The Kansas City Royals came up short in their pursuit of a third consecutive American League pennant last year, finishing with a .500 record and placing third in the division. They remained relatively quiet in free agency until as of a few weeks ago, signing Jason Hammel and Brandon Moss as well as making a pair of trades, dispatching closer Wade Davis to Chicago for outfielder Jorge Soler.
2017 Kansas City Royals Season Preview
Sadly, all of that seemed smaller in comparison to the tragic loss of Yordano Ventura in a car accident. At only 25 years old, it felt like the organization and fans alike were robbed of being able to witness his full potential. The team heads into 2017 with a lot of uncertainty, including a group of core players who may not be together much longer. With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the key elements to watch for this season.
With the departure of Kendrys Morales, fans were left wondering how the offense could fill the power void in the lineup. It appears that the Royals have done that. The acquisition of Soler finally brought a corner outfielder with considerable power. Soler only had 227 at-bats last season with the Cubs, but playing time should not be an issue this season.
The signing of Moss gave the Royals a pair of players with home run potential. The 33 year-old was a steady source of power over the last years and should have no problem replacing Morales at the DH position, even with a slight drop in batting average.
Let’s also not forget the players already within the organization. First baseman Eric Hosmer will also likely provide a steady stream of offense in 2017, as he finally cracked the 20 HR and 100 RBI thresholds last season. Catcher Salvador Perez can certainly offer some pop as well, but that comes as a double-edged sword. His production has faded significantly in the second half of the season during the last three years.
The Starting Rotation
The recent signings of Hammel, Travis Wood, and Nate Karns have helped stabilize what was otherwise a precarious rotation. Danny Duffy had a breakout season last year, posting a 3.51 ERA and 1.14 WHIP while striking out over a batter per inning. Ian Kennedy was plagued by homer problems, much like the rest of his career. However, he’s still a solid opposition thanks to his innings production, strike outs, and walk rate.
Adding Karns proved to be an under the radar move, but one that should be looked at with optimism, as Karns has shown glimpses of solid production. Karns had some success in 2015, but that was with the Rays regularly pulling him to avoid a third time through the order.
Assuming his elbow is healthy, Hammel could be a viable number three starter in the rotation. He posted a 3.59 ERA and 1.14 WHIP while striking out 420 batters in 446 innings across 78 starts in two seasons and part of 2014 with the Chicago Cubs. The Royals hope that Hammel can at least somewhat replace the production they have lost with the passing of Ventura.
With Joakim Soria likely to be the main setup man, there is going to be some leftover anxiety from fans about his performance in 2016. Though he faltered last year, its best for everyone to withhold their reservations about him and put it in the past. It’s highly unlikely that a reliever of his caliber doesn’t at least improve his numbers slightly.
25-year old Matt Strahm impressed a lot of people last year in the bullpen with a dazzling 1.23 ERA. It’s possible that he can also be a key set up man in the eighth inning, but expect him to get most of his appearances in the seventh.
The days of Davis and Greg Holland are no more. However, Kelvin Herrera is more than capable of locking down the closer role. He’s the lone player left from the dominant bullpen of 2014. Herrera had the best season of his career by basically any measure outside of ERA in 2016 as well.
With most of their core players set to hit free agency in 2017, its likely that this could be the last hoorah for this Royals group. If they can be successful, this may be one of the most dominant stints in franchise history. Kansas City certainly doesn’t have big name after big name on their roster, but their regulars should prove to be very instrumental in continuing the success of recent years.