[30 for 30 voiceover narration guy starts talking]
What if I told you… the Kansas City Royals could lose all five of their “important” free agents and still be in good position right now… and much better position in the future?
As hooks go, it’s probably not Requiem for the Big East or any of the other standout docs from the ESPN series. But for the Royals, there is a non-zero chance that allowing the Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer to walk—recouping extra draft picks in the process—and refusing to overpay Alcides Escobar and Jason Vargas could not only be a good move. It could be the best move.
Here’s how they do it.
Step One: Bring Jarrod Dyson Home
This is not only the easy move, it’s the obvious move. Replace Cain with Dyson, and suddenly you’ve got a speedy placeholder to help bridge the gap to Michael Gigliotti.
Stick him at the bottom of the lineup, hit him ninth. If he gets on, his speed causes problems; if he doesn’t, the top of the lineup is still there.
If nothing else, Dyson will improve on Cain in the outfield, by whichever metric you choose to believe—Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating, Arm, Revised Zone Rating, you name it. He’s got speed, he can field and he can throw. Those are three of the five tools and if you take into account his cult hero status in Kansas City, this is a no-brainer.
Step Two: Pillage the Mets?
Maybe this one doesn’t count, because Lucas Duda was traded by the Mets in July, but he’ll always be a Met to me. Unless the Royals sign him. Then he’ll be a Royal.
It makes good sense, too. Duda has two things going for him that will always impress: he can pick at first and he hits the snot out of the ball. The following are his hard-hit ball rate/line-drive numbers for the last three seasons:
2017: 42.1 / 21.0
2016: 32.8 / 23.5
2015: 39.0 / 22.0
Now here are those same rates for some other guy who wants a lot of money.
2017: 29.5 / 22.2
2016: 34.4 / 16.5
2015: 32.9 / 23.6
The other guy is Eric Hosmer, obviously, and when you look at those numbers, wow, is it surprising that Scott Boras doesn’t have a binder on Lucas Duda. He fares better than Hosmer in many (most? All?) fielding metrics, although take those with several grains of salt—Hosmer was a Gold Glover and Duda was not, even if SABR’s SDI and all the FanGraphs jargon ranks Duda ahead of him. Until we get stats like “Most balls scooped out of the dirt” and “Most balls saved from sailing into the fifth row”, we do the best we can do.
The other Met—a current Met—I’d go after is Jose Reyes.
I’ll wait for the booing to subside before I continue.
Reyes is a definitely a shell of himself as a ballplayer; whether he’s also a wretched person or someone who made a mistake is a matter for the courts. But the first line on his baseball tombstone is going to read, “Was suspended 51 games for allegedly beating the crap out of his wife,” and there’s nothing I can or would do to change that.
But for the most part, he’s hummed along since as a guy who doesn’t walk, or strikeout, or hit or do anything at better than a slightly-above-league-average clip. And after Alcides Escobar’s 2017, I think we can all agree that “slightly above league average” would be a massive improvement.
The problem is that the market is thin on shortstops who are just “Meh”; don’t be the team that overpays for Zack Cozart.
Step Three: Find People Who Understand the Zone
In a similar vein to Cozart, someone out there is going to believe that Jason Vargas’ first half of 2017 is worth $16 million a year and I’m going to laugh until I cough up a lung. You want somebody who can work the zone (better than Vargas 7.7 walk rate) and get the occasional strikeout (better than Vargas 17.7 percent rate)? You have two choices: Wait out Michael Pineda or bring in Ricky Nolasco.
Pineda is the better of the two overall (and the one more worth taking a flier on from a talent standpoint), and Nolasco did have the benefit of one of baseball’s best defenses (.711 defensive efficiency tied them with Texas for eighth in baseball last season). That said, for some tie would go to the guy who can stay moderately healthy. I’m not here to judge you for that.
At the hot corner, Trevor Plouffe won’t hit like Mike Moustakas (although I think it’s fair to point out that Moustakas didn’t hit like this version of Moustakas until last season) but he’ll draw a walk (7.6 percent career to Moustakas’ 6.4 percent) and saw 4.01 pitches per plate appearance in 2017, compared to 3.74 for Moustakas. He won’t kill you at the plate and as cheap replacements go, you could do significantly worse.
Grab your torches and pitch forks if you must; there are some who will be SO ANGRY that I would discard precious, precious members of the franchise for a bunch of spare parts. But if you want the next wave of prospects—Gigliotti, Nick Pratto, Khalil Lee—to have a chance to do the special things that Hosmer, etc. did, then give them a fighting chance. Give them a restocked farm system in which to compete and more money to spend on development. They don’t need the Royals to fight for 76-84 wins for the next four years AND spend tons of money. With my (**NOT GUARANTEED TO BE FOOLPROOF I’M BUT A MORTAL MAN**) plan, maybe the franchise can spend a lot less for similar success and be well-positioned for a run sooner rather than 30 years later.