Regular readers of the KC Star, and columnist Joe Posnanski in particular, have come to expect one thing each year around this time: Posnanski's annual KC Royals preview column.
What separates this particular column from the rest of Posnanski's coverage is his unfailing optimism. Usually, the optimism is completely unfounded, as the Royals are almost predetermined to suck, but there's always some hope in our hearts at the dawn of each new season that the Royals might actually be competitive. It is nice to dream, and Joe captures that feeling in his writing, ever predicting a winning season for the Royals.
Admittedly, as much as I enjoy reading Mr. Posnanski's musings, I often scoff a bit whenever I come across this article. Sure, there's a part of me that likes to get wrapped up in the excitement of a new year, too, but there's an even larger part of me (my brain) that tells me that there's no way the Royals will be any good.
And so it has been, for at least as long as I can remember, the constant struggle between optimism and realism, hope and fate, heart and mind.
Until something weird happened this year. Maybe it was our successful spring training, the promise of a clean slate, or the myriad new faces in Kansas City. Whatever it was, I started to actually believe in the Royals again.
Perhaps it is against my better judgment, but it is hard for me to look at the roster and not see improvement up and down the lineup.
Let's take a look, position by position:
2006 - John Buck and Paul Bako
2007 - John Buck and Jason LaRue
Well, it's nice to start off with a no-brainer. Anyone who thinks LaRue isn't an improvement over our previous catcher seriously needs to bako away from the crack pipe. (I probably need to bako away from the bad puns, but I just can't stop myself sometimes.) Factor in that Buck is likely to take at least a little step forward offensively, and it's hard not to be pleased with this arrangement. So far, so good.
2006 - 1/2 Season of Doug Mientkiewicz and 1/2 Season of Ryan Shealy
2007 - Ryan Shealy
I like to think of our 2006 first base situation as a little bit country (Dougie), and a little bit rock and roll (Not Dougie.) Mientkiewixz's a great guy and all, and I'm sure he'll play well in NY, but offensively he was a giant pile of Sluggrrr turrrd.
Okay, that's a bit harsh. Dougie wasn't that bad, but he did only manage to hit a paltry four homeruns on the season, while ranking last or certainly near the bottom in AL in OPS among all starting firstbasemen.
2006 - Grudz
2007 - Grudz and possibly some German
Just when you think it's time to say, "Ich Bin Ein Second Baseman for the KC Royals," it appears German will have to take a backseat again to aging vet Mark Grudzialenek, who seems to have recovered from his injury which would have prevented him from opening the season on the DL. Wow, that last sentence was a real doozy, wasn't it? Anyway, since there's likely not to be real change here, let's just skip to the Diagnosis.
Diagnosis: Marginal Change
2006 - El Diablo
2007 - El Hijo del Diablo
Wow, this is really a tough one. On the one hand, you're replacing one of the worst shortstops ever. On the other hand, you're replacing him with a guy whose bat might be even worse.
Still, we have at least one or two groundball pitchers (although one of which is on the DL in Luke Hudson) so at least a couple of guys will benefit if Pena's rumored defensive wizardry is more than just a rumor.
I really don't know if this is an improvement or not, so let's just go with:
Wow, Scott Baio and Dick Van Dyke? I'm kicking myself for never watching that show now.
2006 - 1/2 good Teahen, 1/4 bad Teahen, 1/4 AAA Teahen
2007 - Alex Gordon
All Alex Gordon has to do is put in a full season, and he's almost guaranteed to match the output we had from that spot. This is not to take anything away from Mark Teahen, but the fact is he just wasn't there the whole year.
Considering how Gordon's about as good a bet to win the AL ROY outside of Matsusaka, it's safe to say that we will see at least a little improvement here.
Diagnosis: Way better than Jefferson Starship
2006 - Brown, Sanders, DeJesus and Gathright
2007 - Brown, DeJesus, Teahen and ???
This is probably the greatest area of improvement. Just Teahen's addition to the outfield alone would be enough to merit an improvement over last year, but we also will be featuring a (hopefully) healthy David DeJesus, who missed about 40 games last season due to injury.
Who is the ??? Well, I'm sure most of you already know who is missing, but in case you're at a loss, I'm including a photo of him from a recent spring training game:
Our newest outfielder, seen seconds after hitting a fourbagger on March 29, 2007
That's right, I'm talking about the Human Detonator, the Brooklyn Bomber, Kid Dynamite, our very own Ross Gload. I won't get into specifics, except to say that even if Gload doesn't live up to the hype, his OPS will likely be at least 200 points higher than the guy he's replacing as our 4th outfielder. So, that's something.
2006 - Elarton, Redman, Hernandez, Hudson, May
2007 - Meche, Perez, Greinke, De La Rosa, Duckworth
Despite the addition of Meche, there's really not as much turnover as you would think here, as Hudson, De La Rosa, and Perez all logged significant innings for the Royals last year, and Elarton will probably rejoin the rotation once healthy.
Still, what strikes me as being the most positive move is the return of Greinke. Even if he is able to put up a somewhat average ERA in the 4's, that will still be better than any ERA posted by any of our starters last season. And really, with the exception of DLR, almost any of the guys above are capable of putting up that sort of season.
2006 - Gobble, Burgos, Peralta, Sisco, Nelson, Dessens
2007 - Gobble, Peralta, Riske, Soria, Dotel, Braun
I know that's not a complete list, but these are probably the guys that had or will have the most impact. There's really no question this is our area of most improvement, as we featured three guys with ERAs over 5, and none under 4 in 2006. In 2007, we may have three guys with ERAs in the 3.00 range with Dotel, Soria, and Riske. Braun has been whispered to be a potential closer of the future, and Peralta and Gobble should also continue to be steady contributers.
Looking across the board, it looks like we've got a whole lot of improvements, one marginal change, and one diagnosis: murder. I left out the DH, but we'll likely be just as good or better, considering if/when Sweeney makes his annual sojourn to Dr. Nick's office, we've got capable replacements in Gload, Huber, and possibly Butler.
I'd love to say this is enough to put us in contention to win the AL Central, but it's going to take a couple miracle seasons from some of our young guys and our new acquisitions.
It's also a bit distressing that some of Dayton Moore's major changes in the rotation and in the field seem at odds with what most sabermetricians would consider sane. Most notable of these would be his reliance on Meche (ignoring his horrible, Neifi-esque home/road splits last year), a stubborn determination to keep De La Rosa in the rotation, and his wild-eyed belief that Pena has "come around" offensively. I can only imagine that Moore trusts his gut a bit more than he does cold-hard numbers.
Dayton Moore doesn't care about Stats, People
Still, there's enough positive changes there to make me see at least a modest 10-15 game improvement, which would put us at least within flirting distance of .500. And that's probably good enough for Joe, which is good enough for me.