This is the last fully offseason edition of Friday Notes, which makes me very happy. By this time next week, pitchers will be stretching and maybe even playing a little catch. We’ll get tired of that pretty quickly, but for now, anything resembling real baseball is a sight for sore eyes, and I’m thrilled about it. I’m also thrilled that it looks like the Royals team is starting to come together so we have a decent idea of what they might look like when they break camp and head to Minnesota, which surely won’t be at all cold and miserable in early April.
- As you are well aware, the PECOTA projections were officially released this week and showed the Royals as a team projected to win 71 games. You may notice that you’re reading this on a site that begins with the letters “BP,” so take note of what I’m about to say. I think that’s stupid. I don’t think any individual is stupid because this is an algorithm built to project the future, which is no easy task. I do think the end result is stupid. I do see the possibilities on this team that they end up winning around their projection. Lorenzo Cain could be hurt. Alex Gordon could really be in full blown decline. Ian Kennedy could lose a tick on his fastball and get crushed. Mike Moustakas could revert back to 2014 form. There all sorts of doomsday scenarios for this team. But all in all, I see a team that has a chance to have a very solid to above average rotation, a lineup that can hopefully score some runs and a bullpen that has more potential than results, but sometimes potential can convert. No, it’s not what you’d like to see heading into the final year of The Window™, but I think this team will contend into September and I believe they have a shot to nab one of the Wild Cards. I do believe the Indians are the class of the division, but it’s a long season and baseball can be fickle at times, so we’ll see if the Royals can’t run them down and get one more title before they lose some of their core.
- I haven’t really spoken much to the Jason Hammel signing that broke Sunday night, so I figured I’d address it here. I think it’s a great move, especially for the money. The Royals found themselves with a truly unfortunate need in their rotation after the tragic passing of Yordano Ventura a couple weeks ago. It was difficult to look at that situation from a baseball lens, but they recognized they had a team to field and had to do it. And what they did was they went out and signed the best available pitcher to a deal that doesn’t hurt them too much financially when it matters (2018 payroll is rising, but I don’t think the Royals are that worried about it). In Hammel, the Royals aren’t getting a workhorse starter, but they are getting a guy who has made at least 29 starts in each of the last three seasons. He doesn’t walk too many batters. He gets a decent amount of strikeouts. He probably won’t be as good as he was in 2015 when he struck out a batter per inning and walked just over two per nine, but if he puts up the peripherals he did last season, he’ll fit in just fine in this big ballpark with that good defense behind him. If you want to compare him to Ventura, I think there’s a really good chance he puts up numbers that at least match what Ventura did last year and has a really good chance to be better than that. Obviously he doesn’t have the upside Ventura did, but I think the Royals did the best they could on the baseball side with a very difficult situation.
- I think I’m going to keep writing this until they do something on this front, but the Royals still need a reliever. As it stands now Kelvin Herrera and Matt Strahm are set to anchor the bullpen. With those two, I think the eighth and ninth innings will be familiar to Royals fans. We’ve gotten to know late inning dominance and I believe both will provide that. But then there’s a big gap. Who pitches the seventh? Is it Joakim Soria? I think he’ll be better in 2017, but a lot of that is just blind faith and the fact that I think a big issue he had in 2016 was mental. Of course, his mental issues came from a terrible debut, so if that happens again, there are issues. Is it Brian Flynn? Look, I like Flynn a lot, but I believe that you have a very good bullpen if he’s your fifth or sixth best reliever and an iffy bullpen if he’s your third best. It could very well end up being one of the non-roster guys signed by the Royals a little while back, but I doubt it would be to start the season. No, the Royals need one more piece, and if they’re just throwing out money (their current projected Opening Day payroll would have ranked 13th in 2016), why not go spend a little more and help to round the team out. For the longest time, I thought Joe Blanton would be a no-go because he would get too much money, but it’s February 10th and he’s unsigned. I can’t imagine he would cost a prohibitive amount. He’s the perfect guy after becoming a legitimately very good reliever over the last year and a half. I still believe Luke Hochevar is coming back once he’s healthy too. So why not just go get both of them and make Flynn your sixth reliever? I think it makes sense.
- Speaking of payroll, in looking ahead to the 2018 season, the Royals aren’t exactly going to have an infusion of payroll space even after likely losing Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas (about $32 million in payroll). Instead, they have $70,250,000 committed to seven players and that jumps to $86,250,000 when you include Ian Kennedy who could opt out of his deal, but that doesn’t seem like anything he wants to do. They also have Jorge Soler, who has a $4 million deal with a $666,667 signing bonus that he could opt out of and into the arbitration system. I expect him to do that. With him along with Kelvin Herrera, Nate Karns and Christian Colon arbitration eligible, I have the Royals payroll for 12 players projected out to $104,750,000. That’s why 2017 is a really big season for the Royals. Yes, they need to compete now, but they also really need to develop some 0-3 players (guys making the minimum or near it) to be able to supplement their roster next offseason. Guys like Kyle Zimmer, Jake Junis, Josh Staumont and Hunter Dozier becoming viable big league options for 2018 are very, very important. If the Royals can find six to nine options to make at or near the minimum, they could conceivably have the flexibility to go out and supplement their team with someone like a Neil Walker to help complete the lineup. I actually had a thought that J.D. Martinez would be an interesting Royals move, but that was before the flurry of locking up Duffy and signing Brandon Moss and Hammel to bring payroll up a little higher than anticipated a few weeks ago. Regardless, if some young guys step up this year, the Royals should have some financial flexibility to make a little free agent noise next winter.