The Royals are bad right now.
You want to argue that? Be my guest. You’d be wrong. You want to argue that they’re actually a good team going through a bad stretch? I’ll buy that. I have a hard time believing the World Series Champions are just a bad team a mere 33 games into their follow-up season. But yes, right now they are bad. You don’t need me to tell you that, even though I’ve done it twice. Even after a really solid win last night, they are still bad right now. What you came here to find out is how they can make their way back to good.
Dayton Moore has often mentioned the 40-game mark as the point when he’s seen what he needs to see and is ready to make some moves. Well, we’re close enough.
I’m not going to sit here and suggest they make a trade for Clayton Kershaw and then a trade for Mike Trout and then deal for Jose Altuve. Though, can you imagine how fun that would be? But there are some moves they can make, both internally and externally, to turn things around before it’s too late.
Let’s start with the biggest concern, the starting rotation. There are no true immediate fixes for what is going on with these starters, but there are some ways the Royals can find a way to get at least a little bit better. They’ve already made one move, and that’s flipping Dillon Gee into the rotation in place of Chris Young. I’m not completely convinced the move would have been made if Young wasn’t having an MRI due to a sore forearm, but it happened regardless. So that’s step one.
Step two could happen soon as the Royals announced Kris Medlen has shoulder soreness. I love Medlen. I had high hopes for him this season. He’s thrown 24.1 innings in six starts. He’s walked more batters than he’s struck out. He has a 7.77 ERA. The shoulder has clearly been an issue in his start. The bullpen can’t handle the stress that’s been put on them by Medlen, Young and, before Wednesday’s six inning start, Yordano Ventura. With Wednesday’s news, it wouldn’t be surprising if Medlen landed on the DL.
The issue, of course, is who replaces him. Danny Duffy is the name that comes to mind immediately, but he’s not even remotely ready to start in terms of being stretched out. He didn’t even work as a starter in spring training. I mentioned the internal choices on Tuesday. None inspires anything really, but I suppose you could give Brian Flynn a shot to start. At this point, Chien-Ming Wang is probably not prepared to go five innings either, so Flynn might be your only real choice if you stay internal. Though Duffy could probably go 50 pitches or so against the Braves on Sunday with Flynn ready to come in behind him.
I also mentioned some trade candidates on Tuesday, and I think the Royals might have to bite the bullet now in order to save their season. They have an old friend pitching in San Diego, James Shields. He’s not the pitcher he was even two seasons ago, but he still throws an awful lot of innings, and that’s what the Royals need right now. If you could add Shields to Ian Kennedy and (usually) Edinson Volquez, the Royals would have three guys you can count on for 6+ innings almost every start. I’m not sure what it would take, but the Padres don’t seem to have a third baseman anywhere and the Royals have three guys in AAA or higher. Start with one of the prospect third basemen and go from there.
My thought is if the Royals have stretched Duffy out over the course of the next three or four weeks, he may have the opportunity to go back to short relief because of Mike Minor. Minor made his first rehab start on Tuesday night, and while he wasn’t sharp, he now has to be in the big leagues in relatively short order as he only gets 30 days for a rehab assignment. If things go well with him, he can plug into the rotation in the fourth or fifth spot in place of Gee and Duffy can stay in the bullpen.
Or if Ventura hasn’t figured it out by then, Duffy and Minor can enter the rotation and Ventura can move to the bullpen for a stint. It might do him some good. Now your rotation looks like Volquez, Kennedy, Shields, Minor/Duffy, Ventura/Duffy. Gee is back in the bullpen where he probably belongs. That seems much better.
I don’t really have many worries with the bullpen, but I would lower the leverage of the Joakim Soria innings. If you go with Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis as your back end, you can definitely mix and match with guys to give you innings here and there wherever else needed. By adding an innings eater like Shields and having Gee back in the bullpen to help out for the 4/5 guys, it might not be quite as much of a daily grind for the bullpen. So that’s the pitching staff.
On the position player side of things, it’s time to move on from a sunk cost. Omar Infante is done, and even the Royals know it at this point. When they made the decision to start Christian Colon at second base more, that was the writing on the wall to me. Infante can’t hit and he’s not even especially good defensively because he just has no power in his arm. It’s time to simply cut ties with him and eat the contract.
On Tuesday, Dayton Moore spoke on Sirius XM Radio about how Whit Merrifield is a guy who could help the Royals in 2016. He almost made the club out of spring training. DFA Infante and bring up Merrifield. Let him and Colon battle it out to start at second and the loser is the utility guy.
Next, I’d go ahead and option Paulo Orlando to Omaha and give one of the right fielders down there a shot to play every day. Brett Eibner gives you better defense, but Jorge Bonifacio is red hot right now and has a chance to be a really good big league player. I guess Eibner does too, but you know what I mean. Bonifacio doesn’t walk, like hardly at all, but he has power and can hit. He looked much better in spring training and he’s had a great start to the year in Omaha.
I’d give him the shot, but it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if Eibner was the guy either. Eibner would give the Royals another player who could take a walk, so that would be just fine. I just know they need more offense and that’s one spot where I think they can find it easily from players they already have rights to.
Then Dyson can go back to being a fourth outfielder. It’s too bad for him because I think he’s good enough to be very valuable as a starter, but the Royals offense struggling means they need to find some oomph somewhere and can’t rely on a defense-first player in right field.
And finally, it’s time to end the Alcides Escobar leadoff ride. For whatever reason, the Royals won when he led off last season. It wasn’t because he hit well. We all know that. They’re not winning this season, and he’s leading off. So if correlation meant causation last year, why not this year? It’s time to move Alex Gordon to the top of the lineup.
Adding the bat of Eibner or Bonifacio and moving Escobar out of the leadoff spot could be a big help to this offense.
The lineup could look like this:
Yes, that’s two lefty bats in a row at the top of the lineup, but I think it still works. Both guys can hold their own against lefties. If you really need to separate them, you can throw one of Hosmer or Moustakas at three and the other at five with Cain and Kendrys Morales around them, but I think the above lineup is fine.
The big issue here is that Kendrys Morales is a mess. He homered on Wednesday, but if that doesn’t get him going, he’s going to need to be moved down in the lineup, too.
So let’s take a look at the new roster:
Brett Eibner/Jorge Bonifacio
James Shields (or Brian Flynn for now)
Yordano Ventura (now, maybe Danny Duffy in the future)
Dillon Gee (for now, Mike Minor/Danny Duffy in a month)
Danny Duffy/Yordano Ventura
Is it world beating? No, but it’s much better. The bullpen isn’t stretched quite as thin because the starting rotation is giving more innings. The black hole at the top of the lineup is now at the bottom while the black hole at the bottom of the lineup (and at second base) is no longer even on the team. You might wonder where Young is. I do too. I don’t see a spot for him at this point, but I suppose we could plug him in somewhere around the long man of the bullpen if need be. Let’s wait to see what this forearm injury is before we worry too much about him.
Cain is starting to hit. Hosmer hasn’t stopped all season. Moustakas will be back. Gordon is getting on base and slowly recovering from a slow start. Replacing Infante with a Colon/Merrifield combination likely can’t be worse. You can likely expect 28-35 innings each time through the rotation, as opposed to hoping for 25 each turn. This is a team in trouble right now, but it’s all fixable. It just takes a little remodeling time on the fly.