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Lesky’s Notes: Top prospects and free agents are almost like baseball news

The Royals will have their pick of some decent options once they’re allowed to sign guys. Plus, some prospect lists!

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MLB: Kansas City Royals-Media Day USA TODAY NETWORK

At some point, the lockout is going to end and the 314 players who are still listed as free agents will get the chance to sign with big league clubs. Many of them will either not sign or will be brought in on minor league deals, but there’s a lot of offseason that will need to be crammed into a couple weeks whenever this whole thing gets settled. I thought Ken Rosenthal had a great article in The Athletic earlier this week about the need to get all of this behind everyone. I think it’s interesting to note that the players aren’t in as much of a financial hurry as the owners. They’re not paid for spring training, but the owners make money in the spring. I know they usually make some money from me, and while I have my trip booked, if I end up not getting to see baseball, I’ll be disappointed but it’ll also give me an few hours every day I’m there to eat all the delicious food, so at least there’s that. Still, the pressure is mounting. I’m a lot less confident today than I was last week and I’ll be less confident tomorrow than I am today that spring training will start on time. The good news is that they don’t need the entire time that spring is supposed to be to get ready for the season. If they only have 20 games instead of the 32, I’m pretty sure they’ll still all be ready for the season, but it does provide a bit less time for evaluation.

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We’ve got some prospect news! Okay, maybe not news, but the top 100 (or 101) lists are coming out with Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus this week. Baseball America was pretty open about their process showing reasons why all of the top three (Adley Rutschman, Julio Rodriguez and Bobby Witt Jr.) had a case for number one while BP released their list and their article about that all in the same day. As you probably know by now, Witt was third on the BA list and he did rank first on the BP list. I was personally hoping for a top spot on BA because the Royals have never had a number one prospect there. Alex Gordon at number two was the closest, but let’s not pretend that number three is anything to sneeze at. The likelihood of Witt even being able to appear on the mid-season list with an early callup, if not Opening Day, likely means that this is where he tops out, so that’s a pretty impressive rise for a guy who had some hit tool questions following his 2019 debut.

As for the rest of the list, BA and BP agreed that there are only two other Royals deserving of top 100/101 status and they are MJ Melendez and Nick Pratto. I can’t say I completely disagree, though I was interested in the Asa Lacy omission on BA after he was ranked on the team list ahead of Melendez and Pratto, but they addressed it right at the top of the list, so that was interesting. Not that having top ranked prospects nationally is the be all, end all, but the fact that those three are on the list shows it’s a big year for the system in 2022. All three should be off lists in 2023 due to no longer having prospect eligibility. The Royals need some guys to step up. And a lot of the guys you’re probably thinking of might lose prospect eligibility too, though many won’t. It won’t be too big of a surprise to me if the three on there this year get replaced by people like Ben Hernandez, Frank Mozzicato, Alec Marsh if he doesn’t make it to the big leagues, Nick Loftin, Michael Massey, etc. But they need to keep producing. The other thing to keep in mind is that, let’s say they only have one or two top prospects next year but they got solid contributions from Witt, Pratto and Melendez with maybe Isbel producing as well and three or four of the young pitchers figuring it out in some role. I don’t think that makes the future of the team weaker. It’s just that they’ll have a bunch of guys in their first couple years at the big league level instead of AAA. But still, we saw what happened when one wave of prospects hit big and there wasn’t another to follow, so the system needs to continue it’s ascent this year to become a perennial top system rather than a one-hit wonder.

Okay, let’s talk about some of these remaining free agents and how they might fit with the Royals. I still would love to see them add a big bat for the middle of the order. I don’t see it happening, but my worry about the potential outfield in 2023 and beyond hasn’t changed (and why would it with time standing still right now?). I wrote about the infield logjam this week, so there isn’t much of an opportunity to find that bat there, but if they wanted to go get Michael Conforto, I wouldn’t complain too much. That said, it’s kind of hard right now to see them doing much of anything outside of maybe a fourth outfielder who can hit right-handed to be able to spell Andrew Benintendi or Kyle Isbel. The problem there is that the options are pretty rough. It’s Albert Almora, Delino DeShields, Jake Marisnick, Kevin Pillar and Danny Santana. I might be missing someone who would be willing to be a backup on a longshot contender, but even so, that’s rough.

The team still talks about wanting to upgrade the bullpen. I’ve mentioned before that I like what they’ve got back there. Scott Barlow is good. Josh Staumont had a much better season than I realized. Jake Brentz has control issues, but the arm is electric. Dylan Coleman is one of my favorite relievers and I’m ready to defend him the way I did Kelvin Herrera in 2013 if things go bad. Plus there’s Domingo Tapia, Joel Payamps, Taylor Clarke, Daniel Tillo and any of the starters who might get pushed to the bullpen. Still, the Royals want some experience. The odds are that by mid-season most people will wonder why whoever they bring in is pitching the eighth of a close game, but I would like to see them at least explore Archie Bradley, Danny Duffy for a mid-season boost, Mychal Givens, Collin McHugh, Jimmy Nelson or Ryan Tepera. I like all of those arms. And, you may not want to see this, but don’t sleep on Greg Holland coming back. Once he came back healthy in September, he threw nine scoreless innings with just one walk and four hits allowed. If they do go that route, he can’t be used as heavily as he was early in 2021, but he could be a very useful sixth or seventh reliever.

I don’t know if this should be something like Peter Griffin’s what grinds my gears segment, but I get so frustrated when a very good player retires and the conversation immediately turns to if he’s a Hall of Famer. Jon Lester is the latest example. He unequivocally should be on that ballot in five years and he will be. But come on. The phrase “Hall of Very Good” is overused, but it might be overused because there are so many people who belong there if it existed. Look at Lester. He was a very good pitcher throughout his career. His story is a Hall of Fame story, but he’s not a Hall of Famer, and I don’t even think of myself as a “small hall” guy. I’m just not a “big hall” guy either and there’s a cutoff. To me, that cutoff is somewhere better than Lester.

The numbers just don’t make it. The average Hall of Famer accumulated 66 bWAR in their career and Lester got to 44.3. His 200 wins would rank 62nd among all Hall of Famers. I know that wins aren’t important like they used to be, but I think when you’re looking at a whole career, they at least hold some weight. He’d be 67th in innings among Hall of Famers. Again, some of that is his era, but looking at his career ERA+ of 117, it just seems more good than great. I think it’s fair to look at his postseason where he’s been great, but it’s just not enough to me. Say what you want to about Curt Schilling, but he had 16 more wins, an ERA+ that was 10 points higher, about 650 more strikeouts and an even better postseason career. And to me, Schilling isn’t even a slam dunk guy for what he did on the field. Does anyone think Mark Buehrle was a Hall of Famer? Sure, probably. But he had 16 more wins, threw about 543 more innings and had an identical ERA+ and had a pretty significantly higher WAR. I feel like there’s some thought that saying someone isn’t a Hall of Famer is saying that he sucked, but that’s just not reality, and I don’t think we need to debate the Hall of Fame merits of every good player who retires.

As the lockout is limiting news, I’m continuing to look back at some older Royals and today I want to talk about one of my favorites of my childhood, Danny Tartabull. It’s funny because when I first started writing about the Royals regularly back in 2010, the fact that Tartabull was part of my childhood and not my adolescence made me one of the younger guys out there. Now, I feel like there are a lot of you reading who might not even remember much about Tartabull with the Royals. Time, man. Anyway, he was absolutely my favorite Royals player growing up and the fact that he isn’t in the team HOF (by the way, I think of this VERY differently than the baseball HOF) is a travesty to me. And before anyone wants to mention anything, oh yeah, I remember him playing right field. It was…an adventure. But the man could hit.

In five seasons with the Royals, Tartabull hit .290/.376/.518 with a ridiculous wRC+ of 145. Among Royals hitters with at least 1,000 plate appearances, nobody has a higher wRC+. Ever. George Brett only has two five-year stretches with a wRC+ that high and one of them includes his ridiculous 1980 season. When Brett is your only peer, that’s pretty darn impressive. Going back to that 1,000 plate appearance minimum, he has the fifth-highest walk rate in team history, the third-highest OBP and highest SLG by a full 26 points. Obviously, he’s buoyed here by not remaining with the team as he exited his prime, but he is absolutely one of the best hitters in team history and was my clear favorite when I was a kid. When the Royals lost him to the Yankees, I was crushed. I just wish he got his due.