Here's a breakdown on one of the underdogs for this year who could end up being a competitor.
The Royals Ace, Gil Meche, pitched 210.1 innings last year, with an ERA of 3.98 and 183 K's. He isn't CC Sabathia, but he pitches lots of quality innings. Then they have Zach Greinke, who had a 3.47 ERA with 183 K's last year in 202.1 innings. Greinke's only 25, so expect him to keep performing well. Behind those two there are Brian Bannister, Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies, and Horacio Ramirez. None of those guys are great, but they can all be good. Bannister performed remarkably in 07, his rookie season, with a 3.87 ERA. He performed terribly in 08, but if he can bounce back he'll be a steady member of the team. Hochevar was the first overall pick of the 06 draft, and with almost a full big league season under his belt (129 innings) he should be used to playing at the highest level of competition, and can perform up to his potential. Kyle Davies and his 4.06 ERA in 08 is an accpetable guy to have at the back end of the rotation. These guys don't have the best rotation, but it will be decent. And don't forget there are always trades that can be made mid-season if they are in contention. Also, Ben Sheets is planning to return mid-season, he could perhaps be picked up.
The Pen: The Royals have an awesome closer, the Mexicutioner. Joakim Soria is lights out in the 9th, he's 24, had a 1.60 ERA last year, struck out 66 in 67.1 innings, and converted 42 of 45 save opportunities. You have to feel good having that guy closing games for you. Then KC has Kyle Farnsworth, Ron Mahay, Robinson Tejeda, and Doug Waechter to set up for Joakim. Farnsy isn't the best pitcher around, and the contract he signed is ridiculous, but he is at worst league average. Farnsy throws fast, gives his best every time he goes out, and is clearly a great teammate, as we found out when he was traded midseason and the whole team was truly sad to see him go. Having a vet like Farnsy on the team certainly can't hurt. Ron Mahay is one of the best left handed set-up men around. He had 49 K's last year in 64.2 innings, and played to the tune of a 3.48 ERA. Mahay's not one of those lefties that you bring in just for left handed hitters. Though he held lefties to a .255 batting average, he was even better against righties, holding them to a .250 avg. Tejeda struck out 45 in 45.1 innings last year, how can you not like that? They also had Waechter, who had a nice 3.69 ERA in 08. Basically if the Royals' starters can go 6 innings each time out, they can count on their 'pen to bring home the victory a good part of the time.
Lineup: The Royals are going to have a fine offense next year. Dayton Moore overloaded on first basemen, but that means that somebody will have to work out for them. Personally, I say that somebody will be Ryan Shealy his 08 . 604 SLG and .354 OBP are fine numbers to work with. They traded for Mike Jacobs, who has 30 home run potential, but gets to first base less than the nerdy kid in high school who sits at his computer and only speaks in binary. His .299 OBP in 08 was atrocious, but if he can keep his power up, that might not be all that important. I say even though KC also has Kila Ka'aihue, Billy Butler, and Ross Gload, Shealy and Jacobs should be their first baseman and DH they should have on the roster opening day. If Ka'aihue can perform in the spring, then he might drive one of them out of a job. Moore needs to shop some of his excess firstbaseman, perhaps he could get some starting pitching in return. Then the Royals have Mike Aviles and Alberto Callaspo up the middle. Callaspo's .305/.361/.371 line is respectable. He struck out just 14 times in 213 at bats, which shows he has a good eye, patience, and doesn't often swing and miss. Kansas City could upgrade over Callaspo (Orlando Hudson anyone?) but he isn't someone to worry too much about. Aviles had a line of .325/.354/.480 over 102 games, in which he hit 10 home runs. The guy can clearly hit for average, with one season under his belt we should see him he keep playing at a high level. They also have Alex Gordon manning third base. The Kansas City outfield of David DeJesus, Coco Crisp, and Jose Guillen should be great. Crisp brings the speed, Guillen brings the power, and DeJesus brings a little of everything. But, don't forget the Royals also have Mark Teahen trying to work his way into the starting lineup. Then they also have two subpar catcher in John Buck and Miguel Olivo trying to fight for the starting job. The team has a ton of potential, they just need to harness it and perform.
There are some smart transactions the team could make right now to become performers listed below.
Sign Orlando Hudson. The Royals' first round pick is protected, so signing Hudson would just cost a second round pick, but they still don't want to lose that. Here's what I say, stop valuing your draft picks like their the blood and body of Christ, Hudson is an established star with offense and defense, who will come at a bargain price, and you are worrying about giving up a second round draft pick for him? You don;t even know what player that would mean you are losing. And you don't know how good that player will eventually be. Look Kansas City, you aren't that good at developing your players in case you haven't noticed. John Buck, Mark Teahen, Alex Gordon, they aren't the stars you thought they might be, so do the right thing and sign O-dog.
Trade Mark Teahen and John Buck to Oakland for Kurt Suzuki and Rajai Davis. Teahen doesn't have a set spot in the lineup anymore, and really nor does Buck. Billy Beane has always loved Teahen, and I'm sure Buck's .080 difference between AVG and OBP will entice Beane. Suzuki is a nice upgrade behind the plate, and Davis can be the speed on the bench to step in late for the slow sluggers.
Sign Pedro Martinez and Mark Mulder. Pedro isn't the pither he used to be, but this team needs some star power, someone recognizable to put fans in the seats. Mulder is coming off injury, and will most likely be a bargain, a nice low risk, high reward signing.
Trade Mike Jacobs to the Giants for Noah Lowry. The Giants need a power bat, and have a full rotation (Lincecum, Cain, Johnson, Sanchez, Zito). Lowry is coming off injury, but has been a great pitcher when healthy.
The team would then have this lineup
These rotation candidates:
And a bench of:
That seems like an improvement to me.