Rebuilding a Franchise: A Look Back at 2018

Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

With the Kansas City Royals a healthy 24.5 games out of first place in the American League Central, it’s easy to see why a Royals fan would wander off occasionally and immerse themselves into a fantasy world. Mine is the crazy world of Out of the Park Baseball, which is a baseball strategy game that I can personally tell you is very addictive.

In fact, I have talked about my addiction to this game on this very blog before. On the 2017 version of OOTP (they release a new edition every year right before Opening Day) I have been rebuilding the Royals, as I traded a number of their stars a few years back before they hit free agency and began building back up sooner than the real life Royals.

Since I personally play every single game in a season and don’t simulate the games, this takes me a bit longer than most people. I also have bought the game every year since 2014, so that means I shuffle back and forth between all the different teams I have started in each version of the game. This is why it’s been over a year since my last update and why it takes so long to finish a season.

Credit: Peter G. Aiken

But I did finally finish the 2018 season and figured it was as good a time as any to update everyone on how the rebuild is going. If you want to go back and read how this got started and the progress I have made, here is my update in 2017 and the original update in 2016. This will give you an idea of why I tore the team down and who I acquired to build them back up.

So as I headed into the 2018 season, I went out and made a number of deals to continue to make the team younger and more profitable in the future. My big acquisition was picking up Alex Bregman from the Astros for Kyle Zimmer (who was coming off a successful 2017), Boo Vazquez and Aaron Altherr. The initial plan was to play Bregman at shortstop and have him be a force at the top of the order. I had also acquired Jedd Gyorko from Pittsburgh and added a few (cheap) arms for my bullpen. The mentality I took into the season was to continue to let the young players play and not focusing on wins and losses as much as development.

Unfortunately, the idea for Bregman went south in a hurry. Eight games into the season, Bregman gets injured and missed the rest of the season. In those eight games, he had hit .406/.500/.688 with 0.6 WAR, a great start that was derailed way too soon. Originally I was going to have Elvis Andrus take his spot but a line of .175/.236/.247 in 26 games and a negative WAR forced me to adjust my initial idea, as everyone from Gyorko to Ramon Torres saw time at short, with Adalberto Mondesi eventually holding down the position the last few months.

That wasn’t the only bump in the road. The young pitchers I had acquired the year before (Aaron Sanchez, Blake Snell and Lucas Giolito) all struggled mightily and all spent time down in the minors at one point or another. In fact, the pitching overall was a sore spot for this team, as even “sure things” like Wade Davis and Mike Minor saw their numbers balloon. Out of the 32 pitchers I used this past season, only two put together a 1 WAR season or better (Homer Bailey and Matt Moore). Sanchez and Snell did finish with positive WAR seasons, but Giolito ended up in the bullpen down in AAA and is still a work in progress.

The real major bump to overcome was the loss of Ryan O’Hearn in August. O’Hearn had been my team’s best hitter, hitting a robust .316/.434/.522 with 14 home runs and 69 RBIs over 89 games. His numbers were an improvement on what he compiled the previous season and had shifted from him being a power hitter who occasionally walked to a good all around hitter. His injury on August 1st was a major blow to the middle of the lineup and one that was never fully replaced during the team’s last two months.

There were a few more disappointments throughout the season. Salvador Perez saw a dip in his production, leading to Tony Cruz putting up career highs across the board and an increase in playing time. Cruz played himself into a nice trade piece and was dealt to Atlanta on July 31 for reliever Yimi Garcia.

Cody Bellinger also rode the struggle bus, hitting .256/.377/.378 with 8 home runs and 53 RBIs. The lack of power was interesting and while he still compiled 1.1 WAR over 120 games, being a league average hitter was not what was expected when he was acquired from Los Angeles.

Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

But while there were issues with a number of the younger players, there were just as many positives. Mike Moustakas slugged 27 home runs and posted a nice 3.7 WAR season. O’Hearn was a beast before his injury in August. Whit Merrifield had a wRC+ of 116 and put up 2.1 WAR. Adalberto Mondesi showed he belonged over the last couple months, and was able to post 0.9 WAR in just 66 games. Mitch Haniger was Rookie of the Month in April but ended up with a league average season offensively.

There was also a number of players that were acquired during the season you ended up being solid acquisitions. Bradley Zimmer led the charge, getting 1.0 WAR in just 24 games in Kansas City while fellow outfielder Christian Yelich also accumulated 1.0 WAR while mainly finding a way to get on base with very little power.

On the pitching side, Bailey was able to compile 185 innings and Matt Moore was a solid pick-up earlier in the season. Late in the season, Miguel Almonte and Luke Jackson became fixtures in the rotation and showed why they could be counted on for more innings in 2019.

Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

So with all that said, my first full year of a rebuild in Kansas City saw them finish 74-88 for 5th place in the AL Central. All things considered, I will take that as a success. The fact I was able to avert 90 losses and do that while dealing with an awful pitching staff gives me hope for my 2019 season.

Obviously the big focus will be on improving the pitching. The pitchers allowed 999 runs in my season and there is no way that should happen again. If my pitching can improve while getting O’Hearn and Bregman back for full seasons, there is no reason they can’t finish above .500 in Year 2 of the rebuild. It might be a bit of a lofty goal, but one that I feel is attainable.

Hopefully I can finish this season faster than the last. When I do, I will try to update right here on Bleeding Royal Blue. Also, if you haven’t checked out OOTP Baseball, do it. Just expect your time to disappear when you start falling down the rabbit hole.

Just Another Boring Walk-Off Grand Slam

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So I’ve been sitting around for the last few hours, pondering what I witnessed today.  I journeyed to my home away from home, The K, to take in the final home game of the 2013 season for the Kansas City Royals.  I spent a lot of the season bitching and complaining about Royals management, but come September, I(like most Royals fans) got swept up in the realization that they were actually playoff contenders. I always try to go to the final home game of the season, since I know it will be months before I get to go to another baseball game. Little did I know what I was walking into today…

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As we sat down to watch the game, nothing really seemed out of the ordinary. In fact, it seemed like every other game in this series between the Royals and their opponents, the Texas Rangers. Great pitching from both sides, great defense, and little offense. My son wanted to see Royals catcher Salvador Perez throw someone out; he threw out two guys. We got to see Justin Maxwell(who will be brought up again) make a sprawled out dive in right field early in the game. Alex Gordon showed(once again) why anyone who runs on his arm is stupid, catching Alex Rios for an easy out at third to kill a Texas rally. When it went into extra innings scoreless, it was a foregone conclusion that we could be there awhile.

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Top of the tenth rolled around, and Tim Collins held the Rangers in check. To the bottom of the tenth we went, and the Royals, who to that point had only mustered together two total hits on the day, were looking to start a rally. Eric Hosmer led off the inning and slapped the ball to left field, sliding into the bag at second for a double. With Billy Butler coming up next, the Rangers brought in reliever and former Kansas City All-Star closer Joakim Soria, who would proceed to intentionally walk Butler. This led to a chorus of boos, as most of us wanted to see what Billy could do against his former teammate. Chris Getz would run for Butler, in a move that puzzled me, both because Butler wouldn’t have been the go ahead run(thus taking out one of your key hitters for a runner who might never matter), and because if you wanted anyone to pinch run, Jarrod Dyson should always be at the top of your list. Salvador Perez would hit a liner to shortstop, tying up Elvis Andrus who couldn’t get Getz out at second(who I will give credit to here; knowing that the first baseman was not holding him at first, Getz took a more sizeable lead than he normally would. If not for that lead, Andrus would have gotten him out). The bases were now loaded with no outs for Mike Moustakas. Moose would hit a weak pop up to third, making one out. George Kottaras(or he we haven’t seen in about two weeks) would come up, pinch hitting for Lorenzo Cain. Kottaras would hit a ball to second, with Ian Kinsler getting the force out at home. The bases remain loaded for Maxwell with two outs, who had an interesting day to that point. I mentioned the great catch, but he also had struck out earlier in the game, throwing his helmet and bat down in disgust. The umpire had pointed it out and made a gesture that he wasn’t pleased with Maxwell’s actions. One wonders if lady luck had been shining on us since he hadn’t been ejected from the game. Maxwell would work the count full, before….before…well, just watch this:

 

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=espn:9710648&startTime=00:30

Just WOW! Not just a walk-off, folks. A WALK-OFF GRAND SLAM!  This Royals team has found time and time again new ways to win and help this team stay in contention. Kansas City showed once again they aren’t dead yet, even if they are 3.5 games out of the wild card with only seven games remaining. That blast to left, off of Soria of all people, will be ingrained in my brain for years to come. You couldn’t have asked for a more dramatic win.

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So what did I take away from one of the most exciting Royals games I have ever seen? For one, this is a TEAM.  For them to get to this point, the Royals can’t just rely on one player to lift them up, they need all 25 guys. That is a sign of a true winner. Go ahead, check playoff pasts. The teams that play like a team tend to go further into October. I’m not saying destiny is on Kansas City’s side(I haven’t completely lost my mind!), but I think there is something to say for how this team wins in spit of their flaws. I also saw a group of guys that really enjoy not only themselves, but each other. We hope in a few years these guys will want to stay and won’t wander off through free agency. The argument can be made that they like each other and who doesn’t want to play a kids game with your best friends? But more than anything else, I saw a team who wants to win. I saw a fanbase that wants to win. Both played their parts yesterday and made for one of the most exciting times I’ve ever had at the ballpark. So exciting that you can’t tell who is more excited, myself or my son:

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Seven games are left in the regular season. Logic tells me that will be it, but the little boy in me wants a playoff game. In a week, we’ll know if destiny is on the 2013 Kansas City Royals side.

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