Are the Kansas City Royals Betting Too Much on Bounce-Back Seasons?
Everyone likes a good comeback story.
When George Foreman knocked out Michael Moorer and won the heavyweight championship of the world, that was awesome. Peyton Manning's coming back from neck surgery to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL once again is inspiring. And when Michael Jordan left the NBA for a couple years to play minor league baseball, only to return and win a couple more championships, that was pretty incredible.
While the Kansas City Royals aren't looking for stories with quite that much drama, they are certainly depending on a few comeback stories of their own to help them get back to the World Series in 2015.
Last week, they signed Kendrys Morales to a two-year, $17 million-plus-incentives to replace Billy Butler as the team's new designated hitter. And on Monday, they signed free agent outfielder Alex Rios to a one-year, $11 million deal.
Neither of these contracts is very long, which is a good thing considering Morales is 32 and Rios is 33 years old. But for a team that lacked a true power hitter last year, adding Morales and Rios to the lineup as an infusion of "punch" isn't terribly inspiring.
Looking at our nERD totals for each player, neither was better than league average last year, with a lineup full of Moraleses scoring 1.01 runs a game fewer than a league average player. Rios' was -0.07. Both also had weighted runs created (wRC+) under 100, which means they were both below-league-average run creators.
And yet Kansas City will be paying them a combined $30 million over the next two years. Clearly, the Royals are hoping both can return to pre-2014 form, and start hitting ball out of the ballpark the way they once did.
In 2009, Morales burst onto the scene with the Angels by blasting 34 home runs in his first full season as a starter. He missed most of 2010 with an injury and then hit 26 homers in 134 games in '12 and another 23 in 2013 before dropping to 8 last year.
Until last year, Rios had hit at least 15 home runs every season since 2006, including a 24-homer season in '07, a 21-homer season in 2010 and a 25-homer season in '12. However, he hit a scant four dingers last year, playing in one of the friendliest hitters' parks in all of baseball, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. He did battle thumb and ankle injuries, which may have contributed to his power decline.
Last year, both guys forgot how to hit baseballs out of the park. The Royals are betting next season that they'll remember how to do it again.
If they're right, they get two productive players on short deals for not a lot of money. They'll look like geniuses.
But if they're wrong and Rios and Morales don't bounce back and become productive power hitters once again, they'll look like fools -- especially if they claim they couldn't re-sign James Shields because he was too expensive.
Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales are projected to put up a combined 1.3 fWAR in 2014. James Shields: 3.0 fWARâ€” Beyond the Box Score (@BtBScore) December 16, 2014
Meanwhile, the Chicago White Sox signed free agent outfielder Melky Cabrera to a three-year, $42 million deal after a season in which he slashed .301/.351/.458, with 16 homers, an fWAR of 2.6, a wRC+ of 125 and a nERD of 1.63. This after already inking Adam LaRoche to play first base, starter Jeff Samardzija to the rotation, and David Robertson to the bullpen.
The AL Central is wide open in 2015, and the Royals are hoping a couple bounce-back candidates can help them compete for the division title or another wild card spot next year, despite the improvement of the White Sox and the continued presence of the Detroit Tigers.
Hey, everyone loves a good comeback story.