In a tradition honored by gamblers everywhere, Las Vegas has set their over/under totals for each major league team. According to Bovada, the Royals are given an over/under of 81.5, meaning that the general public expects them to be right around .500 this season. Of course, these betting lines are set before Spring Training games begin, so they are determined based on the projected roster.
Last year, the Royals rode one of the best pitching staffs in baseball to their best record since 1989, finishing at 86-76. They had the best record in the American League after the All-Star Break, and displayed a tremendous amount of mental toughness for such a young team to bounce back from a miserable month of May. With the third youngest roster in baseball last season, it would make sense that the Royals could actually take a step forward this year.
However, the oddsmakers see it differently, expecting a slight degree of regression. This may stem from the fact that the Royals are not considered to have truly replaced Ervin Santana in the rotation, signing Jason Vargas to fill his role. However, Vargas may be perfectly suited for Kauffman Stadium, with his flyball tendencies playing well in the expansive outfield.
The Royals have also improved their defense. Norichika Aoki gives the Royals a third Gold Glove caliber outfielder, capable of tracking down any balls hit into the outfield with ease. Omar Infante is a definitive upgrade over the revolving door that the Royals employed at second base last year. Mike Moustakas should improve defensively as well, as his 2012 season showed him to be an above average third baseman.
Offensively, the Royals should see improvements as well. Eric Hosmer came on in the last four months of 2013, looking more like the player that the Royals expected. Aoki and Infante provide the Royals with two on base machines at the top of the lineup, and should give the middle of the order to drive in runs this year. Instead of having to rely upon their pitching staff, the Royals might actually be able to beat teams in more than a 2-1 or 3-2 game.
Even if the Royals starting rotation regresses, their improvements on offense should be enough to at least counteract that regression. Although I still envision the Royals as being roughly the same as last year, winning between 85 and 87 games, they could be better. While the Royals may not have made any high profile additions, the ones they made are perfectly suited for Kauffman Stadium. That mark of 81.5 wins is likely to be very low.