Royals have eyes on returning to World Series

Team focused on repeating success in improved AL Central

Royals have eyes on returning to World Series

KANSAS CITY -- As the Royals prepare for the start of Spring Training and to defend their American League title, they know the task ahead will be daunting.

And that's because the rest of the teams in the American League Central stepped up in the offseason and appear to have improved significantly.

"In my mind, there's not much doubt that the Central is the best division in baseball," manager Ned Yost said. "You look at what the White Sox did -- they got better in a lot of ways. The Tigers got better, I think. Minnesota got better. And the Indians are always tough and they added to their team.

"It's going to be really interesting. We're going to be right there as well."

Royals general manager Dayton Moore agreed.

"We feel we're in a good position again to compete for the World Series," Moore said. "We accomplished many of our goals last season, but we didn't achieve our ultimate goal and that is to win the World Series.

"We feel this team will be very capable of challenging for that ultimate goal. It's certainly going to be tough, because the division got better. But that's the way we like it."

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Owner David Glass, too, wasn't shy about his expectations.

"It's always the goal to win the World Series," Glass said, before adding with a laugh, "Shoot, I expect to win every game. I always ask Ned why we can't win every game and he always has some reason or another why we can't."

The 2015 Royals certainly will look a bit different. Gone are three pieces that were keys to the team's magical ride in 2014 when they reached Game 7 of the World Series -- ace James Shields, who signed with San Diego; DH Billy Butler, who signed with Oakland; and right fielder Nori Aoki, who signed with San Francisco.

But Moore and his staff worked the phones diligently during the offseason and found what Moore believes are quality replacements in right-hander Edinson Volquez, DH Kendrys Morales and right fielder Alex Rios.

"You never know obviously what will transpire until the season develops," Moore said. "But we should be right there."

Moore and Yost also are counting on the continued development of younger players such as shortstop Alcides Escobar, center fielder Lorenzo Cain, third baseman Mike Moustakas, first baseman Eric Hosmer and catcher Salvador Perez.

"We had several of our young players really step up in October," Yost said. "That should be a tremendous confidence builder for them. And we also have veteran guys like Omar [Infante] and Alex [Gordon] who you know will contribute greatly.

"And we feel we have the pitching and defense to compete again."

Pitchers and catchers report
Thursday

Full squad reports
Feb. 24

First Spring Training game
Royals at Rangers (Surprise Stadium), March 4, 2 p.m. CT

Opening Day
White Sox at Royals, April 6, 3:10 p.m. CT

Jeffrey Flanagan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jflanagankc. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.