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Royals Mailbag: Contention Timeline, Job Security and More

The Royals have a lot of post-deadline questions, so let's try to answer them in an ITR mailbag.

The 2022 MLB trade deadline has passed, and the Kansas City Royals are entering an interesting stretch as a franchise.

With the exit of Whit Merrifield via trade, it seems as if Kansas City is banking on ushering in a youth movement and allowing that youth to learn on the fly. Part of that learning comes on the field in terms of performance at the plate or in the field, but a large chunk of it also involves knowing when — and how — to speak up in the clubhouse and step up as leaders. 

Outside of Salvador Perez and Zack Greinke, you'd be hard-pressed to find an over-30 player on the Royals who's expected to lead. The onus is now being placed on cornerstone pieces such as Bobby Witt Jr. and MJ Melendez to evolve quickly. The rest of the 2022 season will feature plenty of growing pains, but it should also come with plenty of fruitful moments for the club.  

In the third edition of the Inside the Royals mailbag, I fielded questions on Twitter and will be answering them below. Topics range from a possible contention timeline to job security of critical pieces of the team and everything in between. Without further ado, let's jump in.

Jul 7, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, United States; Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore (left) and principle owner John Sherman watch during an intrasquad game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

BB (@bbarn989): With the trade deadline and draft now over, what year do you think the Royals make the playoffs? 

I figured we'd get right to a hard-hitting question. Heading into the 2022 campaign, the general expectation was that the Royals would improve by some margin on their 74-88 record from 2021 and along the way, they'd get a clearer picture of who does and doesn't belong in the 2023 club. Heading into Friday's play, their current win percentage would pace for just 64 wins if extrapolated to a full 162 games. Since June 1, however, Kansas City has won 44.8% of its games. In a 162-game sample size, that would have netted the club 72 or 73 wins. Their pace since July 1 would've gotten them to 76 wins. 

Not a ton can be taken from that, but two things are clear: Royals baseball has simultaneously fallen well short of expectations this season while also seeing tangible in-season improvement. In terms of sorting through future pieces, the Royals have somewhat of a better idea but still have plenty of relative unknowns. They've failed in that regard, too. 

With all of that said, had 2022 unfolded as expected, a playoff-clinching 2023 campaign wouldn't have been all that far-fetched. Now, though? Those odds seem pretty slim. Let's push that timeline back a year and roll with 2024. Some legitimate developments between now and then will undoubtedly have to take place, but that's a happy medium between a way-too-soon 2023 and a way-too-distant 2025. This question would be a fun one to revisit following this winter. 

Jul 11, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Royals right fielder Edward Olivares (14) hits a single against the Detroit Tigers during the eighth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

SNew (@ScottNewcomb4): When Olivares comes back, who starts where in the outfield?

I believe Scott asked this question before Olivares went on the 60-day injured list due to his lingering left quad strain. No harm, no foul.

With such a lengthy timeline for a potential return, Olivares may be finished in regards to his 2022 season. Even if he isn't, he won't have much time left before the campaign ends. The Royals recalled Nate Eaton to get reps in the outfield as a corresponding move, and that seems like a move that wasn't made just so he can rot away on the bench. The club's handling of Kyle Isbel, however, does bring into question who will be put where moving forward. Lineup-swapping with players such as Nick Pratto, Melendez and even Hunter Dozier also makes the situation even more confusing. It's nearly impossible to imagine a full-time trio in the outfield for the rest of the season.

That's a long-winded way of saying... expect there to be multiple moving pieces. Isbel will get time in center field, as will Michael A. Taylor. Eaton will see his fair share of time in right field. Pratto will be manning left field on numerous occasions. You get a start in the outfield. You get a start in the outfield. Everyone gets a start in the outfield!

Jul 24, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield (15) fields a fly ball against the Tampa Bay Rays in the third inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

John Farrell (@JJFarrell451): Do you think they traded Merrifield to Toronto out of spite?

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It's reasonable to assume that just about everyone is aware of Merrifield's comments following him being placed on the COVID-19 restricted list ahead of the Royals' trip north of the border for a series against the Blue Jays. If you somehow aren't, simply Google that and then come back here afterward. 

While it would be one of the most interesting storylines of the 2022 MLB season if the Royals shipped Merrifield to Toronto out of spite, general manager J.J. Picollo has denied it and that goes against everything the organization stands by. Kansas City, to a fault, is a player-first franchise that values respect, loyalty and honesty above all else. President of baseball operations Dayton Moore was honest about his disappointment in Merrifield's comments, but the Royals have also made it perfectly clear just how important he's been to the club over the last several years.

This has more to do with the return Kansas City got. Samad Taylor and Max Castillo are two intriguing prospects who should factor into the future of the team. It will probably never be known exactly what other teams were expressing interest in Merrifield at the trade deadline but for an aging player who's been below-average in 2022, this was likely about as good as the Royals could get coming back. That's why they traded him, even if this conspiracy theory is a pretty juicy one. 

Jun 20, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesi (27) celebrates after hitting a ground rule double in the third inning against the Boston Red Sox at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Terri Geis (@TGeis73): What will the Royals do with Mondesi?

Despite 2022 seemingly dragging along for the Royals, it feels like ages ago when shortstop Adalberto Mondesi suffered a torn ACL. In reality, it happened this season in late April. The 27-year-old's injury luck has been brutal throughout his career, and he just can't seem to catch a break. When on the field, though, his production has been largely underwhelming. Mondesi has posted a wRC+ of 100 or above just once, and that was back in 2018. In 15 games to begin this season, he was slashing .140/.204/.140 while striking out 37% of the time. There's no need to sugarcoat it: Mondesi's potential is no longer enough to get him by.

With that said, he very well could be ready to return by the time the Royals begin next season. If that's the case and his recovery is going as planned, he's a solid candidate to remain on the roster. Mondesi has one more season of arbitration left before hitting the open market next winter, and the Royals truly do seem to want him to succeed. Is cutting him loose and risking him latching on with another organization and figuring things out worth an extra spot on the team in a likely non-playoff 2023 season? That remains to be seen, and I'd lean that the Royals don't want to find out. Bet on Mondesi being back next year, then see what happens from there. 

Jul 25, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Royals owners group principal owner John Sherman applauds during warm ups before the game against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Bayou Billy Butler (@BayouBillButler): I'm growing a little concerned that the Singer/Bubic/Lynch incremental improvements of late are going to be enough to keep Cal Eldred around, but not enough to really matter in terms of competitiveness. I guess, scale 1-10: Matheny, Eldred, Moore, Picollo job security post-2022?

Best for last! This is a fantastic question. A combination of Brady Singer's legitimate strides mixed in with Kris Bubic producing at a high level and a possible good finish to the season for Daniel Lynch could be enough to inspire the Royals to believe that Eldred is the man behind these developments. Kansas City's rotation also saw improvements in the second half of last season, and Eldred was obviously kept around for another year. The fact that the club fired hitting coach Terry Bradshaw instead of Eldred earlier in this season still puzzles many, so the possibility of there being a clear amount of more backing for Eldred is there. 

Ironically (or perhaps unironically — he does amazing work), a lot of my thoughts on potential changes are shared with David Lesky of Royals Review and Inside the Crown. Lesky broke down a similar thing earlier on Friday, and I echo some of the same sentiments he wrote about. 

I, too, have heard from multiple sources that changes are expected to be on the horizon in Kansas City, but I too have to see them happen before truly buying in. I've also brought up the idea — a hypothetical one — of a major meeting between owner John Sherman and key members of his staff that could shake things up in either direction. There are hangups that make putting a number to this extremely difficult. With that in mind, let's at least try to put that post-2022 job security scale to good use:

  • Matheny: 3.5
  • Eldred: 2
  • Moore: 5 (this is the interesting one)
  • Picollo: 8.5

A brief aside: Today, Friday, marks the one-year anniversary of me officially taking the reins here at Inside the Royals. Year one has been an absolute treat, and I owe everything to my wonderful staff of writers here and the awesome folks who read content from the site. If you've been a loyal follower since the beginning, thank you. If you caught on somewhere along the way, thank you. If this is the very first article you've read here, thank you. Your support in this space means the world to me. 

So, again, thanks to everyone who submitted questions for the Inside the Royals mailbag and/or took the time to read through it. These are always a blast — let's chat again soon.