If this franchise goes on a championship run in the next five years, it’s a good bet we will flashback to this week as a pivotal moment in The Process 2.0.
Not only did the Royals stock up on college arms via the draft, they executed what figures to be the first of several trades, sending Jon Jay to Arizona in exchange for a couple more arms. Clint Scoles did an excellent job on the breakdown of who the Royals received.
It was absolutely the correct thing for the Royals to do. Jay was at the height of his value, hitting .307/.363/.374 with a .256 TAv and 0.7 WARP. It’s not an especially sexy set of numbers, but Jay is the epitome of a league average outfielder. There’s value in that, but not usually much in the way of return. For the Royals to nab two arms, one with some good looking upside, qualifies as a nifty piece of business. Exactly what a general manager of a rebuilding team should be looking to accomplish.
But in the short term, the departure of Jay leaves a void in the Royals offense. The lineup was already struggling to score runs, even with Jay and his .363 OBP at the top of the order. They score 3.95 runs per game (and that’s prior to Thursday’s one-run effort in Oakland), which ranks them a half run worse than league average. Jay was a guy who could set the table for the two through five hitters. He scored on a Mike Moustakas hit 10 times. When you discount the 12 RBI Moustakas is credited for thanks to his home runs, Jay accounts for 35 percent of his total RBI production.
Or look at it this way. Moustakas has 40 RBI this season and has driven in 16 percent of the runners on base when he comes to the plate. The average major leaguer with the same number of plate appearances as Moustakas has brought home 29 runners. Whit Merrifield, sandwiched between Jay and Moustakas hitting second for most of the season, has scored seven times on a Moustakas batted ball. It’s been a decent top third of the order for the most part. With splits available to us from Baseball Reference, we can see the Royals top two in the batting order has largely been league average. They have scored 32 runs (average is 29 runs scored) and their OPS+ is 98. It’s acceptable. Assuming Merrifield will remain in the top two, probably hitting leadoff, the Royals are going to need to find someone to move to the second spot in the order. In the first two post-Jay lineups, that’s been Alcides Escobar and Paulo Orlando.
The absence of Jay from the top of the order will impact Moustakas more than any other Royal. It shouldn’t hurt his value going forward as one of the more attractive bats on the trade market, but given what we saw transpire over the winter with his free agency, who knows what to believe anymore.
So who fills the gap in the short term with Jay departed? The idea the Royals would like to get a look at Paulo Orlando and/or Abraham Almonte is laughable and I don’t buy that for a second. I can’t buy that. Not if the Royals are asking me to trust The Process again. Orlando is 32 years old, has accumulated nearly 900 major league plate appearances and owns a career .244 TAv. Even if you legitimately, for some strange reason, thought there was some upside left in that tank, whatever would you be thinking to assume Orlando would still be a productive player once the Royals were ready to win again? That question is moot anyway. Orlando is surplus and could be jettisoned anytime the Royals decide they need a spot for the 40-man roster.
It’s a similar scenario for Almonte. He’s younger than Orlando by a couple of years, but has over 1,000 plate appearances in a major league career spanning six seasons and has a .237 TAv. Factor in the defense (where Orlando is overrated, just check the highlights from Thursday in Oakland) and you have a player who is worse than Orlando. The only reason to have both on the 25-man roster is if you’re actively trying to tank. (They’re not tanking, damnit!) Otherwise, why bother?
One or both will get the boot by the time Jorge Bonifacio returns from his PED exile. Then, we should be looking at a combination of Bonifacio, Merrifield, Jorge Soler, and Alex Gordon rotating among the outfield and DH spots. It’s not ideal from a defensive standpoint, fielding a lineup without a true center fielder, but between Gordon and Merrifield, it’s workable. The added benefit here is it opens a spot for Adalberto Mondesi at second. If you’re rebuilding, play the kids. (Who are we kidding here? Alcides Escobar isn’t going anywhere as he continues his assault on Cal Ripken’s consecutive game streak. Ryan Goins serves absolutely no purpose, but the Royals seem to be unable to kick their bad middle infielder infatuation habit.)
The veterans like Jay serve a purpose early in the season. They fulfill that when they can be dealt to a contender for real, live prospects, which in turn is supposed to open space for a younger player to get his reps. That’s the rebuilding blueprint. The Royals won’t say they’re tanking (they’re still not tanking, damnit!), but they are aware of what needs to be done. The Jay move is simply the first domino to fall.
With Moustakas and Kelvin Herrera poised to go next, the stakes will increase. The good news is, it looks like Dayton Moore and the Royals are ready to push The Process 2.0 into overdrive.