I have said this so many times that it’s sounding like a broken record, but heading into the 2020 season, I was so excited to see what the revamped offensive development would look like for the Royals after the brutal 2019 they had. And now, heading into the 2022 season, I’m very intrigued by what the plan might look like with a new general manager in charge for the first time since the 2006/2007 offseason. Sure, the regime is the same, so it might be identical, but as I’ve said before, JJ Picollo and Dayton Moore definitely don’t think identically when it comes to roster building, so there’s a chance at least that things look pretty different from what we’ve seen in the past. But now with a potential lockout looming, and even if there isn’t one, we might not get to see it in full force. I can’t imagine there will be much action without a new deal in place, so we have to wait for that too. On the bright side, good things came to us who waited to see the hitting development, so maybe it’ll be a similar situation for Royals fans with the new GM in place.
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On the topic of the CBA and the potential lockout, I don’t actually think it’s a foregone conclusion that there’s a work stoppage. The two sides have agreed in the past to extend the negotiation time, but even if there’s not a work stoppage, given that it’s the offseason, it likely will feel like that for baseball fans once the awards are done because any big action will almost certainly wait to find out what the rules are. The luxury tax is one of the biggest points of contention because it’s almost become a hard cap for many teams and has done what the owners want in at least stabilizing salaries, and in my opinion even more so in some years when teams that have gone over are hellbent to get under in order to reset the penalties for future seasons. The owners’ initial proposal, at least as reported, was to lower that initial luxury tax threshold to $180 million from $210 million this season. I believe there was also a minimum salary proposed of around $100 million, which I actually think is a good idea, but the players are already feeling squeezed by the luxury tax, so even creating a floor doesn’t make lowering the maximum by $30 million a viable solution.
So that’s where they’re starting from in these negotiations, and as I wrote on Inside the Crown a couple days ago, it’s the owners who seem to be once again controlling the message. This goes back to last summer when the negotiations for how to proceed with a Covid season were very public, it seemed like everything was leaked from the owners and the players just stood by idly and didn’t fight back through the media. I’m not saying the players and the association are saints or blameless in anything, but I continue to believe that Tony Clark is a big issue for them as their leader. Look, the reality is that the sport is due for a work stoppage. It’s been nearly 30 years, which is absolutely unprecedented, and there are worse things than a work stoppage in the middle of an offseason, but even so, it doesn’t actually benefit anyone. It’s worth noting that I remember similar thoughts heading into December 2016 and they reached a deal the day before that CBA expired. It might be recency, but this feels a bit more dire. Still, that provides some hope.
I mentioned awards and there was some good, though not surprising, news this week regarding the Silver Slugger nominees. Salvador Perez, who led all of baseball in home runs and runs batted in while playing 124 games as a catcher was not at all shockingly nominated for the award. He was the only Royals player, which is only surprising if you don’t have eyes, ears, the ability to think, or some combination of all three. But still, that’s pretty special for him. He’s pretty much assured the award, which will be his fourth. He also won it in 2016, 2018, and 2020, though I’m not so sure he should have won the award either of the first two times, but it’s not like there was a significantly better candidate. In 2016, Russell Martin probably should have gotten it and in 2018, Yan Gomes maybe should have. So it wasn’t egregious, but still, I don’t think he was the best offensive catcher in those seasons.
In any sense, it gives me yet another opportunity to talk about what a turnaround it’s been for Perez since he came back from Tommy John. I will maintain for, well, ever that if he ends up getting into the Hall of Fame (which became at least remotely possible this year) it’s because of the time off in 2019 and the first part of 2020. I know all the work he’s done to access his prodigious power and be able to punish pitches in the zone in a way he wasn’t before, but this is a guy who caught so much in his first few seasons. From 2013 to 2016, he caught 4,945 innings including the postseason. You could see the numbers dipping. I don’t think it was a coincidence that he had a bit of a bounceback offensive season in 2017 after not playing deep into October in 2016. The emergence of MJ Melendez this past year should help keep him fresh moving forward. He obviously had a great second half this past year and I’m pretty convinced he’d have ended up hitting 50 homers if not for the injury in that second-to-last series, but I’m very curious how things go for him in 2022 after his first full season since 2018.
I wrote a little about this on ItC this week when looking at some position player free agent possibilities, but something that struck me as very interesting is just how weak the 2022/2023 free agent class looks like from a position player perspective. After a bonkers shortstop class this year, Trea Turner is the only top tier shortstop available. Xander Bogaerts can opt out as well, so he could be out there, but after that, it’s Dansby Swanson as the best available. The best outfielders available as of right now are likely Andrew Benintendi, Byron Buxton, Adam Duvall, Joey Gallo, Robbie Grossman, Aaron Judge, Wil Myers, Tyler Naquin, Brandon Nimmo and A.J. Pollack. That’s not a bad group, but there are an awful lot of questions with them. On the pitching side, there seems to be a lot more that teams can do, but the point is that if teams want to make their splash for next offseason, this might actually be the time for them.
What that means, in my opinion at least, is that the trade market will be huge this year. It’s not just next year’s rough free agent market, but there’s also a lot of cost control in trading for already signed players and that’s big with the CBA talks ongoing as we discussed earlier. To me, the players with the most trade value are those signed through 2023 or 2024 because there isn’t a long commitment to take on, but it’s enough to get teams through next year’s free agent class and be able to upgrade under the new CBA in a couple seasons from now. I’ve talked a few times before about how the Royals can use to their advantage with guys like Benintendi and Mondesi to bring in some talent that they need to supplement the roster beyond 2022 or even 2023, but that remains to be seen if they will. Still, teams are definitely aware of how bleak it looks on the free agent side next winter and I assume will act accordingly.
When I wrote the World Series preview, I noted how important Luis Garcia was for this Astros team and then they went and pushed him to Game Three. I think some of that is that they want him for Game Seven if it does get that far, but I was worried for them that Jose Urquidy would be a problem for them. Then after they lost the first game, I thought they might push Garcia up, but Urquidy got the job done making me feel a lot better about my Astros in six prediction (though I still don’t like them actually winning). My hope is that we actually get a competitive game or two as the series shifts back to Atlanta tonight because it sure is boring to have the game over by the second or third and then have four hours of a dragging game. These two teams are much more evenly matched than their final records might indicate, but I’d really like to see a nail-biter game or two before it’s all said and done. Even though the Braves took over home field advantage with their win in Game One, I’m sticking with my original prediction.