After the World Series Parade, the Kansas City Royals Have More Work to Do
Yes, I'm going to be that guy who doesn't let Kansas City Royals fans enjoy their brand spanking new World Series championship long enough to sneeze.
As of 12:01 a.m. Eastern time Saturday, a number of high-profile members of Kansas City's talented roster will become eligible for free agency. And all of them were major contributors to their run to the title in 2015.
It's unrealistic to think that the Royals will re-sign everybody. But who will they keep, and who should they let go? General manager Dayton Moore has his hands full.
One of the Royals' two big mid-season additions was Ben Zobrist, who did pretty much what he has always done since he became an everyday player back in 2009. In 59 games with the Royals (264 plate appearances), Zobrist hit .284/.364/.453 for an OPS of .816 with 7 homers, 23 RBI, 16 doubles and a triple. Overall, he posted an OPS of .809 this season for the Royals and Oakland A's in the regular season, and in the playoffs he was outstanding. In 66 at-bats, Zobrist hit .303/.365/.515 with 8 doubles, 2 homers, 6 RBI and 8 runs scored in 16 games.
However, he will enter the 2016 season as a 35-year-old, probably looking for one last three-year deal somewhere. He made just $7.5 million this season and could see a nice raise from that, making it difficult for Kansas City to think about retaining him. However, he is a versatile player who can play virtually any position on the field, even if his defensive metrics slipped a bit this year.
One of the bigger questions of the offseason (and one that will have more time devoted to it later) is what kind of offers Johnny Cueto will get. His 2015 season was extremely up-and-down, going 7-6 with a 2.62 ERA for the Reds before going 4-7 with a 4.76 ERA with the Royals. His strikeouts-per-nine innings fell from 8.3 to 6.2 before and after the trade.
And the postseason was a microcosm of that. In Game 2 of the ALDS against Houston, he was not very good, giving up four runs on seven hits with five strikeouts and three walks in six innings. And in Game 3 of the ALCS he lasted just two innings and gave up eight earned runs on six hits against the Blue Jays.
But he was awesome in the clincher against the Astros in Game 5 of the ALDS, going eight innings while giving up just two runs on two hits with eight strikeouts and no walks, retiring the last 19 batters he faced. And he was great in Game 2 of the World Series, pitching a complete-game, two-hitter in which he gave up one earned run with four strikeouts and three walks.
Cueto could be the last free agent pitcher signed this winter, and if he lasts a long time on the market, perhaps the Royals can take advantage and snap him up on the cheap. But if someone is going to give him more than $20 million a season to pitch for them, it ain't gonna be Kansas City.
Although he batted in the eight-hole for most of the postseason, Alex Gordon is no eight-hole hitter. The three-time All Star will turn 32 next year and was limited to just 104 games this season. But in those 422 plate appearances, he batted .271/.377/.432 for an OPS of .809 with 13 homers, 18 doubles and 48 RBI. He is also one of the best defensive left fielders in baseball, winner of four straight Gold Gloves.
Gordon is an integral part of what Kansas City likes to do. He doesn't strike out a lot (although his 21.8% strikeout rate was the highest on the roster among players with at least 250 plate appearances), but he also provides a bit more power than the rest of the lineup. And over the last five seasons, his weighted runs created (wRC+) were 140, 126, 104, 122 and 122, meaning he has been a well-above-average run producer over that stretch.
And don't forget about his Game 1-saving, ninth-inning solo bomb that helped propel the Royals to a 14-inning triumph over New York that set the tone for the entire Fall Classic. Even though 2016 will be his age-33 season, Kansas City may need to offer him a three-year deal. He's just too vital to their offense.
The hottest hitter in the postseason (we can say that thanks to Daniel Murphy reverting to the mean in the World Series), Alcides Escobar, will always hold a special place in Kansas City lore. After all, the dude led the playoffs with 23 hits in 70 at-bats for a batting average of .329 and a slugging percentage of .514. He led off virtually every postseason game with a hit, and even though he was swinging at the first pitch every time, he managed to get on base with regularity.
But of all the position players hitting free agency, Escobar is the most expendable. He's a terrible lead-off hitter most of the time with a career walk rate of just 4.1% (it was 3.9% in 2015), and he posted an on-base percentage of .293 in 662 plate appearances. However, his defense is what Kansas City would miss the most. While he was worth -1 Defensive Run Saved this year, that is still relatively good for a shortstop, and his Ultimate Zone Rating of 7.1 was among the best at his position. The Royals pride themselves on their defense, and the ability to make both the routine and extraordinary plays in the field directly helped them make it to two straight World Series.
Still, with Raul Mondesi Jr. waiting in the wings, it's unlikely Kansas City would make a multi-year commitment to Escobar this winter.
If the Royals decide to re-sign Alex Rios, it will only be for a one-year deal. The 34-year-old had a great postseason for Kansas City: 13-for-48 with a slash line of .271/.314/.375, 2 doubles and a homer. But he has basically been a replacement-level player the last two seasons, and it's likely Kansas City will decide to put their resources to use somewhere else.
However, if he's still hanging out on the free agent market by the time spring training rolls around, there's a chance the Royals could come calling.
Every team needs a fifth starter, and quite frankly, Chris Young was among the best back-of-the-rotation arms in the American League this season. The 36-year-old went 11-6 with a 3.06 ERA in 34 games (18 starts), defying his always high Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 4.52. He doesn't strike many guys out -- just 6.1 strikeouts per 9 -- but just like every other Royal in 2015, he was solid in the playoffs.
In 15 2/3 innings, Young went 1-0 with a 2.87 ERA (two starts, two relief appearances), tallying a surprisingly high 18 strikeouts and six walks. If he's willing to come back on another one-year deal, it would make sense for both for them to get a deal done.
At the end of the day, I don't see Kansas City re-upping with many of their pending free agents. They'll certainly pick up the $8 million team option on Wade Davis, and other than Ryan Madson, will return their stellar bullpen for another season next year.
It will be an interesting winter for the newly crowned world champs, with lots of big decisions to make about their postseason heroes.