How far away are the Royals from contending, really? That’s an important question that needs to be answered as September approaches and the 2012 season comes to a close. Because while many may be beating the “just a couple pitchers” drum, there’s still a lot that needs to be sorted out before the Royals jump recklessly into the free agent and trade market frenzy of the offseason.
Ignore for a second the needs of the starting rotation. However apparent the holes are with the current 5-man setup, and they are apparent, there are equal amounts of questions that are yet to be answered surrounding an organization that continues to employ a swing first, second, third, and ask questions later, offensive approach. And because of that offensive strategy added to a base running philosophy akin to the little league team whose runner keeps circling the bases because he represents the last run allowed to score in the inning, no matter how good the starting pitching becomes it might still be overshadowed by an offense that works itself into outs in any way possible.
Despite being 6th in all of baseball in batting average at .268, the Royals are just 22nd in runs scored. Surely a lot of that run-scoring disparity is due to so many outs being recorded on the base paths, but it’s also in large part due to the team’s inability to reach base without putting a ball in play.
The Royals currently are 29th in baseball in walks drawn with 302. Major League average at this point in the season is 367. The Royals are so bad at drawing walks that the same amount that separates them from the Los Angeles Angels at 24th, is just four less than what separates the Angels from the Los Angeles Dodgers in 12th.
The distance between the Royals and a slightly above average team in walks drawn is really inexplicable when you consider the easiest way for a small market team to compete is to avoid outs any way possible, with drawing walks being a central component of that, and they are once again one of the very worst at it in the game.
But because the Royals do hit for a high average as a team the offense is looked at as a strength. And positions of strength are usually where teams look towards to trade from when attempting to improve other areas. Well, the most attractive trade pieces currently on the Major League roster are most likely the only two that are most helping the team’s cause of non-out making: Alex Gordon and Billy Butler.
In one you have a great athlete that plays Gold Glove (however meaningful a Gold Glove is) level defense while accumulating 6.9 fWAR last year, and will knock on the door of 5 fWAR this year. In the other you have a 26-year-old that’s turning into one of the better hitters in baseball. Both are under contract and are inexpensive, and both would figure to bring back the most in return if flipped for talent elsewhere.
But would it be worth it?
There doesn’t figure to be much of a difference in the offensive lineup that’s currently being fielded from the one that will be written on the scorecard in 2013. And with rumors circulating more and more that it won’t be until May of next year before Wil Myers takes the place of Out King Jeff Francoeur, there really isn’t much of a reason to expect much of a difference in run scoring and walks drawn.
This is simply an organization that doesn’t value walks, and because of that, it will always be difficult for them to score runs.
However much of an impact it would make on the pitching staff to trade either Gordon or Butler, the net gain might not be worth it when coupled with the crippling loss it would be to the offense.
I advocated last week on the Royalman Report that the best strategy at this point would be to stand pat and hope some of the young pitchers take a step forward, while also seeing if some combination of Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera, or even Joakim Soria can make an adjustment to the starting rotation. Would it be a gamble? Sure. But it’s one at this time the team can afford to make because the chance of any pitcher signing with Kansas City that’s distinguishably better than what is already in the rotation is slim.
The Royals are in need of a higher caliber starter than would be available for them in free agency, and possibly than would be better than available via trade. At this point, taking away from an offense that is already 40 runs below the American League average to make an insignificant upgrade over what is currently in the rotation, just wouldn’t be right.
There’s little chance any of the difference-making pitchers would sign with Kansas City. That’s just how it is. But unless there’s a real opportunity to sign one the next tier pitchers in free agency, there’s no sense in trading either Gordon or Butler for that guy.
He’s been called overrated. He’s been called merely average. Some rather foggy-glassed fans have called him called a liability. What Billy Butler really is to the Kansas City Royals, is a remarkable rock of consistent and now, near elite level of production. (15th in all of baseball in RC+) This season he’s no worse than the team’s second best hitter, and looking forward given the way things have gone this season, he would look to repeat that for at least the next few years.
As Butler’s power increases (homerun numbers anyway), his walk numbers would figure to do the same, even though they haven’t this season. And in a lineup and an organization that shows a complete disregard for outs of any manner on offense, having a batter that provides both categories in a lineup that’s rather void of either is invaluable.
There’s an argument to be made for why Wil Myers has not, or is not playing baseball games in Kansas City. There is. I think. Maybe.
Whether it would be the 40-man crunch due to the Rule V draft in November, or the gaming of service time so Myers doesn’t hit free agency the year after Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are scheduled to, the reasons for keeping Myers in Omaha are flimsy at best.
The organization already showed its hand in calling up players “when they were ready”. Hosmer was brought up a month into a season of clear non-contention to burn service time because he was deemed ready. Moustakas was the same, as was Danny Duffy. The Royals have already proven that they’re willing to shirk the normal rules of service time and money to get players to the big leagues once they’ve proven they’re ready.
So why is it that Myers continues to hit, and hit well, in Triple-A while Jeff Francoeur continues to be one of the worst players in baseball?
There’s probably a very, very good reason why Myers is still not in Kansas City. The worry would be, however, that the precedent has already been set by the organization that is now changing their rules to accommodate a player they’re well known to love, that just isn’t that good.