ItC Mailbag: Salvy, the Outfield and Much More
In the first edition of the ItC Mailbag, I answer your questions about the Kansas City baseballing Royals.
The Royals sit at 10-7 and atop the American League Central as play begins on April 23. That’s not a position I think many thought the team would be in, and after an off day following an epic win, I thought it’d be fun to take a few questions and have a spin at a mailbag here on a Friday before the Royals and Tigers get going in Detroit. Thanks to all those who sent questions. I’ll probably do a few more of these before the season is out, so if yours didn’t appear, never fear, keep sending!
Let’s start this thing with Captain Clutch, who asks a question about Salvador Perez. Oh wait, no, I love Brad, but I think Salvy is actually Captain Clutch after a crazy homestand where he had two walkoff hits, a late inning game winning home run and a walkoff pickoff. It was quite a week and a half for the long-time Royals catcher. He’s obviously a Royals Hall of Famer, especially after his four-year deal that’ll keep him in Kansas City through at least 2025. Not only is he a Royals HOFer, but he’s going to have his number on the building in left field and likely will have a statue somewhere near Alex Gordon’s when it’s all said and done. But that’s not what Brad wants to know. Let’s talk Cooperstown.
There are currently 19 catchers in the Hall of Fame. Three were from the Negro Leagues and a few others were so long ago that they don’t really help us as comparisons. Seven of them have MVP trophies, which Perez seems unlikely to ever win. I don’t think that part hurts him so much as the fact that I just don’t know that he’ll compile the numbers necessary. Of those born after 1920, all but Roy Campanella had at least 2,000 hits and all but Campanella and Ted Simmons had 300 home runs. And Campanella is a bad example because he didn’t get to the big leagues until his age-27 season due to the game not yet being integrated.
For Salvy, he’s currently sitting at 1,011 hits, 157 home runs and 547 runs batted in. If those stats seem like the type that maybe we shouldn’t care as much about, I do tend to agree, but also that’s what a lot of this is based on, right or wrong. I think to have a real shot, he’d need 2,000 hits and 300 homers and probably 1,000 runs batted in. If he gets the first, he’s likely to get the second and if he gets the second, he’s likely to get the third.
But how likely is it? It’s taken Salvy into his 10th full season to get the 1,000 hits he reached on the last homestand and that’s with most of that time as a younger catcher. He’s likely not to stay as healthy in the second half of his career as he did in the first, and he missed a fair amount of time in the first half, so I’d say he’s more likely to finish with 1,500 hits, 250 homers and 800-900 runs batted in, which is an excellent career that the vast majority of the world would be thrilled with, but it’s just not quite enough. He does have a lot of All-Star games (and maybe another this year?), five Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers and a World Series MVP. That helps. And that’s where the team could help him. If the Royals can be winners over the next three or four years and win another title and Salvy is a big part of that, you might hear some conversation on him as a hotly debated candidate based on his body of work combined with his postseason.
My opinion, though, is he probably doesn’t make it and depending on when he hits the ballot, I’m not completely sure he’ll stay on the ballot the full 10 years. As the voting base gets more analytic leaning, I could see him not faring terribly well due to his low OBP and issues defensively that you see in the advanced stats. I always feel weird saying a player isn’t a Hall of Famer because it’s generally negative in tone, but to even discuss a player as a potential Hall of Famer is something very special, so we need to keep that in mind.
I’ll start with a bit of an argument back that I don’t think the starting pitching has been that big of a weakness. They haven’t given innings and Brad Keller has been a disaster for the most part. But Danny Duffy is rolling, Jakob Junis had a tough first inning on Wednesday but gutted out five when the Royals had to have it and Brady Singer has shown really good stuff. Oh, and Mike Minor has been fine or slightly below fine, which is generally fine. Now, onto the outfield.
The outfield has combined to hit .232/.302/.315. That’s Andrew Benintendi, Michael A. Taylor, Kyle Isbel, Hunter Dozier, Jorge Soler and Jarrod Dyson. No outfield has hit fewer home runs. But they actually rank 16th in baseball in average and 19th in OBP, which was surprising to me. The power is bad. Only three teams had a worse SLG from their outfield heading into play yesterday. The struggles are well documented.
We know that Dozier has bounced between third and the outfield and finally hit his first home run of the year, but it was as a third baseman. We know that Benintendi has struggled to make hard contact this season, but he has shown some promise lately with some hard hit balls and long fly balls. We know that Taylor started the year red hot and has leveled out, but he’s playing outstanding defense and still holding his own with the bat. And Isbel has been put in a weird situation with all the lefties the team has faced.
So what’s the solution? For right now, it’s mostly just to wait and see if the trends we’ve seen from Dozier and Benintendi can come through. I said before the season that the moves the Royals made would only matter if Dozier and Soler hit like they did in 2019. So far they haven’t and the team is still 10-7, which is a great sign moving forward. With Isbel, my opinion is that they need to play him for him to be on the big league roster. I don’t have a huge issue with him intermittently playing now since there’s no minor league schedule, but if he’s going to sit as much as he has, he’ll need to be in Omaha.
There’s a fair question moving forward of what to do if things don’t pick up. The Royals don’t have a lot in the way of depth, but Adalberto Mondesi’s return could put Whit Merrifield back in the outfield, which would help offensively. They also could look to the trade market where there could be some available pieces. For now, though, it’s just a waiting game.
I think the team has shown they’ll be patient with Benintendi, but they won’t wait forever. They’ve already moved him down in the lineup (a smart choice, I might add), so it wouldn’t surprise me if they hide him a bit more against lefties once they’re able to with their roster. That’s sort of the problem right now with how the roster is set up. If a lefty is starting, your options off the bench are likely Isbel and Dyson, both lefties. If a righty is starting, two of the three are playing anyway.
So the answer to this question sort of leads directly in to the answer about a Plan B for him. There really isn’t a lot in the way of options. Now, Nicky Lopez playing as well as he has might give them an option when Mondesi comes back, as I said above. Maybe Merrifield could go to left if need be. Maybe they give a longer look to Edward Olivares, who would be an option right now if they wanted to go that direction.
Pretty much everything I mentioned above are the Plan B options there, but I’m intrigued by what we’ve seen from Benintendi the last few days and hopefully he can continue to hit the ball hard and drive it a little more to get going. Always appreciate you reading, Rupert!
Okay, so I’ve mentioned Merrifield moving to the outfield when Mondesi gets back twice and now there’s a question about his defensive issues at second. Make no mistake, it has been an ugly few days for him, and maybe even longer. The metrics don’t actually dislike him at second so far this year, but that Rays series was one that will make you long for the days that he played the outfield and longed for him to play second base.
In my opinion, this all started off as something that happens. Guys make errors. But I think it snowballed for him and particularly the ball that he fielded on the shortstop side of the bag and made the mental error throwing to second showed that he had a brain fart and made a mental mistake. I’m no expert, but I also thought his footwork played a role in the next play later that he booted off the bat of Brandon Lowe that wasn’t ruled an error.
And it unfortunately didn’t stop there. While Perez made the bad throw on Wednesday night, Merrifield didn’t do nearly enough to stop it from going into center field on what would become the Rays’ eighth run of the night. I think the way the Royals handle Merrifield with regards to where they play him is kind of crazy to me. He spent the entire spring in right field until the final week and then was thrust back into a full-time second base job at the big league level. He’s done it before so he looks fine for the most part, but I think that had something to do with it. I also think the guy could use a day off. I know that’s weird to say with all the off days they’ve had, but when you make mental errors like the one he did the other night, I think a day off is important. Maybe the one he had yesterday is enough.
My unprofessional opinion is he needs more reps at second, and those will come. And he needs to get out of his head. He’s an accountable player, and those are the types who will approach these issues head on to break out of the slump he’s in. He’s been both good and bad in the ratings at second base before, so it’s hard to know where he’ll fit in, but like I’ve said a couple times now in this, there’s always a spot in right field when Mondesi comes back.
I wouldn’t put the chances he leaves at 100 percent. But I also don’t really see where Soler fits on this team. Of course, things can change in a hurry, but I’d expect the Royals to be looking at 2022 as a year where Nick Pratto can take over at first base with the strides he’s made and for Santana to move on to DH. But there’s also Dozier, who doesn’t really have a position who can take some time at designated hitter. And there’s also Perez, who will spend a lot of his days off catching at designated hitter.
But if Pratto doesn’t take the step forward in game action the team expects or he does but Santana gets moved. Or Dozier finds footing at third base or right field. Or any number of things could happen where the Royals would be able to find a space for their single-season home run king. Given the free agent markets over the last couple seasons, I could see Soler opting for the certainty of something like a two-year deal with the Royals over going somewhere and hunting a big payday. He can look no farther than Marcell Ozuna in the trials and tribulations that come with that.
So yeah, if you’re betting on this, I’d bet the field over the Royals, but I don’t think it’s absolutely certain he’ll be gone.
This is a great question because I get to think about what month I want Omar Infante on the team. Okay, fine, he’s not the guy. But there are so many fantastic choices. I have typed “the easy answer is” and then deleted it because I don’t think there is an easy answer. First let’s take a look at the real possibilities, alphabetically of course.
Lorenzo Cain - I mean, why wouldn’t it be a good idea to bring back an elite defensive center fielder to pair with Taylor who can really hit and be a problem in the middle of a lineup?
Johnny Cueto - It was up and down, but when he’s on, there’s nobody who could match him in 2015.
2015 Wade Davis - We’re watching the 2021 version, but can you imagine this team with their comeback ability with that closer?
Alex Gordon - I feel a lot better about Benintendi today than I did a few days ago since he’s hit some balls hard, but Gordon before the groin injury was hitting .279/.394/.457 with his typical outstanding defense. That would be nice to have on this team in the middle or at the top of the order.
Eric Hosmer - I know a lot of people had issues with him not being what we thought he’d be, but he had a really good 2015 season and Santana’s issues with scoops have made me wonder if I was too hard on people praising Hosmer for scoops. I’m not so sure I’d want to replace Santana, but there’s something appealing about his 2015 season.
Kendrys Morales - Big Ken was as consistent as they come in the middle of the lineup. You plug him in on this team and it’s in place of whatever they’re putting in right field with Soler moving out there, so the defense takes a hit but that’s a nice switch hitting bat in the middle.
Mike Moustakas - The Royals have had some third base issues defensively and offensively with Dozier’s slow start, plus a consistent lefty bat who can hit for average and doesn’t strike out is a great option.
Yordano Ventura - He was better in 2014, but I think people were a little overly harsh on his 2015 season, which was solid. This rotation could use that.
Edinson Volquez - I am still surprised at how good he was in 2015. With questions from Keller and maybe even Minor, it wouldn’t hurt to have another arm who can pitch a Game One without the moment being too big for him.
Ben Zobrist - Until Santana, Zobrist might have been the most professional plate appearances this organization has seen in a long, long time. That’s not meant to be a knock on the organization as much as it is to show how good Zobrist was. Similar to Gordon’s start offensively, but with Mondesi out, he could be a perfect fit at second with Merrifield shifting back to right.
Okay, I think those are the real choices. Jake, I’m mad at you for making me decide because this is tough. I think my choice is Cain for a kind of boring reason. He’s the best player on the list and can help make the Royals elite in a couple of ways. For one, with him in center and Taylor in right, it’ll be like those late game Cain/Dyson outfields from 2014/2015. Nothing is falling in there. For another, to be able to add his bat to the top of the order and do something like Merrifield-Santana-Cain-Perez-Soler-Benintendi-Dozier-Mondesi-Taylor is a lineup that no opponent wants to face. There’s speed, power, good plate appearances and all that all the way from top to bottom.
When do I want him? I think August is the month of destiny for the Royals. Check out their opponents:
Blue Jays - 1 game
White Sox - 3 games
Cardinals - 6 games
Yankees - 3 games
Astros - 7 games
Cubs - 3 games
Mariners - 4 games
Indians - 1 game
That’s a gauntlet. Give me the best player from the 2015 team to add to this team in their hardest month and I’ll take my chances.
Thanks so much everyone for your questions. If I didn’t get to yours this time, maybe next time! It was fun!