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Lesky’s Notes: There have been CBA negotiations!

At this rate, baseball will be back in no time...or something.

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MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals
It may not always work, but the Royals do try.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest news in baseball is the Mets managerial search, minor league signings and CBA negotiations. Given that the Mets managerial search is interesting for like a minute and minor league signings are only vaguely interesting (plus the Royals aren’t doing much), the news boils down to the CBA. I’m actually a little surprised because I predicted zero talks until after the end of the year. What an idiot I am because the two sides met yesterday. Now, their discussion had nothing to do with the core issues that are truly causing the standoff, but meeting is better than not meeting. In Craig Calcaterra’s newsletter yesterday, he showed some skepticism about what it means and I completely agree, but I think the fact that they’re working out some details now indicates an optimism that no time will be missed at the very least. Evan Drellich reported in The Athletic on Wednesday that the “core economics” talk wouldn’t come until January, which still jives with my guess as to the lockout timeline. So we’ll see how it goes, but for now, I’m happy and surprised that there are conversations being had at all.

In the meantime, I sincerely hope you’ll subscribe to Inside the Crown for FREE! I’m still churning stuff out over there even if it’s not quite as prolific as I’d like.

Sticking with the CBA, but looping the Royals in a little bit, one of the biggest issues for the players is that they want teams to actually try. It’s a novel idea, I know, but the reality is that the system doesn’t reward any team for going from 65 wins to 75. Heck, it barely rewards teams for going from 75 to 85. And truly, it’s not so much that it doesn’t reward teams for winning those extra 10 games as much as it does reward teams for not. I don’t think tanking is quite as beneficial as some of these teams would lead you to believe but getting the higher pick and the added draft slot money is obviously helpful. The Royals role in this is that they have been the team that the players want bad teams to be over the last few years. In 2018, they made some moves that didn’t work, but they signed guys like Mike Moustakas and Lucas Duda (don’t laugh, at that time, it was considered trying). In 2019, they replaced Salvador Perez with Martin Maldonado and signed Jake Diekman. In 2020, they gave Maikel Franco a big league deal and didn’t play service time games with Brady Singer. And then this past year, we know that they gave money to Carlos Santana and Mike Minor and traded for Andrew Benintendi.

It obviously hasn’t done anything for the record as they posted their best winning percentage of the last four years in 2021 and that was .457, but that is how the MLBPA wants teams to behave. Putting aside the other issues, I believe it is better for baseball when teams are at least putting forth some effort. Looking at Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections for the Reds just makes me angry. They had Wade Miley, who in the last three full seasons has made 77 starts with a 3.46 ERA, with a $10 million option and chose to trade him before they had to pay the $1 million to exercise that option. They could have traded him after that and actually shopped, but they were so concerned about that $1 million. They have Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle to go along with Jonathan India, Joey Votto and an admittedly uneven offense other than them, but they’re choosing to tear it down now. I’m not even saying it’s not smart. It’s better to do it a year too early and a year too late, but that’s the problem with the system. They’re using it the right way, but it shouldn’t be the right way, so hopefully there’s some resolution there and we see some teams act more like the Royals (I’m not sure I ever thought I’d type that).

What’s interesting about this all is that every time I think I’ve come up with a good solution in my head, I realize a hole in it. People much smarter than me can’t find a compromise, so that shouldn’t be too surprising. It’s almost a circle when it comes to the issues, so there’s no right place to start, but the players wanting to lessen the revenue sharing comes from a place where teams aren’t utilizing that money on payroll. They want the revenue shared less so the teams that will actually pay players will pay them. That part seems easy, which means requiring teams to utilize that money for payroll. Of course, the hole comes in where you see how much teams get from the broadcast rights, both local and national. It’s not truly a hole as much as a note that maybe the players are right and revenue sharing isn’t as important as a payroll floor.

Then I get to the competitive thing and how to both de-incentivize tanking and incentivize winning as much as you can even if you’re not a playoff team. The idea that the best non-playoff team gets the number one pick doesn’t work for me, at least not in the current playoff format. It’s not that I don’t want teams that actually tried to be rewarded, it’s that the first pick and that draft pool money is a legitimate prize. A 91-win Blue Jays team or a 93-win Cleveland team (in 2019) should be rewarded, but that seems a bit much. Maybe instead of the actual pick, teams finishing above .500 get additional draft money? Again, I don’t know, but that seems to be something worthwhile. I’ve also thought about a punishment for consecutive losing seasons with a payroll below a certain number in that time. I also don’t know exactly how that would work, but maybe that’s something. You don’t punish a team for winning cheap or losing expensive, but if they’re not spending money, they better win. Just thinking out loud shows how difficult a lot of these conversations must be.

Over on Inside the Crown, I’ve written the last couple days about finding trade partners. It’s hard to see where everyone fits with the current roster already, but I think they’re pretty well set on finding another veteran starting pitcher to help out with the young guys and just provide innings while they’re cautious with all their arms. I also think they would love to upgrade in the outfield. They also want bullpen help, but I don’t think there’s any harm in adding more inventory there regardless. Where I find myself torn is whether or not they actually should be doing this. Looking at the outfield, for example, the Edward Olivares ship seems to have already sailed away for them for some reason, but Kyle Isbel is someone they’ve liked for awhile (and I have too). His first taste of the big leagues didn’t go great, though it was a remarkably small sample. But after some minor league adjustments, his return was fantastic. He hit .286/.362/.524 in another remarkably small sample, but he showed good defense and some extra base pop along with some solid plate discipline. Shouldn’t he get a shot in a year where they’re still a year away?

In the rotation, sure, it would be great to add a veteran, but unless they can get a difference maker who will be on the team beyond 2022, is that all that important? They already have Minor, though I assume they’ll try to move them and I still think the Angels are the destination, but they have Brad Keller too. Think what you want about Keller, but a 3.50 ERA and 3.90 FIP in his first three big league seasons followed by a 3.42 ERA and 4.01 FIP in his last two months of 2021 says that the first three months of 2021 was likely the outlier. They have those two plus Singer, Carlos Hernandez, Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, Jonathan Heasley, Angel Zerpa and others in the minors like Asa Lacy, Alec Marsh, Jonathan Bowlan and more who could debut in 2022. Should they really earmark 22 April through July starts for another pitcher who won’t be part of the long-term solution? I just don’t know. It feels like they should actually utilize 2022 to find things out and do what they haven’t done in the past, which is worry less about adding five wins that won’t get you to the playoffs and use this year to find the 15 wins that will in the next three or four.

I’m very interested to see the projections start to come out for the Royals. I mentioned ZiPS and I know Dan has run the Royals because he mentioned something about the projections for Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez and Nick Pratto. The Steamer projections are out and they have those three as three of the four best hitters by wRC+. The other who isn’t in that group? Vinnie Pasquantino. He ranks as the second highest projected wRC+ in the entire organization, so that’s kind of crazy, but a high contact guy with power will tend to do pretty well in those. The rest of the average to above average hitters for the Royals are Salvador Perez, Carlos Santana, Andrew Benintendi and Edward Olivares. Whit Merrifield just missed average at 99 and then there’s Ryan O’Hearn right below him if you want to think about how you feel about this set of projections.

On the pitching side, it’s probably no surprise that the best FIPs belong to relievers. It’s Scott Barlow, Dylan Coleman, Jake Brentz, Richard Lovelady and Josh Staumont in that order. Lovelady obviously won’t pitch in 2022 but the rest will and should form a pretty solid bullpen for the Royals, you would think. Jackson Kowar is projected as better than Daniel Lynch, which again shows some of the limitation of projections. He had more success in AAA while Lynch had more experience in the big leagues. After watching the two of them, I’d take Lynch in a heartbeat, though you never know with young arms, I guess. I don’t exactly have a point here, but I love projections because it’s fun to see how an algorithm sees the team and I like to be able to talk about them, but I also love people using them incorrectly. That part always makes me laugh. So yeah, I’m looking forward to the usual suspects coming out over the next few weeks.