Royals Have Extensive Offseason Shopping List
As I mentioned last week, the Royals have a lot of work to do before the beginning of next season if they hope to build on this yearâ€™s winning record. Itâ€™s relatively easy to go from 75 to 85 winsâ€”teams do it all the time, and itâ€™s just the nature of baseball that most teams will have a win total in that range. Jumping from 85 to 95 wins is more difficult. But with James Shields set to be a free agent after next season, almost all the eggs are in the 2014 basket.
To upgrade the difficulty, the Royals will likely need to shore up their rotation, which was the biggest key to the teamâ€™s success. Dayton Moore made a heck of a trade to land Ervin Santana last October. Of course, the catch was Santana becoming a free agent after the 2013 season. Now, 211 innings and a 127 ERA+ later, Santana looks to be one of the top three free agent starters available. That means the competition to re-sign him is going to be tough.
Santana seems to enjoy Kansas City, and heâ€™s certainly tweeted a good game, but lots of zeroes on a contract can be very persuasive. If the Royals could re-sign him for three years*, Iâ€™d be pleased, but I am going to operate under the assumption that some richer team will offer him more years and more dollars.
*At age 31 going into next season, a long-term contract for Santana makes me nervous. To be fair, heâ€™s been very durable in his career, but he does throw a lot of sliders, which can be hard on the elbow. Also, while he is a good pitcher, and if healthy should continue to be valuable, itâ€™s highly probable he will never be as good again as he was in 2013.
Iâ€™ve also recently discussed Emilio Bonifacio as the Royalsâ€™ second baseman in 2014. To sum up, if the opportunity to upgrade there presents itself, the Royals should definitely take it, but I think Bonifacio is good enough to move second base down on the offseason shopping list.
There are several other areas Iâ€™d like to see the Royals improve. Right field is at the top of the list. Actually, itâ€™s not as much â€śright fieldâ€ť as it is â€śfind a power hitter, and right field seems the likeliest spot.â€ť Itâ€™s no secret the Royals need an offensive upgrade to improve. And they seem set at most positions (more on that in a minute), but right field seems like a prime spot for an upgrade. David Lough had a fine season, but heâ€™s also 27, and his OPS+ was only 97. Justin Maxwell also had a decent season, but heâ€™s 29. I bring up their ages merely to point out that neither one is likely to improve much. A properly-managed Lough/Maxwell platoon would probably produce an average to slightly above-average player, and while thatâ€™s nothing to sneeze at, Iâ€™m not sure itâ€™s good enough to get the Royals where they want to go. Really, Iâ€™d like it if the Royals could keep both around as excellent fourth outfielders, although Iâ€™m not sure the roster construction will allow it (you almost are forced to keep Jarrod Dyson because Lorenzo Cain is so injury-prone, and six outfielders means you either have one backup infielder or carry 10 pitchers).
And frankly, the Royals should also be looking to upgrade at shortstop and third base. In fact, you could argue those positions are in worse shape than right field. It is true that this team is built on pitching and defense, and Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas are important contributors to that. But you canâ€™t have an OPS of .559 in your lineup every day, or a .651 OPS at third base every day, and expect to win 95 games. Escobar and Moustakas combined for 1,156 plate appearances in 2013, and combined for a miserable .234/.271/.313 line. The closest Royal to that .584 OPS this year? Jeff Francoeurâ€™s .571. That many plate appearances was equivalent to having Frenchy making every plate appearance for the team for roughly 30 games. Tough to win that way.
Escobar might bounce back in 2014. Iâ€™d bet that he will, at least somewhat. For starters, his BABIP was .264, after a .344 in 2012. I would expect his 2014 to have a happy mediumâ€¦maybe somewhere around the .285 he had in 2011. And if he can just put up the modest .633 OPS he had that season, combined with his defense, I could live with that.
Moustakas, on the other hand, concerns me. A lot. Heâ€™s accumulated just short of 1500 plate appearances at the major-league level, with a career line of .244/.296/.385. Thatâ€™s not good enough, not for a corner infielder. And Iâ€™m afraid that this is who he is. Weâ€™re well past the point of small sample size. The good news is heâ€™s only 25, but the Royals should be worried, and prepared to make a move if he does not show improvement early next season.
Soâ€¦a starting pitcher. A right fielder (or center fielder, if you want to move Cain over to right) with pop. Maybe a shortstop or third base upgrade, if the opportunity presents itself. Unfortunately, just doing some quick estimating gives me a payroll figure of $83 million or so for next yearâ€™s roster, before adding any free agents (this yearâ€™s was just over $81 million). That doesnâ€™t even include Bruce Chen, who Iâ€™d love to see continue his Jamie Moyer impression in a Royals uniform and at the back end of the rotation. It is true that the Royals, like every other major league team, will enjoy a windfall of an extra $26 million or so thanks to new national television contracts. So there should be plenty of room to add pieces, even if the Royals still canâ€™t outbid anyone.
Weâ€™ve seen the Royals in consecutive offseasons make a trade for a starting pitcher in the last year of his contract. Once it worked out spectacularly (Santana), and once failed miserably (Jonathan Sanchez). Unfortunately, Iâ€™m not sure thatâ€™s the best option after looking at the potential candidates. The biggest names on that list would be Josh Beckett and Yovani Gallardo. Beckett had surgery in July to correct thoracic outlet syndrome; who knows if he will ever be effective again? Gallardo saw his velocity drop this year despite being only 27; not surprisingly, his strikeout rate dropped as well. Those are red flags to me.
On the free-agent market, I spy three targets who might fit well: A.J. Burnett, Matt Garza, and Josh Johnson. Burnett is getting up there (heâ€™ll be 37 in January), but is still throwing hard and was effective for the Pirates this season. As an extreme ground-ball pitcher, youâ€™d think heâ€™d enjoy pitching in front of the Royalsâ€™ infield. The catch with Garza is that he has battled injuries for a couple of years, but has been effective when healthy. And Johnson, coming off a terrible season in Toronto (and recent surgery to remove bone spurs in his elbow, which may explain his struggles), is likely to be relatively inexpensive.
For an outfielder, my top choice would be Shin-Soo Choo, who would fit with the Royalsâ€™ commitment to defense, plus give the offense a much-needed shot of OBP. I fear that he will be the top choice of many teams, though. The sentimental choice is Carlos Beltran, and it would be amazing to see him come back and help the Royals reach the postseason. His defense may be slipping, but you can always use Lough in the late innings with a lead. The Royals could also make another sentimental choice and bring back David DeJesus, although he doesnâ€™t really add the power Iâ€™d want. Two more intriguing choices are Curtis Granderson and Corey Hart. Both are coming off injury-plagued seasons (in fact, Hart missed the whole year with two different knee injuries). While this makes them both risky signings, it also might make them affordable to the Royals. And both would fit the power-hitter void the Royals have if they can regain their pre-2013 forms.
The safest route to improvement might be a trade. And while there is good reason to fear Dayton Moore gutting the farm system just to go for a playoff spot in 2014, I donâ€™t think that will happen. At any rate, no prospect the Royals could deal (not counting Yordano Ventura, who I canâ€™t imagine going anywhere anyway) is nearly a sure thing as Wil Myers was. That makes the idea more palatable, at least to me.
Whatever happens, I donâ€™t think itâ€™s exaggerating to say that this is the most important offseason of Mooreâ€™s tenure. Trading Myers for two years of Shields was in effect saying the Royals would make the playoffs in 2013 and/or 2014. Well, 2013â€™s gone.
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