I’m not naive enough to think that all the injuries the Royals have dealt with this season can be spun into a positive. Sure they can win with the replacements, but it’s never good to have to play without your star players. However, I would posit that these injuries do have a positive impact on the Royals future as a team beyond the 2017 window that everyone seems to be talking about.
If you’re unfamiliar with that window, first, welcome to the site. Second, the window is often discussed because of how many key players on the current iteration of the Royals will be eligible for free agency following the 2017 season. Let’s look at the list:
That’s seven key players, but there’s more. Edinson Volquez is a free agent after the 2016 season. So is Kendrys Morales. Ian Kennedy could opt out of his deal after 2017. Jason Vargas has a mutual option following the 2017 season. So does Omar Infante. So does Chris Young. Luke Hochevar will likely be a free agent after this season.
To put it simply, more than half the team we follow today could be wearing a different uniform (or maybe just retired) for the 2018 season. For a team that really hasn’t had much turnover over the last few seasons, that’s a lot. For basically any team, that’s a lot.
Let’s get back to my original premise and talk about what the injuries (and ineffectiveness) the Royals have dealt with this season and how it might help for the 2018 season with all these new players.
That last phrase, “new players,” won’t be accurate because of this for many of them. A guy like Cheslor Cuthbert who saw limited time in 2015 around some bereavement leaves for Moustakas will get every chance to show what he can do for the 2018 Royals during the rest of this season. Brett Eibner was passed over so many times for a promotion before they got to the point where he simply had to be called up. Whit Merrifield is another guy who was just needed because the Royals needed more versatility than they previously had. In the bullpen, Scott Alexander has had the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues and show what he can do.
There’s others too, even though they haven’t had the chance yet. Hunter Dozier may get an opportunity he wouldn’t have had if he had two players in front of him. Jorge Bonifacio may get to make his big league debut with a thin outfield ahead of him. Heck, as bad as Bubba Starling has been this year, there’s plenty of room for him to make his debut if he returns from his injury and starts to hit again. And, of course, there’s Raul Mondesi who will be back from his suspension in a little more than a month and should be in the big leagues at some point this season.
What this season could do is allow these “baby Royals” to get some experience at the big league level with veterans around them. When Hosmer and Moustakas and Perez and all that crop came up in 2011, they were kind of counted on to be everything to everybody. Sure, Alex Gordon, Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera were there as veterans, but you all remember 2011. It was about the young guys that year.
I’m sure you also remember the mistakes these guys made when they were rookies and young players in general. It happens. Those mistakes can get out of the way during this season while they’re able to hit in the bottom of the order. Or while they’re hitting second, I guess, in the case of Merrifield. So those can maybe get out of the way, or maybe they can get taught out of the way by the veterans who made so many of them when they were in their first number weeks of in the big leagues.
But there’s also another benefit. It’s been great how steady the Royals roster has been over the last few seasons. You knew going into the season that you’d see Hosmer at first, Cain in center, Escobar at shorstop, etc., but what that does to an organization is it doesn’t give them many opportunities to get a look at what some young players can do.
Let’s take a look at Eibner as an example. In the mid-2000s, if the Royals had a player hitting like he did in Triple-A last year, that guy would have been in the big leagues after three weeks of that kind of hitting. In Kansas City, they didn’t have a need. Merrifield hit .319/.371/.470 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014. He spent a full year in the minors after that and then part of another season.
Now, though, the Royals have the chance to evaluate these young players. Maybe it turns out that Eibner is more than good enough to handle right field for the 2017 season and beyond. Maybe it doesn’t, but now they will know. Maybe they will see that Merrifield could play second every day next season and let Mondesi continue to play shortstop in Triple-A to prepare for replacing Escobar in 2018. Maybe we will see that Cuthbert can’t hack it, but Dozier can. The Royals can find this out.
And this allows the Royals to plan their offseason better than they’ve been able to at any point before. Knowing you have a young player who can step in allows the Royals to have that spot filled. That then gives them potentially more money to spend on an area of need, so they can actually sign a better player than before.
No, losing Gordon for a month (or more) isn’t what the Royals were hoping to do. No, losing Moustakas for the entire season is clearly not ideal. It’s not good that the starting rotation struggled so much that they needed bullpen reinforcements quickly with Alexander, but they did and now we see that he can contribute.
It’s most definitely not what you’d hope for, especially before we even get to June, but there is a bright side to all this. And, hey, if they keep winning through it all, that would be pretty okay too.