Our next contestants on the Post-Mortem series are, in something of an upset, the third team in the AL Central to be eliminated and, in nothing of an upset, a popular favorite pre-season dark horse who completely failed to live up to that billing. That's right, you know them, you mock them… the Kansas City Royals!
If you're new here (which about 90% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from the playoffs, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated. Also, for the first ten teams eliminated, we're going to post a series called "Hope for the Hopeless", which is going to be an expanded version of the "What Went Right" portion of the Post-Mortem series pieces.
What Went Right: Though it never fully seemed to click, the Royals showed the makings of a promising offense. Youngster Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas all solid steps forward at the plate. The real breakout star though looks to be 22-year old catcher Salvador Perez. Kansas City rolled the dice on the young backstop by locking him into a long-term contract after just 158 plate appearances in 2011 and might've been questioning that decision after he injured his knee in spring training and missed the first half of the season. But Perez came back healthy and strong, picking up right where he left off in his abbreviated 2011 showcase. By the looks of it, Perez is set to be the kind of slugging catcher that team's dream of building their
What Went Wrong: A lot went wrong for the Royals this season, but doesn't it always? The one thing that really stuck out though was their struggles with the pitching staff. Much of the damage was induced by injury as they lost four different players (Joakim Soria, Danny Duffy, Felipe Paulino, Blake Wood) to Tommy John surgery. Losing Soria cost them their closer and a potentially valuable trade piece and Duffy and Paulino represented their most promising starting pitchers in 2012. After that, the rotation in particular was a mess as only three of the twelve pitchers that started a game for the Royals that season posted ERAs under 4.50. Two of those players are the aforementioned Paulino and Duffy, the other is Jeremy Guthrie who didn't join the team until there season was already circling the drain. They did get some pretty great work from their bullpen even without Soria, but what good is it having a lights out bullpen if the starting pitchers seldom ever hand them a lead to protect?
Most Surprising Player: It took a series of transactions to make it happen, but the unexpected gem of the Royal pitching staff turned out to be Jeremy Guthrie. As of this writing, he owned a 3.13 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and FIP numbers that suggest he isn't overachieving by all that much. Considering how pitiful the rest of the KC rotation was, Guthrie has been like manna from heaven. But the real cherry on top with the Guthrie acquisition is that it helped salvage one of the worst trades of the off-season when Kansas City sent Melky Cabrera to the Giants for Jonathan Sanchez. Sanchez was an absolute disaster in his brief tenure with the Royals while the Melkman went on to have an All-Star season… right up until he popped positive for PED abuse. Melky's suspension aside, the true miracle of the deal was the GM Dayton Moore was able to swap Sanchez to the Rockies for Guthrie, who like Sanchez was a bitter disappointment after being acquired in the off-season. Sanchez quickly landed on the DL in Colorado, but Guthrie was reborn with the Royals and, in very roundabout fashion and a big assist to Melky Cabrera's testosterone levels, made Dayton Moore look pretty smart.
Most Disappointing Player: Coming into the season there were some experts who predicted that Eric Hosmer would be the breakout star of the entire season, possibly even to the point that he earned MVP votes. Hosmer basically did the exact opposite. It took him until the last week of May just to get his batting average permanently over the Mendoza Line and even after working out of those doldrums, he has shown precious few glimpses of the future star so many had him pegged as. He currently sports a .687 OPS, but the best OPS in a given month he was able to register was .771. Now the Royals head into the off-season hoping that they can salvage Hosmer and make him a solid player again rather than trying to figure out how to build around him as a franchise cornerstone as they had planned.
Prospects Up: This is the easiest part of this article. If there is one thing Kansas City never seems to lack it is high-end prospects. That hasn't led to a lot of wins by the big league club but maybe that will change once they finally make room for Wil Myers. Quite possibly the best hitting prospect in all of baseball, Myers looks more than ready to claim a spot in the Royals lineup after putting up video game numbers to start the season in Double-A before getting promoted to Triple-A where he "only" put up great numbers. It seems the only thing his bat can't do is convince Dayton Moore that Myers deserves to play over Jeff Francouer, which one wouldn't think would be a difficult decision, but apparently it is for Moore.
On the pitching side of the ledger, Jake Odorizzi is a rising star in his own right. Like Myers, he was dominant splitting the season between Double-A and Triple-A and is about to get his very first major league start later this month in what is pretty clearly an audition for a rotation spot in 2013.
Prospects Down: The Royals' rotation outlook is looking good with Odorizzi on his way, but it isn't nearly as bright as it could be thanks to the freefall of Mike Montgomery. Before the season, Montgomery was one of the top 25 prospects in all of baseball despite less than appealing numbers in Triple-A in 2011. It turns out that rough patch last season was not just a fluke. Montgomery suffered through the first few months of the season with a 5.69 ERA before the Royals had no other choice but to drop him back down to Double-A just to try and rebuild his confidence. Things didn't improve at the lower level as Montgomery posted an even worse 6.67 ERA and sent his prospect stock crashing the floor in the process.
The Future: In all likelihood, the Royals and all their young talent will lure people into puffing up their dark horse credentials in 2013. What can I say? It is an annual tradition. However, for that to happen the Royals are going to need some bounceback seasons from some key players like Eric Hosmer. At some point, you'd like to see the Royals make a serious investment via free agency to fill out the holes in their team and make a legit run in the watered down AL Central. Whether or not they decide to go that route in 2013 is a decision that Royals ownership and management will have to make this off-season and history suggests that they will once again elect to punt and save their limited resources for a year where they have a bit more momentum, assuming that year ever comes.