As we all know, this season is a little bit different than the others. To be honest, it’s a lot different. It is the end of an era. The end of the era that brought a championship back to Kansas City.
What happens next is a little bit more difficult to predict. Logic says an exodus is near. The Royals owe guys like Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy a lot of money, and with the core failing to reach the playoffs the last two seasons, it’s hard to imagine David Glass opening up his checkbook in a way that will keep the big three—Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain—in Kansas City.
However, this isn’t just your average team. The culture Dayton Moore has built in Kansas City is a lot different than any we have seen in the free agent era and you can tell that these guys, especially Hosmer and Moustakas, are connected more intimately with this team.
Moustakas reflected on that culture today and it will likely play a much heavier role in this process than it would in other circumstances.With all of that being said, we simply don’t know what happens. What we do know is that other teams will be able to offer them more money and that likely means that some, if not all of them won’t be in Kansas City next season.
And it’s never too early to predict what the lineup will look like come next April (with a few outlandish predictions mixed in), because who has ever been wrong about lineups six months in advance? As we reflect on the amazing run these guys gave to Kansas City, let’s take a look at who might be trotting out of the dugout come March 29.
Starting Pitcher - Danny Duffy
This one is pretty straight forward. While Duffy took a step back in 2017, he still arguably the only consistent Royals starting pitcher, wire-to-wire. And Fangraphs would argue that he didn’t regress.
Despite a DL stint and a drop in strikeouts, Fangraphs has Duffy at a 3.3 fWAR compared to a 2.7 mark last season. This was due in large part to Duffy’s ability to keep the ball in the ballpark, giving up just 13 homers compared to the 27 he gave up last season.
Catcher - Salvador Perez
Another easy one. Seeing guys like Danny Duffy and Salvador Perez on the books for 2018 makes me rest easy that we won’t be headed back into the dark ages of Royals baseball.
While losing the big three would be painful, one could argue that Perez has always been the most valuable of the three, and he is coming off a career year offensively. While he struggled in the second half as he always has, it was less pronounced, being on pace to finish this season with a wRC+ above 100 for the first time since 2013.
He also set a career high in homers, currently sitting at 27, and will shatter his career high in SLG%, which sits at .496. His inability to get on base and have impact on the bases when he does will always hurt him in the eyes of the Fangraphs crowd, but he is still one of the better catchers in baseball.
First Base - Ryan O’Hearn
Here’s where it starts to get tricky. I am operating on the assumption that the Royals will lose all three of their stars. While Hosmer will likely be the most expensive, source also say that the Royals will go after him the hardest. So who knows. Maybe he winds up back in Kansas City. Weirder things have happened.
But I am writing this to discuss what might happen if the Royals do indeed lose three of their starters. So let’s assume Hosmer is out.
The Royals have some internal options at first. They could always stick Brandon Moss there, but that’s pretty unlikely. Cheslor Cuthbert also has some experience at first, playing 87 games at the position as a professional. But the Royals will likely have a vacancy at third, if you didn’t know that.
Which leaves the Royals to search the free agent market or to promote from within.
Enter Ryan O’Hearn.
O’Hearn is the Royals 14th ranked prospect according to MLB.com, but reached as high as 4th on Fangraphs’ 2016 Royals prospect list. He is a pretty boring option without high offensive upside. He also isn’t fantastic on defense. And, to top things off, he’s coming off a major down year in which he put up a wRC+ of just 95 and had the lowest OBP of his career (.330).
However, he still managed to hit 22 home runs and had a .785 OPS across AA and AAA. To be totally honest, the Royals don’t have a lot of great options without Hosmer and with this being a way-to-early prediction, we don’t even know if O’Hearn will be a finalist for the job.
It is my professional opinion that the Royals seek out Eric Hosmer for gainful employment at their company.
Second Base - Whit Merrifield
Whitley. I’m not sure anybody envisioned him having the type of season he has had, but Raul Mondesi breaking camp with the team over Whit is looking more and more foolish by the day.
With the impending exodus coming soon, Merrifield is one of the few players that give Royals fans some hope for a quick turnaround. While his on-base skills need some work, he has hit a career high 18 home runs, has stolen a career high 33 bases and has driven in a career high 77 runs.
You can safely slot him into the leadoff spot next season.
Third Base - Cheslor Cuthbert
Again, if we are assuming that Moustakas will not be retained, Cuthbert seems like the most likely option, although Hunter Dozier could be a sleeper pick.
Cuthbert has always had the physical tools to be an everyday player, but has been plagued by an inability to turn those tools into production and in 2017, a lack of consistent at-bats.
It’s not unreasonable to expect Cuthbert to play well in 2018. We saw flashes of it in 2016, most notably during his torrid June and July. However, if Dozier is healthy and plays well in the spring, it would be all that surprising to see him take this job.
Shortstop - Alcides Escobar
I don’t know how I feel about this one. Given his drastic regression from 2014 to now, combined with Raul Mondesi’s monster 85 games at AAA this season, it might be time to cut Escobar lose.
With that being said, if the organization feels like Mondesi needs another year at AAA (after all, he is still just 22), Escobar will be a fairly cheap option compared to the Royals other free agents. It also should be noted that Escobar has quietly had a pretty good second half, hitting .287 with 18 doubles. That was only good for a 93 wRC+, but is a huge improvement from his 37 wRC+ in the first half.
I will also add that despite Escobar being pretty darn bad over the past three seasons, I would advocate keeping as many players from the 2015 team as possible. For feels, of course.
Left Field - Alex Gordon
Give us one more of good Alex, baseball gods.
He can’t go out like this.
Center Field - Bubba Starling
Now we’re getting weird.
I am on record as saying that I don’t want any of the Royals free agents to leave Kansas City, but I will admit, it is kind of fun trying to figure out who the heck will play these positions for the first time in six years.
For this one, I put on my tin foil hat and got a little bit crazy. And really, it’s not all that crazy. Bubba had a bounce back season this season, even if that was only to the tune of a 76 wRC+. We have heard for a while that his defense is already major league ready.
Carlos Gomez could be an option (this is a total guess, but I have always enjoyed his antics) and Austin Jackson might be a cheaper, more realistic option on the open market.
But again, we have no real idea what the Royals will do and that will likely stay that way until all of the big three have signed.
If I were to put money on this, I would put that money on Paulo Orlando being the guy to start the season. But I’m not here to make rational decisions, I’m here to make irrational predictions.
Right Field - Jorge Soler
I am going to come out and just say that I want the Royals to give Melky Cabrera a contract if the free agents all bail. If we are going to have an extended rebuild, we might as well do it with Melky. I said this on Twitter and stand by it.
However, I also realize that at some point, the Royals are going to have to give Soler an extended shot, because if they are going to compete in the near future, he will likely have to be a major part of that.
He struggled at the Major League level this season, but he turned in a pretty monstrous AAA campaign, hitting 24 home runs in just 74 games with a .267/.388/.564 slash.
His power is very real and with him being under club control through 2020, he will likely have a job in right field until further notice. Hopefully with regular at-bats, he can translate that power to the major league level.
Designated Hitter - Jorge Bonifacio/Brandon Moss
This might be the one position in question with the most logical options. For all of his struggles, Moss at least gave the Royals some pop with 22 homers. Bonifacio will help to limit Moss’ exposure, looking to build on a surprising campaign of his own.
The Royals options at DH are underwhelming, but they are at least somewhat predictable.