Earlier in the year, while doing our yearly 30 in 30 rundowns of the league, I wrote that the Kansas City Royals had a bright future ahead of them, but it might come with a price tag. The cost of rebuilding towards a new tomorrow at Kaufman Stadium, at least in my eyes, was trading Whit Merrifield.
I am happy to report that, I was wrong. I was completely wrong about this. Because the Kansas City Royals are making things interesting in the AL Central, and that’s fantastic news.
The future of this team is bright, as we saw by way of the pitching staff in 2020. This is a bit of a change in organizational thinking from past years, where the Royals have relied on veteran arms and younger bats to get to their World Series appearances.
Even in their post-World Series seasons, they relied on names like Jason Hammel, Homer Bailey, Dillon Gee, Chris Young, and Jason Vargas, to fill out their rotation. And now, as we saw last season, the young arms are truly coming into their own.
With these young players and those on the other side of the ball like Bobby Witt Jr. coming onto a team that’s giving them ample time to mature, it’s possible that the Royals are creating another dynasty.
If there was a potential dark mark on the upcoming 2021 season, it’s the cloud hanging over a potential deal that sends Whit Merrifield packing. What could be the “deal of the 2021 deadline” could net the Royals multiple top prospects in exchange for Whit. While it’ll be tough to see Merrifield walk, it’ll make the Royals better in the long run. Think James Shields in 2012.
However, that no longer seems to be in the cards, and that’s fantastic.
The Kansas City Royals might just be the team to watch in 2021. Why? Because they’ve had a sneaky good offseason, and have moved themselves forward in their rebuild by leaps and bounds.
The first few moves made by Dayton Moore this offseason were what you’d expect from a rebuilding team. Bringing in Michael A. Taylor to fill out your outfield, and signing Mike Minor after a rough 2020 seasons, all line up with mid-rebuild moves. These signings are both low-risk/high-reward. You love to see it. But there was more on the horizon.
From there, the Royals signed veterans Carlos Santana, Greg Holland and Wade Davis. Finally, they capped off the offseason with a three-way trade with the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets, that brought Andrew Benintendi to Kansas City. Looking at those moves individually, it might seem like money moves, and depth fillers. But the Royals are building quickly, and most importantly, intellectually.
The Kansas City Royals are making a move for the AL Central Divisional Crown.
The Royals are striking while the iron is hot, and their forward momentum from their farm system is strong. As young players like Witt, Jr., Adalberto Mondesi and Nicky Lopez grow and mature in the Majors, Moore and the KC front office are surrounding them with solid pieces, not just roster filler.
Take the signing of Hanser Alberto and the Benintendi trade as examples.
Hanser Alberto led the Baltimore Orioles in hits last season, after leading them in hits during his solid rookie season in 2019. In reality, 2020 should have been a tough year for Alberto to repeat his successes, as he hit over .300 the previous season.
But instead of bottoming out, as we’ve seen from other rookies, Alberto just kept on trucking, producing a .286/.306/.393 slash line in 2020. That’s a great sign that he’s only going to get better from here on out. And yet the Orioles released him, citing cost-cutting efforts. The Royals picked him up on a minor-league deal, and that’s an underrated signing for the ages.
While initially, it may seem like the Royals bringing in Alberto notes a worry about Lopez’s abilities, perhaps that’s not the case. In 2019, Hanser Alberto played a third of his games at the hot corner, a position the Royals haven’t found an answer for since the departure of Mike Moustakas. Bringing in a solid third baseman who has a floor that equals the ceiling of Maikel Franco, makes the Royals better without shelling out big money.
This is a brilliant signing by the Royals. It’s low-risk/high-reward.
Trading for Benintendi, on the other hand, made a lot of fans and pundits sit up and take note of Kansas City’s potential. Dealing Franchy Cordero and Khalil Lee in order to snag the last remaining Fenway remnant of the 2018 Red Sox outfield makes a big splash. It’s a calculated cannonball into the deep end, for sure. But at its core, this trade is smart.
Getting Benintendi solidifies the Royals outfield, and makes their lineup a threat once again. Adding Benintendi, who makes a perfect replacement for the hole left by Alex Gordon’s retirement, brings the KC outfield back to its World Series team roots and then some. Whit Merrifield in left, Benintendi in center, and Jorge Soler in right, make a solid group both on the diamond and in the batter’s box. Beyond that defensive positioning, the addition of Taylor and last season’s acquisition Edward Olivares provides the Royals with some depth and leeway.
The Kansas City Royals let their World Series core walk away after the 2017 season and turned inward to rebuild. As the world begins to reawaken from our collective shutdown to combat the Covid-19 Pandemic, the Kansas City Royals are emerging as competitors in the AL Central.
The Royals are ahead of schedule, and ready to reclaim their crown.
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