The Kansas City Royals have taken a step back in the American League Central as they have missed the playoffs two years running. Coming on the heels of two World Series trips along with a win, the results the last couple of seasons have been utterly disappointing.
It feels like the window of opportunity for the Royals may have closed. Known as a frugal franchise, they now have a slew of free agent questions that need to be answered. They will likely have to spend big to stay relevant. They could also decide to go with what they have and the Royals’ downhill slide could be just beginning. It would likely land them into full-on rebuilding mode. Ned Yost is going into his eighth season as the Royals’ manager, but can he survive this campaign? Another .500 or worse finish is likely to get him a comfortable spot on the hot seat.
2017 Season Recap
The Royals were 80-82 last season, which put them in third place in the American League Central. They were 22 games behind division-leading Cleveland, and they were one of three teams that were five games out of the wild-card race, along with Tampa Bay and the Los Angeles Angels. The Royals were 34-33 as a favorite and 46-49 as an underdog, which put them at $+260 in the money. They were 43-38 at home, 37-44 on the road and 35-41 against their division, along with 9-11 against the National League. The Royals were also 76-80-6 in the over/under standings.
What Went Wrong
The Royals couldn’t drive in any runs, ranking 24th in the majors with 702, while they were 28th in on-base percentage at .311 and 21st in slugging percentage at .420. Eric Hosmer had 94 RBIs to lead the team, while Mike Moustakas had 85 RBIs and Salvador Perez added 80 RBIs for the Royals, but Hosmer and Moustakas are probably as good as gone (more on that below). Outside of Whit Merrifield and Lorenzo Cain, who combined for 60 stolen bases, there was no one else worth worrying about when the Royals were on the base paths. Then you turn your attention to the pitching staff, which was 20th in ERA at 4.61, 22nd in quality starts with 64 and in WHIP at 1.39, and 25th in batting average at 25th. Outside of Jason Vargas, there was no other starter that was over .500. Even for Vargas, only 16 of his 32 starts qualified as quality starts. The bullpen blew 21 saves and Kelvin Herrera led the team with 26 saves, but the Royals pulled him from the role in September and went to a committee approach. The Royals had a bunch of problems last year and they might have simply lost their focus, which is easy after having the success that Kansas City had. They had two great seasons, then many of their major players wanted new contracts and now, they have a lot of free agents on their hands.
What Went Right
The Royals were 10th in batting average at the plate at .259, but again, they failed to generate many runs. Moustakas had a huge year, going .272 with 38 home runs and 85 RBIs, while Hosmer hit .318 with 25 home runs and 94 RBIs. Cain hit .300 with 15 home runs and 34 stolen bases, while Whitfield hit .288 with 26 stolen bases. Salvador Perez had a career year, hitting .268 with 27 home runs and 80 RBIs. The Royals might have to lean more on Perez if their stars leave, so hopefully, the 27-year-old is up to the task. On the mound, Vargas was 18-11 with an ERA of 4.16, while Mike Minor, Peter Moylan and Joakim Soria were decent in middle relief. The Royals were also very good in the field, ranking fifth in fewest errors.
Key Free Agents
This is where things will get very dicey for the Royals. Hosmer, Moustakas and Cain are all free agents, and they all declined qualifying offers from the Royals as they’re looking to get paid. It would be a surprise if any of them came back until the Royals want to open their wallets, and that isn’t likely. Hosmer is 28, Cain is 31 and Moustakas is 29, so they’re going to get long-term deals, which they all deserve for the success they have brought to Kansas City. Melky Cabrera is a free agent and the Royals have to figure out what they want to do with the 33-year-old, and the same goes for 31-year-old Alcides Escobar. And that is just in the lineup. Vargas and Minor are both free agents and Vargas is looking to cash in, although he has injures in his past and he is 34 years old. That being said, teams will look into signing him. Rumors are already out that Minor is as good as gone. The worst part about all of this is that the Royals could have replenished their farm system by trading off the likes of Moustakas. Hosmer and Vargas at the deadline, but they decided to hold on to them and now their farm system isn’t good, either. It might not be pretty for the Royals this season if they can’t replace many of these players.
Where They Need To Find Help
Ideally, the Royals would love to re-sign their big players, but they’re not dealing with an ideal situation. It depends on how much they want to spend because the Royals are going to have to replace all these players. There is talk that Logan Morrison is a target as a free agent from Tampa Bay and he hit 38 home runs last season, and he is a Kansas City native that has always dreamed of playing here. If he is open to it, the Royals should splurge a little on him. Cameron Maybin is a possibility as the Royals look to replace Cain, while they probably need to replace Vargas as well. Danny Duffy signed a big deal, but he had elbow surgery in the fall (although he should be ready for spring training). Someone like Gerritt Cole of Pittsburgh wouldn’t be a bad move because the Royals probably don’t want to pay Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs what he’ll want. It is going to be a tricky offseason for the Royals.
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