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2015 Royals offseason retrospective

A look back at a mixed bag of an offseason.

The great right hope
The great right hope
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Barring any catastrophic injuries to expected key contributors for the 2015 season, the Royals' offseason is effectively over, and but for the last two or three spots on the 25-man roster the squad is set. Now is as good a time as any to take a look back at how Moore's various moves can be expected to affect the Win-Loss column from last year to now.

After a shocking trip to the World Series, the Royals headed into the offseason faced with the certainty that they would have to replace the output of James Shields along with likely retirees Josh "The Ham" Willingham and Raúl Ibañez, and pending free agent Norichika Aoki.

Dayton Moore and the Royals brass were also faced with the decision as to what do about Billy Butler and his 2015 club option for $12.5MM with a $1MM buyout. With Butler having such a dismal 2014, buying out the option made sense, as the decision needed to be made before the market was ever going to get to take shape. Of course barely two weeks later, Butler and the Oakland Athletics had come to terms on a three-year, $30MM deal, making that $12.5MM option for 2015 look more than palatable.

Hindsight. 20/20. It's probably unfair to get too down on cutting Butler loose as the market for the rotund designated hitter cannot have been expected to be so bullish, though it would seem that trading him might have been an option after exercising the club option.

The recipe for their 2014 success was stew concocted with the ingredients of sterling defense, a lockdown bullpen, opportunistic offense, and solid/healthy starting pitching. And, of course, luck. The contributions of Shields and Aoki specifically were considerable in those departments.

Additionally minor late season injuries to both Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy are causes for concern as to the depth of the rotation, so the rotation needed to be infused with depth that they had been previously lacking to weather potential injuries in 2015, meaning the Royals' three-pronged plan for the offseason needed to be focused on starting pitching, right field, and adding a bat to replace Butler.

To address the departure of James Shields, the Royals signed the volatile Edinson Volquez to a two-year, $20MM deal with a mutual option for a third year conceivably bringing the total to $27MM.

To the casual fan or sabermetrics denier, Volquez is coming off a strong 2014. His 3.04 ERA over 192.2 IP with a 13-7 record in the senior circuit superficially looks pretty good. Of course, the groundball-inducing Volquez was beneficiary of a .263 BABIP that sat .035 points lower than his career mark, so he was actually worth just 0.7 fWAR once removing defense-dependent success from the mix. When combined with the fact that his career-best 3.3 BB/9 and 8.8 BB% was at least in part aided by throwing to one of the game's best pitch-framers--something that Salvador Perez actually does quite poorly--the concerns about his coinciding drop to career lows (over full seasons) for both his 6.54 K/9 and 17.3 K% are magnified.

Photo credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Volquez may replicate his 2014 campaign without the help of Russell Martin as his receiver. But when Volquez is bad, his ERA recalls the traumas of Luke Hochevar: Starting Pitcher, twice posting a 5.71 ERA in just the past four major-league campaigns. His downside is alarming and hoping that he miraculously figured out how to outperform his FIP by 1.11 runs in some way that is independent of the defense behind him and that he will go forward being able to do so is simply unrealistic. When considering that his career ERA of 4.44 is actually a bit worse than his career FIP of 4.32 and markedly worse than his career xFIP of 4.17 and SIERA of 4.27, such hopes are more evidently built on faulty grounds.

As if to directly contradict the suspect investment that is Edinson Volquez, Moore signed Kris Medlen and Chris Young to incentive-laden deals that should provide needed rotational depth with upside.

If Medlen comes back strong from his second Tommy John surgery later this season, he is a legitimate #2 starter at a low cost (two years, $8.5MM with performance bonuses possible). Medlen owns a career sterling 3.59 K/BB which has led to a 2.95 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 3.39 xFIP, and 3.44 SIERA. He's been worth 8.6 fWAR and 9.6 rWAR in just 512.2 IP. If he comes back healthy in the second half, Medlen could well take his spot near the top of the Royals rotation down the stretch and would be an early favorite for a top two spot in the rotation for 2016. The success rate of two-time Tommy John survivors isn't great, but the statistical sample size is so small as to have rendered conclusions drawn from this sample as woefully incomplete.

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The oft-injured but recently healthy Chris Young is a nearly perfect fit for the Royals, as his EXTREME--and this usage of "extreme" really needs to be capitalized to highlight just how much of an outlier Young is on the groundball-to-flyball spectrum--profile fits very well given the very specific environs of Kauffman Stadium and the specific strengths of the Royals. Put simply Chris Young is the most flyball-prone starting pitcher in baseball. By a pretty wide margin. He is so flyball prone that so long as he is not so unfortunate as to call a bandbox like the Ballpark in Arlington his home park, he is able to outperform his DIPS by a significant margin. The myriad ways in which he has been able to outperform the defense-independent metrics are detailed here for those looking for more information, but in short he owns a .251 BABIP on his career which has allowed for a 3.77 ERA compared against a 4.38 FIP and 4.82 xFIP over his 1055.2 inning career due almost entirely to the fact that he possesses a 54.8 FB% with a very high 15.2 IFFB% and manageable 8.8 HR/FB%. When taking into consideration that upon leaving Texas after his second season he became even more reliant upon flyballs than before (56.2 FB% from 2006-2014), his 3.63 ERA has been 0.83 points better than his 4.46 FIP thanks to a .243 BABIP. Guaranteeing just $675K to the righty with incentives based on innings pitched and starts made that could bring the total paid to $6MM if he hits them all, Young will get paid a lot if the Royals prove to need him. Otherwise, he'll be in long relief and won't cost a ton to do so effectively.

Adding pre-arb southpaw Brian Flynn, who was acquired via trade along with converted right-handed double-A reliever Reid Redman for non-tender-candidate Aaron Crow, was also a solid get in that it gave the Royals depth in both their relief corps, which lacks left-handed depth, and a #7/#8 starter with remaining minor-league options.

When it came to replacing the production of Aoki and Butler, Dayton Moore would appear to have reverted to the much-maligned Moore of yore in overpaying for the services of both Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios. In both cases, the player was coming off a miserable 2014.

Butler was awful last year, but Morales had the ignominious honor of being the second-worst player in baseball in terms of fWAR in 2014 costing his teams -1.7 wins. For his services, the Royals guaranteed two years for $17MM to a player many had pegged as a candidate for a minor-league contract. Morales has power, sure, but in his best season while he could still man first base ably, he was worth just 3.0 fWAR and that was 2009. Since 2010, his best campaign has been worth just 1.7 fWAR. In the past, rWAR has liked Morales a bit more valuing his 2009 season at 4.3 wins and giving him credit for 4.7 more wins than fWAR (4.9 career fWAR versus 9.6 rWAR). There is also the consideration that DH-penalty is arguably a bit too penurious. Still, it's hard to see how the money handed out to Morales and the contract duration being more than a season was money well spent.

Photo credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

As for Rios, he was worth 0.2 fWAR but was bereft of power (possibly due to a combination of injuries last season) and appears to be firmly entrenched as bad defensive outfielder. Rios hung dong two fewer times than Billy Hamilton. Alcides Escobar and Nori Aoki combined to equal the former slugger with four home runs. It should be noted that Rios was worth a total of 7.3 fWAR and 6.7 rWAR over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, so Rios is not far removed from being an actually valuable player. Hampered by ankle and thumb injuries last year, the hope is that a healthy Rios can return to his performance levels of the two seasons before 2014. Of the Steamer, ZiPS, and PECOTA projection systems, only Steamer has Rios as being worth less than 1.7 wins (0.5 fWAR) while both of the others have him at that 1.7 mark. Of course the risk with the 34-year-old Rios is that he has fallen off the proverbial cliff.

Both Rios and Morales could bounce back, but less money could have been spent to build a more flexible platoon consisting of Jarrod Dyson and a cheap lefty-masher and said platoon could likely have been more valuable than ceding the job to Rios to the tune of $11MM and relegating Dyson to the periphery as a diminished role player. The difference in money spent on that platoon and Rios combined with the funds that went to Morales could arguably have made more of an impact on a better right-handed bat with more positional flexibility than Morales, who is just as limited as Butler was when the Royals were complaining about his inflexibility a few months earlier. Both signings are high-cost with poor odds of surplus value returned.

To flesh out the remainder of the roster, Moore went back to cagier signings, re-signing mid-season-acquisition Jason Frasor to a one-year, $1.8MM deal with a mutual option and the recovering Luke Hochevar to a two-year, $10MM deal with a mutual option in 2017, moves that bolstered the already vaunted Royals bullpen. Even with the departure of the aforementioned Aaron Crow, who was terrible last season, and the season-ending injury just suffered by Tim Collins, the bullpen heading into this season is inarguably deeper than it was heading into last season.

For organizational depth, the Royals added relievers Ryan Madson, Franklin Morales, Roman Colon, and Joe Paterson to the mix in the pen on minor-league deals along with potential positional role players Casey Kotchman, Ryan Roberts, Alex Liddi, Brandon Jacobs (all minor-league free agents), Reymond Fuentes, and Ryan Jackson (via trade but both to minor-league deals). With the exception of Franklin Morales--who could reasonably be expected to break camp on the 25-man roster as the lefty-specialist out of the pen--and possibly Ryan Roberts or Reymond Fuentes as the last utility man on the bench should Infante not be ready on Opening Day, it's hard to see any of those guys being significant contributors on the major-league level this season.

The Royals also inked minor-league journeyman starter Yohan Pino to a major-league deal, Joe Blanton to a minor-league deal with player opt-outs, and acquired Jandel Gustave in the Rule 5 draft. However, it's hard to see how any of them make the 25-man roster, and keeping any of these three without adding them to the Opening Day roster would require that they either pass through waivers unclaimed and accept a minor-league assignment, choose not to opt out of their contract to be a free agent, or are offered back to their original team and then traded back to the Royals. Spending too much time assuming any of these three remain Royals is likely an exercise in futility.

As the reigning American League champs, the Royals had some significant holes to fill. While Moore and Company had some decent smaller moves--and Medlen could yield huge returns upon his return--the Royals opted to take risky gambles thrice over to fill the gaping holes left after key contributors left via free agency. It is difficult to assess what the Royals did this offseason and come away with anything other than feeling underwhelmed.  It's remotely possible that the trio of Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales, and Alex Rios all perform to the Royals' expectations when they signed them, but those odds are longer than one would like if hoping for the Royals' success in the upcoming season.