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Friday Notes - February 7, 2020

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Projections are out, thoughts on a Brad Keller extension, spring training fun with prospects and a big MLB trade kept us warm this week. Oh yeah, and a parade.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers
Aug 9, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Brad Keller (56) pitches in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, we did a parade again. I didn’t go, but I did watch it on television and it looked fun, but also pretty cold. My couch was incredibly comfortable and the heat was at a perfect 69° to make my viewing experience as enjoyable as possible. It obviously brought back memories of another parade a few years ago that was also really fun (and I did go to that). It was a nicer day and I think while many of the fans overlap, it’s a slightly different atmosphere for football vs. baseball. Anyway, I saw a lot of comments that we should do this again in November, and I’m sorry to say that Mayor Lucas will likely not have to worry about how to clean the streets nine months from now. If this is breaking news to you, well, welcome back from your sojourn from wherever it is that you didn’t have access to literally any information and thank you for making Friday Notes your first stop back in the world of the informed. I’ll do my best to not disappoint.

  • The projections have started to come in, starting with the ever popular ZiPS from Dan Szymborski at Fangraphs. PECOTA also released their individual projections yesterday, which I think everyone in Kansas City was looking forward to since people have a very rational relationship with computerized algorithms. Let’s start with the offense where it’s not really horrible. I described it to others as borderline bullish, which is kind of sad because the numbers aren’t great, but I think we can agree there’s at least a good chance for some competence up and down the order. There are still plenty of questions, such as whether or not Salvador Perez and Adalberto Mondesi are healthy enough and if Ryan O’Hearn and Nicky Lopez can improve, but there’s reason for some vague optimism in that group regardless, and the projections show that. The pitching staff in each projection is another story. PECOTA projects just six Royals to have a DRA (deserved run average) below 5.00. They are Zach Haake, Kris Bubic, Jesse Hahn, Jonathan Bowlan, Scott Barlow and Daniel Lynch. That’s a big yikes. One thing to keep in mind about projection systems with a lot of the Royals staff is that there isn’t much data on a guy like Brad Keller, so the low strikeout, high walk tightrope he seems to be on all the time is one that a projection system is likely to think will break at some point. And it might, or it might not. Some guys are just able to outperform their peripherals. Of course, all these projections do is confirm what we already believed. This is probably a 64 to 68 win team that could probably fall about five wins short of the bottom or five wins clear of the top when it’s all said and done. But again, it’s not ending in a parade.
  • I did want to talk about Brad Keller, who is in a very weird spot. He’s in his final year of being pre-arbitration, so he’s still going to be super cheap in 2020 and looks like he’s ready to provide maybe his first 200 inning season this year. Guys like him bring up the question all the time of if you want to get as much out of them as you can while they’re cheap and then move on or if all those innings are valuable even if they come from someone who could potentially find himself below average during the seasons. To me, I think the time is right to make a play on him for an extension that might even buy out a year of free agency. Why I like this is that it can still likely be done for a relative bargain since he hasn’t had crazy success yet and we’ve seen that he can work in the bullpen. Even if the strikeouts never come as a reliever, a guy who can run it up there in the high-90s has value. My first thought without even looking around is five years for $30 million. Give him $1 million this year, $3 million next, $5 million in 2022 and then $9 million per for the final two. Add on an option with a $1 million buyout and, voila, it’s done. That’s not all that different than the deal Jose Quintana signed early in his career when he was kind of unexpectedly good. He was better than Keller, but this was also a few years ago. I really like Keller, but the Royals aren’t going anywhere with him as their best starter. Still, there’s value in him and I’d much rather have a guy like him taking the ball every fifth day or in the back of the bullpen than having to go out and give someone like Jordan Lyles $16 million over two years.
  • I remember back to spring training in 2006 when Alex Gordon and Billy Butler were in camp during spring training. It was such a fun atmosphere to see those two hitting big league pitching, even if it was only for a couple weeks. Then fast forward to 2011 when it seemed like the majority of the non-roster invitees became part of the 2015 championship team. Now we’re looking at a spring that maybe isn’t quite as star-laden as the 2011 one was, but does include Kris Bubic, Kyle Isbel, Jackson Kowar, Khalil Lee, Daniel Lynch, MJ Melendez and Brady Singer. The four pitchers are obviously what the organization is pinning their hopes on while the bats are a little bit more spread out in both their 2020 assignment spots and their likelihood of being big leaguers, but it’s still so much fun to get down to Surprise earlier in the spring to see some of these guys hit the field as big league players. I’ve been to spring training with the team coming off brutal seasons and amazing seasons and while it’s always fun, there’s something different in the air after the brutal seasons when there are legitimate prospects to watch. I’m not really sure I have another point in all this other than, if you can, you should make it a point to get to spring training this year or next while the prospect crop is what it is. This is the first year in quite some time I actually won’t be going, but you better believe I’ll be back next year to see even more of the top prospects in action.
  • I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the crazy trade(s) from a couple days ago with the Dodgers, Red Sox, Twins and Angels. It was technically two trades, but the Dodgers deal with the Angels was necessary to them to facilitate the bigger deal. I think the Dodgers came out the best here of all the teams. They pick up Mookie Betts, who is a legitimate superstar that they can pair with Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and all the rest. They also pick up David Price at a reasonable cost to be their third starter (and I think he’ll ultimately be their fourth since I believe Dustin May is a stud). And they didn’t have to give up much. Yes, they lost Kenta Maeda and Ryan Verdugo and yes, they had to deal Joc Pederson and Ross Stripling to make it all work within the luxury tax, but they improved more than anyone in this deal. I don’t think the Red Sox did especially poorly either in getting Verdugo and Brusdar Graterol, who I really like as a pitching prospect (though there are some physical questions, I guess). And the Angels came out quite well in picking up Pederson and Stripling to help round out their team. I still think they need a better pitcher than anyone they’ve picked up this winter, but they’ve certainly improved after getting basically no innings from anyone in their rotation last year. The Twins are the team that I think finished last if you’re ranking these, and that’s a little odd because I like Maeda fine and think he’ll be beneficial for them. I just don’t think they really needed to give up one of their best prospects, who even if he is just a reliever, would have helped them in 2020. I’ve been wrong about these things before, but I just wouldn’t have given that up for a 32-year old who has been solid but not much more, especially over the last few seasons. Again, he’s going to help the Twins, especially since they’ll be without Michael Pineda and Rich Hill to start the year, but I just don’t love it from their side.