Fantasy baseball 2013 team previews: Kansas City Royals
If Atlanta and Cincinnati made a justified decision to go all-in this season, Kansas City made one of the more questionable decisions to sacrifice the future for the sake of 2013 and 2014. The one team in the entire majors that looks like a lock to win its division is Detroit. If you don't believe me, just ask Las Vegas: the Tigers are currently -300 to win the AL Central -- by far the best odds for any team to take home a division crown. Still, the Royals committed $25 million to Jeremy Guthrie over three years, and traded for Ervin Santana, as well as his $13 million price tag. If that weren't enough, they traded Minor League Player of the Year Wil Myers, a player who could have helped give them the best young core of hitters in the majors, for James Shields and Wade Davis. Will that trade make the Royals better for the next two seasons? Perhaps, but it likely won't be enough to get them over the playoff hump.
Heading into the season, you could make an argument that the Royals are the second-best team in the division, but second best in this division might translate to below .500. While it was a bizarre offseason in Dayton Moore's world, his team has some intriguing fantasy players. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are rock-solid fantasy players. Eric Hosmer is everybody's favorite bounce-back candidate. Mike Moustakas hit 20 homers in his first full season in the majors at age 23. Salvador Perez could quickly establish himself as an elite fantasy catcher. And despite the dubiousness of the trade, Shields has had two straight dominant seasons. Meanwhile, Greg Holland and Aaron Crow planted themselves as a lockdown duo in the bullpen. There's plenty for the fantasy owner to like in Kansas City beyond the barbecue.
1. Alcides Escobar, SS
2. Salvador Perez, C
3. Alex Gordon, LF
4. Billy Butler, DH
5. Eric Hosmer, 1B
6. Mike Moustakas, 3B
7. Jeff Francoeur, RF
8. Lorenzo Cain, CF
9. Chris Getz, 2B
1. James Shields
2. Wade Davis
3. Ervin Santana
4. Jeremy Guthrie
5. Bruce Chen
Others: Luke Hochevar, Danny Duffy, Felipe Paulino
Bullpen: Greg Holland (closer), Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins, Francisely Bueno, Will Smith, Nate Adcock
• Will Eric Hosmer rebound from 2012? Hosmer's 2012 started with a thud and didn't get much better as the year wore on, especially for a guy who hit .293/.334/.465 with 19 homers as a 21-year-old rookie in 2011. When last season mercifully ended, Hosmer's numbers looked like those of a replacement level player. In fact, he posted a -1.1 WAR, so it turned out the Royals would have been better off running a replacement level player out to first base every day. Hosmer hit .232/.304/.359 with just 14 homers and 22 doubles in 592 plate appearances.
When I look at Hosmer, I see not only a player who undoubtedly struggled a year ago, but also a player who did not have luck on his side. He may have had a 53.6 ground-ball rate, but that doesn't totally explain his .255 BABIP, especially given that he's a left-handed hitter with decent speed. Moreover, his walk rate jumped from six percent to 9.4 percent. He swung at fewer pitches but maintained the same contact rate, thanks to shaving a half-percentage point from his swinging-strike rate. He knocked out line drives at the same pace, and didn't lose too much off his home run/fly ball ratio (down to 11.3 percent from 13.5 percent). I think this was a one-year anomaly in which he hit a ton of ground balls, which isn't unthinkable for a 22-year old in his second year in the majors. Pitchers adjusted and he had trouble adjusting back, but I think he'll make the needed changes this year. He could end up being the cheapest 20/15 guy on the board.
• Is Salvador Perez for real? Perez's return from a knee injury last June was met with little fanfare, which wasn't a huge surprise. He did hit .331/.361/.473 in limited duty as a rookie in 2011, but it was the first time since playing rookie ball in 2008 that he slugged better than .430. He had never shown a ton of true power in the minors, and his .362 BABIP was plainly unsustainable. So don't kick yourself if you didn't see the .301/.328/.471 slash with 11 homers and 39 RBI in 305 plate appearances coming. Most of us didn't.
Now Perez enters 2013 as a 22-year old (he'll turn 23 in May) unquestioned starter behind the dish. Last year's slash was earned with a .299 BABIP, something that is definitely sustainable over a full season. What remains to be seen is if Perez can still put up such numbers while walking less than 4 percent of the time. The good news is he doesn't strike out very often either (just 27 times last year), but it would be very encouraging to see the walk rate improve. Perez projects as a better-than-average hitter for a catcher. If he can walk at even a league-average rate, his OBP could push north of .350. That would easily make him a top-10 catcher, especially if he can provide somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 homers. He's one of my favorite back-end targets at the position.
• Is this the year Lorenzo Cain becomes the player we all want him to be? It could be now or never for Cain. He seems younger than he is since he hasn't logged a ton of time in the majors, but he will turn 27 in April. While that's a strong indicator of a breakout on one hand -- players typically enter their prime at age 27 -- the fact that he has yet to stay healthy for an entire major league season has to give us pause. However, if we go back to his last full professional season, at Triple-A Omaha in 2011, we see the player Cain can be. He hit .312/.380/.497 with 16 homers, 16 steals, 84 runs and 81 RBI. We can't project health, but we can look at his 2012 season in the majors and see if there's reason for optimism.
The one area for concern is in Cain's strikeout rate. Last year, he fanned 23 percent of the time, but he didn't offer at too many pitches outside the strike zone. With a contact rate at just 74.5 percent and a swinging-strike rate of 11.1 percent, he simply did not make enough contact. These numbers were way out of line with 2010, the only other season in which he got significant playing time in the majors. It's also out of line with a player who was able to keep his strikeout rate below 20 percent in the minors. Cain's progression in 2013 is totally dependent on his making more contact, and that's something we can have confidence in, given that he only has 425 career plate appearances, equivalent to about five months in the majors. The skill set is there -- he may not steal bases like Jose Reyes, but he has 17 career steals in the majors and has been caught just once, making him a very opportunistic thief. The good news about Cain is you won't have to commit a high pick or a ton of auction dollars to get him. A year of full health could result in 10 to 15 homers and 20 to 25 steals, definitely making him worth a shot as a third outfielder.
Wade Davis: Davis starred in a relief role for the Rays last year, compiling a 2.43 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 2.78 FIP with 87 strikeouts in 70.1 innings. The Royals will move him back into the rotation, where we can expect some regression with more exposure, but he appeared to turn a corner last season. He started relying a ton more on his curveball, which Fangraphs gave a value of 6.8, which would have tied with Felix Hernandez for the ninth-best deuce in the league among starters. The new repertoire could have him among the most improved starting pitchers this season, compared with his pre-2012 self.
Mike Moustakas: This is a hard team on which to identify a true bust, but I'm going with Moustakas because I don't think he'll get enough RBI chances to make up for what he takes off the table in batting average and OBP. I'd rather have David Freese, Todd Frazier, Martin Prado, Will Middlebrooks, Pedro Alvarez and Manny Machado.
Lorenzo Cain: See his section above. The conditions are right, he's turning 27 and he's in a low-pressure environment. Get ready for the breakout year we've all been anticipating.
Alcides Escobar: He's a one-category player, but when he gives you 30-plus steals at a shallow position like shortstop, you won't be complaining too much.
Jeff Francoeur: Frenchy is as maddening a player as ever, but he's a strong bet for 20 homers, and could approach 10 steals, as well.
Aaron Crow: Even with Greg Holland firmly entrenched in the closer's role, Crow carries significant value for AL-only owners. He struck out 65 batters in 64.2 innings last year while posting a 2.96 FIP. If Holland goes down with an injury, he'd take over as the closer.