Perez's homer heroics salvage a win. Plus, despite the losses, the kids are looking good and a look at who is likely to be on the move ahead of Tuesday's trade deadline.
How is it possible, after all these years, that we are still surprised by anything Salvador Perez does on the baseball field?
I mean, the guy was supposed to still be recovering from the thumb surgery that sidelined him a couple of months ago. Instead, he—as usual—accelerated his recovery timeline, took a few reps at Triple-A on a rehab assignment and returned to the lineup to hit three-run bombs.
The one on Friday, on his third plate appearance in his first game back, was on a 100 MPH high fastball from Gerrit Cole that gave the Royals a 5-3 lead.
Come on! If a hitter swings, that pitch is supposed to be missed. Who catches up to triple-digit heat on the upper edge of the zone?
I guess, one Salvy Perez. That’s who.
Naturally, Perez dingered too early on Friday (that’s kind of a soccer joke), which gave the Yankees plenty of time to stage a rally. On Sunday, the three-run dinger came at the perfect time that gave the Royals the lead that they were actually able to hang on to as they salvaged at least one victory out of the four game set.
This one was on a sinker that, on a 1-2 count, wasn’t low enough. Perez isn’t missing that one.
Hey, if you don’t want to throw Perez another slider off the plate in that situation, it’s your wake. The dinger saved us from an entirely winless weekend. The Royals had opportunities in two of the previous games. It was nice to almost throw another one away, but pull it back.
I really don’t think it’s a coincidence after getting shutout in three consecutive games mid-week that, with Perez back in the lineup, the Royals plated 15 runs in their next three games. The offense flows through Salvy. It’s a fact.
How about the fifth inning in Sunday’s game? The Royals plated four runs in the inning with most of the damage coming from the kids. In fact, the kids gave some of the best plate appearances we’ve seen this year in this series. It’s just some seriously impressive stuff.
Start with Vinnie Pasquantino. He jumped ahead 2-0 by spitting on a pair of sinkers. He got a bit aggressive on the next two pitches to bring the count even, but then laid off a low curve and another low sinker to lead off with a walk.
I was a bit disappointed he didn’t rocket a couple of baseballs over that stupid right field wall this weekend. But he reached base seven times in the four games. On Sunday, he saw 29 pitches in his five plate appearances. Four times, he saw six pitches. In the other plate appearance, he saw five.
From there, how about MJ Melendez? With runners on first and second and nobody out, he watched two sinkers nail the bottom of the zone to fall behind 0-2. He expanded the zone to fight off a high sinker on the third pitch. That alone felt like a minor victory. It was a swing-and-miss purpose pitch. He then watched a couple of tough pitches go from the lefty Montgomery to even the count 2-2.
A foul on an inside sinker set him up for a curve down in the zone. Melendez hung with it and guided it back up the middle for a looping single. The bases were loaded.
Just another fantastic plate appearance from Melendez, who had plenty in this series.
The next batter, Nick Pratto, inside-outs an elevated sinker to left, just out of the reach of a diving Benintendi. It was the carbon copy of the pitch he fouled off the previous pitch. Again, just some nice hitting.
Then there was Maikel Garcia. Naturally, I hated that he squared around on the first pitch. Not surprised, though. That’s just Royals baseball anymore. (That doesn’t make it right.) What I did enjoy was how he pulled first baseman Anthony Rizzo in about 30 feet from the plate, proceeded to show bunt again and pulled the bat back and swung away, fouling off a sinker.
I just kind of like the ide.
Sadly, he squared again and fouled off a high, hanging curve for the second strike. After taking a ball, he rode an outside sinker right down the first base line for a run-scoring double. He didn’t try to do too much with the pitch. He just went with it. More nice hitting.
The Royals were overmatched this weekend. They’re a young team that’s just not very good at the moment. The Yankees…as much as it pains me to write, are fantastic this year. But there were plenty of signs from the young bats in the lineup that the future is bright. Don’t mistake this for a “they battled the big boys in New York” trope you would get from the broadcast. Solid baseball is solid baseball. If they were playing a team that wasn’t quite as relentless as the Yankees, it’s possible they split the series. Hell, they could’ve won three out of four. The kids just ran straight into a baseballing buzzsaw.
They’re on pace for 98 losses, dropped three brutal games to the Yankees, and I really don’t think I’m drinking the Kool-Aid, but I think these next two months are going to be fun to watch. The kids will be alright.
Roster math is hard
As someone who has advocated for the Royals to be active sellers ahead of the deadline—much more than they’ve actually done to this point—perhaps it wouldn’t be fair for me to subsequently bemoan the defensive alignments utilized by Mike Matheny. For example, since the departure of Andrew Benintendi ahead of this weekend’s series against the Yankees, the Royals have deployed Kyle Isbel, Hunter Dozier and Nick Pratto in left. Right field has been patrolled by Pratto, Ryan O’Hearn and MJ Melendez. Of the five players rotating in the corners, only Isbel is a true outfielder.
Hunter Dozier has what the front office thinks is positional versatility in that he can work at third, first and right field. But is it really positional versatility if he’s below average literally anywhere on the field where he stands with a glove on his left hand?
Ryan O’Hearn occasionally patrols right field. He does so infrequently enough he’s not truly exposed. However, the fact that he does so at all is confounding.
Sure, it doesn’t help that Edward Olivares is on the disabled list with a quad strain. He’s at least a known quantity to where you could pair him with Isbel and (for now) Taylor to form a legitimate major league outfield.
The bottom line here is the Royals have somehow boxed themselves in with a plethora of 1B/DH types. They’re also carrying three catchers with the return of Perez. It’s like that roster flexibility they had at the first of the year just kind of turned to stone. Sure, there’s still flexibility there, but it’s not the proper kind. It’s more like, “Well, the rules say we have to field nine players, so here we go.” It hasn’t really hurt them at this point—the constant rotation of players in various positions means no one is overexposed—but it’s still just confounding to look at a roster with Dozier AND O’Hearn (and Cam Gallagher) along with Melendez, Pratto and Pasquantino.
I know who I’d choose to play on the regular.
Speaking of outfielders who could be useful, I’m incredibly enthusiastic by the start Drew Waters has made in Omaha. Since arriving in the organization, all the guy has done is rake. In 65 plate appearances entering Sunday, he’s hit .345/.446/.655 with a 189 wRC+, meaning he’s produced at a level that’s 89 percent better than the average Triple-A ballplayer. A lot of this probably has to do with a little fresh air gained from a change of organizational scenery. Well, that’s probably most of it. Drew Saylor and company have worked wonders, but to completely transform Waters just a few weeks into his Royals career would be a bit of a stretch. Still, a promising start is a promising start. If he can continue to incorporate the teachings of Saylor and company and produce, you have to think the confidence will only grow from here.
Let’s make a deal
The trade deadline is at 5 p.m. Central Time on Tuesday. The Royals got a jump on the deals earlier this month when they shipped Carlos Santana to Seattle. They followed that last week with Andrew Benintendi going to New York. They have more players they should be trading in the next day.
I’ve ordered the names below by who I think would be most likely to be dealt. That’s not to say all—or any—will be traded. I was a bit perplexed by J.J. Picollo’s comments following the Waters trade.
“We don’t feel the extreme need that we have to move any players. We feel like we’re in a good spot. We know where the interest lies from other teams right now. Now, it’s a matter of them assessing how willing they are.”
Since then, they of course made the Benintendi deal with the Yankees. Yet these “Transactional” Royals don’t seem to think they need to be that way. I would beg to differ. While the players they have to trade won’t return any quality of interest or impact, it will make the roster issues I detailed above a bit more manageable. Honestly, that should be the goal. Of course, while trying to get the most out of what little they have to offer.
The Royals love their guys. Love them. And Merrifield has been one of their guys. I mean, he’s been mentioned as a trade candidate going on something like three or four years, yet he was never seriously on the block because the Royals felt he was the guy to lead them into their next window of contention. Then, the window proved to be nailed shut and he made some comments about how he’d get the shot if he played for a contender. I have to think his words changed the calculus. Rather, I have to hope.
Merrifield’s overall numbers are still depressed and represent a decline from 2021. However, that’s largely due to the offensive hole he dug for himself in the season’s first month. He was close to league average in May and a little worse than that in June. This month, despite and injury and a self-imposed sidelining, he’s been hitting to the tune of .286/.345/.481. He also possesses a defensive versatility that teams will find useful.
He’s signed through 2023, so an acquiring club will have him beyond this year which is also a plus. Does it offset his declining production? I doubt it.
For potential Merrifield trade partners, let’s look to the West Coast. The Padres could be interested. Baseball Trade Values likes lefty pitcher Robert Gasser, who is currently the Friar’s ninth-ranked prospect per Baseball America. The Padres system isn’t anywhere as deep as it once was, but that still seems like a bit of a stretch for return. The Dodgers could be players as well.
Merrifield made those comments about his vaccination status when he was placed on the restricted list ahead of the Toronto series, so we know exactly what he thinks of his teammates. It would honestly be in the best interest of everyone if they could get Merrifield out of Kansas City. Who knows? Maybe Merrifield changing uniforms will be the shot in the arm his production needs.
Every contender could use a reliever. Or two. The Royals would be smart to ask teams calling for a bat if they would like to pair with a bullpen arm.
Barlow comes with two years of club control after 2022. Staumont has three. The contract status alone should make both attractive to a team in the playoff hunt.
Barlow, who surrendered the walkoff dinger in Thursday’s game in just five pitches, returned the next night and threw a whopping 35 in trying to get through the eighth inning. He was betrayed by soft contact and by his defense. It happens, for sure, but it was the fourth time in 14 July appearances where he’s allowed at least one run. I have to wonder if he’s starting to run on fumes. Matheny has used Barlow on back-to-back days 10 times (not including the instance earlier this month where he pitched in both games of a doubleheader) and with one day of rest 12 times. That’s half of his appearances this year. And oftentimes, he’s been asked to record more than three outs.
He comes with closer experience so that’s an opportunity to get a little more than your garden variety reliever.
Staumont missed time last month with a neck strain and returned just ahead of the break. In five outings since, he’s kind of given the full Staumont experience—walks in four appearances, runs allowed in two and a perfect frame just once.
The Staumont fastball velocity is still down from his 2020 heights, but at an average of 96.4 MPH this season, he’s maintaining what he showed last summer. However, his walk rate—always a concern—has spiked to a career-high 16 percent. Put that in conjunction with a 26 percent strikeout rate which is his lowest in three seasons, and he’s not going to be as coveted as Barlow.
Still, the Royals would sweeten any return in a trade where they package a reliever with a bat.
Michael A. Taylor
Perhaps it didn’t make so much sense when the Royals inked Taylor to a two-year extension last September, but that team control through 2023, plus his offensive
The truth is, after coming back from the Covid IL like his bat was infected with hits, he’s slowed down since. Over his last 92 plate appearances, he’s hit .267/.315/.372. His wRC+, which was in the 120s in mid-June, has dropped to 110. It’s still a quality mark, but we’re watching some regression to the mean here.
On the flip side, it seems like his outfield defense isn’t as strong as it was last year. According to Baseball Savant, his Outs Above Average ranks in the 62nd percentile, down from 2021’s lofty 99th percentile. However, The Fielding Bible has him at eight Defensive Runs Saved, tied for most among center fielders.
There are several teams still scouring for outfield help.
Along with the Braves, let’s include the Brewers in the mix. Both are teams the Royals routinely do business with. Hell, it feels like anyone who can play half-decent defense should be on the Phillies’ radar. Based on the return for Andrew Benintendi, it seems like a couple of prospects in the 15 to 25 range could be a return. Again, the net would expand greatly should they package a reliever.
I’ve said this for years—on a contending team, Keller fills a role as a back-end starter. That’s really who he is as a pitcher…a fourth or fifth starter. There’s value in that. Especially for a contending team that will run three quality arms at the front of the rotation. They need a dependable guy in the back who can give six innings if one of the top starters falter.
Keller has one more year of team control after 2022, making him an attractive piece. And at $4.825 million this year, he’s not going to extend the budget this year or next when he’s eligible for arbitration for the final time.
The Royals have starting pitching inventory, but aside from Zack Greinke, Brady Singer and Brad Lynch, there doesn’t seem to be anyone who is currently a better option. And we know how the Royals pursue every victory, damn the rebuild. I would think that if the Royals decided to deal Keller, they could nab a couple of mid-tier prospects. I just think they will resist.
I see this as a long shot for a couple of reasons.
One, the team that values Dozier the highest among all 30 major league organizations is the one he currently plays for. It’s like Merrifield from a few years ago.
Two, Dozier doesn’t have a defensive position and his bat is edging closer to league average as the season rolls along. What contender would be interested in that?
Dozier is owed $17.25 million over the next two years, plus what remains on his contract at $4.5 million in 2022. (There are also plate appearance escalators in his contract that could kick in in 2024.) That’s a lot of cheddar for a guy who is probably going to finish at slightly above league average on offense and who is suited to filling a designated hitter role for “defense.”
There are better options on better contracts. The Royals didn’t need to extend him and getting that cost certainty ultimately ties their hands.
Looking at those names above, I wonder if there will be any more action in the next day. These are guys who were drafted and developed by the Royals. They have a very difficult time moving on from those players. Taylor is the obvious exception, but he made a commitment to the team when he could’ve left as a free agent.
The Royals should make some trades. They need to make some trades. But will they? I guess we will learn soon.
The Royals dip their toes back in the AL Central waters for the first time since the break with a three game set in Chicago against the White Sox. Here are your probables for the series:
Mon, Aug. 1 - RHP Brad Keller (5-11, 4.18) vs. RHP Michael Kopech (4-6, 3.16) @ 7:10
Tue, Aug. 2 - RHP Brady Singer (4-3, 3.51) vs. RHP Lucas Giolito (6-6, 5.14) @ 7:10
Wed, Aug. 3 - LHP Kris Bubic (2-6, 5.45) vs. RHP Lance Lynn (1-4, 6.42) @ 1:10
The Sox are ascendant, playing the best baseball in the division in July and find themselves two games off the lead and just 2.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. Their trade deadline action will be fun to watch as well.