According to multiverse theory, there are an infinite number of parallel universes in which every conceivable result of every single event has ever existed. This means that there is a Kansas City Royals team somewhere out there that is seeking their fifth consecutive World Series appearance. This means that there is a Royals team somewhere that managed to retain Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain as well as keeping the services of Mike Moustakas.
There is also a universe where the Kansas City outfield is populated by Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, and Giancarlo Stanton, coached by defending American League Manager of the Year Jeff Goldblum. Life, ah, will find a way.
But we only get to experience one universe, at least for now, which means that this Royals team can only have one outcome. Some of these outcomes are good. Some are awful. However, because the Royals are rebuilding, some of the best options aren’t what you’d think. Winning 80 games is less valuable than winning 60 games, for instance, as the latter nets you a top three pick in the draft and the former doesn’t get you anywhere near the postseason.
Because this is a rebuilding team, there are multiple ways this season can be a success, most of which are independent of how many games the team will win. Let’s highlight three scenarios in which you can safely proclaim the 2018 Royals as a success:
Scenario one: playoffs
Remember when I said this was a rebuilding team? Well, that is only somewhat true. The youngest guy in the starting lineup is going to be 26-year-old Jorge Soler. In fact, the 2018 Royals will likely feature only two gentlemen under the age of 25: Brad Keller, the 22-year-old Rule 5 draft pick who will only be a Royal if he stays on the major league squad all season, and Adalberto Mondesi, the 22-year-old shortstop who is going to start the season in the minor leagues.
Danny Duffy, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Alcides Escobar, Salvador Perez, and Whit Merrifield are all 29 or older and will be the core of this team. If those veteran guys somehow align some very good seasons and get serviceable play from Jason Hammel, Ian Kennedy, and Lucas Duda, then this team could indeed make the playoffs.
It’s not likely. But don’t kid yourself: making the playoffs is the best case scenario. That has happened literally twice in 33 years. It’s hard enough to purposefully make the playoffs. Lucking into it would be amazing.
Scenario two: youngster successes
Most of the current players on the 40-man roster won’t be around when the Royals start winning again. But some will, and those guys are important.
Simply, this scenario happens if the Royals see good progress in their young players’ development and minimal setbacks. If this happens, we will see it at the major league and minor league levels. Mondesi, Jake Junis, Eric Skoglund, Trevor Oaks, and Jorge Bonifacio are all very important players to watch. So too are Hunter Dozier, Ryan O’Hearn, Kyle Zimmer, Josh Staumont, and Bubba Starling. Further down the minor leagues, watch out for the names of Donnie Dewees, Richard Lovelady, Chase Vallot, Khalil Lee, Nick Pratto, and MJ Melendez.
All successful long-term projects in baseball come from a good farm system. As much as we all love Alex Gordon, his 2018 performance is meaningless to the future of Royals baseball. If Junis starts off strong again this year but then blows his elbow out, or if Mondesi continues to suffer minor injuries and regresses at the plate, those are far worse outcomes than Gordon doing his best 2017 Albert Pujols impression.
Notice that there are no wins tied to this scenario. If the youngsters do well, it just doesn’t matter how many wins the Royals get. 80 wins and less minor league development is worse than 75 and a few major breakthroughs in Omaha.
Scenario three: crash and burn
After winning their opening day game behind a brilliant Danny Duffy start, Kansas City loses their next seven games. They win their ninth game, again due to Duffy heroics, and then lose their next five.
The reasons for this are clear: veteran pitchers Hammel and Kennedy are washed up. Both put up Kyle Davies-esque ERAs in the mid-5s, and while Skoglund replaces Hammel eventually, the Royals have too much money tied up in Kennedy to cut him. Furthermore, the bullpen is a dumpster fire. Kelvin Herrera channels 2009 Joakim Soria in his excellence, but without Greg Holland, Luke Hochevar, Ryan Madson, or Wade Davis at his side leads are too often blown before he can even pitch.
And the less you mention the lineup the better. Gordon somehow regresses even more, Father Time attacking with a spiked sledgehammer in repayment for gifting Gordon with all that talent in the first place, the vengeful Baseball God also striking Escobar and Lucas Duda to create three of the worst hitters in any American League lineup. Moustakas is absurdly good, but is the only above average regular in the entire lineup.
The Royals stumble into June essentially out of the playoff race, and crash into July as the worst team in the AL. By August, Duffy, Moustakas, Herrera, and Merrifield are gone, all traded to contenders for a collection of minor league talent. By October, the Royals ended the season as a charred husk.
But by July 2019, the results of the crashing and burning begun to show. Between the third pick in the 2019 draft and the two top prospects acquired from trades the previous July, Baseball America’s midseason prospect list ranks three Royals prospects among the top 50 in baseball.
The next great wave of Royals has begun.