For all of the mid-to-late ‘90s through the ‘00s the Royals regularly were forced to trade away or otherwise watch their best players leave because they couldn’t afford them. Names like Carlos Beltran, Johnny Damon, Kevin Appier, Jermaine Dye, Tim Belcher, Raul Ibanez, and Zack Greinke. The list goes on and on. Since the 2010s, however, the story has been different. The Royals found the money to sign players to extensions, even sometimes when some fans wished they wouldn’t. Guys like Alex Gordon, Jeff Francouer, Jeremy Guthrie, Salvador Perez, and Danny Duffy have been or will be here longer because of this spending.
You may have heard that a large number of Royals contracts are coming to an end in just a few weeks. These players that will almost certainly be leaving weren’t just good players for the team, they led the way to the franchise’s first Central Division title, its third and fourth American League pennants as well as the second World Championship to ever come to KC. Most of these guys if not all of them will be headed into the Royals Hall of Fame, someday. But next year they’ll be playing for the team’s opponents and many Royals fans will be force to make the hard call within themselves at various times whether to root for the players or the team they left behind.
Before that happens, though, we still have two weeks left with them. They’ve brought us some great memories and now that the season is winding down it seems like a good time to re-examine those. All stats are courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.
Alcides Escobar gets a lot of flak on this website, especially recently, for being a not-very-good baseball player. He had two pretty good years, though: 2012 and 2014. It is particularly amusing that 2014 was his last good offensive season because a game early that year gave Royals fans one of their most enduring memes when manager Ned Yost explained the idea that Escobar should not be removed for a pinch hitter else the slight might affect his dome.
Esky was also a tremendous player in the 2015 playoffs, despite beginning his decline as a valuable every day player that season. He batted a collective .329/.347/.514/.861 with a total of eight extra-base hits that postseason. He was even better in winning the ALCS MVP Award against the Blue Jays by hitting .478/.481/.652/1.134. His ambush approach worked that entire postseason and having him in the lead-off role actually did help to spark the team offense, for a little while.
No one will ever forget El Mago’s immediate message - with a little help from Yoenis Cespedes - to the New York Mets as the 2015 World Series began:
He also featured in the ESPN top web gem for good while:
And who can forget this play from early last season:
Vargas was signed to an unheralded 4-year deal before the 2014 season. No, seriously, go click that link. Just about everyone was saying, “He’s an average pitcher who is likely to live up exactly to this deal, no more, no less.” In the 2013 off-season the value of 32 million was considered to be approximately 5 WAR. If you average out the bWAR and fWAR of Jason’s time in KC, despite missing half of 2015 and almost all of 2016 with a UCL injury you come up with 5.5 WAR. Considering the cost of WAR has gone up since then, this deal worked out to be pretty solidly in the Royals’ favor.
Since Jason was signed the Royals have gotten exactly four complete game shutouts; Vargas gave the Royals two of those (the others were by Jeremy in Guthrie in 2014 and Johnny Cueto in 2015)
But I’ll always remember Jason Vargas best for the things he did in between pitches:
That last GIF is a reaction to an amazing catch by the Royals’ centerfielder. Lorenzo has done that so many times since the Royals acquired him that Royals fans have gotten bored with it and wonder if he’s still an above-average defensive outfielder, this season (hint: he is.) But just in case you’ve forgotten how good he can be here’s a highlight reel from just the 2014 postseason:
Lorenzo earned ALCS MVP honors in the 2014 postseason, largely because of that amazing defense, but he also slashed a somehow quiet .533/.588/.667/1.255. And of course, we can’t forget what he did in 2015. Cain followed up the 2014 campaign by playing full-time in center, likely a ploy by Ned Yost to ensure the outstanding outfielder got the gold glove he was likely denied in 2014 by his constant shifts to right field for defensive upgrades. But he didn’t just do better with his glove, he invented the LoCain Leanback, abandoning 2014’s LoCain Triangle, and put together an amazing offensive season that earned him third place in MVP voting for that season while slashing .307/.361/.477/.838 with 16 home runs and 28 stolen bases - he was second in the AL in stolen bases that year.
Lorenzo’s speed was a pretty big deal in the 2015 postseason, too:
That last steal was also Cain’s Royals’ record sixth of the 2015 postseason. Alex Gordon, Amos Otis, and Willie Wilson are all tied for second with four postseason stolen bases.
Last year he was the life of the team, as long as he was in the lineup they had a shot and their ability to keep pace in the AL Central drastically diminished when he missed the last month of the season with a wrist injury. Before that injury though he became the latest player to tie the Royals’ individual record for most home runs in a game and almost kept the team in the game all by himself.
Eric Hosmer has long been an enigma to Royals’ fans. Some people absolutely adore everything about him but the stat nerds consistently grow frustrated when discussing him because it seems like he should have much better results than he does. He alternates bad years with good years in a way frequently discussed but rarely seen. Even in the good years he can have months-long slumps that make you wonder if he has ever hit a ball other than directly into the ground and toward the second-baseman. He has also won three gold gloves despite the advanced metrics painting him as among the worst defensive players in baseball.
But boy when he gets a hold of one, it sure is pretty.
And we can’t forget his opposite field power, either:
And, of course, we can’t talk about the Wizard of Hoz without remembering what will likely go down in history as his most famous play:
Who personifies the Royals more than Moose? From 2011-2013 He was a highly touted but largely unsuccessful prospect. In 2014 he didn’t get his first hit of the season until his sixth game, more than a week into the season, and struggled all year. He accepted a demotion in the middle of the year with grace and returned before long. He still didn’t play particularly but did just enough to get the team moving and even allowed the Royals to trade his replacement-in-the-wings, Danny Valencia.
Then the postseason came. He wasn’t particularly active in the Wild Card win; he did get a hit and run scored but was replaced by pinch hitter Josh Willingham in the ninth inning. The Royals won that game through speed, guts, and luck. Then they had to face the Angels and no one figured they really had a shot to win that series.
Then Moose did what the Royals did all post-season, he found just enough to get the job done:
That post-season he slashed .231/.259/.558/.817 and set the Royals’ record for most home runs in a single postseason with five. He was a huge part of their attitude toward playing hard, going further than anyone else, and never giving up. His play on a foul popup in ALCS Game 3 was perhaps the most iconic of the 2014 post-season.
In 2015 everyone predicted the Royals would regress a bit; their way of winning just wasn’t sustainable. Ned Yost announced before the season started that he was going to have Mike Moustakas bat second because he was going the other way more. Everyone said that... it wasn’t sustainable. Moustakas and the Royals would both fail.
Except that they didn’t. Moustakas had a what was then his career year and the Royals steam-rolled the American League all the way into the playoffs. Moose slashed .284/.348/.470/.817 that season and he set a new Royal record with 9 RBIs in a September matchup against the Orioles.
Moustakas won the Final Vote at the break and became one of a franchise record seven teammates to be selected for the All-Star Game that year. When the Royals were down by 4 runs late in ALDS Game 4 to the Houston Astros it was Mike Moustakas who began screaming in the dugout to encourage his fellow players to keep going. And they did just that all the way to a World Series win.
I was hoping to add a franchise season record breaking home-run highlight, here, but Moustakas in 2016 and 2017 is still representative of the Royals. He and the team fought and struggled enough to get him back into the All-Star Game through another Final Vote, this season. But injuries keep coming to this team and once again they don’t have any depth. Moustakas once seemed inevitable to break that record, and the Royals once seemed inevitable to return to the playoffs through a Wild Card spot if not the division. There are still two weeks left, neither his home run record hopes nor the Royals playoff hopes have been completely eliminated, yet. But every day he goes out there and it is blatantly obvious that something is not right. Just like every day the team goes out there and it’s obvious that something is not right with more of their players than not. He and they are not 100% and the Royals of the last few years have always relied on being 100% to win.
So what are your favorite moments from these guys? They’ve all had some great highlights over the past few years; far more than could fit in a single article. These guys have all been a part of the team for so long that opening day 2018 will feel very weird without them.
Which pending free agent core player will you miss the most?
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