For the better part of the last three seasons, the idea has been that the Royals window to contend was open through the 2017 season and then would slam shut. After spending the majority of my life watching failed rebuilding projects, I’ve been of the belief that you win when you can because you never know when that opportunity will present it. So with that in mind, I’ve had the mindset of worrying about 2018 in 2018 and pushing for the Royals to do everything they can to win before then.
But what if I’m wrong?
I guess it boils down to a really simple question. Can the Royals compete for a World Series title in 2017 with the current core they have in place? That doesn’t mean they can’t make any additions, but I think it’s pretty clear that there aren’t many major additions out there to be had given the Royals roster and financial constraints. You’ll never convince me they should tear down a title contender, so if you believe they can compete for a title, the answer is they absolutely should not rebuild now.
My belief is that this team is closer to being a playoff team than their 81-81 record would indicate. I’ve been over this. A full season of Danny Duffy in the rotation, a healthy Jason Vargas, a healthy Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain and a healthy Wade Davis will go a long way toward making up that gap that they need to make up. Can you assume health for all these players? You absolutely cannot, but I think you can also assume that at least a few of them will contribute more than they did in 2016.
So as I’m thinking about it, the question becomes whether I’m right in my belief that a healthy 2016 Royals team is more of an 87-win team than an 81-win team. If they are, then a few shrewd moves can put them over the top. If they’re more of a 77-win team as their Pythagorean record would suggest, then they need to find at least 13 or 14 wins over the off-season and that’s with the probably loss of Kendrys Morales to an offense that needs all the help it can get.
You don’t have to squint very hard to see a 2017 Royals team that might get to 83 wins if they’re lucky. Without a big bat like Morales in the middle, they’ll have to hope for improvement from Alex Gordon at 33-years old. They’ll have to hope that they can find someone to fill that third outfield spot aside Gordon and Cain, and do so admirably.
Some will mention Paulo Orlando, but even with his shiny .302 average, he still wasn’t much of a hitter. Plus, defensively in right field, he’s a mess. I personally like Jarrod Dyson to play center a lot in 2017. He had a very solid .340 OBP and even had a better ISO than Orlando, but he’ll be 32 next year. Decline could happen for him at any time.
What if Moustakas doesn’t recover from that ACL injury like we hope? Maybe he can hit for a decent enough average, but he isn’t able to generate power anymore and ends up as a .280/.330/.380 hitter with decreased range in the field. That’s not good. The second base situation is a mess. The bullpen is Kelvin Herrera and Davis and all sorts of question marks.
Then there are an awful lot of scenarios where the Royals could come out of the gates looking a lot like the 2015 team with a solid rotation of Duffy, Vargas, Yordano Ventura and Ian Kennedy and a solid lineup up and down, especially if they’re able to re-sign Morales or find another full-time DH who can actually, you know, hit. The bullpen could be elite again with Herrera, Davis and Matt Strahm as the new trio and a rebound from Joakim Soria along with solid work from guys like Brian Flynn and Peter Moylan. It doesn’t take much to see that possibility. It’s what I see. I’m not sure people have called me an optimist too many times in my life, but maybe I’m just being a wide-eyed optimist.
It’s more than conceivable that this team is simply average or right around there. There’s no shame in average. There’s especially no shame in average after winning a championship. It’s very difficult to sustain success on a year-in and year-out basis. There are ebbs and flows. But there’s danger in being average with this particular group of players because if the Royals finish the year at, say, 84-78, and miss the Wild Card by four games and are sitting at home in October again, a huge chunk of their core enters free agency. Depending on what happens with the CBA, they should be able to get draft pick compensation for them, but that’s it.
If they get ahead of this, sure they’d be worse off in 2017, but trading off some of their valuable assets such as Davis, Cain, Herrera, Eric Hosmer or some others could set the Royals up really well to move the next window of contention up by three or four years. I mean, let’s be real. The farm system isn’t exactly producing the kind of talent we saw in 2011 when they were the best system in the history of the world or whatever it was they were called back then. They’re kind of devoid right now of the top-end talent necessary to build another champion.
So no, my opinion isn’t changed from writing this or from thinking deeper about the situation. I still believe they can win 90 to 95 games in 2017 and take the American League Central crown and make another run to the World Series and hopefully give us a parade. But I also understand that there’s a decent chance this team isn’t anywhere near good enough to do that. I understand that there may be no better time than now to reload for 2019 and beyond through some shrewd deals. Fans wouldn’t like it now, but nobody complains about a rebuild when it produces a championship.
I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t tear it down, but, you know, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the time to rebuild is now. I think the Royals are on my side on this one. I guess we’ll see how it turns out in a few months.