How Far Are Royals From Division Crown?


Someday in the near future, fans of the Detroit Tigers will remember fondly the days when the Kansas City Royals were merely a bottom-feeding club out to spoil the playoff aspirations of stronger, richer clubs. We’ll glance at the standings, and, as we see the new perennial contenders from Kansas City somewhere near the top, we’ll wonder what happened to the genial days of a light-hitting version of Alex Gordon and Royals’ rosters annually devoid of real, All-Star caliber talent.

To date, the Royals have never won the American League Central Division. They finished in second place just once, in 1995, but fell short of making the playoffs in the Wild Card slot. Their last trip to the postseason was 1985, when they topped the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

Their gloomy recent history, though, will soon be forgotten, as Kansas City’s future, in the care of General Manger Dayton Moore, is looking as bright as ever.

When Moore took over as the head of the once-destitute organization in 2006, he inherited not only a last-place major league team, but a depleted minor league system. In March of 2006, a few short months before Moore took over, the Royals’ organizational talent was ranked 23rd out of 30, up from 28th the previous year, by Baseball America. Immediately, he placed the club’s focus on scouting and player development, hoping to build a successful franchise through the slow process of discovering and cultivating amateur talent.

Six sub-.500 finishes later, their strategy, combined with a healthy dose of patience, is finally paying off. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler were drafted by the Allard Baird (Moore’s predecessor) regime, but three cogs in Kansas City’s projected lineup for 2012, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Johnny Giavotella were drafted by Moore and his staff. They also signed Salvador Perez as an amateur free agent. Before 2011, Zack Greinke, the best proven talent the Royals had, was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for a package that included Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar. Veteran outfielder Jeff Francoeur, experienced but still young, was signed by Moore around the same time.

The Royals’ offense put up 730 runs last year, which was good for sixth in the American League and is a number they figure to improve upon with every year of experience. All of their players are either in the prime stages of their career or have yet to enter them. Francoeur, the oldest player set to be in the Royals’ lineup next year, will turn 28 in January, so he isn’t exactly Magglio Ordonez in terms of frailty.

Set offensively with a talented group of youngsters, the Royals main concern is pitching.

Their bullpen is as young as their lineup and you could argue that they’re equally talented as well. The closer role is occupied by a player who was taken in the rule 5 draft by Moore in 2006, two-time All-Star Joakim Soria. His ERA was up to 4.03 in 2011 but his peripherals suggest he’ll return to his usual dominance. Greg Holland, selected by the Royals in the 2007 amateur draft, emerged as one of the best relievers in baseball this year, and will be looking to solidify his reputation with another solid season. Holland became a favorite of mine as I researched to vote on this year’s FanSided AL Reliever of the Year Award, which was eventually won by Jose Valverde. Tim Collins, a left-handed reliever acquired by Kansas City last year in a mid-season deal that sent Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth to the Atlanta Braves, had a fantastic rookie season. The Royals’ bullpen is oozing with young, potentially awesome talent; with guys like Kelvin Herrera, Louis Coleman, Blake Wood, and Aaron Laffey to complement the aforementioned. None of the relievers I’ve named will be older than 27 next season.

With some outstanding relief options and a terrific offense, the starting rotation is the real issue for Kansas City. They’ve developed talent in this area as well–Luke Hochevar and Danny Duffy have real potential–but their staff is full of question marks. Felipe Paulino, who, barring more acquisitions, seems like a lock for a rotation spot, is 10-31 with a 5.28 ERA in his career. Hochevar is a former number one draft pick, but has yet to live up to his ace potential. Duffy had a disappointing first major-league season. The Royals recently traded Melky Cabrera for lefty Jonathan Sanchez, an unrefined pitcher with plenty of potential but as many questions. This week, they re-signed Bruce Chen. He’s not exactly an ace, but he’s probably the closest thing to a sure thing Kansas City has in their rotation.

If the Royals’ rotation pitches to their potential, it could actually be quite good. If not, it could be atrocious. On Wednesday, Moore told Bob Dutton of The Kansas City Star that “we’re still looking to add another pitcher.” Moore also noted that the organization now has quality depth. He’s right. Pitching-wise, I haven’t even mentioned Aaron Crow, Everett Teaford, Luis Mendoza, and Mike Montgomery, who will all be competing to take spots from the guys I’ve mentioned–both in the rotation and the bullpen.

Assuming Moore can find another quality arm to anchor their rotation, I actually like the Royals’ chances to challenge for the division as soon as this coming season.

If I was an impartial observer, I could gush all day about how much I like the club being put together in Kansas City. But as a fan of the Tigers, who I hope to watch win many division titles in the next few years, I don’t like the Royals one bit.

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Tags: Alex Gordon Bruce Chen Dayton Moore Detroit Tigers Eric Hosmer Greg Holland Joakim Soria Johnny Giavotella Jonathan Sanchez Kansas City Royals Lorenzo Cain Luke Hochevar Mike Moustakas

  • JAYRC_MCB

    Pretty Far

  • ChrisHannum

    I think I like their chances better than the Twins’ and maybe the Sox’ too.

  • sportz

    Let me help you..name one Royals starter who is better than any of the Tigers top 4..

    Duffy has possibilities..but that doesn’t get the job done..

    Pitching wins..period..the rest is for show.

    • MCBjohnverburg

      @sportz Let me help you. Really it’s run differential. If it was all about starting pitching, Oakland and the Angels would’ve been playoff teams. And it’s not just about starters. Relievers count. I think most believe there is a lot more factors to winning baseball game than just pitching. It’s a big factor, but the rest isn’t just for show. Defense and offense count too.

      • ChrisHannum

        @MCBjohnverburg@sportz I agree, but nobody is really arguing with that. The Royals look like they might have all the other parts of a contender ready to roll soon – the rotation doesn’t seem to be coming on line all that fast. Duffy, Dwyer, Montgomery, Lamb, Odorizzi & Crow have all been BA top-100 guys. As all Tigers fans know, simply having a bunch of hot pitching prospects does not allow you to forecast a rotation. Duffy was rushed to the bigs and floundered there, Montgomery was rushed to AAA and floundered there. They’re both still real young so it really isn’t as though they’re failures. Crow had some success as a big league reliever last year. Lamb got hurt, Dwyer lost his control and tanked in AA. Odorizzi mostly stayed the course, but he started giving up a lot of bombs once he started seeing decent bats in AA. None of these guys is finished, but they’re all at least slightly tarnished prospects going into 2012 – like Wil Myers.

      • sportz

        @MCBjohnverburg

        Show me a contender with poor starters..Relievers are easy and cheap to piece together..its why set up men are inexpensive and Bruce Chen gets paid.

        It’s why KC still stinks..they had excellent relif pitching this year..

        Their starters were weak..until they assemble a qulaity 1/2/3 they will be a .500 or less team no matter how good their position players are..

        In my mind..they have Josmer (a superstar) Gordon (an all star) and lots of suspects..yes,,their SS, C, and 3B have potential..lets see them play 140 games and produce..not 30 games..

        But like I said..until they have qulaity SP..they are a novelty.

        • jim fetterolf

          @sportz@MCBjohnverburg Phillies, Giants, and A’s showed that pitching isn’t everything and 85 wins will be easy enough for the Royals this year without the contributions of Kyle Davies, Jeff Francis, Sean O’Sullivan, and Vin Mazzaro, and 90 is possible without the above four pitchers and their 30 losses . Royals ’11 were hard for strangers to understand, but for those who watched the seeds the harvest seems inevitable. Detroit is good, but next year will be much less comfortable for them. They may not even get the chance to choke again in the playoffs with the Indians and Royals a year stronger and Detroit a year older:)

        • ChrisHannum

          @sportz@MCBjohnverburg New York Yankees. One good starter does not a rotation make.

        • valordesign

          @sportz@MCBjohnverburg

          Verlander and Fister are better than any of their starting five, but I would say Hochevar and Paulino are right up there with Scherzer and Porchello, with Duffy and Chen not far behind. Hochevar is an interesting pitcher that really hasn’t reached his potential and I peg as being due for a big breakout year next season.

        • haplessroyals

          @sportz@MCBjohnverburg

          This guy seems like the ROAR I LOVE THE TIGERS ROAR ALL OTHER SUCK ROAR ROAR IM SMART YOURE DUMB RoAR ROAR kind of guy.

        • jim fetterolf

          @valordesign@sportz@MCBjohnverburg True that Verlander is a dominant stud and that Fister is solid, but even great pitchers have bad games and good pitchers are worth three quality starts out of five, so the rotation differences aren’t insurmountable, especially as 2011′s run differential was close for the two teams. With the Royals position players and improved defense with Cain and Perez, I think they’ll make it at least interesting this year, something we older Royals’ fans have only been able to dream of for the last fifteen years or so.

        • sportz

          @jim fetterolf @MCBjohnverburg

          When you dont win for a decade plus, you forget the ingredients necessary to bake the pie..no solid starters, no winning.

          Luke Hocheaver and Felipe Paulino have stuff, but lots of guys have stuff, it’s still about holding the other team to fewer runs.

        • jim fetterolf

          @sportz@Jim@MCBjohnverburg Guess Detroit and Philadelphia had a fine time watching the Series from the comfort of the couch, the Phils being an excellent example of SP alone won’t get you there. As for fewer runs, the run differential shows what the two teams did, comparatively, which drives the statheads nuts. Royals will be fine next season, Tigers will be older, and we’ll find out if Verlander is Doc Halladay or really Zack Greinke:)

        • sportz

          @jim fetterolf @Jim @MCBjohnverburg

          You know what the most overated thought in baseball is..

          The best team wins the WS..KC is miles from being more than .500..keep soothing yourslf with theidea run differential has huge meaning..Hocheaver is a #5 in Detroit or Philly..Paulino is a bullpen pitcher and duffy is a #5 or in AAA.

        • jim fetterolf

          @sportz@Jim@MCBjohnverburg We’ll see next year:)

  • woodnick

    If they went “all-in” for a #1 pitcher, and I think they have the assets to get it done, then I think they’d start to fight for the #2 spot in the Division and top spot in 2013….but they have a lot of development in their future and unless their young guys all develop at an advanced pace they probably won’t be truly competing next year(similar to the Indians this past season, though the Indians have better pitching as it currently stands).

  • valordesign

    I like the Royals talent….alot. They have an excellent front office and their player development is one of the tops in mlb. This team is just plain stacked with young talent. You saw alot the players starting to come through in the second half this season. I still think there will be a good amount of development next year. That is why I could see them competing for the division next year, I agree with the article, the starting pitching is not yet quite there yet.

    It can be tough to project, however in 2013 they will have a strong 1 through 5 rotation to compliment a strong bullpen and what I think will be one of best offenses in the league. The only thing that will be missing from them being a championship team then is a true ace, which with all the talent they have in their farm, I wouldn’t put it past them from obtaining one.

  • JAYRC_MCB

    The Royals have one of the more interesting farm systems in all of baseball. Some of these comments are getting a little crazy though. The Royals have finished at or above .500 ONCE since 1994. This talk about the farm system has been going on for over a decade though. Until they finish .500 I refuse to buy into the Royals as a contender. I love prospects as much as the next guy. Hell probably even a little bit more. A prospect is exactly that though, A PROSPECT. The Royals need to mix in solid, talented veterans on both sides of the ball to actually challenge for the pennant. Until then they’ll continue to be that pesky team that gives ya trouble but ultimately finishes in the basement.

    • garretkc

      @JAYRC_MCB Solid points. I haven’t been around too long so maybe I buy in to prospects too easily at this point. Still, many of Kansas City’s so-called prospects have already logged lots of major league time and I believe their best years are yet to come.

    • ChrisHannum

      @JAYRC_MCB True, nobody should be confident in the Royals finishing near .500 much less winning the division. Until those prospects have actually produced, they’ll just be a roster filled with question marks. The optimism is understandable though, because for the first time in a while the Royals have enough raw talent and interesting pieces to be considered a ‘dark horse’ as opposed to flat out irrelevant.

    • jim fetterolf

      @JAYRC_MCB First off, Hosmer, Moose, Perez, and Duffy hadn’t even started Kindergarten in 1994, second the talk of the Royals’ farm system the last decade was about how bad it was, no money for scouting and good prospects passed on in the draft due to cost, and third the Royals have Frenchy, Gordon, Billy, and Chen as solid, talented veterans at the moment as well as the young guys a year more experienced with time in the majors. For folks in KC, our big question mark is 2nd base. Rest of the lineup is set beyond there and a rotation spot or two. Fortunately we have competition for those spots this year. Royals should get .500 easily without Davies, Francis, O’Sullivan, and Mazzaro and their 25 or 30 losses and will be quite pesky. Tigers and Indians may be safe for another year, but the gap is closing.

      • ChrisHannum

        @jim fetterolf@JAYRC_MCB It’s a bit of a stretch to say that the Royals will get .500 easily. That solid offense last year came from career years from Gordon, Francoeur and Melky Cabrera. Cabrera is gone, and it’s no foregone conclusion that Francoeur and Gordon will even come close to their great years next time around. Optimists are assuming that certain young guys will improve enough to more than offset that, and they might turn out to be right or they might not.

  • sportz

    Assuming young guys will improve..yeah..see Jackson, Austin..it doesn’t always work out that way does it??

    • jim fetterolf

      @sportz Others will assume old guys don’t decay. That’s why they play the games on the field. Of course, Jackson was hardly an elite prospect, yet posted a respectable second season. His defense certainly made your pitching staff better.

      • sportz

        @jim fetterolf Oh yeah..Which Royals prospect has ayyained 180 hit season so far??

      • sportz

        @jim fetterolf

        Which Royals prospect has attained a 180 hit season in the majors so far..

    • ChrisHannum

      @sportz He did show some more pop, I can’t say I’m all that disappointed with Jackson’s sophomore season.

  • sportz

    Lorenzo Cain isn’t a ranked propsect, he’s a suspect.

    Austin Jackson was the same caliber prospect every Royal has been except Hosmer and now Myers..

    http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/minorleagues/prospects/y2009/profile.jsp?t=p_top&pid=457706

    • ChrisHannum

      @sportz I think Myers is going to drop a long ways once the new BA top 100 comes out. Same for their top two pitching prospects in the rankings.

    • MCBjohnverburg

      @sportz I don’t know about that particular publication, but Moustakas has been higher than 27 in most rankings systems. As far as Myers dropping, he undoubtedly will, but those people who would right off a guy that is what 21? and already played in AA and had a good AFL is kind of silly. Montgomery is going to drop. Lamb will because of Tommy John, and so will Chris Dwyer. Odorrizi will likely climb a little, and they have a bunch of younger guys like Ventura, Adam, Brickhouse and Smith that have loads of talent. They are still stocked despite some of the guys slipping. I’m sure Lamb will come back fine at some point. They don’t have any immediate help as far as starters go. It’s going to either be Aaron Crow, or have either Montgomery or Dwyer get off to a hot start. Jeffress is better in the pen, and they should replace Crow with him.

      • ChrisHannum

        @MCBjohnverburg@sportz I think I’ve written this at some point before, but for Myers it’s partly his 160 point drop in OPS at AA, but more than that it’s his switch from catcher to corner outfielder. The whole reason for the slight to the Royals system was the contention that Austin Jackson was not an elite prospect (while the Royals guys are). Jackson was #41 then #36 then #76 and then making a major contribution as a rookie.