August 21, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Kansas City Royals designated hitter Billy Butler (16) at bat against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Never Too Soon to Call the Royals Next Year's Sleeper

I remember back in  2009, the season hadn’t started yet, the Royals had just traded for power-hitting Mike Jacobs and a true leadoff man in Coco Crisp. Zack Greinke was looking ready to break out. Gil Meche had a strong second season and the Royals pitching staff had struck out more batters in 2008 than any other Royals team in history.

I guess a Cy Young Award is pretty good. Photo Credit: Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

It was going to be the year Alex Gordon broke out, that Billy Butler mashed 30 homers. Robinson Tejeda looked like a sleeper pitcher, Kyle Farnsworth was there for some veteran leadership. Kyle Davies still had “good stuff”.

The Rays had just had an improbable run to the World Series and despite losing they gave hope to the small market teams out there. MLB Network called the Royals the next Rays after their busy offseason. It was going to be the year it all came together.

Of course, you know that it didn’t. Gordon tore his labrum and missed most of the year, Jacobs was only good for a homer when the team didn’t really need one. Crisp got hurt and Farnsworth, after blowing opening day at Chicago, was booed before the Royals home opener (which was started by Sidney Ponson, by the way). Greinke was good though.

All that fluff, all that prognostication meant nothing.

I bring that up because it’s happening again. Encouraged by the Orioles amazing run and the Pirates lingering contention as well as the perennial plucky small market team the A’s, writers are looking around and trying to find their genie in a bottle and get ahead on next year’s pick.

Of course it’s the Royals.

Bloomberg has a look at some of the teams that are succeeding despite a lower payroll than the big guys and at the end of the article, they cover the Royals, saying they’re the kind of young team to overachieve next year:

I think 2013 is going to be the year they really make an emphatic statement that they are ready to be a contending ballclub.

My issue isn’t that they’re saying that – it could very well happen that the Royals do surprise a lot of people. They’ve played pretty well despite the 12 game losing streak in April and the month of July. They have young hitters who have hit (Alcides Escobar, Salvador Perez) and young hitters who’ve struggled but have had strong stretches (Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer). The bullpen is strong.

But the starting pitching – and we always come back to this point, don’t we? – wasn’t there to start the year (and we knew that would be the case) and it’s only recently gotten to be serviceable.

It’s not an ideal recipe for success. The A’s have succeeded because they’ve given up the second fewest runs per game in the league. The Orioles have been great in one run games (27-8 entering today). The Royals are right in the middle in both areas.

So changes will have to come.

The author of the article, Wayne McDonnell, talked with the Kansas City Star later about his ideas and suggested that the Royals would have to trade a star to get some pitching. This would announce their arrival to the rest of the league.

The player he specifically mentioned was Billy Butler. The Royals have Butler under contract through at least 2014 and there’s a team option for $12.5 million in 2015. I think it’s feasible that they may look to deal him, but I’m not sure what the trade market would be. He’s a tough player to value for other teams.

  • Butler is a sketchy option to play in the field with regularity. That could limit National League teams from going for him.
  • The Royals DH position is fourth in fWAR, but their first base fWAR is in the lower third. There could be American League teams who would go after Billy, but if the Royals are at all concerned about Hosmer’s struggles this year, they might get gunshy.
  • While Butler’s been the most consistent hitter on the Royals, he’s turning 27 next April. He’s still very young, but his body type is one that a lot of scouts are suspicious of. If teams don’t think he’ll maintain his production as the gets older (and, presumably, larger and slower), they might get gunshy.

I think he could get a good arm back, but I don’t see the Royals getting a superstar in return unless they sweetened the deal. Also, Dayton Moore’s track record in trading for players hasn’t been great. It hasn’t been awful, either in enough cases, but there’s enough concern there that Moore would come away losing value to make me wary.

Overall, though, I’m just tired of year after year hearing how this might be the year. I have faith in the team and enjoy the players, but it’s harder and harder to expect success until something changes. Perhaps that change is a Butler for Young Starting Pitcher With Multiple Years of Team Control. Perhaps it’s a change in training that turns all of the current starters into superstars overnight. But until something changes, it’s too early to go teasing me with grand expectations.

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