Everyone expects improvement from the 2012 Kansas City Royals, but just how much improvement to expect is a point of debate. Will 4-5 players make “the leap” at the same time vaulting the Royals into 90+ win territory? Will this season be a springboard to 2013, around 81 wins and a lot of incremental individual improvement? While much of the answer may lie in the Royals clubhouse, I think a good portion may also be determined in Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago. The unbalanced schedule means that the Royals will play 72 of their 162 games against the Central Division. Just how good (or bad) the division is may have as much to do with how successful the 2012 Royals are as anything.
Another way to say this is, the Royals need some help in 2012 to contend…and thankfully they are already starting to get it. What, you say? We’re still a month away from Spring Training, how can the Royals already be getting help? Let’s take a look at the off season news from the AL Central:
The Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox did not really contend last year and may have actually gotten worse heading into 2012. The Twins lost Michael Cuddyer, Joe Nathan and Jason Kubel to free agency and their additions were not impressive. Justin Morneau is still recovering from concussion issues while Joe Mauer is supposed to be completely recovered from his tired legs. The White Sox, on the other hand, seem to be trying to rebuild while maintaining a $100 million dollar payroll thanks to anchors of contracts still owed to the likes of Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Jake Peavy. They lost Ozzie Guillen and traded away Carlos Quentin, Sergio Santos, and Jason Frasor for young pitching. My honest appraisal is, if the Royals make even the slightest of progress, these two teams should not be much of a concern.
That brings us to the Cleveland Indians, the team thought to be on the same path as the Royals, if not a step or two ahead. It is easy to forget how dominant the Indians were early last season after their collapse. Their biggest acquisition? It could be Derek Lowe if he turns back the clock, or Kevin Slowey…and that’s about it. The lack of acquisitions are not even the biggest problem for the Tribe, it is the question marks surrounding Fausto Carmona right now. The 28 year old opening day starter is actually 31, and facing charges in the Dominican Republic for lying about his identity. No one has any idea how serious this is, but there is no way it is a positive for the Indians.
It would be pretty easy to argue that the three teams above have no bearing on the Royals division chances. The Tigers are the favorite and it is not really close. They have the best pitcher in the division (baseball?), Justin Verlander, and arguably the best hitter in Miguel Cabrera. Thankfully for the Royals, the Tigers have added virtually nothing to last year’s squad and just this month lost DH Victor Martinez to an ACL injury that could sideline him for 2012. Sure, there are options available for the Tigers to replace Martinez, but none of them come without question marks. Losing Martinez also hurts Cabrera, who needs the protection in the lineup.
All this being said, it is still on the Royals to go out and win the division. The AL Central has been a weak division for some time and just as the Royals seem to be poised to improve, the rest of the division is regressing. Does that mean it is a prime opportunity to add a started like Roy Oswalt? Only time will tell.