Looking at the KC roster, there’s reasons for optimism. We’ll delve into them all, but they come with a cautionary note—for at least the last two seasons baseball observers have been saying the Royals are on the cusp of breaking into contention and it’s yet to happen. And if this year is a similar breakdown we can start by looking at the setup crew in the bullpen. Kansas City has a terrific closer in Joakim Soria, but in this day and age of strict pitch counts and 5-6 inning starts being the norm, the bridge to the closer is of paramount importance and the Royals have nothing. Greinke is strong enough to go seven or eight and turn the ball straight to Soria, but on the other four days the starters will need help.
One area the pitching staff is going to get help is on defense. In reviewing a lot of the lower-tier teams I’m previewing this week, one is struck by how little they help themselves in an area that would be relatively inexpensive to address, and that’s defense. But Kansas City is different. Around the infield, Billy Butler, Alberto Callaspo, Yuniesky Betancourt and Alex Gordon all defend their positions well, as does David DeJesus in the outfield. Opponents will have to earn their runs.
Earning them hasn’t been a problem for KC opponents in recent years, and Greinke’s rotation mates will have to step it up. The contract the Royals gave to Gil Meche prior to the 2007 season raised eyebrows and Meche has done nothing to lower them, posting a 5.09 ERA last year. Kyle Davies was a quality prospect in the Braves organization at one time, but is now a castoff looking to find himself. One intriguing possibility is Robinson Tejeda, who has a live arm and a nice 3.54 ERA last year.
Offensively, Butler and Callaspo had big years last season, with the latter being one of the best all-around second basemen in the American League last year. Both have to keep it going in 2010, and with Callaspo in particular there have to be concerns that his .457 slugging percentage was a one-time wonder. On the flip side, centerfielder Rick Ankiel, brought in from St. Louis, and Jose Guillen at DH, are capable of doing more then either one produced in 2009. Kansas City also has Scott Podsednik in left field, whose .353 on-base percentage was the first signs of life he’s shown since leading off the lineup for the White Sox’ 2005 World Series champion.
The Royals really do look to be on the right path. A Cy Young winner, a great closer, a good defense and a few legitimate offensive players should be enough to finally jump them into respectability. And in a division that doesn’t have powers like the Yankees, Red Sox or Angels to deal with, the emergence of some bullpen help and a couple more starters could put them over the top.
Up Tomorrow: Pittsburgh Pirates
Final AL Central Picks & Preview: April 2