Kansas City Royals
2019 Record: 59-103
Fourth Place, AL Central
Team ERA: 5.20 (27th in MLB)
Team OPS: .710 (27th in MLB)
What Went Right
Ned Yost announced that he would be retiring from his role as the Royals’ manager on September 23, after a 10-year run that included an American League pennant in 2014 and a World Series title in 2015. Yost’s final two seasons in Kansas City were a slog, but this year’s squad was able to pull off a 5-4 victory over the American League Central-champion Twins on September 29, in the final game of the regular season and presumably the final game of Yost’s managerial career -- you’re more likely to find him in a tree stand than a dugout this time next year. It was a positive capper to a mostly dismal summer at Kauffman Stadium. A few other highlights: Jorge Soler led all American League hitters in home runs with 48. Adalberto Mondesi stole more bases (43) than all but one other player in the majors despite missing part of July, the entirety of August, and the final week of September because of a partial dislocation of his left shoulder. Hunter Dozier broke out in his age-27 campaign, tallying 26 home runs and 84 RBI alongside an .870 OPS while establishing himself as a corner-infield cornerstone. Ian Kennedy transitioned from overpaid, sub-par starter to effective (but still overpaid) late-inning reliever and finished top-10 in saves. It also might count as a positive that longtime owner David Glass agreed in August to sell the team to Kansas City businessman John Sherman for $1 billion. Maybe that will usher in a new era of higher payrolls in K.C. … maybe.
What Went Wrong
Just about everything else. This is supposed to be a rebuilding team, but you wouldn’t know it by the way general manager Dayton Moore operated ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. He made only one significant deal, moving reliever Jake Diekman to the Athletics for a pair of unheralded minor leaguers. It would have been prime time to shop Whit Merrifield or to rid the organization of bad-contract pitchers like Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy, but Moore and Co. declined to listen seriously on Merrifield and apparently refused to eat the kind of cash that could facilitate a trade of Duffy or Kennedy. Moore told members of the media back in June -- as trade rumors were beginning to fire up -- that Merrifield “is one of the best players in all of baseball right now” and that it would take a “crazy” offer to pluck him away. Merrifield is probably the best player on the Royals -- he led the team in bWAR this year -- but good luck finding a formula that places among the very best players in the major leagues. And even if Merrifield is at that level currently, if only in the eyes of the man who drafted and signed him, he will turn 31 years old in January. What are the odds he’s a key cog on the next successful team in Kansas City? Moore, by the way, is reportedly in line for a new contract extension once the ownership change goes through. There are gaping holes all over the depth chart and the farm system ranks bottom-five. As of October 2019, it’s hard to decipher any glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel.
** Not to pick on Whit Merrifield, but he had an average draft position of 34.3 this spring on Yahoo -- the highest of any Royals player -- and he wound up hitting just 16 home runs while leading all major leaguers in caught-stealing attempts (10). He did successfully swipe 20 bags and batted .302 with 74 RBI and a career-high 105 runs scored, but the return on investment was generally disappointing given where he was drafted. Maybe he gets traded into a better offense and a more fruitful home hitting environment this winter and is able to return to fantasy glory in 2020. But there is no indication from the current front office that it will happen.
** The real fantasy star this year in Kansas City was Jorge Soler, who finished just two home runs shy of the 50-homer plateau and racked up 117 RBI, tied for seventh-most among all MLB hitters. He placed top-20 in OPS with a mark of .922. Moore deserves a nod here, as he acquired the Cuban slugger from the Cubs before the 2017 season and only had to give up now-washed-up reliever Wade Davis in return. Soler is expected to opt into two years of salary arbitration this winter, voiding a previous nine-year, $30 million deal he signed with Chicago in 2012 and making him a free agent after 2021. Midseason trade candidate next year, or extension candidate under the new ownership group?
** Adalberto Mondesi went 63rd overall in the average Yahoo league this spring -- and earlier in some high-stakes drafts -- after putting up 14 home runs and 32 stolen bases over just 75 major league games in 2018. He met the hype in the steals department this year with 43, and he likely would have eclipsed 50 steals had he not injured his shoulder in mid-July, but the burst of power we saw a season ago proved to be a mirage. A standout speed threat in an era where teams are far more reluctant to risk giving away outs on the basepaths, Mondesi should still be plenty valuable moving forward. But the 24-year-old shortstop probably won’t have such a buzz around him come draft season next March.
** Kansas City brought in speedster Billy Hamilton last winter on a one-year, $4.25 million deal, and there was some hope that the non-contending club might let him run wild in something close to an everyday role. Hamilton, though, slashed just .211/.275/.269 in 305 plate appearances before getting designated for assignment on August 19. He was claimed off waivers by the Braves, who used him sparingly, and finished the season with a career-low 22 stolen bases in 119 total games. The 29-year-old might be off the fantasy radar in 2020, for the first time since he arrived in Cincinnati in 2013.
** A smart rebuilding team would shop closer Ian Kennedy this winter and be more willing to eat some of the money remaining on his contract -- he’s due $16.5 million in 2020, the final year of the five-year, $70 million free agent deal he signed with the Royals in 2016. A smart rebuilding team would then take a chance on a former star reliever who has fallen on hard times -- non-tender candidate Blake Treinen? -- and then flip him for prospects if he rebounds. We’ll jot down the Royals’ closer for 2020 as TBD for now.
** Salvador Perez should be recovered from Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery by Opening Day next year. He had the procedure in early March, after tearing the UCL in his right (throwing) elbow at Royals camp in late February. The 29-year-old catcher has typically offered a nice floor of home run production at fantasy baseball’s shallowest position, but he batted .235 with a .713 OPS in 2018 and he’ll return to a league where 20-homer power is suddenly more common.
Key Free Agents: Alex Gordon
Team Needs: Pitching, a good draft in June, and rebound candidates to use as trade bait.