While big-market teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees have dominated headlines this offseason, a surprise club has quietly been one of the most active in the free agent and trade markets.
After losing 106 games and posting the second worst record in the Major Leagues behind the Oakland A’s during the past campaign, there was not a lot of optimism that the Kansas City Royals would be able to do much this offseason. However, general manager J.J. Picollo has invested in his team and been able to bring some legitimate talent to Kansas City.
The Royals began the offseason by trading for starter Kyle Wright and reliever Nick Anderson from the Braves.
Then, they were able to sign relievers Will Smith and Chris Stratton, starters Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha and outfielder Hunter Renfroe.
On the surface, none of these moves may look like they move the needle for the Royals. Almost all of them have incredibly high upside, though.
In 2022, Wright led the Majors with 21 wins. Wacha has been one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball the past two seasons, recording a 3.32 ERA in 2022 with the Boston Red Sox and a 3.22 ERA last season with the San Diego Padres. Renfroe has hit 20-plus home runs every year since 2017 except for the shortened 2020 season and plays an above-average right field.
In addition to the newcomers, the Royals also have one of the top young cores in baseball.
Shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. is one of the most exciting players in the sport, who in just his second big league season at age 23 became the first Royal to join the 30-30 club, hitting 30 home runs and stealing 49 bases.
Starter Cole Ragans, who the Royals acquired last June from the Texas Rangers for Aroldis Chapman, became one of the best pitchers in baseball in Kansas City. With the Royals, he went 5-2 over 12 starts while logging an impressive 2.64 ERA.
Other young players like third baseman Maikel Garcia, outfielder MJ Melendez and second baseman Michael Massey are also looking to make big jumps and continue their respective progressions.
Just several weeks ago, few could have predicted that the Royals would be in position to compete for a postseason spot.
But, it doesn’t take much to be able to contend in the AL Central. Both the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Guardians are expected to take a step back this season due to financial constraints, leaving the division wide open.
Ragans, Wacha, Wright and Lugo should help form a formidable starting rotation. Witt Jr. is a dark-horse MVP candidate. And of course, All-Star catcher Salvador Perez is still one of the best backstops in the league.
The Royals front office’s aggressiveness and their young core’s potential give them just as much of a chance as anyone to win the AL Central and earn their first postseason berth since 2015.