With over half of the 2022 Major League Baseball season in the books, it’s more than time to take a look at the alternate universe Kansas City Royals have done. Last offseason, I acted as the Royals general manager in the annual SB Nation offseason simulation, the longtime event that is run by and the brainchild of our own Max Rieper. It places 30 fans into their team’s GM chair in a condensed version of the offseason, with Max operating as the central hub and agent for each year’s batch of free agents.
It’s a great simulation because of two primary reasons. First, it’s conducted in real time, where moves made at the beginning of the offseason have ripple effects throughout. Second, since there is a human running every team, trade interactions are extraordinarily realistic.
Last year, I ran the 2022 Shadow Royals with this set of objectives in mind:
- Keep payroll relatively low. This isn’t a “go for it year.” It’s a “see what they youngsters can do” year.
- Maintain stable of young arms and top prospects. They’re going to be playing a lot this year. Can’t trade ‘em for veterans.
- Figure out the middle infield situation. With four guys and three spots, something had to give.
- Jettison Carlos Santana. That 1B spot is gonna be necessary, and he’s not a good enough hitter to fill the DH role either.
- Collect young talent. I don’t want to rebuild, but we saw this team win only 74 games last year. They need more talent.
- Shore up bullpen depth. Look, the Royals could explode this year, plus we saw just how much stress was placed on the poor Royals bullpen.
While I thought I did a pretty good job of it in aggregate in no small part because I kicked off the youth movement right from the start, some of my transactions aged pretty terribly. Some went well, though.
Transaction Review: How’d I Do?
Transaction One: Royals non-tender Ryan O’Hearn and Hanser Alberto
This went well, rather predictably, and yet the real life Royals failed this test on the O’Hearn portion. This year, O’Hearn has a 52 wRC+ and -0.2 fWAR. Alberto has an 85 wRC+ and -0.2 fWAR. So, yeah, not worth the money.
Verdict: Clear Shadow Royals victory
Transaction Two: Royals trade Andrew Benintendi, Foster Griffin, and Emmanuel Rivera to Braves for Will Smith and Kadon Morton
Foster Griffin and Emmanuel Rivera have combined for a whopping 0.1 fWAR this year. Neither have looked anything like consistent big leaguers—though Rivera has a route forward as a lefty masher a la Danny Valencia. Meanwhile, Will Smith has been terrible this year for Atlanta, so terrible that they offloaded him to Houston.
Really, the question here: would you rather have Kadon Morton or the trio of pitchers the Royals acquired for Benintendi a few weeks ago? I don’t think there’s a good answer, honestly. Remember: this trade was made before this season happened, when Benintendi had turned in a cromulent-but-not-impressive 2021 campaign. Regardless, this trade was a bit of a dud.
Verdict: Not great; opportunity cost is the biggest factor here
Transaction Three: Royals trade Adalberto Mondesi to the Nationals for Victor Robles
I made this trade because I thought both players involved just needed changes in scenery, and it was the trade I would have most liked to see in real life. Sure enough, both players lived up to their reputations: Robles has been a poor hitter but has been a solid baserunner and has played a solid center field, while Mondesi showed glimpses of brilliance until he tore his ACL. Robles hasn’t bounced back like I thought, but he’s been healthy, so the Shadow Royals come away here with the better end of the stick.
Verdict: Minor victory for the Shadow Royals
Transaction Four: Royals sign Danny Duffy to a 2 year, $16 million deal
In real life, Duffy signed a $3 million guaranteed deal with a second year team option worth up to $10 million and an additional $6 million in available incentives, so the top-level numbers aren’t too different. The problem is that I guaranteed Duffy $16 million, and while he can technically still earn up to $19 million with the Dodgers over the same time frame in real life, Duffy has yet to pitch. It is August.
Verdict: Bigtime swing and a miss for the Shadow Royals
Transaction Five: Royals trade Mike Minor, Angel Zerpa, and Dylan Coleman to the White Sox for Andrew Vaughn and Andrew Dalquist
Let’s get to it here: the Shadow Royals fleeced the White Sox here. Vaughn is hitting 30% above average per wRC+ and is under team friendly control for another five years. Mike Minor has been unplayably bad, Angel Zerpa has been ok this year and is on the 60-day IL, and Dylan Coleman’s upside is “above average reliever” with his walk problems (Andrew Dalquist exists).
Verdict: Huge victory for the Shadow Royals
Transaction Six: Royals trade Whit Merrifield, Carlos Santana and $8 million to the Brewers for Keston Hiura and Max Lazar
The last SB Nation Whit Merrifield trade—from the Royals side of things, at least. While Max Lazar has been very disappointing, Keston Hiura has combined a double-digit walk rate with an isolated slugging percentage north of .200 for a wRC+ of 126. He’s under team control for another three years after this one, and though his strikeout rate is Concerning with a capital “c”, he has some upside left in him. Probably.
Now, would you rather have the separate returns from the real life trades of Merrifield and Santana? There’s something to be said for getting four players instead of two, espeically with Hirua’s big league baggage.
Verdict: Good move, but not a great one
Transaction Seven: Royals sign Dee Strange-Gordon, Pete Kozma to minor league contracts
Strange-Gordon has played this year. Kozma has not. Oh well.
Verdict: No downside to minor league deals
Transaction Eight: Royals trade Jon Heasley to the Mariners for Mike Moustakas and $18 million
Jonathan Heasley has a great mustache but has been a terrible starting pitcher in the big leagues. In 70 innings as a starter, he has a 5.91 FIP and the seventh-worst K%-BB% among all 373 pitchers with that many innings since 2021. But Moose has accrued -0.9 fWAR over his last two injury-riddled seasons. This is going to end up a swap of replacement level players.
Verdict: Nobody wins this one
The 2022 Shadow Royals would not have employed Cal Eldred, that’s for sure, but they would have been pretty thin on pitching.
I unloaded Jon Heasley and Angel Zerpa, who combined to give the real life 2022 Royals 14 innings, and was unable to acquire Zack Greinke at a price that suited my tastes; I offered a one-year deal at $15 million, extremely close to what he got in real life, but the Dodgers offered 2/$24 mil and I was unwilling to match that. As a result, the Shadow Royals would have had to fill in those 32 starts with flotsam and jetsam from around the league. Realistically, the Shadow Royals would have also leaned heavier on Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, and Kris Bubic, who all spent time in the minors in real life.
On the position player side, things are much better. Andrew Vaughn is a nice building block, and it was at least worth seeing if Victor Robles could rebound. Plus, Keston Hiura is also really interesting, even though his strikeout rate is likely to doom him in the long run.
At the very least, the 2022 Shadow Royals would have been much more interesting right from the gun, with more time more readily available to the likes of MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto, and Vinnie Pasquantino.
But what strikes me the most is that the real life Royals and the Shadow Royals are going to end the season in roughly the same spot. The real life Royals are running a payroll of about $95 million; the Shadow Royals, only about $4.5 million less. The real life Royals will end the season without Mondesi, Merrifield, Santana, or Benintendi, just like the Shadow Royals. And both versions of the team will have ended up giving a lot of playing time to a lot of promising young players while suffering pitching depth issues along the way.
So, I guess, would you rather have another few months of the baby Royals and Vaughn, Hiura, and Robles? Or would you rather have a team instead relying on Massey, Eaton, and Vinnie, and the seven-player return for the aforementioned veterans that the real life team got? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Would you rather have the Shadow Royals offseason or the real Royals offseason?
This poll is closed