Where We Are: A Summary
This is tough. There’s no other way to describe it but tough. Through the first third of the season, the Royals have fought and clawed their way to an underwhelming 20-36 record, which is good for fourth place in the AL Central and coincidentally fourth worst in baseball. If any of you recall, at the beginning of the season I all but knighted this team as a collection of players that was “gritty and full of heart and character”, and I’m not willing to back off that statement. The Royals aren’t lacking in heart, character, or a desire to succeed. We’ve all watched this team pour their heart and soul into their craft day in and day out. Unfortunately, the results just are not there from a win-loss perspective. April, 2018 was one of the toughest months of Royals baseball I’ve ever watched. By the end of the month we were already twelve games under .500 and building our personal express lane to a full on rebuild starting no later than July 31st. We followed up with an up-and-down May that showed the Royals can at the same time be one of the best offensive teams in baseball as well as the de facto worst team in baseball, ending the month with a 20-36 record overall while making huge strides at the plate and completely crumbling into oblivion on the mound.
My 2018 prediction for our record and competitiveness may have been slightly off, but the rest of what I said is shining quite a bit of light on the truth of this team. I thought for sure we had a higher run scoring potential that we have had in the last two seasons and (in May) we were fifth in the league in runs scored with 135 in May good for 4.82 per game. Stolen bases, doubles, hits, and team batting average were all top five in baseball. If you showed me those stats without any other context, I would assume that the twenty eight games played this month easily led to a 20-8 record and thrust us to the top of the AL Central with a two or three game lead heading into summer, but nearly opposite happened.
While the offense was busy slugging it’s way to 4.82 runs per game this month, our pitchers collectively compiled a 5.19 ERA. I’m no math whiz, but scoring 4.82 runs per game while giving up an average of 5.19 per nine doesn’t bode well. I wasn’t a fan of our pitching staff as a whole to start the season, and I believe I expressed my feelings about Duffy early on in the season. This season our starters have joined forces in establishing a 5.24 ERA and the bullpen hasn’t exactly helped in compiling a 5.30. Overall on a one to ten scale, I’d rate this pitching staff as a turd. Junis is alone as a bright spot within the rotation, and while there are six relievers with a less-than 3.00 ERA, there are also five with a more-than-ten (only one of which is used with regularity now).
Overall, I’m not at all surprised with the offense. I’m also overwhelmed with how poorly the pitching has been. I wasn’t expecting such a horrid start to the season, and I wouldn’t expect any of you were either. The fact is, this is where we stand. We have huge run scoring potential. The “keep the line moving” mentality is back for the boys in blue and it’s definitely been a giant bright spot in the last forty days or so. Where we’re struggling is with pitching, but not many people aside from myself expected the rotation to also be part of those struggles. I’m still going to go with my early-season prediction of 78-84. The bats are going to become even more productive while trying to offset the pitching, and as soon as our rotation and bullpen figure out exactly how to put together a solid three week stretch, we’re going to make up a lot of ground. When the June 12-13 series against Cincinnati starts, the pitching will solidify through the all star break. I just hope that they don’t fall further into oblivion until then.
Is it time to rebuild?
Merriam Webster defines the word ‘No’ to mean “used as a function word to express the negative of an alternative choice or possibility”. It’s not time to rebuild. It’s not time to panic. It’s not time to get rid of GMDM. It’s not time to fire Ned. It’s not time to clean house. There are a few reasons why I believe the Royals from a business perspective can’t commit to a full rebuild, and if I’ve got you this far you might as well keep reading to see what I think.
Reason 1: Rebuilding requires there to be at least a tiny bit of optimism in the farm. There isn’t a single minor league player with the Royals on MLB’s top 100 prospects list. In my uneducated opinion, in order to start a rebuild process there has to be a young player either currently working his way through the system or just breaking through into the majors that an organization can point at and say “that’s the guy we start with”. When Dayton came to the Royals in 2006, Alex Gordon was a twenty-two year old kid that he could point a finger at and say “that’s our guy”. In 2007 Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus tabbed Gordon as the second and first best prospect respectively not just in the Royals organization, but in the entire league. Granted, he didn’t end up as a top player in the MLB at any point in his career, but he is without question the best left fielder to ever put on a Royals uniform and will some day have a bronze head in the Royals Hall of Fame and, maybe, a statue. Moore knew he had his future (at the time) hot corner filled, and decided to build from there. Without a legit top twenty five prospect, there isn’t a piece that you can start to develop around right now. We’re going to be stuck in a loop of retooling for another year after this season before seeing any kind of results from the minors and draft.
Reason 2: One of the worst TV deals in baseball is going to get much, much, much better. With consistent top five viewership ratings despite being in the bottom three of market size, the Royals are poised to sign a new TV deal following the 2019 season. Disney has recently acquired 21st Century Fox. The deal didn’t include the national networks of FS1 or FS2, but it did include the eighteen regional sports networks that were owned by Fox including Fox Sports Kansas City. Disney has expressed interest and been aggressive in pursuing live sports television. If you recall, the St Louis Cardinals signed an extension a few years back that started in 2018 and ran through the 2032 season. The first-year-rights total was fifty million and fully matures in 2032 for a total of eighty-six million. Kansas City and St. Louis in 2017 had the second and third best television ratings respectively. The Royals will be signing a deal worth at bare minimum what the Cardinals are currently slated to receive each year. Pay roll will become less of an issue while top free agents become more attainable. As long as the Royals remain somewhat competitive and compelling through the 2022 season, there won’t be pressure to scrap the entire roster and start over at the ground level.
Reason 3: Think back to the mid 90’s and into the 2010’s. From 1995 through the 2012 seasons, they didn’t finish above .500 but one time. Every year during that stretch the team would trade established players (some of whom on the brink of stardom) for potential prospects that never ended up panning out. Managers came and went with the change of the season, tickets were $7 a game. Kansas City was the laughing stock of the MLB despite having hands-down the most beautiful diamond in America. They just simply can’t afford to take a step back and commit to a full rebuild. The fan base and the city would reject the notion. What they are going to do instead is go through a few seasons under the guise of “re-tooling” and wait out both the current big money contracts on the roster and the arrival of an aforementioned new TV deal to be signed.
Trade Deadline Desires
I just told you that it is not, from a business perspective, a good idea to rebuild. However in my opinion rebuilding is what the team needs to do. Money contracts need to be dumped while the value is high. Gordon is in the middle of that career average year I thought he needed to have. Herrera has done…something…to fix himself and become the best closer in baseball. Moose is matching his pace for HR last year while also on pace to have more RBI, a higher average, and more walks.
Mike Moustakas: There isn’t a team in the league that will turn down a 35 HR, 100 RBI third basemen at the trade deadline. He is top five at third in nearly every offensive category and also has the highest fielding percentage in the American League. His value has never been higher now that he’s proving 2017 wasn’t a fluke. Moose was signed this off season on an extremely team friendly deal largely due to the lack of a market for third basemen across the board. To me that signing reeked of a trade bait type of deal. High value for low dollars brings back a top prospect in most situations. Put him in a ball park that’s smaller than Kauffman and he’s going to hit more than 45 homers this year.
Alex Gordon: Gordon is obviously not the untouchable force in left that he has been as recently as last year. His defense is still easily top 10 in baseball. He doesn’t commit errors, his routes are always accurate, and he always seems to come diving into the frame to make an incredible catch or launching a ball from the wall to home plate on one hop to get the guy trying to score at the plate. Within the last month, he’s shortened his swing, closed his stance, and moved ever so slightly closer to the plate all of which combined to give him consistency for the first time since 2015. His value may not be astronomical given the committed money of his contract and his age, but I’d be willing to bet his name can still attract a low-a prospect with some potential.
Kelvin Herrera: Wow. That’s all I have to say is simply “wow”. Top closers generate huge deals. Two years ago the Yankees traded Chapman to the Cubs for a four player package that included top shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres, who is batting .319 for the Yankees this year. Herrera is that type of closer. He’s being paid a mediocre $7MM this season, and would fetch a pretty high price tag that contending teams would be willing to pay for a chance to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy. For some perspective, the top paid closing pitcher in the league right now is Mark Melancon bringing in a cool $20MM sporting a 4.5 ERA and five blown saves out of sixteen attempts. Herrera is hands down the top closer at this point in the season. Quite frankly if the Royals decide not to trade him, it would be the biggest mistake Moore has made since becoming the GM in 2006.
I would consider it a failure if two of the three are still on this team come August 1st. I don’t see Gordon being moved, but there is no incentive to keep either Herrera or Moustakas for the duration of the season. Moose is on a one year contract and will definitely not be returning to Kansas City for the 2019 season. Herrera could be extended a qualifying offer at the end of the season that would ultimately lead to a draft pick. The Royals would be better suited getting multiple prospects in a blockbuster-type trade. As long as Herrera keeps doing what he’s doing, there is nothing that will stop the Royals getting multiple high level prospects in return.
If they can get a top 25 prospect out of any kind of a trade deal this year, I think the team would be able to fully commit to a rebuild and the fan base wouldn’t be upset with the news. A top prospect would be MLB ready in two years, just in time for the new TV deal and some sweet free agent signings.
I’m always open to your thoughts and questions, so feel free to ask anything. I appreciate the read and, as always throw us a like, a share, and a subscribe!