The Royals melted down in a lot of ways last year (right, Rany?), but the injuries piled up in a way that was destructive. They addressed the problem, swapping Nicks-trainer Nick Swartz “retired” and they brought in Nick Kenney from the Indians‘ excellent medical staff. Now, Kenney will need to focus on prevention, one of the strong suits of Cleveland’s approach. Like the Mets, the Royals seemed to be hardest hit in terms of losing their highest-value players, veterans like Gil Meche and Jose Guillen. The new medical staff will need to get in front of injuries, dealing with them early rather than the “deny and hope” strategy that failed them the last few campaigns, typified by what happened last year with Mike Aviles. However, this might not be Swartz’s issue-things weren’t nearly as bad before Trey Hillman came in, though saying that the state of affairs was “average” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of the Swartz era. Injury management isn’t just the province of the medical staff. We’ll see early if the Royals have really changed, since keeping an extended Zack Greinke healthy while bringing back Gil Meche will be key to any hope of improvement.
Days Lost: 930
Dollars Lost: $14,175,002.72
Injury Cost: $12,706,111.11
The Cost: The Royals were right around league average in 2009, losing $14.2 million due to injury. For the previous three years, Kansas City has lost around $36 million. The Royals’ biggest injury in terms of their cost in 2009 was Coco Crisp: the center fielder took up $3.5 million of those dollars lost. Unfortunately for Kansas City, Crisp’s replacement, Rick Ankiel, doesn’t make the trainer’s job any easier. The Royals spent $11 million on Ankiel, Jason Kendall, and Scott Podsednik in free agency; as a result, Kansas City may be paying for even more headaches for their training staff in 2010 with the additions of the two outfielders, and look to have sacrificed production for durability in the case of Kendall.
The Big Risk: Yes, I have a green-light player as the big risk. Greinke’s as unique as any single talent on the field can be, so if I compare him to Nolan Ryan, is that a good thing or bad? Like Ryan, Greinke missed essentially a couple seasons at the start of his career, the same sort of years that put mileage on young arms like Mark Prior, Jeremy Bonderman, and someone I’m watching closely this year, John Danks. Is it that we can’t keep any young pitcher healthy while putting up 200-inning seasons, or is it just that we don’t know how to do it, with the scattershot approaches teams are taking making it no easier to discern the proper one from mere randomness? I could say that Greinke’s likely to regress after such an amazing season, but that’s both Missouri heresy and probably wrong. The fact that Greinke carries inherent risk is more a plague on the house of baseball than any comment on Greinke himself.
The Comeback: A lot of people think Meche is coming back from shoulder surgery. No, Meche never went under the knife. His season was cut short, but there was no cutting in the offseason. Instead, he’s trying to rehab his way back to health. The biggest issue was an impingement inside his shoulder that was limiting his range of motion. The shoulder itself is a complex system that both allows for a free motion yet keeps everything contained. When the motion is reduced, something’s usually terribly wrong, so while Meche might be able to come back, the underlying issue could still be there. This is going to be a maintenance issue with Meche, requiring the day-to-day care often reserved for a race car. If Kenney and his staff can do for him what he helped do for Paul Byrd and others in Cleveland, Meche might be better than most expect.
The Trend: There’s no trend here, with a new medical staff. Still, don’t expect miracles. While Kenney is well thought of and comes from a solid team, he still has the same facilities and mostly the same players to deal with. Dayton Moore and Hillman were once thought of as progressive thinkers, smart guys with a balanced approach, yet the medical results went down further than the field results, which tells you just how bad things got here.
CF Rick Ankiel: Ankiel crossed Missouri and hopefully brought some outfield padding with him. The horrific crash Ankiel had derailed his final season in St. Louis, but it shouldn’t be that big a factor going forward. The biggest concern is that his shoulder never seemed right during the second half. If the power doesn’t come back in Surprise, there are going to be some big problems back in KC.
DH Jose Guillen: Guillen didn’t have surgery-sensing a theme here?-despite missing half the season with a knee problem that was never publicly explained. It’s hard to expect much more from Guillen unless they really keep him strictly at DH. Even then, that type of knee issue seldom goes all the way away. Expect occasional recurrences and days off-and that’s if things go well.
SP Gil Meche: See “The Comeback.”
C Jason Kendall: Kendall will likely be remembered more for his gruesome ankle injury than his remarkable run of health at the least-healthy position. He’s only a slight yellow-almost green-and has some skill that most catchers don’t. The amazing thing is that he doesn’t have any clue what it is-nor does anyone that’s watched him.
3B Alex Gordon: Gordon didn’t get back to playing good baseball after his hip surgery, but the surgery was declared a success. While he’s not A-Rod or Utley when healthy, he was once projected to be that good by scouts. It’s hard to say how much the surgery factors in here, but it’s the most likely cause to be sure. Gordon is said to be a creature of habit, so maybe it was just his timing that was off. A late-season surge and his age keep hope alive.
LF Scott Podsednik: Podsednik is many things, but after his first healthy season since 2006, the Royals were willing to think it was the injury-riddled seasons that were the fluke. It’s a bad gamble as he ages. On the plus side, his value is in his legs, and he’s never had problems there.
RF David DeJesus: DeJesus played through leg and back problems most of last season, and those injuries held back his speed, range, and power. He’s not Johnny Damon, but a new medical staff-one he’ll trust-could make a world of difference in terms of the kind of season he has this time out.
SP Luke Hochevar: Hochevar came apart at the seams in the second half, but the system sees that as an injury when it might just be that he got more out of whack than usual. He’s never been consistent, but being out of minor-league options is going to force the Royals to take their lumps. At 26, the innings jump he’s facing isn’t that big a deal, but the mechanical inconsistencies are.
SP Brian Bannister: Bannister didn’t have a formula for keeping his arm healthy last season, missing the last month with fatigue. He’s savvy enough to learn from the experience, but Bannister would be better off working on keeping his pitches down rather than his SIERA.
SP Kyle Davies: Davies probably isn’t good enough to really test the workload thresholds that would push him to red. He’s out of options, so the Royals are just hoping he does enough to let them get Aaron Crow ready.
1B Billy Butler
2B Alberto Callaspo
SS Yuniesky Betancourt: Sorry Royals fans, injury isn’t going to save you here.
SP Zack Greinke: See “The Big Risk.”
CL Joakim Soria
RP/SP Kyle Farnsworth: If Farnsworth makes it as a starter, I’m sure we’re going to hear a lot of people say, “I told you he could start!” For the record, I have never heard anyone suggest he could start. And I don’t think he can for long.
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"[Kendall's] only a slight yellowâ€”almost greenâ€”and has some skill that most catchers don't. The amazing thing is that he doesn't have any clue what it isâ€”nor does anyone that's watched him."
Clearly, Dayton and Trey figured it out! How else to explain the contract?
(Hey, I tried.)
In our previously published forecast, we had viewed him exclusively as a reliever, pitching just over 35 games with an ERA in the high 3's and close to a strikeout per inning. The low games projection is more of a reflection of his age (he turns thirty-four in April) than anything else mixed with consideration that he's coming off an injury shortened season in which he pitched only 37.1 innings. If somehow he were confirmed as a fairly solid member of the rotation heading into Opening Day, something that still seems to be a longshot at this point, we probably wouldn't go higher than about 25-26 starts projected for a pitcher who hasn't been a regular member of a starting rotation since his debut season with the Cubs way back in 1999.
From an effectiveness standpoint, however, he is probably good enough to be an above average starter. Naturally, his strikeout rate would fall working out of the rotation but if he could clear an average of 5 innings a start, I'd expect something around a rate of three quarters of a strikeout per inning and only the occasional home run given up. I'll be watching this development with great interest because he could join the ranks of the sleepers if he can get even 120-130 innings this season. More than anything, it's the durability that has me doubting it rather than the skill.