The KC Royals officially open the gates to Spring Training on February 12. The club has a new third baseman and some new relievers, but questions about the starting rotation, first base and the outfield need answers.
The late afternoon sacrifice fly off Brett Phillips‘ bat that gave the KC Royals a walk-off season finale win over Minnesota on September 29 marked more than the end of another dismal Kansas City campaign. The offseason began the instant the winning run crossed the plate–there were things to repair and others to replace, the kind of tasks made necessary by a 103 loss season.
It is hard to imagine General Manager Dayton Moore taking much time off before he set about putting as much of the Royals’ house in order as possible. There was a manager to hire. Alex Gordon was contemplating retirement and his decision, no matter what it turned out to be, would have lineup implications. The rotation and bullpen, in varying degrees of disarray, needed work. Concerns about his defense cast doubt on Hunter Dozier‘s hold on third base. No Royal enjoyed indisputable claim to first base or right field.
And on top of it all, a new ownership group was preparing to take control of the franchise.
The ownership change was, of course, out of Moore’s hands–announced in August, only baseball’s formal approval awaited, and it came in November. The managerial opening occasioned by Ned Yost‘s retirement took Moore a month to fill–to no one’s surprise, he gave Mike Matheny the job.
Never prone to spend extravagantly on relievers, Moore appears to have done all he reasonably could to give Matheny plenty of bullpen projects from which to choose, including former KC closer Greg Holland, who returns to the Royals in search of rejuvenation, and Trevor Rosenthal, the ex-Cardinal who put in his finest seasons working for Matheny in St. Louis.
In a deal few saw coming, Moore’s signing of Maikel Franco to play third base resolved not only the concerns about Dozier’s hot corner defense, but also the uncertainty in right field as Dozier, suddenly displaced at third, will play there. Gordon decided to return for $4 million, leaving Brett Phillips and Bubba Starling to vie for a backup outfield role.
So while Moore’s winter work may have resolved some issues, major questions remain unanswered just days before Spring Training opens. Who will secure the fifth spot in the Royals’ shaky starting rotation? Who will play first base? And who will provide outfield backup for Gordon, Merrifield and Dozier?