Continuing our countdown to opening day, here is another contribution from Joey Mellow (@BaseballBrit) who also runs the @uk_royals account. Joey is on an ambitious baseball odyssey in 2018 , and over the course of this calendar year he is travelling to various countries to watch more than 70 games, and writing about the games he sees across different countries and levels for Bat Flips & Nerds.
Last season the Royals went 80-82 and suffered their first losing season since 2012. The 2017 campaign represented an end to the group of exciting players that took the Royals to the giddy heights of back to back World Series in 2014 and 2015.
The team remained in contention for a wild card spot throughout the majority of the season and there were a couple of notable highlights. No pitcher in major league baseball had more wins than Jason Vargas, tied for 1st with 18, despite a 4.16 ERA. Mike Moustakas hit 38 home runs to finally break Steve Balboni’s long standing Royals record of 36 that had existed since 1985.
In addition to these feats, Scott Alexander emerged as a formidable reliever and contributed 2.2 WAR to a struggling bullpen ranked 27th in K/9 and 24th in WHIP. Eric Hosmer also had a career year, playing in all 162 games for the first time and running up a 132 OPS+ (10 higher than his previous best). He also helped introduce the phrase ‘prestige value’.
On the flip side, fan favourite Alex Gordon looked a shadow of his former self offensively, hitting a lethargic .208 for a 62 OPS+ over 476 at-bats. Alcides Escobar also contributed a miserly 65 OPS+ that contributed to the Royals finishing in the bottom third of major league baseball for OPS (23), Runs (24) and OBP (27).
Trade talk and the impending free agency of the ‘Core Four’ (Cain, Escobar, Hosmer and Moustakas) took over thoughts and discussion as the season reached its finale.
Comings and Goings
Blaine Boyer (RP), Lucas Duda (1B), Justin Grimm (RP), Ryan Goins (2B/SS), Jesse Hahn (SP/RP), Jon Jay (OF), Brad Keller (RP), Wily Peralta (RP), Burch Smith (RP). Notable minor league deals: Cody Asche (3B/OF), Eric Mejia (SS/2B/3B), Trevor Oaks (SP) Michael Saunders (OF)
Scott Alexander (RP), Melky Cabrera (OF), Trevor Cahill (SP), Lorenzo Cain (OF), Eric Hosmer (1B), Mike Minor (RP), Peter Moylan (RP), Joakim Soria (RP), Jason Vargas (SP)
Expectations are low for the new season. The Royals have watched their two best players, Cain and Hosmer, leave in free agency for contracts worth $80 and $144 million respectively. Meanwhile, Alex Gordon still has two years left on a $74 million contract despite being one of the worst hitters in major league baseball last season. Ouch.
At one point, this offseason, it appeared that GM Dayton Moore wanted a full rebuild with youth and prospects favoured over free agents and experience. After a flurry of late activity (and an anti-porn talk given to players at spring training) the Royals now have just two players projected to be in their every day line up under the age of 29. Namely, Jorge Soler and Salvador Perez.
The new signings of Lucas Duda and Jon Jay are not going to cause a stampede at the club shop but the re-signing of Moustakas and Escobar have helped a nostalgic fan base come to terms with what could have been an even tougher break-up. There is also hope that Whit Merrifield can repeat his 2017 breakout season, if only to help take minds off the fact that Paulo Orlando could be the team’s every day centre fielder.
The starting rotation is adequate, if not solid, nor spectacular. Fans will be hoping for Danny Duffy to pitch like an ace, for Ian Kennedy to show he is worth at least some of his $49 million contract and for Jason Hammel to be an innings workhorse. Jake Junis and Nate Karns are both intriguing options as the fourth and fifth starters.
The bullpen has been shuffled and over $20 million of payroll has been cut since last Opening Day. With a lack of top prospects in the farm system, Royals fans will have to hope that the 2018 season represents a springboard for future growth rather than the quagmire it could quickly become.
70-92 (from @BaseballBrit). Many of the forecasts are bleak. PECOTA, usually too low on the Royals, is predicting just 65 wins, whilst UK-based Bat Flips and Nerds, opt for 68. I’m going slightly higher, with 70 wins, based on absolutely no statistical data. Just blind hope that the White Sox and Tigers will be much worse.
Mike Moustakas – ‘Moose’ is the only offensive player projected to be worth more than 1 win above replacement by Baseball Prospectus. His 1.1 WARP puts him ahead of Lucas Duda, and Whit Merrifield, both on 0.9.
One to watch
Adalberto Mondesi (and Nate Karns) – Mondesi, formerly known as Raul but now Adelberto, is the top prospect within the organization and should challenge Escobar for a starting spot once recovered from injury. Karns is projected to be the Royals highest contributor with a 1.6 WARP, despite being listed as the team’s fifth starter on Roster Resource. For that alone, his starts should be worth watching.