The Royals have had quite a month, adding free agents Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha, Chris Stratton, Will Smith, and Hunter Renfroe, spending $105 million. We gathered our writers to react to the flurry of transactions and whether they’ve changed the outlook for the Royals at all.
What is your reaction to the Royals suddenly increasing payroll with a free agent splurge?
Matthew LaMar: I’m extremely pleased with the increase in payroll and free agents acquired. Their approach has been reasonable, their payroll isn’t really that crazy, and they’ve still got flexibility for the future. Plus, it’s a win-win situation. If they’re significantly improved, they’ll generate a lot of interest and compete for the AL Central crown because the division is so bad. If they’re only slightly improved, well, the Cleveland Guardians just proved you can win 70-75 games and still end up with a top pick thanks to the lottery.
Preston Farr: It’s a welcome sign and the only way that the team was going to get out of the talent hole they’ve been dug into. The farm system didn’t have a ton of great talent ready to supplement the major league roster. John Sherman looks like he’s ready to make his own reputation as an owner. Say whatever you will about stadium talk and spending to gain some goodwill: Sherman hasn’t had a chance to define himself as an owner quite yet. His first couple years were characterized by COVID and financial uncertainty. Following that we’ve been through a transition period in the front office when spending didn’t quite make sense. Now that the time has come, Sherman put his money where his mouth was.
Hokius: I’m pleased as punch. I mean, sure, I’d have rather they took the Garrett Hampson money and gave it to Ohtani, but for all we know the Royals offered him that money and he just preferred to stay on the west coast. My only complaint is Hunter Renfroe*. I don’t see how he contributes to this team at all.
Greg Walker: I’m glad to see that they’re trying, even if some of the moves are questionable. I still think the Garrett Hampson signing was pointless given the amount of light-hitting utility guys already on the roster, and I think Hunter Renfroe is a questionable fit given his lack of defensive value and volatile offensive production. That said I like the additions to the pitching staff and it’s nice to see the team being more proactive than in past off-seasons.
Max Rieper: I’m encouraged they don’t seem complacent about losing and at least have a direction now. They may or may not be contenders, but I don’t expect them to be god awful anymore. But this also feels a little bit like a band-aid on some larger systemic problems with this organization that have led to a team with a few nice young stars, but many underachievers, and a farm system that is at the bottom of baseball. It will take a lot of time for J.J. Picollo to turn that around, but in the meantime fans can get excited about free agent until the team goes through a slump this summer.
Was this the right way to spend the money?
Matthew LaMar: Yeah, I think so. The Royals aren’t close enough to contention to make a huge signing at $70+ million worth it, but signing some second-tier pitchers to fill out depth is absolutely the right move.
Preston Farr: Spending any money was the right way to spend money, although there were certainly worse ways to do it. Lugo and Wacha are far from innings eaters but they raise the worst-case scenario next season. The Royals are banking big on their young core of hitters taking the necessary steps forward. Barring a complete teardown and overhaul (that would’ve certainly included a Bobby Witt Jr. trade), this is the best option they had. They’ve spent money to surround their young core with veteran talent. If that doesn’t make the young guns more confident, nothing will.
Max Rieper: Yea, it makes sense to invest only in short-term deals that can improve the club, but not bog them down. The Royals need to be nimble and flexible with payroll. Even if Lugo or Wacha fall off a cliff, those deals won’t kill them. I would have preferred a high-OBA guy in favor of Renfroe - I’m not sure he’s an upgrade over Edward Olivares - but I get that the free agent market for that was limited.
Greg Walker: Until this team shows the willingness to bid at the top of the market, I have to assume that mid-tier free agents are the best they can do. With that in mind, I think these moves are fine. They’re short-term deals that won’t turn into albatrosses like the Ian Kennedy deal did. The amount of player options is interesting, striking me as the price to pay to get players to come play for a team that just lost 106 games and hasn’t been good in over half a decade.
Hokius: Again other than Renfroe*, yeah. The team had a lot of holes to fill to become even watchable and that meant spreading it around and bringing in several guys. Would I like to see Aaron Nola or Jordan Montgomery in Royal blue? Absolutely. But these moves are still steps in the right direction.
Will we see any more moves before Opening Day?
Hokius: This is where those Renfroe asterisks comes in. If the Royals brought him in so they could trade away one or two guys from the outfield (looking at you, MJ Melendez and Drew Waters) then that makes a kind of sense. Otherwise, he’s just taking playing time from them or Freddy Fermin without being likely to be significantly, if at all, better. I’m far from the only person who has been 100% sure Melendez was getting traded this off-season - Picollo insinuated it pretty strongly during his end-of-season press conference - but now he’s also said that they’ve accomplished all of their goals. So I’ve come to being something more like 80% sure Melendez gets dealt. Originally I figured it would be more pitching, but I’m not sure that makes sense now. Maybe they can fill in some gaps in the minors with him? Hard to say.
Greg Walker: I think there needs to be. There are still too many outfielders on the roster and I think more can still be done to shore up the pitching staff. Marcus Stroman appears to be a great fit given this team’s infield defense, but he’s probably more expensive than ownership is willing to pay.
Preston Farr: More depth should be expected. I expect there will be some minor league signings with invites to spring training. The chances that a big trade comes down don’t seem very big to me. I expect the outfield could still see some shuffling, but the big league roster already looks to be crowded as is. The Royals seem to have positioned themselves to be big sellers at the next deadline if they’re not competing. That would seem more likely than a big trade coming down before Opening Day.
Matthew LaMar: Maybe. The roster is a little stuffed at corner outfield and designated hitter; the 40-man includes MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto, Nelson Velazquez, Hunter Renfroe, Drew Waters, and Tyler Gentry. The Royals could acquire another starting pitcher via a Melendez trade, as it’s just not clear where he is.
If the Royals really mean business, they’d still be pursuing Marcus Stroman. That isn’t likely, but if you’re looking for a move to show just how intent the Royals are on getting better, that would be a slam dunk.
Max Rieper: The outfield seems a bit crowded, but it also helps to have depth. I still expect a Melendez trade and I think they could add a reliever as well.
What is your way-too-early prediction on how good the Royals might be next year?
Preston Farr: The Royals will be better, but this roster isn’t great by any definition of the word. The outfield doesn’t get on base. It didn’t last year and the team hasn’t done anything to improve in that regard with their offseason additions. With good reason, the only aspect of the roster that’s truly improved is the pitching. The bullpen should be much better, as should the rotation. None of those will be the secret to a playoff run if the offense can’t produce. There are too many power bats in the Royals lineup that simply don’t hit for enough power to make up for their lack of on-base ability. Right now, this is a 72-78 win team.
Matthew LaMar: I’ll put the Royals at 74-88. They could very well exceed that, but that’s their high water mark over the last half dozen seasons. They’re going to have to prove they can be better before I start predicting the team to actually be better (Show Me State and all that).
Greg Walker: 68 wins. I quite like some of the moves they’ve made, but I also quite liked the moves they made before 2021. I’m not missing over on their win total again.
Max Rieper: I think they underachieved this year, although their internal projections of being a 77-78 true-talent-level-win team seems far-fetched to me. They were probably more like a 66-win team that could improve to 74 wins through these pitching upgrades. To take it to the next level, they need to find more guys like Cole Ragans, hope Nelson Velazquez was for real, and get another young hitter or pitcher to break through.
Hokius: I think 70 wins is the floor for this team, barring catastrophic injuries. If none of the guys they’re counting on takes a step back and someone like Massey or Singer takes a step forward with less pressure on them, I could see them approaching or even clearing .500 and competing for what should be a weak AL Central division.