The Royals were 90 feet from playing extra innings to become champions. There is no diminishing that accomplishment.
The 89 win 2014 Kansas City Royals would have also missed the playoffs by three games in 2013, four in 2012 and by a game in 2011 (if the current two wild-card system was in place back then).
As well suited as the Royals were for post-season play, they were just an okay regular season team. By some statistical measures, your 89 win Royals were really more of an 84-78 team (Pythagorean) or even an 81-81 squad (Base Runs). Read what you want into those numbers. If you want to make the case that the 2014 Kansas City Royals’ true talent level was 89 wins, I would not argue too hard against you.
All of that said, whatever your perception of the American League Champions, you cannot dispute that at this very moment they are not as good as they were when Salvador Perez insisted on swinging at high fastballs from the surreal arm of Madison Bumgarner to end the season. James Shields and his 227 innings and 3.7 fWAR is gone. So is Billy Butler, who according to either bWAR or fWAR provided virtually no wins above replacement level, and Nori Aoki. Everyone will remember the comic and eclectic stylings of Mr. Aoki, but might forget he was worth 2.3 wins (per fWAR) and posted a .349 on-base percentage.
Dayton Moore has work to do, even if ‘everyone does improve’.
Thus far, he has slow-played the off-season. As Craig detailed earlier, Moore resigned Jason Frasor, who we would all think is pretty good if not for the immense shadow of Holland, Davis and Herrera. He shipped off Aaron Crow, who had no value, for two minor league arms: debunking the theory that one could not get a bucket of balls for him. Moore signed another utility infielder in Ryan Jackson. All solid, if minor, baseball moves.
And today (or last night), Moore resigned Luke Hochevar for real cash money (2 years/$10 million). I am assuming the Royals have a better idea as to Hochevar’s health than any of the other 29 teams and outlaying this kind of contract indicates to me that the organization thinks Luke will be ready to pitch sooner rather than later. As already speculated by many already, it might also indicate a future trade of one of the ‘big’ bullpen arms.
Either that, or the Royals have suddenly gone cutting edge and are planning on getting five innings out of their starters and going to the bullpen day after day for four innings of dominance. That’s a tongue in cheek sentence there, but would it work over the course of a 162 game schedule?
All said, the Royals need to do more than just ‘replace’ Shields, Butler and Aoki and cannot rely upon the current group to improve enough to make up the difference. Let’s have some fun and say that Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain are going to be the guys they were in the post-season for all of 2015 AND let’s say Danny Duffy will parlay 150 innings of very good pitching into 210 innings of the same AND let’s say the bullpen is just as good as last year: that still feels like about 89 wins. All that might not be enough to get back to the playoffs, much less the World Series.
For all the ‘stuff’ Dayton Moore has done, we have to give him credit for parlaying Zack Greinke into Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain and, let’s face it, he traded Wil Myers with the sole intention of getting the Royals into the playoffs and it worked. It took him longer than we wanted (or probably that it should have, too), but that was pretty much Dayton Moore’s team that was one game from a really cool trophy.
The hardest part of Dayton Moore’s job started THIS off-season and all of us would be wise to remember that while Kansas City ended the year as the second best team in baseball, they spent the bulk of it somewhere in the middle of the pack of the American League. There’s no World Series without first making the playoffs, and 89 wins usually doesn’t get you to the post-season.