If all goes well this spring training for the Kansas City Royals, this should be the most boring two months in Arizona ever. And I mean that in the best way possible.
As the Royals prepare for their first Cactus League game this Thursday, 22 or 23 spots on the 25-man roster, are all but a foregone conclusion. The only important battle this spring, is for the last spot in the rotation.
Yes, there are battles for reserve outfield spots, and the backup infielder spot, but those spots don’t grab the headlines. It’s been a long time since the lineup, spots one through nine, were set before the first pitch of spring training is thrown.
It’s bizarre. But it’s also refreshing. Much better than the classic late-spring battles between Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella of the last few seasons, or the incredibly tough decision in 2006 on whether Scott Elarton or Mark Redman will be the opening day starter.
This is a bonafide, real Major League baseball team, something we haven’t been able to say around here for a very, very long time.
Dayton Moore has been building towards this for nearly eight years. That’s a lot longer than a lot of us would have liked, but we’re here now. Right or wrong, the wheels were set in motion for 2014 to be his most important year in Kansas City, when he traded Wil Myers for James Shields. That trade changed the culture of this team. It made what was an apathetic clubhouse into a confident one.
Sadly, confidence doesn’t always lead to success on the field. The confidence and optimism that seems to be prevalent throughout the Royals clubhouse, has to carry over when the team heads north, which has been a problem in the past. It has been empty confidence and hollow optimism.
This spring it seems legitimate.
But are they over-confident? Nearly every team thinks it’s going to be there year when the calendar reads February. It’s the teams that actually believe in what they say publicly that fare the best when the games start to matter.
How will this Royals team handle the pressure of building on last years 86-win season? Can this roster sustain any short-term or long-term injuries and have it not derail the season completely? Can they overcome the guaranteed instances of Ned Yost over-management and mismanagement?
Outside of Lorenzo Cain, this is a baseball team that has been relatively free of major injuries. Cain’s fragile history with the Royals, in which he has played a total of 176 games in his two full seasons in the big leagues, gives Jarrod Dyson great job security.
Even Dyson suffered an injury last season on a ill-fated attempt to rob Mike Trout of a home run that cleared the wall by 30 feet. Outside of those two, the roster remained quite healthy last year.
The Royals have a lot more depth than at any other time in recent memory, but that doesn’t mean they can sustain an injury to one of the top players. If Salvador Perez gets hurt, certain doom. James Shields? The Royals will find themselves with a high draft pick again.
Minor injuries can be overcome, but the Royals just aren’t built to overcome any major injuries to any of the core players of the team, meaning Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, and Billy Butler in addition to Perez and Shields.
It’s off-putting how often you hear these Royals players say that last year was a “great” year. It wasn’t. It was a good year, a year of progress and building. If the Kansas City Royals treat last year as their arrival on the baseball landscape and let up, even a little bit, they will get steamrolled by the Tigers and Indians.
Over-confidence bordering on arrogance can be a useful quality for a team that has earned the right to be both of those things. That’s what is concerning. The Royals haven’t earned anything as of yet.
This is a team that has had zero success for the better part of three decades. Nothing is going to be handed to them. Acting like an 86-win season and a third place finish automatically qualifies them for contender status does little good.
The truth is, why yes it was an intriguing season, it was also disappointing on countless levels thanks in part to a pathetic month of May, and a mediocre offense.
Development time is over. There are expectations of this team now, and how they deal with them and the pressure they bring, will go a long ways to determine how 2014 goes.
Click “Next” to continue.