I’ve said this so many times but aside from the obvious, one of the things that I was most disappointed about missing during the 2020 baseball season was getting to see the changes from the Royals revamping their offensive development. It was obviously a complete mess on the farm with guys who were supposed to be top prospects hitting what was likely rock bottom. But thankfully, the year off from action didn’t deter much and the Royals really are hitting from top to bottom in the organization with obviously great seasons from guys like Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez, but so many others like Michael Massey, Vinnie Pasquantino and more really hitting the snot out of the ball. I thought Alec Lews did a fantastic job writing that up in The Athletic this week, and it has me optimistic that they’ve at least unlocked some of how to develop bats to help provide depth for the big league club in the future. They’ve done some work on the pitching side and maybe it just takes a little longer to see, but the bats seem to be ahead of the arms in an organization that has a lot of arms.
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I guess I should start with the biggest big picture topic of the week and that’s Dayton Moore saying that they can’t count on Adalberto Mondesi to play a full season moving forward. There are a lot of angles to this, so I’m not really sure where to start, but I guess I’ll start with Mondesi himself. I’m curious what that means for him. He’s a very good shortstop and while the sample is smaller, he wasn’t quite as good at second base. He hasn’t played anywhere but those two positions professionally, but is a fantastic athlete. Can he play center field? I would say he probably could with some work in the offseason. But is that the best thing for his injuries? In some ways, probably yes because it’s not as much quick twitch motion and it’s generally a little easier to stand in the outfield than on the infield dirt. But I wonder if the sudden bursts and sprinting may be an issue. Of course, if those are an issue, then simply running the bases is an issue. So it’s a really difficult question to answer. And the difficulty is compounded by the fact that it likely won’t be Nicky Lopez who moves around from shortstop to second base when the Royals want Mondesi at short but rather one of the best prospects in baseball.
And because of Witt’s presence (and honestly Lopez’s as well with how well he’s played this year), the Royals are uniquely prepared to deal with a star shortstop who you can’t play there every single day. They have another potential star in Witt to play there and a solid backup in Lopez to play there. I think the writing has actually been on the wall for awhile given that Witt has only played eight games at third base all season when going into the minor league year, the talk was he would play some third and second along with shortstop. It’s actually a good problem to have because they have three players who can play shortstop and two who have star ceilings there. A lot of teams would kill for that, but it’s interesting. My guess going into 2022 is that Mondesi will get some outfield work, some second base work and maybe even some third base work. I think both he and Witt will play a fair amount of shortstop once Witt is up, but Witt will play there more than Mondesi. It’ll be a very interesting puzzle to watch them put together.
The other aspect of the Mondesi news is the fact that Moore said it at all. It’s not that he’s wrong or it’s not true. It’s just the sort of thing that I don’t think I would have expected him to say. I had heard probably a month and a half ago that his job isn’t fully secure, which makes sense because it shouldn’t be. But even so, the guy has been around for a long time, through a lot of losing, so you really don’t know if he’s on solid ground or not. John Sherman coming in after 2019 and with the shortened 2020 probably put a damper on some of the evaluation, which from what I was told, makes 2022 a very important year for Moore. And those comments, combined with the trade deadline strategy and the talk of winning next year and all that make it hard for me to shake the idea that he’s general managing for his job and he absolutely knows it. Why would the Mondesi comments play into that? I think a GM with ultimate job security would continue to dream on the superstar talent. I think a GM without that won’t let the too often injured player torpedo his job. Simple as that.
There’s risk with a GM fighting for his job. Does an 85-win season keep him in the role he’s been in for more than 15 years? And if so, does he make moves to get to those 85 wins without regard for the following seasons because that’s Future Dayton’s problem? I don’t think Moore thinks that way, but I also don’t know that he doesn’t. I’ve said for awhile that I don’t especially care if they think they can win in 2022 as long as the means to that end don’t impact the future years, so if he wants to go out and sign a guy to a one-year deal, great. If he wants to trade Melendez for Drew Waters (I don’t know, just throwing a name out), I’m actually fine with that because it’s a trade that might help 2022, but also is good for the future. But I would hope that Sherman wouldn’t allow him to mortgage the future for his job if that is something he sees starting to happen. Like I said, I don’t think that’s in Moore’s DNA, but you never know what happens when someone is backed up against a wall.
The list of people who want Cal Eldred fired as Royals pitching coach has grown to pretty epic proportions. And to make things clear, I remain at the top of that list, but I have to say that credit should be given where credit is due. I think we were all very quickly to put it on the coaching staff when guys like Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, Kris Bubic and Brady Singer have struggled this season, but it’s been a nice run for the young pitching...other than Singer. Lynch has obviously come back and been really impressive with 19 innings and a sub-2.00 ERA, but it’s not just him. Bubic found another gear with his fastball in the last half of his start on Tuesday and if he can keep that up, the ceiling definitely rises. Kowar is apparently throwing a new slider in AAA (which has nothing to do with Eldred, so let’s not give him too much praise). And Carlos Hernandez also is showing something over his last couple starts.
The point is not to say that Eldred should keep his job and everything is great, but it is reassuring to see pitchers actually have some success after so much of them having basically no success. I continue to struggle to understand how and why Singer seems to refuse to add that third pitch, whether it’s a changeup or something else, but the recent results give some hope for the future with this pitching staff. My guess is that the Royals could use an experienced front of the rotation starter at some point, and they might address that this offseason, but for now, it’s nice to see some positive things happening with the young arms. Will it save Eldred’s job? Maybe. I still don’t think so, but it’s a bit less clear than it was even a month ago, but hey, success is success.
Looking ahead to the offseason, the Royals have about $27.7 million in guaranteed contracts. They have a few players who are arbitration eligible, but the most expensive of those players will likely be Andrew Benintendi, who probably won’t get into eight figures even. Mondesi and Brad Keller both have likely lowered their 2022 numbers to the point that the Royals will likely end up somewhere around $50-$55 million for 10-12 players with 8-12 or so players still pre-arbitration. That probably puts their payroll at about $60 million with a need to add a 5-8 players, you would think. If they shoot for their 2021 payroll, that leaves them $25 million, but from what I’ve heard, they will likely be at least willing to raise payroll to closer to the $110 million range. If they’re there, that leaves them probably around $50 million to try to do some damage and add to the team.
Their biggest need is a center fielder, which is unfortunate given the market. The only one worth even mentioning is Starling Marte who does fit what the Royals need but will be 33 before next season. If he’s commanding a three or four year deal, I’m not sure I’m good with that. Do they shift their focus and try to get by with Edward Olivares and/or Kyle Isbel in center and look to make a splash with someone like Nick Castellanos? I don’t really think so, but they could. They could simply go with Isbel and Olivares and hope for the best, but that’s really the only spot on the diamond where they have the roster spot to add with every other position seemingly filled and likely filled relatively competently. As far as available starting pitchers, I’m also not really sure where they go unless they want to make a risky splash with Noah Syndergaard. I only go through this exercise because it underscores the fact that I really believe they’re going to make a trade that a lot of people hate this off-season and take on some salary. On the plus side, the two biggest trades made by Dayton Moore have been panned by many and both worked out well, so fingers crossed that it happens a third (and maybe a fourth) time this winter.