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.
Jul 2, 2015, 11:28 PM EDT
League hasn’t pitched in the majors this season due to a shoulder injury.
Jul 2, 2015, 10:39 PM EDT
The Reds are expected to be sellers, but GM Walt Jocketty said Thursday that third baseman Todd Frazier isn’t going anywhere.
Jul 2, 2015, 9:23 PM EDT
After pitching into the seventh inning in his major league debut against the Rangers last Saturday, Blue Jays left-hander Matt Boyd failed to record an out in his start tonight against the Red Sox.
Jul 2, 2015, 8:26 PM EDT
Freeman hopes to return right after the All-Star break, but he acknowledges that it’s a “best-case scenario.”
Jul 2, 2015, 7:28 PM EDT
Bradley has been out for a month with right shoulder tendinitis.
Jul 2, 2015, 6:31 PM EDT
Jay has already had one stint on the disabled list this season due to his nagging wrist injury.
Jul 2, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
No, that’s not how the law works.
Jul 2, 2015, 5:02 PM EDT
Cahill was designated for assignment by the Braves earlier this month after allowing 23 runs in 26 innings.
Jul 2, 2015, 4:29 PM EDT
The director, Chris Correa, has admitted to hacking into the Astros system.
Jul 2, 2015, 4:16 PM EDT
He still has to serve a 50-game suspension for a “drug of abuse.”
Jul 2, 2015, 3:49 PM EDT
Shawn Tolleson has grabbed hold of ninth-inning duties.
Jul 2, 2015, 3:24 PM EDT
He fractured his wrist last night as a result of an Edinson Volquez fastball.
Jul 2, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
Not a bad return following Tommy John surgery.
Jul 2, 2015, 2:14 PM EDT
Chris Taylor replaces him on the roster.
Jul 2, 2015, 1:27 PM EDT
The dreaded plantar fasciitis.
Jul 2, 2015, 1:12 PM EDT
It was for sale before he even resigned.
Jul 2, 2015, 11:29 AM EDT
Basically you just need to follow Jesse Sanchez and Ben Badler, so here are the links you need to do that.
Jul 2, 2015, 11:02 AM EDT
I hear his [pitch] is nasty.
Jul 2, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
And place Tim Lincecum on the disabled list.
- Breaking: Cardinals fire their scouting director, likely due to the Astros hacking scandal 50
- Bryce Harper is naked in ESPN’s “Body Issue” 54
- Today is the day: Marlins ace Jose Fernandez returns from Tommy John surgery 4
- A-Rod, the Yankees and the union in talks to direct his $6 million home run bonus to charity 29
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights 51
- Video: Joey Butler breaks up Carlos Carrasco’s no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning 12
- Bill Stoneman taking over as Angels’ interim GM 17
- Jerry Dipoto loses power struggle with Mike Scioscia, steps down as Angels general manager 39
- With the same-sex marriage decision, the San Francisco Giants get another big win (276)
- Settling the Scores: Sunday’s results (99)
- Report: Jerry Dipoto “definitely out” as Angels GM (77)
- What Yasiel Puig being a pain in the butt means. And what it doesn’t mean. (77)
- There was a super ump show in Chicago yesterday (75)