Even with the extremely low expectations I had for this Royals season (my preseason prediction of a 72-90 record looks ridiculous now), this has been a bummer of a year. The boys in blue are on pace for 114 losses. In my defense, even the mothership’s PECOTA preseason projections had them at 66-96. They really shouldn’t be this bad, but they are.
Sure, we survived this kind of nonsense before—looking at you, 2004-2006 Royals—but coming off a five-year period that featured a World Series title, an American League pennant, and three years of contention, this is tough to take.
It would be a little easier to take if we could see steps being taken for the future. By that, I mean seeing the building blocks for the next good Royals team. For the most part, those guys are in distant locales like Lexington and Wilmington. I get that, and there is no good reason to rush any of those players. However, the Royals have committed two major sins so far this year at the big-league level: they are bad at baseball, and as an entertainment concern, well…they’re kind of boring.
Yes, boring: the offense is 14th in the league in home runs, eighth in stolen bases (but with only 38, they average one every other game), and 13th in on-base percentage. They do put the ball in play (fewest strikeouts!) but seldom successfully, as evidenced by their .239 team batting average, good for 11th in the AL. And let’s not forget the second-most double plays in the league—at 75, they are averaging nearly one per game.
On the pitching side, despite working in spacious Kauffman Stadium, the Royals have allowed the most home runs in the league (well, at least that’s exciting for other teams). They have picked up the fewest strikeouts. And they have issued the fourth-most walks in the league, a deadly combination when you give up all those home runs. You might think, “Well, at least the ball is in play a lot,” but when you look up the Royals’ defensive efficiency on the Baseball Prospectus site and realize it is the second-worst in the league (thanks, Baltimore!), you realize that’s not good news. In recent years, you got excited when a Royals opponent put the ball in play, because there was an excellent chance one of the defenders would make a highlight-reel catch. By and large, that’s not happening this year. In fact, by that standard, they’re not even making catches an average team would make.
So yeah, boring. None of this is news if you’ve spent much time watching the Royals this year. But I had to make my case.
Now, how do the Royals solve this? Like I said, they don’t have a raft of top prospects to call up from Omaha. That’s not going to change even when they trade off assets before July 31; if Kelvin Herrera didn’t bring back major-league ready talent, Lucas Duda is unlikely to do so (no offense to Duda). Maybe Mike Moustakas will, but I wouldn’t count on it. Still, there are a few personnel moves the Royals could make that would at least make following the team a little more interesting, even if they do nothing to stop the losing. Thinking about the future and trying to figure out which players might stick in the majors is about the only way Royals fans are going to be entertained the rest of this season.
The Royals actually did a couple of these things over the last week, bringing Adalberto Mondesi and Rosell Herrera to the majors. They also made the right call by keeping Hunter Dozier in the majors when Duda came off the disabled list, dispatching Paulo Orlando to Omaha. Applause for both of those moves. On the other hand, they sent Scott Barlow and Ramon Torres down, and those are probably mistakes.
See, there is a lot of veteran dead weight on this team. Some of it, due to massive contracts, is probably unmovable. Of course, here I refer to Ian Kennedy and the $16 million he is owed this year. Oh, and the $16.5 million he’ll get next year. And the year after that. Sigh.
Anyway, there are lots of other options to clear off the roster. Players like Abraham Almonte, Drew Butera, Ryan Goins, Justin Grimm, Jason Hammel, and Brandon Maurer (along with the aforementioned Orlando) offer little upside. Alcides Escobar really doesn’t, either, but I can’t imagine the Royals cutting him loose, so let’s not worry about that for now. The good news is the Royals have very little money or development time invested in these players. Trade ‘em for lottery tickets, or just release ‘em.
Because there are actually some options at Omaha to replace these players. Relievers Josh Staumont and Richard Lovelady have had success there, and Barlow pitched decently in limited time in Kansas City. We’ve seen a little of Cam Gallagher at the major-league level and he seems like a passable backup catcher. Frank Schwindel and Ryan O’Hearn might deserve a look in the majors. Torres probably won’t ever hit in the majors…but I’d rather find out about him than watch Goins not hit in the majors.
Then there’s the Mondesi/Escobar situation. Most of the players I just mentioned probably aren’t part of the next good Royals team, but this is the time to find out. But with all the hype he’s had, it would be nice if Mondesi turned out to be part of that team. Let the kid play shortstop as often as possible. I actually approve of the Royals trying Escobar at some other positions if it means Mondesi plays more frequently. Escobar chasing down fly balls has the potential to be entertaining. At least it’s different. And that’s what the Royals and their fans need now. Because if you can’t be good (and none of these moves will make this team good in the short-term), you can at least be entertaining.