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Setting early expectations for the 2019 Royals

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Perspective

Chicago White Sox v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

On Tuesday, I asked Twitter users (not all of them) a simple question: “(as of) right now, how many games do you think the 2019 Royals win?” 2,000 responses later, these were the results:

Overwhelmingly respondents thought that 70ish wins (whatever that means to them) was their baseline. I’ll say, based on how I’d interpret 70ish, that those voters see next years team winning somewhere between 68-72 games. Better than 100 losses, but well outside of contention.

Far fewer respondents thought next years team will be as bad as this years team has been, seeing 2019 come with the baggage of probably another 100 loss season or close to it.

Strangely, I think, almost as many voters see next years team being a contender as they do being roughly as bad as this years team. Say what you will about the recent run the Royals have had and how the team looks different from a roster standpoint on September 11th than it did on April 11th, before the season started FanGraphs distribution had the Royals median outcome at ~70 wins:

(”67 & 75” representing the Royals 25th and 75th percentile outcomes)

The plurality of voters think that the 2019 team roughly resembles the 2018 pre-season team. It would reason that ~20% of voters see the 2019 team as worse than the 2018 pre-season team looked, and 25% see them being several wins better.

I am a bit relieved that the 80+ choice finished last, as that seems like the least likely outcome to me (one Twitter users asked if we could include spring training wins to get it to 80+). If you recall, the 2016 and 2017 Royals finished at roughly the same number of wins and those teams had:

Lorenzo Cain

Mike Moustakas

Eric Hosmer

Jarrod Dyson

(uninjured) Salvador Perez

(good) Danny Duffy

(good) Jason Hammel

(good) Mike Minor

(good) Joakim Soria

(good) Jason Vargas

(good) Ian Kennedy

Wade Davis

Kelvin Herrera

Yordano Ventura

The 2019 Royals for the first time in years will look almost entirely different than the 2015, 2016, and 2017 Royals, with the 2020 Royals even further removed. If the ‘16/17 Royals only won ~80 games, it seems to take some strong squinting for the 2019 Royals to repeat that same task.

My expectations

Next year the Royals should continue to do what they’ve primarily done in the second half of the year (or at least since August 1st): play the young guys. Three weeks from now Jason Hammel, Alcides Escobar, Drew Butera, Paulo Orlando, Wily Peralta, Burch Smith, Brian Flynn and many others need to have throw their last pitch/swung their last swing for the Royals.

The Royals average age is 28.9 years old, in the top 10 oldest teams in the league. That number needs to come down drastically next year. The White Sox, a team going full force rebuild, has an average age of 26.6. Other than Jose Abreu, it’s possible that no one on their roster is older than 30 next year. The Royals have contracts still guaranteed to players older than 30, so it can’t instantly come down, but all older players with non-guaranteed money need to be gone when the season starts. Yes...that means Whit Merrifield...

My concern

Dayton Moore and Co. were embarrassed by how bad the team was this year, their expectations being 20+ wins better than where they will likely end up. It’s well know (or at least well talked about) that the Royals front office has no interest in rebuilding. To be fair, no team has an interest in rebuilding because they’d like to win every year. Unfortunately windows close just as they open, and sometimes it’s time to face the proverbial music.

I have this sneaking suspicion that the Royals front office though will look at the second half Royals (who are 22-27 in the first half, 16-22 since August, and 6-4 in September) and see them as an ~.500 team. They’ll decide not to trade their veterans, thinking they could hold the fort for the next 2-3 years until reinforcements from the minor leagues come and work as a backbone for a 2022 contending team. That seems...optimistic to me.

There’s a chance too they decide to sign more veterans like they did this past offseason, taking playing time away from the “young guys.”

I think that this winter we need to see the fire sale continue, with trades of Merrifield, Salvador Perez, Danny Duffy, and maybe even Jake Junis (who will be 26 next spring; not old but might age himself out by the time the Royals contend again).

The team next year will be bad, again. The 2020 team will also be bad, and it’s likely the 2021 team will be bad too. That’s fine and that’s exactly what we should be expecting. For a small market team, there is no short path to success. Bumps and bruises have to come. They have to come hard and deep (TWSS), and they have to come for a long time (2x). That’s part of life as a small market team unless you just make perpetual good decisions in trading and drafting.