The Kansas City Royals will begin their 2020 tenure with a new manager in former St. Louis Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny, as well as new ownership with John Sherman taking over for the late David Glass. But, the club is still expected to be in rebuilding mode.
Last September, Ned Yost announced that he would retire as the Royals manager following the end of the 2019 season. Former St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny became the obvious favorite to take over the reins in Kansas City, and the club announced the 49-year-old as the new manager a month later. Matheny is coming off an entire year spent with the organization, after coming on board November of 2018 as a special advisor to general manager Dayton Moore, re: player development.
Prior to Yost's departure and Matheny's subsequent arrival, Glass ended his nearly two decade-long ownership of the club when he agreed to sell the team to John Sherman for reportedly more than $1 billion. Sherman, 64, is originally from Kansas City and is currently vice chairman of the Indians after having previously been a minority owner of the Cleveland franchise.
It seems like a lifetime has passed since the Royals took home the franchise's first World Series championship since 1985 – when they knocked off the Mets in five games in 2015. Since then, Kansas City has put up underwhelming campaigns. In 2016, the club struggled with inconsistency and injuries, ultimately finishing 81-81 and out of the postseason. The 2017 season began the club's true rebuild, after it finished a second consecutive non-playoff season with an 80-82 record.
The 2018 and 2019 seasons were back-to-back 100-loss seasons. The Royals are expected to struggle in the abbreviated 2020 season while competing in a top-heavy AL Central division, especially after not making any significant moves. They signed reliever Trevor Rosenthal to a minor-league deal, signed third baseman Maikel Franco to a one-year deal and brought back homegrown All-Star Alex Gordon on a one-year deal.
Let's preview Kansas City as they embark on another development-focused season.
Win total projection, odds
2020 Sportsline projection: 25-35
World Series odds (via William Hill Sportsbook): 300/1
2019 record: 59-103 (Missed playoffs)
Instead of the usual 162-game marathon, we'll get a 60-game sprint (60 games in 66 days). Because of geographical factors being taken into consideration to lessen travel this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Royals are set to face their division opponents (Cleveland, Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox), and also match up against NL Central division opponents (Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates).
Based on 2019 records, the Royals have one of the easiest schedules at the start of the season with their opponents' average winning percentage of .451. But, it could happen that the Royals ultimately end up facing more competition than expected after the White Sox and Reds made some serious improvements this offseason. In the condensed timeline for games, an early hot (or cold) streak at the beginning of the season could make or break any team's playoff chances.
After Kansas City makes it past the easier part of their 2020 schedule, it'll play against some of the toughest teams in the NL, including the Twins (10 games in 17 days), the Cardinals and Brewers. For a full look at their schedule, click here.
- CF Whit Merrifield
- SS Adalberto Mondesi
- DH Jorge Soler
- RF Hunter Dozier
- LF Alex Gordon
- 1B Ryan O'Hearn
- 3B Maikel Franco
- 2B Nicky Lopez
- C Cam Gallagher
This projected lineup was put together with the thought that Royals stalwart catcher Salvador Perez would be able to rejoin the club in time for the start of the 2020 season. Perez, who underwent Tommy John surgery this offseason, on July 4. The former World Series MVP was asymptomatic and his 14-day quarantine will end July 16.
Perez, 30, missed the entire 2019 season with Tommy John surgery. He appeared in 13 Cactus League games prior to the shutdown and hit .235/.274/.439 with 27 home runs in 2018, his last healthy season. However, to add some catching depth to their organization, the Royals recently signed catcher Oscar Hernandez to a minor-league deal with an invite to the Royals "summer camp" training.
Along with Perez, starting pitcher Brad Keller and first baseman Ryan O'Hearn also tested positive for COVID-19. Keller has minor symptoms and O'Hearn is asymptomatic. Manager Mike Matheny told reporters that the big-league readiness of the three players will depend on what they're able to do in their quarantine environments. In order to be activated off the league's COVID-19 list, a player must meet certain criteria, including two negative tests at least 24 hours apart.
Assuming that Keller is able to return to competition healthy and safe following his positive COVID-19, he's likely going to be at the top of the rotation. He has compared his minor coronavirus symptoms to that of allergy symptoms, but there's still a chance that he won't have enough time to get into pitching shape by the July 24 Opening Day. Keller, 24, is in his third season with Kansas City after joining the organization as a Rule 5 selection in December 2017.
Duffy, 31, also figures to be a lock in the starting five throughout the season. The lefty told reporters that he was working to improve his changeup this offseason in hopes of improving from his 2019 line (.257/.354/.434) against opposing left-handed hitters.
Prospect Brady Singer had emerged as a dark horse candidate to win the fifth spot back in spring. The 23-year-old cracked the team's 60-man roster for the shortened season. Singer hasn't played at the Triple-A level and had only 16 starts at Double-A Northwest Arkansas last year. He finished with a 3.47 ERA and 1.24 WHIP across 90 2/3 innings. It's likely he makes his big-league debut in 2020, even if he doesn't win a spot in the rotation.
- Closer: RHP Ian Kennedy
- Setup: RHP Scott Barlow, RHP Greg Holland
- Middle: LHP Tim Hill, RHP Trevor Rosenthal, RHP Josh Staumont, RHP Glenn Sparkman, LHP Randy Rosario, RHP Chance Adams
- Long: RHP Jesse Hahn, RHP Stephen Woods Jr., RHP Jorge Lopez
In 2019, Ian Kennedy saved 30 games with a 3.41 ERA and a 27.4 percent strikeout rate, but manager Mike Matheny (surprisingly) says he's willing to embrace a more unconventional approach for the club's bullpen in 2020, and not necessarily name a closer for the team. In a 60-game season, there's going to be a little more room to experiment than usual, and Matheny could always return to a more traditional bullpen setup if that appears to be the more successful approach.
Merrifield a bright light
After the Royals acquired Maikel Franco this offseason, Hunter Dozier was pushed to right field, Nicky Lopez to second base and Whit Merrifield to center field. Merrifield, 31, appeared in 138 games between second base and center field last season. The All-Star utilityman will surely be able to still put his trademark versatility to use, if necessary in 2020.
Merrifield was connected to trade rumors before he signed a four-year, $16.5 million deal during the 2019 offseason. He's led the majors in hits the past two seasons, and hit .302/.348/.463 with a league-leading 206 hits and 10 triples last season. Production and versatility make Merrifield figure to be a bright light in the Royals lineup in 2020.
Is a rebound season in store for Mondesi?
After undergoing surgery last October on his left shoulder, Adalberto Mondesi is at full-health and ready to take a step forward in 2020. The talented shortstop is one of the fastest players in the league, and he'll look to regain form in the abbreviated season where steals could have an amplified impact in games. In 177 games over the past two seasons, Mondesi has gone 75-for-89 in stolen-base attempts.
Despite being limited to just 102 games due to health issues and injuries last season, Mondesi finished with nine home runs, 62 RBI, 58 runs and 43 stolen bases to go with a .263/.291/.424 slash line. Mondesi, who turns 25 later this month, will have to use the 60-game season to take the next step in regaining his superstar status in Kansas City. He's still in his prime years, so if the numbers look good in 2020, the next step could be signing with the Royals to a long-term contract.
Will Gordon retire after 2020?
Longtime outfielder Alex Gordon is one of just two remaining ties (Salvador Perez being the other) to the Royals' 2015 World Series team. Gordon, 36, signed a four-year, $72 million contract after the '15 championship. It obviously hasn't worked out the way the veteran outfielder had hoped it would.
The Royals signed Gordon to a one-year, $4 million deal for the 2020 season. Gordon also waived his 10-and-5 clause and can be traded this season, but he will get a $500,000 assignment bonus if that happens. In 2020, Gordon will spend his 14th MLB season with the Royals, who drafted him as the second overall pick in the 2005 MLB Draft.
Prior to the coronavirus shutdown, Gordon had told reporters that he was considering retiring after the season. But, now with the abbreviated season, it's fair to wonder if Gordon will plan to play in 2021, for a full, regular-season. In 2019, the three-time All-Star hit 266/.345/.396 with 13 home runs, 31 doubles, 76 RBI and a .741 OPS (96 OPS+) for the best offensive season since 2015. Gordon also posted the best strikeout rate (15.8 percent) of his career in 2019. He'll be set to be the Royals starter in left field, but it's unknown whether he'll remain a steady figure for the rebuilding Royals after the conclusion of the 2020 season.
Still unclear when exactly they'll return to contention
It's hard to say when the Royals will return to relevance. The club has a solid core and has given opportunities to its younger players, but their rebuild doesn't really have a clear end in sight. Kansas City didn't really decide to go full teardown for its rebuild, but also at the same time, the club isn't being aggressive enough with their signings to help them return to competitiveness.
The club is expected to see some of their drafted pitchers from the past couple of years arrive in the big leagues soon, but they're still a ways off from turning things around. At least, a ways off from turning things around enough for them to return to the postseason. Some of the club's prospects who figure to make an impact sooner rather than later at the MLB-level: shortstop and 2019 first-round pick Bobby Witt Jr., right-hander Jackson Kowar, catcher MJ Melendez, utilityman Erick Mejia, outfielder Seuly Matias, left-hander Daniel Lynch, outfielder Khalil Lee and this year's first-round pick left-hander Asa Lacy.
For a franchise that's just five seasons removed from taking home the World Series title, there's still a lot of unknown. The club will have to try to use the 2020 season as a step toward seeing their rebuild translate into wins.