It’s that time of year; the stockings are hung by the fireplace, the tree is lit up for all to see. It’s that time of year when we give a bit more than we usually do, showing a generous side that most of us could afford to do more often. It is also the time of year when we compile lists of items we deem necessary to make our lives a bit brighter. It’s been an absurdly slow offseason so far for the Kansas City Royals, so when it comes to what most Royals fans would like to see under the tree the list is equally as ridiculous. Since I have no one player off the free agent market on my list of wants for Kansas City (I would have loved to see Dexter Fowler in powder blue), I thought of a few items that I would like to wish for this holiday season.
For starters, I would like to see the Eric Hosmer we saw in the first half of 2016. That Hosmer hit .299/.355/.476 with an OPS+ of 118 and earned a well deserved spot in the MLB All-Star Game. The Hosmer we saw in the second half was a shell of this guy; .225/.296/.380 with an OPS+ of 78. As he is entering his ‘walk year’ in 2017, it would only make sense for Hosmer to put his best foot forward and produce at a level that will earn him as big a contract as possible. If he performs the way he did in the back-half of 2016, it will be a bad sign for both his value and the Royals 2017 season.
Nothing would make my Christmas brighter than a healthy Alex Gordon. Gordon lost valuable playing time due to injuries for the second straight season in 2016 and produced the lowest numbers we had seen from ‘A1’ since he has become a full-time outfielder. While his numbers in August were stellar, it was the only month in 2016 that Gordon was an above average hitter and in fact he limped to the finish line, wrapping up September with a meek .211/.272/.358 line with 36 strike outs, the most he racked up for a full month last year. It really felt the last couple months that Gordon wasn’t 100% healed from the wrist injury that sidelined him for most of June and if that is actually the case, then that might explain why he never quite got going in 2016. For the Royals to make a run this next year, they need their leader to stay healthy and not look like a player who is regressing.
A hopeful present that I would like to check off my list is that Danny Duffy’s 2016 wasn’t a fluke. Duffy looked like the ace that Kansas City’s front office and coaching staff had longed he would be, as he set career highs in innings, walks, strike outs, FIP, BB/9, SO/9 and bWAR. If Duffy’s turnaround is for real, then the Royals should be looking to lock him up to an extension ASAP, as he is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2017 campaign. The Royals have no potential top of the rotation arms in their upper minor league system (and I won’t consider Kyle Zimmer in that category until he can stay healthy for an entire season) and the rotation could look bleak if Duffy isn’t wrangled in long-term. If Duffy is for real, he is going to get real expensive, real quick.
Since Saint Nick is listening to my wishes, I would appreciate it if one of the Royals young prospects become a productive cog in the Kansas City lineup in 2017. With the outlook being that the Royals might have to look from within this upcoming season, they are going to need a young bat to step up and produce. Hunter Dozier would appear to the most likely, as he is coming off of a .296/.366/.533 season between AAA and AA last year and received 21 plate appearances during his September call-up to Kansas City. It doesn’t matter if it is Dozier, Jorge Bonifacio, Raul Mondesi or any other hitter in the Royals system; bottom line, Kansas City needs someone to step up this year the way Cheslor Cuthbert and Whit Merrifield did in 2016.
Speaking of stepping up, that is a high priority on my wish list for Yordano Ventura. We all know Ventura has the stuff that can make him an elite starter in the major leagues, but does he have it upstairs? The big hang-up for ‘Yo’ appears to be the mental aspect of baseball and until he can skirt that, he will continue to languish around league average. Ventura as he is now is still a good starter to have in any rotation, but there is a large gap between what he is and what he could be. He has progressively declined in his second and third seasons in the bigs and most of the issue appears to be in-between his ears. If the Royals want to go back to the playoffs, they need Ventura to pitch closer to his potential than league average.
So what about my stocking? Wouldn’t it be nice to find Ian Kennedy pitch a bit more comparable to his contract? I actually felt like Kennedy had a quality 2016, one that saw him post some of the best numbers he has produced since his awesome 2011 season. Now it probably isn’t realistic to expect Kennedy to pitch much better than he did last year, but considering the Royals are going to be paying him $13.5 million in 2017, it would be nice to see him improve on a few of his numbers, like his strike out to walk ratio and his home runs allowed. Kennedy is an innings eater who is a good fit in Kansas City; they just need him to be a number two starter more than being a number three or four starter, which are more indicative of the numbers he put up last year.
If we are taking about items on my Christmas list that just need a minor tweak, Salvador Perez has a couple options. My first inclination was for Salvy to work on his patience at the plate, but his walk rate did improve in 2016 to the highest it has been since 2013. I mean…it’s not great, but it’s better. Instead, I will wish for an improvement on his pitch framing. Catcher’s defensive metrics have become more and more prevalent the last few years and pitch framing has become a need for many teams, as a good framer will get your pitchers more strikes. In fact, I would say that pitch framing, good and bad, will determine an umpire’s strike zone more than anything else in this day and age. Out of all catchers who caught 2,000 pitches in 2016, Perez was dead last in plus calls, as he sat at -146 for the entire season. Now, the Royals are aware of this and even dug deeper into individual scenario’s of his frame-work. Their research showed that Perez was one of the best in the league in high leverage situations, while he struggled in blowouts. So if the team can get Salvy to focus a bit more in 2017, one wonders what this will do for the amount of strike calls that Kansas City pitchers will get.
Finally, I wish that Joakim Soria could be counted on in the occasional high leverage situation. Look, I don’t expect him to be the All-Star closer he was during his first run in Kansas City; those days are long gone. But I also don’t want him to be the walking definition of a gas can either. A happy medium would suffice and maybe even make me not hate that three year contract that Dayton signed him to not look like a giant eyesore. I don’t ask for much.
With Christmas just around the corner, I can live with just a few of these wishes coming true for the upcoming season. There is still much to be thankful for if you are a Royals fan, but it can always be just a bit better. So I’ll pass on that Ikea gift card in my stocking; I will just take an improvement for the Royals 2017 season and have that be my gift…the gift that keeps on giving.