The trucks made it to Surprise and the PECOTA projections are out, so we’re all ready to get started with some baseball in 2018. All that’s missing is like every free agent to sign with teams. But hey, those are some small details. The Royals may or may not be set as we wait to see what’ll happen with their corner infielders on the free agent market, but the longer both remain out there, the more I feel like Dayton Moore and the gang will try to get at least some of the band back together. While I understand the argument against it, I also know there’s no guarantee that being horrible will eventually lead to being good, so I at least can see where the front office is coming from in their stated desire to not “tank.”
- PECOTA’s projection for the Royals as of now is for them to finish 66-96, which is tied for the worst projection in baseball with the Marlins. Yes, those same Marlins who traded off their entire starting outfield, their second baseman and will probably have traded their catcher by the time the season starts. I talked about this in my starting pitching article the other day, but I do think the projections are a little light for them. With the group of starters they have coming to camp, I have to believe they can find a way to pull five quality starters out of their group. There are certainly questions with all of them, but I actually see a fair amount of talent in the group. In my mind, the starting pitching potential is why I think the 66 is a shade too low as of right now. Not that it makes much of a difference, but if you asked me to pin down a number, I’d probably say they go 70-92. I think the starters can keep them in enough games that they pull a few out that maybe they wouldn’t have in past bad seasons when the starting pitching had so much trouble keeping them in games. Think back to the 2008 team that went 75-87 with a rough lineup. I think Gil Meche and Zack Greinke provided more value than Danny Duffy and whoever ends up second best, and the bullpen might have been better than this one will be, but the starting pitching kept them close enough to win more games than most expected.
- The other side of that, though, is that this offense looks like it could be horrendous. The current nine projected starters make for a lineup that would make even the 2006 Royals blush. What’s crazy is that even if all nine ended up reaching their 90th percentile projection, the lineup would merely be good. It doesn’t seem like a lineup being good would be a problem, but when nine hitters are all reaching essentially their ceiling, you’d hope it’s better than good. What’s so disappointing about the upcoming season is that when I look at the lineup, there aren’t many players I’m excited about. It’ll be fun to see if Whit Merrifield can repeat his 2017 season or even build on it. I’m curious to see if Alex Gordon can find his stroke and approach again. I’d like to see if Jorge Bonifacio can pick up where he left off before losing his job to the Melky Cabrera statue. But other than that, I’m only actually excited to see what Jorge Soler can do. PECOTA projects him to be the Royals best overall hitter, and I can’t say I disagree with that possibility. The work he’s done this offseason is encouraging when you add that to the clear raw talent the guy has. I wouldn’t be surprised if he completely flames out, but the potential is there for a really good season from him, or at the very least, an entertaining one.
- I still believe Jason Hammel is going to find himself on a new team before spring training, whether the Royals bring back Eric Hosmer or not. He’s set to earn $9 million in 2018, which isn’t really that big of a commitment. No, he wasn’t good in 2017, and he was mostly difficult to watch pitch, but he was worth 1.6 WARP last year and has been worth 6.3 WARP over the last four seasons. A return to the National League would probably help him regain some value, but you could make an argument that the Royals shouldn’t even have to offset any of his salary. Still, if a team like the Mets would be willing to throw in a moderately decent prospect, it’d be worth it to sweeten the pot with $3 or $4 million to cover some of what’s left. I just hope if and when they do it that they don’t attach a valuable controlled player to the deal as they have a couple times already because I fear it’d be Bonifacio in a deal after the way he was discarded during the season and then talked up by Dayton Moore in interviews. Either way, I think Hammel has some value to someone and the Royals should take advantage of that.
- Even though there are a slew of issues that come with all these free agents still available, it’s kind of fun that they’re going to have their own special spring training down at the IMG Academy in Florida. I’ve said it before, and I’m not the only one, that wonders if this team of free agents could compete for a playoff spot if they actually formed a team. It’ll never happen, but I’d even consider voluntarily traveling to Florida to watch that team get together and play. Bo Porter finally gets his chance to run a team of actually good players and they aren’t even a real team. The luck there. This concept has been done in the past, notably when there has been talk of collusion before, but it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.