This offseason has been full of fascinating transactions, from Shohei Ohtani‘s record-breaking contract to Juan Soto‘s trade to the New York Yankees. Even though the signings haven’t come in one big deluge, it has been a captivating period to gain insight into how teams want to build out their rosters. Amidst all the hype with other franchises, have the Kansas City Royals somehow fashioned one of the most interesting offseasons of any team?
Is It Okay to be Excited About the Royals?
Free Agent Spending
There were some awfully foolish writers who thought the Royals would take a step forward last season. Instead, the season went incredibly poorly, eventually tumbling to a 56-106 record in manager Matt Quatraro‘s first season. It would be understandable if the Royals withdrew from heavy spending after such a disappointing season with the reasoning that it wouldn’t contribute to a winning team.
But the Royals have spent well over $100 million and reinforced nearly every area of the roster. In a market flush with stars, Kansas City might not have added any household names, but the influx of impact veterans puts the team on a completely different path than last year’s. The Royals don’t have a highly-rated farm system, but they have several young players breaking through on their active roster. Bringing in proven players will substantially improve a roster that likely wouldn’t be developing another wave of star-level talent in the minors soon.
That leaves the question: will it be enough to compete in 2024? The American League Central is winnable, even if still a longshot. No other team in the division has been anywhere near as ambitious. The Royals win total odds currently sit at 73.5. That would be an impressive increase year-over-year, even if it left them firmly out of Wild Card contention. The ultimate goal is to win in the postseason, of course. But in an era when it’s understandable for teams to spend years rebuilding and avoid spending, it is encouraging to see a team like this significantly overhaul the roster even as serious underdogs.
The primary focus was the rotation, bringing in starters like Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo. Kyle Wright is only two years removed from a 3.19 ERA with the Atlanta Braves. Last season, Cole Ragans was the only Royals pitcher among six with at least 70 innings to have an ERA less than 5.00. Five! That’s a low bar, even for a rebuilding team. The addition of starters like this will add a level of stable production that Kansas City desperately lacked.
The lineup received a boost with the addition of Hunter Renfroe early in the offseason. Even in a down season, Renfroe hit 20 home runs. He had the lowest barrel rate of his career, but his contact numbers suggest he is still capable of returning to his previous form. Adam Frazier, the most recent addition, according to Anne Rogers of MLB.com, provides versatility defensively and a contact-first approach. Frazier whiffed on more pitches outside of the zone this season, but his in-zone contact rate was still great. Once again, it might not shatter any headlines, but these moves make the Royals competitive and create options for the team.
Turning Toward the Future
This spending spree came even amidst the uncertainty of the Royals’ television deal. While some other teams used this excuse to exercise caution in the market, the Royals also know they are planning to build a new ballpark district. The team wants to show it will attempt to win and commit to this vision. This roster might not win the World Series, but it at least gives fans reasons to be invested and tune in to games every night.
With these grand plans on the horizon, the current crop of youngsters is the biggest reason for hope. Bobby Witt Jr. will be on many MVP ballots throughout his career. Vinnie Pasquantino could be a major breakout in a fully healthy campaign. Ragans looks like the real deal on the mound. There are others who could play their way into a cornerstone role during seasons like this that offer runway to developing players.
As mentioned, the Royals don’t have a highly touted farm system, but opportunities for those players currently on the roster would be the finishing touch on this aggressive offseason. There will still be prospects who see playing time this season, with or without high prospect pedigree. Many of the Royals’ top prospects are currently in the low minors, which could reinforce the team in coming years.
“It’s been awesome. Just love seeing us, you know, try to continue to get better and find these guys with a lot of experience. I mean, I think the first one was Will Smith there and obviously his track record is the World Series the past few years, [he’s] been incredible. And then two starters we got and building the bullpen, as well. It’s been an awesome offseason to watch and just thinking about, you know, the Central and how much of a shot we have at this division is just incredible… And like you said, we have talent, I mean, these young guys on our team are incredible, this roster is unbelievable.”
For the Love of the Game
The Royals are unlikely to contend for a playoff spot this season, but there are reasons to get excited about the franchise. If Kansas City wants to reimagine its status and become a consistent contender, even in a small market, seasons like this offer the opportunity for a satisfied smile. They might not win this year, but they will be fun to watch with the best yet to come.
This splurge is a decisive response to years of uncompetitive baseball. The result of this season, specifically, might not determine the future of the franchise, but how can you not be excited about a team finally breaking the pattern to field a good team? It might jumpstart the next era of Royals’ baseball as they focus on finding their next young core.
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