The 2017 Major League Baseball season is an unwritten book, one sure to have plenty of twists and turns. We still don't know all the characters -- well, at least we don't know what characters will be on which teams in many cases. We do know that there will be 30 teams and all of them intriguing in their own way. Perhaps the most intriguing?
The 2015 World Series champion Kansas City Royals.
Because I can see them anywhere from the 2017 World Series champs to the worst record in baseball.
Sure, we could say that about any team, but it's realistic here.
How the Royals could win it all
We honestly don't have to delve that far into hypotheticals. This team isn't all too different from the one that won the World Series in 2015. The likes of Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez are still in prime age territory among position players. Alex Gordon is 32, so a bounce back season is possible.
On the mound, Danny Duffy was excellent as a starter for a stretch. Yordano Ventura is frustrating, but he's still only 25 and has immense upside. Ian Kennedy is fine as a mid-rotation guy and Jason Vargas is back from Tommy Johns surgery.
Basically, while there are holes, the nucleus is in place to do something special again. They have the foundation for an excellent defense, good starting pitching, a shutdown bullpen and decent-to-good offense.
Again, this is mostly the same team that won 95 games and a World Series in 2015. They need upgrades in a few spots, like DH, but that's still possible this offseason. Remember, they traded for Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist in front of the 2015 trade deadline, too, so I wouldn't put anything past them in terms of in-season upgrades.
There are some great pieces here. Proven winners.
How the Royals could end up terrible
They were 81-81 last season, but their run differential says they should have been 77-85. Straight up, Gordon was brutal last season. Perez had an 89 OPS+. Basically, other than the 28 doubles and 22 homers, he was terrible at the plate (.288 OBP is 33 points lower than the league average). Escobar had a 70 OPS+ and his defense isn't good enough to justify that (yes, he's a good defender but he's not other-worldly). Cain had an off year, Moustakas wasn't great before injury and Hosmer wasn't great.
We could do the same with the pitching. Ventura still can't put things together and it could be argued that he regressed. Duffy's great run was followed by a 6.37 ERA in his final seven starts. Wade Davis dealt with a forearm strain, which sometimes is a precursor to elbow issues and even Tommy John surgery.
Sure, the above two paragraphs are overly negative, but one must admit that there's a lot of potential downside on this team.
Here's where it takes a turn for the worse: Contract status.
The following Royals are free agents after 2017: Wade Davis, Jason Vargas, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Jarrod Dyson and Danny Duffy.
I guess I could have just said "nearly the entire nucleus other than Sal Perez," right?
So let's say some of the bad stuff from 2016 lingers into 2017 and the Royals are about 10 games under .500 entering July. The reality of the situation would have to set in for Dayton Moore and his front office. That is to say: It's hit the reset button time.
Sure, it would be difficult, but if the Royals aren't going to be a playoff contender in 2017, they have to start working toward the future and -- given their market constraints -- that would mean a firesale.
One might say, hey, perhaps they could lock up one player. Hosmer seems like a core-type guy, but he's also a Scott Boras client. Outside a deal the Royals probably can't afford, that ain't happening. Moustakas is also a Boras client. Cain will be 32.
Again, the reality of the situation would need to set in. A bad start to 2017 means it's time to start over. So the Royals deal Hosmer, Cain, Moustakas, Davis, Duffy and probably even Vargas to restock the farm and hope for another group to come together like this one did in 2014-15. Herrera is a free agent after 2018, so he'd have to be included in conversations about trades, possibly to land a big package in return.
In unloading all those guys from an already not-good team, the Royals would then likely be the worst team in baseball for August and September. So it's entirely possible they end up with the worst record in baseball.
Then again, they could also hit their stride like in 2015 and win 95 plus a World Series. Or they could just be mediocre and do a little, but not a lot, in July. Anything on the board is possible here. No prediction is outlandish.
Keep an eye on the Royals in 2017. No team in baseball has as much possible variance.