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Lesky’s Notes: MLB IS BACK

Nobody, and I mean nobody, locks the players out for 100 days.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Friends, the lockout didn’t make it to its 100th day as after about 13 artificial deadlines, the owners submitted a proposal that the players approved and we’ve got some baseball heading your way very soon. Free agents can sign, players can be traded and we can find out who exactly is in the best shape of their life very, very soon. It bums me out that I spent a week in Arizona and didn’t get to go to a single spring training game, but it looks like the regular season schedule will start about a week late with three days added to the schedule and the other games made up with nine-inning doubleheaders. I’m a bit put off that the owners tried another poison pill by adding in the dropping of some huge money grievances, so my head wonders if the players made the right decision, but my heart is very, very happy today. We’re now in the midst of one of the craziest stretches of free agency and trades we’ve ever seen. This’ll be fun.

As always, I’m hopeful that you’ll do me the honor of subscribing to Inside the Crown for FREE! Soon enough we’ll have actual baseball to talk about and I’ll be writing about it almost every day.

There has been a lot of talk about how baseball will be impacted by all of this. I wrote on ItC a couple weeks ago (or maybe just one week ago, time is a flat circle) that sports tend to bounce back. But now that there appears to be no reduced schedule, I would argue that it won’t take long for people to basically forget about this negotiation. No, the people who follow it as closely as you and I will likely not soon forget, but the average fan will look back at the 2022 season and see 162 games and not think anything of it. I was five years old and probably found out later, but I had forgotten until a few weeks ago that the 1990 season was delayed and it’s because they still played a full schedule. So the reality is that there is likely to not be fallout from this in any way once we get a couple of years out from these tense negotiations. It will just be baseball as we’ve always known it.

The difference between this and 1990 is that there will be immediately noticeable rule changes such as the designated hitter in the National League and expanded postseason. Plus, the aforementioned craziness of player movement and arbitration deals will be hard to forget, but the big change is going to come in 2023 with the owners having the ability to implement rule changes with less than a year of lead time. That means shifts are gone (I wrote about that), bases are probably bigger and a pitch clock will be implemented. Maybe not all of these things will be in place in 2023, but I’d probably bet on them all. So the game is changing. I’m not sure if it’s for the better or not (I kind of like the bigger bases, which I didn’t expect), but it’s going to look a bit different. I’m just so happy it’s back.

So now we can talk about some roster battles. We know there is a bit of an infield logjam with Bobby Witt Jr., Nicky Lopez, Whit Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi to fill three positions (or maybe four potentially if Merrifield goes to the outfield). We know that Salvador Perez will be behind the plate, Andrew Benintendi in left field and Michael A. Taylor in center field, but the rest is sort of up in the air. Carlos Santana is the incumbent at first, but he had a terrible year and could get traded before the season actually begins. But if he doesn’t get traded, maybe he’s on the bench for Hunter Dozier. Or maybe Nick Pratto wins the job, though I think he’s got an uphill battle with a short spring. In the outfield, is Kyle Isbel the right fielder? Or is it Edward Olivares? Or maybe it actually is Merrifield. Or maybe someone surprises and bursts onto the roster knocking everyone out of that job. Where does Emmanuel Rivera fit in with this team? These are some big position player questions they have to answer in a short amount of time.

On the pitching staff, right now, the only lock for the rotation is Mike Minor. I think Brad Keller is probably as close to a lock as can be, so who joins them? Kris Bubic, Jon Heasley, Carlos Hernandez, Jackson Kowar, Asa Lacy, Daniel Lynch, Brady Singer and Angel Zerpa are all candidates. How many of them could go into the bullpen? That group is pretty loaded too with Scott Barlow, Jake Brentz, Dylan Coleman, Josh Staumont and Domingo Tapia seeming like locks out there. The Royals signed Brad Peacock and Daniel Mengden to minor league deals the other day. They signed Arodys Vizcaino in January. Gabe Speier and Daniel Tillo could be there. Plus any free agents. While the core of the team is likely in place for 2022, there are a ton of questions that will need to be answered between now and April 7. I’m sure I missed some names. It’s going to be fun to follow all of this.

How does the sixth playoff spot impact the Royals? I don’t think it’s a whole lot given that last season two teams won 90 games and missed the playoffs. If you believe in the Rays, Yankees, White Sox and Astros to remain good and I don’t see why you wouldn’t, the last two spots are probably coming down to some combination of the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Mariners and some team that steps up. Is that the Tigers? They’d be my bet given their strong finish and the moves they made before the lockout, but you could also argue the Angels with a healthy Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Noah Syndergaard could actually be good for once. You could argue the Twins could bounce back or the Guardians pitching gives them the boost that they need even though their offense appears to be rough once again. The A’s are expected to make a ton of moves, but if they don’t, that’s not a bad team either. And the Rangers spent half a billion dollars on their middle infield. In 2022, I just don’t see it for the Royals even with the extra team.

*Stephen A. Smith voice* HOWEVER! Adding an extra team could help them. I won’t predict it will help them, but it absolutely could. The Blue Jays and Red Sox are going to get beat up on by the better teams in their division. The Angels almost always underperform. The Guardians can’t hit. The Tigers weren’t that far ahead of the Royals when the season ended. The Twins were worse than the Royals in 2021. If you had me guess if the Royals will be the sixth-best team or the 12th best team in the AL, I’d definitely bet on 12th, but it’s one of those things that you just never know, so that gives an extra layer of hope to a day that I’m feeling especially optimistic. It will take a lot, but there’s at least upside on this roster that we didn’t get to see in years like 2018 or 2019.

I wish the lockout had been lifted on Wednesday instead of yesterday. Okay, I wish it had never started, but if we’re speaking of just this week. And that’s simply because I run the risk of not being current very quickly. I thought it was interesting that not a single free agent signing was announced last night. Either the entire league adhered to the rules and nobody talked to anyone they weren’t supposed to (uh huh, sure, I totally buy that) or they all wanted to make it appear that they did because there’s no way teams didn’t talk to each other or at least agents. Even if they spoke in broad terms like “the shortstop who let the grounder from Kendrys Morales get past him,” they talked. Which means today is going to be insane. And tomorrow might be more insane. And Sunday more insane after that. What I’m about to say could be proven right or wrong before you even read this, but I’m going to look at where the Royals could go anyway.

We know they’re interested in bullpen help even though I don’t think they need to take innings away from any of the pitchers who could help out of the bullpen. My prediction on Twitter was that their first signing would be Andrew Chafin, but it could be him or Jake Diekman or Hansel Robles or Ryan Tepera or Collin McHugh or any of the 65 relievers listed on MLB Trade Rumors. But I think they could also look to someone who can back up center field for them. Kevin Pillar is the name I mentioned on Inside the Crown in my first roster prediction a few weeks ago. I don’t know if he’d want a backup job, but he could be a platoon partner for Kyle Isbel as well, so maybe? But maybe that guy is in a house like JaCoby Jones (yeah, did you forget they signed him too until you scrolled the transactions?). I think if you’re looking for the direction the Royals go, it’ll be those two, at least in free agency. But I’m still pulling for Michael Conforto until he signs somewhere else. And then I’ll be pulling for that deal to fall through. For now, I’m just happy to be done talking about the lockout.