Cockcroft: Kansas City Royals preview

Now that the Detroit Tigers are once again a winning team, and the defending American League champions, the title of most despondent franchise belongs cleanly in the hands of the Kansas City Royals. The winners of seven division titles and the 1985 World Series during a 10-year span from 1976-85, the Royals today are coming off three consecutive 100-loss seasons, the first team to do that since the expansion Toronto Blue Jays did it in their first three years in 1977-79, and four 100-loss campaigns in the past five years.

What that's done for these Royals is earn them enough high-ranking picks in the amateur draft in recent seasons to help them begin restocking the farm system. Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year for 2006 Alex Gordon (3B) was their 2005 first rounder (No. 2 overall), 2006 All-Star Futures Game MVP Billy Butler (OF) was the team's 2004 first rounder (No. 14 overall), 2005 All-American Luke Hochevar (RHP) was the team's 2006 first rounder (No. 1 overall), and now, all three rank among the best prospects in all of baseball. Plus, the team also picked up quality youngsters like outfielders Chris Lubanski (2003 first rounder) and Mitch Maier (2003 first rounder) and right-hander Billy Buckner (2004 second rounder) in their past four drafts, and others like left-hander Tyler Lumsden and right-handers Brian Bannister and Joakim Soria in recent trades or the Rule 5 draft.

Of course, it's going to take time for all these kids to develop, and in the meantime, the Royals lack the financial resources to add the quality major-league stopgaps they need. And when they have the money to spend, they go out of their way to throw money around like they did when they signed right-hander Gil Meche to a five-year, $55-million contract this winter. Meche is now an $11-million-per-season ace, despite the fact that he has a 4.65 ERA and 1.439 WHIP for his career, numbers not much better than Zack Greinke, who makes only a fraction of that, has in three big-league seasons.