AL Central preview: Kansas City Royals

AL Central preview: Kansas City Royals
March 29, 2013, 7:15 pm
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It's been a decade since Kansas City last had a winning season, and the franchise has the longest-running playoff drought of any MLB, NFL, NBA or NHL team. Will a big trade push the Royals over the top for the first time since 1985?

2012 retrospective

The Royals saw a few of their young players take steps forward -- Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez, most notably -- but the biggest story was the step back taken by first baseman Eric Hosmer.

After a fine rookie season in 2011 (.293/.334/.465, 19 HR), Hosmer regressed in 2012 to a .232/.304/.359 line with 14 home runs in 35 more plate appearances. He was a little more selective at the plate while increasing his walk rate, and his strikeout rate barely jumped -- but the former No. 3 overall pick struggled to hit the ball hard, instead pounding it into the ground nearly twice for every fly ball he hit.

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The league caught up to Hosmer last year, and as can be the case with successful rookies, he wasn't able to adjust to it. He's hardly the only one to blame for Kansas City's 72-90 finish -- a starting rotation with a 5.01 ERA played a much larger role -- but it may have been the most important storyline from Kansas City's 2012 season.

Who’s leaving

OF Wil Myers, RHP Jake Odorizzi, RHP Mike Montgomery, RHP Joakim Soria

Myers, Odorizzi, Montgomery and rookie-level third baseman Patrick Leonard were shipped to Tampa Bay in the James Shields megadeal, with Myers as the biggest get for the Rays. Rated as the game's No. 4 prospect by Baseball America and MLB.com, Myers hit 37 home runs with a .387 OBP between Kansas City's Double-A and Triple-A affiliates in 2012. Odorizzi came in at No. 92 in Baseball America's top 100 prospects list after compiling a 3.03 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A last year, while Montgomery is an ex-top prospect flameout.

Kansas City still has a solid farm system, but it was certainly depleted to acquire Shields and righty Wade Davis. Soria underwent Tommy John surgery before the 2012 season and missed the entire year, although Kansas City's bullpen was one of the better ones in baseball without him.

Who’s arriving

RHP James Shields, RHP Wade Davis, RHP Ervin Santana, C George Kottaras

Kansas City revamped its rotation with Shields, Davis, Santana and Jeremy Guthrie, who the team re-signed for three years and $25 million over the winter. While Shields provides Kansas City with the front-line starter it's lacked since trading away Zack Greinke, Davis, Santana and Guthrie are all far from sure bets to succeed.

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Davis pitched well out of Tampa Bay's bullpen in 2012 after a mediocre run as a starter in 2010 and 2011. He'll start for Kansas City, but has yet to show the kind of durability or run prevention ability that would make him an asset to a contending team's rotation.

Santana's fastball velocity dropped by a full mile per hour in 2012, and his ERA spiked from 3.38 the year prior to 5.16. He's not yet 30, and if he can get his career back on track to where it was in the past (sub-4.00 ERAs in 2008, 2010 and 2011) he could be a steal. If he doesn't bounce back, though, Kansas City may need to look for another option over the summer.

Guthrie was dominant after being dealt to Kansas City last summer, a fact the White Sox know well. In 14 starts with the Royals, Guthrie had a 3.16 ERA with only 19 walks in 91 innings. Against the Sox, he was phenomenal -- 29 2/3 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, 19 K, 0 HR. Sox hitters had a .455 OPS against him last year, lower than the slugging percentages of 69 players in 2012. If he can continue that kind of success in 2013, the Royals will have a great 1-2 punch atop the rotation -- but if 14 starts were a mirage, this rotation could be Shields and not much else.

Season outlook

Kansas City returns one of the better bullpens in the American League, but whether its rotation can hand the ball to Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins and the rest of its relievers with a lead is the team's most pressing question this year. The Royals' offseason indicated they're prepared to chase the AL Central crown after years of dormancy, but if a few things don't break their way in the rotation, it could mean another losing season at Kauffman Stadium.

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That being said, the Royals do have enough pieces in place where if everything breaks in their favor, they could make a run at the AL Central. That means Shields, Guthrie, Santana, Davis and Luis Mendoza/other fifth starters comprise a solid rotation. That means Hosmer comes back strong, and Moustakas, Perez, Escobar and the rest of the offense takes a step forward, too.

There's at least some hope heading into 2013 for Kansas City, which is more than could be said in the past.