The Kansas City Royals knew 2018 could be a long season, but they never imagined it would bottom out with 104 losses.
The Royals had been on a long run of success, falling one game short of winning it all in 2014 before finally breaking through to win the World Championship in 2015.
They were competitive in 2016 and then tried to keep the gang together for one last run in 2017, knowing they were going to lose their core to free agency. But that flamed out and they had to say goodbye to Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Jason Vargas and Melky Cabrera, though they did retain Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar. They also dealt away Scott Alexander and Joakim Soria as there was a major turnover.
General Manager Dayton Moore went for a stopgap with the signings of players like Jon Jay and Lucas Duda, but they were long gone before the season was over. Since he was going to lose Moustakas at the end of the year, he made a deal with Milwaukee for prospects, and did the same with Washington for longtime reliever Kelvin Herrera as he needed to replenish the farm system.
KC was 27-68 at the All-Star break, and Moore and manager Ned Yost decided to go with a full-blown youth movement during the second half, the record be damned. The result was a solid second half, including a winning September that has rekindled the interest of Yost, who is coming back in 2019.
The 2019 Royals are going to look a lot like the 2018 Royals. Moore and Yost are committed to the young talent they have developed and acquired, not to mention they have to get a handle on the payroll, which ballooned during the World Championship season, and then the Royals paid a lot to players that didn't perform well during 2016 and 2017.
Here's how the 2019 Royals should line up:
1B — Ryan O'Hearn. After struggling early, O'Hearn finished with a .262 average with 12 homers in just 149 at-bats. Project him out a full season and he could hit more than 30 homers, an anomaly in Kansas City. He has to figure out how to be at least average against lefties.
2B — Whit Merrifield. My only worry is that we've seen the best he can do and it’s downhill from here. An amazing season in which he led the league in hits and stolen bases. Just keep doing more of the same.
SS — Aldaberto Mondesi. He's the guy who has Royals fans most excited. He hit 14 homers and stole 32 bases in less than half a season. My concern for him is he might get caught up in hitting homers instead of using his speed.
3B — Hunter Dozier. Still not sold on him as he has a lot of holes in his swing and oddly, doesn't hit lefties as well as righties. Does have some pop though.
LF — Alex Gordon. A really nice finish to the season and the Royals are still on the hook for one last year of his albatross contract. Finished with 54 RBIs after a horrible start and even stole 12 bases.
CF — Brian Goodwin. I like him more than Brett Phillips, who doesn't make enough contact but is a better fielder. Phillips will make a good backup though.
RF — Jorge Bonifacio — Make-or-break year for him. Power numbers were way down, but missed the first 80 games to suspension. Phillips could take the job away from him next year.
C — Salvador Perez. Just think what he'd do if he had any semblance of the strike zone as he gets himself out more than the pitchers do. Yet, he still had 27 homers and 80 RBIs despite playing 129 games, several as a DH. If he would take the ball to right field, he'd probably hit .270.
DH — Jorge Soler. Can this guy ever stay healthy? DH is the best spot for him because he always gets hurt. Teased Royals fans with a couple of real hot streaks before going down for the year. Drove in 28 runs in 61 games, not too bad.
Starting pitchers — Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Jakob Junis, Brad Keller and Heath Fillmyer. There's a chance the Royals could pick up a veteran starter to challenge for a spot, but these guys all showed at times they're more than capable. Keller probably won't be as good next year as the league will start to figure him out, but Duffy could bounce back if he gets his head on straight. Junis and Kennedy have to keep the ball in the park and there's been talk Fillmyer might go to the bullpen with Erik Skoglund maybe getting a chance to start.
Bullpen — The No. 1 weakness. This area was a disaster and a decent bullpen would have probably been good for 10 more wins. I think Jorge Lopez moves from the rotation to the pen while Willy Peralta will be given a chance to close as even though he made Yost nervous at times, he always found a way to get it done. Kevin McCarthy probably will be back, but you have to wonder about pedestrian guys like Brandon Maurer, Ben Lively, Jerry Vasto, Brian Flynn, Glenn Sparkman, Tim Hill, Burch Smith and Jake Newberry. Hill and Flynn will probably return, but the rest will have to prove they belong during sprint training. Injured pitchers like Trevor Oaks and Jesse Hahn, acquired last year in trades but never really a factor, might get a look.