The Kansas City Royals last made the playoffs in 2015. That was a good year. Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, and a transcendent bullpen won the AL pennant for the second consecutive season, and they finished it off with World Series victory.
That team is the most recent Royals squad to post a winning record. They went 81-81 in 2016, 80-82 in 2017, and then the bottom fell out. They lost 100+ games in each of the next two seasons before posting a 26-34 record in this year’s shortened season. That’s a 70-win pace for a full season, definitely an improvement over back-to-back season in which they failed to crack 60 wins.
Manager Mike Matheny will need to coax a more substantial improvement from his squad if they want to compete in 2021. That’s indeed the plan, however. General Manager Dayton Moore spoke with reporters during a Zoom call today, and he made no bones about his expectations for the Royals in 2021. Moore said, per Lynn Worthy of the Kansas City Star:
“We expect to win next year. What does that look like? Is it going to be enough wins to make the playoffs? We’ll find out. Our mindset is going to be to win every single pitch, every inning, win every game. That’s the only way that we’re ever going to win another championship, you’ve got to expect to win at all aspects.”
Don’t expect the Royals to be major players in free agency, however. The small market club figures to be judicious in adding from the open market. The primary pieces of the next Royals contender are going to be developed in-house, as has been the Royals preference. They’ve long believed in their current crop of players, even as the team as a whole has struggled. Interestingly, Moore did say that he doesn’t see finances getting in the way of improving the team, should the right opportunity come along.
The Royals plan to pursue their own free agents before expanding to the open market, which would be very “Royals” of them, though returning any of Greg Holland, Ian Kennedy, Mike Montgomery, or even Trevor Rosenthal could help boost a bullpen that needs some work. The Royals have incrementally added young arms like Brad Keller, Kris Bubic, and Brady Singer to veteran Danny Duffy in the rotation. The bullpen remains a work in progress. They did, however, put forth a 3.84 ERA in 2020, a mark that ranked 8th in the majors. Losing Holland would create an opening, with first looks presumably going to Josh Staumont, Kyle Zimmer, Jesse Hahn, and Scott Barlow. That quartet present some intriguing options with which to move forward into 2021.
Otherwise, the Royals will continue to try to develop and build from within. Bobby Witt Jr., Khalil Lee, and Kyle Isbel received high praise from Moore as prospects that could turn into significant pieces. Witt was the #2 overall pick of the 2019 draft, and he has yet to play a full season in the minors.