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Has the Royals' next competitive window started to come into focus?

As puzzle pieces come together, the picture grows clearer.

Atlanta Braves Workouts Photo by Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

The Kansas City Royals finally show what they’ve claimed they want to be for several seasons. The organization wishes to become more transactional, and this week they’ve started to become just that. That started with Friday’s trade — a deal that sent Jackson Kowar to the Atlanta Braves for injured starter Kyle Wright. While Wright’s upside is rather high, he will miss at least most of the 2024 season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn capsule in his shoulder. As many pieces as the roster needs to improve next season, Wright won’t be one of them. He is a great upgrade over Jackson Kowar, however.

Beyond the players included in the deal, does this transaction help put into focus the Royals' long-term plans? The current roster is not great, and the front office has only just started to move on from most of the failed 2018 class of pitchers. Kowar’s departure represents that fact alone, as much as anything else. Can this roster be any better anytime soon? From the outside looking in, it seems as if the Royals believe the contention window could be sooner than many might expect.

The Royals' latest moves could indicate that they believe in 2025

If the trade goes “Wright” for the Royals (pardon my awful pun), then they’ll get their newest starting pitcher back to open the 2025 season. Assuming he can be even 80% of the pitcher he was in 2022 when he won 21 games with a 3.19 ERA, that will be a serious boost to the Major League rotation. By giving up healthy, controllable starting pitching for an arm that won’t even pitch in 2024, it seems as if the Royals have their eyes set most on 2025. There’s a serious lack of starting pitcher depth next season, especially after the departures of Zack Greinke and Brad Keller. Regardless of that lack of depth, the Royals targeted upside over availability here.

After the 2023 season saw the team tie the franchise loss record of 106, the notion that they could improve and compete as early as 2025 is highly optimistic. Despite how optimistic it may be, this year’s World Series showed us that it’s definitely possible. The Arizona Diamondbacks lost 110 games in 2021. Two seasons later they made their way to the World Series. Their opponent, the Rangers, lost more than 100 games in 2021 as well. Competing for the division in 2025 is exactly what the Royals should be focused on. Already, without any additional moves, the rotation for 2025 has serious potential. Plenty can happen between now and then, but the rotation in two years should include Cole Ragans, Kyle Wright, and Brady Singer. Add into the mix top prospects Frank Mozzicato and Ben Kudrna and the rebuild path becomes even more clear.

The 2024 season will again be an evaluation year for Kansas City. Questions around MJ Melendez and Michael Massey need answers. What will Tyler Gentry become? Finally, and maybe most important of them all, can the 2023 draft class move through the system quickly and supplement the major league roster? The trio of Carson Roccaforte, Jared Dickey, and Trevor Werner all showed up big-time for the Low-A Columbia Fireflies to end the season. If even just one of those three can reach their potential and fly through the system, the offense gains more upside.

Then, there’s Gavin Cross, Cayden Wallace, and Javier Vaz. Vaz had an impressive 2023 season and should be ready for the big leagues by 2025. Cross will need to get on track next season, but if he does could be a quick mover to Kansas City. Finally, there’s Wallace, who didn’t look truly elite in any facet of the game last season but was incredibly well-rounded at the hot corner. The Royals are piecing the starting rotation together through trades. At the same time, they’ve positioned the farm system to nicely supplement the office once that starting rotation comes together in a finished product.

This timeline depends heavily on continued improvements in pitching development. It also relies a ton on the hitting development, led by Drew Saylor and Alec Zumwalt, righting the ship in the minor leagues. With that said, the fact that there’s a timeline at all is a great development for the state of the franchise. We’ve successfully gone from a failed rebuild under Dayton Moore to a blank slate with little direction in JJ Picollo’s first season as general manager. Now, that blank slate looks to have an end goal in mind with the wheels moving in the right direction. Take it with cautious optimism, but the path forward looks to finally be in focus.