MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Having realized goal, Royals vow they're not finished

GM Moore: 'We have to guard against a letdown'

Having realized goal, Royals vow they're not finished

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- We come looking for a letdown. We're sure there has to be one. Human nature being what it is, the Kansas City Royals simply can't have the same edge they had in 2015.

They were a driven team last season. Obsessed. Focused. That loss in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series was burned into their hearts and minds, and the Royals came to Spring Training in 2015 committed to writing a different ending.

When the Royals won a clinching Game 5 of the World Series last fall, they answered all sorts of questions about themselves and a franchise that had been smartly constructed and expertly managed.

Now what?

"We have to guard against a letdown," Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore said. "As human beings, we'll cut corners if we don't have accountability and discipline."

There's the rub.

Just as the Royals found out plenty about their players in how they reacted to losing a World Series, they'll find out some more in how they handle winning. Kansas City remains confident in its guys. The Royals believe they've got the right stuff, that their players are as serious as ever about winning.

Royals on projections

One reason is that most of Kansas City's position players have yet to celebrate their 30th birthdays. And also, several key players -- first baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, center fielder Lorenzo Cain, closer Wade Davis -- are still two years from their first crack at free agency.

Besides winning, these players all have plenty to prove in terms of personal and financial accomplishments. Those are factors, too. And as much as the Royals loved winning, they haven't forgotten that empty, awful feeling of losing in 2014.

"We've seen both sides of it," Cain said. "You don't want that feeling of losing again. A lot of people might say it's easy to relax since we won one. This team strives for more."

How do they do it? To the Royals, that's the easiest part of the story. It comes back to the things they loved about their core guys when they drafted or signed them.

"It's about finding the right type of players that are passionate to win and love playing the game," Moore said. "If you love it, you're going to enjoy being out here. You love all aspects of the game -- the work, camaraderie, food, travel, everything. You love the environment."

Inside their spring clubhouse, the Royals wave away questions about motivation or desire. They don't believe it'll be an issue. True champions don't rest on just one.

"We're a very confident group," Moustakas said. "We like to have fun, but we play hard. We enjoy each other's company, and I think that's part of what makes us good."

Turn the page?

"It's a new year and a new challenge," said left fielder Alex Gordon, who became a free agent this offseason and returned to Kansas City with a deal worth $72 million over four years. "We're really excited about what we did last year, but it would be even better to do it again. Guys work the right way here, approach the game the right way. I'm confident we're going to have the same mentality we had last year."

Manager Ned Yost said the past two seasons have been a payoff for the patience and perseverance the organization showed in sticking with their young guys through some tough times.

"It takes time, two, two and a half years at the Major League level, before guys get comfortable, get in their element," he said. "You have to have that patience. If we hadn't been patient with our core guys, we wouldn't have won a championship. When people are screaming, 'Why are you still playing Moose [Moustakas]? Your plan is not working,' we just laid back and let 'em play. We knew somewhere down the road they'd, as a group, be able to compete as a champion."

The Royals' everyday lineup will have two changes: Jarrod Dyson (who will miss the first couple of weeks of the season due to a strained oblique) taking over for Alex Rios in right field and second baseman Omar Infante healthy and back in the lineup after the departure of free agent Ben Zobrist to the Cubs.

The bullpen and defense will again be among the best in baseball, and if Yordano Ventura continues to mature and Kris Medlen comes back strong after a second Tommy John surgery, the rotation could be plenty good enough.

"I like our arms. I like our depth. I like our quality," Moore said. "They all fit what we try to do. They throw strikes. They have changeups. They work quick and field their position. They keep the game in a rhythm, and our team needs to move quickly."

• Royals, Perez agree on 5-year contract extension

Around the clubhouse, there's a quiet confidence, not a swagger exactly, but a belief in one another. When Hosmer, Moustakas and Salvador Perez made their big league debuts in 2011, it was a sign to Royals fans that things were about to turn around. Turn around they have.

"This is why you play," Moustakas. "For us to do it with this group that came up together, it's pretty special. You get to that point, and you feel what it's like to play October baseball. That's all you want from then on."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.