Last year around this time, I talked about another lousy year of Royals baseball and blamed it on the lack of pitching. This year, we’ve seen the power of pitching propel Kansas City to the cusp of wild card contention. Now when I dissect the major deficiency of this team, it will be hitting, and more specifically, power hitting.
And yes, I know…the hitters on this team (some of them, anyway) are better than we’ve seen. Some of them have underperformed. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas got off to slow starts. Billy Butler’s had a down year. Alcides Escobar regressed. I mean…he regressed a LOT. Second base…don’t even go there.
Anyway, I don’t think the lineup needs the overhaul that our starting rotation got last winter. But it does need some help. We know we can count on Alex Gordon and Butler should have a nice bounce back year. It looks like Eric Hosmer has figured it out. Moustakas, too? Maybe. Sal Perez is fine. And some of the other pieces will fit together nicely enough. Guys like Lorenzo Cain, David Lough, and Justin Maxwell have their merits – but seriously, how many outfielders can this team carry next year?
Let’s start with what we know. This team has some of the best starting pitching in the AL. The bullpen? Maybe the best in the major leagues. The defense is arguably the best in baseball as well –according to Fangraphs the Royals have the highest UZR and UZR/150 in the league. They are also second to the Arizona Diamondbacks in DRS (defensive runs saved), only two behind the D-backs in that category. The hitting, though…it could be better, especially in the power department.
The Royals have outscored their opponents by 44 runs. Pretty impressive, but it’s completely due to pitching and defense, which is fine, but still. Imagine if this team could hit. Look, they aren’t horrible…they have hit .260 as a team, placing them sixth in the AL. And for the way this team is put together right now, it has worked fairly well. The get on base and run method has only resulted in 557 runs though, placing them in tenth place among AL teams. They have scored the same amount of runs as the Yankees, who have been a mess most of this year (you saw the lineups they were trotting out early on, right?) and the only teams who have scored less are the Minnesota Twins, Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners, and Chicago White Sox. Not great company.
As good as the team has been at slapping hits and running the bases, they have been equally bad at hitting for power, bringing up the rear in the AL as the only team below 100 home runs (they have 96).They are also towards the bottom in doubles, with only three teams trailing in that category.
So what’s the next move? Like I said – the team can do pretty much everything BUT hit for power, meaning…they need some power. Duh. Looking ahead to 2014, they SHOULD get more power from a few sources like Hosmer, Perez, Moose, and Butler…and I think Gordon will hit his usual 15-20 homers. But will a boost from a few guys be enough? Can the Royals get by with the same carousel of outfielders in center and right field? Maybe. Do I feel like they should risk it? Absolutely not.
This team is on the verge of being really, really good. I think the consistency at the plate for a lot of these guys will fix itself as we move forward. The power though…there’s got to be a boost from somewhere. I don’t want to just cross my fingers and hope for the best with Justin Maxwell.
Of the top free agents listed in the MLBTR FA Power Rankings, 3 of the top 10 are outfielders, with 2 of the 5 honorable mentions making it 5 of 15. One of those honorable mentions is Nelson Cruz. I’m thinking…no thanks on Cruz. I don’t even want to deal with a guy coming off a PED suspension. The other is Hunter Pence. Pence is a guy I’d be more interested in, but I’m not sure he really brings enough impact power. He’s never topped 25 homers in a year before, and sits at 17 right now. That said, in addition to those homers, he’s got 32 doubles, 21 steals, and a .788 OPS. Good all around talent, as we all know.
Moving up to the top 10 FA’s, the outfielders included are Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, and Carlos Beltran. I have a feeling someone will give Ellsbury a lot of money. I mean…a LOT. So I’m counting him out. Plus he’s a bit injury prone for my liking. We’ve already got Lorenzo Cain to worry about. That leaves Choo and Beltran. Choo is making around $7.4 million this year, with Beltran at $13 million. Choo still has room to improve at age 31…while Beltran is coming off his age 36 season. Which means what? Choo will probably get a raise, Beltran probably takes a pay cut. How much of a raise/pay cut are we looking at? Hard to say.
Of course, keep in mind that part of my plan for 2014 success hinges on bringing Ervin Santana back into the mix…which probably takes something away from what KC can spend on an outfielder. That said, I don’t see why – with the influx of television money next year and David Glass’ repeated promise of increased payroll when on the verge of winning – we can’t sign Santana and bring in an impact outfielder. But what do I know? It’s not my money.
So the options in 2014, if we are really serious, probably boil down to hoping Beltran wants to come back to KC or going after a guy like Pence or Choo, depending on the bidding war that may surround those younger options.
Outside of that…we can always hope Cain stays healthy and some kind of combination of David Lough, Justin Maxwell, and Jarrod Dyson can do the rest. Is that enough to get it done? Again, it might be, but when we are so close to the playoffs…why leave anything to chance?