The Royals will soon have new ownership with local businessman John Sherman agreeing to buy the club for $1 billion from David Glass. I want to examine what I think are the potential best case scenarios under new ownership for 2020, and in future articles, the worst-case scenario for both 2020 and moving forward, and then my actual guess as to what will actually happen. So, let’s do the fun one first - what is the best case scenario? I’ll preface this by saying this is best-case for 2020, perhaps not long-term.
I want to start this out by saying it’s hard to imagine the Royals contending in 2020. Setting aside the current level of talent on the team, the Central Division is pretty packed with talent at the moment. Minnesota is finally clicking, Cleveland is still strong, and Chicago has many current and former top prospects and almost no payroll commitment beyond this year. Add that to the stacked AL East, and it’s difficult to see how the Royals could even elbow their way into a Wild Card race.
But let’s pretend for a minute that some things go right. How much would have go right, exactly, for the Royals to contend? Are there any free agents that could be signed with new ownership and perhaps a looser purse that would help push the Royals in the right direction?
Let’s start with payroll as this impacts all other decisions. Assuming the Royals buy out Alex Gordon with his $4 million buyout rather than pick up his mutual option, the current payroll estimate for the Royals in 2020 (assuming all arbitration-eligible players are maintained and estimating that salary) is $96.1 million, according to Baseball Reference. If we use this season’s Opening Day payroll to determine what moves they are likely to make, well, you’ll find yourself disappointed as their Opening Day payroll was right at $100 million this year.
That said, new ownership, along with a potential new TV deal reported to bring in an additional $20-30 million per year could mean payrolls increases significantly. If th enew ownership group wanted to make a splash, I could see how they would justify a payroll of $140-$150 million. So, let’s pretend we have $50 million to play with for free agents, unless trades are made.
The Royals 2020 roster currently looks something like this:
1B: Ryan O’Hearn
2B: Nicky Lopez
SS: Adalberto Mondesi
3B: Hunter Dozier
C : Salvador Perez
OF: Brett Phillips, Bubba Starling, Whit Merrifield
DH: Jorge Soler
Bench: Cam Gallagher, Cheslor Cuthbert, Humberto Arteaga
SP: Danny Duffy, Brad Keller, Jakob Junis, Mike Montgomery, Glenn Sparkman
BP: Kyle Zimmer, Scott Barlow, Ian Kennedy, Richard Lovelady, Josh Stautmont, Tim Hill, Jorge Lopez, Kevin McCarthy
There, that’s 25 roster spots. That’s likely what we’ll see next season, or something very similar. There will be 26 roster spots next season (though only 13 pitchers are allowed) so we’d likely see another utility man on the roster or perhaps a bench bat.
The 40 man roster currently has 39 players (38 after Gordon leaves at the end of the year) and plenty of space to make room for additional players.
Positions of need
A shorter list might be positions where help isn’t needed. I’m a big proponent of moving Dozier off third, either to first base or, better, the outfield where he can maximize his value using his above-average sprint speed. The current starting outfielderers leave a lot to be desired, and the pitching staff is a mishmash of back-end starters, middle-relievers, unproven pieces and non-tender candidates.
Improvements will need to be made at several positions, while also giving space for players like Nicky Lopez and Mondesi to grow. O’Hearn is a tough choice for me, over his last two weeks he has really come back to life, but over the season he’s been very bad.
A full list of free agents for this off season can be found here. The current Royals 40 man roster can be found here. First thing is first, I’m looking to clear some roster space and salary. I would cut Sparkman, MacCarthy and Cuthbert from the roster. I would trade Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy for prospects. I would expect to have to eat half of Duffy’s contract, and probably a bit more of Kennedy’s. This would free up about $15 million in payroll for 2020.
We’re sitting around $80 million now in payroll, leaving $70 million for free-agent signings. It could look something like this:
Free agent offers made would include Gerrit Cole (7 years, $182 million), Mike Moustakas (3 years, $21 million), Cole Hamels (2 years, $24 million), Marcell Ozuna (5 years, $80 million), Chris Archer (1 year, $9 million), Addison Reed (1 year, $2 million), Will Smith (3 years, $30 million), and several minor-league invites found at the end of the year.
That brings the payrol up to $152 million (assuming no back-loading). If all offers are signed, the 26 man roster would look like this:
2B: Nicky Lopez
C : Salvy
OF: Phillips, Ozuna, Merrifield
SP: Cole, Hamels, Keller, Junis, Montgomery
BP: Zimmer, Barlow, Lovelady, Stautmont, Hill, Jorge Lopez, Archer, Reed, Smith
Bench: Cam Gallagher, Humberto Arteaga, O’Hearn
That’s 26, and 14 pitchers, so one of Zimmer, Barlow, Lovelady, Staumont, Hill or Lopez will need to be in the minors. Archer is there to compete with Junis and Montgomery for a rotation spot in ST. He has not been particularly good the last few years, but still has really good K/9 numbers. Smith is the default closer, Reed might be better had on a minor league deal.
How does this team stack up? There aren’t any projections released for next season, but we can make some basic guesses. A 0 WAR team would win 48-53 games. I’m going to use the WAR of each player this season so far, projecting out to 150 games for position players. For pitchers I’m going to use WAR so far plus projected war for this year. There will be exceptions to both, outlined in the next paragraph.
Mike Montgomery I’m setting at 1 win, despite that he has -.1 WAR this year. Since coming to the Royals he’s been really good. O’Hearn I’m setting at 0 WAR because as a bench bat, DH or potentially playing 1B if injuries/performance says he should. I just don’t know what to do with him. Nicky Lopez I’m also setting at 1 WAR because if he doesn’t perform at least that well we’ll probably see Moose at 2B, Dozier at 3B and O’Hearn at 1B. Cole Hamels I’m regressing slightly, Keller I’m bumping up slightly (these about even out). I’m also giving Salvy 1 WAR because I expect him to regress from previous performance anyways.
The total WAR for this team is 40.2, meaning they would be expected to win 88-93 games. There would also be almost no turn over the next year.
This is just meant to be a thought exercise about how opening up the purse and adding a few free agents while trading away some bad contracts could improve the team to a fringe contender next season. There are several other paths I looked at to add the WAR needed to be a contender, but this seemed the safest, least expensive route.
How would you feel if the Royals made the moves I’ve suggested? Do you think this team could contend as constructed? Did I lowball Ozuna and Gerrit Cole?