Commentary

Royals should wait for young talent to grow

Originally Published: November 6, 2008
By Jonah Keri | Special to ESPN.com

The Tampa Bay Rays made a lot of shrewd decisions on their way to winning the AL pennant last season -- but a decade of losing and high draft picks also played a huge role in the team's success.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS
GM: Dayton Moore
Manager: Trey Hillman
'08 record: 75-87, 4th in AL Central
Kansas City Royals '08 payroll: $57.8M, 24th MLB
Runs scored: 691, 12th AL
Runs allowed: 781, 5th AL
OPS: .717, 12th AL
ERA: 4.48, 10th AL
Fielding percentage: .984, 7th AL

With the Rays now part of baseball's royalty, the Royals will try to live up to their own lofty name, using their own recent losing tradition to their advantage. First-round draft picks Luke Hochevar, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon all figure to play key roles for the next half-decade or more, and 2007 top pick Mike Moustakas could add another big bat to the mix in a few years' time.

Primary needs

Patience and time. The Royals have some building blocks in place, with Mike Aviles likely to get some high-ballot Rookie of the Year votes after hitting .325, Zack Greinke and Gil Meche having emerged as front-line starters and Joakim Soria having become one of the premier closers in the game (and an intriguing starting-pitcher candidate if the Royals want to roll the dice).

But there's little offense in the outfield, and the team lacks power in general, having finished next to last in AL homers last season. While it might be tempting to break the bank for a big bopper, the Royals are better off waiting for their young talent to improve, while making low-risk deals. On the other hand, Kansas City needs to be judicious in marketing its trade chips: Dealing young reliever Leo Nunez made sense. Dealing Nunez for OBP sieve Mike Jacobs, when Ryan Shealy and Kila Ka'aihue were ready to play first base for millions less, was a bad use of resources.

Free agents

None.

The club has a mutual option with Miguel Olivo, who could challenge John Buck for playing time if he returns.

Trade bait

The Royals and Mets discussed a Jose Guillen-for-Luis Castillo deal during the regular season and could revive those talks in the offseason. Castillo's past his prime and would block Alberto Callaspo from the second-base job. But Guillen has two years and $24 million of troublemaking and terrible OBPs left before his contract expires, so the Royals would probably settle for a Frank White bobblehead in return if they could dump Guillen on someone else.

Mark Teahen has been discussed in a possible trade to Cleveland for Ben Francisco, Franklin Gutierrez or Trevor Crowe. Shealy and Ka'aihue are suddenly expendable after the ill-advised trade for Jacobs.

Farm aid

We'll have to wait 'til next decade to see Moustakas in the big leagues. The Royals also have a few intriguing pitching prospects, led by Daniel Cortes and Danny Duffy. Cortes is probably the closest to making an impact in the majors, but that's at least a year away from happening.

Outlook

When you're a low-revenue team trying to build through young, inexpensive talent, you need to carefully consider the impact of every move. As wise as Gil Meche's $55 million contract now looks, Jose Guillen's $36 million deal looks equally awful. Trading for Jacobs has the doubly negative effect of costing millions of dollars while blocking younger players who deserve a shot at playing time.

When the Detroit Tigers built themselves up from 119 losses to a World Series club in three years, they did so by combining a fruitful farm system with well-placed veteran acquisitions such as Magglio Ordonez and Pudge Rodriguez. You can tell Royals general manager Dayton Moore is trying to navigate a similar path. He's just choosing the wrong players and not making the best use of the resources he already has. The Royals don't figure to contend in 2009. If they can stop misfiring on the personnel front, the young talent already in place could produce a contender not long afterward.

Jonah Keri is a regular contributor to Page 2 and the editor and co-author of "Baseball Between the Numbers." You can contact him at jonahkeri@gmail.com.

Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) is a staff writer for Grantland. His book, The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team From Worst to First, is a national best seller. His new book Up, Up, and Away, on the history of the Montreal Expos, is now available for preorder.