KC Royals: Are Strikeout-Prone Sluggers The New Market Inefficiency?

The KC Royals have acquired three sluggers this winter in Jorge Soler, Peter O’Brien, and Brandon Moss. Are sluggers the new market inefficiency?

Though few considered the Kansas City Royals a big “Moneyball” team, their ability to identify market inefficiencies were a big reason why they won two consecutive American League pennants in 2014-15. They built those teams around two undervalued assets: 1) overwhelmingly dominant relievers and 2) contact hitters on offense.

These days, however, opposing front offices rapidly catch on to any market inefficiency. While contact hitters have not become trendy in the free agent markets, dominant relievers are the new fad among playoff contenders. With Aroldis Chapman smashing Jonathan Papelbon‘s record contract (four years, $50 million) for a reliever by a gargantuan $36 million (five years, $86 million), the demand for bullpen aces is higher than ever. Note that both Mark Melancon (four years, $62 million) and Kenley Jansen (five years, $80 million) also zoomed past Papelbon’s guaranteed money mark.

Are Low-Contact Sluggers The New Market Inefficiency?

Rather than try to add a high-end reliever such as their former closer Greg Holland (who went to the Rockies), the KC Royals dealt Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs for slugger Jorge Soler. General manager Dayton Moore also added OF/1B Brandon Moss on a two year, $12 million deal. He traded for minor-league power hitter Peter O’Brien for the low, low price of A ball reliever Sam Lewis. Could it be that major league teams are undervaluing defensively-challenged sluggers with high strikeout rates?

You can certainly make a case for this theory. The Milwaukee Brewers cut National League home run champ Chris Carter rather than offer him a final year of arbitration. His current market is so limited that he’s considering playing in Japan. Former home-run King Jose Bautista signed a modest one-year, $18.5 million contract to return to the Blue Jays. That deal was hardly more than the $17.2 million qualifying offer that he declined before free-agency began. Meanwhile, Edwin Encarnacion agreed to what appears to be a bargain contract with the Cleveland Indians (three years, $60 million).

The strange thing is that the Kansas City Royals have traditionally avoided low-contact sluggers due to the vast outfield expanse of Kauffman Stadium. However, Soler, O’Brien, and Brandon Moss aren’t really defensively challenged. While Soler’s defensive metrics are below average, many consider him a potential five-tool player. Brandon Moss can play both corner outfield spots as well as first base. O’Brien remains below average in both the outfield and first, but he isn’t Billy Butler.

Another hidden benefit is that Moss and Soler are around average as base-runners. They won’t clog the basepaths like former Kansas City DH Kendrys Morales. Thus, catcher Salvador Perez will be the only lineup regular so slow that he can’t make plays with his legs.

Dayton Moore might also be seeking power due to record league-wide home run rates over the last couple of seasons. With the ball flying out of the park more frequently than ever before, power might play better in Kauffman Stadium than any time in franchise history.

While Peter O’Brien will fight for a roster spot with reserves like Cheslor Cuthbert and Paulo Orlando, Soler and Moss figure to get regular playing time. When the season opens, we’ll quickly find out if power now plays in Kauffman Stadium.

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