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Lesky’s Notes: Baseball-less days creep closer and closer

It might be awhile before things actually happen in the off-season, but when they do, the Royals have some logjams to clear.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

On one hand, I’m sad that we are now embarking on days without baseball. We had one last Monday between the regular season and the first Wild Card game, but then we were all set for a full week plus. Then we had one on Wednesday. I guess, barring rainouts, we have a game every day through at least Wednesday, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’re closer to every day being without baseball and that’s quite sad. But if you’re a fan of a team not in the playoffs, it isn’t the worst thing because that means things can actually happen. How fast those things happen is a fair question given the fact that the CBA is about to expire, so I don’t think there’ll be a lot happening, but there’ll be awards and I’m sure some team will throw caution to the wind and make a move or two. My money is on the Padres and/or the Mariners, given their transactional nature.

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I honestly don’t remember if I’ve written about this, but it kind of struck me by surprise how well Andrew Benintendi rated defensively in left field this season. He wasn’t out of this world in Baseball Savant’s Outs Above Average at just one, which was 13th among left fielders, but some of the other metrics were much kinder. He was credited with seven defensive runs saved, ranking second in all of baseball among left fielders with at least 500 innings. His UZR/150 of 5.5 ranked fifth using those same parameters. Any of those ways you look at it, he was above average to actually good. I just didn’t get that thought using the eye test watching him, but while defensive numbers can lie a little bit, these tell a solid story for the Royals left fielder. What the eye test did tell me is that he seemed to be moving a bit better later in the year and his sprint speed rebounded to around where he was in 2018, so that’s a very good sign for him moving forward.

I don’t know what the plan with him is, but his September has made things a bit more difficult. Many have talked about being on the verge of talking about him as a non-tender candidate before his great final month. He obviously moved himself out of that discussion, but with his defense being a positive and his bat coming around at times in 2021, it’s just hard to say where to go with him. 2022 will be his age-27 season, which as you all know is the sort of agreed-upon prime years beginning. The defensive prowess gives him a nice floor, but there’s a decent argument to be made that his biggest value to the Royals over the next three or four years is as part of a trade. His estimated arbitration number is $9.3 million. I know he’s said he enjoys the midwest, but a team like the Phillies could be a good fit for him. Give him a slightly smaller outfield to patrol and maybe the defensive numbers get even better. The Angels and Rockies could be a fit too. I truly don’t know the right answer, but seeing those defensive numbers made me think of Benintendi’s future again, so here we are.

Dayton Moore had some time on with The Border Patrol on Tuesday morning and I thought he had some interesting comments. First of all, it’s not surprising but at least vaguely noteworthy that he’s still the guy they had on even though he is no longer the general manager and no longer handling the day-to-day stuff in the organization. Part of it was about his work with City Union Mission, so it’s not exactly only about the Royals, which maybe makes my point about it being interesting moot, but I still found it worth noting. Think what you want about Moore as a baseball person, but he always has some interesting comments. He eventually got to Bobby Witt Jr. and the quote that got me is this: “When we set out this past year to talk about the signing of Salvador Perez, my presentation to John Sherman was we have to somehow, someway keep Salvador Perez, Adalberto Mondesi and Bobby Witt Jr. on this field together as long as we possibly can.” He then went on to say they need to “eventually sign (Mondesi) long term.” Okay, so that doesn’t match with the earlier comments regarding how they can’t count on him.

But he went on to say that he made a mistake saying that and that he should have said that they have three terrific shortstops and they’ll figure out what they’re going to do with them. Okay, so that’s interesting. He talked about all three of Witt, Mondesi and Nicky Lopez and their ability to play an elite shortstop (fact check: that’s true). Personally, I don’t know that I completely buy they’re ready to give Mondesi a long-term deal after the season he had, both health-wise and performance, but it’s definitely something that had to be said publicly if they have any desire to move Mondesi in any kind of trade. Sometimes things are said fully to keep options open and Moore absolutely had to backtrack on his comments if he didn’t want them thrown in his face during any negotiation. I’m not saying they’re definitely going to try to move him or anything like that, but if they do try it, he had to get out there and say that. And all that said, a lineup that includes those three plus Whit Merrifield is a very athletic lineup, which is pretty fun.

It’s old news at this point, but Asa Lacy started the first game of the AFL season for the Surprise Saguaros and was very good after there had been reports of him throwing well at instructs over the last few weeks as well. It’s kind of funny how he’s almost been out of sight, out of mind because nobody seems to be mentioning him among the top Royals prospects (myself included) until they remember he’s there. Part of that is that he didn’t pitch at the end of the year and part of it is that he walked so many hitters while he was pitching that it made it easy to sort of just forget about him, sort of how we’ve all forgotten Brad Keller is even on the roster (or is that just me every time I think about next year’s rotation?). But the guy was a top-five draft pick and deservedly so last season, so it’s kind of funny how easily we forget what he can be. And the fact remains that he probably has the best chance of any of the young pitchers to be that top of the rotation arm the Royals need so badly.

So his work in the AFL will be very interesting to follow this year. I mentioned on ItC after the rosters were announced that I was pretty disappointed that Alec Marsh isn’t a part of things. He’s another guy like Lacy who we talked about so much before the season and then his year ended with an injury that nobody seemed too terribly worried about so he’s kind of been forgotten as well. I was hopeful he’d get to be on that roster so we could get a chance to see a few more innings out of him. Maybe he’ll be added later on, but those two are two pitchers who we need to put back on our radar (if they fell of yours like they did mine) because they have as good a chance as any to be key pieces on a future Royals team. At least Lacy had as good a start to his redemption tour as you can ask for in Arizona.

There are some pretty high-profile managerial openings out there this winter, huh? After the Cardinals let go of Mike Shildt yesterday in a bit of a surprise move, that means the Mets, Cardinals and Padres are all looking for new managers. And there might be a fourth opening depending on what happens with Dusty Baker in Houston. It’s hard to imagine them not giving him a new contract, but he’s a lame duck right now and if they do win the World Series, he might just go ahead and retire with that first title as a manager. But for now, it’s just three and they’re big. You’ve got the pressure of New York and the new ownership group for the Mets. You’ve got the constant expectation of championship baseball in St. Louis and then you’ve got the star power in San Diego. I would guess we hear Pedro Grifol’s name again in openings, but I’m not sure I see a fit there right now.

My early guess is that the Padres end up hiring Buck Showalter at Manny Machado’s recommendation, the Mets go with someone boring who they’ll fire in two years like Brad Ausmus and the Cardinals end up with someone also boring like John Farrell. Though Stubby Clapp appears to be a very real candidate. Usually you’re talking about managers taking over teams that are expecting to be bad for at least a year or two before there any expectation of winning, but these three jobs are quite interesting due to the pressure that will be on a new manager from the start. Honestly, I think Grifol would be better for any of the jobs than any second (or fifth) chance manager they might hire, but I have a feeling with the expectations bestowed upon any of these positions that they’ll all opt for experience. I hope I’m wrong because I like seeing new managers on the scene getting a chance to change the game.