The Royals are actually, from a practical standpoint, in good position heading into the offseason. For a team that blew past 100 losses, they have actual big-league caliber ballplayers in many spots.
I know that probably sounds pretty snarky and mean-spirited, but it’s true: if the Royals took the team that finished the season, lock stock and barrel, into the spring of 2019, they would be fine. Fine. Not world beaters, division champs or much better than slightly below .500, but perfectly serviceable, with a young player, at least league-average and possibly better, at almost every lineup spot and rotation that wouldn’t immediately send an unsuspecting bystander into a sudden spasm of vomit. Given the trash fire that was the 2018 Kansas City Royals from April to June, that’s about as ringing an endorsement as you’re likely to find.
The Royals wouldn’t pass up a Manny Machado, Bryce Harper or (almost sure to be opting out) Clayton Kershaw; that’s stupid, and Dayton Moore might be many things but stupid is not one of them. They just won’t pony up the numbers, rumored to be astronomical in some cases, that might be required for a player of that trio’s caliber signature. They’ll buy low, look to extract value and flip an asset in decline (a player they don’t need, likely on a short deal) for an asset on the rise (a young prospect, international bonus slots, etc.). They struck at the right moment with Jon Jay last year and there’s every reason to go back to that well for a team that’s two quality starters, an entire bullpen and at least one impact bat away from contention.
With this in mind, I’d like to take this opportunity for prime offseason content farming and look at some of the names the Royals should be dialing up once free agency opens (or right now, none of these guys are still playing and breaking the rules is a part of doing business in baseball).
Versatile Infield Bat That Couldn’t Hit for Beans a Year Ago
Logan Forsythe, Marwin Gonzalez, Sean Rodriguez, Luis Valbuena
Before you send that tweet, just know that I know that most of these guys were varying states of dog crap last year. Just super-aware on that end.
The argument against both Rodriguez and Valbuena is the same argument anyone with a mind makes against bringing back Alcides Escobar: there are holes in their swings you could drive an actual truck through. Valbuena has been a sub-.200 hitter the last two seasons and Rodriguez hasn’t been the same since a car crash that tore up his shoulder in February 2017. Gonzalez was the weak link for the Astros, Forsythe thought so highly of that the Dodgers traded him for Brian Dozier and whatever Dr. Frankenstein device that was required to resurrect his corpse.
Their presence isn’t about finding someone to shore up first, or third, or wherever. It’s about making sure that Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn—two guys who exceeded many expectations in their first real extended run last year—don’t grow complacent, to challenge and push them in camp and who knows, maybe even contribute. All four can play multiple positions. In a time where bullpens keep expanding, teams can’t afford many backups who aren’t multidimensional. These guys fit that bill, warts and all.
C’mon, I gave you Lucas Duda last year, and he yielded… something. Hit the right guy in the right rebound campaign and reap some trade deadline benefits!
(Honestly, when I put it like that, it’s just so easy I don’t know why these dopes need it spelled out for them.)
Back-end starting pitcher
Bartolo Colon, Doug Fister, Matt Harvey, Tyson Ross, Josh Tomlin
Just the thought of Bartolo in my life every five days has plastered a big old smile on my face. May Big Sexy pitch forever.
Anyway, three spots in the rotation are set, or seem to be, heading into spring training: Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis and Brad Keller should be the top three in some order, with a host of people—Ian Kennedy, Jorge Lopez, Heath Fillmyer, Erik Skoglund, Nathan Karns, etc.—looming as potential candidates for the last two slots unless Ned Yost embraces the opener (as always, don’t rule anything out with Ned). Kennedy we’ve covered here and elsewhere—I think he’d be better served sliding into a relief role at this stage in his career. Karns can’t stay healthy. Skoglund and Fillmyer look great one day and terrible the next. Lopez looked great two days—Sept. 2 and Sept. 9, against Baltimore and Minnesota (combined losses: 199)—and absolutely rancid in most of the rest.
There’s some room for improvement, or if not that, then a little bit of consistency.
Big Sexy is a gate and television attraction; if he’s pitching, I’m watching and if he isn’t awful, well that’s just dandy. Tomlin and Fister are far removed from their respective apexes, but both have upside still—Fister spent two seasons pitching in Texas and Boston (not exactly kind to pitchers) and Tomlin was just surpassed by better, healthier, (FILL IN THE BLANK) pitchers in Cleveland despite remaining one of baseball’s most accurate strike-throwers.
The upside plays here are Harvey and Ross. Would Harvey, given anything resembling a choice, come to Kansas City? Unclear. Is there enough potential to make a Hail Mary offer and take a flier on a guy who was considered to be a linchpin of one of the best young rotations in MLB all of (checks notes) two-and-a-half years ago? Heck yeah buddy, heck yeah.
I can’t quit Tyson Ross and I don’t want to. He’s a power pitcher, but he’s become essentially a two-pitch guy (over 70 percent fastball-slider the last two seasons); he’s got other things in the arsenal (sinker, cutter, change) he could mix in if, you know, Cal Eldred is up for a challenge. Dadgummit, Tyson Ross is gonna be heard from on a contender at some point and there’s no reason that contender couldn’t buy him from the Royals for a back-end top-30 prospect next July.
Randall Delgado, Aaron Loup, Adam Ottavino, Oliver Perez, Drew Storen, Jonny Venters, Justin Wilson
Elmore Leonard villain Tim Hill and Wily Peralta made me feel something resembling comfort last year. Kevin McCarthy and Brian Flynn had moments. As mentioned, Kennedy belongs here. If Brandon Maurer is offered arbitration, I will consider it nothing short of a declaration of war on my sanity.
[Hmmm, this is already over 1,000 words.]
Keep Hill, Peralta, Kennedy and McCarthy, non-tender Flynn in hopes of bringing him back on a minor league deal with a spring training invite (he had moments, but not that many) and then go for high-end reclamation projects (Delgado, Storen, Venters) at reduced cost but with potential for a high yield. Wilson, Perez and Ottavino should have offers from contenders, based on recent success. Loup is a guy, albeit one who has gotten major-league hitters out for a number of years in a row. Delgado, Storen and Venters could actually help.
Tl;dr: Give me Forsythe, Bartolo, Ross, Delgado, Storen and Venters. I swear, that plus what the Royals bring back would win at least 72 games next year. I’M NOT CRAZY.