The Kansas City Royals are most likely set to lose at least three of four pieces of their 2015 World Championship team to free agency: 1B Eric Hosmer, 3B Mike Moustakas, CF Lorenzo Cain, and SS Alcides Escobar. All but Escobar will command multiple years and tens of millions of dollars to obtain.
So how will the most likely rebuilding Royals stack up with the definitely still rebuilding White Sox in 2018? Let’s find out.
Starting line up
Jose Abreu still has two years left on his contract with the White Sox and stands to make 35 to 40 million dollars in that span, depending on this coming season’s performance. He is one of the most consistent sluggers in the game and one of the few that also hits for average. If Hosmer leaves, the Royals will have to decide whether to fill that hole with a reasonably priced (this is Kansas City) free agent, use a placeholder from the current team, trade for a 1B prospect, or promote from their farm system (Samir Duenez and Ryan O’Hearn, in AA and AAA, respectively). It is possible they could re-sign Hosmer, but why? There are holes everywhere in their line up, and their only current massive position player contract is an albatross (Alex Gordon).
Second baseman Whit Merrifield had a breakout year at 28 years old in 2017. His line, .288 AVG, .324 OBP, 19 HR, 78 RBI, 57 extra base hits, 34 stolen bases, was impressive enough to get the rumor mills buzzing about perhaps moving Merrifield at his peak (like the Avi Garcia rumors that seem to have died down) for promising prospects. I think it’s safe to say if Yoan Moncada has numbers similar to Merrifield’s at the end of the 2018 season, the White Sox will be very pleased.
SS Raul Mondesi’s numbers at AAA last year, 13 HR, 52 RBI, .305 AVG, .340 OBP, 8 triples, and 21 stolen bases are in stark contrast to his career numbers in 188 major league at bats, 3 HR, 16 RBI, .181 AVG, .226 OBP, 70 strikeouts. At 22 years old, the Royals probably aren’t willing to give up on him yet, but the shine of his once vaunted prospect status has definitely dulled. Tim Anderson has similar athletic gifts to Mondesi, and at 25 years old in June, it is not unfair to say this is a make or break year as far as his future as the White Sox starting shortstop is concerned.
If even half the trade rumor whispers are to be believed, Hosmer is the more likely beloved Royal to return, and Moustakas is likely out the door. He had a career year, as impending free agents often do, hitting 16 more home runs (38) than he ever had in a single season. His slugging percentage for 2017 (.521) exceeded his career slugging percentage significantly (.425), and at 29 years old, he may receive a six year deal in free agency. Based on his ordinary numbers prior to 2017, many teams may be leery of a long term commitment to Moustakas based on one good season. The #3 prospect in the Royals system, Hunter Dozier, could get a chance at third if he’s healthy. For the Sox, is Yolmer Sanchez going to get a chance to prove he is an everyday player, or will the Sox sign a Wellington Castillo-like affordable third baseman to hold the fort, while Sanchez works as a super utility player? 3B and CF are this season’s biggest mysteries for the White Sox.
If Cain is in fact gone, the Royals outfield is made up of a ridiculously overpriced left fielder (Gordon, who will make 36 million dollars the next two years to put up numbers like these, .208 AVG, .293 OBP, 9 HR-think a very poor man’s Jason Heyward), a pedestrian center fielder in 32 year old Paulo Orlando, and former mega-prospect, now .144 hitter Jorge Soler in right. It is possible Brandon Moss, the strikeout counterpart to Matt Davidson, will get some time in right field. Nicky Delmonico doesn’t have Alex Gordon’s glove, but he’ll put up better offensive numbers if he is given a full season to show what he can do. Avi Garcia’s star is on the rise, and no one in the Royals’ outfield has his offensive potential. Center field for the White Sox is a guessing game right now. Leury Garcia? Charlie Tilson? Adam Engel (hopefully he is in the batting cage right now)?
Designated hitters Moss and Davidson will compete for the title of highest strikeout to at bat ratio.
Salvador Perez, 27 HR, 80 RBI, .792 OPS, is one of the best all around catchers in baseball. Wellington Castillo will be 31 years old in April, and he should get the bulk of innings behind the plate in front of Kevan Smith and Omar Narvaez.
Advantage White Sox
Smith and Narvaez will battle for the back up catching spot. Narvaez probably has the advantage based on defense-neither pitch frame well, nor do either hit for any power. Cheslor Cuthbert and Jorge Bonifacio will most likely be the primary bats off the bench for the Royals in 2018. Bonifacio hit 17 home runs in 384 at bats in 2017. If Leury Garcia doesn’t get the opening day nod in center field, he will be the most frequently used bench player. He showed promise last season after being offered his first extended playing time with the White Sox. He was injured in June, but should be healthy for spring training.
Danny Duffy, who seems to own the White Sox, had a breakout year in 2016, going 12-3 with a 3.51 ERA in 179.2 innings pitched and a 188 to 42 K to BB ratio. Last season the numbers fell off somewhat (9-10, 3.81 ERA in 146.1 innings pitched and a 130 to 41 K to BB ratio), but he is clearly their number one, unless they tear the whole thing down some time soon in this offseason. Duffy and Perez would be their biggest trade pieces in that scenario, with Merrifield coming up behind them. The rest of the Royals rotation is made up of number 5 starters-Ian Kennedy, Jason Hammel, and Nate Karns. The White Sox, with a healthy Carlos Rodon and a fast tracked Michael Kopech, could have a very interesting second half of the season rotation-Rodon, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Kopech, and Carson Fulmer. Rodon would be the oldest of the group at 25 years old.
Advantage White Sox
The White Sox just completed a three way deal with the Royals and Los Angeles Dodgers that brings the Sox two relief pitchers, Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan. Moving Soria brings the Royals salary relief (he’s owed 8 million dollars in 2018), but also costs them a valuable bullpen piece in Soria and Scott Alexander (who goes to the Dodgers in the deal). For K.C., that leaves LHP Ryan Buchter (4-3, 2.89 ERA in 71 games) and White Sox nemesis Kelvin Herrera to head the bullpen. Herrera’s numbers fell off last year, despite 26 saves (4.25 ERA and fewer than a strikeout per inning in 59.1 innings of work). Soria and a healthy Nate Jones will lead the White Sox bullpen, that is until Soria and Jones are flipped to contending teams in July.
Spring training is close. If you go outside in the 4 degree weather and listen really closely, you can hear the faint whisper of bat on ball.
Next: Sox vs. Tigers