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Bleacher Report: Royals Could Be Dark Horse Contender in 2023

Despite a rough 2022 campaign, there are believers out there in regards to KC in 2023.

The Kansas City Royals' 65-97 record in 2022 wasn't anything near what many inside or outside the organization expected. That much was obvious.

Coming into the year with an optimistic outlook following a 74-win 2021 season, the bar was promptly set above that for 2022. With young players such as Bobby Witt Jr. and MJ Melendez making their marks early in the season, as well as others such as Vinnie Pasquantino joining them down the road, the future looked bright in Kansas City and the present didn't necessarily look bleak either. Instead, the Royals' pitching struggled immensely throughout the year and the team stumbled to almost 100 losses. That isn't stopping Bleacher Report from being a bit hopeful about 2023, though.

In B/R's pre-free agency power rankings, Joel Reuter published a list of all 30 MLB clubs and slotted them in ascending order based on their outlook for next season. Kansas City checked in at No. 24 (seventh-worst), but the article listed plenty of reasons to possibly expect things to change in a handful of months — potentially in a major way:

The Kansas City Royals feel like a team poised to take a significant step forward in the near future, and while they have never been a top-tier spender, they have plenty of financial wiggle room with a 2022 Opening Day payroll that was roughly $50 million below their peak spending in 2017.

Bobby Witt Jr., Vinnie Pasquantino and MJ Melendez all look like long-term pieces offensively alongside established star Salvador Perez, while 2018 first-round pick Brady Singer now looks like a bona fide staff ace after posting a 3.23 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 150 strikeouts in 153.1 innings.

Veteran Zack Greinke is also expected to return in free agency, and with a few other complementary additions to the roster and another step forward from their young core, this team could be a dark-horse contender in 2023.

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Every point made there is valid, especially regarding the young core of players complementing Perez on the roster. With that said, even if Greinke returns and the youngsters continue to develop over the course of the offseason, the Royals will need more in order to compete in 2023. That includes internal pitching development, external spending on the rotation and bullpen and possibly another impact bat being injected into the lineup. The currently-constructed roster isn't going to lead to a ton of improvement next year.

Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager J.J. Picollo has said in recent weeks that timing is important for big spending. If Kansas City hasn't shown that it can win games, the front office (and Chairman/CEO John Sherman) may not spend to contend. That crawl-before-walk phenomenon could play itself out in an intriguing way over the next year-plus.

Many view 2023 as a year that will bridge the gap between a troubled 2022 team and a polished 2024 one in Kansas City, which is likely more realistic than being a true dark horse contender. As new manager Matt Quatraro takes over and a bevy of moves lie ahead for the Royals, these power rankings serve as a reminder that things may not be nearly as dire as they were this past season.

Read More: Highlights From Matt Quatraro’s Introductory Royals Presser