Two days of no baseball has maybe prepared us for the long, cold winter ahead. But now we get baseball again as the NLCS starts tonight with the Dodgers and Brewoyals. All my rooting interest is with Milwaukee. I want to see Cain and Moose get another ring and the rest of the former Royals on that club get their first. Call me sentimental, but those guys brought baseball back to Kansas City, so I think they deserve the very best every single season. I picked Houston against Milwaukee in the World Series before the playoffs started, so I’ll stick with that. No reason not to since they’re both in the LCS. It would be an interesting series with a former NL team representing the American League and a former AL team representing the National League. Thanks, Bud!
- One name I keep coming back to in my head in free agency for the Royals is Jordy Mercer. And yes, if that’s the name I’m coming back to, it really is going to be a long, cold winter. I suppose he could get priced out of what the Royals would want to do with him, but for a 32-year old without a plus tool, I could see him getting treated like last year’s free agents and settling for way less than he wants. Mercer can handle shortstop pretty well and isn’t a complete zero with the bat, hitting .251/.315/.381 last year and .254/.324/.387 the last three years. So there’s a nice backup for Adalberto Mondesi, who played every game down the stretch, but probably isn’t the 162-game player Alcides Escobar was. I also like him as an option at third against lefties when the Royals shift Hunter Dozier to first in place of Ryan O’Hearn. Mercer hit .286/.345/.410 against lefties last year and has hit .268/.346/.421 over the last three seasons against southpaws. All of these numbers tell me he has a shot to get a multi-year deal to start somewhere, but if it comes down to it and he needs a job, I think the Royals could easily offer him 350 plate appearances. Like I said, this isn’t exciting at all, but it’s one of the few areas where the team might look to hit the free agent market to find something for next year, and this makes a lot of sense as long as the price is right.
- Jeffrey Flanagan wrote a great piece about Kyle Zimmer and the work he’s been doing to try to get back healthy and back to pitching. We’ve heard it all before from him, so let’s take everything with a grain of salt, but he’s at least trying something different, which I think says a lot about both him and the Royals. On the Zimmer front, I don’t think anyone should actually expect anything because it’s the same song and dance every year, but again, the different approach is where the glimmer of optimism comes in. What it also tells me about the organization is that they aren’t the same as they were years ago when every pitcher had to do this or that and everyone was on the same program. If you’ve been paying attention to Clint, you already knew that, but it’s really encouraging that they seem to have turned a corner, even if it is later than we’d have hoped for from them. The real test comes in the next three to five years as their current pitching prospects begin to rise through the organization. A lot of teams have guys perform well in A-ball and below, but as these new prospects get to AA and hopefully above, we’ll see if their methods are any better. With Jakob Junis making it to becoming a quality starting pitcher, there’s already some hope there, but if two or three more can hold down a starting rotation by 2022 or so, that would be ideal.
- It’s natural when thinking about the near future to try to compare things a bit to the ascension of the last championship core. I’ve been guilty of it many times and prior to the season I had talked about how it could basically be a similar feeling a decade later as the top prospects will start to come through to the big leagues in 2021, similar to the 2011 promotions. But I kind of feel like that’s not the case anymore. Yes, many of the big names we’ve been hearing about seem like a good bet to be up in 2021 if things progress the way everyone hopes, but I actually think it’ll be a bit more staggered. If everything works out, that’s much better than what the organization just dealt with in having to plan for a mass post-2017 exodus. Instead, I think we could see guys like Richard Lovelady and Nicky Lopez in 2019 and maybe a Khalil Lee cameo as well. In 2020, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar and Brady Singer might find their way to the big leagues along with a couple relievers and maybe even a 2019 draft pick, depending on how advanced he is. And then in 2021, maybe we’ll see the rise of Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez, Yefri Del Rosario, etc. Obviously a lot can change in three years. Heck, a lot can change in three months. But it does look like there could be multiple waves of the prospects graduating, which, like I said, will help on the back end if this all works out again.
- I think a lot about something Danny Duffy said to me prior to the 2014 season when he told me that he’d talked to the organization about being a reliever. He made his first career relief appearances that season, starting the year in the bullpen and throwing 8.1 innings over six appearances with a 2.16 ERA and 11 strikeouts. He was needed in the rotation and had a great ERA, but with poor peripherals. Then in 2015, he started in the rotation but was shifted to the bullpen at the end of the year where he went 8.1 innings again over six appearances. He didn’t allow a run and struck out 12. And then he pitched out of the bullpen again to start the year in 2016. He wasn’t quite as good, going 21 innings over 18 appearances and striking out 21 with a 3.00 ERA before shifting to the rotation and looking like a fringe Cy Young Award candidate for a time. The last couple years have been trying for him from a health perspective with multiple trips to the disabled list. It just makes me wonder if maybe the bullpen wouldn’t be a bad spot for him as the game has evolved so much from even a few years ago. If he’s utilized the way the Indians utilized Andrew Miller and the way the Brewers use Josh Hader, maybe he can be even more effective than as a starter. Health is obviously a concern with extra use and all that, but it’s just something I keep thinking about after his comments to me from a few years back.