, and Chen will combine to make $21.5 million 2014 and $18.5 million in 2015–with Vargas being owed another $16 million in 2016/2017–so general manager Dayton Moore has certainly gone for the quantity over quality approach to the rotation while waiting for more young arms to arrive.
- Royals closer Greg Holland should be talked about more as one of the best relievers in baseball. Combined from 2011-2013–which are his first three full seasons in the majors–Holland posted a 1.99 ERA, 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings, and a .196 opponents’ batting average. Among all pitchers with 150-plus innings during that time he ranked fifth in ERA, fourth in strikeout rate, and 10th in batting average against. He’s a stud and a big reason why the Royals’ bullpen, without or without Hochevar, is a huge strength.
Prediction: Better hitting, worse pitching, and overall similar to last season. Third place, AL Central.
Mar 4, 2015, 11:13 PM EST
The Mariners won their Cactus League opener Wednesday against the Padres, but it was not a totally problem-free afternoon in Peoria, Arizona.
Mar 4, 2015, 10:26 PM EST
Suspending Hamilton for a year would serve no purpose punitive systems are designed to serve. And would most likely not serve Josh Hamilton at all.
Mar 4, 2015, 9:52 PM EST
A four-person panel appointed by Major League Baseball to decide how Josh Hamilton should be handled following his recent relapse that involved at least cocaine has reportedly reached a stalemate.
Mar 4, 2015, 9:04 PM EST
The deal includes an invitation to the major league side of spring training, though Miller seems doubtful to win a spot on Tampa Bay’s Opening Day roster.
Mar 4, 2015, 8:21 PM EST
Royals reliever Tim Collins missed time last season with a flexor strain in his left elbow and again had an issue with the joint Wednesday in his 2015 Cactus League debut …
Mar 4, 2015, 7:17 PM EST
It was an enjoyable first day of Cactus League competition for Dodgers prospect Joc Pederson.
Mar 4, 2015, 6:22 PM EST
He successfully rehabbed a torn UCL in his right elbow last season and the Yankees’ fingers remain crossed that the 26-year-old from Japan will be able to avoid Tommy John elbow reconstructive surgery.
Mar 4, 2015, 4:50 PM EST
Mar 4, 2015, 4:18 PM EST
While it’s clear that the two do not see eye to eye, Billy Bean is choosing to look on the bright side of yesterday’s comments from Daniel Murphy.
Mar 4, 2015, 3:54 PM EST
A-Rod singled in his first at-bat.
Mar 4, 2015, 3:20 PM EST
What’s a churro dog, you ask? Click, my pretties. Click!
Mar 4, 2015, 1:26 PM EST
Athletes oftentimes, don’t see reporters as people. Reporters, oftentimes, don’t see athletes as people. Reporters, however have a duty of objectivity athletes don’t have.
Mar 4, 2015, 12:26 PM EST
He’ll miss at least a week.
Mar 4, 2015, 11:47 AM EST
The move leaves Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld to platoon in center field.
Mar 4, 2015, 11:20 AM EST
Billingsley hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since way back in April of 2013.
Mar 4, 2015, 11:05 AM EST
Today’s news sucks for Joel Hanrahan, but it’s a good basis for an explainer.
Mar 4, 2015, 10:52 AM EST
Wieters underwent Tommy John elbow surgery in June.
Mar 4, 2015, 10:15 AM EST
Now that David Price is out of the picture the Rays need a new Opening Day starter.
Mar 4, 2015, 9:59 AM EST
. . . it’s worth remembering that Schilling himself has some issues when it comes to sensitivity and enlightenment on social media.
Mar 4, 2015, 9:30 AM EST
Let us applaud one writer’s brave effort to battle the beast that is A-Rod Derangement Syndrome.
- Suspending Josh Hamilton for a year would be obscene 23
- Report: MLB panel split on rehab for Josh Hamilton; one-year suspension is in play 18
- Joc Pederson goes 2-for-2 in Cactus League debut 4
- Braves scratch Mike Minor from start with more shoulder problems 2
- Daniel Murphy on Billy Bean: “I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual” 359
- Blue Jays sign Dayan Viciedo to a minor league deal 8
- Chris Sale will be sidelined for three weeks with foot fracture 11
- Aramis Ramirez says 2015 will be his last year 33
- Daniel Murphy on Billy Bean: “I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual” (359)
- If addiction is an illness — and it is — Josh Hamilton shouldn’t be suspended (307)
- Curt Schilling lowers the boom on some men tweeting threats against his daughter (137)
- John Baker, Jeremy Brown, coal mines and class (80)
- Billy Bean responds to Daniel Murphy’s comments (73)