Here's your condensed Royals preview.
The longer version follows.
The Royals appear to be entering year 3 of the Devil Rays 10 year plan to reach .500 (Tampa is in year 7).
The plan generally works like this:
* Have a terrible major league club
* Have a terrible GM
* Trade off any good players that you have because they're 'too expensive'
* Get back marginal talent in the above mentioned trades
* Collect top 3 picks in the draft
* Use those top picks on 'no-brainer' positional prospects
* Fire the GM
* Fire the manager
* Change ownership
* Hire a competent management group
* Build around the top picks that the previous regime acquired
The Royals have done a fine job of the first four steps.
They seem to be working hard at the next two items on the list, last year getting Alex Gordon and this year having the top pick in the draft (although all signs point to a college pitcher going 1st overall). Gordon, along with Billy Butler and Justin Huber give the Royals a good trio of hitters in the minors.
The next step is removing the decision makers. Following two 100+ loss seasons it'll be hard to see how Allard Baird can possibly survive with this team that'll be lucky to win 75 games. I'll be surprised if he makes it through the All Star game.
Buddy Bell was the uninspired choice of Baird to be the manager last year. Bell's a proven manager, only he's only been able to prove he's not particularly adept at managing.
Getting rid of owner David Glass is tougher in that he, well, he owns the team. He'll only get out if he wants to get out and there's no indication of that.
The Royals big move this offseason was boosting the payroll by a significant amount to the $50 million range.
With this extra money the Royals were able to go out and sign mediocre veterans on the downside of their careers that most teams weren't all that interested in such as: Mark Grudzielanek, Reggie Sanders, Scott Elarton, Doug Mientkiewicz and via trade, Mark Redman.
Unfortunately, the game is baseball, not Scrabble. These moves make them a marginally better team and if everything breaks right they might win 75 games.
So what's the point of spending money if you're just going to be nearly as pathetic at $30 million or $50 million? Why not just keep the money and use it later or allocate more money to the draft and sign players away from college that are selected in later rounds?
A cynic might say that a reason to increase the major league payroll is to avoid a backlash from certain owners and the MLBPA for not using revenue sharing money. This could become an especially sensitive issue with the upcoming labor negotiations. It's very likely (and almost certain) that the owner's side of the negotiations are going to push for further revenue sharing. The Royals would be among the teams that would be helped the most from this. The large revenue teams are going to be less inclined to go along with this plan if it appears that the teams like the Royals that receive revenue sharing are simply pocketing the money. And of course the MLBPA isn't interested in revenue sharing recipients pocketing money either. One way to ensure that teams aren't pocketing revenue sharing money would be to have a salary floor for each team which I'm sure those bottom payroll teams are interested in having. So, to sum up, by increasing the payroll it makes it more likely that the Royals could receive revenue sharing in the future.
But let's not be cynics!
While the Royals are going to be bad at a payroll of $30 million and a payroll of $50 million it still does make sense to try to take baby steps to 70 wins.
For one, nobody likes to watch a complete loser. Progress is a lot more encouraging than losing 100 games every year.
Additionally, if you aren't competitive you have almost no chance to land any free agents. The Royals found this out this year. From a Joe Posnanski article:
The Royals, according to sources, offered pitcher Paul Byrd a three-year deal in excess of $21 million.The only way the Royals are going to sign a player at this point is to give out a contract so outrageous that no other team would consider it and no player could turn it down. That is the Royals will need to go 1-2 years longer than anyone else and millions more to land a player.
He signed, instead, with Cleveland for a two-year deal and about $14 million.
“I want to win,” he told reporters. “And that was more important than the larger contract in Kansas City.”
The Blue Jays won 80 games this offseason and made it known that their payroll was going to the middle tier and they still had to go one year longer and more dollars per year than any other team to sign both BJ Ryan and AJ Burnett. If it's that hard for an 80 win team to sign players imagine what it's like for a team with 24 less wins.
Getting to 70-75 wins might seem pointless, but it's needed progress even if the Royals aren't getting the most bang for their buck.
Here's a look at the lineup with 2005 rate stats:
Player ABs BA OBP SLG OPS+ OF - David DeJesus 461 0.293 0.359 0.445 114 2B - M Grudzielanek 528 0.294 0.334 0.407 92 DH - Mike Sweeney 470 0.300 0.347 0.517 127 OF - Reggie Sanders 295 0.271 0.340 0.546 126 OF - Emil Brown 545 0.286 0.349 0.455 113 1B - D Mientkiewicz 275 0.240 0.322 0.407 91 3B - Mark Teahen 447 0.246 0.309 0.376 82 SS - Angel Berroa 608 0.270 0.305 0.375 81 C - John Buck 401 0.242 0.287 0.389 79 UT - Matt Stairs 396 0.275 0.373 0.444 118Despite an ugly bottom of the order this doesn't seem like the worst lineup around, and in fact it's not! The Royals were 27th in EqA last season and should be a bit better this year.
Reggie Sanders replaces Terrence Long, and even if Sanders doesn't play a full season it'll be tough to be worse than Long's .279/.321/.378 last season.
Speaking of tough to do worse than last season, Mark Grudzielanek takes over at second base. While he isn't the greatest player the Royal's second basemen last year put up a .235/.293/.334 line. Ouch!
Catcher, third base, and shortstop will look the same this year as last year. The good news is that they're all manned by young players. The bad news is that these players haven't shown much ability to date. More bad news? Teahen and Buck were the two key players acquired in the Carlos Beltran trade.
One of the few bright spots on the Royals last year was OF Emil Brown who seemingly came out of nowhere to have a fine season. After getting several cups of coffee with the Pirates from 1997-2001 Brown spent the next 4 seasons in AAA. The Royals signed him after he hit .337/.386/.533 for the Zephyrs in 2004 and he earned a full time starting spot last year.
First base and DH will be shared among Sweeney, Stairs and Mientkiewicz. There's not much reason to expect anything out of the ordinary from these three.
The best young player currently in the majors is David DeJesus. If he can stay healthy (he had several different problems at the end of last season) he'll be the Royals All Star representative this season. If things break right he just might deserve the spot on merit.
Overall, I would expect modest improvement from the Royals offense this season. If the key players stay healthy they could be average to slightly below average.
Pitcher (2005) ERA IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA+ Scott Elarton 4.61 181.7 5.1 2.4 1.6 89 Mark Redman 4.90 178.3 4.8 2.8 0.9 87 Zack Greinke 5.80 183.0 5.6 2.6 1.1 74 Run. Hernandez 5.52 159.7 5.0 3.9 1.0 78 D.J. Carrasco 4.79 114.7 3.8 4.0 0.9 90 J.P. Howell 6.19 72.7 6.7 4.8 1.1 70 Mike MacDougal 3.33 70.3 9.2 3.1 0.8 130 Andrew Sisco 3.11 75.3 9.1 5.0 0.7 139 Ambiorix Burgos 3.98 63.3 9.2 4.4 0.9 109 Jeremy Affeldt 5.26 49.7 7.1 5.3 0.5 82Well, when you finish 30th out of 30 teams in ERA there's no place to go but up. Part of the improvement will come from replacing Jose Lima, because you can't get any worse than Lima last year. He set the record for highest ERA for a pitcher with at least 30 starts (Lima remarkably holds the AL AND NL records for highest ERA in a season with at least 30 starts). His 62 ERA+ will be replaced by Mark Redman, who while not great, is, well, better than Lima. Scott Elarton also joins the rotation and is expected to allow the Royals to move JP Howell to AAA to get more experience. Zach Grienke who a year ago was a star in waiting is now dealing with 'personal issues' and no one can reasonably know what to expect from him. Overall the starters all look relatively the same - all below average.
At least the bullpen is solid. McDougall gained a bit more control last season and is a solid closer for the team. Sisco was a fine Rule 5 pickup from the Cubs and should continue to improve and perhaps should be given a shot in the rotation - they have nothing to lose by trying. Ambiorix Burgos has a cool name and is another fireballer in the pen. Jemery Affeldt continues to be an enigma. It's possible that he could take a shot at the rotation, especially with Grienke out indefinitely.
The Royals were historically bad last season. Their last place defensive efficiency was over 4 standard deviations below the mean according to Baseball Prospectus. Ouch. Grudzielanek and Mientkiewicz were brought to the Royals in part to improve on the defense which should help, but there's a long way to go before they are even slightly below average.
The Royals will be improved this year. According to the Hardball Times they should have been five wins better than they were last year, and now they've upgraded their lineup, pitching staff and defense slightly. But they're still a really bad team in a division where the other teams are improving more than they are.
It's rare for a team to lose over 100 games as much as the Royals have in the past few years (three of the past four years) so I'll go with a 66-96 record and ahead of the Marlins.