On Monday, December 7th, the MLB Winter Meetings will take place virtually until December 10th. A massive annual event, the Winter Meetings were originally supposed to take place in Dallas until COVID forced baseball to make the event virtual. The Winter Meetings are often worth paying attention to for baseball fanatics, for not only do many trades and signings take place during the multiple-day event, but the event also culminates with the Rule 5 Draft, a draft where MLB clubs can acquire non-protected prospects who could perhaps boost their Major League clubs.
However, with the Winter Meetings virtual, it is likely that procedures and customs will be different from years past. And thus, here are three questions Royals fans should be asking in preparation for baseball’s Winter Meetings next week.
How will the virtual format affect the Royals’ abilities to make trades with other clubs?
While the meetings themselves are obviously an important element of the Winter Meetings (duh), most of the action has typically occurred in the informal networking parts of the event. The Winter Meetings are more famous for general managers and team officials discussing deals in hotel bars or lobbies, and with the event now completely virtual, that element is lost (unless they go into breakout rooms or something and do virtual social events and happy hours which isn’t out of the realm of possibility considering our times; I have done plenty of virtual “Happy Hours” since march with friends and colleagues).
And hence, one has to wonder how this will affect Dayton Moore and other members of the Royals front office when it comes to discussing a possible trade or gauging the trade market with other clubs. Will the “virtual” format allow for more time for MLB front offices to discuss possible deals, now that they are not attending a meeting “in person” (which will allow for more multi-tasking on the side)? Or will the virtual format perhaps take away those opportunities for front office members to network and discuss possible transactions?
It is anyone’s guess how the “virtual” format will affect the MLB Hot Stove over the next week, which traditionally is a busy one in terms of transactions (usually things go pretty dark afterward until the new year). It’s obvious that Moore is not done making moves, especially with four spots open on the 40-man roster. However, networking and discussing possible deals could possible be more challenging for him and his team, and Royals fans have to wonder if this adjusted format could perhaps have an effect on Kansas City’s ability to make a trade or two over the next week.
Will the Royals select anyone from the Rule 5 Draft?
Moore has been pretty active in the Rule 5 Draft the past three seasons. With four roster spots available, it isn’t out of the question to think that Moore could be active once again. Last year, the Royals selected Stephen Woods with the fourth overall pick in the draft, and though he didn’t make the active roster out of Summer Camp, the Royals did trade for him with his original team, the Tampa Bay Rays, and he is back in the Royals system (he is expected to begin the year in Double or Triple-A). In 2018, the Royals selected Sam McWilliams, a big right-handed pitcher from the Rays, but he didn’t make the club out of Spring Training, and he was offered back to Tampa Bay.
However, the biggest Royals Rule 5 success story came in 2017, as the Royals acquired two players in the Rule 5 Draft who ended up having an impact on the big league club in 2018. Though the Royals didn’t draft anyone, they did trade for 5th overall pick Brad Keller (drafted by the Reds) and 6th overall pick Burch Smith (drafted by the Mets). While Smith wasn’t great, as he posted a 6.92 ERA, he did make 38 appearances and pitched 68 innings for the Royals in 2018, which is more value than what most Rule 5 picks produce (some don’t even play an inning for their new club, as evidenced by McWilliams). That being said, the real jewel of the 2017 Rule 5 Draft was Keller, who has accumulated over 360 innings ,as well as an 8.3 total WAR in three seasons with the Royals, according to Baseball-Reference. Keller will once again be the Royals’ ace in 2021, and it will be interesting to see if Moore will be able to strike gold again in this Rule 5 Draft, much like he did with Keller back in 2017.
Will the Royals lose any players in the Rule 5 Draft?
While the Royals have had some recent success in the Rule 5 Draft, they have also seen some players in their organization depart through the December draft as well. In 2018, the Royals lost 19-year-old pitcher Elvis Luciano, who was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays 9th overall. The Blue Jays used him sparingly in 2019, as he only appeared in 25 games and accumulated 33.2 IP. While he posted a 5.35 ERA, Luciano was extremely young, and the Blue Jays now hold his rights, and seem intent on having him develop a little more in the Minors, though the lost Minor League season of 2020 certainly didn’t help his development.
As evidenced from this list from MLB.com, the Royals will have three Top-30 prospects eligible for the Rule 5 Draft: outfielders Seuly Matias and Brewer Hicklen, and right-handed pitcher Yefri Del Rosario. Furthermore, infielder Jeison Guzman, who was just recently released from the 40-man roster, is also eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, and could be selected as well.
Moore has typically played on the safe side with prospects in terms of protecting them from the draft, as he surprisingly added Guzman and Carlos Hernandez to the 40-man roster last year, and pitcher Angel Zerpa and catcher Sebastian Rivero to the 40-man roster this year, in order to protect them from being selected. However, Moore decided to leave Matias, Hicklen, Del Rosario and Guzman, all heralded, though flawed, prospects, unprotected this time around, which feels like a contrast to what he typically does in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft.
That being said, if the non-tender deadline roster decisions showed Royals and baseball fans anything, it demonstrated that the financial hit from COVID has certainly had an effect on clubs’ player budgets. And thus, it is possible that Moore is not necessarily giving up on Matias, Hicklen, Del Rosario, or Guzman, but rather he is just exhibiting his confidence that they will not be selected in the Rule 5 Draft. It certainly is a bold strategy, and if one had to guess, it seems likely that the Rule 5 Draft may be a little more tame than in years past (not every club has to participate in it). Nonetheless, it would be intriguing to see if the Royals would lose one or more of those players in this upcoming draft, and what kind of impact they would have on their new teams, not just in 2021, but beyond as well.
Because Johan Santana, Jose Bautista, Josh Hamilton, Bobby Bonilla, and even Roberto Clemente are all just a few of the many of examples of Rule 5 picks turning into Major League stars.
It would suck for Royals fans if Matias, Hicklen, Del Rosario, or Guzman added to that list.