The 2020 season was another rough one for the Royals, although K.C. fans got their first looks at potential long-term rotation pieces like Brady Singer and Kris Bubic. Both were inconsistent but showed signs of their potential (Singer, particularly), and the club has more arms on the horizon. Top prospects Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar probably aren’t too far behind Singer and Bubic. For a club that finished 12th in ERA and 18th in FIP this season, it’s encouraging to have many promising young arms on the way.
As such, it’s not particularly surprising that general manager Dayton Moore focused more on a need to augment his lineup than his pitching staff during an end-of-season chat with reporters (link via Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com). The trade of Trevor Rosenthal and potential departure of Greg Holland creates a need to “supplement” the bullpen, per the GM, but Moore spoke more directly of a need to upgrade multiple spots in the batting order.
“We definitely need more on-base guys,” Moore said. “We need more quality [at-bats] from probably two other spots in that lineup.”
Indeed, the Royals’ .309 OBP tied them with the Mariners for the fifth-worst mark in all of baseball. Only the Tigers, Rangers and Pirates posted lesser on-base numbers.
Moore sounded pleased with this past winter’s addition of Maikel Franco, noting that the former Phillies top prospect helped to lengthen the lineup. Franco played in all 60 games of the season and posted a .278/.321/.457 slash that handily topped the composite .240/.300/.438 output from Royals third basemen in 2019. The 28-year-old, who is controlled through 2021 via arbitration, continued proving difficult for opposing pitchers to strike out (15.6 percent) and was six percent better than a league-average hitter by measure of wRC+.
Franco doesn’t necessarily fit the “on-base” mold that Moore referenced in this week’s comments, however. He’s walked in 6.8 percent of his career plate appearances, below the league average, and carries just a career .304 OBP. He was a valuable member of this year’s Royals club and certainly earned a spot on next year’s roster, but forthcoming additions might be a different mold of player.
So, where might the Royals look to upgrade? Moore and his staff have the benefit of some versatility in the lineup. Whit Merrifield continues to produce no matter which position he’s playing, and he can slot in at second base or any of the three outfield spots. Hunter Dozier looks like a potential long-term option at first base, but he can also handle right field. Both players’ ability to handle multiple spots should allow the Royals to pursue a broader array of targets.
We know Salvador Perez, signed through next season, will be back behind the dish after a brilliant rebound campaign in 2020. Adalberto Mondesi’s glove, wheels and still-tantalizing overall upside will keep him at shortstop, but he’s posted a sub-.300 OBP over the past three seasons. Jorge Soler will return as DH and bring his light-tower power and career 11 percent walk rate to that role. Alex Gordon, who had a .299 OBP in his final season, is calling it a career after 14 years in the Majors.
Perez, Dozier, Merrifield, Mondesi, Franco and Soler will likely occupy six of the Royals’ lineup spots in most of next year’s games, health permitting. That leaves the club open to pursue outfield upgrades at any of the three spots, an improvement over Nicky Lopez at second base (.228/.279/.307 in 594 career plate appearances) or perhaps a first baseman if Dozier is pushed back the outfield. The Royals probably won’t be fishing at the top of the free-agent market, but there are high-OBP names in the middle tiers of free agency at potential positions of need. Tommy La Stella, Cesar Hernandez, Robbie Grossman and Matt Joyce are among the options to have posted quality on-base marks in recent years. The trade market and an expected slew of non-tenders will only add further options for the Royals (and others) to explore.
The Royals won’t completely overhaul the outfield mix, as Moore spoke of a desire to see more from Franchy Cordero — a player he says he’s pursued in trades for three years. The Royals also picked up Edward Olivares in a second deal with the Padres, giving them another player to take evaluate in 2021. Still, it doesn’t sound as though we should be a surprised to see the club add a veteran outfielder and second baseman this winter as they continue a slow march back to competitiveness.