Let’s be honest. This spring has been one long exercise in boredom. Yeah, the crack of the bat and the snap of the ball hitting the glove is welcome. But through Sunday the Royals have played 29 Cactus League games. They have five more before they break for Minnesota and the regular season. Seriously, 34 exhibition games ahead of 162 regular season contests, plus the promise of October… Spring training is way too damn long.
So, what have we learned?
Frankly, I’m not sure. Danny Duffy was named the Opening Day starter. That makes so much sense it almost falls into the dog bites man category of news, barely registering a blip on the Royal-O-Meter. Duffy was the best Royals starter last year, signed an extension during the winter, and represented the Royals with distinction pitching for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. What’s not to like?
Duffy will be followed by Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel to finish off the opening series in Minnesota. Then, Jason Vargas and previously named fifth starter Nate Karns will take their turn against the Astros in Houston with Duffy making the start in the series finale on Sunday. When the Royals open at home on April 10 against Oakland, Kennedy will be on the mound.
As for the rest of the staff, we know the Royals will carry seven arms in the bullpen. We also know Joakim Soria will get the ball in the seventh, the eighth inning belongs to Matt Strahm, and Kelvin Herrera inherits the closer role. Chris Young, Mike Minor, and Travis Wood are the guys who will chew up sundry innings which mean there’s room for one more. I’ll leave the roster prognostications to Clark, but I’d lean to Peter Moylan for the last spot. We should learn soon, given Moylan has an opt-out on Wednesday. If anything, it seems we’re going to find out how many left-handed relievers are too many. (The answer will be four.)
It seems kind of obvious, yet should the Royals add Moylan, they would have to make a corresponding move to get him on the 40-man roster. Such is the conundrum of roster math.
The lineup is the lineup. Which is the lineup. Seriously. At this point, even the last fan on the bandwagon can go around the horn and name the starting eight. Wait a gosh darn second, eight? Yes, eight. Because as usual, the Royals still have some thinking to do before they can lock in their keystone. You know the names. How about some spring training stats!
There is absolutely no reason to read anything into spring training stats. They’re only included here because the Royals have mentioned that spring performance will be one factor they weigh when determining the winner of this amazing competition.
If spring stats were the only consideration, Mondesi would be dropping a deposit on a seven-month lease in Kansas City. The power potential we’ve heard about for years seems so tantalizingly close. Except this is Arizona and the ball tends to fly through the thin desert air. Again, not to read too much into the small sample and spring competition, but it should be noted that Mondesi has just a single walk against 12 whiffs.
With the Royals talking up “inventory” and with Christian Colon and Cheslor Cuthbert out of options, it’s probable they head north with the team, despite coming in third and fourth statistically out of a four-man competition. If either player was exposed to waivers, they would almost certainly be claimed given their salary status and major league experience. If the Royals look to trade either, it seems unlikely the return would commiserate with how the club values either. It would be better than losing someone to waivers, but it’s difficult to imagine a trade of either would net a player who could impact the major league roster in a meaningful way.
So what about Whit Merrifield? Oh, yeah. He has options left just like Mondesi. Makes you think.
The bet here is the Royals roll out of spring with Cuthbert, Merrifield, and Colon as the non-platoon, platoon at second. There will be anger when the Royals option Mondesi, but with the hacktastic methodology at the plate, and given how overmatched he was last summer, he could use some more seasoning in Triple-A. Besides, if he rakes in Omaha, these roster problems always seem to have a way of working themselves out in a respectable way. Colon and Merrifield can play multiple positions and with the addition of Brandon Moss, the Royals have backup coverage around the diamond. Besides, we know how Ned Yost rolls once he finds his lineup. The bench rarely comes into play. There’s enough versatility here the Royals can mix and match if they’re forced to play the depth.
Which is basically where we were when camp opened six weeks ago. Opening Day can’t get here fast enough.