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Lesky’s Notes: Things are about to get quiet

Thanksgiving brings a hush over MLB. Maybe the Royals will do something before then to give us something to talk about.

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

Just when it seemed like the offseason was about to get off to a fast start with guys like Robbie Ray and Drew Smyly signing for more than I think most expected, we hit the point on the calendar when basically nothing happens. Thanksgiving week is notoriously quiet around baseball. Maybe that’s different this year since just about all business is conducted virtually right now, but I’d guess not. So we sit and wait. The one thing I feel confident in saying is that the Royals will eventually spend a bit, not an exorbitant amount, and I’m hopeful what they spend will make them a better team at the start of 2021 than they were at the end of 2020. Dayton Moore hit pretty good on his small pickups this past offseason with Maikel Franco, Trevor Rosenthal and Greg Holland all providing good value. I think waiting out the market is a pretty decent idea this year, but if there’s a guy the Royals want, I wouldn’t be too surprised if they pounce, sort of like the Blue Jays and Braves did with Ray and Smyly. Outside of some Rule 5 protection happening today (maybe already by the time you read this), I don’t expect a ton to go down before we talk next Friday.

  • One thing that’s been on my mind for awhile, but I didn’t quite know what to think about it was the idea that Bobby Witt, Jr. might get some time in center field for the Royals. Jeffrey Flanagan has mentioned it a couple times over on and there are very few as plugged into what Dayton Moore is thinking that Flanny. On one hand, if Witt is as advanced as both they say and he seemed this year, it seems kind of silly to knock him off course and force him to learn a new position. On another hand, if he’s athletic enough to handle another very important position on the field and the Royals have an excellent defensive shortstop in Mondesi, maybe that even allows Witt a bit more time to devote to his hitting since center field is important but a notch below shortstop on the defensive spectrum. But on the third hand, is a very clearly exciting but enigmatic Mondesi a reason to move your best prospect off a position? In the past, the Royals have gone the other way, moving Mark Teahen to the outfield with Alex Gordon’s arrival and Alex Gordon to the outfield with Mike Moustakas on the way. Of course, Gordon’s move was about way more than Moose, but they still did it. So then I started thinking about shortstops playing center field and Trea Turner was the first name to come to mind, which is kind of an interesting comp for Witt that I hadn’t really thought about before. He played center in his rookie season before moving full time to shortstop for the Nationals. I don’t think that would be the plan for Witt if the Royals move him. I’m really still not sure how I feel about the idea. I feel like Mondesi, with his game changing speed might be a better bet to be the one to move, but maybe they don’t want him trying diving catches and running into walls with his shoulder issue. Anyway, I don’t have a real opinion here because it goes back and forth every time I think about it, which I guess means I don’t think it’s the worst idea in the world.
  • It’s seriously crazy to me that we’re a few weeks into free agency and the offseason and National League teams don’t know how to build their roster. They still have no clue if there’ll be a DH there in 2021 or not, which is just insane. But I think that bodes well for the Royals if they decide they don’t want to pay Jorge Soler and want to shop him. There are plenty of players on the market who can handle DH duties and National League teams actually outscored American League teams in 2020 even though they didn’t build their rosters with the DH in mind. Still, Soler could be an attractive target for a lot of teams if they have to scramble at the last minute. Some American League teams could benefit as well from the 2019 American League home run champ too, of course, but I do wonder if the Royals don’t see how that market shapes up late in the offseason and would consider moving him. Personally, I’d rather get him set up on a shorter-term deal, something like three years and $36 million or so. To me, given the economic uncertainty (read, owners claiming losses even though the reality is actually that they just made less than expected), would be a good reason for a guy like Soler to take some security but then to get back out on the market when things might be a little more stable. But if he says no and there are desperate teams, don’t be surprised to see Soler out there on that trade market.
  • While we’re not quite fully into projection szn just yet, ZiPS projections have begun and Fangraphs has Steamer projections up already, as they always do very quickly in the offseason. The reason I mention that is because there are also a couple articles floating out there that have varying levels of really stupid comments in them about the team. The general consensus is that the Royals aren’t quite as bad as you think they are heading into 2021. I’d tend to agree with that. They have a good nucleus of starting pitching that at least has potential and they have more on the way. They had a good bullpen in 2020 with guys throwing hard with good stuff, so there’s hope that will keep up. And they have a few good position players. So we know all that, but the question is how can they take another stop. And I bring the projections here because if you look at the depth charts on Fangraphs, you can see that the Royals aren’t in terrible position. Their position players rank 17th and their total WAR ranks a not-horrible but still not good 21st. The issue is the pitching projections there, but I tend to think those are a little bit low, though I’m more optimistic about the pitching than some others. The biggest problem spot on this depth chart for the Royals is first base, which is projected to be manned by Ryan O”Hearn and Ryan McBroom. I think that’s wrong since I believe Hunter Dozier will be there, but first base is probably the easiest spot to upgrade. If they do decide to play Dozier in left or something like that, they have an easy path to improvement. If not, the outfield looks like a bit of a problem according to depth charts too, but again, there’s plenty of improvement out there on the market for the Royals. My point, which is probably a bit discombobulated right now, is that if the pitching shines more than expected as they hope and I’m confident in, they might have a path to continued improvement. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not here predicting 95 wins or anything, but if they can make the moves they’re looking to make, I don’t think I’d be surprised if they lost fewer than 90. Whoa, I know, slow down the hype train.
  • The Royals signed Salvador Perez to a long-term deal after he’d played 39 big league games. There has not been a question of what the Royals would do with him in his entire career. They inexplicably gave him a raise that they didn’t have to give, which I guess is only money and showed appreciation but I still don’t fully get it, but there hasn’t been a question about his future. Until now. Salvy is coming up on the last year of his contract and is set to become a free agent following next season. I think we all have a pretty good idea that the Royals aren’t going to let him leave, so it’s not like they’ll be on Salvy Watch all season long, but there are still questions. The Royals catching depth that they were lauded for a couple years ago still does exist, but it hasn’t progressed maybe quite as the team hoped. Cam Gallagher is a capable backup, and a guy who I think will eventually have a random .283/.341/.438 season as a starter somewhere. Meibrys Viloria is now out of options heading into 2021 and just really doesn’t look like he’s worth the roster maneuver game right now. But they still do have MJ Melendez, who looked like one of the better catching prospects a couple years ago before a terrible 2019. They have Sebastian Rivero and Omar Hernandez and a few others as well, so they’re not in bad shape, but the heir apparent to Salvy just isn’t quite there. Rivero has earned rave reviews behind the plate and some in the organization are really happy about his offensive progression, so he’s one to watch. Clint Scoles just yesterday talked about Hernandez and how impressive he is. 2021 is going to be a big year for Melendez. He’s one guy you don’t hear about that often. We’ve heard about the progression of Seuly Matias and Nick Pratto, but there just isn’t much Melendez talk. I think they extend Salvy at some point between now and mid-season or so. The way he hit in 2020 gives me some hope that he can hit enough to play somewhere other than catcher at some point in his new contract, but I’m not so sure we’ll be seeing him elsewhere anytime soon.