After another promising September to another seemingly hollow 2011 season, the Kansas City Royals head into 2012 looking to build on the meticulous injection of youth that was the primary story all of last year.
As other teams made splashes in free agency and on the trade market, the Royals made a couple of systematic moves to preserve the long-term plan that Dayton Moore put into place when hired back in 2006 as general manager.
From the outside looking in, it seems as though the Royals are content with a very deliberate progression toward success, although I am sure that the common theme inside the camp is that they are right on schedule.
The natural development of their key players should generate a trajectory toward .500 baseball. But if a few things break their way, they could enjoy a season much better than the expected bump that the prognosticators are calling for.
Here are the three most essential keys to a successful 2012:
After flailing as a former No. 2 overall pick for the first few years of his career, Gordon seemed to have finally pieced it together to unlock all of the promise that everyone saw while he was at the University of Nebraska and in the Royals' minor league system.
Gordon isn't your prototypical leadoff hitter, but he settled into the role last season very nicely. And if he can mirror his 2011 by setting the table for the talent behind him for the entire season, Gordon could cement himself as a star in this league for a very long time.
Joakim Soria must return to pre-2011 form.
Since coming to Kansas City via the Rule 5 draft prior to 2007, Soria has been a rock at the end of games for the Royals. But 2011 resulted in career highs in most of the major statistical categories that measure a pitcher's success, which in turn affects the team in the standings, especially from the closer's role.
If Soria can carry the success he had last September into 2012, it could actually present itself as a double-edged sword for the Royals.
He has long been rumored to be on the trading block, so if the Royals aren't close in the standings, Soria might finish 2012 in a different uniform, which would allow the Royals to restock the cupboard. But if they are in contention, it will be in large part due to Soria.
From top to bottom, the Royals must simply stay the course.
Sounds simple, right? The Royals' brass should continue to execute the plan that it created for this organization, and the players should maintain that desire to improve game in and game out. But with so many variables, the game of baseball can influence the very foundation that clubs are built on.
Still, with minimal expectations, the Royals have the luxury of being at ease to just go out and play the game. Sure they have the responsibility, as do all teams, to go out and try to win, but the steps that Kansas City has taken while installing this blueprint is the primary factor in making the Royals relevant again.