For the ninth consecutive year, SB Nation writers and friends executed its annual offseason simulation, the brainchild of our very own Max Rieper. In the simulation, at least one representative from all 30 teams get together for a few days of furious Slack messaging and emailing, making fake trades and fake free agent signings in order to remake our teams in our own image, independent of such factors like “reality.”
For the second consecutive year, I helmed the Shadow Royals. And for the second consecutive year, I took a, shall we say, somewhat different tact to the offseason compared to what Dayton Moore is likely to do this offseason.
This was a particularly challenging simulation thanks to the COVID-shortened 2020 season whose small sample sizes and lack of a minor league season made talent acquisition more of a stab in the dark than in any previous year. Regardless, I attempted to carry out these main objectives:
- Trade expiring contracts for prospects who will contribute in 2021 and beyond
- Acquire position player prospects, and at least one high-end one at that, to shore up the weakness of the current farm system
- Keep all major starting pitching prospects
- Sign one-year deals on reclamation projects to fill out the roster and potentially showcase as midseason trades, a la Homer Bailey and Trevor Rosenthal
- Explore taking on dead salary to “buy” prospects
In short, I wanted the team to get younger and deeper, sacrificing the team’s competitive chances in 2021 for a strong position in 2022 and beyond. I’ll explain my trades first, and then my free agent signings afterwards.
2020-2021 Shadow Royals Offseason Transactions
Royals non-tender Mike Montgomery, Kevin McCarthy, and Glenn Sparkman
As in real life, my Shadow Royals non-tendered Monty to save $3.1 million. I also got rid of McCarthy and Sparkman, who themselves combined for about $1.5 million in salary, as these replacement-level pitchers can be replaced by those with more minor league options as well as those who are, well, better.
Transaction 1: Royals trade Maikel Franco to the Blue Jays for Otto Lopez
I have a confession, Toronto: I was going to non-tender Franco, too. I did not think Franco was worth $8 million on the open market, and I came to the conclusion that his defensive performance in 2020 was likely a small sample size aberration from his lengthy history of poor defense. However, Toronto swooped in almost immediately to inquire on a trade. And so it was.
Transaction 2: Royals trade Whit Merrifield, Salvador Perez, and Richard Lovelady to the Angels for Jo Adell
This year marks the fourth or fifth consecutive year that the Shadow Royals traded Merrifield. Last year, I fielded a rather extreme amount of interest, and knew that similar interest was coming this year. This deal started with me offering to take Albert Pujols’ salary from the Angels in exchange for prospect compensation. Even though Pujols declined to wave his no-trade clause, thus keeping him LA for the time being, the groundwork had been laid. I included Perez, who becomes a free agent at the end of the year, and Lovelady, who has fallen out of favor with the real life organization, to get a consensus top-ten prospect in baseball.
Transaction 3: Royals trade Hunter Dozier to the Brewers for Lorenzo Cain, Tristan Lutz, Peyton Henry, and Nick Bennett
I did not intend on trading Dozier. But he garnered interest. The Brewers, who initially offered a package of Avisail Garcia and prospects for Merrifield, inquired about Dozier. They then said they’d throw in better prospects if I’d take on Lorenzo Cain’s hefty salary. Owed $35 million between 2021 and 2022, entering his age-35 and age-36 seasons, Cain is overpaid and unlikely to be much more than a league average player. However, getting Cain back is also an olive branch for Shadow Royals fans who have seen Dozier, Whit, and Perez leave.
Why did I trade Dozier, who isn’t a free agent until 2024? It’s simple: I wasn’t just thinking about 2021—I was thinking about 2022 and beyond. Dozier turns 30 next August and we’ve already seen his athletic peak. Extending him to a Merrifield-esque contract is a possibility in real life, however.
Transaction 4: Royals trade Josh Staumont to the Padres for Reggie Lawson and Blake Hunt
The Padres, too, were interested in Merrifield. I told them that I wanted Luis Campusano, a catcher who is also a top 50 prospect. They balked, and I told them they weren’t getting Merrifield without Campusano. But the Padres were interested in Josh Staumont and offered Blake Hunt and discussed Reggie Lawson as an option, too. Not needing to trade Staumont, I said both or nothing. The Padres acquiesced.
Why did I trade Staumont and not, as you see below, Scott Barlow? It’s simple: Staumont is volatile—just look at his FIP and xFIP numbers this year. Barlow is much less so.
Transaction 5: Royals trade Jorge Soler and $9 million to the Rockies for Ryan Vilade and Michael Toglia
Even though Soler was a free agent at the end of next year, I was reluctant to trade him because I had also offloaded the three most productive non-Mondesi bats from 2020 in Dozier, Merrifield, and Franco. But after some initial discussions, the Rockies were insistent about getting a deal done. They initially offered Vilade, Toglia, and Ben Bowden for Soler and Scott Barlow. I substituted Soler’s 2020 salary in lieu of Barlow, we took Bowden off the table, and we had a deal.
Jorge Soler will hit one billion home runs at Coors Field, too, in the 2021 Shadow Season. It will be awesome.
Transactions 6, 7, and 8: Royals sign Wade Davis, Ivan Nova, and Matt Kemp to minor league deals
Minor league deals are essentially no-risk deals: they’re one-year deals that can be severed at no cost to the team if done so before the season starts. I pursued a number of minor league deals, and ended up with three players who accepted them.
Royals fans know Davis as a cyborg reliever, but in more recent years he has been a rusty husk of his previous self. Hopefully, getting out of the thin Colorado air will help him retake what he’s lost. Ivan Nova is for starting pitching depth. The 33-year-old posted an ERA between 4.17 and 4.72 every year from 2016 through 2019 and threw at least 161 innings every year, but a poor 2020 and his age meant there were no real takers. At 36 years of age and sporting a .662 OPS over his last 194 plate appearances since the start of 2019, Kemp is probably toast. However, he hit 22% above league average as recently as 2018, and even in 2020 was a good lefty masher.
Transaction 9: Royals sign Mitch Moreland to a 1 year, $3M deal
After trading the Royals’ starting first baseman and DH in Dozier and Soler, respectively, the lineup needed someone to fill the void. Since 2018, the lefty Mitch Moreland has hit a very respectable .251/.329/.479 with 44 home runs. In 2020, the Boston Red Sox traded him to the San Diego Padres. In 2021, the Shadow Royals will hopefully be able to do the same.
Transaction 10: Royals sign Mike Zunino to a 1 year, $4M deal
Cam Gallagher is an underrated backstop, a defensively skilled catcher with an acceptable bat. But without Salvador Perez, the Royals don’t really have a lot of depth there—and Meibrys Viloria is not the answer. There were a lot of catchers to choose from on one-year deals, including former Royal Drew Butera. I went with Zunino, an excellent defensive catcher and a veteran who should be an asset to a young pitching staff.
Transaction 11: Royals sign Zack Cozart to a 1 year, $6M deal
Trading Merrifield meant that there was no true backup to Nicky Lopez should he falter at second base. And trading both Dozier and Franco meant that, other than Kelvin Gutierrez, there was no one to really play the hot corner. Cozart was probably a bit of an overpay, but he can adequately handle all middle infield positions and has enough of a history as a hitter that a bounceback season could mean that another team could want him at the deadline.
Transaction 12: Royals sign Jake Arrieta to a 1 year, $7M deal
Yes, the Royals have some quality starting pitching prospects coming up through the system, and two—Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar—are essentially big league-ready players right now. But pitchers get injured and others fail; you can never have enough pitching. The former Cy Young winner Arrieta fills the fifth spot of the rotation, giving the Royals some breathing room and allowing them to debut their prospects when they are ready.
The new prospects
My wheeling and dealing netted the system nine new prospects, seven of whom are hitters. Nick Bennett, a lottery ticket arm in the Dozier deal, and Reggie Lawson, a 40+ FV starter who most recently had a 30% strikeout rate in Double-A, were the exceptions. Acquiring hitters was the focus, and they are listed below.
New Royals Prospects
|MiLB Triple Slash
|MiLB Triple Slash
Adell is, of course, the headliner. He is the premier position player prospect that the Royals have lacked since the team traded Wil Myers in 2012. He’s the type of premier athlete that the Royals organization has long valued, combining power and speed with solid outfield defense. He’s got some swing and miss to his game to be sure, but he’s an athletic marvel that has a long history of hitting the snot out of the ball in the minor leagues, and he’s still just 21.
The other main outfield prospect in this group is Lutz. A prototypical power-hitting corner outfielder, Lutz put up a .754 OPS in the notoriously difficult-for-hitters Carolina League—the same league of the Royals’ Wilmington Blue Rocks—an OPS that was 20% better than league average in his age-20 season.
The infield prospects of Toglia, Lopez, and Vilade add depth and strong bats in the system. All three hitters have hit better than league average (by wRC+) at every single stop of their careers, and they fill spots—at first base, shortstop, and third base, respectively—where the Royals are thin. Finally, I made a point to acquire catching talent, hence my acquisitions of Hunt and Henry. The Royals do have some intriguing catching options in their system, but they will need as many options as they can get to replace Salvador Perez in the long term.
Perhaps best of all, these players fit the Royals’ timeline for contention. Henry, Vilade, Lutz, will start at Double-A in 2021, putting them in position to debut in 2022 when the team is looking to content. And Adell will start right away, filling an outfield spot and staggering the position player talent in the system.
Shadow Royals Projected Roster
- Cam Gallagher, C
- Mitch Moreland, 1B
- Nicky Lopez, 2B
- Adalberto Mondesi, SS
- Kelvin Gutierrez, 3B
- Jo Adell, OF
- Lorenzo Cain, OF
- Franchy Cordero, OF
- Matt Kemp, DH
That is not a particularly enticing lineup. The outfield could be fun. But there are very few sure things in this lineup and a lot of question marks.
- Mike Zunino, C
- Zack Cozart, IF
- Ryan McBroom, IF/OF
- Edward Olivares, OF
If Kemp stinks in Spring Training, we could see a five-man bench with Ryan O’Hearn involved and a rotating DH. Otherwise, one of the Ryans is probably out.
- Danny Duffy
- Brad Keller
- Brady Singer
- Kris Bubic
- Jake Arrieta
Mostly unchanged from last year, with Arrieta replacing Junis, who moves to the bullpen. Should Lynch or Kowar force their way up, Duffy is probably the first to go, joining Junis in the ‘pen.
- Scott Barlow
- Jesse Hahn
- Kyle Zimmer
- Tyler Zuber
- Jake Junis
- Gabe Speier
- Jake Newberry
- Wade Davis
There are a lot of other options here. Ronald Bolanos, Carlos Hernandez, Scott Blewitt, Chance Adams, and Stephen Woods could be in play for the last handful of spots, as could some other guys from the 2018 draft class of pitchers.
Overall, the Royals are going to be a worse team in 2021 than they were in 2020. But they have shed payroll and acquired multiple prospects that will help the team in the future. The team’s payroll in 2021 stands at $81.5 million, and they are only on the hook for one contract—Lorenzo Cain’s—in 2022. That leaves plenty of room to work extensions for Mondesi, Keller, and even Singer.
Odds and Ends
- Danny Duffy didn’t get much interest, and so I didn’t trade him even though he’s on an expensive lame duck contract. Besides, I envision him moving to the bullpen at some point.
- I told you that I would look into acquiring Eric Hosmer in the sim, and I did indeed look into it. But the Padres didn’t see Hosmer as having enough negative value and refused to send over the kind of prospect I was looking for, so a Padre he remains.
- I tried hard to acquire Dominic Smith from the Mets to be a long-term fit at the position, even offering to take $16 million worth in mostly useless contracts to grease the wheels. And since I was unwilling to dip into the Royals’ stash of starting pitchers, it didn’t happen.
- Several teams were interested in offloading salary, but they were not willing to part with much of anything prospect-wise to do so. It was too bad, as that was one of my goals going in.
- Arrieta was my second choice. I tried to sign Corey Kluber, but once negotiations passed 2 years and $16 million I exited the bidding. Kluber signed for 2/$21M.
How do you feel about the Shadow Royals offseason?
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