Let's Go Tribe's American League Central Preview: Kansas City Royals

Ed Zurga

Our look at the Tribe's competition around the American League Central continues with the Royals, the team must pundits see as closest to the Indians in terms of overall production and chances of making the postseason.



Between now and Opening Day, we'll be taking a look at each of the other American League teams, to see what they've done during the offseason, and examine their outlook for 2014.

Find other entries in the series here

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Kansas City Royals

2013 Record: 86-76 (3rd in AL Central), 9-10 vs. Cleveland

648 runs scored (11th of 15 in AL), 601 runs allowed (1st of 15 in AL)

The Royals decided to "go for it" last offseason, and traded away their top prospect (Wil Myers) for starting pitcher James Shields, who had two years left on his contract. For what felt like the eighth spring in a row, many around baseball were predicting 2013 would be the year Kansas City finally broke through and made the playoffs (something they haven't done since winning the 1985 World Series). When they started out 17-10, it looked like there might be something to it, but they went 4-19 in their next stretch of games, which pretty well put an end to their chances of winning the division. A 9-game winning streak that ended in early August put them back above .500 though, and when they continued to play well, they found themselves within 2 games of the second Wild Card at one point. They weren't officially eliminated until the final Wednesday of the season, and they won 86 games, their highest total since 1989.

Their success had little to do with their offense, as only Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer were much above average, while the production from second base, third base, and (especially) shortstop was awful. Alcides Escobar had an OPS+ of just 53, which is the worst by an American League player who was given 600+ plate appearances since 1953.

Run scoring was a problem, but Kansas City's run prevention was tremendous. James Shields and Ervin Santana were both good, while the rest of the rotation was nothing special. How does a good but far from great rotation lead to the fewest runs allowed in baseball? Well, their bullpen was probably the best in the American League (led by closer Greg Holland, who was dominant), and their team defense was almost certainly the best in all of baseball.

Key offseason additions:

Norichika Aoki (OF), Omar Infante (2B), Jason Vargas (SP)

Key offseason departures:

Ervin Santana (SP), Will Smith (RP)

2014 Payroll: ~$92 million

Projected 2014 Starting Lineup (with ZiPS fWAR projection):

Pos

Player

Projected WAR

C

Salvador Perez

4

1B

Eric Hosmer

3

2B

Omar Infante

2

3B

Mike Moustakas

2

SS

Alcides Escobar

2

LF

Alex Gordon

4

CF

Lorenzo Cain

2

RF

Norichika Aoki

2

DH

Billy Butler

3

TOTAL

24

Indian who has killed the Royals:

Carlos Santana - .324/.440/.568, 1.009 OPS, 8 HR in 218 PA

Royal who has killed the Indians:

Alex Gordon - .268/.359/.436, .796 OPS, 12 HR in 417 PA (let's hope the Royals continue to have no one with an .800+ OPS against the Tribe)

Projected 2014 Starting Rotation/Bullpen (with ZiPS fWAR projection):

Pos

Player

Projected WAR

1

James Shields

4

2

Jason Vargas

1

3

Jeremy Guthrie

1

4

Bruce Chen

1

5

Yordano Ventura

2

RP

Bullpen

5

TOTAL

14

2014 Outlook:

The Royals were fairly quiet this offseason, but I think they improved. The starting rotation is probably slightly downgraded, because neither Vargas or Ventura (their top pitching prospect, who was recently named to the rotation) is likely to be as good as Santana was, but their lineup should be improved by the additions of Infante and Aoki (who they somehow convinced Milwaukee to trade them for a decent reliever). Their bullpen looks again to be one of baseball's best (though they'll be without Luke Hochevar, who recently had Tommy John surgery, after throwing 70.1 innings of relief with a 1.91 ERA last year).

Wil Myers won the AL Rookie of the Year after being called up by Tampa Bay at midseason, and a year from now Kansas City fans may find themselves really wishing that trade had never been made (some already do). No matter what becomes of Myers though, if the Royals managed to make the playoffs, I don't think one can be too critical of the deal, because it's been so long since they'd have that kind of success. 2013 was their best season since the labor stoppage ended 1994 prematurely; relative youth a the small upgrades they've made mean playoff contention is a realistic goal for them in 2014.

PECOTA Projection: 78-84 (3rd in AL Central), 707 runs scored, 739 runs allowed

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