We are coming up on another baseball season, and Royals fans more than likely have little to look forward to this year. This isn't to say I don't think they'll be better, or that I don't think that things are looking up. But realistically speaking, the odds are not in their favor insofar as making the playoffs are concerned.
However, I don't think third place in the AL Central is out of the question.
The Twins will more than likely experience quite the fall-off, as Torii and Johan are gone and Liriano probably won't be locating his pitches well until next year. Delmon may be great as soon as this year, but their pitching staff is so suspect that I really can't imagine their offense being good enough to balance out their deficiencies when they're on the field. In short, they are vulnerable.
The White Sox were trailing the Royals in the division late last season, then the Royals shat down their legs in September. I am not convinced that any moves Kenny Williams made in the offseason will make the White Sox better in the short- or long-term. Personally, I hate the Swisher deal for the White Sox, and I fail to see how trading Garland for O-Cab helps them at all. If anything, I think the White Sox get even worse this year.
Obviously, the Indians and Tigers are better than the Royals, even if they do have big question marks (i.e. can Hafner return to his 2006 self? can Carmona and Sabathia repeat what they did last year? why trade the future of the franchise in Maybin and Miller for Cabrera and Dontrelle (?)? can Dontrelle stop the annual climb in the ERA and keep it below 6.00?), but the Twins and White Sox are both within the Royals grasp.
Now for this to happen, the Royals need a few things to happen. None of these are sure things. Most of them are possible.
First, Alex Gordon needs to become the player everyone thought he'd become last year. I think this is the most likely of all the things they'll need to happen. I think .280, 85, 25, 90, 15 is very possible this season. If I didn't, I wouldn't have traded Mark Teixeira for him in my keeper league this offseason (there were other players and factors involved in this trade, but it boiled down to that).
Second, Billy Butler provides them with the big bat he flashed last year. This seems probable, as well. He hit very well last year and already shows some pretty impressive power. No one thinks that he can't hit. His bat will find its way into this lineup, even if his glove won't find its way onto the field.
Third, Gil Meche continues to prove his worth. I think this will also happen. The optimist in me thinks he'll become the late bloomer that Chris Carpenter and Jason Schmidt became, as there are many similarities, but the realist in me thinks that's not very likely. I do think I can hope for slight improvement on last year's numbers and the team will help him out quite a bit more. As Posnanski pointed out in his very long Royals preview, Meche had a 2.89 ERA in his 12 no- decisions. That was as good an ERA in his no-decisions as C.C. Sabathia in four more starts. He was definitely unluckly last year, and I'd be very surprised if he didn't come out and win at least 13 games this season with a comparable ERA.
Those were the three most likely things. Now, in no particular order we'll look at the less likely...
Brian Bannister finds a way to replicate his season last season. His 2007 BABIP is well known at this point. He knows he was pretty lucky. We know he was pretty lucky. He seems extremely intelligent and does in-depth statistical analysis regarding his pitching. If he can find a way to maintain his success, I'll be very happy. I'm hesitant to say it can happen.
Zack Greinke is the Zack Greinke we all saw after he got moved to the bullpen last year. He somehow became this flame-throwing, shut-down pitcher after the move (barring a couple of rocky outings against the Yankees and Red Sox, if memory serves me correctly). When he came back to the rotation at the end of the year, he was dominant. He's gotten lit up a couple of times this spring training, but his last outing gives me hope. I have no idea what to expect here. If he makes good on what he showed last year, the Royals are in great shape. The odds are just as good of him losing it as they are of him doing that, though. The talent is there. Let's hope it finds its way onto the field with him.
Mark Teahen and David DeJesus recover at least a little bit. Both were pretty awful last year. Both should have been much better. Teahen really could be very good. DeJesus could realistically be 15/15. They should both be hitting in the .290 range. Who knows what will happen with them.
Jose Guillen proves he was worth his contract. I don't think it was an awful contract. There wasn't much talent out there. The Royals need to prove they are willing to spend money and dedicated to winning before they can hope to lure bigger name free agents to Kauffman. He's a little older than I'd like for the contract to which they signed him. If he produces like he did last season and provides some stability in the outfield, I think he makes them better and I think that was worth it.
Joakim Soria retains his shut-down ability as closer. He should surely benefit from a full season as closer, and I think he has great control and stuff. Ideally, they'd be able to move him to the rotation and get another reliever to replace him because all Royals fans want him in the rotation, but for now, he'll do as the closer.
Now I have quite a bit of faith in Dayton Moore. It seems as though the Glasses have relinquished control as he requested, and his moves seem to have worked so far. They've acquired some solid talent and wound up giving up less talent in acquiring said talent so far. I love the acquistions of Cortes, Callaspo, Bannister, and still have some hope for Lumsden and Shealy. I think he'll also be able to turn guys like Tomko and Grudzielanek for some prospects at the deadline.
I like Trey Hillman's attitude so far. I don't mind that he seems to call his guys out as he sees fit. I think he has the attitude of a winner, and that can be contagious. His hiring gives me a lot more hope than keeping a guy like Buddy Bell around.
There are issues which will need to see some resolution. I'm hoping Hochevar has made his case for the rotation and that he can be solid in the four or five slot. I hope Tomko doesn't implode for extended stretches of time. I hope they can find some way to get value for Huber since they can't seem to find a way to get him into the lineup. They've got to figure out what to do with German because he seems to be the same player as Callaspo, only with a reportedly worse glove. Their bullpen needs to keep leads for Soria to close out, and I'm not sure how I feel about nearly every one of their other pitchers.
Needless to say, there are a lot of question marks surrounding this team. At least Royals fans can rest at ease that they're not trotting Mark Redman or Brian Anderson out on opening day. I think a few of the bigger question marks can break the Royals' way. The lesser issues I am less hopeful on. I doubt enough of the issues are resolved in the Royals' favor to have them finish above .500, but I don't think a record around 78-84 would be out of the question. As it is, I'm predicting 75 wins, which should be more than the White Sox and right around where the Twins end up. Cleveland and Detroit will be above .500, but I don't think they'll both be over 90 wins with Cleveland winning the division by about 5 games with 90 wins.