86 wins. 5 wins short. Where do the Royals make up those 5 wins. Well, lets have a look at the roster and see.
OF - Frankly, I don't see the need to do anything here. The OF performed incredibly well in 2013 with Cain, Dyson, Gordon and Lough all putting up 2.4 WAR or more, and Maxwell chipping in with .7. Even with Frenchy's -.9 WAR, the group as a whole put up 10.6 WAR (or 3.5 WAR per position). I see some regression in defensive value and some regression to the mean for Lough's BABIP, but a strict platoon with Dyson/Lough + Maxwell, a healthy Cain and a bounceback year for Alex could mitigate any regression. Would David Dejesus be an upgrade over Lough? Certainly. But he'll cost about $6 or $7 million and he's not gonna produce THAT much more than Lough/Dyson to justify spending the money when other positions need upgrades too. So, I don't see a way to drastically improve production in RF without overspending, so I don't think this should be a priority. Overall, I think an optimisitc, but not unrealistic, expectation is for another 10.6 WAR next season without any moves. 2013 WAR Total: 10.6 - Changes: None - 2014 Expected WAR Total: 10.6
1B - Hosmer. He put up 3.0 this year. I'll book him for the same next year. 2013 WAR Total: 3.0 - Changes: None - 2014 Expected WAR Total: 3.0
2B - the Royals got 1.1 WAR from their 2B poopoo platter of Getz, Gio, Johnson, Tejada and Boner, with almost all of this coming from Boner. Boner's value is largely derived from good defense, good baserunning, and a good batting average. I'd expect his BABIP, which was.369 with the Royals, and base running to regress next year, so I bet he won't produce much more than 1 WAR at 2B in regular playing time. However, given that Boner has hit better as a lefty the last 2 years (and was solid as a lefty three years ago when he was downright above-average), I think the Royals could maximize his value as the lesser half of a 2B platoon AND as the utility IF/OF AND as a pinch runner. With all those roles, I think Boner could still put up 1 - 1.5 WAR in part-time play. That means that the task of picking up a right handed batting 2B for the other half of the platoon is definitely a priority. I'd go after Mark Ellis very aggressively since I think he'll still produce 1.5+ WAR in the lion's share of a platoon. If Ellis can't be had, then move on to Kelly Johnson (who's a lefty but has a reverse platoon split), and then Brian Roberts. All of them should be affordable and capable of putting up 1-2 WAR in 100 games played. So, with the right personnel, and the right usage by Yost, I think the Royals could optimistically get 3 WAR from the 2B position by spending about $3mm to retain Boner and pick up someone for about $5-6mm. 2013 WAR Total: 1.1 - Changes: Drop Getz/Carroll, Add Mark Ellis/Kelly Johnson/Brian Roberts - 2014 Expected WAR Total: 3.0
3B - Oh Moose. In 2013, the Royals got 1.1 WAR from Moose, .4 from Tejada, and -.5 from Carroll. (Jeez, that Carroll acquisition cost the Royals -.5 WAR). On the one hand, Moose plays good defense and has a ton of upside. On the other, he really sucked at the plate, especially against lefties, where he was a downright liability. On the third hand, he's still earning the league minimum, so you're not gonna get a ton of improvement here without spending beaucoup bucks. I think another cheap right-handed bat, who can play 3B competently is a must. Perhaps Mark Reynolds or Kevin Youkilis who could both also play DH, 1B and pinch-hit. Overall, by platooning Moose to right handed pitchers, and using Reynolds/Youkilis in various roles, I think the Royals can again increase their 3B value to about 3 WAR. 2013 WAR Total: 1.0 - Changes: Drop Getz/Carroll, Add Mark Ellis/Kelly Johnson/Brian Roberts - 2014 Expected WAR Total: 3.0
SS - SS could certainly see a little bit more production offensively, but Escobar is cheap and can provide good defensive and base-running value even when he's sucking/getting terrible BABIP luck. Escobar is also not as strong of a platoon candidate as Moose/Boner. And there's no way Dayton's getting rid of him and his team friendly contract, and there's no way Yost doesn't play a sure-handed SS everyday. I expect a modest rebound from his 2013 numbers as his BABIP positively regresses to the mean. 2013 WAR Total: 1.1 - Changes: None - 2014 Expected WAR Total: 1.5
DH - I love Billy. He's averaged 2 WAR for the past 5 seasons, and even his down year in 2013 of 1.4 WAR was good enough for 7th best in the league at DH. Buuuuuuuuuttttttttttttttt.... he's making a lot of money, he's not providing any value when he doesn't have a bat in his hands, and he can only play one position in the field and that's already occupied by a better player. Moreover, with Billy on the 25-man roster, there's no room for a 5th OF and platoon mates for both Boner and Moose. Billy provides a lot of value, but he's replace-able if you have a good bench of bats (i.e Maxwell, Kottaras/Perez, Mark Reynolds, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Ellis etc.). So, I'd publicly dangle Billy at the winter meetings, and see if he could be moved for a real prospect or for a decent, cost-controlled, MLB ready 2B, 3B, or SP. If so, I'd trade him, along with Hoch, Davis and any prospect not in the Royals top 10 to get the deal done. If you can't get anything of value for him, I'd be happy keeping him, too. I don't think the Royals will get a lot more production out of the position by using a poopoo platter of their backups/platoon partners, but I don't think they'll lose much production from Billy's 1.4 WAR last year either. Overall, this move is about possibly saving the team $8mm, to largely offset the expenditures at 2B and 3B. 2013 WAR Total: 1.4 - Changes: Trade Billy, use Perez/Maxwell/Lough/3B Platoon/2B Platoon - 2014 Expected WAR Total: 1.4
Bullpen - One great arm, one good one, and a bunch of other contributors. Keep it largely intact. If GMDM gets blown away by offers for Holland, he should take them, particularly if they're not from AL teams, but I don't see how you could trade the guy after the year he just had. Crow sucked this year and Hoch was great, Herrera was a heart attack inducer, and Will Smith and Coleman were very effective as more than one out guys. I definitely didn't think that's how it was going to work out this year, so I'm not gonna predict exactly how things will shake out next year, but between Holland, Collins, Coleman, Herrera, Smith, Bueno, Joseph, Crow, and Mendoza, I feel pretty confident that those arms in the bullpen will be nearly as strong next year. Nevertheless, I'll reduce the WAR by just a smidgen in recognition of how awesome it was this year. 2013 WAR Total: 7.4 - Changes: Release Hoch & Davis, - 2014 Expected WAR Total: 7.0
SP - This is where the rubber meets the road. Royals got WARs of 4.5, 3.0, 1.5, 1.4, 1.1, .6, .6, 0, and 0 from the 9 starting pitchers they used this year. That's 12.7 WAR, good for 12th best in the league, or an average of 2.5 WAR per starter. Not bad, but room for improvement, and not much room for regression if the Royals want to have a serious shot (all of the playoff teams, including both the Rangers and the Rays, are in the top 17 in starting pitching WAR). The Royals rotation will hopefully be losing Mendoza/Chen's combined 2 WAR. That 2 WAR could hopefully be replaced, if not improved upon, by a Paulino/Ventura combo. Shields and JGuts are gonna be back and one can optimistically hope for another 6 WAR from them. Davis should be gone, but Duffy will probably start the year in the rotation and he should be able to realistically replace his 1.5 WAR. Lastly, they're losing Santana's 3 WAR without any foreseeable replacement. Somehow, someway, Dayton must get a legit #2 starter to replace Santana's production. It won't be cheap (i.e. Ubaldo Jimenez or Ricky Nolasco), and it won't be easy (i.e. trading Billy Butler + Luke Hochevar for Bud Norris), but that hole left by Santana is too big to be filled by the hopes that Duffy, Paulino, Ventura, or some reclamation project can throw 200+ innings of 3.50 ERA baseball. If all that happens, the Royals could realistically hope to replicate the rotation's production from 2013 and break even on their pitcher WAR from last year. 2013 WAR Total: 12.6 - Changes: Release Chen, Davis and Santana - Sign/trade for a legit #2 (Jimenez/Nolasco/Norris) - 2014 Expected WAR Total: 12.6
Depth Positions: Looking at the major league ready talent in AAA, the cupboard seems to be pretty bare. Hayes and Pina could be serviceable, and Falu/Colon/Ciriaco seem good enough to come up and sit on the bench if a regular gets injured. But stashing another bat at one of the corner infield positions - maybe Carlos Pena again, maybe Xavier Nady again, maybe Josh Fields again - in AAA seems like a good idea. The Royals will probably have 5 OFs, which may leave Lough the odd man out since he has options, and is probably the worst of the 5. One more outfield depth signing to be stashed in AAA seems prudent. Hopefully Dick Ankiel because he's creepy. These are all replacement level guys, so any benefits from one of them catching lightning in a bottle is probably gonna be offset by another one of them getting prolonged playing time and sucking, so I'm not assuming any WAR from here.
So, to recap, the total 2013 Royals' WAR was 42.5, and this plan could create a reasonable expected 2014 Royals WAR of 46.4.
All in all, I think this bumps up payroll by whatever amount the acquired #2 SP costs, so probably $12-$15mm, which is do-able.
It definitely leaves a lot of question marks ( like "Can Ned platoon?") and a lot of the team's production will be left up to whether regression is a positive influence or a negative one, but I think this gives the team the opportunity to maintain their good starting pitching, maintain their great bullpen, and improve two positions (2B and 3B) by about 1-2 WAR and improve their bench, too. With a little bit of luck, the Royals could get to 91-92 wins, and that might just be enough. Best yet, it doesn't involve trading away any top 10 prospects or current pieces (other than Billy) to do it.