We asked our resident Giants and Royals fans to walk us through their respective 2014 seasons, from spring training to the 7-game World Series. In part 1 of the week-long series, Brandon Schlotfeld looks back at KC’s preseason expectations.
After another typical Royals season in 2012, the 2013 lineup put together 86 wins – the most they’ve had since the season they won the World Series in 1985. What the Royals lacked offensively (.305 wOBA and 89 wRC+) was made up by the best bullpen and outfield defense in all of baseball. Addressing the offense, departure of Ervin Santana, and injury of Luke Hochevar were key issues facing the Royals going into 2014. If the team wanted to compete in 2014, they had to pony up and address the issues that had parked the team five and a half wins outside of a playoff birth.
With a bullpen who lead the majors in almost every category, the Royals could have just sent a reliever out each inning every fifth day. Of course, that isn’t plausible, so the team just needed to find a league average starter who would be reliable enough to chew up innings. To replace Santana, the Royals signed innings eater Jason Vargas to a four year contract worth $32 million in hopes that he’ll be the latest Angels cast off to succeed in Kansas City. Had a freak blood clot that required surgery not occurred, Vargas was on track for his fourth straight year of 190+ innings in 2013. His flyball tendencies would be protected by Kauffman Stadium’s deep dimensions and the best defensive outfield in baseball. The length of his contract is concerning, but a low AAV of $8 million shouldn’t be troublesome to dispose of once Kyle Zimmer and Miguel Almonte are ready to take the reigns.
The Royals were reportedly the frontrunner to land former Royal Carlos Beltran, so it came as a surprise when it was announced that they had traded for Norichika Aoki in return for reliever Will Smith. While signing Beltran was still a possibility, but the trade seemed to indicate that the Royals were out on Beltran. He signed with the Yankees 11 days later. Aoki would replace David Lough and Justin Maxwell in right field. Lough play excellent defense, putting up a 10.8 UZR when playing in right field. He slashed a line of .286/.311/.413 and finished eighth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2013. Given those credentials, trading for Aoki might have seemed a little puzzling. Aoki was due to make less than $2 million in 2014, so instead of putting faith in the young Lough, Dayton Moore went for the more reliable option in Aoki. Aoki’s defense wasn’t as impressive as Lough’s in 2013, but his bat certainly does, which the Royals desperately needed to improve if they wanted to be seen as serious contenders in 2014.
To say that the Royals had a black hole at second base would be quite the understatement. Posting a wOBA of .269 and a wRC+ of 65, only the Cubs were less productive at the position in 2013. Emilio Bonifacio, Miguel Tejada, Chris Getz, and Elliot Johnson all saw over 165 plate appearances at the position, but none of them managed to really stick. To hopefully settle this glaring issue, the Royals signed Omar Infante, fresh off arguable the best season of his career, posting a .318/.345/.450 slash line along with putting a 3.1 fWAR. The Yankees offered Infante a three year deal with $24 million, but signed with the Royals for 4/$30.25. Like Vargas, Infante was rumored to be asking for a higher AAV, but also settled for lower with the incentive of an extra year plus an option year tacked along as well. No matter how Infante ended up performing in 2014, everyone would most certainly bet on his production being higher than the Bonifacio/Johnny Giavotella tandem that was likely to be in place prior to Infante’s signing.
On the surface, these moves didn’t do much to peg the Royals as legitimate contenders – especially being in a division with the Detroit Tigers. Adding Vargas, Infante, and Aoki aren’t game changing moves, but they absolutely raised their floor, and were more likely to be pegged as sleeper picks in 2014. Looking back, these three moves were essential to the Royals’ trip to the postseasonNext post: The Best Trade Ever Happened 37 Years Ago Today
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