The 2017 baseball season could be a defining year for the Kansas City Royals as it could be the last before a total rebuild.
The Royals are on a terrific four-year run by their standards, including back-to-back World Series appearances culminated by winning their first World Series title in 30 years in 2015.
The Royals had a late 2016 September slump to finish at .500, but it marked the fourth straight year they have been .500 or better after enduring a miserable stretch of years after winning the 1985 World Series.
But 2017 is a watershed moment. As everyone knows the organization was devastated by the tragic death of young pitcher Yordano Ventura, who was just starting to realize his potential as a workhorse in the starting rotation. He was ascending as one of the outstanding talents in baseball and it only figured to be a matter of time before he matured and harnessed all that ability into a 15-to-18-game winner.
Ventura’s death has cast a pall over this season. Baseball teams are like families and with Ventura being one of the team’s youngest players, it’s going to feel like the Royals have lost their little brother.
Royals GM Dayton Moore made a move this week to shore up the opening left by the tragedy by signing former Cub Jason Hammel to a two-year deal. While not a long-term answer, Hammel should give the Royals professional starts and hopefully pitch about 180 innings. He’s been around a while and I have a feeling he’ll like the dimensions of Kauffman Stadium as it’s definitely a pitcher’s park, a far cry from Wrigley Field.
The forecasters so far haven’t been kind to the Royals. PECOTA, which for whatever reason a lot of people put much stock in, has them finishing 71-91. In fact, PECOTA believes the Royals will be the worst team in the American League and the second-worst in baseball to the San Diego Padres, who are predicted to win 68 games.
A lot of the reason for the slight, to me, is that you don’t know just who the Royals will have on their roster by the July 31 trade deadline. With so many players in their walk season, if things aren’t going well they may start to trade some of their veterans for prospects to replenish their farm system that was weakened a couple of years ago in trades that brought Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist. Some of the Royals’ biggest names — Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas — will be eligible for free agency after this season.
If the Royals know they aren’t going to be able to sign any of these players, they’d all fetch quite a haul of prospects.
USA Today was a little kinder to the Royals, picking them to finish 83-79 and in third place behind Cleveland and Detroit. There’s no doubt Cleveland is going to be the overwhelming pick to win now that it has added Edwin Encarnacion to an already potent lineup that will also get back All-Star Michael Brantley, who missed last year and the Indians still made the World Series without him. Add those two with that great starting pitching and it’s the Indians’ division to lose.