The Royals are two games into their final seven-game home stand of the COVID-shortened 2020 season, as they have split the first two games of a three-game series with the rival St. Louis Cardinals. In addition to having one more game against the Cardinals on Wednesday, the Royals will finish the year with a four-game series against the Detroit Tigers, a slate of games which could in fact determine fourth place in the AL Central.
Yes, riveting television for the casual Kansas City sports fan, I know.
That being said, though it will be another “postseason-less” campaign for the Royals, fans should still tune in as the Boys in Blue finish the 2020 season. In fact, let’s take a look at three interesting storylines worth following over the remainder of the week and weekends as the Royals close the season at Kauffman Stadium.
Alex Gordon’s last hurrah?
As of now, it seems really difficult to imagine the Royals bringing back Gordo for another season in 2021. After spending his entire 14-year-career in Kansas City, I get that Gordo is a legend in Kansas City, and he probably deserves his own statue in the outfield area at Kauffman Stadium in the near future. Hopefully that statue would be of this moment below:
That being said, at 36-years-old and with a wRC+ of 73 in 2020 (nearly 23 points lower than a year ago), it seems like Gordo doesn’t fit with the current trajectory of this Royals roster, which is not just rebuilding, but looking to find young talents to build around in the near future. The Royals do not need to waste more at-bats on a soon-to-be 37-year-old outfielder who is not even able to produce average production at the plate (even though he has continued to be solid defensively in left field)
Unfortunately, Gordo just seems to be a square peg in the Royals’ round “rebuilding hole” and has been that for the past couple of years. Hence, with only a one-year contract that expires after 2020, it would be wise for the Royals part ways with Gordo after 2020, which could come through his retirement or him signing with another organization (though the former may be more preferable since he can say he started and finished as a Royal).
It is a tough reality to accept, but the sun has set on Gordo’s career, and the Royals need to make the move to find a more long-term replacement in left field next season. And hence, with that in mind, this could be the last time Royals fans witness Gordo in a Royals uniform. It is bittersweet for sure, and I know both he and the Royals wish he could have gone out in Kansas City in front of the Royals faithful at Kauffman Stadium. That being said, the Royals and Gordo parting ways in 2020 is the best for both sides. Thus, for any Royals fan who is a fan of Gordo and what he has done in Kansas City, this final home stand should be appointment television.
Greg Holland making a case for one more year in KC?
The Royals acquisition of Greg Holland this off-season seemed to be more for nostalgia’s sake than actual production. After all, Holland had failed to stay in the Diamondbacks bullpen in 2019, and his tenure with the Cardinals was a short-lived one to say the least. However, despite a checkered history since leaving Kansas City following the 2015 season, Holland has become one of the Royals’ best relievers during this shortened campaign.
This year, Holland is posting a 1.91 ERA in 28 appearances and 28.1 IP. He has accumulated 6 saves and a 1.0 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference, even though he wasn’t seen as the closer at the beginning of the season. However, the struggles of Ian Kennedy and the trade of Trevor Rosenthal to San Diego mid-season, opened the door for Holland to be the Royals closer, and he has performed admirably in the role, even though the Royals have intriguing options available such as Josh Staumont, Jesse Hahn, Scott Barlow, and Kyle Zimmer.
That being said, Holland will be a free agent after this season, and Dayton Moore will have an intriguing dilemma with Holland this Winter. The Royals have enough depth to handle the departure of Holland, and it could open the door for the Royals to perhaps develop a closer for the foreseeable future in Staumont in 2021. However, bullpen arms can be erratic and unpredictable, which was on full display Tuesday evening as Zimmer had to leave the game due to a “nerve” issue (which doesn’t sound good).
Therefore, it would not be surprising to see Moore bring Holland back for at least one more year, with the hope that, in addition to providing insurance to then, they can perhaps trade him this time around at the Trade Deadline should he repeat his 2020 performance in ’21. Holland’s metrics bode well for a repeat performance: he is posting a FIP of 2.51, a GB rate rate of 51.4 percent and a K/BB ratio of 4.43, all major improvements from 2019. And thus, it may be in the Royals’ best interest to bring “Dirty South” back with the idea that he could be a Rosenthal 2.0: excel in the closer’s role in the beginning and then get traded for a decent package that boosts the Royals farm system in the middle of the season.
If Holland can continue to excel over the next five games, and keep that ERA under 2, then it seems highly likely that Royals fans will be seeing Holland back again in a Royals uniform in 2021.
Could this be Bubba Starling’s ‘swan song’ due to a crowded outfield situation next year?
Starling got the start tonight and unfortunately, he did not make the most out of it: he went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and was pinch hit for in the ninth inning by Ryan O’Hearn, who also promptly struck out to end the game. Even though there was some hope for Starling in 2020 after a solid Spring Training and Summer Camp, the Gardner, Kansas native has failed to do much in his second season in Kansas City, as he is currently posting a 0.16 BB/K ratio (highlighted by a 41.0 percent strikeout rate), .480 OPS, and 28 wRC+. Yes, Starling has tremendous athleticism and has showed defensive potential in the outfield in Kansas City since being called up in 2019. However, he also is posting a .544 OPS in 261 plate appearances at the Major League level, and that may not be good enough for a roster spot on the 40-man in 2021.
Especially with the outfield becoming more jammed next season.
As of now, it seems like Whit Merrifield will be a more regular mainstay in the outfield (thanks to Nicky Lopez’s defense), and it seems likely that Edward Olivares and Nick Heath will also be back in the outfield in 2021 as well. Add that with a healthy Franchy Cordero, who will look to compete for a starting position in 2021, as well as the possible additions of Khalil Lee and Kyle Isbel, who both played at the Alternate Site this year, and it is easy to see the difficult situation Moore has on his hands with the outfield.
And unfortunately for Starling, he looks to be the odd-man out. He will be 29-years-old next August, and with a career wRC+ of 43, it doesn’t appear that Starling will develop into much more than what he currently is as a player at the Major League level. He has some raw power, speed, and athleticism, but he strikes out far too often, and doesn’t walk enough or hit with enough power to justify regular playing time let alone a spot as a backup or utility outfielder off the bench.
Thus, much like Gordo, due to this crowded outfield situation, it seems like Royals fans should enjoy the last days of Starling in Kansas City, and perhaps in Major League Baseball in general. It would not be surprising to see him get one or two more starts over the next five games, not necessarily as a chance to prove himself, but rather as a parting gift for his eventual departure from the Royals roster this Winter. It was nice to see Starling make the Royals roster and make it through nearly two seasons, especially after 2018, when it seemed like he would never play in a Royals uniform due to a history of injury and ineffectiveness in the Royals farm system.
That being said, there are too many options available for the Royals to waste a roster spot on Starling (or Gordon for that matter).
It was fun while it lasted Southern Johnson County Royals fans.