What’s In The Cupboard For KC In 2011

As the street sweepers continue to clean confetti off the streets of San Francisco, Royals fans can finally put the 2010 season to rest. Now the focus can be put on the exciting future of the organization. The foundation of a future contender will begin this offseason.

The Hot Stove action this winter will be faster and more furious than usual. Baseball has altered its offseason schedule to move transactions along. The 15-day free agent filing buffer after the World Series has been eliminated. Which means the offseason actually began November 2nd. The accelerated schedule allows teams only five days of exclusive negotiations with their free agents before they hit the open market. This also means club options must be exercised three days after the World Series.

The Royals have already begun looking towards 2011 by picking up David DeJesus’ $6 million option.

With the new schedule in place we could theoretically see the first free agent singing on Sunday, November 7. Some legitimate deals could be inked sometime next week.

With the action coming quickly let’s take a look at what the Royals have in place going into 2011. Of course there will be some speculation as to what personnel will be on the roster, but I will provide some background as to why.

2011 Royals Pre-Offseason

C – Brayan Pena

1B – Billy Butler

2B – Mike Aviles

SS – Yuniesky Betancourt

3B – Wilson Betemit

OF – Alex Gordon

OF – Mitch Maier

OF – David DeJesus

DH – Kila Ka’aihue

Bench – Gregor Blanco, Chris Getz, Empty, Empty, (Jason Kendall)

The Royals’ 2010 payroll was around $75 million, but will probably be around the $60 million range for 2011. This is attributed to the likes of Jose Guillen ($12 million), Kyle Farnsworth ($4.5 million), Juan Cruz ($3.25 million), and Rick Ankiel ($2.75 million) all coming off the books.

There are eight players under contract for 2011, taking up about $45 million of the payroll. Ten Royals are arbitration eligible this winter, most significantly: Butler, Betemit, Gordon, and Pena. Butler will see the most significant raise, considering he made only $475,000 in 2010. He could expect a salary ten times as valuable as his 2010 compensation.

Catcher

With Jason Kendall coming off of shoulder surgery, the Royals will need to find another backstop to contribute until he is healthy. Expect Pena to take most of the load in absence of Kendall. It will be interesting to see how the front office approaches the position considering they have been reluctant to give Pena an extended opportunity. He saw his most significant chunk in 2009, with 165 at-bats. I don’t expect to see youngsters Lucas May or Manny Pina around the clubhouse. Both are still developing and have holes in their game.

The Royals will be searching for a cheap, defensive minded receiver who can help a troubled staff. While catchers are probably the deepest free agent position, few seem plausible for the Royals. Here are a few they should inquire about.

Yorvit Torrealba – Torrealba split time in 2010 with Nick Hundley in San Diego. He helped lead a surprise Padres team to within a game of making the playoffs. The team’s success was centered around stellar pitching performances from young arms. Torrealba handled the staff well, contributing to a staff which posted the second lowest ERA in the MLB, 3.41. He only committed three errors on the campaign, good enough for a .996 fielding percentage. Torrealba hosed 22 of the 38 base stealers, while also posting his best offensive season, .271/.343/.378, 7 HR, 37 RBI.

All those numbers translated into a 2.8 WAR. Considering the Padres only paid him $750,000, they got a bargain. Surely he will ask for a more significant contract, but nothing outrageous the Royals couldn’t afford.

Jose Molina – Molina saw less time backing up John Buck in Toronto, but posted similar numbers to Torrealba. He hit .246/.304/.377, 6 HR, 12 RBI, in 167 at-bats. Molina mirrored Torreabla in fielding percentage at .996, but gunned down an impressive 15 of 19 runners. He is turning 36 next season, considering his position this could be cause for concern. Molina will be affordable, he made $800,000 in 2010, and as most baseball fans will tell you if you have a catcher, it might as well be a Molina.

John Buck – Buck is an interesting case. He had a career year with the Blue Jays, .281/.314/.489, 25 2B, 22 HR, 66 RBI, good enough for his first All-Star appearance. The upgrade in offense comes with a downgrade on the defensive side of the ball though. He made $2 million in 2010, and can probably expect a pay raise. He has been open about how much he likes Kansas City. I believe a second time around with the Royals could prove beneficial for both, but it is probably unlikely Kansas City will pursue Buck.

Shortstop

Even though the Royals already have their double-play combo penciled in, I have a tough time defaulting to Betancourt as the starting shortstop. Despite improving his numbers across the board, I still think he is one of the worst everyday players in the MLB. I probably have a bias being a Seattle Mariners fan. Watching him first-pitch hack his way out of the job in Seattle left a bad taste in my mouth. He continued his unimpressive performance in Kansas City. I’m sure many Royals fans feel my sentiments; we are tired of watching Yuni pop out on the infield and boot routine plays.

When Betancourt was coming up with the Mariners, many pegged him as a defensive wizard in the mold of Omar Vizquel. Now, Betancourt is 28 and it has become apparent he either refuses or doesn’t know how to make adjustments to his game. Either way, I’m tired of seeing it.

In his career Mike Aviles has played comparably to Betancourt at short. Many fear Aviles’ ability to handle the demanding position considering his past injuries. Former Cal State Fullerton standout and Royals 2010 first round pick Christian Colon is expected to break into the MLB in a few years. Aviles could be the stopgap for Colon over the next 2-3 seasons. I can guarantee you Betancourt won’t be in a Royals jersey in two seasons from now.

Second Base

If Aviles were to see more time at short it would open up get Chris Getz more playing time. It would also allow an opportunity for improvement through free agency. Whether Aviles is moved or not, another versatile infielder could help as the Royals farmhands begin to sprout into big leaguers.

Jose Lopez – Lopez could benefit the team in many aspects. On Tuesday, the Mariners declined their club option on Lopez for the 2011 season. He’s only accumulated five years of service, so the Mariners could retain his rights, but will most likely non-tender him (making him a free agent), or trade him. He sparked some interest at the trade deadline, and is continuing to do so early in the offseason. With the Royals’ depth of prospects and his falling out in Seattle, Kansas City could get him for cheap.

Lopez was a career second baseman until the acquisition of Chone Figgins pushed him to third base. Lopez struggled with his transition to third, but is a better career infielder at second than Aviles. Lopez, like every other Mariner, had a down 2010 offensively. Only a year removed from a 25 HR, 96 RBI season, Lopez is the type of player Kansas City should inquire about. His offensive numbers would see a jump considering he would be playing his home games at the ‘K’ instead of the spacious Safeco Field. He would potentially provide right handed power, in a lefty dominated lineup.

The only possible holdup is Lopez is expected to make $4.5 million in 2011. I’m not sure if the Royals would be willing to overextend for a guy coming off the worst season of his career.

Third Base

By now you have noticed I didn’t include Mike Moustakas in my projections. It’s unclear where Moustakas will begin his season, but it’s pretty definitive he will be with the big club within the first few months of the season.

The acquisition of Lopez would provide a right handed compliment to Moustakas, allowing him to spell the youngster when needed. Betemit played surprisingly well after coming to Kansas City, but isn’t very capable at third base.

With Lopez, Moustakas, and possibly Aviles rotating at third, Betemit could see more time at DH, especially against lefties. I expect Ka’aihue to get a chance to win a big league job, but with Betemit’s ability to switch hit, along with his production last year, he may turn the DH spot into a platoon.

Outfield

All of the outfielders on Kansas City’s roster hit left handed. One move the Royals need to make in the off-season is finding a right handed outfielder to compliment what they already have in place. The free agent market offers a few solutions.

Jayson Werth – Werth would be the perfect guy for the Royals to sign. He would provide a steady right fielder and right handed power in the middle of the lineup. With that said he will be asking more than the Royals will be willing to pay him, and he probably wouldn’t choose to come to Kansas City anyway. We can dream though.

Reed Johnson – Johnson is a hard-nosed player, who will hustle and run through a wall for the club, the kind of guy Kansas City fans love. Since leaving the Blue Jays after 2007 Johnson has seen limited action with both the Cubs and Dodgers. Although he didn’t perform great with the Dodgers last season he boasts a career line of .281/.340/.408. He reached double digit home runs three times, while knocking in at least 50 runs five times in his career. Johnson hits significantly better against southpaws (.312/.373/.463), currently a problem in the Royals lineup. He isn’t as good as DeJesus in the outfield, but is similar in the fact he has seen significant amount of time at all three outfield spots. Considering his down year and the fact he made only $800,000 last season, he should be very affordable.

Marcus Thames – Even though Thames struggled in the postseason, he put up pretty nice numbers in New York. Despite only 212 at-bats he still produced .288/.350/.491, 12 HR, 33 RBI. Thames would provide some right handed punch in the lineup, but would be a concern in the outfield. Thames is a career .978 fielder. If he were to become a Royal, a guy like Mitch Maier would have to constantly provide a late game fielding upgrade. Thames could also split time against lefties at the DH spot.

Outfield is the spot the Royals can make the biggest upgrade through free agency. Maier is more of a fourth outfielder type, and I don’t see much of a future for Gregor Blanco on the big league level. In all honesty, I’d like to see the Royals sign a player like Reed Johnson and have a guy like Jai Miller or Jarrod Dyson be the fourth outfielder. They could get their feet wet as big leaguers, while providing some defense and speed of the bench for late inning situations.

As you have noticed by now, I haven’t addressed the pitching staff. Quite frankly, it’s because their staff is a complete mess. The fact Bruce Chen had the most successful season (12 wins) for a Royals left-handed starting pitcher since Charlie Leibrandt in 1988 sums up the state of baseball in Kansas City. He came into town, not making his first start until May 30th. The Royals are Chen’s tenth team of his career and he has a career ERA of just below 5.00, to expect a multi-year deal is laughable.

Not to take anything away from Chen’s accomplishments and awards; he deserved the accolades for his performance this season. But a player with Chen’s skill set and career doesn’t demand multiple years, especially since he’s turning 35 in 2011. Except for 2006 with the Orioles, Chen has never made more than $600,000 in a season.

I’ll delve into the state of the pitching staff in a later post.

No matter what moves the Royals make this offseason though, don’t expect them to make many big time splashes in the free agent market. With the majority of their talent still 2-3 years away, along with DeJesus’ and Zack Greinke’s contracts looming, the Royals will be looking to save money where ever they can. If major moves are made this winter, they will most likely come via trade.

GM Dayton Moore conveyed this premise in an interview with MLB.com writer Dick Kaegel: “The climate changes. What if somebody makes us a real good offer for Greinke and DeJesus and we free up $19 million, and we can sign ad free agent that makes sense for the next couple of years?” Moore said. “It’s just hard to predict. I don’t want to communicate to the fans falsely. We will certainly look to capitalize on as many opportunities as we can that come our way. But, yeah, we know that free agency is a flawed way to build your baseball team. … You can acquire a piece or two that helps you or puts you over the top.”

If the Royals were to make all the right moves – in my opinion – this offseason, their line-up would look something like this.

CF – David DeJesus

SS – Mike Aviles

1B – Billy Butler

DH – Kila Ka’aihue

2B – Jose Lopez

3B – Mike Moustakas

LF – Alex Gordon

C – Yorvit Torrealba

RF – Reed Johnson

Bench – Yuniesky Betancourt, Wilson Betemit, Jai Miller, Branyan Pena/Jason Kendall.

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