After winning 74 games in 2021 and appearing ready to usher in a youth movement and take a small step forward in 2022, the Kansas City Royals struggled throughout the year and ended with nearly 100 losses. Taking a step back from the year prior, Kansas City posted a 65-97 record and finished dead last in the American League Central division. Under new leadership in the front office and in the dugout, the club’s hope is that better days are ahead this coming season.
The “worst to first” phenomenon in professional sports is something that provides many teams hope during the offseason, as the possibility for massive improvement year-over-year is always a possibility. With that said, it takes a combination of stellar free agent moves, quite a bit of internal development and a great deal of luck in order for such a thing to occur. MLB writer Will Leitch recently ranked how likely each 2022 last-place finisher is to soar all the way to the top in 2023, and he had the Royals taking home the No. 1 spot. Here’s part of what he had to say:
There’s reason for some hope here. Neither the pitching nor the lineup is particularly overwhelming, but there’s still talent to go around, particularly in that lineup. Lots of teams would be delighted to pencil in up-and-comers MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino and Bobby Witt Jr. every day. It’s that last name, Witt, who’s the most exciting: A talent like his has the potential to explode into superstardom at any moment. The Royals are probably a couple of years away from competing for the division title, but considering that the AL Central lacks a juggernaut, they are a club to keep an eye on in 2023.
The trio of Melendez, Pasquantino and Witt does figure to be a productive one this coming season, and Kansas City did have a month-long taste of success during the season (16-13 record from June 15-July 15) before falling back into a slump. The Royals also signed Ryan Yarbrough and Jordan Lyles to help bolster the pitching staff, and Aroldis Chapman could be an x-factor if he regains even a bit of his old form. Leitch’s point about the AL Central not containing a “juggernaut” is also fair, as no one team is expected to dominate the league.
Going from worst to first would be highly improbable, though, and most projections agree. Kansas City’s Vegas Insider over/under win total for 2023 is 66.5, with ESPN‘s projected wins and playoff odds checking in at 67.8 and 2%, respectively. FanGraphs‘ ZiPS projected standings from November had the team going 74-88 in 2023 and while the aforementioned free agent signings could be worth a few wins if things break right, that’s still an extremely far cry from first place in the division.
It would take a perfect storm in order for the Royals to win the AL Central in 2023, but that doesn’t mean the team can’t improve. Expecting a record better than last season’s 65-win output is justified, as new coaching is in place to work with talented young players and a few external additions will add depth to the roster. None of the six teams Leitch listed are likely to accomplish the insanely difficult feat of going worst to first, although his mention of Kansas City at the top is a testament to the direction the club could go in 2023 and beyond. At the very least, it’s a vote of confidence for the moves and decisions made by the organization as of late.