We can put 2023 to rest, and usher in a new year with some renewed hope for our Royals, who have actually spent money on players this off-season. This is the time of year for predictions and you can read prognostications from Jaylon Thompson, Anne Rogers, and David Lesky. Here are my Royals-related predictions for 2024!
Salvador Perez will not be traded
I think last summer there was quite a bit of progress made on a Salvador Perez trade to Miami, but Marlins GM Kim Ng departed at the end of the season. Her successor, Peter Bendix, is a former Rays executive and thus less likely to value a player like Salvy with low on-base skills and poor framing metrics. The White Sox have been collecting up former Royals under GM Chris Getz, but with the Royals spending money this winter, it looks like they’re trying to improve and will want to keep Salvy’s bat and leadership around for a few more years.
MJ Melendez will be traded
I’m still not sure how Melendez fits into this year’s roster. With Salvy ensconced behind the plate, the Royals have said Melendez will play outfield full time. Kyle Isbel will be in center with Hunter Renfroe in right, which would seem to put Nelson Velázquez and MJ splitting left field and DH duties. Garrett Hampson and Dairon Blanco provide even more depth, with Tyler Gentry knocking on the door and Javier Vaz not too far away.
With Kauffman’s spacious dimensions, it seems risky to put Renfroe - a defender with limited range in his decline phase - in one corner and Melendez in the other. Maybe Melendez begins the year in left field for the Royals, but it would not surprise me if he is part of a “trade that hurts” in exchange for a player that can fill another need, like pitching.
Bobby Witt Jr. signs a long-term deal
I think Bobby Witt Jr. will sign a long-term deal - the team has talked about trying to get one done, which usually means it gets done. But don’t get too excited yet - I would not expect a flexible 12-year deal that could max out at $470 million, like Julio Rodríguez received. Instead, I’m expecting something flexible, but maybe an eight- or nine-year deal with an opt out after 2027, when Bobby would be eligible for free agency. That gives the Royals a few years to prove they are committed to winning, or else he can walk for greener pastures.
But it seems likely that Bobby will get the biggest contract in club history - heck, even if he doesn’t get a long-term deal, he will likely be the highest-paid player in club history in a few years just through arbitration.
A vote for a downtown stadium will pass in April
Votes for stadiums tend to get approved, even if taxpayers hold their nose while doing so at the thought of handing millions to billionaire owners. The Royals likely wouldn’t be able to pass this on their own, but attaching themselves to the Chiefs will get this over the goal line. Voters will approve a 40-year extension of the 3/8 cent sales tax to improve Arrowhead Stadium and fund a new downtown baseball stadium. I had thought all along that the East Village was the preferred site, but recent signals suggest they have put “all their chips” on the Kansas City Star printing press site. Perhaps the ballpark district portion will be scaled back with this location, but either way, it seems the Royals are inching downtown.
John McMillon will lead the team in saves
McMillon zoomed through the system last year, going from Low-A and jumping through four levels, ending the year in the big leagues before an injury cut his season short. He struck out 45 percent of all the batters he faced last year, including 8 of the 13 big league hitters he faced. His big 98 mph fastball gets a lot of the attention, but in a very limited sample size, his slider generated a 75 percent whiff rate. He did suffer a forearm strain last year, which can be scary, but with no set closer going into the year, he has an opportunity to make a name for himself if he can stay healthy.
Gavin Cross will rebound
We get mad when the Royals stray from the consensus in the draft, but when they have gone by the book, it has backfired terribly in recent years from Asa Lacy to Gavin Cross. I was pretty high on Cross when he was selected out of Virginia Tech in 2022, but he was an absolute disaster, hitting .203/.298/.378 in 96 games before a mysterious ailment ended his season in August (doesn’t help he went 0-for-his-last-14). But a reset may be just what he needs to get back to the numbers he flashed in limited action in 2022, when he hit .293/.423/.596 in 26 games for Low-A Columbia. He has power, he has plate discipline, he should have the polish to make a quick rise, but can the Royals minor league hitting development program unleash his potential?
Bobby Witt Jr. starts the All-Star Game
It won’t be easy to start at shortstop in the American League with 2023 Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson in Baltimore, World Series MVP Corey Seager in Texas, and 2022 World Series MVP Jeremy Peña in Houston, not to mention Bo Bichette in Toronto, Carlos Correa in Minnesota, and Anthony Volpe in New York. But Bobby has some sizzle now, putting up a breakthrough 30/30 season that should earn him the respect of voters. Plus, Royals fans are kinda known for stuffing the ballot, you can be sure we’ll support our guy.
Vinnie Pasquantino hits 30 dongs
The Pasquatch had his season cut short last year due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. But the swing looks as good as ever and if he can get back to being one of the top hitters in exit velocity and hard-hit rate, as he was in 2022, the ball will be flying at the K. The Steamer projection system is already projecting him to be one of the top 25 hitters in baseball next year, and if you pro-rate his numbers to 160 games, he is right at 28.5 home runs. Give him a wind-aided home run or two in Yankee Stadium, and I think he puts up the 16th thirty-home run season in club history.
The Royals will be under .500 at the trade deadline, but less than ten games out of first
Thank god for mediocrity! The Royals have upgraded, and while it can be difficult to jump from 56 wins into contention, it is not uncommon to significantly improve. Since 2000, 37 teams have lost 100 games. If you take out the 2019 teams that had a COVID-shortened season the next year, 27 of those teams improved, and those that improved did so by an average of 14 wins the next year. Five of them improved enough to enjoy a winning season the next year.
If the Royals can make that jump, that puts them at 70 wins, certainly not a contender, but a marked improvement. And that could keep them semi-competitive through the summer considering how dismal the Central Division is this year. In a lot of ways, this team reminds me a bit of the 2007 team that brought in Gil Meche and other free agents to complement Alex Gordon and other young players. They went 69-93, but were 47-59 at the trade deadline, which could be within single digits of first place if no one breaks from the pack.