As fans of the game, we tend to get caught up in the success of particular ball club in one season. We tend to assume that the glory of winning a World Series Championship has started a chain reaction that makes a set group of players unbeatable. Because it obviously worked for the prior season. I look at it the opposite. The success of a great season puts a bulls eye on the back of the given team and could create a sense of vulnerability. This vulnerability is not a knock on any given set of players, but one that is created by the parity that exists in the game of baseball today. Because of the fact that so many teams are good at the same time, it will be difficult for both the World Series Champion Kansas City Royals and National League Champion New York Mets to repeat as league champs. Difficult, but not impossible.
The Royals have what every team is looking for going into a season. The fact that they won their first World Series Championship in 30 years is a special moment in the history of the franchise as well as the city of Kansas City. It also helps that the core of the team is young and the majority of the players that helped them win last season are back to play for the 2016 season. They did lose second baseman Ben Zobrist (.276 batting average, 13 home runs, 56 runs batted in, .809 on base plus slugging) and starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (11 wins, 13 losses, 3.44 earned run average, 176 strikeouts, 212 innings pitched), both of whom were acquired in mid season trades. One of the team's biggest off season moves was bringing back franchise icon Alex Gordon (.271, 13, 48, .809). It was almost assumed that the Royals were not going to be in the market for the outfielder, as he seemed destined to get a contract that was cost prohibitive for the small market city. The Royals agreed to a four year, $72 million deal with the outfielder that seemed to be a fair middle ground. It is quite possible that Gordon turned down a more lucrative offer to remain in KC, the organization he had been with since being selected as the 2nd overall player in the 2005 amateur baseball draft. Losing Cueto hurts, but the Royals did sign veteran starting pitcher Ian Kennedy (9-15, 4.28, 174 Ks, just over 168 IP) to a five year, $70 million contract.
The Royals return a solid group of offensive players who have been given a lot of credit for their grit and aggressiveness. Gordon signifies that, as do first baseman Eric Hosmer (.297, 18, 93, .822), third baseman Mike Moustakas (.284, 22, 82, .817) and center fielder Lorenzo Cain (.307, 16, 72, .838). However, the heart and soul of this team is catcher Salvador Perez (.280, 21, 70, .706). I would be concerned over the beating he has been taken behind the plate and it does seem the Royals are looking to reduce the amount of games and innings he spends as the catcher. Designated hitter Kendrys Morales (.290, 22, 106, .847) was one of the wiser signings of the previous off season. With projected starting right fielder Jarrod Dyson (.250, 2, 18, .691, 26 stolen bases) expected to start the season on the disabled list, look for Paulo Orlando (.249, 7, 27, .713) to start the season as the opening day right fielder. Veteran second baseman Omar Infante (.220, 2, 44, .552), almost forgotten during last year's run, is returning from injury and will be back to being the starter.
My Royals lineup starts with shortstop Alcides Escobar (257, 3, 57, .614), a special player but not the typical lead off batter since he neither has great plate discipline nor great base stealing speed. I would go with Gordon LF, Cain CF, Hosmer 1B, Morales DH, Moustakas 3B, Perez C, Infante 2B, Orlando/ Dyson RF. Infielder Christian Colon backs up the middle infielders with outfielder Reymond Fuentes having a good shot of making this squad. The backup catcher situation should get a little more play this season. I like the fact that Tony Cruz has been brought in from St. Louis to compete with Drew Butera to back up Perez. Perhaps one of the two will step up with the reward being more playing time backing up Perez than in previous seasons. Non roster invitees Clint Barmes and Travis Snider can also provide some depth.
The Royals will continue to trot out a potentially legendary bullpen led by closer Wade Davis (8-1, 0.94, 17 saves, 78 Ks, just over 67 IP). Former Royals closer Joakim Soria (3-1, 2.53, 24 saves, 64 Ks, just under 68 IP) is back to take the role previously occupied by Ryan Madson, who left as a free agent to join the Oakland Athletics. Right handers Kelvin Herrera (4-3, 2.71, 64 Ks, just under 70 IP) and Luke Hochevar (1-1, 2.73, 49 Ks, just under 51 IP) make this pen extremely deep. To fill out the bullpen, the Royals will be counting on left hander Danny Duffy (7-8, 4.08, 30 games, 24 starts) to become more of a full time reliever. Veteran lefty Brian Duensing could be in the mix as well with right handers Dillon Gee and Chien-Ming Wang looking to re-establish their careers by starting in the front of the Royals bullpen.
Right handed pitcher Edinson Volquez (13-9, 3.55, 155 Ks, just over 200 IP) had a very solid season for the Royals and seems to have finally arrived after being hyped up for the balance of about five seasons. Kennedy slides right in there with Yordano Ventura (13-8, 4.08, 156 Ks, just over 163 IP) looking to grow up after learning baseball is more than just throwing a baseball for a pitcher. Hopefully, he is more mentally prepared for this season and does not allow himself to get distracted with meaningless player confrontations. Right handers Chris Young (11-6, 3.06, 34 games, 18 starts) and Kris Medlen (6-2, 4.01, 15 games, 8 starts) will round out the rotation which will have the likes of Gee, Wang and Duffy there to back them up if needed.
The Royals top prospect Raul Mondesi made his big league debut in the World Series last season. He seems to possess Gold Glove caliber skills as a shortstop, but seems to have some flaws as a hitter. I wouls assume the Royals look at the 20 year- old as a potential replacement for Infante, but Mondesi does have to show he can hit a little bit if he is going to be an everyday MLB player. Outfielder Bubba Starling is looking to put together a big offensive season in the minors in 2016 with the thought of being the Royals right fielder of the future. Right hand pitchers Miguel Almonte and Kyle Zimmer could both debut this season with Zimmer having the bigger ceiling. However, Almonte is kind of in the mold of Volquez and could put things together quickly even though he struggled in the minors last season.
Just like most others, I like the Royals. What is not to like about the defending World Series Champions, an team that returns most of its key 2015 contributors. The core of this team is still pretty young and their bullpen has a chance to be even better than it was each of the past two seasons. The Royals know from experience how grueling a season can be and how much tougher it can be in the postseason. The Royals managed to snatch victory at the hands of defeat in the 2014 American League Wild Card game against the Oakland Athletics and the same in game four of the American League Division Series against the Houston Astros last post season. In a competitive AL Central, I can see three teams playing post season baseball. Las Vegas puts the defending champion's over/ under at 87, which says a lot by itself. I take the under, but not by much. I still have the Royals making it to the post season for the third consecutive season, finishing the year at 85-77. This will be the second time in the franchise history that the Royals have gotten to the playoff three consecutive years (1976-1978).