KANSAS CITY -- Whoa, let's rein in those galloping expectations a tad this time, shall we, pardner?
The 2013 outlook for Kansas City baseball should be positive, without a doubt, but a lot of folks including fans, local media and maybe even a national expert or two got a little overly wired about 2012. Let's not make that mistake again.
But make no mistake -- what looms for next year in Cowtown is certainly a team full of young talent that plays hard, creates excitement and is undoubtedly on the rise. There was a good reason that home attendance jumped and TV ratings rose.
"I feel real good about the direction we're heading," manager Ned Yost said.
But what became obvious as the 2012 season unfolded and, in time, unraveled, was that a couple of top-drawer starting pitchers were needed. So that's got to be an offseason priority and owner David Glass has indicated the Royals will spend money or trade players to beef up the rotation.
Just how good a veteran starter can look was ably demonstrated by Jeremy Guthrie, obtained in a deal for early-season flop Jonathan Sanchez. Guthrie ran off a span of nine starts that all resulted in KC victories and he fizzled in just one of them. That's a pretty good percentage.
Guthrie is a potential free agent, so surely the Royals will wave some bucks in his direction. Keep in mind, though, he's making $8.2 million this year.
The bullpen seems strong and deep enough right now, but the workload necessitated by starting pitchers who don't provide enough high-quality innings eventually will take its toll.
"We've put a huge workload burden on those guys and they've been very good through it," Yost said.
A major decision looms for the Royals on closer Joakim Soria, who had Tommy John surgery in Spring Training. They hold an $8 million option on his contract for 2013 with a $750,000 buyout. That has to be done by the third day following the last game of the World Series.
A key factor, of course, is the remarkable success of Greg Holland, closer in the last two months of the season.
A more rambunctious batting attack is needed by a Royals team that ranked high in total hits and very low in that important element called runs. When your pitchers give up a lot of runs and you don't score many, it's a problem. The Royals also ranked near the bottom in home runs and bases on balls.
"When I envision our offense, seriously, I envision more like Texas' offense. Maybe that's lofty expectations, but that where I'd like to get to," Yost said.
And Yost believes he can do that with the team he's got.
"I think the majority of guys in our lineup are capable of hitting somewhere between 15 and 30 home runs a year. Now, we have the ability to hit with two strikes like we do, don't strike out much, but now we have to add the power component into our game. Which we're fully capable of doing. Will that lower our batting average some? Yes. Will it increase our run production? Yes."
Billy Butler and Alex Gordon have enough history now that they can be expected to carry on their load, but up-and-comers Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will have to accelerate things next year.
"These two kids are going to continue to grow and get better and better and better," Yost said. "But it takes time."
Whether the Royals will add outfielder Wil Myers, the team's No. 1 prospect according to MLB.com, to the offense will be decided in Spring Training. He'd be another right-handed bat in the lineup.
The Royals, despite a high error total, play some good, wide-ranging defense. They've got some guys who can steal bases.
They need to start 2013 with some modest goals, like playing .500 ball -- something they haven't done in 17 of the last 18 seasons.
If they can get to that point at some reasonably advanced time during 2013, then perhaps everyone's expectations can start, if not exactly galloping, to take off at a quick trot.
Free agents: Jeremy Guthrie, RHP; Joakim Soria, RHP (if club option not exercised).
Eligible for arbitration: Chris Getz, 2B; Luke Hochevar, RHP; Felipe Paulino, RHP; Brayan Pena, C; Blake Wood, RHP (likely "super-two" player).
Player option: None.
Club option: Soria.
Non-tender possibilities: None.
Salvador Perez: Knee healthy, should catch almost daily.
Brayan Pena: Again leading candidate for backup role.
Manny Pina: Knee healthy, might challenge Pena for job.
Adam Moore: Dark horse picked up from Mariners.
Yost's "worst nightmare" was realized when Perez underwent knee surgery in Spring Training and missed the first 67 games. He's a defensive wizard, the pitchers love him and he's proved a good hitter with some power. So he'll play the majority of the time. Pena is a solid switch-hitter whose defense continues to improve. Pina and Moore are good catch-and-throw guys who could challenge Pena.
Eric Hosmer: Must rebound from a disappointing season.
Billy Butler: DH can fill in when Hosmer needs a break.
Hosmer, after a brilliant rookie season, got bogged down in a second-year batting funk and will have to re-establish his credentials as a star of the future. His ability to scoop up throws and pull down high ones is a big plus for the rest of the infield and the pitchers. Butler is always eager to get back on the field but he's a defensive downgrade from Hosmer.
Johnny Giavotella: Needs to match his Triple-A hitting feats.
Chris Getz: Excellent defender who's improved at the plate.
Tony Abreu: Could figure in as an alternative choice.
Irving Falu: Definitely among the backup infield options.
Getz, always superb with the glove, showed new punch at the plate in 2012 -- when he was healthy. That was the problem as he got into just 64 games. Giavotella, after failing to make the club in Spring Training, finished the year as the most-used second sacker but, while his defense has improved, he must hit more to keep the job. Abreu and Falu provide fallback options if needed.
Alcides Escobar: Hitting has caught up with his super glove.
When Escobar signed a four-year contract last spring, he said his goal was to "hit .290, .300." Bold talk from a .252 career hitter? Nope, Escobar was over the .300 mark often and finished not far below it. He can also bunt and stole more than 30 bases. He projects as the No. 2 batter again and, combined with steady and often spectacular fielding, that makes him a valuable piece.
Mike Moustakas: Hitting needs to improve as much as his fielding.
A hot start at the plate tapered off as the Royals reached midseason but Moustakas' remarkable improvement defensively continued throughout the year. Yost believes that Moustakas can become a middle-of-the-order force and reaching the 20-homer mark shows his power. Fewer strikeouts and more walks would be help. Falu and Abreu are in the backup picture here, shortstop and second.
Alex Gordon: Very dependable as the leadoff man or No. 3 hitter.
Lorenzo Cain: Solid performer if his legs are healthy.
Jeff Francoeur: Needs to play again like 2011, not like 2012.
Wil Myers: Will the club's top prospect break into the lineup?
Jarrod Dyson: Speed demon can be a strong weapon.
David Lough: Up from Triple-A, could be backup candidate.
Jason Bourgeois: Platoon player hits lefties very well.
The big question for Spring Training 2013 will be if Myers can prove he's ready for the Majors. If so, he could bump Cain or Francoeur out of a regular job. A Gold Glover in 2011, Gordon was not quite as productive at bat in 2012, but was very good after a slow start. Cain, with three different leg injuries, was limited to 61 games but still showed great promise at bat and afield. Francoeur fell off from his bounce-back year of 2011 and might figure as an offseason trade piece. Dyson had some injury issues, but hit better, stole a lot of bases and was all over center. Lough and Bourgeois could figure in the backup picture.
Billy Butler: One of the best right-handed hitters in AL.
In his second full year as the DH, Butler has adapted nicely to the role without complaining about getting more time in the field. He's powering up, hitting a career high in home runs, and has the capability of reaching the mid-30s despite the vast dimensions of Kauffman Stadium. He surpassed 100 RBIs for the first time and should be in that range annually. Hosmer is the DH option.
Bruce Chen: Staff leader in wins the last three seasons.
Luke Hochevar: Occasionally brilliant, but not often enough.
Luis Mendoza: Steady performer shows real promise.
Jeremy Guthrie: Strong second half but a potential free agent.
Will Smith: Rookie development puts him in the mix.
Jake Odorizzi: Top pitching prospect will get every chance.
Danny Duffy: Coming off Tommy John surgery so he's a question.
Felipe Paulino: Coming off Tommy John, too, so ditto.
Everett Teaford: Long reliever has an outside chance.
Nate Adcock: OK as Triple-A starter, worked relief for KC.
There's still no clear-cut No. 1 starter and that surely looms as the No. 1 offseason priority, an acquisition via the free-agent market or trade. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising to see two pitchers brought in. That could include Guthrie, who became a revelation not long after being acquired at midseason. Chen won in double figures again, but Hochevar couldn't follow up on a strong second-half in 2011 and was inconsistent. Mendoza was a stealth weapon, quietly matching Hochevar for second in wins. Smith came out of the Minors to make a good impression in 16 starts. It'll be especially interesting to see how Odorizzi is handled; he might need more fine-tuning at Triple-A. Teaford is probably long relief material but offers depth. As with any reconstruction surgery, uncertainty hovers over Duffy and Paulino but they might be ready by midseason or before.
Joakim Soria: Old closer is coming back from Tommy John.
Greg Holland: New closer was practically perfect.
Kelvin Herrera: Hard thrower proved to be a workhorse.
Aaron Crow: 2011 All-Star was consistently good in setup role.
Tim Collins: Lefty improved control and piled up strikeouts.
Louis Coleman: Could be a solid middle man or setup guy.
Vin Mazzaro: Former starter looks like a better fit for 'pen.
Jeremy Jeffress: Fastball sizzles, command often fizzles.
Francisley Bueno: Possibility as a left-handed specialist.
Blake Wood: Middle man coming off Tommy John surgery.
Tommy Hottovy: Sidearming lefty had a good record for Omaha.
The bullpen has been a strong department for two years now. The Royals hold an option on Soria for 2013 and must make a decision on bringing him back after an offseason in 2011 and a season lost to surgery in 2012. Holland served notice from July 31 on that he could be a very effective closer.
The rest of the "Fearsome Foursome," Collins, Herrera and Crow, piled up a lot of appearances and innings, something the Royals would like to scale back a bit, but that'll depend on an improved rotation. There are a couple of hard throwers for the middle innings in Coleman and Jeffress with Wood, pending recovery from surgery, in that category as well. Mazzaro, with starting experience, could be in the long man category. Bueno and Hottovy could be situational lefties, although Bueno might fill a wider role.