What Will the Royals Do With the Veteran Hitters They Acquired This Offseason?

The Royals are 4-16, which is good for last place in the AL Central by a considerable margin (surprisingly, the Pedro Grifol-managed Chicago White Sox are in second-to-last place). As of Saturday, not only are the Royals last in the division but are tied for last in all of baseball with the Oakland Athletics.

Yep, Royals fans read that right.

Kansas City has the same record as the Athletics, who seem to be destined to move to Las Vegas soon after the A’s ownership group announced that they have come to a land deal for a possible stadium in Vegas.

The A’s have been tanking for the past couple of years in order to suppress attendance and fan support in the East Bay Area, and thus, make the move to Vegas more “justified”. If anything, what has played out in Oakland is pretty much a real-life carbon copy of the movie “Major League“, though it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be a happy ending in this version in Oakland, unfortunately.

The Royals’ story is somewhat similar, but not to those kinds of extremes.

Owner John Sherman is looking to move out of Kauffman Stadium in the near future, with the hope being a new home in Downtown Kansas City. Furthermore, JJ Picollo and the Royals front office have reiterated that this is an “evaluation” year, which is the new term for “rebuilding” in baseball. The Royals were pretty adamant that there would be growing pains in 2023, and so far, those growing pains have been evident early and often during the first 20 games this season.

Without a doubt, this is a frustrating place for Royals fans to be, especially with the season feeling pretty much over before the end of May.

That said, as I wrote in a previous post, the roster will undoubtedly go through some changes in the near future, with some players from Omaha most likely going to get an opportunity to show what they can do at the Major League level on an extended basis. Maikel Garcia, Samad Taylor, and Nick Pratto are just a few of those names, though it wouldn’t be surprising if non-40-man roster players like Tucker Bradley and Nick Loftin also get a shot at some point.

It’s hard to tell “when” those moves will exactly happen, though I imagine Royals fans will start to see some dominoes fall when we enter the month of May. And during that month, I imagine that Royals fans will not only be treated to some new faces but also see some current faces perhaps playing in different organizations sooner rather than later.

Let’s take a look at three veteran hitters currently on the Royals roster who were acquired last offseason, and what their outlook could be in the near future in Kansas City.

Jackie Bradley, Jr., OF

Bradley was a late signing by the Royals in Spring Training, pretty much as a response to Drew Waters suffering an oblique injury in camp in Surprise, Arizona. Bradley signed a Minor League deal with the Royals in Spring Training and ended up making the team and earning a one-year deal as a result.

Once considered a free agent possibility prior to the 2021 season (the Royals opted for Michael A. Taylor instead which ended up being a good choice), Bradley is coming off two rough seasons across Milwaukee, Boston, and Toronto in which he has posted wRC+ numbers of 37 and 56 in 2021 and 2022, respectively. While his glove was still solid (7.8 defensive runs above average, according to Fangraphs), his hitting was a major concern and a big reason why he didn’t garner a guaranteed Major League deal this offseason initially.

So far with the Royals, Bradley has still flashed some solid leather in the outfield, and that was on full display during this catch in Anaheim that robbed the Angels’ Brandon Drury of an extra-base hit.

On the hitting end of things though, it’s been a much more depressing story, which is not good for a Royals lineup that ranks last in both batting average and OBP so far this season.

In 13 games and 35 plate appearances, JBJ is hitting .129 with a wRC+ of 13. While he is posting a walk rate of 8.6 percent, which would be his highest walk rate since 2020 in Boston, his strikeout rate (22.9 percent) has pretty much canceled out those decent walk numbers. Furthermore, he has also demonstrated this season a lack of ability to consistently hit the ball hard (87.9 MPH average exit velocity; 34.8 percent hard-hit rate).

Hence, based on all this data, it’s hard to see where JBJ fits in with this Royals roster, especially since they have plenty of left-handed hitters available on both the active and 40-man rosters.

It always felt like Picollo and the Royals were hoping that JBJ would be a wild card that could bounce back and give the Royals defensive stability in the late innings in the best-case scenario. In the worst-case scenario, JBJ would simply be a backup outfielder for a month or two before Waters was fully healthy again, and they could add someone else to the 40-man once Waters returned.

Waters has begun his rehab assignment in Arizona, but there hasn’t been a whole lot of news about him since he made his 2023 rehab debut on April 15th. Thus, it’s indeterminate whether Waters will be ready in May as hoped, or if it may take until early June.

Regardless of Waters’ timetable, I believe JBJ will probably be one of the first players to be DFA’d by Picollo and the Royals’ front office, and I think that move could come as soon as the first week or two of May. It’s obvious that Bradley’s offense isn’t going to get any better, and while Edward Olivares’ glove has been an adventure, Olivares has at least given the Royals a solid bat in the lineup who can put it consistently in play, which can’t be said of Bradley.

Furthermore, it is likely that Taylor, who has spent some time in the outfield in Omaha this year, would be the one to replace JBJ once he gets designated for assignment.

Taylor is currently hitting .311 with a wRC+ of 119 in 17 games and 83 plate appearances, according to Fangraphs. The former Blue Jay prospect has been a mainstay at the leadoff spot for Omaha and could bring some speed and defense to the Royals lineup, though it will be interesting to see how his strikeout issues fare at the MLB level (21.7 percent K rate so far this year).

It’s been a frustrating experience for JBJ in Kansas City thus far. Royals fans should just be glad that the Royals didn’t sign him to be their everyday centerfielder back in 2021.

Matt Duffy, Inf

It made sense that Duffy made the Royals’ Opening Day roster out of Spring Training considering his ties in Tampa Bay to manager Matt Quatraro and bench coach Paul Hoover. While Duffy’s best days are behind him, he’s a right-handed bat (which they needed at the time) as well as a veteran presence on the roster who could play multiple positions in the infield.

Surprisingly, Duffy has fared well at the plate so far in Kansas City, even though he hasn’t gotten consistent playing time.

In 11 games and 29 plate appearances, the 32-year-old infielder is hitting .345 with a wRC+ of 120. Duffy has seen most of his time this year at the hot corner, as he has played seven games and accumulated 47 innings so far at the third base position in 2023.

Duffy doesn’t offer much power, as he is only producing a barrel rate of 4.9 percent and a hard-hit rate of 39.1 percent thus far this season. He also hasn’t walked at all and is striking out 20.7 percent of the time, which isn’t a great mark by any means (especially for a squad with swing-and-miss issues).

That said, he has had a penchant for coming through with runners on base, which hasn’t been the case for a lot of hitters in the Royals lineup through 20 games. Duffy has three RBI this season, with two of them coming on a two-run blast he hit at Kauffman against the Twins:

While I wish Duffy would walk more (or at all), he does have a solid line-drive approach that the Royals are sorely missing from the middle to the bottom of the batting order. And while his exit velocity numbers won’t put him in the same category as Bobby Witt, Jr. or MJ Melendez, his exit velocity metrics are much better than what the Royals are getting from Nicky Lopez and Nate Eaton.

Case in point, in last night’s game against the Angels, Zach Neto robbed a line drive from Duffy in the top of the ninth inning that honestly could’ve been a hit with a different shortstop in place.

Despite his solid, though unspectacular start to begin the year, Duffy’s future is indeterminate, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Royals flip him in some kind of deal sooner rather than later.

First off, Duffy’s defense really hasn’t been all that great, which is not surprising considering he’s been a below-replacement-level defensive player since 2016, according to Fangraphs’ Def rating. This year, he is 1.2 runs below average according to Fangraphs, which is surprisingly not much better than Hunter Dozier, the Royals’ Opening Day third baseman.

I believe Duffy’s mediocre defense is a big reason why Quatraro has penciled in Nicky Lopez as the Royals’ starting third baseman lately rather than Duffy or even Dozier (who is struggling both offensively and defensively).

Sure the hitting is nice for now, but the numbers won’t look as good once the BABIP regresses a bit (.409 BABIP so far this year). And without much defensive value, it will be tough to give Duffy consistent at-bats when there are better options available.

In addition to Lopez, another option at the hot corner could be Maikel Garcia, who has been playing more at third base this year in Omaha. Garcia not only offers stellar work with the glove, but he offers a patient eye at the plate (0.88 BB/K ratio according to Fangraphs) that would instantly boost this Royals lineup.

I mean, take a look at this play below and one can only imagine how good the left side of the Royals infield would look with Garcia paired with Witt.

Once Garcia’s power numbers spike a bit, I could see Picollo call up Garcia and insert him every day into the lineup. Duffy seems to be the most logical person whom Garcia would replace on the active roster.

It is likely that Picollo will be on the phone, trying to see what they could snag for Duffy in the next month. If a deal is not done by end of May or early June, expect Duffy to be DFA’d (or Dozier) with Garcia replacing him on the 26-man roster.

Franmil Reyes, DH/OF

First off, congratulations to Reyes and his family as they welcomed a new baby on Friday.

Secondly, Reyes may be the most complicated situation of the three players I focused on in this post.

On one end, Reyes is doing exactly what the Royals asked him to do when they acquired him this past Spring.

Yes, he is striking out a ton (38.3 percent K rate), but he is hitting .262 with a wRC+ of 99 and has two home runs and six RBI in 14 games and 47 plate appearances. He is also hitting the ball super hard, as his average exit velocity and hard-hit rate rank in the upper 100th and 97th percentiles, respectively, according to Baseball Savant.

Here’s an example of Reyes displaying that strong ability to hit the ball with authority in Texas against Rangers reliever Taylor Hearn.

The only issue I have though right now is that Reyes is not only chasing out of the zone more than ever, but he is also not getting a lot of launch under the ball, despite that premium exit velocity.

So far this year, Reyes is producing a chase rate of 31 percent, according to Savant, which would be a career-high if the season ended today. While some regression is to be expected once Reyes gets more plate appearances (he traditionally is a slow starter), the Royals lineup as a collective has struggled with swinging at balls out of the strike zone. Unfortunately, Reyes doesn’t help that problem, and they need hitters who can be more patient so they’re not ending rallies or innings with unnecessary strikeouts.

Second, the Royals also need hitters who can hit the ball into the gaps to drive in runs, and that isn’t happening consistently with Reyes, especially when looking at Statcast data. Reyes is producing an average launch angle of -2.4 degrees and a groundball rate of 56 percent, which would be both career-worst marks.

Furthermore, this isn’t something that is suddenly “happening” with Reyes, as he has struggled with launch angle over the past couple of years, according to rolling average launch angle data.

Can Reyes make enough adjustments to be that hitter that he once was back in Cleveland in 2021?

Perhaps, but he would need a lot more at-bats in order for that to happen. I’m not sure the Royals want him in a role where he gets “everyday” plate appearances, especially during a season where the Royals are “evaluating” talent for the long term. Reyes is more of a situational hitter now, and that kind of role requires more consistent results in fewer opportunities. The Royals aren’t getting that necessarily right now with Reyes, and I’m not sure they will by the end of the season.

I think the Royals will be more patient with Reyes than Duffy or JBJ, and any major moves wouldn’t happen until the Trade Deadline in July.

After all, Reyes still has one more year of club control, according to Roster Resource payroll data. So if he does show some promise and positive regression in the coming month or two, it’s possible that Reyes could be held on for at least one more season. On the other hand, though, I worry that Reyes could block Pratto, who is off to an inconsistent start in Omaha but has shown a solid hard-hit ability this year in Triple-A, and he also gives the Royals a more patient hitter who can draw walks and won’t chase as much either.

It seems like the best solution for Pratto would be for him and Vinnie to split the 1B/DH roles in Kansas City, with Pratto maybe getting a rest when Salvy needs a day off behind the plate, and/or when they are facing left-handed starters.

It’s hard to imagine that scenario happening with Reyes on the roster, especially since Reyes offers negative value in the outfield defensively (he’s been 51.8 runs below average defensively for his career, according to Fangraphs).

Reyes is an easy guy to root for and I want to be wrong about this. Reyes bouncing back in Kansas City would be a nice story during a rough, rebuilding 2023 season.

But the odds are against him, and I would rather the Royals invest in the long-term potential of Pratto than simply one or two years of Reyes.

Photo Credit: Dylan Buell/Getty Images


2 thoughts on “What Will the Royals Do With the Veteran Hitters They Acquired This Offseason?

  1. Let Reyes play, he has potential. Why is JBJ on this team? He is an all glove player, who cares. It doesn’t matter if the Royals lose by 2 runs or 8, all games count the same in this 162 game, “extended spring trading season”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree. Reyes at least gives you some pop which they need. And in the same boat with JBJ. I don’t mind them taking a chance initially, especially after Waters went out. But it’s clear that he just doesn’t have it with the bat anymore


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s