Sunday, August 24, 2008

Building the 2009 Royals

With most of the focus turned to the playoff race, I thought now might be an intersting time to look at some teams that are far out of the race in an effort to see what they can do to be in the race next year (or, in the near future). First up is the Kansas City Royals.

The Royals began the season with as much hope as they have had since 2004, when they were coming off a 2003 season in which they were over .500 for the first time in a long time. The reasons for hope this year were different: they had a GM in Dayton Moore who seemed like he knew what he was doing, the team had spent big bucks on a free agent acquisition for the second off season in a row and fans were expecting some of the promise of the minor league system to finally turn into production.

As it turns out, the team has not quite lived up to the preseason hope of the fans. They are on pace to win 70 games, one more than they won last season. There are signs of long term hope, however. Zach Greinke has matured into a solid major league starting pitcher, Gil Meche continues to be worth the big free agent deal that he was signed to in 2007 and Joakim Soria has turned into one of the best young closers in all of baseball.

On offense all of the positives carry caveats: David DeJesus will never be a superstar, but he is a solid major league ballplayer; Alex Gordon has not yet lived up to the hype (and has paled in comparison to Ryan Braun, who was selected after him in the draft), but he has become solid and shows signs of the talent that made him the first overall draft pick; and Billy Butler has shown a lot more power since he was recalled at mid-season.

The negatives are numerous. First is that they still owe $24M over two years to Jose Guillen, who, aside from one scorching hot month, has been one of the worst outfielders in baseball. I didn't like the signing at the time and it looks worse now. Additionally, Brian Bannister has regressed, as many thought he would (to his credit, he foresaw this also and tried to adjust his game this season to compensate - he just hasn't found the right adjustment). So, while Bannister was thought to be a credible #4 starter at the beginning of the season, he has turned out to be a disaster more often than not. Finally, Mark Teahen has never regained his form from the last half of 2006, when it looked like he would become a quality power bat as a right fielder. Now, with Guillen on board he has shifted to left field and has batted like an "all glove" middle infielder.

From the looks of things, the Royals might have about $20M to spend this offseason. So what can they do to contend in the future? They are set at 3B, DH, CF, closer and 40% of their pitching staff. Anywhere else on the field that they can get better, they need to.

Between Bannister, Kyle Davies and Luke Hochever, they should be able to cobble together a decent back end of the rotation, but none of those guys should be counted on as a top 3 starting pitcher. One place they should be looking to improve is the starting rotation. Of course, without upgrade in other positions, spending a lot of money on a high dollar free agent pitcher would be pointless, so guys like CC Sabathia, Ben Sheets and even Jon Garland are out of the question (if they would even consider Kansas City in the first place). The Royals should be looking at guys like Anthony Reyes, who was acquired on the cheap by Cleveland because he'd worn out his welcome in St. Louis. Young scrap heap pitchers with upside is they way to go for the Royals until they can solidify the rest of the team (then spend big on pitchers).

As for the offense, the Royals have holes at 1B, 2B, and Shortstop. For first base, they have a 24 year old minor leaguer named Kila Kaaihue who should be given every opportunity to win the starting job next year. He tore up AA this year and has continued his success at AAA since his promotion. He hits for power and has good plate discipline, but he doesn't exactly have a long track record of success in the minors, so this season could be a mirage, but the Royals need to find out. At shortstop, the Royals have been playing Mike Aviles, a 27-year-old rookie that is having his best season of his career. Even if he can't duplicate his .332/.357/.500 line (and I wouldn't expect him to), playing him for a full season would be a huge upgrade over giving 201 shortstop at bats to the worst everyday player in baseball (Tony Pena, Jr.).

That leaves scond base, which is where I think the Royals should spend their money this offseason. I would target Orlando Hudson as priority #1 for the Royals in their free agent quest. Hudson is a very underrated hitter, .305/.367/.450 before getting injured this season, and is one of the best (if not the best) defensive second basemen in all of baseball. Having him on the team would not only give them a bat in the top 3 of the lineup, but he would make all of their pitchers better with his fielding.

The Royals have the makings of a decent team. Greinke and Meche give them the beginnings of a respectable rotation; Soria and Ron Mahay provide the foundation for a solid bullpen; and DeJesus, Gordon and Butler have the ability to be part of a good offense. Adding Orlando Hudson will not allow them to contend, but I think his acquisition would be the best way for the Royals to spend their money this offseason (getting lucky with a couple of low cost upgrades to the rotation and having some of their young players take full strides forward would be helpful, too).

8/25/08 Daily Links

I didn't post at all last week because an illness that kept me isolated in an oxygen bubble all week (not really, but close). I did read a little about baseball during that time, though, including this article by Tom Verducci that I found fascinating. I am really interested in pitchers' health and proper mechanics, so I will be curious to see how Lincecum's career continues.

Also from last week is this post by TBSWIA, Joe Posnanski - his final from Beijing - as he ponders the meaning of a Tony Pena, Jr. bobblehead.

This article discusses poor starts to outstanding seasons.

Here is yet another example of a team getting bitten by trading prospects for a 'proven veteran'.

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