Much of the attention surrounding the Kansas City Royals this past offseason focused on the offense.
Free agents and Chicago White Sox killers Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer both signed deals with different teams in the winter. Cain now finds himself in the middle of a potent Milwaukee Brewers lineup, while Hosmer finally signed a deal with the San Diego Padres in a historically slow MLB offseason.
Cain and Hosmer have been staples in the Royals lineup for the past several years, and their presences won’t be missed at all on the South Side.
But the Royals are taking a bleak look ahead — and a hard look at their pitching.
The team seems to understand that rolling out Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Jason Hammel, Jake Junis and Nate Karns as its starting rotation won’t result in too many wins (or too many balls remaining in the park). Duffy is a solid No. 1, but the drop-off from him is too significant for the Royals front office to have much confidence in a winning 2018 team.
The offense still has some pop to it, though.
Kansas City signed Jon Jay to take over as its leadoff hitter in front of proven hitters like, uh, Mike Moustakas. OK, maybe you can add Whit Merrifield, who is young but hits the stuffing out of the ball. But cross Salvador Perez off the list, for now at least, after he ripped up his knee carrying luggage (wait, don’t the rooks have to do that sort of labor in the big leagues?) and is slated to miss four to six weeks.
The Royals tried to replace some of Hosmer’s production when they signed Lucas Duda to a one-year deal to play first base this year. Duda hit a combined 30 home runs and 64 RBIs between the New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays last season, but hit only .217. His WAR. with 30 homers, was 1.1. So, like, Lucas Duda?
Members of the 2015 World Series winners Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon are also projected to be in the lineup Thursday. The two are coming off disappointing years, but both add valuable defense, which justifies keeping them on the field.
Kelvin Herrera still remains Kansas City’s respected closer. The rest of that bullpen, however, has the potential to be 2017 Detroit-level bad.
Former Padres closer Brandon Maurer signed with the Royals last season, and struggled mightily. He finished the year with a combined 6.52 ERA — and a -1.2 WAR — in 68 games between the Padres and Royals.
Wily Peralta and Justin Grimm both made the team’s major league roster, along with many young, unproven arms.
K.C. also doesn’t have a single player in MLB.com’s top 100 prospects, so look for it to sell at this year’s trade deadline.
The Royals will have to outslug their opponents this season. The pitching looks like it will struggle, but some legitimate offensive weapons remain on the squad. Look for this team to battle the White Sox (yeah, I said it) for third place in the Central.
Probable Starting Pitchers
Thursday, March 29
James Shields vs. Danny Duffy
Saturday, March 31
Lucas Giolito vs. Ian Kennedy
Sunday, April 1
Wilbur Wood vs. Bret Saberhagen