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Royals focused on return to top, not 2018

Core group determined to take advantage of what could be final season together
MLB.com @RichardJustice

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Inside the Kansas City Royals' clubhouse, no goodbye speeches are being prepared.

"We're not finished," left fielder Alex Gordon said. "We're not satisfied with winning one World Series."

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Inside the Kansas City Royals' clubhouse, no goodbye speeches are being prepared.

"We're not finished," left fielder Alex Gordon said. "We're not satisfied with winning one World Series."

Indeed, that could be the mantra for a season that could be the last waltz for a group of players that has done what once looked to be impossible.

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Regardless of how it plays out, these Royals have an amazing legacy in terms of winning, attendance and television ratings. They will forever take pride in all of it, especially the back-to-back American League pennants in 2014 and '15.

And that fall night in Queens in 2015, when they raised the franchise's second World Series trophy -- and first since 1985 -- was one of baseball's sweet, sweet moments. Having been to the mountain top counts for plenty, doesn't it?

Video: Royals beat Mets in five games to win World Series

"As a team, we're battle-tested," first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "We've been through it. It's a team that knows how to win and has proven it can win. You really can't instill that experience any other way except by going through it."

When the Royals look around their clubhouse, they see the core guys still around, and they think there's more out there for them. There's also the reality of coming contract decisions. We'll get to those later.

"I would think things haven't changed a whole lot since 2015," Gordon said. "It's pretty much the same group. Mix in a couple of new guys here and there. What they've brought in has been some pretty good talent."

Manager Ned Yost wasn't bubbling with enthusiasm when he arrived in camp, still grieving over the nearly incomprehensible death of 25-year-old right-hander Yordano Ventura on Jan. 22 in an auto accident.

Ventura's death is the backdrop against which the entire season will be played out. No words can describe the pain Kansas City's players have felt or how they will cope with his memory and absence.

"We're not going to move on," Gordon said. "He's going to be with us forever. His death brought us together, and while we were sad, we also took the time to relive how great he was and how much he meant to us."

Video: Royals host emotional memorial for Ventura at FanFest

In addition, Royals general manager Dayton Moore addressed payroll management issues by trading closer Wade Davis to the Cubs and outfielder Jarrod Dyson to the Mariners.

Moore got fine young players in return -- outfielder Jorge Soler from the Cubs and right-hander Nathan Karns from the Mariners. But Yost wasn't sure how the pieces would fit together in the AL Central, which the Indians are favored to win again.

"I think there were some questions in my mind about how good we were going to be," Yost said. "But you get down here and you see some of these young arms, and you see the veteran guys bouncing back. It just kind gets you back to that feeling of confidence that we're going to be good again."

Three young arms have stood out: No. 3 prospect Josh Staumont's fastball has been clocked at 100 mph, and two others -- Matt Strahm (No. 1) and Andrew Edwards (No. 23) -- are hitting 97-98 mph.

Video: Staumont a possible Spring surprise for Royals

Even after trading Davis, Yost has two veterans -- Joakim Soria and Kelvin Herrera -- to pitch the eighth and ninth innings. And if things play out a certain way, Yost could line up the young guys to get the ball into their hands.

"I like our arms in the bullpen," Yost said. "They're going to be different names, but I think the stuff is going to be just about the same. We'll play it out and see where everything ends. But going into it, I feel very, very good."

There's also this: Yost believes in this group of players. He has coached, mentored and befriended them since they arrived in the big leagues, and he has crafted a team that's been one of baseball's best the past four seasons. Their 351 regular-season victories over that span were the sixth most in the big leagues.

But change is coming regardless of what happens this season. With Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and shortstop Alcides Escobar eligible for free agency after the season, it will be nearly impossible for Kansas City to sign all of them.

If the Royals are out of contention in the second half of the season, Moore probably will begin the reconstruction of his team leading up to the non-waiver Trade Deadline. So while there are good vibes, there's also an understanding of where the franchise stands.

"Our players understand it's important to get off to a good start," Moore said. "They know not to be caught up in where they might be next year. And we feel good about our team, and our guys feel good."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice.

Kansas City Royals