Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – KC Royals

Considering only current ability to win rather than value relative to salary, if one looks at the Royals’ roster long enough, focusing in the decent rotation, the closer, and a couple of young (-ish) position players with upside, one might convince oneself that this is a decently talented team. One would be wrong. The Royals currently have one of the worst major league rosters in the American League (thank you, Blue Jays rebuild!).

The starting rotation is actually pretty good. After the monstrous Zack Greinke, there is a sizable drop-off, but not to the depths. Gil Meche isn’t as good he was a couple of seasons ago, but he’s likely better than 2009, and may still be a decent #2 starter. Injuries are a serious concern for Meche, however. Injuries also loom over sabermetric darling Brian Bannister, who might be a marginal #3 starter. Luke Hochevar is unlikely to live up to the expectations generated by being the #1 overall pick in 2006, but he has a non-trivial chance of being above-average. The #5 spot is a question mark, but that is the case for many teams.

The two losers of the epic Kyle FarnsworthKyle DaviesRobinson Tejeda battle royale for the #5 spot will end up in the bullpen. While each might be worth (another) try in the rotation, Davies and Tejeda profile better as relievers, and Farnsworth profiles better as an object lesson in what kind of player not to sign to a multi-year deal. Joakim Soria‘s value, like that of most closers, is quite exaggerated, but he is one of the best relievers in the game, and keeps this group from being dreadful. For the ‘pen in front of Soria, the Royals have to hope some combination of Davies, Tejeda, and Carlos Rosa combined with the sunk costs of Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz turns into something useful in middle relief.

If the rotation looks like it could be above average (provided good health), and the bullpen looks mediocre-but-passable (mostly due to Soria), the position players look absolutely dreadful. Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, and David DeJesus are the only players projected to be above average, and while Butler can’t defend or run, Gordon isn’t the next George Brett, and DeJesus bothers people who think that defense in the corner outfield spots doesn’t matter, they are good players that could help most teams. It would be unfair to blame the Royals’ failures on Butler and Gordon not becoming superduperstars. I’ve run the numbers – if Butler and Gordon turned into Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, the 2010 Royals still wouldn’t project as a .500 team. The Royals have other useful pieces such as Alberto Callaspo, Chris Getz, and perhaps Rick Ankiel. However, far too much playing time and/or roster space is slated for players who are nearly worthless (Scott Podsednik and Jason Kendall), completely worthless (Yuniesky Betancourt and Willie Bloomquist) and worse than worthless (Jose Guillen). Yes, the Royals could (and should) better utilize stopgap role-players like Josh Fields, Kila Ka’aihue, Mike Aviles, Mitch Maier, and Brayan Pena, but a couple more wins would only make them less bad.

This might be understandable if the Royals were committed to a thorough rebuild, but current management has never seemed to grasp that notion, and the signing of thirty-something mediocrities (Ankiel) and scrubs (Podsednik, Kendall) doesn’t signal a change. Moreover, while Butler is still young, Greinke, Hochevar, and Gordon are all already in their mid-twenties, and Meche and DeJesus are all in their thirties (Bannister is 29), so the aging curve doesn’t offer much hope for 2010 or 2011. Significant help won’t be arriving from the minors anytime soon.

The 2010 Royals will probably win 70+ games in 2010, and some will hail this as improvement. Don’t be fooled, it is less “improvement” than positive regression. “Even” 74 wins is never a sign of a good team, particularly in the weak AL Central. The very fact that 74 wins appears to be improvement says as much about the current state of the team than any number of player analyses.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

15 Responses to “Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – KC Royals”

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  1. Decatur says:

    What have you learned so far about the Royals’ new medical staff? The Hardball Times “Five Questions” entry today said that trainer Nick Kenney (from the Indians’ org) has been brought in this offseason to revamp the staff.

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  2. Kenneth Weber says:

    I feel for any Royals fan, watching the Rockies in the early to mid 2000s was brutal, but eventually it passed and the stopgap players finally gave way to the prospects they were keeping the seat warm for. Unfortunatly, stopgaps are all that Kansas City has really been able to attract and produce. This team needs to focus the heavy majority of their spending money on their Scouting Dept. and Minor League instructors. By the time their new blood comes in, they seem like they’ve already adapted the losing mentality that surrounds the whole organization. KC has never really shown its commited to building from the ground up, instead they just stock pile middle of the road talent and create logjams at all of their corners, hoping somebody/anybody, ends up thriving, and overpaying for average pitching talent because thats the only way they can attract new faces. This franchise won’t turn around just by being bad enough to draft Bryce Harper or Jamison Taillon, they need to string years together of drafting 4-5 solid prospects a draft and commit themselves to having a plan at every level for each draft class in order to breed a stronger MLB team.

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    • geo says:

      Actually, Kenneth, the Royals last three drafts have all been quite strong. They have, however, concentrated mostly on high upside high schoolers, so it will take some time for those effects to be seen.

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  3. geo says:

    Brian Bannister is actually only 29, not in his thirties. An he just turned 29 a month ago, so it’s not like it really close to his thirtieth birthday or anything.

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  4. Matty says:

    Just out of curiosity, why do you say Robinson Tejeda profiles better in the bullpen? His performance got a big boost when he moved to the rotation late last season. He was able to keep his K rate high while cutting down (from early in his career) on his walks as a starter. I’m hoping he wins the 5th starter spot. Not that it will make much difference, of course.

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    • Good question. Are you the Matty from RR? We talked about it there. Real quick, Tejeda has big platoon splits. He did have some good starts last season… but remember Kyle Davies September 2008 and April 2009? Tejeda has an even longer history of teasing then falling apart inthe rotation. As I mention in passing, the Royals have nothing to lose by give Tejeda another go in the rotation of they think it’s worth a shot, but I’m skeptical of his abilities there.

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  5. mymrbig says:

    I think you are under-selling Alberto Callaspo a little. 2.8 WAR last year with both Chone and the fans projecting him to be average (Chone doesn’t give him a full season of playing time) and he doesn’t even get mentioned as an average player? I mean, just because the Royals might not give him a starter job doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be mentioned as an average player.

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    • I agree he’s around average, and I didn’t say he wasn’t above. I’m a Royals fan, I know about Callaspo — his surprising (and likely unrepeatable) power last season, his outstanding command of the strike zone, his lack of real defensive position (and his bat isn’t good enough to be worth DHing). I know what the projections are for his offense and defense. I was just in Arizona watching him stroke line drives. This was a ~600 review of the Royals in general, so I can’t go into detail on every player. An average player is a useful piece — yeah, he’s probably better than Getz, and definitely better than Ankiel, but given his trouble finding a position and projectability I think he’s more in their category than either above average players like Butler, DDJ, and Gordon or the “others” like Kendal, Pods, and Yuni. These are broad categories in a brief review — they aren’t that precise.

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  6. Jim says:

    Matt – Greetings from Tabor College. I got to know your father and mother through his service on the TC board. He was an inspiration to many … as is your mother. We purchased a wall hanging she made for a TC auction at Homecoming this past fall. I also like to swap Creative Memories stories (I’m a closet male scrapbooker!). My son, Joshua, and I have visited all 33 (including the three new ballparks in DC and NY) MLB parks and several minor league stadiums over the past five summers. I’ve chronicled our experiences in one large scrapbook, calculating everything from ejections to average game time temperatures. This summer’s tour will be brief, just four games in four days: 7/18 – TOR @ KC, 7/19-20 CLE @ MIN (to see the new Target Field), 7/21 PHI @ STL (I’m originally from Philadelphia and a die-hard Phillie Phanatic … graduated a year ahead of Jamie Moyer at Souderton Area HS).

    Appreciated your column about the Royals. We typically get to 8-10 games per summer … not an easy chore living nearly 3 hours from Kauffman Stadium. Tough continuing to watch a franishe that fields a combination of mediocre major league and AAA talent. We typically go to games based upon the opponent or promotional give-away … that pretty much says it all for the Royals. The refurbishing of the “K” makes the experience a bit more enjoyable.

    We have tickets for Saturday, April 10: Bos @ Royals and its a jersey giveaway. Two out of three (good visiting club, promotional giveawy) ain’t bad.

    Have a great day.

    Jim Elliott

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    • Wow, that’s an unusual message. Thanks for the kind words. Do you frequent FanGraphs? Not sure what to say here in public, so I’ll just stick to the Royals.

      I write a fair bit of stuff like this, but I am a Royals fan. What is most frustrating is that it is not hopeless — yes, the Royals face challenges in terms of revenue and budget relative to their rivals, but this isn’t like Oakland or Tampa Bay where they’re really making generally smart decisions and just running up against the wall. I’m told Dayton Moore is a nice, smart guy, and I don’t wish ill on anyone, but it’s been apparent since at least the Mike Jacobs signing, and probably before, that he’s just not up to the task.

      Fire them all.

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