Six years ago, the Royals brought a World Series banner back into the American League Central for the first time since 2005. Since then, it’s been a steep slide to the bottom, as that core group changed locales, retired, or were phased out of the league. But even though it’s been six years, it feels like Kansas City is starting to come back sooner than anticipated.
But are they for real? Or will their series of surprising transactions still leave them down at the bottom?
- If, in 2015, I told you that Matt Harvey left the Royals in free agency after the 2020 season, you would think that not only had their championship window lasted the better part of a decade, but also that they’d swallowed up the New York Mets after beating them in the World Series. The reality is a little less dramatic; that a 31-year-old Harvey, trying to come back from a near-complete collapse, pitched to a WHIP of almost 3.0 in just over ten innings, and moved out east to continue his rehab journey.
- Elsewhere went Ian Kennedy, who was not treated kindly by the shortened season after a highly successful conversion to the bullpen in 2019. Maikel Franco was non-tendered after a bit of a “bounceback” campaign, although it’s hard to tag him with that given his entire career has been mired by predictable inconsistency.
- Other cast-offs included more experienced arms like Kevin McCarthy, Mike Montgomery, and Glenn Sparkman.
- However, the most significant departure was, of course, Alex Gordon. A lifelong Royal, Gordon had been a fixture in the K.C. lineup since Johan Santana was still on the Twins. Three All-Star Games, eight Gold Gloves, and one championship later, Gordon had a pretty nice resume to look back on, and hung up his cleats after winning a fourth straight award for his defense out in left.
The New Additions
- With all of that outward movement — especially coming from a team in fourth place — you could very easily think that the Royals were at the beginning of a rebuild, hemorrhaging some talent, and not expecting to compete over the winter. But with a few key free agent pickups, as well as a major-league trade later in the offseason, Kansas City made some waves and gained some respect around baseball circles by trying to get better (a shocking concept), even in a year when Minnesota and Chicago are largely expected to own the division.
- It began with the inoffensive signing of Mike Minor to a two-year, $18MM deal with a club option for 2023. Minor had pitched in relief for the Royals in ‘17 — his only season out of the bullpen — before giving the Texas Rangers some serviceable starts over the next couple of years. With a few exciting young arms in the system, Minor stood to be a savvy veteran presence during a transition period.
- Then came a two-year deal for Carlos Santana shortly into December. Santana was a 10-year fixture in Cleveland, leaving for the Phillies in 2018 only to come right back for the 2019 season. He hit .199 with eight homers in the shortened season, but was coming off of a four-and-a-half win campaign in his last full year. Eternally strong and eternally healthy, Santana gives the Royal lineup a bit of an anchor to work around.
- The club checked a few more reunions off their to-do list, guaranteeing Greg Holland a major-league deal, sending Wade Davis an invite to spring training, and bringing in a 36-year-old Jarrod Dyson for the bench.
- Old friend Ervin Santana also got the call as a non-roster guy, a bit of a surprise after having not really pitched much over the last four years.
- Ready to keep it splashy, the team found themselves the recipient of one lightly-used Andrew Benintendi. The 26-year-old came at the expense of two in-house outfielders — Franchy Cordero and Khalil Lee, the latter of which is three years the junior of the other two.
- Now, I don’t watch much Boston baseball, but I had the impression that the fanbase was ready to move on from Super Nintendi even before his miserable 2020 (14 games, .103/.314/.128, -0.5 fWAR.) But there was a lot to like about Andrew, who was a key part of the most recent championship run at Fenway. He’s still plenty young, he can hit, and he provides yet another name that forces you to stop and think about the Royal lineup a bit more.
- Once again, RosterResource provides us with an early look at what the Royals will be bringing into town.
|Kansas City Royals - 2021 Lineup|
|RF Whit Merrifield|
|LF Andrew Benintendi|
|SS Adalberto Mondesi|
|1B Carlos Santana|
|C Salvador Perez|
|DH Jorge Soler|
|3B Hunter Dozier|
|2B Nicky Lopez|
|CF Michael A. Taylor|
- This lineup is nothing to sneeze at, right? One through seven would be pretty solid, and there’s some upside to be had from Lopez and Taylor. They have some trademark Royal speed on the roster, as well as a power offering that can compete in 2021-style baseball.
|Kansas City Royals - 2021 Rotation|
|LHP Danny Duffy|
|RHP Brad Keller|
|LHP Mike Minor|
|RHP Brady Singer|
|LHP Kris Bubic|
- There’s no real number one here, with nobody really anticipated to jot down an ERA below, say, 4.50. But the approach is clear — Duffy and Minor will be expected to eat some innings and do what they can, while Keller, Singer, and Bubic see what they can develop into.
- More importantly, the short-season bullpen proved that there’s some gas to be found in the back end. Greg Holland, Scott Barlow, and Jesse Hahn could all tear it up this season, and there’s a couple NRI guys who could see themselves resurrecting careers at Kauffman this summer.
- If there’s such a thing as a sleeper third-place team, this could be it. Provided a league-average lineup and a step forward from their young pitching, Kansas City could wind up displacing Cleveland and inching toward winning-season territory. It’s hard to say with confidence that the Royals are a team to worry about in terms of playoff positioning — but could they be playing spoiler more often than not?
Should we be worried about the Kansas City Royals?
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Where will the Kansas City Royals finish in 2021?
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