Get ready Royals fans. The losing tradition that has followed Kansas City Royals baseball since the late 80’s is about to become extinct. Over the years, fans have lost faith in our boys in powder blue, and understandably so. We’ve seen a managerial change every 2-4 years, repeated finishes in the AL Central cellar, and All Star calibre players traded away for prospects that never pan out. For the past few years we’ve heard all about the loaded farm system, the minor league championships and the top 5 draft picks. But still, the major league club has been one of the worst in the majors over the last decade. But finally, the wait is over. The Kansas City Royals future, for the first time, can be seen on opening day of the 2012 season.
You say: “This is the Royals, for crying out loud, they’ll never be a winning team again.”
Realistically, if you look within the division, the Royals are in a good spot. There isn’t really a clear cut number two team behind the Detroit Tigers. The hot start Cleveland Indians faded mightily down the stretch, losing their final 4 games and 6 of their final 10 to finish two games below .500. The Chicago White Sox are in a rebuilding of sorts after loud mouth manager Ozzie Guillen packed his bags and took the talents of the staff ace Mark Burhle with him to South Beach. It’s tough to say what first year manager Robin Ventura can bring to this club. Then there’s the Twins. They have two excellent hitters (Morneau and Mauer) who can’t stay healthy. They lost solid bats in Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer via free agency. I don’t see how Ron Gardenhire can mold this team into a playoff contender again without some major changes. The Royals are in a perfect spot to catch some teams by surprise and a 2nd place finish for the leagues youngest team is not out of the question. Watch for all the MLB projections to come out in the next few months and don’t be shocked to see the Royals up near the top of the division.
You say: “Yeah well as soon as their players become stars they’ll just trade them away.”
This used to be a legit concern. Anyone who still uses this reasoning for why the Royals won’t win is still living in 2002. Get with the program! Former GM Alan Baird built the tradition of selling high and getting minimal return. Not anymore. Dayton Moore has built this team from the ground up. The Royals have been one of the most active teams in all of baseball in international scouting and spending via the draft. They’ve overpaid for draft picks in order to lock down talented youth. The investment is starting to flourish. So after the painstaking years of throwing money into the grooming of youth talent of our system, it would be ludicrous to sell them away. In the recent seasons we’ve seen GMDM lock up lights out closer Soria and doubles machine Billy Butler. He’s spent loads of money to make sure we sign high draft picks like Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and most recently, 5-tool talent Bubba Starling. Moore’s current project is working out an Alex Gordon extension after his breakout season. It’s apparent that Moore intends to keep our core group of players together. If there are any big names being swapped away via trade (ala Melky Cabrera) it’ll be for an impact prospect or major league contributor instead of middle class prospects like we saw throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
You say: “This team is too young to be successful. The core group of guys need more seasoning.”
Again, a legit concern for the 2012 club, especially in the starting rotation. But keep in mind that this group of players have played together for several seasons and, most importantly, they’ve been successful at every level. These kids, most of whom will be in the lineup come opening day, have dominated the minor league system. Last season, even though the elite prospects were already in the bigs, both the Omaha (AAA) and Arkansas (AA) affiliates won their divisions and made the minor league championships. The Royals will have 4 positional players (all infielders) entering their sophomore campaigns. The old men in the starting group are Gordon and Frenchy, both of whom had excellent seasons defensively (with Gordon winning a gold glove in LF – his first full season at the position). In fact, Gordon and Francoeur finished 1-2 in the majors in OF assists. Alcides Escobar, the oldest of all infielders at 25 years old, led the majors in putouts at the shortstop position and he has multiple gold gloves in his near future. The projected starting lineup of the 2012 Royals has an average age of 25 years old. Let that sink in for a minute. The major difference between the 2012 Royals and the Royals of the past is that this seasons squad expects to win. They’ve done it at every level and it won’t be long before they take the AL Central and, perhaps, the AL Pennant. You can enter your own “Angels in the Outfield” quip here, but still, the dream season could actually happen. The talent is there and it won’t take long for this group to learn how to win at the big league level and when they do, watch out!