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Lesky’s Notes: The pickins are getting slim

But we’re just a few weeks away from spring training, so there’s good on the way.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t long ago that the Royals quest for a left-handed bat offered up tons of possibilities on the free agent market. Well, those days are over. We’ve seen Jurickson Profar (got his name in, go me!), Eddie Rosario, Tommy La Stella, Joc Pederson and Robbie Grossman all sign elsewhere over the last few weeks. But hey, Nick Markakis is still available. Sorry to put that idea out there, but come on, it was already there, so you can’t blame me if he does sign with the Royals, right? Please? I’ve seen some speculation, both in generally and directly to me, that ownership is pulling back the checkbook a little bit as we progress in the offseason, but I can tell you that isn’t the case at all. They still have money to spend. Things just haven’t worked out with a few of the players out there and some others, the team just wasn’t as interested in as some wanted them to be. It happens. As I put on Twitter, free agency is a two-way street, and the Royals still are saddled with a bad team tax and a big ballpark tax for players who might want to rebuild value on a one-year deal. So I guess it’s still onward for the lefty bat search!

One thing the Royals have done is sign a lefty masher in Hanser Alberto to a minor league deal. I put on Twitter after the deal that all you need to know is that he’s adequate defensively and mashes lefties, and I think some may have taken that in a way that I was down on the deal, but I’m absolutely not. For one, minor league deals are hard to get upset over, even if they’re stupid (I said hard, not impossible). For another, Alberto is a solid player. He’s a career .350/.367/.464 hitter against lefties, and while the sample is still small with just 350 plate appearances, those numbers are even weighed down a bit by his first 70 plate appearances against lefties. In the last two years with much more regular playing time, he’s hit .394/.411/.532 with a 12.1 percent strikeout rate.

The Royals were adequate against lefties last season and with guys like Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler, Salvador Perez, Carlos Santana and Adalberto Mondesi (if his 2020 numbers against lefties even get close to sticking), they should still be okay, but they have some liabilities. Nicky Lopez (who has also been an equal liability against righties unfortunately) could use some help against them. Alberto happens to play second base. Franchy Cordero has had some issues with lefties in his young career. While Alberto hasn’t played much outfield, he might with the Royals, but Hunter Dozier could move out to the outfield to work a platoon between Alberto and Cordero. It’s not a perfect fit, of course, but Mike Matheny also showed a willingness to pinch hit late in games during the 2020 season, which is something Alberto has had success with, albeit in an impossibly small sample size. So my point here is that there’s a place on the roster for him and I like it.

The PECOTA projections are out, and while that sends a shiver down the spine of many readers, I happen to love projection season. It’s important to remember that projections are made based on an algorithm looking purely at numbers and historical trends (and much more that I’m far too stupid to understand). Does Whit Merrifield get more out of his talent than someone else might? Sure. But a computer doesn’t know that and that’s okay. Looking at the 50th percentile numbers is the most instructive, but not always the most fun. On that, Adalberto Mondesi is projected to lead the team in WARP (the Baseball Prospectus version of WAR) at 3.4 with Carlos Santana a close second at 3.1. The biggest thing that I keep stopping on is how well the system projects Xavier Fernandez. It has him at 1.8 WARP in 600 plate appearances (it’s not saying he’ll get that, but if he did). That’s about 0.2 WARP higher than Salvador Perez. I don’t know what’s going on there, but it’s at least interesting-ish.

If you want some fun, check out the 99th percentiles because that’s where it gets crazy. Carlos Santana with 120 walks and .465 OBP? Don’t mind if I do. Another 40 home run season for Jorge Soler? Yes please. Although I think that’s actually possible without him reaching his 99th percentile if he stays healthy, which is a huge if, but still, he’s got the power for it. And then there’s Fernandez again with a .348/.426/.617 99th percentile line. I don’t know why this is so intriguing to me, but it makes me want to see him for a full season just for fun. Oh and just a real quick rundown of some fun comps:

Adalberto Mondesi - Tim Anderson, Michael Young and...Chris Owings

Kyle Isbel - Paulo Orlando, Abraham Almonte, Rosell Herrera (the Royals trio)

Bobby Witt, Jr. - Erick Mejia, Erik Gonzalez, Michael A. Taylor

Okay, maybe those aren’t fun, but they’re funny? Either way, I love projection season.

I know I’ve harped on this quite a bit over the last few weeks, but I really think the Royals need more starting pitching. There’s the obvious that nobody set to be in the rotation threw more than 64.1 innings last season, but also the fact that nobody has been what you’d call a workhorse for at least a few years, if at all. Danny Duffy has thrown more than 155 innings once in his career and that was back in 2016. Brad Keller’s career high is 165.1. He looks like a workhorse and he may have been in 2020, but he didn’t get that chance to prove it, so he still hasn’t. Mike Minor did throw more than 200 innings as recently as 2019, but he also threw 380 between 2014 and 2018. And, of course, you know about Brady Singer and Kris Bubic.

I’ve talked about Mike Foltynewicz before, and I think there are a handful of teams on him and I believe the Royals are one of them. He’d be an intriguing pickup with significant risk, but the possibility for some very real reward. And as I’ve said before, I really would like someone like that. Jake Arrieta would be a veteran pickup who could potentially pitch decently and maybe even bring back a third tier prospect at the deadline, but I just don’t have any interest in that. The same goes for Cole Hamels and Mike Leake and Rich Hill. I feel like Matt Shoemaker is sort of in the same conversation, but there were talks early in the winter that they were interested in him and then once they signed Minor, that sort of fizzled. That’s a marriage I could see happening. If you believe the home run numbers last year were a fluke and you don’t expect more than 15 starts, he could be a pretty solid sign that I’d be on board with, I think.

I don’t have the sources that other writers do, but I have a few and through them, I’ve heard about at least internal recent discussions regarding extending Brad Keller, Salvador Perez, Hunter Dozier and Adalberto Mondesi. One name I haven’t heard in a long time is Jorge Soler. You might remember I mentioned that he could be an intriguing trade chip toward the end of the offseason if the universal designated hitter was adopted late in the game after a lot of the best options had been signed. He’s signed for 2021 for a touch over $8 million, which is really reasonable, even if he doesn’t reach his lofty 2019 numbers. Even 100 games at .260/.350/.500 would be worth that for a team needing a middle of the order bat. The problem is that there aren’t a ton of teams who fit for him right now, so the team is sort of stuck in a middle ground with him if they decide not to extend.

One thing that I would seriously consider if I was Dayton Moore is seeing what it would take to sign Marcell Ozuna. Maybe he wouldn’t want to come to Kansas City, but if the Royals are going to let Soler walk after this season, having his replacement on the roster wouldn’t be a bad idea. Ozuna is going to cost more than Soler, but even something like four years and $80 million, they don’t have a single guaranteed dollar on the books for 2023 and only have about $23 million for 2022. An offense with both Ozuna and Soler in 2021 would be a lot of fun, but having a replacement in house for when they actually expect to win would be even more fun. I’m honestly not sure if that’s a smart decision or not to give a guy that kind of money who has had fits of greatness, but hasn’t been all the time, but it’s intriguing at the very least.