Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason plans of every MLB team before the Dec. 3-6 winter meetings. Our series continues with the Colorado Rockies.
2007 record: 69-93
Finish: Fifth place, American League Central
2007 opening-day payroll: $67 million
More than any particular player, the Royals crave respectability. And with general manager Dayton Moore at the helm and owner David Glass no longer allergic to his checkbook, they're getting close.
Just look at the free agents the Royals intend to pursue. Torii Hunter, one of the class' five best. And Jose Guillen, a top 15 player, steroid allegations and all. And Hiroki Kuroda, the Japanese starter who may turn out to be the best of a weak pitching class.
It's obvious that the Royals are not going to get all three. Frankly, were they to snag one, it would be an upset, and it would take hefty above-market money, which enticed Gil Meche to join them last season. And yet Meche did sign for five years at $55 million, didn't he? And he performed pretty well, huh? And all that egg on the Royals' face – well, it wiped right off, no?
The Royals are trying, really trying, and after four 100-plus-loss seasons in five years, that effort is materializing into something. Should they sign an outfielder, they could spin center fielder David DeJesus to any number of teams looking for a low-cost alternative to Hunter, Andruw Jones, Aaron Rowand, Mike Cameron and Kosuke Fukudome. Speedster Joey Gathright is eminently tradeable too, though he wouldn't bring nearly as much in return.
So they'll try to do more of what succeeded in Moore's first season: Go for one monster signing, then mill for one-year bargains and hope they play themselves into value so Moore can spin them off in July. Right now in Kansas City, that's the best they can hope for.
And it's better than what they had before.
In years past, Hunter would not have even returned the Royals' phone call. If Satan promised you a few million extra, would you spend five years in Hades? Because Kansas City, no question a lovely city, was nonetheless baseball's equivalent of Mephistopheles' dwelling.
No longer are the Royals batting Ruben Mateo cleanup (happened in 2004) or trotting out Jose Lima for 32 starts even though he finished the season with a 6.99 ERA (that was '05). Today, they've got Billy Butler, who will be 21 on opening day and should drive in 100 runs. And there's Alex Gordon, who hit 15 home runs, played a solid third base and was considered a rookie disappointment only because the expectations stood like a skyscraper.
Oh, there's more. Meche pitched like an ace, even if his record didn't indicate so. Zack Greinke, now in control of his anxiety issues, looked like the All-Star-in-the-making everyone saw in 2004. Joakim Soria, a dream find in the Rule 5 draft, closed with aplomb and could start. Offspeed artist Brian Bannister finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. And with former No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar and Billy Buckner vying for a rotation spot, the Royals have two more homegrown pitchers in the lurch.
Not everything is puppies and hugs. The Royals happen to play in the AL Central, a torture chamber of a division with monster starting pitching and unforgiving lineups in Cleveland and Detroit, plus a Minnesota team with Johan Santana, a returning Francisco Liriano and a cast of other electric arms.
Last place is no longer a foregone conclusion for the Royals. And yet until they do something tangible – not losing 100 games doesn't count – they'll remain the Royals, craving that respectability and not quite there.
NEXT: Los Angeles Angels