Exhibit 1.4.9

Royals Season Review

Blog crossover! So fellow fiction writer, Nebraskan, and Royals fan Theodore Wheeler asked me if I'd like to trade some questions about this Kansas City Royals, and I of course said yes. Talking about the Royals is one of my favorite things to do in the world, ranking somewhere between eating French Toast and talking about eating French Toast.

For those of you not paying attention to this season in Royals baseball--which, according to my math, is all of humanity minus about 100 people currently inside an Arthur Bryant's--the Royals finished up the year 71-91 which was good enough for 4th place in the AL Central, besting only the lowly, lowly Twins (let's not take the time to remember my Royals season preview in which I predicted the Twins to win the central).

Buried in another miserable record, however, were real signs of hope, mostly centered around an improving offense led by a resurgent Alex Gordon, career years from a couple of fan-hated castoffs, and, of course, the long awaited arrival of some of the best prospects in baseball. The Royals ended the season looking like a team ready to compete for the division as early as next season and, indeed, advance stats have them as the second best team in the division already with a lot more talent on the way.

Are the Royals finally legit? I don't know. Ted might. I asked him. Below are my questions to Ted and his answers.

You can find my answers to his questions at Ted's site The Uninitiated right here.

Adam: What does 2012 look like for the Royals? There’s certainly a sense of excitement around the team now that the season is ending that wasn’t there in June when the losses mounted, the rookies struggled, and the farm system fell back to Earth. Is this just a September mirage made possible by journeymen and young guys filling out 40-man rosters or are these performances real? I guess the question is this: can this team compete for the division in 2012 or are they a year (or more) away?

Ted: The Royals have made a September surge an annual event in the last decade, so I’m inclined to be skeptical of the results of late. However, I expected Hosmer, Moustakas, and Perez to play well—so maybe seeing is believing at this point. I do think the Royals have a chance to compete for the division in 2012, although a lot of that optimism comes from the fact that they play in the AL Central. The Tigers probably have a couple more years in their run (Verlander has to regress at some point, right?), but I’m not all that scared by anyone else. The Indians have a chance to be good, yet they had a lot of guys playing out of their minds this season, and still finished as a mediocre team. Although it won’t be as bad as it has this year, the Twins are on a downward slide. And I can’t imagine the White Sox find anyone who can hold all the head-cases on their roster together better than Ozzie Guillen. (Here’s hoping Hal McRae gets another shot. That would be quite a show.) So the Royals will have a shot. From top-to-bottom, I don’t see a huge weakness in the lineup. Both Frenchy and Melky Cabrera will probably regress—but it’s important to remember that 2011 was still just their age 26 and 27 seasons, which is typically when a hitter is at his peak. So it’s possible that they, along with Gordon and Billy Butler, are just settling into the prime of their careers. At the least, with that in mind, I doubt anyone falls off a cliff. Add that to a solid bullpen, and I think the Royals hopes in 2012 all come down to how well the rotation can compete.

A: This year’s starting rotation was, frankly, terrible, and it’s painful to imagine how much worse they would have been without the performance of Felipe Paulino who was picked up for nothing at the end of May. What do you see the Royals doing this offseason and what would you want them to do? Can they count on Paulino to repeat his performance? Will Duffy make a leap? And—I guess we’re still asking this—will Hochevar? A better question: do the Royals currently have anyone in the rotation who they can count on in their long-term plans?

T: This is the factor that can, and probably will, sink the Royals in 2012. Paulino has been a horse this year, and he has the kind of stuff and physical attributes that could lead to an out-of-nowhere special season. I think Duffy will get better, but it will probably be a couple years before he gets comfortable challenging MLB hitters. I’m pretty sure Luke Hochevar is what he is at this point. So we have three maybes, not one you can count on—and it gets a bit darker from there, unfortunately. Moore needs to find a top starter, if not two, if they expect to be a playoff team. That being said, the Royals aren’t going to find anyone on the free agent or trade market who can compete with Justin Verlander pitch for pitch. CJ Wilson would be a great sign, but he’s not coming here. Would Edwin Jackson be worth overpaying for? Or worth risking team chemistry over? Maybe. There may be some interesting prospects on the trade market—Clayton Kershaw, Gio Gonzalez, Dan Haren—but no one knows how that will shake out at this point. And would it be worth it to give up Mike Montgomery and Wil Myers, plus two middling prospects, for two years of a potentially elite starter. Maybe. But Montgomery has a ton of talent—Chuck Finley is the comp I’ve heard the most—and could be that guy himself if he figures some things out this winter.

I’ll hate myself for saying this, but I kind of wish Moore would make a run at signing Mark Buehrle. (And back from a quick shower…) He isn’t a great pitcher anymore, but Buehrle’s influence on the young White Sox pitchers the last few years has been evident. I’d love to see what that kind of veteran influence would do for guys like Duffy and Montgomery. And for Paulino and Hochevar for that matter. I could live with a rotation of Buehrle, Hochevar, Duffy, Paulino, Teaford. Is that a playoff-caliber rotation? (Please hold all derisive laughter.) Of course it isn’t. But maybe it’s good enough to stay in the race until July, if the offense continues produce like it has in the second-half this year, and at that point Moore can go out and get a premier starter. (Zack Greinke anyone?) Or maybe Montgomery could give a surge. 2012 probably won’t be the year that KC makes it back to the playoffs. But if that year is going to come in the next decade, 2012 has to be the year the Royals get used to being in the conversation.

A: So you asked me about the prospects who played this year, but I’m curious about your take on prospects who are still in the system. Obviously this gets tricky as we don’t really see these guys (at least I don’t down in Texas), but my question is this: what prospects who haven’t yet seen the majors do you see having the biggest impact on the team next year? Long-term? Also, is there still enough talent in the system to round out a complete roster or are the Royals going to have to go shopping?

T: The Royals debuted five position players this year, four who are starters, and three who performed pretty well. Seven pitchers have made their debut, with an astounding five rookies with an ERA under 3.65. (Each of the five are bullpen guys.) It’s no surprise that they are the youngest team in the majors, and it isn’t even close. So you couldn’t really blame the Royals if the cupboard was bare. Fortunately, there’s still a ton of quality down on the farm. If anyone does fall off, or get hurt, there’s some depth to fill in. There aren’t a bunch of superstars left, but there are plenty of guys who should be able to hold their own over the course of a month or two if needed. David Lough is a guy who, on Royals teams of the past, probably would have spent most of the year with the big club. Yet, with the organization as it is now, it’s likely that Lough will never see meaningful time with major league squad. That’s great progress. There’s no reason for Moore to go shopping for spare parts this year, or any year in the foreseeable future, with the rotation as a possible caveat.

Just going down the organizational ladder, there are many guys who we might see in KC over the next few years. Lorenzo Cain will be an MLB regular somewhere. Clint Robinson will play for the A’s someday. Yamaico Navarro and Jarrod Dyson are capable bench players now. Kelvin Herrera will be in the bullpen. Mike Montgomery has ace stuff—but he’s also a tall lefty, so it might take a while before he learns to control it. Wil Myers is still a top talent, if he can avoid injuries and regain his confidence. Chris Dwyer will be a quality bullpen lefty at worst, and can still be a mid-rotation guy. Jake Odorizzi has the looks of a two or three starter in the majors. John Lamb won’t start throwing again until late in the summer, but most people I’ve heard are confident that he’ll rebound and be in the majors sometime in 2013. (The guy had a 3.09 ERA in the Texas League, a notorious hitter’s league, as a 20 year-old with an injured shoulder that kept him from throwing his best pitch. If it wasn’t for his undergoing Tommy John surgery, Lamb would have been in the rotation by August this year.) There are a bunch of guys in A-ball to keep an eye on too: Noel Arguelles, Cheslor Cuthbert, Brett Eibner, Jason Adam, Yordano Ventura, Jorge Bonifacio, Michael Antonio, and Robinson Yambati. Bubba Starling is starting instructional league this week in Arizona. Then there’s the next wave of bullpen guys to keep an eye on: Kevin Chapman, Patrick Keating, Henry Barrera, and Kendal Volz. Cuthbert and Bonifacio have the kind of talent that they could find themselves as Top 20 prospects in the next couple years.

There are plenty of question marks—Will Chris Colon ever rebound? Will Rey Navarro ever hit enough to get his glove on the field? Do Myers, Dwyer, and Montgomery reestablish themselves as top prospects?—but a few bad things were bound to happen after everything went right in 2010. I think we’ll see things come back to center in 2012, as far as the farm goes. There’s too much talent there to not have a few guys ready to pop every year.

Theodore Wheeler’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Best New American Voices, The Kenyon Review, Boulevard, The Cincinnati Review, and Confrontation, among other venues. He is a senior fiction reader at Prairie Schooner, and is currently at work on a novel that is mostly about German-American political thugs, the First World War, and the events surrounding the Omaha Race Riot of 1919.

And don't forget to check out Ted's site and my answers to his questions.

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