By Bob McManaman, azcentral sports
A year after winning 95 games and clawing out eight postseason comeback victories to win their first World Series title in 30 years, the Royals fell back to 81-81.
The cornerstones are still in place, but with four members in the final years of their contracts – first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and shortstop Alcides Escobar – there is a real concern about the championship window is closing.
The death of starting pitcher Yordano Ventura this winter from a car accident in his native Dominican Republic puts more of a damper on the outlook. It’s made some industry insiders suggest the Royals should consider trading off core talent to begin reshaping and rebuilding the roster.
“What we do is consider all different scenarios,” General Manager Dayton Moore said at the winter meetings. “But we’re very focused on winning in 2017 and being in a better position in 2018 and beyond.”
Danny Duffy has emerged as one of the better left-handers in the game and watching his devastating slider dance and move is worth the price of admission. It’s a pitch he perfected last season when he set career highs in wins (12), starts (26) and strikeouts (188) while posting a 3.15 ERA.
The Royals rewarded him with a five-year, $65 million contract extension in January, which some skeptics likely consider a risk given the pitcher walked away from the game in 2010 to “reassess his life priorities.”
Who will man second base for the Royals?
The good news is they finally seem to have some depth at the position. Whit Merrifield likely enters spring training as the front-runner for the job, but he will be pushed by Christian Colon and possibly even by Cheslor Cuthbert, the backup at third base and at designated hitter. The long-term answer, however, figures to be Raul Mondesi, 21, whom the Royals want to be careful not to rush into an everyday role.
Jorge Soler, a 24-year-old from Havana, Cuba, is the team’s new starting right fielder following his trade from the Cubs in exchange for closer Wade Davis. In Kansas City, Soler will get his first real chance to be an everyday player and although his potential is undeniable, there are parts to his game that need vast improvement.
Much of it has to do with his defense, but he also needs to show more consistency at the plate. A .258 career hitter through parts of three major league seasons, Soler hit .238 last year in 86 games with a .333 on-base percentage and he batted just .154 in eight postseason games. The Royals think his lack of playing time contributed to his high strikeout totals and low batting averages.
“We’re getting a player we feel is just scratching the surface,” Moore said. “He has major-league experience. He’s been a part of championships. And he’s hungry to play and hungry to win. And we’re going to have him (under contract) for the next four years. We think we’re getting a player whps’ getting ready to enter the prime of his career.”
Manager: Ned Yost
Last season’s record: 81-81
Big changes: In addition to the trades for Nathan Karns and Soler, the Royals signed first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss to a two-year deal. Right-handers Edinson Volquez and Luke Hochevar also opted for free agency. The Royals also acquired outfielder Peter O’Brien from the Diamondbacks for minor-league pitcher Sam Lewis.