Kansas City Royals fans are long suffering. No Royals playoff appearances since 1985, their last winning season in 2003 and three consecutive 100 loss seasons from 2004-2006 can wear down a fan, no matter how faithful.
But the 2012 season has promise mixed with cautious optimism. With 12 rookies debuting in 2011 and only being nine games out of second place in the American League Central, the Royals hope to improve on their 71-91 2011 season.
For the past few years, the Royals and General Manager Dayton Moore said the team should start to contend in 2012, telling fans to trust “The Process.” When the team’s slogan for this season is “Our Time,” it appears the Royals believe 2012 is the year they might contend.
But do the Royals really believe they will contend this year? If you go by their off-season free agent signings and trades, one could say “maybe.” If the Royals thought they had a chance to win the AL Central, you might think the team would make a big splash in the free agent market or make a trade, especially for starting pitching. Instead, the Royals traded for a back of the rotation pitcher in Jonathan Sanchez, signed relievers Jonathan Broxton and Jose Mijares and some infielder named Yuni. It was more of a drop than a splash.
The Royals have a solid lineup and bullpen, but having a front of the rotation starter would give the team an opportunity to win more games. But it will likely take 90 or more victories to win the AL Central, which means the Royals would have to win at least 20 more games than last season. By itself, adding an Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt or trading for a front of the rotation starter will not win the team 20 or more games.
A lot will have to go right if the Royals have any chance of winning the AL Central. And some 2003 season kind of luck would help too. The team is better, especially compared to Royals teams from the last several years. But if fans are honest with themselves, the Royals are not as good as baseball powers like the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers, Anaheim Angels and the Texas Rangers. At least not yet.
The Royals have many exciting, young players who have the ability to win ballgames. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are well known, but players like pitchers Felipe Paulino, Greg Holland and catcher Salvador Perez had a good 2011 and could improve in 2012. Outfielder Lorenzo Cain and infielders Johnny Giavotella and Alicdes Escobar have a chance to contribute this season. Let’s not forget Royals “veterans” Alex Gordon, Jeff Francoeur, Billy Butler, Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Joakim Soria. And prospects like pitchers Mike Montgomery, Chris Dwyer and Jake Odorizzi have a chance to make their 2012 Major League debuts. And except for Chen, every player mentioned is under 30 years old.
It appears the Royals looked at their Major League roster, their prospects in the Minors and the free agent class this off-season and decided they couldn’t make big moves without mortgaging the future or significantly raising payroll. With the weak free agent starting pitching class this off-season and what prospects some teams had to give up to get the players they wanted, one could argue there was little reason for the Royals to sign a free agent pitcher or give up top prospects for starting pitching. Especially when the Royals have so many good young players of their own. And the only way they can get better is to play.
The 2012 season will be one of the most important seasons in the Royals 43 year history. This year will decide if the Royals are for real and compete in the future or a mirage like the Royals teams of the last 10-15 years. The Glass family, Dayton Moore and Manager Ned Yost will place their faith in a “player” called Stand Pat. If he’s good, the Royals could have a bright future. If he’s not, the Royals could be spending more time in the baseball wilderness and Royals fans will have to suffer a little longer.