Even with an unlimited budget, a bargain is a nice thing to find. Sure you might be willing to spend $200 on groceries for the week, but you definitely don’t mind a good deal walking down the produce aisle. The same is true for big league teams. Any kind of bargain on the free agent market is a welcome addition, so even if shopping in the Machado aisle, an opportunity to snag something else at a reduced price makes it a little easier to handle spending big elsewhere. That’s where this article comes in.
A couple disclaimers here. This is based largely on Statcast data. There’s a lot more that goes into this, and I do look at injuries in 2018 and all that, but it’s really driven by the data that doesn’t always tell the whole story. So save your bellyaching. Here are four guys who have a chance to be a big bargain and how the Royals might fit in if needed.
In his prime years of age-29 and 30, he hit a combined .269/.349/.522 with 76 homers and 34 steals in 43 attempts. Then he went out last year and hit a combined .215/.305/.391 with 21 homers and 12 steals in 15 attempts for the Twins and Dodgers. What happened? Dozier cited a knee injury from a bone bruise in April as a reason for his tough season. And it’s worth noting that his barrels per plate appearance dropped from 5.5 to 4.3. He was at 5.8 in 2016. His hard hit percentage dropped significantly from 34.5 percent to 28.7 percent. It was at 36.2 percent in 2016. His average exit velocity dropped a bit and his average launch angle, which was already in a good spot went up a little bit. Maybe some loop in his swing from not being able to plant quite as well? And after showing 9.7 fielding runs above average in 2017, he dropped exactly to average in 2018. He’ll be 32, so maybe he’s just in decline as second basemen tend to do, but he has a chance to bring a really nice return. Where the Royals fit in is murky at best, but if they decide to deal Whit Merrifield and want to have a bridge for Nicky Lopez, they could do worse. They could also shift Lopez to third, where he could handle things defensively. I’m not sure there’s a great fit here, but I think some team will get good value from Dozier.
If he’s healthy could be the title of the Pomeranz biography, so that’s all that matters here, but if the Royals are looking for some depth in the rotation who could also shift to the bullpen. He made 32 starts, threw 173.2 innings and posted a 3.32 ERA with a strikeout per inning in 2017. In the American League East. This past year, he only made 11 starts, threw 74 innings and posted a 6.08 ERA. Injuries, man. But what happened? Based on the numbers, he gave up a lot more squared up balls and the average ball hit against him was hit much harder. His cutter, while still effective in 2018, went from a big time swing and miss offering to one that plenty of contact was made on. But really, it’s a velocity thing with his four seam fastball velocity dropping from 91.4 MPH to 89.5. That’s…precipitous. It had been on the decline for the last few years, but that seems excessive and worth taking a chance on if he’s healthy. You know, maybe he isn’t and it’s not worth it, but he’s a big time potential bargain who could be a big time trade chip if he comes through.
Good ol’ friend, Erv, had a pretty rough go of it in 2018. He only threw 24.2 innings, so you won’t find him on the Statcast leaderboards unless you update the minimum batted ball events, so the sample is small enough that you could just argue it’s worth throwing out and not even mentioning. For a guy who went 23-19 with a 3.32 ERA in 392.2 innings the previous two seasons, it’s probably fair to wonder if 2018 was a fluke due to the finger injury that basically cost him the season. I’d argue yes. The hard hit percentage in the limited action was way up from the previous two years. He allowed barrels in 13.8 percent of batted balls. That’s insane. There’s no way he was healthy, and it seems on the surface like it’s not the sort of thing that is likely to linger through an offseason. His spin rates really tell the story with his sinker dropping more than 100 revolutions per second and his four seamer dropping even more than that. Actually, outside of his changeup, all his pitches saw a big-time decreased spin rate. Don’t tell me it wasn’t the finger injury. He went from getting a swing and miss on 38.4 percent of swings on the slider to 14.8 percent. His changeup whiff percentage dropped from 22.2 percent to 13.3 percent. This is a great buy-low opportunity for a guy this front office knows and the fanbase loves. Yes, he’ll be 36, but I’d give him a contract.
He isn’t technically available yet, but it seems like he’s a good bet to be non-tendered by the Brewers. And with good reason. He hit .233/.266/.416 last season and the peripherals are ugly. The 3.8 percent walk rate would make Alcides Escobar blush. The 23 percent strikeout rate doesn’t fit the profile either. So why is he a bargain? Oblique injuries, man. He saw a drop in barrels per plate appearance percentage from five to 3.6 after sitting at 4.9 in 2016. His hard hit percentage, which sat above average the last two years dropped to 30.6 percent this year. His average exit velocity dropped as well. And so did his launch angle. Basically everything about his profile sort of fell off a cliff. And guess what? He’s entering his age-27 season.
So I think he’s a big-time bounce back candidate. The guy hit .293/.338/.503 in 2017 and got MVP votes (finishing 12th). Like Dozier, he rated very well defensively in 2017 before dropping to merely average in 2018. His value to the Royals doesn’t depend on a Merrifield deal either (though it would make the most sense). Schoop has the profile of a player who can handle third adequately and he’s played a very little bit of shortstop in the big leagues. You likely don’t want him there every day, but if Mondesi needs a day with a guy like Ian Kennedy on the mound, Schoop should be able to handle it. Given the kind of season he’s capable of turning in, the Royals would do far worse than maybe having Schoop handle third against righties while Dozier/Cuthbert sits, second against lefties while Whit could slide to the outfield for either Goodwin or Phillips and shortstop on occasion to give Mondesi a breather until Nicky Lopez arrives. I really like this idea if he does, in fact, get non-tendered. If he doesn’t, I just wrote too many words about him.
Others fit here. Daniel Murphy could be a bargain with the bat after injuries limited him early in the season before he hit his stride. They’d have to move one or both of Jorge Soler and Jorge Bonifacio because Murphy is a DH at this point, but I guess it’s possible. The same would be true if they brought back Lucas Duda or brought in Logan Morrison, both of whom underperformed some based on their batted ball data or are due for bounce backs. And one other thought on Bonifacio. He has a chance to really come back from a bad season. His numbers were obviously down across the board and you have to wonder how much that had to do with not being on, well, steroids. But even so, I think he’s a guy to watch. Maybe it doesn’t happen, but I’d give him at least a 30 percent chance to break out in a big way in 2019 if he gets the shot.