In school, the final report card is really the only one that matters. The rest are merely “progress reports” with suggestions for improvement. The final report card is what determines whether the year has been a success and whether the subject is entitled to proceed to the subsequent grade next year.
So, just like school, this is my final report card on the Royals for 2013. It will analyze how successful they were and what the prospects for next year are.
I give the overall season a B+. Remembering that the Royals’ stated goal was to reach the post-season, they do not get an A since they did not get there. But they did come close— much closer than any KC team in recent memory.
In recent years, the Royals have traditionally been realistically out of contention by the end of July. This year, not only did they play ‘meaningful games in August’ for a change, they were in the hunt for a wild card berth until game 158 of the 162-game season. They played meaningful games deep into September!
It was fun to keep an eye on the Royals this fall as the days grew shorter, not just with some vague curiosity about whether they might have accidentally won a game somehow— but with a rooting interest in a team that was actually part of the playoff conversation. Wins and losses in August and September were important for a change!
As anyone who follows them knows, upgraded pitching was largely responsible for the turnaround in the Royals fortunes. Adding James Shields and Ervin Santana to the rotation gave KC a pitching staff that few teams in the league could match. The bullpen was stellar as well. Even with frustrating regressions out of relievers like Herrera, Crowe and Collins, Greg Holland emerged as an All-Star closer and Luke Hochevar turned into a solid set-up man.
I especially appreciate Greg Holland, who is a humble man despite having surpassed Royal legends Jeff Montgomery and Dan Quisenberry for the team season-saves leader with 47. In an interview, he acknowledged the efforts of the starters who had pitched deep into ballgames throughout the season, keeping the bullpen fresh. He recognized the efforts of his fellow relievers whose mission in the season became to ‘get the game to Holland’— and most of the time they did. He praised the defense for saving runs for the pitching staff. He even gave props to the oft-maligned offense, because there’s no save for the closer if the team hasn’t at least scored enough runs to be ahead at the end of the game. In short, he considered his individual feat to be a team accomplishment. Refreshing, no?
Unfortunately, for the Royals to upgrade their pitching, they had to trade away Wil Myers who was their most potent bat in the farm system. As a result, the Royals offense received no upgrade corresponding with the one the pitching received. And with several of the Royals suffering through off-years, the KC offense was woeful for the most part, ranking 11th out of 15 AL teams in runs scored (the most crucial offensive stat.)
Page 2 of 3 - For next year, it is fairly obvious that two things must happen for them to take the next step and reach the playoffs: (A) They cannot let their pitching deteriorate (2) They MUST upgrade their offense.
The biggest question mark in the pitching is whether free agent Ervin Santana will be back, and if not, who will replace him in the rotation? The Royals should at least try, and try hard, to bring Santana back. He has indicated he enjoys Kansas City, and if the Royals make him a decent offer, they might be able to land him. It would be an important signal to the fan-base if Royals owner David Glass pries open his wallet enough to re-sign Santana.
The two positions generally considered as openings as the Royals seek to upgrade the offense are 2nd base and right field. Johnny Giavotella has been given several chances to become the 2nd sacker of the future, and has not been impressive. Wil Myers is now with the Rays, so the farm system’s best option at RF is no longer available. Upgrades at those positions will probably have to come from elsewhere.
The Royals do possess a wealth of arms, some of which may be dealt to acquire the needed offense. But don’t be surprised if the front office parts with some of the current roster in an effort to improve.
What players are untouchable? Probably C Salvy Perez, who looks to have the ability to become a perennial All-Star. 1B Eric Hosmer enjoyed a tremendous 2nd half, and became the only Royal regular to hit .300. He is also a good defender and so should remain off the trading block. Gold Glove LF Alex Gordon is also probably untouchable, even though he had an off-year with the batting average. He did have 20 HR and was among the team leaders in RBI. Gordon might benefit in a revamped line-up if he doesn’t have to bat lead-off.
Last year, I would have said SS Alcides Escobar was a lock to stay, but he slipped offensively this season and his defense could be maddeningly inconsistent even if often-times spectacular. Moose never got very far above the Moustakas line all season. Although he has potential, is a good defender and showed signs of improvement in the final week, to me, he is expendable.
Lo Cain is often-injured and only an average hitter, but he does play a good center field. The RF platoon of David Lough and Justin Maxwell: each had his moments this season, but neither is the answer for a big bat to carry the offense, although either would be an adequate 4th outfielder. Any/all 3 could be dealt without hurting the Royals prospects, in my view.
I like new addition Emilio Bonifacio, who played 2B for the last month or so of the season. However, I like him more as a utility player than as the long-term answer at 2B. He is a slap-hitter, with his legs being his most dangerous offensive weapon. But he can play both infield and outfield, and is a switch hitter. Keeping him would mean the Royals could part ways with IF Chris Getz and OF Jarrod Dyson, both of whom are speedy but weak hitters.
Page 3 of 3 - The player who might unexpectedly need to be looking over his shoulder is Billy Butler. I would hate to see him dealt. I like him, but he did have a below-expectation year at the plate. His power numbers were off, especially for a DH. It is true he was pitched around relentlessly, and in a revamped line-up, given some protection, he might become truly dangerous.
So what makes me think he might be trade bait? In the final game of the season, Salvador Perez played 1B, the position Butler purports to play. If the Royals are seeing if Salvy can be a first-base back-up, are they thinking they don’t really need Billy?
It should be an interesting off-season in Royals nation. Dayton Moore said at the end of last season he was going to upgrade the pitching for 2013. He made a similar vow at the end of this year regarding the offense for 2014. But you can’t get something for nothing. It will be interesting to see what moves are made to try to bolster the Royals run production.
If that is NOT done, if the Royals basically stand pat offensively, they will finish no higher in the standings than they did this year. Their pitching can’t get any better. If they are going to win more games next year, win enough to get to the post-season, they need to get some more pop in the line-up.
That being said, let’s not take away anything from what the Royals accomplished this year. They were 10 games over .500, much better than the 6 games under .500 I predicted back in April. They were fun to watch. They are an engaging and talented bunch. They had a very good season. The only thing they fell a little short on was making the playoffs, but they came dang close. So like I said earlier, the Royals get a B+ this season and they get to move on to next year!