Monday was a big day in Kansas City for Royals fans, as the Royals announced two moves that made waves on social media (especially Twitter).
The first was the Royals announcing that Carlos Santana had been traded to the Seattle Mariners for two pitching prospects.
Mills, a sidearmer in the mold of Jose Cuas, is most likely a middle reliever who will rotate up and down between Kansas City and Omaha this season. Fleming does have more upside between the two, but he is a pretty raw pitching prospect who the Royals have struggled to develop in the past (i.e. Yohanse Morel is a recent example).
Nonetheless, the package doesn’t necessarily matter at the end of the day.
A month ago, it seemed like the only option was to designate Santana for assignment, especially at the age of 36. Instead, the Royals were able to get two arms in return, and on the flip side, cleared a spot for Vinnie Pasquantino, their prized first base/designated hitter prospect.
The Royals announced Pasquantino’s call-up pretty much minutes after the Santana trade.
The corresponding moves turned around even the most pessimistic Royals fans, even if it was for a fleeting moment.
Later on Monday night, at a game I attended, the Royals pitching staff, Kris Bubic especially, got rocked to the tune of a 10-4 loss. On Tuesday night, Jon Heasley and the Royals spotted the Rangers an early 7-1 lead by the fourth, and Kansas City was not able to fight back, both on an offensive or pitching-end (though the bullpen limited the damage as best they could).
And if that wasn’t enough, 610 Royals Insider Josh Vernier said this about the Royals clubhouse on the Cody and Gold show, which also sent shockwaves across the Royals fanbase, albeit in an inversely negative way this time around, in comparison to Monday’s news.
The Royals are doing the right things on a transactional end. Getting rid of Santana and promoting Pasquantino before the end of June was a step in a much-needed direction toward the future. And trade rumors are beginning to heat up around certain Royals players, including not just Andrew Benintendi, but also Whit Merrifield, who’s been hands-off in trade negotiations in seasons past.
At 26-47, the Royals are finally focusing on building their roster at the Major League level for the future rather than the present.
It’s what many Royals fans on Twitter and Reddit and other social media circles have wanted for quite some time. Even in a poor division like the AL Central, the Royals’ shot of doing any damage this season is pretty much close to nil, especially with their current core of vets such as Benintendi, Whit, and Michael A. Taylor, just to name a few.
But, while “building for the future” sounds nice on paper, Royals fans need to brace themselves for what could be an ugly stretch of baseball, especially in July, August, and maybe September.
While it may be tough to sell in a “results-driven” business such as professional sports, the Royals, in my opinion, are better than their record.
This starting pitching staff has shown signs of promise, even though that certainly hasn’t been the case in the first two games of the Rangers series.
Brady Singer has looked improved after a short stint in Omaha. With the exception of Tuesday night, Heasley has shown better control (even if he is prone to making mistakes in the zone). And Daniel Lynch at the very least has demonstrated an ability to strike guys out in bunches, even at the expense of walks and an inefficient pitch count.
And of course, the offense has given Royals fans plenty to be excited about.
While they have had their share of ups and downs this season, Bobbby Witt, Jr. and MJ Melendez could be a great three-four combo in the lineup for years to come. Yes, Witt struggled in April, and Melendez is going through his own struggles in June (.183 average; .606 OPS). But once they iron out their growing pains, those two could be the Royals’ own version of the “Bash Brothers” for years to come.
Despite the call-up of Pasquantino, the Royals still have plenty of offensive weapons available in Omaha.
Nick Pratto most likely will be the first player up once Benintendi, Taylor, or Whit is traded, and while he does strike out a lot, he offers a pretty polished power and defensive profile (he could immediately slot in at left field). In addition, Michael Massey could also find himself up in Kansas City and could immediately slot in at third, where the Royals have struggled to find production due to slides from Emmanuel Rivera and Nicky Lopez this season (though Lopez had a nice night at the plate on Tuesday with two hits).
At the surface level, “new” players can mean excitement and hope. However, while younger players like Witt, MJ, Vinnie, Pratto, and Massey provide light at the end of the tunnel for long-suffering Royals fans, the tunnel still is pretty dark now. In fact, it probably will continue to be as dark as it has been in quite some time, especially as the Royals pass the torch from Santana, Whit, and Benintendi to a newer group of promising, but less-proven, Royals players.
And this is not even taking into consideration the Royals pitching staff.
To be fair, it seems like youth has already taken over, with three of the current five starting slots belonging to the Royals’ “homegrown” young pitchers (i.e. Bubic, Heasley, and Singer), and Kowar and Lynch likely to join the mix soon, especially if the Royals are able to trade Brad Keller by the Trade Deadline. Unfortunately, the tunnel seems even bleaker for the Royals’ young pitchers, especially with pitching coach Cal Eldred failing to connect with this group for more than short bursts of time.
That is the reality Royals fans are facing now, and will probably have to face for the remainder of the 2022 season.
As more Royals veterans make their way out of Kansas City, the younger players will play more, but the mistakes and growing pains will continue to mount as well. We’re seeing MJ struggle immensely behind the plate, even more so in the wake of Salvy’s most recent thumb injury. Witt has looked pretty flawed defensively at shortstop lately, following up sensational plays with miscues on routine ones. And Edward Olivares and Kyle Isbel have shown flashes of brilliance at times, but also, whether it’s at the plate, in the field, or on the basepaths, have also demonstrated why they haven’t gotten full-time roles in the Royals’ outfield the past two years.
Pasquantino is going to go through his rough patch as well, which can be hard for Royals fans to believe with his sensational Minor League track record since being drafted in 2019. But already Pasquantino went hitless tonight, and it’s possible that the hits may not fall right away in Kansas City. After all, Werner Park in Omaha and Kauffman Stadium are two different kinds of parks (in addition to the difference between MLB and Triple-A pitching).
As for the pitching, Carlos Hernandez will return to Kansas City at some point, and Jackson Kowar may return to the rotation, especially after a solid performance in relief in his second MLB outing of the year.
But Kowar and Hernandez will have their ups and downs, which will not only make this Royals fanbase frustrated in the current but pessimistic about the future as well.
All I can say though is this: don’t be so quick to give up on this franchise.
I am not sure if Dayton Moore will be the man to lead this org through this second rebuilding period. I am not sure if Mike Matheny is the right manager or Eldred is the right pitching coach for this group (I know the latter isn’t true). But this is what we as Royals fans wanted. We wanted the young guys to play and get their opportunities.
Complaining about wins now is pointless. Pointing out who is at fault for the current state of the Royals, whether it’s Moore, Matheny, or Eldred is just a broken record. John Sherman will make his decision on personnel eventually, but it’s clear that any decision in that area won’t come until the end of the year.
Royals fans can’t complain about the record and then want the young guys to play as well. Every franchise that makes this transition goes through its share of lumps on a losses end. That was the case back in 2011 and 2012 for the Royals when they made that leap. If it was all about wins, the Royals would’ve kept Santana, who’s been arguably the Royals’ best hitter the past few weeks.
The only thing that matters now is who is playing now and whether or not they will be a part of this team in 2023 and beyond. That’s going to be worth watching, even if it is going to produce a lot more losses than wins (100-plus losses should be our expectation now).
The Royals have squeezed out the toothpaste of the “next generation” of Royals players. They can’t put it back now. They can only keep squeezing to see how much they have left. They have to know what this pitching and hitting group can do, both in the short and long-term.
Just don’t expect that “squeezing process” to be an easy one in Kansas City for the next few months.
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