There was so much hope on Monday night. For me, as I was trying to get to sleep for a 2:30 wakeup call to get to the airport, it was frustrating but sort of exhilerating that I couldn’t stop checking my phone. But I finally went to sleep hoping a deal had been struck. When I woke up, I saw that talks had broken up for the evening and they’d continue in the morning. I was optimistic, and as I wrote on Inside the Crown on Wednesday morning, I think I missed most of the signs that my heart was telling me to ignore. So things broke down, the owners gave their “best and final” offer and the players didn’t think it was enough. I agree that it wasn’t enough. Some parts likely were and the good news is that they’re both still negotiating and not starting from scratch, which was actually possible. But there’s six games off the schedule (for now) and another week is in jeopardy with just a few days. So how far does it go? From everything I’ve read, teams don’t have to start paying back their television deals until they dip under about 140 games so I wouldn’t be too surprised if we see an Opening Day similar to 1995 when it was toward the end of April. I’ll be happy when baseball is back, but this really sucks.
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I promise this will be my last labor talk point other than a reference here or there if it fits. I think back to when Tony Clark handled his first CBA negotiation as executive director of the MLBPA and it seemed fairly obvious that things were shifting toward the owners more and more. I think the PA “lost” the new 2012 CBA in some ways, but it wasn’t crazy. You have to remember that the CBA prior to the 2012 one was the first ever agreed to before the expiration. There was a good feeling and I think that there was something to wanting to keep things friendly. It was terrible that Michael Weiner passed away soon after that 2012 and that led to Clark to be elevated to executive director. And I didn’t think he was especially good at the job at the time based on some of the negotiations. Then when the 2020 negotiations had to happen because of Covid, I feel like the owners ran over the players and the players seemed to lack organization. It was sort of understandable because the situation was literally brand new and it was very delicate.
And heading into these negotiations, the PA added Bruce Meyer was brought in to help to level the playing field. This Q&A with him from when he was brought on is quite interesting if you want to take a few minutes to read it. He’s a bulldog, for lack of a better term, and I think he’s a big reason why the union is much more organized in their messaging and their efforts and why we haven’t seen a deal that isn’t enough. Right now, I believe that we are in the position we are in because of the poor work done at the top by Clark and the players working to undo that in a single negotiation. Unfortunately, that was never possible, so they’ll have to eventually take the incremental gains. In my opinion and from a couple people I’ve spoken to, I don’t think they’re as far off as the rhetoric might seem. MLB had to hold to its word at some point and follow through with canceling games, but at this point, they’re haggling over a few million and, in some cases, less. Does that mean I think a deal gets done soon? I guess you’d have to define soon, but I do think with Meyer and Dan Halem meeting separately yesterday that something will get done to salvage most of the season. The other issue is now it starts to get tricky with player pay, but that’s something to worry about when I have more energy for it.
I want to think about some actual on-field things for a change and look ahead to the Royals bullpen and what they’ll trot out when the season starts at some point. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t see a real need to go out and get another arm, and that’s because I actually quite like what they’ve built back there. We know what kind of season Scott Barlow had last year and we know what kind of dominance we can see from Josh Staumont. Add in Jake Brentz in the upper-90s from the left side and Dylan Coleman in the upper-90s with that filthy slider from the right side and the Royals have some serious stuff coming out of there. It’s not quite like watching Brad Boxberger jog in from the bullpen throwing 92 on a good day. One thing I’d like to see from Barlow is to throw the fastball a little more. The numbers on it make it seem like it’s not a pitch he wants to throw as much, but I think part of why he seems to have slumps every year is that he relies a bit too much on pitches that can go through slumps more than fastballs typically do.
If he does throw it more (and he’s 94-97 with it), I don’t see a reason why he can’t hang on to the closer job, but I truly believe that they’d be best off there with one of Staumont or Coleman. Staumont’s control issues never made me think that he could do it, but after losing some velocity due to injury and illness last year, he had to adjust. If that velocity comes back and he’s still controlling it the way he did in 2021, Staumont should be the guy. He can carve up hitters with the fastball or the huge curve and I think would be dominant. But if not, Coleman is a prototypical closer. He’s a big guy with a huge fastball and a nasty slider. When you think about all the starters they have in addition to solid pitchers like Domingo Tapia, Joel Payamps and Daniel Tillo hopefully bouncing back to what he was looking like he’d be a couple years ago, it just feels full. It’s not that you wouldn’t have an issue bumping out Payamps or Tapia if they can go get a Ryan Tepera type, but I wouldn’t do it just to say you have a veteran there.
The lockout has basically promised that we won’t see Nick Pratto or MJ Melendez at the big league level to start the season. I suppose there’s every chance in the world that they’ve been off working hard somewhere else to the point that they can dominate a short camp before the regular season starts, but I think the Royals will use the opportunity to get Pratto additional AAA reps to help work on the strikeout issues he displayed and to figure some things out on the big league roster before Melendez comes to the majors. I’m actually of the belief that Melendez has the best chance to hit the best of the big three of him, Pratto and Bobby Witt Jr. simply because he makes the most contact and has a ton of power to go with it, but there’s also a thought that maybe his slightly unorthodox swing will give him some trouble. Either way, both of them not being able to be in camp seems pretty likely to spell the end of their chances at the roster.
That might not be the worst thing for the Royals. With Super 2 percentages not rising much, if at all, when a new CBA is announced, they might end up getting an extra few months out of both of these guys and not in a malicious way at all. So that’s a potential positive. But it also gives them an opportunity to let Carlos Santana prove that the hip injury truly was the problem. I don’t know if I’m fully on board with believing that it was the biggest issue for him because his struggles started well before it, but let’s say the season starts on April 21. Is it the worst thing in the world to have him in there working walks for six weeks while Pratto and Melendez do their thing in AAA and the Royals see if they can find a trade partner for their current guy? With more teams making the playoffs (I’m assuming that will still happen, in spite of the PA’s threats), there will be more teams in the market for a veteran, so maybe he can go out and hit like he did in his first 40 games in 2021 (.261/.409/.470). I sort of wonder if they just keep him if he does that, but if he does, there will be a market for him.
I know I’d been talking about Royals of the past in this spot the last few weeks, but I want to highlight Nick Loftin here instead because he’s been getting rave reviews in minor league camp. Notably Rusty Kuntz has been singing his praises as able to handle center field in the long-term, which finally could give the Royals their center field prospect they’ve been looking for long enough that they decided to give Michael A. Taylor a two-year deal. I mentioned Loftin as my choice for a prospect who would rise up the most in 2021, and if he can make a move to the most important spot in the outfield, I believe that’ll help his prospect ranks even more than I initially believed. It’s kind of funny because I absolutely hated the pick out of college, but this is a credit to the Royals offensive development, I think. He looks like the type of hitter we see come up from other organizations, which I believe will start to be the norm from this organization if they continue on the path they’re on.
Since 2017, there were 94 season of a player who had a walk rate of 9 percent or higher and a strikeout rate of 18 percent or lower. That’s what I’m expecting from Loftin, so maybe the expectations are a bit too high. If I lower the walk rate to 8 percent and raise the strikeout rate to 20 percent, it adds another 91, so maybe that’s more realistic. Even so, I think it’s fair to expect something like Andrew Benintendi-like numbers from 2017 when he hit .271/.352/.424 or maybe something along the lines of Ian Kinsler a bit later in his career. Either way, I’ve found myself sold on Loftin and if he can play center field at a high level, that allows him to not need quite as much offense as he would have needed if he was stuck in a corner. I’m excited to see what he can do in 2022.