Is The AL Central Up For Grabs? Should The Royals Go Crazy?

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - Felipe Paulino #59 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins in the first inning. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

With the Chicago White Sox announcing that they were rebuilding, should that change the Royals' plans?

Yesterday, I wrote a column about the NL East becoming some sort of super-strain division that will eventually kill and outspend us all. Today, it's time to focus on the AL Central, which … isn't as glamorous and free-spending. The White Sox traded away closer Sergio Santos on Tuesday, with GM Kenny Williams indicating that the White Sox are doing things differently now:

"It is the start of a rebuilding," Sox general manager Ken Williams told reporters in a hotel suite. "And you guys know I have not used that word in 12 years. But it is the start of a rebuilding.

The "r" word. Most teams stay away from that one. A quick spin around the division finds most of the other teams in similar disarray.

The Twins had what was probably the worst season in franchise history. There have been bad Twins teams, for sure, but when considering the preseason expectations and the long-term ramifications of why they lost 99 games, it's hard to imagine a more deflating season. They aren't giving up, actively acquiring players like Jamey Carroll and continuing to purse their own free agents, but a lot of the problems that led to their awful 2011 are still there.

The Indians surprised everyone by contending, and doubled down on the surprise when they traded their two best pitching prospects for Ubaldo Jimenez, but injuries and general indianness killed them in the end. They'll be a stronger team with Ubaldo next year, but they're also counting on Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, and Shin-Soo Choo to be healthy again, which rarely seems to work out.

The Tigers are the clear favorites in the division, even before making an offseason move. They have one of the game's best hitters to complement one of the game's best pitchers, and they might be willing to spend on players like Yoenis Cespedes. They might even become heavier favorites with a couple of roster upgrades.

And that's the state of the AL Central. One team in the mix. Unless the Indians can get the same kind of season from Asdrubal Cabrera and a few of those starting pitchers, it's going to be Tigers Tigers Tigers.

Except …

Maybe this is becoming an obsession of mine. Maybe I'm making the same mistake that I made when I thought the Orioles' plan of "acquiring veteran stopgaps to support the young pitching" last offseason was a great idea. But when I look at the AL Central, I see a window for the Kansas City Royals. I know they're not supposed to really contend until 2013 or so, and that they're supposed to take things slow and polite like a nice little rebuilding team. But the AL Central is in shambles now. The Tigers are clear favorites, but they're a decidedly imperfect and top-heavy team. The Indians, White Sox, and Twins all have some talent, but they also have serious problems.

And it takes a leap of faith, but I can see the Royals having a fantastic offense next year. Not a league-average offense, but a fantastic one. It takes a leap of faith, certainly. One that requires you to make all sorts of unrealistic assumptions, such as:

 

 

Not a one of those bullet points is unreasonable in isolation. Expecting all of them to happen in concert, with nothing bad happening to the team, is unreasonable. But I can't shake the idea that it's already an offense that can contend.

Which leads us to the pitching. You could make individual arguments for why it's possible for Jonathan Sanchez, Luke Hochevar, Felipe Paulino, Danny Duffy, and Aaron Crow to all have breakout seasons in the rotation. Individually, there is hope. But just like the group above, it's unrealistic for all of them to come through.

But I'm a starry-eyed fool. The Royals have been linked to just about every starting pitcher on the trade and free-agent market. I'm in. It makes sense. If they can't convince a guy like Hiroki Kuroda or Roy Oswalt to come over on a short deal, they should give the Gil Meche treatment to CJ Wilson, but more so. If they can't get Wilson, they should wine and dine Mark Buehrle. If they can't do that, move forward on a trade for Wandy Rodriguez, or even Gio Gonzalez.

They should hang on to Wil Meyers and Mike Montgomery. Don't go crazy, now. But a sustained effort to build a competent rotation is worth the money for Kansas City right now. The Royals are supposed to be good in the near future. So are most of those pitchers, so there's no sense in delaying the upgrade to the rotation that they'll need soon.

Or there could be a lot of sense. I could be wrong. Really, really wrong. The counterpoint to my argument is this: Royals. They should probably just kick back for a while and let the team improve around them for a couple of seasons before getting crazy.

But the White Sox going down a different path should have started the Royals thinking. Based on the rumors, they were already way ahead of us. And because they're the Royals, there's a great chance that they'll clumsy French waiter the hell out of this thing -- doing the transactional equivalent of burning their hands on a hot pan, hopping around with a bucket on their foot, and falling out of an open window -- but it's not a bad time to think the failure would at least be worth the effort.

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