With November in full swing, it’s time for the first Royals Inbox of the offseason. There are tons of questions to answer about the free agent and trade market, players on the current roster and, of course, the club's top prospects.
There will be plenty more Inboxes as we move forward into the winter, so thank you as always for your continued engagement.
Let’s not waste any more time and get to some questions:
What are the priorities the front office sees ahead of this offseason? Is there a goal to make 2022 the push for the playoffs?
-- Jacob, via Twitter
When you’re looking at the everyday lineup and pitching staff, there aren’t too many holes as it pertains to expiring contracts. President of baseball operations Dayton Moore and general manager J.J. Picollo believe they answered the biggest question mark in the daily lineup when they signed center fielder Michael A. Taylor to a two-year extension in late September.
There are places to upgrade on the roster. But one of the biggest goals in 2022 is going to be for the Royals to transition their young position players into the Major Leagues -- top prospects Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez, to name three -- much like they did with their pitching prospects this season.
Like any team, the Royals can use more pitching depth, and adding a veteran starter to give them innings would make sense if the price (or trade package) is right. The Royals aren’t going to be in the mix for any top-of-the-rotation pitcher, but they will look to complement their young starters as they continue their development with players who can be counted on for innings.
“Do we build the best bullpen we can and support the young starters?” Moore said last week. “The one thing we have to be mindful of always is, you don’t want to put the young starters in a position where you have to leave him out there a little too long. You don’t want to put (manager Mike Matheny) in that position, either.”
For example: Ervin Santana, the 38-year-old the Royals signed to a Minor League deal last offseason and carried on the big league roster the entire season, could return to make eight to 10 starts and provide long-inning relief in the bullpen. The Royals could also target relievers on the market to give depth there and reduce the workload stress of three of the highest-leverage relievers they had this year in Scott Barlow, Josh Staumont and Jake Brentz.
That strategy would allow the Royals to watch their team early in the season and see how things shake out with a young roster -- as well as where they and others are in the American League Central as the season progresses. If Kansas City sees a path to contention in July, it could adapt at the Trade Deadline.
I thought Andrew Benintendi was a good addition this season. What did you think of his performance, and what is his future here?
-- Jerry, Kansas City
Benintendi was solid this season, both offensively and defensively. He came into 2021 upfront about the changes he was making with his swing, and those take time to implement both in Spring Training and the regular season, which was perhaps the reason for his slow start.
When he’s on the field, he does what the Royals need him to do: Go gap-to-gap, get on base and occasionally flex the power. He ended the season with a .766 OPS (104 OPS+) and 17 home runs. He also makes a lot of contact in the strike zone -- 80.4 percent, per Statcast -- which was more like the hitter Benintendi was in 2018 with the Red Sox.
As for the second part of your question, Benintendi’s future with the Royals is what the front office is beginning to examine now. The 27-year-old is in his final year of arbitration and is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to make around $9 million in 2022 before he hits free agency. The Royals could pursue an extension.
“We like him,” Moore said. “We’re definitely going to need outfielders in the future. And he’s always going to have professional hitting attributes. His pitch selection is good. It’s always been good.”
Benintendi also liked Kansas City in his first year, but it’s unclear whether he’d be open to staying here long-term. He made a good first impression on the Royals, though, and vice versa.
“A lot of it’s out of my hands. I’m still under team control for another year, so not much I can do,” Benintendi said Monday on a Zoom call with reporters. “I had a great time this year. I already miss the guys. … It was my first year, but the chemistry seemed to be off the charts. I was happy to be a part of it this year.”
What do you think the chances are of Witt Jr., Pratto and Melendez cracking the Opening Day roster?
-- Nathan, via Twitter
A lot of it depends on the roster situation as March 31 nears. It’s all but certain that Pratto and Melendez will be on the 40-man roster entering Spring Training because both must be protected from the Rule 5 Draft by Nov. 19. But will the Royals have room on the 26-man roster for them to be playing every day? That will depend on injuries, performance and other factors that we’ll see play out over the spring.
Witt Jr. is a bit different because he doesn’t need to be on the 40-man roster, so the Royals will have to decide whether to add him to the roster right away or send him back to Triple-A Omaha to begin the season.
Last year, Witt Jr. had an impressive spring but had only played 37 Minor League games in his career, allowing the Royals to keep him in the Minors for a full season of experience.
In 2022, he’ll be coming off a season in which he posted a .936 OPS between two levels, hit 33 home runs and stole 29 bases.
“He’s going to have to have a Spring Training just like he did last year,” Picollo said. “Coming off a season like he had, it’s going to be hard not to have him on the team.”
What do you think our starting rotation will be next year?
-- @SneedPick6, via Twitter
The Royals have a lot of arms coming into Spring Training, and most likely, they’re going to use all of them at some point in the year. But the rotation battle is going to be fun all spring.
The Royals have nine starters they could bring into camp right now: Brad Keller, Mike Minor, Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch, Carlos Hernández, Jackson Kowar, Jon Heasley and Angel Zerpa. Perhaps they go with a six-man rotation and put a few in the bullpen, or send some of the inexperienced players to Triple-A to start there and be the next man up when a starter is needed.
For Opening Day, Keller, Minor and Singer are likely penciled into the rotation based on experience. The remaining spots are going to be determined on performance and health. And you’ll see the workload question come up all season, too, especially for the young arms -- which is why the Royals will need that depth.