Has this era for the Kansas City Royals been a success or a failure? Sure, they won the World Series in 2015, but they spent a solid decade building this team up to that point, they faltered badly last year, and now by the end of this year - or potentially the trade deadline if things get off to a rough start - it seems like much of that championship core will be dismantled and they will be starting from scratch again. A lot of teams - especially in markets like this one - would kill to have that one title, but when you look at what it felt like they were building a decade ago it just feels to me like there was supposed to be more on the horizon.
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Injuries were a big factor during last year's 81-win season. More significantly, though, it just felt like the team had a massive World Series hangover. They lacked every bit of the intensity and desire that allowed them to go all the way the year before. Instead of overachieving, they underperformed badly - and very few were spared from that brush of mediocrity. Their offseason didn't do a lot to inspire us that last year was just a fluke. They made some moves but didn't worry too much about depth of the bullpen.
So, can this team surprise us and make one more big move before they tear it all apart due to expiring contracts and financial realities? Or will last year just have acted as a preview of what to expect this season?
Royals 2017 Projected Lineup
There was a little bit of shuffling on the roster, as Kendrys Morales headed to Toronto and Jarrod Dyson was traded to Seattle, and they were replaced by signing Brandon Moss from the Cardinals and Jorge Soler from the Cubs. You can make a case about the value of the additions compared to the subtractions, but even the most optimistic can't say they got significantly better there. From where I sit they are worse - Morales was a useful big bat in the lineup, and Dyson was crazy fast.
The big story, of course, is the guys who are likely playing for big new contracts - likely in other cities. Eric Hosmer is the most attractive. Reports are that team and player may be working on an extension, but not quickly if it is happening at all - and Hosmer would be silly not to try free agency given his appeal, which was only heightened by a very strong World Baseball Classic. Third baseman Mike Moustakas, shortstop Alcides Escobar, and outfielder Lorenzo Cain are also in the final years of their deals. Guys in contract years are tough to read. For every one who is motivated by the next deal and has a career year there is one who is crushed by the pressure and underperforms badly. You just can't know, and with much of the core of this roster - these are the likely first four hitters in the lineup - in the same boat, it is far from ideal or at least far from comfortably predictable.
Royals 2017 Projected Rotation and Closer
The rotation, and the organization, was dealt a crushing blow when Yordano Ventura was killed in January. He was not just their best player but also a clear leader on the team. His loss will be felt immensely. Will the team rally around his memory or miss him too much to shine? In his absence Danny Duffy steps up as the de facto ace. He made big strides last year, but it is hard from where I sit to see him as a true No. 1. Jason Hammel was added to the rotation after the death of Ventura and will be reliable if not overwhelming - much as he has been throughout his career. Edinson Volquez also left in free agency, so we are left with a rotation behind Duffy that isn't easy to love. Ian Kennedy can be solid, but he can also be horrible, and trying to predict which version of him will show up from game to game, or even inning to inning, will drive you crazy. Jason Vargas and Travis Wood are, best-case scenario, the kind of fourth and fifth starters that you don't get excited about but that you also don't hate having on your team. The worst case is much, much worse than that, though. Add it all up and this is a rotation that is very tough to get truly excited about.
The bullpen isn't any more inspiring. They traded stud closer Wade Davis to the Cubs and replaced him with, well… not much. Kelvin Herrera was the closer when Davis was hurt last year and will fill the role full time. Joakim Soria, who feels like he is about 95 years old given how long he has been around, is the headliner of the set-up guys. And the depth - especially for inning eaters - is just lousy.
Royals Futures Odds
The Royals are the second choice at +100 to win the AL Central - miles ahead of third choice Detroit at +425 but even further behind heavy favorites Cleveland at -350. That seems oddly unattractive. At +2500 they are deemed more likely than just five teams to win the American League pennant and their +5000 World Series price puts them behind 14 teams.
Oddsmakers are not optimistic about breakthrough seasons from individuals here, either. They don't have a single player on the long list of options for either home run champ or MVP, and Danny Duffy, at +2500 to win the Cy Young, is far removed from the elite contenders.
Royals 2017 Predictions
The season win total is set at 76.5. That makes the fact that they are second in division title futures particularly odd. At this level it actually feels like there is value in the "over". Not a ton, because I am not at all optimistic, but they have enough talent in the lineup that something like 79-81 wins seems possible. I don't see a whole lot more than that, though. Their best-case scenario is that Detroit struggles and they can sneak into a very distant second in the division. On the downside, though, the Twins could drop them into fourth. This isn't a horrible baseball team, but it's far from a great one. That brief era of Kansas City baseball greatness has ended, and it could be long gone.
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