The Royals have been mathematically eliminated from winning the Central Division and now stand five games out of a Wild Card spot with just 13 games remaining. The Royals are three games under .500 and their playoff odds are down to just 1.8% according to Fangraphs. Even Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger concedes it is over. Barring one of the most miraculous comebacks in baseball history, they will not be gunning for their third championship in franchise history.
The season is effectively over, but there are still two weeks of games remaining. There are still a few things the Royals could do to position themselves for the future.
Shut down Danny Duffy and Salvador Pérez
With Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain all set for free agency, Danny Duffy and Salvador Pérez are now the most valuable long-term assets on the team. Duffy just signed a five year, $65 million contract last winter, but has had two stints on the disabled list this year, and has admitted he is pitching through pain, hinting that he may need to address his elbow injury this winter. Duffy has insisted that he is not compromising his ligament, but the Royals should do everything they can to ensure Duffy does not suffer any kind of injury that could lead to a second Tommy John surgery for the young left-hander.
Salvador Pérez has also endured a stint on the DL this year, yet he is still fifth in all of baseball in games caught. Salvy has been playing through an intercostal injury, a painful strain on his side that has actually forced him out of the lineup the last two days. The Royals should probably just call it a season at this point with Salvy, and give young Cameron Gallagher a chance to show what he can do at the Major League level. The Royals may not even miss his bat - Salvy has continued his trend of being a poor second-half hitter, batting just .212/.245/.397 since the break.
Rest Mike Moustakas for a few days, then let him get the home run record
Mike Moustakas hit his 36th home run on September to tie the club single-season record on September 1. Since then, he has played in 14 homerless games. His knee has been bothering him since late July, but has been even worse since he re-aggravated it earlier this month.
"It's one of those things that if I could get three or four or five days, it'd be great," Moustakas said. "But I can't afford to do it right now. We're still in this. We're in the mix.”
With the Royals this far back, it makes more sense at this point to give Moose some time off to rest his knee. When he returns, say around this weekend, the Royals should bat him leadoff to get him as many plate appearances as he can get so he can break the club record. Chasing Balboni may be the only real excitement left for Royals fans this season. The team should maximize Moose’s opportunity to go for the record, but not at risk to his long-term health.
Play Jorge Soler everyday
So yea, I am the resident Jorge Soler apologist, but the Royals really need to see what they have in Jorge Soler. It was a lost season for the 25-year old Cuban outfielder, at least at the Major League level. Soler absolutely destroyed the Pacific Coast League with 24 home runs in 74 games for Omaha, showing the power potential the Royals saw when they traded Wade Davis for him last winter.
Like it or not, Jorge Soler is likely a big part of the Royals’ future the next few seasons. The trade is already looking like a huge bust for the Royals that possibly cost them a playoff spot this year. They will need Soler to return in 2018 as an All-Star caliber-hitter for Royals fans to even begin to forgive that. That can start now, giving Soler at-bats ahead of veterans like Alex Gordon and Brandon Moss.
Play Raúl Mondesí everyday
Like Soler, Mondesí fell flat on his face at the big league level, only to go down to Omaha and enjoy a fantastic season. Unlike Soler, Mondesí is just 22 years old, so there is perhaps, a brighter future ahead of him. After hitting .305/.340/.539 with 13 home runs in 85 games, Mondesí seems to be ready to be a big league regular in 2018.
I know the Royals are committed to getting Alcides Escobar to challenge Cal Ripken’s consecutive games streak, but it is time for Esky to sit and Mondesí to play. Escobar is also eligible for free agency, and while there have been rumors the Royals would like to bring him back which may only intensify now that he has enjoyed a solid second half, it makes more sense to hand the shortstop position to the younger, faster Mondesí in 2018. Esky is playing well lately, but the Royals need to look to the future.
See what Scott Alexander can do as a closer
The 28-year old left-hander has been a pleasant surprise coming out of the Royals bullpen with an incredible groundball rate that leads all of baseball, thanks to one of the best sinking fastballs in the game. His season has drawn comparisons to Orioles closer Zach Britton, and if you squint, you can kind of see the similarities between Alexander and Britton’s 2014 season, when he first took over as closer.
With Herrera ineffective, and Soria having his struggles in high-leverage roles, and with Minor likely departing as a free agent this winter, the Royals should see what Alexander can do in the closer’s role. If he performs well enough the last two weeks, it could even open up a competition next spring, or free the Royals up to move Herrera in a trade (or non-tender him?)
Give Royals fans one last chance to cheer their favorite players
We don’t know if this is the end for Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and Alcides Escobar in Kansas City. But we have to treat it as such. We didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Jermaine Dye or Carlos Beltrán - they were ripped from us in awful trades. Mike Sweeney was a shell of himself when he departed. Not even Royals legend Frank White got a proper send-off.
But with this core, we at least get a chance to see the end of the road, a chance to celebrate them. The last home game of the year is Sunday, October 1 against Arizona. Ned Yost should start each of those players, then midway through the game, mid-inning, one-by-one, pull them off the field. Give fans a chance to salute them. Honor them. Remember the good times. Maybe it won’t be the last of the good times with them.
But if it is, just give us that one last moment before they go.