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Hok Talk: Mailbag day!

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Just about a quarter of the way through the season it seems like time to answer the burning questions.

Seen Around - February 2019 - New York Fashion Week: The Shows - Day 4
This is a mailbox that has something to do with Fashion Week in February of 2019.
Photo by Manny Carabel/Getty Images

This is not the quarter-pole of the season. That marker actually indicates when there is a quarter mile remaining in the race. So the season would be more accurately described as approaching the three-quarter pole. That doesn’t sound as cool, though, so maybe we should just leave the racing terminology behind entirely?

The Royals are both better and worse than we expected. Your Royals Review writers predicted, on average, that the team would win 72 games, this year. The team is on pace to be well worse than that. But a lot of the advanced stats say they’re at least that good and possibly better. One important thing to keep in mind is that even if they should have a better record than what they currently sport it still wouldn’t be a good record. It would probably still include fewer wins than losses. But it would, at least, look like progress. And Royals fans who lived through the mid-00s know that even the kind of progress that looks like fewer losses can be elusive.

Anyway, you didn’t come here to listen to me ramble on philosophically about the Royals record so let’s dive into the questions!

By far the most asked questions were about why Lopez and Starling haven’t been promoted. Sam Mellinger actually had something to say about both situations in his most recent article. According to him, the Royals don’t yet believe in either Nicky Lopez or Bubba Starling. Sam made a compelling case that there are still causes for concern with Bubba - he is still striking out too much and not hitting for enough power - so there’s no need to rush him. This makes sense and even more I’m content to leave him down there and let him build up his confidence for a while.

Sam’s argument for Lopez, however, is a bit more suspect to me. Apparently, the Royals feel the need to require their best prospects to be well past earning their promotion before they receive it. First of all, Nicky seems to have more than proven that he should be called up. He’s playing at the highest level of the minor leagues and hitting better than ever. He’s also walking more than he strikes out for the second year in a row. It’s hard to impress me much more as a Royals fan than with the ability to walk; doing it more often than you strike out makes me swoon.

Second of all, that doesn’t necessarily jive with how we’ve seen the team act; Adalberto Mondesi had never played above AA - and finished 2015 with a 77 wRC+ - before being promoted to the team for the World Series and had barely played at AAA before getting called up again in 2016. Brandon Finnegan, who was a first-round draft pick, debuted in the big leagues the same year he was drafted. So they’ve definitely made exceptions before. If you wanted to point out that those were periods of competition whereas this is a period of not competing then I’d say you’re probably on to something there.

I don’t think anyone anywhere doubts that Nicky Lopez would be better for the major league roster than Chris Owings today, tomorrow, and for the rest of the year. And I think if the Royals were remotely near competing they’d have already made that move. Since the team isn’t competing and Lopez isn’t going to make much of a difference the Royals aren’t going to make the move. I understand if that irritates you but that’s the way it is.

To answer the final part of your question, Lucas Duda is not currently keeping Frank Schwindel in the minors. Duda is on the IL and the Royals promoted Kelvin Gutierrez instead of Schwindel. I can’t even blame them for making that choice because Gutierrez had an .882 OPS while Frank is really struggling with a .186 batting average and only a single home run compared to 13 strikeouts.

This is a really good question. My gut says probably not any time soon. Kyle Zimmer currently has an ERA of 7.62 in AAA and Josh Staumont is still walking nearly a batter an inning. The idea of an opener is to let someone who knows they don’t have to pitch long take on the top of the lineup and throw everything they’ve got at them so that the “starter” can begin his night against some lower leverage hitters and hopefully last longer. Right now Zimmer and Staumont aren’t looking like guys who can get you through the lineup’s best hitters. At least Zimmer is healthy, though. That’s something.

If the Royals are serious about trying the opener strategy I’d probably want to use Jake Diekman and Brad Boxberger. They’re solid guys who are unlikely to be intimidated and you’re not going to wish you still had them available as firemen later in the game. They also pitch with opposite arms so you can use whichever one best matches up against the best hitters in the opponent’s lineup.

Well, just off the top of my head I can tell you that Yuniesky Betancourt has got to be the most annoying on that list. Let me spend a few minutes thinking my way through the rest.

I’ll go with Treanor, Betemit, Gload, Getz, Owings, Duda, Yuni.

The first three on that list don’t appear to have actually been blocking anyone. Treanor only play 65 games the one year he was a Royal, Betemit seemed to actually be used as a backup utility guy, and the next guy up after Gload was Ryan Shealy. Getz may have been blocking Johnny Giavotella but it turns out he probably wasn’t very good. The Owings signing actually made a tiny bit of sense at one time, assuming he was actually used as a utility guy and only played two-three times a week. The Duda signing last year made some sense - Dozier and O’Hearn had not given any real indication they deserved the spot and he had been good enough recently enough to hope to flip him. But this year it never made much sense. O’Hearn and Dozier were both as ready as they were ever going to be, and had shown some success. Duda had shown he couldn’t be flipped. The explanation given was that he could provide veteran leadership. But what veteran leadership can Duda provide that Alex Gordon, Billy Hamilton, and Martín Maladonado can’t? And it’s not like Merrifield and Soler hadn’t played their fair share at the big league level, too.

Yuni is always a bad idea.

I don’t think “fans” hate cheap one-year deals. Mostly because it’s hard to say anything definite about a group as disparate as Royals fans. But you definitely have to consider who gets the deal and what the circumstances of the team are. You cite Ryan Madson and Joe Blanton there, but both came to the Royals on minor league deals so there was no risk to the team, there. They got big league contracts only after proving they could benefit the team and the team was able to use them to win. Jon Jay and Mike Moustakas were signed as one-year deals the team was hoping to flip, last year. And both worked out pretty well there, too. But they didn’t really help the team win.

The problem with your statement that the Royals could drop Duda, Owings, and Hamilton today with no harm done is that the Royals seem entirely disinclined to do so. This was the same issue with Grimm, Boyer, and Maurer last year. Long after the three pitchers had shown they had nothing left to offer a major league team the Royals continued to employ them. It gets frustrating and I get it.

Here’s the thing, though. Let’s say the Royals did release Duda, Owings, and Hamilton today. Duda is on the DL so that doesn’t even gain them a roster spot. They can promote Lopez and Starling to replace Hamilton and Owings. But what if neither of them plays any better? Now people will demand they get demoted back to AAA and who do the Royals promote to play those positions next? And even if Lopez and Starling succeed then what? The team has started their service clock without any tangible benefit because nothing short of a roster overhaul is going to make this team competitive.

If the Royals were competing then maybe it makes sense to take a chance on improving the roster but they’re not. And in the end, I think everyone is just frustrated with all the losing more than anything. If the Royals were winning even with Owings and Hamilton playing terribly I doubt we’d hear so many calls to remove them from the team. After all, very few people were calling for the removal of Alcides Escobar from the 2015 squad despite his 66 wRC+. That’s just the nature of the thing.

I hate to break it to you but the Royals have already done that. Here are the top 5 relievers by ERA for the Storm Chasers this year: Glenn Sparkman, Jake Newberry, Richard Lovelady, Josh Staumont, and Tim Hill. You should recognize that three of those guys are already in the Royals’ bullpen right now. Hill has been in it a couple of times without finding success and Staumont is still walking too many guys to imagine him having any kind of success at the major league level.

Here’s the good news, though. The bullpen is already improved! In the last two weeks, none of Brad Boxberger, Jake Diekman, or Glenn Sparkman have allowed a run in relief. Scott Barlow, Richard Lovelady, Heath Fillmyer, and Ian Kennedy have pitched pretty effectively. That just leaves Wily Peralta and Jake Newberry as poor performers down there. And when you’ve got that many guys doing their jobs effectively Ned can start to hide Peralta and Newberry in the bullpen for blowouts.

I know the bullpen was terrible early on and cost the team a lot of games but they’ve actually been OK, recently. The problem has been the starting pitchers allowing too many runs, now. The bullpen continues to take the heat for that for some reason. This is your special notice: there’s no need to blame the bullpen for the failings of other parts of the team.

I have a hard time believing Gordon will get dealt at the deadline. Dayton Moore appears to be a pretty sentimental GM. Gordon also has the right to refuse any trade and he’s been a Royal his entire life. Finally, he is owed a lot of money for the remainder of the year. If the Royals wanted to trade him they’d probably have to pay most or all of that and they’ve shown a reluctance to do that sort of thing in the past. All those factors make moving him awfully difficult.

Trading Homer Bailey is going to require him to continue to be fairly effective for the rest of the year but he’s a much easier trade because he’d only be owed the pro-rated portion of the major league minimum. Right now he’s probably the most likely guy to get traded. If he is traded my best guess is that Fillmyer or Sparkman would take his spot in the rotation. Of course, it’s possible one of those guys will already be in the rotation to replace Jorge López. Or Perhaps someone will get injured. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for Eric Skoglund. He’s got a better prospect pedigree than either Fillmyer and Sparkman and by the trade deadline he’ll have finished serving his suspension so he could also be in the mix.

Chance replied to this tweet asking about Duda getting traded, too, and I just can’t see that happening. With the success of Kelvin Gutierrez since Duda went to the Injured List it seems entirely possible he might be released straight from there. The only way I can see him getting back on the roster is if Gutierrez falls off of a cliff, production-wise or literally. Otherwise, I’m not sure how you justify demoting him again.

That’s all we’ve got time for today. Thanks for all the excellent questions. Here’s hoping the team keeps improving over the remainder of the season!