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.
Sep 16, 2014, 1:04 AM EDT
MLB’s best team continues to cruise through September.
Sep 16, 2014, 12:09 AM EDT
Pinch-runners Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore proved to be the difference in a thrilling win for Kansas City.
Sep 15, 2014, 11:29 PM EDT
Pujols suffered the injury while running to second base on a three-run double.
Sep 15, 2014, 11:09 PM EDT
Belt has been limited to just five games since July 19 due to concussion symptoms.
Sep 15, 2014, 10:25 PM EDT
Sanchez has been sidelined since early August with a right pectoral strain.
Sep 15, 2014, 9:21 PM EDT
Papelbon made a lewd gesture at fans and had a confrontation with umpire Joe West during Sunday’s game.
Sep 15, 2014, 8:35 PM EDT
Harper struck out in his lone at-bat in the top of the second inning before Nate Schierholtz replaced him as a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning.
Sep 15, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
He last played on July 22 and previously missed time with shoulder problems that have plagued him, but he did hit .282 with five homers and an .802 OPS in 53 games when healthy enough to be in the lineup.
Sep 15, 2014, 7:59 PM EDT
Jim DeShaies previously did it with the Astros in a start against the Dodgers on September 23, 1986.
Sep 15, 2014, 7:35 PM EDT
Duffy hasn’t pitched since September 6 due to rotator cuff inflammation.
Sep 15, 2014, 7:04 PM EDT
The union must sign off on a policy before any changes are put into effect.
Sep 15, 2014, 6:48 PM EDT
Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu exited his Friday start after just one inning with shoulder pain, but an MRI revealed relatively positive news: Ryu does not have structural damage and has been diagnosed with inflammation.
Sep 15, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
“Everything we were trying to accomplish this season has been accomplished.”
Sep 15, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
Gattis met with team doctors Monday in attempt to find an answer with his illness.
Sep 15, 2014, 5:47 PM EDT
Mets reliever Vic Black has been shut down with a shoulder injury just one week after returning from a disabled list stint for a herniated disk in his back.
Sep 15, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
Avila has suffered multiple concussions since last season and also missed time earlier this month after taking a foul tip off the mask.
Sep 15, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
Tampa Bay has called up switch-hitting infielder Nick Franklin, whom the Rays acquired from the Mariners on July 31 in the three-team trade revolving around David Price.
Sep 15, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
Rizzo was having a breakout season before the injury, hitting .278 with 30 homers and an .889 OPS in 129 games at age 24.
Sep 15, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
“Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air.” — Thomas Gray. Or William Cullen Bryant. I don’t know, I get them mixed up.
Sep 15, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Hope he comes back soon so the Yankees have a shot at making the simulated playoffs.
- MLB suspends Jonathan Papelbon seven games for incident during Sunday’s game 30
- VIDEO: Jacob deGrom begins game with eight straight strikeouts to tie MLB record 8
- Bud Selig says MLB and players union will meet this week about domestic abuse policy 7
- And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights 67
- Cuban slugger Yasmani Tomas to command $100 million? 29
- Bruce and Brett Bochy make MLB history 32
- Settling the Score: Saturday’s results 17
- Zack Greinke homers, Dodgers demolish the Giants 17-0 at AT&T Park 20
- Chris Davis suspended 25 games for amphetamine use (92)
- A few thoughts about the discrimination lawsuit against the Mets (91)
- Giancarlo Stanton diagnosed with multiple facial fractures and dental damage (91)
- Bud Selig can’t remember the last domestic violence incident in Major League Baseball (87)
- A couple of initial thoughts on the Chris Davis suspension (83)