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Lesky’s Notes: Happy newb year

2021 is going to be a year of A LOT of debuts.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since the Royals drafted all those college arms in the 2018 draft and hoped they were accelerating their rebuild, we’ve seen a lot of people compare this farm system to the one that was so great in 2011. We all know how that turned out, which was pretty well, but honestly a little disappointing in how fleeting the success was. Well either way, as we’re about to turn the calendar to 2021, we are about to enter the part of the rebuild where I believe we’ll begin to see a lot of players make their big league debuts. Think back to 2011 when we saw Eric Hosmer, Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas, Tim Collins, Kelvin Herrera and a couple others. This upcoming season, while the big league depth is considerably better than that team featured, could look very similar with a lot of newbies taking the field for the Royals at various times throughout the season. And, as I’ve said quite a few times, if they play 162 games, a lot of the pitchers will need to debut, which is actually fine because they’ll need to find 40-man spots anyway at the end of the year for some or all of Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, Austin Cox, Jonathan Bowlan, Zach Haake, Jon Heasley and Yohanse Morel in addition to potentially Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez, Kyle Isbel and Dairon Blanco. Obviously not all will need to be protected nor will all of them be protected, but that’s a fair amount of roster work they’ll need to do.

  • Let’s start with the Royals most recent signing, and it’s a minor league deal for old friend Ervin Santana. I think I’ve mentioned a few times that I figured they’d shop in the minor league deal pool for another starting pitcher and I think they’ll shop more after this, but I didn’t expect Erv to be that guy. He didn’t pitch in the big leagues at all in 2020 but has pitched well for Licey in the Dominican League this winter with more than a strikeout per inning and a few too many walks, but overall good numbers. Jon Heyman reported that he’d heard Santana had been throwing as hard as 95 MPH, which I’ll take with a grain of salt considering he hasn’t thrown that hard consistently since 2008. Maybe he’s averaging 92-93 and touching 95, which is almost equally compelling anyway. He last pitched in 2019 and between that year and 2018, he made just eight starts spanning 38 innings and posted an ERA of 8.53. He only struck out 11.8 percent of hitters he faced in those two seasons. So that’s not great obviously. But when he was averaging 93 on his fastballs back in 2017, he had a five year stretch starting with his year in Kansas City where he posted a 3.52 ERA in 907.2 innings with a 19.7 percent strikeout rate. It’s just a minor league deal, so he’ll have a bit of an uphill battle to even make the roster, but if the velocity reports are even close to true, there’s at least a chance that he’s more the guy we saw in 2017 than what we saw in some rough seasons in 2018 and 2019. If nothing else, it’s another piece of depth. But like I said, I imagine we’ll see other minor league signings at some point and I wouldn’t be too surprised if they brought back the other H and the D from HDH on minor league deals. I won’t name any names, though, because that would be tacky to name drop.
  • I’m considering adding “Profar’ in the middle of this weekly article title because I feel like I talk about Jurickson Profarm every week, but there’s good reason. The Royals have obviously reportedly been in on him as they were mentioned as the team competing with the Padres for his services. Well after an insane couple of days for the Padres where they added Blake Snell and Yu Darvish, they also signed Ha-Seong Kim out of Korea. Initially, the thought was that he would play second and they’d shift Jake Cronenworth to the outfield, but now they’re talking about making Kim a super utility guy. Either way, the roster is starting to get pretty crowded in San Diego and Dennis Lin in The Athletic noted that it was now pretty unlikely to find room for Profar on the Padres. I’ve been really confused by some of the salary projections for Profar, but most seem to have him at an incredibly reasonable rate. Because of that, I’m surprised we haven’t heard more teams with interest, but the Royals are the only other team outside of the Padres to have been mentioned, which makes me believe that we could be relatively close to seeing the Royals land him, if he wants to come to Kansas City. He lost some of his walk rate in 2020, but he was otherwise very good for the Padres and as a switch hitter who played solid defense in left would be a really nice fit for a lineup that still needs more depth. I mentioned last week how important Franchy Cordero and Adalberto Mondesi were for this lineup last week and one more professional hitter to slot in there wherever they would is something that would make their volatility less potentially damaging. Either way, I’d guess we could see that deal happen soon.
  • It’s probably silly to really look ahead to 2022 given that 2021 hasn’t even started yet, but the Royals currently have about $23 million tied up in three players (Carlos Santana, Mike Minor and Whit Merrifield) and will have eight arbitration eligible players. Given that they don’t have a single dollar allocated to the 2023 team, I really do think we’re going to see an extension or two handed out in the next few weeks. We’re about three or four weeks away from typical Royals extension time. It’s usually toward the end of January, so we don’t have too long before we see what the Royals do with guys like Adalberto Mondesi, Brad Keller and maybe Hunter Dozier. If they all have big seasons in 2021, you could see the three of them combine for at least $25 million and maybe as much as $35 million depending on the years they have. It’s not terribly likely, but they could get pretty expensive pretty quick. One thing with those three that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit is that I sort of wonder if it wouldn’t be smart to shop Hunter Dozier. He’s set to make $2.7 million in 2021 and is likely to get around $15-$18 million over the final two years of arbitration if he’s effective this upcoming season. It’s not that I don’t like Dozier, I really do. I think he’s probably closer to his 2019 version than his 2020 when he was dealing with the aftermath of Covid, but he’s had some injury issues and it’s easy to forget that he’s not as young as you might think. The team clearly doesn’t love him at third base even if he does play there in 2021 and there’s an outfield logjam developing and a block at first with Santana at least for next year. I know it’s a bit disingenuous to talk about moving an actually patient hitter who lengthens a lineup, but I’d at least be interested to see what his market looks like as a much cheaper alternative to some of the other third basemen out there.
  • The fact that we don’t know if both leagues have a DH is ridiculous, but the other big 2021 question is how many games are going to be played. The schedule is long out and I have a hard time seeing how they’ll be able to justify shortening that schedule at this point, but I also know that Rob Manfred works in mysterious ways and it’s all about the bottom line. Anyway, I think there’s probably a pretty easy solution to cutting the schedule if they need to. Basically if you scrap interleague play and cut one game against division foe (they already play 19 so there’s an uneven number of home games), that cuts out 24. Cut out one game against each other team in the same league and you’ve now eliminated 34 games to put the schedule down to 128 games. Easy as that. I think there are a couple arguments to actually shorten the schedule that go beyond revenue. For one, to increase the number of games from 60 to 162 at least carries some health risks for pitchers in particular. I feel like a broken record talking about that, but getting 30+ starts and/or 180 innings from starting pitchers is going to be really difficult. Getting 20-25 starts is more realistic. So there’s that. And the other argument here is that it might actually be safer from a public health perspective to hold off on the season. MLB has already said they won’t jump the line for a vaccine, but putting the season off for five weeks might be enough time to make it that much safer for all the travel and everything else that goes on in a big league season. Of course, they’ll continue to argue due to revenues, but there are some decent reasons to delay and shorten the 2021 season, so if they do, we can at least pretend it’s for them and hope they take my brilliant suggestion for cutting out a few games.

I hope everyone has a safe, happy and healthy New Year’s celebration and that 2021 brings a lot more wins for all of us and the Royals too.