Read the methodology behind the ratings here. Remember that the grading scale is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.
2012 Organizational Rankings
Kansas City’s 2011 Ranking: 25th
2012 Outlook: 45 (20th)
For the first time in a while, the Royals’ hitting pre-season hitting projects to be pretty good. The offense was quietly above average in 2011 (102 wRC+), and while regression is to be expected from player like Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur, one can also expect improvement from exciting young players like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
The loss of Salvador Perez for a large chunk of the season will probably hurt defensively as well as offensively, but if Hosmer can start living up to his reputation in the field to go along with the strong defensive work expected from Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain, the fielding should also good on balance.
So is Kansas City ready to take a shot at Detroit in 2012?
“Anything can happen” qualifications aside, the answer is probably “no.” While bullpen talent is deep enough to weather the loss of closer Joakim Soria, the starting pitching is simply dreadful. (Yes, even aside from Bruce Chen‘s Opening Day start, but enough of that.) Felipe Paulino was a tremendous pickup for the Royals last season, and hopefully they will resist the temptation to move him to the bullpen.
The rest of the rotation is uninspiring. Even if Chen can recapture the magic of 2011, Jonathan Sanchez and Luke Hochevar, despite a few exciting moments over the last couple years, are at the point where they are basically stopgaps with a little bit of upside (and a whole lot of walks in Sanchez’s case). Danny Duffy is a promising young pitcher in some ways, but after being one of the few Royals pitching prospects to pitch well above High-A, he was mostly bad in his major-league debut. In any case, few think he has potential to be more than a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. There is some potential in the high minors, but little that will help the team contend this season.
For all the justified optimism about the Royals young talent, without a single legitimate #1 or #2 pitcher in the majors (and maybe not even a #3), it is doubtful that this team is even as good as Cleveland in 2012, let alone Detroit.
2013+ Outlook: 57 (7th)
I thought I was more optimistic about the Royals than some of my colleagues, but just about everyone agrees that, at least in terms of young talent, the Royals are stacked. There may be concerns about the Royals’ difficulties in producing starting pitchers who pitch well in the minors or majors once they leave the hurler haven of High-A Wilmington, but pitching prospects are a dicey lot anyway. There is still plenty of upside lurking in players like Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, and Jake Odorizzi, despite various difficulties.
But if the pitching could still go either way, The Best Farm System in the History of Whatever did manage to produce at least one player pretty much everyone is high on: Eric Hosmer. Mike Moustakas was mostly bad in the majors last season, but came on strong at the end of the season. While there is Shea Hillenbrand potential there, there is also some Matt Williams potential, too. Moustakas will probably come out in between.
Despite the injury to Salvador Perez, his extension probably saved the Royals plenty of money, and even if he never becomes more than a .300 wOBA hitter, his fielding should make it a good deal. Alcides Escobar looks sort of like an evolutionary Adam Everett, but his extension makes that acceptable. And whatever ends up happening with Joakim Soria, the system has started to produce some real bullpen talent, from the overrated-but-still-good Aaron Crow to the underrated-and-tremendous Greg Holland.
If that all sounds exciting, think about this: even after the graduation of Hosmer, Moustakas, and Duffy, most analysts still rank the Royals’ farm system as one of the best in the game.
And all that is without mentioning that pre-Dayton Moore draftee Billy Butler is still around for the next few seasons, and Alex Gordon is still under team control through 2013. The Royals have some obstacles to cross, but if 2012 is still a year in transition, 2013 could really be the start of something if one or two of the minor league pitchers
Financial Resources: 39 (25th)
Perhaps my Royal Blue glasses are clouding my vision, but part of me thinks my colleagues have been a bit harsh on the Royals here. The team currently has less than $30 million in salary committed in 2012, less than $20 million in 2014, and less than $10 million after that. Of course, that does not include arbitration raises and potential extensions for, e.g., Alex Gordon, but there are no obvious albatrosses currently on the payroll. In that sense, at least, the Royals are well-off financially.
On the other hand, the Royals average just over 20,000 per home game and currently have an unimpressive TV situation. Fans say that the team will draw once they start winning, but it’s been a while since that has actually been tested, so (hopefully for Royals fans) we will see. David Glass has mostly repented in action from his formerly stingy ways (particularly when it comes to signing amateur talent). However, it seems that the Royals are unlikely to go over $70 million in payroll in the near future barring a new influx of annual income. Even in the American League Central, that is not going compete on the free agent market very often.
Baseball Operations: 46 (21st)
The Royals have been the butt of many jokes here and elsewhere throughout the nerdosphere the last few seasons, and much of it was well-deserved. While I was among the greatest offenders in that respect in the past, I might be a bit more optimistic than some with respect to the organization’s future. For me, at least, this has less to do with the organization supposedly embracing more cutting-edge sabermetric research (we’ll see), and more to do with personally coming to believe that the “talent spread” between front offices is less pronounced than I thought in the past. Moreover, while we like to emphasize evaluating front office process over the results, given how little we really know about the processes, any sort of measurement becomes very difficult, so I am (subjectively) inclined to regress my evaluations of front office pretty heavily to the mean.
The most important part of building just about any baseball team, especially outside of the Northeast, is player development. While the jury is not out quite yet, the evidence so far says that Dayton Moore and his staff are excellent in choosing and cultivating young talent. Whether they will be able to adjust to a new draft system in which paying over-slot is restricted will be interesting to watch, but so far, they have done well. The Perez and Escobar contracts this off-season, as well as the Butler and Greinke deals in the past, show that the team understands that it is important to lock up young talent early (although this is far from exceptional these days).
However, while those things are among the most important aspects of running a team like the Royals, for them to contend with decent regularity, the team has to do better in all areas. Dayton Moore and his team had success in 2011 with cheap signings of Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera. As I have pointed out before, this does not erase their past failures on the free agent market any more than Christian Colon cancels out their past draft successes. The Rays, for example draft very well, but also constantly get bargains on the free agent market and in trade. For the most part, the Royals are still waiting to do that. Not jumping the gun in the free agent market prior to this season seems like a good sign, but it is hard to tell whether that was because the front office really thinks that 2013 or 2014 is the year, or whether they were simply strapped for cash.
The Royals have got the “one big thing” figured out for now. But numerous “little” things — the return of Yuniesky Betancourt who is now magically on the way to starting, extending Francoeur rather than trading him, the Giavotella demotion, holding on to Soria long after he was at the peak of his trade value, to list just a few, understandably engender doubts about whether a front office that understands rebuilding is really ready for the Prime Time of contention.
Overall: 45 (22nd)
As a fan of a particular team writing on a blog that is not team-specific, there may be a tendency to be too harsh on “your” team when they are doing poorly, and too optimistic when things are going well. For the first time since I started writing here, I may be more optimistic about the Royals chances than most of my colleagues. Heck, Brian Sabean’s Giants won the World Series in 2010, who are we to say that Dayton Moore’s Royals can’t contend in the American League Central, home of the Flawed and Mediocre. Yes, the Royals are in the the bottom third of our rankings, and the franchise’s revenue limits as well as memories of Jose Guillen and Mike Jacobs understandable beget skepticism.
Despite the relatively low ranking the ranks, more legitimate hope currently lurks around Royaldom than in years. The Contest is long over, Dayton. Don’t blow it.