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MLB season preview: This could be the Royals' last chance to win for a while

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For the Kansas City Royals, it might be now or not for a long time.

In all realistic assessments, this is Kansas City’s last year with its World Series core intact — or what’s left of it anyway. After this season, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain are free agents and they’d be lucky to re-sign one of them. Plus K.C. already traded star reliever Wade Davis to the Cubs. And none of that includes the loss of starter Yordano Ventura, who died tragically in a car accident during the offseason.

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So the Royals are looking at a season that could go one of two ways — they muster up another run at the top of the division. This is, after all, a team just two years removed from a World Series win. Or they start the tear down early in hopes of accelerating the rebuild. It’s not necessarily what fans want to see, but if the Royals are looking another .500 season, it would be the prudent move. (Mike Oz)

ADDITIONS AND SUBTRACTIONS
Additions:
Jorge Soler, Brandon Moss, Jason Hammel
Subtractions:
Wade Davis, Kendrys Morales, Edinson Volquez

The Royals are entering a strange phase right now. With the free-agency wave approaching, we already saw some departures early in the offseason. Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales weren’t core members, but both were free to leave for greener pastures. Those losses, however, left some decent holes in the starting lineup.

Since the Royals aren’t known as a big-spender, those holes were filled with reasonable options. Brandon Moss, Jason Hammel and Travis Wood are all fine players, though not superstars. Jorge Soler could still be that, but his potential has dimmed after injuries and ineffectiveness over the past few years. He’s still just 25, though, and can’t be written off just yet. (Chris Cwik)

Lorenzo Cain is one of the Royals who probably won't be around next season. (Getty Images)
Lorenzo Cain is one of the Royals who probably won't be around next season. (Getty Images)

KEY PLAYER
This is an important year for Lorenzo Cain. It’s his last contract year with the Royals, which means he’ll be a free agent next season. As if that weren’t enough motivation to attack 2017 with vim and vigor, it’s a walk year for three other core Royals players (Hosmer, Escobar, and Moustakas). So “win-now” should be written on a post-it note and attached on every available surface.

So Cain could use a dynamite year for a lot of reasons. And if history is any indication, he’ll do everything he can to make that happen. He was slowed by injuries in 2016, but he still hit .287/.339/.408. If he’s healthy, he should give the Royals a boost as the team tries for one more shot at glory, and give himself a boost for a plentiful free agency. (Liz Roscher)

PROJECT LINEUP & ROTATION
Lineup
1. Alcides Escobar, SS (.261/.292/.350, 7 HR, 55 RBI, 17 SB)
2. Mike Moustakas, 3B (.240/.301/.500, 7 HR, 13 RBI)
3. Lorenzo Cain, CF (.287/.339/.408, 9 HR, 56 RBI, 14 SB)
4. Eric Hosmer, 1B (.266/.328/.433, 25 HR, 104 RBI, 80 R)
5. Alex Gordon, LF (.220/.312/.380, 17 HR, 40 RBI)
6. Salvador Perez, C (.247/288/.438, 22 HR, 64 RBI)
7. Jorge Soler, RF (.238/.333/.436, 12 HR, 31 RBI)
8. Brandon Moss, DH (.225/.300/.484, 28 HR, 67 RBI)
9. Whit Merrifield, 2B (.283/.323/.392, 2 HR, 29 RBI)

Rotation
1. Danny Duffy (12-3, 3.51 ERA, 179.2, IP, 188 K)
2. Ian Kennedy (11-11, 3.68 ERA, 195.2 IP, 184 K)
3. Jason Hammel (15-10, 3.83 ERA, 166.2 IP, 144 K)
4. Jason Vargas (0-0, 2.25 ERA, 12 IP, 11 K)
5. Nate Karns (6-2, 5.15 ERA, 94.1 IP, 101 K)

Danny Duffy took a huge step forward in 2016. (AP Photo)
Danny Duffy took a huge step forward in 2016. (AP Photo)

BEST-CASE SCENARIO
The Royals rediscover the confidence and resilience that helped elevate them from 2013-2015. This team is still plenty talented, and it should be motivated to make one last run before it’s inevitably forced to break up. If the Royals put it all back together, they have a chance to push for a wild-card spot. (Mark Townsend)

WORST-CASE SCENARIO
They fall out of contention early. That means one of two things will happen, and neither are good for their 2017 outlook. First, general manager Dayton Moore will go into fire-sale mode, guaranteeing a below .500 season. It’s that or Moore and company ended up holding on too long waiting for a turnaround, leading to a disappointing 2017 and a longer rebuild since they’d miss the opportunity to turn assets into prospects before they enter free agency. (Townsend)

PRESSING FANTASY QUESTION
Who are some sleepers to target?
Jorge Soler clearly hasn’t lived up to expectations so far in his career, but there remains plenty of upside for the 24-year-old who’s going to be given every day at bats in 2017. The potential for a major breakout is here.

[Elsewhere: Read more pressing fantasy questions about the Royals on Roto Arcade]

Raul Mondesi offers nice SB upside for a dirt cheap option at middle infield. Fewer walks would be nice, but Matt Strahm struck out 30 batters over 22.0 innings during his MLB debut last season and will almost certainly be joining Kansas City’s rotation in 2017. The lefty is definitely a deep sleeper to target, even in mixed leagues. (Dalton Del Don)

BEST FOLLOW
Salvador Perez is full of love. For proof, all you have to do is look at his Instagram.

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Now how cute is that? Perez loves his family, he loves baseball, and he just loves life. His Instagram has it all, whether you’re looking a laughing baby or a video of Lorenzo Cain. (Roscher)

BEST REASON TO ATTEND A GAME
Remember Zubaz? You know, the crazy pants from the ’90s with the wacky patterns? Well, they are back. Or, at least, the Royals are trying to make it that way. May 5 is the team’s fourth annual Zubazpalooza Day.

Don’t have a pair of Zubaz, or threw them out with your acid-washed jeans? That’s fine. You can get a free pair with a ticket purchase for that day’s game. Not a bad way to remember the ’90s. (Cwik)

ALSO IN THIS SERIES: San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Washington Nationals, San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!