Boy it’s been a season, huh? It feels like every time we stared to get down on this team, they were at least fun. Then when we started to feel a little better about the future, they went into a crazy funk. Then they’d bounce back. And then they ultimately fired Dayton Moore to begin a change that is going to continue for the next few weeks and while we don’t know where the organization is heading, the uncertainty is actually kind of exciting. Moore was in charge for 16 offseasons. Forget your thoughts on what he did. Anyone in charge that long will give anyone who follows the team a pretty good idea of what the plan of attack is going to be. Sure, maybe you get the names they’ll go after wrong, but we knew how they were going to work to build the team. I don’t think we know that anymore. If the Royals are going to trend more like some of the organizations John Sherman mentioned in his press conference last Wednesday, there will be player movement like we haven’t seen in a long, long time. It may not come to fruition in this offseason, but it might and that’s pretty exciting to not be quite sure of the plan of attack before they even do anything.
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Who is off-limits?
With the idea in mind that the Royals will be more transactional or churn the roster or whatever word you want to use for it, I think this opens the door for more players to be traded. I like to think about it in the terms of what a team like the Rays would do. If they had Drew Water, Michael A. Taylor and Kyle Isbel who could all play center field and play it well, what would they do? They’d trade one or two of them. If they had corner outfielders on either side like MJ Melendez, Nate Eaton and Edward Olivares, they’d definitely trade at least one of those center fielders. And they might trade one of the corner outfielders. If they had two first basemen like Vinnie Pasquantino and Nick Pratto, they’d probably trade one of them. If there were no changes, I think all of the young players would be safe from getting moved. Now I’m not so sure. No, Isbel doesn’t have a ton of value and Waters is probably part of the core they don’t want to move, but he shouldn’t be completely off the table. I personally think Taylor gets moved this winter.
But who isn’t going anywhere? I think there are three players who have no chance of getting traded this winter - Pasquantino, Salvador Perez and Bobby Witt Jr. I think a lot of people will clamor for trading Perez, and the way he’s finished the season, there’s value there, but he’s also making a lot of money for a catcher entering his mid-30s. Plus, I also think this offense needs a legitimate big-time home run threat who hits from the right side. They just have so many lefty bats. Anyway, what that means is everyone else, including Melendez, could go. That doesn’t mean Melendez is going to get traded for peanuts, but if there’s a deal that can bring a top starter in, he might have to be the one. And it’ll stink to watch him on another team if it happens, but we have to prepare ourselves to not fall in love with players if the organization is going to acquiesce to Sherman’s wishes.
The Royals bullpen has been…bad. Heading into play yesterday, they had the fourth-worst ERA in baseball, the seventh-worst FIP, the second-worst xFIP, the fourth-lowest strikeout rate, the highest walk rate and the highest WHIP in baseball. Things have been much better in September, which may or may not mean much of anything, but it has me thinking if the bullpen could improve just using players who are already in the organization. I think if money is going to be spent, it likely should be spent on starting pitching, but there’s a path (in my head at least) where they could be pretty good without making any real moves back there. I think we believe in Scott Barlow and Dylan Coleman at this point. I think Taylor Clarke showed that he could be a valuable part of a bullpen, though a setup role is probably a bit much for him. I think we’ve seen Jose Cuas can excel in the middle of a bullpen. So what is stopping this unit with players they already have from being good?
Add to those the return of Richard Lovelady and maybe Amir Garrett coming back to walk the world but also to get lefties out and you’re starting to see a dynamic bullpen that could work. Maybe I’m just drinking the September Kool-Aid over here, but I’m liking what I’m seeing from a handful of these pitchers and I still think someone like Jonathan Heasley could become a big-time weapon in the bullpen if he can just air it out for an inning or two. I haven’t mentioned Brad Keller or Carlos Hernandez because I think Keller gets non-tendered and Hernandez is a wild card, but either of those two could end up very good out of the bullpen and that wouldn’t surprise me either. I also haven’t even mentioned Josh Staumont who posted a 2.76 ERA/3.50 FIP between 2020 and 2021 with a 29 percent strikeout rate. I’ll tell you that I wouldn’t be upset if they went out and signed a couple of good relievers, but I also don’t think it’s insanity to think the group they have could make some big strides next year.
Development changes coming
I’ve written quite a bit about the big league coaching staff. I still anticipate everyone goes other than the hitting crew and maybe Pedro Grifol. I’m not sure if we’ll get that announcement at some point before the end of the season or if it’ll come after the year is over, but I’ll be very, very surprised if there aren’t changes there. But where I’ll be shocked if there aren’t changes is in the pitching development. I guess that’s pretty easy to say given that Jason Simontacchi has already announced his departure, but I’d guess there is a lot more to come there. The easy thought is for Sherman and JJ Picollo to put their heads together and raid the Guardians pitching development team. Does that mean they go after their pitching coordinator, Joel Mangrum or maybe Cody Buckel, their assistant director or player development (he’ll be on my pitching coach list on ItC)? Or do they look to other very successful organizations in terms of pitching development?
A few of these names may also be on my pitching coach list, but guys like Jorge Moncada, Winston Doom would make a whole lot of sense to get them in a higher profile role, though they’d leave an organization that can help their stock rise over the next few years. They could also look toward the privatized pitching world. The Reds did this a couple of years ago when they hired Kyle Boddy to head up their pitching development. Boddy, of course, started Driveline years ago and has actually responded on Twitter saying he’d go anywhere for an assistant general manager role. Maybe the Royals are his landing spot and he can lead the revamped pitching development. I did talk to a couple of people inside the game and the team they kept coming back to that nobody is talking about is the Mariners. Does that mean going to get Mat Snider, their assistant player development director? Or maybe it’s Trent Blank, their bullpen coach and director of pitching strategy. I don’t know who the answer is (though I’m trying to talk to enough people to find out), but I’m very curious to see the direction they go with this because it’s their biggest need of the entire offseason. If they can fix this, another losing or two would be palatable because they should be able to start developing pitching relatively quickly if they do it right.
Leading off, MJ Melendez
One thing I’ve learned from both social media and Inside the Crown this season is that there is a set of Royals fans who really don’t like Melendez hitting in the leadoff spot. I get it. He’s a natural catcher and isn’t the fastest player on the team. But he actually does have a faster sprint speed than Nicky Lopez, Adalberto and Michael Massey (and others, but those are guys who you would probably be surprised by). But the reality is that he gets on base. Kyle Schwarber had 517 leadoff plate appearances coming into play yesterday. DJ LeMahieu had 419. Christian Yelich had 383. Yes, some leadoff hitters are more like the old school guys who could run and don’t have much power, but the leadoff spot is a place to put power these days, especially if they feature one of the highest on base percentages on the team. We all know Melendez can work a walk and he came into yesterday trailing Pasquantino, Taylor and Olivares among players getting every day work. I would have no issue with Olivares leading off, but I think we can all agree that Pasquantino isn’t a great fit for the role (but I’d love him hitting second) and Taylor is just too inconsistent with his getting on base.
Moving forward, sure, I think it would be nice to get his ability to drive the ball in the middle of the lineup. Maybe that means moving Olivares to the top, though a lot of his OBP is tied to his batting average. I kind of like the idea of Olivares-Pasquantino-Witt-Perez-Melendez as a top five in the order. Then you can work through to fit in guys like Waters, Massey, Eaton and others. So yes, ideally Melendez doesn’t need to be the team’s leadoff hitter, but given his skillset and speed that would probably surprise you, I think he’s one of the two best candidates at this particular moment and if he continues in that role next season under a new manager, I wouldn’t be upset at all by it. But I would probably flip Pasquantino and Perez in that scenario, but at that point we’re just splitting hairs. All of this is meaningless if they decide he’ll be someone who they move to fill holes, but I still would bet against that.