Focus on bullpen and hot corners
Five issues facing the Royals:
Filling out Questions the Power outage: at bullpen:
A unit that once dominated the league and helped seal the 2015 World Series title has seen a sharp fall from grace. From 2014 to 2016, no bullpen in the major leagues had a lower ERA than that of the Royals (3.15). Fast-forward to 2018, and Royals relievers were tagged for a 5.04 ERA, ranking worst in the American League and second worst in MLB. After such a disastrous year, there are plenty of opportunities for offseason turnover, with at least five relievers not expected to return in 2019.
Alcides Escobar’s free agency:
While the season numbers were not pretty (.231 batting average, four home runs, 34 RBI), Escobar got hot in his final two months before free agency, posting a slash line of .326/.367/.442. Adalberto Mondesi, 23, seems to have taken over at shortstop in Kansas City, but Escobar’s infield versatility makes his free agency case one worth exploring for the Royals. The 31-year-old made 15 of his 18 September starts at third base, which could certainly be his position should the Royals elect to re-sign him.
Last season, the Royals hit 155 home runs, which ranked 26th in MLB. Catcher Salvador Perez tied a career high with 27 homers, and Mondesi impressed in his age-22 season, hitting 14 home runs in 75 games. Behind those two, however, the power options could be thin for 2019. The top supporting sluggers under contract for 2019 are Alex Gordon, Whit Merrifield, Ryan O’Hearn and Hunter Dozier, all of whom hit fewer than 14 home runs last season. O’Hearn, 25, could have the highest ceiling of the bunch, hitting 12 home runs in 44 games last season.
the hot corner:
The Royals own two in-house options at third base for 2019, but neither seems too enticing. Aside from Mike Moustakas, who was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in July, Dozier recorded the most games played at third (37) last season, while utility infielder Cheslor Cuthbert saw 12 games there. However, neither player produced much on offense. Dozier hit .229 in 102 games, while Cuthbert finished with a .194 average in 30 games. The slim pickings could cause the Royals to bring back Escobar.
The $20 million man:
Going from a championship in 2015 to 58 wins in 2018, the Royals expect to slash payroll as they enter a full-on rebuilding phase. Throwing a wrench in those plans could be left fielder Alex Gordon and the $20 million he is owed for 2019. Gordon, who will be 35 on opening day in 2019, is a veteran on a young squad. He could provide leadership, but if he struggles like he has the last three seasons (average of .225-13-46), there likely won’t be easy way out for the Royals, who would have to pay his salary to a trade partner, if anyone is interested.
Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesi hit .276 with 14 homers, 13 doubles and 37 RBI and had 32 steals in 75 games in 2018.