With the season nearly upon us, we assembled our writing staff, not to rebuild, but to reload! The Royals may have one more year left with the core of this team, so we talked about whether the team has one more magical run in them.
What was your reaction to Raúl Mondesí making the club and how do you think he will fare?
Matthew LaMar: Raúl Mondesí has no business being on a Major League roster right now. In his five-year minor league career, he has put up an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .800 a total of zero times in a season, and an OPS of above .740 exactly once. Last year in the Major Leagues, his OPS was a hilariously lean .512 and he struck out eight times for every one walk.
It's pretty clear that Mondesí has the most raw talent of any of the four internal second base candidates, and the Royals are hoping he will distance himself from the pack with that talent. But he wasn't ready for the Majors last year, and he's not ready this year. Furthermore, the Royals are simultaneously wasting the potential of Christian Colón and burning Mondesí’s service time for a team that's not likely to be particularly good.
Timothy Webber: Kind of meh? Second base was always going to be a black hole in the lineup. None of the options within the organization really inspired all that much confidence. This problem goes way back: The last time the Royals had a second baseman who was simply average at the plate (an OPS+ greater than 100) was Mike Aviles in 2010, and he barely got there. Raúl Mondesí isn't going to change that stat — at least not now. Of the options the Royals have, someone like Colón filling the gap would probably be the best (re: least bad) if they really think they can contend in 2017.
Max Rieper: I can see the appeal with his speed and power, but his plate recognition is just disastrous. What I think most concerns me about this is that they seem to be evaluating players on tools and not results. Speed and power is great, but if you are constantly swinging at pitches out of the zone, you’re not going to get an opportunity to use those tools.
Ryan Heffernon: My initial reaction was negative. I don’t think his success in spring training is a real good evidence of his ability to hit major league pitching, as we saw with Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas early on in their careers. And with the Royals needing a lot to go right this season, I would have rather seen a safer choice.
However, I am not as worried about how it will affect Mondesí if he totally bombs and has to be sent down. One unique thing about Mondesí is that he doesn’t seem phased by the big stage. If he struggles and has to be sent down, I don’t think that would be jarring to him.
sterlingice: Disappointing but predictable. I hope he proves us all wrong as second base is just dying for an upgrade. I wish Colón had been given the shot he's been denied for so long. But he'll be waived and some analytically inclined team like Oakland, Tampa, or Houston will pick him up for a minor prospect or cash considerations.
Shaun Newkirk: I half jokingly said on the Twitter the other day that it wouldn't even hurt Mondesi to spend some time in AA - remember he was barely in AAA last year prior to promotion and his promotion to AAA was a bit of a surprise - like with Bubba Starling. He has a career .246/.291/.400 line in AA.
I've never had Mondesí as the Royals #1 prospect because he's never really shown that he could hit, even when accounting for his age to level. I think we are a bit jaded by his poor MLB appearance last year. If he didn't get called up last year, maybe some wouldn't be so tempered with their expectations.
Hokius: I was annoyed. He was so bad last year, and we've had multiple articles at this point that point out that his spring training wasn't as impressive as it might first appear. Christian Colón deserved a legitimate shot at some playing time and Whit deserved a chance to be on the MLB roster. Mondesí needed to face more AAA pitching. I suspect Mondesí is going to be bad, but the Royals will keep forcing the situation possibly ruining his chances of becoming a successful big league player.
Josh Duggan: That they can justifiably send him to Omaha and are not seem insane. Then again should we expect anything less when looking at how the Royals have handled his development?
How concerned should we be about Jorge Soler?
Josh Duggan: Not very? Spring training struggles mean about as much as spring training success. I mean, sure, he's injured, but it's just an oblique injury. It's not like Soler doesn't have an injury history to start with. He might miss April, but it's probably not the end of the world if Paulo Orlando or Brandon Moss needs to fill his spot in the lineup.
Timothy Webber: I'm not going to get too worked up over Soler's performance this year. I think the Soler move was probably more about the long term than it was about 2017. In my opinion, if he can play well this season and help the team to the playoffs, that's gravy. The expectations for Soler have been lowered so much that at this point I wouldn't be surprised if he actually starts out hot, gets everyone excited, then regresses back to the kind of disappointing year we're all afraid he'll have. It's the Royals Way™.
Ryan Heffernon: I wouldn’t say we should be incredibly concerned because we knew what we signed up for, to an extent. He isn’t that “young” per se, but he also doesn’t have a ton of major league at-bats. We know he has the raw power, but we haven’t seen it come to fruition. We also knew he would strike out at a decent clip.
I don’t think anybody really expected a huge season from Soler, so it’s hard for me to be too concerned. The power will be what is frightening, if anything. If he slugs below .400, like he did in 2015, that wouldn’t be good. Obviously.
sterlingice: How well do you like Paulo Orlando? I just don't know what to expect from Soler. I'm not worried about his spring numbers but I am worried about lingering injuries for a guy with an injury history. Which is worse: a full season of injured Soler or one without him? It's still Spring Training so I'm going to pretend all is hunky dory and we'll see those huge power numbers with maybe some Nori Aoki hi-jinks in the outfield.
Shaun Newkirk: I didn't like the Soler trade. He's injured a lot, and he's a big guy which means likely he'll continue to have minors strains/pulls/tears due to flexibility (I believe the Cubs staff focused on getting him more flexible). Of course he doesn't have a long track record of performing well in the majors too, which means this injury stunts his growth a bit. I'm not worried about the injury itself, but what it means for Soler based on his profile.
Matthew LaMar: Oddly, I have no expectations regarding Jorge Soler. His modus operandi so far is to be an underwhelming, injury-prone player who nevertheless possesses special hitting talent that could turn him into a star if he ever taps into that next gear. I haven't seen anything this spring that has changed that reputation.
Hokius: I'm not very concerned. We've also had multiple articles on why you shouldn't expect too much out of him and even the optimistic Mellinger predicted he'd be bad early. If Soler is ever actually good it will be a pleasant surprise, not the expected result.
Max Rieper: I wasn’t really concerned until he got hurt, then I remembered “oh yea, he’s a major injury risk.” I have a bad feeling this could be a nagging problem all year.
What is the biggest strength of this club? Its biggest weakness?
Ryan Heffernon: The biggest strength is probably still the defense. The loss of Jarrod Dyson is a blow, but you still have Gold Gloves everywhere, especially now with Mondesí being in the fold. But this might be the best starting rotation we have seen in a while. Duffy and Kennedy figure to be a strong 1-2, with Jason Hammel, Nathan Karns and Jason Vargas filling in nicely. There is also more depth than in years past.
As far as weakness, I wouldn’t say there is really a glaring one. They will struggle to get on base (as always), and the bullpen might be fragile, but nothing that screams “cancel the season.”
Matthew LaMar: The biggest strength of this club is, I think, going to be its rotation, which sounds really odd but I think is going to be accurate. Remember, Jason Hammel was one of the premier free agent starters coming into this offseason. Jason Vargas is also sneaky good, if he returns to form. Duffy is Duffy, and Ian Kennedy is a pretty decent vet and quietly had a nice year last season. Combine that with possible assistance from two top prospects who only have to take another step (Kyle Zimmer, Josh Staumont) and we could be looking at the best starting rotation in the Moore era.
Also, I don't think the bullpen is likely to be good, and therefore will be a weakness. The Royals' past teams succeeded in part because their bullpen was simply the best. Even if this bullpen is merely good, that's a huge downgrade and will limit the Royals' ability to pull out the kind of close, gritty victories we've expected of them.
Timothy Webber: I think you can make the case that the strengths and weaknesses of this club are still the same as they were for the pennant-winning teams of 2014-15, but much milder. The defense is no longer elite across the board, but it will still be very good. I think the bullpen will be fine (the Royals are good at making serviceable relievers out of the dirt on the bullpen mounds), but it's obviously no H-D-H. And one of the bigger weaknesses from those years, rotational depth, has been shored up. A lot of elements of this team seem to be converging towards mediocrity.
Shaun Newkirk: It's probably going to be defense again, which sounds like a negative but it isn't necessarily provided they hit enough. I'm not sold on the offense (Hosmer is projected as the best hitter with a 112 wRC+) but I'm going to say the rotation. The rotation is made up of two 34-year-olds and a 32-year-old. One of those 34-year-olds is coming back from Tommy John surgery (Jason Vargas) and the other one (Jason Hammel) had elbow tightness and declining peripherals. The 32-year-old has allowed the most hard contact% in all of baseball over the last four years (min. 600 IP). Behind them is the guy with the sixth highest walk rate in baseball last year in Nate Karns (min. 90 IP). The depth behind them if there is an injury (and there is always an injury) is a 38-year-old Chris Young who was worth -1.2 fWAR last year and a left-hander in Travis Wood who can't get right handed batters out (second worst wOBA as a LHP vs RHB since 2014). Duffy is good and everyone else is a question mark.
Hokius: The biggest strength might be that they're finally not giving up a game every five days. There's no Jeremy Guthrie or bad Chris Young and Wade Davis or Luis Mendoza in this rotation. Everybody there should give you a shot at a quality start or better every night. Of course, I thought that before last season started and Kris Medlen and Chris Young seemed to prove they just didn't have it anymore. Their biggest weakness is their middle infield. Escobar seems to be losing his MLB playability in a hurry and Mondesi has done nothing to prove he can hit major league pitching.
sterlingice: If the outfield is Cain, Gordon, and Orlando for any length of time, maybe the strength is still going to be defense. And I wouldn't be totally shocked if we looked up again in September and saw a top ten bullpen, though maybe not a super elite one. The offense should be better and the starting pitching should be decent but both are probably weaknesses when compared to other contenders.
The bullpen is scary for me. Some may disagree but I think Ned's just fine as a manager with a team that plays to his strengths: develop young players, build confidence, and keep the clubhouse running. But he needs that plug-and-play bullpen as he's not going to do well if forced to mix and match relievers where the short term tactical will be at odds with his long term strategic.
Josh Duggan: The Royals biggest strength? Who knows? Their defense will probably still be pretty good. They've got more power but just in comparison to the Royals of the past. The departure of Dyson is a big hit in the speed department, but they're still fairly fast (and will be a lot faster in September). Their biggest weakness has to be depth in the farm system which is a byproduct of poor drafting and player development for the past six years or so. There's just not much there. Help is not on the way if things go wrong.
Max Rieper: Their biggest strength is whatever that special sauce is that allows them to exceed expectations. Whether that is confidence, experience, or Mike Moustakas locker-room speeches, the Royals have found a way to perform when they really have no business being all that great on paper. Their biggest weakness continues to be their offense, which will have a bit more pop, but will struggle to get on base and move runners home.
Who is the most important Royals player this year?
Shaun Newkirk: Part of me wants to say Eric Hosmer because if he changes his launch angle by 3-4 degrees he could be a 130 wRC+ hitter, but that feels like a pipe dream now. The other part of me wants to say Lorenzo Cain if he turns back into a four win player. However I'll go with Alex Gordon if he hits this year.
Josh Duggan: Lorenzo Cain. If he's a five or six WAR player again, the Royals may have a shot.
Timothy Webber: All the impending free agents. How they perform this year will determine whether the Royals can resign them (or if they want to resign them) and that will shape the look of the next era of the team. Plus, these players will have extra motivation to perform well in a contract year. If the Royals make a run at the postseason, it will probably start with them.
sterlingice: I'm going with a combo package of Cain and Gordon. As I wrote: "While it’s one of the more unlikely items I’ve thrown out, if Cain, Gordon, and Jorge Soler could somehow play 450 games next year, the Royals will likely be in great shape." Even if it's just full seasons from Cain and Gordon, the offense and defense will be better then expected.
Ryan Heffernon: Lorenzo Cain. He will have to be healthy and productive for the Royals to be successful.
Max Rieper: Eric Hosmer. He had a poor year by the defensive metrics, and even with his home run spike, his OPS+ was the third-lowest of his career. I think his defense will be rebound, but I am very curious to see what he does with the bat in a contract year.
Matthew LaMar: Mike Moustakas. There are a very wide range of outcome possibilities for him--remember, not too long ago he was terrible and everyone wanted him sent to AAA Omaha. Also consider that Moose is combing back from an ACL injury, which could affect both offense and defense, and Moose is a good defender at the hot corner.
So if Moose is like 2016 Moose, the one with good plate discipline and Jose Bautista-esque power, the Royals will be hugely improved. But Moose could also be terrible again offensively with his ACL injury return sapping his defensive worth, too. It's a big swing.
Hokius: Eric Hosmer. I think we can feel mostly confident in what we expect from everyone else. If Gordon, Cain, Moustakas, or Duffy fails to play well it's going to be a disappointment. But if Eric Hosmer can get a higher launch angle for his contract year the Royals could have a special offense. If he continues to hit everything on the ground from the four spot the Royals are going to have a tough time putting rallies together.
Do you think there will be a July firesale?
Hokius: I can only expect a firesale if the Royals are on pace to lose 100 games anyway. Dayton Moore clings to every win too tightly.
Ryan Heffernon: I don’t think there will be, even if the Royals aren’t competing. I could see them being 5-7 games out of the second wild card at the break and still not selling. It isn’t in Dayton’s DNA and we have seen this team make crazier runs.
Max Rieper: I don’t think there will be a firesale, but I can see the Royals making some sort of “re-loading” trade like the Wade Davis deal where they get some young MLB-ready player in return for a veteran. We should also remember that despite a lot of mainstream media writers incorrectly reporting the Royals are screwed with free agent compensation rule changes, the Royals will still likely get a pick at the end of the first round for Hosmer, Moustakas, and Cain. That gives the Royals an incentive to hang onto their players if there isn’t the right deal.
Timothy Webber: Will there be? No. Should there be? Probably. The Royals sure have the look of a team that will be hanging around the fringes of the playoff picture near the trade deadline, and that's where you never want to be. The worst thing you can do at the trade deadline is stand pat. It would hurt, sure, but if the Royals are more than two or three games out of the playoffs at the deadline, the smart thing would be to sell. There are rebuilding years coming, and July will likely be the best chance to accelerate that process.
Matthew LaMar: There are three conditions for this question. Condition one is if the Royals are a good team and in the thick of the playoff race; the answer is no. Condition two is if the Royals are a bad team and 10+ games out of a playoff spot; the answer is probably yes.
But if the Royals are just sort of 'meh?' I really have no idea. When push comes to shove, in this situation I'd imagine that Moore goes the halvesies route like he did this offseason and we may see a trade of one or two players, but not all. But if I were to air on either side, I would think it is more likely Moore does not sell.
Josh Duggan: No. I don't think Moore would pull the trigger even if he should.
sterlingice: I think the Royal would have to be 5+ out of the second Wild Card a week before the deadline so I think it's unlikely. And the schedule does them a lot of favors with a lot of games against teams projected to have a losing record in the first two months. Moore will do everything possible to not waive the white flag.
And I think that it might be the right call. I don't see a single player on this team whose 1/2 year rental price can shave years off a rebuild. Maybe Cain, if he's having another 6 WAR season. But I can't see what Moose or Hosmer would bring back that would be that impactful. Can they net a top 100 prospect? Maybe. Great- that gets the Royals to... 1 top 100 prospect in the system. Only 4 or 5 more to go before a real rebuild. If the Royals are out of it, Herrera is doing well, and the reliever market is still insane- that would be an interesting one to watch.
Shaun Newkirk: I don't though I also predicted a 78-84 record. Moore isn't going to sell at the deadline it feels like if the team is 40-41 after 81 games. They'd have to be miserably bad for Moore to admit that this isn't the year.
Give us one surprising prediction about the Royals this year.
Matthew LaMar: Alex Gordon is healthy and wrecks stuff again. From 2011 to 2014, Gordon was legitimately one of the ten best position players in all of baseball. His batting average on balls in play was at a six-year low last year, and wrist injuries are notorious for sapping power and causing all kinds of other hitting problems. It's easy to forget, but Gordon was really great in 2015 when he was on the field, and he's still more talented than you or I will be at anything.
Josh Duggan: Chris Young and Joakim Soria both rebound to respectable performance levels.
Max Rieper: Hunter Dozier finishes top five in Rookie of the Year voting. He can play anywhere, he’ll get some at-bats in Kansas City.
Timothy Webber: In 2040, we will have all forgotten about Brandon Moss's two years with the Royals, except when it comes up in trivia that he set the franchise single-season home run record with a monster 2017. And we'll all be a little embarrassed at that point that our record is still only 37 home runs.
Ryan Heffernon: The Royals will finish in the top half of the league in home runs.
I’m breaking the rules here, but I also think that Joakim Soria will be good. Last season was terrible, and I don’t see him being the same Soria as in years past, but I think he will be a valuable asset out of the pen. He is still striking guys out at a pretty good clip and I’m going to go out on a limb and say that last season was an outlier.
Shaun Newkirk: Positive prediction: Sal Perez is worth 4 fWAR this year. Negative prediction: Danny Duffy is worth 1.5 fWAR this year
sterlingice: I can usually be relied upon for my optimism but I'm going with a pessimistic one this time: I don't think Jason Vargas makes it through 100 IP. I hope I'm wrong but I'm just waiting for his arm to fall off or just pitch like a washed up 34 year old pitcher. My hope, though, is that it gives someone young and/or unexpected a chance to shine and bump up the ceiling on the rotation.
Hokius: Mike Moustakas will break the single-season franchise home run record.
What has to happen for the Royals to make the post-season?
sterlingice: I think it's as simple as health. The team simply isn't deep enough to endure too many month or longer injuries to key players, due to a lack of talent and depth. It's difficult to expect as the team continues to get older, but it's what they need. If they are merely average injury-wise, the Royals will be at home in October.
Shaun Newkirk: They have to win more games than all but 3-4 other AL teams. Okay, really though it's simple - everyone has to be better than they are projected to be really, as a whole, or some have to be a lot better than their projections (Hosmer, Mondesi, Gordon). Really though this team is beyond I think just hoping for the balls to bounce the right way. The team is a few years older than the 2014/2015 teams that devil magicked themselves above their talent level. Cleveland is really good and Detroit is a better team, so that's about 40 games against tough opponents and then they likely won't go 29-9 against the Twins/White Sox again this year.
Matthew LaMar: This year's Royals team is the bizarro Royals. They need two major things to happen to them, but this year those two things are radically different. For the Royals to make the postseason, they need to A) have a great offense and B) their starters need to be a legitimately good unit. Moore's bullpen is starting to fray, and he made moves this offseason that negatively impacted the historically great defense (replacing Dyson with Soler, adding another primary DH in Moss). It's certainly possible the Royals return to the Royals of old, but they look like a different team, and they feel like one, too. If they succeed, it will be because what they are pivoting to turns out to be a great idea.
Josh Duggan: The core that drove them to the 2014 and 2015 runs has to perform at those levels, not 2016's.
Timothy Webber: The new folks all have to click, and the core of the team has to stay healthy. We've seen enough to know that if those core players are healthy, they'll have a shot. But to seal the deal, Soler and Moss will have to rake, Hammel and Karns will have to not get blown up, and Raúl Mondesí will have to — (*remembers Omar Infante's 2015*) you know what, Mondesí will probably be fine, but let's have Ben Zobrist's agent on the line just in case.
Ryan Heffernon: They have to hit more home runs and the core will have to stay healthy. With Dyson and Wade gone, the Royals won’t survive injuries.
Hokius: They have to stay healthy because they don't have any depth, Raul Mondesi and Alcides Escobar need to be near replacement level players, no one we expect to be good can take a nose dive, and at least one guy has to take a huge step forward.
Max Rieper: Really, they need some more “RoyalsDevilMagic”. A lot of things went their way in 2014 and 2015 - good health, good situational hitting, breakout performances. This is a fairly mediocre team on paper, but mediocre teams can have magical seasons now and then. That’s why we love sports. The Royals need some more pixie dust.