What will 2010 bring for Royals?
Kaegel answers 10 questions about coming season
Ten questions, and answers, to ponder about the Royals for 2010:
1. Will this finally be the year the Royals can get over .500 and possibly even contend?
Absolutely. Of course, that's what the optimist in me thinks every year. The Royals haven't won a thing since 1985, and they haven't been over .500 since 2003. The American League Central is pretty balanced, though Minnesota should have the edge in 2010. I'm looking for another big year from Zack Greinke, with solid support this time from Gil Meche, Brian Bannister and Joakim Soria. The defense should be tighter with Chris Getz at second and Jason Kendall catching. Speed has been added with Chris Getz. It'll take a breakout year for Alex Gordon, a la Billy Butler in 2009, a career rebirth for Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop and a typical David DeJesus season to get 'er done.
2. Can Greinke have another Cy Young-type season, or was that just a fluke?
That was no fluke. His polish and maturity finally coincided with his natural talents and in-born baseball instincts, and he should just get better. He may not match his 2.16 ERA, but, with more offensive help, Greinke should become a 20-game winner. He's a rare talent who couldn't care less about the trappings of fame. He just wants to play baseball and win.
3. Is Butler the type of player who can be a forceful offensive leader for the team?
Butler looks like your friendly neighborhood kid, not the flint-eyed warrior who'll lead the troops up San Juan Hill. But, at the ripe old age of 23, he's coming into his own as an on-field force and a voice on the club. His war club is his bat, and he'll lead by example, hitting and playing hard. Butler's hard training and excellent 2009 season propelled him into a new and higher status.
4. Can DeJesus be the inspirational leader that every winning team seems to need?
With his effervescent smile and bubbling personality, DeJesus has the ability to give everyone a positive outlook. With his buddy Mark Teahen gone, DeJesus could easily take over some of the clubhouse leadership that Teahen exhibited, particularly among the younger players. DeJesus, who has been with the Royals longer than anyone, plays hard and sets a good example both on and off the field. Now is the time for him to step forward and take his share of command.
5. If the Royals nosedive early next season, will manager Trey Hillman's job be in jeopardy?
That's an interesting question, because Hillman was general manager Dayton Moore's choice and he has been one of Hillman's most fervent backers. That said, this is Hillman's third year, and failure will ignite the usual "He's in trouble" rumors, founded or not. In reality, it would take a calamitous showing or an unforeseen split between Moore and Hillman to prompt an ouster. Right now, they're on the same line of the same page.
6. Why don't the Royals use Soria's great talents as a starter rather than as a closer?
Exhibit A: the shoulder problems that threatened his season last April; exhibit B: the arm surgery that he had earlier in his career; exhibit C: Soria is just so good, so cool, so effective as a closer. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Hillman is already vowing to avoid the two-inning stints of last year to avoid the risk of overtaxing Soria and to have him available more often.
7. Will the renovated and improved Kauffman Stadium continue to be a drawing card, as it seemed to be in its first year?
The appeal of the new spaciousness and added attractions will wear off eventually, just as it has in most new stadiums, unless the Royals start winning. Early season-ticket sales are good, and the "New K" will continue to pull some customers for a look-see this year, but the novelty will wear off quickly under the grind of too many losses.
8. Now that Teahen has been traded, who'll take over as host of "The Mark Teahen Show" on the giant Crown Vision HD board?
Well, the name of the show will have to be changed, of course, and, gee, there's no real front-runner. Suggestion: The Royals should hold tryouts. Some guys have obvious attributes. Jose Guillen could make bold in-your-face inquiries. DeJesus could ask anything, and the ladies would pay attention. Bannister could ask Sabermetric brain-twisters. Willie Bloomquist could probe into the nuances of any position. Juan Cruz could ask questions that require no answers. Greinke could come up with off-the-planet questions and answer them himself -- after all, he proved last year he could do it all.
9. Which player will be the biggest surprise of the 2010 season?
I'm picking Betancourt, who'll find new life under the guidance of coaches Eddie Rodriguez and Dave Owen. The shortstop seems to be catching on to nuances of the game that eluded him in his rapid rise to the Majors after leaving Cuba.
10. Where will the Royals finish next season?
First place, with 88 victories (copy, paste and save to read on Oct. 3 on your way to the playoffs).
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.