We’ve almost made it, everyone. In just 11 long days, Royals pitchers and catchers will arrive in Surprise ready to stretch like there’s no tomorrow. In just 22 days, the Royals will play an actual game, or at least as actual a game as a charity spring training game can be. And then in just 59 days, the Royals will open their defense of an 81-81 season against the Twins in Minneapolis. If you were wondering, they play three day games that week, so if you work a day job, be prepared to be annoyed that week. I’m just glad we’re getting close to finding out the answers to all the questions we’ve been asking for the last few months. I’m ready for some baseball.
- I wrote back in December that the Royals should use Jorge Soler as their leadoff hitter. It was an unorthodox thought and one that the Royals seem highly unlikely to employ, but after the signing of Brandon Moss, I think it actually makes even more sense. See, before they signed him, Soler looked like one of key power sources in the middle of the lineup. It would have been tough to move that from the middle of the order where he could have driven in some runs. Now, though, Moss is in Kansas City, and he can be a big power source for the Royals in the middle of that lineup. I wouldn’t complain about Alex Gordon at the top either, for what it’s worth, but with Yost loving the alternating construction of a lineup that could go R-L-R-L-R-L in the top six spots without having to think too hard, Soler makes some sense to me. That’s not to say I think this will actually happen. I’m fully prepared for Alcides Escobar or Whit Merrifield to be in the batter’s box when that season opens on April 3rd, but a guy can dream.
- In the introductory press conference for Moss, Dayton Moore mentioned that he still planned to add another pitcher. He wasn’t sure if it was a starter or reliever or if that pitcher would be acquired via free agency or trade. As Craig Brown noted on Twitter after the comment was made, the 40-man roster is full, so a trade would make sense from that perspective. Of course, guys get shoved off there all the time and the Royals have some prime candidates. To me, the best option has been Jason Hammel all along. He’s not an ace, but he can slot in the middle to back of a rotation and provide some quality innings to help the Royals alleviate some of the stress the bullpen has had to deal with the last couple years. I mentioned in my write-up of the Moss deal that Cheslor Cuthbert could be trade bait for a starting pitcher. That was met with some skepticism, but I think what we have to keep in mind is that the likely fifth starter at this moment is Chris Young. I love what Young did for the Royals in 2015, but his 2016 was nothing short of a disaster and, at his age, it’s more likely 2015 was the last hurrah than 2016 was an aberration, so an improvement on him is certainly a possible return for a 24-year old third baseman with plenty of team control who has shown he can at least hold his own playing every day in the big leagues. But still, they should just get Hammel signed and call it a day.
- I found Moore’s wording interesting regarding this potential move as well. It definitely seemed like it was a starter or a reliever, rather than a starter and a reliever, but I really think they need both. I feel like we’ve gone over the list of available relievers about 30,000 times since the start of the off-season, but there are still options available. My guess is starter or not, Luke Hochevar finds his way back to the Royals. It just makes too much sense. But I still think they need one more. Joe Smith is hanging around out there after performing well for the Cubs down the stretch in 2016. He’d be an interesting pitcher to look at. Peter Moylan performed well for the Royals and he expressed some interest in a return. Joe Blanton, as I mentioned last week, probably commands a little too much, though I wonder if that remains as true every day he doesn’t sign somewhere with spring training fast approaching. Given the details of the contract the Rockies gave to Greg Holland, I completely get why the Royals didn’t end up with him. Still, they need some help back there. And if you were wondering, there are still guys out there who could start and relieve like Travis Wood and even Yusmeiro Petit, so that may be the direction the Royals end up going.
- One of the most common questions asked when I talk about the Royals on the radio is what is the biggest key to the season. Obviously that’s a difficult question to answer because you think that one thing needs to happen, but if it doesn’t, there are ways to compensate, so in a way, there is no one biggest key. But in another way, the biggest key is Jorge Soler needs to become the beast he was expected to be when the Cubs signed him. Let’s say he puts up his career average numbers over 150 games and he hits .260/.330/.435 with 19 homers. I mean, yeah, that’s decent enough, but it’s not enough. We need to see the guy who came up on fire in 2014 and hit .292/.330/.573 in 24 games. We need to see the guy who hit .258/.348/.515 in 36 games after the break in 2016. If he can be someone to pencil in the lineup (at the top or the middle) just about every day who can give consistently good at bats and hit for some real power, I think that will drive the Royals offense. You might remember that I wrote prior to the 2016 season that Kendrys Morales was the straw that stirred the Royals offensive drink (or you might not, that’s okay). I think Soler is that guy this year. If he can help to anchor this offense and be a big contributor, they’re going to score some runs. If not, they could be in trouble again.