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"That's what speed do": A Kansas City Royals preview

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A look ahead at the Chicago White Sox' first opponent of 2015

This guy better bring all of that good juju back for 2015.
This guy better bring all of that good juju back for 2015.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

"That's what speed do."

In 2014, the eighth season of general manager Dayton Moore's tenure, the Kansas City Royals finally won the American League pennant. After eight years, long-suffering Royals fans were finally given a good reason to "Trust the Process."

What was even more remarkable about the Royals' path to the World Series was where their team's value came from. The Royals' hitters finished tenth in the American League in wOBA, and their starting pitching finished sixth in fWAR. That nets out to roughly league-average output from the two most important units on the roster. Kansas City would need either extraordinary performances elsewhere or a lot of luck to reach the postseason. They got the former.

For the second-straight year, the Royals' defense was far and away the best in all of baseball. Their relief corps was also the best around, and their baserunning was second only to that of the Nationals. These three things pushed the Royals from also-rans to title contenders, and the unique team construction had many wondering whether Kansas City was the new model for success in this era of depleted offense. The Giants may have won the World Series, but the Royals were the story of the year.

The good news for Royals fans? None of these three things figures to change all that much heading into 2015. Every starting fielder is returning except for Norichika Aoki, who wasn't one of their more important gloves. In the late innings, the Royals will likely again utilize Jarrod Dyson as a defensive replacement, giving them arguably the greatest defensive outfield in major league history with Dyson, four-time Gold Glove winner Alex Gordon, and highlight reel regular Lorenzo Cain.

Also returning is Kansas City's elite late-inning relief trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and closer Greg Holland, who posted 2014 ERAs of 1.41, 1.00, and 1.44, respectively. It'd be unwise to expect Davis and Herrera to go another full season without yielding a single home run, but all three are very talented and should keep the Royals' bullpen among the league's best, even if manager Ned Yost doesn't quite get the hang of optimizing its use.

Indeed, things looked exceedingly bright in Kansas City even if Game 7 went the wrong way. Gordon is one of the best all-around outfielders in the game, and Cain could join him if he can fight BABIP regression with gains elsewhere. Although he had a down year at the plate in 2014, Salvador Perez is in the game's top tier of the game's everyday catchers, mixing in good contact skills with excellent defensive chops. The superlatively hard-throwing Yordano Ventura is a budding ace, and Danny Duffy could provide great value behind him in the rotation if he can stay healthy.  Even after the World Series loss, the Royals found themselves in an enviable position of having a very good core in a division with no overwhelming alpha dog.

And then, they followed it up with the most befuddling offseason this side of the Atlanta Braves.

The Royals were coming off of an 89-win season, but were faced with losing a few players to free agency. They signed Alex Rios to a one-year, $11 million deal to replace Aoki in right field. Rios' defense is in decline and his power evaporated to the point where his batting line resembled Aoki's without the OBP. It feels like the best-case scenario for Rios is to approximate Aoki's production in 2015, and the worst-case scenario is for him to completely fall off the table.

Also departing was ace James Shields, who left as one of the best three free agents on the market. The Royals effectively replaced him by signing Edinson Volquez to a two-year, $20 million deal. Volquez offers nice rotation depth and is a great fit for Kansas City's park and defense, but profiles more as a back-end starter. He won't come close to replicating Shields' value. Newly signed Kris Medlen offers more upside than Volquez, but he won't be ready until the second half of 2015 after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery.

Finally, designated hitter Billy Butler left for greener pastures (and uniforms) by signing a three-year, $30 million deal with Oakland coming off of a very disappointing 2014 season. Concerned with maintaining their pennant-winning fat guy quota, the Royals went out and brought in oft-injured journeyman Kendrys Morales for two years and $17 million. As bad as Butler's 2014 was, Morales' was worse. While Butler is a reasonable bounceback candidate at age 29, Morales is three years older and might never surpass replacement level again.

Those replacements total $48 million worth of investment at $29.5 million in average annual value in three guys that might not produce a single league-average season over the life of their deals. Despite the rising cost of their core guys, there looks to have been space to acquire at least one impact player.

That player didn't need to be a free agent, either. This offseason has seen Yovani Gallardo, Dexter Fowler, Ben Zobrist, Martin Prado, Justin Upton, Rick Porcello, Yoenis Cespedes, Mat Latos, Jeff Samardzija, Josh Donaldson, and Brett Lawrie all change hands via trade.  All of these guys would have been affordable, a fit, and a notable upgrade for the win-now Royals, and they missed the boat on all of them in favor of signing third-tier guys who might be beeswax at best. Dayton Moore was holding cards that had a great shot to win the AL Central, and instead of aggressively pushing all-in, he merely checked his hand and hoped his opponents wouldn't bet too hard.

Fortunately for Moore, neither the Tigers nor the Indians look like juggernauts, and though the White Sox did indeed bet hard, they're still not the favorites either. The Royals should be competitive and could certainly be in the mix for the division crown, but there's also a great chance that 2015 will be a harsh lesson in using an offseason to try to jog in place. The glass half-full view of The Process is that it eventually took the Royals to the World Series. Should the Royals fail this year, the glass half-empty view might ultimately be that eight years of frustration only truly earned them a one-game playoff with the Athletics.

Predicted Record and Finish: 79-83, 4th place, AL Central

Probable Lineup

Pitching

1. Alcides Escobar – SS

SP1. Yordano Ventura – RHP

2. Alex Gordon – LF

SP2. Danny Duffy – RHP

3. Lorenzo Cain – CF

SP3. Jason Vargas – LHP

4. Eric Hosmer – 1B

SP4. Edinson Volquez – RHP

5. Kendrys Morales – DH

SP5. Jeremy Guthrie – RHP

6. Alex Rios – RF

CL. Greg Holland – RHP

7. Salvador Perez – C

RP1. Wade Davis – RHP

8. Omar Infante – 2B

RP2. Kelvin Herrera – RHP

9. Mike Moustakas – 3B

RP3. Jason Frasor - RHP