Rather than a history lesson this week, I felt compelled to write about the 2013 Royals. Because itâ€™s March, and itâ€™s a good Â time to look ahead.
Five months ago, I was happy that the 2012 season (at least the Royalsâ€™ portion) was over. While I am normally an optimistic sort when it comes to the Royals, and I am normally sad to see the season end, I had finally been beaten down by all the losing. And by a franchise that seemed to have no clue about developing pitching, or how to put forth a winning PR strategy, or any appreciation for the things that I (and many others, of course) believe contribute to winning baseball teams (you know, things like properly valuing outs, emphasizing getting on base, and so on).
But as spring nears and all that snow finally begins to melt, I find myself increasingly excited about the 2013 Royals. A 10-game winning streak, even in spring training, even though I know it means next to nothing, doesnâ€™t hurt. Of course, like any long-time Royals fan, I expect the other shoe to drop soon. And hard. Itâ€™s been a long time since the Royals opened a season with high expectations (2004, I suppose; there were modest expectations in 2009 and in the â€œOur Timeâ€ season of 2012) and even longer since they fulfilled those expectations (um, sometime in the â€˜90s?). So why should this be any different?
I do believe this is the most talented team the Royals have fielded in years. Now, I do not believe they will win the divisionâ€”Detroit looks too good. But the Royals should be competitive. When I look at this roster, I see an average to slightly-above-average team. Which is fine in the AL Centralâ€”thankfully, the Royals arenâ€™t in the loaded East division. For once, the Royals are good enough on paper to actually be in the discussion when the subject of AL Central winner comes up.
This is not a great team, and they have several question marks. However, the good news is that in most cases, they are not asking anybody on this roster to do something they havenâ€™t done before at the major league level. For example, yes, Ervin Santana had a bad year last year. He also had ERA+ numbers above 100 in the previous two seasons and his H/9, K/9 and BB/9 ratios last year were essentially in line with his career numbers. A year similar to his 2010 or 2011 seasons would be a big help. Even Jeff Francoeur has shown the ability to have above-average seasons. I expect him to rebound some this yearâ€”a season midway between his 2011 and 2012 would at least not hurt the teamâ€™s chances. It still wouldnâ€™t be good, especially for $7.5 million, but it at least wouldnâ€™t be a negative.
And in a few cases, the player in question hasnâ€™t done it in the bigs yet, but they appear to have the talent to do whatâ€™s needed. For example, Mike Moustakas should be able to improve on his .708 OPS. Another 33-point jump (matching his improvement from 2011 to 2012), combined with his defense, would give KC a terrific third baseman.
The most encouraging sign to me, though, is that no longer are the Royals depending on Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen to lead the rotation. At worst, they would begin the season as the fourth and fifth starters, but the odds are good that only one of them will actually be there on Opening Day. Thereâ€™s even a chance that both could be gone. Iâ€™m sure you know my feelings about Hochevar, but Chen was actually an above-average pitcher in 2010 and 2011. The fact that Chen could be the number five starter after being the Opening Day starter last year has to be a good sign. Or, both could be traded and Luis Mendoza could claim the fifth spot–he pitched well in winter ball and has started off strong in spring training. That’s a pretty salty rotation–not Detroit good, but solid.
This should be a fun season, perhaps like the one we all expected but didnâ€™t get last year. Right now, I think the Royals can win 80-85 games. That probably wonâ€™t get them in the playoffs, but it should be more fun to watch than anything in the past several seasons.