Kansas City Royals
2022 Record: 65-97
Last place, AL Central
Team ERA: 4.70 (27th in MLB)
Team OPS: .686 (25th in MLB)
What Went Right
The Royals found some building blocks for a revamped lineup in rookies Bobby Witt Jr., Vinnie Pasquantino and MJ Melendez. Witt, who just turned 22 in June, managed 20 homers and 30 steals while splitting time between short and third base. Pasquantino appeared in 72 games with an .832 OPS and more walks (35) than strikeouts (34). Melendez, called up to catch when Salvador Perez got hurt, managed to contribute as an outfielder when he wasn't needed behind the plate and wound up with 18 homers in 129 games. The team's young pitchers didn't fare as well, but Brady Singer was a notable exception. Despite being left out of the rotation initially, he wound up 10-5 with a 3.23 ERA and a 150/35 K/BB ratio in 153 1/3 innings. Zack Greinke barely struck out anyone and finished 4-13, but he was still a solid pitcher in his return to Kansas City at age 38, finishing with a 3.68 ERA.
What Went Wrong
Adalberto Mondesi got hurt again, and Perez, Whit Merrifield and Nicky Lopez all saw declines from 2021. The Royals ended up trading Merrifield, Andrew Benintendi and Carlos Santana, though they waited far too long to move Merrifield and didn't appear to net strong returns for any of the vets. Brad Keller, Carlos Hernandez, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar and Kris Bubic all struggled mightily, leaving what seemed to be a rather promising group of young starters a year ago now just a giant question mark beyond Singer. The disappointing season for a franchise that was supposed to be on the way back up following a 74-win 2021 campaign resulted in president of baseball operations Dayton Moore, manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred all losing their jobs.
**Witt was easily the Royals' most valuable player in fantasy this season and will warrant first-round consideration in drafts next year. One of the game's fastest players, he could make a run at 50 steals with the new rules limiting pickoffs and increasing base sizes going into effect. He might not be quite ready to hit 30 homers yet, particularly with Kauffman Stadium holding him back in that department, but 20-25 isn't bad and having dual position eligibility adds to his case, especially with third base looking rather shallow at the moment.
**Mondesi blew out his knee in his 15th game of the season in April, costing him the rest of the year. This comes after he was limited to just 35 games in 2021. Mondesi was a dynamic player the previous three years, stealing 99 bases and hitting 29 homers in 236 games from 2018-20, and he should be in his prime as he plays at age 27 next year. Still, there's just no telling what the Royals and fantasy leaguers will get from him. He'll have too much upside to ignore if he slips into the middle rounds, but it's also true that his ceiling will be lower if, as expected, steals are easier to come by next year.
**The Royals outfield is unsettled beyond Michael A. Taylor, who might be a trade candidate given the lack of quality center field options around the league. Making Taylor expendable is former Braves prospect Drew Waters, who came alive following his acquisition last summer and hit a surprising .240/.324/.379 in 32 games in his major league debut. Even if Taylor stays, Waters could start in a corner. Still, if the Royals want to contend next year, adding a quality outfielder would help a bunch. Should the Royals keep Taylor and sign an outfielder, then Waters, Edward Olivares and Melendez could contend for one opening, with the DH spot also available as a fallback. Olivares is probably the best player of that bunch right now, but while he looked like a legitimate starting option in his 53 games last year, he's another player who has struggled to stay healthy.
**In Perez and Melendez, the Royals will perhaps have two of the top 10 catchers off the board in fantasy leagues next year. Perez certainly will be up there. He couldn't follow up his stunning 48-homer 2021 season with something similar, but he still had 23 homers and 76 RBI even while being limited to 114 games. Melendez will be riskier, since Perez will do most of the catching. Still, there's plenty to like about his left-handed bat. He was easily above average in all of the exit velocity categories as a rookie, and he runs pretty well. His .217 average was fueled by a .258 BABIP, and there's little reason to think he'll fare so badly there again next year.
**Singer figures to be worth drafting as a fifth or sixth starting pitcher in mixed leagues next season, but the rest of the rotation is pretty bleak. Keller likely will get another chance after finishing out this season as a reliever. The Royals were hoping his stuff would play up out of the pen, but that didn't materialize. He can at least eat innings, and he should be more effective if the Royals' defense rebounds with Mondesi back and fewer players playing out of position. Lynch will also probably be favored to retain a spot. His 20% strikeout and 9% walk rates were at least improvements from his 15-start rookie season in 2021, and no one is going to want to give up on a four-pitch lefty with a 94-mph fastball this quickly.
Key Free Agents: Greinke
Team Needs: Rather than go outside of the organization for a new operations head after dismissing Moore, the Royals opted to elevate top lieutenant J.J. Picollo, who has been with the franchise since Moore was hired in 2006. That'd seem to mean the team will stay the course, but that might be for the best now anyway. The Royals have enough offensive pieces that it's possible to imagine them contending in a weak division next year, but it'd probably take an unrealistic number of pitching breakthroughs to make it happen. Come next winter, the Royals will have a better idea if any of their non-Singer starters are keepers and their young hitters will be closer to entering their primes. They can re-sign Greinke and maybe add one bat for 2023, but 2024 ought to be the main focus.