Four questions Royals fans should be asking as play resumes in 2020

After months of waiting…baseball fans finally got the news they have been waiting for…

Yep. You read that right, Royals fans. Baseball is back. Granted, who knows what will happen as the season begins in the midst of a possible COVID “second outbreak”, which hasn’t been helped by recent spikes in many states across the country. But after so many weeks of negotiations which seemed to go nowhere, after all the ill will between owners and players at the expense of baseball fans everywhere, MLB was finally able to come to a deal, and baseball will finally be happening again here in the United States. Granted, I have loved following the CPBL and KBO in the downtime, but I am ready for MLB baseball…specifically Royals baseball…to start back up again.

So, with a season on its way, I wanted to take a look at four things Royals fans should be thinking about as baseball transitions into a mini “Spring Training” and eventually a season start of the 2020 season by the end of July. While we are still a month away from baseball beginning officially, there are some things Royals fans should be examining and paying attention to this year, especially in preparation for 2021.

What will the future of the Royals Minor League teams look like in 2021?

Without a doubt, the Royals have made noise as an organization when it comes to maintaining their Minor League organization during the COVID stoppage. While many other MLB teams were releasing Minor League players and cutting pay, the Royals went above and beyond to make sure that not only their current Minor League players were taken care of financially, but also made the decision to not release any as well during this stoppage of play. The actions gained notoriety across the league, as the Royals’ good will pushed the organization into the limelight in all kinds of positive ways.

However, though Major League Baseball is slated to continue, the future of Minor League Baseball this year looks hazy, if non-existent. Furthermore, the lack of Minor League Baseball in 2020 could be a death knell for many Minor League organizations in 2021, especially those in the lower levels of Minor League ball. Already, it seemed like 42 teams were on the verge of extinction as of April, with Low-A Lexington, and Rookie League Burlington and Idaho Falls being on the chopping block. Without revenue from a Minor League campaign in 2020, it’s hard to imagine that those teams will make it out, though Lexington seems to have the best shot of making it through this COVID crisis.

Dayton Moore has been intent on rebuilding the Royals through the farm system and that has been evident after three-consecutive “solid” drafts and signing a quality crop of undrafted free agents, suddenly available due to the shortened draft format. However, it will be interesting to see how the Royals’ system will be affected should 2 or 3 lower level teams be eliminated this off-season. If so, that could seriously hinder Moore’s rebuilding plan, especially since the lower levels have achieved tremendous success the past couple of seasons (Idaho Falls and Lexington won titles last year and Burlington was in the hunt for one as well). While Minor League titles pale compared to Major League ones, it is also a sign of things to come, and also helps build that winning culture that hopefully can transition to the Major League level. Losing two or three of those teams cuts that potential and a possible path to the Royals’s fostering a winning squad again soon.

Do the Royals think about trading Danny Duffy?

I have talked about the idea of trading Danny Duffy before on this blog: at his age (31 years old), he is more useful to a veteran squad than a rebuilding one. While Duffy could provide some mentoring to younger pitchers on this roster, he has struggled to stay healthy, not to mention effective, as many have suggested that a move to the bullpen might be in Duffy’s best interests for the future. While I think Duffy is fine in the Royals rotation for now (I mean…other than Brad Keller and maybe Jakob Junis, the Royals rotation options are thin), the Royals would be better off trying to find a suitor for Duffy in order to deepen the Royals system.

Currently, Duffy will be entering the second-to-last year of his five-year, $65 million extension that he signed going into the 2017 season. Safe to say, Duffy hasn’t really lived up to that deal, and with his last year coming in 2021, the $15.5 million that will be coming off the books after the 2021 season will give the Royals some flexibility. That being said, the Royals will be helped by a shortened season, as Duffy won’t make the same $15.25 million dollar rate he was slated to command this season (or at least initially), which could convince a hesitant organization to acquire him not just for the remainder of this season, but next season as well. In addition, not only could trading Duffy give the Royals more financial flexibility, but it could also open up their rotation to one of the “Core Four” waiting in the wings (Singer, Lynch, Kowar, and Bubic).

Of course, Duffy will have to perform at the start of 2020, and if he doesn’t, this makes this possibility almost moot. But, if Duffy pitches well to begin the year, then it’s not out of the question to think that he’ll command interest from opposing teams around the league, especially with teams desperate for veteran starting pitching. Duffy is no Gerrit Cole or Trevor Bauer, but he can eat some innings (when healthy) and he has valuable playoff experience while being a part of the Royals 2014-2015 postseason runs. While Duffy has been a solid citizen in Kansas City, it wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Royals to cash in on him while they can, especially if he commands a lot of interest during this shortened season.

What do the Royals do with Jorge Soler and Maikel Franco?

Designated Hitter/Outfielder Jorge Soler and newly acquired third baseman Maikel Franco are players in interesting situations as the Royals still have club control of them for at least one more season. Furthermore, they aren’t a tremendous burden financially, as Soler was slated to make $7.3 million and Franco is slated to make $3 million initially before COVID (just prorate those amounts over a 60-game slate). That kind of price for a possible combined 50-plus home runs is a value that many baseball fans and experts across the country could be overlooking, though Soler has to prove he can showcase his home run stroke in back-to-back years, and Franco has to demonstrate that his power is not Citizens Bank Ballpark-aided.

With a shortened season, it will be interesting to see if Moore will perhaps extend Soler and Franco not just for next season, but perhaps another year after their club control is done. Moore is known for being aggressive when it comes to buying out those years (usually at a discount) and considering that the Royals won’t get much of a sample in 2020, it could makes sense that Moore will double down on both of these hitters with the hope that they will provide dividends at the plate in 2021 at a fraction of the cost they would command if on the open market. After all, both were once heralded prospects for the Cubs (Soler) and Phillies (Franco) and they have both flashed promise over their times as Major League players. If the Royals can see Soler and Franco fully mature in a couple of years, and if the Royals can experience those benefits without too much of a price tag, it could be a win-win for both sides. Soler and Franco will get some financial security (perhaps 2-year, $20-22 million deals) and the Royals will garner some valuable production in the middle of the lineup.

Of course, Moore will have to wait, and it will be interesting to see if Soler and Franco can get off to hot starts during this shortened season, which only will amplify the need for Moore to extend the two sooner rather than later. Soler already showed that he can be a power hitter that the Royals can build around in the future based on last year, and Franco showed significant promise analytically in many key categories at the plate in 2019, even if it didn’t necessarily show in his traditional metrics. Thus, it could be in the Royals’ best interest to act on these two sooner rather than later when it comes to building the Royals roster for 2021 and beyond.

Should the Royals be ‘buyers’ or ‘sellers’ in 2020?

There is a lot of talk among Royals fan circles on whether or not the Royals should “go for it” in 2020. With a shortened season, there are many Royals fans and baseball experts who think that the Royals could have a better shot to make the postseason and help KC relive that postseason glory of 2014 and 2015:

While it is easy to think that the Royals could suddenly go from “pretenders” to “contenders” with the slate being cut by 102 games, Royals fans should cool their jets: while this season should be better than 2018 and 2019, this team most likely will be closer to the cellar of the AL Central than the top. And I say this as a Royals fans to who tends to be more optimistic than most.

Thus, the Royals should perhaps look to “sell” during the season rather than “buy”, though who knows what the “trade deadline” will look like during this abbreviated campaign. While the Royals could contend thanks to their offense, the pitching contains serious holes and questions, especially in the rotation. And hence, the Royals would be better off looking to sell pieces to contenders in order to continue to build their farm system and talent depth rather than shell valuable pieces for a possible playoff run that will probably be *asterisked anyways.

Furthermore, who knows if there will be a postseason anyways. With tons of issues regarding player safety and many states already reporting spikes in COVID cases, it’s highly possible that baseball will have a regular season and little else, a head nod to 1994, which saw its postseason cut due to the player’s strike. Therefore, the Royals “going for it in 2020” would only be a fruitless endeavor: not only would it be less meaningful in the eyes of the baseball world, but it also might not happen all together. Those aren’t exactly promising indicators for the Royals to mortgage their future in 2020, especially considering all the efforts they have made the past three years to rebuild their Minor League talent pool.

And thus, the Royals have a lot of tough decisions to make this year, even during the shortened schedule. Do they perhaps trade Whit Merrifield, with his value higher than ever before? Do they look to perhaps explore deals regarding “veteran” players like Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy, whose contracts will be expiring after this year anyways? Can they find a way to boost their farm system through trades, even if it comes at the expense of other fan favorites in Kansas City?

Safe to say, these will be tough choices and decisions for Moore to make in 2020. But considering the circumstances, Moore and the Royals would benefit from continuing to “rebuild” during this weird, fraction of a season, especially with so much uncertainty revolving around the postseason and whether or not it will happen in the wake of COVID.

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