After the most trying year of their shared tenure in Kansas City, manager Ned Yost and general manager Dayton Moore sat in an office inside Kauffman Stadium and scrutinized what went wrong. The playoffs had not been a presumption for the 2018 Royals, but how did they wind up losing more games than all but one team in franchise history? The conversation started there.
Hours later, it concluded with an agreement. If the Royals were to rebound from a 104-loss season, the recipe would include the familiar traits of their recent postseason runs.
Speed. And defense.
“We’ve got to find a way to get those athletic speed-type players back in our organization,” Yost recalled saying. “And Dayton has gone a great job of doing it.”
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As the winter meetings near an end in Las Vegas, the Royals’ plan for 2019 is becoming quite clear. Those two elements — speed and defense — will be the backbone of the lineup, a strategy bolstered by the signing of center fielder Billy Hamilton. They are Hamilton’s top traits.
And they will be littered throughout the lineup. Yost has a preference for the small-ball element of the game, a roomy Kauffman Stadium serving as his reasoning. It’s not easy to hit the ball out of the park in Kansas City, he notes. Particularly for a young group, the runs must come from supplemental avenues.
“We’re potentially capable of playing really good defense and being a threat on the base paths,” Moore said. “We want to make sure we strike out less (and) we get on base more so we can utilize that speed and that aggressiveness. That will be a focus of ours.”
With only Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft remaining on the docket in Vegas, it’s increasingly likely the Royals’ current allotment of position players is the group that will head to spring training in February — though Moore does expect to be active in the Rule 5 Draft. The Royals hold the No. 2 pick. They grabbed Brad Keller, who finished the season atop their rotation, and Burch Smith in last year’s Rule 5 Draft.
But the players in the lineup are virtually set. It’s the manner in which they will be arranged that remains in doubt. Yost was asked about the latter, and considering the Vegas setting, he appropriately replied, “I’m at the poker table. My cards aren’t dealt yet.”
There are reasonable predictions to be made. Yost liked the way Whit Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi pressured the top of the lineup in September. He’s unlikely to tinker with it.
Again this week, he complimented Alex Gordon’s production from the No. 3 hole. Salvador Perez and Jorge Soler figure to comprise the middle of the order, with Ryan O’Hearn and Hunter Dozier shuffled behind them. Soler reported positive results in his recovery from injuries this offseason, Moore said.
A competition in right field that includes Brett Phillips and Jorge Bonifacio could determine the Royals’ No. 8 hitter. And that leaves Hamilton to hit ninth, a spot he occupied often for the Reds, even in the National League. If that’s indeed where Hamilton lands, it gives the Royals three elite base stealers in a row — Hamilton and then Merrifield and Mondesi after the lineup turns over.
That lineup isn’t likely to lead the league in runs. It does, however, provide the two elements Moore and Yost coveted in their meeting.
Speed and defense.
“If you test defenses, put them on their toes and put them on guard, you make a lot of mistakes when you have that type of speed,” Yost said. “And defensively, as a group with that type of speed, it helps our pitching (and) makes us better all the way around.
“So I’m really pleased with where we’re at right now. I like that action type game.”
Yost: Eliminate the shift
Major League Baseball’s reportedly ongoing discussion about potentially banning the shift has a proponent in Royals manager Ned Yost.
“Eliminate them. Do it now,” Yost said. “You’ve got my vote. I don’t like them.”
As teams rely more and more on advanced metrics, infield shifts have become a significant part of the game. Left-handed hitters often step to the plate and see three infielders lined up on the pull side of the diamond.
Yost wants to see that eliminated with two particular rules. First, he says, two infielders should be required to play on each side of second base. Second, every infielder is required to have at least one foot in dirt, preventing a middle infielder from lining up deep into right field.
“The majority of hitters — I’d say 90 to 95 percent, say, ‘To heck with it; I’m going to try to hit a homer or a double.’ Our number for singles as a baseball league last year dropped way down,” Yost said. “And you just lose strategy; you lose the ability to steal bases; you lose the ability to hit and run or bunt.
“I like that different kind of game. And I just think that the shift, it makes the game much, much more boring, in my opinion.”