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Lesky’s Notes: No rush, fellas

With the start of spring likely delayed, the owners don’t seem to be hurrying back to the table. But hey, at least we can talk prospects, free agents and Kevin Appier.

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Last week I wrote that we had reached a deadline for spring training to start on time. Yesterday, Rob Manfred spoke and said that there is no change to the spring training start date at this time and would depend on how the meeting with the players goes on Saturday (which, if you’re a calendar aficionado like I am is tomorrow). As I tweeted, that seems like a pretty obvious attempt to shift blame to the players when they likely don’t accept whatever proposal the owners put forth in that meeting. I suppose it’s possible that their proposal moves the needle enough that they actually negotiate in the same room rather than trade proposals every few days, but I’ll believe that when I see it. As of right now, the timeline is that the owners locked out the players, as they said to expedite the negotiations. But the owners waited six weeks to talk. Then they barely talked. Then they exchanged proposals before the players last proposal that was received almost two weeks ago. As Matt LaMar wrote the other day, this is on the owners. They are delaying the process. And if tomorrow’s meeting doesn’t lead to a long negotiating sessions or at least daily meetings, then I just don’t know what to tell anyone.

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In yesterday’s press conference, Manfred talked about the length of spring training and what they needed. The idea of three weeks had been thrown around, but he squashed that a bit with some of the injury data they found from the expedited summer camps in 2020. He mentioned four weeks, which isn’t a lot different, but I did mention my acumen in reading a calendar, and that means an extra seven days. Where these thoughts differ from what I had originally been thinking is there is probably a bit more time before a deal has to be reached in order to start the season on time as there may not be the ramp up that we’re used to. Agents have told their pitchers to be ready to throw two or three innings on day one of camp rather than getting those 10-12 days before games got started. So I suppose you could see a scenario where they reach a deal on March 1 or something and still get the season started on March 31 as scheduled.

I wonder a bit if this doesn’t actually help the Royals some with their pitching depth throughout the system. We’ve talked quite a bit about the options they have and maybe they can utilize that in a way to negate some of these issues. It might alter the makeup of the roster a little bit if they decide to keep a couple starters in the bullpen as piggyback, but when you have Mike Minor, Brad Keller, Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Carlos Hernandez, Kris Bubic, Jon Heasley, Angel Zerpa, Jackson Kowar and Ronald Bolaños all on the 40-man, they could implement a pretty solid piggyback staff. Yeah, it might mean Taylor Clarke starts the year in Omaha or maybe even someone like Jake Brentz, but the Royals are one of the few teams who seem to be maybe boosted by almost being forced to limit their starters to 60-75 pitches. I don’t know. I’m just looking for a silver lining here.

Keith Law released his top Royals prospect list this week after he released his top 100 last week and his organizational rankings as well. He’s slightly less bullish on the Royals than Baseball America, as he has them as the seventh-best system while BA had them at fifth. He does note the change in offensive development that we’ve all talked about so much over the last couple seasons. It’s always so nice to not only have lip service backed up by numbers like we saw from this prospect group in 2021 but also from prospect analysts who don’t have any skin in the game. It’s clear what they’re doing is working at the minor league level and whenever the 2022 season gets going, we’re going to find out pretty quickly how well it works at the big league level with the prospects finding their way to the big leagues throughout the season. We saw Kyle Isbel come up, struggle and then adjust. And over the course of the next eight months, I expect we’ll see Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez and probably a couple others.

I thought there were a few interesting things about his Royals prospect list. The first was the absence of Kowar. We know how terrible he was in the big leagues, but he still has his rookie eligibility. It might be as simple as Law misread it because he has enough service time to have exhausted that, but he got a lot of it after September 1. I wasn’t excited to watch Kowar pitch, but I’d still list him in my top 20 for sure. But more than anything, his assessment of Junior Marin caught my attention. He’s someone I hadn’t heard too much about until actually the last few weeks, but he had a monster year in the Dominican for the Royals and Law was raving about his hitting ability and how he might be a top-100 prospect as soon as next year. I think that says a lot about how difficult the international game can be. You’ve got a guy like him rising up charts while someone like Erick Peña is falling after a tough year. Personally, I’m very interested in 2022 for someone like Peña because he lost that year in 2020 and I’m going to hold off on forgetting about him until he gives me another reason this season. Still, very interesting stuff from Law.

As much of a mess as it’s going to be, I’m personally incredibly excited for the mad rush of the remaining free agents to sign before and at the start of spring and for the trade market to be absolutely on fire. The MLB Trade Rumors free agent list still has 179 names on there. Not all will sign and not all will sign big league deals but there are some stars still out there. Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman and Trevor Story all will still likely sign nine-figure deals while other intriguing players like Andrew Chafin, Nelson Cruz, Corey Dickerson, Jake Diekman, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Andrew McCutchen, Collin McHugh, Joc Pederson, Tommy Pham, Michael Pineda, Anthony Rizzo, Carlos Rodon, Eddie Rosario, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler and Ryan Tepera (among others) are still out there. So it should be pretty wild.

I’m not sure how active they’d be. I thought they’d jump in for a veteran starter, but most of the guys who would have made sense are off the board. Alex Cobb seemed like a sensible target along with a few others, but they all signed for basically the same price. I’d love for them to get in on Rodon on a pillow contract, but I just don’t see it. Rather, I see them heading toward the bullpen. Chafin, McHugh and Tepera all make some sense for them. Maybe they take another flyer on Trevor Rosenthal or give it a shot with Daniel Norris after seeing what he can do in Detroit all those years, but I think their work will be on the trade market. Manfred’s announcement that they have agreed on a universal DH will open up the Carlos Santana market some, so maybe they’ll be able to find a taker there, though it’s hard to sell him as a hitter after his 2021 season. I’m just excited to see what those few days bring. It’ll be crazy, but very fun as a fan.

I’m hoping to have some actual current baseball things to talk about soon, but until then, I’m going to keep reminiscing about Royals of the past and one player who doesn’t get nearly enough love (and I know Rany Jazayerli will back me up) is Kevin Appier. I loved the guy and he slips even my mind sometimes. But I was listening to MLB Network Radio the other day and they were talking about the best pitchers of the 90s. The conversation was about two different topics. One was who you’d pay to watch pitch and the other was who you’d want to pitch in a Game Seven. I’ll be honest and say that Appier wouldn’t be either one of those. That would be Greg Maddux for the former and Randy Johnson for the latter. But it struck me when they were going through the top-10 pitchers of the 90s in WAR that trusty ol’ Ape was in there. And sure enough, right between David Cone and Tom Glavine was Appier. The list was Maddux, Roger Clemens, Johnson, Kevin Brown, John Smoltz, Cone, Appier, Glavine, Mike Mussina and Martinez.

Now, WAR is a counting stat, so it benefits guys who pitched every year of the decade and all that, but it’s just crazy to me how much people sleep on Appier as an all-time Royals great. He’s tops all time in team history in WAR and strikeouts, fourth in wins, innings, ERA+ and starts and 10th in complete games. He’s honored in the team Hall of Fame, so there’s no injustice there, but I just wish he’d get his due in team history. It’s too bad he was stuck on some mediocre to bad teams throughout that decade and didn’t get to be a part of the team either a few years earlier or a couple decades later.