Dayton Moore had some major decisions to face going into this off-season, with uncertainty facing the payroll, and free agency looming for several key players. Complicating matters was the tragic death of young pitcher Yordano Ventura, which cast a pall over the entire off-season. Despite those obstacles, Moore seemed committed to putting forth a contending team for the 2017 season. However, the team has stumbled out of the gate, with a 9-18 record, the worst in baseball.
For all his efforts, did Dayton Moore actually make the Royals worse? Would the Royals be better off today had he simply done nothing all winter? Now it is still early, and his off-season acquisitions are not looking particularly good. However I would not expect Brandon Moss to hit .167 all season, nor Travis Wood to end the year with a 14.04 ERA. What we can use to evaluate the off-season moves are the updated ZIPS projections courtesy of Fangraphs, which take into account what the player has already done this season, in addition to previous seasons, to project his final stats.
Let's take a look at what the team might look like had Dayton Moore gone on a long vacation all winter. Keep in mind, this means they still lose Kendrys Morales and Edinson Volquez as free agents, and can't bid on alternate free agents like Greg Holland. We can assume the Royals can still exercise options, however. Here is how things look in the alternate universe.
Jarrod Dyson instead of Jorge Soler
Soler still has yet to play his first game in a Royals uniform, although he should be up by next week when his rehab assignment is up. In his stead, the Royals have gotten a terrible performance by Paulo Orlando and mixed results from rookie Jorge Bonifacio. Only the Athletics have gotten less offensive production from right field than the Royals, who have had their right fielders hit .187/.260/.253 this year.
Dyson hasn't gotten off to a great start - he's hitting .233/.304/.278 - but speed and defense rarely slump. Dyson leads the league in steals with eight, is fifth in Baserunning Runs, and while his defense so far has not been great as it has been in the past, it is still very good and a huge upgrade over what the Royals have gotten in right. Because of his speed and defense, ZIPS still projects him to be a more valuable player than Soler, even as it expects Jorge to have better offensive numbers. The Royals did the Soler move with the expectation he could help in 2018, 2019, and 2020, but it seems likely that in 2017, he will be a downgrade.
Cheslor Cuthbert instead of Brandon Moss
If Dayton Moore does nothing this winter, Cheslor Cuthbert is likely getting the bulk of at-bats at designated hitter, perhaps in a rotation, with possibly Ryan O'Hearn or Hunter Dozier a possibility to get playing time later in the year. Cuthbert has struggled in a part-time role thus far, and while ZIPS does not project him to be any great shakes, pretty much anyone would project to be better than Brandon Moss, who has been an abject disaster thus far.
Kendrys Morales - who was a slow starter last year - has struggled in Toronto, hitting .225/.277/.360 with four home runs. Steve Pearce was a popular target last winter, but he is hitting just .230/.277/.393 with a 30% strikeout rate. Some of the other designated hitter options this winter have looked worse - Mike Napoli is hitting .158, Chris Carter has just one home run, and Pedro Alvarez is struggling in AAA.
Alec Mills and Jake Junis instead of Jason Hammel and Nate Karns
It is understandable that Dayton Moore was eager to improve the rotation, knowing what a weakness that area had been the past few seasons. When Jason Hammel was still unsigned around the start of spring training, it seemed the Royals could get a bargain on what many thought was one of the best free agent starting pitchers in a very weak class. Karns had some potential as a pitcher that could miss some bats, so despite some red flags such as an inability to go deep in games, and an injury past, the Royals pulled the trigger and acquired him for Jarrod Dyson.
Karns has had mixed results, turning in a fine performance Wednesday night. Hammel, on the other hand, has struggled in the first year of a two-year, $16 million deal. In an alternate universe, the Royals go with internal options to fill out the rotation, going with Alec Mills and Jake Junis. It can be difficult for ZIPS to project based on minor league numbers, so don't take the projections for Mills and Junis too seriously. My guess is that Hammel and Karns are upgrades over the internal options, but the question is - will the upgrade be worth the cost?
Wade Davis instead of Travis Wood
Well look, everyone expected this to be a downgrade, the Royals were just counting on improvements from others - Joakim Soria, Matt Strahm - could paper over the gaping hole Davis' departure would leave. Soria has been better and Strahm is starting to turn his season around, but the loss of Davis has turned a dominant pen into, at best, a mediocre pen.
So it looks like Dayton Moore downgraded the outfield, downgraded at DH, improved the starting rotation, and downgraded the bullpen. If you're counting at home, the alternate scenario players project to be more valuable than the real Royals by a good margin.
|Real Royals||WAR||Alternate Royals||WAR|
|Jorge Soler||0.1||Jarrod Dyson||1.3|
|Brandon Moss||-1.1||Cheslor Cuthbert||0.8|
|Jason Hammel||1.8||Alec Mills||1.6|
|Nate Karns||0.8||Jake Junis||0.8|
|Travis Wood||-0.3||Wade Davis||1.6|
There are some other moves you could consider - re-signing Drew Butera and Peter Moylan, not trading for Peter O'Brien, but those moves have a negligible impact. What is also amazing is that the players dealt away cost less than the players acquired. Wade Davis, Jarrod Dyson and some minimum wage players combine to make less than $15 million this year. Hammel, Moss, Wood, and Soler combine to make almost $17 million, with heavily backloaded deals that will cost the team even more in 2018. The club didn't save money dealing Davis - they simply re-allocated resources to address (a) starting pitching; and (b) the future.
Of course, it is still early, and many of these players could turn things around. We also have the benefit of hindsight - heck, at the time I liked many of these moves. And we should also point out that had Dayton Moore not done anything, this team would likely still be bad. The Royals are not losing because of Jason Hammel or Travis Wood. They are losing because Alex Gordon looks finished. And Eric Hosmer keeps pounding ground balls. And Lorenzo Cain has no power. And Alcides Escobar swings at everything. And second base has been a disaster. And right-field has been nearly as bad.
Dayton Moore did not seem to have a very good off-season, but perhaps it was for the best. If the Royals are going to end this run, better to end it in clear and resounding fashion. This team is leaving no doubt that a fire sale is in order, and Dayton must make better moves this summer than he did last winter.