Royals' hunger key to maintaining reign

Ability to repeat hinges on motivation, rotation and filling gaps

Royals' hunger key to maintaining reign

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals have won two straight pennants and a World Series, but will they be content to stop there?

"One of the things that [general manager] Dayton [Moore] has made sure of," owner David Glass said, "is that we're not just built for a one- or two-year thing. This is a team built to contend for a while."

Indeed, the Royals' core of players remains intact, though there will be the inevitable change in the roster. Even with that change, can the Royals compete for another run at the World Series?

They can, if they can answer the following questions:

1. Will the rotation hold up?

Moore strongly believes that good teams need to enter a season with six or seven viable starters, knowing full well that, over the course of a season, pitchers inevitably break down. Right now, though, the Royals realistically only have five -- Edinson Volquez, Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Kris Medlen and Chris Young. Moore is still in the market for another starter, and perhaps one of the prospects (Kyle Zimmer, anyone?) will emerge. Volquez is solid, Ventura seemed to mature in the second half, and Young and Medlen are veterans that the organization isn't too worried about. The Royals, though, are crossing their fingers that Duffy, who was moved to the bullpen down the stretch, can be productive for an entire season.

Royals agree with Young, Soria

2. Can they survive without Gordon?

As the year comes to a close, the Royals were still monitoring the Alex Gordon free-agency situation. His sticker price -- believed to be around five years at $85-90 million -- is likely out of the Royals' financial reach. It won't be easy replacing a four-time Gold Glover who also is the face of the franchise. But the Royals could try to find a veteran who can hold left or right field down for one year until either prospect Bubba Starling or Brett Eibner seizes the position in 2017. Jarrod Dyson, at this point, figures to get first crack at one of the corner spots, and it his time to shine.

3. Can Omar Infante have a rebound season?

The Royals were never really in the Ben Zobrist sweepstakes, but certainly were grateful for his contributions, first filling in for Gordon in left field and then Infante at second base in 2015. Now, the Royals are hoping Infante, who had a disastrous 2015 season at the plate, can be productive again in 2016. The Royals still have Infante under contract for two years at nearly $16 million total (plus a $2 million buyout in 2018). While some Royals fans too easily discount his defense and therefore see him as a liability, the Royals still believe Infante is one of the better defenders in the league. They also haven't forgotten he had a career-high 66 RBIs in 2014 and had a .924 OPS in the World Series that season. With some offensive adjustments, Infante could still help this team in 2016.

Infante's three-run home run

4. Will Esky Magic continue?

Chances are manager Ned Yost will continue to use shortstop Alcides Escobar in the leadoff spot, which has sabermetric fans pounding their heads against the wall. The problem is the Royals win when Esky leads off. The Royals were 76-49 with Escobar in the leadoff spot until Yost moved Escobar in early September to the lower part of the order. The team immediately went into a swoon. He reinstated Escobar to the top spot in late September and the Royals went 6-0. The Royals were then 11-5 with Esky at the top spot in the postseason as he had an OPS of .861.

Escobar sets postseason record

5. Will the Royals stay hungry?

We know the Royals' front office wants desperately to get back to the World Series in 2016. It will be interesting to see how the core of the group responds after having answered all the doubters by winning it all in 2015. From the time the Royals showed up in 2015 at Spring Training, they all clearly had a single purpose -- win a championship. Now, the question is do they want to continue that mindset and establish a dynasty?

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