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 28, 2015, 9:19 AM EDT
Or they’re making a push to make the Dodgers’ life complicated. Either way.
Jul 28, 2015, 9:10 AM EDT
The trade happened just after the game. Did Rockies ownership consult Tulowitzki on it, as they said they would?
Jul 28, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
They could’ve topped what Toronto gave Colorado for Troy Tulowitzki. Heck, most teams could’ve. Why didn’t they?
Jul 28, 2015, 7:23 AM EDT
Kris Bryant walked the Rockies off and then the Rockies sent Troy Tulowitzki off.
Jul 28, 2015, 3:19 AM EDT
Breaking down the Blue Jays-Rockies blockbuster.
Jul 28, 2015, 12:34 AM EDT
The Blue Jays have reportedly pulled off a stunner, acquiring Troy Tulowitzki from the Rockies.
Jul 27, 2015, 11:27 PM EDT
We know that the Dodgers are likely to add a pitcher or two before Friday’s non-waiver trade deadline, but could they also deal Yasiel Puig in the process?
Jul 27, 2015, 10:50 PM EDT
The Nationals were reportedly looking at a reunion with Tyler Clippard before the Athletics traded him to the Mets tonight, but there’s a chance they could do something a lot bigger to strengthen the back-end of their bullpen.
Jul 27, 2015, 10:27 PM EDT
Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez rang in his 40th birthday tonight by doing exactly what he’s been doing for much of the past 20 years.
Jul 27, 2015, 10:01 PM EDT
Markakis played his first nine seasons in the majors with the Orioles before signing a four-year, $44 million contract with the Braves last December.
Jul 27, 2015, 9:22 PM EDT
The Astros acquired Scott Kazmir from the Athletics last week, but they are still thinking big as they make a push for the postseason.
Jul 27, 2015, 8:49 PM EDT
Tolleson is available for tonight’s game against the Yankees.
Jul 27, 2015, 8:01 PM EDT
Greene’s 6.72 ERA is the highest among all MLB pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched.
Jul 27, 2015, 7:08 PM EDT
Weaver has been out since July 20 with left hip inflammation.
Jul 27, 2015, 6:21 PM EDT
Clippard and Jeurys Familia should give the Mets a potent late-inning combo.
Jul 27, 2015, 6:14 PM EDT
Hamstring and calf injuries have limited Victorino to just 33 games this season.
Jul 27, 2015, 5:41 PM EDT
For Hamels to approve a trade there, however, the expression of interest would have to be mutual.
Jul 27, 2015, 4:53 PM EDT
He’s officially a free agent.
Jul 27, 2015, 4:10 PM EDT
He’ll face Toronto.
Jul 27, 2015, 3:04 PM EDT
Strasburg is coming back from a strained oblique muscle.
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 23
- The Troy Tulowitzki trade might be the strangest deadline deal ever 26
- Report: Rockies trade Troy Tulowitzki to Blue Jays for Jose Reyes and prospects 84
- Alex Rodriguez celebrates 40th birthday with a home run 15
- Mets acquire Tyler Clippard from the Athletics 21
- Angels acquire Shane Victorino from Red Sox 25
- Happy 40th Birthday, A-Rod! 44
- Craig Biggio, John Smoltz, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez inducted into the Hall of Fame 41
- The MLBPA is considering withholding cooperation with ESPN, Fox over Colin Cowherd’s comments (156)
- The Cubs are in discussions with the Phillies on Cole Hamels (146)
- MLBPAA announces “Heart and Hustle” award, given mostly to Americans and white guys (131)
- Colin Cowherd wonders how baseball can be considered “complicated” if Dominicans can understand it (129)
- Major League Baseball rips Colin Cowherd in an official statement (123)