The defending world champion Royals has its eye on the prize once again, as the strongest team in a relatively weak AL Central has a solid chance to run away with the division and reign supreme once more.
The team is solid across the board, especially on defense. Hosmer, Moustakas and Escobar are all slick fielders, and Cain, who took a huge step forward last season, is one of the best defensive center fielders in the game, with the ability to cover a large amount of ground in the outfield. Dyson is also a burner who can play top-notch defense.
Perez is an excellent game caller behind the plate and can swing the bat as well, although a heavy workload has caught up to him over the last few seasons at the plate, causing his batting average and on-base percentage to decline. The Royals clearly still have faith in their Gold-Glove catcher and 2015 World Series MVP recipient, as they recently provided him a five-year $52 million contract extension.
Perez can help the pitchers in the rotation, arguably the team’s weakest point last season. The Royals brought in Cueto to help shore up the pitching staff, but he was a disappointment overall. Ventura and Volquez will be back to anchor the rotation. Ventura missed time due to injury last year and needs to mature and refrain from picking fights, but he has a chance to be a special player if he can develop mentally and stay healthy. Volquez enjoyed a very good season, posting a 3.55 ERA, good for 15th in the AL, although his most notable moment was likely starting in Game 1 of the World Series after his father had died earlier that day. He also pitched six strong innings in Game 5.
The bullpen, however, is one of the best in baseball, especially on the back end. Wade Davis is among the most dominant relievers in the game today, and he will slide into the closer’s role effortlessly with Holland missing the season due to Tommy John surgery. The rest of the bullpen is steady. Former Royals closer Joakim Soria has reunited with the club; he will serve a middle-relief or setup role for the team, and Kelvin Herrera will likely serve as the backup closer in case anything should happen to Davis.
Home runs are not part of the Royals’ game, but they don’t need to be. They finished 24th in the league in home runs, but the team is one of the best small-ball teams in the league, emphasizing contact and base-stealing above all else, which the players pulled off with aplomb. Escobar, Cain and Dyson are all burners who can swipe bases with the best of them, and Terrance Gore has a chance to be a regular weapon on the basepaths as well with more exposure to the MLB. The team also struck out a mere 973 times, the lowest in the league. Atlanta was the next lowest, at 1,107 strikeouts.
The farm system is adequate, but this is clearly a team built to win now. Raul Mondesi and Kyle Zimmer are probably their top two prospects. Mondesi is yet another basestealing threat, and while Zimmer still has promise, he has had difficulty staying healthy.
Most of the team is back for the 2016 season, although Cueto has gone to the Giants, while Zobrist moved on to the disgustingly loaded Cubs. One of the Royals’ largest offseason accomplishments was re-signing Gordon to a four-year, $72 million deal. Gordon is likely exiting his prime years, but he should still be a solid player for a while longer and remains a definite fan favorite.
The Royals’ biggest competition will likely come from the Detroit Tigers, although that team’s window of opportunity is closing. Miguel Cabrera is still a force, but the team is aging quickly, leaving the Royals as the odds-on favorite to take the division once again. There is reason for optimism in Kansas City; while the losses of Cueto and Zobrist may be felt somewhat, this is still a team that can strike fear in the hearts of opponents for the foreseeable future.