Morning Coffee: Royals Future Bright, But Not Set
I know, I know, there are still five games left in the 2013 season and the Royals playoff hopes aren’t yet dead, but any good organization can handle looking at today and the future, so I thought I would do the same. The 2013 Royals have been the best in the franchise since 1993 and maybe even as far back as 1989. Dayton Moore has said many times that you have to crawl before you can walk, which leads me to believe that he believes this season is a stepping stone to much bigger and much better things. Personally, how a team fares one season doesn’t mean as much to me as it seems to in the eyes of Dayton Moore, but I don’t think it’s meaningless. I’ll get into that first.
Finishing as well as the Royals will this season can cause a lot of positives to happen. In no particular order, I see the benefits including not having to pay the “bad team tax” for free agents, fans coming to the ballpark more which means higher attendance and more money and there is a mental block that comes from losing that I think the Royals have kind of shook. I’m a big believer in the mental side of baseball. That said, talent is king, so the most important aspect to winning is having good players. And luckily, the Royals do have their fair share of good players.
The goal of every team in every season is to get to the playoffs. That seems pretty simple. You could argue that a team like the Astros this year don’t really have that goal, but even if it’s not realistic, they head to camp in March with the hope they can get there. As much as individual seasons matter, it’s important to be set up for the current season and subsequent seasons. I look at the Royals as an organization and I see a lot of really great things for this organization over the next few seasons, but I also see some concern moving forward to 2014 and beyond. I really think the Royals future is broken up into two categories: 2014 and 2015-2017. The reason for that is James Shields is here through next season and that’s it (barring an extension). Every organization has questions, and the Royals have far fewer now than they’ve had in the past, but those questions still exist and they need to be answered before we can safely say that the Royals have a chance to really make a run over the next few years.
The pressing question, of course, is what kind of team the Royals field in 2014. The big trade to acquire Shields was met with the expectation that the Royals make the playoffs in one of the two years remaining on his deal. I would argue that an exception could be made if they won something like 94 games and didn’t make the playoffs, but that’s an issue we can talk about if and when it happens. It’s easy to look at this team and see such a big improvement from 2012 and look ahead to 2014 and think they can do the same thing, but I just don’t see it as that simple. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.
Offensively, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez are the reasons for huge optimism. I know I left out Alex Gordon and Billy Butler, but I’ll get to them. What Hosmer and Perez have done at the end of the season combined with their age makes me think they can have absolutely huge 2014 seasons, and they may have to in order to carry the offense. coming back to Gordon and Butler, I think both improve on their 2013 season, which have ¬†both been disappointing offensively. I know Gordon has been regressing since his big 2011 season, but he’s better than the overall numbers showed in 2013. Billy Butler has been a really divisive player among the fan base this season. What I’ll say is echo some others when I tell you that he’s been a pretty solid hitter this year, but very disappointing. I think he’ll improve next year as well, but there’s every chance that he won’t. That’s the risk with a bad body. He needs to be better for the Royals to have a real chance in 2014.
Those four guys are about it in terms of offensive players the Royals can count on to be at least average next season. Alcides Escobar might just be a really bad hitter (I think he’s better than this year), Mike Moustakas hasn’t progressed at all and may even be regressing, right field is a big question mark and second base looks better with Bonifacio, but I don’t see him as a long-term answer. I don’t have a problem with Cain in center field for the 100 or so games you feel comfortable you’ll get from him because his defense is just so good that you can live with his bat. For the Royals to be a¬†really good team, Cain can’t be counted on to hit higher than seventh. If he’s in the bottom third, I think everything is okay.
What the Royals need is to go out and get a big bat to play right field. They see every position on the diamond set going into 2014, which I don’t agree with. If they can find upgrades at a few positions, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t do it other than the fact that they’d have to admit some mistakes. If 2013 was an all-in season, 2014 is really an all-in season, so the Royals need to look for upgrades at any position they can find. That’s easier said than done, of course, but they have to be open the idea that if ¬†a shortstop becomes available in a trade or something like that, they should explore the possibility. If they can upgrade right field, I think the offense can be good enough to be a solid team.
My almost bigger area of concern is the starting rotation, which will feature James Shields, who is a legitimate number one, Jeremy Guthrie, who is more of a three or four and then three young pitchers in all likelihood. Danny Duffy will very likely be a part of the rotation and I think Yordano Ventura will as well after his September audition. You might see Bruce Chen brought back to fill the back end while waiting for Kyle Zimmer or someone of his ilk, but I think Wade Davis fills that spot for at least awhile. That means the rotation on March 31 in Detroit will feature Jeremy Guthrie pitching game two on the season. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Jeremy Guthrie as the two in a rotation is not a playoff rotation. I think one of Zimmer and Ventura will ultimately develop into that top of the rotation guy, but I think the better bet is to spend some money and get a legitimate number two starter. I’m not sure I’d retain Santana for what he’ll want, but I’d definitely explore it and hope he doesn’t regress. I’m not at all worried about the bullpen.
Ultimately, I do think the Royals find a way to fill their outfield hole through either free agency or a trade and Escobar bounces back some with the bat (and continues to play good defense). Third base just worries me so much with Moustakas, so we’re kind of going to have to hope he does figure it out and gets to at least average with the bat. This team has big time potential, but they definitely have work to do.
This will be much shorter than the 2014 version because there are so many unknowns the farther out you go. The good news here is guys like Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez are under team control for quite awhile, so they should be here through at least the 2017 season (after which I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hosmer traded). These seasons offensively are all about progression of the minor leaguers like Jorge Bonifacio, Hunter Dozier, Raul Adalberto Mondesi and others. If they don’t develop, the pitching better be top notch because the offense could be really bad. Gordon and Butler could still be around, and hopefully neither is in full fledged decline, but it’s hard to assume how players are going to age. The second wave of talent will really tell us a lot about the offense moving forward unless the outfielder the Royals sign for 2014 can produce beyond that.
The rotation is going to be all about home grown talent unless James Shields decides he wants to stay in Kansas City, and even then I’m not sure if you want to give him what he’ll demand considering his age and the innings on his arm. Next year is going to be a huge year to determining whether the Royals have to go out and spend money on free agents or if they can count on Zimmer, Duffy and Ventura to front the rotation of the future. If two of those three step up, I really like the Royals chances moving forward because all three have good enough stuff to be a handful for years to come.
I know it’s not exactly groundbreaking to say there are questions moving forward, but my biggest concern for the future of this franchise is there are questions at positions I don’t think this regime is willing to dig deep into. To me, third base is a real problem in the organization and if Hunter Dozier doesn’t get to the big leagues quickly, it could be quite a hole for a few years because I’m losing faith in Moustakas very quickly. The good news is that there is a lot of talent both in the big leagues and on the horizon in the minor leagues. A few shrewd moves to supplement that talent could make 2014 and beyond a lot of fun.
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