With the World Series parade over and awards presented, the 2021 MLB season is really, really over. For the Kansas City Royals, the season was mostly over around the All-Star break. A team that led the American League Central for nearly a month was 36-53 in the first half, far away from a playoff spot. While the team posted a positive 38-35 record after the break, the proverbial hole was still too deep to climb out of.
Fans turned their attention away from the team's performance and issues to make games palatable. Catcher Salvador Perez's performance at the plate ultimately kept fans engaged in 2021 with the hopes of 2022 in mind. To be fair, the farm system does hold a lot of potential. One of MLB's top farm systems, led by top-tier prospect Bobby Witt Jr., had many researching service time rules and calling for promotions. Calls for Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez were instead met with promotions for Emmanuel Rivera and Edward Olivares, keeping the best prospects competing in the minors.
The Royals have steadily improved their win-loss record since 2018. It's a short sample size, but four years of progression is a good sign nonetheless. What the team has done with one of baseball's smallest payrolls should not be ignored. There is a foundation for a successful team in Kansas City, and the team is on the cusp of it. This feeling has led to many comparing the 2022 Royals to the 2013 Royals before Opening Day.
How much better will the 2022 Royals be? We won't know until this time next year, to be honest. Anything said at this point is all speculation and piecing narratives together. With that said, this writer believes the Royals will be closer to contention while maybe not improving all that much on the diamond.
Take away all the Collective Bargaining Agreement and service time speculation. Fans, for the most part, would rather see a good lineup over another year of a single player thriving. While several others are poised to debut Opening Day 2022, Kansas City should focus on getting younger as a whole. It worked before, and it can work again.
Look back to the 2011 Royals. That season saw integral players such as Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar become everyday starters. Alex Gordon built upon his 2010 season, securing the left fielder position following the Royals trading David DeJesus. Altogether, the batting lineup's average age dropped by more than three years, from 29 years old to 26. While the pitching staff got younger as well, the 2011 squad was built from within.
The 2022 Royals look primed to make that same move. The moves and steps forward in 2011 set the foundation for successful 2014 and 2015 postseason runs. Perez debuted in 2011 and the legend of Danny Duffy began that year as well. In hindsight, the Royals were a few pieces away from contending. The James Shields and Johnny Cueto trades helped put Kansas City over the hump, but the framework for success was there for years. It would have been foolish for Kansas City to mortgage their future prior to seeing what the young players could do.
While this all paid off in the form of a championship in 2015, fans need to have patience and keep faith in these young players. Promising prospects can help the Royals, whether they succeed on the diamond or help secure top-tier trades. Barring a magical season, this coming year may still be a rough one. If that's the case, remember that better days are to come and the future of Kansas City starts in 2022 regardless of the campaign's result.