The offseason Royals fans have been dreading for years has come and gone, and now a team that could bear little resemblance to its championship past is ready to report to spring training in Arizona.
Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas could be playing elsewhere. Lorenzo Cain is already headed to camp with Milwaukee. The only core member that reached free agency who will be back is shortstop Alcides Escobar, who agreed to one-year contract with Kansas City with nothing else materialized.
One thing the Royals aren't going to do: tank.
General manager Dayton Moore insisted they will not regress to their 100-loss past, even if Hosmer and Moustakas also sign with other teams. He's confident that a relatively weak farm system can replace those big names, and that the Royals will at least be competitive by opening day.
"If anybody thinks we're going to settle for mediocrity," Moore said, "or allow our players to be overmatched on a consistent basis, not put a competitive team on the field – we're going to do everything we can to avoid that."
Perhaps that means signing Hosmer, who the Royals have been making a strong run at throughout a relatively quiet free-agent period. Or bringing back Moustakas, who broke the franchise record for homers last season and has always professed his desire to remain in Kansas City.
Or perhaps it means turning first base over to prospect Hunter Dozier. Or putting Cheslor Cuthbert at third base, where he played some last season with mixed results.
"I'm excited to see some of these young guys more than anything else," said manager Ned Yost, who will be back after a serious fall on his farm last fall left him hospitalized with serious injuries.
Here's what to watch for when the Royals arrive in Surprise, Arizona, for spring training next week:
NEW LOOK: The Royals acquired right-handers Trevor Oaks and Jesse Hahn in trades, and both are expected to make the opening day roster. But there remain plenty of holes with first base, third base, center field and right field open competitions.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Most of the Royals' top prospects are in the lower levels, but right-hander Josh Staumont and left-hander Foster Griffin could arrive at some point this season. Dozier is perhaps the best bet to make an impact in the field, even though the he hit just .226 at Triple-A last season due in large part to a series of injuries that curtailed his season.
THEY'RE SET: The Royals are fairly strong up the middle, where catcher Salvador Perez and second baseman Whit Merrifield join Escobar in providing solid defense. They also have three starters who are relatively established in left-hander Danny Duffy and righties Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel.
THEY'RE NOT: Just about everywhere else. Left-fielder Alex Gordon is campaigning to move to center, but that still creates a hole in left. There is also a hole in right, where Jorge Soler, Paulo Orlando and Jorge Bonifacio will try to nail down a job. The back end of the rotation is in flux and the bullpen is unsettled after Kelvin Herrera's tough year in the closer role.
ON DECK: Perhaps the biggest thing Royals fans are waiting to see is who will show up in Surprise. Will the Royals make Hosmer an offer he can't turn down? What about Moustakas? Will they go after any of the other big names still on the free-agent market? The only thing safe to say is that the roster headed to Arizona this month is far from complete.
"Economically we have to get our payroll back in check. I was very candid what we had to do," Moore said. "We have some challenges but challenges we're prepared for and ready for, and I believe we're ready to move forward. You want to call it rebuild, reload, refire, whatever – we're ready."