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Mailbag time!

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Time to answer some questions about the team now that they’ve officially played more games than the entire 2020 season

Kelvin Gutierrez making an off-balance throw to first base
I’ll try not to airmail the throw
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Hey everyone! It’s been a hot minute since I was able to a mailbag for all of you, but the time has come once again! As of this writing, the Royals are 30-31 before facing the Athletics in Oakland for the second of a four-game series late tonight. Considering how deep we are into the season, it feels like we should have some answers as to just good this team is, exactly. Unfortunately, the team has been very streaky, and it’s hard to get a grasp on their identity. Still, let’s see if we can’t find at least some of the answers here.

I’d say the odds of the Royals having an entirely homegrown rotation next year are next to nil. Brad Keller, at least, figures to be a member still, and you’ll recall the Royals got him as a Rule 5 selection from Arizona. Mike Minor is still under contract for next season, and after a rocky start, he’s been much better lately. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t be forced to the bullpen by some combination of Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, and Asa Lacey. I’m just not holding my breath on it.

As to whether any team has had all five starters home-grown before, I’m going to give you the somewhat cheeky answer that the first season of MLB action had every team using pitchers who had only pitched for their organization. It’s really hard to find five quality starters among just your own players. It seems plausible that it was somewhat easier when all contracts were lifetime contracts before the era of free agency, but a quick glance at the Royals rotations throughout the years showed they, at least, have never managed the feat.

This is a timely tweet, as I just saw a headline that showed exactly that happening. This is exciting for me because I wanted the Royals to be in on Kumar Rocker in 2018, coming out of high school. At this point, it seems that unless other teams take the consensus best available players ahead of the Royals that someone very highly thought of, if not Rocker himself, will still be available when the Royals pick at number 7. Personally, I might be even more excited if Rocker’s teammate Jack Leiter fell to the Royals. It seems like there’s been something of a renaissance of sons of former major league players being even better than their fathers lately, with guys like Vlad Guerrero Jr and Fernando Tatis Jr just absolutely dominating the sport. Maybe that’s not good analysis, but it’s how I feel all the same.

First, let me direct you to a couple of excellent pieces written by other authors about what a deal for Mondesi might look like. They include a wide range of comps, so if you don’t like their final numbers, you can easily make up some of your own.

Spotrac suggests Mondesi should be worth a six-year deal worth nine figures. And in some ways, they might be right. But I think both of the guys in those linked articles are probably closer both to what I’d be willing to do and what I think would actually be reasonable.

I’m not even really sure where to rank Jonathan Bowlan since he’s out after Tommy John surgery this year. Maybe he’d be the best of the bunch, or maybe the worst. It’s hard to say. Of the remaining four, I’d go:

  1. Kris Bubic
  2. Brady Singer
  3. Large gap
  4. Jackson Kowar
  5. Daniel Lynch

Before we go any further, let’s be clear that this is a ranking of these players RIGHT NOW and doesn’t take into account their futures. That said, Kris Bubic has been phenomenal this season, outside his start against the Angels, and that changeup is absolutely deadly when he’s got it working. I think I might be the only person who is higher now on Brady Singer than I was at the start of 2020. People complain about his lack of third pitch, but to my eye, if he can control the fastball and slider, they’ve got so much movement that he can get away with just those. The frustrating thing about him right now is that while he’s controlling both pitches better more often now than last year, he’s missing worse when he does miss, which has led to some confusing results. I will continue to be on the lookout for him to have a scorching stretch that could begin as early as his next start.

Jackson Kowar, to me, seemed more the victim of nerves than anything else in his failure of a first start on Monday night. He will get a second chance this afternoon against Oakland, and I expect it to be significantly better. After Daniel Lynch’s first start, I didn’t have as much expectation for his ability to improve in his second start. Nerves seemed to be an issue in his first start, yes, but his command seemed out of whack in a consistent kind of way that made me think mechanical flaw more than nerves. Three starts later, we found out he was tipping pitches. He’s been demoted to the minors, and he’s got a 15.75 ERA in three starts where he’s averaging less than three innings a start. So his attempts to fix the mechanical issue that led to the tipping aren’t going great right now.

Lynch, more than anything, calls into question a lot about the Royals and their development and handling of pitchers. They were convinced he was ready, but he was tipping pitches. Even worse, it took the Royals three games to figure out what other teams needed only one game to learn. That’s simply not a good look.

What if I told you that since returning from his tweaked groin muscle, Jorge Soler has hit .190/.370/.524/.894 for a 147 wRC+? The Royals have played him at designated hitter for six straight games (out of seven total since the injury), and that change appears to agree with him; it’s a 172 wRC+ if you take out that one game in right field. The batting average is not pretty, but batting averages are down all around baseball, which means it’s more important for us to look at aggregate percentile stats more than ever to get a clear picture about who is being affected by league-wide trends and who is actually playing poorly. It’s a small sample size, but he might just be coming out of that slump.

The answer, regardless of whether you’re impressed by those numbers, is “a while.” The Royals simply don’t have any better options for designated hitter right now. Ryan O’Hearn would be the next guy after Soler, and no one wants him to play either. The important thing seems to be keeping him out of the outfield as there are lots of guys who can play out there better.

Also, just in case you’re curious, Hunter Dozier is slashing .209/.306/.442/.748 - good for a 107 wRC+ - since his return from the IL. Again, that batting average is atrociously low, but the OBP suggests a guy starting to see the ball better, and the wRC+ says he’s not murdering every rally.

Were it any other GM, I’d say this was a difficult question to answer. But it’s Dayton Moore, so the Royals aren’t likely to be sellers given how they’ve competed thus far. Whether or not they are buyers probably depends on how many more hot streaks they can go on and whether they can avoid any more cold streaks. It kind of feels like one more cold streak could absolutely sink this team. But if they get hot and stay hot for a while, I could see them looking to fill a couple of holes that would likely still remain even on a successful version of this team.

If they were going to sell, which I don’t think they are, the only real candidates to go out the door would seem to be Greg Holland and Jorge Soler. And neither is bringing back a current top prospect. As buyers, they have a huge stable of starting pitching prospects to deal from. Additionally, I’m sure someone out there is interested in Richard Lovelady, even if the Royals seem to have forgotten they employ him. MJ Melendez has rebounded as a catching prospect in AA, but he could become trade bait as well because the Royals seem to be very high on Sebastian Rivero.

If the Royals were buyers, I’d expect them to look for one more reliable reliever and potentially a middle infielder to shore things up. If I were GMDM, I’d have a long conversation with the Rockies about what it might take to get Trevor Story for the rest of the year. The kid can hit and is an above-average defender at shortstop. You could play him at second or third if Mondesi is healthy, and he’d be a far superior replacement than anyone currently in-house if Mondesi is hurt.

Matheny started the year letting guys go multiple innings, and that did seem to work for a while. I’m not really sure why he got away from that, except that maybe any time a pitcher goes more than one inning, you’re unlikely to have him available for the following night. Of course, if, for example, Kyle Zimmer and Josh Staumont pitch two innings each tonight, that still leaves you with Jake Brentz and Scott Barlow the next night. But that discounts that sometimes guys are unavailable for reasons that aren’t just because he pitched the night before.

You may not want to hear this, but Greg Holland is very clearly the fifth-best reliever the Royals have right now. Considering the starters are averaging fewer than five innings a night, that means the fifth-best reliever is going to get plenty of playing time no matter how you organize the innings. Until someone else takes a step forward to dethrone him from that position, he’s going to keep showing up.

If Dayton Moore doesn’t get Andrew Benintendi extended this off-season, I’ll eat my hat. Benintendi is having a career resurgence after the Royals trade a pair of outfielders who haven’t shown much at the MLB level and a couple of other guys no one but the most dedicated of prospect hounds have heard of for him. He may not be as good a defender as Alex Gordon, but his attitude and approach to the game remind me so much of Alex, and GMDM’s love of Gordon is well-known. This is one of those cases where the stats and the eyes agree; the Royals should absolutely try to keep Benintendi around with an extension. Unlike the last two deals they gave to Alex, he’s still in the prime of his career, too, so you can expect him to be good for a fair while yet.

As for how much he should cost, I don’t think it should be that much. He doesn’t have a history of a ton of power which is the most costly stat. Randall Grichuk was the best comp I could find. He recently signed a five-year/ $52-million contract, and while he’s a bit older and doesn’t hit quite as well, he does have more power. Something in the same ballpark, or maybe four years, seems feasible for Benintendi.

A sandwich has been pretty clearly defined throughout history as having at least two elements, with one element being placed in between two parts of another element. Pizza, therefore, is only a sandwich if you fold it over to eat it.