You might have heard that the Kansas City Royals had a pretty nice 2015. For the sixth consecutive season, the Royals won more games than the season before, improving from 89 wins to 95. Most importantly, they won one more game in the World Series than the three they won the year before, beating the Mets in five games to capture their first world championship since 1985.
What do they need: The Royals finished third in the American League in runs allowed and sixth in runs scored, so there are areas to address. The bullpen is obviously a strength, but the rotation ranked just 12th in the AL in ERA. Johnny Cueto, Chris Young and Jeremy Guthrie are free agents, so there are rotation slots to fill behind Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez and Danny Duffy. The big free agent, however, is Alex Gordon. The club also didn't pick up Alex Rios' option, although they could re-sign him (but I'm not sure why they would). Finally, there's second base, where Omar Infante is under contract for two more years but coming off a horrible season in which he was one of the worst players in the majors.
On the rise: Mike Moustakas learned to hit the ball to the opposite field and learned to hit lefties, as his OPS rose nearly 200 points and his WAR from 0.4 to 4.4. He will be entering his age-27 season, and maybe he will improve on his .284/.348/.470 slash line. Then there is Lorenzo Cain, who added power to his game and became one of the best all-around players in the league.
Prospect to anticipate: RHP Kyle Zimmer was the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft but hasn't been able to stay healthy, with less than 200 innings over the past three seasons in the minors. He did finish 2015 in the rotation for Double-A Northwest Arkansas and finished with 51 strikeouts, 14 walks and 42 hits over 48 1/3 innings in seven starts and eight relief appearances. If he can avoid the DL, he will reach the majors in 2016.
Winter action plan: Now comes the hard part, as GM Dayton Moore has to figure out how to remain on top. Re-signing Gordon will be a priority, but the small-market Royals might be wary about giving too much money to a player entering his age-32 season, and there will be a lot of interest in Gordon from teams with deeper pockets. Still, he's a good on-base guy in a lineup that needs that and remains a plus defender in left. Infante will make over $17 million the next two seasons -- a contract that predictably went sour -- but the Royals should have an alternate plan. The best free-agent second baseman out there is ... Ben Zobrist. Maybe the Royals bring him back and let Gordon walk.
Replacing Rios won't be a problem as he was worth -1.1 WAR (although he played well in the postseason). The Royals could just go with a Jarrod Dyson-Paulo Orlando platoon if they're looking for a cheap replacement. That’s not a big improvement over Rios and weakens the bench, but it’s not like Ned Yost uses his bench much anyway.
For the rotation, they'll try to find this year's Chris Young. Maybe it's Young. Maybe it's a guy like J.A. Happ, who altered his mechanics and pitched well down the stretch. Doug Fister could be a good fit on a one-year deal, or maybe they spend a little more for Scott Kazmir or John Lackey. For World Series champs, the Royals actually have some obvious holes to fill, assuming they don't simply count on Infante and Rios just because they were part of the 2015 team. If Moore has a strong offseason, it's possible the Royals end up a stronger team in 2016. But it's also possible the Royals enter 2016 with concerns in the rotation and the bottom of the lineup.