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Lesky’s Notes: The news will come in slowly

We’re going to have to wait for the teams who won’t just stop playing to finish.

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at Kansas City Royals Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re a fan of a team not participating in that little tournament going on right now, you go into the offseason with renewed hope. Well, at least you do if the leadership of your team has actually held people accountable for the reason they aren’t in that tournament. But after the initial rush of being out from under a terrible season, you realize that it’s just a bunch of waiting for the good teams to finish having fun. That doesn’t mean that teams like the Royals aren’t doing things. They’re interviewing managers and coaches (or will be shortly) and they’re making their lists of who they could bring in to help the team next season. But it’s just a waiting game to get to the end of the postseason for actual things to happen. And if you’re like me, you feel like that Larry David gif because as much as I’m ready for the Royals to do things, I’m not ready for baseball to be over for the year. But time stops for no man, as they say.

Before we get into it, I hope you’ll subscribe to Inside the Crown. It’s totally free and I’ll still be writing a lot throughout the winter!

Pitching targets

I know what JJ Picollo said on 610 Sports with Cody and Gold the other day about not spending, but I’ll go back to what I said last week a little bit. Of course he’s going to say that. But also, maybe I heard what I wanted to hear, but I took that as he was saying they weren’t going to swing in the big fish pool. So if you wanted Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Jacob deGrom or Aaron Judge, the Royals wouldn’t be involved. Forgive me, but duh. Picollo has said a couple of times about how he knows the Royals need to bring in more pitching. I think he mentioned it on the podcast with The Star, but there’s no way that he’s going into this offseason and not planning on spending any money on pitching when they literally have one starter you can count on right now heading into the season. So who could that be?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, maybe a lot, don’t sign anyone who walks batters. I’d love to see Corey Kluber, but it sounds like he wants to stay in Tampa from what I’ve heard. But others who would make a lot of sense are Ross Stripling, Jameson Taillon, Zach Eflin and Jose Quintana. If you want to look a little bigger, guys like Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Bassitt and even Noah Syndergaard would make some sense. I don’t think any of them require a huge investment, even the bigger names. Maybe Taillon should be lumped in with the second group, but I think the Royals would do well to sign at least one of those. I didn’t mention Zack Greinke because I think that’s probably either a move that happens quickly after the postseason or simply doesn’t happen. They need at least two starters. If Greinke is one of them, great. If he’s not, they need two from that list. Ideally, they get two from that list and Greinke, which is why I really like Stripling as one of those two because he’s shown he can shift to the bullpen as well if any of the young arms do step up.

Somehow they’ll manage

Let’s get the image of Michael Scott shrugging in here. The Royals managerial search is very interesting to me. That’s why I wrote a list of 22 potential candidates last week, which in hindsight still didn’t list enough of the possibilities. I thought Picollo was interesting in his comments in that interview on Wednesday. He said that he open-minded to all candidates and that he didn’t want to pigeonhole himself in any one direction. He also made a good point that he can’t interview 25 people. There just isn’t time for that, so he and the team are working now to narrow down the list to a reasonable number of people to interview. The only thing that is abundantly clear is what he’s looking for in a manager and it’s someone who is able to communicate with the players. That includes communicating on the day-to-day and communicating about decisions being made, especially if they may be unpopular. I think that Mike Matheny could talk until he was blue in the face (go team?) about learning the analytics, but I think he maybe didn’t quite get the why enough to be able to communicate that. They need someone who knows what the data says and why the data says that.

In my conversations with people who might be a little more familiar about the search, I get the impression that they aren’t afraid to go really young, so maybe that indicates Kristopher Negron in Seattle could be a name they look toward. But, I wrote this on Inside the Crown earlier this week, they appear to be truly in love with Matt Quatraro from the Rays. He’s currently their bench coach and was the Guardians hitting coach for a few years as well. In my opinion, that’s the home run hire. I know it doesn’t always work out to hire the guy who is the hot name. We saw that with Trey Hillman. But this feels like a much safer move they can make and one that they seem to be very interested in making. I also weirdly haven’t heard his name connected with any team outside of the obvious interest that every team likely has in him. I wonder a little if he’s the target. One thing I want to remind everyone is that it doesn’t matter when the guy gets hired. Kevin Cash was the last manager hired in the year the Rays hired him. Other last managers hired in cycles include Brandon Hyde, Dusty Baker, Aaron Boone and Dave Roberts. Some first managers hired are Rick Renteria, Ron Gardenhire, Joe Maddon and Tony LaRussa. There are so many good candidates that whether the Royals are first, last or somewhere in between, it likely doesn’t matter much.

The Mondesi conundrum

The MLB Trade Rumors arbitration estimates are out, which is a fun time for nerds like me. The Royals have 11 arbitration-eligible players, including Adalberto Mondesi, who we last saw walk off the field after going back to first on a pickoff throw. That’s sort of the last we’ve heard from him. He ended up with a torn ACL, had surgery and missed the rest of the year. What I thought was very weird is that we never saw him in the dugout at home. Nobody who covered the team indicated he was in the clubhouse. I don’t know. Just very weird. But the estimate for him is $3 million, which is right at the edge of what I think would make sense to keep him around. That’s what makes it so tough. So what do you do with a guy like that? On one hand, he has a lower career OPS+ than Ryan O’Hearn. On the other hand, we’ve seen what he can do over the course of a couple of weeks when he gets on one of his hot streaks. For $3 million, given the uncertainty the Royals have on the left side of the infield, can they do anything but bring him back?

I don’t know! I’d long been on the Mondesi bandwagon because how could you not be enticed by the potential? But something I said a lot last winter was that when a player tries to tell you who he is, believe him. Mondesi has a career OBP of .280. It’s .283 over the last four seasons. But he’s shown to be a very good defender and, when he’s healthy, he’s obviously a huge threat on the bases. If you can hit him ninth in your lineup, do you care so much that he doesn’t get on base? Plus he’s a switch hitter so that helps balance the lineup and maybe you play him at third instead of short to take a little pressure off his legs? But what we also don’t know is what he looks like after the ACL surgery. We’ve seen Ronald Acuña Jr. drop almost a full foot per second in sprint speed this year coming back from his ACL injury in 2021. You may not realize this, but Mondesi dropped from 30 feet per second in 2019 to 29.4 ft/s in 2020 to 28.5 ft/s in 2021 to 27.4 ft/s in a small sample in 2022. He may already be in decline there. And if he can’t run like the wind, he better hit consistently, which is something he’s never done before. It’s an interesting decision that I bet the Royals wish was made easier by either a higher or lower number. My guess right now is he’s non-tendered, but I feel zero confidence in that.

Fortifying the bullpen

Assuming the Royals don’t break up the back end of their bullpen for 2023, I’m thinking the Royals feel pretty good about the end of games with Scott Barlow and Dylan Coleman. Should they be shopping Barlow? Absolutely. People probably won’t believe it, but he’s statistically been one of the best relievers in baseball the last two years and was probably better than his ERAs indicated in 2019 and 2020 as well. But he’ll be 30 before the season starts and he’s under team control for just two more seasons. His arbitration estimate by MLBTR is $4.9 million, so you can expect those two years will cost somewhere around $14-$16 million. That’s super reasonable for someone with his numbers. Anyway, this isn’t the argument I want to have right now, but they should at least be shopping around to see what the offers are. But if they don’t, he and Coleman make up a very good top two relievers. But the problem comes with the rest of the bullpen. It isn’t that they can’t be good because they’ve got some good arms, but it’s a question of if they will.

Taylor Clarke was mostly excellent, but he’s probably miscast in a true late-inning role. Can they trust Josh Staumont to come back and be as good as he was before 2022? Can Amir Garrett figure out his control issues? Can Anthony Misiewicz be as impressive as he was with the Royals after he was brought up? There are questions about Carlos Hernandez, Brad Keller (if he’s not non-tendered, of course), Jose Cuas, Wyatt Mills and any of the young starters who don’t break in the rotation. If it was me, I’d go out and sign some certainty, or at least as much certainty as a free agent reliever provides. I’d shop for Michael Fulmer or Tommy Kahnle or someone like that who won’t be terribly expensive, but you feel like you can count on. Maybe it’s a little weird to include Kahnle with his injury history, but he was dominant the other day in the NLDS and when he’s been healthy, he’s been nails. I don’t know who the names are, but I would bring in at least one more proven arm. If you have to move on from really any of the questions, oh well.