Many are proclaiming 2021 as the year the KC Royals return to contender status. That’s a year too early, but it could still be a milestone season.
The 2014 and 2015 seasons were magical for the KC Royals. Back-to-back World Series trips and campaigns saw the club win 89 and 95 regular season games, then tear through the playoffs. Bringing Kansas Cits its first MLB championship in 30 years, that era of Royals baseball was nothing short of magical.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Following the 2015 season, the Royals flirted with a .500 record for two years while trying to keep the contending core together. This plan would backfire on general manager Dayton Moore, as the quartet of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar wasn’t enough to keep the team afloat.
Once the crew finally disbanded, rock bottom ensued. In 2018 and 2019, KC posted consecutive 100-plus loss seasons. Following the conclusion of the 2019 campaign, manager Ned Yost retired. Mike Matheny has stepped into the role and is tasked with leading the Royals back to contender status.
Many believe 2020 will be a “bridge” season in which young studs like Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar and others will get their feet wet at the MLB level. Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler, Hunter Dozier and Adalberto Mondesi, the team’s usual suspects, will do what they do best — play good baseball. The return of Salvador Perez is a solid boost.
Then, in 2021, things will take off. The young players should be well acquainted with major league hitters/pitchers by then, the older core will be in its third full season together. That’s a recipe for a playoff team, right?
Well, not exactly. The KC Royals have many problems — too many for a few minor league arms and position players to fill. Even if those guys do close the talent gap between Kansas City and other teams, expecting that to translate into 85-90 wins over the course of a season-and-a-half is a risky proposition.
If playoff contention is your goal for the 2021 Kansas City Royals, then you may be a bit disappointed. It’s not impossible, but involves putting a ton of stock into unknown variables. Young players sometimes need longer than a season to adjust to Major League Baseball (see, Mondesi). Who knows whether Moore will be able to rebuild the bullpen in one offseason.
A more reasonable expectation would be for this year’s squad to improve from 59 wins to somewhere in the neighborhood of 65-70. Once the majority of the next contending core is in place, factoring in typical progression/regression, aim for a .500-or-better season. Then the leap can take place.
Some major free agent moves or key developments could shift this timeline either way. Good things take time, though, so let’s enjoy this process. With a new manager in place and a young crop of talent set to join him over the next couple of seasons, the future is bright for the KC Royals.