Royals look ahead with hope despite 104-loss season

Shortstop Adalberto Mondesi is perhaps the most exciting of a strong group of young Royals players.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Royals general manager Dayton Moore had seen enough progress under Ned Yost, and his manager in turn had seen enough progress in some promising young players, that there was no reason to delay what had become inevitable.

So, with a simple statement issued before the Royals closed their 50th season with an unsightly 58-104 record, Yost announced he had signed an extension to return next season.

The biggest question surrounding the club heading into the offseason had been answered.

“We’re at a point in time right now where we think continuity is even more crucial than it has been in the past,” Moore said. “We’ve seen the improvement of a lot of the players that are on the field right now. We’re really pleased with the coaching staff. Most importantly, Ned’s been a huge part of the success of this organization and we feel it’s important to keep that together. … I’m excited about next year.”

Most times, there would be little reason to feel good about a season that ended with 100 losses for only the fifth time in franchise history. But after some late-season moves, including a conscious decision to play young prospects every day, the Royals suddenly became quite competitive.

They won five of their last seven and went 21-14 over the final five weeks.

“I knew this was going to be a long haul. But I also know how to go about it,” Yost said. “You have to show up every day with energy. When you get these young guys, you have to know when to step on the gas and when to lay off the gas. The best thing we did all summer was not to put pressure on them. To let them show up every day and to work their tail off.

“As a group, you saw them start to believe in each other, start to believe in themselves and then here we go. Now we’re starting to have some success and the game is exciting again.”

WHO’S GONE

Shortstop Alcides Escobar, a fixture on the 2014 and ’15 World Series teams, will become a free agent after he returned to Kansas City on a one-year deal. The Royals are also likely to pay $2 million to rid themselves of ineffective right-hander Jason Hammel.

HE’S STILL HERE

The Royals might wish they had a similar buyout for outfielder Alex Gordon, who is owed $20 million next season, and right-hander Ian Kennedy, who is due $33 million over the next two seasons. But both veterans will be back alongside a plethora of promising young players, including breakout star Adalberto Mondesi, improving outfielder Jorge Soler and longtime backstop Salvador Perez.

“I’ve learned a lot this year about my game and the way I need to play,” Mondesi said. “I’ve stayed focused and working every day on those things to help me this year. I plan to keep working on those little things and stay focused and just work for next year.”

OFFSEASON MOVES

Don’t expect the Royals to do much in free agency as they trim payroll in the hopes of fielding a more competitive team a couple of years from now. That said, keep an eye on utilityman Whit Merrifield, who led the majors in hits and stolen bases and remains under club control for one season before his three years of arbitration eligibility. The Royals held onto him at the trade deadline, but they might be enticed to move him with the right offer.

ON THE HILL

Moore likes to say that pitching is “the currency of baseball,” and if that’s the case the Royals should feel good about their wallet. Brad Keller was a Rookie of the Year candidate, and Jakob Junis and Heath Fillmyer were both impressive at various times in the season. Throw in veteran let-hander Danny Duffy and promising young Jorge López — who nearly threw a perfect game — and that’s a solid rotation foundation.

THE YOUNG GUNS

The Royals brought a wave of youth to the big leagues about eight years ago, and it produced back-to-back pennants. They’re aiming to do it again with a wave led by infielders Hunter Dozier, Ryan O’Hearn, Mondesi and Ramón Torres and outfielders Soler, Brian Goodwin, Brett Phillips and Jorge Bonifacio. If most of those guys pan out, the Royals should improve.

“I was up here in April; it was a way different atmosphere than it is right now,” backup catcher Cam Gallagher said. “You see guys like Mondesi who are doing terrific. It shows the kind of guy he is and how much he has progressed over the few months, and it’s a good sign for a lot of guys going into next year.”