Mar 12, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT
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.
Aug 22, 2014, 1:50 PM EDT
Machado suffered a sprained right knee on August 11 and the Orioles have mostly been using Chris Davis at third base in his absence.
Aug 22, 2014, 12:49 PM EDT
This has been such a fun story so far. So why NOT throw politics into it?
Aug 22, 2014, 11:50 AM EDT
Robinson Cano has a $240 million contract, his new team has a better record than his old team, and he’s hitting .329 with an .865 OPS that’s slightly above his career mark.
Aug 22, 2014, 11:33 AM EDT
Can he make it to the bigs on a new path for a third time?
Aug 22, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT
If any team is going to keep a manager after four straight 90-loss seasons the Twins are the one to do it.
Aug 22, 2014, 11:01 AM EDT
The Red Sox paid a lot of money to get this guy. Expect him in the Sox’ outfield early next season.
Aug 22, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
With the Reds down 8-0 to the Braves last night manager Bryan Price decided to save the bullpen and turned to utility man Skip Schumaker to work the ninth inning.
Aug 22, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
It’s cool to love what you loved when you were 20. It’s not cool to claim that what you loved when you were 20 is the only thing worth loving.
Aug 22, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Aroldis Chapman gave the Reds a big scare when he walked all four batters he faced Sunday and then was unavailable for several days with an “achy” left shoulder, but the flame-throwing closer was back in action Thursday night.
Aug 22, 2014, 9:46 AM EDT
My buns have no seeds.
Aug 22, 2014, 9:27 AM EDT
I think he’d have a pretty tough sled, actually.
Aug 22, 2014, 8:55 AM EDT
Wade Boggs: Pitt the Elder!
Barney: Lord Palmerston!
Wade Boggs: Pitt the Elder!
Barney: Okay, you asked for it, Boggs!
Aug 22, 2014, 8:23 AM EDT
Whatever motivates you, dude.
Aug 22, 2014, 6:33 AM EDT
Another Washington walkoff. Another dominant Clayton Kershaw start. And some unusual stuff happened too.
Aug 21, 2014, 11:01 PM EDT
Padres closer Joaquin Benoit hasn’t appeared in a game since last Wednesday due to soreness in his throwing shoulder.
Aug 21, 2014, 9:51 PM EDT
Impending free agent Michael Cuddyer will almost certainly finish his season in a Rockies uniform.
Aug 21, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT
Castillo could reportedly make his decision this weekend.
Aug 21, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
Royals catcher Salvador Perez was scratched from Wednesday’s lineup with tightness in his right knee, but an MRI on Thursday revealed no structural damage.
Aug 21, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
Here’s hoping Nationals manager Matt Williams has been practicing his Babe Ruth home run trot, because he has a promise to fulfill.
Aug 21, 2014, 6:57 PM EDT
Gomes was hit in the mask in the bottom of the fifth inning by a ball that deflected off the arm of Kurt Suzuki on a hit-by-pitch.
- Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo to sign with the Red Sox for $72 million 54
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 26
- The Nationals extend their winning streak to 10 games with another walk-off victory 12
- Garrett Richards out 6-9 months with torn patellar tendon 14
- A pitch clock in Major League Baseball? No thanks. 92
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights 82
- Garrett Richards suffers ugly left knee injury 28
- Giants win protest, will complete rain-halted game at Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon 46
- Mike Matheny addresses turmoil in Ferguson: “It’s a sad situation. It’s a tough situation for our city” (127)
- A pitch clock in Major League Baseball? No thanks. (92)
- Here’s today’s dose of barfy Derek Jeter sentiment (82)
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights (82)
- The Cubs grounds crew was short staffed because the Cubs were trying to avoid Obamacare (82)