Ending the season with a record of 86-76 gave the Kansas City Royals just their second winning record since the strike-shortened 1994 season. That it came on the tenth anniversary of the club’s last run for relevance, it’s easy to see why Royals fans are excited.
The team hasn’t suffered as long as the Pittsburgh Pirates, but a decade of losing with five managers at the helm and no playoff appearances since winning the World Series in 1985 can take a toll on players and fans alike.
The Royals had the best bullpen in baseball and no one was better than closer Greg Holland. With 47 saves, 103 strikeouts in just 67 innings (an amazing 40.4% of batters he faced), and just 11 extra base hits of the 40 he allowed made Holland an elite weapon at the end of games.
A decade of losing with five managers at the helm and no playoff appearances since winning the World Series in 1985 can take a toll on players and fans alike.
Luke Hochevar, who struggled for years in the rotation, became a revelation out of the pen with an ERA under two, a WHIP under one, and an opponent’s batting line of .169/.227/.306.
Kelvin Herrera was the third Royals bullpen star, joining Holland and Hochevar in the high strikeout club with 11.4 K/9. Tim Collins and Aaron Crow struggled at times, Will Smith contributed on occasion,
For the 2013 season, the Royals made their move by trading top prospect Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi, and Patrick Leonard to the Tampa Bay Rays for James Shields, Wade Davis, and Elliot Johnson.
The club also acquired Ervin Santana from the Los Angeles Angels for minor leaguer Brandon Sisk. Combined with an extension to Jeremy Guthrie, acquired from the Rockies in 2012, the Royals were counting on a stronger starting rotation to be supported by their young core of hitters.
James Shields was everything the Royals could have wanted. The big righty made 34 starts and lead the league in innings pitched with an ERA of 3.15. While his strikeout rate was down from previous years, because of his workload Shields was just four Ks away from a third consecutive 200 strikeout season.
Santana was excellent as well giving Kansas City a solid one-two punch at the top of the rotation.
On the other hand, Wade Davis, coming off a dominant 2012 out of the bullpen for Tampa Bay was converted to a starting pitcher with disastrous results. Davis made 24 starts and put up an ERA over 5.00 this season, a far cry from his 2.34 ERA in 70 relief innings one year ago. In ten starts Davis lasted five innings or less. He made it through seven innings just three times. Rather than strengthen the rotation, Davis left a gaping hole.
This was where Kansas City should have shined. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Billy Butler were all primed to take a step forward. Alex Gordon looked to have developed into a consistent contributor while Salvador Perez would provide some production out of the catcher’s spot.
Eric Hosmer, already coming off a disappointing sophomore season, started off slow. Moose joined him. Butler, nicknamed “Country Breakfast,” was a milquetoast rather than a middle of the order star.
The Royals fired their hitting coach last October and by the end of May were at it again, deciding that current coaches were not up to snuff and bringing in George Brett as a temporary coach and potential shot in the arm.
Eric Hosmer, for one, certainly improved during the hitting coach musical charis, ending his season with a .302/.353/.448 line. An .801 OPS is low for a first baseman but his numbers from June 1 on are a bit better: .318/.367/.494.
Hosmer’s resurgence alone wasn’t enough: the Royals finished the season last in the American League in home runs, fourth from the bottom in doubles, third from the bottom in walks, and below average in on base and slugging percentages.
Four regulars — Chris Getz, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, and Mike Moustakas — end the season with an OPS under .700. Escobar, even as a defensive shortstop, put up an ugly .559 OPS.
Jeff Francoeur, who kept his starting job because of the Myers trade, was hitting .208/.249/.322 in July before being released.
Myers, once he was called up by the Rays, hit .293/.354/.478 and put himself into talk for AL Rookie of the Year. His 13 home runs would top five Royals regulars and tie Salvador Perez despite playing in just 88 games.
The Royals finished in third place in the AL Central, seven games behind the Detroit Tigers and six games behind the Cleveland Indians. They were five and a half games back for a spot in the Wild Card race.
Wil Myers, who would have been among the best on the Royals in his short time in the majors this year, is on another team and James Shields is will be a free agent at the end of 2014.
By finishing outside the bottom ten, the Royals won’t have a protected draft pick and, should they look to free agency to pick up another piece, could forfeit their first round draft pick. … This could be devastating down the road.
Ervin Santana is a free agent this year and will likely cost more than Kansas City is willing to pay to retain his services.
By finishing outside the bottom ten, the Royals won’t have a protected draft pick and, should they look to free agency to pick up another piece, could forfeit their first round draft pick. For a team like the Royals that has been building through the draft, even to get players like Myers to trade, this could be devastating down the road.
The Royals played their cards this season, cashed in Myers, bet on their young hitters, and came up short. By waiting until 2014, with Myers in the lineup, another James Shields may have been available for trade, perhaps at a slightly lesser price, or at the very least, a different price.
The season was successful in that they broke a decade long losing streak, but as a small market team with limited finances, was going all in for 2013 the best decision? Perhaps not.
Championship flags, of course, fly forever, and with James Shields and the young hitters all returning for 2014 the Myers trade could yet get the Royals the playoff run they want. But down the road, that missing draft pick might end up meaning more than finishing over .500 for the second time amongst two decades of losing seasons.
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