Royals season preview: Mike Matheny facing tough road ahead - Sports Illustrated

Kansas City Royals Season Preview: New Owner, New Manager, Same Bleak Outlook

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Editor's note: Welcome to SI's MLB preview. Click here to view every team's outlook in 2020, including predictions, projections and, yes, a preview of the 2030 preview. Click here to read the Royals fantasy preview.

It was a difficult winter in Kansas City. Fans watched manager Ned Yost retire, then saw David Glass sell the team to Indians minority owner John Sherman for $1 billion. Just six weeks after finalizing the sale, Glass died, at 84. Though longtime GM Dayton Moore is still in charge, few ties to the 2015 championship team remain, and the Royals begin the 2020s as they did the ’10s: one of the game’s worst teams, trying to start over.

Having tried to squeeze one last run from those champs, the Royals are still on the downside of their rebuild. They lost 104 and 103 games in the last two years and should hit triple digits again in ’20. Their ’14 and ’15 teams were built on speed, contact and defense, but last year they ranked in the bottom half of the AL in defensive efficiency and struck out at a league-average clip. They still steal bases (117, second in the AL), but not enough to provide much of a boost. The team’s most productive players were power hitters: Outfielder Jorge Soler led the AL with 48 homers, and third baseman Hunter Dozier swatted 26.

With the team’s best prospects at least a year away, and in some cases three to four, Soler and Dozier—both 28—have more value as trade chips. The same can be said for Whit Merrifield, the 31-year-old All-Star second baseman. K.C.’s window will reopen in ’23, with what could be a very strong rotation featuring Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar and Daniel Lynch in front of a double-play combination of Adalberto Mondesi (43 steals last season) and Bobby Witt Jr. (the No. 2 pick in the ’19 draft).

The slow build toward contention will be an early test of Sherman’s patience. The best thing the Royals can do now is give infielder Nicky Lopez, catcher Meibrys Viloria, third baseman Kelvin Gutiérrez and other young players the chance to develop into contributors for that next good team in Kansas City. — Joe Sheehan

Projected Record: 65-97, 4th in AL Central

More near-term pain is ahead for K.C., which had 207 losses over the last two seasons.
It doesn’t help that new manager Mike Matheny has clashed in the past with young talent.

Key Question: Is Mike Matheny the Right Fit as Manager?

The former Cardinals skipper has clashed with young players in the past. Has he learned how to communicate better with young players? Can he keep his cool? That’s three questions—nowhere near the amount those Kansas City tots will be asking Matheny this year. — Matt Martell

Player Spotlight

Moving Up: Brad Keller, SP

The third-year righty, a groundball machine, needs only to develop an effective out pitch against lefties to become a bona fide No. 2 starter.

Moving Down: Jakob Junis, SP

After a solid first full season in 2018, the righty, 27, regressed in ’19. He doesn’t miss enough bats to make up for up all the hard contact he allows.

Watchability Ranking: Avert Your Eyes

The Royals could have an all-Ryan first-base platoon—Ryan O’Hearn and Ryan McBroom—and, uh, that’s about it so far as fun facts here. — Emma Baccellieri

Preview of the 2030 Preview

Bobby Whit Jr., 3B: Drafted in 2019 with more hype than any Royals pick since Bubba Starling, it seemed at first that Witt might follow in Starling’s footsteps, striking out by the bushel. But his improved patience put his career more in the Alex Gordon mold. His move down the defensive spectrum wasn’t ideal, but it was worth the trade-off to keep Witt’s bat (129 OPS+ since his ’23 debut) in the lineup. Though Witt hasn’t disappointed, the rest of the core has: In the ’20s K.C. mustered only three wild-card losses. — Craig Goldstein