Three Questions the Royals Need Answer Prior to Spring Training

It is officially 2023, and it’s a new year for everyone, including the Kansas City Royals.

Before I go into this post, I just wanted to thank everyone for reading and following the blog over the past year.

I wrote less in 2022 on this blog in regard to a pure words-end, as I wrote 169 posts and 310,569 words. That was down from 193 posts and 364,240 words in 2021, and 222 posts and 405,406 words in 2020. I would definitely say the professional responsibilities of my new job definitely ate into my posting a bit, especially during certain months when school can get kind of crazy (November was a down month for me posting-wise as I only wrote 11 posts in the month, which was the lowest number for me in a while).

On the other hand, I felt like the quality of posts got better, especially when it came to statistical player breakdowns.

Also, I wrote more for Pitcher List in 2022, as I contributed weekly to the Batter’s Box column, and penned 34 posts total over the past year for the Batter’s Box and Going Deep section at the site. While I enjoy my work here at the Royals Reporter, I definitely want to continue to contribute more at Pitcher List and develop more as a fantasy baseball writer. That in turn could lead to fewer posts here at Royals Reporter, especially during the offseason, though I hope to stay in that 12-16 posts-per-month range in 2023.

Regardless of the future of this site (we will be good for the upcoming 2023 season) or me as a writer, I still appreciate all those who read and follow me on Twitter. I also have some project ideas I’m brainstorming that I hope to tell more about in the coming week so stay tuned.

Anyways, with roughly a couple of months until pitchers and catchers report to camp in Surprise, Arizona, let’s take a look at three questions the Royals need to answer before Spring Training begins


Will the Royals Add Another Starting Pitcher?

Royals GM JJ Picollo promised that they would upgrade starting pitching this offseason, and he has delivered somewhat.

The Royals first signed former Rays pitcher Ryan Yarbrough on a cheap, one-year $3 million deal (on the same night they started their stadium “listening” tour), and then before the Christmas holiday, they also signed former Orioles pitcher Jordan Lyles to a two-year, $17 million deal.

While there weren’t a ton of “enticing” free-agent pitchers in the Royals’ price range, the acquisitions have gotten mixed reviews from Royals fans.

There was some hope going into the offseason that the Royals could perhaps sign pitchers like Sean Manaea or even Chris Bassitt on medium-term deals that wouldn’t hurt the franchise in the long run. But after the mega-signing of Jacob deGrom by Texas and Justin Verlander by the Mets, the starting pitcher market suddenly inflated, and targets like Manaea, Bassitt, and others suddenly became unattainable for Kansas City (or at the very least, not worth the financial risk needed to acquire them).

Picollo settling on short-term, lower AAV deals with Yarbrough and Lyles was not a bad play on his end.

Both pitchers do not break the bank on a contractual end, and they aren’t “elite” enough pitchers to block any young Royals pitchers in their organization either. Yarbrough has swingman capability (which was his role in Tampa Bay last year), and Lyles seems to be entrenched as a No. 3 guy whose main job is to eat innings, even if the Royals do not acquire any other starting pitcher this offseason.

But then again, are the Royals done? MLB Trade Rumors, based on a report from Lynn Worthy of the KC Star (in what may be his final Royals article with the star), doesn’t seem to think so.

Picollo in Worthy’s piece says they are keeping the door open to adding another starting pitcher through free agency, though no targets were mentioned specifically. According to Spotrac, Michael Wacha, Wade Miley, Dylan Bundy, Chris Archer, and Johnny Cueto are available (but flawed) free agents who most likely would agree to short-term deals to come to Kansas City (preferably of the one-year variety).

In addition, Zack Greinke remains a free agent, despite reports of talks cooling between the two after a failure to come to an agreement earlier in the offseason.

Will the Royals and Greinke eventually settle on a deal? Or will the Royals go another route in free agency to help add depth to their rotation for the upcoming 2023 season? Or will they simply stay pat, and let Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, Jon Heasley, and Brad Keller battle for the remaining two spots in the Royals rotation?

Whether the Royals get Greinke or not, I do think the Royals add another starting pitcher through free agency, even if their spot in the rotation may not be guaranteed on Opening Day.


Who Will Start at Third Base?

While the Royals have been active in adding starting and relief pitchers this offseason (the latter mostly via trade and Minor League deals), they have been relatively inactive when it comes to acquiring position players.

The only major position-player move they have made this winter has been designating Ryan O’Hearn for assignment to make room for Lyles on the 40-man roster.

Nonetheless, despite the lack of moves on a position-player end, this question remains: who will be the Royals’ starting third baseman on Opening Day?

Last year, the Royals had a revolving door at third base. It began on Opening Day with Bobby Witt, Jr., and ended with Nate Eaton, Hunter Dozier, and Nicky Lopez all getting time at the position after Witt moved to shortstop in the wake of Adalberto Mondesi’s season-ending ACL injury.

Eaton and Lopez offer defensive versatility and speed on the basepaths. However, they certainly do not offer the offensive upside to be everyday regulars at third, and they could be more valuable to the Royals in utility roles off the bench where they could play multiple positions to give key guys rest.

As for Dozier, he has flashed offensive potential at times during his career in Kansas City (2019; second half of 2021; first half of 2022). On the other hand, he is lackluster defensively at the hot corner and he may be simply a platoon bat off the bench at this point in his career as well (he did hit lefties pretty well last year).

Mondesi could be an intriguing option, as he obviously would be able to handle the position defensively, and he provides speed and power upside at the position as well. In fact, Roster Resource is predicting that he could be the Royals’ third baseman on Opening Day. That being said, Mondesi has only played in 50 games over the past two seasons, so to expect him to play 130-140 games at the hot corner may be wishful thinking, despite his immense talent.

Will the Royals find someone via a Minor League deal who could perhaps challenge for the third base position?

If so, Brian Anderson, Harold Castro, or Matt Duffy could perhaps be candidates for such a deal and opportunity in Spring Training.


Will the Royals Trade Michael A. Taylor Before Opening Day?

There have been rumors that the Royals are actively shopping Michael A. Taylor and Dozier this winter. Nothing has materialized yet, as Taylor and Dozier are still on the Royals’ roster as of January 1st.

It seems unlikely that Dozier will be traded, as teams probably aren’t interested in a player without any defensive value who has also been worth -2.0 fWAR over the past two seasons. To make matters worse, Dozier is owed $16.75 million dollars total over the next two years, according to Roster Resource payroll data. That is a lot for a guy who hasn’t been even replacement-level the past two seasons.

Taylor on the other hand is a more intriguing trade candidate, especially for clubs looking to upgrade their outfield defensively.

Here’s a look at the top centerfielders in baseball on an Outs Above Average end over the past two years, according to Baseball Savant. Notice in the table below where Taylor ranks:

Taylor is only one out behind Trent Grisham and Myles Straw, and he’s actually outperformed bigger names like Harrison Bader, Cedric Mullins, Byron Buxton, Kevin Kiermaier, and Brandon Nimmo since 2021.

Now, it is true that Taylor lags behind on a hitting end.

After all, he has only produced a wRC+ of 82 over the past two years, which isn’t great by any means. Even though he is elite defensively, it will be hard for other teams to justify everyday at-bats for Taylor with that kind of offensive production, even on a short-term basis.

That said, his wRC+ was still better than Straw and even Cody Bellinger since 2021, according to Fangraphs. And in 2022, Taylor actually posted a 90 wRC+, which was better than Brandon Marsh, Randal Grichuk, and even Grisham (in addition to Bellinger and Straw), according to Fangraphs.

Therefore, it’s possible that Taylor may have finally tapped into something on the hitting end in 2022, and he may be around league average next year, which would make his overall profile more enticing to possible trade candidates.

When one looks at available CF free agents via Spotrac, it’s a pretty grim list that won’t command much interest on the free agent market. In addition, it’s hard to justify that any of those available would be more valuable than Taylor, who will only be making $4.5 million in the final year of his two-year extension.

The Royals have been actively trying to trade Taylor for a while now, as there were plenty of rumors swirling around him at last year’s Trade Deadline. Unfortunately, no deal was able to get done, and Taylor somewhat regressed at the end of the season at the plate, according to Fangraphs splits.

Will Picollo finally be able to get a Taylor deal done, with Taylor’s value still high and either Drew Waters or Kyle Isbel sliding into the open centerfield position on Opening Day?

Or will Taylor still be the Royals starting centerfielder on Opening Day, with the hope now that he can be traded during the season or by the Trade Deadline in 2023?

Let’s hope as Royals fans it’s the former and not the latter.

Photo Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

5 thoughts on “Three Questions the Royals Need Answer Prior to Spring Training

  1. Their ability to evaluate and develop young pitchers is all that matters at this point, maybe even a few that aren’t on the KC team yet. As far as position players go, what difference does it make if the Royals win 60 or 70 games?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I mean I agree. Development is key, but going all in on guys who may be unproven isn’t necessarily always the best risk (look at Miami last year). Plus, having some veteran presence in the rotation has benefits as well, as we saw from Greinke last year. The key will be finding a guy who may be able to keep things afloat in beginning of year, but could be easily moved to pen if a young guy emerges. Depth is key.

      And I agree with you on position players. I don’t think any position player should get more than a Minor League deal at this point, and he’ll have to prove himself in Spring Training. But again, depth is important, and while some of the young guys had good starts last year, it is likely that some could go through some growing pains at the plate in ’23, which could require them some time in Omaha for short spells.

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  2. I think keeping MAT in CF is important for the first half of the 2023 season. With the corners shaky at best defensively they need someone with defensive excellence in CF to aid the young pitching with settling in at the Major League level.
    As for 3B, I think with the money owed to Mondesi and Dozier, those two will get the most starts over there. Then they have utility types like Eaton and Lopez who can play late in games or if injuries occur.
    I think the most interesting looming issue is what to do with the 1B/COF/C/DH spot come 2024. In ’24 Tyler Gentry and Nick Pratto should join the mix with MJM, Salvy, and Vinnie. Does Pratto move to RF so Salvy, MJM, and Gentry can slot into DH, C, and LF? Until Salvy’s contract expires it looks like Vinnie needs to be the everyday first-baseman.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not as averse to MAT to begin the year as some, for as you have said, he is solid defensively, and I think Isbel and Waters still need to prove themselves a bit (plus, I think they may be better in the corners, especially Waters). I think if one or both of them emerge, and MAT continues to show growth hitting-wise, he could return something. As hestiant as they have been to trade him, the Royals do like to trade guys in the final years of the deal.

      That wouldn’t surprise me at all. In all honestly, I don’t like Doz there. I would rather have Doz be a right-handed bat who could play first with Vinnie DH’ing in that spot. Doz has proven he can’t handle third at all. Mondesi could handle third, but as I wrote, I’m not sure you feel like you can trust a guy who’s played fewer than 60 games over the past two years. Lopez certainly deserves that utility role for defense mostly, but I would like to see what Eaton is capable of, if not as an everyday 3B, then maybe as a Whit type who bounces between OF and 3B depending on the pitcher and matchup.

      Pratto is going to be a tough situation. He’s a Gold Glove first baseman, but then again, you have Vinnie there. I think Pratto could be average in RF, but it seems like a waste of his talents. He seems like the odd man out (and thus trade material), but I think you hold onto him just in case something happens and you need him to step in.

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