Kansas City Royals
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SURPRISE, Ariz. After advancing to the World Series in 2014-15, the Kansas City Royals finished 2016 at .500.
The 2017 season will be a last hurrah for several of the Royals' core players of the championship seasons, as they will become free agents.
Those eligible for free agency after this season are first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain and left-handed starter Jason Vargas. They traded closer Wade Davis and speedy outfielder Jarrod Dyson, both who can declare for free agency after the season, during the offseason.
"I don't think it will be a distraction," Royals manager Ned Yost said of having so many players in their free-agent year.
The 2017 Royals will look a lot like the 2016 Royals. Moustakas missed most of last year with a knee injury. Right-hander Yordano Ventura died in a vehicle accident in the Dominican Republic in late January, leaving a hole in the rotation and in the Royals' hearts.
The starting pitching has no bona fide ace, but left-hander Danny Duffy could be close to ascending to that. He will be the Opening Day starter after going 12-3 with a 3.51 ERA last season.
"I felt like Dayton (Moore, general manager) did a wonderful job in the offseason, especially considering what happened (Ventura's death)," Duffy said.
Raul Mondesi, the son of the former big league slugger by the same name, defied the odds and won the second base job.
"The kid can impact a game in a lot of ways," Yost said. "I knew this kid was talented. But he had to mature and grow up and believe in his abilities.
"As long as he realizes that all he has to do is do something every day to help us win a game. It's not about the batting average. It's about the defense. It's about the base running, maybe putting down a bunt. Maybe it's getting a hit and stealing second."
Jorge Soler, who was acquired from the Cubs for Davis, was having a rough spring. But just before breaking camp, Soler suffered an oblique injury and will begin the season on the disabled list. Paulo Orlando will replace him in right field.
Nathan Karns, who was acquired in the Dyson deal, will be the No. 5 starter.
Free agent signees Jason Hammel, Travis Wood and Brandon Moss should help the Royals contend. Hammel, a 15-game winner last season for the Cubs, is slotted to start the third game. Left-hander Wood will be in the bullpen after Karns was awarded the final rotation slot. Designated hitter Moss brings power and he can also play the outfield and first base.
Alex Gordon, who suffered a broken wrist last year in a collision with Moustakas and hit a puny .220, had a good spring. He will likely bat leadoff when the season opens.
The Royals play six of their first nine games against Minnesota and Oakland, so a good start is imperative.
If the Royals remain healthy, they have the talent to return to postseason. If they appear to be out of contention in late July, Moore could trade some of the pending free agents for young players.