KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Royals spent the 60-game season in 2020 saying farewell to longtime outfielder Alex Gordon, one of the linchpins of their back-to-back World Series runs, and welcome to the young core they hope will take them back there.
Brady Singer nearly threw a no-hitter in his abbreviated rookie year. Fellow right-hander Kris Bubic made 10 starts and began to figure things out by the end of September. And their young bullpen, which was an abject failure last season, took massive strides from summer camp to the final out of the season Sunday with an eye toward the future.
The Royals may have finished 26-34 and fourth in the AL Central. But simply playing was huge for their rebuilding effort.
”I wish we would have had more wins,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. ”The COVID thing got us early. We started off 3-10 and we weren’t completely healthy. But every team deals with health issues, as we know. You can’t make excuses. But I do believe if we had another week or two, things could have been a lot different in terms of the postseason. I believe we would have played well and we would have finished with a much stronger record.”
In fact, Moore is confident that the Royals would have ushered even more of their young pieces to the major leagues over the course of a 162-game season, and he was confident Monday that they would have finished above .500.
Left-handers Daniel Lynch and Asa Lacy and right-handers Jackson Kowar and Jonathan Bowlan are on the doorstep, and a couple of them could make the opening day roster next season. Young infielder Bobby Witt Jr., the club’s top prospect, also is nearing arrival while outfielders Kyle Isbel and Khalil Lee could provide some much-needed offense.
As the Royals begin to think about next season, here’s a look at some of the pressing issues:
One of the longest-tenured players in franchise history, Gordon announced last week that he would retire after the season concluded Sunday. While his bat never quite met expectations, the two-time All-Star was one of the best defensive players of his era and provided some crucial leadership in the Royals’ young clubhouse.
Isbel and Lee are options in the outfield. The Royals also could explore the trade market with little available in free agency.
Singer and Bubic solidified themselves in the starting rotation along with right-hander Brad Keller, who was 5-3 with a 2.47 ERA after returning from a positive COVID-19 test. Left-hander Danny Duffy becomes the elder statesman of the rotation, leaving only the fifth spot up for grabs. Lynch and Kowar are first in line among the prospects.
Moore doesn’t mince words: The Royals need to generate more offense next season. They hit just .244 as a team, and they went through long slumps in which they failed to give their starting pitchers any kind of support.
”We definitely need more on-base guys. We need more quality at-bats from probably two other spots in the lineup,” he said. ”This time last year we talked about lengthening that lineup out. We felt we did that with (third baseman Maikel) Franco, but then we had some lack of production in some other areas that we were counting on for a 60-game season.”
The Royals are happy with young shortstop Adalberto Mondesi and second baseman Nicky Lopez on defense, but Moore said both of them need to produce more next season. The same could be said for right-fielder Hunter Dozier (.228 average), center fielder Bubba Starling (.169) and first baseman Ryan O’Hearn (.195).
There were some positives, though. Longtime catcher Salvador Perez returned from Tommy John surgery to hit .333 with 11 homers and 33 RBIs, and outfielder Whit Merrifield hit .282 with nine homers, 30 RBIs and 12 stolen bases.
Mike Matheny never thought his first season as skipper in Kansas City would be played through a pandemic, but his steady leadership and never-quit attitude was crucial in allowing the Royals to continue with their rebuilding effort.
”I love working with Mike, I really do,” Moore said. ”He’s got qualities of Bobby Cox. He’s got qualities of Ned Yost. I’ve never worked with Tony LaRussa, but I consider Tony a friend and someone I look up to, always have. He’s got a lot of Tony in him, but he’s his own man as well. He’s extremely focused on winning.”
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