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Lesky’s Notes: Don’t even make eye contact

Players can’t work with coaches, which for the Royals is a double-edged sword.

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

We’ve made it through more than a week of the lockout and outside of the bizarre scrubbing of any current players from MLB-sponsored media, it sort of feels a bit like some of the previous winters that were insanely quiet until they weren’t. I don’t say that to make you feel like this is normal because it absolutely is not, but this time of year has been plenty quiet in the recent past. I guess my point is that it could be worse. I wrote last week that the timeline would likely be that there won’t be any discussions at all during December. People will get restless and wonder if baseball will ever come back. Both sides are taking a timeout. I imagine they’ll talk after the first of the year and then get serious about mid-January. I don’t know how fast it’ll go then, but I haven’t wavered on my opinion that a deal will be made and I still very seriously doubt that any games, including spring games, will be impacted.

In the interim, make sure you’ve gotten your FREE subscription to Inside the Crown. It’s a little harder these days to come up with topics, but I’ve got a fun idea about some great pitching performances from the past 20 or so years that I’ll try to get up for next week, so keep an eye out!

One big impact of the lockout is the fact that the 40-man guys can’t work with the team staff. For the hitters, that’s a big deal because Adalberto Mondesi was set to have some offseason work done with Mike Tosar and that gang that helped out guys like Jorge Soler, Salvador Perez and Maikel Franco. You might scoff at Franco, but he had one of his best years with the Royals, especially when you consider the fact that he was playing with an injury for most of the shortened season. Maybe it doesn’t bode especially well that he left and went in the tank, but it’s pretty clear the impact that the hitting instruction has had on the Royals organization, so for Mondesi to not get that chance to work with them during the lockout, that’s a big issue. Obviously they’re very different players, but the offensive style of Mondesi isn’t that far off from Salvy in a swing at everything sort of way. Salvy is a better contact guy than Mondesi, but the teachings of that staff would do very well for Mondesi to do a better job of actually punishing strikes.

And 2022 is a huge season for him. While I think the comparison to Byron Buxton can get a bit lazy at times, it is easy to look at insanely athletic up-the-middle players with very little in the way of plate discipline but loud tools who can’t stay healthy and compare the two. From age 21 to 24, Buxton hit .230/.285/.387 in 1,074 PA. Mondesi hit .260/.292/.433 in 1,027 PA those same ages. Unfortunately, Buxton started to put it together at age-25, though missed some time, while Mondesi showed flashes, but ultimately just couldn’t stay on the field and slumped in his biggest chunk of injury-free play. Buxton played 100 games on the dot between his age-26 and age-27 seasons, with 2020 being short, of course. He hit .288/.326/.622 in those games and then signed a unique contract extension before the lockout. Mondesi is one year behind him on the service clock, so he doesn’t have two years of a platform to try to get that same deal, but he also theoretically won’t have a shortened season to limit the sample. If he can show for a full season what he showed in the last 20 games of 2020 or his first 10-15 games of 2021, then he might be in line for that deal. If he can’t, then he’s probably a utility guy. Big year for Mondesi and it’s a shame he won’t get to work with the Royals’ best.

Now on the flip side, it creates a very interesting situation for Royals young pitchers. Getting their feet wet in 2021 was great for them and the team, but it showed a lot of different things they need to be working on in order to reach the level that the Royals (and so many prospect hounds) believe they can. While I think the organizational pitching philosophy is a lot different than is maybe shown to the world at the big league level, I also think it’s going to be very interesting if the pitchers take big strides in 2022 after having to spend the majority of their offseason with outside help in order to try to take that next step. The Royals brought back Cal Eldred because of what I believe is the strong second half the pitching staff showed. I wrote about that on Inside the Crown this week. But what happens if pitchers come to camp looking different with different shapes to their pitches?

That’s certainly a good thing for the Royals, but I wonder if that would be damning or if the organization would credit the internal staff for making them better even without the staff having a chance to get their hands on them. If Brad Keller is able to find more consistency with his command because of offseason work or if Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar add some movement to their fastballs and it’s because of the outside training, that will lend itself to an interesting situation for the Royals front office. I’m obviously putting the cart before the horse here because we don’t know if there even will be improvement, but that’s going to be something to watch if this lockout lasts as long as most believe it will and any offseason work will have to happen outside of the organization entirely.

Our old friend, Andy McCullough, had an article in The Athletic this week about another old friend, Danny Duffy. A few weeks ago, I had heard that Duffy was contemplating retirement in the light that he might need another Tommy John Surgery. As it turns out, and as McCullough details in the article, Duffy didn’t need full reconstruction, rather he had surgery to fix his flexor tendon and would be able to come back and pitch in June. When the Royals traded Duffy, I predicted that he hadn’t thrown his last pitch for the Royals and I felt like I’d be wrong about that when I heard he was thinking about retiring, but now that he’s going to be able to pitch in 2022 and hopefully beyond, I’m back to believing that his time with the Royals hasn’t ended. I think bringing him into the fold would be a nice addition as a mostly bullpen arm, but sometimes opener for a younger pitching staff that could use a little veteran help.

Obviously it’s largely dependent on what he has in the tank, but something like two years and $12 million could be a nice bargain for the Royals and give Duffy a contract he can build on after the 2023 season. Keep it small for 2022, something like $4 million with some incentives based on games pitched and/or innings and then give him the full freight for a reliever for 2023 at $8 million. As it stands right now, the Royals have one lefty in the bullpen in Jake Brentz, though you could see guys like Kris Bubic or Daniel Lynch there probably. Getting Duffy in the fold around midseason would be a nice addition at a time when the odds are the Royals will be dealing with some injuries. I’m not speaking with any inside information here, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if they find a common ground pretty easily after the lockout is over.

Every year, I try to think about some Royals who could be in line for contract extensions. I like writing about them. It’s fun to look for the comps and do the math and all that. Last year, I targeted Keller and Mondesi and struck out on both. This year, though, it’s a little bit harder to find guys who might be looking for an extension. Part of that is because so much of the pitching staff is within their first couple years. I suppose you could look at a potential extension for Brady Singer who is one year away from arbitration eligibility (assuming that things stay the same, which is all we can do at this time). Maybe something for Scott Barlow makes some sense given what Raisel Iglesias just got, though Iglesias has been better for a lot longer and extending relievers seems like a bad move. The obvious choices offensively are Andrew Benintendi, though I don’t love the idea and maybe Nicky Lopez, but that seems like a very bad time to do that given his lack of consistent results.

Otherwise, you start getting into super early career extensions, which are kind of interesting but a lot harder to both predict to happen and to predict the terms. Carlos Hernandez is someone who makes some sense as a young pitcher without a big signing bonus who has shown success in the big leagues. If I had to guess, I’d say he or Bubic would be the guys to get something done because I don’t think they’ll break the bank on an extension given that they aren’t projected to be huge earners through arbitration at this time. Plus, they’re both hard workers who I think the Royals would trust to not take their foot off the gas. It’s not that other pitchers would, but that’s something you have to think about with an extension. And of course, they could look to a pre-career extension like I wrote about for Bobby Witt, Jr. but could apply to MJ Melendez or Nick Pratto as well.