A couple weeks ago I wrote about the final big question for the Royals to answer for this soft rebuild was what they were going to do about first base in the future and broke down some of the options already in the organization. Immediately after writing that, Hunter Dozier began seeing the majority of his time there. In that same article I promised to write about some of the out of the organization options the Royals could look at to fill the first base void. The Royals might have answered (for the most part) the first base question, but I still worry that they need another established impact-bat for the next few seasons to become realistic contenders.
I’m not breaking new ground here. We here at Royals Review have written about the Royals’ need for another impact bat to help this, at times, brutal offense. Jesse Anderson was the latest to write about it in his article looking at the upcoming offseason and he wrote that the Royals are never ones to dabble in free agency and this year’s class isn’t much to write home about with players under 30 years old anyway. He thought that the Royals would make more of a James Shields type of trade this offseason to find that player. I tend to agree with that thought. So I identified some guys they could target in said trade. I also wanted to look at at a couple of free agent options coming in the next year or two in case John Sherman’s checkbook is feeling spry (Spoiler Alert: It won’t).
Dipping into the free agent pool
We’ll start with the one that is most likely to fit in to the Royals’ plans, but also the one that will most likely make fans and the front office happy (not possible). And that’s the man, Carlos Santana. This offseason Cleveland has to decide whether or not to pick up his last option year for $17.5 million which happens to be his age 35 season. I think they choose to let him walk because they’ve got two different young/cheap options for first base in Bobby Bradley and Jake Bauers. I think they use the money saved there for an extension with Francisco Lindor.
Carlos Santana does something that no current Royal seems to be able to do: take walks. In 2020, Santana is walking at a 18.6% rate; good for fifth in baseball. Even by his own standards that’s great. He’s also playing a league average first base defensively. Unfortunately, his bat has significantly fallen off this season too. He’s only slashing .189/.343/.305. That’s a career low for him by 104 points. Is it age catching up with him, or just a small sample size? I think Dayton could be open to finding out and kicking the tires with a 1-2 year deal for $7-9 million per year to find out.
A fella can dream, can’t he? Rizzo has a club option for 2021 and the Cubs will definitely exercise that for $16.5M. However, the following offseason he is a free agent. It’s hard to imagine him in a uniform that doesn’t say Cubs on it, but he’s taken a relative pay cut to stay in the North Side and could look to secure the bag at that time. He’ll be 32 at the time so it’s hard to imagine any team will back up the brinks truck too much so it’s possible that him and Chicago figure out an extension, but he could be ready to join another up and coming team in need of more veteran/champion leadership in the clubhouse like the Royals.
Prior to 2020, Rizzo had never had a wRC+ under 105 outside of his rookie appearances with the Padres in 2011. In 2020, he slashed a respectable .222/.342/.414. I say respectable because hat .222 average isn’t very fun but still reaching base 34.2% of the time while only hitting .222 is fine with me and something the Royals lack outside of Hunter Dozier. Rizzo gets on base while also providing decent fielding metrics at first base, which shouldn’t regress too badly after 32 years old. And even if they do, the Royals could make him the primary DH for a contention window while the relatively cheap Dozier takes the reps at first. In the end, I think Rizzo will still command like 7-8 years for $25M AAV and that’s probably still too costly for the Royals to be in for Rizzo, but there are worse ways to spend money.
What’s most likely going to happen
Jackie Bradley Jr. for 4 years/$13M AAV.
The next James Shields trade
Here’s where things get completely out of reach but I’m mentioning because it would be awesome and just the splash Royals fans could be wanting. The Royals could trade for Kris Bryant this offseason, extend him, and go after signing Anthony Rizzo the following offseason, bringing an established connection/chemistry to Kansas City that rivals Hosmer and Moose’s bromance. This is not going to happen (so save your sass for another article). The odds of bringing Brizzo to KC are around the same odds of Nicky Lopez producing a 30 home run season at some point in his career. Is it at all likely? Absolutely not. Is it non-zero? Yes.
So I’m not going to spend much time on this outside of saying that Bryant is also a professional hitter with championship pedigree, plays multiple positions while primarily playing at third base where the Royals have options but could be flexible in working him into the every day lineup, and could be a buy low option after having a bad year (in terms of Kris Bryant) after slashing .206/.293/.351 (plus he’s very handsome and any lineup with him and Hunter Dozier in the same lineup and Matheny at the helm immediately becomes the hottest lineup in the league). The Cubs have shown reluctance to extend Bryant and are always lacking in starting pitching, which is the strength of the Royals’ system. The Royals might also have some money to throw around. I’m not saying I’m just saying.
Ya know what would fit right into the roster and should be somewhat cheap to acquire? A power hitting lefty that can play first, second, and third base that costs $11.67M per year for the next three seasons. And the Dodgers are so stacked, they might not have anywhere for him to play in the future, so they could be looking to deal him just to get a guy like Gavin Lux regular at-bats. Over the past three seasons, Muncy has produced ISO’s of .319, .265, and .197. Since 2002, there’s only been 25 Royals players to produce a .197+ ISO in a season. He’d bring some much provided pop from the left side while also consistently drawing walks. And while we’re talking to the Dodgers, we might also be able to talk them into...
...throwing in A.J. Pollock in on a deal too. Like Muncy, Pollock is likely going to see less and less at-bats with the Dodgers’ prospects starting to knock on the door. This would get Kansas City two quality bats in the lineup for three seasons and in positions of relative need. Pollock still plays a decent centerfield (13.3 UZR/150, 1 DRS in 2020) while mashing lefties. His numbers against righties aren’t great so this might be an expensive platoon piece in the end, but the Royals should have bit of money to throw around in those three seasons of Muncy and Pollock. I gotta think that one of the Royals young arms, a young outfielder, and a solid reliever (Jackson Kowar, Khalil Lee, Richard Lovelady) could get something moving on the vets and inject some value into the everyday lineup.
This year is probably a bad time to try to buy Michael Conforto stock. He had a breakout year slashing .322/.412/.515 while playing average defense in the corner outfield spots. He’s another option for left handed power but has a more all around profile than a pure power hitter. He’d very much bring some impact to the lineup and he’ll be entering his final year under control in 2021. The Mets were supposed to be on the brink of contention but didn’t quite get there (read as “had the same record as the Royals”). With the NL East being so stout, they might be looking to start another rebuild and that might include testing the waters on a Conforto trade. In the end, I’m guessing that the price for Conforto would be too costly for one season of play, but he’s certainly someone to keep an eye on.
Triston Casas is a 20 year old first base/third base hybrid that should bring big power and solid all around hitting from the left side of the plate as well. Boston already has Rafael Devers at third and Bobby Dalbec (who might be a target if Casas is too expensive) at first for the forseeable future. Casas isn’t supposed to be MLB ready for another 2-3 seasons, so this is definitely a roll of the dice. FWIW, Baseball Trade Values seems to think a swap of Kowar and McBroom would be enough for Casas and if that were close to true, I’d sign off on that. He very well could be the heart of the order bat to put the Royals over the top in 2022 or 2023. That would theoretically give Kansas City enough time to figure out where players like Dozier, Pratto, Whit, Lopez, and Mondesi fit into the future and in what capacity. Casas was reportedly wowing people at the Red Sox alt site over the last couple of months so maybe he’ll be ready sooner than expected, or maybe he’s wowed them enough to be untouchable in a trade. But Boston could use some more young starting pitching that’s closer to the bigs than the majority of their farm arms are currently.
What’s most likely going to happen
Jorge Soler is dealt to Oakland for Sheldon Neuse and Luis Barrera or something like that.
The point of all this is to say that the Royals should be looking for an impact bat and, yes, I too don’t want to lose any of the starting pitcher prospects before they make their debuts, but you’ve gotta deal from a position of strength in order to better balance out your team. And if all five young arms make it to the majors, there’s still Brad Keller coming off a stellar year and is barely older than them, so you’ll have to make some decisions regardless. You might as well deal from a position of power to get what you need to take the next step. The good news is that there’s a strength to deal from and that the current roster is flexible enough to accommodate a lot of potential impact players.