1James Shields, RHP (Free agent in 2015):
He is this team’s best player, its clubhouse leader and best hope for the Royals’ first playoff berth since 1985. He also is on his way out the door. Shields, 32, is in line for a nine-figure bonanza on the free-agent market next winter. He led the American League with 228 2/3 innings in 2013, and posted a 3.15 ERA.
2Jason Vargas, LHP (Free agent in 2018):
The Royals signed Vargas this winter to a four-year, $32 million deal, their second-largest contract for a free-agent pitcher in franchise history. He profiles as more of a back-end starter, but the team appreciates his consistency. From 2010-13, Vargas, 31, averaged 190 innings with a 3.97 ERA.
3Yordano Ventura, RHP (Free agent in 2020):
He is the Royals’ best hope for a homegrown ace since Zack Greinke. Ventura, 22, stands 5-11, weighs about 180 pounds and throws a sizzling, 100-mph fastball. Team officials rave about his maturity. Ventura commands his curveball and is working on developing his change-up. The team’s stated goal of 200 innings sounds lofty, but they expect Ventura to be a major contributor.
4Jeremy Guthrie, RHP (Free agent in 2017):
Guthrie ducked and dodged often in 2013. No pitcher in the American League gave up more hits. His strikeout rate was a career-worst 4.7 per nine innings. Yet he still emerged with a 4.04 ERA — a sign of troubling regression potentially in his future this year. The team possesses a $10 million mutual option on Guthrie, 34, for 2016 but is more likely to exercise its $3.2 million buyout.
5Bruce Chen, LHP (Free agent in 2016):
He’s back and more beloved than ever. Chen, 36, is a vibrant piece of this team’s tapestry: He translates for Ventura, amuses his teammates and is willing to handle any role on the field. For now, he will start every fifth day. But by midseason, the team hopes he can shift back to the bullpen. Don’t expect Chen to complain.Five for the future
1Danny Duffy, LHP:
He remains an enigma. His talent is tantalizing, but the team is still searching for how to get him to flourish. Duffy, 25, failed to win a spot in the rotation this spring, then flunked his two-appearance audition for the bullpen. The Royals need him to contribute in the majors this season.
2Chris Dwyer, LHP:
Dwyer, 25, has rebounded from the physical ailments that slowed him in 2012. He put together a respectable season last summer in Omaha and made his big-league debut. Now he needs to build on that and continue to throw strikes.
3Kyle Zimmer, RHP:
The Royals harbor high hopes for Zimmer, 22, but they’re working to temper expectations. When camp began, team officials talked about the possibility of him reaching the majors later this summer. But he’s going through a slow progression in his throwing program as he recovers from an offseason bout with biceps tendinitis. Zimmer may not pitch in a game until May, general manager Dayton Moore said.
4Sean Manaea, LHP:
No, he won’t be in the majors in 2014. He’ll need almost everything to go right to reach the majors in 2015. But Manaea, 22, a probable top-five pick in the 2013 draft before a hip injury hurt his stock, has wowed Royals officials with his ability this spring. He’ll start in Class A Wilmington and could rise quickly.
5Miguel Almonte, RHP: He’ll likely join Manaea in Wilmington. Just 20, Almonte was rated the No. 46 prospect in the game by Baseball America this spring. He showed well with Class A Lexington last year, striking out 132 batters in 130 2/3 innings, and posting a 3.10 ERA.