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.
Apr 27, 2015, 10:03 PM EDT
The Nationals mapped out a plan that could have had Rendon make his season debut as soon as Thursday against the Mets, but that’s on hold for now.
Apr 27, 2015, 9:04 PM EDT
The Diamondbacks are reportedly among the potential landing spots for Saltalamacchia.
Apr 27, 2015, 8:10 PM EDT
Bailey is coming off flexor tendon surgery. Could Tommy John surgery be next?
Apr 27, 2015, 7:24 PM EDT
McCarthy appears headed for season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Apr 27, 2015, 7:20 PM EDT
Adam Ottavino was just named as the Rockies closer two weeks ago, but now he’s headed to the disabled list with right triceps inflammation.
Apr 27, 2015, 6:41 PM EDT
Protests and violence continue in Baltimore after the recent death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.
Apr 27, 2015, 6:09 PM EDT
Wainwright will undergo season-ending surgery this week.
Apr 27, 2015, 5:40 PM EDT
Scherzer is in the first season of a seven-year, $210 million contract and has pitched very well through four starts with a 1.26 ERA and 29/4 K/BB ratio in 29 innings.
Source: Josh Hamilton rejected a trade to a National League team because he wanted to go back to Texas
Apr 27, 2015, 4:56 PM EDT
Hamilton had a full no-trade clause with the Angels. And he exercised it in an effort to get back to the Rangers.
Apr 27, 2015, 4:25 PM EDT
Pro tip: when you’re trying to sell something, don’t tell all of your potential customers how crappy the thing is and how desperate you are to be rid of it.
Apr 27, 2015, 4:04 PM EDT
This trade rids the Angels of Josh Hamilton, Josh Hamilton of the Angels and give the Rangers a pretty big bargain. Win-win-win?
Apr 27, 2015, 3:31 PM EDT
Saltalamacchia is owed $7 million this season and $8 million next season.
Apr 27, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
As usual, the Phillies are why we can’t have nice things.
Apr 27, 2015, 2:35 PM EDT
Jaso injured his wrist sliding into third base on Opening Day.
Apr 27, 2015, 1:22 PM EDT
He was traded from the Nationals to the Dodgers just last week.
Apr 27, 2015, 1:08 PM EDT
Powerful words from the Orioles’ executive in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray.
Apr 27, 2015, 12:32 PM EDT
Some people are really committed. Others are so committed, maybe they should be committed.
Apr 27, 2015, 11:19 AM EDT
Perez posted a 9.39 ERA in six appearances for Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Apr 27, 2015, 11:03 AM EDT
“Outdoor baseball is stupid, and domes should be universal. My column:”
Apr 27, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
Gonzalez insists he’s healthy.
- Monday’s White Sox/Orioles game postponed due to ongoing protests and violence in Baltimore 88
- Cardinals confirm Adam Wainwright is done for season with torn Achilles 15
- Deal done: Josh Hamilton traded to the Texas Rangers for cash considerations 40
- Pitchers batting is dumb and the DH should be universal 350
- And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights 88
- Alex Rodriguez hits 659th career home run, now one shy of tying Willie Mays 60
- Max Scherzer doubtful for next start due to thumb injury 5
- Pitchers batting is dumb and the DH should be universal (350)
- Comment of the Day: do not underestimate the seriousness of the anti-DH crowd (186)
- The early leaders in MLB’s “Franchise Four” thing have been announced (166)
- The Royals and White Sox had a benches-clearing fracas, five players ejected (161)
- Protesters converge on Oriole Park at Camden Yards (149)