Royals looking to get back to postseason before core players exit via free agency

Royals free agents

APRIL 2017 – Things were spinning so fast, even Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost had some fleeting doubts.

There was the death of Yordano “Ace” Ventura in late January just before the team reported to spring training. And the off-season forced trades of closer Wade Davis and speedster outfielder Jarrod Dyson, who are both eligible for free agency after this season, for property the Royals can control for a longer period.

“With everything we’ve had go on, losing Ventura, having to trade Wade, having to trade Dyson, I think there were some questions in my mind how good we were going to be,” Yost said. “I felt like we were going to be good. You get down to spring training and see some of these young arms. You see some of these veteran guys bouncing back.

“It gets you back to that real feeling of confidence that we’re going to be good again. I like our arms in the bullpen. They are going to be different names, but I think the stuff is going to be about the same.’

After winning the 2015 World Series and advancing to Game Seven of the 2014 World Series, the Royals finished 81-81 last year. They had a horrible July, seven victories in 26 games. They bounced back by winning 20 of their first 27 games in August to get back into contention. But they lost 19 of their last 31 games and failed to make the postseason.

Injuries to Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain proved too much to overcome. Moustakas played in only 27 games last year before needing season-ending knee surgery after colliding with Gordon while chasing a fly ball. Gordon fractured his right wrist in the collision and missed 29 games. Cain missed 25 games from June 29-Juy 28 with a left hamstring strain. Plus Cain missed 29 of the final 30 games with left wrist inflammation.

But that was last year.

“Going into this season, I feel very, very good,” Yost said. “We’ve got Moose healthy. Gordy’s back feeling good. Hos (Eric Hosmer) is in the best shape of his life. Salvy (Perez) weighed in as low as he’s weighed in five years. He’s in phenomenal shape and raring to go. What makes you feel good is the work ethic, not much fooling around. They get after it.

“There’s a confidence I think between all of us that we’re going to have a pretty good year.”

The Royals would like to put together a strong year before the gang breaks up and goes in separate directions. Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain and shortstop Alcides Escobar are all eligible for free agency after this season. They have been the core of the Royals’ resurgence. Also, left-handed starter Jason Vargas can file for free agency in 2017.

So many free agents could cause distractions.

“I don’t think about it,” Yost said. “I don’t think it will be a distraction.”

The Royals don’t have enough money to bring them all back. Well, no club probably would if it expects to make a profit. So the window of opportunity could slam shut after this year.

“We never bought into that assumption that our window was going to close,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “You put together the best team you can each and every year. You go out and prepare to win. You also realize that you have to continue to make adjustments to the roster, not only in the current championship season, but also for the future.

“So we don’t buy into the assumption that our window is going to close on our team. Rosters do change. You’ve got to learn to manage change effectively. We feel like that we can do that.”

Moore signed Jason Hammel, a 15-game winner last year with the Chicago Cubs, and left-hander Travis Wood, also a Cub last year, as free agents. Another free agent signee is slugger Brandon Moss, who clubbed 28 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals last year.

He traded Davis for power-hitting right fielder Jorge Soler, who began the season on the disabled list with an oblique strain. He dealt Dyson to the Mariners for starter Nathan Karns. He acquired Peter O’Brien in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Although O’Brien will begin the season with Triple-A Omaha, he hit some impressive moon shots in spring training. File his name away as you’ll be hearing from him again soon.

Ian Kennedy is the only member of the Royals’ rotation who was in the rotation to start last year. Opening Day starter Danny Duffy began last year in the bullpen. Vargas was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Hammel was with the Cubs and Karns with the Mariners.

The once indomitable bullpen of Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera is past history. Only Herrera remains. He showed he can handle the closer’s role last year, logging a dozen saves last year when Davis was on the disabled list. Getting the ball to Herrera with a lead in the ninth might be taxing for Yost.

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Article by Alan Eskew

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