There has clearly been some disagreement on the moves DM has made this offseason. But are the moves really as bad as people are acting like? Is there really no chance for the Royals in 2011? As a fan of baseball, i feel like there is more potential for this years team than any team the Royals have put together in years. Lets not forget what some of the newly acquired players have done in the MLB in the past and lets not put a ceiling on the younger players that are getting a chance to grow. Just for a second, lets pretend like the stars are perfectly aligned this season and the players who have had success in this league return to form and the players who are still growing make strides, what would happen? Lets evaluate exactly that for each player, within reason obviously, I wont project anyone will do anything that is completely unrealistic. We will start with the everyday players..
Alex Gordon turns into even 3/4 of the player people thought he would be. What if he hits 20 home runs and bats .270 with 10 steals while playing even mediocre defense? What if Lorenzo Cain wins the starting Center Field job in spring training and goes on to bat around .300 in the leadoff spot all season and covers the outfield like nobodys business? And what if Francoeur returns to form and is the player he was with Atlanta earlier in his career and hits 25+ home runs and bats .280 with a cannon of an arm in Right field? Keep in mind Gordon and Francoeur are still only 26 and 27 even though it feels like they have been around for forever. There is no reason to believe that this group could possibly be worse on both Offense and Defense than any mixture of Jose Guillen, Dejesus, Mitch Maier, Emil Brown, Reggie Sanders, Ankiel, or Podsednik. I wont even count Coco or Juan Gonzalez due to the fact that they each played less than a half season.
Billy Butler responds to his contract extension and makes even more progress anchoring the middle of the Royals line up and even finds a little more power? A .300 hitter who could hit anywhere between 20 and 30 home runs is very hard to come by and would take the pressure off of Ka'aihue who is finally getting a chance to play in the Bigs regularly. Is it crazy to think Kila could drive in 80-90 RBI's batting cleanup behind Billy? We know he isnt going to hit much over .260 or .270 this season but its not out of the question to expect him to hit for power. Lets not forget that Ka'aihue is a definite upgrade defensively at 1B over Billy. Getz and Escobar are the best Defensive infield the Royals have had since, dare I say, Carlos Febles and Rey Sanchez? or Tony Pena Jr. and Grudzielanek? Ouch... What if Escobar makes progress at the plate and Getz thrives on being an everyday player and can even bat .265? They can both run, so anytime they get on base they can at least get into the opposing pitchers head. If they can both get between 20-35 steals id consider that huge for guys batting at the end of the order... Aviles is a slightly above average defensive player, so if he just continued that at 3B and bats even close to.300 (like we know he is capable of doing), i dont think holding down the 2nd spot in the order is too much to ask. Not to mention if Betemit can even play close to as well as he did last year and provide solid depth all over the infield.
Starting Pitchers: Hochever, Francis, Davies, Mazzaro, O'Sullivan
Hochever stays healthy and is consistent with his pitches? What if he keeps his ERA under 4.00? What if Francis excels away from Coors field, which is the most hitter friendly park in the MLB. What if Davies stays strong for longer during games and get on a couple hot streaks throughout the season? Mazzaro and O'Sullivan are both young and filled with potential, and Mazzaro's ERA has dropped every season he has been in the league. In 2010 his ERA in 16 starts was 4.27 last year with the Oakland A's, which is only .10 more than Greinke's last season. O'Sullivan can be a bit erratic, but i feel like he will get better throughout the season, and if he can keep his ERA around 4.50 and eat some innings i would consider that very successful for his first full year starting in the MLB. Even if he has some cold stretches it cant get much worse than Brian Bannister or Sidney Ponson... And if he really gets lost, Chen (who is expected to start in the bullpen) is always there for quality starts.
Relief Pitchers: Robinson Tejeda, Bruce Chen, Jeremy Jeffress, Zach Miner, Kenekoa Teixera, Blake Wood, Joakim Soria
Tejeda continues to get better, making it easier to get to Soria with a lead, even from the 6th or 7th inning. Chen is there to bail out any starter having an off day. he is also one of the few left handers in the pen. Jeffress can throw up to 100 mph on a good day, as opposed to chen who is more of a finesse pitcher (around 85 mph). What if Jeffress plays as well as his short time with the Brewers last year (2.70 ERA in 10 appearances last year). Not to mention he is only 23. What if Miner is completely healthy and pitches as well as he did as a setup man in Detroit (3.02 ERA in 2007 in 52 innings). We can expect Teixera and Wood to both build on their solid years last year and if nothing else give us repeats and solid innings. There is no "What If" for Soria. It is What if Joakim Soria is Joakim Soria. And he is in fact that.
Lucas May handles the staff really well and plays superb defense? Or Pena adds a solid bat to the line up and hits a few home runs to go with a solid average. May has the clear defensive edge, and has potential to hit for a better average, while Pena is mediocre behind the plate but has more power than May. It will be interesting to see how this battle/time share turns out in spring training as well as if one of them is playing very well what will happen when Kendall gets back from injury?
Projected Batting order:
1. Lorenzo Cain (Cf)
2. Mike Aviles (3B)
3. Billy Butler (DH)
4. Kila Ka'aihue (1B)
5. Jeff Francoeur (Rf)
6. Alex Gordon (Lf)
7. Brayan Pena/Lucas May (C)
8. Alcides Escobar (SS)
9. Chris Getz (2B)
It would be crazy to think everyone on the team is going to reach their full potential this season. But what if even a few do? Honestly i dont see how anyone is that unhappy with this team compared to teams of the past 7-8 years. The pictching, all around, is better than last year. Yes, Greinke had a fantastic 2009, but last year he was merely average most of the time. If nothing else, I dont know how people can't be more optimistic about this season than the last few due to all of the young talent and developing players, yes?