Welcome to the 2022 post-season. The Royals aren’t playing, though, so it’s time to start thinking about next year. Last week I did some positing on what the state of the major league position players might be. Obviously, this week it’s time to talk about the pitching.
Yes, I’m predicting two new names for the Royals’ rotation next year. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you are more interested/upset by the fact that I’m predicting the return of three names instead of just one. Brady Singer is the most obvious choice for the Royals rotation that he will almost certainly be the Opening Day starter in 2023. I don’t think anyone is likely to argue with that.
That leaves us to talk about Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic. Lynch never got more than 18 outs in a game. To that end, he had only three quality starts on the year. He never struck out as many as you’d like to see with his stuff and he walked more than you’d like, too. But his stuff is still among the best on the team and the hope is that with new coaching he’ll be able to unlock it and get deeper into games more successfully.
Kris Bubic is an interesting case in that he was tremendously awful for huge chunks of last year but also had a two-month span where his overall results were serviceable even if he wasn’t getting them the way you really would have preferred. It was also his third season and he’s had a modicum of success in each of the first two seasons as well. He’s not an ace. He will almost certainly never be an ace. But there’s value in the back-to-middle of rotation starter he can be when he’s on. He also has a clear blueprint for success: when he’s throwing his fastball as hard as he can, he pitches better than when he’s overthinking and dropping the velocity down in an attempt to be more precise. Hopefully, a new pitching coach can help him figure out how to do that more consistently.
And when it comes to both of these pitchers, the sad truth is that even at their worst they offer the best opportunity for competency among the Royals’ current options for starting pitchers. The team is not going to sign four good free agent starters. Not only is that not cost-effective, it would preclude a lot of opportunity for development. Lynch and Bubic and each be demoted if they continue to falter and other guys step up so they’re the ones who are going to be in the rotation next year, at least to start.
I think Zack Greinke might finally be ready to retire. If he’s not, then remove Anderson or Odorizzi up there and pencil him in. It seems he wants to stick around KC if he’s going to continue pitching and he was perfectly competent in 2022 even if he was no longer the ace he once was. I expect the Royals could pay him less than they did this year while they were at it, too.
I have chosen Odorizzi and Anderson both as guys who aren’t quite old enough to think they’re finished being the quality pitchers they can be but are not young enough to seek out massive, multi-year deals. Odorizzi, of course, would be another reunion with the Royals. It remains to be seen how often some of those kinds of reunions will happen now that Dayton Moore is no longer in charge, but until evidence shows otherwise I’ll continue to think they’re the sort of thing we can expect to happen when it makes sense.
Tyler Anderson might actually be out of the Royals’ reach as he was worth 4 fWAR last year. That said, his peripherals didn’t completely support that level of success so teams may be a bit wary on giving him too much money based solely on those results which might let the Royals swoop in and take a chance that he can do it for a little bit longer while they get their pitching development house in order.
Max Castillo, Jonathan Heasley, Luke Weaver, and Angel Zerpa will be waiting in AAA to step in in case of injury. Jackson Kowar isn’t going to figure into the rotation options until they can get him some success in a bullpen, first.
The bullpen looks to have some interesting names in it. Whether that leads to success is anyone’s guess. Bullpen arms are so volatile that while all of these guys seem like they have a track record or tools for success that more than half of them could falter and it also wouldn’t be surprising at all.
Scott Barlow seems about the only sure bet on the team. Dylan Coleman had a very strong finish to the year and seems nearly as much of a lock. Richard Lovelady is a name I expect many of you have forgotten but he had a ton of success in the minors but couldn’t ever seem to quite find his place in the major leagues; a new pitching coaching staff should help him finally get things going.
Josh Staumont did not have a good 2022 but he was good enough in 2021 and remains young enough and with enough promise on his stuff that I think the Royals will give him at least one last chance next season. Hernández and Keller can both operate as long-men in the bullpen while they work with the coaching staff to turn their stuff back into successful pitches. Taylor Clarke was better than you probably realize. Amir Garret still has one arb year left and was drastically better in the second half than the first half, which should earn him a shot to take the last spot in the bullpen to start the year.
That means Jose Cuas, Collin Snider, Jackson Kowar, Wyatt Mills, and Gabe Speier will start the year in the minors. The Royals, like every other team, love to shuffle their bullpen to keep fresh arms so they’ll all get their chances. Jake Brentz will recover from his injury at some point early in the season and one has to believe the Royals will want to see if he can be as good in 2023 as he was for most of 2021 before losing effectiveness late in the season.
It would neither be shocking nor abnormal for the Royals to sign a couple of random free agent relievers and one more starter or two to provide additional competition but the contracts won’t be particularly lucrative and the results of such pitchers are unlikely to be significantly different from the ones listed above.
Unlike the lineup which is bursting with opportunity and reasons to believe they’ll grow to become even better next season, there are a lot more questions about this pitching staff. If you have your Royal-tinted glasses on, it’s easy to see how a team with this pitching staff could find success. But the reality is that for them to do so would be an extreme probabilistic outlier.
Could the Royals compete in 2023 with the roster I’ve predicted? Absolutely. Most of the worst of the chaff has been cut away and all that’s left are guys who have shown flashes of promise in the past. But turning flashes into consistent production is always the hardest step to take and the fact of the matter is that almost every player on the roster would have to take that leap for things to work out. It just isn’t very likely to happen.
Still, 2023 doesn’t have to be another completely lost season. If the Royals commit to playing all of these young guys then more than a few of them will turn those corners everyone keeps talking about and the Royals will suddenly have a much sturdier foundation upon which to build the 2024 team. The Royals’ front office under Dayton Moore always seemed to lack both the ability to fill out the roster with high-quality additions and the patience to wait and see how the young players might blossom. J.J. Picollo has already signaled the team is unlikely to take the first path, at least yet, so if they can simply commit to the second maybe the rebuild doesn’t have to be endless after all.