The Royals were forced into making some moves, but they did and I want to look at them.
The start to this offseason has been slower than I expected it would be coming in. Maybe it has to do with the uncertainty over the Diamond Sports issues or maybe it’s just that it’s been slow and it usually takes one major domino to fall for the rest, but it’s been slow. I thought the Royals would jump the market and from what I’ve heard, they weren’t against it. It just didn’t happen. But one of the few things MLB seems to do right is put forth two deadlines in a week that force some action. We talked about those last week and what the Royals could do. Now that the dust has settled, we know.
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Rule 5 Action
There were two players I was 100 percent sure the Royals were going to protect - Tyler Gentry and Will Klein. The rest were possible but not necessarily probable. And in the end, they protected the two I was sure about and that was it. These two make sense and the others who would have been sure things - Nick Loftin and Anthony Veneziano - were added to the roster during the season, so they didn’t need to be. There isn’t much to analyze here other than the fact that I think all four of those players can and likely will be a part of the 2024 Royals in some way.
If I had to guess, I’d say that Loftin is the only one who starts the year in the big leagues, but that’s just based on the roster today. I’d anticipate it changing quite a bit. Gentry is going to be 25 on Opening Day and while he only has really two full minor league seasons, he does have 905 plate appearances at AA/AAA, which is a nice number to make his debut and he’s shown a propensity to both get on base and not strikeout too much. If you remember what I talked about in my list of Rule 5 eligible players I like, that’s something that portends future success, in my opinion anyway. So if they make the moves I anticipate and move on from at least two of their outfielders, I think Gentry has a real shot to start the year in the big leagues.
If you had asked me in late July if Klein would be in the Opening Day bullpen, I’d have said absolutely. But from July 2 to the end fo the year, he had an ERA of 8.84 and walked 14 in 19.1 innings with 27 hits allowed. He could make the club, but I anticipate them making enough moves that he starts 2024 in AAA unless he looks dominant in spring. And Veneziano is sort of in that same boat, though I’m curious to see what he looks like out of the bullpen if that’s the role they envision for him. Either way, all four should contribute at some point as long as nothing goes off the rails.
To make room for Gentry and Klein, the Royals designated Josh Staumont and Logan Porter for assignment. You might remember I mentioned Staumont seemed likely given his injury and status for 2024. Porter has already been resigned to a minor league deal. Staumont has not, which makes me wonder if he’ll be one who simply doesn’t make it back from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Which, quite frankly, blows. But we’ll see on that front. Neither move was a surprise.
The non-tender deadline was a little bit weird because it’s hard to divide these up into different categories when they start to run into each other. Technically, the Royals non-tendered Porter, Staumont, Austin Cox and Diego Hernandez. Of the four, only Hernandez was already removed from the roster, but because of timing, they were included on this list as well.
Cox, like Staumont, was an injury casualty and he was DFA’d due to a trade that I’ll get to shortly. Porter wasn’t really a part of the future, no matter how good the story was, and was always likely to resign a minor league deal, which he did. And Hernandez wasn’t as close this winter as he was last winter when the Royals added him to the 40-man roster. He’s an excellent center fielder, but upon returning from the injury in spring training, his bat just didn’t come back enough to justify a spot. But like Cox and Porter, Hernandez is already back in the organization.
In some ways, I’m surprised they didn’t do more house cleaning, but the only one I’m actually surprised they kept is Josh Taylor. Unless you need a roster spot this second, there’s no real reason to non-tender a pre-arbitration eligible player. They just don’t make enough money. Yes, there is a real reason if they aren’t good enough, but they can always be let go later if and when the need is there for a roster spot. Sure the Royals could have gone the Braves route and cut the roster down to 30. Maybe they even should have, but I can tell you from talking with some people that anyone you thought could go, could still go.
And finally, the part you really wanted to read. The Royals made two trades last week. They were both with the Braves, which is a bit reminiscent of the first few years of the Dayton Moore era, but both made sense to me.
Cash for Nick Anderson
Cash is king…or something. The Royals traded an undisclosed amount of money to acquire Nick Anderson, who would have been either the best or second-best reliever on the 2023 Royals. Yes, that’s damning with faint praise, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. He made 35 appearances and threw 35.1 innings. he gave up 30 hits while striking out 36 and walking nine. It wasn’t quite the 0.55 ERA he put up in 2020, but it was a heck of a season for the former Rays righty.
The issue with Anderson is health. He only threw 16.1 innings in that short 2020. He threw just six innings in 2021. He missed all of 2022 after having a UCL brace procedure (Tommy John alternative). And he had a shoulder injury that ended his big league season on July 7. He made it back in late September to pitch in three minor league games, so he at least showed some health. But he is absolutely no guarantee to be available as much as the Royals would like.
But the Royals need to take chances on ability like this. He’s pretty much a two-pitch guy with a fastball and a curve and I’m fascinated by the percentages from 2023. He threw his curve exactly half the time and his fastball just slightly less with a few sinkers mixed in. The curve is a monster pitch. He had a 40.4 percent whiff rate on it, which is actually down from his previous seasons. It’s a great pitch and one that he will continue to throw.
His fastball was a bit concerning in 2023. Spin rates were down and whiff rates came down with it. If he can bring that back, he’s a dominant reliever who the Royals should be able to flip at the deadline. If he can’t, well, he’s still good enough to move if he’s healthy and all they gave up was cash. There is literally nothing to dislike here. He’s legitimately good, they didn’t even give up a player to get him, he’s only estimated at $1.6 million in arbitration and did I mention he’s actually good? This is a savvy move.
Jackson Kowar for Kyle Wright
This is the fascinating one to me. Kowar obviously had some value to someone, but the Royals had made up their mind that they weren’t going to get enough out of him for it to matter. So they made an intriguing deal for a guy who won 21 games with a 3.19 ERA in 30 starts in 2022. The peripherals weren’t quite that good, but they were still good. How in the hell was he available for Jackson Kowar?
It’s a good question and a fair one. I assume you’re reading this newsletter, so you know that Wright is out for all of 2024 after having shoulder surgery to repair a torn right capsule. There is no guarantee he pitches again (though he likely will). There is no guarantee he’ll ever be as good as he was in 2022. This is a risk for the Royals in terms of Wright and Wright alone. I did come across an interesting study about return to sport after capsular repair. I’m not smart enough to fully understand this report, but the conclusion was encouraging.
Arthroscopic capsular repair provided significant improvements in functional outcomes in elite baseball players, high levels of patient satisfaction, and high levels of RTS.
So there you go. Let’s pretend like he’s going to be back for sure. Looking at his excellent 2022 season, I saw a pitcher who relied heavily on a curve, like Anderson, but also threw a sinker, four-seamer, changeup and the occasional slider. His curve got whiffs. His fastball was pretty good and averaged 95 MPH and he got grounders with that sinker. He is not an ace, but he is a competent mid-rotation starter who might have a bit more upside than that, at least based on what he did in 2022.
It’s hard to judge what he’ll be because we just don’t know how he’ll come back, but to get him for Kowar, who had a nice stretch for a couple of weeks but never showed anything at the big league level and regressed in the minors is a great move to me. And I don’t think I could possibly care at all how Kowar fares with the Braves. I know that he’ll run off a stretch of like 16 innings where he gives up five runs on eight hits with 18 strikeouts and the fanbase will spend the year talking about how stupid the Royals are, but I suppose that’s the norm and the Royals certainly haven’t given any reason yet to not doubt them. I just think it’s important to remember that guys succeed elsewhere all the time.
Would it have been nice to find a 2024 starter in exchange for a guy like Kowar who was once highly touted? Absolutely, but I think there’s a level of creativity here in helping the 2025 and 2026 teams (Wright’s team control is up after 2026) for someone who they were likely going to be non-tendering anyway. Wright’s 2024 arbitration estimate is negligible at $1.4 million, so it’s a pretty cheap flyer on someone who got Cy Young votes recently.
I’d love them to take a similar but more expensive risk on Brandon Woodruff, who the Brewers non-tendered. He’s also coming back from shoulder surgery and could miss the whole 2024 season or could come back at some point. Nobody knows just yet. Reports indicate that he’s interested in signing a two-year deal and that it likely wouldn’t cost as much as the one Tyler Glasnow signed before 2023 which gave him a little over $30 million over two years as he was returning from Tommy John. The difference is that Glasnow was set to come back in 2023 and we just don’t know if Woodruff will.
He obviously gets to choose his destination, so the Royals may simply not be on his radar at all, but why not offer two years and $35 million and make him turn down the money? Suddenly, you have a pretty salty rotation in 2025 with Cole Ragans, Woodruff and Wright, though there’s a lot of risk with that front three. If it doesn’t work, yeah, it’s a fair amount of money on Woodruff, but who else is going to be expensive in 2025, especially if they end up trading Salvador Perez? So that’s on my wish list as well. No reason not to do some 2025 shopping if the market exists right now.
In all, the moves were pretty mild and may not even have been moves I’d have written about typically. But without a whole lot going on, how they opened their dealing for the winter was interesting to me and I like the first two moves. Now let’s hope we get about 12 more over the next few weeks.