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Crown Jewels: Bobby and the Org, a KBO Free Agent and The Offense
The GM meetings may have ended early, but we can still talk about the Royals and their quest to be less than terrible.
It isn’t every year that a set of meetings gets cut short because of a stomach ailment, but I guess there’s still run(s) happening outside of the season. The GM meetings, which were supposed to be this past week were apparently much more subdued than normal because of some GI disease that spread through the general managers. I saw a story on Wednesday saying that things were a lot quieter because of it. I thought that seemed to be a little far-fetched, but I know someone who was there and said that it was a lot quieter than he’d remembered it in the past, so maybe just maybe. Still, the GM meetings are generally two things: sound bites and the beginning of talks.
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Okay, maybe not the beginnings. Those actually can often start at the trade deadline and get continued. But you rarely get actual news during these meetings. I just hope between these getting cut short/interrupted and the issues with Diamond Sports that we aren’t about to hit a slower developing winter than was previously expected. I still keep hearing that the Royals are ready to make moves as soon as the moves are there to be made, so there could be some news any day from them, but that’s a bit of an ominous start to the offseason.
Bobby’s (Potential) Extension and the Organization
I’ve written more times than I can remember about an extension for Bobby Witt Jr. Early in the offseason, I ended up at a massive number - 14 years and $345 million. I’ll maintain that I believe he signs for six or seven years or 13 or 14. I don’t think anything in between makes a ton of sense for him. Maybe I end up wrong there, but I’m still standing by that thought. Either way, the topic has been brought up multiple times over the past few days at the GI…I mean GM…Meetings and there was actually a blurb in The Athletic just yesterday about it.
Witt, coming off a season in which he hit 30 homers, drove in 96 runs and stole 49 bases, has two years of service. Riley had two-plus when he agreed to his deal. Rodríguez received the largest guarantee for a player with less than one year of service, Carroll was the largest for a player with fewer than 100 days.
None of the comparisons is apples to apples. But the Royals know a Witt deal almost certainly would cost them more than $200 million, and they are not dismissing the possibility. That alone constitutes progress.
I’ll note before I say what I’m about to say that there is no perfect source, but I have talked to three different people who are at least somewhat in the know on something like this. All three have said they believe a deal gets done between Witt and the Royals. I feel like I’m just repeating myself so much, but without much news, this does constitute as news, so it’s fine.
The Royals need Witt to be under a guaranteed contract with the Royals for a long time. They need the support that comes from that. They need the stability that comes from that. They might even need that to pursue free agents this year and in the future. That’s my editorializing here that putting out the hundreds of millions of dollars required to keep a superstar in the fold is a good look to other players who you might want to come play for your franchise.
But one thing I keep hearing (again, from people who should know) is that Witt enjoys Kansas City and likes playing in the organization. To Witt’s credit, he’s saying all of the right things.
“This is the organization that I got drafted by and an organization that I came up with,” Witt said. “They are all I have known really. The goal would be to just win the World Series for the city of Kansas City, for the fans and for everyone. Just all the people that we’ve kind of came up with and everything that just makes things a lot more special.”
I see on social media and hear from people all the time things about how he shouldn’t and wouldn’t sign up to play for a losing organization. Similar to the stadium deal that is somewhat irrelevant to the current on-field product, if and when Witt signs to stay in Kansas City for a decade plus, it will be with the mindset that it won’t be a losing organization for long. Royals fans haven’t seen more than three consecutive seasons over .500 since the 80s, but that doesn’t mean that has to be the way things are moving forward.
I get it. You want to see it. I do too. Some may believe before the see it. Some need to actually witness it with their own eyes. But just because something has happened in the past doesn’t mean it will happen in the future. I talk to a lot of people around the game. Some have ties to the Royals, many don’t. I haven’t talked to anyone who is actually connected within the game who believes the Royals are being run the way they were in the past.
You may have noticed a more positive tone from me during this past brutal season. It’s because of that. It was a terrible year and it’s been a generally terrible 30 years outside of a wonderful pocket a decade or so ago. But nobody who actually knows what they’re talking about believes the Royals are operating the same way they did when they were in that hole and that’s pretty fun to know.
An International-ish Free Agent
One pitcher I didn’t mention in my look at free agents was a pretty big omission from me and that’s Erick Fedde. You may recall that Fedde was a first round pick by the Nationals in 2014. He was considered a top-100 prospect in multiple seasons and had a little big league success. But he wasn’t especially good. After a subpar 2022, Fedde went to Korea to pitch in the KBO. But before the season, he spent time at Push Performance in Scottsdale and he was a different pitcher for the NC Dinos than he’d been at any point for the Nationals.
His time there was spent like many struggling pitchers who go to a pitching lab. He worked on mechanics, pitch shapes and mindsets. While there, he worked on his shoulder mechanics to hopefully help him stay healthy, but also changed the shape of his fastball, completely reworked his breaking ball to turn it into a sweeper and altered his wrist action on his changeup. While there isn’t Savant data for the KBO (at least not that I’m aware of), he was throwing his fastball a lot less, his changeup a lot more and then a breaking ball and cutter about the same as what he did with the Nationals in 2022.
He threw 180.1 innings over 30 starts with a 2.00 ERA, a 29.5 percent strikeout rate and a 4.9 percent walk rate. He was fourth in innings, first in strikeouts (by 45) and tied for the second-fewest walks among pitchers with 150 innings or more. So it was a huge success for him. And now he’s looking to get back to Major League Baseball. This is a chance the Royals need to be taking. They’ve done it before, but it’s really been quite some time. You remember John Bale? It’s easy to forget him, but he was a big leaguer for a few years before he went to Japan. He came back with the Royals and had a couple solid enough years in relief.
But there have been other opportunities. Merrill Kelly, who was really good for the Diamondbacks this year, signed for two years and $5.5 million back in 2019. That included two option years for $9.5 million total. Miles Mikolas has been successful with the Cardinals. He was a bit more expensive at two years and $15.5 million, which is also known as less than Jordan Lyles. It’s not always a success, but it can pay off so big that it’s absolutely worth the risk because there’s no way the cost is so prohibitive that it hamstrings the Royals or any other team.
The Royals need so much pitching help that they can’t afford not to be aggressive in markets like this. If it doesn’t work, oh well. They’ve shown an increased willingness to move on from underperformers. Fedde is a target that I’m all about now for them.
There is a lot of talk about the Royals looking at pitching, and rightfully so. Pitching was their biggest issue and the bats were actually pretty much fine, at least in the last two months. Just to remind you, they hit .261/.318/.429 from August 1 on, which was good for a 99 wRC+, so that’s basically league average. They were middle of the pack in swinging at pitches outside the zone from that point forward and the contact they made was generally pretty good. Add in the return of Vinnie Pasquantino and it’s easy to see why pitching is the primary focus.
But I think there’s more than enough room to find a bat. In getting to that league average offense (which also should never be the goal, it’s a step toward the goal), they did it with just four players with 100 or more at bats and a 100 or better wRC+. Those four players were Edward Olivares, Witt, MJ Melendez and Nelson Velazquez. Those were also the only four Royals in the final two months to post an ISO of .200 or better. That’s no coincidence. The point here is that while the overall offense was fine, the pieces could definitely improve. That goes double when you consider that I’d be pretty surprised if both Olivares and Melendez are back and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if both are moved.
Consider too that while Maikel Garcia flashed excellent defense at third, he still posted a wRC+ of 84. His .272 average was fine. His .323 OBP was fine. His .358 SLG makes me wonder if he’s starter caliber. There are underlying numbers that suggest he can make an improvement. His hard-hit rate was over 50 percent. That’s 19th-best in baseball. His maximum exit velocity of 110 MPH is fine enough. But he doesn’t barrel the ball up and even though he’s small, if he could lift the ball more, we might see some more power.
Michael Massey had a brutal April and probably underperformed the batted ball metrics some. If he is the guy his expected stats say he is or the guy he was after a brutal start (which are pretty similar numbers, for what it’s worth), there’s a spot for him. But if he’s the .229/.274/.381 hitter he actually was over the course of the full season, he’s also not a starter.
They also could be moving Salvador Perez, Nelson Velazquez is no guarantee and the center fielders haven’t proven that they can hit at all. I think the offense is going to be fine in 2024, at least partially because the name I’ve heard they’re adding to the bench as a third hitting coach is someone who I think can actually make a difference. I wish I could talk about that a little more, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy here.
But to think that there isn’t space to add a bat basically anywhere on the field is foolish. The only spot they have zero need to target is shortstop, but even then, they could look there and talk to that player about moving to second or third if they decide they want more of a sure thing. I think Garcia and Massey could absolutely be answers at the plate as well as in the field, but I also think that they didn’t show enough at the plate to think they can’t be improved upon with an addition.
Quick note: I’ll be around here and there today, but not as much as usual to go back and forth on comments, so this’ll probably be a talk-amongst-yourselves version of Inside the Crown.