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 1, 2015, 11:34 PM EDT
Would it endanger or enlighten Berrios’ career to give him a few starts in a postseason race?
Sep 1, 2015, 10:49 PM EDT
It was Cal Ripken Jr. Night on Tuesday at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, with the Orioles celebrating the 20th anniversary of Ripken taking over Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played …
Sep 1, 2015, 10:05 PM EDT
Stanton has been on the disabled list since June 27 because of a broken hamate bone in his right hand.
Sep 1, 2015, 9:12 PM EDT
And he did it on the night the O’s are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played.
Sep 1, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT
Adam Rubin of ESPN New York shares the plan …
Sep 1, 2015, 7:44 PM EDT
The reworking of the Red Sox has already begun under new club president Dave Dombrowski.
Sep 1, 2015, 6:51 PM EDT
It was a rather uneventful triple play as far as triple plays go, but cool and rare nonetheless …
Sep 1, 2015, 6:07 PM EDT
From beat writer Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com …
Sep 1, 2015, 5:17 PM EDT
Teixeira has started just one game since fouling a ball off his shin two weeks ago.
Sep 1, 2015, 4:54 PM EDT
Kelvin Herrera and Alex Rios are already infected and will could miss up to two weeks.
Sep 1, 2015, 3:41 PM EDT
Gordon missed two months with a groin injury.
Sep 1, 2015, 3:05 PM EDT
He deserves to be in already.
Sep 1, 2015, 2:39 PM EDT
Olivera was traded from the Dodgers to the Braves as part of July’s three-team, 13-player deal.
Sep 1, 2015, 12:14 PM EDT
Former Rookie of the Year and All-Star closer.
Sep 1, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
Wait — he wasn’t with the Dodgers already?
Sep 1, 2015, 11:28 AM EDT
“It wouldn’t surprise me if Jessica’s a regular on Sunday, Monday or Wednesday night baseball, whenever the time comes,” Kruk said.
Sep 1, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
It’s pretty nice. But it also cost $1.6M.
Sep 1, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
He’s running out of time.
Sep 1, 2015, 9:40 AM EDT
At least he claims he did. Hmmmmm . . .
Sep 1, 2015, 9:10 AM EDT
Bananas: an essential element in Team Chemistry.
- Yankees reveal Mark Teixeira’s shin injury is “more than we thought” 14
- There’s a chicken pox outbreak in the Royals’ clubhouse and multiple players are infected 23
- Shoeless Joe Jackson is not being reinstated 64
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 66
- Cubs acquire Austin Jackson from Mariners 22
- Unknown Cuban ballplayer sleeps outside of Dodger Stadium, hoping for a tryout 34
- And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights 74
- Jake Arrieta no-hits the Dodgers with 12 strikeouts 32
- Sarah Palin sticks up for Curt Schilling, tells ESPN to “stick to sports” (266)
- Dan Patrick: When does ESPN cut ties with Curt Schilling? (202)
- Curt Schilling taken off of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball telecast this week (134)
- Joe Girardi would like Carlos Gomez to “play the game right” (97)
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights (87)