I believe the Royals are a team on the way up. It’s hard to see that sometimes, especially with all the losing over the years, a disappointing 2012 season and the sometimes questionable moves of General Manager Dayton Moore. But the team is much better than it was just a couple of years ago and there’s plenty to be thankful for.
Except for second base and right field, the position players are in good shape: Yes, Eric Hosmer had a down year and Mike Moustakas cooled off after a good first half of the season. And Lorenzo Cain‘s injury-plagued season featured a just serviceable Jarrod Dyson in center field. But solid contributions by Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Alcides Escobar and the limited playing time of Salvador Perez showed promise. If Hosmer, Moustakas and Johnny Giavotella improve, Cain stays healthy, Wil Myers takes Jeff Francoeur‘s place in right field, and the lineup hits for more power, the Royals will have a young, potent lineup. There’s still a lot of ifs, but there’s less ifs than just a few years ago.
The Royals have one of the better bullpens in the American League and they’re young: The Royals bullpen ERA in 2012 was 3.17, which was sixth overall in the Majors. They were second in the Majors with 535 strikeouts, just behind the Colorado Rockies with 589. They also pitched the second most innings at 561.1, just behind the league leading Rockies at 657.0 innings. Throwing that many innings showed the weakness of the starting rotation, but the fact the Royals bullpen pitched that many innings and still had a decent ERA and strikeouts shows they more than held their own.
And most of the bullpen is under 30. Joakim Soria, who’s been with the Royals for six seasons and a “grizzled” veteran, is only 28. bullpen standouts Kelvin Herrera and Tim Collins will be 23 next season. The oldest bullpen pitcher in 2012 was 32 year old Ramon Colon, but he only appeared in three games, pitching a total of eight innings. If the starting rotation were as good as the bullpen, the Royals would be a much better team.
The Royals are making the effort to improve the starting rotation: The starting rotation was bad, ranking 26th in the league with a 5.01 ERA and pitched a total of 890.0 innings, 28th in the league. The pitcher with the lowest ERA outside of Jeremy Guthrie was journeyman Luis Mendoza with a 4.23 ERA.
The team knew they had to improve the starting rotation this offseason, so they made a trade for Ervin Santana and just signed Guthrie to a three year, $25MM deal. Yes, both pitchers aren’t aces and the Royals know they need a front of the rotation starter. But Santana and Guthrie are dependable, league average pitchers who will provide innings, keep the team in more games and not overwork the bullpen. There’s little chance the Royals will sign Zack Greinke, but they might have a chance with Anibal Sanchez or Shaun Marcum. The team is also willing to trade prospects for a veteran starter. The question is what prospects are the Royals willing to give up, what pitchers they’re looking for and how much of a risk they’re willing to take. The starting rotation still needs work, but they’re already better than 2012’s rotation.
The Royals aren’t the Miami Marlins: Fans like to gripe about team owner David Glass, but at least he’s not Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. How would you like to be a fan of a team who spent almost $634MM on a stadium, most of it publicly financed? Then sign free agents Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, trade for Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Lee, which ballooned payroll to around $155MM, resulting in a 69-93 record, last in the National League East?
The Marlins traded away players Haney Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, Randy Choate, Edward Mujica, Heath Bell, Reyes, Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck for a bunch of young, unproven players, dumping a total commitment of $220MM in salary and making the Marlins a N.L. version of the Houston Astros. And don’t forget the Marlins Park $2.5MM home run sculpture that looks like the result of a Hunter S. Thompson all-night bender. Hey, at least the Marlins have outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and prolific Twitterer Logan Morrison (well, they are willing to trade Morrison). Between the two teams, the Royals have a much brighter future than the Marlins.
Finally, I have the opportunity to write about the Royals for I70 Baseball: I’m having fun writing about the Royals, despite 2012 not living up to expectations. I’ve learned a lot more about the players and coaches on the Major League roster, Royals prospects, the game of baseball and statistics. I’m thankful Bill Ivie gives us Royals and Cardinals fans the chance to write about their teams and being able to share it with other fans is an honor. And I look forward to writing about the Royals during this offseason and 2013.