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2023 MLB Season Preview: Kansas City Royals

There’s some young talent to dream on, but 2023 seems destined to be another lost season in Kansas City.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s flash back in time to 2015. The Kansas City Royals had just won the World Series. The year before they nearly won it again. A strong core of talented players, a dedicated fan base, and a franchise that had bucked the trend of mega markets winning the World Series. Life was good.

That was a long time ago.

The year after their title, the Royals went 81-81. They haven’t even gotten back to .500 since. Their current streak of seven straight losing seasons isn’t anywhere near as bad as the 18 straight losing seasons the team endured between 1995 and 2012, but it’s not clear whether it feels different, either. It’s not like they’re in the midst of an upswing, as they won just 65 games in 2022 after 74 wins the year prior.

Expectations for 2023

The Royals, projected for the sixth- or seventh-fewest wins by FanGraphs as things currently stand, are coming off a year in which they finished 65-97 despite playing in a downright-bad AL Central. I suppose things could get weird this year — Kansas City has a few exciting young players to tune in for — but it appears to be another rough year on the horizon. They’re not completely out of it, but with a central projection of 72 wins and playoff odds of around five percent, they’ll need a once-in-a-couple-of-decades upset season to make even the expanded version of the postseason.

Projected Roster

Via Roster Resource:

Lineup: MJ Melendez (DH), Bobby Witt Jr. (SS), Salvador Perez (C), Vinnie Pasquantino (1B), Edward Olivares (LF), Kyle Isbel (CF), Hunter Dozier (3B), Michael Massey (2B), Nate Eaton (RF)

Rotation: Zack Greinke, Jordan Lyles, Brady Singer, Ryan Yarbrough, Brad Keller

Bullpen: Scott Barlow, Dylan Coleman, Aroldis Chapman, Taylor Clarke, Amir Garrett, Josh Staumont, Josh Taylor, Carlos Hernandez

Biggest Strength

The clear draw is Bobby Witt Jr., the No. 2 overall pick from the 2019 draft. Witt appeared in 150 games last year at shortstop and third and struggled mightily with the glove, but flashed 20-homer power in his age-21 season, while hitting at a league-average clip overall. ZiPS projects Witt Jr. to improve substantially in 2023 (3.4 WAR projection, compared to 2.3 fWAR last year)

Vinnie Pasquatino made his debut last summer and mashed to the tune of a 137 wRC+ in a prototypical 1B/DH mold. He gives the Royals a decent dedicated DH option in a league that doesn’t have many of those left, and combined with Salvador Perez, the Royals might be more set at DH than most teams.

In the rotation, former first round pick Brady Singer progressed in nearly every important category in 2022 and is a potential breakout pick for 2023. Singer’s 3.30 xFIP actually tied with Kyle Wright for 16th-best in the majors among pitchers with 150+ innings.

Ultimately, for a team that finished 23rd in position player fWAR and 28th in pitcher fWAR last year, there just isn’t enough talent or depth to make a push. The Royals project to have more positions in the bottom 10 league-wide than even the middle 10, and have no position projected to be in the top 10.

Biggest Weakness

As noted above, the roster is not great despite a couple of intriguing young players, and even though the continued reunion with Zack Greinke is great to see, the pitching staff just doesn’t have the arms to consistently win. In addition to what looks like a bottom-five rotation, the Royals have serious problems at third (Hunter Dozier has had two consecutive -1.0 fWAR seasons but still appears to be Kansas City’s answer there) and right field, to go with a pretty underwhelming roster in general.

More to the point, though, the team’s biggest weakness seems to be a lack of desire, or perhaps a lack of ability, to build a roster that does anything than tread water. This offseason, they committed under $25 million in AAV to a quarter of pitchers who combined for 3.1 fWAR last year, and project to amass 3.2 WAR this coming year. That’s not a terrible rate by itself, but when you realize that none of them is probably a league-average arm, and the Royals didn’t add anything else (except for one reliever) while actually subtracting from the major league team in a few places, the plan in Kansas City remains as puzzling as ever.

Reinforcements from the Farm

The Royals placed 16th in Keith Law’s recent organization rankings, which is not particularly encouraging for a team that has picked in the top five of drafts for the last half-decade. Singer and Witt graduating to the big leagues did not help, and they now have just one player (outfielder Gavin Cross) on the top 100 lists at most outlets.

That said, they do have the upper-minors depth to weather some problems. Maikel Garcia could make an impact at shortstop, which could push Witt to third and solve the sizable roster hole there. Nick Loftin struggled mightily in Triple-A last year but gives the Royals yet another imperfect outfield option. Alec Marsh hasn’t really figured out the high minors but may not be worse at the major league level than the guys actually in Kansas City’s rotation.

Braves history/outlook against Kansas City

The Braves have seldom seen Kansas City over the years, but with the new schedule, they will travel to Kauffman Stadium in mid-April for a three-game tilt. Knowing Missouri weather in the spring, it will either be 17 degrees and snowing or 71 degrees and beautiful — perhaps both in one series.

The Braves actually haven’t beaten Kansas City in a season series since 2010, when they swept them in Atlanta. In 2013, they split two two-game series. In 2016, they dropped a series on the road. In 2019, they lost both games at home before splitting a road series.

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