Take a good, long look at the 2017 Kansas City Royals. They may look nothing like this in 2018.
The Royals have pushed in all their chips to make the playoffs this year. They missed out last year after making back-to-back World Series in 2014 and 2015, of course winning it all in the latter year.
Those glorious World Series appearances, though, left the Royals a tired team in 2016. While they were still competitive and in the wild-card race until the final couple of weeks, they simply didn’t seem to have the same zeal and energy of the two previous years.
If the Royals are not in the playoff hunt by July 31, look for General Manager Dayton Moore to begin the dismantling process. He has a number of players in the final year of their contracts and with Kansas City being a small-market team, there’s no way everybody can get their fair share.
Moore may just load up and sign face-of-the-franchise Eric Hosmer, though his reported asking price is off the chart as he wants Yankees-like money. My feeling is that shortstop Alcides Escobar will be gone, as could third baseman Mike Moustakas and outfielder Lorenzo Cain. Esocbar and Moustakas are replaceable, with Raul Mondesi Jr., the shortstop of the future, while Cheslor Cuthbert could slide in Moustakas’ place. Cain, for all his greatness, has trouble at times staying healthy and has missed good chunks of seasons. He’s looking for one more big payday after this season and he’ll probably have to find it elsewhere.
To make the playoffs this year, the Royals will have to do it as a wild-card team. They simply can’t match up with Cleveland in the AL Central, given the Indians’ wealth of starting pitching and the addition of slugger Edwin Encarnacion makes them even more formidable. Kansas City also has to contend with Detroit, which like the Royals is running out of time since its better players are up in the years.
Pitching-wise, the Royals have been devastated by the death of Yordano Ventura as it leaves a hole in the clubhouse and on the mound. Jason Hammel and Travis Wood were plucked from the Cubs to join Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, newcomer Nathan Karns and Jason Vargas, who missed last year with Tommy John surgery. Duffy still scares me as he has to prove last year wasn’t a fluke and who knows if Vargas will have anything left. With Chris Young always available, the Royals certainly have enough arms to choose from.
The bullpen is no longer the dominant force it was with Wade Davis now gone and Greg Holland’s comeback will be made in Colorado. Kelvin Herrera has experience closing, but Joakim Soria must be a strong bridge after being a bust last year.
The everyday lineup is familiar. Salvy Perez has no peers behind the plate and the infield of Hosmer, Mondesi, Escobar and Moustakas should be solid, with Cuthbert playing all over.
The outfield of Alex Gordon, Cain and newcomer Jorge Soler, with Paulo Orlando subbing for all three, will be excellent provided they can stay healthy. I’m not that high on Soler, who is starting the year on the disabled list, which to me could be a bad omen. He has power, for sure, but a lot of holes in his swing. The Royals must believe he’s going to be a star because they gave up Davis to get him.
Brandon Moss has been brought over from St. Louis to replace Kendrys Morales as the DH and he also can play first or the outfield. Royals fans will have their patience tested as Moss, while fearsome, goes through lengthy droughts and struggles against left-handers. I think if the Royals get 20 homers out of him it will have been a good signing.
Ned Yost has done a masterful job with the Royals and seems to know which buttons to push. The Royals certainly have a team that should win 81 to 84 games, but I don’t see them making the playoffs.