Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Final Spring Training Thoughts From Across the Pond

Heading off to Contiental Europe for the next 5 weeks, so I won't be posting again until late April. So, here are my final thoughts on the Royals and Spring Training so far:

The Royals' rotation is business as usual, with the rotation already losing its two best starters. Hopefully, the Royals can manage to get their starters' ERA under 6 this year. The Royals will need Greinke to get back quickly and get decent performances from Elarton, Redman, and Mays. Affeldt and Bautista will likely grab a rotation spot and give the rotation some upside. But, I don't see either giving the Royals good starts on a regular basis. The Royals have some options for the rotation, so we shouldn't have to put up with a Lima-like performance this year. I'm going to be optimistic and say the rotation doesn't get worse than last year.

The Royals' bullpen could be one of the strengths of the team and is the most talented part of the team. If Sisco and Burgos can avoid sophomore slumps and make the necessary adjustments, then the back of the bullpen should be pretty good. MacDougal has settled into the closer's role, but his command still worries me. Wood, Peralta, Affeldt and Dessens will do a decent job in the middle innings. The bullpen was close to league-average last season and will probably be slightly above average this season. So, I'm going to say the bullpen's improvement adds 3 wins.

The Royals improved the right side of the infield with the additions of Mientkiewicz and Grudzielanek. Both are defensive improvements and Grudzielanek will improve the offensive production at second base. As long as Sweeney stays healthy, the Royals will get decent production out of the 1B/DH trio of Sweeney, Stairs, and Mientkiewicz. Teahen has shown signs of improvement in September and Spring Training, so he should get better. Berroa will still be a nuisance as usual. The free agent additions should improve the team and I'll say it adds 4 wins.

The Royals added Reggie Sanders to add a good bat behind Sweeney and improve the outfield defense. DeJesus and Sanders will give the Royals good offensive and defensive production if they can stay healthy. Whether Brown can repeat his 2005 performance or not will determine how much the outfield improves. Overall, I'll say the outfield improves, mainly because Terrence Long is gone, and adds 3 wins.

So, I expect the Royals to improve a total of 10 wins, a 66-96 record. If the young players improve more than expected and the Royals get league-average production out of 2 or 3 starters, the Royals might get to the 70-win mark. But, it looks like another last place finish for the Royals.

Finally, a look at the minors. The Royals will have a second wave of young players approaching the majors, arriving in 2007 and 2008. The AA lineup will be particularly impressive, featuring the Royals' top prospects. The middle of the Wranglers lineup featuring Gordon, Butler, and Lubanski, will be really fun to watch. The Royals have some depth building at AA and AAA, so there is some hope for the future for the offense.

The Royals have the ingredients to build an above-average offense and bullpen in the near future. The Royals still need a lot of help for the rotation. Until the rotation gets fixed, the Royals aren't going anywhere.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Inevitable Demise of the Rotation

Each year, Royals fans await the collapse of the rotation. This year, it's arrived earlier than usual. Zack Greinke has returned to Florida for "personal reasons". I don't want to speculate on what is troubling Zack, but hopefully it gets resolved quickly for him and the Royals. Mark Redman injured his knee during his start yesterday and could be out for 4-6 weeks. Hernandez is healthy for now, but he's not in good shape and will be an injury risk. So, what's that leave the Royals with? A rotation with Hernandez, Elarton, and Mays, barring any additional injuries.

The next two starters will probably be either Bautista, Affeldt, or Howell. My guess would be Bautista and Affeldt making the team with Howell going to AAA (Royals want to give him more time there). Bautista and Affeldt haven't done much to make a case for themselves so far, with poor first starts. I'm not convinced that either has the consistency to be a good starter. Bautista and Affeldt haven't shown any signs of developing good enough command of their full repertoire. I'm not convinced that either pitcher can stay healthy long enough to become a productive starter either. But, they are the two most talented arms the Royals have in the rotation mix.

The Royals do have pretty good rotation depth heading into the season and they'll need every bit of it. Here's how the depth chart looks at the moment:

Dessens (spot starter)

Available after the season starts:

The Royals have some depth, but overall it looks like the same story in 2006. The Royals don't have enough quality starters in the rotation. Until that changes, the Royals aren't going to rise out of last place.

The failure to develop and find quality starting pitching has been the main downfall of the Baird era. Unless the Royals' rotation turns things around in miraculous way, it will likely be the end of the Baird era. At least Baird has figured out that the Royals need pitching depth (Kansas City Star article):

“I keep telling people,” general manager Allard Baird said, “that you can never have too much depth when it comes to pitching.”

Of course, it'll probably take him another 5 years to figure out that you not only need very good depth, but quality pitchers as well.