There are lots of reasons to be excited for the future of the Royals and one of them will make his Major League debut tonight: Eric Hosmer. The first base prospect will join a team that’s been surprisingly good so far in 2011 (they’re 17-14), one that appears poised to become a playoff contender once its highly-touted prospects become Major Leaguers.
It’s never all about the future, even with rebuilding teams like the Royals. Managers need players to pencil into the lineup and fans need something to cheer for, so general managers sign stop-gap players to represent the big league club while prospects develop.
So far, the four veterans GM Dayton Moore signed this offseason are more than earning their keep. Jeff Francoeur has eight homers and a .305/.346/.602 line (it’s not BABIP-inflated, either) and Melky Cabrera has a .293/.317/.466 line after yesterday’s three-hit game. They've both been pleasant surprises for the league's best offense.
On the pitching side, Jeff Francis has a 5.45 ERA (3.73 xFIP) in 29 2/3 innings with a strong 21K/8BB ratio. Fellow southpaw Bruce Chen has a 3.59 ERA (4.54 xFIP) through 42 2/3 innings with a 24K/14BB ratio. Neither pitcher replaces Zack Greinke atop the rotation, but they’re healthy and productive at the very least. The quartet of Francis, Chen, Francoeur and Cabrera has been worth a combined 2.5 wins above replacement so far, yet another indication that they're producing.
Moore signed the four players for a total of $7.75MM and didn’t give up a single draft pick in the process. It’s a promising development for Royals fans since every homegrown team needs to supplement its core players with free agents at times. Moore’s track record on the free agent market includes its share of blemishes – Jose Guillen for example – but this year his approach has produced strong results for minimal cost.