Guide Preview: Kansas City Royals

Today, our string of preview guides brings us to the Kansas City Royals. Other than an out-of-nowhere, 83-victory season 6 years ago, the Royals have had a pretty poor 15 year run. I talked a little about the Royals history last week, but it was The Common Man who took that ball and ran with it to give us a thorough telling of just how they declined. But that’s all the past, and what interests us in this season preview is the upcoming year. Royals’ fans can only hope that the current team will be able to translate its youth to some success in the upcoming season.

As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team’s 2009 season. I’ve included quotes and other information from each of the them – Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy’s. I’ve also included some statistics about each magazines’ success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.

My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there’s room for some personal commentary. I think it’ll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don’t want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I’ll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I’ve never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the “combined” team preview for the…

Kansas City Royals
Last Year: 75 – 87, 4th Place, AL Central

Predictions Since 1999
This Year Last Year Avg Pred. Avg Finish
Sporting News 3 4 3.875* 4.375*
Athlon 4 5 4.25** 4.25**
Lindy’s 5 5

* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2001, 2003 – 2004, 2006 – 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 – 2003, 2006 – 2008

Team Notes

For five months last year, the Royals played uninspired ball and looked like they would sink to not only the bottom of the AL Central, but all the way to the bottom of the American League itself. But then September rolled around, and things clicked. They went on a roll, and won 18 of their 26 games in the month. By the end of September, the Royals were only 75-87, but all of a sudden the folks of Kansas City had reason to hope in 2009.

“What a difference one month makes. The Royals entered last September with 19 losses in their previous 23 games. Players were increasingly mutinous under first-year manager Trey Hillman. A fifth-straight last-place finish seemed certain, and a fifth 100-loss season in seven years appeared well within reach. General manager Dayton Moore responded with a bristling rebuke to players in a private clubhouse meeting during which he backed Hillman in unshakable terms. Moore then told the public of his intention to make sweeping roster changes before the 2009 season. So what happened? The team went 18-8 in September – the Royals’ most wins in a month since July 1994. They avoided last place, thanks to Detroit, by one game. And just that quickly, optimism sprouted that, just maybe, Moore had this club on the right track…The result is the Royals now believe they can contend in the AL Central. Anything short of .500 will be viewed throughout the organization as a disappointment. September did all that. (Athlon)”

The Royals’ biggest strength, and the biggest reason that they have hope for a successful season this year, is their pitching staff. With a solid top of the rotation in Gil Meche and Zack Greinke, and one of the best closers in baseball in Joakim Soria, KC’s staff can go up against any other in the AL.

“A Rule 5 acquisition from the San Diego Padres, Soria flashed some talent for the Royals in 2007, then blossomed last season as a closer. The All-Star right-hander ranked second in the league with 42 saves while going 2-3 with a 1.60 ERA.

Soria is about as good as it gets at the back end of the bullpen, and Grienke (13-10, 3.47 ERA) and Meche (14-11, 3.98 ERA) are solid at the front end of the rotation.

If the Royals hope to contend, the trio will need help.

After Greinke and Meche, Kansas City needs Brian Bannister to recapture the magic from 2007. The right-hander was 12-9 with a 3.87 ERA two years ago, but Bannister was second in the league with 16 losses last season. (TSN)”

Still, with that staff, and the likes of Alex Gordon and Mike Aviles still growing into their own, the Royals may be able to put something together. It will be up to GM Dayton Moore and manager Trey Hillman to get everyone working together. If they can work some magic on the young players, KC should be in the thick of the division.

“The Royals are in a better shape now than when Dayton Moore took over during the 2006 season, and they improved by six victories in manager Trey Hillman’s first year. Still, a lot of things would need to go right for them to finish with a winning record. New acquisitions Coco Crisp and Mike Jacobs are solid players, but they do not appear to be the finall pieces to a Tampa Bay-style turnaround. Homegrown sluggers Billy Butler and Alex Gordon would need to produce monster seasons for a dramatic improvement. Righthander Luke Hochevar, their first-round pick in 2006, had an underwhelming 2008 season in Kansas City, but the last two drafts have yielded potential stars in third baseman Mike Moustakas and first baseman Eric Hosmer. With the Royals’ modest budget, developing talent from within will be a necessity. (Lindy’s)”

Spotlight Quote

TSN was only one of many publications to try to make the Royals-Rays comparison:

“You look at this team and can see a lot of similarities with Tampa Bay. That doesn’t mean they are going to the World Series, but the Royals played some pretty good baseball last year and they should be even better this year. Like Tampa Bay, the Royals have had a lot of high draft picks for quite a while, and they’ve assembled some good young talent. (Mike) Aviles wasn’t a real high pick (seventh round, 2003), but he might be the best of the bunch. What an impressive season he had, and he was only a rookie. The Royals also have (Alex) Gordon, (Billy) Butler, (Zack) Grienke and (David) Dejesus…”

And Athlon follows up with a spot-on “Final Analysis”:

“The Royals are, finally, good enough to dream. All other AL Central teams are flawed, and if the Royals catch a few breaks, they could find themselves playing meaningful games in September. That’s the high end, of course. But reaching .500 for only the second time in 15 years seems an attainable goal.”

Commentary

A year ago, I knew hardly anything about the Royals. I knew that they were a small-market franchise who had had some trouble keeping up with the joneses since their stars of the ’80s had all left or retired. Frankly, they didn’t seem like all that interesting or special of a team (how were they different from the Brewers or Pirates or Tigers?). But then I started reading Joe Posnanski’s more-than-excellent blog and, somehow, I started learning a lot about the Royals and their players and the culture surrounding the team. Now, I find myself following the team and hoping for nothing but the best for them and their fans. Clearly, this is a quality franchise with a strong history, and it’s nothing less than a shame how they’ve been relegated to the second division in the last ten years.

As for this year, I really want to root for them and to call them the next Tampa Bay Rays, but I just can’t bring myself to do that. Yes, they have quality young players in Alex Gordon, Luke Hochevar, and Zack Grienke, and they have a bunch of guys that you want to see succeed, like Brian Bannister and Billy Butler, but I don’t think that adds up to a winning team, especially considering some of the other guys on the club. I don’t think I’m the only one who sees problems with a team that relies on Jose Guillen and Coco Crisp to give you quality at-bats for 162 games. So, as much as I want to go along with Bill Simmons and some of the other guys who are predicting big things for the boys in Kansas City, I just don’t think I can. I would be quite happy to be proven wrong, though.

Larry Granillo

About Larry Granillo

Larry Granillo has been writing Wezen Ball since 2008 and has dealt with such touchy topics as Charlie Brown's baseball stats and Ferris Bueller's day off. In 2010, he got the bright idea to time every home run trot in baseball; he has been missing ever since.

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