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Cold Stove thoughts

76 days until spring training

Royals Stadium

There’s not a lot going on in the world of baseball during the post-Thanksgiving week. A few minor trades and signings and a lot of speculation on where several Japanese stars may sign. I thought it would be a good time to enjoy the resurgence of the Detroit Lions before they imploded against the Packers, and to fret about the Chiefs pass dropping woes. I might also mention again that some friends and I have a Kelce-Swift breakup pool going. $5 to get in and whoever picks the date closest to when Taylor drops Travis wins the pool.

It’s been a quiet and strange off season so far for the Royals front office. They’ve picked up a couple of oft-injured, once effective pitchers from Atlanta, Kyle Wright and Nick Anderson, for spare parts and cash. Wright won’t even pitch in 2024 and possibly even 2025, so as they say in Dodgeball, “that’s a bold strategy, Cotton”. Maybe this is a new baseball inefficiency and GMJJ and the Royals are on the cutting edge of it?

Unfortunately, we know better. The Royals are rarely, if ever, bold in the off-season. The team went all in during the 1989 offseason when they signed the Davis boys, Storm and Mark. Those two moves were bold and had Royal fans thinking of the World Series as they sipped their New Years Eve champagne. Of course, those moves blew up like a cheap firecracker and left the Royals front office scarred for the next three decades. Dayton Moore moved the needle when he made the Zach Greinke trade in the 2010 off-season and again in 2012 with the James Shields/Wade Davis trade.

Since then, the Royals have been content to play it cheap and safe and just sniff around the edges of the free-agent market. I don’t expect them to do any differently this offseason. Their MO seems to be to wait until the pool of available players begins to dry up then kick around and see if they can find an undervalued, often severely flawed nugget that other teams have passed on. Then they convince themselves that the flawed player could rebound and help the club. Occasionally it works, as evidenced by the signings of players like Raul Ibanez, Ervin Santana, Kendrys Morales and Edinson Volquez, just to name a few. Often, it doesn’t work, and we end up with guys like Juan Gonzalez or Jordan Lyles. The crazy thing is, I like Jordan Lyles. He takes the ball every four days, gives his team six or seven innings and never complains about the lack of talent around him. He’d be a perfect number five starter for most teams. Because of the Royals’ glaring lack of pitching talent, Lyles has slid into the Royals number two slot. He’s the right guy, just in the wrong place.

I recently read a piece about ten players who may be on the trade market this offseason. Five of the ten would probably be out of the Royals’ range or be too flawed to waste organizational capital on. Those five are: Mike Trout, Pete Alonso, Luis Robert, Dylan Cease and Juan Soto. I love Trout, but his injury history and advancing age make him a poor trade target. Would the Angels even consider parting with him? He’s blistered Royal pitching over the past twelve seasons and would certainly be an upgrade in centerfield for KC. On the Angels Mount Rushmore of all-timers, you’d have Trout, Nolan Ryan, Shohei and then who? Who’s their fourth best player of all-time? Tough one. Tim Salmon? Bobby Grich? Chuck Finley? Garret Anderson? Jim Fregosi? Seriously, I’m grasping here. The point is, I have no idea who their fourth best player would be. Trout is absolutely number one. Why would a franchise trade their all-time best player? Can you imagine if the Royals had decided to trade George Brett to say, the Cardinals?

It’s a similar story with Alonso. Would the Mets even consider trading him? A power hitting, RBI machine first baseman in his prime? Maybe the Mets are more dysfunctional than I give them credit for. I doubt the White Sox would help a division rival, so that rules out Robert and Cease. With Soto, his price tag would most likely be too great, but also, whenever I watch him play, I just don’t see it. I know at one time baseball people were calling him the next Ted Williams. He does draw a ton of walks and his OBP is usually near the top of the league, but for all that has been written about his prowess with the bat, he’s never once exceeded 200 hits in a season, having topped out at 157 back in 2021. Soto has played in 779 major league games and has collected 768 hits and 640 walks for an OBP of .421.

In his first 779 major league games, Williams collected 964 hits and 706 walks for an OBP of .484. Those stats alone show you that Soto, while a decent batsman, is no Ted Williams. He’s not even in the same zip code. But it goes beyond that. The times I’ve watched Soto play, it’s just left me cold. I’ve never seen him play with any passion and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him have a multi-hit game. Maybe I’m missing something, but I see a good player but not a superstar. I don’t see a player who can elevate his team. I’d take a hard pass on Soto.

The other five players mentioned hold some possibilities, should the Royals get transactional. Those five were: Corbin Burnes, Tyler Glasnow, Shane Bieber, Gleyber Torres and Jonathan India. The Royals desperately need pitching which makes Burnes, Glasnow and Bieber viable candidates. I’m not sure Cleveland would wheel and deal within the division, but you never know. The Brewers and the Rays are two teams that are transactional and could play ball. Torres and India are interesting possibilities as well. India will be entering his fourth season and is still only 26. The one-time Rookie of the Year is a career .255 hitter with some pop. Torres has a similar profile: a .267 career hitter will be entering his seventh season at the age of 27. Like India, he can stroke the long ball, with 123 career home runs, and plays short and second. Both would be an upgrade over the Royals current second basemen, I just can’t imagine the Yankees would part with Torres unless the package was big, and the Royals don’t have enough trade capital to splurge on a middle infielder like Torres. Pitching is still need number one, two and three and if you can’t develop pitching, and nothing the Royals have done leads me to believe they can, then you must buy it. If John Sherman is serious about building a winner, he’s going to have to write some checks.

Ho Ho Ho

Christmas isn’t far away and in a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal, there was a story about Christmas gifts for the sports fans in your family. Under the book section, two of Kansas City’s finest were listed. Naturally, “Why we love baseball”, by Joe Posnanski made the list. It’s a terrific baseball book, an instant classic and one of my favorites. A surprise addition was “Kingdom Quarterback”, a new release by Mark Dent and former KC Star sportswriter Rustin Dodd about Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs recent run of dominance. Well done gentlemen. I continue to be amazed at the high level of sport writing that has come out of the Star’s offices in the past six decades.

Is it too early to start predicting how many wins the 2024 Royals might accrue? I was way off in my 2023 guess, but I do tend to be an overly optimistic person. Vinnie Pasquantino and Kris Bubic will be back from injury. Bobby Junior is blossoming into a star. They’ll have a full year of Cole Ragans, James McArthur and Nelson Velasquez and assuming that there aren’t any major injuries and any disastrous performance slumps, I’m going to make the prediction of 69 wins. That’s a considerable improvement from 2023’s 56-win dumpster fire, but still far below what’s needed to get them into a playoff berth. If John Sherman wants a shiny new downtown ballpark, he’s going to have to start getting serious about building a winning team. I believe the current ownership group has completely misread the room on how passionate Royals fans are about the K. Putting a consistent winner on the field would lessen the pain of a move. Nobody wants a new ballpark to watch a 56-win team. Your move Mr. Sherman.