The baseball news cycle this week had one piece of great news and one piece of twitch-inducing news. I’ll get to the former a little bit down the page. The latter was about the beginning of another labor fight between the players and owners regarding the length of the 2021 season. Owners believe there’s no way that 162 games can be played, and I understand why they’re saying that since it’s unlikely for stands to be allowed to be full on Opening Day at the start of April. Players say they’ve proven they can play a schedule and with a vaccine out and likely beginning to be pushed to the general public around the start of the season or even before, there’s no reason why they can’t play the full slate of games. Once again, it comes down to money. The players want their full freight and the owners don’t want to pay it if fans aren’t allowed in full to start the season. People way smarter than me will have to figure this one out, but the way I see it and what I’ve heard from some people around the game is that there will be fans in the stands at the very start of the season. Full capacity won’t be there, but I’ve also heard that’s likely to come after the break. I haven’t seen a breakdown of the revenue generated from on-field ads compared to fans, but I’d be curious to see that to see just how much the owners actually lost. And on this case, I tend to agree with Scott Boras, which makes me feel all sorts of disgusting. I would guess without seeing the books that the owners didn’t really lose much money as much as they didn’t make as much money as they normally do/expected. Anyway, buckle up because it’s super fun that we get to talk about this again.
- I mentioned last week that even after signing Michael A. Taylor, Mike Minor and Carlos Santana that the Royals wouldn’t be done and they weren’t, inking Greg Holland to a one-year deal for $2.75 million with some incentives thrown on there. I can tell you very confidently that the Royals wanted Holland and Holland wanted the Royals, so there was pretty much never a chance that he’d go anywhere else, which is partially why he came at such a bargain compared to some of the estimates out there. Many places mentioned him as a guy to sign for somewhere between $4 million and $6 million, so to sign for somewhere between abou half and two-thirds of that is definitely worthy of calling it a bargain. One explanation for his bounce-back 2020 was that his velocity increased on his four-seamer, but another is that he used his slider more than ever and it was as filthy at least as its been since his return from Tommy John and as effective as ever. Is that something that can continue with a full season of play? That I don’t know. I feel like there’s some very real risk for him to need some time off throughout the season, but the Royals are pretty well positioned to handle that, especially if they sign another reliever (maybe Trevor Rosenthal could still be that guy). As of right now, the bullpen that had the eight best ERA in baseball in 2020 and the 10th best xFIP along with the sixth highest strikeout rate is returning most of the key figures. You’ve got Holland to go with Josh Staumont, Jesse Hahn, Scott Barlow and Kyle Zimmer along with some combination of Tyler Zuber, Richard Lovelady, Jakob Junis (who did look really good in relief), Jake Newberry and maye Carlos Hernandez, plus whichever player they end up signing to fill things out. When you think about all the starting pitching prospects, many of whom need to be added to the 40-man after the season, the Royals should have plenty of depth to cover any needed breaks in the bullpen.
- Dayton Moore talked about the rest of the offseason when discussing the Holland signing with reporters (I think it was then, we’ve been hearing a lot from him) and said that they’d still like to add a left-handed bat to the outfield, which jives with what we talked about last week. Let’s take a look at some of those bats as Max did yesterday. The big one is Michael Brantley, and if they added him, I might get irrationally excited and ready to predict some things I’ll regret later. Outside of him, I’ve got some tiers of players. It starts with guys I’d like to see and they include Jurickson Profar, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Joc Pederson, Tommy La Stella and Kyle Schwarber. I don’t see JBJ and Schwarber as options even though I was sure the Royals would be on JBJ from the start. The other signings and his big market makes that not so likely. Then there are guys I’d be fine with and that includes Robbie Grossman, Derek Dietrich and Eddie Rosario. And then there are guys who I really hope they avoid. Those are Jay Bruce, Josh Reddick, Marwin Gonzalez, Nick Markakis, Nomar Mazara, Tyler Naquin and Matt Joyce. Brian Goodwin is out there, and I’m kind of secretly hoping he’s the guy because I really want to read and hear the reaction from the fans on bringing him back. And as an added bonus, Lucas Duda is out there as well, I think, so they could cut Goodwin to bring him in once again. The reality is that I worry the area the Royals are shopping is in my group I don’t want to see, but if salary estimates are correct, then they need to sign Profar yesterday because he’s about the perfect fit for the money and the need.
- I was thinking a little more about the Santana signing and how big of a departure that is for the organization that seems to never go after OBP and patience in free agency. But one thing I’m realizing is that the Royals might actually surprise how patient they are in 2021. You might recall me talking about their walk rate last year after their historically bad start where they walked just 20 times in their first 13 games with six of those coming in one game. From that point on, though, they had an 8.8 percent walk rate, which was actually middle of the pack in baseball. Obviously that’s an arbitrary end point, but they did improve as the season went on. If you look at chase percentage on Baseball Savant, you can see that the league average chase rate was 28.6 percent and only three Royals regulars were above that. They were Salvador Perez (of course), Adalberto Mondesi (duh) and Maikel Franco. They replaced the latter with Carlos Santana, who would have had the second lowest chase rate behind Meibrys Viloria. I’m not going to say the Royals will be top 10 in walks because most of the rest hovered within shouting distance of that average rate, but I can’t shake the weird idea that this Royals lineup might actually take some pitches. Oh, if you were wondering, Michael A. Taylor’s chase rate was 23.3 percent which was the second straight year he was better than average. There’s more to plate discipline than just taking bad pitches. It’s good to take the pitches you shouldn’t swing at, but they still need to do more damage on the pitches they should. Still, this was a little surprising to me and the projected lineup right now only features a couple players who will chase at exorbitant rates, which is a pretty nice departure from some of what we’ve seen in the past.
- I wanted to save the best news for last. The great news from the news cycle is news that is long overdue, but I guess better late than never. I love that MLB is finally recognizing Negro League stats as big league stats in the record books. They should have been playing together from the start, but unless someone has a time machine, we can’t exactly do anything about that, but we can train our minds if they aren’t already to think of what the players in NLB did as the same level as those in MLB. I’m really interested what it means for rate stats records, as we might be looking at things like Josh Gibson having the second highest average of all time and Babe Ruth and Ted Williams dropping out of the top 10. It should probably go without saying, but if you live in Kansas City and haven’t been to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, you absolutely have to go. It’s such a great experience and can give you amazing insights on those times and the great players who were playing there and excluded from the big leagues. If you’re reading here, you’ve probably been but for those who have been avoiding it, get there as soon as you can (or feel comfortable what with this little pandemic thing going on). Regardless, there are a few questions left to be answered, but this was a really cool step to give the Negro Leagues at least part of the due they’ve deserved for so long.