The 2018 Royals are a train wreck. Or perhaps, a dumpster fire occurring on top of a train wreck. This is no secret. But let’s ignore all the many, many negative things that have happened this year and focus on some positives. Yes, there are some. I promise.
In no particular order, here are 10 good things that have happened to the Royals in 2018:
1. The one-year contracts worked just like they should (mostly). Jon Jay and Mike Moustakas were signed in the early spring for two reasons: provide some reasonably good baseball ability, then get traded for prospects. They held up their end of the bargain (Moose’s WARP as a Royal this year: 2.6, Jay’s: 1.0), and the Royals acquired Elvis Luciano and Gabe Speier for Jay and Jorge Lopez and Brett Phillips for Moustakas. The latter two are in the majors already (and Phillips, thanks to his defense, appears to be at least a useful piece—if he hits, he could be very good). The former two are lottery tickets, probably, but that’s OK since it was highly unlikely Kansas City would receive a top prospect for four months of Jon Jay. For purposes of this point, we’ll ignore that other one-year contracts for Alcides Escobar and Lucas Duda are still on the books. Hey, there’s still a few days to trade those guys!
2. Speaking of trades, the Royals seemed to deal Kelvin Herrera at just the right time. And they got Kelvin Gutierrez, Blake Perkins, and Yohanse Morel for him. Herrera went on the disabled list after posting a 4.50 ERA for the Nationals, just returned to the active roster, and got hurt again Sunday. Meanwhile, Gutierrez has hit .281/.338/.419 for Northwest Arkansas and could be manning third base in Kansas City in the near future. Perkins has a .243/.369/.311 line in Wilmington, but more exciting is that he is, by accounts I’ve seen, playing good defense in center field and is also walking a lot: 46 BBs in 250 plate appearances. And Morel? Well…he’s got an interesting name. He’s also pitched 11 games at the Rookie ball level, so who knows?
3. The Royals didn’t just make trades to supplement the future. They also traded with Cincinnati to get Rule 5 selection Brad Keller and went to the waiver wire to add Rosell Herrera. Keller is just 22 and has shown some promise as a starter (3.69 ERA in 15 starts, covering 83 innings). I don’t think he’s a future ace, but he seems to have a role somewhere on a big league staff. Herrera had a decent start to his Royals career but has slumped recently. Still, he has speed and could be a useful utility player/depth piece. That’s OK, because this year should be all about finding talent in unexpected places and then seeing if it can play in the majors.
4. Whit Merrifield has proven his 2017 season was no fluke, hitting .307/.374/.441 so far this season. That’s nice because it’s always good to have at least one player worth watching in the present, and because he could be a very nice trade chip this winter, should the Royals choose to go that direction. I would hate to see him go, but he turns 30 next January, meaning he is unlikely to be this good when the Royals are ready to contend (even the best-case scenario probably puts this in 2021). And he’s still not arbitration-eligible, meaning he is a good, cheap player. His age means he won’t fetch a top-notch prospect probably, but he could still bring back some valuable younger talent.
5. Adalberto Mondesi looks like a pretty good player. Yes, the four(!) walks in 160 plate appearances is a concern, but the four home runs and 17 stolen bases (with three caught stealing), along with the flashy defense, look promising. The Royals could and should be playing him more often, but the early returns are good.
6. The Royals had lots of draft picks this year: four in the first round, six in the top 100, nine in the top 200. That’s a good way to revitalize a farm system in a hurry. And they are almost certainly going to have the first or second overall pick next year. A couple of this year’s early picks, pitcher Daniel Lynch and center fielder Kyle Isbel, are off to good starts, too—Lynch is 5-0 with a 1.46 ERA at Class A Lexington, and Isbel has a 1.063 OPS for Idaho Falls at the Rookie level. The emphasis the Royals placed on college players in this draft means we should be seeing some of these guys in the majors in two or three years.
Um, let’s see…wow, I just had to decide to find 10 good things, not six, didn’t I? Hmm…ok, here’s one.
7. Players already in the system have had some breakout years. Seuly Matias belted 31 homers for Lexington before suffering a season-ending finger injury over the weekend; he’s still only 19 (he turns 20 on September 4). Khalil Lee got everyone’s attention with an .808 OPS at pitcher-friendly Wilmington in High-A ball. He struggled a bit after a promotion to Northwest Arkansas but had an .842 OPS in the last couple of weeks before he went on the disabled list on August 3. MJ Melendez (.807 OPS at Lexington, and he’s also 19) and Nicky Lopez (.819 OPS at Omaha) have also had nice years. One season after being demoted from Omaha to Northwest Arkansas, Ryan O’Hearn made it to the majors and has already launched six home runs in 69 plate appearances. And his co-first baseman at Omaha, Frank Schwndel, has hit .285/.337/.507 this year. He should be in the big leagues soon.
8. No one died in the Great Kauffman Stadium Flood of 2018.
9. The Royals got one year closer to having massive contracts for Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy off the books. Gordon only has one more year on his deal, which is worth $20 million annually (plus a mutual option, which at this point I would hope would not even be a consideration for the front office). Kennedy now has two years left at $16.5 million per year. And hey, Gordon has actually been not terrible this year. Not good, mind you (.239/.320/.349), but not as bad as he was in 2017.
10. They probably won’t have a worse record than the 1962 Mets, the standard for futility in the modern era with a 40-120 record. Just three more wins to insure they don’t reach 120 losses. I feel fairly confident they can do it.
Phew! Made it!
Please understand, none of this excuses the results this season. I do believe this team has underachieved. Not that they should have been contenders, but they shouldn’t be losing 115 games, either. I think most people and projection systems had them between 90-100 losses, meaning this is on pace to be a 15-20 game underachievement. On the whole, this year is unacceptable. But just because it’s unacceptable doesn’t mean everything is awful.