5 key questions facing Royals this offseason

October 29th, 2020

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals had hoped to make a mad dash for the playoffs in 2020 with a 60-game sprint.

That didn’t happen, but Kansas City won 12 of its final 18 games and manager Mike Matheny said repeatedly that the season's end will build momentum going into 2021.

Now, as the Royals move into the offseason, they have several decisions to make. Here are five questions for the club to consider.

1) Can Royals re-sign Holland and bring back Rosenthal?
The biggest surprise in 2020 was the Royals’ exceptional bullpen. In '19, Kansas City had the second-worst 'pen ERA (5.07) in the American League. This season, it improved to eighth in MLB with a 3.84 ERA and became a strength of the team, notching the save in 19 of 20 opportunities. Part of that excellence was the emergence of Josh Staumont, Scott Barlow, Jesse Hahn, Kyle Zimmer and others. Two pending free agents, Trevor Rosenthal (who was traded to San Diego) and Greg Holland, recorded 13 of those 19 saves. Both are Scott Boras clients, and both resurrected their careers in Kansas City. Can the Royals re-sign Holland and bring back Rosenthal?

The issue is that funds will be tight as new owner John Sherman took a hard financial hit in his first season. Any free agent the Royals pursue this offseason will come with the caveat that it will have to be a cost-efficient deal for Kansas City, and that includes Holland or Rosenthal. While the Royals have less than $40 million committed in contracts to Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield, that figure is misleading because the Royals potentially have 11 players eligible for arbitration, including Jorge Soler, Maikel Franco, Brad Keller, Adalberto Mondesi, Hunter Dozier, etc. When the smoke clears, the Royals’ 2021 payroll could push over $70 million. That’s a big ask of Sherman, who has no guarantee there will be a significant revenue source in 2021 because of the ongoing pandemic. There already are whispers at Kauffman Stadium that finances will be extremely tight this winter.

2) What to do about Duffy?
Duffy, 31, is entering the final year of his five-year, $65 million deal. He was at times exceptional in 2020, but he still finished 4-4 with a 4.95 ERA. Plus, Duffy's inability to make a team flight on Sept. 14 forced the Royals to use Jakob Junis as an emergency starter on Sept. 15, and the results were not good: The team's six-game winning streak ended that night. Duffy has often said that he wants to be buried a Royal, and Moore and the club want him to retire as a Royal. But one wonders if Kansas City will listen intently to offers on Duffy this offseason, out of financial necessity. The Royals have a huge wave of young starters coming up, and it might be time to move toward the future. But moving Duffy’s $15.5 million contract for 2021 likely would require the Royals eating a good portion of the deal.

3) What to do with Junis?
The Royals have been patient with Junis over the past two years, and while some in the organization have felt he would better serve the team as a reliever, the club has stuck with him in the rotation. Those days as a starter may be over for Junis, who had a 6.94 ERA through six starts this season before Matheny finally pulled the plug, believing Junis could be a huge asset in the bullpen. In two relief outings, Junis gave up zero runs and struck out three. He could become a major part of the setup crew in 2021.

4) Who is Royals' future first baseman?
As the Royals wait for No. 12 prospect Nick Pratto’s bat to come around, they have tried to experiment with Ryan O’Hearn and Ryan McBroom at first base. Both O’Hearn and McBroom have shown that they have potential offensively. Defensively, though, they have their shortcomings. And Kansas City under Moore has been adamant that defense comes first. That is the main reason that Matheny moved Hunter Dozier to first base in September and kept him there for the rest of the season. Matheny believes Dozier has AL Gold Glove Award potential at that position, and there seems little doubt that Dozier will be at first base when the team arrives in Surprise, Ariz., in February.

5) Who takes over for Gordon?
It won’t be easy filling in for left fielder Alex Gordon, a seven-time AL Gold Glove Award winner who just retired. But when asked this question in a season-ending Zoom conference, both Moore and Matheny repeatedly brought up Franchy Cordero -- who was acquired in the Tim Hill trade in late July -- as a possible replacement. Cordero will need to spend days, weeks and perhaps months with outfield coach and guru Rusty Kuntz to get remotely close to Gordon’s level of skill. But Cordero has impressed the coaching staff with his offensive ability. The guess here is that Cordero will get the first crack at filling in at left field.