Playing Pepper 2015: Kansas City Royals

It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form.  Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season.  It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are.  This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC.  Preorder this outstanding baseball simulation today!

Kansas City Royals
89-73, second in the AL Central, lost in the World Series

It was finally next year.

After hearing so much about “The Process” and how this was the greatest collection of minor league talent ever, the Royals proved that there was some fire to that smoke after all.  After a slow start, they kicked it into gear to win one of the wild cards, then rallied late to take out the A’s.  An underdog in every series, they came within 90 feet of sending Game 7 to extra innings and perhaps winning it all.

So now what?  Is this the beginning of a Royals powerhouse or will issues cripple them, bringing them back to reality?  The good thing about the Royals is there is never a shortage of people to talk about them with.  So today we a cavalcade of stars:

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?

RR: Unsurprisingly (as I’d surely be deemed the most “negative” of this bunch of bloggers), I’m not especially fond of the moves the club has made this offseason. I LOVE the Kris Medlen signing–it’s a smart gamble and the upside is a #2 starter in 2016–but the Alex Rios, Kendrys Morales, and Edinson Volquez signings are all dubious and have the potential to be pretty disastrous. One might pan out–two if Moore’s really lucky, but there is good reason to dislike each of the signings. Medlen, who won’t be available until around the All-Star Break, and trading Aaron Crow for Brian Flynn and Reid Redman isn’t enough to cleanse the palate following those higher-dollar moves. Signing Jason Frasor for a bargain was nice, too, but again, so much of the budget is allocated to volatile entities that it’s hard to look at an offseason coming of a World Series appearance and not see a net-loss after the departures of James Shields, Nori Aoki, and Billy Butler.

I70: They did what they had to do. They replaced a designated hitter, a pitcher, a right fielder. Whether or not they improved in those areas is worth some debate. That said, I think they did enough to maintain another winning season. I’m not sure it will be enough to find the postseason again. There are a lot of variables on that.

RB: The Royals off season was a little bit of a letdown really. Its not that General Manager Dayton Moore had much for choices given the way the market shaped up for many of the potential targets, but even still, it is hard to see how they got BETTER. Kendrys Morales could be better than Butler, but then again, he could be worse also. The same goes for Rios in replacing Aoki. I think it’s obvious there was not a replacement for Shields, but rather the hope the young guns in Ventura and/or Duffy will fill the gap in performance between what Shields took with him and the newly acquired Volquez. The hardest thing for many Royals fans is the loss of Billy Butler. Butler had a down season in 2014, and it seemed pretty much a forgone conclusion that his option would be denied by the front office, but it really felt like he would be back just on a lesser deal. When that didn’t happen, it was kind of a shock. When he was replaced with Kendrys Morales, I think everyone kind of realized that maybe we should have just picked up his option and hoped he had rebounded a little. No way should the front office have matched what the A’s offered Billy, but in hind sight, maybe he shouldn’t have gotten away in the first place. We shall see.

KK: I think the best way to sum up my thoughts are with the word “meh.” None of the moves were incredibly splashy, and it wasn’t the most inspiring offseason, but they did fill some holes, albeit in a slightly curious manner.

They were hoping to sign guys like Billy Butler, Melky Cabrera, and Francisco Liriano, but after being outbid, they settled for a collection of players who could still provide some value at a lesser cost. Kendrys Morales probably got more money than he should have, but he’ll likely give the Royals more than they got out of the DH spot last year. They’re hoping a healthy Alex Rios can rediscover his power stroke, and on a one-year deal, it’s not a terrible gamble. I’ve never been an Edinson Volquez fan, and I’m skeptical he can approach his success from 2014, so that’s probably my least favorite move.

I absolutely love the Kris Medlen signing, as well as the moves to bring back Luke Hochevar and Jason Frasor, but those are less likely to have a huge impact in 2015.

C70: Would you have sent Alex Gordon in Game 7?

RR: No. He’d have been out by a mile. Pull Jeremy Guthrie after three with a loaded up and rested bullpen? Yes. Pinch-hit for Salvador Perez, who had been flailing at non-strikes all night? Absolutely. Send Gordon? Not a chance in hades.

I70: Man, that’s the tough one and the single biggest debate since then. If you send him and he’s thrown out, we are still answering that question. Sal Perez is a guy that has come through in the clutch in the past. It is a tough decision to make and I’m glad I wasn’t on the field having to make it. That said, I’ve always enjoyed aggressive baseball, so I probably send him.

RB: Not unless I was wanting to lose my job as the third base coach and record the final out before letting my hottest hitter in the World Series bat. There is no debate here really, it’s just the last thing that happened before the final out. There is no question, but when knowing the alternative, it becomes something people can question when searching for alternative endings. I guess now that I am using hindsight, maybe I WOULD have sent him knowing Perez was going to pop up, but no, at the time there is no question being held was the right call. Not even close to being a questionable call. End of story. Next.

KK: Absolutely not. As a baseball fan, it would’ve been fun to see a play at the plate in that scenario, but the odds of scoring were so incredibly low, I’d rather take my chances with the next batter up, even with Bumgarner on the mound.

C70: Will the bullpen again be a major strength of the team?

RR: There’s no question it will be. Crow was the weakest link, and he’s gone. Luke Hochevar should be back for pretty much the whole season. Jason Frasor will be in Kansas City for the entire season. It should be stacked enough that they never have to consider putting Brandon Finnegan in the pen. And while Davis and Holland are strong candidates for at least a little regression, one could argue that Herrera could be better (at least in terms of strike-out numbers).

I70: There’s no reason to think otherwise. Not only is the core of the pen back for another year, they are gaining some strength with the return of Hochevar. The bullpen could be the strength of the team for some time to come.

RB: The bullpen will most definitely be a strength. If anything, it appears it is primed to be even stronger. There really wasn’t a ton of depth last year outside of the big three in Herrera, Davis and Holland but with Hochevar returning, Medlen possibly coming in mid season and Frasor being onboard from the beginning, there are really some nice pieces here. Relievers are fickle so having multiple backup plans is almost a must more so than a luxury. It is quite possible the Royals simply got lucky last year, but if everyone manages to be solid again, this could be an historic bullpen.

KK: I see the Royals having a better bullpen in 2015 than in 2014. Outside of Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera, the team’s relievers were pretty bad. The five guys with the next-highest innings totals had a combined 4.73 ERA over 171.1 innings, which is why getting a full season of Frasor, and the return of Hochevar: The Reliever, could be a huge boost to the team overall.

C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

RR: I feel like a broken record because every year it seems like this should happen, but it just feels like Eric Hosmer can and will break out this year. I spent too long referring to him as the Son of God to stop conducting this train. I have no rational reason to feel like this will happen, but it seems like this might be the year he finally ascends to that down-ballot MVP vote-getter that it just feels like he was destined to be.

I70: I really think we have seen Eric Hosmer grow as a person and a player over the last few years and that should come to fruition this season on the field. That said, the world met Lorenzo Cain last October and that could have a positive impact on that young man. Either of those guys could really “arrive” in a big way this season. My money would be on Hosmer.

RB: There are several you could choose from. We all hope that Mike Moustakas manages to break out of his career long funk. We hope Salvador Perez stops swinging at everything in the state he is playing in. It would be nice to see Duffy build on his success last year. But I think the answer to that question would have to be Yordano Ventura. He has so much ability and electricity. He had good numbers last year, but there were flashes of dominance that I think he has a real chance of carrying over to an entire season. There is no reason he doesn’t have a legitimate shot at being a Cy Young contender as long as he stays healthy, and when you carry those kinds of expectations for a player he has to be at the top of the list.

KK: I’m very excited to see full seasons from Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura. Both pitchers have electric stuff, and if they can miss a few more bats this season, the Royals will have a terrifying and young 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

RR: To me, it seems like the Royals are a team with a true-talent level of about an 84-win team. They certainly got lucky with hit sequencing last year, but their strong defense and lock-down bullpen seem to be a recipe for outperforming their Pythagorean and 3rd Order W-L. I’m guessing 86 or 87 wins. With a seemingly down AL Central, that might be enough to win the division, as it’s hard to envision Detroit running away with the division and Cleveland probably isn’t quite good enough to pull away from the pack. It’ll be tight, but no one is inarguably better than everyone else. My guess is they finish second again, but I really don’t know how the division will shake out, and that second-place finish could be behind either Detroit or Cleveland.

I70: The most loaded question for any writer about any team. There are so many variables. If everything goes well, this team could win 92 games and take the division. If some players see some decline, they might win 85 and find themselves in second place but out of the Wild Card. I’ll split the difference and say they finish with 88 wins and find themselves playing for the Wild Card for a second year.

RB: This is tough. The Royals have such a slim margin for error. They had the same slim margin in 2014 as well, but everyone stayed healthy and I think that will again be key in 2015. They can afford to lose a position player or two, aside from Salvador Perez, but when it comes to the starting rotation they are not deep at all. There are some guys that COULD be ready to fill in possibly, but at this time there aren’t very many major league caliber pitchers in this organization, and that’s scary. If the starting rotation stays healthy, they will be fine. How about 90-76 and they win the division with that record.

KK: The AL Central should be one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, and there are four teams who could win it without completely shocking me. They all have question marks, so there shouldn’t be any runaway teams. I can see a wide variety of outcomes for the Royals, but I think their bullpen and defense will help immensely, and that they’ll get just enough offense to win 88 games and take the division crown.

C70: What do you like best about being a Royals fan?

RR: That it’s driven all of us to alcoholism?

I70: The excitement in the city as “The Process” has finally come to fruition. People here are starved for a successful sports team (Sporting KC not withstanding) and they are getting behind the Royals in a big way. It’s an exciting time to go to the park again, which is much different than it was when I first arrived in KC. It also causes ticket prices to be a bit higher on the secondary market, which is the only drawback.

RB: It’s a point of pride to be able to say “I was there for the bad times.” Never giving up even when I had given up. There are many in the same boat, and while we all call it “suffering” it really isn’t. It’s finding a sports team you love and sticking with them through thick and thin. The greatest thing about picking the Royals is, I don’t think there is any way being a fan of any other team would have given me the experience of last season. I have had successful teams in other sports, and they weren’t even close to what it was like with the Royals. Being so bad, and so irrelevant makes it just that much more special when something like October happened. No other fan base could have felt that. Well, there may be a few exceptions, but I would say not many. It was truly special.

KK: I don’t live very close to Kansas City anymore, but there isn’t much I enjoy more than watching a game at Kauffman Stadium on a summer evening. It’s been that way since I was younger, even when the team was pretty brutal to watch. It’s such a great environment, and the community of Royals fans is outstanding. Last October was one of the most fun experiences of my life, and I loved being able to share that with other Royals fans who’ve gone through so many painful years of watching bad baseball.

My thanks to all of these guys for their insights and time.  It’s nice to see good baseball on both sides of Missouri and those Royals/Cardinals matchups this year could be a doozy!

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