KC Royals: The unforgettable mistakes of 2017, Part 1

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /
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Kansas City Royals
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

After two straight trips to the World Series and one championship, the KC Royals missed the postseason in 2016. The window for contention was closing and a probable rebuild was on the horizon.

Too many believed the two-season return of championship baseball to Kansas City marked the beginning of a long Royal reign. That several of the key components of those two magnificent seasons would return in 2016 and 2017–Danny Duffy, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar wouldn’t be eligible for free agency until after the ’17 campaign–gave some, but too little, credence to the notion that the Royals could become a dynasty.

Ignored too often amid dynasty talk were consequences of the club’s resurgence–lost to free agency after 2015 were Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist, key pieces the club obtained for the stretch run to that season’s playoffs. Gone, too, were the prospects and players traded to get Cueto and Zobrist: young pitchers Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed for Cueto, and hurlers Sean Manaea and Aaron Brooks for Zobrist. Starter Jason Vargas tore his UCL in 2015 and would be out until late ’16, after which he was eligible for free agency.

The Royals, despite still having much of the 2015 core still intact, fell to 81-81 in 2016 and missed the playoffs. Many considered the decline an aberration, an unfortunate consequence of the so-called “hangover” effect of two consecutive grueling seasons extended by trips to the World Series. Fans presumed and expected a quick return to contention.

But serious holes marred the team. The club non-tendered reliever Greg Holland after the 2015 World Series victory–a late-season injury sidelined him for the post-season and KC decided to continue without him. Power-hitting DH Kendrys Morales opted for free agency after 2016, leaving a bigger hole in the lineup than Billy Butler had before Morales replaced him. Then, in a move clearly designed to obtain value before he became a free agent after the ’17 campaign, the Royals traded star closer Wade Davis to the Cubs before the season even started.

And tragically, starter Yordano Ventura died in a car crash a month before spring training began, leaving a sudden and deep hole in the rotation, team, and city.

Yet, a return to contention still seemed possible in 2017:  Duffy, Hosmer, Cain, Moustakas and Escobar would open the campaign in Kansas City and none would be free agents until after the final out of the season. Starter Jason Vargas, who missed significant parts of 2015 and 2016, would also return and, like the others, would be eligible for free agency after the season. With the contention window still open, the Royals weren’t about to move those key players prematurely, and Duffy signed a contract extension before the season started.

After the first month of the season, however, it looked like the contention window had closed.