Everyone knew the score, both within the Kansas City Royals organization and outside it. That score was this: eight Royals players would become free agents at the end of 2017. Those eight players read much like a list of Who’s Who from the Royals 2014-2015 postseason runs: Danny Duffy, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Wade Davis, Jarrod Dyson, and Lorenzo Cain; Mike Minor and Jason Vargas rounded out the list.
General Manager Dayton Moore knew the score, and he knew the Royals would only have one more shot in 2017. So he made some moves, signing some free agents, extending Duffy, and trading Davis and Dyson for some long-term assets.
But what if he hadn’t?
Picture this: it is November 1, 2016. Moore travels to his home in Johnson County, Kansas. On his way, he is abducted by aliens, who ferry him around in their sweet spaceship for a calendar year. These aliens also, coincidentally, abduct every other member of the Royals front office in separate spaceships.
As a result, no moves are made this offseason. Nobody gets traded. No one gets signed. What would the result be?
Well, not to put a damper on what is already a pretty depressing week for Royals fans likely saying goodbye to their favorite players, but Kansas City would probably be a lot better if Marvin the Martian and his friends took Moore and Co. away for a year.
The following is a list of the major players and how the team would have looked. Included for position players is Fangraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement (WAR), and an average of Fangraphs’ WAR and Baseball-Reference’s WAR for pitchers (due to differences in calculation we don’t need to get into here).
This is an unscientific look, and is more or less just educated spitballing.
Jarrod Dyson instead of Jorge Soler
- 2.1 WAR vs. - 0.5 WAR
- Wins gained: 2.6
Many Royals fans have clamored for Dyson to start in the outfield rather than being a backup. In this scenario, Dyson starts for the Royals, and puts up the same numbers as he did as a Seattle Mariner this year. Though his absolutely dismal offensive numbers against lefties is more exposed in a starting role, Dyson is still a valuable role player.
Soler stands at -0.9 WAR over 34 games, but due to his Major League track record it’s pretty reasonable to assume he puts up somewhere in the realm of one WAR over a full season. His -0.5 WAR is what that would look like had he played another 70 or so games at that level.
Jorge Bonifacio instead of Brandon Moss
- 0.0 WAR vs. -0.3 WAR
- Wins gained: 0.3
It’s always tricky to extrapolate what a given player’s offense would look like in the DH role, but let’s just assume the offensive numbers stay pretty much the same.
Though Bonifacio wouldn’t light the DH role on fire, he’d probably be at replacement level with his slightly below-average offense and slightly above-average baserunning. That’s a slight better than Moss’ wandering offense this year, all at the league minimum.
Wade Davis in the bullpen
- Wins gained: 1.4 WAR
There’s not a one-to-one corellation here—Davis wouldn’t be replacing any one player— so we’ll add Davis’ 2017 WAR total as a Chicago Cub.
Though Davis is no longer WADE ‘CYBORG’ DAVIS of 2014-2015, he would immediately slot in as Kansas City’s best reliever. As the likely closer, he pushes down Kelvin Herrera and Joakim Soria, nice pitchers who have had some high-leverage issues lately, into some lower-leverage spots. Due to that outsized impact, Davis may be worth a few more wins than his raw WAR says.
Jake Junis in place of Nate Karns
- 1.9 WAR vs 0.7 WAR
- Wins gained: 1.2
Junis has been nice this year, and in this scenario he would have started eight more games. The WAR projection for him here is just his current total stretched over more games.
Regardless, Junis this year has basically been Karns, but cheaper and without needing to send Dyson away to acquire.
AAA filler in place of Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer, Ryan Buchter
- 0.0 vs. -0.7
- SUM: 0.7 WAR
The San Diego trade at midseason was really quite horrible. Cahill has been a disaster, and Maurer and Buchter haven’t at all anchored the ‘pen like they were hoped to.
Let’s give their innings to some random, replacement-level AAA filler. That way, Kansas City gets better production. And Matt Strahm stays a Royal, too.
Jorge Bonifacio, Paulo Orlando in place of Melky Cabrera
- 0.0 WAR vs. -0.5 WAR
- Wins gained: 0.5
The Melk Man has been low key terrible as a Royal. He’s a lead-footed fielder with no range, a very bad baserunner, and a below-average hitter.
Giving those innings to Bonifacio and Orlando probably gets you replacement level production—no, Orlando’s -10 wRC+ will not hold over a full season—and you’d certainly get better defense and baserunning out of the deal.
- Wins gained: 6.7
Again, no one should think that this is a scientific examining of what definitively would have happened. Baseball doesn’t work that way. Even if it did, this shoot-by-the-hip methodology wouldn’t hold any water.
But it’s entirely plausible that, if Moore did nothing at all over the offseason and July trading deadline, the Royals would be six to seven games better than they are right now.
The Royals are 77-80. Minnesota is 83-74. If the Royals were six games better, they’d be tied. If the Royals were seven games better, they would be sole owners of the second Wild Card slot right now.
Hopefully, Moore and the rest of the front office can turn it around next year and make some good baseball decisions, because they’ve essentially tanked the team’s chances this year. You can’t expect to win everything every year, but it certainly feels like the Royals should have done more with what they had, giving their core players one more shot at glory.