The Royals finished their season two days ago and now we know they’ll start 2023 with a new manager, a new pitching coach and a few new guys as well likely on that staff. As I wrote last week, we don’t really know how they’re going to approach this offseason, but we know they need to do some work to both make the roster fit better and to supplement their young talent. We obviously won’t see much player movement until the World Series ends, so we’ll certainly have to wait for that, but now we’re going to be dealing with a fun combination of watching teams who are better than the Royals show why they’re better as they play in the playoffs and of hearing rumors of who is a candidate to fill the open managerial role and coaching spots. So we wait. For a team as bad as the Royals have been, there has been remarkably little movement basically anywhere in the organization for years, so to be able to anticipate future changes, we’re in for a fun winter, I think.
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After the Royals fired Mike Matheny at a bit of a surprising time, JJ Picollo spoke yesterday afternoon to talk about the firing of his manager and of Cal Eldred and I think he kind of put a wet blanket over the optimism in a lot of ways. The two biggest things that probably turned people off were his insistence that Paul Gibson remains in charge of the minor league pitching and the fact that he doesn’t necessarily see them spending a lot of money this offseason. I’ll address the money first. While I believe Picollo is different from Dayton Moore (hello, firing the manager and pitching coach as fast as he did is not something I think Moore would ever do), I do believe he comes from the Moore school of talking to the media. If you tell the world you’re going to spend money and then there’s nobody to spend your money on, you either have to come back and say you’re sorry or you have to spend your money on someone you shouldn’t. I’m not saying that’s what’ll happen, but they are both definitely underpromise and hope to overdeliver guys. I still believe this winter and next are the perfect times to spend money given the cheap contracts from so much of the team, so we’ll see about that.
On the Gibson front, there are two points I have. The first is that I wonder if the minor league aspect of the Royals development isn’t quite as bad as it seems. It absolutely was in 2022, without question. But I did a brief look a few weeks ago at some of the 2018 draft class compared to some of the best young pitchers in baseball. Their minor league numbers, specifically with strikeouts and walks, were generally right on par with the best like Shane McClanahan, Alek Manoah, Logan Gilbert and others. It makes me wonder if the real issue with development is in the big league transition. Some of that is absolutely on Gibson, I won’t deny that, but some of that is on the big league staff and maybe a lot of that. So that’s something to ponder. But the other thing to keep in mind is that even after that press conference, I continued to hear things about very prominent pitching gurus in the industry still being linked to the Royals. I have enough faith in some of these sources that I would urge you to hold off on getting the pitchforks out until we see how this shakes out because I believe there will be some very exciting names added to the development team.
How attractive is this job?
From a manager’s standpoint, I wonder a little bit just how attractive the Royals managerial job is. On one hand, there is loads of young talent. They are heading into the winter with five members of the 40-man roster under team control for next season entering their age-30 or later season. That’s a lot of youth. And we saw the offensive debuts from these guys. You can fill a lineup with eight players who were rookies in 2022 and Salvador Perez and potentially have a very good offense. And I think there is still an attractiveness to the young pitching. Daniel Lynch showed flashes of what he could be. Kris Bubic, as much as he gets dismissed, showed flashes of what he could be. Even Jonathan Heasley showed something. And there’s a back of the bullpen you can work with ready to go as well. In some ways, you can look at the roster and think a year of seasoning for the hitters with better instruction for the pitchers and they might be on their way to turning things around.
But, on the other hand, you’ve got a roster that features an awful lot of rookies and as well as they performed as a group relative to other rookie groups, four of them posted an above average wRC+ and the leader in plate appearances from that group was Vinnie Pasquantino with 298. I think it’s fair to expect improvement, but there’s no guarantee. And the pitching is Brady Singer, Scott Barlow and Dylan Coleman to go along with a bunch of guys who you think can turn it around, but who actually knows if they can? My opinion is that this is a job that either requires someone wanting to make a name for themselves or someone who really just likes a project. It’s not to say it’s a bad job at all. I don’t think it is. But if I was a candidate, especially with so many openings this year, I’d want to talk to John Sherman to be sure he was willing to write the checks that might be necessary to help bring in talent to supplement before I was willing to sign off on the job. I don’t see any reason he wouldn’t, but I would absolutely want reassurances.
Because playoff baseball is fun, I wanted to write a little bit about some thoughts on the postseason here. It’s super easy to look at the Dodgers and think that they can steamroll through the postseason. And yeah, maybe they will, but I think I have my doubts about a rotation that relies so heavily on Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney. Tony Gonsolin needs to be back and strong for them. I know they’ve got the bullpen coverage there, but if Clayton Kershaw or Julio Urias struggle, I think there’s a chance a short series could do them in due to the randomness of a short series. The Braves seem like the team best positioned to pounce, as they did last year. While they do strike out a lot, they can hit and they’ve got the rotation pieces to get it done, but a lot of it depends on Spencer Strider getting back to health to start the playoffs. Their bullpen is once again going to be a big strength for them. I think I’d predict them to come out of the NL just to be a little different and not say the Dodgers. I like the Cardinals and Mets to get out of the Wild Card with a Braves vs. Dodgers NLCS and a Braves win.
In the American League, the Astros are sort of like the Dodgers to me. They’re the obvious favorites. I think they may be more complete heading into the dance. Lance McCullers Jr. is the difference-maker there for me. Framber Valdez has had a couple of rough starts after having zero rough starts all year, but you feel like he’s going to give you solid innings. Justin Verlander is Justin Verlander. And Cristian Javier is one of the more underrated starters in baseball. If McCullers is on, I’m not sure they can be beaten outside of random chance (which, again, does happen in the playoffs). The Yankees, for all the talk of their struggles, are still very good. The Guardians have the rotation to win in October and make contact. And the Mariners have some serious pitching too. The Blue Jays can really hit. And if you’re counting out the Rays, you’re making a mistake. Still, I like the Guardians and Mariners to come out of the Wild Card round and then we’ll see Houston vs. Cleveland in the ALCS with the Astros getting to the World Series to set up a rematch of last year, which I’m just now realizing is super boring.
A personal announcement
As we reach the offseason, I just wanted to use this space to let everyone know that this is going to be my last month writing at Royals Review. So you’ll get three more of these Notes articles before everything I do will be over at Inside the Crown. My wife and I have a baby on the way in about a month and a half and I’ve got some other commitments aside from that going on, so I thought it was smart for my health (it hurts to get hit by your wife, no matter how much smaller than you she is) that I condense my writing to one place.
When I first got started with the Royals online community, it was over at the Royals Corner message boards. Man, we had a lot of fun. Royals Review was an incredible site run by Will that was just the absolute go-to for Royals news and analysis. There were other sites, but it was the flagship, in my opinion. It’s gone through a few editors and is now in the wonderful hands of Max (seriously, just a great use of lotion to keep those things silky smooth) and it’s still the flagship. It’s been an absolute privilege to write here over the last three years and I want to thank each and every one of you for putting up with my previews and these Notes every Friday. You’re not getting rid of me yet, but I just wanted to say thank you now while people might be paying more attention than in a few weeks because none of this happens without all of you amazing readers.