AL Central Preview: Kansas City Royals


The name Kansas City Royals fits the club from Missouri a little better now that they’ve been crowned world champions. Royals is apt at the moment, but will anyone be able to upend their reign over the AL Central in 2016?

Right now, the Royals are the class of the division only by default. The AL Central is otherwise so crowded, and packed with parity that it’s hard to classify the defending champions as anything else. The Royals might be a prognosticators worst nightmare, because on the surface they appear like a middling club, but perform like a juggernaut.

A lot of that has to do with the confluence of multiple unique facets that give them an edge. Absurd run prevention, fueled by a prolific defense, and a contact-speed based offense make the Royals a balanced team with a nice floor.

They’ve been the antithesis of the Chicago White Sox recently as they’re fundamentally sound and don’t give away games. If you win against Kansas City, it’s because you won, and not a product of Kansas City handing you a victory.

So with that said, it’s time to preview the 2016 Royals.


Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /


The old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a nice way to sum up how General Manager Dayton Moore approached Kansas City’s offseason. This isn’t to say they weren’t active, but with a general core already in place there was no need to get exceptionally creative.

The Royals inked relief pitcher Joakim Soria to a 3-year, $25 million deal to maintain a three-headed monster in the bullpen. Closer Greg Holland was non-tendered after he underwent Tommy John Surgery this fall, and now Soria will take his place alongside Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis in an effort to shorten contests.

Chris Young was signed to a 2-year, $11.75 million deal with a mutual option to remain in the rotation.

The shining moment of the offseason came when the Royals brought back hometown hero Alex Gordon on a 4-year, $72 million deal with a mutual option tacked on.

For a team that had just raked in extra playoff revenue, it would have been disconcerting to let the franchise player walk away over a couple million dollar gap in AAV. Although, the Kansas City Royals pulled off a rather surprising move when they subsequently inked starter Ian Kennedy to a back-loaded 5-year, $70 million deal with a 2-year opt-out in there.

I found this move to be strange considering all of the drama surrounding Alex Gordon‘s price tag, and then it was seemingly easy to drop a similar contract on a marginal arm. If the Royals are banking on Kennedy opting out, then I have bad news for them.

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He’d have to forgo around $50 million, and for a pitcher who had a 4.28 ERA (4.51 FIP) last year pitching half his games at Petco Park, that’s a gamble that’s hard to see him taking.

Rentals Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist fled town, which won’t bode well for the Royals as they weren’t able to fill the resulting gaps at second base and the front of the rotation.

Overall, I don’t see a net upgrade when it comes to their offseason. Key departures outweigh Gordon’s return, Soria just maintains the status-quo, and I don’t buy the Kennedy signing at all.

Here’s how all those transactions should shake out when it comes to Ned Yost putting pen to paper.

Starting Line-Up:

  1. SS Alcides Escobar (R)
  2. LF Alex Gordon (L)
  3. CF Lorenzo Cain (R)
  4. 1B Eric Hosmer (L)
  5. DH Kendrys Morales (S)
  6. C Salvador Perez (R)
  7. 3B Mike Moustakas (L)
  8. 2B Omar Infante (R)
  9. RF Jarrod Dyson (L)

Starting Rotation:

  1. Edison Volquez (R)
  2. Yordano Ventura (R)
  3. Ian Kennedy (R)
  4. Danny Duffy (L)
  5. Chris Young (R)

On paper that doesn’t look like a roster that went 95-67 last year, but timely hitting, elite defense, and general continuity made this squad play up a bit.

I don’t anticipate a similar occurrence in 2016. Between Alcides Escobar (.614 OPS), Omar Infante (.552 OPS), and Jarrod Dyson (.691 OPS), the batting order already has three glove-only black-holes.

Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, and Lorenzo Cain certainly buoy the order some but beyond them it has a few wildcards.

Eric Hosmer, previously the 3rd overall pick in the 2008 draft, has never fully lived up to expectations. He came close last year with a .297/.363./.459 line with 56 extra-base hits but the 25-year-old will need to show some staying power and that his .716 OPS in 2014 was a thing of the past before he’s to be taken seriously.

Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

Ditto Mike Moustakas, who had a breakout year of sorts last season. With an .817 OPS and 22 home runs, Moustakas showed a flair for average and pop. 2015 was great, but is this the new normal or will his .632 2014 OPS and .651 2013 OPS have something to say about it.

Kendrys Morales rebounded from an absolutely dismal 2014, and had an .847 OPS with 22 home runs and 41 doubles. That will get it done from the DH spot, but it’s naive to expect similar production this time around. He should edge closer to his .796 career OPS and be less of an offensive force.

The rotation is also underwhelming. Edison Volquez might be closer to his career 4.29 ERA (4.24 FIP) than the 3.55 ERA he was good for last year. I’ve already stated how much of a whiff I think Ian Kennedy will be, and Chris Young has been a mirage the last two years. He doesn’t generate strikeouts and his walk rate doesn’t counter that. His 2014 (3.65 ERA/5.02 FIP) and 2015 (3.06 ERA/4.52 FIP) highlight just how lucky he’s been. Expect the floor to fall through in ’16.

Danny Duffy is a left-hander with decent velocity but outside of a brief flash in 2014, he’s never really put it together. He profiles more as a reliever honestly and should have an ERA that again balloons over four.

Yordano Ventura is the wildcard here. His stellar 2014 looked like the beginning of a special career. Then maturity problems plagued him in his second season. He frustrated opponents, but not necessarily because of his stuff.

He’s closer to his 3.57 FIP than the 4.08 ERA he posted last year, and upped his K/9 to 8.6, so there are positives. He’s got the makings of a front-line guy and that’s exactly what he’ll have to be after Cueto’s departure. He’s really the only Royals starter I expect to post a sub-4.00 ERA this season.


So the Royals don’t seem so royal after all, do they? They’re still the defending champs and their elite bullpen, superb defense, and continuous timely hitting set the bar a little higher, but the ceiling just feels so low.

Obviously, if Hosmer, Moustakas, and Morales have repeat seasons then they’ll edge over .500, but the over/under on that feels very even at the moment. The Royals’ defense can only do so much when a subpar pitching staff is flanked with a light-hitting, power sapped offense.

For what it’s worth, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections see a last place, 76-86 team, and I tend to agree they have a real chance to finish below .500. Of course, this narrative of projections waging a war on the Royals has played out in the past and we’ve all been left as the villains.

Regardless, I expect the Royals to play with a bit of a chip on their shoulder again despite the validation of winning a World Series. What this means is likely another round of heated contests, where the opposition feels the need to bring boxing gloves along with their batting gloves.

The White Sox had a massive bench clearing brawl with the Royals last season and while main instigator Jeff Samardzija has departed, newcomer Brett Lawrie brings his own ugly history with Kansas City. More extracurricular activities wouldn’t surprise me as the White Sox try to dethrone the Royals in the AL Central. That’s a challenge I think they’re up to.

*Fun Fact: Of the current roster, the average Royals player’s career line vs. John Danks is .219/.291/.330 (.621 OPS). One of the bright spots of any season is watching a back-end starter mow down an opponent to the absolute horror of their fans and we should see this trend continue. In any case, Robin Ventura will be handing the ball to Danks if these clubs spar in the 2016 playoffs*