The Winter Meetings had some crazy signings. The Royals did not participate in any of them.
I wrote on Tuesday that the Winter Meetings are loud for everyone, even if your favorite team is quiet. And that’s still true. There’s still news to be made with all the media appearances along with the draft lottery and the Rule 5 draft. That doesn’t mean it isn’t disappointing that the Royals were there (we physically saw both JJ Picollo and Matt Quatraro at the meetings thanks to the magic of television), but didn’t really do much of anything. I could practically hear people yelling for the Royals to do something. And I wanted them to as well because that’s more fun. It gives me more to write about!
But I wanted to look at the pros and cons of them sitting out because I don’t think it’s as cut and dry as “they missed the boat.” The deals that we saw this week were kind of crazy. Let’s take a glance at a few of them:
Aaron Judge - 9 years, $360 million
Trea Turner - 11 years, $300 million
Xander Bogaerts - 11 years, $280 million
Masataka Yoshida - 5 years, $90 million
Willson Contreras - 5 years, $87.5 million
Justin Verlander - 2 years, $86.66 million
Taijuan Walker - 4 years, $72 million
Jameson Taillon - 4 years, $68 million
Mitch Haniger - 3 years, $43.5 million
Josh Bell - 2 years, $33 million
Kenley Jansen - 2 years, $32 million
Jose Quintana - 2 years, $26 million
Andrew Heaney - 2 years, $25 million
Cody Bellinger - 1 year, $17.5 million
Matt Strahm - 2 years, $15 million
Aledmys Diaz - 2 years, $14.5 million
Carlos Estevez - 2 years, $13.5 million
Tommy Kahnle - 2 years, $11.5 million
Kyle Gibson - 1 year, $10 million
Vincent Velasquez - 1 year, $3.15 million
I think those are all the deals from the meetings. I may have missed one or two from the front end. Regardless, look at that list. I had Judge at $39 million, so it’s an extra year and an extra million dollars per. That’s not bad. Turner is probably around where he should be, though with an extra year. But if anyone predicted Walker or Taillon getting that kind of money, I don’t believe you. The total above is nearly $1.6 billion and it was spent by 14 teams. So while it does seem like everyone is in on the action, it’s really not. I’m not sure if that’s comforting to Royals fans or not. Other teams have signed free agents, but I think the action seems more widespread than it actually has been.
The Pros of Sitting Out
So take a look at those deals above. Which of those would you have been happy with the Royals taking on? For the moment, let’s just assume that any of these players would have signed with the Royals on the deal they signed. I’d have passed on Walker and Taillon, even though I thought they could be great rotation candidates. Haniger at $43.5 million over three years for a player who has played more than 100 games twice seems risky. Bell could have been nice, but at some point they need a bat who can play somewhere other than first. As we get to the bottom of the list above, you can start to see some areas that would have made sense.
I can see an argument for saying yes to both Quintana and Heaney for $26 million and $25 million respectively. But also while both were very good in 2022, they hadn’t been trending that way. I’m not saying the deals would have turned out the same, but Mike Minor on a reasonable two-year deal certainly didn’t work out very well for the Royals.
I think any of the relievers would have been a perfect fit. Strahm got a little more than I expected, but even so it’s not that much and he can be a swingman. I’d have gone higher for either Kahnle or Estevez even though Kahnle is a bit of a health risk. And Velasquez would have made quite a bit of sense and it isn’t like he went to a good team, choosing the Pirates. So they absolutely could and maybe should have been in on those players.
Regardless, the market is crazy. The Royals can absolutely afford any of the players above. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But for the first time in a long time, the team is actually being honest about where they are. We’ve heard for at least the last two years that the front office is expecting them to turn a corner. And to turn that corner, they’ve signed guys like Minor, Carlos Santana, Michael A. Taylor and Zack Greinke and traded for Andrew Benintendi. They were reasonable acquisitions, but they were never likely to contend in either of the last two seasons.
Take a look at the Opening Day lineup from 2021 compared with the lineup from September of 2021 and then compared to a lineup from that same September date of last season.
April 4, 2021:
September 18, 2021:
September 18, 2022:
Witt, Jr. SS
I count two players who were in the first lineup who were in the last one and one of those two was Kyle Isbel, who was still a rookie in 2022. I only count one person in both lineups between the two September ones. Sure, these are sort of cherry-picked because there are lineups with Dozier and Taylor in them from this past September as well. But my point here is that they’ve turned things over quite a bit. It’s time for the young guys to play. Could they use a veteran righty bat to play in an outfield corner or at third base? Absolutely, but it’s not needed.
The pitching staff could use some innings that aren’t currently on the roster without a doubt and I anticipate that they’ll add a couple of pitchers at some point. But there is a pretty solid argument for letting the young pitchers figure things out. I wrote about this in last week’s Crown Jewels, but Picollo’s assertion that the issues in pitching development are at the big league level make the 2023 season very interesting with new instruction on the coaching staff.
Could they have given out $140 million in contracts to Walker and Taillon to fill out the rotation? Without a doubt. But they also need to determine what they have in Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, Jonathan Heasley, Carlos Hernandez, Jackson Kowar, Max Castillo, Angel Zerpa and others. And if it is correct that the big leagues were where the development stalled and the organization believes in Brian Sweeney and Co. (and they should if they hired them), then it does make some sense to let it ride with who they have.
I still say they’ll sign a starter or two or maybe a starter and a swingman, but the fact that they haven’t made a move at this point isn’t the worst thing in the world. I think this is the side I land on, but there is an alternate side.
The Cons of Sitting Out
This one is a little easier to get into. The Royals won 67 games in 2022 after winning 74 games in 2021. Going backward is never part of the plan when you’re talking about a team that hasn’t competed since 2017. As an organization that is gearing up to ask for a brand new stadium, it’s kind of hard to sell that when the team got worse and then decided to run it back with essentially the same roster, only this time with more Ryan O’Hearn.
I think it’s fair for the organization to look at its young lineup and think internal improvements are not only possible but likely, but I also believe winning is a huge part of development. Can they be better without a single move? Are you tired of all these rhetorical questions? The answer is yes to both. But it would be a lot easier if they’d make a move or two. I mentioned a handful of pitchers on Tuesday who could help out. I still would love a Ross Stripling signing, even if it required three years, because of his versatility, but I’m guessing his market is such that he likely won’t settle for the Royals. Still, there are smart moves to be made that could help the team.
And the truth of the matter is that the Royals are going to need to find about 1400-1450 innings in 2023. Here are a few pitchers on the roster with some thoughts on how many innings they could throw next season:
Brady Singer - 175
Daniel Lynch - 150
Kris Bubic - 150
Jonathan Heasley - 150
Scott Barlow - 70
Dylan Coleman - 70
Taylor Clarke - 60
Amir Garrett - 50
Richard Lovelady - 50
That’s 925 innings for those nine pitchers. There are obviously others. Brad Keller’s role is still to be determined. He could be good for 175 innings or 75 innings. Jose Cuas, Josh Staumont, Castillo, Anthony Misiewicz, Zerpa, Jonathan Bowlan and any number of other pitchers could combine for the 500ish innings that they still need to find, but that’s easier said than done without outside assistance.
Of course, it’s December 8. Pitchers and catchers don’t report for more than two more months. Opening Day isn’t for nearly four months. They’ve stood still so far and will likely make some moves. I have heard they’re very interested in Seth Lugo and maybe even as a starter. They’re not the only team apparently, so it’ll be a tough sell. Greinke still seems more likely than not to return next season (let’s call that 130 more innings). There are any number of pitchers who could fill multiple roles on a staff and I’d be intrigued by giving Brian Anderson a shot after he was non-tendered by the Marlins.
It’s probably an unpopular opinion but I really think I’m fine with the Royals being quiet so far in the offseason. It’d be nice if they would do something to the roster, but they are still in the market for a backup catcher, some pitchers and maybe another bat. The moves aren’t going to be earth-shattering and they likely aren’t going to change too much about the outcome of the 2023 Royals, but there will be moves. I was definitely wrong in thinking they’d be more active than they have been, but I can safely say that I at least understand the idea of sitting things out, at least for the time being.
I’ll take the under on whether next year’s payroll will be the same as the payroll that started last season (included Greinke, Benintendi, Merrifield, and Santana). But I hope ownership is willing to spend on coaching and pitching developmental specialists!
David, someone is lying to me. Its either JJ, or Sherman and that’s the part that confuses me. Sherman said all the right things in the beginning talking about churn, and roster improvements. That’s what has me confused. Because JJ isn’t going to work out at this rate. That may be a little quick….and they can still add some bottom of the barrel pieces but the last 5-6 guys on the list that signed would be fine for the royals with a 2 year deal. They have the money. Instead on a 97 loss team we will get more O’hearn, more Keller, more of everyone that we have already seen and hope. Hope is not a strategy. I’m frustrated by it because just as likely as Lynch is to improve, we could absolutely see Singer regress a little bit. Nobody knows, that’s the thing. So HOPING for EVERYONE to improve is a terrible strategy. I hope when they do spend money they are planning on a 150m payroll at this rate. I don’t need big moves here, but I expect trying to improve. Its not late in the offseason…but we aren’t early anymore either. We’ll see what JJ has.