I have a piece coming up on the IBWAA’s “Here’s the Pitch” Newsletter tomorrow morning, so I don’t have an in-depth piece for today (plus it’s been a busy past couple of weeks at work). However, I did have some thoughts about some recent Royals roster moves, so I just wanted to share a quick “Reporter Jottings”, which I haven’t done in a while.
So here are some notes that I have “jotted” from some recent Royals and baseball stories that happened over the past week:
Will the Royals and Andrew Benintendi agree to an extension this winter?
On Sunday, the Rawling Gold Glove awards were announced, and two Royals players earned Gold Gloves at the left and center field positions, respectively: Andrew Benintendi and Michael A. Taylor.
The Royals agreed to a two-year extension with Taylor before the 2021 season ended, and it seems to have been a good investment, especially considering the value of having a good defensive center fielder at Kauffman Stadium. However, Benintendi enters his last year of arbitration this winter, and will be a free agent after 2022, should the Royals not come to an extension this offseason.
The Athletic’s Alec Lewis also examined this issue in his most recent piece, which was posted today:
Whether or not the Royals SHOULD extend Benintendi has been a polarizing debate among Royals fans. Some feel that he’s not much better than Kyle Isbel, who looked better in his return to the Royals from Omaha in September. Other Royals fans though believe at 26-years-old, he would be worth a 3-5 year deal, as he could be entering the prime of his career, as long as he stays healthy (something he has struggled with since 2019).
Going into the offseason, I was more confident that the Royals would extend Benintendi to a 3-4 year deal. Dayton Moore wouldn’t have acquired Benintendi just for a two-year rental, especially in the middle of a rebuild. Benintendi has all the intangibles that Moore, and honestly, Royals fans like, as he was a polished college product from an SEC school (Arkansas), was a former top prospect in baseball, and hails from the Midwest (he grew up in Cincinnati, but he currently resides in St. Louis). I felt that after an up and down season, Benintendi would agree to a deal, especially since the market for free-agent outfielders can be a crowded one.
However, I think Benintendi earning this Gold Glove award makes the extension talk harder for the Royals. While Benintendi is a Midwest guy, ultimately what matters is the bottom line financially. If Benintendi duplicates, or even does slightly better than what he did on the field in 2021, a team will pay him handsomely for his services in the offseason of 2022. Ball clubs know his power would be better realized in a more hitter-friendly park, and that will only add to his price tag, should the Royals let Benintendi test the waters in free agency after next season.
This is a crucial offseason for the Royals and Benintendi and the latter’s future in Kansas City. If the Royals are serious about keeping Benintendi beyond 2022, a five-year deal probably is the start of negotiations at the very least. Will the Royals offer a five-year $90-100 million extension to Benintendi? Is he worth a deal of that magnitude, especially considering the Royals’ position talent lingering in Triple-A (i.e. Bobby Witt, Jr., Nick Pratto, and MJ Melendez)?
Because honestly, a deal like that for Benintendi could boost or break the Royals for years to come.
It won’t be an easy decision for Moore, JJ Picollo and this Royals front office this winter, that’s for sure.
Royals see 16 players elect Minor League free agency
This morning, news started to break on players in different MLB organizations electing for Minor League free agency after not being named to the 40-man roster. Not surprisingly, there was a long list of Royals players who elected for such a route:
Now, just because these players elect Minor League free agency doesn’t mean they can’t come back to the Royals organization. It does mean that they can explore their options in other organizations, and in all likelihood, many, if not all of the names on the list will probably be playing for other MLB clubs and their Minor League teams in 2022.
Many of these names are not surprising. Nick Dini, Meibrys Viloria, Erick Mejia, Chance Adams, and Jake Newberry are all players who had cups of coffee with the Royals over the past few years and didn’t really do much in their short stints at the Major League level. Jeison Guzman and Carlos Sanabria certainly showed promise as Minor League players (both were on the 40-man roster at one point), but seemed to be developing too slowly in the Minors for the Royals’ taste.
Nolan Watson was a former first-round pick out of Indianapolis, and he at least pitched as high as Double-A, which is better than Ashe Russell, a fellow Indianapolis native who was drafted by the Royals higher in the first round of the 2015 draft and appears to be out of baseball. That being said, it seems like Watson will be a career Minor Leaguer and nothing else, which is probably why the Royals let him walk.
One surprising player on this list was Rudy Martin, who made a lot of gains in the Royals’ Minor League system this year. After posting a .544 OPS across 100 games in Lexington, Wilmington, and Omaha in 2019, Martin posted a .822 OPS across 89 games in Northwest Arkansas and Omaha in 2021. After striking out 115 times and only walking 27 times in 2019, he walked 52 times to 98 strikeouts, a stark improvement. Furthermore, Martin hit 11 home runs in 2021, which is a career-high for him in a single season:
Now, the expectations weren’t incredibly high for him as a former 25th round pick. However, there was some hope that Martin could perhaps be a decent fourth outfielder at the MLB level, perhaps in the Jarrod Dyson mold at best, and Terance Gore mold at worst (though he would be slightly slower than Gore).
Safe to say, I doubt Martin will be back in Omaha in 2022. Another organization will swoop him up, and hopefully, Martin makes his MLB debut next season.
Royals coaching staff to remain the same…is that good?
On Sunday, Hokius of Royals Review penned an article in response to the Royals front office deciding to keep the coaching staff intact for 2022, with the exception of Rusty Kuntz, who chose to step aside from coaching to the front office. (He didn’t coach first base over the last month of the season, so this was expected).
Hokius’ most poignant point came in the last paragraph, as he called out the Royals’ coaching staff’s troublesome history with managing injuries, as well as Cal Eldred’s ho-hum tenure as pitching coach last season:
The Royals have decided to return the same coaching staff that was clearly not ideal and either fostered or at least allowed a toxic culture around player health. It’s possible that Cal Eldred somehow got better in the second half and that the team is addressing the cultural issues behind the scenes and believes the team will do better about it in 2022. That would be a lot easier to believe if anyone could explain why Brady Singer didn’t also improve in the second half or if anyone but the players were talking about how playing through injuries derailed things.“The Royals will inexplicably return almost their entire 2021 coaching staff in 2022” by Hokius; Royals Review
Honestly, I am a bit indifferent on most of the coaches on staff under Matheny. Is Terry Bradshaw the best hitting coach? Maybe not, but they did finish 9th in the league in batting average, and honestly, I am not sure how much of an impact a hitting coach has on Major League hitters. I like Pedro Grifol as bench coach, and hope one day he gets his shot to be a manager at the Major League level.
Really, most of the beef from Royals fans, including Hokius and myself centers on Eldred.
I have talked about Eldred before and his questionable record as Royals pitching coach. It would be one thing if this year or last year were Eldred’s first year or two as Royals pitching coach. But remember: he took over in 2018, nearly two full seasons before Mike Matheny took over as manager.
The pitching staff wasn’t good in 2018 and 2019 under Eldred and Ned Yost, and it’s hard to argue that it’s gotten much better under Eldred and Matheny. And that’s including much better pitching prospects under Eldred and Matheny the past two years, last season especially.
Matheny and Eldred are close friends, as they were former teammates in the Brewers organization back in the mid-’90s. Working with a close friend is never an easy endeavor in any profession, let alone Major League Baseball. However, a close friendship becomes even more complicated when it is obvious that the working relationship isn’t producing results, as is the case with Matheny and Eldred’s tenures with the Royals the past couple of years.
I think Matheny has been a decent manager so far in Kansas City. He’s not great, and his first year was certainly better than his second, but he’s not as bad as I expected him to be when he was initially hired before the 2020 season.
Even though the Royals are perfectly fine with Matheny as manager for now (after all, they won a title with Yost), it’s hard to imagine this Royals pitching staff getting that much better in 2022 under Eldred. Yes, Eldred got this pitching staff to be slightly better in the second half, and I like some of the things he’s doing with the young pitchers (he has them throw and watch their bullpens together as one collective group). However, considering Eldred’s history of being averse to analytics, and his “old school” approach as a coach, I think the Royals would benefit from a fresh voice from the pitching coach sooner rather than later.
It is hard to see Eldred staying with this Royals organization as the pitching coach beyond next year, especially if the Royals pitching staff continues to flounder like they did in 2021.
And one has to wonder if Matheny’s trust in Eldred for a third straight season will also cost him the managerial job in the process as well.
Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports