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Predicting the 2020 Opening Day roster

There’s always next year!

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

For bad teams, it’s the spurts of winning streaks sprinkled throughout the second half that bring positivity. Watching the younger players succeed like the organization told you they would is what keeps you glued to a team headed for 100 or more losses. Whether it is to be believed or not, the Kansas City Royals have steadily formed a few blocks to their foundation in the midst of a dreadful season. In doing so, they’ve given the fan base reasons to be hopeful in the coming years.

Despite two injuries that have set him back, Adalberto Mondesi exudes the tools of becoming one of the best players in the league if he manages to stay healthy. Hunter Dozier is slugging his way to a 25+ home run season. Jorge Soler is on pace for 40+ home runs and 100+ RBIs. Brad Keller is proving to be a reliable top of the rotation piece at just 24 years of age. There’s certainly things to be hopeful for 2020, it’s only a matter of what the front office can do to help them. And in this case, it shouldn’t be packing the roster with position players on one-year deals. The Royals’ won’t climb above third place next season, but without a doubt it has the chance to be the first big stepping stone for the organization as a whole. Barring any injuries or trades in the offseason, here is the lineup that you could be seeing on Opening Day of 2020.

Starting Lineup

RF Whit Merrifield (.303/.357/.479 with 149 hits in 117 games)

SS Adalberto Mondesi (.266/.294/.433 with 31 stolen bases in 82 games)

3B Hunter Dozier (.284/.368/.542 with 20 2B and 20 HR in 94 games)

DH Jorge Soler (.252/.337/.525 with 31 HR and 79 RBI in 117 games)

LF Alex Gordon (.270/.343/.427 with 63 RBIs in 110 games)

C Salvador Perez (missed 2019)

1B Cheslor Cuthbert (.293/.332/.449 with 31 RBIs in 58 games)

2B Nicky Lopez (.225/.265/.293 with 41 SO in 72 games)

CF Bubba Starling (.225/.253/.325 with 18 hits in 21 games)


C Meibrys Viloria (.263/.333/.395 with seven RBIs in 11 games)

1B Ryan O’Hearn (.172/.266/.312 with seven doubles in 66 games)

OF Brett Phillips (.238/.373/.498 with 17 home runs in 100 games in Triple-A)

Why you can be excited

If you continue to keep tabs on the 2019 Royals, you can probably make an argument that the current lineup has a handful of legitimate producers. With Soler, Dozier, and Gordon paired with the consistency of Whit Merrifield and potential ceiling of Mondesi, the offense isn’t as far off as it may seem. Keep in mind, Salvador Perez returns next year after a full season of rest. From the get-go, the lineup’s first six hitters have potential to carry the load offensively.

Why you can be pessimistic

As much promise as the lineup shows, the bottom half of the order isn’t a substantial upgrade. Cuthbert is in the midst of a career year but the question remains if he can carry the numbers over for consecutive seasons. Something he has never done in his five-year career. Lopez and Starling have been an improvement over Chris Owings and Billy Hamilton, but an average .259 OBP between the two rookies may have Kansas City dipping their toe in free agency for a veteran bat. Albeit, both have only combined for 93 games at the big league level.

Starting Rotation

Brad Keller (7-11, 3.95 ERA in 24 starts)

Jakob Junis (7-10, 4.88 ERA in 24 starts)

Drew Smyly (2-6, 7.01 ERA in 12 starts)

Michael Wacha (6-5, 5.54 ERA in 15 starts)

Mike Montgomery (1-5, 6.02 ERA in four starts)

Why you can be excited

I know what you’re thinking - where the hell is Danny Duffy and why are Wacha and Smyly on the Royals? Well, here me out. First things first, after a strong second half, Brad Keller and Jakob Junis are undeniable locks on next year’s staff. However, for the final three spots, things get more interesting. It’s no secret Duffy has underachieved since his 5-year/$65M deal he signed back in 2017. A 4.54 ERA over the course of 70 starts is not ideal coming from the ace of your rotation. However, he provides excellent guidance for the younger pitchers, is a chemistry builder, and still has decent value at 30 years old.

Signed through 2021, there’s no DFA or trade looming in the offseason. But a shift to the bullpen may be what’s in the cards heading into next spring training. Despite a small sample size of 34 23 innings pitched as a reliever, Duffy posts a career 2.08 ERA out of the pen. He strikes out 11.4 per nine opposed to 7.4 as a starter and logs a 4.40 SO/W ratio in comparison to a 2.33 as a starter. He also holds hitters to a .205/.271/.276 line as a reliever. Not to mention, Duffy has more than handful of stints on the injured list since 2017. Perhaps time in the bullpen will not only maintain Duffy’s health, but boost his value for teams searching for back-end arms at the 2020 deadline. After all, Ian Kennedy sparked trade interest following his successful transition to a reliever in 2019, Dayton Moore just didn’t pull the trigger.

For Smyly and Wacha, both have had down years and could be rather cheap options in the offseason. Smyly currently holds a 7.01 ERA in 12 starts between Texas and Philadelphia. However, since being acquired by the Phillies, the left-hander posts a 0.89 WHIP and a 3.00 ERA in three starts. He signed a 2-year/$10M deal back in 2018. Wacha has had a drastic fall in his age-28 season. Tossing only 84 13 innings last year, Wacha hasn’t found footing in 2019. Showcasing a career-high 5.54 ERA in 15 starts and a career-low 7.3 SO/9, the former first round pick could be nice reclamation project for Kansas City to potentially flip for a prospect or two next year. If he envisions becoming a starting pitcher again in his career, the Royals wouldn’t be a bad destination to earn that chance.

Why you can be pessimistic

The truth is, three of the five pitchers would be stopgap arms for Kansas City. Assuming things were to work out, Smyly, Wacha, and Montgomery would not be wearing a Royals’ uniform in August. In an optimistic outlook, Kansas City could net more than a handful of prospects if those three veterans prove they’re capable of bolstering a pitching staff in October. On the other hand, a pessimist would say all three could be DFA’d by the end of June and Kansas City would have nothing to show for the money spent. The Royals’ won’t be adding any top-tier free agents to their rotation, so they will be left with the scraps. Additionally, the core of their future staff will likely need another year of simmering in the minors before they make the jump to the big leagues. In all, Kansas City’s pitching would go from a D- to a D+.


LHP Richard Lovelady (0-2, 6.27 ERA in 18 23 innings)

RHP Josh Staumont (0-0, 3.68 ERA in 7 13 innings)

RHP Jake Newberry (1-0, 3.28 ERA in 24 23 innings)

RHP Kevin McCarthy (2-1, 4.42 ERA in 36 23 innings)

RHP Jacob Barnes (1-1, 6.86 ERA with Milwaukee in 19 23 innings)

RHP Jorge Lopez (1-7, 6.51 ERA in 85 23 innings)

RHP Scott Barlow (2-3, 5.48 ERA in 46 innings)

SU Danny Duffy (1-1, 2.08 ERA in 34 23 innings as a reliever in career)

CP Ian Kennedy (0-2, 3.18 ERA with 20 saves in 45 13 innings)

Why you can be excited

For starters, no Wily Peralta or Brad Boxberger. The 2020 bullpen would feature a multitude of younger, although inexperienced, set of pitchers. Being eased into certain rolls as this year comes to a close, the next season would have the core of Lovelady, Staumont, and Barlow shouldering the load in bridging the gap to the eighth and ninth inning. Assuming Kennedy continues his positive trend as a closer, he proves to be a trustworthy option to slam the door in close games. Although effective, at times it has been difficult to hand Kennedy the save opportunities he needs to become a top-level reliever. Finding a solidified set-up man would be step one in that process. Enter Danny Duffy. As his numbers are far better out of the bullpen than in the rotation, there’s a good chance Duffy becomes better than Kennedy, who had no prior experience as reliever heading into this season. Barnes could be a good bounce back candidate with a career 3.93 ERA and a .240 opponent batting average.

Why you can be pessimistic

Regardless if Duffy and Kennedy become a solid one-two punch in the later innings, you can’t help but notice that they’ll be making a combined $31,750,000 to throw every other night. The younger arms will surely go through growing pains, probably blowing a few leads late over the course of the 162-game season. And we cannot ignore the fact that this area of concern will be addressed the most in the offseason. Although not predicted, Moore will probably lean to adding an arm or two instead of giving Staumont or Newberry high-leverage innings. Assuming not much money to be spent, the Royals could employ a journeyman veteran that 29 other clubs didn’t deem quality enough to stash in their bullpen.

This roster doesn’t take into account injuries, offseason trades, or even Rule 5 picks Kansas City may enviably act upon. But there is no denying the fact, 2020 will be an indication of just how close they appear to be in terms of contention. Another 100-loss season and you can kiss the 2021 contending hopes goodbye. However, a finish in third place with a 75-78 win total and the team can legitimately contemplate throwing some serious cash into free agency the following offseason.