CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 23: Eric Hosmer #35 of the Kansas City Royals points to the crowd after hitting a solo home run during the second inning against the Chicago White Sox at U. S. Cellular Field on September 23, 2011 in Chicago. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
I'm not sure who started it, but for the better part of the last two years, 2012 has stood out like a lighthouse for many Royals fans. Since, well, since really the late 1990s, we've been playing the game of In Current Year+2 the Royals should be good. When Gil Meche signed a five-year contract prior to the 2007 season, only the most pessimistic fan would have guessed the Royals would never sniff contention for the duration of his contract. For no real reason, in 2009, a number of people talked about the Royals as "the next Rays," for example. But things changed in 2010, when Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas revived their prospect careers and became full-fledged minor league stars. Suddenly, thanks to strong seasons from Wil Myers and a number of pitchers, the Royals were really and truly going to begin competing in 2012. The mainstream guys pushed it, the bloggers pushed it, the front office certainly didn't fight it. When the Royals traded Zack Greinke prior to last season for soon-to-be-ready parts, basked in the glow of many "best farm system ever" accolades and aggressively promoted Hosmer early in the season the message was clear enough: 2012 really is intended to be the start of something.
In retrospect, it certainly hasn't been a microwaved rebuild. Dayton Moore, after all, was hired in 2006. That summer, someone decided to take Luke Hochevar with the first overall pick. In 2007, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, and Joakim Soria made their Major League debuts. That hasn't always looked like the foundation of something to build on -- and still not may be -- but nothing else from all that late decade roster churn has endured. At the Major League level, Dayton Moore has proven to be one of the more interesting General Managers in the game. He's had some big wins (Soria and the Soria extension, the initial Greinke contract, etc.) some big losses (the Jose Guillen signing, the Jacobs trade, etc) and lots and lots of curious moves that, in the end, amounted to very little. Moore is a very measured public figure, and rarely says anything beyond GM-speak boilerplate, but even his defenders would admit that he's emerged as enigmatic and unpredictable. My hunch is that he's ready to make another major move this off-season.
The frustrating thing is that at some point this year, probably more than once, someone is going to write or say, "Royals fans have to be patient." Trust me, we've been patient. We've been more than patient. We've been devout. The truth is, if we'd been spared Moore's wandering in the wilderness period of 2007-09, if a handful of moves had been better, if the team had won a big trade or two, we might have been able to really start thinking about contention last year, if not earlier. I lived through Ross Gload and Joey Gathright, so don't treat me like a fair-weather idiot.
The details fit the narrative ascent, but only part way. Hosmer and Moose are now famous and reasonably seasoned at the Major League level, and there's a large group of interesting arms orbiting about. Certainly, we're better off than we were two years ago, though it is unclear how all these auguries of progress are going to translate in this, the hallowed year of 2012.
The Royals have had mediocre pitching/defense and mediocre offense during the Moore Era, but never at the same time. Last season, I could never get used to the fact that the Royals had an above average offense, but thanks to sundry contributions around the lineup, they did. You can see a scenario in which the offense is very good in 2012: Francoeur and Gordon maintain their 2011 performances, Cain is passable, and two of the three Butler/Hosmer/Moose group take major steps forward. That's quite a lot going right, but here we are.
The pitching is another story. While you can see a strong bullpen for 2012, that's a risky way to build a pitching staff: there's so much inherent volatility in so many moving parts throwing small innings totals in small doses. At present, the rotation is essentially the same group as last year, with a nice upgrade in Kyle Davies effectively being replaced by Jonathan 'The Sanchize' Sanchez. As with the offense, there's a fair amount of, "well, if Hochevar improves and Paulino continues his good work and Duffy takes a step forward..." needed to make the thing work. Last season the team runs allowed per game total of 4.70 was tied for third highest in the American League.
So while perhaps too much of this post has been at attempt at providing perspective the truth is things are different. Again, we have all those bad years of experience to fall back on. The Royals have bonafide expectations in 2012, and even if they don't have to win the division for everyone to keep their jobs, if they truly fall flat, it's going to be interesting to see what happens. And of course, the off-season is far from over. Should Moore make a major move for starting pitching, the stakes will be further raised. If he doesn't, we may have to settle for flashes and glimpses and seeing the upside in 79 wins.
These are exciting times. There's a dose of frisson to the admixture of Royals fandom these days. 2012, whatever that means, is here.