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I am befuddled by the Royals’ roster construction choices

Leaders within the Kansas City Royals organization repeatedly called the 2023 season a season of “evaluation.” Record aside, we all came away from the year with a few key takeaways. One, Bobby Witt Jr. was a star. Two, the Royals needed a lot of pitching help—a lot of pitching help. And three, the position player group surrounding Witt (besides Maikel Garcia and Vinnie Pasquantino) was suspect.

So far, the Royals have not acted on point one, although to be fair a Witt extension would be a gargantuan contract. The team did act on point two, aggressively signing a pair of significant free agent starting pitchers as well as signing and acquiring some bullpen help. Overall, the Royals were hugely successful on that end, at least on paper, all without mucking up their short-term or long-term payroll flexibility.

That leaves point number three—addressing the position player group—and I must admit that I do not know what Kansas City’s logic is here. Let’s quickly review the Royals’ transactions:

OUT

  • OF Edward Olivares
  • UTIL Samad Taylor

IN

  • RF Hunter Renfroe
  • 2B Adam Frazier
  • UTIL Garrett Hampson

NO CHANGE

  • 3B Maikel Garcia
  • UTIL Nick Loftin
  • 2B Michael Massey
  • 1B Vinnie Pasquantino
  • 1B/OF Nick Pratto
  • SS Bobby Witt JR.
  • OF Kyle Isbel
  • OF MJ Melendez
  • OF Drew Waters
  • OF Dairon Blanco
  • DH/OF Nelson Velazquez
  • C Salvador Perez
  • C Freddy Fermin

Let’s start transactions first. Olivares was always going to be traded, and his time with the Royals just ran its course. Renfroe was worth 5.1 WAR over the last three years; he’s a good addition at a reasonable price. This is an easy one-for-one that improves the team.

After that, things get hazy real quick. Taylor, 25, was predicted by ZiPS to be worth 1.6 WAR over 112 games next year, and he had two option years left. Instead, the Royals signed Frazier, 32, who ZiPS predicts will be worth 1.2 WAR over 126 games next year and who has zero options remaining. That one-for-one limits the team’s flexibility and doesn’t really improve the squad, either.

Then there’s the overall strategy that comes with these decisions. Who plays second base? Now, you’ve got Massey, Frazier, Hampson, and Loftin fighting for those reps. Massey and Loftin need them, but Frazier and Hampson are going to take some reps instead for little upside. Who plays center field and the opposite corner outfield spot from Renfroe? The Royals still have Waters and Isbel and retained Blanco. In the corner, they’ve got Melendez, Pratto, and Velazquez all competing, with Loftin as a dark horse in there.

It seems that the Royals are hedging against poor performance and trying to build depth, but it also seems that the Royals are just stuck in between two worlds. It does not make sense to keep Pratto and Melendez and Velazquez, for instance; they’re too similar to each other and all three need more reps to improve and establish themsleves. It absolutely does not make sense to go out and sign multiple veteran utility players for guaranteed money when the team already had Taylor and Loftin at the league minimum.

The Royals are operating under a constraint, that constraint being that their roster is bad and they don’t have any help on the way. Still, it’s probably not good that some quick math tells you that the Royals have too many guys for not enough spots and too many veterans to provide the youngsters the playing time they need. It’s a weird spot to be in, but it doesn’t make their moves any less strange when taken as a whole.

...unless there’s a trade afoot. Maybe there is! There’s time yet to find out. But the clock goes tick, tick, tick.