Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Ours starts with the Kansas City Royals.
2010 record: 67-95
Finish: Fifth place, AL Central
2010 final payroll: $76.8 million
Estimated 2011 opening day payroll: $45 million
Gone are six of the Kansas City Royals' seven most expensive players from 2010, a welcome purge in some instances – fare thee well, Jose Guillen(notes), Kyle Farnsworth(notes) and Yuniesky Betancourt(notes) – and heart-rending in others. Fans hardened by nearly three decades of perpetual losing grew attached to Zack Greinke(notes) and David DeJesus(notes), only to watch the Royals trade them in cold and calculating fashion.
Such is the dilemma Kansas City faces in extracting itself from the morass of bad baseball: Sacrifice short-term satisfaction in hopes that long-term success will rope back in the aggrieved. And aggrieved they are following the Royals' trade of Greinke, the AL Cy Young winner in 2009, to the Milwaukee Brewers for shortstop Alcides Escobar(notes), center fielder Lorenzo Cain(notes) and minor league pitchers Jeremy Jeffress(notes) and Jake Odorizzi.
With big bats on the way from the farm system, Escobar and Cain will be asked to do what they do well: catch the ball and provide up-the-middle stability. Jeffress throws 100 mph and could find himself in an eighth-inning role sooner than later. And Odorizzi adds to the plethora of prospects in one of the game's most stocked farm systems since the Royals won the World Series in 1985, à la Tampa Bay late last decade.
Of course, prospects are dreams, whereas the reality of the 2011 Royals now includes outfielders Jeff Francoeur(notes) and Melky Cabrera(notes) and starter Vin Mazzaro(notes). The latter came over as the main return from Oakland for DeJesus and will join the rotation. The outfielders are low-risk, minimal-upside plays for a team biding its time until the kids arrive.
Some payroll flexibility remains for Kansas City to pluck another veteran bat as well as a fifth starter, though the moves would not be of great impact. The 2011 Royals are a team in transition, one that will look a lot different at the end of the season than the beginning, and money spent at this point is profligate. Better to use the farm system for a minimum-salary plug-in and devote that extra $1 million to the player-development system that has the Royals on the cusp of something special.
No, that's not a joke. The Royals are going to be good. They have a chance to be very good. Particularly for a small-market, low-revenue organization, they are in the best position possible.
The farm system overflows with talent at nearly every position. At Double-A Northwest Arkansas, the Royals will employ four high-ceiling, left-handed starters who, barring injury, will be in a future rotation: John Lamb, Mike Montgomery(notes), Chris Dwyer and Danny Duffy. Same goes for Odorizzi, and there are a handful of others in the organization who could become impact-level major league pitchers.
The position players are nearly as bountiful. Third baseman Mike Moustakas(notes) and first baseman Eric Hosmer should man the corners until the end of the decade – longer if the Royals somehow can convince their agent, Scott Boras, to allow them to sign extensions before they reach free agency. Wil Myers might have a better bat than both, and he'll soon move from catcher to outfield. Christian Colon should shift over to second and fill out the infield with Escobar.
Most important, Kansas City has absolutely no cash committed to its major league roster after this season. None. Yes, the Royals will exercise Joakim Soria's(notes) $6 million option in 2012 (as well as the $8 million option in '13 and $8.75 million in '14), but that's it. And it gives general manager Dayton Moore an extreme amount of flexibility in building around the prospects.
He could flip one of the lefties and minor league surplus for an established left fielder. He could pinch pennies next offseason, too, when there is a dearth of pitching talent on the free-agent market, and wait until the potential jackpot in the 2013 offseason to add a big-time, established starter (Cole Hamels(notes), Matt Cain(notes), Jered Weaver(notes), Francisco Liriano(notes), Roy Oswalt(notes), John Danks(notes), Chad Billingsley(notes), Shaun Marcum(notes) and, perhaps, Zack Greinke).
There are going to be growing pains in 2011, and a 100-loss season is eminently possible. Futile though it may be to ask for patience at this point, the Royals do so in good faith. This is a team on the come, and it's about damn time.
Royals in Haiku
Trust the process? Lord,
Haven't we heard that too much?
Please give us some wins
Next: Cleveland Indians