by Jason Martinez
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KANSAS CITY ROYALS OFFSEASON PREVIEW
A very thin starting pitching staff got even thinner when Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino, who were both pitching very well, were lost early in the season to Tommy John surgery. Combine that with Eric Hosmer's unexpected sophomore slump and injuries that cost Lorenzo Cain and Sal Perez more than half the season, and the Royals ended up losing at least 90 games for the fourth consecutive year. They finished 3rd in a weak AL Central, making their struggles that much more frustrating for Royals fans who expected a young and talented team to be competitive and were probably just a few decent starting pitchers short of doing so.
The good news is that the young core of the team returns with one more year of experience under its belt and pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi appears ready to fill one of the massive holes in the rotation. If General Manager Dayton Moore can do what he failed to do last offseason and acquire a frontline starter, or maybe even two reliable mid-roation guys, this team will not only be fun to watch again, they should be able to win a lot more ballgames than they lose.
STARTING LINEUP ANALYSIS
Barring any injuries or trades, no major changes are expected in the Opening Day starting lineup with seven of the nine spots likely set in stone. Second base isn't set and neither is right field, although Jeff Francoeur is signed for one more season at $7.5 million while top prospect Wil Myers will likely be held in Triple-A another month or two to push back his arbitration clock and free agency by a year. Expect Myers to take Francoeur's starting job sometime no later than June 1, 2013.
At second base, the Royals have pretty much made it clear that Johnny Giavotella, who has a career .823 OPS in the minors, is not in the team's future plans for reasons not entirely clear. He has rarely been given regular playing time despite the struggles of a number of light-hitting infielders who have played ahead of him (Chris Getz, Yuniesky Betancourt, Tony Abreu). With this in mind, it wouldn't surprise me to see the team pursue an upgrade at the position. Marco Scutaro and Kelly Johnson are the top second basemen on the free agent market.
STARTING PITCHING ANALYSIS
Re-signing veteran Jeremy Guthrie, who came over in a July swap (acquired from Colorado for Jonathan Sanchez) of very disappointing starting pitchers, appears to be in the plans. Once he got out of the thin air of Coors Field, the 33 year-old was every bit the guy the Rockies hoped he would be when they acquired him before the season. In 14 starts with the Royals, Guthrie had a 3.16 ERA with 19 BB and 56 K in 91 innings.
Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Luis Mendoza, and Odorizzi are the leading candidates for rotation spots, although Hochevar has to be a non-tender candidate after allowing 34 ER in 32 innings over his last six starts to finish the season with a 5.73 ERA. Will Smith leads a group of internal back-of-the-rotation candidates who could also compete for a spot if there's one to be had. Ideally, there won't be because Moore would have acquired a #1 starter before the season starts. Bringing Zack Greinke back is probably a long shot but the team could sign someone from the second tier of free agent starters. Kyle Lohse or Shaun Marcum, who was born in Kansas City, raised in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, and attended college at Missouri State University, could make sense.
The team's 1st Round draft pick in 2012, Kyle Zimmer out of the University of San Francisco, could move quick but it's unrealistic to think he could help much in 2013. Duffy and Paulino could help in the second half, although recovery from Tommy John surgery can be unpredictable so don't count on them just yet. Don't count out John Lamb, a lefty who was emerging as one of the organization's top prospects before Tommy John surgery in June 2010 put his pitching career on hold. He returned to pitch in a few lower level minor league games late this season and he should be back at full strength in either Triple-A or Double-A to start the 2013 season.
RELIEF PITCHING ANALYSIS
The Royals' bullpen depth proved to be as deep as any team in the league. Closer Joakim Soria was lost to Tommy John surgery before the season started. No problem. Jonathan Broxton stepped right in and held the job until he was traded to the Reds in late July. No problem. Greg Holland took over as the closer and also did a terrific job. The 26 year-old saved 16 games while posting a 2.96 ERA with 34 BB and 91 K in 67 innings. He might not be ready to give up the job anytime soon. With Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, and Louis Coleman each capable of shutting down opponents late in the game, it's likely that the team declines the $8 million club option to bring back Soria so they can re-allocate the salary into the starting rotation. They are reportedly interested in bringing him back on a lesser deal, which makes sense considering he may not be ready to start the season.
TOP OFFSEASON PRIORITIES
1 Starting Pitcher
2 Starting Pitcher
2012 HITTING STATS
2012 PITCHING STATS