Each weekday between now and the end of spring training, we’ll analyze one team’s keys for success (or keys to avoid complete irrelevance) in the 2016 season. We begin with the defending World Series champions, and we’ll continue with the rest of the AL Central this week.
1. Get Salvador Perez a damn rest. Since the 2013 season, Salvador Perez has caught a major league-high 422 games — 49 more than Yadier Molina, who is next on the list. And that doesn’t include Perez’s 31 postseason games (five more than runner-up Molina), his winter-league action or his time with the MLB All-Star contingent that toured Japan after the 2014 season.
Is there a limit to Sal Perez’s toughness?
Perez, who ranks first among catchers with 213 RBI and second with 50 homers since 2013, is even more important behind the plate than he is at it. And although the World Series MVP is only 25, the Royals would be wise to give his legs a break more often. The dude takes a beating.
2. Finalize the back end of the rotation. As was the case last season, the Royals don’t have a true ace, though Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez and Ian Kennedy — their top three starters — all have No. 1 potential. In fact, Kansas City finished 22nd in the majors last season with a 4.34 rotation ERA. Because the bullpen is so dominant and deep, the rotation doesn’t have to be. But the Royals need dependable production from their Nos. 4 and 5 starters.
Chris Young was a postseason sensation in 2015.
Chris Young, Kris Medlen and Danny Duffy, all of whom split time between the rotation and bullpen last season, are the prime candidates to round out the starting five.
3. Live it up before the window slams shut. The team was able to retain homegrown outfielder Alex Gordon this offseason, but Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Wade Davis and Alcides Escobar — all key members of the KC core that has reached back-to-back World Series – will be free agents after the 2017 season.
The clock is ticking for KC’s core.
Being a small-market franchise will make it difficult for the Royals to re-sign even a couple of those stars, so there is a clear "win now" atmosphere. And the good news is this group is talented enough to do it, as each of those players either is in his prime or just about to enter it. KC remains the AL favorite.