For long-suffering fans of the Kansas City Royals, what happened last Sunday should have gladdened the cockles.
Yes, the Royals finished sweeping the White Sox. Usually, that's cockle-gladdening enough. But there was more. Here was the Royals' lineup that afternoon. No names. Just ages:
Now, those same numbers but this time with names and positions:
26 - Lorenzo Cain (CF)
Acquired when the Royals traded Zack Greinke to the Brewers, Cain's played sparingly this season because of injuries. But he's played decently when he's played, and his minor-league track record suggests that, if healthy, he'll be a solid every-day center fielder for at least the next few seasons.
25 - Alcides Escobar (SS)
Another prize in the Greinke trade, Escobar's batting average this season is inflated by an unsustainable batting average on balls in play. But like Cain, he projects as a solid performer at a key defensive position. And he's still young and cheap.
28 - Alex Gordon (LF)
Gordon's just a month shy of being the oldest player in this lineup, and players do peak at 27 or 28 (just look at his statistics last year!). The good news is that 1) he remains a fine player, with mid-range power and good defense in left field, and 2) he's under contract through 2015 at something like the market rate for a player of his talents.
26 - Billy Butler (DH)
The Royals' best hitter, and (like Gordon) locked up through 2015, contractually. He's generally good for nearly 160 games per season, and still seems to have some room for growth, especially in the power department. Might break long-standing team record (36) for home runs in one season.
22 - Sal Perez (C)
Perez missed April, May, and most of June with a spring-training knee injury ... and all he's done since returning to the lineup is mash baseballs. Which he also did last season after his August call-up. We should retain some healthy skepticism, as Perez's minor-league numbers didn't really suggest this sort of production. But how can you not be excited about a 22-year-old with the fourth-best OPS, over the last two seasons, among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances? Oh, and he's probably going to win a Gold Glove someday.
23 - Mike Moustakas (3B)
If Butler doesn't break the Royals' home-run record, Moose might. A shortstop in the minors, Moustakas has become an excellent third baseman and will someday hit 30 home runs per season. A few more walks would be nice, but it's impolite to quibble in these matters ...
21 - Wil Myers (RF)
He's just one of the best young hitting prospects in the whole game, that's all. With Triple-A Omaha this season, Myers batted .300/.380/.558 in 85 games. He's going to be a good hitter for a long time.
22 - Eric Hosmer (1B)
It's been a rough season. After a brilliant second half last season and a brilliant spring training, nothing short of brilliance was expected this season. Instead Hosmer's been terrible, basically nonstop since Opening Day. Fortunately, there doesn't seem to be anything fundamentally wrong with him. He was probably just a bit lucky last season, and probably a lot unlucky this season. He's still essentially an infant, and he still projects as a fine major leaguer.
25 - Johnny Giavotella (2B)
I'm sorry, but I'm not going to give the Royals a great deal of credit for Giavotella. Oh, the front office gets credit for drafting him, just four years ago. And they get some credit, I suppose, for developing him. But then they buried him. He struggled with the big club in the second half of last season, and so they signed Yuniesky Betancourt. When Betacourt washed out, they left Giavotella in Triple-A and gave Chris Getz the full-time job. Meanwhile, Giavotella's been having his second straight big season in Omaha. And finally, Giavotella got a return ticket to Kansas City when Getz got hurt last week. He should be in the lineup almost every day, trying to convince everyone that his poor performance thus far in the majors has been just a mirage.
If you saw the part where I cheated, pat yourself on the back or give yourself a high five or do whatever you self-congratulatory people like to do with yourselves. I'll just say hey, good job.
Wil Myers didn't play right field. Wil Myers hasn't played right field. That spot, all season long, has been reserved for 28-year-old Jeff Francoeur, one month older than Alex Gordon. The real difference between Francoeur and Gordon, though, is that Gordon's a good major-league baseball player while Francoeur ... well, 80 American Leaguers have played enough this season to qualify for the batting title. According to FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement, Frenchy's been the 80th best of them: bad hitter, bad fielder, bad baserunner. Great guy, though!
The really bad news is that Francoeur is signed for next year, at $6.5 million. Which makes it both hard to sit him and hard to trade him. Still, sit him or trade him the Royals must, because they simply won't be able to keep Myers in the minors next spring. Not after this summer.
Of course it's hard to predict the future with any precision, and especially the baseball future. While it would be lovely if next year's Opening Day lineup looked exactly like that (fake) lineup above, it probably won't. There will be injuries, and (if history's any guide) there will be foolish decisions. But the Royals have, in their organization right now, the makings of a young and excellent lineup. If only the manager can be convinced of that.
The pitching, of course, is a different story. Specifically, the starting pitching. It's almost impossible to predict, with any precision at all, what the Royals' rotation will look like next spring. And it's really hard to build a good pitching rotation on the cheap, and in a hurry. Which is what management will attempt this winter.