It’s been a busy week for me personally, which has limited my ability to post. On the other hand, while it’s been a busy “hot stove” season for many baseball teams and their fanbases, it has been the opposite of “busy” for the Royals, as evidenced by tweets such as the one below:
Thus, it hasn’t been the worst thing in the world that I haven’t posted as frequently, as I would just be probably adding to the many Royals fans’ voices out there on the web who are frustrated to see the Royals stand pat, while the rest of the division makes big moves.
Whether it’s Byron Buxton staying in Minnesota; Javy Baez going to Detroit; or the White Sox adding some bullpen help, it has felt like other teams over the past month have gotten better, while the Royals roster has pretty much stayed the same, with the exception of the Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez additions to the 40-man roster.
Of course, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The strength of this Royals team is in its prospects, especially considering the fact that the Royals have a Top-5 farm system, according to most baseball experts. Will those prospects and their talent come to fruition in 2022? Or will it take another year or two for the Royals to finally be a competitive team again like that 2013-2017 era? That will depend on the development of their top prospects at the Major League level, and most likely, there will be some growing pains next season.
However, while the Royals front office will be building around their young, future stars, Dayton Moore and JJ Picollo have made some minor moves leading up to the December 1st lockout, which was made official by Major League Baseball in the most “eye-rolling” way possible:
So, let’s break down each of the moves the Royals made this week, and what kind of potential impact they could have on the Royals’ roster in 2022.
Royals non-tender Richard Lovelady; re-sign him to Minor League deal
Leading up to the Tuesday, November 30th non-tender deadline, the Royals only made one more additional non-tender decision, in addition to earlier ones like Jakob Junis and Kyle Zimmer, which they announced via Twitter:
The decision was a polarizing one among Royals fans.
Last season, Lovelady had his best season with the Royals yet, as he posted a 3.48 ERA in 20.2 IP, which included a K/BB percentage of 20.2, a career-high for the former Royals 10th-round pick (he debuted in 2019). Thus, many Royals fans were frustrated that Moore would risk losing a guy who was so productive a year ago, and had a propensity for making left-handed hitters look absolutely silly, as evidenced by the video below:
However, Lovelady injured his arm in late August and ended up having Tommy John surgery in late September. Therefore, Lovelady was expected to miss the entirety of the 2022 season, and considering that he didn’t have much of a track record prior to last year, the Royals probably knew he wouldn’t attract much interest on the waiver wire.
As it turned out, the Royals were right, as they were able to re-sign Lovelady on a Minor League deal:
This deal is a smart win-win move for the Royals. Yes, he would’ve been on the 60-man IL, which wouldn’t have counted against the Royals’ 40-man. That being said, clearing Lovelady from the 40-man opened up some space for a move, and gives the Royals an opportunity to allow him to rehab at his own pace. I believe that Lovelady will be able to return to the Royals’ 40-man in 2023 and find success, much like Zimmer did in 2020, when he was released in 2018, brought back on a Minor League deal while he rehabbed from Tommy John, and ended up having a great Major League campaign in 2020.
The Royals’ haven’t given up by any means on Lovelady, and their quick signing of him after his non-tendering proves that they still value Lovelady and his potential in the bullpen in 2023 and beyond.
The Royals sign JaCoby Jones to a Minor League deal
In addition to the Lovelady signing, the Royals also announced a Minor League contract to a player that wasn’t on any Royals (or even Tigers) fans’ radars this offseason:
There’s no question that Jones has a pretty underwhelming MLB profile. Across six seasons with the Detroit Tigers, Jones has averaged a career 71 wRC+ and accumulated an fWAR of 0.2. Jones appears to be the quintessential Royals position player: he possesses some interesting tools, but he struggles with plate discipline (career K/BB ratio of 0.19), and he hits way too many groundballs as well to be consistently successful at the plate (46.6 percent groundball rate last year).
However, Jones has been a “Royals killer” of sorts, as he seemed to mash the Royals in 2020. In addition to posting a career-best ISO in 2020 of .247, as well as a career-best barrel rate of 10.9 percent that season, he also hit bombs like this one at Comerica Park against former Royals closer Ian Kennedy (who totally torpedoed in his last season in Kansas City):
Then again, Jones may just be another Matt Davidson at the end of the day (i.e. a guy who only really hits against the Royals).
Honestly, Moore probably acquired Jones for depth in Triple-A Omaha, which became a bit thinner after Rudy Martin elected to be a Minor League free agent this offseason. With Edward Olivares and Kyle Isbel already on the 40-man roster, it seems hard to imagine Jones jumping both of those players this Spring.
And that’s not including Ryan O’Hearn, who was tendered a contract by the Royals, much to Royals fans’ chagrin (as O’Hearn himself noted on Twitter):
(I’m not thrilled that O’Hearn made the cut, but after this, I am rooting for him to prove me and other Royals fans wrong.)
Royals sign reliever Taylor Clarke
The Royals’ most high profile signing before the lockout was the 28-year-old former Diamondbacks reliever, who was non-tendered by Arizona just recently:
Clarke’s surface-level metrics do not look impressive as he posted a 4.98 ERA in 43.1 IP. However, his FIP of 3.54 was a lot more encouraging, and he still generated a 0.5 fWAR last season with the Diamondbacks.
In addition, Clarke posted a career-high K/BB ratio of 2.79, as well as a career-low HR/FB rate of 7.5 percent. Thus, considering that Clarke will be pitching at a more pitcher-friendly home park in Kauffman Stadium, and have a better defense behind him, it is easy to think that Clarke could really break out in the Royals bullpen in 2022.
Clarke has a four-pitch mix that includes a four-seamer, slider, changeup, and curveball. While his four-seamer is his primary pitch (he threw it 53.4 percent of the time in 2021), his slider and changeup were his most effective pitches, according to Baseball Savant. On a run value end, both his slider and changeup produced run values of -4. His slider was his best pitch on a whiff and strikeout end, as they produced rates of 44 and 38.3 percent, respectively, last season.
His slider is interesting because it doesn’t have a lot of break on it, like a traditional slider. Last year, it only produced an active spin rate of 29 percent, which was the lowest of all his pitches from 2021, as evidenced from the chart below, via Savant:
Here’s an example of Clarke’s atypical slider getting Colorado’s Trevor Story to strike out whiffing at Coors Field:
At first glance, it looks a lot like a “slower” fastball. However, it has just enough of a break on it toward Clarke’s glove side to be categorized as a slider.
Clarke’s success in Kansas City will depend on his fastball, and if he can make it effective again like it was in 2020. During that season, he posted a -1 run value on the four-seamer. His whiff rate in 2020 on the pitch was identical to his 2021 rate (16.3 percent both seasons), but he kept the hard-hit rate to 44.4 percent on the pitch in 2020, which was 6.2 points better than his 2021 mark.
Furthermore, Clarke needs to avoid making mistakes with his four-seamer in the zone, much like this one last year against the Pirates’ Yoshi Tsutsugo, which resulted in a solo home run:
Granted, the former Arizona reliever has his share of flaws, which is a reason why the Diamondbacks non-tendered him this offseason. However, the Royals found tremendous success last year with “flawed” relievers in Domingo Tapia and Joel Payamps, whom they acquired off the scrap heap from the Mariners and Blue Jays, respectively.
Thus, Royals fans have to feel good that Clarke could be another reliever who follows suit next season in his new surroundings in Kansas City.
Photo Credit: Norm Hall/Getty Images