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.

Royalty’s Notebook: February Royals Thoughts

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Spring Training is so close that we can practically smell the freshly cut grass and see the perfectly drawn baselines. It’s that time of year when the phrase ‘Pitchers and catchers report’ is music to any baseball fans ears. Over the last few weeks, I have had a number of thoughts littering my head and figured rather than writing four separate articles, I would shoot out a few short notes on some Kansas City Royals related activities that have been going on. What better way to start than with the pitcher we call ‘Duffman’…

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There are so many reasons to love Danny Duffy right now. Duffy showed himself to be a true front of the rotation starter last year and was rewarded with a nice new contract, which means he will be around for at least the next five years. There is his return to twitter where he is trying to do some good. Speaking of Duffy the good samaritan, if you weren’t already ‘Team Duffy’, than him meeting and talking to fans at Kauffman Stadium after Yordano Ventura’s death should have swayed you. But the story that made me really proud to know that Duffy is on ‘my team’ is the one where he bought a Yordano bobblehead. This story must be read, so click here. In short, a Royals fan in the Kansas City area sold his Ventura bobblehead on ebay and right before he mailed it off, he saw it was addressed to Duffy. He canceled the payment and sent Duffy a message, telling him he wasn’t going to charge him for the bobble. Duffy told the guy he was trying to buy up as much Yordano merchandise as possible and then mail it to his mom at the end of the season. When I first read that, a legit huge smile broke out on my face. I have long rooted for Duffy to succeed, if anything because the guy has shown again and again that he is an awesome human being. The fact that he was accumulating as much Yo’ memorabilia as possible because it would help her “remember the good times” was just phenomenal. Talk about being proud that he is in Kansas City; I have never seen an athlete who is so open about his feelings AND in such a positive way, to boot (Yes, that was slightly directed at Zack Greinke). We might love our Salvy, our A1 and our Moose, but dammit if I’m not a Duffy fan for life because of what he represents as a player and a person.

Royals Preview Spring Baseball

Speaking of Ventura, there has been a call amongst many Royals fans for the team to retire his number 30 this season. I understand that for most of us there is an emotional attachment to the group of players who guided this team to their first championship in 30 years. I was just as broken up about Ventura’s passing as most other Royals fans and I figure the home opener on April 10th will probably cause a few lumps in throats. That being said, it feels like the push to retire his number is an emotional thought and not a logical one. Over the team’s 47 year history, they have retired three former Royals: George Brett (5), Frank White (20) and Dick Howser (10). That’s it. In my eyes there have been a few worthy numbers that could have been retired by Kansas City over the years, but I do like that they aren’t just retiring numbers left and right. To me, if you are going to go that route, it better be a player who really marked their spot in franchise history. While Ventura had a number of big moments in his short career, he did only have three full seasons under his belt, and was just slightly above league average overall during that time. I have heard a number of great ideas in honoring Ventura this year, like leaving the ball on the mound opening day and letting manager Ned Yost make a “pitching change”, or naming a baseball academy down in the Dominican Republic after him. Those are just two great examples of honoring his passing and I wouldn’t even have a big issue with putting him in the Royals Hall of Fame in the future, even if it would feel like it was being done because he passed away while still with the team. But retiring his number feels like an emotional reaction to his death and I just don’t agree with it. I’m sure the Royals will honor his time in Kansas City this year and they should; but lets not overreact. Honoring Ventura is fine, but retiring his number is unnecessary and to be brutally honest, not really earned.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

With the Royals signing of Jason Hammel this week, Kansas City has marked off almost every need that they were searching for this winter…that is, except for another bullpen arm. The thought has been that the Royals would possibly sign one more reliever and with Spring Training looming in just a few days, there could be a last-minute signing, especially if they bring Luke Hochevar back into the fold. Hochevar is coming off of Thoracic Outlet Surgery but it’s been thought all along that as long as he is healthy, the team would look to bring him back to Kansas City. If not Hochevar, there are a few options still available on the market. Guys like Travis Wood, Jonathan Niese and former Royals Joe Blanton and Jorge De La Rosa are still available. The Royals also checked in on Seth Maness last week, the former Cardinals reliever who bypassed Tommy John Surgery and elected an experimental surgery that would have him back on the field in 7 months. While I tend to think Hoch will be back fairly soon, Kansas City has many choices and with a group of young arms also in the running ( Josh Staumont, Kevin McCarthy and Eric Skoglund among them) there will be some definite competition in the bullpen this spring for the Royals.

Boston Red Sox v Kansas City Royals-Game Two

The Hammel signing also meant that room would have to be made for him on the Royals 40 man roster, and Alec Mills was the unfortunate person to be sent packing. Mills was dealt to the Cubs for outfielder Donnie Deewees. Mills was a solid arm for Kansas City’s system but at best was probably someone who would have success out of the bullpen rather than in the rotation. Deewees is an interesting acquisition, as he is a speedy outfielder type that Dayton Moore continually covets. The scouts evaluation of Deewees seems to be on par with current Royals outfielder Billy Burns:

ESPN’s Keith Law recently rated Dewees 15th among Cubs farmhands, noting that he’s a 70-grade runner that can handle center field from a range standpoint but has a 20-grade arm that limits him to left field. Longenhagen ranked him 19th among Cubs prospects offering a similar take (albeit a 30-grade arm instead of 20), writing that without the power to profile as a left field regular, his best scenario is a Ben Revere type. B-Pro’s Steve Givarz was a bit more optimistic about his glovework but still pegs him as more of a fourth outfielder than a potential starter.

Deewees is still only 23 years old and more than likely will start the year in Kansas City’s High A Ball team in Wilmington. This could be a trade to monitor over the next couple years and see how Deewees has (or has not) developed. When all else fails, Moore will always lean towards speed.

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Finally, Kansas City went out and signed Brayan Pena to a minor league deal this past week. Pena is a former Royal who played for Kansas City from 2009-2012 and spent most of his time as a backup catcher. Pena is a serviceable receiver who has a bit of pop in his bat and is well liked in the clubhouse. The honesty is that this is a depth signing and much like Tony Cruz last year, Pena will most likely be spending his time in Omaha this year unless something goes wrong for Salvador Perez or Drew Butera. It’s good to see Brayan back in blue, but I wouldn’t expect to see much of him once the season starts.

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In just a few days pitchers and catcher will be reporting to Spring Training and we can actually start digesting some news on our ‘Boys in Blue’ and start getting a feel for what the major league roster will look like come April. I can say with all honesty that I feel better about the feel of this roster now than I did even a few weeks ago. For all intent and purposes, the Royals are looking to gain back what they lost last year, which would be the top of the Central Division. Next week, step one begins on a long road to their (hopeful) final destination, October baseball.As always, hope springs eternal.

Whit and Charm

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With only two weeks until Opening Day, we are getting closer and closer to finding out just who will be the final survivors for the Kansas City Royals opening 25, since a few spots are still open. The Royals will probably start the season with four bench players and to this point a couple players seem fairly close to locks. One spot is the backup to catcher Salvador Perez and my money is on Drew Butera beating out Tony Cruz for that spot. Another spot is probably Christian Colon’s to have, as he would be the backup infielder assuming Omar Infante starts the year as the primary second baseman. That would leave two spots and there is a good chance Reymond Fuentes will win one of them, as he has had an excellent spring so far, hitting .375 with two home runs, 6 RBI’s and an OPS of 1.191. This would leave one open bench spot to divide between Clint Barmes, Travis Snider and Whit Merrifield.

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Merrifield is the most interesting name of the group this spring, as he has bounced around the Royals minor league system since he was drafted in 2010, and is probably past the point of being referred to as a prospect. But what he has done is gain twenty pounds this offseason as he tried to gain bulk on his frame and give himself a greater opportunity to make the Royals roster. The 27 year old began his college career playing the outfield but over the years has learned to play all four infield positions as well, which he did in 2015 for the Royals AAA team in Omaha( A year ago, he played 57 games at second base, 35 in left field, 15 at third base and 14 at first base). This versatility is what gives him an edge and could punch his ticket for a roster spot to start the year.

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It also doesn’t hurt that he has had a good spring, hitting .389 with an RBI and an OPS of 1.151. The Royals are known to keep a small bench so they can stash more arms in the bullpen, so a player like Merrifield would be invaluable, as he could fill in almost anywhere on the diamond other than behind the dish. He appears to be the kind of player manager Ned Yost loves, a scrapper who does the little things like moving runners over, bunting and stealing a base or two. It’s not a lock that Merrifield will win a roster spot this spring, but it has to be intriguing to Kansas City management to have a player like Merrifield stowed away for future use.

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Super utility players have become all the rage in baseball the last few years and the Royals have employed a few of the bigger name ones over the years. There was Ben Zobrist last year, Emilio Bonifacio in 2013 and before that Willie Bloomquist was plopped into that role in 2009 and 2010. Merrifield might not get the notoriety that those players have, but the Royals don’t need him to have his name up in lights. They just need him to fill whatever role is needed for that day and time. Those seven meals a day he threw down this past winter might give him the major league job he has coveted for years now…and the Royals could be better because of it.

Just a Transaction Away

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We are creeping into the second week of December and very little has occurred with the Kansas City Royals transactions page since they wrapped up the World Series. It’s a bit odd at this point in the offseason to see Dayton Moore so quiet after all those years of moves being made within the first week of the end of the season. All has been quiet until the other day, when the Royals made a few notable moves to add to the ledger.

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Let’s start with closer Greg Holland being non-tendered a contract. This wasn’t a shocking move, as it had been discussed almost immediately after everyone found out Holland would be having Tommy John surgery and would be missing the 2016 campaign. The good news is that this move was purely financial, as the Royals didn’t want to be on the hook for close to $10 million next year for a pitcher who would be sitting on the sideline. This also means the Royals are open to re-signing Holland to a new deal, possibly a two year deal that would be low for this upcoming season while much larger salary for year two of the deal, probably with a bunch of incentives. I would say the chance of Kansas City and Holland coming to agreement on a new deal is pretty good, as both parties want to stay together and understand why this business decision was made. I would expect Holland back in the fold fairly soon and hopefully will make his Royals return in 2017.

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The other move made by Kansas City was acquiring backup catcher Tony Cruz from St. Louis. On first glance this seemed like a move designed to make him the new backup to Salvador Perez while pushing Drew Butera(yes, I almost just wrote ‘Sal’ instead of ‘Drew’; his father would be proud) out the non-tendered door. But then the Royals offered Drew a contract, leaving the Royals with two options to play in about 30 games next year(if that). So it would appear from the outside that these two catchers will be battling in Spring Training to see who heads North with the team, and who ventures to Omaha(possibly; last year’s AAA catcher, Francisco Pena, was claimed by Baltimore). So who would be the better option?

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Offensively this might be a bit of a push. Butera last year had a line of .196/.252/.252 with an OPS+ of 40 while Cruz had a line of .204/.235/.310 with an OPS+ of 47. Over their careers, Butera has an OPS+ of 41 while Cruz’s is 58. Cruz looks to be the better hitter, even if by just the smallest of margin’s. It does appear Cruz has more pop in his bat(.310 to .266 career slugging percentage) while Butera seems to be the more patient hitter(Cruz has averaged a tad over 6 walks a year over his career, Butera almost 8 per year). Offensively, neither one of these guys are going to earn their job with their work with the bat, so let’s check the glove work.

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Looking at dWAR, Butera has quite the advantage over Cruz, 2.3 to -0.4. It seems as if Butera is the better defender, which was my initial thought before I started breaking down the stats. I was actually surprised though; Butera only has about 45 more career games than Cruz, despite Butera being 3 years older than Cruz. It also appears as if their offense drags them down, as both have negative career WAR; -1.7 to -2.8, Butera over Cruz. Now I can say I haven’t seen as much of Cruz’s work, but I’ve long enjoyed Butera’s work behind the plate, where he is known for his defense and good game calling skills. I’m not 100% for sure where Royals management head is on the backup catcher situation, but I know manager Ned Yost(a former catcher) prefers his backup to be solid defensively. It would appear if that was the case again this spring, you will see Butera backing up Perez. I wouldn’t mind keeping Cruz down in AAA if he is open to that, and once again, I’m not entirely for sure what the Royals braintrust is thinking. If I had to make a guess, this move was purely for depth, which is never a bad move for any team.

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So nothing major has occurred yet for the Royal roster, but the Winter Meetings are this week, so something is bound to happen. There is already talk that Kansas City is close to a deal with Chris Young and word crept out today that they have interest in lefty Scott Kazmir. So more than likely, expect something to happen this week in Nashville. This news also brightened my day today:

So be prepared; it could be a busy week, and by the end of it we might have a better idea of what the 2016 Kansas City Royals will look like.

 

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