Remember This Royals Offseason
The Royals have been stuck in purgatory since they won the World Series in 2015. This winter could change things.
Since gracing the top of the baseball world in 2015, the Kansas City Royals have gone a dismal 499-695 since, good for being one of the worst clubs in the sport.
With Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Wade Davis, Alex Gordon, and Alcides Escobar packed up and gone, Salvador Perez is the last remaining player of that special core. And while he did hit 23 HR in 2023, he’s past his prime, posting a sluggish 0.5 rWAR over 140 games.
Top prospects like Khalil Lee, Seuly Matias, Hunter Dozier, Matt Strahm, and Asa Lacy haven’t panned out or have been traded. Fan attendance has been on the decline. And their pitching staff has lacked a true workhorse since the passing of Yordano Ventura.
Yet, for the first time in a while, things seem to be trending in the right direction. Here’s why:
Bobby Witt Jr
To address the elephant in the room, I’ll lean toward Bobby Witt Jr first.
The former #2 overall draft pick in 2019, Witt Jr has been as advertised. After clubbing 20 HR and stealing 30 bags as a rookie in 2022, he still had question marks with a 98 wRC+ and poor defense.
At the age of 23 in ‘23, the son of Bobby Witt stepped up big time. Witt Jr silenced any doubts cast upon him with a remarkable 5.7 fWAR, 30 HR, 49 SB, 115 wRC+, .495 SLG%, and 14 OAA - good for the top 98% of defensive Major Leaguers. It was an all-out thrashing.
A notorious small market club, there were questions of whether or not Kansas City would be able to retain him for the long-term future. On Monday, they did.
The impending super-star shortstop inked a 11-year deal with the Royals, worth 288.7 million dollars. While this is expensive, there’s no questioning whether or not this is worth it for KC. Witt Jr is officially the new face of the franchise the team has lacked since their 2014-2015 World Series clubs.
Start buying those jerseys.
It’s no secret the Royals needed rotation help after 2023. Their club posted a 5.17 team ERA, good for the third worst in all of MLB.
However, the rise of Cole Ragans post-deadline was a sight to see. The left-hander came on the other side of the Aroldis Chapman trade and immediately went to work. A 2.4 rWAR and a 3.47 ERA over 96 frames with 113 strikeouts opened many eyes.
Ragans looks to be the rotation ace Kansas City has so desperately needed in 2024. He has sky-high expectations - and could exceed them. Besides Ragans, their staff was in dire need of some help.
Spending money isn’t in the Roylas repertoire, yet the front office splurged this winter.
The club went out and traded for Braves starter Kyle Wright, who came in 10th in NL Cy Young voting in 2022, where he twirled a 3.19 ERA with 21 wins and 174 K’s over 180 frames. After acquiring Wright, they spent heavily on two veteran arms, Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha.
Lugo, 34, was stellar for the Padres in 2023, with a 3.57 ERA, and 140 punchouts across 146+ innings. Since becoming a starter, he’s put up very promising numbers.
Wacha on the other hand, is entering his age 32 season. The right-hander has had two terrific seasons in a row with Boston and San Diego, posting a sub-3.33 ERA twice, while sitting down 228 during that span.
These three proven arms should play big for Kansas City in 2024, putting pressure off the young guys Ragans and Singer. Relievers Nick Anderson and Will Smith will also head toward Kauffman Stadium this spring, shaping together a much more experienced staff.
Perhaps there’s no player I’m more excited to see a return to health in 2024 than the “Pasquatch”. Vinnie Pasquantino broke out in 2022, walking 35 times compared to 34 strikeouts, and clubbing 12 HR with a 135 OPS+ over his first 72 MLB contests.
In 2023, Pasquantino only suited up for 61 games as he was sidelined with a torn right labrum. It’ll be key for Kansas City to have him back in ‘24.
On December 19th, 2023, the Royals tabbed Hunter Renfroe to a 2-year, $13M contract, once again spending money in an attempt to flip the script.
Despite having a down year where he played for three different clubs, optimism remains with Renfroe because he still grabbed 20 bombs during a floor season. The 32-year-old should plug right into the heart of Kansas City’s lineup and has 177 career HR over 8 seasons.
It’s also worth noting that the club traded for Nelson Velazquez last season, and the former Cub shined, posting a 136 OPS+ and 14 HR in his change of scenery. Not to mention the team signed veteran-friendly deals with regulars Garrett Hampson and Adam Frazier to add some needed depth.
Baseball fans could be looking back at this Royals offseason as one where the club retained their home-grown star and added tons of Big League talent to climb out of their rebuild.