Crown Jewels: Royals Jumping the Gun, An Unexpected World Series and the 40-Man
The off-season is right around the corner with an unpredicted World Series starting tonight, so the Royals can get back to doing things. And maybe quickly!
It’s been a crazy couple of weeks for me, which is why there hasn’t been much put out here on Inside the Crown. I apologize for that. Or maybe you’re welcome for that. It’s hard to say. But with the World Series getting underway tonight, I think it’s safe to say that there’ll be a lot more to talk about as the offseason starts to unravel. This is always sort of an awkward time of year for teams no longer playing because the league doesn’t want distractions from the playoffs, but they’re still conducting business and not just twiddling their thumbs waiting for games to be over so they can finally get down to business.
I promise I’ll write more soon! And paid subscriptions remain 25% off through the end of the World Series, so jump on that now if you haven’t already!
Obviously, that’s not what’s happening because there’s work going on behind the scenes for all 30 teams, but the 22 who have been eliminated since the first week of the postseason are all in full offseason mode already. As they should be. The free agent class doesn’t measure up to what we’ve seen the last couple of seasons. Shohei Ohtani is going to be a fascinating case to follow and Yoshinobu Yamamoto is coveted by all 30 teams. But otherwise, the star power just isn’t quite there. I’m expecting a lot of action on the trade market this winter.
I’m also sort of fascinated by the managerial openings around the game. With the Giants hiring Bob Melvin, that leaves an opening with the uber-talented San Diego Padres. The Mets job is also open (though seemingly Craig Counsell’s if he wants it). Then there’s the Angels with an uncertain future (but Mike Trout), the Guardians and the Astros with Dusty Baker announcing his retirement.
One team (the Giants) won 107 games just two years ago and seems ready to spend an ungodly sum of money. Another (the Padres) was a playoff team just a year ago and certainly had the talent to do it again. The Mets have publicly stated they’re taking a step back, but that’s a $300+ million payroll with an owner who doesn’t care how much he spends. The Guardians are one of the youngest teams in baseball, can always pitch and won the AL Central just a year ago. And the Astros have been in the ALCS for seven straight years, won the World Series just a year ago and are always good. Those are some power teams looking for new manager.
Getting Started Early
This may or may not come to fruition, but I’ve talked to two separate scouts who have heard the Royals are willing to jump the market this winter. I love that. And it’s sort of funny that I love it because I remember being so upset at the number of times they were quick out of the gates to make moves in previous seasons because they needed to let the market set. But I think that’s a mistake to wait on the market to develop because the Royals aren’t a destination for players. Getting out early doesn’t allow a player to tell the Royals they’re interested but are holding out for this or that.
Plus, I feel a lot more confidence in the organization today to move on from a mistake. They were so hesitant on anyone in the past that I didn’t want them to make a potential mistake because they’d be stuck with that player for so long. Obviously they’re not going to demote or DFA a ton of financial mistakes, but I feel a lot more comfortable in believing they won’t stick with an underperforming veteran forever that I find myself okay with them getting out ahead of the market.
The areas that make sense for this are short-term outfielder deal, top of the rotation starter and basically any reliever. Why those three roles? A short-term deal for an outfielder is something that I think can be unpredictable from year to year. Is the going rate $15 million or $10 million? Last season, we saw Mitch Haniger sign for three years and $43.5 million and Michael Conforto got two years and $36 million (with an opt-out). But otherwise, Michael Brantley signed for $12 million for a year. Joey Gallo was $11 million. Kevin Keiermaier was $9 million. There are others, but you get the idea. Last year, the going rate was around that $10 million number. Jump early and that’s what players likely have in mind.
A top of the rotation starter is someone who is going to be much harder to land, either in free agency or in a trade. If the Royals can get them, they’re likely not going to get them by waiting. It may hurt on the back end, but if they want to play in the deep end of the pool, they might need to jump out and offer a deal in line with previous contracts. If they want to make a play for, say, Sonny Gray, they might need to offer him three years and $63 million out of the gate to match the Chris Bassitt deal. Maybe it doesn’t get it done, but they’re running the risk of that becoming a ridiculous (for a 34-year-old) five-year deal that doesn’t make sense for them or anyone.
And a reliever makes sense because you’re generally not giving out deals for more than two years for relievers. Last year, Edwin Diaz, Robert Suarez, Rafael Montero and Taylor Rogers signed for more than two years. The deal for solid relievers is two years and $12-$16 million. Jump on that now and guys may sign quickly because they don’t want to ride that carousel all winter long. So whether it’s two years and $12 million for Phil Maton or one year and $7 million for Ryne Stanek or whatever your poison is, I think it makes a lot of sense to jump out of the gate and get some relievers.
We’ll see soon if the talk about the Royals being active early comes true, but I like it in some scenarios.
The World Series and What the Royals Can Learn From It
I believe I saw somewhere that the Diamondbacks are one of the least likely World Series teams of all time by betting odds. And the Rangers were a team that lost the division on the final day of the season, which led many (myself included) to assume they’d just roll over and head to next year with their tail between their legs. So to say that this is an expected matchup would be a massive lie. But it’s an interesting one.
The Rangers can really, really hit. They also have potentially strong starting pitching, though it’s not without questions. Nathan Eovaldi is a postseason marvel, but he’s been prone to pitching slumps. Jordan Montgomery is one of the steadier guys around, but he doesn’t have elite stuff. Then it’s some question marks. Jon Gray is a solid arm, but came back from an injury and has only thrown one inning this postseason. Max Scherzer made two ALCS starts and neither could be considered good. Andrew Heaney isn’t someone you can expect more than three or four innings from. So that’ll be interesting.
And their bullpen is kind of a mess. They have a 3.72 ERA during the postseason, but their xERA is 5.28. Why? Well they aren’t striking anyone out (18.2%) and they’re walking a ton (12.3%). Ultimately all that matters, especially in October, is the results, but you have to figure that could come back to bite them. If they can hold off the regression monster for another four to seven games, it’ll all be fine, but that’s tough to count on.
The Diamondbacks can also hit, though not as well. They also have the potential to have strong starting pitching, but I’m less concerned about their top two and more concerned about their depth. Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly are both good. It’s baseball, so either could struggle, but they’re good pitchers. After that, who knows with them? Brandon Pfaadt has had some monster postseason moments and a 22-3 strikeout to walk ratio is impressive, but he also had an ERA approaching 6.00 in the regular season. After that, they had to go with a bullpen game in the NLCS. It worked against another good offense in the Phillies, so it’s not that it can’t work, but it’s not easy.
Their bullpen is one I’m a lot more comfortable trusting, which is weird because it wasn’t a good bullpen during the regular season. But Paul Sewald at the back with Kevin Ginkel and Ryan Thompson pitching well has been a nice combination for them. They should probably stop giving Andrew Saalfrank the ball, but maybe he doesn’t even make the roster. Overall, I think the Rangers are the better team, but a bullpen can make a big difference. I’m going to say Rangers in six, but I have zero confidence in that because baseball is unpredictable.
So what can the Royals learn? Honestly, I don’t think there’s a lot that can be learned that everyone doesn’t already know. Spending $100 million on your rotation will help. Spending a crapload of money on a middle infield helps. Making shrewd trades helps. Duh. I think it just reinforces the idea that teams who aren’t good should take chances on players. Adolis Garcia and Jonah Heim are playing huge roles for the Rangers. They were afterthoughts. Ginkel was optioned mid-season. Christian Walker has been productive for awhile now, but in a roughly five week period in 2017, he was claimed off waivers by three different teams with the Diamondbacks being the final one. So take chances.
But the biggest lesson. Make the tournament and anything can happen. The Diamondbacks won 84 games. Can the Royals win 84 games in 2024? It’s certainly possible! I don’t think they will, and even if they do, I don’t think that gets them there in the American League, but the point is that the playoffs are a little wild. Build a team that can consistently get there and that gives a lot of opportunities to make a run over a month.
The Royals have made some moves in recent days to pare down the 40-man roster. Tyler Cropley was sent outright to Omaha. Then Tucker Davidson was claimed off waivers by the Orioles, Taylor Hearn was also sent outright to Omaha and Bubba Thompson was claimed by the Reds. So that’s four players removed. They still sit at 44, including pending free agents and players on the 60-day IL. There are three pending free agents who will come off the roster after the World Series, which means moves are still coming.
Of the 60-day IL guys, Jake Brentz was signed with the premise of helping in 2024, so he’s getting activated. I’d be surprised if Kris Bubic isn’t brought back given the small sample promise he showed. Daniel Lynch IV is pitching in Arizona right now and they wouldn’t do that if they didn’t plan on keeping him. Freddy Fermin showed he’s a big leaguer, so he’ll be activated with no issues and Vinnie Pasquantino is obviously not going anywhere.
There are three pitchers I wonder about. Austin Cox is the one I feel like they won’t move on from, but the fact that he likely won’t pitch in 2024 and if he does, it’ll be late in the year tells me that he could go. I would be kind of surprised if the Royals don’t just non-tender Joshes Taylor and Staumont with their injuries. Whatever they end up doing, I don’t think they can keep all eight 60-day IL guys.
But then if they are going to jump the gun, even if they cut three of them, they still only have two spots left and they’ll need to add some minor leaguers to protect them from the Rule 5 draft as well, so there are moves to come on this front. Some may come from trades early in the offseason, but here is the way too long list of guys who don’t have as strong of a hold on a 40-man spot as they’d like to:
I don’t think they’re dumping all eight, but I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if five or six find themselves as free agents here in the next few weeks. I thought for a bit that Diego Hernandez might be on this list, and he might ultimately be, but I talked to someone who said he shouldn’t be listed there. We’ll see if that was correct. Whatever or whoever it is, they need to do some serious cleaning of this roster to make some room to add depth that can actually contribute because they didn’t have enough of that in 2023.