Predicting What the Royals Will Do in the Second Half With the ‘Restricted List’ Ten

The Royals and the rest of Major League Baseball are pretty much preoccupied with the MLB Draft, with a select few players engulfed in All-Star game festivities at Dodgers Stadium (with the Home Run Derby on Monday evening).

On a Kansas City end, we have seen two rounds of Royals draft picks, which have been quite polarizing among the Royals fanbase on Twitter. That being said, I am going to wait until after the draft ends tomorrow when it comes to reviewing my own opinions on the Royals’ draft as a whole.

Instead, I wanted to focus on the 10 Royals players that were on the restricted list when the team traveled to Toronto, as they were recently returned off the restricted list, as announced on the Royals’ official Twitter account.

The move is not a surprising one, as I imagine there are certain rules in place from the MLBPA that requires the Royals to return MLB players to the restricted list as soon as possible, unless there is good reason (like Eduardo Rodriguez’s situation with Detroit where it sounds like he is just MIA).

If one looks at the replies, it’s not exactly a “positive” thread, though to be honest, I share in those frustrations, as the “young Royals” who played in Toronto over those four games were a lot of fun to watch, even if they lost three out of four to the Blue Jays.

With the “restricted list” 10 now officially back on the Royals roster, what will happen to them, especially with the Royals returning for a home series against the Tampa Bay Rays after the All-Star break?

While I do not think every Royals player on that list will return scot-free, I also do not think it will just be “business as usual” for this group when they return to the clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium on July 22nd.

In this post, I make some predictions about the 10 players in terms of what will happen to them, especially over the next couple of weeks leading up to the August 2nd Trade Deadline. They will be lumped into certain categories, and I will give reasons why I think that cluster of players from the overall group of 10 falls in that particular category.

Good as Gone: Andrew Benintendi, Whit Merrfield, and Michael A. Taylor

These were three players whose name were being circulated heavily on the trade market “before” the vaccination incident. Hence, it is likely that the Royals will have even more incentive to trade these three, especially after the national embarrassment their “refusal” caused, in addition to Whit’s comments, which only put gasoline on an already raging fire among Royals and baseball social media circles.

To be honest, it wouldn’t be surprising if Benintendi and Whit are both gone before the July 22nd game against Tampa Bay, as rumors about Whit and Beni on the trade market have heated up again, with Whit being linked to the Dodgers and Beni the Brewers, according to MLB Trade Rumors.

The Royals do not have a whole lot of time to get a deal done, and the leverage they lost with Whit and Beni’s revelation has definitely limited their trade value (it’s hard to see any AL East being interested in giving anything of worth for either at this point). That being said, the Royals are not a team that get mentioned in “trade rumors” often, and when it does happen, there tends to be a lot of truth behind those possible scenarios. The fact that the Dodgers and Brewers popped out of nowhere could be a telling sign that Whit and Beni may be on the way to Los Angeles and Milwaukee, respectively, after the All-Star game.

As for Taylor, he was being linked with the Yankees prior to his injury (due to him pitching in a blowout) and being place on the restricted list before the Jays series. While Taylor has been a pleasant surprise for the Royals the past two years, this probably is his peak (especially offensively), and the Royals would be better off seeking something, even if it may be a modest package in return. Nate Eaton held his own in centerfield in Toronto, and the arrival of Atlanta’s Drew Waters, who would slide into centerfield when he’s called up, also makes Taylor expendable.

Possible Trade Candidates: Hunter Dozier, Brad Keller, and Cam Gallagher

Of these three, prior to being put on the restricted list, the only one I would say had a “serious” chance of being traded was Gallagher, who seems superfluous with MJ Melendez and Salvador Perez on the roster. On the other hand I figured Gallagher wouldn’t be moved until “after” the season, especially with Perez’s health still a major question mark.

While Dozier and Keller aren’t necessarily long-term building blocks, I figured they could be contributors for at least the remainder of this year and maybe next season, as they both have had decent bounce-back campaigns after rough 2021 performances.

Now though, I am not so sure about the three.

Dozier perhaps should be the most expendable of the three, even if he is the hardest to move due to his contract. He doesn’t belong in the outfield or at third base, and while he does the least amount of damage at first base, there are better defensive options available on the 40-man roster (i.e. Vinnie Pasquantino and Nick Pratto).

Unfortunatelty, he doesn’t become a free agent until 2025, and he is set to make $16.75 million combined in 2023 and 2024, which is a tough amount for any team to incur, especially for a guy who’s nearly 31-years-old. Yes, his 118 wRC+ is nice, but he still struggles to hit for power consistently, strikes out a decent amount, and pretty much has no position in the field. It was refreshing to see Pratto make defensive plays at first that Dozier probably would’ve botched.

(Plus Pratto’s home run swing was pretty to watch as well.)

As for Keller, while he is nearly at his fWAR mark (1.0) from a year ago (1.1 in 2021) , he has one more year left in arbitration and will be a free agent after 2023. It seems like the Royals tried to negotiate an extension prior to 2021, but they couldn’t come to an agreement, and thankfully, it was the best for the Royals, as Keller was pretty horrid in 2021 (5.39 ERA).

It would be nice to see what Keller could do under a new pitching coach or development program, but it’s likely that Keller will be a free agent anyways, so any gains would only be realized for a season, if that, in Kansas City.

As for Gallagher, he’s a great framing catcher and he is a much better hitter than other backup options (Sebastian Rivero and Freddy Fermin who did well behind the plate, but not so much AT the plate). However, it would be better off for the Royals to bite the bullet with Rivero or Fermin for the time being and see what they can get for Gallagher, even if it may be a lower-level prospect.

Demotion Candidates: Kyle Isbel and Dylan Coleman

I say “candidates” because I am not sure the Royals will do this automatically.

Though Isbel has struggled with his bat (he is hitting .223 with a 62 wRC+), he has been one of the Royals’ best defensive outfielders this season (even better than Taylor surprisingly, who won a Gold Glove last year). As for Coleman, the struggles of Joel Payamps and Wyatt Mills in games three and four of the Blue Jays series illustrate the need for bullpen help in Kansas City.

Now though, I am not sure that Isbel and Coleman should feel safe with their spots on the Royals roster as of Tuesday.

As stated before, Eaton looked pretty solid both on a defensive and offensive end, with his first hit a game-clinching home run in game one of the Jays series (their only win of the series).

But when compared to Isbel, Eaton’s Omaha metrics look a whole lot better frankly, even if Eaton’s sample size is smaller.

Eaton has 13 home runs combined in 76 games between Northwest Arkansas and Omaha this year. As for Isbel in Omaha in 2021? He had 15 in 451 plate appearances. And Eaton had 19 stolen bases in the same number of games, while Isbel had 22. Thus, one could argue that Eaton’s power-speed combo is greater than Isbel’s (even if Eaton may strikeout just as much if not more). If Isbel doesn’t get off to a good start after the All-Star break, JJ Picollo could call back up Eaton sooner rather than later (at the expense of Isbel of course).

As for Coleman, his ERA looks nice at 3.13 and he’s been better over the past month. However, his K/BB ratio is pretty paltry at 1.36 (2.00 is average) and his 4.88 FIP and 4.51 xERA are much less impressive. Surprisingly, Coleman’s fWAR is -0.2, which shows that he’s actually been below average this year for the Royals.

The Royals may give him more opportunities, just because they don’t have a whole lot of options. But if the Royals perhaps acquire a reliever in a Beni or Whit or Taylor trade? Coleman could be the one that goes down to Omaha as a result.

Safe on the Active Roster (for now): MJ Melendez and Brady Singer

Without a doubt, the news of Melendez and Singer being unvaccinated and being put on the restricted list was not just surprising but disappointing as well. Both players are critical keys to the Royals’ future and have been showing positive signs of growth this year in 2022. Thus, to see them miss the Toronto series was unfortunate, especially since it would have been nice to see them play with the other young Royals players.

However, while their decision certainly hurt in the moment, it’s unlikely that the Royals will do anything with the two as of now, albeit for different reasons.

When it comes to Melendez, one thing I respected about him was that he continued to support his younger teammates in their MLB debuts. If you check out his Twitter, Melendez was constantly retweeting Royals Tweets and giving his own words of encouragement to many players whom Melendez played with in Northwest Arkansas and Omaha (and even in Wilmington, in Pratto’s case).

To compare, Whit Merrifield didn’t tweet anything about the young group of players (not even a “congratulations”). Hunter Dozier actually deactivated his Twitter account. While Melendez showed leadership and support in lieu of his mistake, Whit and Doz doubled down on their own “self”, another reason why I think the Royals will get rid of them sooner rather than later (though it will be a lot tougher to do so with Doz due to his contract).

As for Singer, Royals fans didn’t see that kind of Melendez “cheering” on social media (he doesn’t have an active Twitter). Furthermore, the jury is still out on Singer’s ultimate outlook in Kansas City.

Since being drafted in 2018, he has gone through his own share of ups and downs, mostly due to his stubbornness to incorporate a third pitch with regularity.Because of this reluctance to change his approach, Singer has not endeared himself to Royals fans over the past couple of years.

That being said, the Royals are in a tough spot pitching-wise. Jon Heasley is already on the IL after seeing a massive velocity drop, and Daniel Lynch returned to the IL after re-aggravating a blister in his start against Toronto. Angel Zerpa had a solid start, but he probably benefited from a little BABIP luck (the average exit velocity on all his batted balls was over 98 MPH).

The Royals need quality starting pitchers who can go at least five to six innings. And Singer fits that bill, as he is posting a 4.02 ERA and 3.94 xERA over 14 appearances (11 starts) and 71.2 IP this year. Thus, it is likely that the Royals will continue to keep Singer in the rotation for the remainder of this year, and probably next, because of Kansas City’s issues with pitching effectiveness, especially from starting pitchers.

Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images

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