A quick look ahead at your 2013 Royals

It was just a few weeks ago when the Royals crept to within four games of the coveted .500 mark with a pulsating 4-3 win at Minnesota.

We all know what happened next: since-traded Jonathan Sanchez started the next day and dug the Royals into yet another huge hole, the Royals lost, and their momentum died. The Royals never recovered during a dreadful 3-8 road trip, and their once hopeful season faded quickly.

Thoughts of reaching .500 now seem a distant memory, and mainly what’s left to accomplish is to hold off the Twins and stay out of last place.

But the Royals, too, need to look to the future, which general manager Dayton Moore surely is doing right now as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches quickly. Moore has some trade bait, most noticeably closer Jonathan Broxton, infielder Yuni Betancourt, lefty specialist Jose Mijares, and outfielder Jeff Francoeur.

For now, though, let’s look at what Moore’s 2013 team might look like:

ROTATION LOCKS:

Luke Hochevar: With Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino still on the mend for the first half of 2013, Hochevar will be the ace.

Bruce Chen: Already signed for 2013, Chen, though he has wobbled too much this season, will be a part of the rotation.

Luis Mendoza: Has settled in wonderfully in the rotation and is the pitcher the Royals and fans hoped to see after his breakout season at Omaha in 2011.

ROTATION MAYBES:

Jeremy Guthrie: If he turns his season around with the Royals here in the last two months, I could see Moore offering him a two-year deal. He’s arbitration eligible, but that $8 million price tag is steep for a guy who is not a sure thing. Would be a nice stop-gap while the Royals wait on Duffy and Paulino.

Will Smith: Has shown in two starts now (against Indians and Angels) that he has the stuff to be a bottom-of-the-rotation guy. Just 23 and learning.

Jake Odorizzi: Almost surely will get a look soon at the big-league level. Has had a few command issues at Omaha, but probably ready to learn at the next level.

FREE-AGENT: There’s been a little bit of wishing thinking in these parts that the Royals might pursue Zack Greinke. It would take a huge investment, one the Royals and ownership might be more willing to do before the 2014 season, when Moore truly expects the Royals to compete for the division title. Although Greinke still has a place in Kansas City, he insists there is no connection with that fact and him wanting desperately to return to Kansas City (he is renting out his house near the Plaza). Greinke has said repeatedly that he and his wife love Milwaukee and the Brewers organization. But he could be traded soon and that may change his mood.

CONVERTED STARTER: There will be discussions again this off-season about converting one of the Royals’ bullpen studs, namely Aaron Crow, to become a starter. But the feeling here is that the Royals don’t want to disrupt one of the strengths of this team – their bullpen.

BULLPEN:

CLOSER CANDIDATES:

It seems likely that Broxton will have enough value to be moved, meaning the Royals could be auditioning candidates for the 2013 closer’s role over these last two months. Joakim Soria, also mending from Tommy John surgery, likely won’t be back until mid-2013, and because it’s his second TJ surgery, no one knows if he will return to his previous form.

That means the Royals probably will turn to Greg Holland as a closer candidate, along with Kelvin Herrera.

REST OF BULLPEN:

Crow is a terrific set-up guy and likely stays in that role, along with left-hander Tim Collins. Same for Luis Coleman in his middle-relief role. Everett Teaford or Nate Adcock could handle the long-relief role, leaving the Royals searching only for a lefty specialist to replace Mijares if he is not re-signed – that could be Francisely Bueno or Tommy Hottovy.

POSITION PLAYERS:

INFIELD:

Mike Moustakas (3B), Alcides Escobar (SS) and Eric Hosmer (1B) should hold those positions for many years to come.

Second base is still an issue. Betancourt likely will be moved, and even if he isn’t, the Royals don’t have a real answer right now at the position. Chris Getz is more suited as a spot starter, and prospect Johnny Giavotella needs to ramp up his game both defensively and offensively to be considered again as the answer there in 2013. Christian Colon, the Royals’ top pick in 2010, made progress this season at Double-A and should get a promotion to Omaha soon. Colon may ultimately be the answer at second base, but there are doubts he’d be ready by 2013.

Salvador Perez is simply one of the best young catchers in baseball, someone the Royals can build around, and designated hitter Billy Butler is the best all-around hitter on the team.

OUTFIELD:

Alex Gordon is one of the hottest hitters in baseball and has embraced the leadoff role. He’s also outstanding in left field.

Lorenzo Cain is now showing why the Royals were so anxious to create a spot for him in center field (another reason for the Melky Cabrera trade). Cain is hitting for average and power, and is running pretty well even though he’s still not 100 percent after recovering from leg and hip issues. Cain’s emergence probably will change the organization’s view on where to eventually play Wil Myers, who now looks like the right fielder of the future.

For now, right field is Francoeur’s spot, but if he isn’t traded (he’s signed through 2013), he may have to accept a backup role to make room for Myers. It will be tough to ask a veteran to do that, but then again, Frenchy is hitting in the low .240s with little to no production (eight homers, 27 RBIs).

Jarrod Dyson is transitioning into his future role – a fourth outfielder – and his speed can be a late-inning asset. If Frenchy is moved, the Royals may need a fifth outfielder in 2013 but that search won’t be hard – they have Mitch Maier and Jason Bourgeois in the system.