KC has pieces for return to prominence in '17

KC has pieces for return to prominence in '17

KANSAS CITY -- As the Royals made their final road trip of 2016 through Cleveland and Detroit, a contingent of the team's front office, led by general manager Dayton Moore, made the trip as well, huddling for the final regular-season organizational meetings.

No doubt those meetings involved discussions of what went wrong in 2016, as well as what could go right in '17.

The Royals, after two straight pennants and a World Series championship, were unable to return to the postseason this year. But there is room for optimism: The core of this championship team remains intact for 2017.

"There's no reason to think we can't make a strong run in 2017," first baseman Eric Hosmer said.

Royals show mettle in 2016 title defense

Here's a look going forward:

Arbitration-eligible: First baseman Hosmer, left-hander Danny Duffy, right-hander Kelvin Herrera, outfielder Jarrod Dyson, left-hander Tim Collins, first baseman Daniel Nava, catcher Tony Cruz.

Potential free agents: Right-hander Edinson Volquez, designated hitter Kendrys Morales, right-hander Kris Medlen, right-hander Luke Hochevar, right-hander Dillon Gee, right-hander Peter Moylan, catcher Drew Butera.

Rotation: The Royals will come back with four starters: Duffy, Yordano Ventura, Ian Kennedy and Jason Vargas. The search will be on for that fifth starter, and keep in mind that Moore prefers to enter Spring Training with eight or nine rotation candidates. Volquez has a mutual option for $10 million ($3 million buyout). The Royals never have exercised a mutual option under the present regime and while Volquez, after a down year, might be interested in it on his end, chances are the club will pass simply because that's a huge chunk of change for a fourth or fifth starter. Same goes for Medlen, who missed virtually the entire season because of injury. Both could be brought back on incentive-laden contracts. The Royals also have Mike Minor and Chris Young for depth. Rookie left-hander Matt Strahm will get a look as well.

Bullpen: Right-handers Wade Davis and Herrera again will anchor the back of the bullpen. The Royals then will have to find a place for Joakim Soria, coming off his poorest season in the Major Leagues. It's possible the Royals will try Soria as a rotation candidate. Strahm was so effective in the bullpen the Royals could decide they need him there for now. Hochevar, coming off thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, could be brought back after the Royals buy out his mutual option. Former Royal and free agent Greg Holland is another option, as is Moylan, who was reliable in 2016.

First base: Hosmer had a terrific first half and was the Most Valuable Player of the All-Star Game, though his average dipped considerably after that. He could be a candidate for a long-term deal.

Second base: Perhaps the most intriguing position battle going into Spring Training 2017 among Whit Merrifield, Raul Mondesi and Christian Colon. Mondesi is incredibly gifted defensively, but looked overmatched at the plate. Merrifield, a super utility player, has proven he needs to be on the 25-man roster. Colon could win the job with a terrific spring.

Shortstop: Alcides Escobar is an ironman and has one year left on his contract. Escobar was much better offensively once he was moved to the bottom of the order.

Third base: The Royals will welcome Moustakas back after he missed almost all of 2016 after knee surgery. Rookie Cheslor Cuthbert filled in admirably, though he faded in August and September. If the Royals don't keep Morales, Cuthbert could be part of a rotating DH arrangement.

Catcher: Once again, All-Star catcher Salvador Perez was a beast behind the plate. Butera showed great value as a backup and may have earned a multiyear deal.

Designated hitter: It's possible the Royals extend a qualifying offer ($16.7 million) to Morales -- you simply can't buy that type of power on the open market for less.

Outfield: A healthy Lorenzo Cain and a productive Alex Gordon could make all the difference in 2017. The Royals also could use more production out of the third outfield spot among Paulo Orlando, Dyson and Billy Burns. Rookies Hunter Dozier and Jorge Bonifacio will get looks there as well in Spring Training.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.