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2007 Team Preview: Kansas City Royals

2006 W-L: 61-101 (5th place)

2006 Pythag: 65-97

2007 Depth Chart

Coming:
Gil Meche, Brian Bannister, Octavio Dotel, Joakim Soria, Ken Ray, John Bale, David Riske, Jason LaRue, Ross Gload

Going:
Mark Redman, Runelvys Hernandez, Ambiorix Burgos, Andrew Sisco, Doug Mientkiewicz

The Royals In a Nutshell:

For bad teams, the offseason can be the happiest time of the year. Luckily, the expectations are so low for the Royals that the season--even if it ends up 68-94--might not be too bad, either. The starting rotation will still be an adventure of Marquis-ian proportions, but the lineup--especially if Mark Teahen builds on his breakout '06 and Alex Gordon arrives ready to contribute--is set to make a big step forward. Dayton Moore has assembled a nice set of bullpen options, so on those days where the offense manages to score more runs than or Luke Hudson lets in, the Royals still have a shot.

Offense:

Last year the Royals were tied for second worse in the AL in runs scored, at 4.67 per game. This year, with full seasons from Ryan Shealy and Mark Teahen, combined with months of Alex Gordon and perhaps Billy Butler, they've got a decent shot at joining the middle of the pack.

To get a read on what the lineup might manage, I used David Pinto's Lineup Analysis tool. I tried to build a lineup that was realistic--i.e., a major league manager would put in on a lineup card and not fear retribution from insane fans--but optimistic about health. Here's how I set it up:

  1. David DeJesus, CF
  2. Mark Grudzielanek, 2B
  3. Mike Sweeney, DH
  4. Reggie Sanders, RF
  5. Ryan Shealy, 1B
  6. Mark Teahen, LF
  7. Alex Gordon, 3B
  8. John Buck, C
  9. Angel Berroa, SS
Using ZiPS projections for OBP and SLG, that lineup figures to score 4.9 runs per game. The actual order doesn't make much of a difference--the very best the tool could do was 5.02 runs, and that does crazy stuff like bat Gordon and Shealy 1st and 2nd.

Most of the obvious tweaks don't make a huge difference; Jason LaRue is projected about the same as Buck; Butler and Emil Brown are forecast to hit better than Sanders, but not by a huge amount; Esteban German figures to regress at least somewhat, and I don't think we can count on Buddy Bell playing him enough anyway. If a couple of those things go right and a player or two exceeds expectations, KC could score five runs a game, which would've been good enough for 7th place in last year's AL, within spitting distance of both the Red Sox and Blue Jays.

Of course, that's offseason happy-talk. It could happen, but Will at Royals Review is getting ready for someone to go all Mark Quinn and take a giant step backward. Fortunately for the Royals, they are much deeper than they have been in years.

Behind the plate, neither LaRue nor Buck stands out as a great player, but both can see the light of league average and will keep Alberto Castillo and his ilk from getting 100 at bats. Around the infield, German can fill in, and it's almost impossible to downgrade on Berroa. At first base, Ross Gload projects to hit nearly as well as Shealy. Gload could also take Sweeney's spot if (by "if", I mean "when, in mid-April") the Royals need a replacement at DH.

The outfield is even deeper, aided by Gordon's availability. If Teahen becomes a left fielder, that gives Buddy Bell four decent options on the major league roster, plus Joey Gathright and a possibly ready Butler. The 4th OF or Butler could see time at DH, as well.

In summary, this offense isn't going to be the best in the league and it would take a bizarre turn of events to make it the best in the division. On the other hand, it could be solidly average, which is a giant step in the right direction. Not only that, but it's deep enough that it could be close to average even if Sweeney is a cipher once again, and one of the top prospects needs more time in triple-A. Dayton Moore has done a nice job of finding solid, average-ish hitters on the cheap.

Starting Rotation

The picture isn't so pretty for the starting rotation. The problems start at the top: Gil Meche may be better than Mark Redman, but if ZiPS and (especially) PECOTA are to be believed, it'll be close.

ZiPS forecasts a 4.90 ERA for the $55 million man, behind other possible starters such as Luke Hudson (4.57), Odalis Perez (4.75), Zack Greinke (4.76) and--it pains me to write this, really it does--Wayne Franklin (4.89). Even Luke Hochevar (5.09) and Billy Buckner (5.16) are within striking distance. The picture is even uglier if you look at PECOTA, which projects Meche at 5.48.

As you might have gleaned from the previous paragraph, though, the Royals are not without options. They're not going to have a great rotation, and it's extremely unlikely they'll even manage an average one, but it's unliikely they'll need 17 different starters, as they did in 2006. It's also unlikely that the only pitchers to log more than 20 starts will turn in 5.71 and 6.48 ERAs, as Redman and Runelvys Hernandez did in 2006.

I wouldn't be surprised, though, to see plenty of juggling on Buddy Bell's part. While a rotation of Hudson, Perez, Greinke, Meche and Jimmy Gobble projects to be respectable, there are an awful lot of question marks--both performance- and health-related--in that group. Bell could turn to guys such as Scott Elarton, Jorge de la Rosa, Zach Day, and Brian Bannister, but the more he uses the names on that list, the uglier it will get.

The only possibile way in which the Royals rotation will outperform expectations is if the team successful converts someone else to a starting role. John Bale, who is returning from Japan, is a possibility, as is Joakim Soria, the flamethrowing Mexican pitcher acquired in the Rule 5 draft. The extent to which KC decides to keep Hochevar and Buckner in Omaha may determine just how ugly it gets.

The Bullpen

Now the real uncertainties begin. In building a relief corps for the '07 Royals, Dayton Moore has done exactly what he should have. He took advantage of his ability to guarantee Octavio Dotel the closer's job and signed him relatively inexpensively, getting a potentially great reliever and a closer at the same time. (Don't laugh: it doesn't always work that way.)

David Riske was another high-risk, high-reward signing, and he could slot in with Todd Wellemeyer (a waiver-wire pickup) as a set-up man. Joel Peralta, who turned in a solid rookie campaign last year, deserves a mention in the same breath as those two guys. Joe Nelson was also decent in his 45 innings of work, and will get a fair shot at a major league job this spring.

The rest of the pen, which I have to figure will include seven pitchers, will be one giant tryout. Bale ought to make the team in some capacity, and his ability to throw multiple innings will probably mean that the team won't have to include a sixth or seventh starter in the bullpen as a long man. (That might break Brian Bannister's heart, but it'll make Royals fans happier in the long run.)

If I had to guess, the rotation will include Meche, Perez, Hudson, Greinke, and Elarton, Bannister, de la Rosa, or Gobble, while the bullpen will shake up as follows:

  1. Dotel
  2. Riske
  3. Peralta
  4. Wellemeyer
  5. Nelson
  6. Bale
  7. Soria
That's a credible group, and the Royals will have a nice insurance plan in Omaha, including some of the rejected starters, as well as guys like Leo Nunez and Ryan Braun.

Like the offense, this bullpen isn't going to take a team to the playoffs, but could easily turn in an average performance. Kudos to Dayton Moore for assembling the group almost entirely from scratch, and on a tight budget. More established general managers with much larger payrolls could learn a lot from Moore's reign so far.

All Together Now

I think it's fair to say the Royals are not going to compete this year. They probably aren't even going to compete very hard for 4th place in the central--the rest of the division is just too good for that. On the other hand, a breakout performance from a starter or two could make this is a 75-win team. I'm not sure I would put money even on 72 wins, but the talent is there.

Injuries to key players such as Sweeney and Greinke have really hurt this club in the last few years, but this year less is expected of Zack, and there's plenty of insurance for the Demon Barber, so much so that it might not hurt the team at all if he proves unproductive in June and gives way to Butler.

Most of all, Dayton Moore has proven that he's looking ahead to 2008 or, more probably, 2009-10. While he's added veteran parts such as Dotel and Riske to ease the pressure on his kids (don't ask me explain Meche; I can't), he is largely leaving the key jobs to young players who are just as good as the mediocrities the Orioles sign to $4 million contracts every year.

A good year from Teahen, a bounce back from Berroa or Greinke, a step forward for Gobble--just a couple of those things will make the Royals a sleeper for the AL Central title...in 2008.