Mandatory Credit: Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Royals are, in their own weird way, unlike any of their Central Division counterparts across both leagues.

Don’t get me wrong, they still check most of the boxes. Kansas City continually operates on a shoestring budget. Free agency isn’t a non-factor, but sometimes feels like a quick McDonald’s binge as opposed to being part of a long-term strategy. Shrewd trades happen once in a blue moon, as does the occasional red-hot prospect (Looking at you, Bobby Witt Jr.).

More often than not, this sees the Royals finish at or near the bottom of the division most years. Even after winning the World Series in 2015, Kansas City has had exactly one .500 season since: The 2016 season. Their record that year was 81-81, a clean .500, and they’ve finished under in every subsequent year.

The difference is that this system works for the Royals, who now seek a new ballpark over the old Kauffman Stadium. Keep in mind, the Minnesota Twins run a similar system, but have spent more aggressively in recent years. Cleveland’s farm system churns out great pitchers, but few impact bats. The White Sox are a hot mess, and the Detroit Tigers only just joined the 21st Century last year.

The Kansas City Royals, on the other hand, have run this same playbook since the days of Ewing Kauffman. They develop a group of players, pay the ones they like, and hope everything else falls into place. It won’t in 2024, but KC is certainly set up to at least look competitive at points this season.

Greatest Addition: Michael Wacha. Amid a sea of sneaky good signings the Royals made over the winter, Wacha’s stands out the most. The veteran righty spent last year with the Padres and turned in a 3.22 ERA in 24 starts before signing a two-year, $32 million deal with KC. Additionally, the Royals signed Wacha’s San Diego teammate Seth Lugo to boost the rotation, and then veteran journeyman outfielder Hunter Renfroe to give the lineup some power.

Yet, Wacha seems the most significant add of them all. He came up through the vaunted St. Louis Cardinals system and has also done well with the Mets, Rays, and Red Sox. Kauffman Stadium is also big enough that his being a fly ball pitcher shouldn’t be a problem. If he pitches as well as he did in San Diego, then the Royals could try and trade him for prospects at the deadline.

Greatest Loss: Zack Greinke. Forget that he’s 40 and his star has faded, or that he turned in an ugly 5.06 ERA in 2023. Zack Greinke is a future Hall of Fame pitcher who, at one point, was a sign that Royals baseball would be just fine. The crafty righty debuted with the Royals in 2004 and the team went on to lose 100 or more games for three straight years. Greinke had a rough 4.98 ERA over that stretch, led the AL with 17 losses in 2005, and took most of 2006 off to focus on his mental health.

He came back a whole new arm in 2006 and posted a 3.69 ERA between the rotation and bullpen. Greinke won the AL Cy Younings, and carospect haul the team received from the Brewers for Greinke in December 2010 was instrumental in their World Series runs in 2014 and ’15.

Greinke never held hard feelings and still came back to the Kansas City Royals, where it all began, for one last ride. He’s still a free agent and only 21 strikeouts from 3,000. Did the Royals really need to let him walk before reaching that milestone?

Greatest Strength: Bobby Witt Jr. Behold, the next great Kansas City Royals superstar. The son of a veteran pitcher, Witt broke out in his second pro season. He hit .276 with 30 home runs, 49 stolen bases, and a 115 wRC+. Witt also led MLB with 11 triples while adding a .343 weighted on-base average (wOBA) and turning in an excellent year with the glove at shortstop.

Remember how we said the Royals have always preferred to develop their prospects and then pay the ones they really like? Bobby Witt Jr. is the latest. Management saw him break out in 2023 and locked him up with an incredible 11-year, $288.8 millon extension. A team option after 2034 could up it to 14 years and $377 million. He is 23 years old.

Mike Sweeney. Frank White and Amos Otis. Kevin Appier and, later on, the aforementioned Greinke. And let’s not forget Hall of Famer George Brett.

All Kansas City Royals greats, and Witt could soon join them.

Greatest Weakness: No ace in waiting. The Royals, who lost 106 games last year, don’t need to worry about their lineup. Between Witt and a returning Vinnie Pasquantino, the offense should at least rise to middling compared to middling-to-low tier. The problem, rather, is a pitching staff which ranked 28th in baseball with a 5.17 ERA.

Want to know why the Royals gave $32 million to Michael Wacha and $45 million to Seth Lugo? Because there is no home-farmed ace pitcher coming anytime soon. Brady Singer had potential, but then lost almost a full 2 mph on his fastball and 1.5 mph on his slider. Daniel Lynch, even coming back from surgery, is not an option to even try and be the ace.

The worst part is that of Kansas City’s top four pitching prospects, only one has experience playing Double-A ball. And even then, he still only has seven starts at that level. It will be at least a year before anyone arrives.

In the meantime, the Royals lineup will carry the load…in a pitcher’s park.

Will the Kansas City Royals be any better in 2024? Absolutely! Losing the big, powerful first baseman Pasquantino to shoulder surgery in June likely meant losing over 100 games as opposed to over, say, 90ish. The pitching additions should help the team avoid triple-digits in the L column.

Granted, that doesn’t necessarily make the Royals better than the White Sox but, unlike Chicago, their front office wasn’t a circus for the past decade. This year is more about watching the talent around Witt develop and then deciding between keeping them, or repeating the development cycle.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.