A person who does not have all his faculties is said to be “missing a few cards.” The perennial cellar-dwelling Kansas City Royals enter the 2011 campaign missing not only their ace, but a few picture cards as well.
The Royals lost 95 games last season and again finished in the AL Central basement. But instead of trying to acquire established big-league players during the offseason, they traded 2009 Cy Young winner Zach Greinke and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt to the Milwaukee Brewers for four quality young prospects.
Baseball analysts have been drooling about the Royals’ young talent for some time, and the team only added to its stockpile with this latest trade. Kansas City farmhands now comprise 12 percent of MLB'com's top 50 prospects.
Unfortunately, only a handful of those prospects are ready for prime-time playing.
Billy Butler has already established himself as a fine professional hitter. The pudgy first-baseman is coming off a fine 2010 campaign where he hit .318 with 15 HR, 45 doubles and 78 RBI.
Butler led a Kansas City offense that surprisingly had a .274 batting average, which was second highest in the majors.
The Royals also possess a first-rate closer in Joakim Soria, who collected 43 saves in 46 opportunities to go along with a sparkling 1.78 ERA.
But, other than Soria and the now departed Greinke, the pitching was abysmal. Kansas City was next-to-last in the league with a 4.97 ERA. Opponents hit a sizzling .276 against the club, which was also next-to-last.
A starting rotation of Gil Meche, Vin Mazzaro, Kyle Davies, Sean O’Sullivan and John Lamb is not going to strike fear in many AL Central hitters.
Meche made just nine starts last season because of injury and finished with a 0-5 record and a bloated 5.69 ERA. Davies was 8-12 with a 5.34 ERA in 32 starts. Without Greinke, those two right-handers will anchor the pitching staff.
Of course, defense also played a part in Kansas City’s troubles. The Royals registered a .980 fielding percentage last season, which was the 25th poorest mark in the league.
The Royals added two serviceable hitters who will attempt to hold down the fort until their boatload of prospects step up.
Jeff Francoeur will try to fit into Kansas City’s powder blue uniform after having weight issues last season. The 27-year-old outfielder batted .249 with 13 HR and 65 RBI while splitting time with the Mets and Rangers.
Melky Cabrera will likely hit in front of Francoeur in the lineup and play left field. Cabrera hit .255 with just four round trippers and 42 RBI with the Braves last season.
Kansas City will play 23 of its first 34 games at Kauffman Stadium, where it went 38-43 last year. The early home games might give the Royals a chance to improve on a 21-31 start during the first two months of the 2010 campaign. The Royals’ interleague schedule will feature road games at San Diego, St. Louis and Colorado, and home contests against the Cardinals, Diamondbacks and Cubs.
The Royals were 8-10 against the National League last season, 12-24 versus southpaw starters and 55-71 against right-handers. They were 27-30 in one-run games and 10-8 in extra innings. The ‘over’ was 82-75-5 overall and 41-38-2 at home. Future book prices show Kansas City at 150/1 to win the World Series and 75/1 to capture the American League crown.
Though there has not yet been an over/under win total posted for the 2011 baseball season, it would be surprising if oddsmakers opened the Royals with more than their 67 wins from last season.