The phrase “don’t wish your life away” has been said to me more than a couple times in my life. I get it, and I agree with it, but I can’t help myself. I think about the future a lot. I get excited for the potential the future brings, and I don’t apologize for that. Maybe the Royals are partially to blame for that. For the majority of my life, it’s always been about the future for the Royals. As they’ve been good over the last four seasons, it’s always been strangely difficult to get out of that mindset.
And now, as the Royals embark on what they hope is their fifth straight season at .500 or better and their third trip to the playoffs in four seasons, I’m thinking about the future again. Only this time, the future isn’t about optimism with the Royals but rather it’s about an iconic team in franchise history looking like they might be taken down not quite to the studs, but far enough that we’ll know for sure the latest glory days are over.
For the past couple seasons, I’ve looked at 2018 as something that could be better than expected, and while I still do, it’s hit me this offseason that even if they aren’t as bad as many believe they will be, they will assuredly be different. Many players who already have parts of their stories told in the Royals Hall of Fame will one day have their portraits hanging in there as well. Some may even have a plaque in Cooperstown one day. You laugh, but it could happen.
So what exactly are we getting into as fans in 2018? What kind of team will replace the iconic group that has brought baseball back in Kansas City?
When you talk to people about the 2018 Royals, you might be surprised to learn that there won’t be 25 new players on the team to start the season. There actually are some players under contract beyond 2017 who all have good chances to be back in Royals blue.
Ian Kennedy (probably)
No, you don’t see names like Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas on this list, but there are some key pieces remaining. You’ve got two catchers, a couple second base/utility guys, a shortstop, a third baseman, a left fielder, a right fielder, a few relievers and two or three starting pitchers.
In Perez and Gordon, the Royals maintain two of their core offensive players who both have some questions heading into the 2017 season. Perez has become a below average hitting catcher with what I believe is overrated defense. He’ll still be relatively cheap in 2018, but his contract is no longer one that others marvel at after his extension signed last winter. Gordon is one of the better defensive left fielders in the game, but Benjamin Button he is not, so it remains to be seen if his dismal year at the plate in 2016 was the start of a disturbing trend or an aberration. If Perez can maintain his power (.191 ISO) and get back some of the average he’s lost, he would be more valuable than he already is. If Gordon can return to posting a .350 OBP with a solid slugging percentage, that’s a good duo to have in your lineup.
There are some wild cards here. We all know Mondesi has all the talent in the world, but we don’t know if he’ll ever put it together. It’s not that he can’t. It’s just that we won’t know he can do it until he does it. If he does, that’s another huge piece. Soler is another guy similar to Mondesi, although I think we know he can be at least an average offensive piece, which is nice to have. If he maintains that, it’s fine. If he breaks out, that’d be even better. And between Merrifield and Colon, I have to assume the Royals can find a second baseman to post a .320 OBP or so and play solid defense.
There are still questions at first and third, though if Cuthbert can improve on his defense (no easy task), he could be an answer at third. In center, the Royals now have Billy Burns, but I don’t think he’s an answer. Maybe I’m wrong. It’s happened before.
In the bullpen, Herrera will be in his final season of arbitration if he doesn’t sign an extension before then. Soria will be in the final year of his deal, and maybe he can be better than he was in 2016. Flynn is a solid enough bullpen piece, especially while he’s cheap, so that’s the start of something. If Strahm isn’t in the rotation, we’ve seen he can be a very good arm in the bullpen.
In the rotation, Ventura and Kennedy seem likely to head things, which has a chance to be terrific if Ventura breaks out or flat out awful if Ventura continues to hover around average and infuriating. Add in that Kennedy can opt out and there’s a little uncertainty here. Strahm as a starter is intriguing to me as well, but like with everything, we’ll have to see if he can actually do it.
Nope, this isn’t anywhere near the system that the Royals had when they were building the championship squad, but there are some interesting names here who could end up being big pieces on the next good Royals team. I really like the progress Dozier made in 2016 and he could play a role in 2017 after making his debut in September. There are also six potential rotation options here in Junis, Mills, Puckett, Skoglaund, Staumont and Zimmer.
Personally, I’m not that high on Skoglund and Junis and Mills both seem like back of the rotation guys, but if Staumont can figure out how to stay near enough to the zone and Zimmer could, you know, stay on the mound, those are two guys who could be at the front of the 2018 rotation very easily. Add them to those mentioned above and the rotation might actually be good. Sure there are questions, but at least there’s potential. Add in Puckett, who has that bulldog mentality people love and maybe just maybe the Royals have something.
I think first base is figured out somehow through these prospects. I already mentioned Dozier, and while I’m not sure he’d be the guy at first, I almost wonder if Gordon moves to first soon enough and Dozier could take over in the outfield for him. Or maybe Cuthbert could get a look at first. If not, O’Hearn and Duenez are probably the top two first base prospects in the organization. Both have their positives and negatives, but their 2017 could go a long way toward figuring out what’s next at first for the team. I really like Toups too as the potential second baseman in 2018, but his 2017 will determine whether or not he gets that shot.
And the bullpen is covered a bit as well with Edwards and any of the starters who don’t quite make it, so the prospects could really supplement something.
You know who the pending free agents are. I think Danny Duffy sticks around for the long haul and I think they get a deal done with one more player. As far as short-term need is concerned, I think Cain is the guy who makes the most sense given no clear center fielder in the system. That said, I don’t think he gets a deal from the Royals. I’m not really sure who the other person is they keep around, but I am pretty confident it won’t be Hosmer. He’ll hit the market with very little competition among first basemen, so if a team is in need, he’s going to be the top target in all likelihood.
I think there’s a chance they get something done with Moose, but I just don’t know. Let’s say for now that Duffy is the only player of this group they get extended and we can be pleasantly surprised if there’s more action.
As it stands right now, the Royals have a bit more than $62 million lined up in commitments for 2018, and if Kennedy opts out, that drops to $46 million. Herrera, Colon and Burns are the only arbitration eligible players, and they figure to earn probably around $10 million among them with most of that going to Herrera. What I’m saying is that the Royals should have some money to spend.
I look at where they might have needs and I could see them signing someone like Eduardo Nunez to fill the second base spot in the short-term if none of the internal options are what they Royals are looking for. If they aren’t quite ready to turn over the reigns at shortstop to Mondesi, they could bring back Alcides Escobar on a short deal or even turn to Danny Espinosa for a season. In center field, if Carlos Gomez has a good year, he’s someone I could envision the Royals targeting, or maybe they’d look to Melvin Upton, Jr. as a short solution.
The starting pitching market has a lot of really good options if Kennedy opts out or they can’t get a Duffy deal done or they decide to move on from Ventura. Tyler Chatwood is a name to watch for them. I don’t know why, but he feels like a very Royals move. They could also look to Alex Cobb, Marco Estrada, Jeremy Hellickson, Lance Lynn, Hector Santiago, Chris Tillman or even Jason Vargas.
And in the bullpen, I expect at least one signing prior to the 2018 season. I’m not sure who that would be, but some names that could be interesting are Tyler Clippard, Jake McGee, Juan Nicasio, Pedro Strop or Tony Watson.
This is what you came here for. You wanted a look in the crystal ball of what the 2018 Royals would look like. Well don’t worry. I’ve got you covered.
Melvin Upton, Jr.
Alec Mills/Matt Strahm/Jake Junis
So there you have it. That’s your 2018 Royals. They probably won’t win a division or even really compete for a Wild Card, but that doesn’t look as bad as I’d have guessed. It’s always a tough spot to have to count on bouncebacks and career years, but some good luck for them, and that could be a pretty decent team. So the lean years appear to be on the horizon, but maybe they aren’t quite as lean as the consensus says they will be.