Barring the signing of Clayton Kershaw, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado the Royals aren’t going to improve enough through free agency to compete next year.
Then some in the comments wondered if even those three would be sufficient to pull the Royals into contention. It’s a fair question and I decided to give it a bit more thought. If you go even further back in the Hok Talk archives I made up a stat guessing at the most optimistic outlook for next season I could imagine and guessed if absolutely everything ever went the Royals’ way they could win 86 games. So let’s start by adding the three proposed free agents to that outlook and see what that gives us.
Steamer has some projections out already for next year so let’s use those. Harper and Machado combine to be projected for 10 fWAR. Kershaw ended up going back to the Dodgers but he’s projected to be worth about 3.7 fWAR. Adding those three players to the insanely optimistic projections from before takes the team from 86 wins to 96.5 wins once you subtract out the WARs of the guys who will lose playing time to the new signees. That’s a really good team. But if you’ve spent that much money on those three free agents ($We’re talking at least $80M yearly average for those three guys, after all) you probably want to do better. And, again, that’s an insanely optimistic outlook.
So what about a more standard projection? Taking the best predictions at each position, including the bench, Steamer thinks the Royals have almost 19 fWAR between their roster. Add that to the 48 wins a replacement roster gets and the Royals would be predicted to win 67 games. Let’s add 5 fWAR because I don’t think Brad Keller, Adalberto Mondesi, Whit Merrifield, and Ryan O’Hearn will regress that much. So that team could win 72 games. Add our three free agents and the team can win 85 games.
So they’d have to add some more wins in order to even field a playoff team. So where can we add it? Well, we can drop Steamer’s fourth-best SP from the rotation, Eric Skoglund, and add J.A. Happ’s 3.3 fWAR. A net gain of about 3 WAR to take the team to 88 wins. Add Craig Kimbrel and David Robertson to the bullpen and then you’ve got 90 wins. If you wanted to add some cushion to the playoff race you would probably replace Alex Gordon with A.J. Pollock for another pair of wins.
So if the Royals wanted to be competitive next year all they’d have to do is sign three of the best free agent position players, two of the best starting pitchers, and the two best relievers. But, of course, the Royals definitely are not rebuilding.