Hey, at least we all know now. We know who won’t be playing first base for the Royals. We know who won’t be playing center field for the Royals. We even know who won’t be pitching for the Royals every fifth day. As more and more possibilities come off the board in this crazy free agency, we know a lot more every day, and that’s certainly something. Of course, it leaves us looking at a cast and crew of potential center fielders that might help to field a Triple-A champion with a strong supporting cast, but certainly won’t scare anyone in the big leagues. At least Tyler Collins is there to provide grit and a left-handed bat.
- There’s been a lot made of Ned Yost mentioning Whit Merrifield as a first baseman early in the camp. Things like that are where I have a tough time determining just how much to listen to at this point in the spring. On one hand, if the manager talks, it’s pretty much the only real thing to focus on. On the other hand, Yost says stuff sometimes, and I’m convinced those things he says are more to get a reaction than anything else. I’m not willing to bet on anything with the 2018 Royals because I think just about anything is possible (other than Alcides Escobar missing a game), but I think if Merrifield isn’t the second baseman, it’s because Raul Mondesi is. And if Merrifield isn’t playing second, I’d assume he’s playing center field. That’s not to say he won’t log time at first. I bet he does at some point without any signing of a guy like Logan Morrison, Lucas Duda or Adam Lind, but I can’t imagine he’s being given any serious consideration to play there more than occasionally. Man, I hope not.
- It’s nice to see some probable pitchers out there for real life games. It looks like Jesse Hahn will pitch the first game of the spring against the Dodgers and Trevor Oaks will pitch game two against the A’s. Personally, I’d have flipped them to have them each face their old teams, but that’s not really all that important. I think Hahn and Oaks are two of the most interesting pitchers in camp for the club. Both are ticketed for back of the rotation or depth, but both could be important to both the Royals 2018 and the future. In Oaks, the trade seemed underwhelming, but I really like what he brings to the table with his sinker and his control. No, he’s not going to be pitching on Opening Day for any type of decent team or anything, but to have that kind of depth at the back of a rotation is really big. If he can be that or more, he’ll either factor nicely into the next good Royals team or can be used as a solid trade chip. In Hahn, the value isn’t quite as long-term as he’s already 28 years old, but he won’t be a free agent until after the 2021 season, so he’s a pitcher who could be really valuable to the Royals in the next year or two if he regains his form from 2014 and 2015. That’s no guarantee, but he’s exactly the sort of risk the team should be taking in what looks like a couple lean years.
- I don’t think there’s much of a chance that the Royals are any good in 2018, but I do think there are a few players who could take them from bad to…less bad. Two such players who I believe could actually get there are Jorge Bonifacio and Cheslor Cuthbert. I’ve made my feelings on Bonifacio pretty clear over the last few months. Up until he was the one who lost his job when Melky Cabrera was acquired, he showed quite a bit. Even with the diminished playing time, he showed he could be a 25-home run bat and even had an average walk rate. If he can cut down on the strikeouts back to the levels he was at in the minors even, we could be looking at a solid season. I don’t think he’ll turn into Moises Alou as the Royals had mentioned as a comp earlier in the winter, but a .265/.340/.475 type season seems possible. That puts him at near his 90th percentile PECOTA projection, but I actually feel good about Bonifacio. With Cuthbert, I see a player who hit reasonably well in his only crack at a full-time role and who has handled Triple-A quite well the last two seasons. I don’t believe in him nearly like I believe in Bonifacio, but even his 70th percentile PECOTA projection of .276/.332/.434 with a .268 TAv would be a big boost to the offense. It’s not exactly thrilling, but these are the two I’m most interested in this season.
- The latest pace of play changes came down this week, and I do think it’ll help to shave a few minutes off the game. Shortening the commercial breaks is something that I completely agree with and I’m surprised it happened given the advertising dollars connected with those breaks. And I also think the mound visit limits will help in theory, but teams will find a way around them. Even so, I still think one of the biggest issues when it comes to pace is the replay issue. I’ve talked about this before, but the fact that a manager gets all this time to decide to challenge and then the umpires amble to the headset and then it takes as long as three or four minutes to get the decision is really a huge issue in slowing down the game. The thing to remember with pace of play is that it’s not about the actual length of the game, but rather how quickly the action happens. To me, there’s nothing more infuriating than sitting and waiting while someone in New York clips their nails and makes themselves a cocktail before ruling on the play. Until they find a way to fix that, the pace will continue to be an issue.