Way, way back pre-coronavirus, the honchos of the SB Nation AL Central blogs got together for a roundtable to discuss the season. As we never published any of them at South Side Sox before the season was shut down, this week we’ll roll them out, so you can get reacquainted with the teams that you will be so tired of seeing by season’s end. (Forty of 60 games, yikes!) Keep in mind, of course, that these were written before the season was delayed, and some team (and life) details have changed in the intervening months.
We’ll start with our friends down south, the Kansas City Royals. Editor-in-chief of Royals Review, Max Rieper, drops the knowledge.
What’s changed for your team over the offseason?
You won’t have Ned Yost to kick around anymore! Ned retired on his own terms, championship ring in hand, and was replaced by former Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. Matheny initially had success in St. Louis, winning a pennant, but crashed and burned toward the end with a tense clubhouse that included some hazing. He has acknowledged his mistakes and has said all the right things, including emphasizing a desire to learn analytics and deal with the press better. He likely won’t be judged much by wins and losses here, but Royals fans will be watching to see how he deals with the clubhouse and develops younger players.
The Royals also have a new owner, local businessman John Sherman, who was once part of the ownership group in Cleveland. He hasn’t said much about how he wants to run the team, but there are indications he wants to invest more in innovative strategies and he has spoken some on wanting to get into behavioral analysis. Having just spent a billion dollars on a baseball team, the ownership group likely isn’t cash-heavy enough to spend on free agents, so expect a low payroll as they rebuild, but Royals fans will want to see investments in players before very long.
Any noteworthy free agents or trades, new coaches or front office people?
On the field, it was a very quiet offseason, with the only significant addition being third baseman Maikel Franco, who fell out of favor in Philadelphia. The Royals did bring All-Star outfielder Alex Gordon for what will likely be his last year. Other than that, they mostly took flyers on low-cost minor league free agents like Trevor Rosenthal and Greg Holland, and looked for young available talent, getting pitcher Chance Adams from the Yankees and pitcher Stephen Woods from the Rays in the Rule 5 draft.
What guys got traded away, walked as free agents, or retired that will impact your team in 2020, and what will that impact be?
No one. There were some trade rumors surrounding Whit Merrifield, with the Cubs and Padres both reported to be interested, but the Royals have insisted on a very high asking price, and while there was a report that San Diego thought they were close to a deal, Merrifield remains a Royal. The A’s and Yankees were interested in lefty specialist Tim Hill, but no deal was made. The Royals did not lose a single free agent, and the only notable player they cut loose was third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert.
What players that we haven’t heard of will we want to know about going into 2020?
The Royals went very heavy on college pitchers in the 2018 draft, and many of those arms will be knocking on the door for big league action this year. First-round pick Brady Singer is expected to compete for a rotation spot in spring training, and Jackson Kowar, his teammate at the University of Florida, should be right behind him. Lefty Daniel Lynch might be better than both, but had a setback last year when he missed six weeks with arm soreness. Lefty Kris Bubic led the entire minor leagues in strikeouts with a Clayton Kershaw-like delivery and could be an underrated prospect.
What are the general feelings of your fan base going into 2020: optimism, pessimism, a little of both?
Times have been tough the last few seasons, but most fans feel the team is on the right track, although they may feel the rebuild has not been as quick as they would like. The Royals have done a pretty good job in the last two drafts, have found a few gems like Hunter Dozier and Brad Keller who, with young players like Adalberto Mondesi, they can build around. They have reportedly signed a new local TV deal that should more than double what they were making before, and they are starting to shed some of the onerous contracts on the books, which could mean re-investing in player payroll in the next year or two. Patience will start to wear thin if the team doesn’t start making improvement soon, but fans see some light at the end of the tunnel.
Who is your pick to win the AL Central, and why?
The Twins were the best team last year and only improved, while Cleveland seemed to take a step back to re-load, so it seems like Minnesota is the slam-dunk answer here. I’m not yet sold on the White Sox, and the Royals and Tigers should be mathematically eliminated by Labor Day. [Ed. note: Still checks out.]
What else should our readers know about your team?
Sherman has been a big booster of downtown Kansas City and is reportedly open to the idea of moving the team downtown, an idea that has been kicked around for nearly two decades. Kauffman Stadium is beautiful and has a lease through 2030, but will probably need a facelift by then, and some feel moving the team downtown would be a better investment for the city and for the club rather than spending money on what is an isolated stadium in the middle of nowhere. There likely won’t be action for awhile, but it is something to keep an eye on for Royals fans in the next decade.
Also, here’s a little something I did with Max last week for Royals Review Radio, previewing the White Sox.
And from the comments this spring at Bless You Boys: