Recapping the “Winter Meetings”: Mondesi; Draft Lottery; Rule 5; and What’s Next for the Royals?

We’ve concluded the 2022 edition of the MLB Winter Meetings, which was finalized with the Rule 5 Draft being conducted this afternoon. I figured it would be good to do just a quick recap of some of the significant events on the Royals’ end from the past four days.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t as exciting for Royals fans as it was for those who follow the Phillies, Mets, or Yankees.

That was especially evident in this Tweet that highlighted the media attendance of Yankees manager Aaron Boone’s press conference compared to new Royals manager Matt Quatraro’s, which happened simultaneously and in the same room, ironically.

Oof, if that isn’t the perfect metaphor for the Royals’ offseason, I don’t know what is.

This winter has definitely been a shining example of the growing financial gap between the big market clubs (Philadelphia, both New York clubs, Texas, etc.) and the small market ones (Kansas City, Cincinnati, and Oakland, especially). It has gotten so bad that former MLB.com and KC Star Royals beat writer Jeffrey Flanagan continued to harp on the inequity in the game that’s making it less enjoyable than the NFL, where salary cap restrictions exist (which makes it easier for small market teams).

I am not sure if it’s the ONLY solution, but it certainly would help. MLB is the only American professional sport without a salary cap of some kind (the luxury tax system is a joke). If this trend continues, we’re going to see something very similar to European soccer really soon (i.e. a clear top and the rest of the teams far behind due to financial constraints).

Anyways, let’s focus away from the grim stuff about baseball (or at least less grim) and focus on some Royals-related news items from the past few days.


Royals Avoid Arbitration With Adalberto Mondesi

After the Royals settled with Ryan O’Hearn for $1.4 million earlier in the offseason, Kansas City announced another agreement, this time with oft-injured, but talented infielder Adalberto Mondesi.

Mondesi was entering his last year of arbitration this offseason at the age of 28, which is crazy because it feels like he has been in the organization forever. He has flashed some potential in his Royals career, especially during the 2018 and 2019 seasons, during which he accumulated a five fWAR over a 177-game sample.

Unfortunately, he hasn’t stayed healthy enough to put it all together for a long period of time. The most games he has played in a season was 102 in 2019, and he has only played in 50 games total over the past two years.

The Royals and Mondesi agreed to a one-year, $3.045 million deal, according to KC Star Royals beat writer Lynn Worthy in what could be his “swan song” season in Kansas City.

Mondesi hasn’t quite lived up to his top prospect billing as a Royal since debuting in the postseason in 2015. That being said, it’s clear that the Royals are not viewing him as a franchise cornerstone by any means (which wasn’t the case in previous seasons).

The Royals seem intent on playing Bobby Witt, Jr. at shortstop for the time being (Quatraro emphasized that during his interviews at the Winter Meetings). They also have a glut of solid middle infielders on their roster, including Nicky Lopez, Michael Massey, and Maikel Garcia. The Royals do not need to play Mondesi everyday to be successful, which is a good thing for both the Royals and Mondesi’s health, especially after only playing 15 games in 2022 due to an ACL injury.

I know some Royals fans were averse to bringing Mondesi back, due to his inability to stay off the IL, especially over the past two years.

As for me, I really think this could be a nice breakout season for him, even if it means a utility role where he is only playing three to four times a week. Mondesi could especially fill in well at third base on a semi-regular basis, as he obviously has the defensive ability to play there, but it wouldn’t require as much on his body as a middle infield position.

And if that happens, then JJ Picollo can flip Mondesi for some prospects around the trade deadline. That wouldn’t be bad for a guy making barely over $3 million dollars (which basically would equate to roughly 0.3-0.5 fWAR).


Royals Drop in Draft Lottery

The Royals entered the inaugural MLB Draft Lottery on Tuesday night with the fifth-best odds. In the old draft format, the Royals would have had the 5th overall pick. The change in format though gave the Royals a chance to perhaps snag the first overall pick, even though they were not baseball’s worst team.

Unfortunately for Kansas City, the draft did NOT go as hoped…

Dropping from the fifth to the eighth pick is definitely disappointing, especially considering the WAR implications it can have, as former Royals Farm Report contributor Patrick Brennan pointed out.

Granted, the Royals have drafted in this range recently, so it’s not like it’s necessarily new territory.

They drafted Connecticut prep pitcher Frank Mozzicato seventh overall in 2021 and Virginia Tech outfielder Gavin Cross ninth last season. Plus, the Royals tend to do better in the later rounds, or under-slotting so they can maximize their value with their compensation or post-first-round picks.

Nonetheless, it would’ve been nice for Picollo to start off his tenure as the top Royals executive with the number one overall pick.


Royals Lose No One in Rule 5; Gain One (In Minor League Portion)

In order to select someone in the Rule 5 Draft, which took place Wednesday afternoon, an MLB club has to have an open roster spot on the 40-man. The Royals had a full 40-man entering Wednesday, and unfortunately for those fans who were hoping for the Royals to make a selection, Picollo and his team didn’t DFA anyone on the 40-man Wednesday to make space for a possible Rule 5 pick.

As Worthy pointed out, the Royals did not select anyone in the Rule 5 draft. But thankfully for them, no one from their organization was selected.

Going into Wednesday’s draft, there was a group of prospects in the system that I thought had a high likelihood of being selected, particularly C/CI Logan Porter and LHP TJ Sikkema.

The pair did not get selected by another organization though, which means that the Royals and their player development team will get to work with them for at least one more season (unless they get traded or released, which seems unlikely considering their talent).

While the Royals did not select anyone in the MLB portion of the Rule 5 draft, they had some room on the Triple-A 38-man roster to make a selection in the Minor League portion of the Rule 5 Draft.

The Minor League portion is a little bit different, and LA Dodgers blog “Dodger Blue” does a good job of explaining the differences below:

For the Minor League phase, players not protected on a 38-man Triple-A roster from the aforementioned group are also eligible to be taken. Teams with a full 38-man Triple-A roster are not permitted to make any picks.

Each player taken in the Minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft requires a $24,500 payment to be made to the original team. That’s compared to $100,000 for selections made in the Major League phase.

Another key difference between the two phases is those taken during the Minor League rounds do not need to remain on a team’s 26-man roster or be offered back to the original club for $50,000 if attempting to clear them through waivers.

“How Minor League Phase Of Rule 5 Draft Works” by Matthew Moreno; Dodger Blue

The Royals did make one selection in the Minor League Rule 5 Draft: Shervyen Newton, a shortstop who has mostly played in the Mets organization but was acquired by the Phillies in Minor League free agency a month ago.

Newton has some ceiling, but struggles with strikeouts, as he struck out 35.4 percent of the time in 378 plate appearances as a 23-year-old in High-A, according to Fangraphs. Thus, he’s a project that has a low likelihood of making the Majors, even with an enticing skill set.

Here is a video of him hitting a bomb back in May when he was still playing low-A St. Lucie, prior to his promotion High-A Brooklyn (where he struggled).

For a guy who doesn’t have to stay on the MLB 40-man, I think the Royals can get creative with Newton in terms of his development.

The Royals player development team, led by Drew Saylor, has thrived with hitters with profiles such as Newton. For example, they did wonders with Drew Waters after he came over from Atlanta (Waters also struggled with strikeouts). Plus, if you look at his year-by-year metrics, Newton has improved after getting some experience at a particular level.

While I think he repeats High-A initially, I could see him making his way to Double-A Northwest Arkansas after a couple of months. Hopefully, Saylor and Co. will have worked with him enough so he won’t struggle so much in his initial stint in Double-A, as he did in previous promotions in the Mets organizations.

If Newton makes the Majors, that will be something to celebrate for sure. The odds are certainly stacked against him, especially for a 23-year-old position player signed out of the Netherlands who hasn’t advanced beyond High-A ball (I do wonder if he has connections to fellow Dutch prospect Darryl Collins in the Royals system).

But of all the players the Royals could’ve drafted, I think Newton fits the Royals’ development strengths the best.


Is This It for the Royals This Offseason?

While big market teams were wheeling and dealing for free agents during the Meetings, the Royals stayed pat and seemed to be transparent about their approach.

In an interview with MLB Network, Picollo re-emphasized the need to focus on their young players and player development, not necessarily spending “big” on free agents, especially for a club coming off a 67-95 season.

As expected, impatient Kansas City sports fans, taking a rare break from KC Chiefs content (probably because of the third-straight loss to the Bengals and they needed somewhere else to direct their anger), decided to think that the offseason was “over” and that Picollo has already failed as GM, even though we’re not even in Mid-December.

(I am not going to paste any of those Tweets because I don’t want to give any special attention to those fans who are back to complaining about whatever Chiefs third-string lineman failed them last week. As you can tell, I don’t give a hoot about the Chiefs or the NFL in general.)

Now, as a Royals fan and season ticket holder, am I a little bummed that the Royals didn’t make a splash this week? Sure. Signing free agents is always more fun than NOT signing ones.

But I also would rather not get over-hyped for guys who probably didn’t deserve it in the first place.

As I look back on it, we probably as a collective got way too excited about Mike Minor, Carlos Santana, and Andrew Benintendi, even though they ultimately didn’t have much of an impact in their short tenures in Kansas City.

I would rather focus on how Bobby Witt, Jr., Vinnie Pasquantino, MJ Melendez, and the young pitchers will develop under the new coaching staff in 2023 rather than get excited about a retread like Robbie Grossman or Matt Duffy, who probably would be gone in six or fewer months anyways.

Royals fans constantly chirped about wanting John Sherman to build the team more like the Guardians, Rays, and A’s (i.e. small-market teams who won despite their circumstances) this offseason. Welp, now we got that, first with the coaching staff, and then with the limited spending.

That being said, the offseason isn’t done just yet.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Picollo and the Royals be patient on the market, and pounce on the right opportunity when it comes up. A flaw of Dayton Moore was that he probably made big offseason splashes too early, and missed out on deals that may have been better fits (and less expensive to boot).

Picollo showed that he can make deals close to the wire, even while working under Moore (remember the Trade Deadline?)

Let’s give Picollo and the Royals front office at least another month-and-a-half and see who he brings (and for how much) before just automatically saying he is “Dayton 2.0”.

Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

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