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What needs to happen for the Royals to be competitive by 2020?

David Glass expects a winner by 2020. Can it happen?

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken

Royals General Manager Dayton Moore has made his intentions very clear - begin to a make a playoff push by 2021. Owner David Glass expects the team to be “in the middle of it” by 2020. I’m here to tell you that, barring the signing of a couple of big time free agents between now and Opening Day in 2021, the Kansas City Royals would need an act of God to make the playoffs in the next three seasons.

I’ve been a Dayton Moore supporter for a very long time. I still am, and I'm not going to change my views of him any time soon. Everyone values certain aspects of management differently, so everyone will value Dayton Moore differently, but I think he is among the top six or eight GMs in all of baseball. For me, rings talk, everything else is gravy.

However, when Dayton Moore says that he expects that this team will begin hunting for playoff spots by 2021, I'm not sure I'm sipping the same Kool-Aid anymore. I like this team. I actually think they are fun to watch despite being really bad, but there are just WAY too many factors that would need to happen in order for this team to be within 10 games of a playoff spot over the next few seasons.

With that being said, I do think that there’s a chance that this team can win 75-78 games in 2020. I truly believe there is a world in which that is possible. The problem with that is, they would need so many things to all fall in their favor, and if there is anything that professional sports has taught us, things almost never go in your favor. Let’s break down some of those things:

  1. Brett Phillips starts to hit and continues to play good-to-great defense in CF. After an 0-4 performance on Tuesday night, Phillips is currently hitting .177 on the season and striking out over 40% of the time, so he’s got some work to do. He’s got all the tools to be an All-Star center fielder, but he has got to start making some more contact. He’s got all of next year to work out some kinks, but if he hits, the Royals have a center piece in center field.
  2. Khalil Lee makes his MLB debut and finds instant success in the big leagues. He doesn’t have to hit .300 or 20 home runs or anything crazy, but the Royals will need him to walk around 10% of the time and be on base around a .340 clip near the top of the lineup. If he can do that, play solid defense in LF/RF, and steal his 10-20 bases, then the Royals may have something going at the top of the lineup if...
  3. Nicky Lopez’ success carries into the big leagues. Much like Phillips, Lopez will have the 2019 season to get his feet wet at the big league level and will need to be ready to roll as an every day second baseman hitting in the top of the lineup. It will be a lot to ask of a second year middle infielder to have success at the top of a big league lineup, but the pressure could be eased a bit if...
  4. Adalberto Mondesi grows into his potential. The Royals future at SS has hit the ball well to the tune of a .429 SLG% since June 26th, and has been absolutely fantastic at SS. FanGraphs ranks him as one of the better shortstops in all of baseball defensively, and Mondesi would theoretically be on pace for about 60 stolen bases if he played all 162 games, which would be really impressive. It’s not all about the offense however.
  5. The Royals would need Jake Newberry, Josh Staumont, and Richard Lovelady to grow into a dominant force in the back of the bullpen. The Royals bullpen has been absolutely dreadful in 2018, but these three give me hope. I don’t expect that they’ll be the next HDH, but I certainly think they’re capable of being one of the better bullpen trios in baseball by 2020. Add in potential relievers like Heath Fillmyer, Kevin Lenik, Eric Stout, and Nate Karns, and who knows, that bullpen could be pretty legit. Speaking of pitching...
  6. The Royals would need Brad Keller, Jake Junis, Danny Duffy, and Jorge Lopez to keep progressing in the rotation. None of the four can have setbacks, major injuries, or regression to the mean that would prevent them from being productive starters in 2020. The Royals don’t have much in the way of SP prospects that will be big league ready by 2020 (there’s a couple, not many) so the guys who are already here will have to keep getting better.
  7. Kelvin Gutierrez needs to be ready to take over at third base. I don’t know where Hunter Dozier slots into the Royals future, but Kelvin Gutierrez has been impressive in AA and he is sick (good) with the glove. A potential infield of Gutierrez, Mondesi, Lopez/Merrifield, and O’Hearn/Dozier would be really good defensively, and may help the Royals make up for lost runs offensively. Gutierrez has also hit really well in his time with the Royals AA squad, so having his bat in the lineup may pay dividends as well.
  8. Salvador Perez must continue playing Gold Glove-caliber defense. This isn’t going to be easy for a 30-year old catcher with potentially 8,500+ innings already caught in his career. Salvy continues to hit more and more home runs every year, which is great, but his overall offensive production hasn’t improved in a while and I don’t anticipate it getting drastically better in 2020. Salvy will almost surely be the backstop for the 2020 season, so the Royals will need him to provide value as one of the game’s elite defensive catchers.

That is a whole lot of things that have to go right for the Royals to be even semi-competitive by 2020. If even one of those things falters, you could see another 90+ loss season. I have a ton of faith in the system that Dayton Moore has established in Kansas City, and fully trust him to see this next rebuild through, but I hope he doesn’t try to rush it. Let the young guys play. Don't sacrifice the future for the sake of 10 meaningless wins in 2019. If everything goes right, the Royals could have a decent team by 2020. Assuming sports will take over and not everything goes right, I'll still be here in 2023 when MJ Melendez, Seuly Matias, Nick Pratto and the boys are ready to rock-n-roll through their first October.