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Lesky’s Notes - Maybe the AL Central has tightened up

Could the Royals make a run? Well probably not, but maybe!

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Another week down and some of what I was talking about last week with the season length has started to get discussed. I really don’t see much of a way that there’ll be a delay unless the states of Florida and Arizona start restricting sports the way California has with contact sports. It’s only about a month or so away, but with vaccines trickling out (albeit slower than many had hoped), I just can’t see that happening. Which means we’re only a month or so away from actual baseball stories coming out, which also means that we’re only a couple weeks away from some very serious best shape of his life stories. Those are some of my absolute favorites. I buy in to some (sorry about that with Nicky Lopez, guys) and I completely ignore others, but following everyone who touts them is actually pretty hilarious. The good news in baseball is that maybe things will start moving a bit after the mega deal announced yesterday sending Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to the Mets.

  • A lot of people see the AL Central as a very tough division for the Royals, and it absolutely is. There were three teams in the playoffs in 2020 from the division and the White Sox appear to be completely on the ascent. But for various reasons, I’m not sold on the staying power of any of those three teams. Okay, that’s not entirely true. The White Sox are incredibly talented, young and now seem to be spending a bit to fortify that group. But there are also issues there, which I guess I’ll start with. Okay, actually there’s just one real issue and it’s Tony LaRussa, which may not end up being a problem, but I’m kind of thinking it might be. So they’re the biggest worry now and in the future because that’s pretty flimsy. The Indians just traded one of their best players and one of their best starters. I know they churn through starting pitchers in the minor leagues like it’s nothing, so they probably aren’t going to be truly bad any time soon, but this is a team that struggled to score runs with Lindor (albeit in a rough year). Are they really going to be better now? I’m not saying they won’t win some games, but if they’re going to cry poor from now until eternity, I don’t think they can be seen as a long-term annual threat. And the Twins have won the division two years in a row, but their offense took a massive step back in 2020. They still hit a ton of home runs, but that was kind of it for them. It seems likely they’ll end up back with Nelson Cruz, but it’s also not a guarantee. Their pitching looks better, but it’s still not quite good enough without additions. I don’t mean this to sound like I think the Royals are division favorites. I don’t. I think the White Sox and Twins are better by enough that even some variance won’t change that, but I don’t think either is a slam dunk to stay better for the next few years and the Indians certainly aren’t after their move yesterday. I guess my point here is that the division can’t and shouldn’t be an excuse for the Royals moving forward if they aren’t able to climb the mountain to the top.
  • The Royals situation with Salvador Perez is actually going to be pretty interesting. I’ve talked about this before, but I’ve seen things come up in the last couple weeks about, so I wanted to get back into it. He’s in the last year of his deal, so he’s all set to become a free agent for the first time. Of course, I don’t think that’ll happen. I think the Royals give him a new deal at some point, maybe even before the season starts. But they also have a boatload of catching depth in the system. If it was me, and Dayton doesn’t really ever listen to me unfortunately, I would wait and see. You’re not going to lose Salvy if you don’t sign him until August or even after the season. I think Meibrys Viloria is likely a goner as they now have four catchers on the 40-man and they tend to only run with three, but with Sebastian Rivero just added along with Cam Gallagher, who has looked solid when needed and MJ Melendez and Omar Hernandez in the pipeline, I wonder how important it is to give big money to a catcher with an injury history entering his age-31 season. But the reality is that he’s going to get a new deal to stay in Kansas City. The good news is that if his bat moving forward is even 80 percent of his 2020 bat, he has value at other positions if he needs more days off or needs to move off catcher permanently. The bad news is that he hadn’t been a significantly above average hitter since age-22 season. Still, I think we see something similar to the deal Yadier Molina signed right before the 2012 season (which was his age-29 year, by the way) of five years and $75 million. Maybe it’ll be three years and $50 million or something like that, but we’ll see it coming soon. I would just personally wait.
  • I mentioned the big league schedule at the top, but I haven’t talked much about the minor league schedule. It seems that spring training for Double-A and below is going to be delayed for a few weeks so there can be some separation between those minor leaguers and the big league camp, which makes total sense. On a macro level, I think a shortened season in the minors makes a lot of sense for health reasons. While many of these players were at the alternate sites, even more weren’t in most organizations, which means they didn’t get the innings or reps in even semi-competitive situations that they need to stay sharp. I think having a full season for these guys would have likely led to more injuries or more churn throughout the system as pitchers just aren’t ready to throw 140 innings like Gerson Garabito did for Northwest Arkansas in 2019. So from that perspective, I think it makes sense across the board. Where it sucks on a micro level is that the Royals have so many pitching prospects who will likely need to get time in that they could have really used the full schedule in AA and A to get a look at way more pitchers and keep their innings down. Instead, I think we’ll see quite a bit of piggybacking during the 2021 season, which isn’t the worst thing, but it’s also not completely ideal. With so many pitchers needing to be evaluated due to their Rule 5 status coming up, I anticipate there’ll be a lot of officials down in the lower levels as often as possible to see what they have in all these young arms.
  • Just to bring this full circle with the Royals competing, I think their path to a wild card spot got a little easier with the Indians move, but I still think the White Sox, Twins, Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays, A’s and Astros are definitively better than them (though the Astros are kind of interesting without Verlander and with their outfielders all still free agents). I think the Indians are still better than them, but it’s pretty close now. Of course this is all assuming five teams making the postseason in each league, but I do think if they could pick up another starting pitcher and a legitimate bat, they could get in that conversation. I just realized I haven’t yet hit my quota of mentioning Jurickson Profar every week, so there’s that mention for everyone keeping score at home. It’s easy to look at the current rotation of Brad Keller, Danny Duffy, Brady Singer, Mike Minor and Kris Bubic as complete, but I still think Duffy fits better in the bullpen as likely the lone lefty and as I’ve said about a million times, you can’t count on any pitcher to give you enough starts that you can really rely on any of them for the entire season. There was some talk about Adam Wainwright, and he’d be okay I guess, but I’d shoot for a Taijuan Walker or maybe a Garrett Richards even to fill out that rotation and give them one more experienced starter. If they can add those couple pieces, I think you start to at least discuss them in the conversation as a team that can win 85 games, which could be enough. This benefits everyone in the division, but playing the NL Central as their interleague opponent will help a bit, so you can sort of squint and dream on the Royals with a couple of additions. It sure seems like John Sherman is the type to want to take advantage of opportunities and with the market even slower than some slow years in the past, this is a perfect opportunity to make up some ground right now.