The biggest story of the offseason for the Royals is the death of SP Yordano Ventura, who was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic on Jan. 22.
Back on the field, a season after winning the World Series, the Royals took a step back last season, finishing third in the AL Central with a .500 record. The team made a number of trades this offseason, but many of them were minor. The one that should have the biggest impact on the team was trading RP Wade Davis to the Cubs in exchange for OF Jorge Soler. Another trade acquisition who should be on the major-league roster at the start of the season is SP Nathan Karns, who came over from the Mariners in exchange for OF Jarrod Dyson. The team also signed DH Brandon Moss and SP Jason Hammel in free agency. They will likely slide into the roles vacated by DH Kendrys Morales and SP Edinson Volquez, who both left in free agency. Overall, none of the players the Royals added or lost this offseason should have a major impact on the Royals in 2017. The Royals got a scare when C Salvador Perez was involved in a home-plate collision in the World Baseball Classic — with backup C Drew Butera — but it appears he escaped significant injury and should be ready for Opening Day.
The Royals finished in the top 10 in Major League Baseball with a .261 batting average, but their 147 home runs were the fourth-fewest in the majors and the fewest in the American League — and 30 of those home runs left the team when Morales signed with the Blue Jays. The squad’s .712 OPS also ranked as the fifth-lowest in MLB. 1B Eric Hosmer hit .266 with 25 home runs and a .761 OPS, while Perez hit .247 with 22 home runs and a .725 OPS. OF Alex Gordon added 17 home runs in 128 games, and rookie 2B Whit Merrifield hit .283 in 81 games after being called up from the minors. OFs Lorenzo Cain and Paulo Orlando also hit for a decent averages — .287 and .302, respectively. With the Cubs, Soler hit .238 with 12 home runs in just 86 games, and Moss hit 28 home runs, but just a .225 average, in 128 games with the Cardinals.
The pitching staff posted a 4.21 ERA, which ranked in the bottom half of the majors, as did their 1,287 strikeouts. The team finished with 41 saves — two fewer than the MLB average — 27 of which were recorded by Davis. SP Ian Kennedy posted a 3.68 ERA with 184 strikeouts in 195.2 innings and SP Danny Duffy struck out 188 batters in 179.2 innings to go along with his 3.51 ERA. With the Cubs, Hammel started 30 games, posting a 3.83 ERA with 144 strikeouts in 166.2 innings. Karns started 15 of his 22 games with the Mariners last season but put up a disappointing 5.15 ERA — significantly below his 3.67 ERA from 2015 — but struck out 101 in 94.1 innings. In the bullpen, RP Kelvin Herrera — who is expected to take over the closer’s role this year with Davis in Chicago — went 12-for-15 in save chances with a 2.75 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 72 innings.
Perez escaping an injury in that collision with Butera is important for the Royals because he is an even bigger part of the team’s offense this season with Morales gone. While Moss has power to make up for some of Morales’ lost home runs, he does not hit for a high average and is a feast-or-famine type of guy. Soler will need to step things up this year to help out the offense after a regression in nearly 25 points of batting average from 2015 to 2016. One guy who will help improve the offense is 3B Mike Moustakas, whose season finished in May when he suffered an ACL tear that required season-ending surgery. If he can come back and produce numbers similar to 2015 — when he hit .284 with 22 home runs — he will settle nicely into the middle of the lineup.
There are definite questions about the quality of the starting rotation with Duffy expected to serve as the No. 1 with Kennedy behind him. Those pitchers are more middle-of-the-rotation guys so the Royals having to rely on them as their top starters doesn’t bode well for the season. Herrera should have the stuff to do well in his first full season as a closer, but the question is how often he will have a lead given to him to be able to close out games.
The Royals are a long way away from the team that won the World Series two years ago and are likely still around a .500 team like they were last year. The offense shouldn’t be bad, but the starting pitching will be the team’s downfall without a true ace on the staff. They’re still probably the third-best team in the division behind the Indians and Tigers and will miss the playoffs for a second straight season.