Back in action

Thoughts on the trade deadline, Mondesi as an everyday player, Sinclair and their money grab and a note or two on last night's victory in Chicago.

Apologies to your inbox. I’ve been traveling a little and distance/poor wifi/other things meant it necessary that I unplug for a few days. But I’m back and ready to take you down the homestretch.

I can’t promise that I won’t abandon you again, but maybe you should subscribe while I’m at least logged in. That way, you’re assured that you won’t miss an issue as we navigate the post-trade deadline all the way to the end of the season and beyond.

Let’s take a moment to catch up. If you’re not interested in old news thoughts on last night’s game follow.

Dud of a deadline

What’s the purpose of the Royals?

This isn’t some sort of trick metaphysical question. It’s not posed to make you dig into your zen or your tao or whatever. It’s something I’ve been thinking of since the trade deadline.

The Royals, despite their best effort in the previous offseason, are out of contention in 2021. And judging by the way this season has gone, it’s likely they’re already out of contention in 2022. Sure, there’s maybe some help in the system (it’s fun to see Bobby Witt Jr. and Nick Pratto continuing their assault on minor league pitching, and let’s not forget MJ Melendez) but their current .429 winning percentage is worse than where they finished in 2020’s shortened season (.433). I’m not going to say they’re worse than last year. They’re not. They are, however, treading water in a sea of mediocrity.

That’s a really bad place for a Major League Baseball team to reside.

The trade deadline was their opportunity to move, although the Royals were never in a position like the Cubs and the Nationals where they had actual impact players to deal. Part of that is their own design. Take Whit Merrifield, for example. His name has popped up as a trade candidate for the last four years at the deadline. He had plenty of value as a 29-year-old with a 119 wRC+ with four years of team control ahead of him. Now in 2021, he’s a 32-year old producing below league average at the plate and clearly in the decline phase of his career. The Royals may have needed to be “overwhelmed” to move Merrifield in 2019. Teams are likely underwhelmed at his performance since then.

Or how about Danny Duffy? Yes, he was traded to the Dodgers and with the Royals taking on his contract for the remainder of 2021 (something David Glass would never do) they could potentially get a minor leaguer of some value. But they sold low. Really low. Rock bottom low. Obviously, part of that was due to health. Two flexor forearm strains in one year aren’t ideal for a pitcher who already has had a Tommy John surgery. But the other part is because the Royals held on for too long.

Duffy is a solid human. A stand-up guy. By all accounts, great in the clubhouse and with his teammates. As we learned in 2013 through 2015, there’s certainly value in that. The Royals like to have those positive influences in the clubhouse, especially during rebuilds where someone like Duffy can bring along the future starters who will be counted on to bring the team back to glory. Think of James Shields as the Miyagi to Duffy’s LaRusso. It certainly seemed to pay dividends seven or eight years ago. But how was that working this time around with Duffy in the veteran role? Did the Royals place too high a value on that?

Duffy is rightfully a beloved Royal. “Bury me a Royal” resonated with a fanbase and a community. He gave everything he had, and on those occasions where he didn’t have enough, was candid in a way many athletes rarely are. In an ideal universe, Duffy would spend his entire career in Kansas City. But it would have been best for the franchise if they had been able to deal him a few years ago when he was at maximum value.

One would think Jorge Soler had a limited trade market due to his defensive deficiencies. His value was never higher than after 2019 when he clubbed 48 dingers and finished with a 3.6 fWAR. Like Duffy, his contract is expiring after this season. And like Duffy, the Royals sold at rock-bottom.

This is a disturbing trend where the Royals set their sights on contention, fall short, move the goalposts and have nothing to show for their efforts other than failed aspirations. There needs to be more clear-eyed planning from the front office, planted in reality. Does it make sense to count on a 32-year-old second baseman when you’re emerging from a rebuild? Does it make sense to hold on to a slugging DH when you’re developing starting pitching? Does it make sense to depend on a starting pitcher who hasn’t thrown more than 150 innings just once since 2017?

Dayton Moore suggested that the Cubs flooding the market with their star players seemed to have an impact on what the Royals were encountering on the market. I’m sure that was the case. But do we really believe that Kyle Schwarber was the Red Sox’s “Plan B” at first base after missing out on Anthony Rizzo? Some team desperate for bullpen help wouldn’t pony up a prospect for Scott Barlow?

Goodness. Revisit the players I’ve discussed above. Merrifield, Duffy, Soler, Barlow, Santana…There’s just not a lot there when it comes to overall trade value. Still, you have to wonder if there were more moves to be made. What’s the point in bringing back the 2021 squad for 2022?

I get the feeling the team that valued these players the most was the team that currently employs them.

The Rockies were rightly pilloried for not making a trade at this deadline. The Royals escaped such scorn from the baseball intelligencia because their assets were underwhelming on the market. But in a way, this trade deadline was lost two years ago when the Royals decided to depend on the wrong players.

Which brings me back to my original question: What’s the purpose of the Royals? Damned if I know. But I do know they thought they would be somewhat competitive this year and currently own the fifth-worst record in baseball. They’ll probably win a few meaningless September games costing themselves draft position in 2022 and the front office will point to a strong finish as evidence they’re knocking on the door of contention.

We’ve seen this movie before. Often.

Sometimes, you just have to make some uncomfortable moves to push yourself out of a rut.

Moore: The Royals can’t count on Mondesi as an everyday player

Dayton Moore made some waves when he appeared on a Kansas City radio station on Monday.

Asked if you can rely on Adalberto Mondesi, Moore had an extended answer. I’ve captured most of it below because it’s helpful to read it in its entire context.

“You can’t (rely on Adalberto Mondesi). We love Mondi to death, but as you put together this team…it’s different situations, but when we were putting our team together back in the early days, we had to put our team together as if Zack Greinke may not be a part of it, you just didn’t know. And if he is, it’s a bonus. So when we look at Mondi, we’re going to expect him to be healthy. We’re going to be positive about that, but he’s proven that he hasn’t been able to do that. I think when we put this team together we look at it like, holy cow if Mondi is healthy and a part of the team it’s going to be a really really exciting…Offensively, defensively, speed-wise, I mean there’s a lot he can do. But I think we’re learning that we’re going to have to manage his workload. He may not be a guy that plays more than 100 games a year, best case scenario. And hopefully he exceeds that expectation. As someone who’s responsible for putting together a 26-man roster, we’ve got to look at ways to supplement and perhaps be more balanced as if he’s not a part of it. And if he is, that’s great. We’re certainly not going to release him, we’re going to continue to stay with him obviously. We’ve got to make sure we put that roster together in a way that certainly protects us…Is he a part of what we’re doing? Of course he is…But we have to be wise as we put together this roster…We can’t obviously count on him as an everyday player.”

Moore is simply speaking the truth and sometimes that truth hurts. The Royals can’t rely on Mondesi. Not after what happened in 2019 and now this season. Hell, go back even earlier in his career. There’s been detour after detour since that debut in the 2015 World Series. It’s just, as Moore said, obvious. Scan his page at Baseball-Reference or Fangraphs and it’s wild that he’s played in the majors for parts of six seasons, but has appeared in more than 75 games just once.

Potential and talent can only take you so far. You have to be able to, you know, use that talent and turn it into results. And you can’t utilize talent from the IL. It’s frustrating as hell to see a player who could absolutely make an impact in the lineup sidelined. The timing of these injuries is insane. I sense a ton of frustration in Moore’s comments and in those earlier this season from Mike Matheny.

Look, I’m enjoying Nicky Lopez as much as you. He’s been great defensively, surprisingly productive offensively and he’s even been solid on the bases. He’s become a, dare I say, professional hitter. But don’t kid yourself that Mondesi doesn’t outclass him in every single category. (Oops. I have to add the caveat: When he’s healthy.) You don’t dump Mondesi because you have Lopez. So you do exactly what Moore is doing. Keep options around for when Mondesi is down and hope that he can someday play in more than 102 games in a single season.

Not only is Mondesi’s absence hurting the team, but he’s also hurting his future. Eligible for arbitration last winter for the first time, he agreed to a contract worth $2.525 million. Next winter, the raise will be negligible. And that’s just fine by the Royals. There may have been rumblings of a contract extension before, but that’s certainly off the table now. The Royals are saving payroll by not committing long-term to someone Moore says they can’t count on to play a full season. So they’ll ride through 2022 and probably through 2023. Mondesi will hit the free agent market at 28 years old, but how many more games will he have played by that time?

You don’t “cut his ass” or “tell him to grow a pair” or any other kind of nonsense. You try like hell to get him healthy because your team is better when he’s in the lineup. And you damn well better have some depth hanging around because as Moore said, anything more than 100 games played in a season is a bonus.

By the way, I’ve just about convinced myself that Bobby Witt Jr. will make his major league debut in 2022 the first time Mondesi hits the IL. That could be Opening Day.

Sinclair wants your cash

In a Wednesday morning earnings call, Sinclair Broadcast Group CEO Chris Ripley, gave an update on the negotiations between Bally Sports Networks and leagues such as MLB, NBA and MLS to provide a direct streaming platform. Sinclair owns Bally Sports who is the broadcaster of the Kansas City Royals, among 13 other Major League Baseball teams. Basically, Sinclair is why you can currently only view Royals baseball through a cable subscription.

Sinclair completed the purchase of the Fox family of regional sports networks because they were looking to use the Bally brand to combine a dedicated streaming platform for the games where viewers could place bets on the live action. As Ripley described it on Wednesday, their vision is “in-game betting, but on steroids.” A uniquely bizarre metaphor to use when describing anything having to do with MLB.

As you are likely well aware, with the shift to Bally Sports, the Royals games are no longer available on myriad streaming services. As Sinclair tries to launch their own dedicated streaming service where you would pay an à la carte fee for a particular team, their opening move was to pull their product from services they view as future competition. In theory, this “pay for a single team package” sounds like a fine plan. The ability to cut the cord from a cable company is appealing to many, and to be able to pay for a dedicated stream for your team and only your team sounds like it would transfer some savings to the consumer.

Except in Sinclair’s world, their new dedicated streaming service would cost around $20 a month according to Ripley. Other analysts peg the likely fee to be closer to $25 a month. That’s $150 a season. Is that something you would want to pay to watch a Royals team stumble to another 90 loss season?

But wait! There’s the promise of shooting up ‘roids…errrrr…I mean wagering on live games through the app. I should probably preface this by saying I’m not much of a gambler. I have no objection to gambling of any kind, but personally, I don’t need that kind of juice to get wrapped up in a game. So maybe I’m out of my element here, but it just seems extremely dangerous for someone to have the ability to wager on the results of a particular plate appearance or how many strikes a pitcher will throw in an inning or if a team will hit a home run at a particular moment from the comfort of their own couch. You’re already tossing $150 (or so) a month at Sinclair for the privilege of watching the games. They have your credit card. And you want them to be able to hit you up for $10 more because Brad Keller didn’t strike out Tim Anderson in the third inning?

Before we even get to that, Sinclair actually has to obtain the rights to stream the games like this. And that’s going to take some work. There are already substantial contracts in place. Not just between the team and the RSN. But between the RSN and the carrier. And then between the carrier and the consumer. It’s not just as simple as saying, “Hello, we’d like to set up an à la carte distribution system for your sports league.” There are contractual issues to navigate. And cable carriers are looking for a way out from underneath these RSNs who charge a massive amount of money for the privilege of being on your cable system.

Sinclair says they have agreements with distributors. Distributors are saying they not only don’t have agreements with Sinclair, but they haven’t even started negotiations.

Sinclair doesn’t have your interest, as a viewer, at heart. They want money. And it’s your money they want. They’re paying overinflated rights fees and now they need to recoup that cost, and then some. Charge fans $25 a month to watch the games and then rake in an obscene amount off the gambling. The game is secondary.

It’s obscene. And wholly unsurprising.

Carlos and the cambio

Carlos Hernández threw an outstanding game on Wednesday on the South Side, pacing the Royals to a 9-1 victory. The star was the Hernández cambio.

That’s just some pure filth. The pitch was working like that all evening.

For the 2021 season, Hernández has thrown his change a little over seven percent of the time. Of the five pitches he offers on the regular, it’s the least frequent offering. In Wednesday’s game, he threw the cambio 23 out of 93 pitches, a full quarter of all offerings. As illustrated from the above gif, it was highly effective. He generated 12 swings, with four misses. Five were fouled off and just three were put in play, none of them were hit hard.

Hernández has electric stuff. He commanded extremely well on Wednesday and with that changeup in heavy rotation, it was about as good as I’ve seen him thrown for an extended period. I’ve been bullish on Hernández because of that stuff, but if the cambio develops into a consistent weapon, look out.

Resurfacing RISP woes

I haven’t had the opportunity to watch much over the last 10 days but was certainly aware of the difficulties the Royals have had (again!) scoring runs. After plating four in a loss in Toronto’s home opener, the offense went dark, scoring just twice in their next three games. As usual, the root cause was lack of production with runners in scoring position.

When Merrifield singled home Lopez in the top of the second, it snapped an 0-25 stretch with RISP for the Royals going back to the previous Wednesday. The Royals remain one of the worst teams in MLB when hitting with runners on second and/or third.

League average with RISP is .251/337/.415 so offensive production increases when the heat is on the opposing pitcher. And as you can see from the Royals’ tOPS+ from the table above, their offense actually improves just a bit when they hit with runners in scoring position. It’s a testament to the lack of overall offensive production that they’re generally better in that situation yet still lag far below league averages.

They finished last night 3-5 with runners in scoring position. It was plenty of offensive production behind Hernández and a dominant bullpen.

Thanks!

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I didn’t plan on missing a week and a half (it was really supposed to be a week), but sometimes things happen. I appreciate that you take time out of your day to open this email or visit the site. It’s good to be back. Thanks for reading!