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.

Dealer’s Choice

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The second half of the Major League Baseball season is now underway, and with that comes the looming trade deadline, scheduled for August 1st this year. Teams can trade players throughout August, but a player has to pass through waivers first before a deal can be done. So for the next few weeks, teams will be trading players at a greater rate, since there are no restrictions to any deal they would like to procure. With that being said, the Kansas City Royals have a few needs they would like to fill before the deadline. The Royals probably won’t be making the splash they made before last year’s deadline, as the farm system was gutted last summer and with a number of injuries to the team this year, there isn’t as much depth as in years past. So don’t look for a Ben Zobrist or Johnny Cueto to end up in their lap this year. With that being said, the two I will be looking at today is starting pitching (which needs an immediate upgrade) and right field. Now, before anyone asks, yes Paulo Orlando is having a great season for Kansas City, playing mostly right field. While Paulo has been getting on base, he hasn’t been producing as many runs as maybe the team would like and there is possibly even a worry that he won’t be able to sustain his current pace. Now…let’s look at some trade possibilities for the Royals, beginning with starting pitchers.

MLB: MAR 20 Spring Training - Astros at Phillies
20 MAR 2016

Jeremy Hellickson

I’ve long been a supporter of Hellickson since his Tampa years, and secretly hoped the Royals would swing a deal for him. Hellickson has had a bounce back year for Philadelphia this year, throwing 105 innings with a 107 ERA+,  lower FIP and WHIP and a higher SO/W ratio(3.44). Hellickson is still only 29 and will be a free agent after the season, so the Royals wouldn’t have to keep him once the season was over. Hellickson is a ground ball pitcher, which would seem to be a good fit with the Royals infield defense. With Hellickson on the upswing, this would be a good time to pick him up and toss him into the rotation.

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Rich Hill

Hill is inevitably on everyone’s list and not surprisingly so. Hill is coveted because A) He is signed only through the 2016 season B) He is only(only!!) making $6 million this year C) He’s left-handed and D) Billy Beane likes to deal his players at the deadline. Hill has dealt with a groin injury this year but that most likely won’t affect his value on the market. Hill has had a good season when healthy, posting 76 innings with an ERA+ of 184, 2.57 FIP, 3.21 SO/W ratio and 3.0 WAR. Hill resurrected his career last year but shouldn’t cost much if Kansas City decided to part with a prospect. Hill would be a good addition to the Royals rotation, but there is a long list of teams who have been scouting him over the last couple of months.

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Matt Moore

Moore is another lefty that the Royals have been linked to as an interested party. Moore was once considered a top of the rotation type pitcher but has had control and health issues during his time in Tampa. Moore has thrown 109 innings this year, compiling an ERA+ of 93, 4.59 FIP and a 2.94 SO/W ratio. Moore still has electric stuff and is signed through this year, but has team options through 2019. If the Royals wanted, they could acquire Moore and possibly keep him with the team for three more seasons. He is still only 27 years old and would be an intriguing possibility if Kansas City decided to go this route. Tampa Bay appears to be in trading mode, so I would think there is a good chance Moore is dealt before the end of July.

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(STAFF PHOTO / DENNIS MAFFEZZOLI)

Jake Odorizzi

Odorizzi is possibly the most intriguing name on this list, as he came up through the minors in the Kansas City farm system after being acquired from Milwaukee in the Zack Greinke trade. For the longest time Odorizzi was considered a future mainstay of the Royals staff, only to be dealt to Tampa in the Wade Davis deal(which is what we will refer to it moving forward). Odorizzi has seen Amodest success with the Rays the last few years, racking up 104 innings so far this year, with an ERA+ of 93, 4.39 FIP and a WAR of 1.3. There is some familiarity for Kansas City with Odorizzi and much like Moore, if Jake was acquired the Royals would have him under contract through the 2019 season. It might cost Kansas City a bit more to pick up Odorizzi because of the contract, but he also has a better recent track record than Moore and Kansas City would already have an idea of what they would be getting with Odorizzi. If I have a favorite on this list, it’s this guy.

Other names to keep an eye on: Erasmo Ramirez, Ervin Santana, Andrew Cashner, Dan Straily and Jorge De La Rosa

Now, let’s move on to the outfielders…

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Jay Bruce

Bruce might be the most coveted position player available this trade season and is a good bet to be out of Cincinnati by the end of the month. Bruce is signed through the season but has a $13 million team option for 2017. He could be someone the Royals could acquire to keep through this current contending window and then allow to leave at the end of next year. But…I tend to think Bruce is a long shot to end up in Kansas City for a few reasons. One, it will probably take a decent size haul to trade for him in the first place, possibly more than the Royals currently have to offer. Two, while Bruce has put up good power numbers this year(18 home runs, .538 slugging percentage and 171 total bases), he strikes out quite a bit(69 times so far this year, 145 last year) and defensively he is a below average defender. Throw in the fact that he is tops on a number of teams trade list, and you have the likelihood of Bruce ending up in another contenders pocket when the dust finally settles on August 1st.

MLB: JUL 12 Athletics at Indians
12 July 2015

Josh Reddick

Reddick is most contending team’s wet dream; free agent at the end of the season, reasonable salary and is putting up good numbers this season. It’s been reported that the Royals have scouted both Reddick and his teammate Rich Hill, so there is interest from Kansas City in the Oakland slugger. I would normally be gung-ho about this move, especially since Reddick is hitting .295/.369/.426 with an OPS+ of 117 and 1.4 WAR. But Reddick has been dealing with a thumb injury and it seems to have sapped his power; so far this year he has only 5 home runs and 14 total extra base hits. I think this still might be a good acquisition for Kansas City, as the numbers show no major change in his hard hit rate and is also a plus defender in the outfield. If the team was looking to upgrade in right field, they could do a lot worse than Josh Reddick.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres
(Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY)

Melvin Upton, Jr.

I’m going to be honest: I’ve never been a big fan of Upton. I would even go so far as to say I have long felt he is overrated. This goes back to his early years in Tampa Bay, where I felt he was living off his potential and occasional bursts of solid production. He seemed to me to be an athletic guy with the “5 tools” executives and scouts covet but only really making use of one or two of them. In my eyes, he seemed to strike out too much and focus his attention on the longball, turning himself into a one-dimensional hitter. All this being said, I am thoroughly shocked at his production this year and even more shocked that he is out-hitting his brother(106 OPS+ compared to Justin’s 80). Upton is putting up numbers we haven’t seen from him since 2012, posting a line of .262/.311/.454 with 16 home runs, 44 RBI’s and 2.2 WAR. These are all really good numbers and you can see why he has been mentioned in many a trade rumor. But here is the elephant in the room-Upton’s contract. Upton is in year 4 of a 5 year deal that is paying him $15.45 million this year and $16.45 million next year. That is waaaaaaay too much money for a guy who has racked up only 1.2 WAR in 3.5 years.  The only way Kansas City would acquire him is if San Diego was willing to eat a large chunk of that contract, and even then they would be hesitant. If the Padres are willing to eat most of the money, there is a chance this could happen. If not, barely a discussion will happen between the two sides.

Other names to keep an eye on:  Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis, Matt Joyce and Odubel Herrera

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The one thing to remember before the trade deadline is that there is probably at least a 1,000 to 1 ratio of ‘rumors’ to ‘rumors with actual legs on them’, so take many of them with a grain of salt. With that being said, it appears something will happen on the Royals front and possibly even before August 1st. Kansas City can still make a move after that, but that will require the players involved in the deal to pass through waivers unclaimed first, which is hard to do. Last year Cueto and Zobrist were the big prizes and GM Dayton Moore was able  to reel them in. This year, Dayton might have to be more creative when it comes to piecing together another team that can make a deep playoff run.

 

 

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