The Royals Debate: Buy or Sell?

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A funny thing happened in June; the Kansas City Royals kicked it into another gear, going 17-9 and putting them near the top of the American League Central. As of this writing, the Royals are 3 games out in the division, half a game out of the wild card. It feels very apparent that the team is making another one of their patented runs, a run that has been christened ‘The Last Ride’ due to a number of key players becoming free agents at the end of the year. It is ‘Do or die’ at this point and the Royals appear to be saying ‘We aren’t dead yet’. Despite all of this, there are some that believe Kansas City should still sell before the trade deadline and start acquiring pieces for the future. The farm system is weak and depleted and has been ranked by numerous sources (including Baseball America and mlb.com) as one of the worst in baseball. So…should the Royals buy or sell?

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The argument for buying is simple: they are within reaching distance of a playoff spot and have performed way more consistently through the last 4-6 weeks than during their horrid April. Over the last 30 days, the Royals are 5th in home runs, have the 4th lowest strike out rate, 4th best ISO (Isolated Power), 4th best slugging percentage, and 2nd best WPA. The WPA (or Win Probability Added) might be the most telling, as it determines each player’s contribution to a win. Also, they have the best Clutch stat in the American League over the last 30 days, a stat that measures how players perform in high leverage situations. Overall, the offense has awoken and has performed more along the lines of their expectations. When I was deciding on my predictions back in April, I felt that overall the offense was going to bounce back from a rather lackluster 2016 and produce closer to their 2015 numbers. But the first month of the season made me question whether I had raised my expectations too high and was betting more on hope than reality. The pitching has been mostly efficient during that same span, as they were able to keep the team on pace while enduring injuries to two of their starters (Danny Duffy and Nate Karns) while dealing with a few struggles from some of their younger arms (Eric Skoglund, Jake Junis, Luke Farrell). Over the last month, the Royals pitchers have the 5th best walks per 9, 4th best HR per 9, 4th best LOB%,  have the best HR/FB%, 3rd best ERA, and 5th best FIP in the American League. Considering the state of the rotation during this span, it gives one comfort especially now that Duffy has returned to action. The numbers are all on the incline, which is a positive sign for a team wanting to play October baseball. This makes me believe they should be buyers, but what they will be able to buy is another issue.

Mike Moustakas

While in theory buying appears to make the most sense, the big question being asked for the Royals is ‘who can they offer?’ if a deal goes down. To be honest, not much. It would seem that anyone dealt off the main roster would leave a hole on the team and the farm system is pretty thin on tradeable talent. One would think they would go after a starter for the back-end of the rotation, someone who wouldn’t cost much but would eat up innings and be a notch above the performances we have seen from Junis and Skoglund. The Royals sent scouts to go watch Jose Quintana of the White Sox, but I’m pretty certain Kansas City would not be able to assimilate a package for the lefty that would fit what Chicago is looking for. A rotation “rental” might be the way to go for the Royals, someone like Scott Feldman , Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb, a veteran arm that wouldn’t cost the team very much. I can also see the Royals looking for another arm for the pen, as Kansas City has sent scouts to look at Philadelphia’s Pat Neshek who will be a free agent at the end of the season. The Royals were able to make big deals back in 2015 that netted them Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist; I would not expect a deal of that magnitude, but I can see them scouring cheaper options that would improve on the current roster.

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So why should the Royals sell? There are some analysts who believe that with how weak the Kansas City farm system is, they would be best suited to sell at the deadline so their rebuild after this year doesn’t drag on for a 3-6 year period. Amongst those who believe the team should swing into sell mode is former MLB General Manager Jim Bowden:

Look, I get the arguments that are made that say if Kansas City doesn’t sell, the rebuild will be a huge task to bounce back from. I am very well aware that the farm system is one of the weakest in the game and probably won’t really be supplying steady, regular major league talent for a couple more years. But…I can live with that if it means we get one more season with a run in October. As a fan for 33 years, I know what it is like to be at the bottom looking up; been there, done that. But I also remember the 20 year period where the Royals played very few (if any at all) meaningful games. In my eyes, the Royals have this one more year to give the fans and the nucleus of this team one more playoff run for us to etch into our memories. Baseball’s parity has never looked better and with the second wild card, it opens up a whole other realm for teams that are on the fringe of the postseason. After all these years, I have confidence in the Kansas City front office that they will be able to assemble a game plan for the future, that is if they haven’t already. From Dayton Moore’s interviews, I have gotten the vibe that they are very well aware of the position they are in and what that means for the future of the franchise. That makes me believe that they aren’t blindly walking into this scenario like ostriches with their head’s stuck in the ground. They are aware and feel this is the best course of action to take. I also believe that if the Royals are able to make it to October, the money made from playoff baseball will help the team in the years to follow, whether it is used to sign free agents or help with something like scouting. It would be a major disservice to this team, the organization, the fanbase and even baseball to dismantle this team when they are within breathing distance of a playoff spot. A small market team like the Royals succeeding is good for baseball and helps build interest all across the game.

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At the end of April the Royals looked like sellers that were just biding time until July. The last six weeks have been proof that baseball is a long season and one month does not make an entire season. I don’t know if I would label Kansas City as a team that will win the World Series but I also won’t count them out either. The last four seasons have shown us that this Royals team loves to defy logic and are never truly out of a race. Wasn’t it Han Solo who wasn’t a big fan of odds?

Maybe it’s just me, but when ending the story of these last few years of Kansas City Royals baseball it seems fitting that the end should be a team that never says quit and bounced back from a horrible start to reach the playoffs. Maybe I’m a sucker for a good story or maybe the homer in me just believes in this team. No matter which it is, it makes sense to let this play out and see where the Royals end up. It could be a let down or…it could be the storybook ending we all have wished and hoped for.

Royals Off-Season Needs: Starting Pitcher

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With a current crop of free agents now free and able to work out new contracts for the 2014 season, now is as good a time as any to take a look at one of the Kansas City Royals needs for next season. We’ve already taken a look at right field so now it’s time to take a look at the other major need, starting pitching. Now, the Royals don’t need as much help in this category as they have in years past, but with Ervin Santana looking to be gone, they will need to replace him AND maybe even pick up a second arm(you know, because injuries do happen). So with that said, let’s look at some of the team’s options at starting pitcher.

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Ervin Santana

I know, I know. I already said he is gone. I firmly believe Kansas City isn’t going to be able to match the years and dollars that Santana is probably due, so he is as good as gone. But…there is that outside chance he could stay. Kansas City followed normal protocol this week and gave him a qualifying offer, which is made just as much for the draft pick the Royals would receive if/when he leaves as much as anything. Santana seems to actually enjoy being in Kansas City and is an upbeat part of the locker room. He even roots for the Chiefs on Twitter! So there is an outside chance he stays. But should he? I hate to say this because I’ve been just as supportive of Santana as anyone else this past season, but part of me wonders if it was a one year thing. Go ahead and look at the career stats. Santana has a history of following a good year with a bad year, or at least doesn’t seem like the most consistent pitcher on the planet. This guy will probably get anywhere from 3-5 years and fairly close to $20 million a season. For those numbers, I just can’t accept that it would be smart for the Royals to re-sign him. I love that he loves this team and wants to be a part of it. But you also have to be smart for the financial sake of the team. So more than likely, Santana will be elsewhere in 2014.

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Bronson Arroyo 

Arroyo seems like just the kind of pitcher Dayton Moore would want to sign, and I’m not completely saying that with snark or sarcasm. On one hand, Arroyo has been about consistent as possible over the years. The man has started over thirty games every year since 2005, and we could probably add 2004, as he started ONLY 29. He obviously is durable and  doesn’t seem to be made of porcelain like some pitchers do. BUT…he also gives up a lot of home runs, and gives up about as many hits per season as innings pitched. In other words, he is close to being a poor man’s Jeremy Guthrie. I like Guthrie, and don’t hate him like some folks, but I also know that part of his success could be attributed to smoke and mirrors. Arroyo is looking for a multi-year deal this off-season, which would seem to scare Kansas City off. But like I said, he seems like the kind of pitcher Dayton likes, so we can’t count him out as a possibility.

Detroit Tigers v Toronto Blue Jays

Josh Johnson

There is a big part of me that hates the idea of Johnson signing with Kansas City. For one, he would be one of those pitchers made of porcelain I mentioned just a moment ago. He just seems to have a hard time staying healthy. But there would be upsides to giving him a go. Johnson only wants a one year deal, as he is hoping for a bounce back season and then cash in on it. If the Royals could get him at a decent price, that would be great. We all know that Johnson has electric stuff and even just last season I was aboard the bus that would gladly bring him to Kansas City. But another injury riddled season has made me more skeptical about whether or not he can hold up. MLBTradeRumors.com predicted last week that he would sign with the Royals, which seems like the team’s modus operandi. Take a chance on a pitcher and get him at a good price. I’m fine with this if a)he doesn’t get paid too much and b)he isn’t counted on to be a major part of the team. Just like the Royals did with Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino this year, if Johnson ends up in Kansas City they should just be happy with whatever they get from him.

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Scott Feldman

This feels a bit like deja vu. I mean, last year I felt like the Royals should go after this guy. Feldman was a reliever for Texas for the longest time before they shifted him to the rotation, where he found a bit of success. The Cubs signed him to a nice deal last off-season, then flipped him to Baltimore for a couple of young arms. A smart move by Chicago, who knew they weren’t going anywhere in the standings. Feldman is a free agent again, and he would seem a perfect fit for the back part of the Royals rotation. Feldman isn’t flashy, but he gives you innings, keeps the ball in the park and keeps the ball down. There is even a good chance he has even more success in a ballpark like Kauffman, the opposite of the parks he has called home in his career(Arlington, Wrigley and Camden). Feldman probably isn’t a top of the rotation guy, but he is a great fit in the back end and could probably be had at a decent price.

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Tim Hudson 

This would be a long shot for the Royals, but I would love to see Hudson in Kansas City blue. Hudson is coming off of a gruesome injury, so he probably isn’t going to get a long term deal, or even one that is pricey. Most expect him to end up back in Atlanta, and that is probably where the safe money is. But Hudson is a former Brave(see that? I just got Dayton Moore’s attention!) and a former top of the rotation starter. He’s not completely what he used to be, but he would still be a great addition for a team that is on the brink of playoff contention. The Royals should at least kick the tires on Hudson and see what it would take to sign him. Seems like a better option than someone like Dan Haren(who’s back issues scare me).

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Phil Hughes

Hughes had an awful 2013 season. Like, REALLY AWFUL! To give you an idea, Hughes had over 30 starts, yet threw only 145 innings this past year! His biggest detriment was the long ball, which accounted for his stats to be so bloated. The positive that teams have taken away from Hughes though is that his ERA away from Yankee Stadium was a decent 3.88. It would seem that throwing in the Bronx, a park with a very short right field, does more damage than good for Hughes. There’s a good chance that Hughes will not be returning to New York and will want to sign a one year deal somewhere. Hughes at ‘The K’ could be interesting. He is at least someone to look into.

BASEBALL: World Baseball Classic-Korea vs Venezuela

Suk-Min Yoon 

I mentioned earlier that mlbtraderumors.com predicted the Royals would sign Josh Johnson, and they also predicted Kansas City would sign Yoon. Yoon has been in the Korea Baseball Organization and is looking to make the jump to MLB. This seems like a weird choice, since Yoon had a rough 2013, as his velocity was down after competing in the World Baseball Classic. Yoon looks to be a back of the rotation arm, but with the decreased velocity might end up in a bullpen somewhere. As we are all aware, the Royals have bullpen arms. They don’t need another. Especially one who’s agent is Scott Boras, which means you will probably overpay for them. Just say no, Dayton. Step away.

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That’s just a look at some options the Royals will have this winter on the free agent pitching market. For all we know, Moore will make a trade and acquire a pitcher that way(for say, Billy Butler?) but if not there are some decent arms on the market. I could mention a few more that interest me(Burnett? Only wants to go back to Pittsburgh. Johan Santana? questions on if he can come back from injury) but these are some good choices. Either way, the Royals need a starter or two for next year if they want to compete. The team was lucky in 2013, as no major injury hit their way, so the chances of that happening two years in a row is slim. For all we know, a guy like Duffy, Paulino or Yordano Ventura will take up a slot and fill a void. Even if that happens, standing pat isn’t an option. Last year Dayton brought in two big starters. Competing means you have to go all in, and the window isn’t open for long. Let’s just hope the Royals are at least smart about this, rather than treat it like Monopoly money.

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