Every enterprise of more than 10 people and 2 laptops has some sort of expectation set for future goals. They have some sort of expectation set for performance in the new future. The economy has an expectation set for the near future. Television stations have expectations of what their ratings could become in the future.
As for the Kansas City Royals, they're our favorite player in the Expectations Game. But have they bitten off more than they can chew on expectations for 2013? Have they presented or aided expectations that are unrealistic for 2013? We say aided, after all, if things go bad (or near the same as they have for every year after the capture of Saddam Hussein), the Royals organization will say that somehow they just got hurt. They just underachieved. And then they'll find a new pitcher or two (because this organization certainly isn't producing any from the farm system).
For Moore and the organization, The danger of the expectations game is not in how the fans react. It's in the long term job retention ability of Moore and friends. No Royals team has ever paid more for their superstars than the 2013 Royals. Any complaints that there is a perpetual cheapness from the ownership has to be suspended for the time being. Because near $80M will be spent on the opening day payroll and an excuse is being removed from the grasp of Moore defenders. That is no accident. That is on purpose. This is put up or shut up. Dayton Moore's contract ends after 2014, but for all intents and purposes, he has to be extended or fired this year. There is no way that you can have a near lame duck GM in this situation without endangering the ability of the team to compete for years afterwards. Moore will likely get fired or extended sometime between Independence Day and Veterans Day.
As for the "if things go bad from the start, they'll fire Yost" people. Yost is irrelevant in the scheme of things. Moore has had 2 managerial hires and I have yet to hear an argument for a 3rd hire. And it wouldn't make sense for them to give Moore a 3rd hire without committing to more Moore.
But as for the reality of the expectations, it's worth looking into the people who'll have the most impact on actually winning games, the players on the team. So let's go player by player to take a look at the 2013 Royals and figure out if you can really say this is a team that should be expected to do anything noteworthy in 2013.
The opening day batting order was released today, so let's go down the order..
Batting leadoff: Left Fielder Alex Gordon - Alex Gordon is a combination of valuable and unappreciated in the eyes of casual fans. Last year Gordon wound up being one of the best hitters on a bad hitting team. In 2011 and 2012, Gordon was one of the best fielders at his position. Repeating 2012, at the minimum, would be a healthy and satisfactory enough expectation for Alex Gordon. Although if certain guys in the middle of the order don't perform well (and there isn't a glaring obvious lack of a leadoff guy that isn't Gordon), Gordon is going to get dropped to 3. Because Gordon will do stuff like hitting home runs and their ideal model for a baseball team comes from the 1980s.
Hitting 2nd, Shortstop Alcides Escobar - Escobar's question is not if he'll hit enough to play somewhere. It's if he'll hit enough to justify being at the top of the order. Escobar faded hard in the 2nd half of 2012, posting a .683 OPS after the all-star break, as opposed to .760 before the break. Escobar hit 385 times in the 2 hole and 130 times in the 9 hole and had 19 extra base hits in the 2 spot and 15 hitting 9th. That isn't to say anything about his inherent abilities. Perhaps a lot of the problem with Escobar's output hitting 2nd was that the 80s approach leads to stuff where Escobar is trying to lay down bunts hitting 2nd. Although the myth of order protection means that Escobar should get stuff to hit in front of Butler, right? right? In all likelyhood, Escobar is probably going to hit somewhere between his 2011 and 2012. He'll probably improve overall depending on the moodiness of defensive measurement tools.
Hitting 3rd, the Designated Hitter Billy Butler - All Billy Butler does is hit the baseball. It'll be interesting to see if the home run power sticks around for 2013, which could occur as Butler is entering his prime without anything really standing in his path to topping .300/30/100. Butler hitting 3rd is an interesting acknowledgment of the struggle of having a good middle of the order hitter. Butler's been rotated between 3rd and 4th for awhile. He can hit at both. But if Moustakas and Hosmer hit, or Hosmer outhits Moustakas early, the order will go back to lrlrlrlr-riffic, with Hosmer at 3.
Hitting 4th, the 3rd baseman Mike Moustakas - Did they overvalue spring training stats slightly with where they put Moustakas on opening day? probably. Does Moustakas deserve a good serious shot to hit in the middle of the order? Yes. Moustakas hasn't been a good hitter yet. Moustakas OBPed .261 after the all-star break last year. Moustakas had the good timing to have a terrible hitting run around the same year that multiple other guys were angering or disappointing the fan base. But for Moustakas to have a good year, he has to be more like his first half and less like his "total combined hitting so far". For this team to have anything approaching a good year, he has to get used to hitting north of Arizona pretty quickly. Hopefully a slower start doesn't involve Moustakas being exiled to 6 because of some nonsense where they think Moustakas fits better there. Because you wanna keep one of the two guys with real 30 home run potential hitting 6th in the order.
Hitting 5th, the catcher Salvador Perez - Sal Perez doesn't have to reproduce his hitting resume so far to be valuable. He just has to hit to be in this spot in the order (look down the order, try and figure out who is in the 3-4-5-6 area if Perez isn't, it'd probably have to be Cain). Sal Perez has hit like 1990s Pudge Rodriguez so far. He's also had great tangible defense (as opposed to the 'little things defense' of things that can't really be proven). The impact of a full season of Perez is probably nowhere near as much as you'd think. It is nowhere near as much as is being hyped. Perez is probably going to start 140-150 times and if he puts up around a combo of his 2011/12 numbers, it'll be very helpful. But even if you timed 2012 Perez by two, you get around 3 more wins and a 75-87 finish. There is a possibility of future injuries because Perez is 6'5" and 230 and playing the most physical position in baseball. In that case, prepare for pain.
Hitting 6th, the first baseman Eric Hosmer - Trying to sell Eric Hosmer as a big time power hitter isn't dishonest. Dishonesty requires a knowledge of the inaccuracy of that fact. The reason why Hosmer is being thought of as a power hitting type is because they looked at him and his position and think he looks like a guy who should hit for power. But then again, looks aren't everything when it comes to hitting, ask Mark Teahen. Eric Hosmer is likely much more of a hitting average sort of player than a power guy. Hosmer hasn't really had any sort of huge home run year ever and he had more stolen bases than home runs in 2012. Yes, Eric Hosmer sucked at the WBC, and he shouldn't have been selected for that team. How much does that really mean? not a lot (even if the WBC showings inspired inaccurate claims about how all the Dominicans played winter ball constantly). Hosmer's spring in Arizona was good on paper but involved a lot of singles. Essentially the room of offensive improvement on this team is something laying on the shoulders of Eric Hosmer. Hopefully he will hit and hopefully he will be handled correctly when he does hit. The revolutionary hitting tribunal of Maloof and other hitting coaches will start off on a good public note if Hosmer is hitting up to his realistic potential. But if Hosmer doesn't hit, the team isn't going anywhere anyways.
Hitting 7th, the centerfielder Lorenzo Cain - Lorenzo Cain is an unknown product when it comes to his real potental over a full season. Mainly because his first chance for fulltime play was preempted by a controversial at the time yet more popular later acquisition of Melky Cabrera, and his 2nd chance was preempted by him injuring himself. Then he injured himself a few more times in 2012. In between the DL stints, Cain showed a lot of potential to be a formidable hitter. But it's unknown how all of these pieces will fall together in 2013. Cain could be slightly overrated in the "imagine him all year" talk because Cain's formula values for 2012 and his career are probably a bit too high and not at the level that he'd produce starting 150+ times a year.
Hitting 8th, the rightfielder Jeff Francoeur - It's not a matter of Francoeur finding his bat. It's a matter of him showing enough at the plate to actually be a worthwhile guy in the order. The whole "2011!!!!" stuff with Francoeur is known as chasing the dragon. The first hit of Francoeur is always the best and trying to get future hits of Francoeur with similar potency leads to stuff like stealing copper from wires, trading outfield prospects, and houses exploding. Francoeur has been a good hitter over a full year twice in the last 6 years. Being good twice in 6 years can get you reelected to the Senate and it can get you right field in Kansas City. Jeff Francoeur will be useful for several days in 2013 but will likely suck at baseball for most of the days of 2013.
Hitting 9th, the second baseman Chris Getz - Chris Getz timeline for 2013: he'll be useful for a few weeks ("SEE, WE GOT OUR GUY"), he'll be bad for a few more ("IT'S JUST BAD LUCK, LOOK AT HIS DEFENSE"), he'll get hurt ("Freak injury"). He'll be replaced in the line up by Elliot Johnson or Miguel Tejada ("Can't use Giavotella, he hasn't played 2nd enough in Omaha"). He'll return, lather, rinse, repeat. Getz will probably get a stint at the top of the order if Escobar isn't hitting, or if Gordon is moved to 3. Because speedy gritty Getz.
And the hitters on the bench are
George Kottaras at catcher: As long as Sal Perez is healthy, George Kottaras is probably going to start between 15 and 20 times in 2013. Kottaras will be useful in his role but in the scheme of things, he won't be enough accumulated value to change much of anything.
Elliot Johnson at random spots: The sales job in Elliot Johnson is hilarious. I don't know what kind of sales job Pirates PR gave when they signed Luis Sojo in 2000. But it may have been something similar to "This guy was on lots of winning teams and he plays lots of positions". Then Sojo got traded to the Yankees in August 2000. Elliot Johnson's sales job from most of the org is that he played on the Rays and he's a veteran leader. Granted Eric Hosmer has more ML experience than Elliot Johnson. It's that he plays lots of positions, granted his time accumulated at some of those positions were barely enough to pass a civil service exam for the position. Rex Hudler's sales job for Elliot Johnson is easier to understand, because Elliot and Rex had similar career paths. The difference being that Hudler was better against LH pitchers. Johnson will likely relieve Escobar and Moustakas when they randomly need time off. Johnson also got time in the outfield in the spring if you want to replace a gold glove left fielder with an infielder for some reason. Johnson may be used to replace Getz v. LH pitchers, which won't end well because Johnson really doesn't do much as a RH hitter and Getz has reverse splits. Johnson will probably get the playing time during the inevitable Chris Getz DL stint that'll happen by June 1st. Johnson's total starts will exceed the number of lines in this paragraph by a few.
Miguel Tejada at random spots: Miguel Tejada is actually veteran leadership, although he won't be likely to really do much. The National League games to start will give us some time to see how Tejada hits in random spots and they'll add the numbers up to figure out if he's worth keeping around. Tejada is probably being to be kept around on the bench for special occasions. But unlike most veteran leadership brought on this team, Tejada has been a good player on winning teams before. It seems like there's two guys at the same position and Irving Falu isn't exactly young and could do the same thing as Tejada on the field (even without the vaunted veteran leadership). Tejada could be gone quick or he could be gone in July. He likely won't play enough to really endanger the team unless Chris Getz hurt himself some more.
Jarrod Dyson at Billy Butler's legs and Centerfield: Jarrod Dyson is fast. Maybe this year they'll have a better idea of how to utilize that speed. Maybe this year Jarrod Dyson will put more balls into play. Dyson likely won't become anything, which is kinda why they have him as the backup outfielder, a position with as much upward mobility as Lt. Governor. Most of the time when the Royals have a guy who they think will be good, they don't make him a backup, they let him play in Omaha. Personally I think they're a bit too erratic and cautious about Dyson on the basepaths. Which may seem contradictory, but they've sent him at bad times but won't send him at good times.
Random dudes who might show up as hitters in KC this year: Lough might get some time in KC this year (especially if an injury happens). Lough is probably in the category of guys who they underutilized over the last few years but who they might use occasionally in 2013. I'm not expecting Giavotella to really get any shot of returning to KC because he may not even get consistent playing time at 2nd in Omaha (Colon!). Irving Falu will play random spots in Omaha and could return to KC if Tejada gets dispatched early.
So what about the pitchers?
The perception is that the room for improvement is mainly on the pitching side (the entire starting 9 hitters in KC were regularly in the batting order in 2013). That's not entirely true, but they did make over the rotation to try and get something in 2013. So let's see what they got.
James Shields: Apparently the leader of the Rays wasn't their best pitcher (sorry David Price!). But if you're in the mainstream sports media, you love James Shields. He directs traffic. He acts like a leader. He has a nickname (which is NOT in reference to his pitching in big games, but is in reference to the Lakers). Fortunately for Shields, he should be the best pitcher in the Royals rotation unless someone surprises us or a disaster happens. How much Shields declines because he's in a more hitter-friendly park with a worse defense is unknown for now. But he's a leader! Which is typically baseball media code for "he talks to the media without wanting to snap us in two"
Ervin Santana: Ervin Santana's saving grace this year is the hope that he only sucks in every other year. Santana has only been above-average or really terrible. But don't worry, excuses are in the works for his 2012 (such as the bad luck of him posting a 5+ ERA in 5 straight starts where the Angels didn't score once). Santana, like every pitcher prone to terribleness, had a good run in 2012. The quality of his pitching will probably determine a lot about the 2013 Royals.
Jeremy Guthrie: For the purposes of public relations, Guthrie is a new pitcher. For the purposes of reality. he really isn't. Guthrie was better than you'd think before he went to Colorado. He was above average on average, even while giving up 30 HRs a year. Shields and Santana also have problems with giving up home runs, which is something to keep an eye on. Will Guthrie be as good in 2013 as his Royals stint in 2012? Doubtful. This franchise has resigned guys based on partial stints and gotten burned hard (Brian Anderson, before his arm exploded, wasn't very good after 2003). But Uncle Guth will have his clubhouse powers talked up if the pitching isn't to the standards of his salary.
Wade Davis: If James Shields is Dave Grohl. Wade Davis is Pat Smear. If James Shields was Eddie Guerrero defecting to the WWF in 2000, Wade Davis is Perry Saturn (might be a bit generous to Davis since Saturn had some good marks on his record by 2000, and virtually nothing post 2000). In 2013, the ratio of Shields to Davis contributions in this rotation will be heavily skewed towards Shields. Wade Davis wasn't any good as a starting pitcher in Tampa Bay. It wasn't that they had so much good pitching that they had to tell Wade about the bullpen, it's that they got so much good pitching so they could tell Wade about the bullpen. The idea that he was a hard luck cut from the rotation is fiction. But like any potentially failed starter coming off of a good bullpen stint, they'll give him a few more chances to start. We've seen too many examples of starters who found themselves in the bullpen and were given a few more shots at the rotation. The odds suggest that Wade Davis won't merit the sort of hype given to him by the commercials and he won't really be average as a starter. But if he's somehow good, that'll help. It really wouldn't be helpful to expect that much from the guy who was the worst starter in spring training and who has no record of success as a starter. Also he missed a start due to injury concerns and he hasn't really pitched as much as the other guys.
Luis Mendoza: I remember when I mercilessly mocked and dreaded Mendoza during his 2010 stint. Then Mendoza actually became kinda good at pitching. Mendoza is in the vicinity of his prime right now and might be helpful to pass the time by until the vaunted returns of several injured starters. Mendoza will be put in the long man spot when Duffy or Paulino return because they are attached to stuff like long men despite their lack of relevance on successful teams. Mendoza is probably already better than one of the Four New Pitchers right now.
As for the starters: There's one quality addition, 2 additions who could be quality, 1 starter who won't be quality and Mendoza.
And the Bullpen!
Bruce Chen: Turns out that deal wasn't a very good idea. There's no real indication that Chen will be good in limited doses or in a long man spot. When you acquire 4 new pitchers, you shouldn't need a regular long man because you should have acquired 4 pitchers who don't wet the bed every few weeks. Chen really isn't that good vs lefties and he's not really all that valuable either. He won't be traded because he won't gain value in the bullpen. So they're kinda stuck paying him because admitting mistakes of salary this early is a bad idea in a GM contract year.
Tim Collins: Really sucked this spring. But they blamed it on the WBC. Even if that explanation makes no sense because Collins pitched as much for KC as guys who didn't go off to the WBC. Collins is someone who will be overexposed as the only lefty reliever who is 'trusted' v. LHB. But Collins is not a lefty specialist. Collins is better v. RH bats. Collins mettle is going to be tested early as he gets exposed to a lot of tough spots after a terrible spring. He could cost us as much early as some of the more dreaded relievers.
Aaron Crow: Guess he won't start now, eh. So he's essentially going to show up some time late every few days and will probably be a good pitcher. But he's probably getting more out of being a 1st round pick than guys like Colon and Hochevar.
JC Gutierrez: We're sure he's not being confused for a good pitcher, right? He really didn't do much in the Spring. He hasn't really done much in his career. Which means he either puts games out of reach or he deals with certain losses. Picking him over Coleman smells of a "let's not let this guy start in KC, so his promotion to KC looks like an upgrade" move.
Kelvin Herrera: Probably going to be pitching in the 8th inning of games this year. Has a quality record. Not much to really comment on or complain about.
Luke Hochevar: As the newest reliever, does the $4M man get to wear the backpack of sunflower seeds out to the bullpen? Hochevar feasted on competition of questionable quality in his first few outings, then he got torched. So the Russian Roulette of Luke Hochevar appearances means a few good outings, then a game where he costs you the lead. Followed by more outings. Will they write his salary off as a charitable donation? Will keeping two Boras clients (Hoch and Chen) around in the bullpen mean anything towards extending other Boras clients (Nope Nope Nope).
Greg Holland: Nothing to really complain about here. Herrera and Holland are a solid 8th-9th (although one could question the wisdom of having a set 8th inning guy, when fires could occur in other innings). He'll be good.
So the bullpen has 3 dependable guys (that'll probably get the 7th-8th-9th, damn the torpedos). One guy who could be good again but really got nailed in spring training and is being put in a role he isn't really good with pulling off. And 3 guys who won't be good. So the worst case is a 2009 where the good bullpen turns into a bad bullpen due to various dumb moves.
Lots of pitchers on the 40 man roster: Including Adcock (who'll be an I29 Warrior), Arguelles (sunk money), Bueno (probably due to a few random stints in KC), Coleman (should be on the 25 man but isn't, the one reliever who hasn't found a way to get a regular role from Ned), Dwyer (nope), Joseph (Should be on the 25 man by the end of the year), Lamb (nope), Marks (didn't even pitch in spring training), Smith (not as good as he looked in Spring Training) and Teaford (I29 Warrior).
Also Duffy and Paulino will be around by the end of the year, which will complicate things. Yordano Ventura will only start in KC if people get hurt, he's a future reliever. From what I can tell in recent Royals history, pitchers shorter than me (6ft) never wind up starting, aside from one Dusty Hughes spot start.
Is the summation of the hitting and pitching enough to win 15 more games? Not even close. It does not add up any any scenario short of a lucky run where EVERY question comes out in the favor of the team. They didn't add 4 above-average pitchers. They added one above-average guy and 2 two guys who will probably be average. They didn't add enough guys to even get to .500 without lots of help from a bottom of the league in 2012 offense.
The reality is that going "All In" was mandatory for Moore's job security. He hasn't had full control of the ship for years. The "8 to 10 years" nonsense doesn't work forever and while one can question the baseball knowledge of ownership, they probably noticed that the timeline of contention kept moving into the future from 2010 to 2013. Moore's contract is up after 2014, and he won't be left aboard as a lame duck fearing for his job because of the effects of such idiotic people management. If the team looks somewhat viable in the late summer, Moore gets his extension to 2017 or 2018.
And Jon Morosi, who started using his middle name for some reason (is there another Jon Morosi out there?), is only predicting the Royals winning the AL Central to be edgy and look brilliant if he's right. Nobody is going to bash Jon Morosi if he's wrong there. Jon Morosi won't impact the team's performance whatsoever anyways. Jon Morosi is going to wind up a useful idiot for future PR. "See, some people thought we'd be good, but we just underperformed, but 2014 WILL BE DIFFERENT". After all, they're young! (even if the bad players will not be the younger ones). They have the excuses on ice.
This is the Great Leap Forward and the possible success of such a leap is going to be interesting to see. But in a world where a high 70s win total will be considered an internal success but an external "gosh, we almost had it, but 2014 we're closer" public relations line. This is the Great Leap Forward, and in the expectations game, they might be risking overselling their future prospects, but barring a catastrophe, they can be inaccurate without being wrong.
Where does this team want you to believe they can finish? .500 or better.
Where will this team probably finish? 75 or 76 wins, and dropping to 3rd or 4th place. They didn't add as much as the Indians. They didn't add enough to surpass Chicago. That's just how it is right now. They have no new players on offense, lots of question marks on that offense, one or maybe two above-average new pitchers, a bullpen that probably got worse between 2012 and now.
If you look at the hype and look at the facts, you realize they don't add up. Sports media people and famous blogging types who are Royals fans have overestimated this team every year for years and there isn't enough to say they'll finally get it right this year.
The hype is the hype and these guys will be a few games better but will underperform expectations and underperform the projections. It's just how these things go here. This isn't Wichita State. This isn't Florida Gulf Coast. This is the Kansas City Royals, and this roster, as built (for now and the near future) is not good enough to be a winning team.