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Royals Review Mailbag: Pitching coach, trades, and downtown baseball

Let’s get the pulse of the fanbase as the Hot Stove heats up.

US Postal Service Mail Delivery Ahead Of Second-Quarter Results

It has been a slow off-season for the Royals so far, but things could pick up next week as teams meet for the Winter Meetings. I thought it might be a good time to solicit questions and discuss topics among the Royals fanbase, everything from the pitching coach search to the hot stove to downtown baseball.

This was the most-asked question, and we got our answer this week when the Royals hired Guardians bullpen coach Brian Sweeney. The move makes a lot of sense - the Guardians are a pretty logical organization to poach from since they have been incredibly productive at developing pitchers on a budget, and owner John Sherman has an obvious connection there. Speaking of which, it sounds like Sherman has been pretty involved in the hiring process, which could be good or bad or at least worth observing.

I would expect more hires in the pitching development realm, such as an assistant pitching coach, a pitch design analyst, and perhaps even a director of pitching to oversee the entire pitching development operation.

The Royals are in a good position to test just how transactional J.J. Picollo plans to be. They have some promising young players, but a lot of redundancies at certain positions - catcher, first base, and middle infield. Trading a veteran like Taylor is an obvious move, but will Picollo be even more aggressive and trade a guy like Nick Pratto, a former first-round pick who the team has developed for years, because they already have an alternative option at first base with Vinnie Pasquantino?

When executives are given the reins of a team, they frequently like to make the mark quickly. We saw Picollo make a lot of trades this summer, and he may have more work to do this off-season. Taylor seems like a good bet to be dealt and Scott Barlow should be another veteran the Royals should shop around. But don’t be too surprised if a young player - Pratto or MJ Melendez or Nick Loftin or Maikel Garcia - is traded as well.

I think the focus of this question is on TJ Sikkema, who was the biggest name acquired in the Andrew Benintendi trade from the Yankees, but was left exposed to the Rule 5 draft next week. I found it a pretty curious move, particularly with some of the guys they decided to protect instead (Ryan O’Hearn obviously, but also fungible relievers like Anthony Misiewicz and Wyatt Mills). The decision on who to protect is always a calculated risk - would another team select Sikkema after a pretty poor season in Double-A? The Royals don’t seem to think so, but considering his age, stuff, and profile, I think it is a bit risky. We’ll find out next Wednesday.

As far as the rest of the deadline deals, I still think it was a solid B, considering what they had to offer in trades. I would have liked them to have been more aggressive in trading Barlow, but perhaps the right offer didn’t come along. They added a stable of young pitchers, and the trade with the Braves that netted Drew Waters already seems pretty promising. Hopefully this encourages Picollo to be more aggressive on the trade front.

It is hard to see him having any trade value until he shows he can stay reasonably healthy and a bit more consistent. So I would expect the Royals to retain him, which, why not at this point? He is only going to cost them around $3 million, and as long as you’re not relying on him to be a regular starter, he’s a nice piece to have if he can play at all. I would probably have Mondesi split time with Nicky Lopez at shortstop until Maikel Garcia is ready, but it sounds like the Royals will go with Bobby Witt Jr. at shortstop despite his defensive deficiencies, so I’m not sure what the plan will be with Mondesi going forward.

I’m a bit against making a big move because I don’t feel the Royals are ready for that James Shields-like push they made before the 2013 season. Lopez would certainly be a great get -he was one of the 30 best pitchers in baseball, according to Fangraphs WAR, has a 3.52 ERA over the last three years, and is just 26 years old. But the Royals would only have him for two seasons before he reaches free agency. It seems very unlikely they’ll be contenders next year, so you’re really putting your eggs in the 2024 basket.

I do think it makes sense to shop MJ Melendez around - the Blue Jays are also shopping their stable of terrific young catchers around which complicates the market. The Cardinals and Guardians are looking for long-term solutions behind the plate, so perhaps the Royals can work out a deal, but probably for someone a bit younger and less proven. And maybe a year from now the Royals can make this kind of trade?

The contract makes him pretty unmovable, with his salary and the fact he has 10-5 rights, allowing him to dictate exactly where he goes and on what terms. The good thing is he is still a productive hitter, so I wouldn’t say he’s a liability yet, but he will be 35 in the last guaranteed year of his deal (he has a $13.5 million club option in 2026 I imagine likely won’t be exercised). His bat will decline, but catchers don’t have to hit a ton to be valuable. Salvy does have some major framing issues, but hopefully by the time his bat is diminishing, baseball will have moved to an automated-ball-strike system to make framing a thing of the past. The question is, will his body stand up to catching at that point, because as a first base or DH, he is likely to be a below-average hitter for those positions.

Terrific question! My sense is there is opponents to a downtown stadium outnumber proponents, but not by a huge margin. It has been a polarizing issue for sure and the Royals have their work cut out for them to convince a skeptical public.

I think there is definitely a bit of a generational split with older fans generally in favor of keeping the team at Truman Sports Complex with younger fans wanting to move downtown. A lot of that, I think is familiarity with downtown. I was discussing the topic with my parents at Thanksgiving and my mom expressed concern about crime downtown. Later that weekend I took her and my niece to Union Station, then took the streetcar to the River Market for lunch. She was pretty amazed with how downtown looked, remarking that she hadn’t there for 30 years. And I imagine that is pretty common.

We are always a bit wary of the unfamiliar, and there are some legitimate concerns regarding traffic, parking, and crime that will need to be addressed (although I think they get overblown at times). I also think sometimes opponents prop up flimsier concerns to cover up the fact they just like Kauffman Stadium, which is a totally fine reason to keep it! But the momentum is pointing to a downtown stadium, and I’m pretty excited at seeing what kind of ideas the city and team will come up with for a new district.