There’s news! It’s not new anymore, but there’s news! With now less than a week until pitchers and catchers report, the Royals have added their left-handed hitting outfield bat they’ve been talking about for so long. And it's interesting too because after all the back and forth about Jurickson Profar (I have a gift, I can include him no matter what), Eddie Rosario, Robbie Grossman, Derek Dietrich, and any of the other dozen or so names we heard mentioned as possibilities, it feels like outside of maybe Profar, they got the high with the highest upside and a guy who has a pretty good shot to be the best of all candidates we’ve discussed. There’s absolutely the potential for this deal to crash and burn. Franchy Cordero could finally break out and become a star in Boston or Khalil Lee could start lifting the ball and not letting deep counts eat him up and become a really good player for the Mets. But there’s definite upside for the Royals in a way that I don’t think they’d have gotten with many of the free agent options.
Khalil Lee being involved in the deal surprised me a bit and caught me off guard, but I’m not sure that it should have. What Wednesday night’s trade told me about the organization is that they have Kyle Isbel above Lee, which makes sense given the stalling we’ve seen from Lee as he’s made it to the upper levels of the system. Maybe getting to play actual games in 2020 would have changed that opinion, but from the reports I’ve heard, Lee was fine at the alternate site and Isbel turned heads. Does that mean anything in the long run? Maybe? Maybe not? I honestly don’t know. We’ve never had an alternate site to even discuss before last season, so it’s hard to know really what it means.
I think the Royals have a little more outfield depth than maybe we consider because it’s not especially high level, but with Isbel, Edward Olivares (who the team really likes and also probably made it easier to deal Lee), Brewer Hicklen, and guys like Erick Pena and Seuly Matias hopefully working their way through the system over the next couple seasons and a possibility for a move to the outfield from someone in their system currently projected to be an infielder, they do have some possibilities to play on the grass moving forward. I was a big Lee believer for a long time and I honestly still am, but I really don’t mind using him to get Benintendi to help supplement the outfield for at least the next couple of seasons.
Where does this leave the Royals now in their quest to continue improving their team? That’s a good question, and I know they have more room in the budget if they want to go out and get someone. My guess is they’re still very interested in bringing Trevor Rosenthal back. We’ve seen the range of free agent reliever deals, and I think Rosenthal is going to end up much closer to Jake McGee than to Liam Hendriks. McGee just inked a deal for two years worth $7 million. I think Rosenthal gets more than that, but the initial estimates of two years and around $15 million or so are probably right, and that fits into the Royals budget just fine as their payroll currently sits at around $86 million with the Red Sox pitching in $2.8 million toward Benintendi’s deal.
While the bullpen looks solid, that doesn’t mean there aren’t question marks. The organization loves Tyler Zuber’s stuff, but he was inconsistent in 2020. Wade Davis is likely to be a part of the big league bullpen if he shows much of anything in spring training, but also, how likely is he to be good? I’m not saying it’s not possible, but also I’m not saying it’s probable. Plus you’ve got Kyle Zimmer who isn’t the picture of health and they might end up needing Jakob Junis in the rotation. So I do think that the bullpen is an area where they think they can still upgrade and help their 2021 chances. Outside of Rosenthal, there’s a lot of question marks, though, so I’m not sure how likely they are to give a big league deal to anyone but him. I don’t know, though, I just feel like it could still happen. By the way, that means that by the time you’ve read this, Rosenthal will have signed with literally anyone else based on my track record the last few weeks.
With the addition of Benintendi, there’s been quite a bit of lineup talk, which is always fun to start the spring and then gets old somewhere around the third day of camp. But we’re not at the third day of camp, so it’s not old yet. I’d like to see Benintendi toward the top of the lineup, especially based on what he said about trying to bulk up to hit more home runs in Fenway and some of the smaller parks in the East. If he can get back to his 2018 game, he’d be a perfect hitter to have in that number two spot in the lineup. You might remember a few years ago that after acquiring Jorge Soler, I suggested the Royals hit him leadoff, so I’m not afraid to throw out some weird lineup ideas, and this one isn’t that weird, but I’d have some interest in Benintendi leading off, followed by Adalberto Mondesi and then Whit Merrifield. My thinking here is that Mondesi is so fast that a guy who just makes contact as often as Merrifield does would be perfect to have hitting behind him for the times he actually does get on base. I wouldn’t hit Mondesi at the top, though, so here’s what my lineup would look like:
I think the Royals will probably have Salvy hitting in the three spot, so maybe flipping him with Santana and I could see them putting Dozier seventh and Mondesi sixth as well to give Dozier a fast guy to drive in occasionally, but that’s the general idea that I have right now.
There’s a lot of talk about what the trade actually means for the 2021 season and what the Royals believe they’re capable of. A lot have speculated that they think they can make the playoffs, and I suppose they can, but I still think that’s misguided even with the addition of Benintendi. That said, one thing Clint Scoles said the other day was that they’re trying to cut down on the ifs, and while Benintendi is still an “if”, he’s less so than Franchy Cordero. As I noted above, you can really see that the lineup feels so much deeper than it did in 2020. Of course, the Royals’ success doesn’t really depend that much on Benintendi. If Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier hit like they did in 2019, that lineup has a chance to be legitimately good.
There are four players with a legitimate chance at a walk rate of 10 percent or higher. They have four players with a legitimate chance to have a strikeout rate below 18 percent. The ifs have obviously not yet been eliminated, but if Dozier and Soler hit, that makes the other ones even less important. In 2019, those two had a 125 and 138 OPS+ respectively. Add in Carlos Santana and his 136 OPS+ and you don’t have to turn back the clock very far to find an actually dangerous middle of the lineup. So can they win? Sure. It’ll take the lineup doing that and the young pitching stepping forward. So yes, it’s possible. If this move was made with an eye on making the playoffs in 2021, I’d have to say it was shortsighted, but if it was made with an eye on improving and moving toward the postseason, then I think it’ll have the desired impact.
I just want to add a fifth note here to thank everyone for their support yesterday when I launched Inside the Crown. Obviously I’ll still be writing here at Royals Review as well, so you can find me in two places, but the support from the site announcement yesterday was more than I ever expected. If you’re interested in subscribing, I’d love the support. Thanks so much for reading!