Royals Rundown: Surprising spending spree leaves KC looking capable
One year ago, it was uncertain just how long fans would wait to see another sporting event.
Nine months ago, baseball breathed life into the sports world, promising that the world was slowly emerging from the COVID-19 darkness. And five months ago, Major League Baseball completed its shortened season and crowned a champion, signaling victory for not just the Los Angeles Dodgers, but over the pandemic — at least to a degree — as well.
Now, in March of 2021, the Kansas City Royals are about to open a season in the fashion similar to every other season except 2020.
Similar in most every way, except one. The Royals actually expended capital over the offseason to become a better team, building not for the future, but for the present. Too often in the offseason, the Royals watch stars leave for free agency, make trades for the future and build on the cheap.
But not this year. Seeing enough promise in the 60-game 2020 sprint, the Royals decided to dip into new owner John Sherman’s coffers and actually spend money on quality free agents. Talk about a change. Kansas City signed pitcher Mike Minor, first baseman Carlos Santana and outfielder Michael A. Taylor.
Then they expended prospect capital, trading a couple of highly regarded minor leaguers for outfielder Andrew Benintendi.
The cost to make these moves was high, and it demonstrated what the Royals think about themselves and their chances in 2021. They believe they can contend, even in the crowded American League Central. And they believe there are good minor-league prospects close enough to the big leagues that they want a winning clubhouse in place when they arrive.
There were only a few minor questions to resolve regarding the lineup. Only a few, that is, until prospect Bobby Witt Jr., decided to shake up the decision-making process by launching a serious bid to make the team. Forget that the 20-year-old has just 37 professional games under his belt, all of them in the Arizona rookie league. Forget that he showed problems making contact in that short stint. Witt was so polished and so dynamic in Spring Training, he took the focus off the rest of the team for most of camp.
The Royals eventually made what was surely the safe, and probably the proper, choice by sending Witt to the minors for at least a little bit of seasoning. His demotion settled the rest of the lineup.
Catcher: Returning from a season lost to injury, Salvador Perez was absolutely dynamite at the plate in the short 2020 season. The Royals saw enough left in the 31-year-old to sign him to a contract extension through 2025. It might not be money well spent in the long run, but the Royals believe that much in Perez’ influence on the club.
First base: Santana is, first and foremost, an on-base machine. His .366 career on-base percentage will be a breath of fresh air to the Royals, who always struggle in that department. A Royals killer his entire career, Santana’s power and leadership will play well on the field and in the clubhouse.
Second base: Probably the biggest issue left to resolve, Nicky Lopez’ hold on the position is tenuous at best. He won’t keep it for long knowing Whit Merrifield, currently in the outfield, and backup Hanser Alberto both are ready to step in if he doesn’t hit. Lopez is top-shelf defensively, but that will only keep him on the field for so long.
Shortstop: Perhaps the question that will determine how high the Royals can climb is this: which Adalberto Mondesi will show up in 2021? The first half of 2020, Mondesi was literally one of the worst hitters in baseball. In the second half, he was quite literally one of the best. If the Royals could get a lot more of the latter, Mondesi could change the team’s fortunes singlehandedly.
Third base: Hunter Dozier returns to what is probably his most natural position. Can he be the Dozier of 2019, who slugged 26 homers and led the league in triples? Health is probably the key with the 29-year-old. He has yet to play a full season.
Outfield: The trade for Benintendi could be a game-changer. The 26-year-old was considered a budding star just a couple of years ago. Prior to the 2017 season, he was rated the No. 1 minor-league prospect in all of baseball, then finished second in Rookie of the Year voting that season. He put together a really good 2018, but then lost favor with the Boston Red Sox. If he can be remotely the player he was expected to be just a few years ago, Benintendi could be a cornerstone for Kansas City.
Taylor will get every opportunity to be the center fielder. The 29-year-old has the skills to be an elite defender at the position. He has struggled to hit in his seven years in the big leagues. Merrifield will spend most days in right field, at least to begin the season. He can play a lot of positions, however, and might eventually be moved to second if Lopez struggles. But regardless, the ultra-consistent 32-year-old will be in the lineup every day. The fourth outfielder is old friend Jerrod Dyson.
Designated hitter: Most days, this will be Jorge Soler’s spot. He can fill in in right field, but he’s a liability there. The 29-year-old never got untracked last year, and his production is essential. He led the American League in homers in 2019 with 48. If he can come anywhere close to that in 2021, he will make the lineup potent.
Planning to take in a game? Things will be different, so be prepared. First, the team only plans to permit 10,000 people – about 30% of capacity – into the April games. The cynic might say that’s no different than normal, but the enthusiasm about this team might make those tickets sell quickly.
You won’t be able to buy tickets at the box office. Ordering them online and showing them on a device will be the only way in. Parking must also be purchased online in advance as well.
Don’t bother bringing any cash. Everything will be electronic this year.
On March 31, Fox Sports KC becomes Bally Sports Kansas City. That shouldn’t affect the cable-TV viewers’ experience much. But non-cable watchers may not find the Royals on their preferred streaming services. Those rights are still being negotiated.