Now What?


So Zack Greinke is gone and we march on.  With eyes toward the future, with possibly the best minor league system in recent memory, the Royals are preparing for a 2011 that will be interesting, to say the least.

That could be a good thing, or it could be a bad thing.

For a team that is already regarded as having the biggest collection of minor league talent in the game, the Royals are going to get richer.  There’s the addition of Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain that you might have heard about, along with the inclusion of pitchers Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi to consider.  The Royals already had a few first round picks on their way to the upper half of the top 50 prospects in the game.  Escobar was a top-25 guy going into last year and Cain is no slouch.  Jeffress and Odorizzi were considered by some to be the top two prospects left for Milwaukee after the departure of Brett Lawrie.

So after adding all that talent, here’s what the Royals will also add in the near future: a top five pick in the 2011 and draft and, most likely, the first or second overall pick in the 2012 draft.

They’re going to be pretty bad.

Let’s take a quick look at the roster.  Trading Zack Greinke isn’t just leaving a hole in the Royals starting rotation.  It’s like an earthquake splitting the United States in two and everything west of the Rocky Mountains sinking into the Pacific Ocean.  It’s that devastating.

Heading into next season, the Royals rotation will consist of Luke Hochevar, Vin Mazzaro, Kyle Davies and Sean O’Sullivan.  The first domino to fall in this demonstration comes right there.  Who’s the fifth starter?  I think it’s fitting to chime in on this now, since my introductory post here on Kings of Kauffman concerned who might be the fifth starter going into 2010.  I called for Kyle Farnsworth to get a shot at it.  Whoops.

Based off of comments by Dayton Moore in the past and at the press conference on Sunday, the Royals seem to be giving Danny Duffy, Everett Teaford and possibly Aaron Crow long looks in spring training as a potential starter in 2011.  None of the three are favorites to take the spot, but they’ll be names to keep an eye on and the mention of any of them shows who Moore and the Royals front office see as the first wave of starters to hit the big leagues.  There’s the potential that Bruce Chen, who has drawn no interest on the free agent market, could return to be the lone lefty in the rotation.  Reports back in November said that Chen was seeking a two year deal.  He’s very unlikely to get that from any team, but this time, he might get a major league deal from the Royals, rather than the minor league contracts he’s gotten in each of the last two seasons.

With the addition of Jeffress, a hard-throwing righty who could develop into a setup man or future closer, the Royals might take the opportunity to try Robinson  Tejeda in the rotation again.  He was unhittable in 2009 in September, and he’s improved his walkrate over the past two seasons.  With the potential that either of Louis Coleman and Tim Collins make the bullpen out of spring training, there won’t be a shortage of solid young arms in the bullpen, so a move might be the best way to get the most innings out of Tejeda.  Hell, he might end up being their best starter when it’s all done.

The Royals have also been linked to Kevin Millwood, and other than some rumblings for about a week, he hasn’t drawn much interest either.  It seems like baseball was waiting on Cliff Lee to sign and Greinke to get traded before anything happened.  Now Carl Pavano‘s the top starter out there and teams are just starting to get in the mix.  The Royals aren’t one of them and really shouldn’t be one of those teams, but the market has been fairly quiet.  I’d suspect the price on Millwood would be lower than I’d have anticipated last month.  Guys like Jeremy Bonderman, Freddy Garcia, Justin Duchscherer, Jeff Francis and John Maine are also floating around out there.  It might take a two or three year deal to get one of those guys, but I wouldn’t sneeze at a two year contract at this point.

The trade leaves the Royals 2011 infield pretty much set.  Billy Butler and Kila Ka’aihue will switch off between first base and designated hitter.  Chris Getz will probably start at second base.  Escobar will play shortstop everyday, and Mike Aviles is probably going to be the opening day third baseman.  Wilson Betemit is around to play on the corners anytime one of Butler or Ka’aihue need a rest or if Aviles needs to play up the middle.  Brayan Pena and Luke May will split catching duties (unless someone is signed to come in and bump one of them away).

The outfield, however, is a mess.

Here are the certainties: Alex Gordon (barring trade) will be in left field.  Jeff Francoeur will be in right field.  Center field could be Lorenzo Cain, who makes sense, considering we just traded a franchise starter for him.  Mitch Maier has been a vanilla but consistently vanilla outfielder and has good range and athleticism, as well as a great arm for center.  He’s got that rare combination of being a gritty, hustling kind of player while also being appreciated by a lot of Royals fans.  Gregor Blanco walks a lot, shows good speed and range and is in the mix as well, while Jarrod Dyson electrified Royals games in September with his incredible wheels and ability to cover a lot of acreage.

And don’t forget Melky Cabrera.

Gordon, Cabrera and Francoeur aren’t moving.  Dyson can be optioned to Omaha to start the year and Cain can as well, so that could cause the Royals to lean towards keeping both Blanco and Maier on the major league roster.  The problem, though, is that both are left-handed batters and it’s pretty silly to keep both on the bench.  I have to think, then, that the Royals will keep two of Cain, Maier and Blanco, and Cain seems to be safe (though I worry about how much playing time he’ll get).  If it’s me making the roster out, assuming a 12 man pitching staff, I keep the eight infielders, leaving five outfielders.  Since it’s me in this little exercise, I let Gregor Blanco go.  Maybe I’m a Mitch Maier apologist until the day he leaves the organization, but it’s not like executives don’t have their quirky loyalties to players.  Just look at our own general manager.

The Royals are going to be bad.  Maybe historically bad in regards to franchise standards.  The pitching staff has no true ace – Hochevar barely counts as a team’s #4 starter.  They have seven guys who could play three outfield spots.  Jeff Francoeur‘s going to make an out in the lineup about 70 percent of the time, and I have a hunch Melky Cabrera‘s going to have a Willie Bloomquist 2009 type of season (more at bats than he deserves).

We’re not without positives.  Butler, Ka’aihue and Aviles should all hit.  Betemit might have figured things out.  Pena could be a reasonable catcher (though he’s still no defensive master).  And hey, the bullpen might actually be pretty damn good.

And yet, we should still start scouting those top two potential picks for 2012 while we wait for the Prospects to arrive.

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