Thursday, February 24, 2005

No One Said it Would Be Easy: Part Four

Today is the day that I will finally finish up my four-part miniseries previewing the Twins’ competition in the American League Central for 2005 (I’ve done the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, and Chicago White Sox already). Today’s will also be the shortest of the series, because, quite frankly, today’s team can hardly be considered a threat to the Twins in their quest for a four-peat.

Today’s Topic:The Kansas City Royals

Key Acquisitions:
Jose Lima (SP, F.A. from LA)
Chris Truby (3B, acq. as F.A)
Terrance Long (OF, acq. via trade with S.D.)
Eli Marrero (OF, acq. from Atl.)

Key Losses:
Darrel May (SP, traded to S.D.)
Joe Randa (3B, signed with Cin.)
Benito Santiago (C, traded to Pitt.)

2004 Season: 58-104, 34 GB Twins

Pre-Spring Training Outlook:
The 2004 season, which began as a hopeful one for the Royals, ended exactly the way many believed it would before the team’s surprising 2003 showing: with Kansas City in last place. The Royals made a valiant effort to improve their team last offseason, but it appears now that 2003 might have been one of the flukiest seasons in recent baseball memory (in case you forgot, the Royals won 83 games that year and led the division until late summer).

This past winter, Royals’ GM Alard Baird harbored no such delusions of grandeur. The Royals are in full-blown rebuilding mode, just as they should be. This is apparent just by glancing at their “Key Acquisitions” from this winter—Jose Lima might only be an upgrade in the rotation for a team that doesn’t expect to win many ballgames. 21-year old wunderkind Zack Greinke is about the only thing this team has going for it right now. Simply put, this guy is amazing. He has outstanding control and can change speeds like a 20-year veteran, and I think the Greg Maddux comparisons are very appropriate in his case. The rest of the Royals’ rotation is decidedly mediocre on a good day, so if you’re going to see Kansas City play the Twins this year, pick a day that Greinke is pitching. You won’t be disappointed.

Kansas City’s offense is also well below average. Mike Sweeney is a force to be reckoned with when healthy, but that has not been the case for quite some time. Matt Stairs had a productive 2004 season but is still no more than a Ron Coomer-type player (circa 1997). Centerfielder David DeJesus has potential, but still needs to show that he can produce offensively over an entire season.

The Royals’ bullpen will also undoubtedly be the worst in the division this year. I like the arm of Jeremy Affeldt, who will enter the season as the de facto closer, but other than him, not one of KC’s projected bullpen arms would even make the roster of the Twins or Indians.

I’ve drawn a little bit of heat for my predictions thus far in the preview series, but of today’s I am fairly confident: the Royals will once again lose 100 games and finish in last place in the Central. Their offense is shoddy, their rotation thin, and bullpen weak. Doesn’t get much worse than that, does it? This team has enough young players where they could potentially get better in the not-so-distant future, but I think there is almost no chance of that happening this year.