• February 22, 2024

Ceiling and Floor for the Kansas City Royals

Ceiling and Floor for the Kansas City Royals

It’s hard to expect a worse season out of the 2024 squad in comparison to the ‘23 campaign. With a 56-106 record, the Royals tied their all-time worst record in franchise history (winning percentage) and headed into the offseason with glaring holes that needed to be patched. In the ensuing 5 months the front office made it clear they intend to contend in a weak AL Central. They became the most active team in the league in free agency and spent a lot of money.

Major Moves

It started slow, as all things do, picking up utility man Garret Hampson to shore up the infield and corner outfield depth. As the winter proceedings progressed it became clear that J.J. Piccolo and co. were very interested in adding a veteran arm to lead the rotation into the new season. With that in mind, the smaller moves continued. The bullpen grew with the return of back-to-back-to-back World Series champion Will Smith and the quickly ensuing addition of his Rangers teammate Chris Stratton. The Royals then seemingly found their big signing with Seth Lugo, a veteran pitcher looking to further a second career moving from pen to starter. Just when we all thought they had moved on from starters, Michael Wacha signed a one-year deal to further transform the pitching room in KC. Hunter Renfroe and Adam Frazier both signed in January to improve some positional needs and depth in the lineup. Finally, the Royals traded a young arm in David Sandlin for John Schreiber to complete a deep bullpen that tops the Central division. 

It’s a lot, I know, but the Royals ensured the fanbase that 2023 would be an evaluation year. After sitting back,l letting some young guys struggle, and assessing positional needs the front office quickly realized that the necessary changes were plentiful. They weren’t nearly as expensive to be competitive in the AL Central as in other, stronger divisions though. The head honchos decided to spend a franchise-record amount of money in one off-season. A lot of that money comes from a Bobby Witt Jr. extension to keep him in Kansas City through his age-30 season, but it establishes a couple of things about this team moving forward.

The New Philosophy

John Sherman took a few things from the Cleveland Guardians when he left to purchase the Royals. After watching them squeeze into relevance year in and year out, he realized that the American League Central is very easy to compete in. Unlike Cleveland, there isn’t a well of player development available to keep the team hovering around .500 on a down year. But he did notice that a .500 record is more than enough to keep a team in the divisional race. For the first time in decades, the Royals are looking to make moves that benefit them for the future while also doing the small things to keep things competitive.

Many of these moves could serve to shore up fan relations as they look towards a vote on tax dollars for a new stadium. Some could prevent a massive fan exodus and a drop in profits for a new owner. Regardless of the purpose, this front office has pushed to spend some money to make some money. The on-field product looks to drastically improve this season. This should encourage the fans to get out to the park and root for young and new players. 

Floor

There are a lot of reasons to be pessimistic about this club. Even the good moves have ended up being liabilities for the franchise and wasted money. The extension of a promising young bat turned into 2 years of Hunter Dozier that few people wanted. The signing of a veteran first baseman with a history of all-star appearances and elite on-base skills led to the underperformance of Carlos Santana. Even the return of my favorite pitcher to ever grace the Powder Blue led to an overdependence on Zack Greinke as he looked to peacefully pitch the last years of his career. 

This team feels different. There is a decent amount of veteran presence and that is seldom something you want to be importing with high expectations. To pair, however, is a great young core that looks to continue improving and lead the team into the future. With little production required by the veteran incomers, it’ll be much easier to find a little positivity that just one can help boost the team. I have high hopes for Hunter Renfroe in right field. He has 30-plus homerun potential in any park and can field the position just fine. Paired with a history of success and one of the best arms in baseball, he will most likely slot into a 5 spot and hit just fine. 

Bobby Witt Jr., Vinnie Pasquantino, and Maikel Garcia look to fill the top 3 spots in the lineup. Alongside those three spots, they will fill 75% of the infield spots defensively well. Under contract for many years to come, this young trio looks to lead the team from the field. Add some veteran arms and bats to provide a safety blanket, this team should at least limit the breathing room of the divisional leaders. Anything below 70 wins should be frustrating for fans. I get it, it is tough to expect anything from a team finishing as poorly as they did in 2023. This new front office flexing their spending power for the first time. This means the pressure is on to make some of the right decisions with that money. This team looks like it could have more in store but 70-75 wins is maintainable in the 2024 season.

Ceiling

It would be a little excessive to say this team will go out and win the Central. And with the mighty AL East owning the wild card in recent years, winning the division will be the only way for this team to sneak into the playoffs. Will they sneak into the playoffs? The answer to that is almost certainly no. But when you think about this team some players could potentially lift this team into contending within the division. Cole Ragans was red hot in the second half of the season last year. He showed improved velocity on his fastball and an aggressive approach towards batters. He even looked like a top-20 starter in the league. He very well may fall off in his first full year starting, but he could look like a monster if he doesn’t. Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo were both a part of a rotation that led the league in ERA with the Padres in 2023. Adding a full-throttle Ragans to the mix would launch the starting pitching into another atmosphere. 

In the field, MJ Melendez and Nelson Velazquez both open some eyes down the stretch. Both need to show that they can expand their game for the numbers to be maintainable. There are things to get excited about though. Velazquez went on a power surge that propped his numbers for the whole season. He never really slowed down with the home runs, but he didn’t quite hit the other types of batted balls enough to feel confident he could keep it up. If Nelson works it out this season, he could look very similar to his coworker in right field at his peak. MJ struggled pretty heavily to start last season. He didn’t let that carry into the second half of the season though. He turned a corner and looked like a legitimate left fielder down the stretch. The corner outfield spots could make massive strides from last season. It just requires one of these two to become a consistent big leaguer. 

With multiple players looking to establish themselves in the lineup, there could be potential for a contender here. Many of the additions look to improve the outlook of the roster, but certain guys in the youth movement could make a statement this year and push the team to the next level. There are no World Series hopes for the team headed into March, but the division could be within reach. It may seem audacious to see written out, but 85-90 wins may grace the field if things work out. If that happens, build the stadium. Give me a baseball village. Pay some young guys. I’m willing to overreact to the success of the front office and buy-in. But this is absolutely a bit far-fetched and requires many things to work themselves out. 

It’s a Wide Gap, But There’s a Reason For That…

We’re coming off a rough season. There’s no sugarcoating that. It is safe to assume that with this much spending, there will be some improvements. That being said, many of these signings could look very good for this front office. Many of the things that went right last year came from trades. Therefore, we only had a half-season to evaluate those additions. Looking forward we will get a greater perspective into the scouting of talent and its longevity. Here’s to the 2024 Royals and whatever happens on the field. We’ve seen the rocks in the last 20 years of this team and we’ve seen the mountaintop. This season looks to be a climbing year, and the progress back up the mountain remains to be seen.

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