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Do the Royals stand a chance if they do nothing?

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Dayton says the roster may be set already

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

In his end-of-the-year press conference, Dayton Moore talked about how free agency was a "flawed way" to build a team, and that the team would not be players in free agency as they looked to cut payroll. Dayton reiterated his stance that the team would not look to make big moves last week.

"There’ll be some moves that we make and present themselves for us the remainder of the offseason," Moore said. "But I think what you see now is about what it’s going to be going into spring training."

I have pointed out before that we should probably take Dayton’s public statements with a grain of salt, as he has some positioning to do before discussing trades with clubs and negotiating with free agents. His statements may also be a shot across the bow to owner David Glass to get him to loosen the purse strings. In any case, let’s for a moment, take his statement at face value. Can the Royals compete next year if they stand pat?

Last year, the Royals finished 81-81, but were actually outscored by 37 runs, giving them a Pythagorean Expectation of 77-85. Using Baseball Prospectus’ third-order wins, the Royals were just 70-92. We know the Royals were a flawed team last year. They had the fourth-worst starting rotation ERA in the American League. They were second-worst in runs scored. Their bullpen and defense were both still very good, but not as dominating as they had been in the past. Fangraphs projects them to finish 79-83 next year with the same crowd.

Dayton Moore has suggested the team might be better next year if they are healthier. Now the point has been made that the Royals were pretty much league-average in total injuries this season. By my very rough calculations, the Royals lost about 6 WAR to injuries this year. If they were a very healthy squad, they might get 4 WAR back. Of course, this was using before-the-season projections, which assumed that Kris Medlen, Chris Young, and Alex Gordon would be positive contributors.

That brings up another possible reason for hope next year - regression to the mean. The Royals struggled to score runs last year despite using virtually the same lineup that finished sixth in runs scored in 2015. The Royals suffered from having key hitters underperform, finishing well below their projections. Here is how the Royals regulars stacked up against their ZIPS projection to begin the year.

ZIPS projections 2016 performance
OBA SLG OPS OBA SLG OPS PCT
Paulo Orlando .277 .349 .626 .346 .427 .773 23.5%
Jarrod Dyson .307 .347 .654 .324 .361 .685 4.7%
Salvador Perez .299 .430 .729 .297 .461 .758 4.0%
Eric Hosmer .347 .437 .784 .336 .433 .769 -1.9%
Lorenzo Cain .332 .416 .748 .322 .398 .720 -3.7%
Alcides Escobar .298 .350 .648 .278 .305 .583 -10.0%
Alex Gordon .350 .419 .769 .306 .331 .637 -17.2%

Orlando did much better than expected, Gordon did much worse, and Esky declined a bit, but everyone else was pretty much in line with what was expected.

Here is how much their numbers would improve if they hit the numbers predicted by the Steamer projection system for 2017.

2016 Performance 2017 Steamer projection
OBA SLG OPS OBA SLG OPS PCT
Alex Gordon .306 .331 .637 .335 .404 .739 16.0%
Alcides Escobar .278 .305 .583 .299 .351 .650 11.5%
Lorenzo Cain .322 .398 .720 .338 .416 .754 4.7%
Eric Hosmer .336 .433 .769 .345 .454 .799 3.9%
Jarrod Dyson .324 .361 .685 .330 .371 .701 2.3%
Cheslor Cuthbert .318 .413 .731 .322 .418 .740 1.2%
Salvador Perez .297 .461 .758 .298 .443 .741 -2.2%
Paulo Orlando .346 .427 .773 .304 .378 .682 -11.8%

As things stand, Cuthbert would be moving over from third base to designated hitter, with Mike Moustakas essentially replacing Kendrys Morales in the starting lineup. Moustakas projects to hit .267/.329/.467, virtually identical to Morales' line last year of .263/.327/.468.

So while the Royals may be healthier, getting Moustakas pretty much just cancels out the loss of Kendrys Morales. And any improvement from Gordon will likely be roughly offset by a decline by Orlando. It is not reasonable to expect everyone to improve, and simply getting healthier will not improve this lineup.

What about the starting pitching? Here is what Steamer projects for 2017.

ERA FIP IP K/9
Danny Duffy 3.61 3.81 195 8.75
Ian Kennedy 4.21 4.32 171 8.28
Yordano Ventura 4.04 4.17 183 7.28
Jason Vargas 4.34 4.51 136 6.21
Chris Young 4.66 4.81 93 7.65
Mike Minor 4.53 4.67 93 6.87

Matt Strahm is projected as a reliever, so I didn't include him, but he is a big question mark going into next year if he tries to convert back to starting at the big league level. Steamer seems to buy into Duffy's performance, but is skeptical on Kennedy's, likely due to his .268 BABIP this season. Either way, that does not seem like a rotation that can keep up with Cleveland's elite rotation, nor does it have the depth to withstand any kind of injury or poor performance.

The Royals clearly have a lot of work to do, and I'm sure Dayton Moore understands that. It would be quite a surprise of the roster going into Thanksgiving weekend is the same one that begins camp in February in Arizona. After all, it was Dayton Moore who said just a few weeks ago:

"Well, it’s interesting, because last year, we pretty much stood pat. We didn’t make a lot of changes to our team. And that didn’t work too well for us."

For the Royals, inertia is not an option. As David Lesky at Baseball Prospectus Kansas City argues:

It’s time to either really go for it or think about the future. Picking neither will hurt both 2017 and beyond.

I could not agree more. The Royals can try to win one more championship with this group. Or they could blow it up and rebuild. Doing nothing is the worst thing they could do. Let's hope Dayton Moore's public statements are truly worth a hill of beans.