Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Kansas City Royals.
2008 record: 75-87
Finish: Fourth in AL Central, 13½ games behind the White Sox.
2008 opening-day payroll: $58 million
2009 estimated opening-day payroll: $70 million
There's a little life in K.C.
Not, like, detonative, fire-breathing, fist-hoisting, start-knitting-the-pennant-Dayton life.
But, hey, dress-up-the-ballpark, jack-up-the-payroll, spiffy-up-the-roster, we-didn't-finish-in-last-place (thanks, Tigers) life.
Kauffman Stadium is $250 million prettier. The payroll is $70 million. It's something.
The Royals won 18 games in September, ending their fifth-place grind at four seasons, then started trading relievers for guys who'll give them nine innings a night. They acquired a power bat from Florida in first baseman/DH Mike Jacobs and a leadoff hitter/go-get-it center fielder from Boston in Coco Crisp, and maybe that'll drag their offense at least into the ordinary realm.
They replaced the departed arms (Leo Nunez, Ramon Ramirez) with free agents Doug Waechter, Horacio Ramirez and – for, ahem, $9.25 million over two seasons – Kyle Farnsworth. They hope. He's the power reliever with the big four-seamer and maybe pitching coach Bob McClure can make him all that big four-seamer should make him. The Yankees presumably have their doubts.
General manager Dayton Moore did last a very long time in the Rafael Furcal bidding, which ultimately didn't help his middle-infield situation (wherever Mike Aviles doesn't play), and Willie Bloomquist probably doesn't solve that, either. Moore would love to have added a solid starting pitcher, but that didn't happen either, at least not yet.
After some early winter rumors about a trade, the Royals still appear to have one more outfielder than they require, that excess for the moment being Mark Teahen, though Moore insists Teahen is necessary to the current plan. They could move Jose Guillen or David DeJesus instead, and maybe that'll be the trading-deadline plan, assuming the division doesn't still have the Royals in contention by then.
They're still the Royals, so life has its risks.
That means waiting still on third baseman Alex Gordon, who'll turn 25 in two weeks. That means believing in Aviles after barely 100 games. It means two or three of Kyle Davies, Brian Bannister, Luke Hochevar and Ramirez having to make up the middle and end of the rotation.
It means trusting in all those things, along with Guillen's psyche and DeJesus' batting average, and Gordon's second-half on-base percentage (.392), and Zack Greinke's emotional comfort and Bannister taking his home numbers on the road.
Moore is 2½ seasons in, three offseasons in, and the club has gone from 62 wins to 75. The next 13 will be the tougher ones. Manager Trey Hillman took them the last six. The next six would get them to .500, or just the franchise's second non-losing season since 1994.
Moore said he looks at the world champion Phillies and sees a legit leadoff hitter, dominant three and four hitters, an ace and a shut-down closer. He looks at his own club and sees Crisp, DeJesus and Guillen, Greinke and Joakim Soria.
It's a big leap, granted.
"I think we've gotten a little life and energy back into this town," Moore said on a mid-January day. "Maybe we've created a different view of Kansas City."
If it's not all that, it's at least progress. It's life.
Next: San Diego Padres