If you are of the mindset that games in April are not as important as games in September, this may not be the exercise for you. Personally, while the importance of a September contest might be more apparent, a win on April 3rd counts just the same as a win on September 30th. It is all, and this is quite a revelation, about getting as many wins as possible. Frankly, why not get as many wins as you can as quick as you can?
On Tuesday, we looked at how the pitching staff might be managed early in April. As I noted at the time, the entire point of carrying less pitchers very early on was to free up roster spots for position players. Less explained was a theory that having more options on the bench might present Ned Yost with more opportunities to get his team in a better position to win a close game late. As demonstrated in that column, the Royals would be able to carry one or two extra bench players for at least the first six games of the season.
Six games in April, you say? With a manager who seldom uses his bench? Seems like a lot of maneuvering for just a few games where the extra bodies might not even get utilized, right?
First off, the Royals have ‘people’ to do the maneuvering. If they have to pay for a few extra plane tickets from Arizona and some mileage from Omaha, they can probably deal with it. If the front office has to email the league office a little more than usual in April to document a higher number of transactions, I am pretty sure there is an employee sitting at 1 Royal Way who can do that quite efficiently. If the Royals go through all these motions, end up playing in six games that are all decided by five runs or more and don’t get any benefit (or even any use) from their maneuvers, what is the harm?
All of this, including my time writing and your time reading, could be for nothing. The right set of circumstances could quite possibly never arise. That said, if Salvador Perez doubles in the bottom of the 9th two Sunday nights from now in a tie game, wouldn’t it be nice if Ned Yost had the luxury of putting Terrance Gore on second and to call on a lefty to pinch hit for Omar Infante in an attempt to drive the winning run in? If the Kansas City Royals can give themselves a little extra edge for even a handful of games, they should do it and the schedule allows them that very opportunity.
Okay, let’s start with the guys we know.
Salvador Perez will catch, Kendrys Morales will be designated to hit and the rest of the regulars, as you already know, will be Hosmer, Infante, Escobar, Moustakas, Gordon, Cain and Paulo Orlando. Christian Colon who almost certainly has lost the second base job, almost certainly has won the utility infield position. There will be a backup catcher, probably Butera, and it certainly sounds as though Whit Merrifield has won a roster spot as well. The Royals will take another outfielder as well and Rey Fuentes seems to be the guy. That is thirteen and the likely thirteen that will stick with the team once we get done screwing around with the roster on April 12th.
We are going to visit the entire who is and is not on the 40 man roster towards the end of this column, as it will have a real impact on the options available to the Royals in regard to all these shenanigans. For now, though, let’s move forward with what we would like to have and work our way back to some semblance of reality.
The pitching staff portion of this equation done on Tuesday had the Royals starting the season with just 10 pitchers. Actually, they could do it with just 9, but that is so very far from a possibility that I have given up on the idea since Part 1 was done. Ten pitchers gives you room for fifteen position players, which is two extra. The first one is easy and obvious and, heck, already mentioned: Terrance Gore.
Outside of Cain, Orlando and Escobar, the Royals could use Gore as a pinch runner for anyone else who got on base. Perez and Morales are obvious ones, but in the right circumstance (such as the one described above), I could see him subbing in for even Hosmer, Gordon, Moustakas and Infante as well. He is simply a game changer on the bases, an extra base waiting to happen or, in more dramatic terms, he is the one guy who almost instantly gets the winning run 90 feet closer to home. Better yet, Gore is on the 40-man roster.
Let me go on record right now: short of some roster congestion that my feeble mind cannot comprehend, the Royals would be foolish not to carry Gore in lieu of a pitcher for at least the first three games of the year. Before we moved over here, I even wrote a piece that speculated on whether they should keep Gore on the 25-man roster for the entire season. That theory is a little tough to get completely on board with, but having Gore in the majors the first week is an easy one.
The other extra spot, I think, goes to Travis Snider. He has not earned it, but he hits from the left side and does so with pop (on the somewhat rare occasion that he, you know, HITS the ball). Yost has not and will not use many pinch hitters, but if he were to use one it would likely be a left-handed hitting one (Colon and Merrifield hit right-handed). I’m thinking in terms of hitting for Infante or for Orlando if he had already been cycled in for a previously used Fuentes. The other case would be if the Royals did pinch run Gore for Morales only to see that spot come back up in the batting order in extra innings.
Other options for this spot would be third catcher Tony Cruz, Clint Barmes, Cody Decker or, and this would be extremely unlikely, Raul Mondesi. You could see Mondesi being another speed guy to insert on the bases who could also play defense at three infield spots, but it is hard to see the Royals wasting a few days of service time to go this route for less than a week. If you don’t like Snider’s bat, you sure as heck don’t like the sticks wielded by the first three guys named – not to mention they are all right-handed hitters as well.
Now, three catchers for just a week maybe comes into play if, again a big if, Gore has run for Perez and Butera comes up. The Royals could pinch-hit Colon or Fuentes and then have Cruz to catch. I don’t like this scenario as much as carrying Snider or someone similar who theoretically hits a little better than Cruz. Simply put, the likelihood of using Snider to pinch hit seems higher than using three catchers in one game. However, Cruz is on the 40-man roster.
Ah, the 40-man roster. Remember when we used to joke about Dayton Moore’s angst over potentially losing a marginal major league player when it came to making space on the roster? No joke this year, folks. There is not much fat to trim on the 40-man roster.
A likely option would be moving Tim Collins onto the 60-day disabled list. His current timetable projects Collins to return sometime in May. Sixty days is not much beyond that and, realistically, ‘returning’ is not the same as ‘ready to pitch in the majors.’ It is a relatively painless way to free up a spot, one that is most likely going to Merrifield.
Now, whether it is for Snider or for a seventh reliever (Duensing/Wang) the Royals would need to find another spot. It will not be an easy decision and perhaps points even more to carrying Tony Cruz as the third catcher for just a few days. The theory would be that it might be easier to get Cruz through waivers several days to a week into the season than just prior to the start of the year. One could make a case that the best use of the extra 25 man roster spot or two might simply be to stash players you are afraid of losing for just a little while longer.
Whatever the reason and however used – be it for extra late inning ammunition or in an attempt to hold onto the every vaunted ‘inventory’ – the Royals would be remiss to not use the very odd early schedule to their advantage.