2020 Record: 26-34
Fourth place, AL Central
Team ERA: 4.30 (12th in MLB)
Team OPS: .711 (20th in MLB)
What Went Right
The Royals introduced 2018 first-round picks Brady Singer and Kris Bubic to the majors with fairly encouraging results. The 23-year-old Singer had a 4.06 ERA and a 61/23 K/BB ratio in 64 innings, while the 22-year-old Bubic finished with a 4.32 ERA and a 49/22 K/BB ratio in 50 IP. Brad Keller continued his development, posting a 2.47 ERA in nine starts during his age-25 season. There weren’t as many bright spots offensively, but Salvador Perez somehow put up a .986 OPS despite sitting out 2019 after Tommy John surgery, contracting COVID-19 in July and missing time with blurred vision.
What Went Wrong
Perez was the only player on the team to top an .800 OPS. Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier faltered after breakthrough 2019s, and Adalberto Mondesi was the game’s worst hitter for six weeks before pulling off a stunning rally and hitting .370 with six homers in his final 19 games. Whit Merrifield was only an average regular at age 31 and doesn’t seem likely to be a whole lot better at 32. No young hitters stepped up sufficiently to be penciled in as 2021 regulars, so the Royals need to decide whether to hope for the best with question marks like Nicky Lopez and Franchy Cordero or to spend money in search of surer things.
** In evaluating Royals pitching, it’s important to note that the team’s 4.30 ERA, which was 12th best in MLB, was higher than the overall Central ERA of 4.11 and probably would have been at least half a run higher had the Royals played in the East or West. In context, the success of Keller, Singer and Bubic isn’t quite as impressive, and Keller will likely be overrated on draft day next year. Singer, though, will be rather interesting as a late-round pick. He had excellent groundball numbers as a rookie, and he can get strikeouts with his slider.
** At the end of the year, the Royals made the call to shift rotation mainstay Jakob Junis to the pen, and while that’s not assured of carrying over into 2021, it seems like the right call. Junis has a terrific slider, but he was held back as a starter by his subpar fastball and lousy changeup. As a reliever, he could up the slider usage and hopefully add some fastball velocity in shorter stints. Junis, Josh Staumont and Scott Barlow probably won’t ever rival the Greg Holland-Wade Davis-Kelvin Herrera trio, but they could still turn the Royals bullpen back into a real strength going forward.
** Even though he was a terrible hitter for two-thirds of the year, Mondesi returned second-round value in mixed leagues with his late burst and his MLB-best 24 steals. Mondesi was coming off shoulder surgery. It might have had something to do with his slow start, though that would have been a better excuse in April than in August. He’ll probably always be OBP challenged, but he has legitimate pop and he’s easily the best bet to lead the majors in steals again next year. It’ll probably be more difficult to snag him in the fourth-round of drafts next spring than it was this year, but he’ll still make sense as high as the second round; one can grab him and then forget about paying for steals over the rest of the draft.
** Apart from Perez, Maikel Franco was arguably the Royals’ best hitter, coming in at .278/.321/.457 with eight homers while playing in all 60 games. Franco’s issues in Philadelphia were typically BABIP-related; he hit for decent power without ever striking out very much, but he always hit for lower averages than expected. Getting to Kansas City and a great BABIP stadium in Kauffman seemed to help a bunch there. Kauffman has long been both an above average park for runs and a below average park for homers. Franco went with it and hit .312 with three homers and a .341 BABIP at home, compared to .246 with five homers and a .256 BABIP on the road. The Royals only signed him for 2020 after he was non-tendered by the Phillies, but since he remains under control as an arbitration player, he should be back for next year.
** The Royals picked up a pair of outfielders from the Padres this year, getting Franchy Cordero for reliever Tim Hill just prior to Opening Day and Edward Oliveras in return for Trevor Rosenthal at the trade deadline. Those two could platoon in the outfield next year. Cordero’s speed and power combo has long made him intriguing in fantasy leagues, but his track record is mixed and injuries have held him back. That was the case this year, too, as a sprained wrist cost him most of the season. The left-handed-hitting Cordero has 12 homers and eight steals in basically a half-season as a major leaguer (315 PA). He has 21 homers and 18 steals in 115 career games in Triple-A. He’ll likely have issues getting on base and hitting for average, but he could provide value at the end of drafts next year. Oliveras, a right-handed hitter, also has steal potential, but he would likely be most useful to the Royals as a part-timer versus lefties.
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Team Needs: The Royals will try to add one starting pitcher to join Danny Duffy and the three youngsters, and they could re-sign Holland to close or take a chance on another Rosenthal-type rehab case. The offense will be tougher. Catcher, shortstop and DH are spoken for and Merrifield will fill a fourth spot, but the Royals need to weigh making some real upgrades if they want to contend in the AL Central after a fourth straight sub-.500 season in 2020. If they’re content to tread water, they can stick with Hunter Dozier at first, Lopez at second, Franco at third and a Cordero/Oliveros platoon joining Merrifield and a free agent in the outfield. Making a run, though, figures to require significant upgrades beyond simply adding a Gordon replacement for left field.