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12-12-2006, 03:27 AM

Buddy breaks down his team
After a flurry of winter acquisitions, manager Bell analyzes how the roster of his 2007 club is taking shape.

The Kansas City Star

Buddy Bell was already well on the way to recovery from throat surgery even before the Royals overhauled their pitching staff. Now, he can’t wait for February to start piecing together a new roster.

“What we’ve done,” he said, “creates a lot more competition — and we haven’t had a lot of that here before. We might not be finished, either.”

The Royals added five pitchers and deleted four others in a frenetic rush over the last week that remains ongoing. They now seem unlikely to land free-agent Miguel Batista, who is close to signing a three-year deal with Seattle, but they continue to shop for a veteran starter. The possibilities include ex-Royal Jeff Suppan.

“We want to make sure that we give our players the best opportunity to win,” Moore said, “and give our fans something they can be proud of. That’s where your sense of urgency comes from.”

So the countdown is on: It’s just 66 days until pitchers and catchers report for duty at the club’s spring home in Surprise, Ariz. The first full-squad workout is Feb. 22.

“I know the fans are excited,” designated hitter Mike Sweeney said, “and that’s great. You need that. But the players are also excited, and that’s a tribute to what Dayton Moore and the Glass family have done this winter.”


Projected roster

Position players (13 or 14)

Catcher: Jason LaRue/John Buck
First base: Ryan Shealy
Second base: Mark Grudzielanek
Shortstop: Angel Berroa
Third base: Alex Gordon

Left field: Emil Brown/Reggie Sanders
Center field: David DeJesus
Right field: Mark Teahen

Designated hitter: Mike Sweeney

Reserves: Utilityman Esteban German, outfielder Shane Costa or outfielder Joey Gathright and probably one other utility player.

Rotation (5 plus 1)

RHP Gil Meche
LHP Odalis Perez
RHP Luke Hudson

Two of the following plus one as long reliever: LHP Jorge De La Rosa, RHP Zack Greinke, RHP Brian Bannister and RHP Todd Wellemeyer.

Bullpen (5 or 6)

RHP Octavio Dotel
LHP John Bale
LHP Jimmy Gobble
RHP Ken Ray

One or two of the following: RHP Joel Peralta, RHP Joe Nelson, RHP Joakim Soria, LHP Andrew Sisco, RHP Ryan Braun and LHP Neal Musser.


The Rotation

It starts, of course, with right-hander Gil Meche, the new $55 million man. The Royals ponied up for that five-year deal because they see Meche, 28, developing into a reliable staff leader.

“Everybody in our organization thinks he has a great arm,” Bell said. “He was also, basically, the youngest guy coming out (in the free-agent market).”

Veteran lefty Odalis Perez projects as the No. 2 starter. He was just 6-8 last season with a 6.20 ERA while splitting time with the Royals and Dodgers. But he’s in the final year of his contract and figures to be motivated.

Right-hander Luke Hudson would have to pitch his way out of the rotation after blossoming last year into a dependable performer.

The Royals remain hopeful of adding another veteran before spring training. Failing that, they will select their final two starters from a youthful group that includes Jorge De La Rosa, Zack Greinke and just-acquired Brian Bannister.

Greinke made three relief appearances last season after joining the club in September but will enter spring as a candidate for the rotation.

“That doesn’t mean he can’t make our club while pitching out of the bullpen,” Bell said, “because we feel pretty confident that Zack’s development can be done at the big-league level.”


The Bullpen

The signing of veteran Octavio Dotel fills the gaping need for a proven closer and allows the Royals to shift other pitchers into roles that better fit their capabilities.

“He’s done it before,” Bell said, “and he has the stuff to do it.”

Lefty John Bale seems a lock after signing a two-year deal. The Royals outbid the Yankees for Bale, who spent the last three seasons in Japan after bouncing among three big-league teams during 1999-2003.

Lefty Jimmy Gobble and right-hander Ken Ray also figure to claim jobs. The Royals claimed Ray off waivers in October from Atlanta. He got off to a great start last year before fading badly after the All-Star break.

Rule 5 draft pick Joakim Soria will also get a long look. He pitched a perfect game Saturday for Obregon in the Mexican Pacific League but projects as a middle reliever.

“Heck, he might be a candidate for the setup role,” Bell said, “because he can throw strikes. That’s something we just couldn’t do enough last year.”

That leaves just one or two openings for a returning group that includes Joel Peralta, Joe Nelson, Andrew Sisco, Ryan Braun and Arizona Fall League standout Neal Musser.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who can pitch in the setup role,” Bell said. “You’ve got to look at Nelson. You’ve got to look at Gobble. You’ve got to look at Bale.

“With Sisco, we’d probably prefer not to pitch him as closely to the end (of games), but Peralta is in the mix.”


The Infield

Moore remains unwilling, at this point, to commit to Alex Gordon as the club’s starting third baseman despite a terrific first professional season that resulted in his selection as Baseball America’s minor-league player of the year.

“We’re still not ready to say that Gordon is on our team,” Moore said. “We want him to continue to force our hand.”

Even so, it would be a stunning development if Gordon isn’t the starting third baseman when the Royals open the season April 2 against Boston at Kauffman Stadium.

Putting Gordon at third would force Mark Teahen to shift to the outfield — something he has already been told to prepare for as he undergoes rehabilitation following surgery on his right shoulder.

The rest of the infield appears set with Ryan Shealy at first base, Gold Glove winner Mark Grudzielanek at second base and, for better or worse, Angel Berroa at shortstop.

“Angel has to play better, period,” Bell said, “but first, he’s got to play better defensively.”

Sweeney will be the full-time DH, and Esteban German is a lock for a utility job.


The Outfield

Bell said David DeJesus will return to center field on a full-time basis and continue to bat leadoff. Everything else is in flux.

Teahen seems certain to play one of the corner spots unless something happens that forces his return to third base. Which corner will depend on what happens between now and opening day.

The Royals are trying to trade either Reggie Sanders or Emil Brown. If they fail, and both stay, a platoon seems likely in left field with Teahen getting regular duty in right. Sanders can play right, but the Royals seem to want to keep Brown in left and prefer not to shift Teahen around.

The backup candidates are Shane Costa and Joey Gathright. Both are left-handed hitters, and the Royals figure to keep only one if Sanders and Brown are both around. If so, Gathright probably gets the edge because of his speed and his ability to play center field.



The acquisition of veteran catcher Jason LaRue last month from Cincinnati effectively puts John Buck on notice and probably means a pink slip for Paul Phillips, who is out of options.

LaRue and Buck will battle next spring for the starting job.

“I would hope that somebody emerges as the No. 1 guy,” Bell said. “I mean, that’s what I would prefer. I like LaRue, and I like Buck. It could work out differently, but I’m hoping it is one way or the other.”

Bell also dismissed the suggestion the two are similar players.

“Makeup is a little different,” he said. “I think that might be the biggest difference whether John wins it or Jason wins it.”