We've all discussed how many games we think the Royals will win. We've considered the circus known as the Royals starting pitching, we've discussed the progression of top prospects Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and others.
However, despite internet readers' apparent thoroughness in this discussion, I believe there are a few things that have not truly been considered. These things are wild cards, if you will. These wild cards could make a sizable impact on the Royals' winning percentage next year. Their likelyhood of happening is not terribly high--that's why they're wildcards--but their possible existence makes the unthinkable possible.
1. Michael Montgomery, AKA Monty, AKA possible ace.
Barring a setback or injury, Monty will make his debut with the Kansas City Royals in 2012. The 'when' can be disputed, as some of us (including myself) predicted a 2011 debut. However, Mr. Montgomery now has a full year's worth of experience in AAA, which means that a hot start or extended hot streak could mean a celebratory drive from Omaha to the city of barbecue and jazz. Much attention has (rightly) been focused on improving the Royals rotation. However, there is an outside chance of Montgomery becoming the Royals' Matt Moore--a young ace. If this happens, the entire complexion of the rotation changes.
2. The 2012 Salvador Perez Candidate
None of us predicted that Perez would climb to the Majors in 2011, let alone be the starting catcher the next year. This is because Perez was only in AA at the time. However, we should view this as an instructional story. Prospects can shoot through the system, having success along the way, in the case of a perfect storm. The same thing could happen again. When looking at the list of players who could do a similar run (AA to big leagues) in 2012, you come to players like Jake Odorizzi, Wil Smith, Chris Dwyer, and Wil Myers. However, depending on their initial placement, Perez candidates could even include Noel Arguelles, Rey Navarro, or Timothy Melville. Perez went from Wilmington to KC in one year's time. If one of these players did it, they might help the Royals in a final playoff push.
Of course, one can't forget the more likely players to debut, like Kelvin Herrera. The contribution of these young players could very well be significant. Or not. But it is interesting to note.
3. Mid-season roster shakeup.
Mid-season trades never seem to be discussed at the beginning of a season, partially because they are impossible to predict. However, what if the Royals are in contention in July? What if they need one final piece of the puzzle? Many of the arguments against trading for a pitcher this year are because the Royals are probably not contenders now. But that doesn't mean the Royals have to wait next year to trade. If they can strike this year, they might. How would it look for the Royals to be in the 'buying' group in July for once?
4. Other clubs' injuries.
We all know that the Royals will probably not avoid the injury bug quite like last year; sports teams suffer injuries. However, this also means that other teams will suffer injuries as well. Detroit's primary DH, Victor Martinez, is out for the year with a torn ACL. He posted a .330/.380/.470 line last year. What if Miguel Cabrera also went down? The mighty Tigers wouldn't be so mighty. We saw how the Twins looked without Mauer and Morneau.
All in all, the Royals might be closer than we think. Of course, they might be further away too, but what fun is that?