We’re continuing with our “Three Needs” series, in which we take a look at the chief issues to be addressed for clubs that have fallen out of contention. We’ve already focused on the Mariners, Tigers, White Sox, Marlins, Rangers, Pirates, and Angels. Now we’re going to Kansas City to check in on a Royals team that just cracked 100 losses for the second-consecutive season — an ignominious feat they last accomplished in 2005-2006.
1. Auction Off Whit Merrifield
You never want to move a guy like this. But he’s closing in on his 31st birthday and showed a slight but noticeable downtick in the speed department last year, dropping from his 95th percentile highpoint to the 85.6th percentile in sprint speed. That’s still quite good, but the difference showed up in the results: Merrifield was successful on just 19 of 29 stolen base attempts a year after swiping 45 and generated 1.2 runs on the bases after tabbing 7.4 in 2018.
We’re not pulling the fire alarm on Merrifield. Even if he’s merely a really good but sub-elite baserunner, he’s one of the game’s steadiest high-average hitters and continues to show solid pop. And while the metrics waffled a bit on the glovework, Merrifield still carries a track record of quality defensive play along with immense versatility.
Add it all up, and … did we mention the Royals just lost 100 games for the second time in a row? Merrifield is a heck of a useful player on a nice contract. He’d basically fit on any team in baseball and might be a real difference-maker in the right situation. Everything about Merrifield’s profile screams for him to be sent to a contender. Keeping him is a luxury the Royals can’t afford.
2. Pursue Extensions, But Don’t Over-Extend
The core reason the Royals ought to move Merrifield is that a low-revenue team only has so many opportunities to achieve value and swing above its spending weight. Those must be maximized, particularly when the team is in a rebuilding phase. The same reasoning supports the pursuit of offseason extension negotiations — with some players, and to a point.
Why the cautionary references? Because a team in this situation must maintain some serious future-looking spending discipline and focus primarily on improving its asset base rather than on avoiding the eventual departure of guys it likes.
Convincing slugger Jorge Soler to commit into his thirties seems unnecessarily risky, even if he just enjoyed a nice campaign. Righty Brad Keller might be worth inking at the right price after another good season in terms of results, but the landmine detectors (5.24 SIERA, for example) are flashing red. A long-term arrangement with Adalberto Mondesi or even Hunter Dozier could deliver huge upside, and certainly ought to be considered, but the organization should pull hard on its leverage given the ongoing uncertainty with those players.
3. Chase Some Upside In A Free Agent Signing
There are lots of problems on the Royals roster. How could there not be? It doesn’t matter so much where the team decides to add — first base, middle infield, outfield, pitching of all varieties — as that it does so boldly. At least, it’s worth a serious attempt. Having already endured the bulk of the payroll hangover from the team’s recent run of success, there’s some payroll space to play with.
Last year, the organization inked one-year deals with Billy Hamilton, Chris Owings, Jake Diekman, Brad Boxberger, Terrance Gore, and Kyle Zimmer. Those signings more or less flopped completely, though such is life when it comes to this kind of dealmaking. It was generally a defensible group of signings, including some younger players who had shown real talent in the past along with easily flippable veteran relievers.
Continuing to make those kinds of signings is sensible, when the opportunities are there. But why not also ramp up the risk factor just a bit on a multi-year deal? Yasiel Puig, Avisail Garcia, and Corey Dickerson are interesting corner outfield targets; Alex Wood and Michael Wacha might like pitching in Kauffman. If any of those players struggle to find adequate arrangements elsewhere, they could be bailed out with a deal that spans multiple campaigns at a low-ish AAV — thus increasing the future trade value in the event that the anticipated bounceback comes to pass. With most of the market preferring to spend more for less years, there could be opportunities to swim against the tide and acquire somewhat higher-ceiling talent.