World Series champion Royals still rue missed opportunity
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) The Royals reported to spring training this year just a few months after being feted by 800,000 people in downtown Kansas City, their reward for their first World Series triumph in three decades.
They could have taken it easy. They could have relished in their success just a little bit longer.
Instead, manager Ned Yost let slip during one of his countless interviews the fact that their close call two years ago still haunts him. Not even beating the New York Mets in five games last fall has wiped away the harsh memory of losing to the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 the previous year.
The Royals are preparing to defend their title. They could easily be trying for a three-peat.
''We were 90 feet away,'' Yost said, recalling the sight of Alex Gordon standing on third base as the tying run, and Salvador Perez popping out against the Giants' Madison Bumgarner for the game's final out.
''We've basically got the same crew,'' Yost said. ''They're motivated, excited to get going, and we want to win world championships for Kansas City and this organization.''
Championships, plural. That means defending the title for the first time since the New York Yankees were finishing off a three-peat of their own in 2000.
There is every reason to believe it's possible, too, starting with the Royals' lineup: Everyone is back except for second baseman Ben Zobrist - a rental for last year's stretch run - and right-fielder Alex Rios, who was generally considered the weak spot in the lineup.
Gordon was a free agent by definition only. He ultimately signed a $72 million, four-year deal to stick around, admitting later that he was never going anywhere else.
''This is a great place to be, especially the last couple of years,'' the three-time All-Star said. ''That was my whole mentality in the offseason, just get something done and get back to my boys.''
The Royals lost Johnny Cueto in free agency, but they knew all along the late-season acquisition was going to be too costly to keep. They signed Ian Kennedy to fill his spot in the rotation, and will rely on Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura, Chris Young and Kris Medlen to round it out.
The offense and rotation aren't where the Royals have been so dominant, though. It has been sterling defense and one of the game's most dominant bullpens that have made the difference.
The Royals had three Gold Glove winners for the third straight year last season, and might have had a fourth had Gordon not missed time to injuries. In the bullpen, Wade Davis took over for Greg Holland and established himself as one of the game's premier closers, while Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera and now Joakim Soria - who signed as a free agent - give Kansas City a steady stream of power arms.
''I've always wanted to play with guys like that,'' Kennedy said. ''They play unbelievable defense and alongside that, they're talented, and that makes me really excited to hop right in.''
OPENING NIGHT: In a strange coincidence, the Royals open the season Sunday night against the Mets - the same team that watched them celebrate a championship last fall. This time, they'll be at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City rather than Citi Field in New York.
DYSON SHELVED: Jarrod Dyson was expected to platoon with Paulo Orlando in right field until straining his oblique in spring training. He's expected to miss the first couple weeks of the season.
SECOND BASE: Omar Infante and Christian Colon will likely split duties for two reasons: Infante is coming off an injury-ravaged year and the club will closely monitor his workload, and Colon is one of the young players the Royals are counting on for the future.
PROSPECT PULSE: The Royals are hopeful young right-hander Kyle Zimmer will arrive in Kansas City later this season. He worked with the big-league club in spring training but was optioned to Triple-A Omaha, where he will continue to refine his delivery and await his chance.
PAY DAYS COMING: First baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, shortstop Alcides Escobar and outfielder Lorenzo Cain will join Davis in becoming free agents in the next couple years. The Royals hope to keep as many as possible, but retaining their core players will become expensive.