Do you remember a couple weeks ago when I preached patience with the lockout because we knew they wouldn’t talk much, if at all, before the end of the year? I think it’s probably fair now to be a bit worried, but I wouldn’t go off the deep end too much. Stories that broke in the past week from people like Jeff Passan, who is very trustworthy, and Bob Nightengale, who also writes, were always stories we were going to see right now. Getting back out with media coverage is the first stage of negotiating in today’s world. And as I see it, what the players are wanting isn’t actually that big of a deal. When it comes down to it, the players want more teams to want to win. Obviously there is a lot going on there and the question of how they get there is beyond loaded, but the point of these negotiations is pretty simple. It’s how do you either incentivize winning more or de-incentivize/punish losing more. Because once that happens, most of the economic issues on the player side get solved. Not all, of course, but enough that it provides a path to a deal.
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One of the ways to make more teams actually try that has been proposed is the expanded postseason. In previous negotiations, the league proposed 14 teams and the players countered with 12. First of all, I hate adding more playoff teams. I completely understand why they want to do it and why people would like it. For the league, more playoff teams mean more games to televise and more money to be brought in. For the players, more playoff teams mean more teams are actually trying, which we covered in the open here. So I think there’s a path here and I’d imagine this is something that ultimately gets done in the agreement whenever it’s reached. And since this here website focuses on the Royals, I figured I should take a look at how adding a sixth and seventh postseason team would impact the Royals and would have impacted them in previous seasons.
Since the first playoff season featuring the Wild Card in 1995, the Royals would have made the playoffs two times if there were six teams per league and four if there were seven. That includes the two appearances in 2014 and 2015, so that just shows how bad the Royals have been for the better part of three decades. The two years where they would have made it in addition to the two playoff seasons were 2013 and 2017 with the latter being a sub-.500 playoff appearances. The average sixth-best team in the AL since 1996 and excluding 2020 (looking at full 162-game schedules only) won 87 games with four teams below 85 wins (two below .500), 16 from 85-89 and five at 90 or more. The average seventh-best team won 84 games with 13 teams below 85 wins (four below .500), 11 between 85 and wins and just one at 90. So given the Royals history, even though they wouldn’t have taken advantage of it much historically, this would give them a path back to the postseason if they can even become a perennial 80-85 win team. Is that worth big cheers? No. But, hey, it’s something.
Maybe it’s silly to even be discussing this with the lockout having no clear end in sight, but I wanted to get back to the Royals payroll situation. They currently have about $51.2 million in guaranteed contracts and $24.4 million in arbitration estimates. That covers 14 players, one of whom is Ryan O’Hearn, who I would hope doesn’t get paid but I’m done predicting he’ll be gone anytime soon. The other 26 on the 40-man roster, I have estimated at $600,000 because we don’t know what the minimum salary will be. That puts the Royals payroll at about $91 million for the 40-man and approximately $83 million for the 26-man. Now, heading into 2021, I was told by a pretty good source that they were willing to go as high as $110 million, though they never got there, opening with a touch under $89 million and ending with a 40-man payroll of $94.5 million. That tells me that they have some money to spend when the time comes to actually spend money again.
What it also tells me is that they should be willing to eat some money on a deal without having to attach a prospect to shed themselves of Carlos Santana. It seems increasingly likely that they are going full court press on every team that might need a first baseman to find a taker. If they came in under the top budget in 2021 and if they’re likely coming in under that budget again in 2022 (I haven’t heard what they would be willing to go up to yet), it does give them flexibility. What I was told last year is that John Sherman likes to work in windows, not year-to-year, so if that’s true, saving a little money on a team not likely to make the playoffs isn’t the worst thing (though it does go against the player’s hopes in the labor agreement). But I’m always skeptical that’s the case. But if it is, I guess I’m saying that I wouldn’t be too terribly shocked if they make at least a mini splash with either an extension of a young player or a free agent over the next couple seasons.
The Royals signed Michael A. Taylor to a two-year extension before the end of the 2021 season, so defensively, they should have center field covered through the 2023 season. And while I don’t expect this to happen because I know the organization’s M.O., the deal is light enough that if they were to acquire someone else to play center, Taylor could be a sub in the way that Jarrod Dyson was during the championship seasons. Dyson never made $4.5 million in a season, but that’s still a relatively small amount if they are able to find an upgrade. The problem, though, is that the Royals value defense in center field so much more than most other teams. I’ve said this about first base defense with the team and I think it’s true with center field too. The Royals are probably too beholden to a great defender in center and the fans are probably too much on the other side of its importance. I think center leans a little more toward the Royals line of thinking, and to their credit, they’ve had great defenders for awhile.
By defensive runs saved since 2017, three of the top six center fielders have played for the Royals. Expand that out and it’s four of the top 10 and five of the top 14. I mention that to talk about center field options. The trade market, if they were to go that route (and I don’t think they will but what else is there to talk about) is basically Bryan Reynolds and Cedric Mullins. Both would be phenomenal and expensive in prospect additions. Both were in the negatives in defensive runs saved. I still love the idea of finding a deal for Trent Grisham, which might become more possible moving forward with the Padres graduating CJ Abrams to the big leagues and having to find a spot for both him and Fernando Tatis, Jr. I don’t know what kind of match there is between the two teams, but he’s a plus defender by DRS and would provide a quality bat with some patience to add to the lineup.
With all the talk of former players since the state-controlled media…I mean team websites…won’t acknowledge anyone currently on a 40-man roster, I was thinking about a prompt from awhile back about one player who you’d want on your team. I don’t remember the exact question, so I’m going to take one season in Royals history to think about who I would add to the current iteration of the 2022 Royals. Of course, the easy answer is either 1980 George Brett for the sheer dominance or 1985 Brett for the dominance in addition to the actual full season of work. He had a full 150 more plate appearances in 1985 than 1980. But of course that’s not as much fun to just pick the best player in team history and then choose his best season to add to the current team.
So with Brett out, here are some of the pitchers to choose from in no particular order:
1989 Bret Saberhagen (23-6, 2.16 ERA, 262.2 IP)
2009 Zack Greinke (16-9, 2.16 ERA, 242 K, 229.1 IP)
1993 Kevin Appier (18-8, 2.56 ERA, 238.2 IP)
1988 Mark Gubicza (20-8, 2.70 ERA, 269.2 IP)
1977 Dennis Leonard (20-7, 3.04 ERA, 292.2 IP)
1994 David Cone (16-5, 2.94 ERA, 171.2 IP in the strike year)
I’m leaving relievers out of this because if you’re adding one player, I would think you’d want some innings.
And here are some of the bats in no particular order:
1979 Darrell Porter (.291/.421/.484, 121 BB, 65 K)
1991 Danny Tartabull (.316/.397/.593, 31 HR, 100 RBI)
1975 John Mayberry (.291/.416/.547, 34 HR, 119 BB, 73 K)
2003 Carlos Beltran (.307/.389/.522, 26 HR, 41/45 SB)
1978 Amos Otis (.298/.380/.525, 22 HR, 32 2B, 66 BB, 54 K)
2002 Mike Sweeney (.340/.417/.563, 61 BB, 46 K)
1994 Bob Hamelin (.282/.388/.599, 24 HR in 375 PA)
I’ll stop there just because that’s six for each plus I had to add Hamelin because that’s one of the more forgotten seasons in team history. This is pretty tough really. The argument for a pitcher is how beneficial adding that kind of innings-eater would be (and Cone would have been at around 250 if he had been permitted to make 34 starts like he did in 1993). But on the other hand, imagine adding the patience of that Porter or Mayberry year (with the production on top of it) or the game-changing power of Tartabull in right field. Or the all-around prowess of AO or Beltran. Or Sweeney’s just insane bat from 2002. Or truly even The Hammer’s power. I’m going to cheat and pick one pitcher and one hitter. I’m going with 1989 Saberhagen for the pitcher because the lack of walks is something this staff can learn from. And for the bat, I’m going to go with Beltran. The Royals outfield needs the most help of any position grouping offensively and prime Beltran can go get it and be a force with the bat. I cheated, but that’s the beauty of this being my weekly column. Who are your choices?