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Lesky’s Notes: The dominoes are starting to fall

The Royals have traded two of their pending free agents. Now we wait for the rest.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I think there was probably a split second (or more) of fear in Royals fans hearts on Monday when it was announced the owners and players couldn’t come to a deal on an international draft. Why the fear? It meant that the qualifying offer was back on the table for pending free agents. With that, combined with the Royals playing better baseball, I know some feared that the Royals would want to set a good example for the young players and would hang on to Andrew Benintendi for the whole season and just give him the QO and either get him for another season or recoup a draft pick next year for him. But those fears were quickly alleviated when he was moved two days later. They got back three young arms that went, in my mind, from underwhelming to fair and now they look to move more pieces. I’ll get into who’s next down below, but I think the biggest thing I’ve seen from the three trades the Royals have made is that either Dayton Moore has changed his style or JJ Picollo is doing the trading. I just don’t think any of the three trades (Carlos Santana, pick 35 and Benintendi) felt like Moore at all, and I think that’s a good thing.

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Who’s next?

I don’t know that I can perfectly answer who is the next to go because some trades just take longer to work out and get them finalized, but I have some thoughts on who is likely to go over the next four days. I’ll list them by my percentage odds they get moved:

Whit Merrifield - 80%
Scott Barlow - 50%
Michael A. Taylor - 50%
Cam Gallagher - 35%
Brad Keller - 35%
Hunter Dozier - 30%
Josh Staumont - 30%
Zack Greinke - 20%
Taylor Clarke - 10%

I think I might be a bit low on 80 percent for Merrifield because, by all accounts, he’s going to finally get traded and only three years too late. The rest are kind of crapshoots to me, but I’d guess one of Barlow and Taylor get traded while the other stays. I wonder a bit if the Royals would be willing to attach Barlow to a Merrifield deal to increase the return. Maybe something with the Brewers could work there where they could get back Ethan Small or Tyler Black. That’s just throwing some names out, but I think pairing Barlow with Merrifield would turn a pretty non-descript trade into one where the Royals could get some real help for their system.

As for the rest, I haven’t heard much of anything on Taylor lately, really since the Toronto series, but I think there are teams calling the Royals. And he’s hit well enough that I think the market may actually get too hot for them to ignore. I think Gallagher is a perfect fit with the Rays given that they’re without Mike Zunino and Francisco Mejia. No you’re not getting back much for a backup catcher, but who cares? I haven’t heard anything about Keller moving, but I won’t ever put a decent pitcher with his fastball and additional year of control farther down the list than that. I think they should trade Dozier, but I don’t know that they will. And I think trading Staumont now is probably selling low. They can wait on him. I listed Greinke because Picollo mentioned him a couple of weeks ago, but I bet there’s nothing there and I listed Clarke because they should be shopping him but likely aren’t.

Pitching depth

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about what we know the Royals have in line for 2023. But there’s actually been a decent amount that’s changed in the last few weeks. For one thing, they’ve added Andrew Hoffmann, Beck Way and TJ Sikkema as pitchers who are working their way to the big leagues. They’ve also gotten back Jonathan Bowlan from his Tommy John, and while he struggled some in his first start back in AA, I’m excited to see what he can do over the final two months of the season. But the biggest development over the last two to three months is that Brady Singer has been fantastic, specifically recently, and Kris Bubic has also been quite good since he’s been back from Omaha. I want to point out that Bubic had a better than average ERA- in 2020 and 2021. While his FIP and expected ERA painted a different picture, I think it’s worth mentioning that he has a 4.25 ERA in his career outside of the six games to start this season. I’m not saying that he’s a great pitcher or anything, but I think he’s serviceable at the back of a rotation, especially while he’s cheap.

I don’t anticipate them trading Brad Keller and even though he can be infuriating, he’s also generally a decent enough pitcher who gives innings and, for the most part, keeps his team in games. I’d be fine with giving Zack Greinke the modern-day Tim Wakefield contract to keep him on one-year deals until he’s ready to hang them up. Add in some combination of Daniel Lynch and Jonathan Heasley along with Drew Parrish, Angel Zerpa and the others I mentioned above and it sort of feels like they should be able to piece together a staff. Maybe the idea of a Greinke deal is overkill because I still think they need someone to actually pitch toward the top of the rotation, but I weirdly feel a lot better about the staff, provided they fire Cal Eldred, because of the improvements with Singer and Bubic. Maybe that’s me being too quick to trust here, but it certainly helps the mindset.

Prospect strikeouts and walks

Speaking of the pitching, there has been quite a bit of talk about where the issue is with the Royals pitching development. This isn’t something new from me, but there is a big jump from AAA to the big leagues, which makes the majors something of a finishing school. And the Royals having Eldred as the leader of that pitching staff to help get there has been a problem. And one of the things that I dug into was the strikeout percentage, walk percentage and then strikeout to walk ratio for some of the younger pitchers in baseball. I won’t list them all because I looked at 18 pitchers, including Singer, Bubic, Lynch, Heasley and Kowar and their strikeout and walk numbers. And what I found is that the current Royals crop of young pitchers fits in pretty decently and this includes some guys like Sandy Alcantara, Logan Gilbert, Tarik Skubal and others. For example, Singer, Bubic and Lynch are all in the top half of that group in strikeout to walk ratio in the minors. Singer, Lynch and Kowar are all in the top half in walk percentage. Only Bubic was in the top half in strikeout percentage, which is an issue, but I think it does show that the minor league success fit in with some of the best of the best.

What I think is interesting is that the four pitchers they’ve acquired are pretty impressive looking at these numbers compared to other successful young pitchers. Sikkema is third out of the list that is now 22 in strikeout percentage. Chandler Champlain is 10th, Way is 12th and Hoffmann is 13th. In walk percentage, Sikkema, Champlain and Hoffmann are in the top eight (Way is last, though). Those three are also top-eight in strikeout to walk ratio. I think what this shows is that the Royals have made an effort to find pitchers who should have an easier transition up the ladder because they actually do strike hitters out and actually do limit walks. I have some issues with FIP as a stat because of the number of factors it doesn’t factor in, but it’s not a secret that striking out a lot and walking a few will help to make things just a bit easier for pitchers, so it’s nice to see that’s what they’ve been targeting in deals.

Tyler Gentry on the 2023 roster?

One thing that I’ve found interesting over the season is that there is basically no talk about Tyler Gentry in prospect discussions for the Royals, but one thing I keep hearing from people in and around the organization is that he’s someone they absolutely love. It’s easy to see why. For the season, he’s hitting .331/.416/.562 between Quad Cities and Northwest Arkansas. He’s seen his average stay relatively stable in the jump and his slugging percentage climb by about 100 points. He can work a walk, he doesn’t have a ton of swing and miss to his game and he’s a quality defensive outfielder. He’s someone we need to be paying a lot closer attention to, kind of like how Michael Massey grabbed our attention last season. Something Gentry does is actually out of his control, but it helps him too when looking at a future roster. On a team that appears like it’ll include Nick Pratto and Vinnie Pasquantino and MJ Melendez and Massey, that’s a lot of lefties. Gentry hits right-handed.

I don’t think he’ll make the Opening Day roster, but I keep getting the sense that he’s going to be a non-roster invite and actually be given a shot to make the team. That could obviously change between now and late February with trades and free agent signings, but people really like what they’re seeing out of him in AA. He can help balance a lineup that needs some balancing and his emergence could make them willing to move someone like an Edward Olivares in a deal to bring back some pitching. Just keep his name in your head because you’ll likely be hearing a lot of it next season.