The Royals' 2014 season was a tremendous success. They didn't have to win the World Series for that to be the case -- in reality, they didn't even need to make the World Series for this to be truth. Kansas City snapped the longest active playoff drought in baseball by winning a wild card, and then rattled off eight consecutive victories to earn their World Series berth. A fan base dying for a reason to cheer rather than brood was suddenly bombarded with good news they scarcely remembered how to handle, and their joy was contagious: it spread to many others who hoped to see them slay the giant and keep them from their third World Series championship in five years. Maybe the Royals weren't "America's team" like much of the media kept stating during this World Series, but they were the underdog, and that's usually enough to get this sport's neutral fans behind you.
Things didn't work out as the majority hoped, with San Francisco eventually taking home the Commissioner's Trophy once again, but the Royals have nothing to be ashamed of. The last time they were in the playoffs, a team only needed eight victories to win a World Series -- the Royals picked up 11, and played well enough to even get that chance to begin with. Finishing second is often viewed as a consolation prize in sports, the first among losers and all that, but Royals fans know that nothing is guaranteed and you don't know when you'll be able to even see your team in this situation again. The end result was defeat, but there was much more to that idea than in the 28 seasons that came before.
The Royals were viewed as little more than a joke to most of the baseball world prior to 2014. Their prospects rarely panned out, their acquisitions -- as far and far between as they were -- were often just more expensive disappointments than the in-house ones. Even though the James Shields' trade that also brought Wade Davis aboard was viewed by many with derision and sarcasm, it was a quality move that showed the Royals were finally ready to end what had seemed like a never-ending rebuilding period. It took general manager Dayton Moore another season to get the final pieces in place to help justify that notion, but he did, and it brought Kansas City its first pennant in 29 years.
The Royals got here because of Shields, but that doesn't mean they're doomed without him. (Photo credit: Jamie Squire)
It's understandable if a pennant isn't enough for many Royals fans at the moment. They were so close to more -- 90 feet from pushing this game to the 10th and ridding themselves of series' nemesis Madison Bumgarner, even -- but when the emotion of the moment passes and time for reflection occurs, this season will prove to be special. It took Kansas City forever to be relevant even within this successful campaign, as they didn't play high-quality ball until August, but once everything was in place and the lineup started to contribute a little bit, they were nigh unstoppable for three months.
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The 2015 season might not be of the same quality, but the chance exists for another playoff appearance. Shields is almost certain to be pitching for someone else, but Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura will both be a year older, and theoretically capable of shouldering more of the innings load because of it. Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie remain a solid back-end of a rotation for a contending team, and the Royals will have the cash to find a fifth starter elsewhere if, say, Brandon Finnegan isn't ready to make another huge leap in his career. The lineup needs work -- especially if the Royals bet on Mike Moustakas having finally figured things out at the plate -- but there will be opportunities to spend money there as well, especially if the Royals decline Billy Butler's $12.5 million option, and maybe designate an underperforming and expensive reliever or two from a pen that doesn't need their "help."
The future remains bright, albeit Shields-less, and 2014 could eventually be remembered as the start of something bigger. It's still a little difficult to comprehend the Royals as contenders, even now following the conclusion of a seven-game World Series, but if they make the right off-season moves once again, maybe it's something we'll all have to get used to. The fact that is even a possibility shows how far the Royals have come in the last year.