Playing Pepper 2017: Kansas City Royals

Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Kansas City Royals
81-81, third in AL Central
Last year’s Pepper

It’s not like most Royals fans really worried about last season.  After all, they were coming off their first World Series title in 30 years.  It was going to be too hard to get worked up about things if the Royals failed to be as good as they’d been the last couple of years.  Which is good, because Kansas City never really got on track in 2016, sitting around .500 for a lot of the year and already on the fringes of the division race by the All-Star Break.

So what about this year?  The afterglow is over.  And while Royals fans may be used to being afterthoughts, that doesn’t mean that they want to go back to that sort of world.  We’ve got a couple of fine bloggers here, both long-time veterans of this series, to tell us just exactly what Year 2 After World Series is going to be like.

Blogger Blog Twitter Podcast
Bill Ivie I70 Baseball poisonwilliam
Josh Duggan Royals Review oldmanduggan RoyalsReview

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

I70: I think it was a mediocre offseason for the team. In my opinion, the team needs to decide if it can build as it goes or if it needs to rebuild now for the next few years. Decisions on guys like Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain need to be made. Either make offers to retain one or two of them and show that they are the core of this team or trade them for the prospects to rebound in 2018. Treading water never sits well with me in this game and that’s what it feels like the Royals are doing.

RR: Well, losing a potential franchise cornerstone made it a decidedly terrible offseason. Moving past the tragic death of Yordano Ventura, they did fairly well if contention for 2017 with an eye to the future is the goal. Ideologically, one could quibble with this modus operandi. The window is likely closing after this season, the acquisitions of this past offseason are probably unlikely to yield a true contender, and there are four pieces hurtling toward free agency that could have probably accelerated the rebuild that seems a probability. The desire to try to win one last time with this core is understandable though. To that end, the moves of this offseason would probably get somewhere in the neighborhood of a B grade, especially considering the financial constraints imposed of Dayton Moore and the front office by ownership. The only move that is regrettable is shipping off the criminally underused Jarrod Dyson, who was the Royals’ most valuable position player last year by both measures of WAR. The four years of club control of Nate Karns is nice, and objectively probably a decent return, but it’s going to suck not seeing Dyson on the field in a Royals uniform.

C70: Does it feel like the window is closing on this team or are they able to make another run?

I70: I think the window is closed, if they don’t make an effort to improve. They have a solid core of talent, but it’s going to take more to make another run. Given the recent tragic loss of Yordano Ventura, the pitching staff is not ready for a deep run at all.

RR: As a realist (though some would deem me an eternal pessimist), it sure seems like the window is just barely ajar. With a lot of breaks where returns to the performances of 2014 and 2015 are seen and Jorge Soler finally breaks out, it’s not difficult to squint and see a return to contender status for the club. But that comes with little margin for error. Past this season though, it’s hard to see how the major-league club can replace the near-certain departures of a slew of their core with this depleted farm system. Many say the farm is in this state because they went for it in 2014 and 2015, but that conveniently ignores almost entirely whiffing in the draft since 2010. The projections, which systematically underrated the Royals by wide margins throughout their postseason runs, don’t like the Royals’ chances, and I’d have to side with the projections, though maybe not in their severity. 

C70: What is the strength of this team currently?

I70: I’d say their defense is still one of the best in the league. They have Gold Glove defense at catcher, first, short, third, left and center field. That’s impressive.

RRTheir defensive coaching. That’s the best answer I’ve got because their previous strengths took a hit as the team moved to a slightly more powerful lineup. There are basically a bunch of question marks in every area. The rotation might be the deepest that Moore has assembled, though without Ventura’s upside, it’s Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, and a bunch of back-of-the-rotation arms. The pen appears weaker than in years past, especially down a Cyborg, but Moore seems to have a penchant for finding impact bullpen arms on the scrap heap, so it’s got to be a question mark at this point, not necessarily a weakness.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

I70: I feel like I say this almost every year, but Mike Moustakas can be an impact player on this team. His approach has greatly improved. His play has improved. Now, he just needs to stay on the field.

RR: A couple weeks back, I lobbied for Christian Colón to get a shot at second. He’s gotten jerked around quite a bit and hasn’t ever gotten consistent playing time at the big-league level. I think the ceiling is relatively low, but there seem to be a lot of people who like Whit Merrifield way too much (his BABIP was aberrant compared to his minor-league career mark). If Nate Karns doesn’t make the rotation out of spring training, he’s got the stuff to be a killer set-up man. Other than that, there isn’t a lot of talent close to the majors that is likely to make an impact or surprise. I mean Kyle Zimmer’s injury history has taken away all of the heralds, but should anyone keep an eye on him when looking at him lands him on the DL?

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

I70: I’m never very good at these, but I’d project a 86-76 record, good enough for second place in the division but not for a spot in October.

RR: Honestly I have no idea how they will finish. I suspect they’ll have a slightly better record than last year, but the range of potential outcomes seems really wide with this club. I’ll guess 83 wins, good for third in the division behind the overwhelming favorites to win the Central, Cleveland, and Detroit. This is a club that could eke its way into the playoffs or finish with 75 wins. 

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Royal and why?

I70: Frank White. I grew up in a household where baseball was more important then anything else. That said, defense was the most important part of baseball. The way the man played the game at second base was amazing.

RR: Zack Greinke. There was no single player as much fun to watch as Greinke was in his Cy Young campaign of 2009, and his bluntness in interviews was fun to watch. Bo Jackson was super cool for adolescent Josh, and I really loved watching Jarrod Dyson play, but Greinke’s number one with a bullet. That said, the involuntary cackle that would burrow its way out of me when Dyson would get on base and he’d steal a base was pretty sweet. I’m gonna miss that dude.

My appreciation to both Bill and Josh for their thoughts on the team on the other side of the state.  It’d be nice to see them make one more run!

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