Why the Royals shouldn’t be done with free agency just yet

Overall, the roster of the Kansas City Royals seems fairly set, and while it’s not that of a contender, it has many pieces who may outperform expectations in 2019. Currently, based on several available depth charts, the position player starting lineup looks something like this:

C: Salvador Perez

1B: Ryan O’Hearn

2B: Whit Merrifield

3B: Hunter Dozier

SS: Adalberto Mondesi

LF: Alex Gordon

CF: Billy Hamilton/Brett Phillips

RF: Brett Phillips/Jorge Bonifacio/Brian Goodwin

DH: Jorge Soler

And now, here are the PECOTA projections for the total WARP (Baseball Prospectus’s iteration of WAR) at each position:

C: 1.2

1B: -0.3

2B: 3.3

3B: -0.7

SS: 2.3

LF: 0.4

CF: 0.9

RF: 0.7

DH: 0.9

This generally makes sense: Perez is perennially a very good catcher, Merrifield should put up impressive numbers as he did last year, and Mondesi could be among the best and most dynamic players in the American League if he continues to improve. Beyond their positions, no position projects to make up more than 1 WAR, which is considerably underwhelming: the Cardinals, Red Sox and Rockies project to have no position worse than 1 WAR, and 7 other teams project to only have one position produce less than a WAR. The Royals project to fill ⅔ of their batting order with hitters who will not even be worth one win above a replacement level player.

However, projections are conservative, and there is a lot of potential for improvement at nearly every position. Ryan O’Hearn had a dynamic final two months of 2018, meaning that he could be miles better than the -0.3 WARP projected for the Royals’ first basemen. Brett Phillips is an excellent fielder who could certainly continue to see offensive improvement with more time in the lineup. Billy Hamilton is always a threat with his legs. Alex Gordon, while his best seasons are behind him, still plays fantastic defense in left field and inched back towards offensive competency in 2018. Perhaps it takes some squinting, but the potential to contend, especially in a weak AL Central, does exist.

One position where I don’t see the Royals improving, however, is at third base. It is notably projected to be their weakest position, with -0.7 WARP, and unlike many other spots there isn’t a whole lot of hope. Hunter Dozier projects to man the hot corner for the Royals, and while he has some tools to be successful, his major league success has been nonexistent, and he doesn’t show any indication of improving in the near future.

Dozier could certainly be a surprise, and be the most surprising piece of the Royals lineup. However, if they really are hoping to contend, the Royals would do best to bring in a starting third baseman who has a track record in the major league, and there’s no one better suited for the job than the same man whose spot Dozier filled upon a trade in 2018: Mike Moustakas.

With Moustakas in the lineup, the Royals have a much more consistent hitter who has demonstrated an elevated ability to use his power. More than that, they have a guy who is familiar with many of the players in the lineup already, and who is loved by the fans.

With Moustakas, the Royals lineup becomes much more dangerous than it currently appears: while Moose isn’t an on base aficionado, he gets on at a better rate than just about every current Royal, and his career .307 clip looks a lot better than Dozier’s .279.

Most importantly, at this point in the offseason, Moustakas is likely going to settle for a deal similar to what he earned last year: 1 year and $6 million, costing barely more than Billy Hamilton. If the Royals truly outperform expectations, Moustakas will be an important part of a lineup which lives up to its ceiling. If they go through another underwhelming season, they once again have Moustakas as a trade piece for a contender, and have the ability to bring in another player who is close to making an impact on the major league level (reminder that a Moustakas trade last year is how Brett Phillips was acquired).

Ultimately, a Moustakas deal at a price as cheap as last year has no downside for the Royals, and this close to the season, it appears highly likely that Moustakas doesn’t have the power to command a greater deal. It’s hard to tell for sure whether the Royals will be surprisingly good or bad as advertised, but bringing back Moose will be rewarding either way.

Where do you think Moustakas will sign? Let me know on twitter @ruhdolph

Featured Photo: Brian Davidson/Getty Images

Ryan Ruhde

Cubs, Royals and general analysis writer. Emory University Psychology Major/Music Minor and Pre-Med, class of 2023. Find me on Twitter @ruhdolph

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