We are now less than five weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting if the schedule is adhered to, which it’s looking more and more every day like it will be. And to nobody’s surprise, pretty much all the big-time free agents remain out there. Any team, if they’re willing to spending some money (hahahahaha) could likely catapult themselves to at least the periphery of the top of their division with what’s remaining on the open market. I thought the Francisco Lindor trade would open some things up a little bit, but it appears that domino isn’t starting much of anything. There have been a handful of reliever signings and now it seems like DJ Lemahieu is about to sign, so maybe this is the start. There are still trades too, I guess, that could be the tipping point, but at this point your guess is as good as mine as to what will set the market off. Maybe nothing. Maybe we’ll play the entire 2021 season with Trevor Bauer, JT Realmuto, George Springer, Marcell Ozuna and company without a team. Okay, probably not, but this is getting kind of crazy.
By my count there are somewhere around eight teams who could potentially be in the market for a third baseman still and there are three to five guys left as free agents who could reasonably be counted on to play every day there. That leaves the trade market as an intriguing option for many teams. Obviously we know that Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado are out there and they’re the big fish along with maybe Jose Ramirez because the Indians seem to be trying to field an all sub-$1 million team, but I just can’t help but get the feeling that the Royals would move Hunter Dozier if there was a deal out there. Maybe some of that is projection because of how good Kelvin Gutierrez has looked in winter ball with a robust .396/.492/.604 line in a league hitting .235/.316/.353. I’ve always been a bigger fan of Gutierrez than many, and some of that stems from when I’d heard how diligent he was about retooling his swing to lift the ball more in order to get to his power during games. It hasn’t really happened yet, but I still like him.
With Dozier in his first year of arbitration and set to earn about $2.7 million in 2021, the Royals have three options with him. One, they can just ride out his arbitration years and let him hit free agency heading into his age-32 season. Two, they can extend him. He’ll probably make about $14 million or so in the final two arbitration years, so a four year deal for $34 million or something like that is probably about right. Or three, they can move him. The Braves say they’re happy with Austin Riley at third, but I’m not so sure they wouldn’t welcome an upgrade. The Nationals are sniffing around at the bigger names, but they don’t want to give up their top prospects. Between 2019 and 2020, Dozier’s 119 wRC+ is right in between Arenado’s 116 and Bryant’s 124. The defense is worse, there’s no doubt about that, but the acquiring cost might make him more attractive. I don’t know that he will get moved, but there’s definitely a reason to think it could happen, especially if the Royals think Gutierrez can handle the job. Just something to think about.
We talked about Ervin Santana and his signing, but I think there’s probably some more minor league deals for the Royals to get in on over the next few weeks as we get closer and closer to spring training. I want to focus on some of the starters that I think we could see them look into. The Royals seem to do fairly well with broken pitchers. And Santana absolutely fits that. If we want to look at the high end of broken pitchers, Chris Archer stands out as a guy who really hasn’t lived up to his stuff in more than half a decade, but if it’s still there is intriguing. They could always revisit Homer Bailey, but I sort of doubt they will. Some other names to consider before I get to the name I think we should keep an eye on are Jimmy Nelson, Tyson Ross and Jordan Zimmermann as much as I would not be happy with the latter. A lot of people (myself included) would love to see them sign Corey Kluber and they did attend his workout this week. I just don’t think they’ll get that done with so many teams likely interested, though a big ballpark would be a good place to rebuild value. The name I think we need to pay attention to is Mike Foltynewicz. I think his name value is actually a little better than the reality, but he did post a 2.85 ERA in 2018 in 31 starts. I don’t know what happened in that one start, but his velocity was way down and he didn’t throw again in 2020. But even if he’s the guy from the cumulative 2016-2019, he posted a 4.02 ERA with 561 strikeouts in 577.1 innings. If he can even get back to 93 on his fastball, he could be a nice pickup for cheap. The Dayton Moore-Braves connection is pretty much fizzled out now, but this could rekindle that flame.
I find it at least a little interesting that the Royals haven’t been mentioned at all as a landing spot for Andrew Benintendi, who many expect to be moved very soon. In fact, he may have been traded by the time you read this. Why I find it interesting is that the Royals have been very vocal about finding a left-handed bat to play left field while the Red Sox have an obvious need for pitching prospects, which the Royals have about a million of right now. I don’t have any insight into why they’re not mentioned. It’s probably because they haven’t been all that public about their interest if there is any interest, but I find that a little bit surprising. Benintendi did have a disastrous 2020, but then again who among us can say their 2020 was great? Plus, it was only 52 plate appearances before he missed the rest of the season with an injury. There are huge red flags, which include a down 2019 ahead of his terrible 2020, but really the down numbers compared to his very good 2018 were the result of a bad first week and a bad last three weeks. I know that you can’t take those off, but I believe there were some injuries in there. In between the brutal stretches, he hit .290/.364/.477. In 2018, he hit .290/.366/.465. His steady decline in sprint speed is a very real concern, but if he’s healthy (and that’s a big if), he could be a nice pull for the Royals. Think about this. From age 21-24, Benintendi hit .277/.354/.442 in 2,052 plate appearances. Christian Yelich hit .293/.368/.430 at the same ages in 2,117 plate appearances. They’re different players and I’m in no way saying Benintendi will break out like Yelich did, but if the cost is the Royals 11th best pitching prospect or something, I’d take that chance. I am obligated to mention Jurickson Profar’s name here and I’d rather have him for just money and no prospects, but I’d be very intrigued by Benintendi if the asking price fits the production.
With Theo Epstein moving into the commissioner’s office, his thoughts on how analytics have detracted from the aesthetics of baseball are back in the spotlight. Whit Merrifield had a suggestion on Twitter that got a lot of praise, but I honestly think misses the mark. He suggested paying for traits that are inherently more exciting than three true outcomes baseball. In theory, he’s absolutely right. Players do what get them paid, but the problem with his thoughts are that teams are smarter than they used to be, which some people call analytics but in reality is just knowledge. Teams pay for traits that can be repeated and while some of the things he mentioned are repeatable, the ability to get swings and misses and the ability to hit the ball over the wall get paid the most because they are the most repeatable. People really use analytics as the boogeyman for what’s wrong with baseball, but the reality is that this turn to what baseball has become today is a long time coming. This is probably worthy of a whole article, and maybe it will be someday soon, but a slew of factors beginning in the late 1980s and extending into the mid-aughts have taken baseball where it is now.
I’m of the belief that the ballpark boom featuring smaller ballparks was one of the main causes of everything. It became easier to hit home runs. When it’s easier to hit home runs, pitchers can’t rely on getting outs via contact as easily so they figure out how to get more swings and misses. More swings and misses often lead to more pitches, which ultimately leads to more pitchers and so on and so forth. Hitters and pitchers alike now spend their time trying to figure out how to outperform the other and what that’s become is a game where pitchers are more taxed early, which means they’re pulled late for relievers who throw absolute gas and this whole time, hitters are doing whatever they can to put a run on the board, which the easiest way is almost always hitting the ball over the wall. Analytics didn’t do that. Common sense by the participants in the game as to how to get better has done that. At this point, I see two things that can be done that will see almost immediate results. Lower the mound and deaden the ball. Make it harder to get swings and misses and harder to hit the ball over the wall when a batter makes contact. There’s a lot more to it, but in my eyes, those two things bring action back to the game as quickly as anything.