Are the Royals really such a crazy pick as American League pennant winners?
Not from here they're not.
The Royals nearly broke through and made the playoffs last year, and there's reason to think they take another big step forward to win an increasingly tough AL Central this year. This should be their year for a variety of reasons, and here are a few …
1. They filled a longtime need at second base by signing dependable, versatile veteran Omar Infante, shoring up a perennial issue with a very solid answer.
2. They bolstered their rotation by adding crafty veteran starter Jason Vargas.
3. They had the best ERA in the AL last year (3.45) and have a chance to do even better with the arrival of young right-handed pitching stud Yordano Ventura, who's been compared to a young Pedro, mostly because of his lack of height but also because of his vast talent.
4. They have the arguably the best defense in baseball, and quite likely the only team that has an above-average defender at every spot on the field (at least until Manny Machado returns for the Orioles). Catcher Salvador Perez, first baseman Eric Hosmer and left fielder Alex Gordon were Gold Glove winners while shortstop Alcides Escobar and center fielder Lorenzo Cain were Gold Glove finalists. Third baseman Mike Moustakas, Infante and right fielder Nori Aoki aren't bad, either.
5. Their offense, which lacked a proven leadoff hitter last year, should benefit by the acquisition of Aoki.
6. They may also get a boost in their lineup if Moustakas can hit up to his potential following a very rough 2013 season with the bat. There is reason to think he can.
This is a very good team, there's little question about that.
The biggest question is whether the Royals can supplant the Tigers. And while that isn't going to be easy, Detroit has had a very unfortunate spring training, which has left it with some serious questions, including one at shortstop, so the Royals and Indians have their best chance in years to surpass the perennial class of the division.
By my estimation, there's a chance both do. I'll take the Royals to win the division, the Indians to finish second and the Tigers third.