KANSAS CITY -- Having won 12 of 18 to finish the 2020 regular season, the Royals feel they are pushing closer to contending again, bolstered by a youthful core that likely will get better.
But the Royals have many questions facing them this offseason that will shape their immediate future, from possible contract extensions to having potentially 11 arbitration cases.
Let’s get to your questions for the first Royals Inbox of the offseason:
We know Cordero is on the radar for left field. Who else is in the mix?
Yes, it sure seems from conversations with manager Mike Matheny and general manager Dayton Moore that Franchy Cordero will get the first shot in left field to replace Alex Gordon. But, to me, the whole outfield situation will be perhaps the most curious area to watch in Spring Training. All we know for sure is that Whit Merrifield will be out there, most likely patrolling either right field or center field. Matheny has talked up Merrifield’s jumps in right field. They like Edward Olivares, though he, like Cordero, needs some Rusty Kuntz defensive schooling. Truthfully, I expect a lot of open competition for spots. With Hunter Dozier having gone from third base to right field to now first base in less than a year, the Royals could be in the market for a cost-efficient free-agent outfielder, too, much like they scored with Maikel Franco at third base. Bubba Starling will get a long look. Nick Heath is in the picture, as are prospects Khalil Lee and Kyle Isbel. The Royals proved this season they are not afraid to promote youngsters.
Does Witt have a shot to make the Opening Day roster?
The one organizational consensus about Bobby Witt Jr., the team’s No. 1 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, is that he could hold his own at the big league level right now. He’s that good, and we saw that at Summer Camp. The Royals have control of Franco at third base through 2021, and Adalberto Mondesi is their shortstop. So keep an eye on where Witt gets his reps in Surprise, Ariz., next spring. If Witt starts getting a look in the outfield, especially center field … hmmm.
Who is the first baseman of the future?
Matheny told me several times over the season that there was a time in the past he undervalued defense at first base. And he quickly followed that up by saying he isn’t making that mistake anymore. The Royals’ infield defense improved with Dozier at first base, and it seems likely he’ll spend his offseason honing his skills there. Long term? The Royals believe Nick Pratto, their No. 12 prospect, has Eric Hosmer-type skills defensively and that his bat continues to improve.
The Royals have some intriguing young arms. Whom does the front office see as more than back-of-the-rotation/bullpen pieces?
Rival scouts feel Asa Lacy, Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar are all potential No. 1s. Brady Singer already is showing that. Carlos Hernández has that kind of stuff, too. Kris Bubic might not have an overpowering fastball, but his great changeup and overall pitchability puts him in that conversation, a Tom Glavine type. Right-hander Jonathan Bowlan, the club’s No. 9 prospect, is an intimidating presence on the mound at 6-foot-6 and 262 pounds. He has a heavy mid-90s fastball.
Who were the three most impressive people on the team this past season? Can be players or coaches.
2. Maikel Franco: He hit eight home runs and led the team in doubles (16) and RBIs (38). He played hurt for half the season. And he was extremely well-liked in the clubhouse. He was a huge free-agent score for the Royals at $2.95 million.
3. Mike Matheny: I truly believe he got the absolute most out of this team. Without such a shortened and lopsided schedule against playoff-bound teams, the Royals might have wound up a .500 team -- a huge step up from back-to-back 100-loss seasons. He promised he would chase every win, and he really did.
How long of a leash does Lopez have at second base?
The offensive numbers weren’t good (.552 OPS), and Nicky Lopez knows he simply has to improve in that area. But he is so exceptional defensively -- no second baseman had more Outs Above Average at plus-6 than Lopez -- that his leash will be long. He should win a Gold Glove, and if you don’t think defense matters, especially up the middle, to Moore and Matheny, you’re not paying close attention.
New bullpen, maybe sign some superstar hitters? How did we get an amazing team from 2013-15?
The Shields trade completely changed the Royals’ culture, as the organization embraced expectations for the first time in many years. It took a team potentially ready to win and turned it into an actual winner. Do you think there’s a bold trade that could do the same now?
Absolutely that is possible. Perhaps even likely at some point, at least way more likely than a huge free-agent signing.
Will the Royals move Junis to the bullpen next season?
Building a shutdown bullpen requires a lot of trusted, reliable weapons. The Royals feel Jakob Junis could be one of those trusted weapons.
When do we re-sign Perez? Or do we?
The Royals have seen what they look like as a team with Perez and what they look like without Perez. It’s not even close. Perez, signed through 2021, also loves it here. Whether it’s at catcher, first base or designated hitter, Perez almost surely will be here after '21.
Timeline for rebuild?
The rebuild is over. The Royals want to win now.