September 16, 2011
Kansas City Royals
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 from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski, and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.
Today we show the door to the Kansas City Royals, who nursed their vaunted minor-leaguers to the majors and experienced the corresponding growing pains. It's time to kiss them goodbye.
Baseball Prospectus' Take
Signs of disaster: Live by the prospect, die by the prospect. Left-hander John Lamb, rated the organization's No. 2 prospect by Baseball Prospectus, underwent Tommy John surgery in June. Lefty Mike Montgomery, the No. 5 prospect, struggled to a 5.32 ERA at Triple-A Omaha. A third left-hander, No. 6 prospect Chris Dwyer, had finished at Double-A in 2010 but failed to rise another level in 2011, posting a 5.60 ERA. Young lefties often struggle with command, and Tommy John surgery isn't as perilous as it used to be, so these disappointments are likely transient. Still, starting pitching remains the biggest hurdle for the rebuilding Royals—their starters' ERA of 4.94 was second-worst in the league—and the setbacks suggest just how difficult it will be to generate a contending team almost entirely from within.
Signs you can ignore: The shockingly robust season from Melky Cabrera and perhaps that of Jeff Francoeur, as well. The Royals took a flier on these disappointing mid-20s veterans and were rewarded with seasons that were shockingly good given their resumes. Both remain impatient hitters who are dependent on putting the ball in play to just the right spot for a positive result. This approach hasn't worked for them in the past and likely for at least one of them it won't work again in the future. The most likely candidate for regression is Cabrera; Francoeur has been productive at times in the past. Cabrera also retains a couple of key weaknesses—he is a switch-hitter who is a far weaker hitter from the right side of the plate, and he is badly miscast in center field, where his strong arm doesn't make up for his lack of range. The Royals missed an opportunity by not flipping one of the two at the trading deadline while they still had some value. Instead, they gave Francoeur a two-year extension. —Steve Goldman, Baseball Prospectus
Bowden's Bold Move
The Royals also should consider moving Crow to the starting rotation next year because of his three above-average pitches. He was drafted as a starter, and good starters are harder to find than good relievers. They also shouldn't be afraid to promote young starting pitching prospects even if a couple are no more than fringe big-leaguers. Allow them to develop like position players Moustakas, Hosmer, and Perez did this year.
If the Royals want to make a splash, they should dangle closer Joakim Soria to try and acquire a starting pitcher. Soria is signed at a reasonable rate through 2014 and could be a huge asset to a team trying to win now.
However, the Royals' boldest move this offseason—if they can't make a Soria deal—should be no move at all. They must have the strength to walk away from free agency empty handed and continue emphasizing player development and scouting. They are making great progress, and a bad free-agent acquisition like the Gil Meche signing in December 2006 or a bad trade that involves a top prospect like Myers or Montgomery would be a huge mistake. Unless they can make a deal to trade for young starting pitchers with upside, they should just let the kids develop. Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don't make. —Jim Bowden
Hopes and Fears
Worst-case scenario: 66-96
That's a trio of five-star prospects who ended the season with a lot of questions about their future—so much, in fact, that the Royals have already talked about trading prospects for established starting pitchers as opposed to being able to solely depend on what's in house. Best system is recent memory? Fantastic. Turning all of those players into productive big leaguers? Impossible. —Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus.