It’s been a few weeks since I posted, mostly because I finally finished grad school and earned my Master of Arts in Educational Leadership from the University of Notre Dame. After three summers and two full years, I finally have my degree, and now will be transitioning into administrative leadership at a K-8 feeder school to the high school I formerly worked at as a teacher. Already, just a few days “officially” into the job, I am finding my days jam-packed with things I “need to do”, which isn’t easy to do when people are on different levels in the summer.
However, even though I have written in the past three weeks, that has not stopped me from following the Royals, and boy, have things escalated quickly, and not in a good way. Going into the All-Star break, the Royals are 36-53, 18 games behind the first place White Sox, and alone in last place in the AL Central.
What once started as a year of possible breakthrough, it seems like 2021 has followed the same formula as 2018-on: this team still has a long way to go to being competitive.
And right now, the Kansas City sports fan base is definitely feeling the disappointment.
Even though I haven’t checked Twitter much over the past few weeks (mostly because I was cramming my last assignments, including the presentation of my research thesis on campus in South Bend), the narratives are spinning pretty negatively, and understandably so.
A couple weeks before I left, the main narrative was to change pitching coaches, something I agreed upon at the time. Now though, the frustration among Royals fans has grown immensely, seeping in other areas of the Royals’ management structure. Hokius of Royals Review penned a pretty intriguing piece about Mike Matheny, as he examined if Matheny’s “managerial style” was taking a toll on this Royals roster this year during a full 162-game campaign:
Furthermore, not only is the Royals’ on-the-field coaching staff on the hot seat overall during this lackluster end to the first half, but the Royals front office is also feeling the heat, as many Royals fans’ frustrations were amplified not just after a rough May-July, but also after the drafting of Connecticut prep pitcher Frank Mozzicato with the seventh pick overall, even though Vanderbilt stud Kumar Rocker was available at the time.
Talking about the draft will be saved for a separate post (especially as it completes today), but right now, it seems like 2021 has taken a turn for the worse, especially among the fan base. In some ways, I am kind of glad I was out of the loop for three weeks, as I am not sure how I would be able to handle all this both digitally and in person.
And yet, there are bright spots, and those two bright spots are Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield, who are the Royals’ two lone representatives in the Mid-Summer Classic at Coors Field in Denver.
And Salvy especially is giving Royals fans something positive to clamor about, especially after his performance in the Home Run Derby that went widely under-looked by the national media.
Salvy was far from the biggest name in the field of the Home Run Derby on Monday. After all, Shohei Ohtani was front and center, and unfortunately, drew some headlines because some ESPN commentators can’t help being xenophobic. Furthermore, there wasn’t a whole lot to attract the attention to Salvy either. He didn’t have a recent inspirational story (Trey Mancini, who recently overcame cancer); he wasn’t in a big market; and the Royals aren’t a winning team as of this moment.
However, despite all those obstacles, Salvy went out and mashed, even though he fell in the first round to eventual champion Pete Alonso. In his round, he hit 28 home runs, the most ever for a catcher in the home run derby:
However, it wasn’t just his performance that captured Royals attention, but the lack of mentions he received, especially in comparison to his first-round opponent, Alonso. Here are some snippets of that frustration being voiced on Royals Twitter:
On a positive note, if Royals fans needed more reason to appreciate Jason Benetti of the White Sox, this Tweet below should confirm that we are lucky to have Benetti in the AL Central:
It’s hard to imagine what the Royals would look like without Salvy this year, especially considering his production and star power. He’s on pace to set a career high in home runs (his previous career high is 27), and while he still is swinging and missing a lot, when he does connect, he has produced, which has been much-needed in the heart of the order. While Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier have regressed big time, which has affected the Royals lineup as a whole, Salvy has become an even greater power threat in the lineup for a second-straight season, not easy to do considering his age (31), his position (catcher), and his home park (Kauffman) which is one of the most pitcher friendly venues in baseball.
Furthermore, he continues to hit bombs like this:
There certainly are flaws to Salvy’s game, especially at the plate. His walk rate is hovering around a career low (2.2 percent), and his strikeout rate is near a career high (27 percent), according to Fangraphs. He’s taken a bit of a step back defensively this year (-5.8 Def, according to Fangraphs), after showing some promise a year ago with framing. That being said, the Royals were wise to extend Salvy this year, and it continues to be obvious to both Royals fans and baseball fans in general that Salvy is the heart and soul of this Royals team, which isn’t easy to do in a difficult season like this.
While Salvy continues to be the face of the franchise, Whit continues to grow as another face of the Royals, even if he doesn’t have the national magnitude or history of Salvy. Even though he was initially left off, Whit was added as a reserve to the All-Star roster, which is his second straight season of making the AL team for the Mid-Summer Classic.
This hasn’t been Whit’s best season by any means, especially offensively. He is posting a .315 wOBA and 97 wRC+, which would be the lowest marks in that category since his rookie season in 2016, according to Fangraphs. However, while his “hitting” metrics aren’t as impressive, Whit continues to be the “Swiss Army Knife” this roster needs, especially as the season has taken a turn for the worse.
He continues to play in every game (he has not missed a game since 2018) and hit at the top of the lineup. He is posting a 1.9 fWAR, according to Fangraphs, and could be a 3.5 fWAR play or better by season’s end, depending on how his bat fares. He’s been a positive asset defensively after being replacement-level or worse in 2019 and 2020. And he continues to be one of the best base stealers in the league, as he not only leads the AL in stolen bases with 24, but he has only gotten caught one time, which further displays his efficiency and skill as a base runner.
Whit continues to be, much like Salvy, an everyday force that has kept the Royals somewhat afloat, especially during a rough past few months of the season. While his metrics aren’t as up to par, especially at the plate, in comparison to season’s past, there’s no question that Whit deserves the All-Star honor. Sure, there may be some other players in the AL metrically better, but nobody has meant more to his team, of those non-All Star players, than Whit. Without Whit and Salvy, this Royals team would be the worst in all of baseball, not just the AL Central.
That being said, one has to wonder what the future holds for Whit in Kansas City, not just in the long-term, but even over the second half of the year as well. Because honestly, with how things are going for the Royals now, it may be best for the organization to start looking into being sellers on the trade market before the July 31st trade deadline…
And Whit may be their best trade piece available.
Of course, trading Whit isn’t going to inspire a whole lot of hope among Royals fans at Kauffman Stadium over the next two and a half months of the season. And that fact, honestly, may hold back Moore from pulling the trigger on such a deal. Even despite the All Star nod, Whit’s value isn’t exactly what it was a year or two ago. At 32-years-old, Whit’s at an age where players are starting to hit their regression years, not their prime. Even though Whit is an atypical case (he broke into the Majors late), it feels like a lot of other GMs will low-ball Moore in potential offers for Whit.
And if there is anything Royals fans have learned about Moore, it’s that he won’t just deal someone just to make a deal, especially if they are contributing everyday for the Royals.
So, while Whit will make the most sense for the Royals to trade, he probably won’t. Thus, this means that the Royals will have to rely on their own talent in the farm system and on the 40-man roster when it comes to generating any kind of turnaround in the second half this year. As a Royals fan, that scenario sounds bleak. This team is 17 games under .500. What makes one think that the same kind of roster can be any better, especially considering the downward projecting slope the club has been on the past couple of months.
It will not be easy to find hope for the next two and a half months in Kansas City. I can honestly say that as a Royals fan, who has endured not just lousy seasons since 2018, but plenty of lousy ones prior to 2013. There was hope that this club could be a 2013 version that could at least “win” and build momentum for more lasting success the next couple of seasons. However, it looks like that won’t be the case, as the Royals will be just looking to avoid losing a 100 games, let alone finish around .500, with the latter being a miracle at this point.
So what should Royals fans look forward to over the second half of the year?
Well, Royals fans should continue to appreciate Whit and Salvy first off, who continues to produce and mash, even as they begin their 30’s, not exactly an “ideal” age in the professional sports world. Danny Duffy also provides some hope in the rotation, even though this may be his last hurrah in Kansas City, though who knows if he’ll part KC by August or in the off-season. And honestly, there still is a lot of young talent showing promise in the Minor League system, especially Bobby Witt, Jr. and Nick Pratto, who both made the Futures Game, and look to be MLB ready within the next two years, in some capacity:
And who knows…maybe Moore will relieve Cal Eldred of his pitching coach duties, and a new voice comes in, and really taps into their young starting pitching prospects, especially Kris Bubic, Jackson Kowar, and Daniel Lynch, who have all had their fair shares of struggles in 2021. With the playoffs out of reach, the Royals have little to lose, and maybe this All-Star break will give Moore and Matheny the ability to do the right thing and make a change to help spark this organization.
The season has taken a sharp turn south, and that is frustrating to see after the promise of April. But Royals fans shouldn’t forget about Salvy and Whit and the kids on the farm, especially in the upper levels, who are doing work, and showing that they can help this club get back on the winning ways sooner rather than later. The 2021 season may not be the “turnaround” season Royals fans were hoping for back on Opening Day, but positives can still be had, as the AL Central is not exactly the “strongest” division in the American League.
A jolt here, a move there, some solid contributions from Salvy and Whit with a turnaround from a Dozier or Soler, and perhaps another winning streak can happen. Then maybe the Royals can bring hope back again to Kauffman Stadium in the final months of the season.
If not, there is always the promise of next year…
Which is something Royals fans are quite accustomed to, unfortunately.
Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports