After an up and down week in Surprise, I think everyone is actually more confused about this Kansas City Royals team than they were at the start of Spring Training. It is one thing to wonder if a collection of young talent can piece it together over 162 games. Add two long-term contracts, a significant injury to one of the recipients, a huge push from Luis Mendoza, some confusing quotes from Ned Yost, and the 2012 Royals are a difficult picture to paint. On one hand, they could be one of the most exciting stories in baseball if they make a playoff push; on the other, injury, luck, and historical precedence could be catching up to them already. I wanted to offer my thoughts on Spring Training to this point, in no particular order:
The Royals are not trying to do something unprecedented, and believing they may contend does not make you a Kool Aid Drinker. I think to win the division, or one of the 17 Wild Card spots, the Royals probably need to add 18 wins to their 2011 resume. Sounds outlandish, right? Here are 4 teams that have done it in the last 4 years. They all did it in different ways
2011 Milwaukee Brewers 77 to 96 wins
2011 Arizona Diomandbacks 65 to 94 wins
2009 Colorado Rockies 74 to 92 wins
2008 Tampa bay Rays 66 to 97 wins
The Salvador Perez injury does not preclude the Royals from winning the division. It seems like the same people that wanted to blast projections of Perez based on last year’s success now say that without the young catcher the Royals do not have a chance. The Royals do not have to build the perfect team to win the American Central, whichever team does will certainly have a couple of noticeable warts. Sure, a knee injury to a 21 year old catcher is ominous, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee doom. Look at the catchers on the 4 teams mentioned above: Jonathan Lucroy, Miguel Montero, Chris Iannetta, Dioner Navarro.
Luis Mendoza is going to win a spot on this team. I may not like it and you may not like it, but the numbers make it pretty obvious.
-12-5, 2.18 ERA in 2011 with Omaha
– 10 IP, 1 run, 11K, 1 BB in Spring Training
– 0 options remaining
The Royals don’t have much of a choice but to give him one more chance in the majors. The question is, how? You could send Danny Duffy down to AAA, make Mendoza/Felipa Paulino a long relief man, or go with the dreaded 6-man rotation. Paulino has been pretty terrible in relief, so that seems like the worst option but I hate the idea of sending Duffy down unless he struggles towards the end of Spring Training. No one likes the 6-man rotation, so in my opinion that makes it easy: carry Mendoza as a long relief/swingman.
The Alex Gordon contract situation is in trouble. The more you hear about how much Gordon wants, and how much the Royals want to give him, the more it makes sense. This deal is just too tough to make at this time. The real question is, will it ever get any easier? There is a real possibility that Gordon could play his way out of Kansas City’s market with a repeat of 2011. Oddly, the possibility seems just as real that Gordon could regress and lose his leverage with the club. Unfortunately, the only thing to do is wait and see because I don’t see the two sides coming together without a little more statistical evidence to prod them along.
Spring Training has been a hodgepodge of excitement and devastation for Royals fans. There is better competition, especially in the bullpen, than there has been in many years. There are new contracts to get excited about and terrible injuries to worry about. More than anything there is hope, and it is legitimate hope, that these storylines will mean something come September.