The MLB Winter Meetings officially kicked off today, and there were plenty of moves around the league that caught the attention of baseball fans.
The first big story was the announcement that the New York Mets, in response to losing Jacob deGrom to the Texas Rangers in free agency, signed reigning Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander on a record-setting two-year deal.
If that wasn’t enough, more free agency news broke out of the NL East, though this time the news moved to Philadelphia.
In a bit of a surprising move, the reigning NL Pennant winners announced that they signed former National and Dodger infielder Trea Turner to an 11-year, $300 million deal, making him one of the highest-paid position players in the game.
Safe to say, the Winter Meetings have already made an already warm “hot stove” season even more scorching, much to the delight of hardcore baseball fans who have been craving some big roster news this offseason.
Unfortunately, for the Royals, it was a calm first day of Winter Meetings, though there were some minor things to report, which is the purpose of this edition of the “Reporter Jottings.”
Let’s recap some Royals-related news from today, as well as in the past week, leading up to this important week of the MLB offseason prior to Spring Training.
JJ Picollo Reinforces Need for Pitching This Offseason
In an interview with MLB Network audio, Royals general manager JJ Picollo emphasized the need for the Royals to target and build pitching depth this winter. However, it didn’t sound like the Royals were going to make a deGrom or Verlander-esque move anytime soon.
Picollo has previously emphasized this offseason that they were not going to be spending big, especially after a year in which they went 65-97 and finished last in the AL Central.
That said, it sounds like the Royals could be active in the starting pitcher free agency market, even though it may be more on the bargain-bin end. I could see Picollo and the Royals front office perhaps waiting closer to Spring Training, perhaps in late January or early February to make a splash when most of the “hot” free agent starting pitchers have been signed already, and the market has cooled (thus making remaining pitchers more affordable).
While that isn’t necessarily encouraging for “success-starved” Royals fans, it does allow the Royals to perhaps find a starting pitcher or two that is more in their price range. Zack Greinke still remains a target, though judging by how the pitching market has fared thus far, he could earn more than the $13 million he earned last season. That was a steep price already, and it could be even more difficult to stomach for a team that is still a year or two away from competing for a playoff spot in the AL Central.
Regardless of who the Royals target and acquire pitching-wise, it seems like the club is confident that their young pitchers will take strides in 2023. That was evident by Matt Quatraro’s interview with MLB Network, as he talked highly about the young pitching talent in the organization, and feels like they could take a step forward after spending the last couple of seasons taking their lumps at the Major League level.
I still think the Royals make some kind of movement during the Winter Meetings, be it a trade, extension of a young player, or perhaps a more under-the-radar free agent signing. However, it’s unlikely that Kansas City makes as much noise as Philadelphia, New York, or any other big market club during this week.
Could the Royals Part Ways With MJ Melendez?
The Royals generated a lot of excitement over this past season, primarily through their young position player core of Bobby Witt, Jr., Vinnie Pasquantino, and MJ Melendez.
Melendez happened to be the worst of the trio, as his fWAR of -0.2 paled in comparison to Pasquantino (1.5) and Witt (2.3), according to Fangraphs. That said, so much of what brought Melendez’s value down was his lackluster defense behind the plate. Take that rough-catching defense (and framing) away, move him to the outfield, and he becomes a more valuable player, with some All-Star upside, much like Vinnie and Bobby.
There’s no question that going into this offseason, Witt and Pasquantino are seen as “foundations” of this Royals lineup for the upcoming 2023 season. On the other hand, it’s been a little hazier for Melendez, especially with him sharing the catching position with Salvador Perez, who recently inked an extension prior to the 2021 season.
Melendez’s future in Kansas City was particularly made even murkier lately by rumors that teams have been inquiring about his availability this offseason.
I am not sure if the Royals have any serious desire to ship Melendez out, especially after finishing third on the team in home runs (18) and third in RBI (62) a season ago. Furthermore, he finished with the same wRC+ as Witt (99), but actually posted an xwOBA (.332) that was not just 22 points higher than his own wOBA (.310), but also 19 points higher than Witt’s xwOBA as well (.313).
What does that mean?
It could signal that Melendez could be due for an even bigger breakout in his sophomore season, especially with the shift going away (somewhat) in 2023. Melendez had the sixth-highest pull rate (44.9 percent) of Royals hitters with 100 or more plate appearances a season ago, and his BABIP (.258) was the third-lowest of that group as well.
It may seem easy for the Royals to trade away Melendez for an established starting pitcher, especially since he struggled so immensely defensively behind the plate in his rookie campaign.
The signs are hinting though that Melendez could be an even bigger force offensively for the Royals next season.
If Not MJ, Then What About Salvy?
While the Melendez “trade” news was only mildly surprising, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic recently brought up some interesting trade “ideas” that involved Royals franchise player.
Last week, this trade possibility was further fueled by 610 AM Radio morning host Bob Fescoe on his daily morning show late in the week (I couldn’t remember if it was Thursday or Friday).
Fescoe tends to be more “Royals-focused” than other talk show hosts in the KC metro area (whether it’s 610 or 810 AM, their direct competitor). He also has been more “forgiving” of the Royals than most talk show hosts, even during the rough Dayton Moore era.
That being said, he seemed to sense that things could be fuzzier for Salvy when it comes to his desire to stay in Kansas City, especially after Moore’s firing and Picollo’s decision to hire Quatraro over Pedro Grifol, who’s long been a mentor and confidant for Salvy in the Royals dugout. In addition to losing Grifol, Mike Tosar joined the White Sox assistant coaching staff this offseason as well, which leaves Salvy without two key coaches who have been so crucial to his development as a hitter (Tosar especially, as chronicled in this piece from White Sox blog “From the 108”).
The thought of trading Salvy could be intriguing for both sides.
For the Royals, they could get out of a massive contract for a player who is obviously trending in the wrong direction at 32 years old. After a record-setting season in 2021, Salvy saw his wOBA dip to .324 (a 35-point regression) and his fWAR decline to 0.5 (a drop of 1.8 wins). He will need more days off behind the plate at his age, and that isn’t exactly an easy thing to do, especially with other promising young players like Nick Pratto, Drew Waters, Kyle Isbel, and even Edward Olivares needing at-bats in 2023.
For Salvy, he could be reunited with two close mentors on the South Side, or he could find himself reunited with Moore, who is currently in the Rangers organization as a special assistant to GM (and former Royals pitcher) Chris Young. The Rangers certainly wouldn’t be shy to incur the cost for Salvy, though I’m not sure if he’s a fit with Jonah Heim currently on the Rangers roster.
I don’t think Salvy will be dealt “willingly” by Picollo, even if he has promised to be more transactional as GM.
The Royals know that they are coming off a rough season, and they need all the fan interest they can get at this time (though no announcement has been made about FanFest, which makes me think it isn’t going to happen). Trading Salvy certainly won’t bode well for casual fans, even if it could net an enticing prospect package in return.
On the other hand, Kansas City has shown an openness to move guys if they are “wanting” to move. The Royals did so with Zack Greinke back in 2010, and they did so with Whit Merrifield last summer. Both guys asked to be traded, and the front office granted their wishes.
It paid off with Greinke, as it netted the Royals Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, and Jake Odorizzi. The latter was part of the James Shields and Wade Davis deal with Tampa Bay in 2013, which as we know, was one of the final pieces that helped the Royals win two pennants and a World Series title. Whit’s deal though will still need more time to be fully evaluated. Max Castillo was a mixed bag last year, and the Royals just added Samad Taylor to the 40-man roster.
The Royals have shown to be more than cooperative to trade a player away when that player has requested it in order to at least get something in return while they still can, especially when the club is not winning.
Will Salvy waive his “10 and 5” (i.e. no-trade clause) rights and ask for a trade to Chicago to be reunited with Grifol? Will Picollo make such a trade within the division?
It’s unlikely…but not impossible.
Royals fans couldn’t say that a couple of months ago.
Photo Credit: Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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