The end of the 2020 baseball season will soon be upon us. The Royals are likely going to end up with a losing record for the fourth year in a row, though I’m now hopeful that they may do better than my prediction (25-35) from the start of the season. There will be a lot to write about reviewing the successes and failures of the team over such a short season, but I wanted to briefly look at the upcoming offseason and make a few quick observations (and guesses) as to what I think the Royals will likely do.
I am far from a Dayton Moore apologist, but with his contract up at the end of this season the lingering question is “Will GMDM remain GMDM with the Royals?” I think the answer is yes. I think new ownership will see the success of rookies Brady Singer, Kris Bubic and Tyler Zuber as well as the improvement in the farm system rankings as evidence that Dayton Moore deserves another extension, likely in the realm of 2-3 years. I don’t know if I think he should be given this or not, and I expect there will be much discussion about this in the coming weeks and months.
General roster tidying
With Maikel Franco set to earn a decent payday given his 2020 performance, no clear candidate to replace him immediately (I see you, Bobby Witt Jr, I just think they’ll make you prove it in the minors next season before they bring you up) and a year of control I expect one of the more large-dollar deals done this off season will be a Franco signing in the realm of $7-10 million for 2021.
Whit Merrifield will not be traded. The Royals have missed their opportunity (assuming it ever existed) to trade Whit. And really, Whit has (outside of his 2018 season) never been nearly as good of a player as Royals fans like to imagine. His pedestrian walk rate (6.3% career, tied for 198th out of 251 active qualified hitter), lack of power (.151 ISO, 179th of 251), declining speed and age make him a good, not great player who would absolutely not return enough to satisfy GMDM or the fan base at this point in his career.
Danny Duffy will likely not be traded. He is a fan favorite who has failed to live up to his contract going into the final year of his contract. I expect he may be traded at the deadline next season to shore up a rotation in need of a lefty or perhaps as a bullpen piece, unless the Royals make an unexpected run for contention next season.
Alex Gordon will retire, and the Royals will mostly look internally to fill out the outfield with candidates such as Bubba Starling, Nick Heath, Kyle Isbel and Edward Olivares being the most likely candidates to take Gordons spot next season. I would suggest a free agent but...
I initially planned to write an article about attractive free-agents for the Royals, but...well, there just aren’t that many. Using the free agent list at MLBTradeRumors, there are a grand total of eight free agents who are under 30. Most of the good free agents will probably be signed by teams with more money or who are closer to contention.
A few names I could see the Royals going for include outfielders Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Joc Pederson. JBJ is an outfielder the Royals have been linked to in the past and is an incredibly good defensive outfielder with a slightly below average bat. Joc Pederson is on the other end of the spectrum, profiling as a power hitter from the left side who has had some defensive struggles.
While the Royals have a large number of pitchers at or near major league ready, they are lacking in established successful big league starters. Alex Wood, when healthy, is an average to slightly above average starting pitcher. His 2018 and 2019 seasons have been injury plagued and he may not be an attractive option to teams seriously looking to contend. Because of this he will likely be available for a cheap one-year deal to prove himself healed, exactly the kind of pitcher the Royals could take a chance on.
Julio Teheran has also been a long established average to slightly above average pitcher who has dealt with injuries this year. He would also likely be available on a one-year make-good deal on the cheap.
This all is to say that the Royals will likely be quiet on the free agent end this off season, and that is probably a good thing. Any moves made will likely be minor on this front.
Oh boy, trades. There are so many potential trades the Royals could try to make to move themselves into contention, and it would all just be wild speculation that isn’t worth the effort. I will just say that IF the Royals front office really believes the team is just one or two pieces away from contending, I’d expect them to make a trade similar to the James Shields trade rather than make a big splash with a free agent.
The 2021 season will be a very important season for the Royals. The White Sox have finally figured out how to translate all of the talent they have stock piled into wins, and are scary, but other than that the division feels pretty open. If Singer, Brad Keller and Bubic really are all 2-3 win starters over a full season and the young bullpen arms continue to impress, you can see how the 2021 Royals could contend with just a few more pieces. Does GMDM pull the trigger?
I think the answer to that question will depend on the length of his next contract. If he’s given a 1-2 year deal, expect him to make a move to get the team at least above .500 next season, if not in the post-season conversation (especially if expanded playoffs are here to stay). If he gets a 3+ year deal, I expect more caution from him to build the team from the floor up, and look to contend more in the 2022-2023 window.