Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The State of the Royals Outfield

As Royals nation collectively awaits the official results of the MRI on Alex Gordon's left leg, we are left to ponder what this means for the team moving forward. If the early indications are true that it is a grade 3 groin strain, then (based off a limited amount of research) Gordon could be sidelined between 6 and 12+ weeks. So let's look at how that breaks down on the calendar:

6 weeks - August 19 
7 weeks - August 26
8 weeks - September 2
9 weeks  - September 9
10 weeks  - September 16
11 weeks  - September 23
12 weeks - September 30

Obviously, that's not a good situation. Another note is that the final game of the 2014 Minor League season on September 16. The importance of this is that if Gordon winds up being out 9+ weeks, then it is extremely unlikely that the Royals would have the ability to send their All-Star left fielder on rehab assignment. If Gordon winds up being out 9+ weeks, the Royals would have to reacclimate him through batting practice and a careful increase in playing time at the Major League level. 

It is not impossible to get a guy back to speed without a rehab assignment, but it does make it a bit more difficult. Not to mention the possibility that the Royals could be playing in extremely important games over the last several weeks of the season. 

Here is how I see it. If Gordon takes 9 weeks or less to return, the Royals are able to send him on rehab to the Minors and have the best chance of reintegrating him into the lineup in an effective manner. If Gordon takes between 9 and 11 weeks to return to game shape, the Royals have a shot of getting him back for October. If Gordon takes 12 or more weeks before he is ready for game action, the Royals will find themselves in an incredibly difficult spot of whether or not he should be included on a postseason roster when he has hardly played for two and a half months. 

Long story short, if the news comes back that Gordon has sustained a grade 3 groin strain, then the team must approach this as though they will not see Gordon again this season. Prior to the injury, I had enough faith in Jarrod Dyson that I didn't believe the Royals needed to acquire a corner outfielder to replace the lackadaisical Alex Rios. Now, I believe it is quite certain that the Royals should seek out replacement opportunities. 

I view this situation in two parts. First, there is the 2015 problem. Rios is terrible and now Gordon is hurt. The Royals need to fill two outfield spots and they have a solution for one (Dyson). The second part of this is 2016. While the injury will increase the likelihood that Alex Gordon returns to Kansas City for the 2016 season, there is still a very good chance that he departs. If this is the case then the Royals return just Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, and Paulo Orlando. Even if Dyson proves that he can play everyday in 2016, the Royals still need another starting outfielder. 

If you find an outfielder now, you get the benefit of improving the roster for the remainder of 2015 by pushing aside Rios, while also getting a step ahead in setting the 2016 roster. If by chance the Royals are able to bring back Gordon for 2016, then they again can push Dyson into a rotation role as the fourth outfielder and will be even stronger a unit for the 2016 campaign.

It is my opinion that the outfielder the Royals need will come via trade. Some would argue that there are capable internal replacements and here is how I would counter on each of those options.

Paulo Orlando - Fourth Outfielder

Brett Eibner - The former second round pick has some promise. He is 26, extremely streaky at the plate, plays good defense, and has a good arm. He is also hitting .292/.349/491 in Omaha. There is a part of me that believes he could grab and handle an everyday job. However, I also know that Werner Park heavily favors right handed power and as a 26 year old, he needs to prove it in the Majors. The scenario that I prefer is that the Royals acquire a starting RF and Eibner gets called up in replace of Orlando or as a 5th outfielder. Given his power from the right side, I think he complements the roster better than Orlando. There is already a ton of speed, but a power bat off the bench would be a bonus and Eibner could even wind up in the small side of a platoon with Dyson.

Whit Merrifield - Based on reports it sounds like Merrifield could be the guy to replace Gordon on the roster. The former 9th round pick is an easy player to root for, but he is 26 and is currently slugging .392 in a hitter friendly league. He gets bonus points for being able to play both outfield and second base, but I don't see the South Carolina product as an answer.

Moises Sierra/Reymond Fuentes/Jose Martinez - All of these guys have done enough to get a chance to fill a void on the roster for a little bit. However, the Royals aren't filling this hole with any of these retreads.

Lane Adams - At 25 years old, the toolsy outfielder is barely hanging on to the prospect label. He's excellent defensively, can steal bases, and shows flashes at the plate. He received a cup of coffee last September and the organization loves his athleticism. Similar to Eibner, I think he is a guy who could complement Dyson well in a platoon role for left field. However, he isn't going to ever be an everyday outfielder.

Jorge Bonifacio/Bubba Starling - I've lumped these two 22 year olds together because I think at this point they have similar trajectories. Both could be in a position at some point in 2016 to deserve a look as an everyday guy. At this point, it is clear that both need more minor league seasoning. Unless the Royals decide to go the Salvador Perez route  in their developmental approach, neither of these prospects will be slam dunks to deserve a Major League spot at the beginning of 2016.

All of this brings us back to my initial conclusion. The Royals need to add a corner outfielder to the roster sometime in the next few weeks. It will be an enormous boost to the team for 2015, and will also better position the team for success in 2016. 

I've been wanting to get going on here for awhile, but have been considering who other options. It is good to be back and I'll try to break down some specific trade targets over the next few weeks. 

Follow me on Twitter @Landon_Adams

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