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Lesky’s Notes: Lockouts and projections

The season is supposed to start in 41 days, which seems awfully soon.

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MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals Gary Rohman-USA TODAY Sports

Your weekly lockout update is that the two sides at least spoke yesterday. It wasn’t a good conversation, but it was a conversation. That said, we’ve reached a point when just talking isn’t enough. When the owners made their proposal to the players, I think it was probably a lot less ridiculous than the initial reports that only focused on minimum salary and the luxury tax, but those also seem to be the most important points for the union, so… I still say that the number of items agreed on is at least sort of encouraging. They agree on expanded playoffs (I still hate it), universal DH, a draft lottery and a pre-arbitration bonus pool. Okay, some of these things they haven’t totally agreed on, but at least they’re having the same conversation? Whatever. I don’t know. That’s all I’ve got on the optimistic front today. They have about 10 days to make a deal or else we’re not watching regular season baseball on March 31. On the bright side, the Royals not adding Bobby Witt Jr. to the 40-man allows us to see videos of him working out in Surprise. At least someone is.

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I don’t want to harp on lockout talk too much and I’m not breaking any stories here, but the coverage from certain members of the media (cough, Jim Bowden, cough again, Buster Olney) trying to paint these talks as being slowed by the players in basically any way is absolutely driving me nuts. Bowden is trying to say that the players need to move on something. Of course, he’s choosing to ignore that the players have completely dropped their request about changing the length of team control for their players and that they’ve already come up to 12 playoff teams from 10 when the owners want 14. See, friends, that’s what is called a compromise. I sort of get the fear given that Ken Rosenthal is now no longer employed at MLB Network because he dared challenge the great Rob Manfred, but at least be honest about what’s happened.

I would love it if the players would respond a little quicker than they have. The owners are absolutely in the wrong for taking 43 days after the lockout to talk and then promising a response before trying to bring in a federal mediator, but that doesn’t mean that the players should be waiting five days from the owners coming back to the table. I’d like to see a little more speed there, but I also understand the snail’s pace when they feel that the owners aren’t negotiating seriously. There’s a very real concern that they’re negotiating against themselves because the owners continue to not bring anything of substance, at least what we’ve heard publicly. So I guess I don’t actually know if I truly believe they should be moving faster given how the negotiations have gone, but as a fan, I just want them to figure something out.

The PECOTA projections came out this week and they were, ummm, underwhelming. I’ve been pretty vocal about concern over Whit Merrifield’s offensive decline and the fact that his 99th percentile projection is just .295/.349/.448 seems concerning. Yes, that’s a line we’d all like but if that’s the absolute best he’s projected to, that seems bad. Of course, projections are just a tool to view and nothing to take as gospel, but they’re based on historical trends and all that good stuff. The Royals having just two players projected for a 100 DRC+ or better at the 50th percentile is also not great. And when one of them is Carlos Santana, coming off a down 2020 and even more down 2021, you have to wonder how likely it is that he breaks that number. What that shows with the bats is just how important it is for players like Witt, Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez, Kyle Isbel and others to show that the changes in the offensive development can jump to the next level. Or else the offense is in trouble. That’s nothing we didn’t already know, but seeing projections of any of the current big leagues shows that time and again.

Now, on the pitching side, I tend to think PECOTA is a little bit on the stingy side and it’s for the same reason we’ve talked about so much. Yes, many of the pitchers struggled in their first big league season. But also, it’s hard to be a pitcher. That doesn’t mean they’ll all magically figure things out, but there is very real talent in the Royals organization on the rubber and I find it hard to believe that all of these highly touted pitchers are going to continue to flounder in the big leagues. It’s certainly not impossible by any stretch, but I tend to think the conservative nature of these projections is going to leave them ripe to have a few big misses whenever the season actually gets going.

I know we talk about this quite a bit, but somehow it’s still not quite enough. If you read Alec Lewis’ Five questions with Keith Law piece yesterday in The Athletic, you might have noticed this quote from Law:

“Most of all, I’m always impressed when a front office realizes something isn’t working and is willing to say, “The way we were doing it was wrong, and we need to try a different approach.” It’s hard to admit you’re wrong, and harder when you’ve invested money and time into something that isn’t panning out.”

I think all of us here have been pretty vocal in our criticism of this Royals front office. And it’s generally been warranted. Sure they won a World Series and that can never be taken away, but you still always got the sense that they still weren’t getting as much out of their prospects as they could have. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas never became true stars. Only Danny Duffy carved out a real career of the young lefties. It just wasn’t enough.

And while you can make a very strong argument that it should have happened sooner, the good news is that it did happen. They changed the way they approach offensive development. While I don’t think there’s been the complete overhaul that we saw on the offensive side, the pitching side is working with much more advanced training methods, utilizing modern tools across the board to help develop pitching prospects. As Law noted, they realized their draft philosophy wasn’t working, so they shifted and built a stable of pitching prospects. Now they’ve shifted a bit again with their 2021 draft, so we’ll see how they do with that. As Clint Scoles has noted, they haven’t done a great job with adding velocity, so Frank Mozzicato will be a great test study. It’s just nice to see them taking steps.

In this week’s walk down memory lane, I was thinking about the 2003 team a little bit over the last few days. Most of you probably remember, but if you don’t, the Royals were coming off their first ever 100-loss season (ahh memories) and weren’t looking like they were going to be much better. But they won on Opening Day and then their next eight games after that. And even though they lost their 10th game, they were still 17-4 after 21 games and found themselves in first place at the break. I remember there was a special on Metro Sports about their first half and I probably watched it conservatively 23 times. Then coming out of the break, the Mariners came to town to a full house and Carlos Beltran made a crazy catch to rob Dan Wilson (I think) and the crowd went crazy. That was honestly the first time I remembered the crowd being crazy, which was something we got to know very well in 2014 and 2015.

But something that has really struck me aside from Ken Harvey and Mike MacDougal being weirdly awesome and Mike Sweeney’s bizarre contract vested for 2005-2007 was that the Royals did great with adding pieces. They, of course, signed Jose Lima, who wasn’t special but gave some decent enough innings. They brought in Curtis Leskanic who had a 1.73 ERA in 26 innings. Brain Anderson went 5-1 with a 3.99 ERA in seven starts and averaged more than seven innings per start. But the best was Rondell White, who hit a ridiculous .347/.400/.613 in 85 plate appearances. As we all know, that season didn’t lead to anything but one of the best Opening Days I can ever remember the next season, but it sure was fun for a few months.