The Royals are so close to being fun if they would just get over themselves

What makes the 2022 Kansas City Royals team so frustrating is not that they are losing at an incredible pace. The Royals lost at an incredible pace in both 2018 and 2019 and I don’t think anyone was super unhappy about it—if you take any team and remove half a dozen of their best players, they’re not gonna do well. It was the price they paid to go for it in 2017 and 2018.

No, what makes the 2022 Royals so frustrating is that they could be very fun and, most likely, better right this very second. They don’t have to fire the general manager (though that would improve some things). They don’t have to fire the manager (though that too would improve some things). They don’t have to fire the pitching coach (though—well, you get the point). They’ve got the tools in the cupboard—at least on the position player side—and all they have to do is, like, go get those tools.

Implementing the Fun Lineup isn’t just giving writers and fans what they want. It’s legitimately the best way for the team to see what they have. And, importantly, any players called up from Triple-A can be sent back to Triple-A if they’re not doing well. You can do that! So, what does the Fun Lineup look like? It’s pretty simple.

(A note: I know that Salvador Perez and Michael A. Taylor are on the injured list, but both should be back before long)

Infield

  • First Base: Vinnie Pasquantino, 24
  • Second Base: Nicky Lopez, 27
  • Shortstop: Bobby Witt Jr., 22
  • Third Base: Emmanuel Rivera, 26

Vinnie Pasquantino has at least a 140 wRC+ in each individual stop in his minor league history. He walks a lot and hits a lot of homers and doesn’t strike out. He has no business being in Triple-A. And yet, here we are. He’d make the team better and would probably be its best hitter, if we’re being honest (outside a Salvador Perez season a la last year).

Meanwhile, I’m shifting Bobby Witt Jr. over to shortstop and putting Nicky Lopez at second base. The reason for this is simple: someone else is a better fit for third base. For now, Emmanuel Rivera ought to get a good, long look—at least a few hundred plate appearances. He doesn’t have anything left to prove in Triple-A. Can he be a viable big leaguer? There’s only one way to find out.

Outfield

  • Left Field: Andrew Benintendi, 27
  • Center Field: Kyle Isbel, 25
  • Right Field: Nick Pratto, 23

Look, Andrew Benintendi is a good player. For his career, he’s been worth 2.5 WAR per 150 games. And he’s only 27. He deserves to be there. The other two spots are a little spicier. Kyle Isbel probably projects long-term as a corner outfielder. But can he handle a big league center field? Can he be a reliable bat? We don’t know the answer to either.

As far as Nick Pratto, well, this is just the best place to put him. And don’t say he can’t do it—he’s athletic enough. If Andrew Vaughn and Ryan O’Hearn are out here playing right field, and the Royals were perfectly fine with Jorge freaking Soler playing right field, they can certainly stick Pratto there and see what he’s got.

Catcher/DH Rotation

  • Catcher/DH: Salvador Perez, 32
  • DH/Catcher: MJ Melendez, 23

Straightforward here. MJ Melendez could be a corner outfield candidate or third base candidate—he played both positions in the minors last year and this year—but sharing DH and catching duties with Salvy makes sense.

Bench

  • Outfield: Michael A. Taylor, 31
  • Outfield/Infield: Hunter Dozier, 30
  • Outfield/Infield: Whit Merrifield, 33

At first glance, this seems like a lot of money that’s just sitting on the bench, but all three are going to play pretty regularly. There are three reasons for this. One, the above proposed starting lineup has, essentially, five rookies in it. They’re going to struggle, they’re going to need some time off. That’s fine and expected.

The other reason why these guys are going to get regular playing time is that they’re versatile. Michael A. Taylor is one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball—he can play all three outfield spots well, and is an ideal defensive replacement a la Jarrod Dyson. Hunter Dozier can play four positions. Whit Merrifield can play four positions.

The final reason why they’re going to get regular playing time is that the proposed starting lineup features six lefties. Against certain lefty starters, strategic platoons would be a good idea and would maximize everyone’s contributions.

…but don’t get your hopes up

The benefits of this lineup are super clear: the 2022 Royals aren’t winning anything. As such, they have a superpower, and that superpower is being able to A) give long, extended trial looks to players who might otherwise not get them and B) allow top prospects to adjust to the league on their own terms and on their own time.

Unfortunately, the Royals are very unlikely to do this, because to do this would be a 180 of sorts in regards to roster construction, general strategy, and roster usage.

I must confess, though, that I do not understand why the Royals haven’t gone all-in on a let-the-kids-play rebuild yet. The most likely reason why Merrifield and Taylor are playing every day and why Carlos Santana and Ryan O’Hearn are still on the roster is some variation of “These players give us the best chance to win.”

Let’s cut right to the chase here: that answer is bullshit. They do not give the Royals the best chance to win, not for the future and certainly not now. Did you know that Merrifield’s wRC+ over his last 1300 plate appearances is 86? Did you know that Santana’s wRC+ over his last 1000 plate appearances is 86? Did you know that Taylor’s career wRC+ in 2435 plate appearances is 79? These are bad hitters who are over 30 and are just going to get worse; the decline is already here, as Merrifield’s OPS this season starts with a 4 attests. And in O’Hearn’s case, he is simply not a big league caliber player. No hate towards him; that’s just how it is.

To put it another way: if these players were so good, the Royals would have won some damn games already. It is precisely because of a lack of good young talent and an overabundance of mediocre, declining veteran talent that the Royals are bad this year and, shocker, were also bad last year and the year before that and the year before that and the year before that.

What is different about this season compared to the last four is that the Royals finally have the talent to put together a starting lineup that is fascinating, fun, and full of potential. They have also actively declined to do just that whilst simultaneously wondering why they keep losing. We’re so close, y’all. If the Royals would just get over themselves, we could have baseball worth watching, even if the team flounders. Growing pains are growing pains, but if you don’t have the pains, you’re probably not growing.

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