Throw out the notion of competing for the second Wild Card, the Kansas City Royals will not be taking the field this post-season. Sitting in the cellar of the American League Central, securing a top five pick looks to be a more likely achievement for the 19-37 Royals. Although no drastic improvements have been seen record-wise in comparison to 2018, there’s reason to remain optimistic for the team in a season or two. In the midst of a plummeting first half. players such as Adalberto Mondesi, Hunter Dozier, Whit Merrifield, Brad Keller, Nicky Lopez, Jorge Soler, and possibly Scott Barlow look to be potential members of the future Kansas City playoff bunch. All of this is fine and dandy, but trying to win with them now will have the Royals sputtering in the mud by August. “Embrace the suck” they say or in a more professional manner, “just tank”.
In all honesty, as bad as the Boys in Blue have proven to be two months into the year, there isn’t the same sense of dread the club was blanketed with in 2018. Back then, Kansas City decided to lose with the likes of Blaine Boyer, Justin Grimm, Jason Hammel, Alcides Escobar, Jon Jay, Abraham Almonte and Ryan Goins. Now, the true rebuild has begun construction and has accelerated more than most could’ve anticipated. If you wanted to make a strong case for contention in 2020, I would not be one to fault you. Assuming the production continues from the top six in the lineup, it’s possible Opening Day 2020 could look similar to this:
Nicky Lopez 2B
Whit Merrifield CF
Adalberto Mondesi SS
Salvador Perez C
Hunter Dozier 1B
Alex Gordon LF
Jorge Soler DH
Free agent/Bubba Starling/Brett Phillips/Erick Mejia RF
Kelvin Gutierrez 3B
It doesn’t come across as a lineup that entices all of Major League Baseball, in fact, most of the national media likely won’t glance in the direction of the Royals. However, for those who have paid close attention in 2019, it’s a better lineup than you might think when your team leader in home runs at the moment is hitting in the seven hole.
Here’s where things become interesting. As the 2018 draft class continues to shine in their professional debuts, Kansas City has a chance to bolster the farm system once more via the trade deadline. Not mention the Royals hold the #2 overall pick in the 2019 draft which has all the indication of high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. joining the organization.
Contrary to last season, Kansas City possesses the ability to create noise as sellers moving towards the deadline. Scanning the inventory, a few names stick out that could benefit buyers come July 31st. His numbers aren’t pretty overall, but Brad Boxberger has posted a 2.31 ERA over his last 11 outings. Homer Bailey might fit nicely in a long reliever role as he currently showcases his lowest hits-per-nine stat since 2014. Martín Maldonado could serve as a backup catcher or even take the starting job due to an injury for a playoff bound club. Keep in mind the Angels received Astros prospect Patrick Sandoval, now their 12th-ranked prospect, and $250,000 international bonus pool money last year in a deal that shipped Maldonado off to Houston for catching depth. Billy Hamilton has the ability to become a late inning defensive replacement or pinch runner for a team that lacks a stable outfield. Heck, did you see how many fly-balls the first-placed Yankees dropped against the Royals this past weekend? The message should be clear up in the front office. Take advantage of an organization aggressively searching for minor pieces to feel comfortable heading into October.
Do the Royals win the Wild Card in 2014 if Jarrod Dyson isn’t there to steal third? What about Kris Medlen and Franklin Morales’ value of consuming innings in the 2015 ALCS against Toronto to save the bullpen the next day? The point is, certain teams will bite if the player proves he’s consistent and reliable. Unfortunately, there is no Madison Bumgarner, Anthony Rendon, Marcus Stroman, or Sean Doolittle sitting on the 25-man roster for the Royals.
However, the name not yet mentioned for Kansas City is the one who could attract the biggest haul. Close your eyes and listen. Records 13.13 strikeouts-per-nine. Posts a 0.92 WHIP. Limiting hitters to a .136 opponents average. No home runs allowed in 2019. Top five in the league in expected slugging at .223. Throws 96-98 MPH fastball with a sinker/slider combo. Any pitcher posting numbers of this caliber is going to have other clubs reaching for that dial to contact Dayton Moore.
Since April 22, Royals left-hander Jake Diekman has a 1.72 ERA, and opponents are hitting .098 against him. In that span he has struck out 26 in 15 2/3 innings. Rival scouts have taken notice: "He is going to draw interest in July."— Jeffrey Flanagan (@FlannyMLB) May 31, 2019
Diekman is using his slider far more, and has gotten dramatically more drop on the pitch, over the last month. So there’s something to this, beyond results. (Also a velo bump overall, which I would have to study him more in order to explain.) https://t.co/HKdZoFdhZq— Matthew Trueblood (@MATrueblood) May 31, 2019
In a season that has witnesses multiple blown saves and sub-par ERA’s, left-hander Jake Diekman has rarely followed the criteria of 2019 Royals bullpen. After a sluggish start of allowing four runs in his first nine outings, Diekman has surrendered just four runs over his next 17. At times, the command can be his demise. The movement on his pitches are so violent and quick, whoever is at the dish has no choice but to lay off. But when Diekman has the control, he becomes one of the more un-hittable relievers in the game.
Back to the point of finding teams aggressively searching to aid a certain weakness, look no further than the Milwaukee Brewers and Boston Red Sox. Both of them rank 15 and 16 in all of baseball in pitching ERA, not terrible but not good enough to contend. Talking for better fits, the Brewers likely overtake Boston in this regard. For Milwaukee, they’re not the ones who won the World Series in 2018 like the Red Sox. Losing Game Seven at home in any sport is devastating, us Royals fans know the feeling. The following season, motivation is often times fueled by the “what could’ve been” thought.
Obviously I can’t speak for the players or a front office, but if the team still remains in their window of contention, the organization does everything in their power to not make the same mistake twice. In 2015, Kansas City put all their chips in to acquire Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist at the deadline. The move of snagging Cueto was made due to the remembrance of Game Seven in 2014. The Royals already burned James Shields and Yordano Ventura in Games Five and Six, leading to Jeremy Guthrie being the man called upon for the elimination game. No disrespect to Guthrie as he was rather serviceable as the fourth man in the rotation that postseason, but Dayton Moore needed a legitimate ace in case a Game Five or Game Seven happened again. And happen it did. ALDS Game Five against Houston? Eight innings of two-run ball by Cueto in addition to retiring the final 18 hitters he faced.
Is this to say the Brewers lost Game Seven due to the bullpen? Possibly, but this is where Kansas City enters the picture. The job of Dayton Moore is to persuade the idea to Brewers General Manager David Stearns that it was the bullpen that lost them the NLCS. Diekman’s numbers speak for themselves but pushing the notion that he is a necessity instead of an addition will allow the Royals to pluck of a member from the Brewer’s top 30 prospects. In this instance, Kansas City could strike a deal in offering Diekman for 23-year-old RHP Drew Rasmussen (#15 prospect for Milwaukee) or get a package of outfielders like Je’von Ward and Larry Ernesto (#23 and #24 prospects for Milwaukee).
This of course is all just spitballing as the Brewers may not even be on the Royals radar as possible suitor. However, when you are trading your biggest deadline piece, you best not miss.