Three Thoughts About the Royals’ Moves at the Non-Tender Deadline

The MLB non-tender deadline was on Friday night, and as expected, many teams made a flurry of moves, with the biggest one of note being the Dodgers’ non-tendering of outfielder and 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger.

The Royals had some difficult decisions to make by the non-tender deadline, with 10 arbitration-eligible players entering this offseason. JJ Picollo and the Royals front office were able to take care of one of those arbitration-eligible players on Tuesday, as Ryan O’Hearn agreed to a $1.4 million contract.

However, relief pitcher Amir Garrett, infielder Adalberto Mondesi, and starting pitcher Brad Keller appeared to be tough decisions for the Royals leading up to the November 18th deadline. That dilemma was especially amplified when one considers what they are projected to make this offseason, the fact that they’re one year away from free agency, and their statuses as veteran players on a clearly rebuilding team.

After the Friday deadline passed though, it appears as if the Royals are ready to run it back with many of the same pieces from the 2022 squad, at least initially this offseason.

For a Royals fanbase that is starved for this club to be more transactional, the lack of non-tender moves has received some backlash. This is especially true with fans who are skeptical that Picollo will offer the Royals organization much more than previous GM and president of baseball operations Dayton Moore.

Did the Royals do enough leading up to the non-tender deadline? Furthermore, with the 40-man roster initially set as baseball prepares for the MLB Winter Meetings in a couple of weeks, what are some things Royals fans can expect from Picollo and the Royals front office during that important time frame of the offseason?


Brentz and Webb Could Likely Be Back (Albeit in the Minors Primarily in 2023)

Jake Brentz and Nathan Webb were the two primary roster cuts from the Royals’ 40-man roster. It’s not surprising considering the injury issues both pitchers struggled through a year ago.

After appearing in 72 games and posting a 3.66 ERA in 64 IP in his rookie season in 2021, Brentz struggled at the beginning of the year in 2022. He only made eight appearances and posted an astronomically high 23.63 ERA in 5.1 IP in his sophomore season.

It was obvious something health-wise was affecting him on the mound, and Brentz eventually landed on the 60-Day IL due to an elbow issue. Later that July, he went under the knife for Tommy John surgery, and he was expected to be out until mid-to-late July in 2023.

As for Nate Webb, the Lee Summit North product was a surprise addition to the 40-man roster last year, especially since he hadn’t pitched above High-A prior to 2022. Unfortunately, he didn’t pitch until early July due to an undisclosed injury, and his return to Minor League ball was not impressive at all.

Webb primarily pitched in Double-A Northwest Arkansas, and in 20 appearances and 24.1 IP, he posted a 9.57 ERA, 5.85 FIP, and K/BB ratio of 1.50. That is a far cry from the 4.41 ERA, 2.58 FIP, and 5.11 K/BB ratio he generated in 32.2 IP with the River Bandits in 2021.

There is no question about Webb’s stuff, as he pumps an upper 90s four-seamer that can be effective when he’s commanding it properly.

On the flip side though, that command wasn’t consistent in 2022, especially in Double-A ball. That is evident in not just his K/BB ratio, but his high HR/9 rate as well. His 1.37 HR/9 rate was 0.82 points higher than a year ago in High-A, which was not a promising development, especially for a reliever.

Considering the Royals’ reliever issues in 2022, it makes sense why the Royals would non-tender both of them, especially with their outlook questionable at the MLB level in 2023. That said, it does seem likely that they will return on Minor League deals (especially Brentz), which will keep them in the Royals organization this coming Spring.

It also wouldn’t be the first time the Royals have done this, as they non-tendered Kyle Zimmer after the 2019 season, and Richard Lovelady last season before bringing them back on Minor League deals.

Considering Brentz will be out for most of the season in 2023, and Webb is coming off a rough Minor League campaign, it seems unlikely that either pitcher will be claimed off of waivers by another MLB team.


Garrett and Mondesi Could Be Trade Candidates at Some Point

The decision to tender contracts to Garrett and Mondesi seems a bit superfluous, especially at the surface level.

In relation to the 30-year-old Garrett, the Royals already have lefties in the bullpen such as Lovelady and Anthony Misiewicz, who looked good after coming over from Seattle (sans a few home runs allowed). While Garrett kept the ball in play (he didn’t allow a single home run), his control issues (6.35 BB/9; 1.53 K/BB ratio) were concerning developments in his first season in Kansas City.

As for Mondesi, Royals fans certainly know about his talent. Unfortunately, his ability to stay healthy has pretty much limited any kind of value he gives to this team, both in the short and long term.

Both players are also set to be free agents after the 2023 season to boot.

Therefore, it makes me wonder if Picollo and the Royals front office are holding onto the pair, not because they will be major contributors to the squad in 2023, but rather because they could be good trade capital to have as the Royals head into the Winter Meetings.

Both players are projected to make $5.6 million combined next season, according to Roster Resource. While Garrett is coming off a rough season, he at least proved to be a force against left-handed batters last year, which can be seen in lefty-righty splits.

As for Mondesi, he does have position versatility, and he has been able to provide stellar defense at multiple parts of the infield. While his offense certainly is not dependable (he strikes out way too often and produces lackluster contact rates), he’s at least a defensive and speed standout who could benefit an MLB club in a utility role off the bench.

The only issue with Mondesi in Kansas City next year is that there is a lot of depth in the infield. The Royals already have Bobby Witt, Jr., Michael Massey, Nicky Lopez, Nate Eaton, Hunter Dozier, Samad Taylor, and Maikel Garcia on the 40-man roster who can play spots in the infield. That infield depth could be a primary reason why the Royals may push Mondesi into a trade at the Winter Meetings.

It’s not out of the question to think that the Royals could package the oft-injured, but high-upside Mondesi with a more highly-rated prospect in the Royals system, such as Nick Pratto or Nick Loftin, to seal the deal. That could help net the Royals some pitching help, or perhaps a more established third baseman, which they are currently lacking.

Garrett and Mondesi are on the roster for now, but I do not think either guy should be getting too comfortable in Kansas City this winter. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them playing in other uniforms come Spring Training.


Is a New Pitching Coach on the Way? (Which Explains Keller Staying?)

I thought the Royals would’ve announced a pitching coach hire by the non-tender deadline, but alas, the Royals’ pitching coach remains vacant as of this weekend.

Just because a hire hasn’t been announced, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that a serious candidate has emerged and has already met with pitchers in the organization. If that is the case, that could explain why the Royals tendered Keller a contract for 2023, even though he is expected to come with a high price tag, and will be a free agent after the 2023 season.

The Royals have kept a much tighter lid on their pitching coach interview process in comparison to their managerial search. While interviews with candidates were supposed to happen this week, who those candidates are has been sort of a mystery, as no major names have emerged in the Royals’ gossip circles.

That said, it is likely that any pitching coach candidate has met with the major pitchers in the Royals organization, and I would imagine that Keller would be a priority in terms of meeting this week, especially considering his questionable contractual status heading into Friday’s deadline. If a serious pitching coach candidate didn’t think Keller could contribute to this rotation and/or bullpen in 2023, I think the Royals would’ve heard that, and made a decision that would reflect that thinking.

Instead, Keller is still on the Royals roster, which makes me think that a new pitching coach can help fix the issues Keller struggled with over the past couple of seasons under former pitching coach Cal Eldred.

There’s no question that Keller has potential, even if he can be a bit of a home run machine. Just a couple of years ago, after a stellar 2020, Keller was being floated as a potential extension candidate, especially with his ability to eat innings and throw with high velocity.

It’s amazing how two rough seasons can change the narrative quite quickly, especially for a pitcher.

I get Keller is a polarizing guy for a lot of Royals fans, especially after he was demoted to the bullpen toward the end of the 2022 season. If the Royals add anyone to the rotation in free agency, or if Zack Greinke returns, Keller will have to earn a spot in the rotation in Spring Training, especially with younger pitchers such as Daniel Lynch, Jon Heasley, and Kris Bubic expected to improve under new pitching tutelage.

That said, the Royals’ faith in Keller could be a sign that a quality pitching coach is on the way to Kansas City…

And that would be something to celebrate as Royals fans, especially after a week of questionable roster moves.

Photo Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

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