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Lesky’s Notes: Gold is a good color on the Royals

Alex could win his eighth and Nicky could win his first.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

In this far too short season, we’re guaranteed just three more games of baseball with a maximum of five. For teams not in the postseason, the ending of it all actually is sort of nice as it brings them back to some level of relevance, but after only getting the 60 regular season games, I’m not ready for that. I just want some baseball. And while the fall camp rolls on in Arizona for the Royals, they’ve ended the one in Kansas City. Which makes sense. The weather is turning and many of them spent July through September together as well, so they’ve had plenty of time. The rumor is they’ll get back together (some of them at least) in Arizona after the current Arizona camp ends, but still, we’re almost fully on to off-season stuff, which at least can be fun. After the World Series ends, our full attention will be on transactions and if the season begins on time. My gut is that it will, but if there’s some hope that teams can host full stadiums by mid-May (I don’t even know how likely that is, just throwing it out), I wouldn’t be too surprised if we see a delay followed by a neutral site postseason for weather purposes that goes deep into November.

  • There is some news that involves the Royals, so let’s start there. The Gold Glove finalists were announced yesterday on the Rawlings Twitter account. And there was some drama with them. When the American League second basemen were named, Nicky Lopez’s name was conspicuously absent. That’s stupid. I’m not sure Lopez was the best defensive second baseman in the American League, but he absolutely was one of the best three. And certainly Danny Mendick who wasn’t even the best defensive second baseman on his team shouldn’t have been there. It turns out there was a tie with Lopez listed as a fourth finalist. I think we know that means he didn’t win the award because I’m pretty sure these “finalists” are just the top three (or four, I guess) finishers with a winner already known. The voting was conducted before the postseason so there’s obviously a winner, but I think this is like the award finalists that’ll come out after the World Series for Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP. And I honestly believe it’s a good thing that Lopez isn’t likely to win because the Royals hang on to things like Gold Gloves and while I’m higher on Lopez than most or maybe even all, he’s shown absolutely nothing offensively to justify my faith in him. At some point he has to hit a little bit if he’s going to stay in a lineup, especially with Whit Merrifield still on the team, capable of taking over at second and a million outfielders on the roster. So he deserved nomination but it’s probably for the best that he doesn’t win. Now, Alex Gordon and his eighth Gold Glove? He damn sure better win that because, well, that would be cool. There’s not much to say about it other than Gurriel does not deserve it, Tucker has a case, but they better pick Gordon to tie Frank White. For what it’s worth, Gold Gloves are kind of a stupid award, especially in a shortened season with them relying on defensive stats that take far too long to normalize, but I still want Alex to win.
  • Defense, however, is not stupid, and we’re seeing a lot of what we saw in 2014 and 2015 with the Royals in the Rays. This Rays team is so good defensively that its evoked memories of those Royals teams catching everything in sight. I think back to the 2014 playoffs especially when Angels and Orioles fans were just so frustrated that every batted ball hit seemed to turn into an out and that’s one reason I’ve enjoyed watching the Rays. It feels like a blast to the past. The Royals need to get back to that. It’s not that they were a bad defensive team in 2020. They actually ranked ahead of the Rays in Fangraphs defensive value. But they weren’t great. The Royals philosophy of building up the middle is a good one and while Salvador Perez at catcher is a nice start (though he’s way overrated defensively) with an excellent defensive shortstop in Adalberto Mondesi and an obviously excellent second baseman in Lopez, they have a hole in center field. Bubba Starling simply can’t hit enough to fill that role and I think his defense is both a bit overrated and has taken a step back. Merrifield needs to be in a corner if he’s going to be an outfielder and I think the organization finally sees that. Nick Heath would be a nice fit in center defensively to help, but there’s questions about his bat, and I think he’s probably better in the Dyson role anyway. Franchy Cordero and Edward Olivares have both played center and I think both can be okay there with some work with Rusty Kuntz, but I think the Royals see Cordero as the Gordon heir apparent for now and Cordero might not be quite fast enough. The more I think about it, the more I think they go after Jackie Bradley, Jr. in free agency, which could be pretty fun. He’s a legitimately great defensive center fielder and will really help lengthen the lineup. I’m completely out if he gets more than two years, but I’d take a guy like that for two seasons to catch everything in Kauffman center field. Plus he has some pop and in five full seasons has been a dead on league average hitter. As long as he’d hit sixth or seventh, I could be on board with that.
  • The length of the lineup will be a big question going into 2021. I think the Royals feel very good about Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler and Salvador Perez in there, but everything else is something of a question. If Adalberto Mondesi can continue like 75 percent of his torrid finish, that helps. If Hunter Dozier can tap into his 2019 power with his 2020 plate discipline, that’ll help. If Maikel Franco can put together his 2020 over a full 2021, that’ll help. That’s six guys and then the Royals are counting on Cordero, whoever plays center and Lopez to round out a lineup. While that lineup has a chance to be very good, it also has a chance to completely fall apart. Dozier, Soler, Mondesi and even Perez have been struck quite a bit by injuries. Franco was very solid in 2020 but was so bad in 2019 that he got non-tendered. If anything falters, the whole lineup ends up looking pretty bad on paper. Yes, there’s potential, but they absolutely need depth. I’m fine giving Cordero a shot to play every day because that guy has so much potential that it needs to be seen, but he’s also an injury risk and an unknown commodity, so there are just so many questions there. It’s why I’d bring in at least two bats this offseason from somewhere. I wouldn’t worry about keeping Lopez in the lineup because Merrifield can handle second just fine, though not at the same level. Personally, I think if they were to sign Bradley and Tommy LaStella that we’d be really happy with that lineup for its depth. But it doesn’t have to be those two necessarily. They just need to bring in more depth because they need more regardless, but they also need some contingency plans because we’ve seen what happens to this lineup when any piece goes out of place.
  • And finally, to get back to the current World Series because it’s the only baseball we’ve got for awhile, I’m incredibly excited about tonight’s game. Walker Buehler vs. Charlie Morton is a heck of a matchup and I think it’s one that can help both teams get back on track with their pitching staffs combined with the off day. I ultimately think the Dodgers win the series, but if the Rays can win tonight and Morton can give them five or six innings to allow some of their bullpen arms an extra day of rest after they’ve been worked so hard by no off days during series and going the distance in each of the last two, the Rays do have a very real chance to pull this off. The problem for the Rays, to me, is that they’re up against Julio Urias who has been outstanding this postseason and then Clayton Kershaw, who was dominant in game one. They’re a good team, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they do take one of those two, but that means they need to win tonight to be able to head into those final two games up in the series with a chance to win their first World Series and continue the Dodgers misery.