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Royals Review Roundtable: Are the Royals on the right track?

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We discuss new ownership, a new manager, and our World Series picks.

Atlanta Braves v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The season is over and the Royals may be embarking on one of the most interesting off-seasons in recent memory. There will be a new owner, a new manager, and perhaps a new era of Royals baseball. We gathered some of our writers together to reflect on the season and look forward to what is next for the Royals.

The Royals lost 100+ games for the second year in a row. Are they on the right track?

David Lesky: Yes and no. They lost 103 games, but they seem to have at least three offensive players who can be part of a winning core in Whit Merrifield, Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler. That doesn’t mention Salvador Perez, who is a bit of a question mark, but should be able to at least be a source of power moving forward. And there’s also Adalberto Mondesi who has his issues but belongs in a lineup every day as long as he can stay healthy.

There’s far less optimism on the pitching staff, but I think Brad Keller showed he’s a big league starter and, well, Scott Barlow was very good for the most part in the bullpen. The 2018 college pitchers showed an awful lot in the minors, but TINSTAAPP and all that, so we’ll have to wait and see, but there was a lot to like in 2019. There was more to dislike, unfortunately, and that’s where the no comes in for basically everyone and everything else.

Matthew LaMar: Generally, yes. They’ve done an admirable job with the two main components of rebuild: clearing long-term salary and building a farm system. Other than Whit’s sparse $3.5 million, the Royals don’t have a single cent committed beyond 2021, and the farm system is trending much better. But the hardest part is still to come.

Jack Johnson: After a second straight 100+ loss season, I still believe the Royals to be on track. The production jump at both the major league (Soler, Dozier, Mondesi, Merrifield, Keller) and minor league level (Singer, Kowar, Bubic, Lynch, Bowlan, Lee) have, at least, built a foundation.

Ryan Heffernon: I think they’re moving in a better direction than they were going into last season. They have some of higher end talent in Bobby Witt, Jr., Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, and Jackson Kowar, as well as guys like Kris Bubic and Brady McConnell. And how can you not feel good about what you got from Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier? Nobody saw what they did coming. PS: It’s fun to remember that Soler’s Vegas over/under for home runs was 15.5.

Jesse Anderson: No, I really don’t think the Royals are on the right track. They’ve refused to trade assets or eat money in deals to return better prospects. We’re left with a farm system that has a few potential guys, but not too much depth. There’s no way all of the big 5 pitchers from the 2018 draft become MLB regulars, and sure Witt might become a star, but how many toolsy high schoolers actually become stars?

Sure, they’ll get there eventually. I just think the 2021-2023 window is unrealistic. I’d love to be proven wrong.

Hokius: I don’t know. I lean toward no, but it has nothing to do with the record - they improved by a whole game! It’s just that there’s no obvious way for the team to improve right now. They have basically no tradeable assets, no one is trading valuable prospects for anything less than superstars anyway, and the farm system is what it is. If they hit the lottery fifteen consecutive times they might have a competitive lineup in 2021. If they don’t it’s just going to be a long buildup of drafting high and hoping to hit the lottery enough times to justify filling in around them with free agents. Not a quick process.

Josh Keiser: I think so. Last year they won 58 games. This year they won 59. Technically, that’s an improvement so they’re on the right track. Seriously though, they have some great offensive pillars to build off of in Soler, Dozier, Whit, and Mondesi. They need to figure out the 5-9 spots in the lineup and there might be some in-house candidates to fill those voids (Nicky Lopez, Ryan O’Hearn, Ryan McBroom, Brett Phillips). They might have a rotation mainstay in Brad Keller, but his sophomore slump left me a bit concerned about that. I think he’s a mid-back of the rotation guy when it’s all said and done but he’ll still be part of the future. All in all, they’re coming out of 2019 with five “dudes” which is more than you could say coming out of 2018.

Max Rieper: Absolutely. When you’re rebuilding there are three goals: (1) improve your farm system; (2) find as many good young MLB players as you can; and (3) lose a bunch of games. The Royals’ farm system took a good step forward, we found a few players - Hunter Dozier, Brad Keller, Adalberto Mondesi, possibly Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler - to build around; and yea, they lost a bunch of games. It is still a long road ahead of us, but they are on the right track.

What are you expecting out of new owner John Sherman? Will Dayton Moore remain the GM?

Max Rieper: I expect things to stay the same, at least initially. Sherman will probably observe the organization for a good year without many changes. I’m a little skeptical of reports Sherman will commit immediately to Moore on a long-term deal, but I do think Sherman probably respects Moore and will at least keep him on initially. I think Sherman will beef up and restructure the analytics departments, which may already be happening and most of his work the first year will be behind the scenes. I don’t expect a big splash initially. Maybe he’ll lower ticket prices, that would build up some goodwill.

Jesse Anderson: New ownership brings both new hope and new fears. Could this new owner bring a bigger purse? Encourage more interest in player abilities even at the cost of some clubhouse harmony? Encourage more of an analytical approach? Sure, all of that could happen.

New ownership could also come with debt, or focus on profit, cutting the payroll to some crazy low levels. And yeah, GMDM probably gets an extension.

Josh Keiser: To be honest, I expect more of the same. I can’t see a boost in spending outside of the extra TV money, which we would’ve likely seen with David Glass. The Royals were already dabbling with using analytics more but Sherman is on the record as to saying that he leaves the day-to-day stuff to the baseball minds he puts in place i.e. Dayton Moore. He might get involved at the same time that Mr. Glass would’ve gotten involved with the same goals and priorities (winning as long as it doesn’t cost too much). And that also goes for Dayton’s role as GM. I don’t see that changing; at least not at first. He’ll get a few more years to see how his current crop of prospects develops, and he should get that. This changes if the Royals aren’t making “contention” conversations by 2022 though.

David Lesky: In Sherman, I don’t think things will be too terribly different than the last 13 years of the David Glass era. I think he’ll spend when spending makes sense and he won’t when it doesn’t. The two biggest things I’d anticipate is his bringing a bit more of a “fan” mindset to the ownership seat. He’s a Royals fan, so I think he’s a bit more likely to approve a big splash if and when the Royals are close. I also wonder if he’s more willing to eat some money to facilitate a better return in trades. As for Dayton Moore, I’d say he’s still in the GM chair or promoted in 2020 and I’d put it at 55/45 he’s still there in 2021.

Ryan Heffernon: It’s hard to have expectations when we know very little about him. As far as Dayton goes, I think he’ll at least have a shot to continue the rebuild, but with added pressure. I have a ton of respect for Dayton and from what I have heard, Sherman wants to win. Hopefully, Sherman will bring with him some fresh ideas and they can work well together. If not, who knows.

Jack Johnson: For John Sherman, I would love to see an aggressive owner from the get-go. Change the culture and help out the major league team now. Avoid cheap rentals and dump money elsewhere in serious areas of need (cough* cough* bullpen). Adding a bat or two, like Mike Moustakas and Avisail Garcia, would show you mean business. Dayton Moore will likely get two years to show considerable improvement.

Matthew LaMar: A good boss won’t step into a complex situation and immediately make gigantic personnel changes without making sure that it’s the right plan. Sherman is by all accounts a smart and conscientious businessman, so that’s what he’ll probably do. Now, 2021 will be a different matter--there’s a lot of things that have to click in place for the Royals to be competitive then, and if Moore and Co. try to do so and fail, all bets are off.

Hokius: Everything I’ve read is that he won’t be changing much. That makes sense, especially for his first year as he gets acclimated to what is and is not in KC and he defines and refines whatever plans he may already be forming. I don’t expect Moore to leave in 2020 but if the aforementioned consecutive lotto hits don’t pan out I think it would make sense for Sherman to move on from him more quickly than Glass would have.

Who will be the new manager? Who do you want to be the new manager?

Max Rieper: All signs point to Mike Matheny. I’d be very surprised if it’s anyone else. I like Pedro Grifol a lot, but honestly, I’d prefer to see someone from a successful, cutting-edge organization come in and bring some fresh air to the organization (Joe Espada of the Astros?). But not Matheny, for reasons I have detailed before.

Josh Keiser: It’s going to be Mike Matheny and I will ask for Max to retract my previous 2 answers. If it’s not him, the odds on favorites at the moment are Raul Ibanez, Carlos Beltrán, Pedro Grifol, and Dale Sveum and that’s also the order of most happy to least happy I’d be with their respective hiring. That’s a solid list of resumes that I’d rather have than Mike Matheny. Mike Matheny is waaaaaaaaaaaaay down that list, probably just in front of Brett Lawrie.

Matthew LaMar: Pedro Grifol, probably. I would personally like to see Carlos Beltrán. He’s exactly the kind of guy Kansas City would want: experienced, wise, loose, multilingual, open to new ideas. With so many open managerial positions, though, it will be fascinating to watch.

David Lesky: Maybe I’m being too hopeful, but the answer to both questions is Pedro Grifol. He understands the analytics, but also is great in the clubhouse and would be just a perfect fit for a young team.

Jesse Anderson: I really have no idea who the new manager will be. Hopefully not Mike Matheny, and probably not Joe Maddon. Other than that, I don’t really know.

Jack Johnson: The new manager will be Pedro Grifol. But if it were my choice, Carlos Beltrán would be fun.

Hokius: I’m really worried it will be Mike Matheny which makes me think he’s going to be the guy. Based on what I know of the candidates - relatively little since I’m not the kind of journalist who actually interviews any of these people - I think I’d prefer Pedro Grifol. But as long as the manager isn’t someone openly antagonistic of advanced stats or players, I’ll probably just shrug and move on with my life.

Ryan Heffernon: Mike Matheny. I would love to see Pedro Grifol in that spot, but in my mind, anybody whose name is not Mike Matheny is the best candidate. He has a lengthy history with questionable in-game tactics, but I don’t care about that as much as I care about the clubhouse culture he created in St. Louis. Ned’s greatest strength was his ability to lead and foster a strong clubhouse. If you aren’t getting a tactician or a leader in Matheny, what are you getting?

What do you think the Royals need to address this off-season?

Matthew LaMar: Absolutely nothing. The Royals are going to, ahem, be very bad next year. There’s nothing to address beyond stockpiling talent in the minor leagues and getting as much value from big league players as possible to dangle them on the trading block. If there is one thing to address, it’s Whit Merrifield’s spot on the team; he should have been traded at the break, and should be aggressively shopped this winter.

David Lesky: They need to fix the bullpen. If you squint, you can see the lineup being fine enough, at least in the top half or two-thirds. You can see a rotation of Keller, Jakob Junis, Mike Montgomery, maybe Danny Duffy and a free agent or two being fine enough. But the bullpen doesn’t look great. If Duffy moves back there, they’ll be spending a lot, but him, Ian Kennedy, Barlow and Tim Hill (who emerged as at least reliable during the last couple months) are a good start, but they need to protect some leads.

They had a 10-game losing streak after starting 2-0 and were leading or tied in the seventh or later in five of them. Is the season different if they’re 5-7 instead of 2-10? Maybe. Over the course of the year, they lost 35 games where they leading or tied in the seventh or later. Obviously not all of that is entirely on the bullpen, but if they could win 20% of them, they’re a 66-96 team instead. Yes, draft picks and draft position are both important, but you have to win at some point.

Jack Johnson: Bullpen, bullpen, bullpen. Fork over the money to add a few arms like Jeremy Jeffress, Will Harris, Brandon Kintzler, Yusmeiro Petit.

Max Rieper: Just continue to add as much young talent as you can. The outfield situation needs to start coming into focus. They could certainly use more arms. But I’m not sure I expect them to make any major moves this winter. We’ll have a better idea of what the next steps are after next year, when some of the pitching prospects have made their debut and we’ll know more about whether guys like Nicky Lopez, Brett Phillips, and Ryan O’Hearn have a future.

Jesse Anderson: The Royals focus this off season should mostly be the same as last off-season. Maximizing the potential prospect return from free-agent bounce-back candidates, make any moves possibly to add depth to the farm system (trading Whit, Ian Kennedy and Danny Duffy, if possible), maybe an extension or two, and possibly trying to lock in some free-agent multi-year deals from lower/mid tier free agents still available in January/February. Think 2018 Mike Moustakas but with a three-year deal instead of a one-year deal. If they have a break-out season and are tradeable, now the return is for multiple years of control. If they flop it’s still fairly cheap, and any in-between outcomes they fill roster space on a 90-100 loss team.

Josh Keiser: Priority #1 is a new pitching coach. With the rebuild relying heavily on the pitching prospects, the Royals cannot afford to miss on more than two of the main four guys (Singer, Lynch, Kowar, Bubic). I do not have faith in Cal Eldred being that guy seeing what is happening with the current young pitchers. The next priority is the manager position. They need to make the right hire there or this run in the dark ages will continue. As far as player personnel, I think the only thing the Royals should look to add to this off-season is the bullpen . There are plenty of unknowns on this roster that need to be figured out before the front office cuts them loose and look for replacements in free agency. That being said, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Royals dip their toes into the front-end starting pitcher market.

Ryan Heffernon: The black holes in their offense. Their bullpen wasn’t actually as bad as it seemed and they have some talented arms in their rotation with more on the way. They have good bats as well, with the home run champ, hits champ, and three triples champs in their lineup. Yet, the Royals had a league-high 33% of their PA given to players with a wRC+ below 70. They have 1-4 in the batting order taken care of, but they need to fill the other five spots.

Hokius: This is a tough question. I don’t know what they can do at this point. As I noted when responding to whether they were on the right track, I don’t really see a whole lot they can do. If they weren’t going to deal Merrifield, Duffy, Salvy, or Kennedy for what they could get before they’re not going to deal any of those guys for what they can get now. The minor leagues are what they are and won’t be drastically different until the next draft. I’d be very surprised if the Royals did anything worth paying attention to this off-season. Which will make all of our lives super fun.

What is your World Series prediction?

Jack Johnson: Astros over Dodgers in 6.

Josh Keiser: I would like to see any match-up that isn’t the Yankees vs. Dodgers, so that’ll be the World Series match-up with the Yankees taking it. Yuck!

David Lesky: I really don’t want to be boring and this feels like we’re careening toward another Dodgers/Astros series, so I’m going to be different just to be different and say it’ll be Braves/Twins with the Braves coming out on top in the 1991 rematch.

Matthew LaMar: New York Yankees vs. Los Angeles Dodgers. Dodgers finally get their win after almost a decade of MLB domination.

Hokius: Astros over the Cardinals in 5.

Jesse Anderson: It’s been 31 years since the Dodgers won the WS. They have a beast of a team. I think it’s probably Yankees/Dodgers, but I’m kind of rooting for Oakland to win the pennant for the first time since 1990 as well.

Ryan Heffernon: I had Yankees over Nationals to start the season, but I’ll change it to Dodgers over Astros. But I’ll be rooting for Zack Greinke to get his first World Series title.

Max Rieper: Astros over Nationals in a sweep. I pick the Nationals every darn year, one of these days I’ll be right.