There don't appear to be any far-reaching changes coming in the look of the roster. In truth, the Royals thought they were pretty solid coming into 2009 and so did many prognosticators, figuring the club could reach the .500 mark and possibly even contend in the wide-open American League Central.
But injuries struck early and in crucial places -- third baseman Alex Gordon, center fielder Coco Crisp and shortstop Mike Aviles were key regulars who went down early. The alternatives were thin, there was a scramble to improvise and other players didn't fulfill expectations.
Even so, don't look for any earth-shaking revisions. General manager Dayton Moore's contract has been extended through 2014, and he won't be in a panic mode.
There are some big decisions ahead. Crisp, despite being hampered by sore shoulders, made a good impression as the leadoff hitter and center fielder. But he underwent surgery on both shoulders and the club holds an $8 million option on his 2010 contract. If the medical reports are good, the best guess is that the Royals will decline the option and instead try to sign Crisp at a reduced price with a contract laden with incentives that could get him back to that $8 million range.
The Royals also have to decide on whether to bring back first baseman-designated hitter Mike Jacobs, whose power numbers didn't measure up to the notices, and sort out the three-man catching staff of Miguel Olivo, John Buck and Brayan Pena.
Gordon, back from major hip surgery, is sure to get a full shot at fulfilling his great promise and the Royals will look for a breakout year in the mold of Billy Butler's big 2009 season. In Aviles' absence, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt was obtained from Seattle and did well enough that Aviles could have an uphill battle to win his job back in Spring Training. There is also the possibility that Aviles could be tried at second base. Ah, but Alberto Callaspo is already there after a big season at bat. The Royals like Callaspo as a third baseman, but that's Gordon's spot. And there's Mark Teahen, who was supposed to be last season's second baseman but wound up at third and played the outfield, and where does he fit in?
Well, you can see some of the perplexing puzzle pieces. It's never bad, though, to have multiple choices.
Right fielder Jose Guillen is in the last year of his $36 million deal and the Royals would have to eat a large part of his $12 million salary to trade him. His legs ended his season early and he might have to be placed in the DH category. That would leave right field to Teahen or Mitch Maier or someone else but clog up the DH hole if Jacobs or Callaspo or any of the catchers would figure there as well.
Zack Greinke, of course, gives the rotation a splendid starting point, but there's uncertainty because Gil Meche, Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies all ended their seasons early because of arm weariness. Luke Hochevar was healthy, although inconsistent, but showed enough that he's an integral part of the plans.
Certainly the Royals want to beef up the starting options, and a proven left-hander, which they lack, would be a target in the free-agent or trade markets. If there's any big restructuring ahead, it's likely to be in the bullpen, which seems to be an annual event. There was a big shakeup last year in the setup men for accomplished closer Joakim Soria, but Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz struggled and some new faces are likely to show up there.
The Royals showed some spark as the season wound down, and manager Trey Hillman, who got a solid endorsement from Moore, was encouraged.
"I've made mention of this many times throughout the course of this injury-plagued season that we've had: I'm much more impressed with where we're at mentally, work ethic-wise and attitude-wise with this club in comparison to what we had last year," Hillman said. "I think that has grown, I think the character has grown. Right, wrong and indifferent, I think that's something that leads to more wins."
True enough, the club continued to play hard down the stretch despite its lowly standing and that bodes well for 2010.
Here's how the roster stands as 2010 beckons:
Free agents: Bruce Chen, LHP; Jamey Wright, LHP.
Eligible for arbitration: John Bale, LHP; Brian Bannister, RHP; John Buck, C; Alberto Callaspo, 2B (possible "Super 2"); Roman Colon, RHP; Kyle Davies, RHP; Lenny DiNardo, LHP; Alex Gordon, 3B; Mike Jacobs, 1B; Mark Teahen, OF-IF; Robinson Tejeda, RHP; Doug Waechter, RHP.
Mutual options: Miguel Olivo, C.
Club options: Coco Crisp, OF; Yasuhiko Yabuta, RHP.
Non-tender possibilities: John Buck, C; Mike Jacobs, 1B; John Bale, LHP.
Miguel Olivo, .249 BA, 23 HRs, 65 RBIs
John Buck, .247 BA, 8 HRs, 36 RBIs
Brayan Pena, .273 BA, 6 HRs, 18 RBIs
Olivo began last season as the No. 1 catcher, and he hit with home run power but showed lapses in blocking balls. Later, Pena was tried with some success, and Buck came on strong late in the season. All three have good power. The club needs to make a decision at this crucial spot.
Billy Butler, .301 BA, 21 HRs, 93 RBIs
This was last year's big mystery, but Butler emerged as a solid fielder, moving from the DH role to take over full-time. Jacobs became the most-used DH but his homers didn't come often enough.
Alberto Callaspo, .300 BA, 11 HRs, 73 RBIs
Willie Bloomquist, .265 BA, 4 HRs, 29 RBIs, 25 SBs
Teahen, transplanted from the outfield, opened the season at second but had to switch to third when Gordon had surgery. Callaspo took over and was one of the club's most reliable hitters but his defense was spotty. Bloomquist played all over the field.
Yuniesky Betancourt, .245 BA, 6 HRs, 49 RBIs
Mike Aviles, .183 BA, 1 HR, 8 RBIs
Betancourt was obtained after Aviles was hurt to take over for Bloomquist, who was best as a utility player. Betancourt proved a steady fielder and his hitting picked up a bit. Aviles had Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery and hopes to return by March. Aviles might get a look at second base if he's ready.
Alex Gordon, .232 BA. 6 HRs, 22 RBIs
Teahen wound up playing third more than twice as much as Gordon, who underwent early-season surgery and came back under par. Gordon, though, is the big hope for the future and he'll get a full shot at finding his stroke next year.
David DeJesus, .281 BA, 13 HRs, 71 RBIs
Coco Crisp, .228 BA, 3 HRs, 14 RBIs
Jose Guillen, .242 BA, 9 HRs, 40 RBIs
Mark Teahen, .271 BA, 12 HRs, 50 RBIs
Mitch Maier, .243 BA, 3 HRs, 31 RBIs
Josh Anderson, .240, 1 HR, 24 RBIs, 25 SBs
DeJesus had another solid season, both at bat and in the field. Beyond him, there are many questions. Will Crisp's option be picked up after surgery on both shoulders? Can Guillen recover from knee problems enough to hit effectively? If not, will Teahen return full time to the outfield? If there's an opening after all that, Maier more than Anderson figures to break out of the backup role.
Mike Jacobs, .228 BA, 19 HRs, 61 RBIs
Jacobs was the most frequent DH, but the Royals face a decision on bringing him back. Guillen, if he's healthy and can't be moved because of his $12 million contract, could fit here.
Zack Greinke, 16-8, 2.16 ERA
Gil Meche, 6-10, 5.09 ERA
Brian Bannister, 7-12, 4.73 ERA
Luke Hochevar, 7-13, 6.55 ERA
Kyle Davies, 8-9, 5.27 ERA
Robinson Tejeda, 4-2, 3.54 ERA
Lenny DiNardo, 0-3, 10.13 ERA
Greinke stole center stage in 2009, stepping ahead of Meche into the ace category. Meche has to prove his back and shoulder are sound. Bannister was gangbusters at first, then his shoulder wore down. Hochevar, superb at times, must prove he can have more ups than downs. When Davies can harness his control, he can be very effective. Tejeda came out of the bullpen for a strong finish as a starter. DiNardo provides a veteran left-handed option.
Joakim Soria, 3-2, 2.21 ERA, 30 saves
Kyle Farnsworth, 1-5, 4.58 ERA
Juan Cruz, 3-4, 5.72 ERA. 2 saves
Roman Colon, 2-3, 4.83 ERA
Jamey Wright, 3-5, 4.33 ERA
Bruce Chen, 1-6, 5.78 ERA
John Bale, 0-1, 5.72 ERA, 1 save
Dusty Hughes, 0-2, 5.14 ERA
Victor Marte, 0-0, 8.25 ERA
Carlos Rosa, 0-0, 3.38 ERA, 1 save
Soria didn't get enough chances last year, but he's still a dominating closer. Farnsworth could sometimes shine but mostly sputtered and so did Cruz before being hurt. Colon showed enough that he could step up as setup man. Wright is an always-ready grinder in middle relief. Bale was undependable and often hurt and another lefty, Chen, looked better in the pen than starting. Hughes, Marte and Rosa were September arrivals and lefty Hughes was the most impressive.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less