It is the beginning of a new year, which means it is prediction time! You can see how well I fared in my predictions a year ago (remember Franchy Cordero?). With that track record in mind, don’t take these predictions for 2022 too seriously.
Crystal ball, what say you?
The lockout ends in early March
Baseball owners have locked out the players and instituted a transaction freeze since the old collective bargaining agreement expired on December 2. While we aren’t in jeopardy of losing any games yet, it has put a damper on the off-season and has made it hard for fans to get very excited about baseball with no trades or signings the last month.
Owners and players have only had a few meetings in the last few weeks, but expect things to start picking up as we approach the scheduled start of spring training. Money tends to get people moving, and owners will miss the revenues they reap from spring training crowds in Arizona and Florida, plus season ticket sales will be down. Players don’t get paid their salaries in spring training, but they’ll start to feel the pressure as we get closer to Opening Day, plus many free agents will want some clarity on where they are playing this season.
I don’t think the two sides are actually that far apart on the issues - they both seem to agree the luxury tax threshold should go up, that free agency eligibility based on service time should be reformed, and that the minimum wage should go up, it’s just a matter of hammering out the details. Right now the biggest impediment seems to be mutual animosity between the two sides due to the last labor negotiation and disagreements over how to compensate players for the shortened 2020 season. But there is too much money at stake for the two sides to stay mad for long, and I expect a deal in early March, with maybe a one-week delay on the regular season.
Adalberto Mondesi will be in the best shape of his life
For the second year in a row, the most frustrating Royals player was Adalbert Mondesi. In 2020, the enigmatic Mondesi was a roller coaster, looking like the most inept hitter in baseball history, followed by a few weeks when he looked like Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds combined. This year, the roller coaster wasn’t even on the track, as Mondesi played just 35 games due to three separate injuries to his left and right obliques, and his hamstring.
The injuries have caused the Royals to lose some faith in him as an everyday player, and it sounds like strength and conditioning will be a priority for Mondesi this off-season. Last November, Anne Rogers of MLB.com reported the plan was for Mondesi to spend some of the off-season in Florida, working with Mike Tosar, the special assignment hitting coordinator that helped unlock more power from Salvador Perez and Jorge Soler.
“It’s never that he comes into Spring Training unprepared,” general manager J.J. Picollo said. “It’s just a matter of, how do we keep him healthy? And that’s why we’re looking at different ways of training. … If he can build up to more of an endurance-type athlete, it may translate better for him to be on the field every night.
So of course Mondesi will come to spring training in the best shape of his life. You can already see the reports now, how lean he looks, how in-tune he is with his body. If spring training is pushed back, that could hurt his ability to get extra work in, but he knows his career is at a crossroads. If he ever expects to get the big payday his talent warrants, he needs to stay on the field and put up the numbers to back it up.
Adalberto Mondesi will be traded
I just don’t see how he really fits in the roster at this point. I think they could go with the tentative plan of him as a utility player at short, third, with perhaps some time even in the outfield. But it seems like it would just make more sense to trade him to a team that needs a shortstop if he still has some value and fill another area of need, perhaps some pitching depth.
I think the Colorado Rockies could be a fit - they don’t really have a shortstop right now and Mondesi in altitude could be an interesting match. The Angels don’t have anyone at shortstop and probably don’t want to splurge in free agency again. The Yankees need a shortstop with defense in mind, so if they don’t land the top free agent shortstops available, perhaps they turn to Mondesi. But the most likely scenario is some starting shortstop suffers an injury in spring training, and come calling the Royals towards the end of camp. The Royals should be ready for a call.
The Royals sign Brad Hand and Vince Velasquez
I dunno, I’m just spitballin’ here. The Royals have made it pretty clear they’re not going to be super active in free agency, but if they pursue any players it will be pitchers, particularly relievers. Royals General Manager J.J. Picollo told Anne Rogers of MLB.com that the club would like to have more depth.
“We’re looking to improve, wherever we can, whether it be left-handed or right-handed,” Picollo said. “We ended the season with two left-handers with Brentz and Speier. … But we may try to look left-handed. But at the end of the day, if we can add two to three relievers to complete our bullpen, we’d feel like there’d be a lot more depth.
The Royals likely won’t be in on top reliever free agents like Kenley Jansen or Raisel Iglesias, so they’ll have to shop in the bargain bin. That could mean another reclamation project like Brad Hand, who was once one of the top relievers in the game, but was put on waivers late last year after some struggles. He’s still just 31 and bounced back with the Mets after being claimed, so there could still be some interest in him.
Dayton Moore has also indicated they would like a starting pitcher at the right price so maybe a pitcher like Vince Velasquez makes sense. He has always had good stuff, but unimpressive results, so the Royals could give him a shot in the rotation to begin the year to give their prospects more time. But he could transition to the bullpen as needed where his stuff may play better and he can fill the innings they need in the late innings.
Bobby Witt, Jr. will be in the Opening Day lineup at third base
Witt was considered for last year’s Opening Day roster, but the Royals wisely held off, allowing him to enjoy success at the minor league level, and keeping him off the 40-man roster so that he won’t be affected by a potential Major League work stoppage. But assuming big league action does resume this April, expect the phenom to be in the Opening Day lineup for the Royals, likely at third base. This could be made even more certain if owners and players agree to reform the free agency eligibility requirements to end the practice of service time manipulation. But the Royals have traditionally not been a team to manipulate service time, and if they think Witt is ready, he’ll be in the lineup. And there is every reason to think he’s ready. With more pressure to win games out of the gate, the Royals will want him contributing right away.
Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez will be called up after the All-Star break
It wouldn’t be terrible to have Pratto and Melendez start the year in the minors to prove 2021 was not a fluke season after their remarkable turnaround. But the biggest reason they won’t make the Major League Opening Day roster is there just isn’t a place for them to play. Carlos Santana will still likely be taking up first base unless the Royals can move him, which seems unlikely considering his awful second-half slump. The Royals could move Santana to DH, but I don’t think they’ll do that at the outset of the season. Having Pratto begin in the minors gives them time to see if Santana can bounce back and resurrect his value for a trade. If he can’t, he could simply be released outright to get Pratto in the lineup.
Melendez is a trickier situation since Salvador Perez is blocking him at catcher. You could have them split time between catcher and DH, but I don’t know that the Royals will want their top catching prospect spending a lot of his time not catching. You could see him try to transition to another position, but that could take some time. A trade might make some sense, but I get the feeling the Royals love Melendez and want to find a place for him. They may have to be creative to find a spot for him in this lineup.
Brady Singer signs a long-term deal
I think the Royals will be pretty eager to commit to some of their young pitching, and Singer seems like the safest bet at this point. His ceiling may be rather limited due to his lack of a quality third pitch, but his floor seems rather high as his slider and sinking fastball have been good enough for him to have a decent amount of success through 39 starts with a 4.62 ERA, 4.05 FIP, and 3 fWAR.
Singer would be arbitration-eligible after the 2022 season, and could probably earn around $20-25 million in his three years of arbitration if he continues to pitch at his current level or with some modest improvement. So the Royals could try to buy out a year of free agency with something along the lines of a five-year, $30 million deal, with maybe a $15 million club option. That would be a bit less than deals for pitchers like Marco Gonzales and German Marquez, but because Singer has not accomplished as much as those pitchers did when they inked their deals. Signing him now might save the Royals some money long-term, and Singer protects himself financially against a future injury. The signing could also serve as a message to the other pitchers in the organization on the commitment the organization is willing to take on its homegrown talent.
Andrew Benintendi walks
The Royals acquired Benintendi last off-season hoping he’d be part of their improvement in the next two seasons because there were no guarantees he’d stay longer than that. Although his 2021 season had mixed results with a line of 276/.324/.442, he hit well once he was healthy and played Gold Glove defense, and the Royals are thin in outfield prospects, so you can expect them to make an effort to retain him, even if he hits free agency after the season.
But I’m not holding my breath for Benintendi to stay. He has no ties to the area or the club specifically. Most likely he’ll go to whoever offers him top dollar. Next year’s free agent class has Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo, but it gets a bit thin after that with Michael Brantley, Mitch Haniger, and Brandon Nimmo among the best after that. Benintendi will be just 28 years old, a young age for a free agent. He could be in considerable demand which may price him out for the Royals. Perhaps that opens up a spot for a younger player like Kyle Isbel?
The Royals announce plans to build a downtown ballpark
This seems like the worst-kept secret in town at this point - John Sherman really wants to move downtown. He went public last year with a plan to explore the idea, but if it has gotten to that stage, there are already pieces in place. The funding seems like the biggest obstacle, particularly with a mayor that once derided a downtown stadium as a luxury, and polling that shows voters aren’t wild about the idea. But once there is a concrete plan in place (everything I have read suggests the East Village site is the favorite), it will be easier to sell with pretty renderings and visions of off-shoot development.
It will still be a long road to obtain public funding, but I expect the Royals to make their first public push this year, with the Chiefs jumping on board for their piece of the pie to demolish Kauffman in favor of a party plaza area for Chiefs games.
What do you think? What are your Royals predictions for 2022?