Wasn’t it just yesterday the Kansas City Royals were being feted by some 800,000 fans after winning their second World Series championship and first in 30 years?
The afterglow is still present. Royals players have been in high demand in the offseason and I’m sure many of them have made numerous public appearances before their adoring public.
But guess what? A week from today Royals pitchers and catchers are set to report to spring training.
That’s kind of a cold-and-hard reality. It’s time to get back to the real world as this has seemingly been like fantasy land.
Because it had been so long between world championships, the Royals probably celebrated more than most. It was such an emotional roller coaster for the team as it appeared to be dead in the water in the playoffs against Houston, only to stage a miracle comeback. In the World Series, the Royals needed only five games to defeat the New York Mets, but they were tight games that exhausted the team mentally and physically.
Having appeared in the World Series the year before, and taking San Francisco down to the final pitch of Game 7, you have to wonder if the Royals aren’t set up to take a fall. They can ride the rush for only so long and then the tank is empty.
They did re-sign Alex Gordon, probably the most important news of the offseason. They overpaid for starting pitcher Ian Kennedy, who other than one year has never been more than pedestrian. They are banking on “Speed Do” Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando to platoon in right field and hopefully between the two of them they can match or surpass the mediocre numbers of Alex Rios, whose one-and-only season was plagued by injuries and lack of punch, though he did have some clutch hits late.
The Royals also return Omar Infante to second base, which will be a downgrade of rental Ben Zobrist, who was the perfect Royal but is now with the Cubs. Is Infante truly shot or was last year’s disaster an aberration? If Infante stumbles early does World Series hero Christian Colon finally get a chance or do the Royals rush up youngster Raul Mondesi Jr.? Second base and right field are the only potential question marks, as the rest of the lineup returns intact.
I have a hard time imagining Lorenzo Cain approaching his numbers from last year. I think he exceeded expectations, especially in the power department. I also think we saw the best that we’ll see of Mike Moustakas. Something tells me he’s going to slide back this year.
Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez, though, are capable of so much more. Hosmer should be a 25-homer, 100-RBI guy but has too many droughts. Perez does hit a lot of bombs, but his plate discipline makes him too easy of an out at times.
Alcides Escobar will be back at short and hopefully he can approach his 2016 season.
The pitching will be without Johnny Cueto, who was an expensive rental. He came up big in a couple of playoff games but for the most part was a disappointment. But the goal was accomplished, bringing a world title and he did his part with his two great games.
A success barometer is Danny Duffy, who has electric stuff but his mental make-up has held him back. The Royals really need him to start, but I think he’s better suited for the bullpen.
Can KC really expect a year similar to last year for Chris Young? I think he was the unsung member of the staff, but he’s good for only about 130 to 150 innings.
A big hope is that Kris Medlen, with a full year, can approach the success he had with Atlanta. That would be major as he was one of the National League’s best pitchers five years ago. The bullpen has lost Greg Holland, but picked up former star Joakim Soria. The Royals lose a bit in the tradeoff, but it’s still the league’s best “pen to win.”
The Royals have gone from playing in the American League’s worst division to the best. Detroit has made some nice moves, as have Chicago and Cleveland. If Minnesota is the worst team in the division, that tells you the strength. It has some of the best young prospects in all of baseball.
The Royals can no longer sneak up on anybody. They proved they were the best team in baseball last year and other teams are now following their template of pitching and defense, with an emphasis on power arms in the bullpen. With some key players potentially leaving in the next year or two because the Royals won’t be able to afford them, the window is closing. They need to squeeze out one or two more good years as the farm system isn’t exactly brimming with talent.