Will Kansas City Royals challenge in AL Central next season?

Will James Shields and Wade Davis turn heads in Kansas City in 2013? (David Eulitt/Getty Images)

It seems like, for years now, baseball writers and executives have said the Kansas City Royals are just a few seasons away from being in contention. They’ve praised their minor league system, and we’ve waited for these prospects to blossom.

Well, times have come and gone, and the Royals have still yet to do anything worthwhile.

They finished with 72 wins in 2012 — which is their most since winning 75 in 2008 — despite suffering from several injuries and let downs.

Lorenzo Cain got injured in the fifth game of the season and didn’t return until July 13. Their young star catcher Salvador Perez started the season injured and wasn’t able to join the big league club until June 22. He was impressive in 289 at-bats, hitting 11 home runs with a .301 batting average.

Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer got off to slow starts, and Hosmer was never able to recover, while Mike Moustakas flourished early but tailed off late.

All of those guys are why so many people believe the Royals can contend in 2013 offensively. All are relatively young and could potentially be great players for a long time, but we’ve yet to see that potential fulfilled consistently.

It was apparent to the Royals front office and everyone in baseball, if they were going to have any chance in 2013, they had to solidify the pitching rotation. The 2012 staff finished with an ERA of 5.01 – 11th worst in the American League.

Bruce Chen led the team in wins with 11, and Luis Mendoza was first in the rotation for those who qualified with an ERA of 4.32.

Jeremy Guthrie came over in a midseason trade and earned a hefty contract from the Royals by posting a 3.16 ERA in 14 starts.

Guthrie and Chen will serve as integral parts of this staff in 2013, but the Royals knew these two alone couldn’t lead the rotation.

Almost as soon as the season ended, they made a questionable move in picking up Ervin Santana, who is coming off a horrible year. Now the Royals will have to pay him $12 million, and he’ll be a free agent after this season. This move had me scratching my head a little, and I have feeling he doesn’t finish the season in the Royals rotation.

A move that did make a lot of sense was the James Shields trade. I got into a heavy debate with a friend over this trade. He highly criticized the Royals for parting ways with Wil Myers. I tried to explain that prospects are prospects, and until they prove they can be successful major leaguers, they’re still just prospects.

Shields has proven over several years he is consistently productive. And players like that are hard to come by in Major League Baseball right now.

Sure, Myers might go on to be an All-Star with a middle-of-the-lineup bat, but this was a risk the Royals had to make if they want to compete now.

Shields is locked up for two more years at a reasonable price and, for me, I see the Royals as having that same two-year window to make the playoffs or else there will be some front-office reorganization.

Royals fans can only take so much. It’s time for the front office to get serious about this team’s chances in a division that has been winnable for years.

I still believe the Detroit Tigers are the clear favorite for the AL Central, and the Royals may even be stuck behind the Chicago White Sox.

This team also isn’t good enough to win 93-94 games, which is what it will probably to take to win a wild card spot.

The best-case scenario for the Royals this year: They stay competitive and work a deal for another top-of-the-rotation starter at the deadline that propels them past a Tigers team decimated by injuries. Worst-case scenario: They’re out of it by the break and look to shed Billy Butler and Shields to rebuild the farm system and start over.

I don’t fault the front office for moves they made this offseason. I think they’ve put together the best staff with the resources they have. Now it will be up to the players on the field to produce.


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