Winter Report Card: Impacted by tragedy, will Royals' rebuilt rotation be enough?
- Kansas City is hoping to get back to the postseason, but the death of Yordano Ventura and the departure of Edinson Volquez forced them to scramble to piece together a pitching staff that can compete in the tough AL Central.
Before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, we’re checking in to see how each team has fared thus far this off-season, acknowledging that there’s still time for that evaluation to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2016. Next up: the Kansas City Royals.
81-81 (.500), third place in AL Central
RHP Wade Davis, OF Jarrod Dyson, RHP Dillon Gee, RHP Luke Hochevar*, RHP Kris Medlen, DH Kendrys Morales, RHP Edinson Volquez,
RHP Jason Hammel, RHP Nate Karns, RHP Brandon League, RHP Seth Maness, 1B/OF Brandon Moss, 1B/OF Peter O'Brien, RHP Bobby Parnell, C Brayan Pena, RF Jorge Soler, RHP Chris Withrow, LHP Travis Wood
* still unsigned as of publication
Off-season In Review
The tragic death of starting pitcher Yordano Ventura, who died last month in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic, dampened not just the Royals' off-season but the entire sport, robbing baseball of one of its brightest young players. Emotionally, the loss of a teammate will be difficult to overcome. From a talent perspective, it will be almost impossible.
Kansas City also had to replace starters Edinson Volquez and Dillon Gee, who signed with the Marlins and the Rangers, respectively. To do so, the Royals signed Jason Hammel and Travis Wood and made a trade with Seattle to land Nate Karns. Last season with the Cubs, the 34-year-old Hammel had a very respectable season, posting a 3.83 ERA and striking out 144 batters in 166 2/3 innings, though he didn't pitch at all in the postseason. He’ll slide in as the No. 3 starter behind lefty Danny Duffy and righty Ian Kennedy. Wood, a former starter, was fantastic with Chicago last year in relief, posting a 2.95 ERA in 61 innings. If he doesn’t start, he’ll be a fine middle reliever. Karns split time between the ‘pen and rotation last year wiht the Mariners, posting a 5.15 ERA, but he did rack up 101 strikeouts in 94 1/3 innings. When he was a last a full-time starter in 2015 with Tampa Bay, Karns had a 3.67 ERA in 147 innings. Kansas City will also get Jason Vargas back from Tommy John surgery.
In the bullpen, the Royals traded reliever Wade Davis to the Cubs for outfielder Jorge Soler. While the move was a bit of a pre-emptive strike against Davis's impending free agency, losing him is still a big blow. Davis had another great season last year, with a 1.87 ERA and 27 saves. Kelvin Herrera is set to take over as closer. There were some minor moves in the bullpen too, none of which look to be game-changing. Longtime Met Bobby Parnell is the headliner, but at age 32 and with a 6.53 ERA the past three seasons his best days are behind him.
The Soler move is also a direct response to the departure of DH Kendry Morales to the Blue Jays, as is the signing of Brandong Moss to a two-year contract. Morales was a presence in Kansas City's lineup, averaging 26 home runs and 100 RBIs in his two seasons with the team. Soler became the odd-man out in the Cubs' outfield with the return to health of Kyle Schwarber, but Soler did hit 12 home runs in just 264 plate appearances last season and will be just 25 on Opening Day. Moss, meanwhile, has averaged 25 home runs per season over the past five years, and he hit 28 for St. Louis in 2016 in just 464 PAs. The two could become a solid replacement for Morales.
Backup outfielder Jarrod Dyson went to the Mariners in the Karns deal. Dyson is coming off his best offensive performance, posting a .278/.340/.388 line with a career-high 25 RBIs. His speed (31 steals per year since 2012) will be missed and has not been replaced.
Unfinished Business: Rotation, Bench help
The Royals have tried gamely to fill the holes in their rotation, but it’s not clear that those holes will stay plugged for long. Hammel and Karns will have a hard time replacing Volquez and Ventura, and it's not yet clear if Wood (career ERA+: 98) is anything but a league-average pitcher no matter how he's used.
The Royals have been linked to free agent Doug Fister, who posted a 4.64 ERA with the Astros last year. But there aren’t any major additions to be made at this point. Prospects like Miguel Almonte and Kyle Zimmer are options but aren't likely to have a major impact this year.
Without Dyson, there’s no major stolen base threat, unless Raul Mondesi Jr. is ready to grab some more playing time. Peter O’Brien was brought in from Arizona in January and has pop—he hit 20 home runs in 105 AAA games—and could be a nice option, but there’s a glut of first base/corner outfield hybrids on the roster. Adding a versatile veteran to the bench wouldn’t hurt.
Preliminary Grade: B-
The Royals have done a nice job given the difficult circumstances, but they are undoubtedly a worse team this spring than last. The rotation took a huge hit, and the bullpen—the strength of the team when it won the AL pennant in 2014 and '15 and the World Series in the latter year—has lost much of the depth and talent that made it so formidable.
The Royals will replace Morales in the aggregate, but Moss and Soler are power-first guys, not classic high-on-base batters, which is what the team could use after finishing next-to-last in the AL last year in OBP.
The core of their championship run is there for one more season, before standbys like first baseman Eric Hosmer, shortstop Alcides Escobar and centerfielder Lorenzo Cain reach free agency. But unless one of their acquisitions has a career-year, it will be hard for Kansas City to get back to the postseason.