Jeremy Guthrie is one piece of the puzzle that could make the Royals competitive. (Credit: Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE)

Realistically, When Will The Royals Be Competitive?

The word “Competitive” is a perfect example of how words and events can have different meanings to different people.  A miserable rainy day to one person can be a wonderful, drought-ending downpour to another.  The guy filling his car with gas at the pump next to me while blasting obscenity-filled rap music from his stereo believes he’s providing a delightful musical treat for those nearby.  My assaulted ears would disagree with him.  As a former White House resident once said, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”, proving that it can be difficult to agree on the definition of even the most simple words.

When you read the title of this article, what did you think when you saw the word “Competitive”?  Did you imagine the Royals winning the World Series, or would you be satisfied with a .500 record for the season?  Maybe you pictured the Royals on top of the American League Central standings above the Tigers and White Sox.  Many of us would be content and consider our team to be competitive if we simply believed we had a real chance to win every time we went to the ballpark.

As we witnessed this season, the Royals have a long way to go before becoming competitive by any of these definitions.  But the good news is the team’s weaknesses became glaringly apparent this year, and this gives us a target to work with when repairing the broken pieces.  It’s impossible to fix a problem if you don’t know what the problem is – and I think we all know what the problems are after watching the team play for the past six months.  Let’s discuss a few of the issues the Royals need to address to become competitive.

As we have discussed many times (ad nauseam), number one on the list of needs is starting pitching.  With two possible exceptions, I would be hesitant to say that any of the hurlers the Royals sent to the mound this year could earn a spot in the rotation of a competitive ball club.  The Royals lucked into the mid-season addition of Jeremy Guthrie who has turned into a real gem.  As George Costanza would say, “It’s like discovering plutonium by accident.”  If Guthrie has indeed found his old form, he can be one of the mainstays of a competitive rotation – assuming we can sign him.  (Message to the Royals – you better sign him, or you’ll have one massively disappointed fan base.)  Jake Odorizzi could be the real deal too, but I suggest we withhold judgment until we’ve seen a larger sample size at the big league level.

It’s easy to forget about them when they aren’t around, but the Royals have a couple of decent pitching options on the shelf this year who are recovering from Tommy John surgery.  I believe Danny Duffy can play a role in the starting five of a competitive team, and I’m not ready to completely commit yet, but I think Felipe Paulino should be given a shot too.  Add Joakim Soria back to what is already possibly the best bullpen in the major leagues and it’s lights out for the opposition anytime the Royals are ahead in the 7th inning or later.  Unfortunately, it’s unlikely any of these pitchers will be available and contributing until sometime around the All-Star break of next season.

The Royals have a few more viable starting pitching options in the minors in Yordano Ventura, Kyle Zimmer, and John Lamb.  However, I’m skeptical that any of this group can reach Kansas City until 2014.

David Glass recently assured us that he’s willing to open the checkbook and add to our pitching staff.  What he said exactly waswhen we get to the point where we’re competitive, we’ll do what we have to do to improve our position.  Yes, we’ll do what we need to do.  We are committed to improving our starting pitching.”  And there’s the dreaded “competitive” word again.  Did anyone ask Glass about his definition of competitive?  If so, I haven’t heard his answer.   My guess is we’ll probably end up with a “B” level free agent and maybe another journeyman who we hope will finally realize his potential after being cut by 5 or 6 different teams.  In other words, don’t count on our pitching solutions coming through free agency.

The Royals have the prospects and young major league talent to trade for a top-tier pitcher.  But if the price for this trade means the loss of Hosmer, Moustakas, Wil Myers or Bubba Starling plus a couple more guys with potential including one of our pitching prospects, is it really worth it?  And do you trust the Royals front office to make a trade that includes equal talent on both sides?  On the one hand, if you land a real #1, yes, it might be worth it.  On the other hand, you’ll probably just create another hole that needs to be patched, so you may just end up trading one problem for another.  In my opinion, barring a miracle, our pitching problems will only be solved when a few of our internal candidates realize their potential.

Right field is another glaring weakness with Jeff Francoeur regressing to his pre-Royals form and returning to the status of the worst player in baseballWil Myers is the answer here.  Period.  Let’s move on.

And what about second base?  The Royals don’t seem to be happy with any of their options here.  It’s obvious to me that they don’t see Johnny Giavotella as the solution, and I don’t think Chris Getz is either.  The team has trotted out a number of additional players, mostly career minor-leaguers, with varying degrees of success, but none of them has performed to the level that demands the team consider him as the future of the position.

Is it possible Christian Colon, our first round pick from 2010 (the 4th pick overall) could end up at 2nd?   It’s possible, but I believe it’s unlikely.  I’ve never heard the Royals speak highly of him since he was drafted, although he has turned out to be exactly the type of player most scouts predicted him to be – steady, but unspectacular.  I don’t understand why the Royals drafted a player in the 1st round that they didn’t have high expectations for.  In my opinion, there is no clear answer for the Royals at second base, which means this will be a continuing issue for the foreseeable future and something that could potentially prevent the Royals from becoming competitive.

With a couple of caveats, the rest of the team is relatively solid.  Alex Gordon has now proven to be a regular contributor that we can count on to perform well.  Although Centerfield has been a bit of a merry-go-round this year, I still believe Lorenzo Cain can do the job.  (I realize I may be in the minority, but I still like what I see from him.)  I’m convinced Mike Moustakas is only going to get better every year, and although I’m a little bit worried about Eric Hosmer, none of the well known sports prognosticators appear to be concerned, so I’m going to take their word for it.

And what about short and catcher?  I must confess I have a flaming man-crush on Salvador Perez and I think Alcides Escobar is incredibly talented.  In my opinion, I believe Escobar and Perez may be the best Shortstop and Catcher combination the Royals have ever fielded, and I’ve been watching the Royals play for a long, long, long time.  The Royals have both players tied-up long term, two of the smartest decisions Dayton Moore has made during his time in KC.

Royals fans anxiously await the return of Danny Duffy (Credit: Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE)

So here’s the bottom line.  By almost any definition, the Royals won’t have the pitching horses to be competitive early next season.  By the All-Star break of 2013, we could see Danny Duffy, Felipe Paulino, and Joakim Soria return to Kauffman – and just imagine how much better they’ll be when they’re throwing to Salvador Perez!  Depending on whether Hosmer finds his bat again and if the Royals do what they are expected to do and play Wil Myers in Right Field, I believe they will begin to have a chance to win every time they take the field in the last half of 2013.  If your definition of “competitive” means that we win the division, you’ll be disappointed next year.  But if you enjoy watching fun baseball games, get yourself a ticket to watch the Royals play next August and September, I think you’ll like what you see.

Then in 2014, this is when things begin to get really exciting.  Kyle Zimmer, John Lamb, Yordano Ventura and possibly a couple of additional wild cards (Aaron Crow?  Joakim Soria?? Tim Collins???) will be competing for a position in the rotation with Jeremy Guthrie (hopefully), Danny Duffy, and John Lamb.  Hopefully Luke Hochevar will be in our rear-view mirror.  Hosmer will have his feet on the ground again and be ready to dominate.  Perez and Escobar will be poised for All-Star seasons.  Bubba Starling will be knocking on the door and pushing all the Royals outfielders to play well for fear Bubba will take their place on the field in 2015.  Surely to goodness the front office will find someone to play second base by then.

Do I think the Royals have potential to be competitive by almost any definition in 2014?  If things unfold the way I pictured them in the previous two paragraphs, then you bet your sweet bippy I do.  Does this mean we should give up on 2013?  Have you noticed where the Oakland A’s are in the AL West standings?  They are going to the playoffs with (in my opinion) less talent than the Royals have right now.  Would I bet that the Royals will be competitive in 2013?  No, I wouldn’t.  But then, I wouldn’t have bet on the Oakland A’s this year either.

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