When you’re a fan of a specific team, it is easy for the moves of other teams to get lost in translation. As a Cleveland Indians fan, you should be proud of the solid moves that the club has made this offseason. From the signing of Nick Swisher to the acquisition of Trevor Bauer in the three-team deal with Arizona and Cincinnati, the Tribe roster is full of solid additions, as well as a huge upgrade at manager with Terry Francona coming aboard.
In 2012, the Kansas City Royals were four games better than the Cleveland Indians, finishing 72-90, good for third-place in the AL Central. Probably the busiest of the AL Central teams this winter, the Royals made significant upgrades to their starting rotation by making deals with the Los Angeles Angels and the Tampa Bay Rays.
Last season’s Royals starting rotation posted a 47-69 record and a 5.01 ERA. Their best starter was Jeremy Guthrie, who was acquired for Jonathan Sanchez from the Colorado Rockies, a swap of terrible pitchers…at least to that point. Guthrie went 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA over 14 starts with K.C., earning a three-year, $25 million contract in the process. Outside of Guthrie, Bruce Chen may be the only holdover out of the group as Will Smith, Luke Hochevar, and Luis Mendoza seem to have lost their rotation spots to Ervin Santana, Wade Davis, and James Shields, clear and significant upgrades.
The Royals haven’t made any moves to their everyday lineup from 2012, as the starters seem to be in the same spot on the depth charts this season. At catcher, a full season of Salvador Perez would be absolutely huge for the Royals. Perez turns 23 in May and has a .311/.339/.471 career line in just 463 plate appearances, hitting 14 home runs and driving in 60 runs in the process. He is a future All-Star who will be very productive a year after meniscus surgery on his left knee.
The Royals have a potential superstar at first in Eric Hosmer, though he struggled mightily in 2012, posting a .232/.304/.359 triple-slash after posting a .293/.334/.465 line in his rookie 2011 season. But there were good signs: Hosmer’s BABIP fell from .314 in 2011 to .255 in 2012 while his walk rate increased from 6.0 percent in 2011 to 9.4 percent in 2012, and just turned 23 in October. He has time and he is patient, so he will be productive again and very dangerous.
Across the diamond is third baseman Mike Moustakas. Moustakas, like Hosmer, had a down year, hitting .242/.296/.412 in 2012. While he hit 20 home runs and posted a .708 OPS, an improvement on his five home runs and .676 OPS over 365 plate appearances in 2011, Moustakas still hasn’t reached the potential that he showed coming up through the minors. Moustakas hit 36 combined home runs in Double-A and Triple-A in 2010, but even in the minors he struggled to take a walk. Moustakas has solid power and if he improves his plate discipline, he is another solid youngster, he turned 24 in September of last season, who can create chaos in the middle of the Royals order.
Billy Butler is the current star of the team, having earned his first All-Star appearance and his first Silver Slugger in 2012. Butler turns 27 in April and he is entering his seventh season with the Royals, and all he does is hit. Last season, “Country Breakfast” began hitting for more power, hitting 29 home runs (a career-high), while eclipsing 100 RBI for the first time in his career (107). His right-handed bat sits perfectly between Moustakas’ and Hosmer’s left-handed bats in the middle of the order.
Alex Gordon, the club’s left fielder, finally reached his potential in 2011, when he won his first Gold Glove after moving from third to the outfield permanently. He won another Gold Glove in 2012, but his production slipped a little, as his OPS fell from .879 to .822 and his WAR fell from 7.1 to 6.2. Gordon seems to be overlooked at times due to his years of struggle, but he is turning 29 this season and in the middle of his prime. If he rebounds to his 2011 production and the Royals get Hosmer and Moustakas back on track…scary.
The rest of the daily lineup has its ups-and-downs. Alcides Escobar looks to be establishing himself offensively with his speed and gap power, but he isn’t very good defensively at shortstop (see his Zone and Range Factors here), and he, too, can’t take a walk. Lorenzo Cain, is still a work in progress. He hasn’t been healthy but looks to possess an impressive power and speed combination, so he could be another wild card. Chris Getz is what he is: a slap-hitting face of mediocrity with his career .257/.314/.316 career line. Jeff Francoeur…Dayton Moore extended him, blocked Wil Myers, and then traded Myers for pitching all because of his mistake. Francoeur is a right-handed hitter, which the Royals need in their lineup, but he is another free-swinger who has a career walk rate of 5.1 percent.
The Royals really improved their rotation this offseason. James Shields is a legitimate ace after compiling a 31-22 record and a 3.15 ERA over 477 innings since the start of the 2011 season. Ervin Santana, who was awful in 2012 for the Angels, is an innings-eating veteran who tossed over 450 innings while winning 28 games and posting a 3.65 ERA in 2010 and 2011 combined. Wade Davis has great stuff that finally materialized into an 11.1 K/9 in 2012 out of the bullpen. If he can transition his stuff back into the rotation, he could establish himself as a No. 1 or No. 2 starter for the Royals long-term, as he is signed through 2017 due to team options. Guthrie was great in 14 starts for the Royals in 2012, but he is nothing more than a veteran innings-eater and a No. 4 or No. 5 starter. Chen is borderline rosterable. He wasn’t good in 2012 and has been inconsistent most of his career, showing glimpses of solid stuff. He is still around because he is left-handed and breathing.
The Royals’ bullpen is solid due to the dominant potential of Greg Holland and Aaron Crow. Tim Collins can full people with his left-handed junkballs and miniscule size, while Luis Mendoza will move back to the bullpen and be a solid long man. Outside of those four, it is anyone’s guess as to what the club gets from the rest of their pitchers. Hochevar could dominate out of the ‘pen by adding a few miles-per-hour to this fastball, as he probably won’t earn a rotation spot, but we’ll see.
The Royals may live and die by the production from their inconsistent youngsters going forward. Hosmer, Moustakas, Perez, Escobar, and Cain will carry this club by either becoming reliable bats or huge failures. Perez and Hosmer, statistically, seem poised to become stars, while the others need help from their once-promising skill-set to reach their potential. Billy Butler and Alex Gordon are the stars on the club right now, but they could become afterthoughts to the budding potential on the roster.
The Royals have a solid blend of veteran pitching, untapped potential, and reliable everyday players. While the club mortgaged their future by dealing Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and others this offseason, they have positioned themselves for a two year run for the AL Central title, as James Shields is signed through 2014. GM Dayton Moore needs this to work or he will lose his job, but the club is clearly better with the much needed pitching help.
The Royals should move ahead of the Chicago White Sox in 2012 and I predict that they’ll finish above .500, which would be the fourth time they will have done so since 1993, by going 85-77 in 2013.