Kansas City Royals have different look heading into 2021

Mar 5, 2021; Surprise, Arizona, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Brad Keller (56) pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning of a spring training game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 5, 2021; Surprise, Arizona, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Brad Keller (56) pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning of a spring training game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

The Kansas City Royals are a different team heading into 2021, but have they done enough to contend?

A debate between the optimistic me and the pessimistic me regarding the 2021 Kansas City Royals.

Opti-me: Take my advice and bet big on the Royals. Vegas has them at 73 wins – a ridiculously low number – and +4,000 just to win the division. I’m good for both of those.

Start with the pitching staff, which has some of the most under-rated arms in the game. How can you not love Brad Keller? He’s 25, he was 5-3 in nine starts last year with a 2.47 ERA and he had a 186 ERA+. That’s phenomenal.

I love the potential in Brady Singer, too. Granted, just 4-5 and 4.06 in a dozen starts. But he only allowed 52 hits in 64 innings, he nearly struck out a batter an inning, and he’s just 24. Not bad for a rookie. Give him a year of growth and watch out.

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Pessi-me: I actually agree with you on the number…73 is too low. But not terribly low; this Is not – not yet anyway – a .500 team. And as that ballyhoo about winning the division, ain’t gonna happen. The White Sox are too much better, the Twins are still good, and if you think Kansas City has young pitching check out Cleveland.

Keller and Singer may be decent, even solid, starters in time. But they’re not yet ready to carry a front-runner. And even if they were, the rest of the rotation includes Danny Duffy and Mike Minor. Duffy’s been the ace-in-training for five seasons now. He’s never stepped up to actually get the job done, he’s 31 and there’s no reason to believe he’ll ever be more than what his record says he is. That’s a .500 pitcher with a 4.00 ERA.

What you see in Minor baffles me. He’s coming off a 1-6 season, he’s 33 and you got him because nobody else in all of MLB was interested. And just to make matters worse, you signed him for two years with an option on a third…as if.

Opti-me: Aside from the Mets with Lindor and the Dodgers with Bauer, I’m not sure many teams had a more productive off-season than the Royals. They got Andrew Benintendi for a prospect, picked up a reliable mid-order stick in Carlos Santana to play first, and signed Michael Taylor, who has the goods to be a defensive star in center.

Benintendi is the real find. Forget 2020; you and I both know that .103 average was a total aberration. The guy’s a certified .275 bat with good on base numbers; he’ll fit right in at the top of the order. He also has genuine post-season experience, something I have a sneaking suspicion may come in handy in a few months.

Santana’s the big brother power bat Jorge Soler has been looking for to give him cover. Granted, he’s 35…but it’s a Nelson Cruz kind of 35, and playing first allows him to age gracefully. Taylor’s problem in Washington was he never got a chance to play regularly. If he can get on base at all, with his foot speed he has a chance to revolutionize the team’s offense.

Pessi-me: If Taylor gets on base at all, it’ll be a career-altering experience. There’s a reason he didn’t play much with the Nats; he had a .291 on base average with them.

That was pretty much the Royals’ operational manual this winter, picking up low batting average guys on the cheap. Among Benintendi (.103), Santana (.199), and Taylor (.196), you cornered the market on available bad 2020 averages. Not one of those guys had a 2020 OPS above .700, which is basically the major league yardstick for ‘get outta here.’

Now you’re betting on all of them adding 80 to 100 points on their averages and a couple hundred to their OPS. All I can say is I love your optimism.

Opti-me: Don’t look past the cast we’re bringing back. Soler is a proven power guy, Merrifield is a proven average guy, and Sal Perez might be the best catcher in baseball, and I include J.T. Realmuto in that statement.

Adalberto Mondesi is a great complement to Taylor. He stole 24 bases last season, and that led the majors by a mile. Turn the two of them loose on the bases this summer and they ought to drive opposing pitchers bonkers.

Perez batted .333, which should put to rest any concerns about his coming back from that 2019 injury. As for Merrifield, the only thing he needs is more offensive support. He led the league in hits in 2019, and had a good year in  2020, too.

Pessi-me: Let me sum up the Royals for you in a couple of paragraphs. First, they can’t hit. They were second to last in the league in run production last year, below average in OPS, and none of their big additions hit better than .200.

Second, as much in love as you are with Keller, Singer, and Kris Bubic on the mound, to borrow a line from the state’s motto, they’ll have to show me. All I know is so far their barrel rates have all been high and their whiff rates have all been low. Minor, your big pitching find, is somebody else’s castaway and you love him because you have to.

Third, you’re in over your head in the AL Central, where the Indians, Twins, and Sox all look forward to playing you 19 times. Bottom line; even if you improve from 2020 – which I’m skeptical of – you’re still at best an 80-win team.

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Opti-me: Benintendi’s offensive credentials are strong enough and well-established enough to make any sensible observer write off 2020. Wrap him in with Merrifield, Soler, Santana, and Perez and you have a legit offense.

The pitching staff needs to grow, but that’s what twenty-somethings do. Not a problem.

Kansas City Royals fans love that you’re writing them off again. Like I said at the outset, this will be the surprise team of 2021.