Kansas City Royals Second Half Preview

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At 37-47, the Royals had a less than stellar “first half” of the 2012 season. They’re currently in 4th place in the AL Central and 9.5 games back of the Chicago White Sox (47-38).

In what has been a notoriously weak division, the Royals have had many chances to control their own fate within the division. But thanks to a 12-game never-to-be-spoken-of-again losing streak, crippling injuries, terribly inconsistent starting pitching, and slumping bats, the Royals have yet to take that leap into contention. Currently, they’re on-pace for a 71-91 record.

Returning From the DL

The Royals are getting to key players back tonight to kickoff this half of the season. Both Lorenzo Cain and Chris Getz are scheduled to be in the lineup tonight as the Royals take on the White Sox.

Lorenzo Cain has been out since April 10th when he strained his left groin after running into the center field wall in Oakland. He was close to returning to the lineup in late April before he tore his left hip flexor during a rehab assignment with Northwest Arkansas, causing him to extend his stay on the DL until this past Monday.

Chris Getz has been able to see a little more playing time than Cain, even though he’s only played in 36 of the team’s 84 games (partly due to platooning with Yuni). Getz strained his left leg back in mid-June in the 1st inning of that glorious 15-inning win in St. Louis. In his place, the Royals have used Betancourt, Falu, and Giavotella. Before this stint on the DL, Getz was having a fairly good season – .290/.327/.380, 5 doubles, 2 triples, 8 RBI, 12 R, 6 SB (1 CS), and just 9 K to 6 BB. His ability to situationaly hit and steal bases will be welcome additions to a lineup starving to manufacture runs.

The Trade Deadline

The Royals are “sellers” now. Let’s just get that point out there from the get-go. Barring a miraculous winning streak, they’ll be battling it out with the Twins to say who can stay out of the AL Central cellar. But the Royals may have a few attractive trade pieces that could: a) bring value back in return; b) clear the way for a more deserving player; and c) invigorate the fan-base in what could be a long second half.

  • Jonathan Broxton: Brox is performing well this season. He’s recorded 21-f0r-24 in converting saves and has a 1.99 ERA in 31 appearances. The former two-time All-Star was one of five players up for the final roster spot on the AL All-Star roster this season – so there’s no doubt as to whether Broxton has regained his form. He’s signed to a one-year, $2 million deal and will be a free agent at the end of the season – where in which the Royals will not be able to collect a compensation pick if he opts to sign elsewhere. His value right now is as high as it will ever be, although relievers anymore don’t often fetch a premium return. The Royals bullpen likely would be able to pick up the slack left by Broxton, with one of Crow, Holland, or Herrera shifting to the closer role. The New York Mets have been mentioned as a possible trade partner, though the Royals are looking for Major League-eady help in return. Me thinks: NY Mets (46-40), Toronto (43-43), or Boston (43-43).
  • Jeff Francoeur: It’s time for the Dayton Moore to seriously think about life after Frenchy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Jeff Francoeur. He’s a great guy to have in the clubhouse and I have no doubts in his work ethic at all. He gives all he’s got with every pitch of every game. But he’s hitting just .251/.289/.378 this season, knocking in only 25 runs while managing to hit just 7 homeruns thus far – which is not exactly what you want from a guy who’s trypically the no.5 hitter in the lineup everyday. But the main, loudest, biggest, over riding reason to rid our lineup of Frenchy: he’s blocking Wil Myers. Moving Francoeur won’t be easy. He’s currently in the first year of a two-year, $14 million deal, which is sure to keep trade partners at a minimum. The Royals would have to likely eat most of his contract if they want to move him. Teams in the playoff hunt looking for a lefty-mashing platoon partner will likely fill-up the Francoeur market. He won’t likely command a huge return. Me thinks: Boston (43-43), Pittsburgh (48-37), LA Dodgers (47-40), Cincinnati (47-38), or Miami (41-44).
  • Yuniesky Betancourt: Outside of his defensive shortcomings, Yuni has been serviceable this season at second base. He’s been platooning there most of the season with a combination of Getz, Falu, and Giavotella and has even played a few games at third. Although his defense isn’t anything to write home about, he does have the ability to play second base almost every day while filling in at both shortstop and third, thus increasing his value to teams with injuries or teams looking for versatility off the bench. The Royals have an adequate replacement for Yuni in Irving Falu, so losing him won’t necessarily create any holes. He’s hitting just .242 and doesn’t take many walks, but he also doesn’t strikeout a ton and has adequate power (6 HR and 31 RBI in 165 AB). He’s only signed through 2012, so moving his contract won’t be an issue. Practically every team could use a versitile bench guy with some pop. Yuni may be able to be flipped for a reliever. Me thinks: San Francisco (46-40), Tampa Bay (45-41), Atlanta (46-39), or Texas (52-34).
  • Jose Mijares: The Royals signed Mijares this offseason to a one-year deal after he was non-tendered by the Twins, and the lefty has been worth every penny thus far. In 41 appearances, covering just 33.1 innings, Jose has recorded 32 K to just 7 BB while surrendering just 6 earned runs (1.62 ERA). Given his IP vs. appearances, it’s easy to see that he’s a lefty specialist – a bullpen piece that nearly every big league manager covets. He’s able to be under team control for the next five years due to arbitration, which could be attractive to willing trade partners. A LOOGY by trade, he could be had fairly easily. Me thinks: Any team in playoff contention.

Rising Stars

Both Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi have been dominant at the Triple-A level this season. Having said that, both are likely to see some playing time in Kansas City this season. The question is when.

Jeff Francoeur is still on the roster and Lorenzo Cain is going to be given every opportunity to show what he can do in center field – effectively blocking Myers’ path. At sone point though, his number will be called; whether it be from a trade, injury, or as a September call-up.

Odorizzi, on the other hand, will likely get the nod for the starting rotation soon. Other than Bruce Chen and maybe Luke Hochevar, nobody in the current starting rotation should be blocking Izzy’s path to Kansas City. The Royals’ rotation is atrocious right now, and giving Odorizzi a shot to prove himself can only make it better.

Then you have guys like LHPs Will Smith and Ryan Verdugo, OFers David Lough and Derrick Robinson, and 2B Johnny Giavotella who all have potential and could make an impact in Kansas City in the coming months.

Finally Having the Optimal Lineup

For the first time this season, the Royals will debut the batting order they thought they would have coming out of Spring Training. But then Salvador Perez went to the DL, followed by Lorenzo Cain and then Chris Getz. But now that all three are back and presumably healthy, the Royals’ lineup should look a lot like this:

  1. LF Gordon L
  2. SS Escobar R
  3. 1B Hosmer L
  4. DH Butler R
  5. 3B Moustakas L
  6. RF Francoeur R
  7. C Perez R
  8. 2B Getz L / Betancourt R
  9. CF Cain R

If KC had this lineup to begin the season, we might be thinking about the trade deadline a little differently.

Jonathan Sanchez Drama

Okay, drama might not be the right word. For now, at least. But it is baffling to me that the Royals are still letting Jonathan Sanchez trot out to the mound every fifth day while he’s still surrendering more walks than strikeouts. “That’s just the way I pitch,” was Sanchez’s rebuttle when asked about his high walk totals.

That may be the way he pitches, but that’s not the way any team wins. The guy’s body language stinks – which you’ve probably heard Rex Hudler say once or twice before. He has all the demeanor of a guy who either doesn’t love baseball or doesn’t want to be here.

Either way, he’s gotta go.

I know we gave up Melky for him, and gosh does that look bad right about now. But at the time, most of us probably would have made the same deal that Dayton did.

He’s a free agent at the end of 2012, and the Royals can’t possibly be contemplating bring him back for 2013 and beyond. But with a 1-5 record and a 6.75 ERA while giving up an average of 7.4 BB/9 to just 5.4 K/9 (not to mention a WHIP of nearly 2.00), trading him for anything but a bag of peanuts is likely out of the question.

Shape up, or ship out.

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