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
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.
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.
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.
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