It’s one of those rites of spring, one of those signs that baseball is returning. For the eighth straight year, we’re Playing Pepper! We’ll ask six questions of bloggers for each major league team as a way of getting familiar with those teams that don’t wear the birds on the bat. This year, this series will be “sponsored” by The Cardinals Way, the new book from Howard Megdal. It’s an outstanding look at the Cardinal organization and I can’t recommend you getting a copy highly enough.
Kansas City Royals
95-67, first in the AL Central, won World Series
Last year’s Pepper
After all these years, the Royals finally broke through. No asterisk on this World Series title at all, as Kansas City just rallied and rallied against the Mets and vindicated Dayton Moore’s Process in the best possible way. So, after a title and two straight Series appearances, what happens now?
Kansas City has always had a great blogging community and I’ve been able to tap two of them to help us out today. Luke Goosen writes at Royals Blue and is playing in his third straight regular Pepper and also has the postseason version on his resume. He’s over on Twitter @RoyalsBlue_com. Along with Luke we have Hunter Samuels, who now writes over at Pine Tar Press. He’s on his fourth straight Pepper and Tweets @HunterSamuels.
C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?
RB: General Manager Dayton Moore has a way of typically having “meh” offseasons. They always seem to turn out decent in the end as he typically does a good job of finding “buy low” players and they then become important pieces of the team. This year, he made BY FAR more of a splash with dollars than he has thus far in his near decade as Royals GM. He re-signed Alex Gordon and picked up Ian Kennedy both on monster contracts by Royals standards. Bringing Gordon back was a must, and if nothing else that alone made it a good off-season for me. Kennedy seems like a big overpay, but at the same time that is the world we live in with the free agent market. He certainly didn’t make the team any WORSE as the only real departure was our struggling right fielder. He filled some holes in the bullpen with the pickup of Soria and having plethora of fringe starters to compete for the rotation. Those that don’t make it will have homes in the bullpen. They didn’t get a RF, but on staff players have the ability to make it an upgraded position from 2015. It was a B+ off-season.
PTP: I think, overall, the team had a terrific offseason. Bringing back Alex Gordon was the top priority, and they were able to do that for less than most people expected him to sign for. I’m a pretty big Ian Kennedy fan, and while there is a bit more financial risk than I would have preferred, he should be very solid for the next couple of years. Getting Joakim Soria back in Kansas City gives the bullpen even more ridiculous depth, and Chris Young is a favorite of mine, so I’ll love seeing him on the mound for the next two seasons. I also think Mike Minor, Dillon Gee, and Travis Snider could prove to be helpful contributors this year.
I wouldn’t have minded seeing a full-time right fielder brought in, but I don’t have a problem giving Jarrod Dyson regular reps to see if he can handle it. If he can’t, they have some organizational depth to try out before the trade season comes around.
C70: Is there a feeling that, even if the club stumbles this year, two Series appearances and a World Championship make everything OK or is there still a lot of pressure to be great?
RB: I don’t think there is much pressure. That was probably mostly lifted 2 years ago with winning the Wild Card game. The pressure that they have now is the same as with any competitive team, we all KNOW they are good, so we WANT them to win. But it isn’t like in years past where by June Royals fans will be calling for the jobs of Dayton Moore and Ned Yost. We will still be angry over moves and questioning many things, but this time will be doing it with a smile.
PTP: Considering a big chunk of the team’s core will likely become free agents after the 2017 season, I definitely think there’s still some pressure to capitalize on the current window. Everyone involved with the team obviously feels like they’ll continue to be in playoff hunts after that point, but it will be more of a challenge if guys like Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer are all gone. So it does seem like the expectations are higher for at least these next two years.
C70: Who is the most important player on the roster, the guy that if he goes down or has a bad season, this club is in trouble?
RB: This is tough. Most would say Salvador Perez, but I just don’t feel that way about him. I think he is VERY important, but I also think Cain, Hosmer and Gordon are important. I think the Royals can absorb the loss of any one guy and be ok. They have decent depth and plenty of leaders. I would probably say Salvy if I didn’t believe that his backup (Butera) was also a great defender behind the dish. We may lose offense, but we would lose that with any of the big players.
PTP: This is a tough one. Obviously the bullpen is stacked with depth, so no one loss should have a huge impact. The rotation lacks an ace right now, although they have plenty of back-of-the-rotation guys who can provide adequate production in front of the defense. And really, the team is pretty balanced, so no one person stands out. Lorenzo Cain is the team’s best player, so he’s the first name to come to mind. But at the same time, the organization possesses quite a bit of depth in the outfield, so maybe they wouldn’t suffer as much of a dropoff. It’s the same story with Gordon. There aren’t clear replacements for Alcides Escobar or Salvador Perez, but I think I’ll give the nod to Salvy here, considering his overall impact on the team. As Ned Yost says, players like Perez don’t grow on trees.
C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?
RB: Eric Hosmer. He has the greatest potential to “break out” and I expect him to do so.
PTP: I think Yordano Ventura takes a big leap forward in 2016. We’ve obviously seen flashes in the past, and in the second half of the season he started to look better, partly due to throwing more curveballs. Despite starting 9 games in the postseason already, he won’t turn 25 until the middle of the season. If Ventura can avoid some of the pitfalls that led to a rocky first half of 2015, the Royals’ rotation will look far more impressive.
C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?
RB: 1st in the division 92-70
PTP: The AL Central appears to be in better shape this season, so I don’t think the Royals will cruise through the season, but I also said the exact same thing last season. Still, I think the other teams didn’t do enough to make up the gap, so I’ll say the Royals win the division once again, this time with 93 wins.
C70: Which team in the division do you most enjoy beating and how do you think you’ll fare against them in 2016?
RB: The White Sox. My Prediction: Pain
PTP: Getting back at the Twins for all the misery they caused a decade ago is always enjoyable, but I think wins against the Tigers are even more satisfying. Part of that is how much of a stranglehold they had on the division for the few years prior to the Royals’ ascension, but I also just enjoy watching the two teams play. I love seeing Miguel Cabrera swing, and Jose Iglesias field, and Tigers’ relievers pitch. With Detroit’s big offseason, they’ll be a tougher matchup in 2016, but I still see the Royals winning the season series, I’ll say 11-8.
I appreciate Luke and Hunter putting aside any cross-state differences and filling us in about the Royals. There’s no doubt that those four Cards/Royals games will be pretty interesting!