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Bob Lutz: Royals getting little respect after World Series season

The Kansas City Royals did a lot of celebrating in 2014, reaching their first postseason in 29 years and making it to the World Series before losing in seven games to the San Francisco Giants.
The Kansas City Royals did a lot of celebrating in 2014, reaching their first postseason in 29 years and making it to the World Series before losing in seven games to the San Francisco Giants.

The Kansas City Royals are coming off a World Series season in which they took the San Francisco Giants to a seventh game and had the tying run on third base in the bottom of the ninth inning before finally falling short in a dream postseason.

But it doesn’t appear the Royals have won the offseason. Critics have been harsh concerning Kansas City’s winter moves and apparently don’t buy completely into the defense and relief pitching that was such a boon for the team last season.

I’m not sure what’s going on, but ESPN.com analyst David Schoenfeld picks the Royals to be the 17th best team in the big leagues this season with a record of 80-82. That would be a nine-game drop-off from 2014.

Another ESPN.com analyst, Jim Bowden, gives the Royals a solid “C” for their offseason work, calling it “bizarre.”

Bowden, a former general manager, wrote: “They said goodbye to both James Shields and Billy Butler, then spent more than $50 million via free agency that included gambles on the declining (Alex) Rios and (Kendrys) Morales and on the health risks of (Kris) Medlen and (Ryan) Madson.”

Not even Las Vegas is sold on the Royals being able to follow up the improbable success of last season with another contending season. The website Bovada.lv has its over/under of Royals wins at 79 1/2.

Where’s the love?

Well, the Royals have lost Shields, Butler and Nori Aoki and replaced them with Edinson Volquez, Morales and Alex Rios.

Volquez had a nice bounce-back season with Pittsburgh last season, when he was 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA. He made 32 starts and pitched more than 192 innings. If he gives the Royals those numbers in 2015, he’ll be a suitable replacement for Shields, who left as a free agent for San Diego (who didn’t?)

But as recently as 2013, Volquez had a 5.71 ERA for San Diego and the Los Angeles Dodgers. His career ERA is 4.44 and he has reached double digits only twice since winning 17 games as a rookie for the Cincinnati Reds in 2008.

In 2013, Morales batted .277 with 23 homers and 80 RBI for the Seattle Mariners. Boy, wouldn’t the Royals love to have that guy replacing Butler, one of the most popular Kansas City players in recent years?

But Morales was limited to only 98 games last season with Seattle and Minnesota. He batted only .218 with eight homers. Yikes.

Rios is another whose 2013 season stacks up well. He batted .278 for the Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers with 18 homers and 81 RBI and also stole 42 bases. Now that’s a ballplayer.

Except that last season, Rios wasn’t nearly as good, with only four home runs and 17 stolen bases for Texas. Plus, he turns 34 today.

You see the issue some are having with the Royals. They’ve spent a lot of money for some guys with checkered pasts. If Volquez, Morales and Rios can come close to matching their best numbers as big leaguers, Kansas City will be living large. But the risks are obvious.

I think losing Shields is the Royals’ greatest loss. Not only is he an innings workhorse, but he’s a tremendous leader of a pitching staff. Who takes on that role now – Jeremy Guthrie? Pretty hard for a No. 5 starter to assume that kind of clubhouse status.

Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy are set up to be the 1-2 starters, which means a lot of innings for young arms. I’m not sure either guy, talented as they are, is ready for that kind of workload.

The bullpen was nearly invincible last season and has added Luke Hochevar back to the mix after he missed the 2014 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland had a collective 1.28 ERA and allowed only four home runs in 204.1 innings last season. That’s a lot to live up to.

The defense in Kansas City is impeccable and in this age of sabermetrics should get more credit. Catcher Salvador Perez, shortstop Alcides Escobar, first baseman Eric Hosmer, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and left fielder Alex Gordon are some of the best defensive players in baseball. That has to account for a few extra wins.

Still, many are reluctant to buy into the Royals being more than a one-year wonder. It’s an interesting way to assess the defending American League champions.

I’ll be writing more on the Royals as spring training develops. As always, thanks for reading.

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