SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The Kansas City Royals were in the World Series in 2014 and won it in 2015 and had a core of players (Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon) who appeared ready to lead them to more postseason appearances.
That hasn’t happened. Injuries ruined their 2016 season and in 2017, the tragic death of Yordano Ventura had an effect not just on the KC pitching staff, but on the team emotionally. Even while Moustakas was setting Royals franchise record with 38 home runs (Kansas City is still the only team that’s never had a 40-homer man) and Hosmer posting good numbers, both on their way to free agency, the Royals were back under .500 at 80-82.
With Hosmer signed with the Padres and Moustakas still on the open market, KC has moved on. They signed Lucas Duda to a fairly team-friendly contract to replace Hosmer at first base, and though Duda hit just .217 last year, he also slammed 30 home runs and drew 60 walks for a .322 OBP. If he can get back to his 2014-15 level, when he was a 3 bWAR player, the Royals will have good production for a lot less money.
Cheslor Cuthbert replaces Moustakas at third base. Cuthbert had a decent 2016 but spent a fair amount of time in 2017 on the DL and didn’t hit when he played. That will be a downgrade.
The KC pitching staff returns largely intact, led by Danny Duffy. Jason Hammel’s ERA was awful last year, but his peripherals were still pretty good and the ugly ERA and W/L record still provided 1.3 bWAR. Hammel is 35 now and his career is approaching its end; when he’s done, his best years will have been as a Cub.
The Royals hope Jorge Soler will finally show the potential he did as a Cub. Soler hit at Triple-A Omaha (.267/.388/.564, 24 home runs in only 74 games), but he was only there because he was horrific in the major leagues, hitting just .144/.245/.258 with 36 strikeouts in 97 at-bats. Soler is 26 and I believe he can opt out of his contract after this year, otherwise KC has him under contract at a fairly reasonable $4.7 million per year through 2020.
If Soler finally hits like Cubs fans hoped he would, that’s a big win of a trade for the Royals.
Really, this team doesn’t appear to be much better or worse than they were a year ago. If the pitching holds up — and the bullpen, led by Kelvin Herrera, is pretty good — they’re probably a .500 ballclub again.
The Cubs will be at Kauffman Stadium August 6-7-8. If you’ve never been to the K, it’s a cool road trip. The ballpark was extensively renovated in 2009 and now has an excellent Royals Hall of Fame and Museum, and if you go to K.C. the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is a must-see. It’s only about a seven-hour drive from Chicago.