I do not want to admit that the Kansas City Royals’ playoff chances are all but dead.
But, with a record of 76-79 that places them 5.5 games back of the second Wild Card spot, their fate is all but set. They would have to win their remaining seven games to have any shot at winning that second Wild Card spot. And, with FiveThirtyEight giving them a <1% chance of making the playoffs, winning their next seven would likely not be enough.
So what does that leave the Royals to consider over the final week of the regular season? With an offseason of massive roster overhauls surely set to begin after the season’s final out, the team must have a definitive strategy for each and every player. While the likes of Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, and Mike Moustakas could all be gone in a matter of days, there are still many decisions to be made about personnel that are still under contract.
With essentially a free week of baseball games, manager Ned Yost, and general manager Dayton Moore, now have the time to experiment and come to conclusions on the value that some players have to the team.
Several things for them to consider are:
What to do with Alex Gordon?
While Gordon is only hitting an abysmal .211 on the year, he still has positive value as a player. According to ESPN, his wins-above-replacement for the season is 0.6 wins, which can largely be attributed to his 1.1 wins above replacement in the field. Gordon has shown himself to be a below-average hitter for large parts of this season, however, as of late, he has been hitting the ball much better. Since September 1st, Gordon is hitting .284, with four home runs, and a .888 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
None of Gordon’s overall trends this year suggest that this September surge is anything more than a fluke, but, the Royals cannot afford for it to be such. As an elite defensive player, Gordon could still have value to future playoff-contending teams if he can continue his offensive trend into next season. While Gordon has primarily been a left-fielder since 2010, he has logged 61 innings in center field this season. The Royals should look to give him a couple of starts in center field over their final seven games. If he does not show a significant drop-off in defensive performance, being able to play both left and center could do wonders to his trade value next season.
Obviously, barring unforeseen free-agent moves by the team, Gordon will probably not be part of another playoff contending Royals team. His value to them in the future is as a trading chip, who at 33 years old, could still provide solid defense and a left-handed bat to a contending team come 2018.
Find out what they have in Raul Mondesi Jr.
Alcides Escobar has arguably been the Royals’ best and most-consistent hitter since September 1st. Like Gordon, he has struggled for extensive periods this season, however, he has hit .360 over the last month. In evaluating Escobar since the all star break, he has been a completely different hitter, and has struck out less, and gotten on base more.
Ultimately, Escobar, like Gordon, does not fit into the Royals’ long-term plans for contending. Whether he leaves as a free agent this offseason (like many expect of him), or he returns for another couple of years, the Royals are just biding their time until they can replace him with Raul Mondesi Jr.
While Mondesi Jr. was unimpressive in his extensive role as the Royals’ primary second baseman in the month of April, he has mistakenly been used sparingly since the Royals called him up again on September 1st. Since Mondesi Jr. was sent down at the end of April, the Royals found a second baseman–Whit Merrifield–so Mondesi Jr. must now prove his worth as a full-time shortstop in the majors.
Yost and Moore should take this final week to give Mondesi Jr. full control of the shortstop position. Since being called up on September 1st, Mondesi Jr. has only appeared in six games, and has started zero. After hitting .305 in triple-A this year, the Royals should allow him to get full games of at-bats, and see if he continues to struggle like he did in April. So much of being a successful MLB player is learning how to make adjustments once pitchers get enough footage of hitter tendencies. Now is the time to embrace the struggle with Mondesi Jr., and see if he can make the necessary adjustments. At just 22 years of age, he could still be a couple of years away from being an impact regular, but with nothing to play for at this point, the Royals might as well evaluate his readiness now.
The Royals fans definitely deserve to see their favorite players wear the Royals uniform once last time. However, the ultimately goal of the team is to rebuild quickly enough so that the fans do not have to wait another 30 years for a World Series win. While the final seven games of the season may appear trivial, now is the best time to begin making moves for a third world series win.
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