2013 was a great season for the Kansas City Royals, at least relative to what their standards have been over the last few two decades. With a young roster coming off the most successful season for the franchise in over 20 years, the Royals have the look of a team on the rise. However, if they are really going to take the next step and become an actual contender, they have to shore up some big weaknesses first.
The most obvious issue the Royals had last year was being almost totally incapable of hitting for power. In 2013, only two teams hit fewer homers than the Royals: the Giants with 107 and the Marlins with 95. The funny thing about those two squads is that they play in the National League, you know, where pitchers get to hit. The Royals? Yeah, not so much in the NL as they are in the AL, so that's kind of a problem.
KC's lack of power is really stark when compared to their American League brethren. The Royals only managed 112 homers last year. The next closest was the Yankees at 144. The Orioles led the league in dingers by nearly doubling up the Royals with 212 longballs. Suffice it to say, the Royals have some catching up to do. Even adding 30 homers to their lineup still has them bringing up the rear.
Lest you think getting the ball over the fence was their only problem, Kansas City was twelfth in the AL in doubles, which is better, but still not very good. All in all, they finished the season with a .119 ISO, a full ten points behind the next worst team in the AL and better only than the Triple-A team that the Miami Marlins put on the field last year.
Clearly this is an area where the Royals need to improve. The only problem is, they didn't really address their power issues in the offseason. Their two biggest offseason acquisitions were Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante. Both will improve troublesome parts of their lineup, but neither brings much pop. Aoki has 18 homers and a .118 ISO in his two years in MLB while Infante has just 74 homers in 12 seasons and a career .123 ISO. Danny Valencia was added to the mix as well and while he does have a bit of power, he is a part-time player, so he can only do so much.
What that means is most of the Royals' improvement in the power department is going to have to come from within. Billy Butler hit 29 homers two seasons ago, so he certainly figures to be a big part of that. As does Eric Hosmer who any believe to be capable of adding more power to his game. The same goes for Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas, but to lesser extents. Still, a lot is going to have go right for that group in 2014 for the Royals to claw their way out of the power basement of the AL. How successful they are at doing that will go a long way towards determining whether or not they can improve on their 86 wins.
The one other problem the Royals might face as they attempt to get over the hump is a propensity to shoot themselves in the foot. Over the last several seasons, the Royals have tried to get themselves back into contention, but they've also tried to do that while giving thousands of at-bats to Jeff Francouer, Chris Getz and Yuniesky Betancourt. They also gutted their farm system to land James Shields, a deal that has worked in the short-term, but has been widely panned for the long-term hit Kansas City took to make it happen.
The man presiding over all of that has been Dayton Moore and he's still in charge. What that means for the Royals is that as they attempt to leapfrog the Tigers and Indians in the AL Central, it will be Moore pulling the strings. Given his history of placing undue faith in underperforming veterans, that could become KC's fatal flaw.
Can Moore be trusted to put Yordano Ventura in the rotation if/when Bruce Chen begins to struggle? Will Moore be able to set Ned Yost straight the next time he decides that batting Alcides Escobar second in the lineup is a good idea? What about when the Royals need to add a piece at the trade deadline to keep pace with the other contenders in the division? Will he know who to target and will he be willing to pay the price? Will he be too willing to pay the price?
In fairness to Moore, he seems to be on the way to learning from his past mistakes. He's cut the deadweight of Francouer and Gets in the last year and didn't give into the temptation to trade top prospects like Ventura or Kyle Zimmer this offseason. If this is really the new Dayton Moore, the Royals should be in fine shape. But if he starts to feel the pressure of chasing a playoff berth, that's when old habits tend to rear their ugly heads. That could be a big, big problem for Kansas City.