Ned Yost and his flexible thumb

2014 Preview: Kansas City Royals


Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Kansas City Royals.

The Big Question: Are the Royals finally ready to contend?

Kansas City made a big jump last season, going from 76 to 86 wins while finishing above .500 for the first time since 2003 and just the second time since 1995. And yet the Royals still finished seven games behind the Tigers in the AL Central, were double-digit games out of first place on September 1, and were not within a half-dozen games of the division lead at any point after mid-July.

Gone is Ervin Santana, who departed as a free agent after a one-year stint in Kansas City in which he threw 211 innings with a 3.24 ERA. And gone is Luke Hochevar, who transitioned from awful starter to dominant reliever with a 1.92 ERA in 70 innings only to blow out his elbow and be lost to Tommy John surgery.

Kansas City is counting on Danny Duffy making a successful comeback from Tommy John surgery of his own to help replace Santana’s work in the rotation and the Royals are one of the few teams with the high-end bullpen depth to handle the loss of a setup man like Hochevar, but nearly 300 innings of sub-3.00 ERA pitching is always tough to replace even for a team that led the league in runs allowed last season.

Duffy has the upside to be an impact starter and James Shields is one of the elite right-handers in baseball entering his walk year, but the trio of Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, and Bruce Chen is severely lacking in upside. In other words, even if the bullpen remains elite the Royals figure to allow more runs in 2014 and will need the offense to step up to have any chance to surpass 86 wins.

The good news is that veteran offseason pickups Omar Infante and Norichika Aoki are solid additions atop the batting order and most of the lineup is still 27 years old or younger, including 23-year-old catcher Salvador Perez, 24-year-old first baseman Eric Hosmer, and 27-year-old designated hitter Billy Butler. The bad news is that guys like Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain haven’t shown much reason to believe in them and the middle of the lineup still lacks power.

Kansas City can absolutely improve on last year’s 648 runs scored–which ranked 11th in the league–but it’s hard to see where a huge step up would come from unless Hosmer breaks out in a gigantic way and if the offense scores 30-50 more runs only to see the pitching staff allow 30-50 more runs … well, that’s not going to lead to contention any more than last year’s version did.

What else is going on?

  • One factor that could dramatically change the Royals’ outlook is the arrival of two very good pitching prospects in Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer. Counting on young arms to immediately thrive in the majors is always iffy, but Ventura and Zimmer are among the elite pitching prospects in baseball and appear to be pretty close to MLB-ready. A second-half rotation with Shields, Duffy, Ventura, and Zimmer would look a whole lot different than the group likely to begin the season.
  • Of course, it’s possible that the second-half rotation won’t include Shields. He’s an impending free agent and there’s been no indication that the Royals will be able to work out an extension before he hits the open market, which makes trading him a real possibility if contenders offer up a big package of prospects. Letting him walk and collecting draft pick compensation is another option, but the Royals may decide they want more immediate help than draft picks would provide.
  • Guthrie, Vargas, and Chen will combine to make $21.5 million 2014 and $18.5 million in 2015–with Vargas being owed another $16 million in 2016/2017–so general manager Dayton Moore has certainly gone for the quantity over quality approach to the rotation while waiting for more young arms to arrive.
  • Royals closer Greg Holland should be talked about more as one of the best relievers in baseball. Combined from 2011-2013–which are his first three full seasons in the majors–Holland posted a 1.99 ERA, 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings, and a .196 opponents’ batting average. Among all pitchers with 150-plus innings during that time he ranked fifth in ERA, fourth in strikeout rate, and 10th in batting average against. He’s a stud and a big reason why the Royals’ bullpen, without or without Hochevar, is a huge strength.

Prediction: Better hitting, worse pitching, and overall similar to last season. Third place, AL Central.

Curt Schilling is already getting clobbered by Elizabeth Warren in the 2018 senate race

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27:  Former ESPN Analyst Curt Schilling talks about his ESPN dismissal and politics during SiriusXM's Breitbart News Patriot Forum hosted by Stephen K. Bannon and co-host Alex Marlow at the SiriusXM Studio on April 27, 2016 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

I realize it’s early. I realize that we have one big election coming up in less than two weeks and that 2018 may as well be 2218 as far as the election is concerned. But it’s probably worth mentioning that, at the moment, Curt Schilling isn’t doing too well in the Massachusetts Senate race.

To be fair, he hasn’t officially declared himself a candidate yet. He said he has to get the OK from his wife first. But as a famous Massachusetts resident, it’s not like he needs to spend a lot of time working on the stuff just-declared candidates do. He’s got name recognition bleeding out of his socks. Which makes this somewhat sobering:

It’s been many, many years since I worked on a political campaign, but I feel qualified to give Schilling some advice: more memes. Post as many political memes on Facebook as Twitter as you can. It doesn’t even matter if they’re true as long as they feel true to you. Right now the important thing is to mobilize the base.

Yep, fire everyone up. They’ll certainly flock to you then. Good luck, Curt.

Max Scherzer should clean his own dang house

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 11:  Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals looks on against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second inning during game four of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 11, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Getty Images

I work from home, so I end up doing a lot more stuff around my house than the other three people who live here. I do all the laundry. I do most of the cooking. I’ve increasingly delegated chores to the kids, but they don’t do a great job of it and I end up going after them and doing it again. That’s probably a bad long term plan, really, for them and for me, but it’s just how it goes.

However that all cuts, the fact remains: if you leave your crap laying around, it’s going to get washed or tossed, depending on what it is. Don’t get all mad telling me that you were going to wear that shirt that’s currently in the washing machine. If it was clean, it shouldn’t have been wadded up on your floor. If other stuff gets put away or disposed of, well, tough. Your things have places, so put your things in their places.

I mention all of this simply to head off sympathy for Nationals starter Max Scherzer, who almost lost a precious keepsake:

You don’t want your second no-hitter shirt thrown out? Get it put up in a frame or whatever it is you want to do with it. You leave it wadded up someplace, don’t expect it to stay there forever.

Not you go sleep on the couch. Mrs. Scherzer doesn’t work hard all day to take guff from you.