I’ve seen a lot of Twitter theories about what the signing of Mike Minor signals and I wanted to address them.
Before doing so, I want to make it perfectly clear that I like this signing. I think the Royals needed another veteran presence in the rotation. Mike Minor made a lot of sense for that void. He’s legitimately seen all of the highs and lows of a major leaguer’s career. He’s withstood career setbacks and bounced back to make All-Star appearances and postseason runs. He’s seen success in both the bullpen and rotation. He’s a great brain to pick for these young arms.
And possibly the most important part, he’s played in Kansas City after the Royals rolled the dice on him in 2016, so he didn’t (presumably) need any extra money thrown at him to come to KC. The terms of the deal still aren’t disclosed outside of it being a two-year deal, but MLB Trade Rumors predicted Minor would get a one-year, $6M contract while Fangraphs predicted a two-year, $10M deal. If that’s the neighborhood we’re talking about, this is a very fine signing.
Now that that is on the table, let’s dive into some of these signs that I’m seeing float around.
Theory #1: This obviously pushes Danny Duffy to the bullpen.
This is not at all obvious to me. I wrote in the Danny Duffy 2020 season in review that Duffy’s contract should be maximized to the best of their/his ability and that can happen in the rotation and/or in the bullpen. Minor has certainly been more successful in the 2017-2019 seasons. But their 2020 seasons were very similar.
That should be paired with two other factors: he turns 33 years old in December and the fact that Minor’s fastball velocity has been steadily declining since he left KC and dropped to 91.2 mph last year, which is lower than where it was when he had his shoulder surgery in 2014. Minor still boasted a solid K/9 rate despite that due to the movement of that four-seamer combined with a solid change, slider, curve arsenal. Minor and Duffy both have upside in the rotation AND in the bullpen, but they’re way more likely to be the same guy right now, assuming that Minor’s health checks out.
And you have to assume that after the rotational locks of Keller, Singer, and Bubic, there are currently several options for that fourth and fifth spot: Minor, Duffy, Jakob Junis, Carlos Hernandez, Ronald Bolaños, Scott Blewett, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, and Asa Lacy. And I think that’s the order of probability as it stands.
Finally, it’s not Dayton’s style to take a “starter” and turn him into a “reliever” right out of the gate the following season. He likes to give those fringe guys every opportunity to stick in the rotation a la Ian Kennedy, Jason Hammel, Luke Hochevar, Wade Davis, Jorge Lopez, Glenn Sparkman, Eric Skoglund, etc. Yes, Duffy could be more effective/valuable to the team out of the bullpen, so could Minor. But that only works if there’s a more valuable option to take his place in the rotation. That has yet to be seen in my opinion. Therefore, Minor’s addition does not automatically push Duffy to the bullpen.
By the way, Flanny did tweet something shortly after announcing the Minor signing that no one seems to want to acknowledge in their assumptions that Duffy is headed to the pen.
Remember that Mike Minor was an exceptional closer in a short stint in that role for the Royals at the end of 2017 (6 for 6 with a 0.00 ERA). Certainly they will look at Minor for the rotation but he could be insurance, too, if they cannot re-sign Greg Holland.— Jeffrey Flanagan (@FlannyMLB) November 30, 2020
Theory #2: This indicates John Sherman’s willingness to open the checkbook.
Really? This is the bar that we as fans have placed to indicate a willingness to spend money? A two-year deal for a 33-year old that I’m assuming is less than $20M (God I hope it’s not close to that).
There are better indicators of that in the willingness to pay minor leaguers all year and picking up veteran scouts while other clubs are choosing not to. Those investments are more admirable than giving one of Dayton’s best reclamations another shot, right?
The Royals are surely going to spend more money this offseason. Maybe not much and there’s a chance that the Minor signing is the biggest contract they give out this offseason. But can’t we hold off on bestowing such praise to the front office until they make a bigger splash? We should have higher standards as a fanbase.
Theory #3: This indicates the Royals’ desire to be contenders now.
Yes and no. Minor should be a solid pitcher but I don’t think it’s fair to expect an All-Star appearance over the next two seasons. This was a move centered around familiarity and depth. In Alec Lewis’s article breaking down the signing for The Athletic, he quoted Dayton Moore:
“You used to go into a season needing seven to eight guys who could come up and start,” Moore said in late September. “Now, it’s more 10 to 12 throughout 162 games. The data pretty much tells us that.”
Starting pitcher is the toilet paper of baseball positions; you’d rather have too much and not need it rather than vice versa. (Also the difference between the good and the bad is extremely important).
This rotation needs a true ace. Minor is an insurance policy for this starting pitcher core. Brady Singer and Kris Bubic were very promising in their maiden voyages. Reports are suggesting that Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, and Asa Lacy are very close to major league ready. We’ve seen potential in Carlos Hernandez and Ronald Bolaños. There are wildcards like Angel Zerpa that the front office has spoken of in the same category as everyone mentioned above. But there is a strong volatility in prospects and you can’t put all your eggs into that basket hoping that an ace comes from that group. It might happen, some of them have that ceiling, but Moore shouldn’t be resigned to hope for that. Minor’s two-year deal is the perfect timeline to bridge the gap between now and those guys’ full-time contributions.
No contender can contend without strong starting pitching; no not even the Rays. So while we can’t expect Minor to win a Cy Young, we can expect him to effectively reinforce one of the most important positions on the diamond, which is a move toward contention.
Like I said before, I like the Minor acquisition. He’s perfect for some things that this team needs both now and for the future. But we, as a fanbase, need to be more realistic with what it really means right now. We can’t read into it for what we want to see. Minor is a great addition, but he is not the splash that this team will need to get over the hump.