Then the Royals learned this week that they lost five-time All-Star catcher Salvador Perez for at least for the next 4-to-6 weeks. He tore the medial collateral ligament in his left knee on Tuesday night when he lost his balance while carrying luggage from spring training up the stairs of his house.
"I feel sad," Perez said to The Athletic. "I don't feel angry. I feel sad because I put a lot of work for this year, to be behind home plate (Thursday). And I'm not going to be there."
The Royals hope that Perez's fluke injury is not a bad omen for their third year since a 2015 World Series title. They will open the season against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium.
Kansas City is looking to bounce back after missing the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. The Royals must do so with a few new faces in the lineup, including first baseman Lucas Duda and outfielder Jon Jay. In Perez's absence, backup catcher Drew Butera is likely to earn more frequent playing time.
Meanwhile, the White Sox hope the season opener represents the next step forward in their massive rebuild. Chicago has several top prospects on the roster and others moving quickly through its minor-league system as it tries to snap a streak of five consecutive losing seasons.
Second baseman Yoan Moncada and outfielder Nicky Delmonico will begin their first full seasons with the team. The same goes for right-handers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, each of whom showed promise late last year.
For the opener, however, Chicago will turn to a veteran familiar to Royals fans. Veteran right-hander James Shields, 36, will take the mound against his former team in Kansas City, where he shined in 2013 and 2014.
"No matter how many starts I have on Opening Day, it's always an unbelievable honor," Shields said to the Chicago Sun-Times. "I love this ballpark. The fans are amazing here in K.C. I've been telling the (young) guys that the atmosphere is amazing here, especially on Opening Day. So I'm excited to pitch here and start the season off."
Shields went 5-7 with a 5.23 ERA in 21 starts last season with Chicago. In 13 career starts against the Royals, he is 7-2 with a 4.05 ERA. He gave up nine runs in 10 1/3 innings in two starts versus Kansas City in 2017.
The Royals will counter with left-hander Danny Duffy, a talented 29-year-old who begins his eighth season with the club. Duffy went 9-10 with a 3.81 ERA in 24 starts last season, which marked a step back from 2016. He experienced shoulder tightness during spring training but was deemed healthy enough to start the opener.
Duffy is no stranger to the White Sox. In 20 appearances (18 starts) against Chicago, he is 7-5 with a 4.20 ERA. The White Sox beat him three times in four starts last season.
Chicago won the season series 10-9 a year ago, outscoring Kansas City 107-89.