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September 16, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Kansas City Royals

by Tommy Bennett, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade -- whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward an immediate 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central, and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the Kansas City Royals goodbye.


The overview

Just about everything went wrong for the Royals this year. Their offense was stagnant for most of the season, as expected, and Kansas City's pitching never really materialized at the level that the Royals needed to be relevant; the Royals went into play on Thursday as one of only two teams in the majors with an ERA over 5.00. Manager Trey Hillman was fired and Jose Guillen—the team's most expensive player—was designated for assignment before being dumped in a trade. Even Zack Greinke—who seemed to rise about Kansas City's troubles in 2009 to single-handedly lift the team—seemed frustrated at times, speaking out loud about his uncertainty about whether he will be around if and when the Royals are contenders again.

In positive news, Joakim Soria capitalized on the relatively few opportunities he had to finish games and established himself as arguably the best AL closer not named Mariano Rivera. Soria has averaged more than a strikeout per inning this year, and opponents have posted a .577 OPS against him this year. And Wilson Betemit, a 28-year-old who has long been seen as a promising hitter, has had an excellent season for the Royals, with an on-base percentage close to .400.

Like the Pirates, the Royals have gaping holes in their roster, needing long-term solutions at catcher, both middle infield spots, third base, three places in their rotation, and some middle relievers. But unlike the Pirates, the Royals appear to have a tremendous wave of talent almost ready to arrive, like third baseman Mike Moustakas and first baseman Eric Hosmer. "They're loaded," said one GM, who compared the high level of talent in the Royals' system to what the Rays had in 2005 and 2006.

A major question for the Royals, however, is whether this talent will begin to blossom in the big leagues before—or after—the team is compelled to consider taking offers for Greinke.—Buster Olney, ESPN Insider


Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: Billy Butler, the current position player most likely to contribute to the next winning Royals team, continued to improve his approach at the plate. The right-handed designated hitter increased both his batting average and walk rate while sharply reducing his strikeout rate. Although his power numbers dipped slightly, Butler's superior discipline at the plate in 2010 should pay big dividends in the future.

The key number: 1.83. The pitching staff's strikeout/walk ratio—which led to plenty of baserunners. Allowing the second-highest rate of hits per inning meant that many of those runners scored, which helps explain why the Royals have allowed a whopping 5.3 runs per game.

What went wrong: The 2010 Royals were designed to hit singles, and singles just don't win ballgames. The team's offense has ranked third in batting average (.274) in the AL, but just 10th in runs scored. Meanwhile, almost every starting pitcher on the team took a step backward from 2009. Greinke lost the ability to use his breaking ball as an out pitch, Luke Hochevar landed on the disabled list, Brian Bannister has allowed more earned runs than he recorded strikeouts, and Kyle Davies carried over his grim 2009 performance into 2010.

What won't happen again: It's unlikely that future squads will be staffed by a group of players that so uniformly resemble reheated leftovers. With the departures of Guillen, Scott Podsednik and Alberto Callaspo, the team is poised to enter 2011 with a younger profile and a lighter payroll.—Tommy Bennett, Baseball Prospectus


Rumor Central: 2011 options

Possible targets: Greinke knew exactly what he was doing in August when he expressed his doubts about the speed of the Royals' youth-based rebuilding plan. The franchise pitcher is under contract only through 2012 and wants some improvement right away. The Royals need to make some sort of splash to keep Greinke and the fan base happy, and it can't hurt to add some offensive pop to a lineup that ranks 27th in home runs. Why not overpay a little for Adam Dunn and make him a full-time DH? The Royals were very interested in outfielder Jeff Francoeur before he landed in Texas, and one late-season report speculates that he is headed to Kansas City in 2011—the Dayton Moore connection lives on. Catcher Jason Kendall won't be back until early next season, so a free-agent signing such as Bengie Molina could be a stopgap measure.

Keeper league: The Royals were shopping up-and-coming outfielder David DeJesus before his season-ending injury in July, but it is more likely they will pick up his option at the bargain price of $6 million. The Royals are optimistic about their pitching further down the system, but Greinke could use some help now, particularly if the Royals decide not to tender Davies and/or Bannister. Hochevar showed some improvement this season and figures to stick around in 2010. Look for the Royals to again look for a diamond-in-the-rough signing, a strategy that worked well last offseason with Podsednik, who hit over .300 before being shipped to the Dodgers.—Doug Mittler, ESPN Insider

Keep up with Rumor Central year-round here.


Organizational future

No system has more impact-level prospects than the Royals, but the one most likely to make some big league noise in 2011 is Moustakas. The second overall pick in the 2007 draft put it all together this year, tying for the minor league lead with 36 home runs while batting .322/.369/.630 across Double- and Triple-A. No player in the minor leagues can match his bat speed, and while some are concerned with his free-swinging ways, he's such a good hitter that it's not going to matter. One scout needed just three words to put it succinctly: "Kid's gonna mash."—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

6 comments have been left for this article.

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