This is it. We’re down to 10 games to go in the 2017 season for the Kansas City Royals, and they’re still technically alive. What’s crazy is they’re alive for pretty much the same reason they’ve stayed alive this long and it’s that nobody is willing to run away with this thing. Of course, now the Twins get a weekend series with the Tigers, so the Royals are going to need to pretty much win through at least Monday. That’s no easy task, but I guess there are worse things than your team being a part of the playoff picture into the last week of the season.
- As the season starts to wind down, there’s beginning to be some talk about the qualifying offer and who will get them. Jon Heyman wrote that the Royals are definitely going to be giving one to Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas (duh), but that they’re undecided on Lorenzo Cain. Well that’s just stupid. Cain is hitting .302/.365/.443 with excellent defense in center field and he’s already set a career high for games played and plate appearances. With the qualifying offer of $18 million or so, what do the Royals have to lose? On top of that, with not much in the pipeline in center field, I imagine they’d actually be thrilled to have Cain back for one more season, even if it was for $18 million. He’s been worth more than five WARP this season and hasn’t been worth less than two wins since 2013. I think there’s a pretty decent chance he doesn’t age gracefully, but come on. This is a no-brainer on Cain.
- Alex Gordon has been one of the biggest disappointments in all of baseball this season. His .210/.292/.314 line is pathetic, and even though his defense is still quite good, that’s just unplayable. I would argue that the Royals cost themselves the postseason when they chose to play Melky Cabrera over Jorge Bonifacio rather than him. But they played Gordon and we can’t change history. All that said, the last few weeks have made it seem like there might be a happy ending to this story. Okay, it’s probably not a happy ending, but it’s at least a less sad ending. He’s hitting .283/.348/.500 with four doubles and three home runs in September. There are a couple ways to look at that. One is that if he could put up something even remotely close to those numbers, he’d be playable and might even almost live up to his contract. It’s encouraging to see him actually hit well for a stretch of more than 15-20 at bats. The other side of it is that if that’s his hottest streak of the year, that’s not great. Most guys when they get hot will hit like .350 over two or three weeks, but this stretch is underwhelming when looked at through the prism of a hot stretch. I maintain that Gordon needs to be a .240/.320/.425 type hitter at a minimum. That’s still not enough, but we know he’s going to play and he does actually benefit the team on defense, so it would work well enough. This stretch has me thinking (probably more just hoping) that he can at least do that next season.
- We all know the Royals basically need a miracle to make the playoffs this season, so I’m going to continue looking ahead to 2018 until the longshot of longshots becomes something less than that. The smart play after this season is for the Royals to rebuild. They can theoretically do it relatively quickly if they draft well and use their international money well (remember, they lose their restrictions internationally for the next signing period) because they will likely have a mid-first round pick from their finish along with three compensation picks directly after the first round for their big three free agents (I definitely wouldn’t give Jason Vargas a QO and if they do, he won’t sign elsewhere for enough to get a first rounder). That’s four picks early plus a huge draft pool. All that said, I think we know that’s not what the Royals are going to do. Maybe I’m wrong here and they’ll surprise me, but I feel like they’ll look at the veterans under contract like Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez and Ian Kennedy and try to build around them and hope for bounceback seasons from Gordon and Jorge Soler and look to build on that and compete faster. The nice thing is that with the extra draft picks, they can still reload the farm system relatively quickly if they handle the draft well. I’m not confident they will do that, but at least they’ll have that ammunition to do it.
- You may have heard that there have been a few home runs hit in baseball this year. If not, you heard it here first. With that in mind and assuming the Royals are going to continue to try to win in 2018 and beyond, I’ll be interested to see if who they target in free agency for the pitching staff will change to look more toward ground ball type pitchers. Previously, they focused on guys like Ian Kennedy who could use a great outfield defense and a huge outfield to their advantage. Well now that the ball is flying out at historic rates, that just doesn’t work. This isn’t groundbreaking or anything, but the more ground balls, the better. I think that makes it a real possibility that the Royals would look to bring back Trevor Cahill if they like what they’ve seen the last couple outings. Maybe Jaime Garcia isn’t as bad a fit as I thought before with his ground ball tendencies (though he’ll likely be overpaid by someone). I think I mentioned Tyler Chatwood last week. He’s another guy who would be a good target for this. If they go this route, I wonder what they’ll do on the infield corners. If you’re going to build a staff around some ground ball pitchers, it’s hard to put Cheslor Cuthbert at third base, but unless Hunter Dozier is the answer there, I’m not sure what else they can do. I guess what I’m saying is this is going to be a really interesting offseason.