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Royals Review Mailbag: Esky Magic, the draft, and the 2018 lineup

Grab a beer and let's talk Royals.

We are coming up on the Memorial Day weekend, which is typically "when the pennant race really begins." Unfortunately, the Royals may find themselves still in the starting blocks with their shoelaces untied when the pennant race begins. Let's grill up some hot dogs and burgers and answer some reader mail as we start the Memorial Day weekend early.

So sterlingice and I took a look at Esky Magic a few weeks ago. Basically they score about the same number of runs, although their overall hitting numbers slightly improve with him at leadoff, but the pitching improves considerably. It seems silly to think Escobar leading off has an effect on this, considering he is one of the worst hitters in baseball over the past few seasons, and I imagine this is mostly just random dumb luck.

Analytics will always be a game of probabilities. Batting your worst hitter first lowers the odds that team will score many runs. But that doesn't mean they can't out-perform the odds. If I flip a coin, I have a 50/50 shot of getting "heads." But in practice, if I flip it 100 times, I might get heads 52 times. I might even get it 60 times. That doesn't mean I have "magic" to get heads to come up. Sometimes weird stuff happens. The 2014 Royals are evidence of that.

In any case, the "magic" seems to wearing off. The Royals were just 38-43 with Escobar leading off last year and are 9-6 this year, having cooled down after an initial bump.

I feel like I have been far less critical of Ned Yost in the past two seasons, and I don't think it is because he won two pennants and a championship, although I do feel he should be given a lot of credit for that. I think the Royals over the past two years have fared, well, about where they should considering their talent level and circumstances. Last year's team was probably a pretty mediocre team that couldn't afford many injuries. In some ways, I think they probably did better than we should have expected considering they lost Mike Moustakas to much of the year, Wade Davis for several weeks, Lorenzo Cain for a month, and got pretty much no production from Alex Gordon.

This year, I just can't fault him for much.  He tried Gordon at leadoff and it didn't work, so he tried Esky, which, is kinda silly, but its not like they have great options and it probably doesn't make that big of a difference. He's resting Salvy more. I think he has done a decent job handling a bullpen that is much worse than it has been. He can't make the players hit better. He seems to still have the clubhouse, so unless they all turn on him and things get ugly this year, I don't see a reason to fire Ned.

Well, if he comes cheap enough you could always use a decent defender at shortstop as a reserve. I expect Alcides to go out in the market thinking he can land a three-year deal or so, only to find that no one is willing to give a player with his offensive numbers anything close to what he wants. So I can see him returning on a one-year deal, perhaps as a hedge against Raúl Mondesí in case he shows he is still overwhelmed. My worry is that the Royals will give him the All-Star treatment, giving him more playing time than he probably deserves at this point in his career.

I also wanted to take this question to address the fact that Alcides Escobar has zero stolen bases. He has fewer stolen bases than Edwin Encarnacion, Miguel Montero, Mark Trumbo, Joey Votto, or Matt Wieters. The first thought would be "can't steal second if you aren't on first." And it is true that Escobar has not reached base much. But looking at his splits, he has 15 hits and two walks with the bases empty and less than two outs, meaning there are 17 decent stolen base opportunities right there and he hasn't gone. He still fares well in Fangraphs' Baserunning Runs, and he doesn't seem noticeably slower, but Jesse Newell of the Star pointed out this Jeff Zimmerman article showing Escobar's speed is now below-average, when measured from home to first. I don't know what the issue is, but Esky ain't running like he used to.

Four of their last five top picks (A.J. Puckett, Ashe Russell, Brandon Finnegan, and Kyle Zimmer) have all been pitchers, and I wouldn't be surprised if they go that route again considering that "pitching is the currency of baseball." Interestingly, all but Russell were college pitchers, but the Royals have been pretty heavy on prep players since Dayton Moore took over.

There have been some rumors of them being interested in Trevor Rogers, a prep right-handed pitcher out of New Mexico, as well as some college bats, possibly Jeren Kendall of Vanderbilt if he falls to the Royals at #14. Really, the organization could use more depth at every position, so they should go for the best player available, it is just a matter of who they have high on that board.

I have been known to be a Jorge Soler apologist and I still think he could be a productive hitter for the Royals, but oy, this trade is not looking good right now. Soler had two major red flags going into his Royals career - injuries and poor defense - and Royals fans have definitely noticed those weaknesses already. But when you're dealing with a 25-year old who really has yet to play his first full Major League season, these are the growing pains you go through. You know who also struggled initially with the Royals? Jermaine Dye. He hit .235/.277/.354 over his first two seasons with the Royals leading many to call the trade a disaster. Then at age 25, Dye figured out how to become an All-Star slugger.

But that is the problem with this trade. The Royals had a window for THIS YEAR. Soler may be good, but it may be a year or two before we see that. Even the Royals have said many times it takes hundreds, even thousands of at-bats before you know what you have in a player, and that there will be growing pains in the meantime. But the Royals can't afford growing pains if they want to contend. Having Wade Davis this year may not have mattered if the offense was going to be this anemic. But if they were trying to truly contend this year, it seems very curious to trade away a player as good as Wade Davis in return for a player with red flags like Soler.

I think it is much more likely those players are traded, since prospects are going to be more valuable than the picks, but it also wouldn't surprise me if not ALL of the good players are traded. Dayton Moore has said he won't trade guys just to trade guys, remarking that he wouldn't move Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales at last year's deadline for anyone he didn't think could be a top ten prospect in the Royals system.

I can see a scenario where perhaps no team is willing to give up prospects worth what Dayton Moore thinks Eric Hosmer should warrant. And Dayton might justify the trade saying he wants Hosmer's leadership for the young players coming up and hopes he can re-sign him this winter. He will still likely have pretty good draft pick compensation to fallback on for these players should he not trade them. But considering the likely return, he should be trying to trade them as much as possible.

If I had to guess:

Catcher: Salvador Perez

First Base: Eric Hosmer. I will go out on a limb and say that Eric Hosmer looks around, sees nowhere near the offers he wants, the market dries up for him, and he comes back to KC on a one-year deal. It could happen.

Second Base: I don't think the club really sees Whit Merrifield as a starter and would prefer him in a utility role. I like Corey Toups coming up, but he doesn't have big-time prospect status, so I can see them bringing in a free agent. Brandon Phillips seems like the kind of "great clubhouse leader" veteran they would bring in, despite his diminishing skills. At age 36, he probably wouldn't warrant more than a one- or two-year deal, which probably fits their budget.

Shortstop: Raúl Mondesí

Third Base: Cheslor Cuthbert. It is possible Mike Moustakas returns, but many seem to feel he is headed back to Cali.

Left Field: Alex Gordon. Yea, they'll have to sink or swim with Gordo in left. At least he is still a plus defender.

Center Field: This is interesting as there is no heir apparent for Lorenzo Cain. Billy Burns, Paulo Orlando, and Bubba Starling (turning the corner?) are all candidates I suppose with maybe Donnie Dewees a bit further off, but none seems like starting material. I think this is the position the Royals focus on in trades for the draft, which is why the Nationals are such an intriguing trade partner. They have a number of solid centerfield prospects - Juan Soto, Andrew Stevenson, Rafael Bautista, and stud prospect Victor Robles, who is likely off-limits.

But it also wouldn't totally surprise me to see Cain return, as I think he has more willingness to stay than Hosmer or Moose, and teams may be wary of his injury past. He was interested in a long-term deal before and knowing that Dayton Moore still wants to win next year, he may do his best to keep Cain in the fold. Working against the Royals is that next year's centerfield crop of free agents is pretty weak, and Cain may find suitors despite his age and injury past.

Right Field: I think the organization would still like to give this to Jorge Soler, but they have to be noticing the hot start by Jorge Bonifacio. I would hold off on anointing Bonifacio just yet - remember how the league figured out Whit Merrifield? But Bonifacio is coming on strong and could bump Soler to DH (although Bonifacio's defense may actually be worse) or even Gordo to the bench if this continues.

Designated Hitter: Brandon Moss, although he will have a short leash if he continues to struggle.

Where does this leave Hunter Dozier? Perhaps he will also be a utility guy, playing a bit of third, a bit of outfield, a bit of DH. It is also quite possible he is trade bait, although he is nearly 26 years old now and has yet to get more than a cup of coffee in the big leagues.

With his fifth blast last night, Whit has more home runs than Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain or Alex Gordon. He has hit more home runs than All-Star second baseman like Ian Kinsler, Jason Kipnis, and Dustin Pedroia. Plus he hit three for Omaha this year, giving him eight home runs in pro ball this year - his career high in any season is ten, a number he reached last year. His overall offensive numbers are still below-average, but if you add some decent power to go with his speed and defense, he could be a useful player, and I expect him to be a valuable bench player for the Royals for several seasons.

I have heard good things about his glove, but the bat has been slower to develop until this year. I'm still a bit skeptical about his offense - he was a .276/.325/.373 hitter before reaching the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, not terrible, but not eye-popping either. But he has shown some added power with a crazy-low strikeout rate of 6.4%. He's 24, so his upside is pretty limited, but clubs can always use a good glove as a utility infielder.

Billy hasn't officially retired, but I hear he is opening a chain of vegan sandwich shops in Idaho. Just kidding. His Twitter account has been pretty much silent since the start of the year and there have been zero rumors I have seen of him signing anywhere. Billy was a rookie in 2007, and if you told me his teammate Jorge de la Rosa would have a career exceeding Billy's, I'm not sure I would have believed it. It has been a rapid downfall for Billy.

It is Kevin, of course.

Thanks for the questions and have a safe Memorial Day weekend!