If the season wasn’t over before the Oakland series, it is definitely over now. So it is time to go ahead and look forward to next season. Before that can happen the Royals will have to fill their 25-man roster with baseball players of some sort, because not all of the guys who played for them this year will still be here next year.
There’s arguments to be had about which positions the Royals need help in the most, but one of the first things they’ll want to consider is what to do with the free agents they have now, listed below along with their WAR numbers from this season:
|Player||fWAR||bWAR||average WAR||Age Next Year|
As you can see, the Royals’ pending free agents have been....less than stellar so far this year. But you still have to fill the roster, and not everyone can be a 10 WAR player. Are any of these guys worth bringing back?
Good ol’ K-Mo has been the best player by WAR among the Royals’ free agent class this season. There has been some talk about whether the Royals should consider giving him a Qualifying Offer this off-season. There has also been some talk as to whether the Royals should just wave good bye to him as well. And before that, there was talk of trying to trade him for a lottery ticket at the trade deadline - the first time the Royals appeared to be out of the race.
It seems pretty obvious if you’re just looking at the WAR that Morales is not worth a Qualifying Offer. If the Royals made an offer, which would require offering a one-year deal worth around $16.7 million, he would almost certainly sign it, as no one is going to want to give up a draft pick and as much or more money than he's made the past two years for a designated hitter of his age.
If we can all agree that Morales should not receive a Qualifying Offer, the question becomes does he deserve to be re-signed as a free agent? The answer to that depends on a pair of factors. Which Morales do you think you’re going to get, and do you think you can replace his production in another way?
The first question goes to the two incredibly hot streaks Morales has had this year, plus the excellent season he had last year versus the two incredibly cold streaks he had this year. At age 33, Morales is not young anymore, so it seems likely that his production is going to decline next year, whether that takes the form of permanent cold streaks, or just cooler hot streaks.
To the second question, according to FanGraphs Morales is the second worst DH in all of baseball among those who have 550 at bats at the position or more. He's ahead of only Joe Mauer, who just has absolutely no power to go along with his lack of speed and hasn't walked enough to make up the difference. Morales does provide power, but most of the other designated hitters in baseball walk and hit for power. There's a reason you've heard of every guy on this list. They all can or could hit like crazy.
Here is another list of names that may be familiar to you: Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar, Cheslor Cuthbert, Paulo Orlando, Whit Merrifield. These are all players that, according to baseball-reference.com, produced as much or more value offensively as Kendrys Morales did this year for the Royals as measured by the oWAR stat, which encompasses not only value at the plate, but also on the bases - that's how guys like Escobar and Merrifield can be more valuable.
Yeah, you’re going to lose some home runs if you choose not to re-sign Morales - probably a lot of home runs - but overall the offensive value can be replaced and possibly even increased. People have talked about how most of the players on that second list derive their value from their defense, but if you’re not going to sacrifice anything on offense by swapping them in for half-days of rest once or twice a week you might actually increase their overall production by not wearing them out so much. This is especially true in the cases of guys like Perez and Cain.
To put it simply, the Royals should almost certainly let Morales walk, even if it is so they can sign someone else to take over the every-day designated hitter role, the advanced stats sure make it seem like he is not giving the team as much as those home runs make it look like; and at his age he is not likely to improve. The Royals aren't trapped under Morales' contract like the Angels and Twins are trapped under theirs - they can and should refrain from joining those two teams in their misery.
Steady Eddie has been pretty steady again, this year. Unfortunately, he’s been steadily bad instead of steadily good as he was last year. Kansas City Star writers Sam Mellinger and Rustin Dodd suggested that he might receive a $16.7 million Qualifying Offer, but Volquez has pitched much worse since the trade deadline, putting that assumption in doubt.
The Royals might have to make the offer anyway, considering the dearth of quality starting pitching both in free agency and in the Royals’ system. If they don’t sign Volquez they will need to figure out another way to fill out their rotation. They have more options than you might expect, it is just that none of them are guaranteed or even necessarily likely to be good options.
Next year’s rotation almost certainly includes Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura, Ian Kennedy, and Jason Vargas -Vargas himself being a bit of a question mark coming off Tommy John surgery. Mike Minor and Chris Young both have a year left on their respective deals, but there are questions about Minor’s health and Young’s effectiveness. Dillon Gee hasn't been very effective, either, though they do have one more arbitration year on him, although he could be non-tendered.
In the minor leagues they have Matt Strahm, Alec Mills, Josh Staumont, and *cough* Kyle Zimmer who all might be in position to compete for spots but there's no way of knowing if any of them will actually be any good as major league starters.
It is also possible that Volquez might rebound a little next year after having a workload this season more like that to which he had become accustomed. He pitched far and away the most innings of his career last season, factoring in the post-season. With more rest he might return some of his effectiveness next season. He might not. In any case, he will probably be the biggest Royals’ free agent to keep your eye on this off-season.
Luke Hochevar is a bit of a frustrating case. He has had moments in each of the past two seasons where he has pitched very effectively. He took on a role in the Royals’ bullpen as the fireman early this season where he could come in at any high-leverage moment and attempt to get the Royals out of it. Early on he was very good at this and kept the Royals in many games that might otherwise have gotten out of hand. Later on he was not nearly so effective, but he was also dealing with thoracic outlet syndrome, so his ineffectiveness may have simply been the result of his injury.
Even if that’s the case, however, Luke will be a 33-year-old pitcher next season with both Tommy John and thoracic outlet syndrome surgeries in his recent history. He is not a good bet for remaining effective or healthy, and as many good memories as he has given us the past couple of years (to go with the bad ones from the many years before) it is probably time to let him go.
The only way Kris Medlen should spend any time in a Royals uniform next year is as a minor league free agent with an invitation to spring training. If he pitches light’s out he might earn his way back on to the roster, especially given the lack of starting pitching depth the Royals have. But under no circumstances do you guarantee him any money after he's spent the majority of his time with the Royals rehabbing from various injuries.
There is an argument to be made for re-signing Butera if they can get him at a reasonable salary. The 33-year old is the only backup catcher Ned Yost has shown any inclination to use even when Salvy isn’t hurt and he has actually had a career year offensively. Butera is a hard worker and fits in well in the Royals’ clubhouse, and the pitchers all seem comfortable throwing to him.
The Royals do have another major league ready backup catcher in Tony Cruz, but he failed to beat out Butera for the job this year and you probably want to have another backup for next season in case Butera or Salvy gets hurt. Can anyone even name any of the other catchers in the Royals’ system that might be able to step in? And no, Chase Vallot will not be coming up to ride the pine in case of injury.
Again, you only sign Butera if the money is right, but he probably won’t ask for much and it is good to have the depth and comfort he can provide.
Moylan has been one of the few good surprises for the 2016 Royals. He signed a minor league contract as a long shot to make the roster and eventually started the year in AAA. Since being promoted he has been a very solid option for retiring right handed hitters in the Royals’ bullpen.
Unfortunately for Moylan fans, he’s also at the very tail end of his likely playable years in terms of age. The 37-year old sidearmer might be worth bringing back on another minor league contract to give him another shot to win a spot in the bullpen. But if someone else offers him any sort of major league deal it makes more sense to let him move on, especially given the Royals’ seeming magical ability to make useful relievers out of almost any pitcher.
It would not surprise me in the least to see Wang retire after this season, especially considering the Royals did not even wait until the end of the season to grant him free agency. The Royals gave him a major league deal after camp because his velocity appeared to be back, but it quickly dove down again after the season started. He pitched almost effectively at times, but extremely ineffectively at others and there does not appear to be much sense in giving him even a minor league deal.
There are lots of other questions that need to be asked and answered about the 2017 Royals. But it sure looks like the answer to whether or not they should try to bring back their 2016 free agents is no, nope, and never, with the only exception being Drew Butera. After all, with Brett Eibner gone, someone has to challenge Hosmer for best hair on the Royals.