The Perfect 2012 Royals Season in Hindsight

Ed Zurga - Getty Images

This season turned out to be "not quite our time", but how might the season have gone if we had the benefit of hindsight?

Part of the new SB Nation Layout includes a time machine that allows to alter events in the past based on hindsight and view an alternate reality that might have been. And yes, fanshots are difficult to find in the time machine as well. Please indulge this fan fiction.

(AP) KANSAS CITY - Billy Butler hit a walk-off double to drive home Jarrod Dyson as the Kansas City Royals topped the Detroit Tigers to win their first division title since 1985. In a thrilling division title race that came down to the final day of the season, Kansas City swept Detroit at home in the last three games of the year to decide the division and give themselves their first post-season berth in over two decades.

Royals General Manager Dayton Moore, who will be a favorite for Executive of the Year, began building the division champion six years ago by drafting young players like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. He also made the bold move of dealing former Cy Young winner Zack Greinke with two years left on his deal, which netted starters Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain as well as prospect Jake Odorizzi. But it was locking up the players he inherited - Alex Gordon and Billy Butler - that stabilized the foundation of this team and gave the Royals two players likely to garner MVP votes.

Moore also had a shrewd off-season this past winter that transformed the 71-win team into a division champion. Perhaps the boldest and most controversial move was non-tendering starting pitcher Luke Hochevar in December and signing starter Edwin Jackson to a four-year $44 million deal. Hochevar, a former first overall pick, would turn in a disappointing season in Washington, while Jackson would lead the Royals in strikeouts and post a 3.77 ERA and a 2.7 WAR season.

Jackson was not the only upgrade to what had been a weak rotation in 2011. The failure to re-sign starter Bruce Chen after lowballing him with a one year $3 million contract led the Royals to bring in Pirates starter Paul Maholm with a 2 year $12 million deal. Maholm responded by winning 13 games with a 3.71 ERA and posting a 2.4 WAR season, while Chen was barely above replacement level this year for the Chicago Cubs.

There was some controversy with the club after right-fielder Melky Cabrera was suspended for the remaining two months of the season for performance-enhancing drugs. Cabrera, who had turned down a contract extension the previous winter, turned in a career season, hitting a league-leading .346 with a 4.6 WAR season and starting his first All-Star game. Some fans turned to Facebook to criticize Dayton Moore for keeping Melky and letting popular right-fielder Jeff Francoeur walk, but other fans were happy that Francoeur was gone after he posted a disappointing season in San Francisco (-2.7 WAR). The suspension did allow the Royals to promote superstar prospect Wil Myers to the big leagues, who played reasonably well and will likely take over for Cabrera in 2013.

The boldest move came mid-season when it became clear the Royals were going to compete for the division title. Dayton Moore cashed in some of the prospects he had developed and re-acquired ace pitcher Zack Greinke in exchange for infielder Christian Colon, pitcher Yordano Ventura and a player to be named later who turned out to be Kyle Smith. Greinke was re-energized returning to KC, winning six games and posting a 3.40 ERA and 1.3 WAR in just two months.

Some subtle moves also helped the club's turnaround. Infielder Jeff Keppinger, signed to a 1 year $2.5 million deal, filled in admirably at second base and even filled in at shortstop on occasion and platooned with Mike Moustakas at third base when the young left-hander was struggling. Keppinger, who briefly played for the Royals in 2006, hit .332 with 8 home runs 38 RBI and a 2.6 WAR season. Former Royals second baseman Chris Getz, who had been non-tendered, posted a replacement level season, and infielder Yuniesky Betancourt, who the Royals were rumored to be interested in bringing back, posted a -1.3 WAR season and was released by the New York Mets in August.

The Royals did take some major hits in the injury department, losing starters Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino mid-season. The mid-season acquisition of Jeremy Guthrie in July proved to be an adept acquisition that helped keep the rotation together. The biggest loss on the injury front was closer Joakim Soria, who was shut down before the season ever began. The club flirted with signing Jonathan Broxton, who provided a 1.7 WAR season in Cincinnati, but ultimately could not fit him into their budget. The club instead handed closing duties to a committee of young relievers - Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland - all of whom turned in terrific seasons.

The team was able to win the division with a paltry $65 million payroll, much less than rivals Detroit and Chicago, and a fraction of the team they will face in the first round of the playoffs - the New York Yankees.

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISIONAL SERIES PREVIEW

Kansas City Royals vs. New York Yankees

Game 1 in New York - Zack Greinke (15-5 3.42) vs. C.C. Sabathia (14-6 3.42)

Game 2 in New York - Edwin Jackson (9-10 3.77) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (14-11 3.44)

Game 3 in Kansas City - Paul Maholm (13-10 3.71) vs. Phil Hughes (16-13 4.10)

Game 4 in Kansas City (if necessary) - Jeremy Guthrie (7-12 4.82) vs. Ivan Nova (12-8 5.02)

Game 5 in New York (if necessary) - TBA

How did the Royals do it?

Player

WAR

Salary

Alex Gordon

5.4

$6,000,000

Melky Cabrera*

4.6

$6,000,000

Mike Moustakas

3.4

$487,250

Billy Butler

3.0

$8,000,000

Edwin Jackson

2.7

$11,000,000

Jeff Keppinger

2.7

$2,500,000

Salvador Perez

2.5

$750,000

Paul Maholm

2.4

$6,000,000

Alcides Escobar

2.2

$1,000,000

Greg Holland

2.1

$497,150

Kelvin Herrera

1.9

$480,650

Lorenzo Cain

1.8

$480,850

Jarrod Dyson

1.7

$483,625

Luis Mendoza

1.5

$488,925

Jeremy Guthrie

1.4

$4,100,000%

Zack Greinke

1.3

$4,500,000%

Aaron Crow

1.2

$1,000,000

Felipe Paulino*

0.9

$1,900,000

Tim Collins

0.9

$495,725

Will Smith

0.7

$480,000

Irving Falu

0.5

$480,000

Danny Duffy*

0.4

$487,750

Brayan Pena

0.1

$850,000

Wil Myers

0.0

$480,000

Louis Coleman

-0.3

$491,750

Everett Teaford

-0.3

$488,000

Johnny Giavotella

-0.5

$480,000

Eric Hosmer

-1.1

$502,500

Joakim Soria

N/A

$6,000,000

43.1

$66,904,175

*-not on post-season roster

%-pro-rated remaining salary owed by Kansas City

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