Instead of tanking it, Royals played hard to the end

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Five observations on the Royals upon the end of their 2013 season.


As disappointing as it was for the Royals not to make the postseason, you can’t say they didn’t play hard until the end.
After being eliminated in Seattle on Wednesday, it would have been easy for the Royals to mail it in over the weekend. In fact, you often see teams that have just been eliminated get whacked around immediately after.
Not the Royals, who went into Chicago and still played with intensity and won three of four games.
And say what you want about Ned Yost as a manager, but he does deserve some credit for keeping this team together mentally this season. The team didn’t fold after its 8-20 May (its only losing month) and saved its best baseball for the end.
The Royals finished September at 17-10 — their best mark for any month in 2013.
And as you know, they finished with 86 wins, their most since 1989.
“It’s a good start,” Yost told reporters after the game. “I think we’re making progress as an organization. Ten games over .500. It’s a significant first step. Now, we need to build on that.”

I’ve written a lot about the possibility of re-signing starting pitcher Ervin Santana. But another curious decision awaits general manager Dayton Moore and his staff — what to do with Bruce Chen, another free agent.
Chen was moved back into the rotation in midseason and without him, the Royals likely wouldn’t have been in the playoff chase until the final week of the season. Chen finished with a 9-4 record and a 3.27 ERA.
Chen certainly would be cost-efficient to re-sign: He just completed a two-year, $9 million deal and he likely wouldn’t garner much more than that on the open market, at least not at age 36.

“I’m very happy that once the team needed me to step into the starting rotation,” Chen told The Kansas City Star on Sunday, “I was able to do the job. Not only do the job, but do it the best I could. I feel I helped the team in the second half.

“I felt I was a major contributor to a team making a run at the playoffs, and it was fun. I think when you’re in the race, you play better. That’s what we want to do next year, be in the race and play better.

“Hopefully, I can come back. I know the fans had a blast this year. They supported us. They were great, and they want to win. I feel like the city is ready to win, and I feel this team will step it up.”

Another decision the Royals will have to make will be on reliever Luke Hochevar, who will enter his final year of arbitration.
Hochevar was superb out of the bullpen, posting a 5-2 record with a 1.92 ERA. But he made $4.56 million this season and likely will get a big bump in salary through arbitration.

Can the Royals pay that much for a setup man? Or do they non-tender him?
Keep in mind that virtually every player’s salary on the 25-man roster will increase in 2014, and if the Royals have intentions of offering Santana a big contract, Moore will have to make cuts somewhere else. I’ve been told that owner David Glass’ payroll for next season will be higher, but not significantly so, than this year. The payroll this year was in the $80 million range.  
And don’t forget that Moore also must find budget room to add more offense — likely a right fielder. And that won’t come cheap.

When I did the recent story on the possibility of Eric Hosmer switching to right field in 2014, Moore told me it wasn’t a far-fetched idea. He also indicated the Royals have long thought that catcher Sal Perez could play some first base.
Well, there you saw it on Sunday: Big Sal at first base.
While he butchered a routine pop-up, Perez didn’t seem overly uncomfortable there. And the plan is to have Perez play some first base in winter ball starting in November.
This doesn’t mean the Royals will move Perez from catcher, where he could win a Gold Glove this year. It’s a potential move that simply gives the team more flexibility.

Yes, the Royals finished dead last in home runs in the league with just 112, a rather puny figure.
But they did steal 153 bases, which led the league — the first time the Royals have led the league in steals in a non-strike season since the glory days in 1979.
And it wasn’t just one guy doing all the stealing. The Royals had eight guys with 10 or more steals.
As bad as the Royals’ offense was this season (11th in runs scored), they probably got the most out of what they had just by creating runs through their speed.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email