Skip to content

2014 Preview: Kansas City Royals

Mar 12, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT

Ned Yost and his flexible thumb Getty Images

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Kansas City Royals.

The Big Question: Are the Royals finally ready to contend?

Kansas City made a big jump last season, going from 76 to 86 wins while finishing above .500 for the first time since 2003 and just the second time since 1995. And yet the Royals still finished seven games behind the Tigers in the AL Central, were double-digit games out of first place on September 1, and were not within a half-dozen games of the division lead at any point after mid-July.

Gone is Ervin Santana, who departed as a free agent after a one-year stint in Kansas City in which he threw 211 innings with a 3.24 ERA. And gone is Luke Hochevar, who transitioned from awful starter to dominant reliever with a 1.92 ERA in 70 innings only to blow out his elbow and be lost to Tommy John surgery.

Kansas City is counting on Danny Duffy making a successful comeback from Tommy John surgery of his own to help replace Santana’s work in the rotation and the Royals are one of the few teams with the high-end bullpen depth to handle the loss of a setup man like Hochevar, but nearly 300 innings of sub-3.00 ERA pitching is always tough to replace even for a team that led the league in runs allowed last season.

Duffy has the upside to be an impact starter and James Shields is one of the elite right-handers in baseball entering his walk year, but the trio of Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie, and Bruce Chen is severely lacking in upside. In other words, even if the bullpen remains elite the Royals figure to allow more runs in 2014 and will need the offense to step up to have any chance to surpass 86 wins.

The good news is that veteran offseason pickups Omar Infante and Norichika Aoki are solid additions atop the batting order and most of the lineup is still 27 years old or younger, including 23-year-old catcher Salvador Perez, 24-year-old first baseman Eric Hosmer, and 27-year-old designated hitter Billy Butler. The bad news is that guys like Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain haven’t shown much reason to believe in them and the middle of the lineup still lacks power.

Kansas City can absolutely improve on last year’s 648 runs scored–which ranked 11th in the league–but it’s hard to see where a huge step up would come from unless Hosmer breaks out in a gigantic way and if the offense scores 30-50 more runs only to see the pitching staff allow 30-50 more runs … well, that’s not going to lead to contention any more than last year’s version did.

What else is going on?

  • One factor that could dramatically change the Royals’ outlook is the arrival of two very good pitching prospects in Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer. Counting on young arms to immediately thrive in the majors is always iffy, but Ventura and Zimmer are among the elite pitching prospects in baseball and appear to be pretty close to MLB-ready. A second-half rotation with Shields, Duffy, Ventura, and Zimmer would look a whole lot different than the group likely to begin the season.
  • Of course, it’s possible that the second-half rotation won’t include Shields. He’s an impending free agent and there’s been no indication that the Royals will be able to work out an extension before he hits the open market, which makes trading him a real possibility if contenders offer up a big package of prospects. Letting him walk and collecting draft pick compensation is another option, but the Royals may decide they want more immediate help than draft picks would provide.
  • Guthrie, Vargas, and Chen will combine to make $21.5 million 2014 and $18.5 million in 2015–with Vargas being owed another $16 million in 2016/2017–so general manager Dayton Moore has certainly gone for the quantity over quality approach to the rotation while waiting for more young arms to arrive.
  • Royals closer Greg Holland should be talked about more as one of the best relievers in baseball. Combined from 2011-2013–which are his first three full seasons in the majors–Holland posted a 1.99 ERA, 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings, and a .196 opponents’ batting average. Among all pitchers with 150-plus innings during that time he ranked fifth in ERA, fourth in strikeout rate, and 10th in batting average against. He’s a stud and a big reason why the Royals’ bullpen, without or without Hochevar, is a huge strength.

Prediction: Better hitting, worse pitching, and overall similar to last season. Third place, AL Central.

Latest Posts
  1. VIDEO: Royals utilize speed for walk-off win against White Sox; keep pace with Tigers

    Sep 16, 2014, 12:09 AM EDT

    royals

    Pinch-runners Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore proved to be the difference in a thrilling win for Kansas City.

  2. Albert Pujols leaves game with hamstring cramp

    Sep 15, 2014, 11:29 PM EDT

    Albert Pujols AP AP

    Pujols suffered the injury while running to second base on a three-run double.

  3. Giants activate Brandon Belt from disabled list

    Sep 15, 2014, 11:09 PM EDT

    Brandon Belt Brandon Belt

    Belt has been limited to just five games since July 19 due to concussion symptoms.

  4. Anibal Sanchez could return as a reliever

    Sep 15, 2014, 10:25 PM EDT

    Anibal Sanchez Getty Getty Images

    Sanchez has been sidelined since early August with a right pectoral strain.

  5. MLB suspends Jonathan Papelbon seven games for incident during Sunday’s game

    Sep 15, 2014, 9:21 PM EDT

    Jonathan Papelbon Getty Getty Images

    Papelbon made a lewd gesture at fans and had a confrontation with umpire Joe West during Sunday’s game.

  6. Bryce Harper exits game after feeling lightheaded

    Sep 15, 2014, 8:35 PM EDT

    Bryce Harper Getty Getty Images

    Harper struck out in his lone at-bat in the top of the second inning before Nate Schierholtz replaced him as a pinch-hitter in the fourth inning.

  7. Ryan Zimmerman hoping to rejoin Nationals for final week

    Sep 15, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT

    Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals AP

    He last played on July 22 and previously missed time with shoulder problems that have plagued him, but he did hit .282 with five homers and an .802 OPS in 53 games when healthy enough to be in the lineup.

  8. VIDEO: Jacob deGrom begins game with eight straight strikeouts to tie MLB record

    Sep 15, 2014, 7:59 PM EDT

    Jacob deGrom Getty AP

    Jim DeShaies previously did it with the Astros in a start against the Dodgers on September 23, 1986.

  9. Danny Duffy not expected to rejoin Royals’ rotation until next Monday

    Sep 15, 2014, 7:35 PM EDT

    Danny Duffy AP

    Duffy hasn’t pitched since September 6 due to rotator cuff inflammation.

  10. Bud Selig says MLB and players union will meet this week about domestic abuse policy

    Sep 15, 2014, 7:04 PM EDT

    Bud Selig Getty Getty Images

    The union must sign off on a policy before any changes are put into effect.

  11. Hyun-Jin Ryu does not have structural damage, could be available for playoffs

    Sep 15, 2014, 6:48 PM EDT

    Hyun-Jin Ryu Hyun-Jin Ryu

    Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu exited his Friday start after just one inning with shoulder pain, but an MRI revealed relatively positive news: Ryu does not have structural damage and has been diagnosed with inflammation.

  12. Matt Harvey throws simulated game, takes break until 2015

    Sep 15, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT

    Matt Harvey Getty Getty Images

    “Everything we were trying to accomplish this season has been accomplished.”

  13. Evan Gattis missing seventh straight game with strep throat

    Sep 15, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT

    Gattis Getty Getty Images

    Gattis met with team doctors Monday in attempt to find an answer with his illness.

  14. Vic Black likely done for the season with strained rotator cuff

    Sep 15, 2014, 5:47 PM EDT

    Vic Black Getty Getty Images

    Mets reliever Vic Black has been shut down with a shoulder injury just one week after returning from a disabled list stint for a herniated disk in his back.

  15. Alex Avila out of lineup with lightheadedness after foul tip to mask

    Sep 15, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT

    Alex Avila AP AP

    Avila has suffered multiple concussions since last season and also missed time earlier this month after taking a foul tip off the mask.

  16. Rays call up Nick Franklin from Triple-A

    Sep 15, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT

    nick franklin getty Getty Images

    Tampa Bay has called up switch-hitting infielder Nick Franklin, whom the Rays acquired from the Mariners on July 31 in the three-team trade revolving around David Price.

  17. Anthony Rizzo rejoins the Cubs’ lineup after back injury

    Sep 15, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT

    Anthony Rizzo AP

    Rizzo was having a breakout season before the injury, hitting .278 with 30 homers and an .889 OPS in 129 games at age 24.

  18. Mike Hessman, 15 homers shy of the all-time minor league mark, contemplates his future

    Sep 15, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    Mike Hessman

    “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air.” — Thomas Gray. Or William Cullen Bryant. I don’t know, I get them mixed up.

  19. Masahiro Tanaka pitches another simulated game

    Sep 15, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT

    masahiro tanaka getty Getty Images

    Hope he comes back soon so the Yankees have a shot at making the simulated playoffs.

Featured video

Papelbon destined to be traded?
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. G. Stanton (3485)
  2. B. Belt (2237)
  3. A. Rizzo (2168)
  4. C. Young (2016)
  5. J. Hamilton (2012)
  1. B. Gardner (1976)
  2. R. Castillo (1955)
  3. H. Ryu (1835)
  4. C. Davis (1731)
  5. C. Kershaw (1725)