In the weeks leading up to the 2022 MLB deadline for teams to either tender or not tender contracts for their arbitration-eligible players, there is a bit of mystery surrounding the Kansas City Royals.
Before that came the deadline for Rule 5 Draft coverage, and the club added and dropped three players each from its 40-man roster. At the same time, first baseman Ryan O’Hearn and the franchise agreed to a one-year contract that could keep him in Royal blue for the entirety of the 2023 campaign. Faced with a seemingly easy opportunity to move on from an underperforming player, Tuesday was a day of grace and additional opportunities are given.
Friday, the deadline for non-tenders to be announced, was more of the same.
Between the group of Brad Keller, Brady Singer, Amir Garrett, Josh Staumont, Taylor Clarke, Kris Bubic, Scott Barlow, Adalberto Mondesi and Nicky Lopez, all nine players have been tendered contracts. While the majority of the roster looks a near-lock to be tendered, a strong argument can be made for the likes of Keller, Garrett and Mondesi (and possibly Lopez) not to be tendered by the Royals. Not only does doing so free up a spot on the 40-man roster for potential trades or free agent additions, but it will also save some money in the process.
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In the case of pitchers, both Keller and Garrett struggled in 2022. Instead of solidifying his status as a long-term rotation piece, Keller pitched to the tune of a 4.93 ERA in 122.1 innings as a start and posted a 6.23 ERA in 17.1 innings of work out of the bullpen. He was up and down throughout the season. Garrett, who came via trade during the offseason, walked 6.35 batters per nine innings and had a 4.96 ERA on the year.
On the one hand, Keller is doing nothing to get what he might get through the arbitration process this coming spring. Instead, his on-base metrics (4.50 FIP, 4.37 xERA) suggest that he could bounce back in a small way as the 2023 season unfolds and perhaps the trade interest he garnered this year could make a deal happen next summer. Garrett’s ERA is troubling, but his 3.40 FIP and 3.62 xERA could see him through some positive regression moving forward. There are no wrong decisions for Kansas City to make for either player, but the club is now hoping to see different results from the same players under a new pitching coach.
In the infield, now might be a good time for the Royals to part ways with Mondesi. The former exciting prospect has seen his production at the plate never really take off, and the injury bug has bitten him as hard as anyone in the sport. Kansas City doesn’t know how many games, innings or at-bats it will get out of Mondesi in 2023, and is that uncertainty a factor in opening up a roster spot? Maybe. Instead, the team ran things back with the talented enigma for another year.
Lopez, for all his strengths as a base runner and defender, was not a very productive big league hitter. His power is non-existent, and the incredible luck and results he had in the summer of 2021 are almost completely gone for the rest of 2022. He remains an effective utility player and a valuable asset to have in the clubhouse but has Kansas City wanted to go in a different direction with other people, the way has been opened for him.
That’s the thing, though: Kansas City apparently no want to release any of the players mentioned above. Throwing in the towel on one sheet in exchange for the possibility of adding another is fair, but only if filling the void is the end goal. The Royals could have gone out and improved players like Mondesi, Lopez, Keller and Garrett but instead, they chose to run things back. Trades can still happen and the arbitration process can lead to slightly different overall values, but one thing is clear. The Royals, for better or worse under their new management, are trying to teach some of their old dogs new tricks.
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