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Lesky’s Notes: We’ve reached a deadline

Spring training is officially in trouble, but at least we can talk about Salvy going for milestones and some other cool things.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Friends, today is the day. Maybe it’s actually tomorrow or Sunday, but I believe today is the absolute drop dead day for the owners to actually start to try to meet the players halfway and get a deal done if spring training is to start on time, or within a couple days. The general consensus is the need for two weeks between the end of the lockout and players reporting to camp, so if a deal is reached today, that’s February 18, which is only a couple days after teams were originally likely ready for pitchers and catchers to report. I think it would make those first three or four spring games a bit unlikely to be played if they reported on the 18th, but they’d still play 30 or so games before being able to start the season on March 31 as planned. So that pretty much means that spring training will be delayed. After yesterday’s news that the owners want to bring in a mediator that the players aren’t likely to accept, I’m not quite sure what to think, but I still maintain that I’ll be surprised if they don’t play a full 162, but I’ll be less surprised now than I was a week ago. I’m tired of this and I’m especially tired of the sides meeting with the players giving in a little bit each time and the owners barely budging.

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I want to start today with something very cool that the Royals are doing because it’s super important. They’re covering all the admissions to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum during the month of February. I’m sure many of you reading this have been and have probably been multiple times but for those who haven’t, take this opportunity. It’s such an important part of the Kansas City community and the baseball world to tell the story of the Negro Leagues and so many players who were forgotten for so long. I think it’s great that MLB has finally started adding the Negro Leagues records to MLB records, but for far too long, these players were just stories passed down. Guys like Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson were discussed, but that was about it. In Kansas City, I feel like we’ve always been a bit more informed just because of how big the Monarchs were here, but even we didn’t get that story the way that we should have. When the NLBM came to town in 1990, it provided something we’d never had before.

And it’s grown to national prominence with the help first of the great Buck O’Neill (with an assist to Ken Burns on that) and now with the great Bob Kendrick and now the great Kiona Sinks. I remember the first time I went to the museum when I was a kid and while I didn’t quite understand the gravity of it all, it was an experience that made me want to learn more about the league and everything surrounding it. I went again as a teenager and started to grasp even more what it was all about and I’ve probably been a dozen times as an adult and each time I see something that I didn’t pay that close attention to the time before. So I’m making a recommendation to go. Go if it’s your first time. Go if it’ll be your 101st time. Hey, you might see me there because I’m definitely going this month!

Every year I like to take a look at the Royals all-time leaderboards and see who is close to getting to some milestones. Some years, like in 2017, there were a lot of guys on the verge of breaking into top-10s and even top-5s, but with a team like the 2021 Royals that doesn’t have much in the way of long-term pieces, there are fewer opportunities for that, but it doesn’t mean there are none. For example, Salvador Perez is currently 10th in at bats and 11th in plate appearances all time. He should pretty easily move to seventh in at bats and eighth in plate appearances this year. He’ll also likely pass Alcides Escobar and Billy Butler to move into eighth in team history in hits and has a shot to pass Mike Sweeney to move into seventh in total bases. And with just 118 home runs, he’ll take over the all-time team lead in home runs. Also, not to get too excited, but he’s just one walk away from tying Carlos Febles for 39th all-time. Febles only has about 2,700 fewer plate appearances than Salvy. No big thing.

Other than Salvy, we should see Whit Merrifield’s 1000th hit, which is pretty cool. He’s also likely to score his 500th run, hit his 200th double and should move into the top-five in team history in stolen bases. That’s not too bad for a guy who didn’t debut until he was 27 years old. There is less to watch on the pitching side. Brad Keller could move into the top-20 in team history in wins with a big season. He’s 15 away from that. That’s really about it unless you count Scott Barlow’s rise up the saves leaderboard if he remains the closer this season. I guess the hope on the pitching front is that we’re watching guys starting their ascent up the leaderboard with all the young arms right now and in five or six years, we can talk about all the movement there because there just isn’t much to talk about on that front right now.

I wrote about the Opening Day pitching staff yesterday over on Inside the Crown and one thing that I mentioned is that if you told me right now they’d be top-five in the AL in ERA, I’d believe you. And I’d also believe you if you told me they’d be bottom-three. I’m not sure there’s a staff with as much potential variance, though I suppose that’s not a fair question with so many free agents still out there. Regardless, there is legitimate upside in this pitching staff. I think it’s so easy to look at some of the struggles from 2021 from guys like Daniel Lynch and Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar and think that they’re just not what we had hoped they’d be. But then I started thinking about how 2020 was so abnormal. Even for guys like Singer and Kris Bubic, sure they got big league experience, but was it enough to truly say they’d gotten their first year under their belt. They pitched in a season that was reduced by 102 games in empty stadiums. Is that actually getting the big league experience under their belt that you hope for in a player’s rookie season?

I don’t say this to blow sunshine up your, ahem, derriere, but rather to point to how important 2022 is for this staff. Lynch and Kowar and Jon Heasley and Angel Zerpa and most of the pitching prospects who didn’t get to the big leagues in 2020 threw their first competitive pitches since 2019 last year. I don’t care how much you try to simulate that in an alternate site, it’s just not the same. So I think it’s fair to call 2021 the “get back to it” year. It was an extension of the first season for the pitchers who did get big league time as well. So now we head into a 2022 season that will at least be close to full if not the full 162 games and now it’s time for these young arms to show what they can do. If we get to October 2022 and there’s still mostly struggles, then it’s time worry, but this is a big year for these guys.

In this week’s blast from the past, I was thinking back to the Bob Boone as manager era of Royals baseball and one thing that stands out is the Boone-o-Meter we used to see in the paper every morning. It followed all the different lineups he put out there. In 1995, it was 127 different ones (in 144 games). In 1996, it was 152. The most he ever used a lineup was one that included Jose Offerman leading off and Johnny Damon batting ninth in 1997 and he used the four times, albeit in 82 games before being fired. Okay, I’ll admit that 152 different lineups and only using one as many as three times is pretty crazy, but Boone may have been ahead of his time. The Royals used 133 lineups in 2021 and 52 out of 60 in 2020. Heck, in 2018, they used 150 different lineups and Ned Yost LOVED a set lineup. The Rays are one of the most forward thinking franchises out there and they had 158 different lineups in 2021. I don’t have a point here and I don’t think Boone was a modern manager 25ish years ago, but I do find that interesting.