Some teams just aren’t destined for greatness.
Don’t get me wrong: everyone loves a good underdog story! This is especially true when the overdog is the ball-deflating New England Patriots. But you forfeit your ability to be an underdog when the discussion around your team goes from “this team probably isn’t going to be very good” to “just how bad is this team.” That’s, like, the Maginot Line of sports evaluation. Once it’s crossed, you better just wave off any chance of a short-term victory.
The Kansas City Royals have Blitzkrieg’d their way across that line and are going to be really, really bad this year. PECOTA, one of the best projection systems around, calculated that the Royals would win 66 games in 2018. Yeah, it’s PECOTA and has consistently underrated the Royals for years, but the Kansas City Star article title about the projection was “For Royals, the annual PECOTA projections are more dire than usual.” That is not a good omen. If you don’t think that projection is viable, just close your eyes and think of what an 80-win team would look like the next year without its three best position players and their most productive starting pitcher.
Just to be devil’s advocate, let’s magically conjure 20 additional wins from the depths of the Kauffman Stadium fountains. That in and of itself probably involves Alex Gordon going back to 2011 production, ripping the tags off a few mattresses, Bubba Starling to play like peak Lorenzo Cain, sneezing with both eyes open, 50 home runs from Hunter Dozier, not one major injury, and quite possibly the second coming of Jesus Christ. That puts the Royals at 86 wins, which has secured an American League Wild Card spot only twice out of 12 chances since the modern two-team format was adopted.
Look, the Royals are gonna be awful and there’s nothing you can do about it.
But being awful represents a great opportunity: you can do whatever you want without any consequences. You might as well try some stuff out that you couldn’t if you were competing. If it fails, nobody cares! It’s a lost season, but without any smoke monsters or ex-Lord of the Rings actors. Losing more just gets you a great draft pick. And if it works, then congratulations! You found a gem tucked inside a giant mound of dirt. You can’t do stuff like that if you’re worrying about your day job. Indiana Jones would have been a very short series if the eponymous archeologist couldn’t go adventuring and had to teach undergrads forever.
In reality, unfortunately, teams do not take full advantage of the beautiful, hellish sandbox that is rebuilding. Teams and front offices are usually at least tangentially committed to a veneer of professional appearances, and so the only bizarre things that happen are usually due to incompetence rather than the gleeful exercise of the “why not” doctrine.
All this is to say that the Royals should totally install Terrance Gore as the starting center fielder because that would be amazing.
And I’m not even bringing this up out of nowhere! Look at these words straight from the mouth of the dragons (the dragons being Jeffrey Flanagan, reporter; and Ned Yost, manger):
Royals manager Ned Yost is adamant that no one, not even Paulo Orlando, has the inside track for the center-field job.
”It’s a phrase I don’t like,” Yost said on Day 2 of camp Thursday. “It means you have deemed Paulo Orlando already is the center fielder.”
Alright; good start. Competition is good. Everybody loves competition. Moving on:
Intriguing, Flanny, intriguing.
Yost also will have his eye on Gore, the speedster who will have to prove he is more than a one-dimensional player at the Major League level.
”Gore has continued to improve each and every year,” Yost said. “He’s so much better offensively and defensively from where he was two years ago.”
INJECT IT INTO MY VEINS.
With respect to Gore, he is actually a two-dimensional player, those dimensions being defense and baserunning. Dude can fly, and when you combine his sharp route running and feel for playing the outfield out get an excellent defender. It’s that third dimension that’s really the problem. Gore hits like Jeff Goldblum portrays characters as something other than a slightly different version of Jeff Goldblum, which is to say that he doesn’t.
In 14 MLB plate appearances, Gore has one walk and no hits. In the minors, Gore’s pedestrian .244 career average is compounded by his 44 extra base hits. Yes; that’s 44 total, which works out to a little over six extra base hits per season of his career. His only hope is maintaining his robust 10% minor league walk rate in the big leagues and swiping 50 bags at a high success rate.
Basically, Gore’s ceiling is probably 2015 Billy Hamilton. That season, Hamilton put up a triple slash of .226/.274/.289, good for a 53 wRC+. But his defense was elite and he stole 57 bases at an 88% clip. All in all, that was good for 2 Wins Above Replacement per Fangraphs. Despite hitting 47% worse than league average, Hamilton somehow managed an average season.
Is that going to set the world on fire? No. But to create a league average player from nothing, a player that is affordable and did not require prospects to acquire, is super valuable.
Is that likely to happen? Is it a good idea to invade Russia in the winter? WILL THE ROYALS EVER NOT EMPLOY ALCIDES ESCOBAR?*
*The answer to all of those questions is, clearly, no. Escobar will be a Royal for the next two decades at least. #deathtaxesescobar
Gore is one of the easiest guys to root for on the team, and I’m not sure it’s possible for it to be more fun to watch him play. And there is no downside to him playing a lot this year. He might be bad? Please. The team’s gonna be bad. Embrace the weirdness. And if Gore is really unplayably bad, to the point where his plate appearances would be better served giving someone else a chance? So be it.