The biggest question/problem/hurdle/issue choose your own word the Royals face as they enter the 2012 season is the same one they faced upon exiting the 2011 season.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
You could probably say that about every team, general manager Dayton Moore parried. But if our team is going to play consistently winning baseball, the rotation is certainly going to have to be a source of stability.
The Royals checked the free-agent market for possible upgrades but quickly backed away; not just because of cost, although that was a factor, but more because of commitment concerns.
Moore expressed a willingness to absorb a hefty financial risk to sign a solid-if-unspectacular veteran for, say, one or two years but balked when agents for those pitchers pushed for more years.
For me, Moore said, we would be abandoning our plan with the young players. Thats not who we are, and I think its important that we understand who we are, where were going and what were trying to do.
Abandoning that, and precluding any of those young pitchers from being in our rotation, is doing just that.
The trade market was equally unpromising. Club officials found the price to acquire Jair Jurrjens from Atlanta or Gio Gonzalez from Oakland, for example, to be too steep in terms of prospects.
In the end, the Royals settled for acquiring left-hander Jonathan Sánchez a short-term fix; hes a free agent at seasons end from the Giants in a trade for outfielder Melky Cabrera. They also re-signed veteran lefty Bruce Chen to a two-year deal.
After that, Moore and his lieutenants chose to rely on in-house options for their rotation backed by a beefed-up bullpen brimming with power arms.
After we did what we felt was all we could do to improve the rotation, Moore said, we felt the next best thing we could do was to make sure our bullpen was very good.
That led to signing two potential impact free agents: former All-Star closer Jonathan Broxton and situational left-handed specialist José Mijares. The Royals also landed a potential bonus in signing lefty Tommy Hottovy to a minor-league contract.
Will it work? Check back in early October.
It doesnt help, certainly, that All-Star closer Joakim Soria suffered a major elbow injury in spring training. That forced a reshuffling of bullpen duties, although Broxtons addition, along with Greg Hollands emergence a year ago, eased concerns.
Ive got three closers, Yost declared prior to Sorias injury. Two years ago, the whole game revolved around getting the ball to Jack in the ninth inning. Now, its how do I get through the sixth inning?
Some scouts believe sidearmer Louis Coleman displayed closer potential and makeup last season in compiling a 2.87 ERA in 48 games as a rookie. Sorias injury also prompted Aaron Crows return to the bullpen after a spring audition in the rotation.
Lefties Tim Collins and Everett Teaford had strong camps. So, too, did power right-handers Kelvin Herrera and Jeremy Jeffress. So even without Soria, the bullpen appears sound.
The same goes for the lineup, although it, too, is dealing with a major injury with catcher Salvy Perez expected to be sidelined until possibly the All-Star break while recovering from torn cartilage in his left knee.
But center fielder Lorenzo Cain, starting in place of Cabrera, should bolster an already strong outfield defense, while slick-fielding shortstop Alcides Escobar anchors a steady infield. Perezs extended absence does, however, represent a drop-off behind the plate.
But even minus Perez and Soria, the rotation remains the Royals overriding concern a rotation where competition for the final two spots remained fierce just days prior to the April 6 opener against the Angels in Anaheim, Calif.
You give that team a legit No. 1 guy, one opposing scout said, and they suddenly get real interesting. Say Sánchez puts it all together. Or (Luke) Hochevar takes another big step. Or that (Danny) Duffy kid or somebody turns into something special
It might not happen. It probably wont happen. But it could (happen), and if it does, theyre going to be a handful for anyone. They just need that one big-time arm.
Sánchez, Chen and Hochevar remain as they were entering camp the only sure things. Duffy, Felipe Paulino, Luis Mendoza and even Teaford all remained in contention into the springs final week for the remaining two spots.
Is there an ace somewhere in that bunch? Or is there one somewhere near the top of the developmental pipeline? Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi, Chris Dwyer and Will Smith are the top candidates.
We need our (starting) pitchers to step up and have big years, right fielder Jeff Francoeur said. Thats just the truth. Weve got a great bullpen. Offensively, I think well score. And, now, I think we have the arms, the starters, who can do it.
Hoch can take that next step. Hes got the stuff to do it, and we need him. Hes got all of the ability to be that guy where you know, every five days, if you put up two or three runs, youre going to win a game. Thats huge.
When you have a deep staff, where you have a couple of guys like that, youre never going to have a prolonged losing streak.