With Cruz, others, Royals eager to improve

Updated: March 1, 2009, 12:52 PM ET
By Buster Olney
Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore explained over the phone Saturday how the pursuit of reliever Juan Cruz accelerated after Orlando Hudson decided to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Royals had hoped to lure Hudson to Kansas City, but once that didn't happen, Moore went after the next-best free agent accessible to the Royals (or, at least, the one not named Manny Ramirez).

"Only Brad Lidge had a higher percentage of missed swings than Cruz last year," Moore said. "He'll help us get to [Joakim] Soria."

The Royals have improved in many ways, including their collective confidence.

They've installed Coco Crisp in their outfield and Mike Jacobs at first base. Mike Aviles has emerged in the infield. Alex Gordon and others worked diligently to improve during the offseason. The team has more depth among its position players than it has had in years. Mark Teahen seems poised to be a kind of roving regular, like a Tony Phillips, getting regular playing time while moving from position to position.

Although the Royals traded a couple of relievers, they also have rolled the dice. They've invested about $14 million in Kyle Farnsworth and Cruz to take care of the outs in front of Soria, who might be the most underrated closer in the game.

They figure to be in the mix to earn the American League Central title, but one player in particular might be the linchpin for their hopes: pitcher Kyle Davies.

Davies improved his breaking ball last season. His ERA figures during the last four months of the season:

June: 3.62
July: 5.61
August: 5.79
September: 2.27

It is standard operating procedure to look at September numbers warily, but the Royals are hopeful that Davies' results are based on changes he made with his breaking ball. If he throws the way he did in the last month of last season, the Royals could have enough depth in rotation behind Gil Meche and Zack Greinke. If Davies regresses, Kansas City could have a problem with its rotation.

By the way, the Royals' payroll has increased by about 25 percent this winter, from about $60 million to about $76 million. The financial backing of some teams is rooted in real estate and is vulnerable, but the foundation of the Kansas City franchise is built on Wal-Mart, a good place to be these days.

Just one thing keeps Brian Bannister from being a good story, Joe Posnanski writes.