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The Royals Are Banking On Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

Kansas City is giving out additional chances following the 2022 non-tender deadline.

In the week leading up to the 2022 MLB deadline for teams to either tender or non-tender contracts for their arbitration-eligible players, there was a bit of mystery surrounding the Kansas City Royals.

Before that came the deadline for Rule 5 Draft protection, and the club added and subtracted three players each from its 40-man roster. At the same time, first baseman Ryan O'Hearn and the franchise came to terms on a one-year contract that very well could keep him in Royal blue for the entirety of the 2023 campaign. Faced with a seemingly easy opportunity to move off of an underperforming player, Tuesday was a day of grace and extra chances being granted.

Friday, the cutoff for non-tenders to be announced, was more of the same.

Among 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 were tendered contracts. While the majority of that list featured near-locks to be tendered, sound arguments could've been made for the likes of Keller, Garrett and Mondesi (and possibly even Lopez) to be non-tendered by the Royals. Not only would doing so have freed up spots on the 40-man roster for potential trade or free agent additions, but it also would've saved some money in the process.

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In the case of the pitchers, both Keller and Garrett struggled at times in 2022. Instead of cementing his status as a long-term rotation piece, Keller pitched to the tune of a 4.93 ERA in 122.1 innings as a starter and posted a 6.23 ERA in 17.1 innings of work out of the bullpen. He was up and down throughout the entire season. Garrett, who came over via trade during the offseason, walked 6.35 batters per nine innings and had a 4.96 ERA on the year. 

On one hand, Keller didn't do a ton to earn what he may get via the arbitration process this coming spring. On the other, his underlying metrics (4.50 FIP, 4.37 xERA) indicate that he could bounce back in a minor way as the 2023 season unfolds and perhaps the trade interest he garnered this year could parlay itself into a deal next summer. Garrett's ERA is an eyesore, but his 3.40 FIP and 3.62 xERA could see him through to a bit of positive regression moving forward. There wasn't a particularly wrong decision for Kansas City to make for either player, but the club will now be hoping to see different results from the same players under a new pitching coach.

In the infield, now may have been a perfect time for the Royals to part ways with Mondesi. The former tantalizing prospect has seen his production at the plate never truly take off, and the injury bug has bitten him as hard as just about 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 was that uncertainty due cause to open up a roster spot? Probably. Instead, the team is running things back with its talented enigma for one more year.

Lopez, for all of his pluses as a baserunner and defensive piece, simply isn't a very productive big-league hitter. His power is nonexistent, and the tremendous luck and results he ran into in the summer of 2021 almost entirely evaporated for all of 2022. He remains an effective utility player and a valuable piece to have in the clubhouse but had Kansas City wanted to go in a different direction with someone else, the way was paved for it.

That's the thing, though: Kansas City apparently didn't want to give up on any of the aforementioned players. Throwing in the towel on one piece in exchange for the possibility of adding another is fair, but only if filling that void is the end goal. The Royals could've gone out and improved on players like Mondesi, Lopez, Keller and Garrett but instead, they opted to run things back. Trades can still happen and the arbitration process could lead to slightly different overall values, but one thing is clear. The Royals, for better or worse under their new management, are making an attempt to teach some of their old dogs new tricks.

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