Our Time, Indeed

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The Royals recently unveiled their slogan for the 2012 season – “Our Time” – geared towards the optimistic notion that the long-suffering franchise is on the cusp of turning “The Process” into “The Results.” The slogan surpasses such hits as “Royals baseball – Catch the Thrill” and probably won’t catch the same derision that comes with muttering “Major League Moments” while Luke Hochevar gives up a big inning. It’s catchy, it’s a little cool, and it inspired Rustin Dodd to make the spot-on connection to the famed clip from the Goonies (which Gage Matthews then took a step further, going so far as to cast the movie with Royals players).

In a way, the Royals are similar to that band of misfits with the simple dream of being able to belong. By some luck, some guile, and intense loyalty and friendship, they overcome traps, trials and tribulations to win the “rich stuff.” A corny comparison? Yes, of course. But watch this team – the youngest in the game – and try not to get caught up in the excitement yourself.

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas aren’t just the key hitters of Dayton Moore’s past drafts in the majors, but they’re best friends. Johnny Giavotella is tight with the two as well, and the group as a whole embrace the hazing and lumps that a rookie or young player will endure. They seem to take it in stride, knowing that you pay your dues early on, all the while earning respect by being all-business on the field. The clubhouse chemistry has shifted dramatically after years with a pouting Jose Guillen and a temperamental Zack Greinke. These guys like each other and in some way, those high spirits may carry over to the field.

That’s the hope, at least.

“Our Time” is their rallying cry. The old rebuilding movements didn’t work. Those teams that had some preseason buzz in the past turned out to be built on nothing. This group is different. It’s their time.

The unofficial start date for turning this ship around was the 2012 season. For many it still seems a little early; it seems the players may not be quite seasoned yet to push through a whole season playing at a high rate. They’re young and will be prone to mistakes, but they’re learning fast.

There’s reason for optimism as a fan, and while I try to temper my hopes (because I’ve had that hope dashed so many times as it is), it’s not difficult to get caught up in it all. There are a lot of “ifs”.

If the rotation isn’t as bad as last year…

If the rotation even improves a little…

If the lineup can produce more with a full season with everyone together…

If the team gets hot and stays hot…

It won’t be easy. While the Twins are in disarray, if they get a healthy Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau back, they’re immediately more of a threat than at any point last season. The White Sox went halfway into rebuilding mode, but still return talented players and Cleveland is full of a crew of young upstarts as well who got a taste of success while hanging around first place for most of 2011. The Royals could just as easily finish second in the division as they could fourth or fifth. The team to beat is still Detroit, who finished 15 games ahead of Cleveland last year.

Even without Victor Martinez, the Tigers remain the class of the division. As Jeff Passan speculated, the Royals are unlikely contenders but not outrageous candidates. But it would take some help from the injury gods (who were very nice to the Royals last year and may not be so kind this year).

A lot of things will have to go right, and while the starting rotation is the obvious area to improve, it’s a complicated situation to be in for the Royals front office. Dayton Moore stood pat for the most part after acquiring Jonathan Sanchez, despite opportunities to trade for other starters. He told Jon Morosi that some of the players available were “tempting” but that he wanted to stick with what they’d been building. There’s that difficult balance between going all in and sacrificing depth or staying the course. The assumption is that a player like Gio Gonzalez or Mat Latos would have made all the difference to put Kansas City into the playoffs, but it’s more likely that the arms necessary to make one quick turnaround from last year’s performance would have cost half the farm system and again, with no guarantee of unseating Detroit. J.J. Cooper of Baseball America questioned how much just one starter would have made to the team.

That’s not to say that they shouldn’t still be looking. While it’s unlikely (according to Bob Dutton) that the Royals will add anyone else before spring training, a Roy Oswalt signing would immediately help the rotation, and Edwin Jackson would have an impact as well. Both are still out there, waiting to be signed.

By sitting tight now, the Royals have a chance to still be very good this year and can make some noise, but their odds are that much better next year when Eric Hosmer has seen Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez and the class of the American League a few more times. When Mike Montgomery has (I hope) ironed out his command issues. When Wil Myers might be ready to be rookie of the year. 2012 fits the Our Time theme in that the young core are here and clearly central to the team’s success, but their task is more of a Napoleanic sort – show up and see what happens.

And if things fall in the right way, it might just be their time anyway, with or without Oswalt or Jackson. Incremental improvements from the rotation could bolster what should be a strong offense and much-improved defense. Even though a team makes the playoffs one year, their top three starters aren’t always the Roy Halladay/Cliff Lee/Cole Hamels triumvirate that the Phillies enjoy. Jeff Herr and Greg Layton crunched some numbers to look at the average playoff starters from last season. While the Royals do lack an ace, once you get past the top starter, they balance out a little better to where a 10% improvement in production might be enough to buoy a strong season. It’s a long-shot, but not every team wins just because they have an ace (see many of Tom Seaver‘s teams back in the day) and not every team has to have an ace to win either.

In the case of the American League Central, Justin Verlander was obviously the best pitcher in the division, the league, the world last year. Behind him, though, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer (3.4 bWAR combined) weren’t as valuable as Luke Hochevar and Felipe Paulino (3.6 bWAR). If the trio of Jonathan Sanchez, Bruce Chen and Danny Duffy* can outshine the Tigers Doug Fister and whichever other starters Detroit puts out there (likely Jacob Turner and maybe Andy Oliver – both rookies), it could tip the edge to the Royals side. As Passan said, the Royals might be a couple of injuries short of surprising people – if Verlander goes down and the Royals starters pick it up, that surprise could end up happening. It’s not the most likely scenario, but strange things happen.

*I’m assuming Duffy has the fifth spot. If not, he’s the favorite anyway.

The 2012 season is going to be exciting, playoffs or not. I’d love to see October baseball, but Detroit is a formidable foe. The upcoming season is a chance for Kansas City to make a step towards being more than a punchline. With the lineup’s potential, it’s time for that to change. With a little help from the rotation, it’s time for that to change. With a bullpen and defense that are better than they’ve been in years, it’s time for that punchline to change. Second place is a reality; first place will take incredible good fortune. Just don’t tell any of the Royals – maybe they won’t know any better and make it their time after all.

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Tags: AL Central Alex Gordon Baseball Eric Hosmer Kansas City Royals KC KC Royals Luke Hochevar Mike Moustakas MLB Ned Yost Royals Wil Myers