Between now and Opening Day, we’ll be previewing each team by eavesdropping on an extended conversation about them. For the full archive of each 2018 team preview, click here.
Kansas City Royals PECOTA Projections:
Runs Scored: 693
Runs Allowed: 855
AVG/OBP/SLG (TAv): .249/.308/.395 (.246)
Total WARP: 9.0 (5.1 pitching, 3.9 non-pitching)
David Brown: Welcome to the official Baseball Prospectus 2018 Season Preview Table For Two chat™ for the Kansas City Royals! This conversation will consist of two people named Brown talking Royals baseball. That sounds possibly confusing, but it won’t be, because our first names are not really all that similar. I am David Brown, or Dave, and I am an editor and writer for Baseball Prospectus (along with some other places). Other Brown, who are you and what do you do?
Craig Brown: Greetings! I (the Other Brown) am the editor-in-chief of the Baseball Prospectus local site, BP Kansas City, dedicated to the Royals. We started in 2016, the year following the World Series title. So maybe we’re responsible for the last two Octobers devoid of the Royals’ presence.
Dave: And you guys do a great job breaking down the Royals (and building them up too!). A good place to start in regard to the Royals preview, this being a Baseball Prospectus Joint, is the dreaded PECOTA projections. Dreaded only because PECOTA never seems to like the Royals, even though I swear Bill Pecota was, at his major-league apex, a Royal. What the heck is up with that? Semi-rhetorical question, considering ol’ Bill hasn’t played in nearly 25 years. But while “his” projections live on, they’re not kind to the 2018 Royals. Big shock. PECOTA has them pegged for 65 wins, with a total WARP of 9.0. Oof. So, is PECOTA right this time about our Blue Man Group?
Craig: It certainly feels closer than it’s been in the last several years. We’ve explained away the projections in the past as having a difficult time measuring things such as bullpens and the sum of all the small-ball parts the Royals excelled at during their championship run. Now, with a large chunk of their best offensive talent (Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer), and a couple of valuable arms (Jason Vargas and Mike Minor) gone via free agency, and with the depletion of the once stellar bullpen over time, PECOTA is a good bet this year to be in the ballpark. This reminds me of the lean years when PECOTA more accurately pegged the Royals’ win total. What goes up, as they say.
Dave: One thing, or series of things, the Royals did this offseason was add some veteran free agents, when other teams considered to be out of the running all but refused to make such additions. We’re not talking about great players, necessarily, but useful ones—such as outfielder Jon Jay and first baseman Lucas Duda—who at least make a team a little bit more competitive. Looking at their PECOTA numbers, however, they don’t seem to make much of an impact there. And looking down the lineup, guys like Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, and even Whit Merrifield aren’t liked by PECOTA. (And, boy, does it hate Ian Kennedy.) So, let’s assume for a moment that these players (all of them) are better than PECOTA projects (and I don’t think it’s a long shot to be true), could the Royals be closer to a 70-something-win team?
Craig: The potential to beat PECOTA (again) is there, but with the additions of Jay, Duda, and Moustakas on one-year contracts, if they do exceed projections in the early part of the season, they would be positioned to be trade fodder at the deadline. That would bring up some of the kids from the minors and the win total could be knocked back down again. It’s a vicious cycle the Royals find themselves in at the moment. General manager Dayton Moore finds the idea of tanking to be abhorrent. And really, if so many other teams are doing it, where’s the market inefficiency?
Last year, Moore refused to sell and actually added pieces for a stretch run. (The correct move at the time, in my opinion.) However, that led them to becoming somewhat boxed in this winter. They needed to add pieces like Jay and Duda because there really isn’t anyone in the minors knocking on the door at those positions at the moment. Will those guys be around in five months? I would bet against it. The Royals have an opportunity to make noise in the draft this summer and would do well to supplement with some other talent that could be acquired via trade. Not that Jay or Duda or really any other Royals who could find themselves on the trade block would bring back a premium prospect. It’s about building the entire farm system (again) at this point.
Dave: One possible exception, regarding a player you could get something substantial for in trade, might be Merrifield. He’s such an unusual case, though. A late bloomer, he just turned 29. We’re still not sure how “for real” he is, either. PECOTA says he’ll be OK, but not even a one-WARP player. I don’t necessarily think he’ll hit nearly 20 home runs again, but he could, and he does run and he plays a position that is in demand. By the time the Royals are good again, assuming Dayton pulls it off with the farm rebuild, how old would Merrifield be? Almost into his mid-30s? And, like you said, Moore is turned off by tanking, and Merrifield is, like, one of the only guys who fans can identify with (or possibly identify, period) on the club. What do you do with him if he’s playing like an All-Star in June?
Craig: With his speed, versatility (he can play both infield and outfield!), and the fact that he’s not even going to be eligible for arbitration until after the 2019 season, a hot start from Merrifield building on his breakout 2017 could certainly help the Royals accelerate the rebuilding process. I buy the breakout, by the way, and think PECOTA is undervaluing what he did last year. He’s certainly someone who should interest a contending team, and if the Royals were bold enough to trade him away for the right value, it’s something they need to consider.
Which brings me to the flip side of this: Alex Gordon. The Royals have finished their spring training and Gordon never came close to getting on track. I’m loath to quote spring stats, but these should carry a parental warning sticker: 64 plate appearances, 11 total bases, 18 whiffs against six walks, good for a line of .127/.234/.164. He’s due $20 million in each of the next two seasons. The Royals aren’t contending during this time, but that contract and Gordon’s performance so far have been wretched. Does he finish the year in Kansas City? How long do the Royals go before they have to do something with their former All-Star left fielder?
Dave: Whoa. You went there. I do not know what is wrong with Gordon. I know there have been some physical issues, but I thought most of them were healed up by the 2017 season. Those numbers you quoted, from spring training, they’re not much less valuable than what Gordon produced in 2017 and even going back to 2016. To look at Gordon, he’s still built like a Greek God, and maybe a few Roman ones, too. His attitude has never been one to rest on his laurels. He had the injuries, but I also have to think he’s gone somewhat into the tank mentally. His confidence has to be affected after what’s happened post-2015.
If you look back to his younger years, before he settled in, Gordon had several other seasons where he just couldn’t hit for spit. Of course, the Royals famously sent him back to the minors, and he worked his way back and everyone lived happily ever after (until the 2015 championship season feeling wore off). There has been talk of sending him back down again. But he’s 34 years old. He probably feels like going back to the minors now is kind of depressing to think about. But if he’s OPS-ing .650 in June, and he’s not hurt in the body, the conversation has to take place. Would Gordon go back the minors? Boy, we are in a dark place.
Should we talk about Ned Yost’s Netflix playlist? In all seriousness, why is he still managing this team (why does he want to, I mean) after winning the World Series? Is he really going to be around for another rebuild? Where are he and the Royals going with this?
Craig: Our safe word is #Yosted. His contract is up after this season, and if we had done this a couple of years ago I would have sworn he would have walked off to his duck blind when the core free agents departed. My theory is he loves this organization—Moore, the Glass family, and his staff he’s built over time. He’s immensely proud of everything they have accomplished (as he should be) and doesn’t want to exit during what figures to be a low point. If he can put a little juice behind this rebuild, I can see him walking away successful overall and setting up the future for the next guy in charge.
Dave: We haven’t talked a lot about Salvador Perez, but he seems like a guy who could be moved for a substantial amount. The Royals probably won’t do this because he’s still earning such a team-friendly figure, and he’s also everybody’s favorite (even when Hosmer was still around). My worry is, they’re physically draining him to the point where he won’t be able to hit as well as he does and still catch, and that point is coming sooner rather than later. Bringing Yost back into this, I feel like it’s a valid criticism of his managing to say that Perez is gonna wear out because he plays too much. Is it the most valid criticism of Yost’s career as manager?
Craig: You know how GMs always say, “No one is untouchable”? I truly believe that, as far as the Royals go, Perez is The Untouchable. The Royals depend on him so much—and yes, Yost leaned on him far too heavily in 2014 and 2015, then add in the workload of two extended Octobers and it’s difficult to see him staying productive for much longer. At least if he’s staying behind the plate. At this point it’s a minor miracle he hasn’t been ground into catcher dust.
Dave: Couple other quick hitters and we gotta get going because James Shields is about to face off against the Royals on Opening Day. ZOMG! OK …
Jorge Soler is going to break through, I feel. Finally. The Jorge Bonifacio suspension was the final straw. There’s absolutely no way he doesn’t get 500 plate appearances in 2018. I’m not saying he breaks Moose’s club home-run record, but 27 … no, 28 dingers are gonna happen, and the Royals finally get something for Wade Davis (which possibly was Moore’s biggest gaffe as GM since the rebuilding). Agree? About Soler breaking out, I mean?
Craig: I’ll take the under on your 28 dingers and the over on PECOTA’s 21. How’s that for splitting the difference? The opportunity is most definitely there, but I worry about his ability to stay on the field.
Dave: Twenty-seven dingers it is! Second quick hit: What has to happen for the Royals bullpen to be … pretty good? Not even great, but pretty good.
Craig: A few trades and that part in the first Superman movie where he races around the world to turn back time.
Dave: Trades? I was thinking a full season of Brandon Maurer and … [checks roster] … the ascension of Trevor Oaks would do the trick. Looks like Danny Duffy and Nate Karns are going to have to go 350 innings apiece this season. Seems doable!
Craig: We picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue!
Dave: One of the myriad vices that Moore prefers to be kept away from the clubhouse.