Even as an evaluation year, 2023 has been pretty dang rough for Royals fans. For that reason, it wasn’t particularly surprising that many of you found last week’s roster prediction to be...underwhelming. And sure, if the Royals return all the players that were indicated as likely to return without signing some premier free agents, 2024 will probably be another very long, not-very-fun summer.
If the Royals are looking at this team and thinking they have a core nucleus for the next playoff roster, they are mistaken. There’s no two ways about it. However, just because that is true does not mean that all of their players should be out seeking new day jobs. And that’s where skewed fan perceptions come in.
And no, I’m not just talking about how unlucky some of the players appear to have been. I’m also not talking about guys like MJ Melendez, Alec Marsh, or James McArthur who started very poorly but have been much better lately; this isn’t a recency-bias thing. I’m talking about how the Royals, while rostering multiple guys who simply don’t have the talent or numbers to justify their positions, also have a bunch of guys who are absolutely good enough to be in the big leagues.
There’s no denying that Michael Massey is no Bobby Witt Jr. But as our own Matthew LaMar pointed out a few weeks ago, it doesn’t take a roster full of Bobby Baseballs to reach the playoffs. Michael Massey, disregarding any potential bad luck he might have faced this year, has been worth 0.5 fWAR. Again, that isn’t great. But it is better than replacement level. And, per FanGraphs, he would represent an upgrade over the guys being trotted out both by the Orioles and Brewers at second base, two teams that appear destined to win their divisions. He’s also been better than Omar Infante, who primarily manned the position during the Royals’ most recent playoff runs.
Massey hasn’t hit well but he’s been a plus both as a defender and as a base runner. The problem for the Royals isn’t that Michael Massey is on the roster, it’s that they have so few players better than him that they’ve ended up batting him in the middle of the order far too often. Massey can fit on a playoff roster if he’s the eighth or ninth best hitter in your lineup and bats in one of those positions. According to Baseball Reference, he actually has been the ninth-best hitter the Royals have employed this year. But when the team puts Matt Beaty, Matt Duffy, Nick Pratto, etc. into the lineup, he has to bat too high.
No, the problem isn’t that Michael Massey isn’t Bobby Witt Jr. The problem is that nobody else is Bobby Witt Jr., either (except Bobby himself, of course.) Even when Michael Massey isn’t batting fourth, MJ Melendez or Nick Pratto are, and they don’t belong that high either.
The Royals’ problem is that they have a roster full of nine-hole hitters.
Many people like to say that when there are two sides to a story, the truth often lies in the middle. That isn’t always the case but it certainly is, here. The Royals appear to see Michael Massey as a core player for their franchise going forward. Someone to build around. Fans seem to see him as a bum not worth the cost of the pine they wish for him to ride. The truth is that Michael Massey is a player who can reasonably start 120 games or so at second base, batting eighth or ninth, and not be a glaring hole in your lineup. He is neither trash nor treasure, he’s just a guy.
Of course, when you’re building a 26-man roster you need a few players who are just guys. Unless you’re playing Diamond Dynasty mode in MLB: The Show you can’t fill your entire lineup with superstars. (Shoutout to my 1998-era Sammy Sosa batting ninth!) Even as the Royals have proved that a lineup full of nine-hole hitters can’t compete, the Angels have definitively shown that no matter how great your best players are if your lineup has a couple of giant holes in it, you’re not going to win consistently enough to make the post-season.
So, to that end, both sides are right, too. It’s entirely reasonable for the Royals to keep Michael Massey around as they try to build a winning team. He could absolutely be a part of that. Fans are right, too, though. Some of these lower-ability hitters need to be replaced with upgrades. The Royals could certainly do worse than to replace Massey, even as he’s more valuable than two second basemen headed to the post-season he’s still among the worst in the league for those at his position with at least as many at-bats as he has had.
Still, if the Royals do choose to move on from Massey, don’t be surprised if some other team quickly snaps him up and gives him regular playing time. He’s no Bobby Witt Jr. but he’s also no Omar Infante.