2009 KANSAS CITY ROYALS PREVIEW
The Royals managed to break out of the Central Division basement in 2009, finishing in fourth place. They also managed to find a few pieces which will help them build for the future. Star closer Joakim Soria was a breakout star and a number of their young players showed significant promise.
2009 also looks up for the Royals. The offseason brought a number of new additions, including Coco Crisp in the outfield, Mike Jacobs and Willie Bloomquist in the infield and Kyle Farnsworth in the bullpen. Kansas City should be a better team than their 2009 incarnation but will it show in the standings?
The Royals enjoyed solid performances in 2009 from Gil Meche (14-11, 3.98 ERA, 210 IP, 34 starts, 183 K last season) and Zach Greinke (13-10, 3.47 ERA, 202 IP, 32 Starts, 183 K). Especially encouraging was Greinke’s performance since he appears to have put his past off field issues behind and is beginning to realize his potential. They will be joined in the 2009 rotation by Brian Bannister (9-16, 5.76 ERA, 182 IP, 32 Starts), who struggled with a classic case of the sophomore slump last year. The final two rotation spots will likely be filled by youngsters Luke Hochevar (6-12, 5.51 ERA, 22 Starts) and Kyle Davies (9-7, 4.06 ERA, 21 Starts), though Horacio Ramirez (4.34 ERA in relief work) has started in the past and will be given the chance to break into the rotation in Spring Training. Kansas City has a lot of talent in the rotation but their starting pitching is still the division’s weakest.
Despite the rotation’s question marks, there shouldn’t be many concerned with the Royals’ bullpen. Former Diamondback Brandon Lyon (4.70 ERA, 26 Saves) should step in as the closer and despite his relatively high ERA he should be effective in that role. Setting up will be flamethrower Joel Zumaya (3.47 ERA), who was yet another one of the Royals’ injury casualties last season. Former closer Fernando Rodney (4.91 ERA, 13 saves) should also be an asset as he has historically been more effective in non-save situations. While no one is going to confuse the Royals’ bullpen with the excellent groups in Cleveland and Minnesota, the Royals should be more than adequate in the late innings and definitely are much better than last year’s group.
The Royals gave their infield a facelift for the second consecutive offseason, acquiring catcher George Laird (.276, 6 HR, 41 RBI, .329 OBP with Texas) and shortstop Adam Everett and jettisoning former starter Edgar Renteria. Laird is expected to start and if Everett can finally shake the injury bug which has ailed him the past two seasons then he will likely replace Renteria. Everett is expected to compete with Ramon Santiago (.282, 4 HR, 18 RBI, .411 OBP in 56 games) at shortstop and the Royals should get good production from the pair. The star of the infield is first baseman Miguel Cabrera (.292, 37 HR, 127 RBI, .349 OBP), who was the highlight of the 2009 season for Tiger fans. Expect him to remain a lethal weapon at the plate for years to come. Second baseman Placido Polanco (.307, 8 HR, 58 RBI, .350 OBP) is also a very solid contributor and should get on base a lot. At third, former catcher Brandon Inge (.205, 11 HR, 51 RBI, .303 OBP) is expected to start but the Royals could find themselves looking for other options once July rolls around. Overall, there are few teams which can boast a player of Cabrera’s caliber in all of baseball but the left side of the infield is below average, at best
Kansas City has a solid outfield unit, highlighted by superstar Magglio Ordonez (.317, 21 HR, 103 RBI, .376 OBP), who is one of baseball’s best in right field. Centerfielder Curtis Granderson (.280, 22 HR, 66 RBI, .365 OBP) has plenty of pop as well and is a threat on the basepaths. In left field, Carlos Guillen (.286, 10 HR, 54 RBI, .376 OBP) is also a very solid player. Marcus Thames (.241, 25 HR, 56 RBI, .292 OBP) will also see time at all three positions when he isn’t the Designated Hitter. 40 year old Gary Sheffield (.225, 19 HR, 57 RBI, .326 OBP) could see some time as well but he is primarily a DH at this stage in his career. The Royals’ outfield is a very good unit both defensively and at the plate and are definitely the team’s biggest strength.
The Royals have a lot of talent on hand but they also have a lot of questions. Much like last year, it appears that the Royals will have the ability to score a ton of runs but their pitching staff could hold them back. While their bullpen is definitely improved, their rotation still features a number of young hurlers who don’t have large track records of sustained success at the Major League level. Furthermore, their most talented pitcher (Bonderman) might begin the year on the DL. While the Royals’ offense will keep them in a lot of games, their rotation will have to step up if the Royals are going to significantly improve upon their 74-88 record of a year ago. Overall, realistic expectations for the Royals are a finish somewhere around .500 and it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll compete with Cleveland and Minnesota for the division. An 81-81 record and a third place finish in the American League Central sounds about right.
By Matt Baxendell
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