As our ancestors foretold, the Collective Bargaining Agreement expired and the owners locked out the players. I want to repeat that because while I’m sure everyone here knows it, I think it’s important to put it that way. It’s not just that there’s a lockout. The owners locked out the players. This is a decision the owners made that they did not have to make. And the commissioner, who let’s just say I don’t think very highly of, believes this is a tactic to put pressure on the players to come back to the bargaining table to get serious about a deal. Make no mistake here, friends, I am very much on the player’s side here. I won’t tell you where your rooting interests should fall, that’s not for me to decide, but now we’ll be without any semblance of baseball news for the foreseeable future. As I wrote yesterday on Inside the Crown, I don’t anticipate this will cost any time, but it’s bad, bad look.
And hey, speaking of Inside the Crown, won’t you subscribe for FREE? I love writing, you’ll love reading it. And if you don’t love reading it, it’s free. So yeah.
The Royals did make one big league signing before the lockout and that was to pick up Taylor Clarke, who was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks. He’s kind of interesting. He debuted in 2019 and was mostly a starter and not very good. He was better in 2020, but still not especially good. Then in 2021, his ERA rose, but his walk rate plummeted as he was exclusively a reliever. He was actually in the midst of an excellent stretch mid-season when he went down with a shoulder injury. In the 10 appearances before his injury, he gave up just six hits in 10 innings and struck out 11 while walking two. Then he had a shoulder injury and missed a little less than two months. When he came back, he was a disaster. He gave up three runs in his first outing and ultimately got optioned to AAA in early September because he just wasn’t getting the job done.
Before and after the injury, both his fastball and slider had similar velocity and spin rates. His changeup, though, saw a decent spike in spin rate, though it didn’t really get hit hard. He just had a tough time with location, both walking more hitters and living far too much in the middle of the plate. It’s easy to look at the timing and wonder if it has to do with the sticky stuff getting cracked down on between him getting hurt and coming back, but we can’t really have much of an idea there because it could just be that he wasn’t right after the injury. What’s scary is shoulder issues are not quite as predictable as elbow issues, so maybe he won’t be right for awhile or maybe he just needs the rest of the offseason. I think it’s a worthwhile gamble on a guy with a slider that moves like his does to see if he can be a help in the bullpen. I still think they could use another big arm out there, but even if they don’t get it, I think there’s the recipe for a very good bullpen in 2022.
When the free agent frenzy was going on ahead of the lockout starting, the Royals were very quiet. I wrote about that on Inside the Crown (yep, I’ll look for any excuse to link to it!) and the only part that sort of bothers me about how quiet they’ve been is that I think they do need to be on the hunt for outfielders. They did sign JaCoby Jones to a minor league deal, which might be the most predictable signing in the world. But I just don’t see a competitive enough big league outfield, both in 2022 and beyond. I actually do like Kyle Isbel, though I think opinion is pretty split on him, but the outfield is pretty thin in the minors and in the prospect ranks beyond him. MLB Pipeline has Erick Pena as the next highest rated outfielder and he struggled mightily in the complex league last season. Darryl Collins and Tyler Gentry are the next highest rated outfielders on that list at 21 and 22. We have seen Nick Pratto play some right (I hate that) and I wonder if Nick Loftin could be pushed toward a Chris Taylor/Ben Zobrist type role, so maybe he could play some outfield. But otherwise the outfield is thin.
And look ahead to next year’s free agent class. Andrew Benintendi is in it and the Royals could opt to keep him around, but then it’s a 36-year old Michael Brantley who already isn’t good defensively or a 35-year old Justin Upton or a 37-year old Lorenzo Cain or a 32-year old Wil Myers. Yes, there are some options that might work. Brandon Nimmo will be out there. So will Kiké Hernandez and a strong right field trio of Joey Gallo, Aaron Judge and Mitch Haniger, but I don’t know that the Royals will be involved in any of them. Even after the craziness of the past week and a half, there are still some great options out there when the lockout is over. I don’t blame them for passing on giving Avisail Garcia $50 million, but I’d love to see them get aggressive with someone. Sometimes in free agency, you have to buy a year early because the next year doesn’t have much to choose from.
Since labor and the commissioner’s office are the topic of discussion right now, I want to revisit something that I’ve talked about before, but I think is worth talking about again. The role of the commissioner is to represent the owners. And I think that absolutely sucks. Many people believe that the commissioner’s job is to bring out the best in baseball, and while that would make perfect sense, that’s not what the role is in place for, and that, to me, is something that causes a lot of the issues in the game. Other sports are the same way and when there are labor issues, the same problems arise, but what bothers me about any labor discussion is that you have a representative for the owners and a representative for the players, but you don’t have a representative for the game itself.
That probably wasn’t a big deal even a couple decades ago before the financials absolutely exploded, but when there is that much money on the line, what’s best for the game probably isn’t truly what’s best for the owners or the players. Now, I tend to believe it falls a lot closer to what’s best for the players because they want a system where every team is trying and every team is spending money to put the best team on the field, which is ultimately best for the game. But they’re also looking out for themselves as they should. I still believe the commissioner should be the person in charge of the best interest in baseball. Yes, it adds another element to negotiations, but someone needs to stand up for the game as a whole. Maybe that’s simply a mediator, but when I see people suggest that Dayton Moore would be great for the game as a commissioner (and I do very much think him in a baseball leadership role would be great), it makes me realize even more that he’d be a terrible commissioner because the role isn’t what it should be, in my opinion.
One thing the last couple weeks has brought me around on is having some transaction limitations moving forward because, quite frankly, it was super fun until the owners decided to, you know, shut down the sport. The week leading up to Wednesday night was incredible with the signings. What I would propose moving forward is that free agency starts exactly one month before the end of the Winter Meetings. Then players can sign freely up until the day the Winter Meetings end. From that point forward, put a freeze on every transaction until the Monday after New Year’s Day and open things back up again. This gives us the insanity that we dealt with for a few days and still gives players plenty of time to sign if they aren’t signed up by that time. One thing that I’m banking on when we get to the other side is some creative deals with the general managers having plenty of time to has things out among them before the freeze is over and we could see that every year if there’s a limitation on when transactions can occur. It’s not perfect, but something I’m in favor of now after how much fun the free agent frenzy was.