Royals: Fielding a Winning Team in 2013

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Take a trip into my basement and in the far corner, you’ll find an old blue tub full of baseball cards from my youth. Topps. Donruss. Upper Deck. I loved buying baseball cards at the Kwik Shop. It cost $.50 a pack back then. Affordable for a 12-year-old.  Plus you got a dry, hard stick of gum with every purchase. I’d blow bubbles as I flipped through my new cards, hoping to get a Rated Rookie or some other gem. Then I would try to trade our doubles for a card I didn’t have but wanted.

“I’ll give you a Dave Righetti and Willie Randolph for your George Brett.”

Ah, George Brett. I loved watching him hit, leaning back before exploding through the ball with his smooth left-handed stroke. I started following the Royals in 1987. I know, I know, I missed their world championship. But as an eighth grader in Omaha, I began to show an interest in watching baseball and decided to follow the Royals because they were close to home. Besides, we had their Triple A team playing in front of empty bleachers at Rosenblatt Stadium. My parents would take us to a few games each year.

I loved watching Bo Jackson, Bret Saberhagen, Mark Gubicza, Willie Wilson, Frank White. Kurt Stillwell was my favorite shortstop. Kevin Sietzer played third better than anyone, I thought. I loved the makeup of the team, and even though they didn’t make it to the playoffs (stupid Oakland A’s always had a better record in the Western Conference), they were routinely one of the best teams in baseball.

If only they had the wild card back then. I wouldn’t STILL be waiting to watch the Royals in the postseason.

It’s been a LOOOOOONG 25 years of fan futility for me. Despite the frustrations, I still follow my Boys in Blue and believe next year is the year they finally make it to the playoffs.  But to do it, there are several things they need to do first.

1)      Trade Billy Butler.

I love the guy. I really do. Our only All Star this year is a Royal through and through, and he can really hit the ball. The problem? That’s all he does. He doesn’t play the field and hits into too many double plays. Histrade value will never be higher, and I believe the Royals can get a really good starting pitcher for him. The Red Sox are looking to retool the roster and would jump at the next David Ortiz. Besides, we have a TON of great hitters in the minor leagues, hitters who can also play the field, and I believe players like Clint Robinson, David Lough and even Johnny Giavotella could fill that DH hole in the line-up.

2)      Get rid of Luke Hochevar

Despite the occasional flash of brilliance on the mound, the guy has not been able to figure it out.  He has the ability to give up seven runs in two innings and completely deflate the hopes of his teammates and the fans. If he were more consistently competitive I’d say keep him as a fourth or fifth starter, but putting up with his mediocrity does more bad than good. Instead, sign Jeremy Gutherie to a two-year deal (he’s been lights out since that trade from Colorado) and bring up Jake Odorizzi. The Butler trade will get you a great third starter and then you can decide between Will Smith, Luis Mendoza, Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy to fill out the starting rotation.

3)      Start Wil Myers

He ripped up minor league pitching and he is ready for the big time. I totally agree with not bringing him up this year.  The Royals roster is full of prospects that need protection from the Rule 5 draft and getting Will a few at bats will not make any difference for next year.  He’ll face major league pitching in training camp and be ready to go next April.  I would argue that you start him in right field and either trade Jeff Francouer or put him in a utility role.  He has great value with his fielding (he has one of the best, if not THE best, outfield arm in MLB), and despite his slump this year, he can still rip the ball pretty well.  The Royals also have Jarrod Dyson who can play an outfield utility role, so it might be best to trade Francouer for a couple minor league pitchers.

4)      Make Greg Holland your closer.

I know Joakim Soria is coming back next year from Tommy John surgery, but to throw him back to the closer role would be a disservice to him and Holland. Soria was struggling with his control before the injury and while he might one day regain his All Star form and move back to the closer role, I think having Soria set up Holland would make for a great one-two punch at the end of the game next year. Holland has all the tools to be a great closer, and it’ll be fun to see him continue to evolve into that role.

5)      Bring back Zach Grienke

Finally, if the Royals truly want to go to the playoffs next year (and maybe the World Series), they need to bring back Grienke. Open up the checkbook and pay the man what he’s worth. He is still a true number one starter and with a better supporting cast, I think he’d be willing to come back. Think of this rotation: Grienke, Odorizzi, Gutherie, Duffy, Paulino/Smith. That’s a solid rotation. As long as the hitters hit, I can see the Royals winning 90-100 games next year with this rotation/bullpen/line-up.

All of this is dependent on Eric Hosmer regaining his rookie form and Mike Moustakas bettering his average and slugging numbers. Alex Gordon needs to avoid another early season slump and Lorenzo Cain needs to stay healthy. Salvy Perez needs to keep hitting at his current torrid pace and Johnny Giavotella needs to grab the second base spot. And Alcides Escobar needs to keep doing what he does in the field and at the plate.

Hope. It’s weird to use that word with the Royals, but next year, I think we’ll finally be able to say it – and believe it – without having all the doubters roll their eyes. And if they do, we’ll just tell them, I told you so, next October!

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