Friday, January 23, 2009

Charting the Competition: The Royals

Yesterday, I wrote about the Twins' apparent offseason strategy of standing still and hoping they can improve from within enough to shoot past their divisional foes in 2009. This plan is dependent on other teams in the AL Central failing to make sufficient strides to surpass the Twins, who -- despite featuring a young and potentially improving roster -- aren't likely to be world-beaters in '09 as currently comprised. In yesterday's entry I concluded that the defending division champs are more likely to get worse than better in 2009 and as such have surrendered the thin advantage that allowed them to skim past the Twins last season. Today I continue my breakdown of the the AL Central with a look at the Royals.

Kansas City Royals: A Royal Head-Scratcher

Dayton Moore has been pretty active this offseason, making numerous moves guided by some apparent overarching strategy. It’s anybody’s guess just what that strategy is.

The Royals traded a reliever to bring in Mike Jacobs, a first baseman from Florida who brings power from the left side and little else. They traded another reliever to bring in Coco Crisp, who I’ll get to shortly. In an effort to fill the hole created in the bullpen by the departure of these two relievers, they handed a two-year deal worth $9.25 million to Kyle Farnsworth, who will turn 33 in April and is coming off three straight sub par seasons. They also signed Willie Bloomquist, who is basically a poor man’s Nick Punto.

There’s some talent amongst this group of newcomers, but it’s not clear what logic went into targeting these particular names. The Royals finished the 2008 season with a .320 OBP, which ranked third-worse in the AL. Moore showed no visible commitment to improving this grave issue. Bloomquist holds a .322 career OBP. Jacobs is at .318 (.299 last season). Crisp’s career OBP is .331, which isn’t horrendous but also isn’t adequate for a leadoff hitter, which is the role he’s likely to fill in the Kansas City lineup.

Here’s the other thing about Crisp. While a talented player, he’s awfully similar to someone the Royals already have: David DeJesus. The two outfielders are literally almost the same age (they were born within a month of one another), and Crisp’s .280/.344/.409 career hitting line isn’t much different from the .287/.360/.422 line that DeJesus has produced in six seasons. Crisp has more speed and is a better defender, but DeJesus is a superior hitter so the two basically even out. I’m not saying Crisp was a bad acquisition, but it strikes me as odd that one of Moore’s biggest offseason splashes was a trade that brings in a player so similar to one they already have when are there were larger holes to be filled.

What will make the Royals a dark horse candidate to contend this year is their pitching rotation. Zack Greinke and Gil Meche form a solid 1-2 punch at the top, and if young Luke Hochevar can take a step forward while Brian Bannister rebounds from an awful 2008 campaign, the Royals have the potential to surprise, especially with elite closer Joakim Soria slamming the door.

Still, this team has too many questions and too many holes to be viewed as a legitimate contender. The Twins remain safe for now.

Next week we’ll pick up with the Tigers.