Winter Report Card: Royals’ rebuilt rotation may not be enough
Before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, we’re checking in to see how each team has fared thus far this off-season, acknowledging that there’s still time for that evaluation to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2016. Next up: the Kansas City Royals.
81-81 (.500), third place in AL Central
RHP Wade Davis, OF Jarrod Dyson, RHP Dillon Gee, RHP Luke Hochevar*, RHP Kris Medlen, DH Kendrys Morales, RHP Edinson Volquez,
RHP Jason Hammel, RHP Nate Karns, RHP Brandon League, RHP Seth Maness, 1B/OF Brandon Moss, 1B/OF Peter O'Brien, RHP Bobby Parnell, C Brayan Pena, RF Jorge Soler, RHP Chris Withrow, LHP Travis Wood
* still unsigned as of publication
Off-season In Review
The Royals' biggest move was trading reliever Wade Davis to the Cubs for outfielder Jorge Soler. While the move was a bit of a pre-emptive strike against Davis's impending free agency, losing him is still a big blow. Davis had another great season last year, with a 1.87 ERA and 27 saves. Kelvin Herrera is set to take over as closer.
The Soler move is also a direct response to the departure of DH Kendry Morales to the Blue Jays, as is the signing of Brandong Moss to a two-year contract. Morales was a presence in Kansas City's lineup, averaging 26 home runs and 100 RBIs in his two seasons with the team. Soler became the odd-man out in the Cubs' outfield with the return to health of Kyle Schwarber, but Soler did hit 12 home runs in just 264 plate appearances last season and will be just 25 on Opening Day. Moss, meanwhile, has averaged 25 home runs per season over the past five years, and he hit 28 for St. Louis in 2016 in just 464 PAs. The two could become a solid replacement for Morales.
The Royals also traded backup outfielder Jarrod Dyson to the Mariners. Dyson is coming off his best offensive performance, posting a .278/.340/.388 line with a career-high 25 RBIs. His speed (31 steals per year since 2012) will be missed and has not been replaced.
The area that needed the most revamping was in the starting rotation. The departures of Edinson Volquez (who signed with the Marlins) and Dillon Gee (now in the Rangers' organization) were nothing compared to the tragic death last month of 25-year-old righty Yordano Ventura in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic.
The Royals' most notable addition was to sign Jason Hammel. Last season with the Cubs, the 34-year-old had a very respectable season, posting a 3.83 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 166 2/3 innings, though he didn't pitch at all in the postseason. He’ll slide in as the No. 3 starter behind lefty Danny Duffy and righty Ian Kennedy. Kansas City continued to pile up on ex-Cubs by signing veteran swingman Travis Wood, who was fantastic with Chicago last year, posting a 2.95 ERA in 61 innings. If he doesn’t start, he’ll be a fine middle reliever. The Royals will get back Jason Vargas from Tommy John surgery, which should help, and they got righty Nathan Karns from Seattle in the Dyson deal. Karns split time between the ‘pen and rotation last year, posting a 5.15 ERA, but he did rack up 101 strikeouts in 94 1/3 innings. When he was a last a full-time starter in 2015 with Tampa Bay, Karns had a 3.67 ERA in 147 innings.
Kansas City also made some minor moves in the bullpen, none of which look to be game-changing. Longtime Met Bobby Parnell is the headliner, but at age 32 and with a 6.53 ERA the past three seasons his best days are behind him.
Unfinished Business: Rotation, Bench help
The Royals have filled the holes in their rotation, but it’s not clear that those holes will stay plugged for long. Hammel and Karns will have a hard time replacing Volquez and Ventura, and it's not yet clear if Wood (career ERA+: 98) is anything but a league-average pitcher no matter how he's used.
The Royals have been linked to free agent Doug Fister, who posted a 4.64 ERA with the Astros last year. But there aren’t any major additions to be made at this point. Prospects like Miguel Almonte and Kyle Zimmer are options but aren't likely to have a major impact this year.
Without Dyson, there’s no major stolen base threat, unless Raul Mondesi Jr. is ready to grab some more playing time. Peter O’Brien was brought in from Arizona in January and has pop—he hit 20 home runs in 105 AAA games—and could be a nice option, but there’s a glut of first base/corner outfield hybrids on the roster. Adding a versatile veteran to the bench wouldn’t hurt.
Preliminary Grade: B-
The Royals have done a nice job given the circumstances, but they are undoubtedly a worse team this spring than last. The rotation too a huge hit, and the bullpen—the strength of the team when it won the AL pennant in 2014 and '15 and the World Series in the latter year—has lost much of the depth and talent that made it so formidable.
The Royals will replace Morales in the aggregate, but Moss and Soler are power-first guys, not classic high-on-base batters, which is what the team could use after finishing next-to-last in the AL last year in OBP.
The core of their championship run is there for one more season, before standbys like first baseman Eric Hosmer, shortstop Alcides Escobar and centerfielder Lorenzo Cain reach free agency. But unless one of their acquisitions has a career-year, it will be hard for Kansas City to get back to the postseason.