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Lesky’s Notes: The Royals expect to win next year

How many times they win might be where Dayton Moore and I differ in our expectations.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Kansas City Royals Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Dayton Moore spoke with the media this week and there were two things of interest that popped out to me. One I’d heard before, but to have it confirmed by the general manager was nice. The Royals aren’t really operating on a year-to-year budget, but rather a multi-year budget, which probably bodes well for them spending a bit where they need it. That’s a minor note that might end up being a major help, but we can talk about that another time. The big thing is that Moore said he expects the Royals to win in 2021. Honestly, I do too. I see very little chance they go 0-162, so I am all in on the notion they can win a game or two. For real, though, the talk has been very positive out of the organization even before this comment, and it’s why, even though it’s been downplayed, I think the Royals will quietly be players on the free agent market. I don’t think they’ll sign any of the guys that cost any real money, but I truly believe they’ll be shopping for upgrades and stopgaps that can fill in until the rest of the prospect cavalry can arrive and they can truly evaluate what they need to fill in the gaps.

  • Ever since the exodus following the 2017 season and the college pitcher draft of 2018, people have been trying to find parallels between the new group and the old group. I sometimes join in that effort but other times kind of shy away because they seem to be going about things in a very different way, at least so far. But the comment from Moore about the Royals being ready to win and expecting to win really reminds me of the stuff we heard following the 2012 season. The circumstances were obviously very different. They thought they’d win in 2012, even making that year’s slogan “Our Time” if you’ll recall. And they didn’t. Nobody thought they’d win in 2020 outside of the people who believed that anything can happen in a 60-game sprint. The vast majority of the prospects who made up the 2015 championship team had come up by the end of 2012 while we’ve only seen a sprinkling of the players expected to be a part of the next good Royals team. So there are some differences, but the message is similar and the seasons they’re coming off are similar. Both teams had sluggish starts, mid-season bouncebacks that were followed by another drop and another decent surge. It’s not a perfect comparison, but the talk from Moore is very similar to that talk we heard eight years ago. While he talked about being more transactional, and I appreciate that, it’s also hard to change who you are and I believe that he believes the Royals might need a veteran presence in the lineup. Whit Merrifield, Salvador Perez and Jorge Soler might be enough, but it’s sort of like we’ve discussed quite a bit over the last few months. Who is the James Shields of the 2020/2021 offseason market? A lot of players making middle-of-the-road money could easily be available in a trade as teams are looking to shed payroll. An obvious answer is Eric Hosmer, which would be great for the general fans and probably not so great for the team, even though he did finally change his batted ball profile in 2020. Some other names that will likely come up are Charlie Blackmon, Kyle Seager, maybe even Mike Moustakas if the Reds need to trim some money. There are warts with all of them, but don’t be surprised if you hear the Royals sniffing around some veteran bats on the trade market to be their Shields for the 2021+ teams.
  • I’ve mentioned this before, but with the Royals reported interest in Matt Shoemaker, it’s worth noting that I’d assume they’ve reached out to just about every free agent pitcher who won’t cost more than seven figures. But why? A lot of people are of the mind to just go with the young pitchers. And boy are there plenty. We already saw Kris Bubic and Brady Singer paired with Brad Keller. Carlos Hernandez pitched a bit in 2020 as well. That’s four guys 25 or under (I swear I’m going to write that sometime soon) in 2021 who could easily be a part of a rotation. They have Asa Lacy and Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar and Austin Cox and Jonathan Bowlan and you know all the names. And that’s great. But here’s the deal. I can’t imagine anyone is going to make more than 24 starts in 2021. That’s probably the max, but even if you say that the first three guys I mentioned are going to, you still need to get 90 starts from a handful of pitchers. Sure, maybe Lynch and Lacy step up and give you 12-15 each. There’s still 60 more starts remaining. Danny Duffy could be rotation or bullpen, but even if he’s in the rotation, that’s only another 20 or so starts. You can see where I’m going with this. The Royals have enough high level pitching depth to piece together 162 starts without signing anyone, but these pitchers aren’t in the organization for 2021. They’re part of the organization for the long haul to win a championship in the next four to six years. I’m not saying they will do that for sure or anything but I don’t think you throw them to the wolves if they’re not quite ready just because they’re there. And that’s why you’re going to hear about the Royals talking to Shoemaker and Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello and Mike Minor and Mike Fiers and maybe even a guy like Cole Hamels who really feels like the type of leader Dayton Moore would covet for a young rotation. As of now, they’re looking at a 162-game season and they’ll need to get 162 starts somehow for it.
  • One thing Dayton Moore said the other day that kind of struck me as odd and made me think of other ill-conceived thoughts was the idea that he wants two of his leadoff, three-hole and four-hole hitters to be from his catcher, shortstop or center fielder. So I think I know what he was saying and that’s that he wants players in those spots who are great all around baseball players. Guys who can defend and hit are perfect for those. But I don’t understand that notion in the least for a couple reasons. In my opinion, teams can win with a very general lineup construction of two great hitters, two good hitters, three average to above average hitters and two guys who won’t kill you. If you can jump one guy to a level up, you could even get by with one guy who is a bad hitter but plays great defense. I don’t care where they play if they hit. I’d rather my first baseman and designated hitter be in the middle of my lineup anyway because they need to justify their lack of defensive value. But also, when your best hitters play the most demanding positions on the field, they either need additional time off or you run the risk of their offense declining because they’re worn down late in the season. Not a single American League playoff team from 2020 (and there were eight of them to look at, remember) ran out a lineup that regularly featured two of those three positions in those three lineup spots. There’s a lot of disdain for Moore on the internet, on social media, on this very site. I’m certainly not his biggest fan, but I don’t think I fall quite so far away from liking him as many of you do, but man does he say things that make you scratch your head. I really believe he was talking about wanting athletic well-rounded players in those positions, but him saying that gave me chills because it reminded me of how badly the Royals had to get a catcher and a third baseman for Carlos Beltran way back when. So if you want my offensive philosophy, it’s to put your good hitters at the top no matter where they play and be done with it.
  • There was one more thing he said that struck me, so I guess we’ll make almost this whole thing about Dayton’s comments. He said that maybe he should be more transactional and less sentimental. He mentioned the idea that the fans in Kansas City take to players more than the fans in other places, which feels like a chicken and egg scenario to me. I think he’s probably right that Royals fans enjoy the players they enjoy, but is that simply because they stick around because he doesn’t want to listen to offers on them? I honestly don’t know the answer to that, but I think it’s fair to wonder. I also think that if you’re not going to consistently run a payroll to support keeping every or even three-quarters of your best players past their team controlled years, you have to be transactional at times. I don’t think a player has to be traded just because they’re good and/or the Royals are bad. The deal has to be there, but I would be surprised if a fair deal for someone like Whit Merrifield hadn’t been offered at some point over the last two or three years. Maybe there was a deal for Hunter Dozier after his breakout 2019 season that could have been a bigger help to the 2023 and beyond Royals than Dozier will be as he approaches his mid-30s. Without knowing the offers, we can’t know for sure, but it’s just nice to hear him admit that maybe his approach wasn’t the right one. What does that mean moving forward? I still think they’re going to have to pick and choose from the young pitching to determine who is the one or ones to move to pick up some help to fill in prospect areas they are short in. I think maybe they will be open to dealing Merrifield, although the window to get maximum value for him has probably passed. But I think it’s clear that John Sherman has been a positive influence on this organization even without sweeping changes. We can see it in the development overhaul, the increased use of analytics at all levels and now with Dayton Moore talking openly about needing to change his style. So at least we have that to watch unfold.