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Lesky’s Notes: The Royals got ahead of the market

And they may not be done yet.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Dayton Moore is definitely a general manager with tendencies. A player with exceptional athletic ability will always stand out to him and he will far too often give that player far too many chances to show that athletic ability doesn’t always translate to being a frontline baseball player. But one thing that I don’t know can be surmised from Moore is how he will attack a market. Sometimes, he strikes super early and the Royals end up with Mike Jacobs. Other times, he waits out the market and the Royals end up with Travis Wood, Brandon Moss and Jason Hammel. This year, he’s jumped out ahead of the market, which I actually think is a pretty decent strategy at the level of deals the Royals are giving out. Maybe Carlos Santana wouldn’t have gotten two years and $17.5 million later in the off-season, but how much less would he have really gotten? The Nationals were in reasonably heavy pursuit of him, so other teams were likely on him as well. I think the uncertainty for free agents of the free agent market will lead them to sign deals earlier if they think they’re reasonably fair and that’s what the Royals have done, which really is fine to me. I still don’t like the Michael A. Taylor deal, but that goes back to that athlete thing.

  • On the Santana deal, I put some of this on Twitter, so I apologize if it’s a repeat for you, but some of these numbers are just truly amazing. His career walk rate of 15.5 percent would be the fifth best in a single season in Royals history. His worst walk rate of his career (13.2 percent) would rank as the 18th best in team history. Upon pen hitting paper, Santana became one of the most patient hitters in the history of the Royals organization immediately. He’s not a signing without risk, which is why he was available to the Royals for the price he was. You can argue about how much to really care about the 2020 season, but it happened and Santana’s exit velocity and hard hit rate fell from the 91st and 83rd percentiles respectively in 2019 to 36th and 38th in 2020. He just wasn’t hitting anything nearly as hard as he did in a down ballot MVP type season from the year before. But even with a decrease on fastballs, he underperformed what he should have done with an xBA of .288 compared to his actual average of .233 on them and an xSLG of .558 compared to .448. The expected numbers were the same or better than his great 2019 on fastballs. He just really struggled on offspeed and breaking stuff, which is kind of reassuring in a way because that could very easily be attributed to timing issues with the weird season. It could also be that he’s heading into his age-35 seasons and hitters decline, but I think it’s a worthwhile risk. And one thing that I mentioned on the podcast this week that I think is worth noting is that the guy doesn’t strike out. His 14.7 percent strikeout rate is 48th best out of 316 players over the last five seasons. His ability to put the ball in play with guys like Whit Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi ahead of him will likely lead to some good things throughout the next two seasons.
  • My guess here is that the Royals aren’t done. It kind of seems like they could be after three signings, but from what I’ve been told by some people in the know is that they have some more money to play with for the right pieces. I would be surprised if they don’t come away from this offseason without at least one of Trevor Rosenthal and Greg Holland, and given what they seem to have left in the budget, getting both is certainly possible. They currently have about $67 million tied up in 11 contracts that are decided and then they have Mondesi and Brad Keller outstanding in arbitration cases. They’re expected to make about $8 million between them (though I could very easily see an extension for one or both to bring that 2021 number down a touch). That’s $75 million for half the roster and then you figure roughly $600k for the other 13 players, which puts them at about $82 million or so for the 26-man roster. I think we could see them go to $100 million or maybe even as high as $110 million if the right player came available. Based on some estimates, I’d think that Rosenthal and Holland will cost about $12 million, so that leaves somewhere between $7 million and $17 million to fill out that budget. I’d look to a corner outfielder with that money. Even with the middle of the order looking far more solid with Santana, a power bat wouldn’t be something I’d scoff at, but I also still really love the idea of Jurickson Profar to play left field, which would move Franchy Cordero to right field and Whit Merrifield back to second base or center field (which I just don’t see working over 162 games) to take over for Nicky Lopez or Taylor. Profar isn’t flashy, but he’s performed well in left field defensively and is another low strikeout bat. Obviously they could also look to Robbie Grossman, Kyle Schwarber, Eddie Rosario, David Dahl or a handful of others, but I think if there’s money to spend, that’s where I’d spend it.
  • I was looking in my payroll spreadsheet and my roster projection on the 2021 tab and wanted to look a little deeper at Jake Newberry because I think he’s right now on the edge. Of course, he’s been on the edge for a couple seasons now, but I sort of wonder if there’s more that we haven’t seen from him. I know the Royals like him enough that he seems to always be the first option to come up when someone is needed, but the results have been spotty. ERA-wise, he’s been above average the last two years, but in 2019, his control was rough and he wasn’t striking out quite enough to make it worth while. Plus, he gave up way too many homers. In 2020, he was striking out more hitters and giving up way few homers. The walks were still too high, but I think I’ve been sleeping on his slider a little bit. He had whiffs on 48.5 percent of sliders thrown and gave up a .177 xBA and .336 xSLG. He also flipped the usage on his slider and his fastball from 2019, which makes sense because that fastball isn’t what you’d call great. It just doesn’t move much, but I think there’s at least some hope there that he can find a little bit more on that to add to a slider that is a legitimate big league weapon. My concern is that he and Jakob Junis are pretty much the same. Junis has even less movement on his fastball, but we haven’t really seen how it plays out of the bullpen in a big enough sample yet. If either one of them can somehow improve their fastballs to be a viable second pitch to their nasty sliders, you can add either to the list of potential late inning options to go with Jesse Hahn, Scott Barlow and Josh Staumont with Kyle Zimmer (health) and Tyler Zuber (command) knocking on the door as well.
  • The Rule 5 draft is often a fool’s errand in trying to find that talen that any team might take, but this year was especially difficult as most of them haven’t seen a single competitive pitch since 2019. Sure some were on alternate sites, but until the fall leagues, there weren’t any scouts permitted even, so it’s really tough to find a guy you’d be comfortable leaving on your roster for the entire 2021 season. That said, there were a handful of players who were interesting to me with some off the board and some who were well regarded by everyone. For example, I was a big fan of Brett de Geus from the Dodgers, who was taken second overall by the Rangers. I think the guys they were targeting just got taken before they picked, so they didn’t want anything to do with the rest. Alexander Guillen was another name who I thought stood out both statistically and from a couple scouts I spoke to, but he didn’t go, so maybe that opinion just wasn’t widely held, which is often the case with these players. I find it interesting that the Royals both didn’t make a selection and didn’t make a trade later as they’ve done in the past. They really like to find those diamonds in the rough and over the years have found some really solid players. Jon Nunnally back in 1995 was a Rule 5 pick who hit .244/.357/.472 and ended up a career .246/.354/.469 hitter over 1,054 plate appearances. They’ve also gotten big value from Joakim Soria and Brad Keller most recently. It’s also interesting that they once again gambled correctly on the guys they didn’t protect as nobody from the Royals was selected, which can be seen in a couple ways, but they’ve kept their prospect capital fully in tact. Without a pick from the Rule 5, they maintain three open roster spots, which is another indicator to me that they’re not done this winter.