For weeks now, the Royals’ section of the internet has been filled with the question, “Why is Jorge Soler still in the starting lineup?” Similar questions have been asked about other players - Hunter Dozier and Ryan O’Hearn come to mind - though I suspect most people assume there isn’t an answer other than Dayton Moore and Mike Matheny are incompetent. The thing is, there is a reason to keep all of those guys in the lineup. That reason doesn’t guarantee that Matheny or Moore are competent, but if they’re incompetent, it’s not because they keep running those guys out there every day.
Before we can get into that reason, though, we need to talk about a couple of concepts that frequently come up when discussing player projections: the idea of a “ceiling” and a “floor.” These aren’t incredibly complex concepts, and you may have understood them instinctually, but sometimes it can help to put a direct answer on them. Basically, a player’s “floor” is the absolute worst he should be expected to play while his “ceiling” amounts to what he might be able to produce if everything goes right and he plays his very best.
These are not foolproof, even though they’re handy for general strategy and analysis. For example, one thing that made Nicky Lopez so appealing to promote back in 2019 was the idea that his “floor” was a low-power hitter who would get on base at a steady clip and play good defense. As we saw for two years, he struggled to get on base at all. This also works the other way, of course. Whit Merrifield was long seen as having a “ceiling” of a utility player because he had never hit the ball hard. Still, he figured out how to do it and became a player who could be relied upon to not only start but to justifiably bat leadoff.
What do ceilings and floors have to do with Soler, Dozier, and O’Hearn? These three players have some of the highest potential ceilings of the MLB-ready players currently in the organization. We’ve seen all three of them absolutely crush major league pitching at various points in the past. Edward Olivares is probably better than any of them at their worst right now. But his ceiling isn’t as high; even the best Edward Olivares performance probably is not as good as the best possible Soler, Dozier, or even O’Hearn performance. So if the Royals are trying to compete this year - and I think it’s safe to say they were for most of the season even if they might have finally given up hope now - then it makes sense to put their best potential lineup on the field and hope that those guys can figure out what’s wrong and get back to being as good as we’ve seen them in the past.
Being a clever reader, you will have noticed that the headline to this article uses the past tense. That is because it doesn’t make sense anymore. The Royals have fallen behind even the lowly Tigers and Twins and now reside in the AL Central basement. A scarce handful of teams is now worse than they are, including the Texas Rangers, who just swept the Royals in Arlington. If the Royals aren’t competing, then a new set of priorities needs to take hold.
As for Jorge Soler, it probably makes the most sense to cut him and allow Olivares to try and improve his perceived ceiling over the long term instead of continuing to yo-yo the young outfielder between Omaha and KC. Hunter Dozier had five hits and three doubles in the Boston series, so you might give him another week or two to see if he’s finally pulling out of this slump, but otherwise, it’s probably time to use one of his options and let him work on the things with which he’s struggling in Omaha where he’d be under less pressure. Ryan O’Hearn is actually hitting pretty well since his latest promotion. A lot of that comes from a couple of cheap home runs he hit in New York, but he also walloped a real homer in Boston, and he has nine singles in addition to the home runs, something he’s struggled with more. Nick Pratto is playing well in the minors, so this may be O’Hearn’s very last chance to prove he can have some value on the big league roster. As long as he’s still hitting, they might as well give it to him for a few more weeks.
If the Royals weren’t already doing incredibly bizarre things to their rotation to keep the season rolling, I’d recommend Brad Keller and Kris Bubic for demotions, too. For whatever reason, the two of them seem to have lost whatever they had that helped them be effective, and they’re in complete freefall right now. It can’t be doing either of them any good to keep leaving them out on the mound every fifth night, but I’m honestly not sure the Royals can find two guys to even kind-of-sort-of replace them right now.
So those are the reasons the Royals have done what they’ve done so far. To that end, I don’t really blame any of this mess on Mike Matheny. From where I’m sitting, it looks like he’s playing the hand he was dealt in the best way he can. Dayton Moore’s front office, however, is another story altogether. I know I wrote an article this off-season saying I was wrong about him, but what I meant when I said that wasn’t that Dayton Moore was a good General Manager, just that I hadn’t appreciated his unwillingness to tank as much as I should have. His inability to hire the right people to draft and/or develop his prospects is still a massive problem.
Put it this way, Dayton Moore has shown as a GM that he has a floor of being willing to try to put a winning team on the field every year but a ceiling of being unable to actually accomplish that goal with any consistency. It would be best if owner John Sherman and the Royals went out and found a GM with an equally high floor but with a higher ceiling.