The Royals open their final home stand against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night. They are 79-77 and three victories away from clinching their fourth straight winning season — something that has not been done since 1980. They are also going to miss the postseason for the first time since 2013. The 2016 Royals have been, as Sam put it, a forgivable disappointment. We’ll talk more about the future at some point.
So here are three, based on health and track record and some forecasting.
Lorenzo Cain is probably still the Royals’ best overall position player, and in 2017, the club will have to hope he healthy and back to doing Lo-Cain things.
In 2015, Cain accumulated 6.4 Wins Above Replacement in 140 games, according to the FanGraphs’ version of the stat. This year, he was limited to just 2.5 WAR.
He started slow and was injured twice (hamstring and wrist) and his power numbers declined (his slugging percentage dropped from .477 to .408). Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando offered above-average defense as fill-ins. (Among American League center fielders with at least 300 plate appearances, Dyson ranked fifth in FanGraphs’ “Defensive Runs Above Average,” while Orlando ranked eighth. Cain ranked third behind Kevin Pillar and Kevin Kiermaier.)
But if there was one thing we learned from July, it was how important Cain is to the Royals’ lineup and defense. There’s a possibility he could see more time in right field next year. There’s a possibility he never matches the power numbers he displayed in 2015. But if he can stay healthy for a full season, he will likely lead the Royals in Wins Above Replacement again. His presence is immense.
Gordon, of course, has hit better during the second half. But this will still go down as the worst season of his career, save for an injury-shortened one which also featured his demotion to Class AAA Omaha to learn left field.
Gordon may never equal the production of his prime years — 2011 to 2014 — but if he can at least match his second-half numbers (.237/.328/.425), that will be something.
While his offense regressed, Gordon’s defense remained terrific — he leads all qualified left fielders in Defensive Runs Above Average.
The Royals, of course, will hope for a bounce-back season at the plate — and that his athleticism and defensive skills hold up as he continues to age into his 30s.
Here’s a good opportunity to reflect on Cheslor Cuthbert’s season. As a 23-year-old rookie, he has been quite good. He’s batting .277/.322/.415. He’s made some spectacular plays at third base. He’s hit 11 homers in 122 games.
Yet as a replacement at third base, he didn’t approach Mike Moustakas’ value from 2015. Moustakas was worth a career high 3.5 fWAR in 2015. Moustakas (0.7) and Cuthbert (0.5) were worth half of that this season.
Cuthbert has committed 16 errors, which is only a sliver of the reason advanced metrics grade Moustakas as a better fielder. Cuthbert won’t turn 24 until November. His future is bright. But Moustakas’ return could offer a sizable lift.
Escobar’s defense has trended downward in recent years, according to defensive runs saved and UZR. Aside from 2012, which seems to be a bizarre outlier, Escobar’s defensive numbers, on the whole, are his worst since he joined the Royals.
He still makes a ton of great plays. For example: According to Inside Edge Fielding, which rates plays in different categories, Escobar has made 50 percent of plays deemed “Unlikely,” when we normally see shortstops make only 10-40 percent of those plays. In addition, he makes 60 percent of the “Even” plays, which is also above average. Where he struggles a little, according this metric, is on plays deemed “Likely.” The normal shortstop will make these plays 60 to 90 percent of the time, and Escobar is 77 percent.
This is just one metric, but it does seem to match up with the eye test.
So back to the bigger question: Escobar’s offense has been slightly improved over last season, but he still ranks just 10th among qualified American League shortstops in both wRC+ and fWAR. And yet, he’s probably still the Royals’ best option at shortstop for now.
Raul Mondesi has yet to prove he’s ready to hit at the major-league level. And Escobar will make just $6.5 million on a team option. That’s manageable. Escobar has his flaws. But he’s a durable, steadying influence in the middle of the Royals’ defense.
This will likely remain a question for much of the offseason. The Royals are quite committed to giving Matt Strahm an opportunity to start in 2017. Even if his innings would be limited, there is a belief in the organization that you have to give your homegrown pitching an opportunity to develop into above-average starters.
The Royals also have Mike Minor and Chris Young under contract. Right-hander Josh Staumont is a rising prospect who could possibly project as an intriguing midseason addition. (We’ll see.)
But the Royals will likely be active on the free-agent market, as they often are, looking for another arm. General manager Dayton Moore craves depth, saying you need eight or nine guys who could start games for you. Based on that number, the Royals might be an arm short.
I know you said “If,” but just a reminder that Ned Yost’s contract extension, which was signed before this season, extends through 2018. We’ll see what happens — and, yes, Don Wakamatsu and Dale Sveum have both managed before — but before we get to that conversation, there’s also this: In February, Yost seemed pretty committed to managing at least three more years.
When you’re covering 81 road games — and most of them are at night — there aren’t as many great meals as you would think.
But here’s the top three:
1. The pizza pot pie at Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder Company in Chicago
2. John Brown Smokehouse, a barbecue spot in Queens started by a Kansas City expat
3. Paulie Gee’s pizza in Brooklyn (which the Internet tells me can be found in like five cities, but whatever)
Right now …
“Funeral” — Arcade Fire // The Decemberists // “Holland, 1945” — Neutral Milk Hotel