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Lesky’s Notes: Time for some Royals resolutions

Let’s just hope these aren’t broken by mid-February.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Kansas City Royals
The Royals need a lot less of bad Kowar in 2022.
Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

New Year’s Eve is upon us and that means it’s time for the time-honored tradition of a lazy article about resolutions. That goes double this year with no news actually coming out other than a couple managerial hires and some minor league signings. I’ll repeat what I’ve said before because it’s easy to lose faith at this time. Nobody ever expected there would be any real negotiations on the CBA in December once the lockout was imposed by the owners. The fact that there haven’t been any real negotiations in December shouldn’t change anything. I know I say that just about every week, but I think it’s worth repeating. I still would be surprised if any time is missed. Most teams seem to be operating under that assumption, and I think you should too. Now…if we get to mid-January and they haven’t even talked yet, I’ll start to get worried.

The first resolution is one for you and it’s to make sure you’re subscribed to Inside the Crown. It’s free, so the price is right. I try to give Royals analysis that you can’t get everywhere. During the season, it’s pretty much every weekday. Lately, it’s been two or three times a week. So it’d be pretty awesome if you’d subscribe.

Okay, now let’s get to the Royals resolutions.

Limit negative pitchers. This one is pretty easy, but if you look at the 2021 team, they spent 38 innings on pitchers with an ERA of 10.00 or higher, another 77.1 on pitchers with an ERA of 6.00 or higher and another 399.2 on pitchers with an ERA of 5.00 or higher. Some of this is pretty easy. Jake Newberry and Jesse Hahn are two of the three pitchers with an ERA above 10.00 and they’re gone. Anthony Swarzak and Wade Davis were two of the three pitchers with an ERA above 6.00 and they’re gone. And Jakob Junis was one of the four pitchers with an ERA above 5.00 and he’s gone. So I named five pitchers there and there were five more who fit into the three categories above. Jackson Kowar was an abomination in 2021 and then there’s Tyler Zuber, Daniel Lynch, Brad Keller and Mike Minor. Zuber can be thrown out because he’s a reliever prospect on a team that seems like they’ll have a pretty full bullpen. But the other four are issues. Keller pitched better down the stretch before he got hurt and Minor was just sort of there, it felt like. Kowar and Lynch, though, they need to pitch better.

And that’s ultimately some of how the Royals will achieve that resolution. They simply need more from their young pitchers. Lynch showed flashes in late July and August before he hit a bit of a wall. Kowar pretty much never showed a flash, which is concerning. With Keller, it’s interesting to me how many people wrote him off after his terrible first half, but he did right the ship before his season ended and he’s now been good in three and a half of his four seasons. It’s hard to think the bad half year isn’t the aberration. But they can also do their part by bringing in someone else. Maybe it’s another starter to help the bullpen by pushing someone like Keller to it. Danny Duffy could be a help by mid-season. Whoever it is, they could definitely use another arm or two to help reduce the 515 innings used on pitchers with an ERA of 5.00 or higher.

Limit negative hitters. You might say to yourself that I’m cheating here in looking at the pitchers and hitters separately. And maybe I am, but I think there’s enough of an issue in the mound and in the batter’s box that these should be looked at separately. I’ll look at the hitters similar to the pitchers. They had 327 plate appearances from hitters with an OPS below .600. They had another 476 between .600 and .650. Then it was 2,456 for hitters between .651 and .700. Heck, if you want to extend it out, they only had 665 Salvador Perez plate appearances from a hitter with an OPS above .800. There were 59 qualified hitters with an OPS of .800 or higher and the Royals had one of them. That’s just not good enough. I know they want to move on from Carlos Santana, responsible for 659 of the sub-.700 OPS plate appearances and they’ve already moved on from Kelvin Gutierrez, Jarrod Dyson, Ryan McBroom, Jorge Soler and Hanser Alberto, but they simply need more.

We’ve talked all offseason about how the Royals are in an odd position in that their offense isn’t good at all, but they don’t have any areas where they can improve outside of maybe right field. Kyle Isbel looked good in September, but of course the sample was small. And, as I’ve said before, the market next winter for outfielders isn’t quite as robust as this winter, so the Royals might have to make a move a year early if that’s the route they want to go. I still would love to see Michael Conforto in Royals blue, but I’m doubtful that’ll happen. The real way they make good on this resolution is to make sure they get at bats for their young players and hope they hit the ground running or at least jogging at a brisk pace. But more important than that, they have to utilize their growing depth to not stay with players putting up seasons like Santana and Hunter Dozier did last year. The options weren’t great in 2021, but they should be better in 2022.

Figure out the infield. This is, by far, the biggest question the Royals will have heading into the 2021 season and how they handle it will have a massive impact on the future of the team. They currently have Hunter Dozier, Nicky Lopez, Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi, Emmanuel Rivera and Bobby Witt Jr. for some combination of second, third and short. Dozier probably isn’t a real candidate, but until he doesn’t play third, he’s a candidate to play third. They have some combination of Dozier, MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto and Santana to play first. I’m not even going to acknowledge Ryan O’Hearn. Of those listed here, we’ve seen Dozier and Merrifield play some outfield, so they could shift out there as well, and I suppose Pratto could as he did it some in the minors but he’s the best defensive first baseman of the bunch. There’s also obviously DH, but that’s nine players for four or five spots. There’s a logjam, which is not a bad things.

They need to find a taker for Santana even if they have to pay down his contract. There should be enough of a musical chairs game among teams looking to fill in from outside their organization that someone will want a veteran hitter, and if he’s super cheap, it’ll be an easy add for them. The real difficulty will come from the second, third and short route. The best defensive infield might be Merrifield at second, Mondesi at shortstop and Witt at third. I know Lopez was outstanding there in 2021, but I feel like we’ve all forgotten how good Mondesi is there. Still, Mondesi wasn’t available, so Lopez after his solid year with the bat could easily be the best option. But then there’s one of the best prospects in baseball in Witt and that’s his natural position. Merrifield can shift to right, but that’s not a great use of his bat or his glove. It’s a conundrum, so they need to figure this out.

Win 81 games. This one is pretty simple. The Royals won 81 games in 2016 and then 80 games in 2017 before falling to 58 and 59 in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Then in the shortened season, they won 26 games, which extrapolates to 70. And then in 2021, they won 74 games. Getting to .500 is the next step. Ultimately, 79 wins or whatever isn’t a failure, but getting to .500 should be the realistic goal for them. And there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to do that given their young pitching gathering the experience it did in 2020 and 2021 and the young bats starting to find their way to the big leagues. The 2022 Royals should be a team that can compete for the postseason if everything breaks right but doesn’t fall completely apart at the first sign of trouble. It won’t be easy. They play in a division with a White Sox team that remains very good, a Twins team that seems ripe for improvement, a Guardians team that always seems to figure out a way to win some games and a Tigers team that is also looking to take their next step, but even higher than .500. They don’t play their first game against a team not trying to win until May 6 when they go to Baltimore. It’s a tough road in the AL, but if they want to get to where they plan to get, they’ll have to win some games eventually. It’s time to start in 2022.

I just want to say thank you to everyone for reading me here and on Inside the Crown and for reading everything here at Royals Review. You’re all the real heroes. Happy New Year to everyone!