At this point, there is a real possibility that Major League Baseball will have a shortened season in 2020. It’s sad to think that Royals and baseball fans in general should be preparing for Opening Day in a couple of days (the Royals were scheduled to start the 2020 season in Chicago against the White Sox). Instead, baseball fans are on pins and needles, pent up in self-isolation, hoping that baseball will happen in a couple of months at the soonest.
At this point, the best case scenario would be late May or June, and even then that seems optimistic, and unlikely. In fact, it seems like most people are projecting the MLB season not to start until July, with July 4th being the symbolic start of the MLB season in the wake of this global crisis.
So with that being the case, Major League Baseball will most likely see a shortened season in the 80-82 game range (which would roughly be the time range if the season started in the beginning of July). Even if they extended the season by a month, it would only be perhaps a 100 or so game season at best, which would be about 62 games less than the normal Major League campaign. While it would be good for baseball fans to see “some” baseball rather than “no” baseball, it would be a bummer to see some the season wiped out, as it will also mean less opportunities for fans to see games in their local stadiums.
However, while a shortened season undoubtedly would have an effect on the fans, it also will have an effect on teams as well as players. While I will look at what shortened season could mean for the Royals as a whole, I specifically wanted to look at in this post how a shortened would affect certain players on the Royals roster. Sure, all Royals players would be affected in some way, shape, or form from an 80-100 game campaign. That being said, there are certain players who would be affected more, especially since this upcoming season was supposed to be a critical one for them personally, anyways.
So, let’s take a look at four players who could be greatly affected by a more brief Major League campaign in 2020.
Jorge Soler, DH/OF
Soler is coming off a career year, finally breaking out after years of disappointment and injury struggles in two previous seasons in Kansas City, and three seasons in Chicago with the Cubs before that. As a 27-year-old designated hitter, the Cuban-born Soler set a Royals single-season home-run record with 48 home runs, nine more than previous record-holder Mike Moustakas, who set the record in 2017. Soler always had premium power, even during his prospects days with the Cubs. However, he struggled through a lot of swing and miss issues as a hitter, and thus, never put together the kind of complete season he wanted prior to 2019.
While the home runs were nice, Soler also showed strides in his overall hitting in 2019. He posted a .265/.354/.569 slash with a .922 OPS to go along with 117 RBI, 136 wRC+, and a WAR of 3.6, which was second on the team behind only Whit Merrifield, according to Baseball Reference. Yes, Soler still had some strikeout issues, as he led the league in strikeouts with a 178. However, he showed a significantly better batting eye in the second half, as his K rate dropped from almost 29 percent to 23 percent from the first to the second half, respectively.
As expected, Soler opted out of his original deal this Winter, which meant a pay increase for Soler. That being said, the Royals and Soler were able to avoid arbitration, as Dayton Moore signed him to a one-year, $7.3 million deal, which gave the Royals still one more year to figure out a long term deal (he is still under club control until 2022). The thought was this: the extension gave the Royals flexibility to make a trade to garner some prospects if necessary, but also gave Soler the chance to prove that he was worth a long-term deal if he put together back-to-back solid seasons.
However, with a shortened season, Soler’s leverage to get an extension has whittled, as he will have to produce immediately, something that Soler has struggled with over his career. While he was mashing home runs in the first half of 2019, he really didn’t become the complete “Soler Power” hitter until the second half of 2019. With a shortened season, will Soler be able to produce right away? And if he isn’t, what will the Royals do? Will they still sign him to another extension? Or will they part ways, thinking they might as well get something before he declares for free agency?
It is likely that Soler will put together another solid campaign in Kansas City as the team’s primary DH, though it will be unlikely that he will hit 45-plus homers again in 2020, especially in a shortened season. But fewer games only puts more pressure on Soler to produce this season, especially as he inches closer to free agency in 2022.
Alex Gordon, OF
This year was supposed to be the “Gordo Appreciation Tour”, as it seemed likely that 2020 would be Gordo’s final season in Kansas City. While Gordo did not hint if he would retire after this year or if he would move on to another team, the fact that he only signed a one-year deal with the Royals (and at a modest price) hinted that his time in Royals blue and white may be coming toward an end. And that’s not a bad thing. Gordo has played over 12 seasons in Major League Baseball, all with the Royals. If 2020 is it for him as a Royal, well…Royals fans can understand and appreciate all he has done, especially for the big moments he’s provided Kansas City, such as the one below:
However, a shortened 80-100 game season puts things in jeopardy a bit for Gordo. While Gordo skill-wise has deteriorated a bit (he no longer has the 20-home run power he once had between 2011-2014), he still keeps himself in good shape and is a solid defender. Furthermore, Gordo is a competitor, which is why he waived his no-trade clause, as he seems willing to play for a contender in the right opportunity. It seemed like if the Royals were out of it early, Gordo would accept a trade, and maybe finish his career making one last run, with the Royals gaining a prospect or two in the process to help with their rebuild.
Now though, that idea seems hazy at best. A shortened season may not be enough for Gordo’s swan song in Kansas City, and if that is the case, it’s not out of the question that Gordo may want another extension, this time to ensure that he goes out over a full, unaffected season. While Gordo is coming off an average season last year (.266/.345/.366 slash, 96 OPS+), as well as another Gold Glove campaign, the Royals need to start building for the future, and Gordo does not fit into those plans. To re-sign Gordo for 2021 with Khalil Lee and perhaps Kyle Isbel ready to make their debuts that season would not help the Royals’ rebuilding process, as it would only block the development that those young players need to be successful at the Major League level.
This shortened season puts the Royals (and Gordo) in a dilemma. Will 82-100 games be enough for Gordo to call it good? Could he be fine with only playing 40-50 home games at the K instead of 81? Will he be okay with his career numbers being affected due to this “asterisk” of a season, shortened due to the global pandemic we have all been experiencing?
It will be interesting to see for sure, but without a doubt, this 2020 season has already not gotten off to the start that Gordo and the Royals wanted.
Ian Kennedy, RHP
After struggles with injury and ineffectiveness in 2017 and 2018, the Royals moved Kennedy to the bullpen and the results proved to be beneficial for both sides involved. Kennedy salvaged a once disappointing tenure with the Royals and became a lights out closer, in the mold of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland before him. He saved 30 games for the Royals in 2019, and was one of the league’s more dependable closers in the second half. As for the Royals, they found the man they needed in the ninth, as they struggled to find someone in the role after the Royals traded Herrera (the last remaining remnant of HDH) to the Washington Nationals in 2018.
While Kennedy’s revitalization as the Royals closer was nice to see for Royals fans and management, it is obvious that Kennedy is not in the Royals plans for the future. He’s 35-years-old, and his new status is a better fit for a contending team rather than a rebuilding one. However, the Royals were unable to trade Kennedy this winter, as he is still due to make $16.5 million this year, a steep price for a one-year rental. That being said, there was some hope that if the Royals chipped in a little financially, they could generate some kind of trade by the All-Star break in 2020.
Unfortunately, with a shortened season, that option looks less likely. In a new 82-100 game campaign, it is indeterminable how the trade deadline will work, and if the Royals are able to trade Kennedy, they will most likely have to put in a lot of money to make that deal happen. That may not be worth it for the Royals, who may just roll the dice with Kennedy, and just ride his saves and effectiveness in the ninth for one more season during a shorter 2020.
While the Royals may be fine with Kennedy returning, he may not appreciate the role on a non-competitive club, in addition to less opportunities for saves. The market for closers is a bit of a rollercoaster, as Craig Kimbrel proved last season that teams are less willing to pay big money for closers as in years past. Kennedy may be just as effective in 2020 as he was in 2019, but it’s likely that he will get less save opportunities with the Royals due to less games played, which will not only affect his save numbers, but his chances of securing a free agent deal in the winter of 2020-2021.
Brady Singer, RHP
2020 was supposed to be the year Singer broke through for the Royals from the depths of the Minor League system. All the hype the past couple of seasons centered on the Royals’ “four core” pitching prospects from the 2018 MLB Draft: left-handers Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic, and right-handers Jackson Kowar and Singer, the latter being the most Major League ready as of this moment. With no real “legitimate” option in the fifth spot in the rotation, it was widely thought that the Royals would get creative with Jorge Lopez and Glenn Sparkman in that spot (and maybe even Chance Adams) to bide time before Singer was ready to make his debut in Kansas City.
However, that was with a 162-game season in mind. And while Singer held his own during this past Spring Training, he still only posted a 4.76 ERA and 1.94 WHIP over 5.2 innings of work in Cactus League play. He did show glimpses of dominance in Surprise this Spring, but it’s obvious that his command (1.50 K/BB ratio this Spring), and his secondary pitches could use some polishing in Double or Triple-A before he faces Major League hitters full time. Initially, it seemed like it was a real possibility that Singer would be up in Kansas City by May or June, with the All-Star break in July seeming to be the worst case scenario.
With the inevitable delay and the shortening of the Major League season though, that plan likely will be scratched and the Royals have a dilemma on their hands regarding their top pitching prospect. Do they bring up Singer mid-year, for only a handful of games during a lost season in 2020? Or do they table his Major League debut this year, and instead bring him up in 2021, along with Kowar, Bubic, and Lynch, who seemed primed to debut in 2021 anyways?
The latter option doesn’t seem so bad on paper for Dayton Moore and the Royals. Singer is not on the 40-man roster anyways, so delaying his service time saves the club a roster spot, and also gives the Royals some more time to help him, and the other top 3 pitching prospects, develop a bit more in the minors. This will ensure that Singer and his companions are ready to succeed in 2021, which should be a year where the Royals are a little closer to competitiveness as a club, as Lee and Isbel may be ready for the big league roster at that time as well.
That being said, pitching prospects can be volatile, and only delaying Singer’s debut could put him more at risk, especially considering how damaging the Pacific Coast League can be on pitchers’ psyches, as well as ERAs. Yes, if Singer and the others are the elite prospects that everyone thinks they will be, PCL hitters shouldn’t be a problem in Omaha. But if he does get off to a bad start, it could hurt his development, which would only lessen his stock and outlook at the Major League level, another painful blow to Royals fans who haven’t experienced much success post-2015. Singer-Lynch-Kowar-Bubic is to be the future of the Royals rotation, sure. But Royals fans were saying the same of Montgomery-Duffy-Dwyer-Lamb as well in 2011.
The new shortened season may result in Moore and the Royals being more prudent with Singer and the other talented arms in the Royals minor league system. After all, it may not be worth it for the Royals just to have Singer pitch only a few games in Kansas City this year. That being said, if Singer does deal in Omaha, and the Royals rotation continues to struggle with Lopez and Sparkman at the end of the rotation, don’t be surprised to see Moore cave and bring up Singer, even if it will only be for a short stint.
Either way, it’ll be too bad the shortened season from this CO-VID crisis resulted in Royals fans seeing “less” Singer starts on the bump at Kauffman Stadium rather than “more” in 2020.