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Early ZIPS projections have the Royals as the worst team in baseball next year

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More evidence for a rebuild?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Chicago White Sox Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The off-season has just begun, but that hasn’t stopped pundits from projecting next year. ESPN contributor Dan Szymborski has come out with preliminary ZIPS projected standings for next year. (INSIDER) Now there are a lot of caveats with this, the big one that this assumes all free agents are not on teams. So this is the Royals sans Hosmer, Cain, and Moose, which may not be all that unlikely a scenario.

With this stripped-down Royals club, ZIPS projects the Royals to 69-93, the worst team in all of baseball. Near the bottom with the Royals is the Rangers, with 71 wins, and the Tigers and Padres, who project for 72 wins.

ZiPS projects the Royals to bottom out, which is no surprise given how much of the team's core talent is hitting the open market. Some players may come back, but K.C. is headed toward a rebuilding phase just as much as the Detroit Tigers are. Whether they truly realize it or think that it's a simple retool is an article for another day.

The mean projection for the Royals has them winning the division just 0.4% of the time, with a playoff berth just 0.7% of the time. Unsurprisingly, the Dodgers are projected to be the best team in baseball with 96 wins, with the Yankees second with 92 wins.

What do projections mean with an entire off-season to go? Well obviously teams will make a lot of moves between now and Opening Day, no one is saying for sure the Royals will lose 90+ games. But the projections show what the baseline talent is for the Royals compared to the rest of the league, and just how far the team has to go in improving the club before they can be considered a contender. Even bringing back Hosmer, Moustakas, and Cain may not move the needle that much. The club had all three last year and only won 80 games, with a 72-90 pythagorean record.

Although ZIPS is considered the gold standard of projection systems, it has had trouble pegging the Royals as PECOTA has. ZIPS projected the Royals for 80 wins in 2014, when they won 89, 79 wins in 2015, when they won 95, 77 wins in 2016, when they won 81, and 76 wins last year, when they won 80. So projections may not be the end-all, be-all with the Royals.

Another interesting twist in this year’s ZIPS projections.

We shall see what Dan Szymborski and the ZIPS data has to say this off-season when he unveils individual player projections over the winter.