It's that time of the year again. Playoff baseball is in the air, which means it’s time to look at which former Kansas City Royals made the playoffs and wonder what could’ve been if these players still played for the team. There are currently ten former Royals players in the postseason, and I’ll be grading every single one of them on a scale of 1-10 to determine how badly the Royals are missing the current iteration of these players.
First, we’ll start with the easiest which are the teams that don’t have any former Royals on them and that would be the Red Sox, Dodgers and Cardinals — all of whom were in the one-game playoff this week because they chose not to put a former Royal on the squad. Boston does technically have Franchy Cordero in their minor league system, but he’s not going to be playing in this postseason so he’s excluded from the list.
Milwaukee Brewers: Lorenzo Cain (5/10), Brad Boxberger (5/10)
Despite what you might hear, Cain is still a quality big leaguer who you can rely on day in and day out and would probably be an upgrade over Michael A. Taylor. I believe the Royals see a lot of Cain in Taylor, which is why they gave him that contract. With that said, even this current version of Cain is probably an upgrade over Taylor.
The one thing that concerns you is the age but if he stays healthy for a full season, you’ll probably be able to get 130 games out of him and have him put up a .260/.320/.400 slash line. As a solid 6-7 hole hitter and plus defender, you wouldn’t have to worry about his ability to play center field in Kauffman Stadium.
As for Boxberger, having a veteran arm in the bullpen would’ve been nice as the Royals wouldn’t have been forced to wheel out the corpses of Wade Davis and Greg Holland at the start of the season. However, I feel like both Joel Payamps and Domingo Tapia currently are as good or better options than Boxberger. You can never have too much depth in the pen, though.
Atlanta Braves: Jorge Soler (4/10), Will Smith (5/10)
The Braves version of Soler has been an absolute stud (14 home runs in 55 games) while the Kansas City version of Soler only produced 13 bombs in 94 games, so it’s easy to see why the Royals might miss him. The problem with him is that he’s too inconsistent with the bat to be a reliable player and even though the Braves got the absolute best out of him, I seriously doubt they’ll retain him this offseason.
Soler just has the vibe of a player that’s going to get picked up by a desperate team like the Mariners for three years and $36M, then flop this upcoming season. The Royals weren’t going to re-sign Soler and even if they did, would you be comfortable with four out of the franchise's top five highest-paid players being him, Carlos Santana, Mike Minor and Hunter Dozier?
As for Smith, he’s a lot like Boxberger in that both guys would’ve been great to have at the beginning of the season, but Payamps and Tapia probably give you comparable value.
San Francisco Giants: Johnny Cueto (6/10)
Cueto has been more mediocre than good for the Giants since signing for them in the 2015 offseason and at $21M this season, the results he's put up have not been worth that money. However, Cueto still would’ve had the second-best ERA amongst all regular Royals starting pitchers and would’ve been a much better veteran anchor than Mike Minor. If we take his albatross salary out of the conversation, there would be more than enough room for Cueto on this current roster.
The Giants will probably buy Cueto out for $5M this offseason instead of paying him the $22M he is owed. What that means for the Royals is if they’re looking for another affordable veteran this offseason, Cueto could be a possibility. However, a pitcher like Rich Hill is probably the better and cheaper option.
Houston Astros: Martin Maldonado (1/10), Zack Greinke (5/10), Jake Odorizzi (6/10)
Salvador Perez had arguably the greatest offensive season for a catcher in baseball history and should receive enough votes to be a top-5 MVP candidate. Maldonado, on the other hand, played in 125 games this year, hit .172 and had a down defensive season by his standards.
I’m not going to waste time on a backup catcher debate because, quite frankly,y a team's season does not hinge on the performance of its backup catcher.
Grienke is long past his prime, and it shows, but he could still be a valuable piece in the Royals' rotation. Essentially, the Royals have a bunch of former pitchers that all could fill the Mike Minor role. However, Grienke (unlike the others) probably couldn’t do it for cheaper. He still has a solid arm though as at his advanced age, he's become the definition of a crafty veteran.
Odorizzi, much like Cueto, is the player that the Royals should be looking for this offseason as a solid back-of-the-rotation type of guy that will run them less than $10M per season. The only thing you worry about is whether or not employing pitchers like Odorizzi would clog up the pitching prospect pipeline the Royals have. But given the fact that Odorizzi is a better, younger and cheaper option than Minor, there is more than enough room for him on this squad.
Chicago White Sox: Billy Hamilton & Brian Goodwin (2/10)
Here, we have two fourth and fifth outfield options for the Southside Sox that put together a combined -0.2 WAR. We also have two players the Royals already kicked the tires on and found out that both tires were deflated. Hamilton will stick around the league a little bit longer than Goodwin because Hamilton can do more on the field.
Fourth outfielders are a dime a dozen and can be found in any free agency class for not that much. Also, if either of these two were on the roster this year, it’s unlikely that Kyle Isbel would’ve gotten a look and he is possibly going to be the starting right fielder for this team next year.
In short, don’t get hung up on bench outfielders. This is something I want you to remember for the next guy on this list.
Tampa Bay Rays: Brett Phillips (1/10)
One of the greatest lies the Moneyball movie ever told was that players like Brett Phillips were more valuable than everyday players. The entirety of his success this year comes from his ability to draw walks against right-handed pitchers. Notice I didn’t say hit, because this year he’s only hitting .239 against righties and against lefties he’s unplayable, only hitting .110 on the season.
The Rays are not winning because of Brett Philips — they’re winning because they have baseball’s top prospect in Wander Franco, two 30-plus home run bats in Brandon Lowe and Mike Zunino, a 106 RBI producer in Austin Meadows, Nelson Cruz and a farm system that churns out great young starting pitching like an assembly line. They are not winning because Brett Phillips provides them with a quality fifth outfielder.
Phillips had his chance with Kansas City, and he wasn’t good. He slashed .178/.256/.308 and never until this season had he hit above the Mendoza line, which he barely accomplished by hitting .202 with a strikeout rate of 38.7%. Erase that fluky walk-off win last year against the Dodgers and Phillips has had a very forgettable career.
Within four years, Phillips will be out of the league because players like him are replaceable and are only as good as their ability to bump up their OPS by grinding out walks. His bubbly personality might help him become a loveable broadcaster for one of the organizations he’s likely to play for. However, his time in the MLB will be over sooner rather than later.
In short, none of these players would’ve helped the Royals make the playoffs this year and outside of Odorizzi and Cain, none probably would've featured in a starting role. This means you can sit back, relax and not stress about what could’ve been if the Royals had an outfield platoon of Michael A. Taylor and Brett Phillips.