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Rival Recap: The Kansas City Royals Offseason

Another look at what’s changed around the division since October.

Kansas City Royals Photo Day Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

If you read last week’s installment, you’ll know that I’ll be recapping the off seasons of our division rivals in the time leading up to Opening Day.

Of course, “rivals” is a relative term; last week we looked at the 114-loss Tigers, and this week we’ll be looking at the 103-loss Royals.

Notable Departures

Be forewarned that I decided on the term “notable departures” before I began this series. Apologies to Kansas City, but if any of the following names prove particularly “notable” to you, it’s probably more to do with an interesting or otherwise quirky narrative, and less to do with actual on-field performance.

First off, the Royals stole the spotlight before Game Six of the World Series, when they designated swing man Trevor Oaks for assignment. If your first thought was “that’s a fake name, nobody named ‘Trevor Oaks’ played baseball in 2019,” then you’re half right. There is a Trevor Oaks in professional ball, but he missed all of last year recovering from an injured hip labrum. Prior to that, his only big-league experience came in 2018, when he posted a 7.24 ERA in under 15 innings. He was claimed by the Giants shortly into November.

A day later, reliever Jacob Barnes — with just slightly more MLB tenure — cleared waivers and was released by the team.

In terms of people you’ve heard of, the Royals really only lost two. Jorge Bonifacio was a starting outfielder for Kansas City as recently as 2017, but spent almost 120 games in Triple-A last year, and barely cracked 20 plate appearances with the big club. And one of baseball’s best old-timer names — Cheslor Cuthbert — was non-tendered after his third straight year with at least -0.4 fWAR.

The Big Additions

To sum up the Royals’ off season, the team’s biggest additions this winter were already on the team. One of them has twelve years of service time with Kansas City.

That’s right, it’s Alex Gordon, whose $23 million mutual option was declined in early November. The lifelong Royal re-upped for $4 million instead. 2019 was his best season with the bat since 2016, thanks mostly to a career-low strikeout rate (15.8%.) He also took home his seventh Gold Glove, and his third in as many seasons. However, he’s only been worth about three-and-a-half wins since the team took home the 2015 championship; barring a late-career resurgence, this could even be his last major-league season.

The Royals dished out two other big-league contracts. Jesse Hahn pitched briefly for the Royals last season, and has been rehabbing for the better part of two years. Due more in arbitration than he had proven he was worth, Hahn was non-tendered and signed a $600k deal to stay at Kauffman.

The biggest outside hire was Maikel Franco, who had a wRC+ of 70 last year. Once a top-100 prospect, Franco’s game has proved a bit one-dimensional; he’s been good for 20 homers a year, while also rating as one of the worst defensive third basemen in the National League. After six years, he’s washed out of Philadelphia, and should slot into the bottom of the Royal order.

Lastly, let’s talk about Greg Holland. The final member of the famous “Herrera, Davis, and Holland” bullpen that took the league by storm in 2014. Since leaving the division, Holland has been plagued by post-Tommy John inconsistency. He won Comeback Player of the year in Colorado, but was DFA’d by the Cardinals in the next season. That same year, he had a sub-1.00 ERA in over 20 innings with Washington. Last season, recurring control issues made him pretty much league-average in Arizona.

Now, he’s back with the Royals as a non-roster invitee. Holland is a prime example of the sheer volatility of relievers; he was getting Cy Young votes last decade and was an All-Star just three seasons ago. Now, it’s unclear if he’ll crack an Opening Day roster.

So, should we be worried?

If the Royals moved the needle in either direction this off season, it was almost imperceptible. While the Tigers are actively tanking while their top-five farm gets rolling, Kansas City is kind of just floating out in space. They have arguably the worst system in the division, and very little major-league depth to balance things out.

I would sooner pick the Tigers for a surprise run at mediocrity. Give this team a few more years.


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