KC's patience may pay off ... eventually

Could Kansas City Royals make run in vulnerable AL Central?

It’s been 27 years since the Kansas City Royals last reached the playoffs. Chicago Cubs fans are lauded for their patience, but they’ve enjoyed/endured five postseason appearances since Kansas City’s most recent trip to October.

Am I alone in thinking the Royals shouldn’t be that far away from snapping the drought?

Kansas City scored a respectable 730 runs last year with a young lineup that returns mostly intact. The bullpen was dominant at times, even as it was overworked because the starting pitchers averaged fewer than six innings per game. So perhaps the Royals can fix the rotation and take a shot at winning the American League Central right now, following the news that Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez likely will miss the 2012 season.

Some baseball observers wonder if the Tigers are newly vulnerable without Martinez. But if the question is whether Martinez’s injury prompted the Royals to recalculate their ambitions for 2012, the answer is no.

“We’re kind of set with what we have,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore told FOXSports.com in a telephone interview Thursday. “We’re not a finished product by any means, but we’re staying focused on keeping our core group of players together. Our next step needs to be getting some of our young starting pitching to the major leagues.”

In other words, Moore believes the Royals are more than one starting pitcher away from winning the division. Consequently, they are unlikely to outbid the competition and sign a free agent like Edwin Jackson or Roy Oswalt.

“I realize that we won 71 games last year,” Moore said. “There’s a lot we have to do if we want to win more games. I’m not trying to put limitations on my team. We expect to compete. We have some talented young players. But that young talent has to produce if we’re going to win. And we haven’t shown we can do that yet, over the long major-league season.”

Still, imagine the Royals’ swagger if Oswalt, the three-time All-Star, took the ball for them on Opening Day. That would take a significant investment from ownership, since the right-hander has been asking for $10 million or more on the open market. It doesn’t appear that owner David Glass is ready to cut that check.

In time, that may prove to be the wisest move. We know all the cautionary tales about free-agent pitching.

But for now, it means the Royals must counter the Tigers’ postseason-tested trio of Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer with Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen and Jonathan Sanchez.

The final two spots in Kansas City’s rotation likely will belong to some combination of Felipe Paulino, Danny Duffy, Luis Mendoza, Vin Mazzaro and Aaron Crow, a stud setup man last year. Left-hander Mike Montgomery, a star prospect who struggled last year, also could debut in the majors this year.

But right now, the cast looks similar to the one that finished with the second-highest rotation ERA in the American League last year (4.82).

Moore discussed the possibility of acquiring Mat Latos from the Padres and Gio Gonzalez from the Athletics. Ultimately, he turned down the trade proposals because he didn’t want to surrender the prospects that could form the core of a future contender.

“We could have probably jumped in there on some pitchers who were traded, but we need another year to find out what we have here with guys like Chris Dwyer, Jake Odorizzi and Montgomery,” Moore said. “We may be more receptive to a deal like that next year.

“We’ve already sacrificed so much. We have to do this thing the right way. We can’t try to speed it up at the end, even though it’s tempting.”

Moore’s patience could help the Royals win the division in 2014. It may also allow the Tigers do the same in 2012.

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