Onward and Forward

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Buddy Bell once quipped “I never say it can’t get worse,” a prudent outlook given the sorry state of the team during his tenure as Royals manager. As bad as this season’s Royals team has been, it has shown some signs that better days are ahead.

As all fans do, I have some preferences for who we should keep on the big league roster, and who we should jettison as we look toward next season:

Pending Free Agent Keepers

Bruce Chen appears to have made the transition from terminal journeyman to professional pitcher this season. Given his reliance on deception over power, he could be effective for many more seasons ahead. He rarely gives up the big inning, and the team has a reasonable chance to win every time he starts. He has earned a decent contract through solid performance and consistency.

Wilson Betemit is terrible at third base, but he consistently puts together good at bats and comes up big in the clutch (I realize that some fans don’t believe in the concept of clutch performances, but I’ve learned to trust my gut and my eyes over lo these many years…yes, I am older than dirt). We shouldn’t let a switch hitter with his plate skills go, unless the market proves too expensive.

David DeJesus really came into his own this year, before the injury to his thumb (on a great effort at the wall). I have long thought of him as a fourth outfielder type who should be hitting sixth when in the lineup, but he proved me dead wrong this season. Hopefully, his wife is expecting, with a due date around March 31st or so. He could also prove valuable as a trade chip in the right deal – packaged with one or two of our top prospects for Jayson Werth, maybe?

Arbitration Eligible Notables

Luke Hochevar, Brayan Pena, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Robinson Tejeda should all be retained (Billy should be extended, as he’s likely to get even better in coming years).

Josh Fields could prove worthwhile as an insurance policy, but should start the season at Omaha if retained (no great loss if released). He needs steady playing time after the long layoff, and I don’t see him getting consistent starts in our present mix of players (assuming Mike Moustakas is on the big league club in 2011).

Time to Move On

Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies might benefit from a change of scenery, and new sets of coach’s eyes and advice. But they’ve both had more than ample opportunities here and haven’t been up to the task. We’ve got some guys in the minors who should get a shot to put it together at this level (can’t do much worse than Bannister and Davies, Buddy Bell’s observation notwithstanding).

Other Thoughts

Jarrod Dyson can cover some serious ground in center field, and burn up the basepaths. Judging by some comments from Ned Yost, we can expect to see more of him next year. Good. I like watching guys who can run. It’s exciting, and it puts extra pressure on opposing pitchers and defenses.

Gil Meche has been a solid hand in the bullpen. I don’t understand why some critics scoff at the notion. Yes, $12M is wildly pricey for a reliever. But the contract is guaranteed. Would you be happier paying him to rehab his shoulder all season? Gil is a good pitcher, and I will be glad to see him come in at a crucial time in the game next year.

Mike Aviles is finally putting it together at the plate. If he could play an average second base, he’d be in like Flynn. But he can’t, apparently. He almost never makes a difficult play, and botches lots of easy plays. I hold my breath every time the ball is hit to him in a crucial situation. I guess it’s possible he could get better over the winter. Maybe the Royals could find a former gold glove second baseman to work with him.

One of the big reasons our pitching staff is so bad is lousy defense. We can’t slug our way past fielding gafffes, so we better work on defense extremely hard this off season, especially on the infield.

I suspect Dayton Moore will be active in the trade market, now that he’s playing a decent hand flush with hot prospects. A right handed power bat and a good starter are obvious targets. It will be interesting as always to see how things develop over the winter. My guess is he will surprise us.

As I am often reminded while golfing and watching the Royals, anything worth doing is worth doing badly. And no matter how bad the baseball season has gone, the end is always a bummer. I’ll miss the Royals nightly presence in the house (my wife will probably enjoy the reprieve) come Monday. But I’m excited about our prospects for the future.

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Tags: AL Central Alex Gordon Baseball Billy Butler Brayan Pena Brian Bannister Bruce Chen David DeJesus Dayton Moore Gil Meche Kansas City Royals KC Kyle Davies Luke Hochevar Mike Aviles Mike Moustakas MLB Ned Yost Robinson Tejeda Royals Wilson Betemit

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