While you were waiting for this page to load, the Royals just walked three more hitters to load the bases. Okay, so maybe not, but it probably wouldn’t take too much to convince you that they did after what we saw in New York. We spend a lot of time thinking about this team’s offense, and they are wildly inconsistent, but the pitching staff spends so much time outside of the strike zone that any team with any semblance of patience should know (and clearly does know) that they can just wait it out and likely end up on first. I mentioned last week how often they throw pitches down the middle, but only six teams throw a lower percentage of pitches inside the zone. Is it that they don’t trust their stuff? And if that’s the case, are they right to not trust their stuff? They’re all good questions that I don’t have the answer to, but a team that doesn’t throw strikes and when they do are down the middle is a pretty big issue to start.
Let’s start there because the topic of the last few weeks has been Cal Eldred and this pitching staff. Last week, I answered some questions in an ItC Mailbag that you would have gotten in your email if you had just subscribed already. What are you waiting for? One question was about the possible replacement for Eldred if the Royals move on from him and I named a few options who I really like. My favorite is Ruben Niebla, who is the current Indians assistant pitching coach, but the more I’ve read about Everett Teaford and the work he’s done in the White Sox organization. There is quite a bit out there about how well he’s done with helping pitchers develop new pitches, which is something the Royals badly need with so many of their young pitchers a third pitch away from being better. And there are ties to the Royals and Dayton Moore with Teaford, of course.
The issue, though, is that there’s no guarantee Eldred is let go at any point. I think it’s a non-zero chance that they move on before the end of the season, but not much more than zero. The organization obviously has a big interest in the young pitchers finding their way to success in the big leagues, so if the pitching staff continues to flounder over the final three months of the season, they may not have a choice, but it’s also not the foregone conclusion that many hope it is that they’ll replace him after the season. What I will say is that the organization knows what is said, so at least they hear the outcry against the coaching. I don’t know that a change in voice is going to fix everything or even anything, but I’m definitely of the belief that it’s time. And I don’t especially think his relationship with Mike Matheny really matters. Matheny’s success is tied to the young arms and if the young arms don’t develop, Matheny won’t find success. I don’t think that’s lost on him. I don’t know where I’m headed with this, but while I hope they make the obvious move, I’m not completely sold yet that they will.
The trade deadline is just over a month away, and at various points in the season, what the Royals might do when that time comes has been very different. As of right now, at seven games below .500 and 10 games out of a wild card spot, at least the Royals won’t find themselves mortgaging the future for a run at a one-game playoff. But I also don’t think they’ll hold a fire sale like I’ve seen some people discuss. The biggest trade pieces are the veterans - Carlos Santana, Mike Minor and Greg Holland. I don’t see the Royals trading any of them. I think they’ll want to hold on to Santana and Minor because they believe next year is a year they can actually compete and they’ll need them.
The hope was that Jorge Soler would be someone who could bring back something in a trade, but he hasn’t been good enough. Jarrod Dyson and Michael A. Taylor could probably be attractive to a team looking for a fourth outfielder. I just don’t see a lot of activity this season for the Royals, but like I said before, I think it’s actually a good thing because it will keep them from making a bad decision, at least until the offseason. All that said, the team needs a center fielder, maybe a right fielder and potentially a third baseman next season (I’ll get into that in a second), so if they’re able to find something in a trade now that can help next season and beyond, I wouldn’t be opposed to that happening.
There’s a lot of talk about Adalberto Mondesi and his third trip to the injured list with yet another oblique injury. First of all, I think them bringing him back and essentially trying to do his rehab assignment in the big leagues might have been part of the problem. He wasn’t moving at 100 percent and I think there’s at least a chance that his unnatural movements to try to hold back were part of what led to another injury. But a point that I made last night on 810 is that the Royals might actually be one of the few teams uniquely qualified to have Mondesi and not have to rely on him but can enjoy what he provides in however many games he plays. I’ve made the comparison to the Astros before, but I think they’re fair. Outside of 2016, Carlos Correa has played more than 110 games one time in his career. He’s stayed healthy this season and he did last year, but when he gets hurt, the Astros slide Alex Bregman to shortstop and they’re just fine.
The Royals have Bobby Witt, Jr. on the rise. He’s not a big leaguer yet, but he’s likely going to be sometime relatively soon whether that’s a week from now, a month from now or on Opening Day 2022. And if Mondesi is healthy, he’s likely to be the third baseman when he makes it to the big leagues. But he has big league caliber defense at shortstop and can slide over whenever he needs to which gives the Royals a potential All-Star even when their potential All-Star misses time. If you want to make the argument that Mondesi should be the one to move, both in an effort to maybe stay healthier and because Witt is better, sure, I buy that. It’s all still hypothetical at this point until we see what Witt can do, but if he’s as good as everything thinks he will be, that gives the Royals a very real opportunity to hang on with Mondesi for longer than other teams might be able to do.
Every non-playoff season is one that can still have successes. There can be big-time player development successes like Nick Pratto and Witt having big years in the minors. Or there can be big-time big league surprise seasons like Jake Brentz coming on and being a really good and big left-handed arm out of the bullpen. But you can also find success by simply finding out about players. One guy the Royals had to get an answer on this season was Kelvin Gutierrez because he will be out of options next season. We’ve seen before with Cheslor Cuthbert what kind of a roster crunch that provides for a team that wants to keep a guy who can’t be sent down but doesn’t really have a spot for him. You can argue that it was silly with Cuthbert, and you’d be right, but that’s not the point here. So simply finding out can be a success in a different way than most people think of success.
And I think, unfortunately, they’ve found out with Gutierrez. He’s hitting .214/.256/.302. He has been working some walks lately and he doesn’t strike out a ton, but it’s just not enough. Yes, he hits the ball hard but as we’ve noted so many times, it’s always on the ground. A 63.3 percent ground ball rate isn’t going to do it. Defensively, he really looks the part and when you see him make a great play, you think he’s the real deal, but he’s so inconsistent that it just doesn’t work there. He’s been a negative defensively both from the eye test and statistically. At this point, I think they’ve found out what they need to find out. Personally, I’d just move on and give Emmanuel Rivera a shot. He may be not too different, but at least he accesses his power in games. He’s hitting .293/.346/.604 and while he doesn’t have the defensive reputation that Gutierrez does, he’s not exactly a slouch. I say give him a shot. Learn what they have in him too. Because remember that when Witt slides to shortstop, they need someone at third and right now that someone would be Hunter Dozier.