Over the last two years, the Kansas City Royals have established themselves as the best team in the majors with two consecutive trips to the World Series, which ended a 30-year drought thanks to their first championship in three decades. It’s clear that the Royals have the bullseye on their backs, especially in the American League with two straight pennants and the league’s best record last season.
Kansas City entered this offseason with the objective of revamping the team as several key players become unrestricted free agents, including Johnny Cueto, Alex Gordon, Ben Zobrist, Chris Young, and Ryan Madson. It is all but a given that the team would let Cueto sign elsewhere; his asking price was too high for the team’s liking as he eventually inked a six-year, $130 million deal with the San Francisco Giants. The Royals also let Zobrist sign with the Chicago Cubs and Madson join the Oakland Athletics.
However, they retained Young on a club-friendly, two-year, $11.75 million contract, and more importantly kept one of their core players, outfielder Alex Gordon, on a four-year deal worth $72 million with a mutual option for the 2020 season. Over the last five years he has become one of the best players in the league in left field, securing four Gold Glove awards (2011-2014) while earning All-Star game selections in each of his last three seasons. Losing the 31-year-old in free agency would have been a huge blow to the team, but the fact that they retained him keeps their championship window open for several more seasons.
The Royals may have lost one of the game’s best pitchers in Cueto, but the team recently signed another pitcher in Ian Kennedy on a five-year, $70 million deal to replace Cueto in the starting rotation. Given Kennedy’s struggles over the last four seasons — posting an ERA above 4.00 over three times while recording double-digit losses in each campaign — it’s a move that could be seen by many as vastly overpaying a pitcher who has been a shadow of his 2011 Cy Young-caliber season. That said, a change of scenery could be what Kennedy needs to once again become a reliable and efficient starting pitcher.
Along with those moves, Kansas City also exercised their option for next season on reliever Wade Davis, who has been the best reliever in the game over the last two years, posting an ERA 1.00 or lower in each campaign. They also brought back a familiar face in reliever Joakim Soria with a three-year, $25 million contract; he will more than likely assume the full-time closer role that he held for the first five years of his career with the team.
All of these transactions, combined with their core, certainly make the Royals the best team in the American League, but their greatest challenge may come in the National League. Teams like the Chicago Cubs, who added Zobrist, Jason Heyward, and John Lackey, only strengthen their case as a force to reckon with in the National League.
The reigning National League-champion New York Mets also kept their core together, which involved unexpectedly bringing back Yoenis Cespedes. Keep in mind that New York has arguably one of the best pitching staffs in the league, which will keep the team in the picture as a World Series contender. However, the team that could pose the biggest threat to the Royals’ repeat chances are the Giants, especially after their strong offseason.
San Francisco significantly strengthened their starting rotation with the addition of Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, who will pitch alongside Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, and Jake Peavy. San Francisco also made an under-the-radar move by signing outfielder Denard Span, who is considered to be one of the game’s best defensive players in centerfield and lead-off hitters. It may be quite early to make bold proclamations, with spring training yet to begin, but the Royals have had a strong offseason that only gives us more of a reason to believe that they could hoist the World Series trophy once again next November.