The Royals made their push last season finishing at 86-76, their first winning season since 2003 when Tony Pena was the manager and Allard Baird was the GM. I like the trade for RF Norichika Aoki, who came over from the Brewers. The signing of 2B Omar Infante (.318, 10, 51) is a clear upgrade from anything the Royals used at 2B last season (Chris Getz, Miguel Tejada, Elliot Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio). The nucleus of this team remains strong and I think they possess strength both on the mound and in the field.
James Shields (13-9, 3.15, 34 starts) is the ace of the staff and is pitching for his next contract. If the team's lack of interest in retaining Ervin Santana is a barometer as to what to expect with the Royals and Shields, Shields next contract may also be with somebody else. LHP Jason Vargas (9-8, 4.08 in 24 starts for the Angels in 2013) signed a 4 year, $32 million deal with the Royals and he should be consistent, at least this season. RH Jeremy Guthrie (15-12, 4.04 in 33 starts) has been steady for years, just not spectacular. A huge wildcard in the team's rotation this season will be RHP Yordano Ventura. Ventura was 8-6, 3.14 in 26 starts in AA and AAA last season before making 3 starts for the Royals in September. He had 155 Ks in 134 2/3 innings in the minors last season. Veteran LHP Bruce Chen (9-4, 3.27 in 34 games, 15 starts) returns to the rotation where he was fairly decent in 2012.
The Royals have one of the best kept secrets closing games for them in LHP Greg Holland (2-1, 47 saves, 1.21, 103 Ks). The key will be getting him the ball with Luke Hochevar (5-2, 1.92, 58 games) out for the season due to Tommy John surgery and LHP Will Smith (2-1, 3.24 in 19 games) off to Milwaukee in the Aoki trade. Aaron Crow (7-5, 3.38, 57 games), Kelvin Herrera (5-7, 3.86, 59 games) and Tim Collins (3-6, 3.54, 66 games) all return to the role of getting the ball to Holland. RHP Wade Davis (8-11, 5.32, 31 games, 24 starts) will return to the bullpen this season, a place he fared well in Tampa Bay in 2012. Louis Coleman is another arm we can expect to see over the course of the season.
Aoki (.286, 8, 37) is a fundamentally sound OF who does not strike out a lot and gets himself on base. Similar to 2B, Aoki provides a big improvement to what the Royals ran out last season (Jeff Francoeur, David Lough). Their three top offensive player will be the key to the success of their offense: Alex Gordon (.265, 20, 81), Eric Hosmer (.302, 17, 79) and Billy Butler (.289, 15, 82). 3B Mike Moustakas (.232, 12, 42) is expected to improve on his 2013. Catcher Salvador Perez (.292, 13, 79) had a breakout season and is expected to get even better. Infante is an upgrade, but SS Alicides Escobar (.234, 4, 52) needs to give the team more offensively, or there is a possibility the team pursues a shortstop via trade. Centerfield will belong to Lorenzo Cain (.251, 4, 46), who will share time with Justin Maxwell (.252, 7, 25). The Royals lineup I'd go with is Aoki RF, Infante 2B, Gordon LF, Hosmer 1B, Butler DH, Perez C, Moustakas 3B, Cain CF, Escobar SS. Infielders Pedro Ciriaco and Danny Valencia will provide some depth and Jarrod Dyson will get some time filling in the OF.
The Royals won 86 games last season and were given just a 81.5 over under before this season. To me, it is an easy over; I think this team can win 88 games this season. That may not surprise many, but I also think the Royals will win the AL Central over the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers trading Prince Fielder and the retirement of Jim Leyland leave just enough of a chance for a team like Kansas City to swoop in and take the division.