The Royals Offseason Hot Stove Status

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First question: why is it called Hot Stove? It’s the stupidest name ever.

So here’s the real question: how do the Royals get better this offseason?

Last year at this time, we were all trying to figure out how to make the Royals just 90 feet better. There were a few weak spots on the roster – notably they needed replacements for James Shields, Nori Aoki and Billy Butler, all of which, in retrospect, weren’t even remotely important to the 2014 roster.

Okay, you can argue that each had their merits – especially Shields – but then we watched in awe as their replacements pretty much made a joke out of the need to improve at each position. Edinson Volquez was exactly as good as James Shields, and much better in the postseason. Kendrys Morales was only the top designated hitter in baseball in 2015, and suddenly all of Kansas City realized how disappointing Billy Butler had always been. And Alex Rios wasn’t nearly what we hoped he would be when we gave him $11MM to cover right field, but it’s not like Aoki was God’s gift to baseball either.

The struggle for Dayton Moore and the Royals this year: they really can’t make this team better than it was last year. I mean, they’re the defending World Series Champions (still never gets old saying that), so they kinda peaked. And the players they’re losing this year aren’t as easily replaceable – particularly late season rentals, Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist (who signed with the Chicago Cubs last night for 4 years, $56MM – he’ll be missed and we wish he and his family, including their daughter B. Royal Zobrist, well). And while we’re all still holding out hope that Alex Gordon might set a new record for highest contract ever given out by the Royals ($55M to both Mike Sweeney and Gil Meche), as the Winter Meetings progress in Nashville, that is looking less and less likely.

Of course, there are multiple dominoes that need to fall before we really know Gordon’s value – Jason Heyward will set the market for outfielders and Justin Upton will quickly follow, possibly Yoenis Cespedes too – and until those things happen, we won’t hear anything on Gordon. That said, he’s been linked to the Giants, Cardinals, Cubs and Tigers – in that order of likelihood – all of whom have deeper pockets to pay an aging outfielder significant cash.

So while I’d love to go for broke the next two years before the Royals core four – Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar – become free agents in 2018, it’s becoming clear that unless KC pulls the trigger on Gordon in the next 48 hours or so, their goal isn’t to win as much as possible in the short term, but to sustain relevance over the long term. And when I type it out like that, it makes sense to me too.

Many others – Rany Jazayerli, for example – disagree. Most fans want to win now. Screw 2018 and beyond. They want a dynasty now at the risk of prolonged mediocrity later. What’s the phrase? Two in the hand?

Anyway. The problem is still the fact that no matter what pieces the Royals add, they’re not going to be immediately better than last year’s team was at the end of the season. And that’s fine. I mean, Cueto and Zobrist were trade deadline pieces and Alex Gordon is a once in a lifetime type of ballplayer for this club. We might be able to add Cueto/Zobrist types at the deadline again, but we can’t expect to match our postseason roster as we head into the season. It’s unrealistic.

However, we could match our Spring Training roster. And that should be our goal. From that list we’re losing Gordon, Rios, Madson, Greg Holland, Jeremy Guthrie and Franklin Morales. We’ve already brought back Chris Young to our rotation. And we’ve added our good friend Joakim Soria to the bullpen along with lefty Tim Collins who missed the 2015 season after undergoing elbow surgery during Spring Training. So that leaves obvious holes in the outfield corners, potentially still the bullpen, and starting pitching.

I should also add – the core of this team is intact and will continue to thrive through 2017 with or without Alex Gordon. Just like last year’s narrative was ultimately that the success of the 2015 Royals depended on Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Cain, Hosmer and Moustakas, the same is true now.

So while the restructuring feels different, the fact remains that this team is going to be good again in 2016 and 2017. Which is why I disagree with Rany and the others, and believe we ought to be playing for 2018 and beyond as well as right now.

Anyway. Here’s where we stand.

Bullpen

I’ll start with the bullpen because it’s the Royals greatest strength and, I believe, the most important thing we need to sustain in order to maintain our level of excellence.

They added Soria for 3 years, $25MM. Relievers are volatile and paying three years is risky, but that’s what the top guys are asking for, so the Royals really had no choice there. The question is whether they are overpaying for those three years. It’s easy for me to get all emotional about all the Soria memories – Welcome to the Jungle, the scoreboard engulfing in flames, the conversation about whether “Mexicutioner” was racist or not, etc. – but some have asked if they could’ve kept Madson for what the Athletics are now paying him: 3 years, $22M? The major difference there is age. Madson is 35. Soria is 31. That’s pretty much all I need to know. Objectively, I’m fine with the deal. Subjectively, I’m absolutely crazy about it. Welcome back, Jack.

Bringing back Tim Collins to take over for Franklin Morales is fine too. That gives us a lefty out of the bullpen, but you never know how effective guys will be in their first year back from Tommy John surgery. I’d feel much more comfortable with another lefty out in the bullpen.

Enter Danny Duffy.

I’m pretty tired of sitting around hoping Duffy pans out as a starter. The guy looks brilliant a few starts out of the year, but more often than not is disappointing. We need a guy out of the bullpen and Duffy strikes me as the type of guy who would be totally cool moving out there and could really thrive in that role the same way Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar have. It sounds like the Royals might be thinking similarly here. So that makes our bullpen…

Wade Davis
Kelvin Herrera
Joakim Soria
Luke Hochevar
Danny Duffy – L
Tim Collins – L

That’s a strong strong group.

One last note: it’ll be interesting to see what Greg Holland gets for a contract after he was non-tendered by KC after having surgery late in the season. He’ll be out all of 2016, and probably won’t be 100% until part way through 2017. It’s possible he could get a contract similar to what Kris Medlen got from KC this year coming off injury. I wouldn’t be opposed to the Royals giving him a 4 year back-ended contract, but I doubt we’re the only ones thinking like that.

Rotation

Moving Danny Duffy to the bullpen opens up an additional spot in the rotation. Jason Vargas is out for 2016 recovering from Tommy John. Bringing back Chris Young was a no brainer, and it’s been reported that he turned down an additional year to stay in Kansas City. Losing Jeremy Guthrie isn’t a huge deal – he was grossly overpaid in 2015 at $9MM.

All that to say, we need another arm in our rotation. Our current rotation (if Duffy moves to the pen) looks like this:

Yordano Ventura
Edinson Volquez
Kris Medlen
Chris Young

The name I’ve seen most connected to the Royals is Scott Kazmir who has a history of being a great pitcher in Tampa Bay, Anaheim and Oakland, but his meteoric crash in Houston after the 2015 trade deadline raises lots of eyebrows. He’s exactly the type of low risk, high upside kind of guy the Royals could certainly go for.

Royals also have been linked to CJ Wilson, who could be acquired via trade. He’s owned $20MM this season by the Angels who wouldn’t mind unloading his contract but would probably need to send cash along with him. Wonder if they’d be interested in a swap for Omar Infante‘s gem of a deal? (Just kidding, we’re stuck with the remaining $22MM on his contract, and now that Zobrist is off the market, it’s time to face the music and hope Omar improves in 2016. Poor Christian Colon.)

We’ll see what happens here, but the Royals undoubtedly need to add an arm that can eat innings. Duffy could be that guy, I suppose, but I think it’ll be Kazmir or someone else.

Corner Outfield

The departure of Alex Rios isn’t very sad. The probable departure of Alex Gordon is devastating. It’s not over yet, but every moment that passes without word on Gordon feels like bad news for KC. Fingers crossed.

Regardless of whether they get a deal done with Gordon, Dayton Moore has mentioned that they believe it’s time to give Jarrod Dyson a legitimate shot in the outfield. His defense and athleticism is certainly strong enough, but it’s his bad – specifically his terrible numbers against left-handed pitching – that is the concern. He’s hit .260/.323/.345 over the past four seasons, which isn’t miserable, but that’s in limited action. Can he sustain or even improve that over an entire season? Or is it more likely that the added work will wear him down and cause an even worse dip in his numbers?

If he can raise his OBP from the .320s to the .350s, then that’s a no brainer, and as it is, I don’t think this team gets worse if you replace Alex Rios’s 2015 production with Jarrod Dyson.

And if we don’t sign Gordon – the top name I’ve heard connected to the Royals are Gerardo Parra, but I’d be interested to see if they make a run at Denard Span instead. Neither of them were extended qualifying offers by their former clubs, so the Royals wouldn’t have to surrender their 1st round pick if they picked them up (this goes for Kazmir as well, who was traded and therefore void of having a QO option – no matter who KC signs out of FA, it’s almost guaranteed they won’t have a QO attached to them).

Parra, who was traded mid-season, hit .291/.328/.452 for Milwaukee and Baltimore last year. But he was awesome with Milwaukee and miserable with Baltimore. His defense dropped significantly last year, and that’s certainly not a plus with Kauffman’s massive outfield.

Span is the better option. His offensive numbers are comparable, but he’s done it for longer and he didn’t drop off at the end of last year like Parra. His defense wasn’t much better, but it was. He brought a lot of energy to the Nationals over the past few seasons, and would likely fit in well on an energetic team like KC.

Another option that I haven’t heard anyone talking about: what if the Royals were able to re-sign Alex Rios to a much more team-friendly deal? It might be interesting to see if he can out-perform his 2015 campaign (not difficult to believe) while making less than half his contract. Something like 1-year, and $3-5MM would be well within the Royals capacity and could provide a bridge to up and coming guys like Bubba Starling and Brett Eibner.

One other note: it’s been rumored that the Royals might try third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert in the outfield a bit this Spring Training. He’s athletic and was remarkably good in his short stints while Moustakas was injured or on bereavement in 2015. If the Royals managed to extend Moustakas (whom I believe is the most likely candidate) whom is currently blocking Cuthbert’s road to the majors, then this is a fun option to explore.

Extensions

It’s too bad the Royals couldn’t extend Cain or Moustakas before they broke out last year. Especially Cain. He was a prime extension candidate two years ago, but now that he’s a true superstar who finished third in the MVP voting this year it’s likely too late for that with Cain. He’s also not the youngest guy in the league at 29, and by the time his contract will be up, he’ll be 31 and likely declining. He has always been my favorite Royal, and as much as I’d like to see him stay longer, I’d be surprised if KC could make something happen with him due to his age and superstar status.

Hosmer is as good as gone, in my opinion. He’s a bright lights, big city kind of guy, and I fully expect him to finish up his time in KC and sign a giant contract in Miami, Los Angeles or New York in 2018. It is what it is. Start looking for a prospect who can play incredible defense at first base after 2018, okay?

Escobar is a question mark.I’m not sure other teams will think as highly of him as KC does, but I would be surprised if we committed to him beyond his current contract. It’s possible we could re-sign him, but that seems more likely after his contract is up than right now.

Which leaves Moustakas, who after years of struggling and trips back and forth between KC and Omaha, finally figured it out this year. In 2013-14, he wasn’t panning out enough to want to extend him, but after 2015 he might of out performed what he will likely do in the future. And in sports, you don’t give contracts for what a guy has done, but what you believe he will do. If one of these four was going to get an extension, I think Moose is the most likely candidate.

But it’s doubtful. It’s more likely that the Royals will let their contracts play out and then see if they can re-sign them after 2017. It’s really scary for a small market team to give away 6 or 7 year contracts to anyone at all. We don’t want to get stuck throwing money at a guy who isn’t worth anything anymore.

Okay. That’s all I’ve got.

You know the right thing to do Alex. We’ll build you a statue and everything.

-apc.

Image accessed here.

 

One comment

  1. it’s called “hot stove” because that’s what it represented a long time ago during cold December nights…people sitting around the stove and talking baseball. I know….completely different generation. 🙂

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