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Ten things to watch for with the Royals in 2020

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The Royals have yet to lose a game this decade (sorry for the dad joke), and a new year brings new promise for a team that has could use some hope after back-to-back 100-loss seasons. Here are ten stories Royals fans should look for in 2020.

Will Alex Gordon return?

Signs seem to be pointing to Alex Gordon returning in 2020, but no announcement has been made yet. Gordo said during the season that it was a 50 percent chance he would return, then later revised that to 60 percent during the season. The Royals seem willing to bring him back, with Dayton Moore saying “the feeling is mutual” on a reunion. Gordo said he would contemplate the decision over the off-season, but with spring training just over six weeks away, he’ll need to decide soon. The seven-time Gold Glover will turn 36 in February, so if he returns, it will be on a one-year deal, likely with a low base salary.

What will happen with players out of options?

If Gordo returns, it could create a pretty crowded outfield situation. Whit Merrifield will start in center field, with Hunter Dozier moving to right field, and Jorge Soler set at designated hitter. If Gordon gets most of the playing time in left, that leaves little playing time for Brett Phillips and Bubba Starling, with both players out of options. Both have been exemplary defenders but have yet to produce much offensively.

Dayton Moore recently told Alec Lewis of The Athletic that he believes in both players and they could be called upon to fill a number of roles. But with the club likely wanting to keep Ryan McBroom (who does have option years remaining), Nick Heath a dark horse to make the roster as a reserve outfielder, and Khalil Lee likely ready at some point next year, the Royals may have to move on from the 27-year old Starling and even the 25-year old Phillips at some point this summer if the outfield remains crowded.

Is Mike Matheny a different manager?

Royals fans had a great deal of skepticism about Mike Matheny after his tenure in St. Louis ended so badly. But he said all the right things at his introductory press conference, showing contrition and a willingness to learn more about analytics and leadership. But this is the Show-Me State, so Matheny will have to show Royals fans his evolution as a manager is more than just lip service. With the Royals still continuing a rebuild/not-a-rebuild, Matheny will be judged less by wins and losses than by how he develops young players, particularly pitchers, and whether he incorporates more modern analytical thinking in his decision-making. Kansas City presents Matheny with the opportunity to re-invent himself, and he should have a long leash, but whether or not he can adapt remains to be seen.

Will Salvy be the same after Tommy John surgery?

The Royals suffered a major blow last March when six-time All-Star and heart and soul of the team Salvador Perez announced he was undergoing Tommy John surgery for an elbow injury, causing him to miss the entire 2019 season. Salvy began throwing late last season and is expected to be ready for spring training this year.

If anyone could be resilient enough to bounce back from Tommy John surgery without missing a beat, it would be Salvy. But the odds may be against him. According to writer Jon Roegele, 20 MLB catchers have undergone the procedure, most with poor results following the time off. Notably, Matt Wieters was an All-Star level catcher before he suffered an elbow injury in 2014 when he was 29, the same age Salvador Perez was when he had his injury, and he was never the same player. On the other hand. Travis d’Arnaud bounced back from Tommy John surgery in 2018 to have his best season in 2019.

Perez already had a declining on-base percentage before his injury, hopefully he is not sapped of his best attribute on offense, his power. We will also have to see how his arm looks, and if he can continue to provide the kind of defense that has earned him five Gold Gloves.

Get ready for some MLB debuts this year

A youth movement needs young players, and the Royals should get an infusion of young talent this summer as many top prospects should be ready for Major League action at some point this year. Khalil Lee, who stole 50 bases last year and reached Double-A, could be ready for big league action if he can manage the strikeouts and hit for a bit more pop. Top pitching prospect Brady Singer has been rumored to have a shot at making the Opening Day roster after finishing last season at Double-A. The Royals are one of the few clubs that seems unconcerned about gaming service time, so it wouldn’t be a total shock if Singer was in the rotation come April. Fellow 2018 draftees Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, and Kris Bubic could join him at some point, particularly if the Royals are keen on having their top prospects avoid the ridiculous offense environment in Triple-A.

Other players who could make their Major League debut for the Royals in 2020 include infielder Kevin Merrell, outfielders Nick Heath and Dairon Blanco, and pitchers Foster Griffin, Grant Gavin, Daniel Tillo, Stephen Woods, and Tyler Zuber.

More Whit Merrifield trade rumors

Have you grown weary of ridiculous Whit Merrifield trade proposals on the internet? Well get ready for another year of that! Dayton Moore has held pretty firm that he believes Merrifield is part of the Royals’ future, but he has never completely shut the door on a potential trade, saying that no one on the roster is untouchable in a deal.

The Royals have been said to have a “crazy” asking price for Merrifield, with one report saying they wanted three MLB-ready players as a return. Merrifield, who turns 31 in a few weeks, has been worth over 10 WAR over the last three seasons and has a very club-friendly contract through 2023, which should make him attractive to nearly any club looking to contend. The Cubs have been the club most reported to be interested in him, but the Padres have surfaced as a potential suitor as well, and with Merrifield able to play both second base and all over the outfield, he could be a fit for a lot of clubs. Expect rumors to heat up again this July, and possible December as well, if Merrifield is still on the club by then.

Will the Royals commit to contract extensions for players?

During the last Royals rebuild, the club committed to many of its young players, signing Zack Greinke, Alex Gordon, Billy Butler, Alcides Escobar, and Salvador Perez to long-term deals early in their careers. More recently, they have signed Danny Duffy and Whit Merrifield to long-term deals, and with more younger players establishing themselves, it may be time to make more commitments.

Adalberto Mondesi seems like the most prime candidate for an extension, as he has superstar potential with his power/speed/defense combination. There are still some concerns about his durability and plate discipline, but now might be the time to sign him to a deal before he busts out with a big season and his price tag rises. Brad Keller also seems like a candidate to be signed to a long-term deal after backing up his impressive rookie campaign with another solid 2 WAR season. Keller was not a big bonus draftee, so he may be eager to cash in on his performance, and the Royals are so pitching-starved they should be eager to extend him.

Jorge Soler is coming off a huge season, so he may have priced himself out of an extension. However the Royals desperately need power in the middle of the lineup, and may look to keep Soler from being eligible for free agency after the 2021 season as he is projected to do. Hunter Dozier could also become a target for a long-term contract, although the club may want to see how he handles right field and whether last season was a fluke.

How much will new owner John Sherman spend?

New owner John Sherman ushers in a new era of Royals baseball with a lot of interesting talk about innovation and running the club in a more sustainable fashion. With the Royals still rebuilding and the new ownership group having just spent a billion dollars it is not surprising that Dayton Moore has not dipped into the free agent market much this off-season. But by the end of 2020, Royals fans will want to see some progress with the rebuild and some investment in improving the team.

Dayton Moore has said that the philosophy towards payroll will remain the same under Sherman as it was under David Glass, with the ability to add free agents once the team is more competitive.

“As we get better and prove that we are ready to add a free agent or two, or impact player, I’m confident that we’ll be able to do that.”

But Sherman is unlikely to be a profligate spender, instead preferring a more sustainable, frugal approach he learned in Cleveland. Dayton Moore recently told Alec Lewis that the Royals were “not in a position to keep pace financially with Chicago or Minnesota”, teams that have been spending money this winter on free agents. Considering Dayton Moore’s recent track record in free agency, perhaps it may be good to avoid spending money on older players, but Royals fans will grow restless if the team is still losing games with a low payroll.

Where will you be able to find Royals game on your television?

The Royals’ deal with Fox Sports Kansas City expired last year, and while they have been in negotiations on a new contract, but no agreement has yet been reached. MLB.com reporter Jeffrey Flanagan reported back in August that a deal was close, and in November he tweeted that the Royals were waiting for a counter-offer from Fox Sports Kansas City.

The pending purchase of Fox Sports Kansas City by Sinclair Broadcasting could throw a wrinkle into things as Sinclair is known for being a tough negotiator. But unless another competitor like AT&T, Charter Communications, or Spectrum steps up, it seems likely the Royals will return on Fox Sports Kansas City on your television. A new television deal should help out the Royals considerably since their last deal that paid the Royals around $20-25 million per year was much lower than most other deals around baseball. Flanagan has reported a potential new deal could net the club around $50 million per year.

Are the Royals moving downtown?

Well, not yet. The Royals do have a lease with the Truman Sports Complex through 2030, but they may have to begin planning for the future long before that. Some downtown boosters have been chiming for a stadium closer to the city center for some time, and new owner John Sherman has been a big advocate for downtown Kansas City. Adding further intrigue is the fact that the Dunn family of J.E. Dunn is part of the ownership group, and Dunn, in addition to being a major construction company that would benefit from the building of a new stadium, also has a headquarters in the East Village, which is considered the most likely location for a potential downtown stadium.

The Royals are reportedly warm to the idea of moving downtown, but it will all depend on how a potential stadium is financed. Current mayor Quinton Lucas dismissed the idea of a downtown baseball stadium over funding, saying “We need a new baseball stadium downtown like I need a new Maserati.” Don’t expect any big pronouncements about a new stadium yet, but the rumblings are certain to continue.