Don’t you just love that championship smell in the air? The Chiefs moving on the Super Bowl has given me all sorts of memories of 2015 and just reminded me how much fun Kansas City is when one of the teams is playing for a title. I know not everyone is a Chiefs fan just like not everyone is a Royals fan, but it’s always fun to think about just how many people are having similar thoughts to you leading up to the big game next week. With any luck, we’ll be talking about another parade and an opportunity to celebrate one of our teams winning it all. I think we all know pretty well that we won’t be celebrating anything with the Royals any time soon, so for those of us who root for the Chiefs as well as the Royals, we should embrace this pretty hard.
- The biggest news of the week for the Royals is the signing of Alex Gordon to a one-year deal for $4 million. Some have noted that he no longer has no-trade protection in this deal and that there’s a $500k bonus if he gets dealt, but he’s not getting moved at any point. He doesn’t want to play anywhere else and I can’t imagine Dayton Moore actually moving him. I guess I shouldn’t say that so definitively because anything is possible, but it’s really hard to see it happening. I suppose if he randomly goes off and is hitting like it’s 2011 that some team might make an offer that gets Dayton to approach Gordon, but I just don’t see that scenario unfolding. In all, the move is fine. I am and was kind of in the mindset that it would have been nice to see him hang it up after a relatively solid season (though it was largely based on a strong start), but I think the Royals can do worse than to have his work ethic in the locker room. I think there’s some merit to wondering if the Royals are doing the right thing by now having their outfield completely filled with Gordon, Whit Merrifield and Hunter Dozier. They do have Bubba Starling and Brett Phillips who I guess could potentially be something, and I would like to see Phillips get a real shot, but I also think the likelihood that they’re missing out on finding something out about him we don’t already know is pretty slim. The key for me is what happens if and when someone like Khalil Lee or Kyle Isbel is ready to go in the big leagues. If that’s June, let’s say, will this deal delay their ascent to the big leagues? I think as long as Alex is willing to step into a backup role later in the season when young players (and let’s not forget Nick Heath too) are ready to go, then this move is perfectly fine and allows for a nice sendoff to a career Royal.
- Baseball America released their top 100 prospects, and the Royals had three on the list, which is a big improvement from the past couple pre-season lists. For those without a subscription, I’m not going to spoil everything for those who purchase, but you’ve probably seen that Bobby Witt, Jr. and Daniel Lynch are in the top 40 and Jackson Kowar is in the back half of the list. That means that Brady Singer, who had been a mainstay since he was drafted is now out of the top 100 and also Kyle Isbel and Erick Pena, who along with Singer were listed as players who received votes by BA staffers for the top 100 list. So a few things here. First of all, I don’t know enough about other team’s prospects to intelligently say that the Royals should have had more make the list, but I do think it’s clear the system is going in the right direction. It’d be difficult for it to be going any other direction given the international money they’ve spent and high pick from this past year and another coming, but at least they’re going the right way now. 2020 is going to be a huge year for the system, and I’m willing to withhold some judgment for a little bit longer seeing as how the Royals overhauled their development staff this offseason. It may end up not working, but they’ve definitely modernized their approach to hitting development and I’m hopeful that we see some strides from the top offensive prospects in the organization. It’s a big enough change, in my opinion, that it’s worth the wait. If they do what we all hope they can, I think you might see big jumps from guys like Isbel and Pena and maybe even Lee, who is still just 21 and if he was born literally five days later, would be entering his age 21 season instead of age 22. If those guys and someone else like a Nick Pratto or MJ Melendez or Seuly Matias can get back on track, the system very quickly becomes one to be reckoned with. Big ifs, obviously, but the organization has identified an issue finally and has moved to fix it, so now I think we owe it to them to see how it goes.
- My good friend Clint Scoles brought up on Twitter whether or not Billy Butler is a Royals Hall of Famer when his time comes for being on the ballot and I’m honestly shocked that nearly 59 percent said he isn’t. I don’t think Butler was exactly a beloved clubhouse presence, but as I noted on Twitter Butler is in the top 10 in 14 different stats for the Royals. That’s a 50+ year history. In terms of games played, the only players with more games than Butler who are not in the Royals Hall of Fame are Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar. It’s the same for at bats and plate appearances. Gordon is the only one with more hits not in yet. Same is true of total bases. And doubles. And RBIs. And walks. You get the point. Billy Butler is absolutely one of the best hitters in franchise history and I think there’s a bias against him because people believed he didn’t do enough to be truly great. I’m not saying those people are necessarily wrong, but even with not doing enough, he was still one of the very best to ever stand in the batter’s box for the Royals in their more than a half-century of existence, and for that reason, I say he belongs in the team Hall of Fame without even a question. Him asking that question brought back all sorts of memories of fans on him for his double plays and everything else he did poorly while rarely commending him for the plethora of things he did well. Everyone has the right to their opinion, of course, just like I have the right to mind, but it really blows my mind that nearly 2,000 respondents didn’t think Butler should be in.
- We’re starting to see sports books put out their over/under numbers for the 2020 season, and the Royals’ win total is right around 65 with slight variations from book to book. And I think that’s a really interesting number. A lot of people’s first reaction is to say under, but I think a lot of that is because after the last two years, a 66-96 season actually seems decent by comparison, when in reality, it’s still pretty horrible. The 2019 Royals had a Pythagorean record of 64-98. I’ve seen a lot of people in previous seasons talk about how to think about a team based on what their record “should” have been and quote a 77-85 Pythag in 2016 and a 72-90 Pythag in 2017. Because of that, shouldn’t we be looking at the 2019 Pythag as well, even though it paints a slightly less horrendous picture? My thought is that it all depends on the bullpen. I’ve mentioned this before that they lost 35 games last year where they were tied or leading in the seventh inning or later. The bullpen sets up right now with Ian Kennedy, Scott Barlow and Tim Hill in the most prominent roles with young talent on the way to help the pitching staff. Will Daniel Tillo and Tyler Zuber be good enough to add to that group in a positive way. What about Richard Lovelady or Jake Newberry or Josh Staumont or Kyle Zimmer? Maybe Jakob Junis does end up in the bullpen by season’s end and his slider makes him an absolutely nasty reliever. What makes me more hopeful about 2020 than 2019 in the bullpen is the players who have questions at least can be nasty. Brad Boxberger isn’t making anyone’s bullpen dominant, but reaching ceilings on some of the guys listed above could actually get them there. I’m not predicting they will, but because of the actual potential upside in the bullpen, I think I’d take the over if I was forced to bet on this team, but please don’t make me.