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Lesky’s Notes: Looking at deadline day and beyond

The Royals aren’t willing to move much...for some reason.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

This is a day we’ve had circled on the calendar really since the Royals starting circling the drain sometime in mid-June. Dayton Moore has been pretty adamant about not wanting to trade pieces that can help the team win next year. I’ve been pretty adamant that anything they do to take away from the 2023-2027 team in favor of 2022 is silly. Honestly, I still don’t care if they try to win in 2022 as long as it doesn’t take away from an actual chance of being a good team and not just catching lightning in a bottle. The last couple weeks have shown what Moore likely sees in this team. The month and a half before showed the flip side. The truth of the matter is that their talent level probably lies somewhere in between and at 45-56, they’re on pace for a 72-90 season, which is pretty much where the projections pegged them. But I do think there’s something to a team that shows such high highs even with the low lows to balance them out. It at least makes it make a bit more sense maybe for why the front office sees what they see.

I’ve talked a bit about the organizational thought process over on Inside the Crown this week (yes, this is the shameless self promotion, so just subscribe for free already!). I do understand in some ways seeing what this team has done since the break, or really since the embarrassment against the Orioles, and thinking that they can replicate it over a full season. I don’t agree with it, but it’s easier to dream on how this team can win soon when you’re watching them win currently. But like I said above, it’s easy to see how this team is in no position to win any time soon if you look at the tough stretches they’ve gone through with the pitching issues from the young guys and the inconsistent at best offense. I just have such a tough time figuring out why trading aging players who likely won’t be on the next Royals team that can actually make a deep run is such a bad thing to Dayton Moore and the Royals front office in general. I agree that Whit Merrifield sets a great example of how to be a big leaguer, but so do lots of guys. How many veterans does one team need to show young players how to do it? It just seems like a copout.

But, to play devil’s advocate for just a minute here, I do agree that guys shouldn’t be traded just to be traded. At least players who are under team control beyond the season. Anyone who doesn’t have a contract beyond 2021 serves no purpose on a losing team, so they should go for the best offer even if it’s less than what the Royals want. But if they don’t get an offer that matches what they want for Carlos Santana, hang on to him. The free agent first basemen this winter aren’t exactly inspiring, assuming Freddie Freeman re-signs with the Braves. Anthony Rizzo is the best of the bunch, but even he’s more of a name than an impact bat. He’s hitting .238/.344/.433 since the start of last season. Playing home games in Yankee Stadium might help boost those numbers, though. It’s better than Santana, but some team would likely value his patience in the offseason.

It’s kind of difficult with this article coming out on Friday morning of the trade deadline, but there are other areas to focus on other than potential trades, in spite of being frustrated by the Royals not willing to move anyone but pending free agents. One thing that’s been really encouraging since the break has been the Royals starting pitching. And yes, I’m including their work in the Orioles series as well, even though it was kind of ugly. They’ve thrown 64.1 innings in 12 starts for an average of 5.1 innings per start. That’s still not quite good enough, but they have a 3.50 ERA in that time. It’s pretty obvious what straw can stir a team’s drink when you see the numbers from the starting staff as they’ve gone 9-3 in those 12 games. There is a bit of a concern and it’s that they’re simply not striking guys out with a rate of 19.1 percent, which is down near the bottom of baseball in that time. They are in the top third of the league in soft contact and the bottom third in hard contact (both in a good way), so they’re at least limiting hard contact. But that’s a concern.

I’ve seen a lot of people actually lament the starters pitching well because it might lead to the Royals choosing to keep Cal Eldred around. That is definitely a risk here, but at the same time, if the message is getting through and working, I’m not arrogant enough to think that there aren’t multiple ways to get messages across. I still doubt that’s the case. I mean, just look at the situation with Brad Keller. The Royals saw his issues after a start in Fenway because of the camera angle more toward center field. That’s all well and good except for the fact that they have cameras and equipment that can be set up directly behind their pitchers in all mound settings outside of the game and those weren’t used. But anyway, I digress. The point here is that the starting staff has been good and even better since the Orioles game with an average of about six innings per start and a 2.48 ERA. Competent pitching is so much more fun to watch than whatever it is we were subjected to before the break.

We all know how good Nicky Lopez has been recently. He now leads the Royals in fWAR at 2.3, which is partially a function of playing shortstop competently, but partially because he’s turned his season into something pretty darn good. Since Adalberto Mondesi left the game on Memorial Day with the hamstring issue and Lopez came in to relieve him, Lopez has hit .341/.412/.409 in 148 plate appearances. That’s a lot of plate appearances to still be doing this. And yesterday, he hit a triple off Carlos Rodon that ended up being the farthest hit fair ball of his career (he hit one 440+ against the White Sox, but it went foul). So it’s obviously been a really impressive run for him. I have a bit of a weird opinion that he may have tried to take steps to get better backwards when he tried to bulk up and hit for more power prior to last year. While I agree that he’s too much of a slap hitter to be an impact player, he was also a .240/.276/.325 hitter in 2019. He hadn’t figured out how to hit at all in the big leagues, let alone hit for power.

Now that he seems to have figured out how to get some hits and use his minor league approach in the big leagues to find success, it feels like this offseason would be a better time for him to try to add some power to his game. We talked a lot with him about the comparison to Whit Merrifield and what he did in order to add some power to give him some staying power in the big leagues, but Merrifield did that after he’d had some success. Maybe Lopez simply should have figured out how to hit first and then bulked up a bit second. Can you imagine with his approach if he was able to hit the ball 10 percent farther? If he was a 10-12 home run bat who could put up a .120 ISO instead of a .075 ISO. No, that doesn’t put him on par with the top middle infielders in the league, but that’s the sort of change that actually would make him perfect for the top of the order. I’m curious if he does it or if he is satisfied with simply finding success, but I think now is the time as opposed to two years ago.

I haven’t mentioned much about the Danny Duffy trade. I did talk about it in today’s Inside the Crown, but one thing that I’ve seen talked about quite a bit is what the player to be named later means. Many seem to think it’s a nobody player, but from what I’ve heard it isn’t. Alec Lewis of The Athletic tweeted that it doesn’t sound like the PTBNL is based on how quickly Duffy comes back. I’ve heard from one person that it does matter and one that it doesn’t, so I honestly don’t really know, but I also heard from both people that the list the Royals are looking at has some pretty good names. I don’t know any names, but I’ve heard it’s someone in the 8-14 range of the Dodgers top prospects and then someone a little farther down the list. If the first player feels a little high, that’s because John Sherman did something David Glass never was really willing to do and that’s provide some money with Duffy in the deal in order to get a better prospect, so that’s definitely worth noting.

I really like Andy Pages, but I also think the Royals probably love Landon Knack, who has 47 strikeouts and five walks in high-A in 34.2 innings this season. Kody Hoese may also be a name to watch there because the Royals have previously drafted him. It’s been a really tough go for him this year, though. I don’t really have much thought on the second prospect, though James Outman has an unfortunate name, but seems like a Royals skillset. He can really run and he can play center field pretty well and he’s probably ready at some point next season. That seems like it could play for what the Royals are looking for in deals as they’ve stated. Whatever they get, it seems like it’ll be a lot better than your typical PTBNL fodder, which, as a reminder, also happened last season. They got Dylan Coleman as the PTNBL in the Trevor Rosenthal deal and Coleman is now pumping 100 in Omaha and looks like he could be an impact late inning reliever in the big leagues soon.