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Lesky’s Notes: The offseason has entered the chat

The Royals winter is here, but we all have to wait for the good teams to finish playing before much can happen.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals Gary Rohman-USA TODAY Sports

While there is still baseball being played, the Royals are not a part of that. It’s never more clear to me that the season is about to end than when I’m at the last game of the season and I look in the section next to me and see a dozen or so of the Royals players’ wives and girlfriends there. Many show up throughout the season at various times, but it’s always that last game when the Royals aren’t going anywhere because they’re heading somewhere after the game. It hits you hard to know that the end is here. And now the end is past. So after a disappointing final weekend where Salvador Perez couldn’t get another ball over the wall, we’re into wait and see mode in Kansas City. I believe there’s a chance the Royals are active, but I also think there’ll have to be a lot of moving pieces in order for that to happen. Still, we’ll absolutely see the Royals in many rumors as I think you’ll see all three of Whit Merrifield, Nicky Lopez and Adalberto Mondesi mentioned a lot and probably a handful of the young pitchers. I’m having a hard time seeing how a busy winter would work with this roster, but I guess we’ll see.

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When the pitching staff went almost all young after the break and did better than the first half, I think there’s a chance that Cal Eldred’s job was saved. The difference is pretty stark between the first half and second half. As a team, they had a 5.15 ERA in 767 innings before the break and 4.05 in 660.1 innings after the break. That’s huge. It’s interesting that the strikeouts dropped pretty significantly in the second half from a rate of 22.7 percent to a rate of 21 percent, but that did come with a walk rate drop from 10.4 percent to 8.7 percent, which is pretty huge. The difference for starters wasn’t quite as big with an ERA drop from 5.38 to 4.51, a strikeout rate drop from 21.8 percent to 19.7 percent and a walk rate drop from 9.4 percent to 8.6 percent. The bullpen went from 4.87 to 3.44. Their strikeout rate went from 23.9 percent to 22.8 percent, so not huge. Their walk rate, though, dropped from 11.7 percent to 8.8 percent. That is huge.

So as it relates to the pitching coach, how much of the issues in the first half were him and how much of the success in the second half was him? As a long-time believer that Eldred simply isn’t good enough for his job, I have to wonder if it’s fair for me to blame him for the failure and not give him credit for the success. I think the first inning struggles of the starters paints a picture that could be on the coaching staff for them not being prepared, but also it seemed to get far worse as the season went on and I also believe that there’s a lot about September this year that makes it easy to kind of look past some things due to the extra workload. Personally, I still don’t think Eldred is the guy for the job, but some of the reports that I had heard about him being resistant to analytics and other things that are necessary in the job in 2021 apparently aren’t quite as true anymore. At this point, if he hasn’t been let go, I doubt he will be given that the coaching staff moves around the league have been done. Maybe I’m wrong and he’ll still be gone, but I think he’s safe for another year. And like I’ve said all along, I hope that I’m way off and he is the perfect coach for these young arms. I have my doubts, but it’s looking like we’ll find out one way or another with him in charge.

Someone asked me in a comment on Inside the Crown a couple weeks ago if I thought the Royals would trade Adalberto Mondesi and my answer was a very quick no. It seems like a bad idea to trade a guy coming off his worst season as far as injuries when injuries are one of his biggest issues. Also, his play in September tanked his season numbers to the point that he ended up with an identical OPS+ and a wRC+ of just two higher. Apart from his very good second half in 2018 and the occasional stretch of good games, he hasn’t ever put it together. So heading into his age-26 season and 1,312 plate appearances into his career, he remains pretty much all potential. It’s a little easier to dream on the potential when you see stretches like the end of his 2020 and the first 13 games he played in 2021, but it’s still just potential when the end result is a guy who is roughly 10 percent below league average offensively.

But teams could still have interest in him because of his athleticism, defensive ability and that very potential. Would the Rockies see him as a solid replacement for Trevor Story? They seem to think they have a chance to compete for a Wild Card (though I’m not entirely sure how) and Mondesi’s speed and power could make him a monster in Coors Field. Would a package around Mondesi and one of the young starters be the start of a package to bring back German Marquez? Seems unlikely, but it’s at least a thought. Maybe the Angels would have some interest given their desire to upgrade the shortstop spot. I’ve already pinpointed them as a Mike Minor destination, so perhaps there’s something there. At this point with Mondesi, he only has two more years of team control, so it’s not like you’re going to get back a difference maker for him anyway. Of course, that’s the argument not to trade him right now. See if he can piece together a hot streak for long enough that he can bring back something big and then move him. But as we know, there are a lot of guys for fewer spots than there are guys. This would help to lessen that a bit. I don’t know if it’ll happen, but it seems a lot more likely than my initial thought when I was asked.

The Opening Day rotation is one that I think will get scrutinized maybe even more than the lineup (assuming Bobby Witt Jr. is in it) and that’s for good reason. Right now on the roster, the Royals have Mike Minor, Brad Keller, Carlos Hernandez, Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar and Jon Heasley as pitchers who got starts in 2021 and should be in line for big league work in 2022 if they’re on the team. I didn’t mention Angel Zerpa because I don’t think he’s ready, but boy did he look solid in his one start, so maybe that’s not entirely fair. You may have noticed that above are eight names and most rotations include five starters. They can skip the fifth starter for a few games, but they’ll need one by the second Sunday of the season, so they won’t be able to go too long without that. I continue to believe that Minor will be traded and I think the Angels are the easy destination. They already traded Andrew Heaney and both Alex Cobb and Dylan Bundy are free agents. They’ll want to make a bigger splash, but they also need some innings.

So like it or not, there’ll be a spring training battle. I think for the moment that Keller and Singer are locks, even though I don’t think anyone should be a lock. I might be biased because I’m very intrigued by Carlos Hernandez, but I think he’s a lock too based on what he did after coming back from Omaha. So that leaves Bubic, Lynch, Kowar and Heasley fighting for two spots. But I still think the Royals go out and get someone. I can’t get my mind off the idea that they’ll trade with the A’s given that the A’s have zero pitching depth in their system and the Royals have a ton. I love the idea of Frankie Montas, but they also have Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea who they are likely willing to move. Any of the three would instantly be the Royals best starter. So let’s say they do land one of those and then it’s just one spot for four guys. After seeing Bubic in Surprise struggle the way he did, I just think his repertoire won’t lend itself to spring training, like, ever. So I think as good of a finish as he had, he ends up on the outside looking in and Lynch takes that final spot. It’s a tad early to be talking about this, but whether or not you think the options are great, this just shows there are a ton of options for this team and that’s a good thing. Also, I don’t think the Opening Day rotation is that huge of a deal because while it won’t be quite as drastic as this year, I would bet the Royals are very cognizant of innings next year as well, so there’ll be plenty of opportunities.

I don’t know why I was so sure the Yankees were going to win that Wild Card game on Tuesday night against the Red Sox. Maybe I was impressed by their confidence when we learned that if they had to be a part of a three-team playoff that they chose to play the Red Sox. Maybe I was just all-in on Gerrit Cole and figured he’d have the goods to get it done, but that was a pretty cut and dry game with no drama. While it wasn’t a great start as far as drama to the playoffs, it was a clean enough game at least. I have had some worries that the playoffs will be pretty sloppy with a bunch of players worn down after the short 2020. But we got a big-time drama-filled game on Wednesday night when the Dodgers beat the Cardinals on the walkoff home run. I don’t know that it ultimately impacted the final score, but Mike Shildt’s decision to not pinch hit for Adam Wainwright and then pull him after two batters the next inning is one of those that would get me looking for a new manager immediately. That’s absolute malpractice. Win the game and there’s the Ned Yost 2014 moment where people laugh about throwing away their columns about firing, but man, I’m not so sure that St. Louis writers should toss that one after a loss. They probably shouldn’t after a win either, but you know how that goes.

I’m not terribly surprised the White Sox showed the way they did to start the ALDS yesterday. They’d struggled a bit on the road, a lot with ground ball guys and a lot with power pitchers and while Lance McCullers isn’t a typical power pitcher, he has a lot of the same tendencies and does throw pretty hard. It didn’t help that Lance Lynn just didn’t have it. I picked the Astros to win that series, so I’m feeling pretty okay about that prediction after game one, but so much hinges on game two. In the other series, I thought the Rays would have no problem with the Red Sox and it sure doesn’t seem like they had much of an issue with them last night. They seemed to outclass them in just about every way. And now today, we get the best day of the postseason, in my opinion. It’s four games and it’s really fun. I’ve got the Dodgers over the Giants in their series and the Brewers over the Braves.