KC Royals News: Coach search, Nicky Lopez, old friend

(Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports) /

With the KC Royals probably delaying any blockbuster personnel moves for another year, changes the club must make now are grabbing increased attention.

Take Kansas City’s open pitching coach job for example. Hopefully, they’re in hot pursuit of Cal Eldred’s replacement after hiring a new manager and new bench coach, and will soon announce something.

If Internet chatter is any indication, the fan favorite at this point seems to be former Royal Brian Bannister, a retired big league hurler known across the game as a pitching guru and developer. Frequently mentioned as a fitting candidate to take over Eldred’s KC job even before Eldred lost it early last month, Bannister currently serves as San Francisco’s Director of Pitching, a post he’s held for almost three years. He had a similar job with Boston before joining the Giants.

Filling their pitching coach vacancy is a high priority for the Royals, whose pitching was about as bad as it could be last season. Whether the Royals lure Bannister away from the Bay Area remains to be seen, but they may need to overcome an obstacle before they do.

Well-known since at least late September via The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly is that Bannister, the owner of a five-season 37-50 big league record (35-49 with Kansas City from 2007-2010), worked remotely in 2022:

Could it be that Bannister’s vaccination status may be standing in the way of Kansas City—or any other organization, for that matter—bringing him aboard?

Perhaps. David Lesky, known to be well-versed in the ways of the Royals, speculates at Inside the Crown that perhaps folks want to see if MLB does away with the COVID protocols that prevented Bannister from personal contact with his pitchers last season, a move that would pave the way for Bannister to work face-to-face with players.

Lesky’s thoughts make perfect sense. But if the Royals really, really want Bannister, they might have to make a move before MLB makes its position known, even if it means he works remotely again.

Thanks to his good glove, KC Royals infielder Nicky Lopez received a nice nod.

Remember the 2021 season, when shortstop Adalberto Mondesi’s late spring training injury ended Nicky Lopez’s scheduled trip back to the minors before it really began, and Lopez went on to become the first Royal shortstop to hit .300?

Unfortunately, Lopez’s bat cooled off last season—he hit .227, a disappointing mark but one more in line with the .240 he hit in 2019 and his .201 in 2020. That weaker work at the plate, and the arrival in the big leagues of Bobby Witt Jr., forced Lopez into a much different role in 2022.

Fortunately, his glove didn’t suffer. Playing wherever former manager Mike Matheny needed him on any given day, Lopez turned in above league average fielding percentages at second base (.989 in 68 games), short (.982 in 52 games), and third (1.000 in 30 games).

And MLB.com writer David Adler noticed. Relying on Statcast’s Outs Above Average (OAA) statistic for most positions, Adler named his “Statcast 2022 All-Defense Teams” Thursday and recognized Lopez as the top American League utility man.

Adler got it right. Lopez turned in a +14 OAA, good enough for Statcast to rank him ninth among major league defenders in that category .

An old friend who left the KC Royals near midseason seems to have a new job.

Carlos Santana ended up in the playoffs after Kansas City traded him to Seattle in late June, a deal that cleared the way for Vinnie Pasquantino’s major league debut. He hit 15 homers for the Mariners and another against Toronto in the AL Wild Card Series before Houston eliminated the M’s in the ALDS.

The season’s end left Santana a free agent and his future uncertain.

Now, it seems Santana has a place to land. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that Santana is headed for Pittsburgh on a one-year deal. Look for him to DH and play some first base for the Pirates. And because he’s only 22 home runs shy of 300, 2022 could be an important year for him.

Next. Is there free agent help in Baltimore?. dark

That’s it for now, but count on more Royals-related news soon.