Fo­cus on bullpen and hot cor­ners

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - Week 14 Matchups - Jay Can­non

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 offsea­son turnover, with at least five 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 final 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 infield 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 Mer­rifield, 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 infiel­der Ch­es­lor Cuth­bert saw 12 games there. How­ever, nei­ther player pro­duced much on of­fense. Dozier hit .229 in 102 games, while Cuth­bert finished 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 fiel­der 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.

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